Many Christians get their first taste of 'the original languages' of the Bible through a sermon of the 'four loves' of the Bible. This piece of popular Bible theology was started by C.S. Lewis in 1960 and has flourished ever since. It is interesting to note therefore that the results of research into the word Love as found in the Bible produces rather different results from what one might expect it two entirely different directions. Firstly we find that rather than four loves there are sixteen; nine in the Old Testament and seven in the New. However we also find that much of this detail is somewhat marginal. Of the 281Bible verses in which love appears 209 of them are the rendering of just two words: one Hebrew one Greek.
The aim of this brief paper is to document the raw findings of researching the word 'Love' in the King James Version of the Bible. The results may rather less evocative or memorable than those of Lewis but hopefully that lack will be partially ameliorated by accuracy.
To understand the Biblical word 'love' one needs to understand the Hebrew word 'âhab (H157); it accounts for 81 of the 281 verses in which love occurs. Strong's refers to it as having a desire for; sexually or otherwise. BDB goes further and enumerates familial and sexual love as well as the coveting of an object. Of the 208 uses of the Hebrew word they are all translated as some form of love (love, loveth, loved etc) except for four which are rendered 'friend'. The noun form of 'âhab is 'ahăbâh(H160) and it is rendered love on 29 occasions; the other seven times it appears in is rendered loved.
The first use of 'âhab is in Genesis 22:2; God uses the word to remind Abraham of the strong bond that exists between Abraham and Isaac. The second (Gen 24:67) expresses the bond between Isaac and Rebekah. The third (Gen 25:28) describes the relationship of Rebekah and Jacob and the fourth(Gen 27:4) the relationship between Isaac and his favorite food dish! I believe that we are seeing here is that Biblically the word love primarily focuses upon the strength of the emotion on the part of the 'lover'; not upon the nature of the relationship upon which the emotion is based.
On four occasions the Hebrew word châshaq (H2836) is rendered as 'love'. It means to cling to or to join together. On each occasion it refers to the manner in which God has joined Himself to His people. The word is also rendered 'filleted' when used to describe the manner in which the tabernacle was joined together. Interestingly of the four other uses two (rendered desire and longeth) refer to sexual desire between individuals of different race and two (rendered desired) refer to the Storehouses that Solomon built inside and outside of Israel.
H7355 and H7356 are the Hebrew and Aramaic versions of the word râcham Both are only rendered love on one occasion and are general rendered mercy (57) or compassion(12). The word literally means 'fondle' and by implication suggest an emotion that results in an outward display of affection.
The Hebrew word dôd (H1730) is rendered love on nine occasions six of which are in Song of Solomon and all of which suggest strong sexual desire. Strong's tell us that the word literally comes from a root meaning 'to boil' which therefore suggests 'passion' or 'ardor' would be a good rendering. The word is most commonly rendered 'beloved'; again with all but one occurrences being in Song of Solomon.
There is one secondary rendering of H1730 which is rather curious. On thirteen occasions the word is rendered 'uncle' or fathers brothers. Strong's suggests this is a 'specific extension' of a friend or lover. However, I consider that extension entirely unacceptable: the phrasing of Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Isaiah and Ezekiel does not begin to lend itself to familial relationships unless something fairly horrific is going on. Instead I note that the word is rendered 'uncle' in all but four books - in those four books it always denotes (highly) sexual love. I suggest therefore that we actually have homographs here; with the sexual homograph introduced by Solomon and picked up by Isaiah and Ezekiel and the more sedate familial homograph being the more traditional Hebrew.
The Song of Solomon also furnishes us with another noun rendered love: ra‛yâh H7474. This is described by BDB as 'companion'; Strong's refers to it as a female associate of varying degree. It is really through context that the word 'love' has been used to translate this word. It is actually rather beautiful that the same book should simultaneously focus upon the intense sexual and yet associative nature of a man and his bride.
Perhaps rather more surprisingly it is Ezekiel that furnishes the last two Hebrew words rendered love; both rendered once. The first is ‛ăgâbâh (H5691) and is rendered as inordinate love; it really speaks of lustfulness - perhaps even nymphomania would be the correct modern rendering. It is used to speak of the enthusiasm with which Judah followed foreign countries and their idols. The other is ‛egeb (H5690) it refers to love concretely displayed although, at least in this instance, not being backed by any genuine interest or desire.
In much the same way that the Old Testament view of love is dominated by 'âhab the New Testament is dominated by the verb agapaō (G25) and the derived noun agapē (G26). They occur rendered as 'love' 151 times between them. The verb is always rendered as love and the noun is too except for 30 occasions when it is rendered 'charity'. For me the interesting fact however is that both Strong's and Thayer suggest that the word is a derivative of 'agan' meaning much. Thayer goes further to state that this emotion can be applied to a person for an object. Therefore we see that as in the Old Testament the primary meaning of love stresses the intensity of the experience of it; not the cause.
The remaining seven Greek words rendered love all stem from the same base: phileō (G5368) which is also the most common; occurring ten times rendered 'love'. It is otherwise rendered as a derivative of 'love' or on three occasions as 'kiss'. Strong expounds upon this word at some length suggesting that it speaks of a heart-felt sentimental attachment rather than 'âhab which is more cerebral.
However the first three uses of this word are all by the Lord and refer to the attachment between the Pharisees and their reputation. I suspect that John 15:19 might hold the key to understanding the Biblical usage of this world.
Joh 15:19IfG1487 ye wereG2258 ofG1537 theG3588 world,G2889 theG3588 worldG2889 would loveG5368 G302 his own:G2398 butG1161 becauseG3754 ye areG2075 notG3756 ofG1537 theG3588 world,G2889 butG235 IG1473 have chosenG1586 youG5209 out ofG1537 theG3588 world,G2889 thereforeG1223 G5124 theG3588 worldG2889 hatethG3404 you.G5209
Here the Lord states that if the believers were part of the world then the world would have 'phileo' for them. From this point forward the Bible refers to the 'phileo' between believers and God. I suggest therefore that 'phileo' refers to the love that occurs between people 'of the same type' or 'of the same family'. It therefore is not emphasizing the intensity (as agape) so much as the relationship of the parties involved.
Of course this relative nature of the word is drawn out even further in the noun Philadelphia (G5360) and the adjective philadelphos (G5361). Occurring six times between them they are always rendered as brotherly love and refer to the bond that exists between believers.
The final two words are both provided by the same verse Tit 2:4. Again they go even further emphasizing the relationship between the parties. One is philandros (G5362) relating to a woman's love for the husband the other is philoteknos (G5388) which is love for ones offspring.
We see then that love, even within the Bible, can have many faces. It ranges from intense sexuality, to companionship to the relationship that comes from a lifelong familial relationship. However in both Testaments the primary and dominant word does not stress the relationship, object of the emotion or motive behind the feeling: instead it emphasizes intensity. This is perhaps a useful lesson to those of us with analytic hearts. To put love through a qualification and categorization phase is to almost entirely miss the point - which is supposed to be an almost immeasurable human emotion. May we each have that emotion and may it be directed towards our God, our families, our church and to those that He brings into our path.