Love and the Bible
What is Love?
Before we look at love and the Bible, or, more specifically, the use of the word love in the Bible, we first need to be sure we know what we mean by the word 'love.'
When we think of love, we often picture love-hearts or the kind of rather steamy romantic love that we see on television. The word 'love' covers such a variety of feelings; we even say, "I love ice-cream." This seems to show rather a paucity of descriptions in the English language. We do have such words as 'affection,' 'fondness', 'adoration,' 'passion', 'crush,' or even a 'liking' for something, but they can seem to be poor substitutes for what we really mean. In English we often need to attach another word, or even a phrase, to describe the kind of love that we want to express.
My dictionary tells me that 'love' is 'a strong feeling of affection,' but then it goes on to describe the different facets of love in a variety of ways and it uses several different phrases to explain the meanings. We do not seem to have the words to explain the different kinds of love.
Let's look at 'love' in other languages.
Love in Some Languages
Now this is where I'm going to show my ignorance. I have a smattering of some other languages, but how I wish that I knew more. I may be wrong in what follows and if that is so, please correct me in the 'Comments' section at the bottom.
- French: French is often thought to be the most romantic language. It is allied to Italian and Spanish, and, of course, Latin. At school we were quick to learn Je t'aime, I love you. Later there were other words, such as amour, tendresse, affectionner (v).
- Dutch: My husband learned Dutch, but it was a long time ago, so it may not be correct: Ik heb leif von yau, I love you. It wasn't, so thank you for the corrections. It should be Ik hou van jou, or Ik heb jou lief.
- Mandarin: Wo ai ni, I love you. Of course, properly written this should be in Chinese characters. Like English, there are several phrases, or groups (usually two) of characters that express mother-love, love for God, fall in love, love of something inanimate, such as ice-cream.
- Dobuan (one of several languages of the D'Entrecasteaux, a group of islands off the Eastern tip of PNG): Ya obobomeyo, I love you. It's interesting that there are two words for a gift; one is when a gift is given and a return gift is expected; the second word, oboboma, is also a word for a gift given in love, a reciprocal gift would be an insult.
- Greek: From my limited knowledge, Greek seems to have the most descriptive single words for love: eros, phileo, storge, agape. Each one of these words describes a different facet of love.
So what love words do we find in the Bible?
Love in the Bible
Sadly, my knowledge of Hebrew and Biblical Greek is practically non-existent, and yet these are the most important languages of the Holy Bible.
The Old Testament: Most of the Old Testament (OT) was written in Hebrew. 'A Theological Word Book of the Bible' (Alan Richardson, ed.) tells us that the Hebrew root aheb occurs over 200 times. It covers a wide range of meanings from love of God for people, love of people for God, passionate love, love within a family, love between friends, and love between people when it is seen as a religious duty. There are also agab, doting; dud (especially in the Song of Solomon); and racham, meaning tender mercy. These words, as they are used in the OT are mostly connected with inward, personal feelings.
The New Testament: The New Testament (NT) was written in classical Greek. I have read that in the NT there is no use of storge and little of eros, the words mostly used are related to phileo and agape, although some other terms are also translated as 'love.' The love words in the NT often seem to describe feelings and attitudes that are still personal, but that may go out from God to us, and from us to Him and to other people.
God is Love
As they say, 'Love is what makes the world go around,' but I guess it's really God's love for His creation and HIs people (even when we are not very loving of Him or of each other) that really keeps it going around.
While this article is probably quite long enough I would like to further explore the topic of love and the Bible, and may do so in the future. There is still so much more to learn about the different types of love and how we can use such a precious gift in the best possible way.
After all, we can see how human understanding has developed through the ages as God has gradually revealed the wonder of love to us, from the Old Testament Ten Commandments, which tell us to love the Lord our God (Deut.6.5), to the New Testament that tells us God is love (I John 4.8) and (Mark 12.30 - 31) we are to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbours as ourselves.