“Love” In The Bible: A Basic Rundown

“Love” In The Bible: A Basic Rundown

The Bible talks a whole lot about love. It is in fact a book about it. (1 Corinthians 13;  2 Timothy 3:2-5, 14-17; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:9-17) But while the English language has one word for love (which is “love”), the Greek and Hebrew language — which most of the Bible was originally written in — does not[1]. Here are few of the words rendered as “love” in the Bible across its different versions.


עֲגָבָה (ag·ä·vä’)

Found in one verse throughout the entire Bible (Ezekiel 23:11), this Hebrew word formally refers to inordinate love though more often rendered as lust. The Lexham English Bible (LEB)[2] renders a graphic imagery in Ezekiel 23 wherein God prophetically personifies Israel and Judah as Oholah and Oholibah, two young virgin sisters whom have commited adultery in prostituting themselves out of their obsession towards the immediate pleasures, external beauty, cultural renown, and national security given to them by Egypt and Assyria personified as handsome young men with sexually compelling conduct, and features.

God would then pronounce His judgement by giving over Oholah and Oholibah to their desires for these handsome young men whom were revealed to had only ever wanted to take advantage of them. Getting them drunk and never having truly loved, these young men would defile and leave them naked with their obscenity exposed for everybody to see. This is shown later on[3] in contrast with the perfect love that God has and how He plans to redeem people for Himself. (Ezekiel 36:24-27)


אָהַב (ä·hav’)

A Hebrew word appearing no more than 220 times in the New American Standard Bible (NASB)[4], it stands as a close equivalent to our current popular understanding of love — which at least denotes one of several ideas: a.) a committed and active affection and concern towards a person (including oneself) or a group of people, b.) an appetite for an object, thing, or idea, or c.) a romantic desire.


Genesis 27:14 talks about Rebekhah cooking food which the old Isaac “loved” (NASB). 1 Samuel 16:21 talks about the love that King Saul that had for David who became his armor bearer. David and Jonathan loved each other in such a way that their “souls became attached” in 1 Samuel 18:1. (cf. Proverbs 17:17) After sleeping with a prostitute in Gaza, Samson “fell in love” with a woman named Delilah in Sorek. (Judges 16:4) The writer of Ecclesiastes tells the reader to “enjoy life with the wife whom you love” as part of recognizing God in His blessings. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)


phileō (fē-le’-ō)

The Greek word also comes close to how we currently understand “love” only that this is also translated as “kiss” a few times in the NASB[5]. (Matthew 26:48) Aside from kissing, it denotes at least four other senses: a.) to be friendly to others, b.) to find happiness in doing a certain thing, or c.) a disposition to ever want good things to happen to people.

Mentioned mutiple times in the book of John, it refers to the love that God the Father has for Jesus just right after Jesus declares the shocking fact before the Pharisees to establish that he has (as he was in fact given) the absolute and exclusive power to heal people from their sin. (John 5:16-17; 5:19-20) It also refers to the love for Jesus which Peter was asked to verbally confess thrice in preparation for the ministry and the risk that Peter would later on face as he follows Jesus while he also teaches others to to the same. (John 21:15-19; cf. Samuel 16:21, John 15:15)


 Ἀγάπη (agapē)

Thyer’s Lexicon calls it a Greek word finding its home in the Bible. It is most popularly known to stand for the highest form of love that there is. On its own, it has two official definitions: a.) affection, good-will, love (in our current common understanding, much like the Hebrew ahav), and b.) when used in its plural form would refer to a feast among Christians of all classess sharing their resources with one another specially before celebrating the Lord’s Supper[6].

It is used to refer to a sacrificial life-laying love in John 15:13 and used numerous times in Romans. It notably describes Christ’s death as the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for sinners. (Romans 5:8) It is also used to refer to the acquitting love of God for those who solely trust His sacrifice through His own Son’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins (Romans 8:39) — and not in their own efforts in trying to be righteous through law-keeping. (cf. Romans 7:7-12)


Which of these kinds of love[7] have you received (or have given) lately?

[1] No less than one active language, Nihonggo, the Japanese language, shares the same attribute in deconstructing such levels of affection which are also otherwise all rendered as “love” in English.

[2] A digital-only English Bible translation made to be easily compared to the original manuscripts specially within Bible study software such as Logos. (Visit https://lexhamenglishbible.com/ for more information.)

[3] And throughout the entire Scripture.

[4] Considered as one of the most formal (literal) translations available in the mainstream market. Most useful for word-by-word analyses when comparing with the original languages. (Visit http://www.lockman.org/nasb/ for more information.)

[5] Based on the Septuagint translation of נָשַׁק which translates to “kiss”. (See Thyer’s Greek Lexicon.)

[6] Strongs’s NT 26

[7] The Greek eros and storge (pouplarly used along with phileo and agape) do not appear in the writer’s Bible lexicon references and were instead substituted with the closest available Hebrew words. This whole work is based off of references found in The Blue Letter Bible (https://www.blueletterbible.org/) which served as an invaluable tool in the creation of this article.



About the Writer

Basically a Christian, Timothy Diokno (Tim) is a TLW volunteer who is a Fine Arts major in Visual Communications graduate and a full-time graphic artist. If he’s not binging through a rabbit-hole of articles or YouTube videos on a weekend, he’s probably a.) with his girlfriend, b.) working on a personal project, or c.) talking to some friend about more interesting things.