I’ve heard from any number of pastors that the Greek in which the New Testament was originally written had three words for love: eros, phileo, and agape. In short, the first specifies romantic love, the second brotherly love, and the third Godly love.
I’m not a Greek scholar and I certainly didn’t do an exhaustive search of the New Testament, but I could only find examples of the use of phileo and agape. No use of eros, although I suspect if Song of Solomon had been written in Greek, eros would have appeared frequently.
About phileo, Vine’s Dictionary says,
Phileo more nearly represents “tender affection.” It conveys the thought of cherishing the object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration.
Then there is agape which seems to show up most often. Again from Vine’s:
“Agape and agapao are used in the NT
(a) to describe the attitude of God toward His Son, Jhn 17:26; the human race, generally, Jhn 3:16; Rom 5:8; and to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly, Jhn 14:21;
(b) to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude one toward another, Jhn 13:34, and toward all men, 1Th 3:12; 1Cr 16:14; 2Pe 1:7;
(c) to express the essential nature of God, 1Jo 4:8 . . .
It is an unselfish “love,” ready to serve.
Much of fiction, to the dismay of some and the delight of others, incorporates romance, or eros. Even Harry Potter managed a little teen romance. In Christian speculative fiction the male-female love relationship is a factor in such books as Patrick Carr’s The Staff & The Sword Trilogy, Karen Hancock’s The Legend Of The Guardian-King tetralogy, Donita Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles, and Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Tales Of Goldstone Wood series.
Classic fantasist J. R. R. Tolkien insinuated romance in The Lord Of The Rings in several places. Éowyn, the niece of King Théoden, believed herself in love with Aragorn, but he was betrothed to Arwen who he later married. When Éowyn, wounded in the battle for Gondor, was recovering in the House of Healing, she did fall in love with Faramir.
Brotherly love also shows up frequently in speculative literature. Again Harry Potter serves as an example, incorporating this kind of familial, devoted loyalty, one character for another, in Harry’s relationship with Ron and Hermione. Classic fantasy is replete with examples of phileo. Bilbo experienced this emotional response to the twelve dwarfs in The Hobbit—not at first, but increasingly so. Frodo felt the same affection for Bilbo, for Sam, for Gandalf, for Aragorn.
Agape in fiction isn’t as easy to identify. Perhaps this is the heart attitude Gimli felt for Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlórien in The Lord Of The Rings and what Reepicheep felt for King Caspian in The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader. Aslan in the Narnia series, of course, would seem like the most likely example of agape. Certainly by his actions he demonstrated the kind of love that serves others, but I’m hard pressed to think of any lines or scenes in which he expressed love for those he watched over.
In the end, I’m wondering if contemporary speculative fiction, including Christian speculative fiction, hasn’t paid more attention to eros—to romantic relationships—than to the other types of love. Because conflict is such an important component in fiction, have we infused the relationships of our characters with the seeds of betrayal or deceit or anger instead of loyalty and devotion and faithfulness? I mean, where is the tension in a loyal subject behaving loyally?
Tolkien, of course, found a way to create just such tension when he depicted Samwise Gamgee’s relationship with Frodo. Consequently, Sam may be the most loved character of the trilogy. Frodo we like and understand and respect, but Sam induces a warm fondness as well as admiration.
Could it be that our current Christian speculative fiction has focused so much on the kind of love the world recognizes that we are neglecting the kind of love the Bible extols?
I’m curious what you think.
Also what books have you read that include romantic love? Brotherly love? A love reminiscent of Christ’s love for the Church?
And if you’d like to read more on the subject of love in speculative fiction, I recommend a series of Spec Faith posts published in 2011 by then columnist Fred Warren: Speculative Love, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.