Biblical Definitions of Love

Betsy St. Amant Haddox

iBelieve Contributing Writer
Published Jan 19, 2023
Biblical Definitions of Love

We can’t do this on our own, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can love selflessly and without pride. With His help, we can love sacrificially as Jesus did. 

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and love is in the air! But the English language can be a little confusing in this area. 

For example, we love a lot of things. We tell our spouse, “I love you,” then five minutes later, gush about how much we “love” Taylor Swift or Hugh Jackman. We love our kids, our dog, and our favorite soup. We love playing soccer, we love Froot Loops, and we love being productive. 

As the character of Inigo Montoya famously stated in The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means when you think it means.” 

Obviously, we mean different things when we use the word “love.” I hope we love our spouses and kids more than we love breakfast cereal or certain activities! But even within the fluctuating level of reverence that we assign to the word “love,” there are different connotations and contexts. We love our husband differently than we love our kids. And we love our parents differently than we do our best friend. The love is strong in all of those directions but unique in form. 

See the confusion? 

The Bible talks about love a lot, and thankfully, the Greek breaks down the various forms of the word “love” to provide us with proper context. 

Here are three types of Biblical love most often found in the Bible and what they mean:

1. Eros

This type of love is labeled sexual or romantic love, which is the kind we feel for our spouse or significant other. In a marriage, this type of love is a blessing! When unrequited, however, this type of love can often feel more like a curse. It’s heartbreaking.

Paul gives us a great example of eros love in his charge to singles:

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (ESV) "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

Paul praised the gift of singleness but knew eros can often feel out of control. It needs an outlet, which is one of the blessings of a godly, heterosexual marriage. When eros love is expressed in any other way, it causes heartbreak and unnecessary drama. 

Consider the aftermath of sleeping around before you’re married, crossing physical boundaries when dating, and of course, the pain of adultery. 

Hebrews 13:4 (ESV) "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous."

Promiscuity existed well before Paul's wise words. The Lord spoke through Paul not to confine sex and steal our fun but to protect our hearts, souls, and bodies. Think of eros as a flame. When properly corralled, it’s a gift that provides light and warmth and joy. When out of control, it brings nothing but destruction and devastation.

2. Philia

Otherwise known as brotherly love, philia is the deep-rooted affection of friendship and brotherhood. It could be considered the most “common” love in the Bible, as it encompasses not only specific relationships but also the general love, respect, and care we are to have for mankind. 

David and Jonathan are a prime example of philia love regarding friendship in the Bible. 1 Samuel 20:42 (NIV) says, "Jonathan said to David, 'Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, "The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever."’"

Philia love also applies to our direct family members and our overall community, such as our local church body. 

1 Thessalonians 4:9 (ESV) "Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another…"

Romans 12:10 (ESV) "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor."

1 Peter 3:8 (ESV) "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind."

We’re charged in God’s Word to love each other. We can love our literal brother and sisters, as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ, with this special, bonding form of philia

And we not only “can,” but we “must.” Unity is crucial to the Body of Christ. We represent God in the way we treat each other, which is why offenses must be forgiven and worked through, why reconciliation should always be our goal in fractured friendships, and why gossip and slander must not be tolerated in the church body. We’re all sinful humans and won’t live this out perfectly, but just as we’re charged to avoid sexual sin for our own good, we’re instructed to love each other with philia love for our own good—and the good of others. 

3. Agape

Perhaps the most important and lasting type of love is this one. Agape is the unconditional love that we receive from God. It’s life-changing, eternal, and can only be generated from the Lord Himself. We can’t duplicate it. It’s perfect. It’s a part of who God is.  

1 John 4:7-8 (ESV) "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." 

It’s only through this unique form of love that we can draw near to God through His Son, Jesus. The gospel message is a message of agape!

John 3:16 (ESV) "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

1 John 4:9-10 (ESV) "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

Agape love is also what we should strive to show others. We can’t do this on our own, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can love selflessly and without pride. With His help, we can love sacrificially as Jesus did. 

Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan. That’s the kind of love that Jesus calls us to show through His power—the type of love that is generous, lavish, and defies logic. Who naturally is inclined to help someone who is an enemy? Who naturally wants to protect or spend money on someone who hates us? No one. But through the agape love of Christ, we can be funnels of this kind of love to encourage, bless, and care for others. 

While romantic love, familial love, and brotherly love are all important and can be fulfilling, there is nothing more satisfying than the agape love of God for us. 

If you’re struggling to feel loved this Valentine's Day, please remember that God loves you with an everlasting love. Because of this love, you are held and sustained and seen. You are chosen. You are kept. Earthly love can be taken from us through divorce, sin, and death, but nothing can separate us from the love of God. 

Romans 8:38-39 (ESV) "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

And let’s be honest. That eternal love and assurance are way better than flowers or chocolate!

Photo Credit: ©Emmanuel Phaeton/Unsplash

Betsy_headshotBetsy St. Amant Haddox is the author of over twenty romance novels and novellas. She resides in north Louisiana with her hubby, two daughters, an impressive stash of coffee mugs, and one furry Schnauzer-toddler. Betsy has a B.A. in Communications and a deep-rooted passion for seeing women restored to truth. When she’s not composing her next book or trying to prove unicorns are real, Betsy can be found somewhere in the vicinity of an iced coffee. She is a regular contributor to and offers author coaching and editorial services via Storyside LLC.