AGAPW, FILW: etymologies - Was: What language(s) did Jesus speak?

From: Isidoros (
Date: Tue Feb 11 1997 - 23:18:50 EST


David McKay on Sat, 8 Feb 1997 wrote

>We've been having a discussion on the theology list about John 21: 15-17.
>One fellow is arguing the case for agapao meaning a strong love, and phileo
>meaning a weaker version.
>Can anyone help me?...

David, yes, I could possibly help with AGAPW and FILW, but if I may
for a momment comment on the apophatic parenthesis with which you
concluded your inquiry...

>IMHO, these pastors he refers to must be like the ordinary people you know
>who have the answers to all the world's problems. You know the folk, they
>could run the world so much better, if given the chance? So why don't they?
>Simple! They're too busy cutting hair and driving taxis! (Apologies to any
>taxi-driving, hair-cutting Greek students!)

.... I'd like to say, I will see what I can do to have extended your
"apologies" about town, at least. Must be some taxi-driving, hair-cutting
... students
in Athens... [still don't know how to make the "smile-joke" internet sign
-- will a kind soul send me privately this manner of code? including the
sign "half-joking/half-seriously"?! so as to avert undue trouble! Thank you

Now, on the substantive side of the same, I am afraid you may well be right.
And not only about many pastors. After all, most of them have been in line,
in a long receiving line, of rather spariously passed on down the reproduced
in the olden days word, the Word! With a parish responsibility most all have
their hands full most of the time--so how many, and where time, to read
the original?! It is rather with--us--the (mostly) academics one should
fairly take issue with, if so inclined.

Please, excuse me, won't go on with this, it is about *agapaw* and *filw*
I should like to offer few words on, prologuing by qualifying that I will not
offer here definitions-proper, or etyma, "para ton anwterw titlon". It is
not in my disposal the economy of time and circumstance to go into the
matter deeply and analyticly, presently. There may be another occasion for
These are such important words, agapw especially!! And so shall offer this,
paradigmatically, and in the hope that it may be nonetheless of some help.

>One fellow is arguing the case for agapao meaning a strong love, and phileo
>meaning a weaker version.

It is erroneous, to begin with, to contrast or even compare the two terms.
Though they have come to "mean" about the same in the _common_ biblical
parlance, they intended (when were used profoundly, properly, and in accord
with the original holly tradition, appropriately) entirely different, or should
I say, rather, *various-ly* different ideas, understood only by Christians,
and accessible to non-Christians in due time and only by virtue of a long and
austere catechism--in to the original language, Hellenic. In this, translation
of the Biblical text entails something by far more than the commonly
understood language betrayal. It is a form of abdication, in effect, of the
priviledge to be. in the inellectual and--to the extend that the word
bordes, touches, and is infused by the spirit, then and--in the spiritual
sense, Christian. That is the reason and importance of Logos, and of
Catechism by proxy, of words half-understood, partially perceived,
doubtfully begotten-- in Greek--may not, in any manner of serious sense be
thought of as Catechism. Let alone be words received as literary rendering
in English.

>I have attempted to show that John uses the 2 interchangeably to some
>extent. For example, he calls himself "hON HGAPA hO IHSOUS" in
>John 13:23, but "hON EFILEI hO IHSOUS" in John 20:2.

Well, that "to some extent" holds alot of water, you know. That is where
the bug of literary translation begins to take effect, influencing almost
inexorably the mind. For--but for possible additions to the original text--
it is not John who would use the terms interchangably, it is the
translators, and the various type of expositors, who so do. So much water
in fact that
at the end the boat is full of it, and while at about the gunwale line, they
still think the boat is afloat, though it has sunk in. No way to go to port.

>He uses AGAPAO for Jesus' love for Lazarus, Mary and Martha, but in
>another verse uses FILEO for his love for Lazarus.

Nothing wrong with that! Meant are (for the case of Lazaros) *two*
different things.

>If AGAPAO is meant to be used of God's love, why does John use FILEO in
>John 5:20 "...the Father loves the Son"

Good question!! (Or, should I say, here, a good "koan"-- take it as a
"Christian" koan, if you know the usage of the term in the Rinzai Buddhist
tradition, or in the corresponding Tantric.) A very good question, such that
may be worth to be answered solely by self -- with some help, of course,
from filoi, such as you you will find below (in itself, not enough though
for the crossing over, to be accomplished by you alone only.) One minor tip,
re the manner of the above question. Forget the literary, and the logical
meaning, and especially in English, of the above stated hypothesis.

>I also argued that most translations do not make a distinction. From this I
>concluded that the translators had thought the problem through, and had
>decided not to make the distinction. (NIV is a notable exception and
>gives"truly love" for AGAPAO and "love" for FILEO.) However, the other
>bloke countered with "...most [translators] have not done serious thorough
>exposition of the Scriptural text in the way some pastors have."

All of the above positions are to some extend correct. Most all biblical
translators never thought truly deeply this problem; and none, that I know,
has really thought it "through". And though most are aware of it, they
comfortably, and with ease of conscience, THN PEPATHMENHN... taking the
easy way out, even some good fellows have bent and agonized over it.
Won't "translate" these words here, as I said, but I'll paint some
impressionistic pictures-- for the discomfiting and reoriantation of thy all
too formated (to use some current jargon) mind.


The word(s) is potently infused with the spiritual power of uplifting,
of dynamic will, a focusing mind; there is emotion in it, and with it;
as there is, also, strong feeling, not devoid of grace, and yet of a quiet,
but unremitting, strength, power; a movement "upward", is here at play,
requires a sense of non-discernment, of non-distinction,
non-discrimination, of non-attachment, which would otherwise weigh, down,
and keep with
the lowly; along with a sense of unconditional giving (and, at that, "up," of
giving-up), for a climb without the possibility of fallen return; upward
openning, onto spaciousess, and charismatic joy; transit movement to life
uncondition-al, joy. Love, if this must be spoken as love, this may be only
as rememberance, as a joyously quiet, a silent celebration, of the "flight"
itself; love, as that feeling which speaks, bespeaks, is spoken of the
experience -- not the experience itself, but the "speaking" of it. If used at
all, love, should be fully and properly understood here in its original
(non)meaning: "l-ov," l-eu!" With the "l" of "lalia", and the "eu" of
eu-xarist! The joyous movement up, on to another qualitative dimention,
another realm; joy, ZWH; the founding of the "other" life, beyond words,
thare where begins AIWNIOTIS!


Motion, also qualitative, but here it is expansive; and it is lateral,
diagonal, rather that vertical; the emotion is fine, gentle, personal,
entrusting; it connotes to, and bespeaks of a shared, condition; it's cordial,
philial, movement from a median position and up and on to the heart; warm,
light, but not especially en-lightening, relative, relationally investing.
This is loving, friendship, cardial transfering not devoid of an element of
trust (to the point of a dependent attachment) and of promisse, of asking,
of keeping. Here are feelings and ideas not spoken, yet not because there may
be, for the case, no words, but because the words here are promissed, kept,
treasured, as the Word. Shared secrets of the heart, promisses entrusted
and kept, silently.

>However, my arguments have not been accepted by my adversary in
>theological debate. [...]

Well, please, take the above as no fod for arguement, David. Just as a few
words, which you may share if you like, with your ... adversarious other,
momentary mirror of a self, on the Way.

>Can anyone help me?

Hope it does some.

>What language(s) did Jesus and his disciples converse in?

Biblical Greek. 'Elliinika.

>David McKay

The Ionic Centre, Athens

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