Re: Philadelphia vs agape

From: David L. Moore (
Date: Thu Aug 14 1997 - 21:46:32 EDT

Ellen Adams <> wrote:

>> David McKay wrote, concerning the use of: FILADELFIA and AGAPH:
>> > I would have thought that in 1 Thess 4:9, we have an excellent example
>> > of the words being used interchangeably.All compound words containing
>> > "love" in Greek combine with FILEW, not AGAPH.
>> > But in verse 9 Paul uses FILADELFIA for brotherly love, but then talks
>> > about the love we should have for one another with the word AGAPH.
>> > Surely these words are used synonymously here.
>If the two words meant exactly the same thing, I would imagine there would
>only be one word. Surely there is an overlapping of meaning, but there is
>also a disctinction. I've always understood the "shadow" of difference is
>that one meant a an affection-love, the other a committed-love. The word
>AGAPE, though it may apply to either a "holy" or "unholy" love. It is used
>far more frequently in the New Testament, I believe, for two reasons. 1.
>because it is a broader term than PHILADELPHIA. 2. because scripture in
>general deals with our will and motivations.
>II Peter 1:7 admonishes us to add to our PHILADELPHIA AGAPE. The passage is
>sequential, with each attribute built upon the other. Although many of the
>words in this list may have some overlapping in meaning, the author is
>clearly emphasizing the distinction, with each successive attribute built
>on the foundation of the one(s) previous. Although there may not be huge
>distinction between the two words, there is a distinction, and one that is
>profitable to note in a context such as this.

        A comparison of this sort in the NT does point to distinction, as
Ellen says. To understand what distinction writers of the NT perceived, it
may be instructive to look at how these writers' use of AGAPH-AGAPAW was unique.

        Although AGAPAW comes up now and then from Homer onward, AGAPH is
rare outside of Jewish and Christian religious literature through the NT
period. Because of this, it is largely the Christian usage of AGAPH and its
cognate which defines the meaning of these words within the time of the
writing of the NT. One might safely say that Christians appropriated this
word group and even invested it with meaning it did not have before.

        An example of this is the way these words are used in 1 John. Here
we have statements like ...hH AGAPH EK TOU QEOU ESTIN, KAI PAS hO AGAPWN EK
the anaphoric article accompanying AGAPH here, we must acknowledge that it
is not only anaphoric in the sense that it refers to the mentions of love in
2:5-3:23 but also in the sense of pointing to that love _par excellence_
that true Christians have come to know through Christ. If the article were
not anaphoric (I think it is), the general lines of NT theology would
practically require us to understand AGAPH here, not as any kind of love,
but as that special love initiated by God and made effective in the world
through Jesus Christ.

        There is reason in either case to see new, Christian meaning in the
word group. Even in the case of an anaphoric article with AGAPH in 1 Jn.
4:7, one can see that the semantic domain of AGAPH is being extended and
focused outside of the domain one would expect judging by the usage of
AGAPAW in prior secular and Pagan literature. And I think one could also
legitimately question whether the Pagan mind could conceive of AGAPH in the
sense in which it is used in this passage. These considerations point to
new meaning with which the word group is invested in the NT.

David L. Moore
Miami, Florida, USA
Southeastern Spanish District of the A/G Dept. of Education
Home Page:


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:25 EDT