Love is more easily described than defined. It usually involves intimate knowledge, kindness, loyalty, and responsibility. In its basic Biblical sense love is not only an emotion but a deep expression of the total personality; it is not caused by any goodness in its object but is the free, creative, and unmerited response of the one who loves.
Basic OT Heb. words for love (ahabah, love; ahab and aheb, to love) denote sexual, family, soc., and divine love. Hosea brings these words into focus as God's love for His covenant people. OT Heb. words related in meaning to love include rachamim (tender mercies) and chesed (lovingkindness). The LXX rather consistently tr. ahab and aheb with agapao. Most frequent NT Gk. words for love: agapao and the related noun agape; e.g., Jn 3:16, 35; Ro 13:8; 1 Co 13; 1 Jn 3:18. Christian love is unique in that it extends also to the unworthy. This love is not mere aspiration or desire but God's love active in the Christian. It is often distinguished from eros, a word for love in non-Biblical Gk. which usually implies egocentricity also in the approach to the divine. Divine love found fullest expression in the life and death of Christ, who loved not the righteous but the sinner, Mt 9:1013. The word phileo is also common in the NT. It usually means brotherly love and affection (e.g., Mt 10:37), though it is also used of God's love to man (e.g., Jn 16:27) and expresses close relationship bet. Father and Son (Jn 5:20).
Love described in the Bible: God's love for man, man's love for God, man's love for man. In the OT God's love was directed esp. toward the community. It is His covenant action toward Israel by which He chose and sustained His people, Dt 4:37. This love is personal, selective, spontaneous, serving in judgment and forgiveness, Dt 7:6; Hos 3:1; Am 3:2; Is 54:8. In the NT God's love is expressed in Jesus Christ, who, by His sacrificial and willing death on the cross demonstrated that God is love and revealed the true nature of love, Ro 5:8; 1 Jn 3:16; 4:8. Christ's love was never a mere emotion; it was always connected with His work of redemption, Mt 20:28. God's love to man demands response. The proper response is love that shows itself in willing and worshipful obedience, Dt 6:5; Mt 22:2729; Jn 21:1517; 1 Jn 5:3. Love to one's fellowman is a proper expression of love to God, Eph 5:2; 1 Jn 4:20. Love to God is never abstract; it always centers in worship of God and service to man, Mt 25:45; Jn 14:15. Not only is love commanded (Jn 15:17); it is also a gift of the Spirit (Gl 5:22), a mark of discipleship (Jn 13:35), a sign that the believer has passed from death to life, 1 Jn 3:14. LEZ
See also Grace; Loving-kindness; Lund, Theology of; Mercy.
C. E. B. Cranfield, Love, A Theological Word Book of the Bible, ed. A. Richardson (New York, 1951), pp. 131136; E. M. Good, Love in the OT, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, ed. G. A. Buttrick, et al., III (New York, 1962), 168178; A. Nygren, Agape and Eros, 2 vols. in 3 parts; rev., and in part retranslated, and pub. in 1 vol. (London, 1953).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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