God is love: Understanding the 3 different words for Love in the New Testament

Love. Even from a cursory reading of the Bible, or a nominal understanding of Christianity, it is clear that love is integral to the Christian faith.

God is love.


In English, we have one word for love that encompasses many feelings and behaviours. We love our friends, we love food, we love listening to music.

In Koine Greek - the language of the New Testament - there are three words for love used in the canon.

So, where we read 'love' in English, this might originally have been one of three words - agape, storge or phileo.

There is a fourth word for love in the Greek language - Eros - but this is not actually ever used in the New Testament.

That the Greek language is so specific when it comes to 'love' can help us to get to grips with what scripture really means.

1. STORGE (στοργή)

Definition: A natural affection between kinfolk/ those brought together with a common bond.

Example: The natural love of a child for his or her parent.

Frequency used: Uncommon - storge is only used a handful of times in the Bible, usually as part of a compound word.

Bible verse: Romans 12:10 - "Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour"

2. PHILIA ( φιλία)

Definition: The love between friends - a strong bond between people who share common values, interests or activities.

CS Lewis describes it as "the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary... the least natural of loves."

Example: True friendship - like between David and Jonathan in the Bible.

Frequency used: Found throughout the New Testament

Bible verse: 1 Peter 3:8 - "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind."

3. AGAPE (ἀγάπη)

Definition: The love that serves regardless of changing circumstances. Unconditional love. Often described as the greatest of loves, it doesn't so much refer to a love rooted in attraction, as moral good will. It is not a 'cold' religious love, but it it truly altruistic.

Example: Loving someone that you know you will get nothing back from. It is the love that God has for us, and that we are compelled to have for him, ourselves and our neighbour.

Frequency used: Found throughout the New Testament.

Bible Verse: John 14:21 - "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them."

When we think of love, we jump often to romantic love. In the Bible, the word most often used is nothing to do with romantic love. It is far more a choice or a position than a feeling. This agape love may well be present within romantic love, but is not limited to - or encompassed by - romantic love. Rather, the love that the Bible speaks of far more closely resonates with the love exemplified by Jesus in his death on a cross. He died becaued he loved us - willing to give himself for the sake of us, with no promise of reward for himself.

God is agape.