I am going to be away again but I want to start a response to a question I received some time ago. Should agape and philia be translated differently in the scriptures? Should we have a different translation for the two verbs in the exchange in John 21?
As it turns out, no. Agape and philia love are used about equally for love of things, spouses, friends and God. And of God for us. There is virtually no difference in their use.
Here is an example from the Septuagint.
- ἀλγῶ ἐπὶ σοί ἄδελφέ μου Ιωναθαν ὡραιώθης μοι σφόδρα ἐθαυμαστώθη ἡ ἀγάπησίς σου ἐμοὶ ὑπὲρ ἀγάπησιν γυναικῶν
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were made very beautiful to me. Your love to me was wonderful, beyond women’s love. 2 Sam. 1:26
In fact, there is not much evidence that this agape love was unconditional. Here is Leah.
- καὶ συνέλαβεν Λεια καὶ ἔτεκεν υἱὸν τῷ Ιακωβ ἐκάλεσεν δὲ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ρουβην λέγουσα διότι εἶδέν μου κύριος τὴν ταπείνωσιν νῦν με ἀγαπήσει ὁ ἀνήρ μου
And Leah became pregnant and bore a son to Jacob and she called his name Reuben, saying because ‘My Lord has seen my humiliation and now my husband will love me.’
The case is no better in classical Greek. Some people have agape love for their pet monkeys. Even in the NT there is no difference between agape love and philia love. Love is love. The broken down human kind and the divine. Love defined by one word is no different from love defined by another word. The actions will make the difference.
No, I don’t think that agape love and philia love in John 21 where Peter and Jesus talk, are any different. The switch between the two words is of stylistic importance only.
Addendum: post has been edited to correct errors.