Four Greek Words for Love -- By: Kenneth S. Wuest

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 116:463 (Jul 1959)
Article: Four Greek Words for Love
Author: Kenneth S. Wuest

Four Greek Words for Love

Kenneth S. Wuest

[Kenneth S. Wuest is the author of many books on studies in the Greek New Testament for the English reader, and was formerly a member of the faculty of Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois.]

The expositor who expects to do top-level work for the Lord Jesus must take note of the keen distinction between the synonyms which are used in the Greek New Testament with meticulous accuracy. In the case of the idea of love, there are four, eran, stergein, philein, and agapan. Eran is not used in the New Testament, although it occurs in early Christian literature. Stergein is used three times. On two of these occasions it is translated in the A.V., “natural affection,” the other instance of its use being in composition with philos and is rendered “kindly affectioned.” Philein is used in its various forms forty-five times, and agapan, three hundred and twenty times, the latter two words being regularly translated “love” except when in a few instances agapan is rendered “charity.”

In most cases the exegete can readily understand the distinctive significance of the use of philein and agapan in their contexts. In some instances the reason for their use may not be clear, which fact has led some expositors to conclude that in those places they are used interchangeably. But not so. The doctrine of verbal inspiration stands squarely against such teaching. The Bible asserts that in the case of the original manuscripts each word was selected out of the vocabulary of the writer by the Holy Spirit for its particular content of meaning which would convey to the reader conversant with the original language the exact truth God wishes man to have. That process of selection extends to the choice of synonyms. In the case of instances where the use of one synonym rather than the other is not understood, it is better to hold rigidly to the Bible claim of verbal inspiration and wait for further light or be content with no light on the problem this side of heaven, than to give Satan a chance to cut in on one’s faith in verbal inspiration by the insinuation that these synonyms are used interchangeably, finally to have that faith broken down entirely.

The first word which we will treat is eran. The word

passion defines it. It is pa...

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