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Love is that attribute of God[1] by which His grace is demonstrated to mankind, whether corporately or particularly. In essence, love is shown to something as a preference towards one thing over another. It is an attribute that is communicable to mankind in the image of its Creator[2].

Love in the Old Testament[]

The Hebrew verb ahab is found over 200 times in the Old Testament, beginning with God Himself speaking to Abraham, instructing him to take his beloved son to the land of Moriah[3]. The occasion was the ultimate test of Abraham's faith. Abraham had another son, but Isaac was the one he loved. When it had come time to choose between his sons, the patriarch had sent Ishmael away with his mother Hagar[4].

A generation later, Isaac would show that same kind of love towards his cousin Rebecca, whom his father had sent for in his adopted "home town" on the Euphrates River[5]. Sarah had died when Jacob was 37 years old, having never known the love of anyone but his parents. It was through Isaac that God would continue the unique people that he had chosen[6].

Human love can be distorted, as is the case with Isaac. He showed preferential treatment between his twin sons, loving Esau more than he did Jacob[7]. This resulted in his judgment being just as blind as his failing eyes. He then let his love for well seasoned meat be a test of that love[8]. Later, Jacob would reflect that same favoritism in loving Rachel and their son Joseph[9]. This tendency is addressed in the Law concerning multiple wives[10].

After generations of following Yahweh, the extended family of Jacob ended up in Egypt, under the watchful eye of his favorite son. There, they learned of numerous other so-called gods. Under Moses, though, they learned that the Creator that they knew from their family history -- the One who had called and protected Abraham -- was truly the One True God. When faced with a choice, those who loved Yahweh over all others, and kept His commandments were assured that He would show mercy unto them even though they were not perfect. It was because he had chosen them that He would continue to love them.

It was in His faithfulness to His promises that Yahweh showed his love to Israel[11] -- and all others who would come into a covenant with Him[12]. Since the covenant goes two directions, God's people could be sure of their relationship with Yahweh when they showed love to Him and to others around them[13]. These two laws together summarized the whole Ten Commandments[14].

Love was sometimes misapplied, as in the case of Samson[15], Amnon[16] and Solomon[17], but it can be seen in all kinds of relations. Sometimes it is relative, as Ruth's love to her mother-in-law was seen to be by her friends[18], and that of David towards his good friend and brother-in-law Jonathan[19].

Yahweh, His name, and His word are the most common things to which His people are to direct their love. Throughout the Psalms this becomes quite clear[20]. Those outside of God's love chose to love worldly things[21], but those who love Christ (pictured as wisdom) shall be preserved from the foolishness of the world[22]. However, like any loving Father, God disciplines His children when they fall into the ways of the world[23].

The sweetest expression of human love towards another is undoubtedly seen in that of a man for his wife. The Song of Songs recounts a love story that has been seen as a type, or even an alogory for Jesus Christ. The two words for love -- dowd and ahab come together early in the story as love for the royal husband is seen as greater than the pleasure brought from the finest wine[24]. The word dowd is the root word for David and "Jedidiah," Nathan's nickname for Solomon[25]. The two were "soul mates" as is evident throughout as the husband is said to be "him who my soul loves"[26].

In the Prophets, Isaiah proclaims God's love toward the descendants of Abraham, his friend (ahab, the one he loves) and the resulting blessings that flow from that love[27]. Hosea echoes this as God reveals to him that His love is unconditional[28]. Finally, God reminds His people some 400 years before Christ that he had chosen Jacob over Esau[29].

Love in the New Testament[]

Selfless love[]

There are two main words in the Greek for the concept of love. They are often hard to distinguish, but the one used of God towards his people is agape (ah-gah-pey) and its verb form agapao. This is the word that Matthew uses to translate Jesus' summation of the Law -- of love towards God and mankind[30].

The first time Jesus uses the word "love" it is in relation to its opposite attitude: hate. In his message to his disciples on a mountainside, he corrects a mistaken idea that it was proper to "hate" ones enemies. Instead, a believer is to love enemies even as they do the benevelent neighbor[31]. A little further, though, Jesus warns against preferring worldly possessions to service to God[32]. However, love towards God and His kingdom must be greater than that to ones own family[33].

Appreciation and preference for others may lead someone to do special things for others, as when a Gentile helps the Jews, who as a whole do not like him[34]. Such love is seen in forgiving others[35]. The greatest example of this forgiveness is found in God sending his own Son, Jesus Christ to die that His enemies could be saved[36]. This pact was between the Father and His beloved Son, which lead to His death and resurrection. he died and was raised from the dead[37].

Jesus called on his disciples to show the same love that He himself had shown to each other[38]. He went on to remind them that the way to show their love to God (Father and Son) was to obey the Law of God -- especially as He had taught them on the mountain[39]. The love that Jesus had was the love of the Father which has always existed[40].

This love is distributed liberally by the Holy Spirit who dwells in and among Christians[41]. It is not because of anything they have naturally as human beings, but because the love was to sinners before they ever thought of loving God in return[42]. However, Christians indeed return that love, and can know that God will work things out for their benefit[43].

The character of Christ's love toward His assembled believers (that is, the church) is best seen in the love of a husband for his wife. From a human perspective, the analogy is imperfect, but the divine plan is for that perfect union between the two[44]. This deep love is part of what every Christian can show to others, for it is part of the nine-fold"fruit of the Spirit[45]." Elsewhere, love appears as part of the "pavement" in the path towards God and away from worldly entanglements[46]


The other word often translated as love is philos and its verb form phileo. This word carries the idea of friendship. It is used mostly of mankind, though in places it is used of God.

In the Gospels[]

In the Gospels, the verb form, most accurately to the English "to be fond of", is used of both in familial[47] and public[48] relationships. Most famously, Jesus' disciple Judas Iscariot showed his public affection by giving him a "friendly" kiss[49]. However, by the time John wrote his Gospel, there was less of a distinction between the types of love.

This is evident in the absent of the kiss of a friend, be it in betrayal[50] or in closest friends[51] in the fourth Gospel. It is notable, though, that this "friendship love" is applied to that of God, the Father, to believers[52] and even to Jesus, the Son[53].

Although the evangelists confirm the language of Jesus was Aramaic (related to Hebrew)[54], John seems to indicate a difference in the concepts of "love" and "friendship" in the discourse between Jesus and Peter after the Resurrection. In that discussion, Jesus twice asked if Peter "loved" him in the sacrificial agape way. Both times Peter replied back that he, of course, "loved" him in the phileo way. The third time, Jesus is asking his disciple if he loved him in the latter, less committal phileo kind of love. This saddened the apostle as he responded a third time with phileo "friendship" love[55]

Other Usage[]

Paul could not stand those who refused even to show respect to (that is "be a friend to") Jesus[56]. On the other hand, he commended those who he considered related in the faith[57]. Peter went so far as to link the sign of affection (kiss) with full agape love[58].

In his earthly ministry faced the "accusation" that he was a "friend" (philos) to all types of "sinners"[59]. To such a charge he famously said that he had come to save those who "needed" to be saved[60]. His accusers were "hypocrites" who tried to scare His disciples, who he considered friends, but Jesus told them that the only one they had to fear was God, for others only had the authority to kill them here on the earth[61]. In another place, Jesus told his disciples that it was wise to make friends with those who had money in order to influence them towards righteousness[62], but that those earthly friends might just as easily turn on them[63].

Above all, though, Jesus was a friend to his disciples--followers pledged to listen and repeat what He taught them. It was to these friends (philos) that he revealed his purpose--his sacrifice for them in love (agape)[64]. Later, James the brother of Jesus would compare the friendship of believers to God to that of the world. He wrote that there cannot be friendship of both[65]. This same thing would be taught many years later by John using the "stronger" word agapao[66].

Characteristics of Love[]

According to the Apostle Paul, to love someone is to be patient with them, kind to them, to not envy them, not to be boastful, and not to be proud or rude towards them. He who loves others is also not easily angered nor self-seeking; he doesn't keep track of wrongs, but instead always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, rejoices in the truth, and never fails[67].

Love is the evidence that someone is a Christian; for no one can be saved unless they are born of God [68] and everyone who loves is born of God <[69]. It is evidence that they have passed from death to life [70]. A Christian should love others, instead of hating them; for if a Christian hates others, they are a murderer, and murderers do not have eternal life [71].

Christians are to show love towards others, not just with words, but in truth and with action [72]. They ought to love each other because God loves them[73]. They are to live sacrificially, since this is what love is (as shown by Christ on the cross). Jesus commanded people to love even their enemies [74]; as well as each other as He loves them [75].


  1. 1 John 4:8-9 (Link)
  2. Matt. 12:30-31 (Link)
  3. Gen. 22:2 (Link)
  4. Gen. 21:8-14 (Link)
  5. Gen. 24:67 (Link)
  6. Deut. 10:15 (Link)
  7. Gen. 25:28 (Link)
  8. Gen. 27:4-14 (Link)
  9. Gen. 29:30; 37:3 (Link)
  10. Deut. 21:15-16 (Link)
  11. Deut. 7:9-13 (Link)
  12. Rom. 5:8 (Link)
  13. Deut. 6:4-5; Lev. 19:18 (Link)
  14. Matt. 22:38 (Link)
  15. Judg. 16:4 (Link)
  16. 2 Sam. 13:1 (Link)
  17. 1 Kings 11:1 (Link)
  18. Ruth 4:15 (Link)
  19. 1 Sam. 20:17 (Hebrew cognate ahabah, found here and 39 other times) (Link)
  20. Psalms 5:11; 31:23; 69:36; 97:10; 116:47; 119:47-48, 97, 113; 145:20 (among others) (Link)
  21. Prov. 1:22 (Link)
  22. Prov. 8:17, 21 (Link)
  23. Prov. 3:12; 13:24 (Link)
  24. Song 1:4 (Link)
  25. 2 Sam. 12:25 (Link)
  26. Song 1:7; 3:1-5 (Link)
  27. Isa. 41:8; 43:4; 48:14 (Link)
  28. Hos. 3:1; 11:1; 14:4 (Link)
  29. Mal. 1:2 (Link)
  30. Matt. 12:30-31; 22:37, 39; compare Gal. 5:14: James 2:8 (Link)
  31. Matt. 5:43-46 (Link)
  32. Matt. 6:24 (Link)
  33. Matt. 10:37 (Link)
  34. Luke 7:5 (Link)
  35. Luke 7:42-45 (Link)
  36. John 3:16 (Link)
  37. John 3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 13:1; Gal. 2:2; Eph. 5:2; 1 John 4:10-11 (Link)
  38. John 13:34-35; Gal. 5:13 (Link)
  39. John 14:15-31 (Link)
  40. John 17:24 (Link)
  41. Rom. 5:5 (Link)
  42. Rom. 5:8 (Link)
  43. Rom. 8:28-39; 1 Cor. 2:9 (Link)
  44. Eph. 5:25-33 (Link)
  45. Gal. 5:22-23 (Link)
  46. 1 Tim. 6:11 (Link)
  47. Mat 10:37; John 11:3,36 (Link)
  48. Mat 6:5; Luke 20:46 (Link)
  49. Mat 26:48; Mark 14:44; Luke 22:47 *"to kiss" being the same verb (Link)
  50. Compare Mat 26:48-50; John 18:3-4 (Link)
  51. John 11:36 (right after Jesus wept); John 20:2 (Link)
  52. John 16:27 (Link)
  53. John 5:20 (Link)
  54. Mat 27:46; Mark 15:34; John 19:13,17) (Link)
  55. John 21:15-17 (Link)
  56. 1 Cor 16:22 (Link)
  57. 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thes 5:26; Titus 3:15 (Link)
  58. 1 Peter 5:14 (Link)
  59. Mat 11:19; Luke 7:34 (Link)
  60. Luke 5:31; 19:10 (Link)
  61. Luke 12:4-5 (Link)
  62. Luke 16:9 (Link)
  63. Luke 21:16 (Link)
  64. John 15:13-15 (Link)
  65. James 2:23; 4:4 (Link)
  66. 1 John 2:15 (Link)
  67. 1 Cor 13:4-8 (Link)
  68. John 3:5 (Link)
  69. 1 John 4:7 (Link)
  70. 1 John 3:14 (Link)
  71. 1 John 3:25 (Link)
  72. 1 John 3:18 (Link)
  73. 1 John 4:11, 19 (Link)
  74. Luke 6:27 (Link)
  75. John 13:34 (Link)