Phileo Love vs Agapao Love


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A common Greek word for "love" in the New Testament is agape (ag-ah' pay) for
example 1John 4:8 and 1John 4:16 where it's said that God is love.

Agape has become a sort of sacred cow among Christians; and they typically quote
the entire spectrum of it from 1Cor 13:1-7.

But the entire spectrum of love tells us nothing of its particular nuances. In order to
discern the colors of agape we have to seek out passages where love is a verb.

The two primary colors of agape are agapao (ag-ap-ah'-o) and phileo (fil eh'-o). A
Strong's Concordance shows every verse in the New Testament where those verbs
are used; which is very handy for helping us to understand the spectrum of love.
However; the thing to note is that those two verbs are not interchangeable.

For example the colors red and blue, combined with other colors, make up the
spectrum of sunlight. But if we want a red house, we have to use red paint. If we
use blue paint, our house won't come out red because red and blue are not

In like manner, agapao and phileo together make up the spectrum of love, but they
are not interchangeable-- phileo typically speaks of affection, whereas agapao
usually does not; if ever. For example:

John 21:15 . . So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter:
Simon; do you love me more than these?

» Some say that "these" refers to the other apostles, but I'm inclined to suspect that Jesus was referring to the sea,
and the fish they had just eaten, and to the boat, and to the tackle, and to the fishing business. Certainly all of that was
important to Peter seeing as how fishing was his life.

The Greek verb for "love" in that passage is agapao, which isn't necessarily an
affectionate kind of love, rather, it's related to things like preferences, loyalties, and
priorities. For example:

Matt 6:24 . . No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love
the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

Luke 14:26 . . If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother,
his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-- yes, even his own life --he cannot
be my disciple.

The verb agapao is employed several times in the 13th, 14th, and 15th chapters of
John's gospel relative to Jesus and his apostles, and relative to the apostles among

But then Jesus asked Peter:

John 21:17 . . Simon, do you love me?

That time "love" is translated from the Greek verb phileo which is a very different
kind of love than agapao.

Well, the thing is: agapao is more or less impersonal; whereas phileo is just the
opposite. It's an affectionate, bonding kind of love felt among best friends, lovers,
and kinfolk.

In other words: Peter wasn't asked what he thought of Jesus, rather, how he felt
about him, viz: Jesus' question was: Peter; do you like me?

Of course Jesus already knew how Peter felt about him, but Jesus wasn't satisfied
with knowing; he wanted Peter to come out with it, and he did.

John 21:17 . . He said: Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.

» I'd imagine that expressing his feelings for Jesus was difficult for a rugged blue collar guy like Peter. I worked as a
professional welder for 40 years in shipyards and shops. Not many of the men I worked alongside were comfortable
talking about their feelings for each other.

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FAQ: Why does Titus 2:4-5 expect phileo love from wives while Eph 5:25-33
expects agapao love from husbands?

A: Phileo is typically related to one's affections, whereas agapao is typically related
to one's actions.

For example in the Ephesians passage, a husband's love for his wife is expressed by
taking her under his wing, viz: by providence, i.e. by protecting and providing for

The love expected from a wife is quite a bit different. Hers is more about feelings
than providence. For example:

"Your desire shall be for your husband" (Gen 3:16)

That passage appears to me the very first prohibition against adultery. If so; then
phileo's use in Titus 2:4-5 is telling wives to be faithful and chaste, viz: not to share
their affections with other men; which has the benefit of ensuring that all her
children will be the offspring of the man she's married to.


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John 3:16 . . For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that
whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

The Greek word translated "loved" in John 3:16 is conjugated from the verb
agapao, which tells me that God's love in that passage isn't especially divine
because the very same Greek verb is used in Luke 6:32, which says:

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those
who love them."

Every "love" in that verse is derived from agapao. Well; the very fact that sinners
are capable of agapao tells me that it would be a mistake to restrict its use solely to
God and/or to assume that agapao always, and in every instance, speaks of divine


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When love lacks modifiers and/or verbs, it means very little in particular. For
example: my love for a man with a cardboard sign alongside the road is
different than my love for the girl I married. My love for the man is
sympathy for a stranger, whereas the love I have for my wife of forty-one
years is affection for someone special.

Those two differences are exemplified by John 3:16 and John 16:27 where
it's on display that God's love for the world is agapao, which is merely
sympathetic, whereas His love for Jesus' followers is expressed by phileo,
which speaks of fondness and affection-- two emotions that form strong
bonds and attachments.


Active member
There are times when Heaven's love is conditional; for example:

"If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my
Father's commandments, and abide in His love." (John 15:10)

The Greek noun translated "love" in that passage is agape, which is a nondescript
noun. In other words; agape alone doesn't tell me whether the love in view is
affectionate or non affectionate, i.e. phileo or agapao. For example John 3:16 which

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

The love in that passage is conjugated from the Greek verb agapao, which informs
me that God experiences pity for the world without necessarily liking the world. This
is somewhat similar to the sympathy that many of us experience for a desperate
stranger with a cardboard sign that says "Lost job due to Covid 19"

And then there's this:

"Then Jesus, beholding him, loved him" (Mark 10:21)

The Greek word translated "love" in that passage is conjugated from phileo, which
basically speaks of affection, fondness, acceptance, and bonding. (cf. 1Sam 18:1)

Here's an hypothetical situation that breaks John 3:16 down to something practical.

Evangelist: Did you know that the Bible says God loves you?

Audience: God likes me?

Evangelist: Sorry, my bad. I should've been specific. I was asking if you were
aware that God pities you.

Audience: Pities me?! What's to pity?

Evangelist: You are on the road to a future that's so disagreeable Jesus said you'd
be better off dismembering a hand or gouging out an eye than to end up there.

» God pities the world's deplorable spiritual condition and offers a remedy for it
(Luke 2:8-14) but that shouldn't be construed to mean that He likes the world. In
point of fact, God regrets its creation. (Gen 6:6)