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Sunday, June 26, 2011

The "Agape" Myth

Passing Thoughts On Love and God and Friendship

Passing Thought 1
You know that sermon we’ve all heard?  The one in which the preacher says, “The original Greek has 3 words for love: agape, philos, and eros.  Eros is erotic love, philos is brotherly love, and agape is God’s unconditional love.”

That sermon has become so common, many Christians actually think it’s true.  And when intoned with enough conviction, the sermon sounds as if it’s being delivered by someone who really studied “original” Greek.

I’m not sure what “original” means when applied to a whole language.  I do know that the English sentence “Suffer me cast angle midst a spate” used to mean “Lemme go fishin’ in a flood.”  But I doubt any of those words had “original” meanings in an “original” English language.

Passing Thought 2
I did a quick search on Google (Why not?  All the best scholars are graduates of Google U.) for the phrase “The word agape means” – and the following hits are pretty representative:
·         Agape means God’s unconditional love.”
·         Agape means God’s divine love.”
·         “The word agape means the God-kind of love.”

Well, I guess I was wrong in Passing Thought 1 above.  I mean, there it is on Google.  They couldn’t web it if it weren’t true.  Case closed.

Passing Thought 3
If agape means “God’s unconditional love,” then please try plugging the words God’s unconditional love into the following Bible passages, each of which uses a verb form of agape.  Oh heck … I’ll do it for you.

2 Timothy 4:9-10, about Paul being abandoned in the mission field – “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he has God’s unconditional love for this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.”

John 12:42, about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees – “… for they have God’s unconditional love for human praise more than praise from God.”

John 3:19 about evil men – “Light has come into the world, but people had God’s unconditional love for darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

If agape means God’s unconditional love, we’re going to have to adjust our theologies and attitudes about worldly things, seeking human praise, and the darkness itself.  You first.

Passing Thought 4
I own a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.  This does not make me a Greek scholar.  Even though it says it’s Complete and Unabridged.

Passing Thought 5
The flipside of saying agape means God’s unconditional love is to claim that philos means brotherly love or human affection.  Modern preachers will claim it is a lesser form of love than agape.  Let’s play the same game here with philos, replacing its verb-form occurrence in Scripture with the words “lesser human affection”:

John 5:19-20 – “… whatever the Father does the Son also does.  For the Father has lesser human affection for the Son and shows him all he does.

1 Corinthians 16:22 – “If anyone does not have lesser human affection for the Lord, let that person be cursed!”

John 16:27 – “… the Father himself has lesser human affection for you because you have had lesser human affection for me and have believed that I came from God.”

Passing Thought 6
If philos meant “brotherly love,” why would early Greeks have coined the term philadelphia by combining delphos (brother) with philos (love)?  A brotherly love of brothers?  That would be straight from the Department of Repetitive Redundancies Department.  Not that language is always logical.  But hey, just sayin’.

Passing Thought 7
I was debating this love point … agape vs. philos … with a brother in Christ the other day.  We realized we were getting tense about our positions, and the irony of becoming irritated over the meaning of God’s love wasn’t lost on either of us.  As we backed down, I told him he should have the last word on the matter.

His final argument?  “I agape you.”

Which makes him an utterly awesome person.

Passing Thought 8
I’ve watched preachers contort themselves into twisty-turny theological pretzels trying to full-nelson a hidden meaning from John 21’s account of Peter’s reconciliation to Christ.  From a Greek’s-eye view of the text, Jesus twice asks Simon if he has agape for him, and Peter responds he has philos for Christ.  The third time, Christ asks if Peter has philos for him, and Peter says, yes, he has philos.

Allow me to spoil all the secret meanings dredged up for that passage with one simple observation:
  • The text makes it clear that Jesus asks Peter tò tríton, “the third time,” whether he loves him … even though the word changes to the verb version of philos here.  It is the third time Jesus asks the same question, says Scripture.  In this context, the two words meant the same to Jesus.  Otherwise, it would have been two times with one meaning, and one time with a different meaning.  So no need for theological aerobics here … the English seems to communicate the idea just fine.

Passing Thought 9
A Cosmic Proverb -- In my brief years, I have learned to distrust three things; yea, four have I grown to suspect:
(1)   A preacher who claims special, secret knowledge based on “the Greek meaning.”
(2)   An apologist who references “ancient Greek” but who looks confused when asked questions about differences between Koine, Attic, Doric, and Ionic dialects.
(3)   A Christian dinner date who says he immediately has agape for me, which he prays will grow to philos and, Lord willing, into eros as husband and wife.
(4)   The words “supports a healthy immune system” on promotional packaging for an herbal supplement.

All right, the last one was random.  But I’m not a one-topic kind of girl, you know?

Marana Tha,


1 comment:

  1. What are your thoughts on I Corinthians 13 and the very fact that God is love as described by John in I John 4:16?