Posted by: jiminmontana | February 4, 2010

Agape does not mean “Divine Love” or “Unconditional Love”

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”                     — John 3:19

I had heard it all my years:  agape love means “Divine Love”.  Also, I’ve heard that it means “unconditional love”.  So have you.  Preachers who really matter to me have made this affirmation.  The late Dr. Adrian Rogers (of blessed memory), pastor of Bellview Baptist Church in Memphis, TN used to preach this (find his great sermons here).  You would be very hard pressed to find an example of a better man of God than he.   

But he (even he) was in error, and I hate that.  This man has had a significant impact on me as a person, and I wanted him to “be perfect” — you know what I mean?  I wrote a few letters to him and had a few replies regarding that error and was rebuffed, so that kinda hurt.  Maybe if an older man/person thinks something for long enough and makes statements long enough, it’s too hard to back up and rethink the matter.  All of us, being mortal, are gonna blow it sometimes.  But the majority of preaching today about agape is in error — and that’s because even pastors/preachers need to study more.  And people need to quit listening to everyone else about what the Word is telling us and find out on their own.  Remember the noble Bereans.

Apparently (and experientially) this is dangerous ground.  People seem to prefer the “clean” answer, but we can’t streamline everything.

“… Men LOVED darkness rather than light because their deeds were EVIL.”

John 3:19  αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ κρίσις ὅτι τὸ φῶς ἐλήλυθεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον καὶ ἠγάπησαν οἱ ἄνθρωποι μᾶλλον τὸ σκότος ἢ τὸ φῶς ἦν γὰρ πονηρὰ αὐτῶν τὰ ἔργα

That bold word is the Aorist Active Indicative* tense of the word agape, pronounced “ēgapēsan“.  This exact word is used only 3 times in Scripture — all by John.  In John 12:43, the writer tells us “for they (bad guys) loved men’s praise more than God’s praise” and is using the exact same word.

Ok.  It seems obvious that AGAPE can NOT mean “Divine Love”.  Holy God cannot love “darkness”. So then, what DOES agape mean?

Agape must mean “devoted love”.  No other definition makes sense.  These men who loved darkness did NOT love it unconditionally.  No, they were getting something out of it: the darkness was covering their evil deeds.  However, these men were totally committed to the darkness: so much that it cost them an eternity in Hell – and they said “Amen” to that.

So, what’s the Good News?  The Gospel is that the Maker and Savior is 100% DEVOTED to you and to me.  He has committed Himself and His only Son to fixing our Fallen humanity.  But it is not an unconditional love.  Nope.  To be blessed by the Lord of Heaven, there is one BIG condition: you gotta put your trust in the One Good Man whose wrongful death is able to cover you.  Either you can die for your own sins or He can die for your sins.  Either you can be devoted to doing life your way OR you can devote your life to His Way.

One more thing.  God does not Love you because you’re a neat person.  Nope.  He Loves you because of His character, not yours.  Even if you are rotten.  Even when you ARE rotten.  (Doesn’t that take a load off your shoulders?!?!!?)  To try to EARN God’s Love is actually an unforgiveable insult to Him.  You’ll have to be Perfect: not just in your own opinion, but in God’s opinion.  And only One person has been able to pull that off Flawlessly.  Compared to Messiah, we are all just different flavors of the same rascal.

Only after putting saving faith in Messiah will the Lord start to conform us into His virtue — yet you will always get to keep your own unique personhood and personality at the same time.  If you are an outgoing Saint, you’ll be like an outgoing Jesus.  Or the other way.  It will be the same you, but without the junk that messes the real you up!  The same you, but with the Power available from the Spirit to be the Awesome – unique – you! No person in the history of the world can praise the Lord in the way that only you can!  Be glad: the Choir ain’t full up — not yet.

Choose Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of all who put their hope in Him!   It’s the right thing to do.


*too technical stuff

The aorist tense expresses simple past action that sums up an era of time into a lump.  The indicative “mood” of Greek is usually declarative, making an unqualified or non-contingent statement of fact.  Active tense means that the subject (here “men”) are doing the act and not having something done to them.


“… as A.T. Robertson explains, the aorist “just treats the act as a single whole entirely irrespective of the parts or time involved” (Historical Research, 832). So in John 2:20 an aorist verb is used in speaking of how the temple “was built” in forty-six years. The action of the aorist verb is unitary or undefined (as its name denotes: “aorist” means “not determined” or “undefined“).”  When speaking of actions in the past tense, the Greeks preferred to use the unmarked, aoristic aspect expressed by the aorist tense. In this way they could speak in general terms about the past. This is why when verbs in other tenses appear, we should take note of how they function in stark relief against this aoristic “background.”


So John 3:19 makes the self-evidently true statement of fact that that ‘men in the past actively chose to love darkness throughout an undetermined period of time.’

See, I told you it was TOO technical!  But some folks just gotta have it.



  1. […] decision to devote the rest of her life to Naomi, although there was no glimmer of hope in it (see “agape” link).  The Gentile scorned her own culture.  She chose to become a Jewess — to graft herself […]

  2. I think its great you have noticed that agape is not unconditional but a devoted love. Devoted to Justice, mercy, and humility. This is not only because you are a berean that you have seen this. No but as Jesus said to Peter “men have not told you but the father in heaven…”. We need to be taught of him he has many things to tell us.

    I would like to tell you one you may not know. Would you like to hear it? e-mail me at ——.

    blessing fellow rascal.

    • Thank you, Brian. He is also devoted to His elect — the Bride of Messiah, the Church — and the Wife of God, the Jews (as in poor Hosea’s life with Gomer).

      Look forward to hearing your insights.

      The Time is short! Psalm 83 looks like the headlines over the past year.

  3. See this If one looks up agape in Wikipedia you will find this –
    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
    —John 3:16, KJV
    Agape received a broader usage under later Christian writers as the word that specifically denoted “Christian” love or “charity” (1 Corinthians 13:1–8), or even God himself (1 John 4:8, ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν, “God is Love”).
    The term agape is rarely used in ancient manuscripts, but was used by the early Christians to refer to the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity, which they were committed to reciprocating and practicing towards God and among one another (also see kenosis). When 1 John 4:8 says “God is love,” the Greek New Testament uses the word agape to describe God’s love.
    Agape has been expounded on by many Christian writers in a specifically Christian context. C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, used agape to describe what he believed was the highest level of love known to humanity—a selfless love, charity, a love that was passionately committed to the well-being of the other.[5] In his book, The Pilgrimage, author Paulo Coelho defines it as “the love that consumes,” i.e., the highest and purest form of love, one that surpasses all other types of affection
    I will show that wikipedia’s definition is without merit. Without mentioning any names a sermon by a well known pastor (and many others that I have heard) who taught on John 21 concluded that what was happening with the exchange between Jesus and Peter when he was asking if he loved him was that Jesus really wanted to know if he loved him with a sacrificial love so he used the word agape, but Peter always responded with the word fileo, and so the third time Jesus lowered down to Peters level of a lower type love and used the word fileo. Thus the story is that Jesus was still disappointed with Peter after his denial.
    In the Kingdom New Testament translation of John 21:15-17, N.T. Wright translates the verb agape meaning love and fileo meaning friend, and then strangely translates verse 17 “…Jesus said a third time, “are you my friend? And Peter was upset that Jesus asked him a third time, “Are you my friend?” ……….This awkward rendering should give us pause here.
    Also reading 1 Corinthians 16:22 should also give us pause if we think fileo only means being a friend – “If any man does not love (fileo) the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha”.
    One would have expected agape here, but as we will see, the two are more closely related and have different meanings that many of us were taught
    2 Timothy 3:4 – lovers (filedonos) of pleasure rather than lovers (filetheos) of God
    1 Peter 5:14 – Greet ye one another with a kiss (filema) of love (agape). Peace [be] with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.
    What agape really means – To be well pleased with a thing or contented, be devoted to, value, esteem, love – see Luke 11:43 (Pharisees loved the seats). See also 2 Thess 2:10 – “and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love (value) the truth and so be saved.”
    Aristotle – Metaphysics – All men naturally desire knowledge. An indication of this is our esteem (agape)for the senses; for apart from their use we esteem (agape) them for their own sake, and most of all the sense of sight
    What fileo really means – Affection (mostly with family), love, kissing – Matthew 26:48- “The man I kiss is the one” (Judas). See also John 11:36
    Aeschylus – Suppliant Women – Beware lest boldness give birth to fear; for through ignorance men have slain those they love (fileo).
    Euripides – Medea – For then my lady Medea would not have sailed to the towers of Iolcus, her heart smitten with love (eros) for Jason, or persuaded the daughters of Pelias to kill their father and hence now be inhabiting this land of Corinth, separated from her loved ones (filown) and country.

    AND both agape and fileo are interchangeable –
    I love (agape) them that love (filountas) me – Proverbs 8:17
    He that loves (agape) pleasure [shall be] a poor man: he that loves (filown) wine and oil shall not be rich. – Proverbs 21:17
    The best argument that agape and fileo in John 21:15-17 mean roughly the same thing is taken from page 665 in Herman Ridderbos’ commentary on the Gospel of John – the word fileo is used where it says Jesus asked the same question three times. Not only that, but Peter feels sad that Jesus asked him the same question three times. Also John uses both agape and fileo interchangeably when he speaks of Jesus’ love for his disciples (John 11:3,5; 15:9; 16:27) and for the beloved disciple (13:23; 20:2) and of the disciples’ love for him (8:42; 16:27).
    As one can see agape and fileo are interchangeable.
    John 11:3 – “Lord, the one you love (fileo) is sick” – speaking of Lazarus
    John 11:5 – “Jesus loved (agape) Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus”
    John 15:9 – “As the Father has loved (agape) me, so have I loved (agape) you. Now remain in my love (agapen)”
    John 16:27 – “No, the Father himself loves (fileo) you because you have loved (fileo) me and have believed that I came from God”
    And again
    John 13:23 – “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved (agape), was reclining next to him”
    John 20:2 – “So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved (fileo), and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
    Also, outside of John, fileo and agape are used interchangeably, and also notice in these verses there is no meaning of friendship or unconditional love –
    Matthew 23:6 – “And (chief priests and Pharisees) love (fileo) the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues”
    The word translated in this verse in Latin is Amant – love, affection
    Luke 11:43 – “Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love (agape) the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets”
    The word translated in this verse in Latin is Diligo – to single out, value, esteem, prize, love
    Swinging back around to John 21:15-17 again, D.A. Carson, in his very good commentary on John he says, “In addition to the two words for love John also uses two words for sheep and two words for knowledge, yet no one has made any distinction for these words”
    Matthew Henry comments on this verse taking the opposite meaning then what many modern preachers give it –
    “In the last he altered the word, as it is in the original. In the first two enquiries, the original word is Agapas me—Do you retain a kindness for me? In answer to which Peter uses another word, more emphatic, Philo se—I love you dearly. In putting the question the last time, Christ uses that word: And do you indeed love me dearly.”
    If anything Henry is closer to the actual definitions but agape would be better translated- Are you fond of me? Or Do you value me?
    The argument is very strong then that in John 21:15-17 John uses agape and fileo interchangeably or possibly translated like what Matthew Henry has it. But based on the context of John 21 I would tend to say they are being used as synonyms.
    It should also be clear that there is no evidence based on the different verses we have shown that agape ever meant unconditional love and that fileo had an exclusive meaning of friendship.
    When we preach from John 21 let us reflect what John Chrysostom so eloquently said about this passage
    Jesus put into Peter’s hands the chief authority among the brothers; and He did not bring up his denial, nor criticized him with what had taken place, but said, “If you love Me, preside over your brothers. From this moment, Jesus says, show the warm love which you manifested in the past, and in which you did rejoice; and the life which you said you would lay down for Me, now give for My sheep.”

    • I appreciate your learned response. It took some time, no doubt.

      Of course, I must disagree that agape and phileo can be interchanged in Scripture, but I will need to support that a bit later in the month.

      Thank you, again.


  4. […] incorrect.  It was some encouragement to me that he stopped saying it from the pulpit (that “agape” is the same as “divine love” which it is not), but his pride would not permit him to agree with me in candor.  Ah, the loss to me was painful. […]

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