The Barnabas Ministry


Agapao and Phileo
There are two main verbs in the Greek New Testament that are normally translated “love:” agapao (agapaw), phileo (filew). Some basic usage information:


Pct 

of NT

Agapao

(verb)

Agape

(noun cognate)

Phileo

(verb)

Various phileo

noun cognates

Total (Pct)
Luke
28
9
1
2
23
35 (12%)
John
18
51
25
12
10
98(33%)
Paul
25
28
71
2
15
116 (39%)
Rest of NT
29
22
9
5
10
46 (16%)
Total

110
106
21
58
295

Basic Definitions
(From “A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament,” Barclay M. Newman, United Bible Societies)
  • Agapao: love (primarily of Christian love); show or prove one’s love; long for, desire, place first in one’s affections
  • Phileo: love, have deep feeling for; love, like (to do or be something); kiss
Agapeo
Between agapao and phileo, agapao is by far the more common term in the New Testament. It is used to describe the Father’s love for the Son (Jn 17:24), and the Son’s love towards man (Jn 15:9). It is used to describe man’s loving response to God (1 Pet 1:8) and Christian “one another” love modeled upon God’s love for men (Jn 13:34-35).

Phileo
Phileo is normally used to discuss friendship (Jn 11:3, 11:36, 20:2, 21:15-17, Tit 3:15), and God’s feeling of friendship towards men (Jn 5:20, 16:27, Rev 3:19). It is also used to denote the kiss of greeting (Mt 26:48, Mk 14:44, Lk 22:47). In a moral sense, phileo is often used to describe both good and bad inner desires (Mt 6:5, 10:37, 23:6, Lk 20:46, Jn 12:25, 15:19, 1 Cor 16:22, Rev 22:15).

There are many noun cognates of phileo. Luke is fond of using “philos” (friend), e.g. Lk 11:5. Jesus was known as a friend of drunkards, and he considered the apostles as his friends (Mt 11:19, Lk 7:34, Jn 15:13-15). The early church used the term “brotherly love” to denote the closeness of relationships in the church (Rom 12:10, 1 Th 4:9, Heb 13:1, 1 Pet 1:22, 3:8, 2 Pet 1:7).

Several English terms are transliterations of Greek words. For example, our English term “philanthropy” means lover of mankind (Acts 28:2, Tit 3:4). Our English term “philosophy” means lover of wisdom (Acts 17:18, Col 2:8). Our English word “hospitality” could also be translated as “lover of aliens” (Acts 28:7, Rom 12:13, 1 Ti 3:2, Tit 1:8, 1 Pet 4:9, Heb 13:2).

In keeping with the theme of inner desires, the noun cognates of phileo also are used for good inner desires (Rom 15:20, 2 Cor 5:9, 1 Th 4:11, Tit 2:4) and bad inner desires (Lk 16:14, 22:24, 1 Cor 11:16, 1 Tim 6:10, 2 Tim 3:2, 3:4, James 4:4, 3 Jn 1:9).

What is the Difference?
It is very hard to make a distinction between the two terms. In many instances they are used interchangeably:

  • Those whom God loves, he disciplines- agapao Heb 12:6, phileo Rev 3:19
  • The apostle whom Jesus loved- agapao Jn 13:23, phileo Jn 20:2
  • Lazarus loved by Jesus- agapao Jn 11:5, phileo Jn 11:36
  • Pharisees loved places of honor- agapao Lk 11:43, phileo Mt 23:6
  • Brotherly love- agapao and phileo both used in 1 Th 4:9.
  • Discourse between Jesus and Peter- Jn 21:15-17

Copyright © 2002 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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