As a young christian I was told that the love God has for us, and the love he wants us to have for others, is a self-giving love, for which the New Testament writers used the Greek word agape. This understanding was reinforced by reading the CS Lewis book, The Four Loves, which spoke about the following Greek words:
- eros – romantic or sexual love (this word isn’t found in the New Testament);
- storge – natural affection, as in a family (not used in the New Testament in this form, but used 3 times in compound words);
- philia – friendship (this word and its derivatives is used many times in the New Testament);
- agape and agapao – self giving love (by far the most common word for “love” in the New Testament).
Preachers, authors and bloggers still have the same understanding today, and sometimes build take-home lessons on the difference between philia and agape.
But it seems that the meaning of agape may not be as distinct as we have been told, and the two words may not have had very different meanings back then.