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Thursday, June 05, 2008

The love of women

I am going to be away again but I want to start a response to a question I received some time ago. Should agape and philia be translated differently in the scriptures? Should we have a different translation for the two verbs in the exchange in John 21?

As it turns out, no. Agape and philia love are used about equally for love of things, spouses, friends and God. And of God for us. There is virtually no difference in their use.

Here is an example from the Septuagint.
    ἀλγῶ ἐπὶ σοί ἄδελφέ μου Ιωναθαν ὡραιώθης μοι σφόδρα ἐθαυμαστώθη ἡ ἀγάπησίς σου ἐμοὶ ὑπὲρ ἀγάπησιν γυναικῶν

    I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were made very beautiful to me. Your love to me was wonderful, beyond women's love. 2 Sam. 1:26
In fact, there is not much evidence that this agape love was unconditional. Here is Leah.
    καὶ συνέλαβεν Λεια καὶ ἔτεκεν υἱὸν τῷ Ιακωβ ἐκάλεσεν δὲ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ρουβην λέγουσα διότι εἶδέν μου κύριος τὴν ταπείνωσιν νῦν με ἀγαπήσει ὁ ἀνήρ μου

    And Leah became pregnant and bore a son to Jacob and she called his name Reuben, saying because 'My Lord has seen my humiliation and now my husband will love me.'
The case is no better in classical Greek. Some people have agape love for their pet monkeys. Even in the NT there is no difference between agape love and philia love. Love is love. The broken down human kind and the divine. Love defined by one word is no different from love defined by another word. The actions will make the difference.

No, I don't think that agape love and philia love in John 21 where Peter and Jesus talk, are any different. The switch between the two words is of stylistic importance only.

Addendum: post has been edited to correct errors.


At Fri Jun 06, 03:25:00 AM, Blogger Carl W. Conrad said...

Good note, Suzanne! I remember being so impressed by my first reading of Nygren's Eros and Agape and by sermons contrasting ἀγαπάω and φιλέω in the dialogue of Peter and Jesus in John 21, and then coming to realize later that the usage of the two verbs in the Greek NT really cannot be sharply distinguished and that John's style regularly enough involves use of synonymous expressions -- or, as you put it, it's a matter of "stylistic importance only." One annoying pedantic subnote: φιλεος is not a Greek word; I think you mean φιλία or verb φιλέω.

At Fri Jun 06, 04:23:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

There is virtually no difference in their use.
An early example. Homer's Odyssey and Richmond Lattimore's translation. Book 2, lines 363-365. His nurse Eurykleia speaking to Odysseus:

τίπτε δέ τοι, φίλε τέκνον, 8ἐνὶ φρεσὶ τοῦτο νόημα
ἔπλετο; πῇ δ' ἐθέλεις ἰέναι πολλὴν ἐπὶ γαῖαν
μοῦνος ἐὼν ἀγαπητός;

Why, my beloved child, has this intention come into
your mind? Why do you wish to wander over much country,
you, an only and loved son?

At Fri Jun 06, 05:51:00 AM, Blogger E said...

D. A. Carson in his book Exegetical Fallacies explains how agapaô came to mean "love" in lieu of or in competition with phileô.

IIRC, it was because the aorist of a word for "kiss" was identical with the aorist of a word that meant to become pregnant, which led to some rather salacious jokes, so phileô started more assuming the meaning of "kiss" and agapaô began to take phileô's place for "love." He cites some scholar's work or paper on the subject.

I.e., it's not because agapê/agapaô is or was some special kind of "God" love.

At Fri Jun 06, 06:47:00 AM, Blogger Michael Kruse said...

So is there a history behind why the two words have been taught as having such distinctive meanings? Where has the over delineation come from?

At Fri Jun 06, 08:39:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Good question!

Thanks for bringing in D.A. Carson, who maybe answers Michael's question by pointing readers to C.S. Lewis's The Four Loves, Timothy Jackson's Love Disconsoled, and Anders Nygren's Agape and Eros [which Carl mentions here]. Those three offer speculations and perhaps reinforce distinctions not in Greek.

So Carson in Love in Hard Places says this in reply to the three:

“Whatever the heuristic merits of this analysis of kinds of love, I have shown elsewhere that there is plenty of evidence that these different loves cannot safely be tied to these respective [Greek] words. The Bible has plenty to say about sexual love, for instance, and yet never uses the word eros. In the Septuagint, when Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar, the Greek text can say the he ‘loved’ her, using the verb agapao (LXX 2 Sam. 13:1, 4, 15). When John tells us that the Father loves the Son, once he does so with phileo, and once with agapao, with no discernable distinction in meaning (John 3:35; 5:20). When Demas forsakes Paul because he loves this present evil world, the verb is agapao. In fact, the evidence goes way beyond a smattering of verses, but I need not repeat it here since it has been set forth often enough.[3, to fn 3]”
(page 13, my transliteration of the Greek words Carson and publisher uses with Greek alphabet)

And Lattimore uses love in John 21 for his English translation of both of John's Greek words, which have translated Peter's Aramaic dialog with Jesus.

Classics translator Willis Barnstone follows Lattimore's practice, and only adds this in a fn:

"Peter's threefold profession of love parallels his earlier threefold denial."

(Note how John keys in on "three" also in 21:14).

Since Judas' denial was with a "kiss" (as John witnessed and read in the other gospels as φιλησω or phileso), I wonder if John is linking Peter's words in 21 φιλω or philo) rather severely to the Greek reader's mind? In this way, there is word play in Greek that gets lost when the English must flatten the senses of phil to "love" and not also the physical outward sign of it?

Peter who is speaking Aramaic, however, may not have intended the playful intimacy and emphasis on betrayal that John's Greek translation hints at. To love as with a kiss is what John's word (phileo seems to suggest, when he translates Peter. J.B. Philips seems to try a bit to emphasize the word with "friend," but it's not intimate or lovely or loving enough. Robert Young (with his "literal" translation) puts it "dearly love," but even that doesn't get to the Greek word play well enough.

At Fri Jun 06, 11:41:00 AM, Blogger Bill said...

I like J.K.'s list of examples.

Suzanne, while I agree it seems impossible to translate the often subtle differences (especially word-for-word), I can't agree with you that there's no difference in the fish-fry conversation.

Again, I'm at a loss to see your meaning. How can you say "no difference" and they show a "stylistic" difference? Does style have no meaning at all?

I've got my own theory on this passage, btw. But I'd rather find out what you're thinking first.

At Fri Jun 06, 12:46:00 PM, Blogger E said...

Again, I'm at a loss to see your meaning. How can you say "no difference" and they show a "stylistic" difference? Does style have no meaning at all?

agapaô/phileô is not the only wordplay that John uses in John 21. There are several - e.g., boat, fish, pasture, feed/tend/shepherd, know, and sheep - which supports agapaô/phileô being more stylistic than signifying differences in meaning.

At Fri Jun 06, 01:21:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

There is often an underlying feeling that if there are two words there have to be differences. Probably true, but what are those differences? They aren't always referential (meaning) differences.

You can convince yourself of this by thinking about big and large and little and small. There are contexts in which particular choices only sound better or worse, but don't mean anything different.

big and little, large and small, big and small, but odd large and little

In particular collocations, the whole collocation can have a different meaning:

big boy vs. large boy

The first can be used to refer to age or relative maturity, the second can't. But that's a property of the collocation as a whole, not the individual words.

Suzanne is right. ἀγαπάω and φιλέω are like big and large, they mean the same thing referentially, but can be distinguished stylistically.

At Fri Jun 06, 03:59:00 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Ah. Okay, I get what y'all mean now about style. It's like finding another word simply to avoid repeating the same, ah, word. ;)

Gotcha. Thanks.

Still, I think there's a difference in this case, and I'll post my own views on the passage tomorrow, on my blog.

It's something I've meant to get around to for a while anyway. So thanks to Suzanne for bringing it up.

At Sat Jun 07, 04:29:00 PM, Blogger tc robinson said...

Suzanne, also we find within John itself no degree of difference. The expression "the one whom Jesus loves" uses both (see John 13:23; 20:2).

At Sat Jun 07, 11:37:00 PM, Blogger Bill said...

"Peter's threefold profession of love parallels his earlier threefold denial."

That was just literature run amuck. But the context says this had nothing to do with that. And I don't think the old agape/phileo sermons hold any water at all. But I do have a NEW interpretation of the passage, and I do believe there's a difference in the vocab.

Check it out over here.

At Sun Jun 08, 04:37:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for your thoughtful commentary at your blog. I wonder there if you really say in English all and only what you "intend to."

But I have a couple of questions for any of us who would press the fact that there are no real referential but only stylistic differences in the Greek words for love:

1) Why do NT writers and LXX translators completely avoid eros (and an identifiable set of Greek synonyms for other notions, like "love," and "rhetoric" as well?)

2) How is it that the writer of 2 Peter 1:7 does seem referentially to distinguish τῇ φιλαδελφίᾳ and τὴν ἀγάπην? But how does the writer of 1 Peter 1:22 seem not to distinguish φιλαδελφίαν from ἀλλήλους ἀγαπήσατε?

At Mon Jun 09, 08:33:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

What a fantastic thread. Thanks for all your thoughts. I followed up Bill's post and E's blog "water and spirit." It's great to hear from all of you and thanks for adding and improving so much on my post rather carelessly thrown together.


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