agapáō/Š„Šū‹ý [to love],

agápē/Š„‹ūÁ [love],

agapētós/Š„ŠūÁŰŁÚ [beloved]



A. Love in the OT.

1. In the OT the main Hebrew root for love (íhb) can refer to both persons and things in a religious as well as a secular sense. Another fairly common root is rḥm, but since this carries the sense of mercy, eleeín is more usual for it. Love in the OT is a spontaneous feeling which impels to self-giving, to grasping that which causes it, or to pleasurable activity. It involves the inner person. Since it has a sexual basis, it is directed supremely to persons; love for things or acts has a metaphorical aspect. Godís love is correlative to his personal nature, and love for God is love first for his person and only then for his word or law. Yet even in the extended sense love has an element of fervor or passion except in the case of lesser objects. In the secular sphere love is for husband or wife, parents or children, friends, masters, servants, and social groups. This use is more common than the religious use and may thus be taken as the basis of interpretation.

2. The Secular and Immanent Conception.

a. Here sexual love comes first and brings the element of impulsion to light. Sexuality can be given a heavy stress, as in Ezekiel (and cf. Hosea and Jeremiah). It is a given factor and contributes to the ennobling of life, as shown by its glorification in poetry (cf. Song of Songs 8:5). Both this love and its opposite can have brutal force, as in the story of Amnon and Tamar, or the saying of Samsonís bride in Judg. 14:16. The law takes note of these erotic symptoms (Dt. 21:15ff. etc.).

b. Love in other relationships (e.g., parents and children) takes a different form, but the Hebrews must have felt some kinship, since they used the same term. Perhaps the link lies in loveís spontaneous and irrational character, as in the case of Jonathan and David (1 Sam. 18:1, 3; 20:17). David himself expresses something of this in his lament in 2 Sam. 1:26. He is as closely related to Jonathan as to his own soul (1 Sam. 20:17).

c. The same intensity is not always present with more distant relatives and friends, but under the protection of theonomic law love is still the inalienable human element and the norm of social dealings. Relationships need legal definition, but a demand like Lev. 19:18 transcends all law, for it involves an attitude and not mere acts (cf. its opposite in Lev. 19:17). The final concern of the injunction is to foster neighborly feeling as the true basis of legal relations. Purely legal statutes will be only half measures unless informed and empowered by the paradoxical law of love. To interpret love here as mere favoring will not do, for it extends to the resident alien too (Lev. 19:34). This rules out narrow particularism; the neighbor is anyone in the immediate vicinity. Ultimately this means love even for those who from a human standpoint might seem to be enemies, for if Dt. 22:1-4 imposes a duty to help fellow nationals, Ex. 23:4-5 specifically applies this obligation to those who might be hostile. Since the neighbor can thus be foe as well as friend, the human person is set above the legal person as the object of love and consequently as the object of legal action. Joseph offers an example of the love which in obedience to God embraces even those who wrong us (Gen. 50:19). In the OT, of course, there are limits to this love of enemies. Ps. 109 and Prov. 14:20 illustrate this, as does the general attitude to hostile nations. Nevertheless, the nobility of the divinely imposed ethical requirement remains.

3. The Religious Conception.

a. In the light of secular usage, love obviously will have high theological value in the religious realm. The concept of the covenant limits its development, for if the covenant itself is a juridical expression of Godís love, its relationship to love is only tacitly recognized. Love runs both ways, embracing both our love for God and Godís love for us, but only Deuteronomy seems to link the two (7:9; 10:14ff.).

b. Our love for God is accepted without any attempt at closer definition. It is sometimes connected with fear (Dt. 10:12), but more often it involves delight and striving, a seeking of God for himself (cf. Abraham). Those who love God trust in him and find salvation and assurance. Hence they keep his commandments (Dt. 5:10), serve him (Dt. 10:12), and walk in his ways (Dt. 10:12; 11:22). Yet love itself is no mere externality. It is deeply inward and God-given, a circumcising of the heart (Jer. 31:33). It is certainly made the object of a command (cf. Dt. 6:5), but the law that results transcends law, though those who take it legally might not see this. The aim of the command is to make the most positive force in religion fruitful for covenant faithfulness. In the long run, however, everything depends on the free impulsion of love itself.

c. Godís love for us is primarily national rather than individual. Within the nation, however, God loves certain groups such as the pure in heart, the poor, and even resident aliens (Dt. 10:18). God loves us as a father loves his son (Prov. 3:12), but didactic views of the parent-child relation, at least in this context, prevented the development of any deep sense of divine fatherhood.

d. Hosea gives very strong expression to Godís love for his people. Official religion has disintegrated, but Godís unfathomable love remains, illustrated by Hoseaís nonsensical marriage. Godís love is thus shown to be the enduring basis of the covenant. This love takes precedence over our love for God, for even when the latter fades (Hos. 6:4), the former does not let go (11:8-9). The threat ďI will love them no moreĒ (9:15) would amount, then, almost to Godís ceasing to be God; in this light ch. 14 (cf. vv. 4-5) is the appropriate conclusion to Hosea. God is similarly torn between holiness and love in Jeremiah. He hates the rebellion of his people, but he loves Israel with ďan everlasting love,Ē and this underlies his faithfulness (Jer. 31:3). In Isaiah God has left Israel for a moment in wrath, but again, although a mother may forget her child, God will never forget or abandon Zion his bride (Is. 49:15). Deuteronomy applies all this pedagogically. Godís gracious love is the reason for Israelís election (Dt. 7:7). He has confirmed it by a legal guarantee (7:8), and Israel may thus count on it, but the covenant imposes a demand for faithfulness on Israelís part, so that love can be related to the blessing which is the reward of obedience (Dt. 7:13) in what is close to a contractual sense. Yet the initiative of Godís love is strongly stated (Dt. 10: 14ff.), and inner circumcision, not just external performance, is necessary for a proper response to it (Dt. 10:16). The legal implications of Godís love are expressly worked out in Malachi relative to the particular problems of that later time (cf. Mal. 1:2).

e. Godís love for other nations does not find direct expression in the OT. The presentation certainly bears a tendency toward universality, and this comes out clearly in some messianic passages, e.g., Is. 42:5. In context, however, Dt. 33:3 (ďall those consecrated to himĒ) does not have a universal sense, while Mal. 2:10 refers to Godís creative work rather than his fatherly love. Even messianic universalism is too little developed to affect the main emphasis of Godís love in the OT, namely, Godís specific love for his people Israel.

[G. Quell, I, 21-35]

B. The Words for Love in Prebiblical Greek.

l. erán. This is the passionate love that desires the other for itself. The god Eros compels all but is compelled by none. In Plato érōs symbolizes fulfilment, in Plotinus desire for union with the one. What is sought in érōs is intoxication or ecstasy. Reflection is good, but ecstatic frenzy, while sometimes viewed with horror, is greater. érōs masters us and confers supreme bliss thereby. Religion seeks the climax of experience in transmuted eroticism (cf. the fertility cults). But érōs can transcend the sensory world. In Plato it issues in creative inspiration. In Aristotle it has (or is) a cosmic function as the force of attraction that maintains orderly movement. In Plotinus it is an impulsion beyond the senses toward the point of coincidence. Even in these forms, however, the original idea is that of erotic intoxication.

2. phileín. This signifies solicitous love, e.g., of the gods, or of friends. It embraces all humanity and entails obligation.

3. agapán. This term has neither the magic of erán nor the warmth of phileín. It has first the weak sense ďto be satisfied,Ē ďto receive,Ē ďto greet,Ē ďto honor,Ē or, more inwardly, ďto seek after.Ē It can carry an element of sympathy, but also denotes ďto prefer,Ē especially with reference to the gods. Here is a love that makes distinctions, choosing its objects freely. Hence it is especially the love of a higher for a lower. It is active, not self-seeking love. Yet in the Greek writers the word is colorless. It is often used as a variation for erán or phileín and commands no special discussion. The noun agápē occurs very seldom.

C. Love in Judaism.

1. The Background. The normative Hebrew term íhb (see A.) covers all three Greek words. But it lacks the element of religious eroticism and denotes a particular, not a universal love. OT love is a jealous love (cf. Song of Songs 8:6). Thus Jacobís love focuses on Rachel and Joseph (Gen. 29; 37:3). Similarly, God loves Israel, but jealously insists on love and loyalty in return. Again, love of neighbor is not cosmopolitan. It does not embrace millions but is love within the nation. The LXX uses agapán almost exclusively for the Hebrew term. This word was best adapted to express what was meant, and received a rich new content from the association.

2. Hellenistic Judaism.

a. The OT influence intermingled here with Greek and Near Eastern thought and language. God loves his creation, his people, and those who are righteous, obedient, and merciful. Love is supremely a relationship of faithfulness (as displayed by martyrs). God is the source of love. Love of God includes love of wisdom (Sir. 4:12). In love we turn to true being, overcome fear, and attain to true life (Philo On the Migration of Abraham 169).

b. Love of neighbor derives from God and leads to life (unlike hatred, which is of the devil and leads to death). In Philo a more general philanthropy is read into the OT; love extends finally to all creation (On Virtues 51ff.). But the movement is still concentric from the compatriot outward by way of the resident alien and proselyte. érōs is unfavorably contrasted with agápē (Sibylline Oracles 3.171).

3. Rabbinic Judaism.

a. Here love is still primarily volitional and religious. It pinpoints the relation between God and humanity, especially Israel. God loves his people with fidelity and mercy. The gift of the law proves this. Godís love imposes the obligation of reciprocal love and the related obedience and loyalty. Suffering in particular manifests the mutual love of God and his people. In it God is loved for his own sake. The main stress, however, falls on Godís own love. Concealed during suffering, in which it is truly as strong as death, it will finally be gloriously manifest. No one can pluck Israel away from it.

b. Love of neighbor comes to expression in works of mercy. The neighbor is the fellow citizen or proselyte, whether friend or foe. Some, like Hillel, included foreigners, discerning loveís missionary force, but others contested this (except for resident aliens). With law and the service of God, love is a foundation of the world. It is the sum of the law as formulated in the negative statement of the Golden Rule (Hillel). Yet it is more than a discharge of duties. It is the power behind all acts of love, and hence it cannot be enforced by legislation.

c. For the rabbis love is the basic principle of the threefold relationship of God, the I, and the Thou. It must determine all dealings within this relationship, or the relationship is broken. As God acts with love, so must we, and by the same token, as we act with love, so will God. A basis is perceived here for assurance of the divine mercy, though not at the expense of the divine righteousness.

D. Jesus.

1. The New Demand.

a. In his demand for love Jesus took up previous sayings: Love God; love neighbor; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But he did so in a startlingly exclusive and unconditional way. Love of God means total commitment and total trust (Mt. 5:29-30; 6:24ff.). In particular, it involves a renunciation of mammon and of vainglory (Mt. 6:24b, 30ff.). It also calls for resistance to persecution, which is a fiery test of the loyalty of love (Mt. 10:17ff.; 5:10ff.).

b. Love of neighbor accompanies love of God (Mt. 22:39). This is no abstract love of humanity. Nevertheless, it transcends any restriction to compatriots; the neighbor is simply the person in need (Lk. 10:29-30), or rather, the neighbor is the person close at hand who acts in neighborly fashion to the one in need. This action derives from a response of the heart and consists of doing in all sobriety what the occasion requires.

c. Love of neighbor definitely includes love of enemies (Mt. 5:43-44). This love is the demand of a new age pointing to grace and applying to ďhearers.Ē It is the love of Godís new people which they show not merely to one another but even to those of the present age who persecute them. It is thus totally sacrificial. The martyr becomes an intercessor for the hostile world that imposes martyrdom. Jesus makes this demand with full realism but also with full seriousness.

2. The New Situation.

a. The demand of Jesus is self-evident because he creates a new situation. He proclaims Godís mercy as a new event that changes everything. The forgiveness of sins that he brings releases a new and overflowing love (Lk. 7:47) which fills and directs all life and action. Godís new relationship to us puts us in a new relationship to him and to one another (cf. Lk. 6:36ff.). This is a relationship of mercy and reconciliation. (In the Synoptics Jesus usually speaks about Godís forgiveness or mercy and rarely employs either nouns or verbs for love in relation to God.)

b. In regard to us, Godís love is a pardoning love. In regard to Jesus, however, it is the preferential love of election and calling. Jesus is the beloved Son (Mt. 12:5) whose death is an exercise of judgment and the establishment of a new order (12:8ff.). Jesus founds the new community into which we enter through relationship with him. Hence love for others is love for him (Mt. 25:31ff.), and he can call for radical commitment to himself (Mt. 10:37ff.). The Son brings remission, calls for an unconditional decision for God, and thus creates a new people who will tread the way of self-sacrificing love that he himself took. A point of interest is that Mark calls Jesus the beloved Son at the beginning of both his ministry (1:11) and his passion (9:7).

E. The Apostolic Period.

1. Paul.

a. Paul sees the new situation clearly. Thus his argument in Rom. 1ff. climaxes in a hymn which moves on from our love for God to Christís love for us and then to the assurance of Godís love in Christ (8:28, 31ff.). He makes three main points: (1) God sent his Son even to the cross in love; (2) God calls his elect in love; (3) God sheds his love abroad in their hearts. Godís eternal love is indistinguishable from Christís love (Rom. 5:8; 8:37), in which it becomes a world-changing event. This love implies election, which includes both pretemporal ordination and temporal calling. The elect community is in fellowship with God, and he endows it with the active and compelling power of love (Rom. 5:5) in fulfilment of his own primary purpose of love.

b. A new humanity is the goal of Godís loving action, and he uses acts of human love to attain this end. God is the source of these acts (cf. 1 Cor. 8:3). He awakens the faith which comes into action in love (Gal. 5:6). He pours forth the Spirit who frees us for loving activity (Gal. 5:22). For Paul this new love is supremely brotherly and sisterly love (Gal. 6:10) in a fellowship that is based on Christís mercy and Christís death. Love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1); it builds the work of the future. In it the power of the new age breaks into the present form of the world. This is why it is always central when linked with faith and hope (cf. 1 Th. 1:3; Col. 1:4-5). Love is the greatest of the three because it alone stretches into the future aeon (1 Cor. 13:13).

2. James. James shows in practical fashion what it means that faith works by love, e.g., not despising the poor (2:14), or not withholding rights (5:1ff.). Love is the law of the new kingdom (2:8), demanded and made possible by faith. It holds fast to God in trial and is strong in perseverance (1:2ff.).

3. John. John stresses the love of the Father for the Son (Jn. 3:35). The love of God reaches us through him (Jn. 17:23ff.). The death of the Son crowns and releases it. This is a condescending love, yet it achieves victory in moral action. Our own love is here again supremely a love of the brethren. Love of God is the final reality for the fellowship, and abiding in this love is the law of its life (Jn. 15:9-10). The one law of love is constantly repeated in the Epistles of John with no particular specifications except that it be in deed and not in word only (1 Jn. 3:18). In Revelation the main demand is for a love for God that will not be overthrown by persecution (cf. 2:4; 12:11).

F. The Post-Apostolic Period. Early formulas are handed down here with some infusion of new ideals. 1 Clem. 49-50 demonstrates an ongoing awareness of the supremacy of love and its practical significance for the community and the world. Agápē and agapán have become stock terms for Godís work and for Christian piety, sometimes as asceticism, more commonly as community love. In a world perishing through érōs, and vainly trying to transcend itself by sublimations of érōs, the church, being itself totally dependent on the merciful love of God, practices a love that does not desire but gives.

[E. Stauffer, I, 35-55]