“Seven Types of Love” by Todd Hampson

“Seven Types of Love” by Todd Hampson

When relationships, marriages, or families fall apart, sometimes the verse “God is love” is quoted as a handy reason for a new love relationship. What did the Apostle John mean when he said that “God is love” in 1 John 4:8 and elsewhere?

First of all, we should be very thankful that the ancient Greeks were as precise about meaning as they were. They had several words which roughly translate into “love” in English. Three of them will be familiar to students of the Scriptures:

Eros: Named after the child of Ares and Aphrodite. This is sexual passion or desire and was considered by the ancients to be the lowest form of “love”.

Philia: Higher up on the “love scale” is philia. This is friendship or brotherly or platonic love.

Agape: This highest form of “love” is God’s kind of selfless, sacrificial love and is the word used in 1 John 4:8: “Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν” (theos agape estin) “God is [selfless, sacrificial] love”.

Four other words for love that are not as well-known (and some are more modern) are:

Storgé: parental and protective love for children.

Ludus: (Latin) playful love between children (teasing) or young lovers (flirting).

Pragma: mature love, as in the understanding that develops between long-married couples.

Philautia: self-love which can either devolve into narcissism or evolve in a secureness that allows one to “love your neighbor as you [already] love yourself”.

So back to 1 John 4:8 and similar verses. The phrase “God is love” in its fullest sense means, “One of God’s major attributes is selfless, sacrificial love”. It is a dangerous deception to flip around the words to read “love is god” as if it were a simple mathematical equation and then replace agape with the meaning of eros or philautia or both. What do we mean when we say “God is love”? Have we mangled the meaning to “my selfishness is my god”? Or do we mean the highest form of love which the Apostle John and God hoped for us to experience and extend to others?