Today is Friday. It is the end of most people’s normal workweek, thus a good breakpoint to shift our focus from daily tasks to an in-depth study. This evening, Saturday, and Sunday I will spend time on the four Greek words used for various types of love and begin to root them, where appropriate, in their biblical context.
The four Greek words describing love are:
- Eros – desire, passion, primarily sexual in nature. It sees worth in the other and wants to posses it. Eros was the Greek god of love and the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.
- Philios – brotherly Love, platonic friendship. It is the essence of shared affection. In the U.S., Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love, which is what its name literally means.
- Storge – natural, familial, or social affection. It is the root of duty and responsibility, of love of family or country. Often used of parents’ love for their children or children for their parents.
- Agape – unconditional and voluntary and at its deepest root, sacrificial. It gives worth to the other.
To be honest, I have had a lot of criticism over the years for demanding so much from the three words (philios, storge, and agapao-agape) that are used in the bible. Most people hold the position that the distinctions, while there, are relatively small and usually inconsequential. They see the words as synonyms with slightly different casts. I, on the other hand, argue that the distinctions are hugh and very consequential. My position is rooted in the significance I place on the Word and philosophically because, as Einstein said, God does not play with dice. With God, was is, is.
If you think about it, for the Scriptures, to have any validity across time and culture, even from one person to another, or to be the basis of any doctrine or creed, the words and the meanings that God intended those words to have, cannot change. They will always mean what they always meant. That is absolutely necessary if Scripture is to be consistent and mean what it means, plain and simple, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Otherwise, what you have is not revealed Truth from our eternal creator, but a wishy, washy collection of folktales and propaganda about a possible God who may very well be only the god of our imaginings.
Does that sound harsh? Demanding? Does it draw a line in the sand? Well I meant it to do all that and more, because about this issue there can be no equivocation, no wobbling or shifting sand: either Scripture is God’s revealed Word and Truth, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then what we have, across the entire span of Scripture, are suggestions and approximations, the provenance of philosophers and rhetoricians, rather than theologians. If we cannot trust every “jot and tittle” as Jesus put it (with allowances for textual errors due to reproductions or copyists’ insertions or emendations), then how can we stand against the likes of Bishop Spong (retired apostate Episcopal Bishop) or any other source of error and heresy? How can we argue for evangelism, stand for conversion from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other non-Christian faith? How can we stand at all?
We cannot. We are to be the most pitied of men…
Therefore, I take every word of Scripture seriously, believing that the choice to use that specific word, in that specific place is in itself significant, not haphazard or a mere literary device. I believe about God’s writing what Annie Dillard, Pulitzer Prize winner for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – 1975, believes about her own writing and that is that every choice an author makes about every word they use and the place they use it affects what the authors actually says, because the nuances of words do matter and precision is the duty of every author.
My God is not a sloppy author.
So, there you have it. The foundation is set for our examination of the meaning of love, and the nuances and specifics preserved within the four Greek words used to describe it. During the course of this Lenten discourse I will be drawing on many resources, but in the end going back to my original instruction in this matter: C. S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. I highly recommend the book.
May the blessing of God our Father be upon you today and may these humble words find their proper place, wherever that should be.