Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reading the 'non-existent' into the text

It happens a lot! Christians reading things into the text of Scripture that clearly are not there!

I am on the executive of a Christian political party here in South Africa, and the other day in an opening address the speaker said that he is so involved in the
party that wherever he reads in the Bible he sees the party. He said that he can see the Bible saying things about the party everywhere in the Bible!

I sat there co
mpletely shocked while, it seems, everybody shouted "Amen!" I must admit, I am still to meet a non-charismatic in the party. I suppose that says it all! The viewpoint that this speaker expressed so clouds his mind, that I find it difficult to believe that he can read a Biblical theology from the pages of Scripture!

The problem is that this happens all the time in the church. Not just in the charismatic church, but among evangelicals of all stripes! So often, preachers (and those who call themselves teachers) come with a great sermon that is not in the text at all! The fact is, they would read the text to the whole church, and then continue to set their preconceived overlay over the text, thus nullifying the very text they preach from! Instead of preaching from the text, they simply use it as a pretext in order to proclaim their own ideas that are not found in the text. At least they could claim to have read from the Bible. Actually, they do not preach the unadulterated Word of God, but rather the overlay that they brought to the text!

These preachers simply do not take God or His Word seriously! When our sermons cannot be substantiated by the text, we are, in effect, putting words in God's mouth, and as a result make Him a liar! When we do not take the time to study the Word of God and to use proper standards of Biblical interpretation when we prepare our sermons, what does that say about our respect for God? It is exactly because preachers do not respect God's Word that they would preach from a passage, a message that does not originate from that passage.

Mark Dever preached an excellent sermon on Expositional Preaching at the Grace Minister's Conference, 2007, in South Africa. In it he
shows how today's churches try to attract people through all kinds of schemes and programs. Here is a short audio clip from that sermon. This is the type of hype that many preachers get into in order to get people to stay at their churches. I surmise that preaching that is not based on the actual text falls in the same category. Download the clip or listen to it online:

This happened at church this last weekend when the pastor preached on John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." I am sure you can already see where this is going! If you can't, then you have never sat through a sermon in a charismatic church!

This verse was used as a proof text that God still speaks today. This is how the sermon starts:

"Nature is wonderful! Even more wonderful is our Creator God who made it all! Many animals such as whales and a number of bird species have inbuilt guidance systems which humans have still not figured out. This enables them to find their way to breeding and feeding grounds over thousands of kilometers with pinpoint accuracy. Some inner voice or instinct guides them with great precision. Would we think it strange that God also provides and plans for His children to be guided on the path of life? I think not. We would expect nothing less. And indeed He guides and leads us by His voice and His word!"

When we look at the passage at hand, we realize that Jesus said these words in the midst of two metaphors, The Good Shepherd and The Door, which clearly should give guidance when this passage is interpreted.

After Jesus gave them the first parable, talking about the gate keeper, and the fact that the shepherd of the sheep comes through the door, it seemed that the people di
d not understand His figure of speech.

In order to make it easier for them to understand, Jesus gave them two more parables.

The first parable is that of The Door:

(7) So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. (8) All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. (9) I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (10) The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
(Jn 10:7-10)

point that Jesus made here is that salvation comes only by entering through the correct door. There is only one door and that door is Christ Himself. All others claiming to give entrance to salvation are thieves and robbers. Entrance into salvation is through Christ alone.

The second is the parable of The Good Shepherd:

(11) I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (12) He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. (13) He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (14) I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, (15) just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (16) And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (17) For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. (18) No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
(Jn 10:11-18)

s continued with His theme of salvation. It is the Good Shepherd that lay his life down for the sheep. It is in this context that Jesus started using the idea of His sheep listening to His voice. Jesus bound the fact that the Father knows Him and He knows the Father to the fact that He lay down His life for the sheep. Based on the fact that He lay down His life for the sheep, He pointed out that there were sheep not of this (Jewish) fold. These sheep had to be brought into the fold (salvation) too, but there was no problem, since they would listen to His voice. When that call for salvation came to them, they would hear and come!

This is where the crunch comes! When Jesus said in verse 27 that His sheep hear His voice and they know Him and follow Him, did He mean what charismatics mean by these words, that Jesus speaks to us daily and we must just listen for His voice in order to do His will daily? No! That is a gross misrepresentation of this passage and puts words in God's mouth which He did not say in this passage!

From the context thus far, we have learnt that Jesus was speaking about salvation, and His call to salvation upon the hearts of His own sheep!

So, just to reiterate the point, when the Jews asked Jesus whether He was the Christ or not, He replied to them:
"[25] I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, [26] but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." (Jn 10:25-28)
Jesus simply told them that the reason why they did not believe was that they weren't part of His flock. Jesus is very particular in what He told them. Note that He did NOT say that they were not part of His flock because they did not believe! The reason they did not believe was that they were not part of His flock.

It is in this context of salvation that Jesus made it clear, that at the call of salvation, His sheep will hear His voice and follow Him. Only His sheep, whom He knows, will hear His voice, and He will give them eternal life!

Based on the charismatic understanding of this passage, all kinds of statements are made. One of them is that we "must be tuned in to the Holy Spirit like a radio is tuned in to the correct frequency." I am just wondering, if God is so powerful, how is it that He cannot speak to us unless we are on the right frequency? I did not know that there was a frequency that God was on! Does it work like the red presidential phone, that we can only reach Him on that line? All I know is that the God I serve will be heard when He speaks, no matter what frequency we are on! If He could step into the lives of men ever since the beginning of mankind, while making Himself heard, how is it that He has lost that ability?

Another statement that is related to the first, is that "God is speaking all the time. We must just take the time to sit down and listen to Him!" I find this to be utter nonsense! If the God who created language, is incapable to speak to me, why must I even serve Him? It is a total misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God that leads to such nonsensical statements. When God spoke to Abraham in Gen 12, we do not find any clue that he was tuned into the correct frequency, or that he had the right attitude in order to hear God! Yet, when God spoke Abraham heard. There are ample examples throughout the Bible which will make it clear that God is heard when He speaks without some spiritual preparation before the event. If God wants to be heard, does it not make sense that He will also ensure that He is heard?

So, to conclude, we find that this passage that is so widely used by charismatics, especially to teach that God still speaks to us today, actually does not convey that meaning at all. It simply speaks of Jesus calling His sheep towards salvation, whom, by the way, will hear His voice and will follow Him.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Charismatic Snake Oil?

I come from a very strong charismaniac background, and I must admit, charismaniacs can get up to the weirdest things.

Of course, to make more money,
charismaniacs will do almost anything, even selling Snake Oil!

Like Drew wrote at his blog, The Sign of Jonah,
charismaniacs don't like putting God in a box. However, a bottle will do!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Do you know Greek?

Dan Phillips, from PyroManiacs and Biblical Christianity fame, has started a blog called Hellenisti ginoskeis: do you know Greek?

Just one quotation from his new blog:
"I am only writing this for people who can read Greek, whether pastors or not. That doesn't at all mean that non-Greekers are unwelcome! It just means I'll be aiming at those who already know (or are starting to know, or re-commencing to know) Greek. So I really won't be explaining it for those who don't.

"Being a pastor at heart (though not by employment, at the moment), I am likely to slant what I write towards preaching, teaching, communicating. But if you are learning the Greek New Testament, wherever you are in your studies, you will find something of profit in at least some of the posts to come.

"And just pardon one more word. There is no substitute for learning Greek. Interlinears, commentaries, concordances—none of these things teach you the Greek New Testament any more than looking up a few words in Webster's means that you understand any given English sentence."

So, if you are busy studying Greek, or you know it already, read this blog to enhance your understanding of the NT. Then, of course, if you are interested in starting to learn NT Greek, also fall in with Dan. It will enrich your life.

CashFlow Dollar

If you are a fan of CashFlow Dollar (Creflo Dollar), then you need to visit the archive on him at Pulpit Pimps!

If this page does not make you sit up and listen, and cringe, to what this man is teaching, then I am afraid, your understanding of Christian theology leaves much to be desired.

HT: Pulpit Pimps

For more on heretical teachers at Pulpit Pimps, follow the following links:
Benny Hinn
Kenneth Copeland
T.D. Jakes

Also read my series called Heresies in the church to read more about the Word-of-Faith/Prosperity heresy.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Whoever believes?

Before continuing to read this post, please read my post called Salvation for the world! A study on some of the universalistic passages of salvation first!

I was listening to James White of Alpha & Omega fame on his program, the Dividing Line, that was aired on 26 Dec 2006.

In this program, James White let us listen how Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel totally misrepresented Calvinism, and how Chuck harped on the phrase, "whosoever believeth" (KJV), in John 3:16.

"For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

John 3:16, of course, is widely used by Arminians to prove that God does not elect people to salvation and that we all can choose to believe in Christ!

James White made a statement concerning Chuck Smith's favourite words, "
whosoever believeth." It all has to do with the Greek in this case. I must say I never looked at the Greek in this case!

The phrase, "that whoever believes" is "ina paV o pisteuwn" (hina pas ho pisteuwn).

pisteuwn" is a present active first person masculine singular participle.

In this case the translation of hina pas ho pisteuwn is as follows: in order that each believing one. Hence, the translation is as follows:

"For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only Son,
in order that each believing one in him should not perish but have eternal life."

It is clear from looking at the Greek here, that the intention of John 3:16 is not some kind of universalism in which anyone that simply wants to, could walk into the Kingdom of God by choice. There simply is no universalism here. Instead, this verse rather makes it clear that only the believing ones will have eternal life!

On the one hand, it says that God so loved the world, but on the other hand a clear delimitation is positioned by this verse based on the believing ones. So, this verse precludes any universal ability in man and simply concentrates on those that do believe. It simply does not say how they came to their believing state!

The problem with the word whoever that appears in many translations here, is that it creates a false sense in the reader that it means to communicate to us a meaning of "all without distinction in a particular group."[1] People like Chuck Smith and Dave Hunt use this meaning of whoever when reading the term world in this verse. The fact is that the construct of the Greek simply does not allow that. It clearly makes a separation between world and the believing ones.

So, as we can see, John 3:16 cannot be used in any universalistic sense, but rather in a particular sense. It is not the whoever that will be saved, but rather each believing one will be saved. Instead of a sense of the whoever that will be saved, it should rather be the only that will be saved. It is not a case of whoever that will be saved, but rather, only the believing ones will be saved. As a result, it is not whoever in the world that will be saved, but rather, only the believing ones in the world will be saved.

[1] Hunt, Dave and White, James, Debating Calvinism: five points, two views, Multnomah Publishers, Sisters, Oregon, 2004, p378. This is a short quote from James White.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Master's Seminary on NCT

Steve Lehrer of In-Depth Studies (IDS) started commenting on the The Master's Seminary's new series on NCT (New Covenant Theology), at the IDS blog.

Steve has written down some thoughts on:
Lecture #1 by Dennis Swanson
Lecture #2 by Bill Barrick

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hollywood sings about God's judgement!

Somehow Johnny Cash got a whole bunch of famous stars to appear in the video of his song called, "God's gonna cut you down." It tells the story of God's wrath on sinners.

Some of those I recognized are: Chris Rock, Kris Kristofferson, Justin Timberlake, Kate Moss, Sheryl Crow, Woody Harrelson, Dixie Chicks, Sharon Stone, Bono, Lisa Presley, Kid Rock, the ugliest guy from the Rolling Stones, Johnny Depp, Whoopi Goldberg and Owen Wilson.

HT: Irish Calvinist

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Desiring God "Conference for Pastors" messages online

Desiring God has started putting the messages of their Pastor's Conference, with The Holiness of God as theme, online!

Monday, February 05, 2007

AGAPE and PHILEO: That much different?


Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) me more than these?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.' He said to him, 'Feed my lambs.' [16] He said to him a second time,'"Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) me?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.' He said to him, 'Tend my sheep.' [17] He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) me?' Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, 'Do you love (phileo) me?' and he said to him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (phileo) you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'" (John 21:15-17)

How many of us have not heard a sermon on this passage? Probably everyone reading this who has been a regular church attendee would have heard a sermon on this passage at least once in the last ten years.

I will do my best to remain objective at all times, even though objectivity is one of the most difficult frames of mind to keep and practise. We all have our rose-coloured glasses on, and that is how we look at the world.

The differences between these two words intrigued me ever since Bible college in the years between 1985 and 1989. I will be drawing from various resources, e.g. lexicons, e-mail discussion groups, and finally, the highest authority I could find on this subject, the Scriptures.

Before we carry on to execute our study, let me clarifyThe God kind of love! my assumptions concerning the God kind of love, whether it be agape or not. Firstly, it must be unchangeable. Why? God is unchangeable. Any attribute of God has to be unchangeable if God is unchangeable. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Secondly, it has to be pure. Due to the holiness of God any attribute of His has to be holy and pure. No stench, or darkness can be associated with any attribute of God.

Word Meanings

The meanings I present here I have gleaned from several lexicons (dictionaries), and one theological dictionary. They are:

Strong's exhaustive concordance of the Bible found in the Online Bible, version 7.03;
The Expository dictionary of New Testament words by W.E. Vine, Seventeenth impression, 1966, Oliphants;
A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament by Joseph Henry Thayer
, Twenty-first Zondervan printing 1981, Zondervan;
Theological dictionary of the New Testament
by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, reprinted, May 1986, William B. Eerdmans;
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains Volume 1 Introduction & Domains, Second impression, 1988, United Bible Societies;
Bauer's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (commonly known as BAGD), Second edition Revised and augme
nted by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker from Walter Bauer's Fifth edition, 1958, published 1979, the University of Chicago press.


Agape means the following: to be fond of, to love dearly; to love, to be full of good-will, to have a preference for, regard the welfare of: . . . to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it; a spontaneous feeling which impels to self-giving, the weak sense to be satisfied, to receive, to greet, to honor, or more inwardly, to seek after; to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard.

". . . It would, however, be quite wrong to assume that [phileo and philia] refer only to human love, while [agapao and agape] refer to divine love. Both sets of terms are used for the total range of loving relations between people, between people and God, and between God and Jesus Christ."

Louw and Nida says this concerning agape and phileo: ". . . Though some persons have tried to assign certain significant differences of meaning between [agape and phileo] (25.33), it does not seem possible to insist upon a contrast of meaning in any and all contexts. For example, the usage in Jn, 21:15-17 seems to reflect simply a rhetorical alternation designed to avoid undue repetition. There is, however, one significant clue to possible meaningful differences in at least some contexts, namely, the fact that people are never commanded to love with [phileo], but only with [agape]. Though the meanings of these terms overlap considerably in many contexts, there are probably some significant differences in certain contexts; that is to say, [phileo and philia] are likely to focus upon love or affection based on interpersonal association, while [agapao and agape] focus upon love or affection based on deep appreciation and high regard.

BAGD adds that agape and phileo "seem to be used interchangeably here; cf. the freq. interchange of synonyms elsewh. in the same chapter [boskein - poimanein, arnia - probatia, elkuein - surein]."


Phileo means the following: friendship, to be friendly to one; phileo more nearly represents tender affection; To love; to be friendly to one, to treat somebody as one of one's own people; to have love or affection for someone or something based on association; love, have affection for, like.

Kittel says, "In the LXX phileo, which is less common than agapao, is mostly used for 'hb. In meaning it is very similar to agapao. . . . Like the LXX, the NT prefers agapao to phileo. . . . Alternation between agapao and phileo occurs in Jn. 21:15ff. Some exegetes think that Peter is grieved because Jesus uses phileo the third time (21:17), but the words are mostly synonymous in John, and Peter is more likely grieved because Jesus asks for a third time. . . ."

We have now seen what the lexicons have to say concerning agape and phileo. Even so, the best way of finding out what is meant by a word is to see how that word is used in a certain context.

How are these words used in the Scriptures?
Lets look at agape
1. Loving the unlovable

In Mt. 5:43-46, and Lk. 6:27-35 we are exhorted by Jesus to love our enemies and not just those who love us, and are kind to us. Verse 46 puts a twist on this love. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" If agape is the God kind of love, then how is it that a hated tax collector could also love with agape? The very idea of agape - as proclaimed by many - as a special God kind of love is made redundant if a hated tax collector can also love with this kind of love. Our very idea of sinners makes it impossible for us to believe that a sinner can possess this kind of love. Romans 3:10-11 has this to say concerning the condition of mankind without the salvation that Christ bought for us, "None is righteous, no, not one; [11] no one understands; no one seeks for God.". This makes it clear to me that the unsaved sinner does not have the capacity to love like God does.

John Calvin (one of the greatest theologians of the sixteenth century) expresses the condition of man so well, "For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle. Those who term it concupiscence [lust] use a word not very inappropriate, provided it were added, (this, however, m
any will by no means concede,) that everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled and pervaded with this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence." (Institutes, Vol. I, Bk. II, Chap. 1, Para. 8; A New Translation, by Henry Beveridge, Esq). Now, if this is the condition of unsaved man, how on earth can he love like God (agape)?

2. Levels of love

Levels of love? We see through a glass darkly!If we think of our first assumption concerning God's love, that it is unchangeable, then we have to conclude that it cannot have different levels. In Mt. 24:12 agape is portrayed as growing cold, "And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold." We know that Godly love cannot change, and therefore, we have to conclude that agape cannot be construed as a higher love such as Godly love. If God's love grew cold, surely, we all would have been in hell by now.

In Lk. 7:42 Jesus asked this question, "When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" In this passage from verse 42 to 47 Jesus explains that if someone has been forgiven little he will agape little, and if someone has been forgiven much he will agape much. If agape is the God kind of love then it follows that either you agape or you do not. Does God have different levels of love? I dare to say, no! "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." God's love was complete from the beginning, and that can be seen in the depth of love He showed us in the death of His Son!

Paul writes to the Corinthians in 2 Co. 12:15 and tells them that he loves them more, "I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?" Paul's love for the Corinthians is growing more and more. Our premise at the beginning says that God does not change, and therefore His love cannot change. If we therefore have the love of God in our hearts, surely that love cannot change then either.

In his epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul writes in the first book, chapter 3 verse 12, "and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you." We have handled this type of love in the above paragraph, how Godly love cannot grow to become more.

Jude 1:2, "May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you." Can God's love be multiplied? No! God's love is already infinite!

3. Loving things

Jesus is speaking out condemnation over the Pharisees who have been living out their religion just to be seen. In Lk. 11:42-43 Jesus says, "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. [43] Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces." Would a God kind of love, love the chief seats like these Pharisees did? Our second assumption has it that the God kind of love has to be pure, just as God is pure. Following from the above passage we have to conclude that if agape is used in such a defiling way, that it cannot be the God kind of love. Jesus would not have acted this way.

Based on our second premise Jn. 3:19 proves to us that agape cannot be claimed as the God kind of love. This God kind of love cannot love the darkness. If one reads the section on Loving the unlovable it will be seen that mere man without Jesus in his life cannot express the God kind of love. Yet, in this passage agape is used as love for the darkness. We also find in John 12:43 that these unrepentant people loved the approval, or praise of men rather than that of God. Would a God kind of love, love the approval of men, rather than that of God? Would the God kind of love, love this present world as against what God desires? (2 Tim. 4:10) Would the God kind of love, love the wages or money of unrighteousness? (2 Pet. 2:15) Would the God kind of love, love the world and the things of this world? (1 Jn. 2:15) The love of God cannot be in us if the love of the world is in us. Agape is used 3 times in this verse. Once referring to loving the world. Can this be the God kind of love?

What about phileo?
1. Loving things

It is amazing how similar passages are between theDon't you just love the Lamborghini Murcielago? agape and phileo counterparts. When looking at Mt. 6:5, it seems so similar to what Jesus told the people in Lk. 11:43 where agape is used. The cross-reference for the Lk. 11:43 passage can be found in Mt. 23:6. Guess what word it uses? Phileo! Here we have two passages by two different writers about the same words that Jesus said. Yet, two different words are used by these writers for our one word, "love"! In one passage agape is used, and in the other phileo. It seems to me that in the Scriptures we can almost see these two words as synonyms. We have the same kind of idea in Lk. 20:46.

2. Levels of love

In Mt. 10:37 we see that even with phileo there are different levels, or intensities of love, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." We have seen that there are different levels, or intensities of agape, and now we find the same of phileo. It seems to me that there are no real differences between the two words.

John 21:15-17

Probably the one passage that has caused the most controversy in the agape vs phileo debate, has been Jn. 21:15-17. Just about every preacher has preached on it some time or another in his career. Many have their ideas on this passage, and many staunchly so. I have always been taught that the two different words in this passage are two almost diametrically opposing words, with almost completely different meanings.

According to Kenneth S. Wuest in Wuest's Word Studies From the Greek New Testament For the English Reader, Volume Three, Bypaths In the Greek New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted, January 1979, p. 109) there are four words for love in the Greek language. Stergein, which "is a love that has its basis in one's own nature. It speaks of the constitutional efflux of natural affection." Eran, which "is a love that has its basis in passion, and its expression takes the form of a blind impulse produced by passion." Filein, which "is a love that has its basis in pleasurableness, and is the glow of the heart kindled the perception of that in the object loved which affords one pleasure." Agapan, which "is a love that has its basis in preciousness, a love called out of one's heart by an awakened sense of value in the object loved causes one to prize it."

In Wuest's Word Studies From the Greek New Testament For the English Reader, Volume Three, Golden Nuggets From the Greek New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted, January 1979, p. 63) Wuest has this to say, "In John 21 : our Lord uses 'agapao' in verses 15 and 16, 'phileo' in 17. Peter uses 'phileo' three times. Our Lord uses the noblest word in the Greek language the first two times and changes to Peter's word the third time, but assures Peter that his coming martyrdom speaks of the fact that his future love for his Lord will be based not only upon his delight in his Lord but upon his apprehension of His preciousness."

In contrast to Wuest, BAGD, on p. 4 has this to say concerning the uses of agape, and phileo, "a. and phileo seem to be used interchangeably here; cf. the freq. interchange of synonyms elsewhere. in the same chapter [boskein - poimanein, arnia - probatia, elkuein - surein]." These are the meanings of the above synonyms. boskein - actively of shepherds to feed or tend the sheep. Passively of livestock to graze or feed. Poimanein - herd, tend, (lead to) pasture. Arnia - sheep, lamb. Probatia - sheep. Elkuein - drag, draw. Surein - drag, pull, draw. From John's multiple uses of synonyms in this passage, it is reasonable to assume that agape, and phileo are also synonyms.

Some other passages to point to agape, and phileo as synonyms, are Mt. 23:6 (phileo) and Lk 11:43 (agape) - where Jesus is speaking of the Pharisees as loving the chief seats in important places, and Jn 13:23 (agape) and Jn 20:2 (phileo) - where it mentions the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Don Wilkins, one of the translators of the New American Standard Bible (Updated Edition) - regarded as one of the most accurate translations of the Bible today - has this to say about this passage (while discussing it with other Greek scholars on the B-GREEK e-mail discussion list), "On the more specific question of PHILEO/AGAPAO, I would like to suggest that PHILEO is a higher form of love than AGAPAO. AGAPAO seems to be a 'charitable' love in that one provides for another's needs, without developing a relationship as a friend to the other person (i.e. no personal ties). PHILEO, on the other hand, implies the close connection between friends and the related obligations that were so important in the ancient world. By this interpretation, then, Jesus twice asks Peter if he is committed to him at the lower level of love, and Peter responds by raising the commitment to the higher level of a true friend. The third time, Jesus questions whether Peter is really committed to him at this higher level, or perhaps whether Peter really understands what such commitment really entails, and this would explain Peter's hurt feelings. So it is not that Jesus asks him the question three times, it is rather (as I think the Greek implies) the fact that Jesus uses PHILEO the third time. Some people object to the notion that AGAPAO would not include the bonds of friendship, but in every passage where the objection would be raised, I think there is a reasonable answer--sometimes that friendship is not being denied, but that it is just not the focus of AGAPAO." He also has this to say, "As to my view that FILH is a higher form of love than AGAPE, I suppose that you can interpret 'higher' in various ways. I stand by my original comments, at least until proved otherwise. Carl's explanation of FILH seems consistent with my own; I think it implies a relationship between people while AGAPE does not, and in either case there is a willingness to do good to the other person. We can see AGAPE expressed in charitable activity, without the personal relationship. However I would not argue for a natural/unnatural (and certainly not 'divine') distinction."

Trench says this (as quoted on the B-GREEK list), "agapasthai ... expresses a more reasoning attachment, of choice and selection ..., from a seeing in the object upon whom it is bestowed that which is worthy of regard; or else from a sense that such is due toward the person so regarded, as being a benefactor, or the like; while [phileisthai],without being necessarily an unreasoning attachment, does yet give less account of itself to itself; is more instinctive, is more of the feelings or natural affections, implies more passion" (Trench, Syn., sect. xii)

Yet another participant on this list had this to add, "To be sure, etymologically and apparently originally the root FIL- seen in the adjective FILOS,-H,-ON, the noun PHILIA, and the verb PHILEO referred to the affection of kindred persons (or things?) Odysseus, according to Homer, repeatedly spoke PROS hON FILON HTOR (which we translated gleefully as under graduates, 'to his own dear liver' but now more appropriately we render 'to himself'), i.e. to HIS OWN (hON is the reflexive pronominal adjective) KINDRED (belonging to himself) HEART (the liver being the seat of affections?). So PHILIA is the affection of those who recognize a kindred affinity with each other and express kindred affection for each other (PHILEO may mean 'kiss'): call it 'familial love,' if you like. Is it more 'personal?' Perhaps it needs to be studied again, but I'm not convinced that the usage is clearly distinct in the NT to suggest it is a 'superior' kind of love."

Another one also adds, "I repeat that I fail to find any evidence in the NT that any distinction is preserved between the words AGAPAO and PHILEO."


I guess that for many this is a difficult question to answer. Yet, we have to consider that both agape, and phileo are used to describe the Father's love for Jesus and mankind; man's love for God and his fellow Christians. We also have to take into account the parallel passages where agape, and phileo are used interchangeably. Lastly, we also have to consider the synonyms used in the passage of John 21:15ff. The vast usage of agape as opposed to the relatively little use of phileo is striking. With agape used approximately 320 times, and phileo approximately 45 times, makes me think that agape is more a general word for love whereas the other Greek words for love are the detailed words for love.

In today's English we have lost the meaning of love, and it has become a general word for love. We say things like, "I love this ice-cream", etc. It is almost like saying "I love you" the one day and the next day you say "I am crazy about you." The second phrase (
"I am crazy about you") in today's usage of the language has a greater force behind it. It almost puts detail to the first phrase ("I love you"). I believe that agape is used in this sense in the New Testament. According to Wuest in Wuest's Word Studies From the Greek New Testament For the English Reader, Volume Three, Bypaths In the Greek New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted, January 1979, p. 113), ". . . when Attic Greek was spread over the world by the conquering armies of Alexander the Great, and remained in its simplified and modified form as the international language of the period between Alexander and Constantine, agapan suddenly sprang into the ascendancy. Because it was the common word for 'love' during these centuries, the New Testament writers naturally found it not only desirable but necessary to use it. It became the general word for love in the New Testament."

Still, everyone has to be convinced in his own mind as to the validity of this post and what it has to say. There are groups from both sides who would die rather than change their minds. After all the evidence, I have decided that I was wrong all those years to believe in agape as a God kind of love. I just pray that this study was helpful, maybe just to make you think along different lines.

Is the church going "nuts?"

The church is not just getting weirder by the day, it is now becoming just like the world, claiming to want to win the world.

Read what I have said about similar situations here!

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