Monday, May 23, 2016

Understanding John 21:15-17, Part 1

It is common to hear that two Greek words translated as “love” in the New Testament – agapao and phileo – are two different types of love and that we must discern this when trying to interpret the Bible.[1] Some separate agapao as God’s “divine love” and phileo as “brotherly love.”[2] This sounds good to the inquiring ear. The Greek words for love have some different range of meanings and connotations, but they also have significant semantic overlap (that is, they can be used interchangeably, as synonyms). Random application of some special meaning to these individual Greek words absent there context can render bad outcomes. It can skew our understanding and lead to wrong conclusions.

On these two words D. A. Carson writes, 

Although it is doubtless true that the entire range of αγαπάω (agapao, to love) and the entire range of φιλέω (phileo, to love) are not exactly the same, nevertheless they enjoy substantial overlap; and where they overlap, appeal to a "root meaning" in order to discern a difference is fallacious. In 2 Samuel 13 (LXX), both αγαπάω (agapao, to love) and the cognate ἀγάπη (agape, love) can refer to Amnon's incestuous rape of his half-sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13:15, LXX).[3] (Exegetical Fallacies, p. 31)
It is a problem to use concordance studies to develop ideas foreign to what Greek speakers knew their words meant or could mean. But the concordance can also point us to the solution to the problem. That is, even if we don’t know Greek, we can use a Strong’s or Young’s Concordance to discover that different Greek words mean the same thing in a particular context.
  • 2 Timothy 4:10 for Demas hath forsaken me, having loved (agapao/ἀγαπάω) this present world… 
  • John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved (agapao/ἀγαπάω) darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 
  • Luke 6:32 For if ye love (agapao/ἀγαπάω) them which love (agapao/ἀγαπάω) you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love (agapao/ἀγαπάω) those that love (agapao/ἀγαπάω) them.
  • John 3:35 The Father loveth (agapao/ἀγαπάω) the Son... 
  • John 5:20 For the Father loveth the Son (phileo/φιλέω)… 
  • John 21:20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved (agapao/ἀγαπάω)… 
  • John 20:2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved (phileo/φιλέω)...
The first three examples illustrate verses where we would be surprised to find “God’s special love” used. Backsliding Demas had God’s special love for the world (2 Timothy 4:10)? Natural man has God’s special love for darkness (John 3:19)? Sinners have God’s special loved for one another (Luke 6:32)?

The second examples compare scriptures that say and mean the same thing, while using agapao for love in one and phileo for love in the other. These and other comparisons can be made by simply looking up these words in a concordance, with no in depth training in the Greek language. The concordance that entangles us in the problem can extricate us as well.

“When looking at the Greek text, we have no reason to derive any hidden or special meaning of word usage in the exchange between Jesus and Peter and the supposed two types of love.” (Common Exegetical Fallacies) If your teachers insist they are finding masked mystical meaning encoded in the cavities of their concordances, perhaps you should find more moderate mentors to lead you into the truth (while at the same time searching the scriptures whether those things are so).

[1] There are at least four Greek words for love – agape/ἀγαπάω, phileo/φιλέω, storge/στοργή, and eros/ἔρως. Three of them – agape, phileo, and a form of storge – are used in the New Testament. Storge only occurs in Romans 12:10, as the compound word, philostorgos (φιλόστοργοι), which is a compound word from the noun form of phileo and storge

[2] For example of this, someone has written “Agape is a special term which represents the divine-love of the Lord towards his Son Jesus Christ.” But it was not a special term, either in the common Greek conversational world or in the inspired New Testament. 
[3] LXX is the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Understanding John 21:15-17, Part 2

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