Re: A question from a novice!

From: Wayne Leman (
Date: Sun Mar 19 2000 - 22:52:22 EST

<x-charset iso-8859-1>Barry saw the light:

>I have often spent time wondering why we see AGAPE and its various forms
used so much and the others >used so little. Then one day it dawned upon me
that it is because God has in fact called us to action. >Your original
question of this thread got me thinking about it again. The post which spoke
of the time >variations in word meaning got me back into the thread and all
of the variations found and brought out in >the various posts moved me to
jump in.

I happen to agree with you theologically, Barry, but *linguistically* I need
to point out the AGAPE was extant and used by Hellenistic Greek speakers
including those who had not connection with a monotheistic God of the
Judeo-Christian religious tradition. What I'm trying to say is that the word
AGAPE had a meaning, as it was *used* by Greek speakers, which had no
connection with God or theology. One of my concerns over the years, partly
prompted by the wise insights of scholars like James Barr is that so many
who study "Biblical" Greek or "Biblical" Hebrew often find so many
"Biblical" meanings among the words of the language which were used by an
entire population, regardless of whether or not the speaker was a "Biblical"
person or not. Another way to look at this is that the writers of the N.T.
used ordinary language, not a special kind of Holy Ghost Greek (I think most
seminaries and Bible schools have sealed the coffin on this false
hypothesis), or sacred language. Words and concepts become "sacred" only by
their usage, and for those of us who happen to believe in some form of
inspiration involving the Holy Spirit, the words and concepts take on an
added spiritual dimension because of the HS's influence. But the words are
still *linguistically* normal Hellenistic Greek. I hope I'm making some
sense here. It makes sense to me.

Scholars and exegetes have tried for a long time to figure out the semantic
differences esp. between AGAPE and PHILEW and many have had to conclude,
based on thorough study of all the evidence, that the two words are used
essentially interachangeably in many contexts. Those who state otherwise may
be finding facts which actually aren't there, i.e. engaging in some
eisogesis. This is *not* to say that the two words were complete, totally
overlapping synonyms. No such things exist in any language (IMO and the
opinion of many other linguists), but to read too much theology into whether
or not one terms was used in one N.T. passage as opposed to another is
probably pushing ourselves too far out on the proverbial limb.

We would do well not only to do inductive study of how AGAPE is used in the
N.T. but also in extrabiblical literature of the time when the N.T. authors
were writing.


Wayne Leman
Bible translator
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Bible translation site:

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