‘ΑΓΑΠΑΩ and ΦΛΛΕΩ (A Suggestion For John 21:15-17) -- By: Herbert William Magoun

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 064:255 (Jul 1907)
Article: ‘ΑΓΑΠΑΩ and ΦΛΛΕΩ (A Suggestion For John 21:15-17)
Author: Herbert William Magoun


‘ΑΓΑΠΑΩ and ΦΛΛΕΩ
(A Suggestion For John 21:15-17)

Herbert William Magoun

II

In the New Testament, ‘to love’ is commonly expressed by agapao. This was to be expected: Where phileo is employed, the reason for its use is generally clear. The context usually settles the kind of love that is indicated. When John says (v. 20), “For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth” ; the relation referred to is plainly of the friendly order. The verb used is phileo. Would agapao have suggested the sharing of confidences? Does it, moreover, lessen the dignity of the Son, if the Father treats him as a friend? Where the relationship of a father is involved, as in John 3:35, “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand “; the idea of friendship has no place, and the word used is agapao.

In John 16:27, “for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me/’ the kind of love is not so clear. God must feel agape for all his children, however, and agapao might seem cold. In the second clause it might suggest an exalted love. The word used in each instance is appropriately phileo. A father’s love is naturally agape. The use of any other word in such a connection implies some additional and unusual feature. Phileo thus gains a certain tenderness in

the first clause, which it does not wholly lose in the second. Where Jesus speaks of the Father’s love for himself, the word is regularly and properly agapao. It is the best available term.

Language has many limitations; but it is sufficiently exact for practical purposes. The story of Amnon’s unnatural treatment of Tamar illustrates the point. In 2 Sam. 13:15, it says: “Then Amnon hated her with exceeding great hatred; for the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her.”1 The idea involved is not a simple one, and the words available for expressing it are of a limited capacity. Tamar was Amnon’s half sister. He fell desperately in love with her; but he would not ask the king for her as his wife (2 Sam. 13:1–2, 11–14). Sin followed with its natural consequences. His lust turned to loathing, all his brotherly affection was destroyed, and whatever of good there may have been in his ...

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