Friday, February 05, 2016


Confusion about the word “Love”

I Corinthians 13  *  Luke 18:31-43

At the present time the Church and all of society are in a crisis due to the attempt to rob the word “marriage” of any true definition, adding more confusion to what has been imposed in the past by a rampant divorce culture. The secular proponents of what they call this “evolution” justify it by using the word “equality” without definition and in place of a substantive argument. The religious proponents of it try to justify it by the word “love.” After all, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”    The problem is that we use the word “love” in English to mean several things, making it unlike many words in our language that are precise. You may say “I love a juicy steak.” But you cannot have charity for a juicy steak.    

          The King James version of today’s Epistle reading, I Corinthians 13, uses the word “charity.” In most other places where the same word, agape (γάπην), appears in the original Greek, the King James Version has it translated as “love.” Here it is translated, however, with the word “charity” perhaps to be very specific, coming as it does from the Latin caritas, into which agape was translated by St. Jerome. Good Biblical exegesis and study places agape on a higher level than the other words also translated “love.” Indeed, it is not too much to say that this word speaks of the love of God, and that this love is a virtue that can be grown in our lives only by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5, Galatians 5:22). The character of this love is described very powerfully in today’s Epistle reading, and in the character of this love we see the character of God, in fact, we see Jesus.

          The character of this love is completely giving and selfless, and this love was the love that kept Jesus Christ from coming down off the cross. This love, not the nails, held Him there. As I have said before, take that love personally, as did St. Paul :  “…the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).” In no way is this love ever selfish, self-seeking, indifferent, or apathetic. It overcomes anger, and wants the best for everyone in a sincere, indeed active, manner. It produces spontaneous fruit of good works and it forgives instantly. We also see that “Charity…rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” And, to that point we will return.

          Another word that is used in the original Greek New Testament, and that is translated “love,” is philea (φιλία), which means brotherly love and also friendship. From this we have the words Philadelphia, that is, City of Brotherly Love, and philosophy, that is, love of wisdom, philanthropy, that is, love of mankind, etc. It is a very good and positive word when speaking about human relations, love of friends and family. It is consistent with agape, though not itself as high and spiritual in nature. Surely, philia is present where agape is present; however, I cannot make the same guarantee in reverse. One’s sincere and heartfelt love might fall just short of Divine love, choosing in some crisis the comfort of being loved in return over that of complete selfless giving, or maybe failing in courage.

          Another Greek word is storge, (στοργή), which is the affection of parents to their children. It is a word that was not used much in ancient literature, but it has survived.

          The fourth Greek word for love is never used in the New Testament, though it appears in the Greek Apocrypha. That word is eros (ρως), and from it we have the English word “erotic.” It is the love of sexual passion. When the word has a good meaning it is only between a man and his wife. It can be present side by side with both philea and even agape. But, again, only between a man and woman who are married to each other is this kind of love a good thing. Eros can be present, however, with practices forbidden by God’s commandments in such sins as adultery or fornication.

          Here we must deal with another Greek word that appears quite a bit in the New Testament, a word that is never translated “love,” and never should be so translated. In the Gospel accounts of things that Jesus said when warning against carnal sins, in the Greek manuscripts quoting Him, He used this word; that word is pornea (πορνεία). From it come the words pornography and fornication. Obviously, pornea has no redeeming value. It is always sin. The weakness of translating the word pornea as “fornication” is that modern people assume that fornication is limited in definition to premarital sex. But, in fact, pornea means any and every kind of sexual immorality, from adultery to incest, from premarital sex to same-sex acts, etc.

The following things, therefore, can be present in combination:

1.     Eros and pornea

2.     Eros and philia

3.     Philea and pornea.

4.     Philea and agape

5.     Perhaps even eros and agape, but only in marriage.

(In the above, bear in mind that pornea is never translated as love.)

     But what can never be present in combination is pornea and agape, for, as we heard read in today’s Epistle, “Charity … rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” We also heard, “Charity … seeketh not her own.”

     To equate love of neighbor, which is agape, with eros is a problem. Such love should be exclusive of a man for his wife, and a woman for her husband. And since pornea is not love at all, but lust, even if it is combined with eros, it is certainly not the love God commands us to have for our neighbor, and is far from the new commandment of Christ, “That ye love one another as I have loved You (agape).”

     Indeed, when it comes to the subject of sin, if seeing that one’s neighbor is in the grip of sin and needs to repent and be forgiven by Christ, charity, agape, cannot rejoice. Charity moves us to pray and hope for the person’s repentance and salvation. It cannot move us to participate or enable sin. Such is not the love of God.

     Some indeed protest that their acts and relationship of pornea are a kind of love, a kind the Church needs to affirm. So they tell us that the Church ought to bless same-sex “marriages.” But, I ask you, cannot two people in an adulterous affair also claim that their acts and relationship are a kind of love? Indeed, inasmuch as eros may be filled with emotion, people do say it and mean it. If we can bless a sinful union then why not have the Church some up with rites to bless an adulterous affair? After all, they are in love, and love is always good – right? But the true love of God, charity, agape, cannot rejoice in iniquity. It will move one to repent, and to want the other party to repent also.

     Let us look at the context of that specific commandment that Jesus quoted as the second great commandment of the Law:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:17, 18).”

Does the love of God actually rebuke? In this case, does it actually move one to urge repentance of his neighbor? Yes. You see agape doesn’t seek its own gratification, and is willing to be unloved and rejected, just as Christ was willing to go to the cross and endure the hostility of sinners against Himself.

     So throwing around the word “love,” as these proponents and apologists of sin do all the time, turns the word into a sound no more meaningful than a dog’s bark. The Son of God came into the world to save the world, not to make the world safe for immorality. Jesus showed the love of God by dying for our sins and offering forgiveness and a new life to all who come to Him with sincere repentance and true faith.            


Bruce said...

Father, isn’t adultery a distinct sin from porneia? Where porneia is mentioned in the NT, adultery is listed adjacently but separately.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Not distinct, but rather more specific.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thank you for this, Fr Hart. I found it helpful in clarifying some questions I had.

I am often asked about the two-wife marriage pattern of Terah, Abraham, Isaac, Elkanah, etc. People want to know isn't this lustful. As you point out, pornea and agape do not/cannot exist as a combination. These men loved/cared for their wives, some of whom were half-sisters, as was Sarah to Abraham. Perhaps this explains why these marriages, as we read about them in Scripture, seem less about passion than about producing heirs.