Agape & Biblical Concepts of Love
The following notes make it clear that the concept of "love" covers many different aspects of human experience. As we explore the Western tradition, we find that philosophers and theologians have found it helpful to delineate several different kind of love, motivated from very different aspects of the human person.
The Greek philosopher Plato distinguished the "Heavenly Aphrodite" (Urania) from the popular Goddess of sexual love (Pandemos). The higher Aphrodite represented mystical union of the soul with the divine Logos. (Plato, Symposium, 180)
In the Hebrew tradition, there is a distinction between the emotional center of the heart (racham) and the spiritual will (ahav). In the Qur'an of Islam, the very first prayer delineates the feminine aspect and the masculine aspect of God's love: God can express both Rachman and Rachim: the fiery active power of love, and the compassionate comforter.
Jesus taught in the Greek language, a rich language of philosophy which bequethed to the great Teacher three distinct concepts of love: (1) Philios, the natural love based on biological kinship of family and tribe; (2) Eros, sexual yearning that also can symbolize the yearning of the soul for spiritual or aesthetic delight; (3) Agape, the distinctly Christian term of the Gospels, used rarely before Jesus' time, signifying the grace-filled heart of compassion and forgiveness, a love for the entire human community, even for one's enemies.
I. OLD TESTAMENT HEBREW
Also related to RACHIM (compassion) and RECHEM (womb)
Gen 43: Then Joseph made haste, for his heart (womb) yearned for his brother and he went to his chamber and wept.
Ps 103: Like a father who pities his children.
Ps 119: Let thy tender mercies come unto me.
Is 49: The Lord will have mercy upon his afflicted.
I Kings 3: Her womb yearned for her son.
2 Chronicles 30: Your children shall find compassion.
2) AHAV (Hebrew: Commitment of the Will)
Lev. 19: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Deut. 6: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.
Song of Songs 3: I found him whom my soul loveth.
Isa. 56: To love the name of the Lord.
O how I love thy law!
Therefor I love thy commandments.
Consider how I love thy precepts.
II. NEW TESTAMENT GREEK: 3 KINDS OF LOVE
PHILIOS: filial emotional bond (translates Hebrew Rechem)
EROS: yearning to possess the object of passion
AGAPE: graceful commitment of the will (translates Hebrew Ahava)
Agapate ‘eleilous: "Love one another."
This is the language of the common Jewish people of Jesus' time, derived from Biblical Hebrew. In this language, the Gospel's AGAPE would be translated as HAV: which meant not only love, but the motion of ebb tide flowing back into the sea!
Matthew 5: “Sermon On the Mount”
21“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…
38-39 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist the evil one. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
40 "And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven."
Jesus Arrested, Matthew 26
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."
Question: What manner of love would empower us to transcend all that we would define as "human nature," loving even our enemies? is this kind of love possible? Is it dangerous? Is it unnatural? Can it have any practical value?