What Is Agape Love? A Bible Study

What Is Agape Love? A Bible Study May 2, 2014

We know that God is love but what is the agape love that is described in the Bible?  There are several kinds of love mentioned in the Bible.  What are they and how does it compare with the agape love?

Phileo Love

The first love is called “phileo” love and that is the love that the city of Philadelphia was named after…brotherly love.  This type of love is that friends have for one another.  This type of love can also exist between brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and other family members but it is most frequently associated with a deep, abiding friendship…a love that is shared between the best of friends, much like that of King David and Jonathan, King Saul’s son.  It Is, or at least should be, the type of love that exists between church members.  It is a love that is not passionate like that between a husband and a wife.  After Jesus resurrection He came to the disciples and He asked Peter, if he loved Him. The word Jesus used about whether Peter loved Him was “agapao” but Peter must have been caught off guard and said “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” (John 21:15) but the word Peter used was the Greek “phileo” which is the brotherly love.  Peter didn’t get it.  Jesus was using the strongest of all types of love, agape.

Eros Love

The next type of love is what is called in the Greek “eros” which is a love that is about sex.  You can probably see that is the root word for erotic.  Surprisingly this word is not used in the New Testament at all but this type of love is that which occurs between a man and a woman and there is nothing sinful about the “eros” love, as long as it is within the confines of marriage.

Stergein Love

Most people probably have not heard of this type of love but they exhibit it without even knowing about it.  This kind of love is what a sister and brother for one another and the kind that they have for their siblings and like phileo, it is not a passionate love but one that has strong feelings between family members.  It can include the love of a parent, a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent or cousins.  This love is one that most people have in the world in family relationships.

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Agape Love

This is the Greek word for love at its ultimate.  Agape love is not like a brotherly love or a love between a husband and a wife. It is the most self-sacrificing love that there is.  This type of love is the love that God has for His own children. This type of love is what was displayed on the cross by Jesus Christ.  In John 3:16 it is written that “God so loved (agapao) the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  If a husband and father had a choice to have his family and his children die or for him to die and he chose to die for them. that is similar to what “agape” love is, but God’s love is even greater than this.

Agape love is that which is always associated with the love of God and rarely does it occur when it involves one person in relations with another.  The Greek word agape was hardly ever used in Greek-speaking societies but in the New Testament, it occurs 320 times.

What is Agape Love

Agape Love in the Scriptures

Here are some Scriptures that use the word agape.  You have already read about agape love in John 3:16.  That is the type of love which is always the highest, most supreme love there it. It is a love where one is willing to die for another, even if that person is unworthy, sinful, undeserving and is an enemy of the one who died for them.

First John 4:8 “Anyone who does not love (agape) does not know God, because God is love (agape).”

Romans 5:5 “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love (agape) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

John 10:17 “For this reason the Father loves (agape) me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”

Second Peter 1:17 “For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved (agapetos) Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

John 21:20 “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved (agapao) following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”


Agape is the kind of love that is not of human origin.  For example this love can be said to be found in Romans 5:10 “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”  To die for an enemy is not what humans do.  That is a God-type of love.  Jesus died for us while we were still His enemies and while we were sinners.  He loved us first.  He took the initiative.  We didn’t.  Agape love is the kind of love that God had for us, while we were still dead in our sins.  Agape love is a God love. This love is a love that Jesus displayed in laying down His life voluntarily for us; the type of love that the Father and Jesus have for One another; a love that is poured out for us like Jesus’ blood was poured out for sinners.  If you have not repented and trusted in Christ, then you will have to pay for your own sins and since you cannot ever pay enough, you will be separated from God for all eternity.  Why not reconcile to God today and bend the knee, repent of your sins, confess them to God, and then trust in Jesus Christ who loved (agapeo) enough to die for you.

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

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  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    The first time the term Agape is used in the bible is actually in reference to one of King David’s sons raping his half sister. This is in the Septuagint, not the new testament, but that usage (as a translation of the Hebrew Ahava) very much influenced the authors of the New Testament.

    The New Testament does use the term Agape to refer for the love of worldly things which led some into apostasy.

    It uses the term Phileo in reference to the love between the persons of the trinity.

    C.S. Lewis was very wrong when wrote “The Four Loves.” All serious Greek scholars today recognize this.

    Eros is not merely about sex, but about attraction to beauty in all its forms. It includes appreciating the elegance of intellectual arguments.

    Apage and Phileo are very nearly synonyms. The main difference is that Phileo when used for interpersonal relations tends to imply that the lover and beloved are of similar status and can return each other’s love in the same way. Phileo does not work when one party is fully dependent on the other. It cannot really be present in relationships between master and slave, parent and young child, adult child and elderly parent, husband and wife in a strict patriarchal society, or God and his creations. Agape is a more general term, which can include all those other cases as well as those which qualify as Phileo.

    • Josh Francis

      ” Phileo does not work when one party is fully dependent on the other. It
      cannot really be present in relationships between master and slave,
      parent and young child, adult child and elderly parent, husband and wife
      in a strict patriarchal society, or God and his creations.”

      Jhn 16:27 “For the Father himself loveth G5368 you, because ye have loved G5368 me, and have believed that I came out from God.” KJV

      Jhn 20:2 “Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, G5368 and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.” KJV

      Jhn 21:17 “He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest G5368 thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest G5368 thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love G5368 thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” KJV

      1Co 16:22 “If any man love G5368 not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” KJV

    • Josh Francis

      “The first time the term Agape is used in the bible is actually in
      reference to one of King David’s sons raping his half sister. This is in
      the Septuagint, not the new testament, but that usage (as a translation
      of the Hebrew Ahava) very much influenced the authors of the New

      Ahava isn’t used. Ahab is. Ahava is a location in Babylon. Also isn’t in reference to one of King David’s sons raping his sister but in how he felt about her in which he did later rape her. Big difference. Nor does the septuagint translate it agape. It translates it agapao from which agape is originated from. They have distinct meanings and usages.

    • Jack Nause

      Your last statement is incorrect. The older lexicons tried to make 1st century distinctions. They don’t anymore. They are synonyms in the NT and both are used in describing relationships. Agapao became a more used word, but it was not a different word than phileo during NT times. Context must determine the usage.

      • davidt

        Context must determine the usage.

        Its 2019. so 2019 determines? Nonsense.

    • davidt

      Interesting. apparently the it was Greek adapted by the Jews. . I didn’t know that. You do realize that the new testament is written in Greek it’s not really literally a totally Jewish text.

  • BAL

    Agape is the most misused word in the Bible. While God most certainly exhibits agape love for us, it is not “God love.” Read John 3:19 and II Peter 2:15 for just two examples.

  • Jack Nause

    The conclusion is correct, but the word study is very flawed. Agape does not mean God’s love or ultimate love. It simply means love. Phileo love as used in the NT simple means love. No more, no less. They are used as synonyms in the NT and 1st century Greek. Context must determine how they are used. But there is no theological or mystical meaning to agape. John’s gospel uses both words interchangeably. The Father loves the Son, both verbs used in 3:35, 5:20. Jesus loved Lazurus…phileo…..the disciple Jesus loved……uses both verbs. John uses both verbs to mean the same love, for stylistic purpose. The reason the NT uses agape more is it became the more used word by the middle of the 1st century.

    • davidt

      “It simply means love”

      Narrcisism is a facinating topic.

  • davidt

    A”is the kind of love that is not of human origin”

    It’s the non local aspect of nature itself. When agape is experienced life /death, god/nature rejoin. It sees through death into life. Christianity does not “own” it, science cannot “see” it.

    One body, one Christ, one God is not a human Invention but rather a human expression. In nature we can see this phenomena happening. Agape eliminates the gap between humans and the larger than human world. The human intellect is the barrier to agape not the Apex of nature.

    One can see agape at work in nature, but the intellect tries to infer and assume and project it’s perceived superiority onto nature. That’s not agape. Jesus said “while you worry about your clothing the Lilly neither toils nor spins”. That’s agape, to see the underlying truth rather than the superficial projection of the intellect.

    Agape is good science good religion. It’s not practiced in either domain or even understood. Jane goodall displays and is practicing agape In her observations of chimpanzees.