Article: "The Greek" and Hebrew Games by Will Kinney

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Words for Love in the New Testament - agapao versus phileo.

Many Bible critics like to play the Greek game and impress the unlearned with their supposed superior knowledge of "the original Greek". The phrase "the original Greek" must be intoned with a certain degree of pious solemnity to produce the desired effect.

Here is such a letter I received from a moderator at another Christian club on the internet.

" I do not believe that the KJV is ever truly misleading, BUT, we lost a very important matter when the KJV people translated both PHILEO and AGAPE to "love" in John 21:15-17

15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.


When therefore they had dined, Jesus says to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I AM ATTACHED TO thee. He says to him, Feed my lambs.

16 He says to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I AM ATTACHED TO thee. He says to him, Shepherd my sheep.

17 He says to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, ART THOU ATTACHED TO me? Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ART THOU ATTACHED TO me? and said to him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I AM ATTACHED TO thee. Jesus says to him, Feed my sheep.

The Darby is clear here and yet retains the familiar cadence and feel of the KJV. That little difference, between the words that Jesus and Peter used for "love", is worth a great sermon, all by itself. (end of letter)

These "serious scholars" like to think they are privy to special insights and nuances the rest of us peons of the pews cannot fathom. They take great pains to let us know there are subtle meanings found only in "the original Greek" of which we garden variety Christians remain woefully ignorant until they exercise their priestcraft to open these hidden treasures on our behalf.

They tell us that such a case is found in the New Testament use of two distinct words for love - agape and phileo. You will constantly hear these scholarly types tell us that agape means God's unconditional love, while phileo means a friendship type of love.

Well, let's take a closer look at how God uses these two words and see if there is really something to what they say or not.

John 3:16 "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son..." The verb used here is form of 'agape', so we are told it always means a God-type unconditional love. OK, but what do we then do with these verses using the same verb?

John 3:19 "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men LOVED darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." Agapao

John 12:42-43 "they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they LOVED the praise of men more than the praise of God." Agapao

Luke 6:32 "for sinners LOVE those that LOVE them." Agapao

2 Timothy 4:10 "For Demas hath forsaken me, having LOVED this present world..." Agapao

2 Peter 2:15 "Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam to son of Bosor, who LOVED the wages of unrighteousness." Agapao

1 John 2:15 "If any man LOVE the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Agapao

It should be abundantly clear that the scholar who insists the word 'agape' means an unconditional, God-type love has no idea what he is talking about.

Well, what about phileo then? Does it always mean a friendship type of love and not the love of God?

John 16:27 "For the Father himself LOVETH you, because ye have LOVED me, and have believed that I came out from God." Phileo

Revelation 3:19 "As many as I LOVE, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore and repent." Phileo

1 Corinthians 16:22 "If any man LOVE not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha." Phileo

Well, then do these two words actually mean the same thing? Let's compare some Scriptures.

Matthew 23:6 "LOVE the uppermost rooms at feasts" Phileo

Luke 11:43 " ye LOVE the uppermost seats in the synagogues" Agapao

John 5:20 "the Father LOVETH the Son" Phileo

John 10:17 "therefore doth my Father LOVE me" Agapao

Titus 2:4 "women to be sober, to LOVE their husbands..." Phileo

Ephesians 5:28 "So ought men to LOVE their wives..." Agapao

Hebrews 13:1 "Let brotherly LOVE continue" Phileo

1 Peter 2:17 "LOVE the brotherhood" Agapao

If it be asked: "Then why did God use two different Greek words (agapao and phileo) to often mean the same thing?", then we answer that God used not just two but six different Hebrew words in the Old Testament to refer to love.

The various Hebrew words translated as love are # 157, 1730, 2836, 5690, 7355, and 7474. Number 157 ah-hehv is used in Deut. 4:37 "because the Lord LOVED thy fathers", and in 1 Kings 3:3 "and Solomon LOVED the Lord", but the same word is also translated as "friends" and "lovers".

The Hebrew word # 1730 dohd is used in Proverbs 7:18 "let us take our fill of LOVE" and in Song of Solomon 4:10 "How fair is thy LOVE", but the same word is also translated as "uncle" in Leviticus 10:4; 20:20, and 1 Samuel 10:14-16 "Saul said unto his UNCLE..."

The Hebrew word # 2836 ghah-shak is used in Deut. 7:7 "The Lord did not SET HIS LOVE upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people..." and in Isaiah 38:17 "but thou has IN LOVE to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption." But the same Hebrew word can also mean "filleted" as in Ezekiel 27:17 "the court should be FILLETED with silver."

The Hebrew word # 5690 gagah-veem is used in Ezekiel 33:31 "with their mouth they shew MUCH LOVE". Number # 7355 rah-gham is found in Psalm 18:1 "I will LOVE thee, O Lord", but it also means "to shew mercy", to pity" and "to have compassion". See Exodus 33:19 and Psalm 103:13. In like manner the Hebrew word # 7474 rag-yah is used in Song of Solomon 6:4 "Thou art beautiful, MY LOVE." Six completely different Hebrew words, yet each of them can be used to express the same idea in certain contexts - "love"; yet most of these same words can mean other things in different contexts.

Don't let the Greek scholars steal your Bible from you or make you think they have inside information that you do not have if you only read the English of the King James Holy Bible. The believing Bible reader will often have far more spiritual understanding than the educated scholar who thinks he can correct or improve upon the Holy Bible God has given us.

Regarding the passage in John 21 that is frequently the occasion of the scholar's assaults, Dr. Thomas Holland has these insightful words of encouragement.

Dr. Thomas Holland.

The question was asked: "When Jesus confronted Peter and thrice asked, 'Do you love me?' he used two different words in Greek, why wasn't this captured in the English translation?"

The passage is found in John 21:15-17 which reads as follows.

15: So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

16: He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

17: He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

There are two different Greek words translated as love in this passage. One is agape and the other is phileo. According to the Greek text the first two times Jesus uses the word love He uses the Greek word agape. Both of these times Peter responds with phileo. On the third time, when Jesus speaks the word love, the word phileo is used by Christ. To this, Peter responds with phileo. Some suggest that the Greek word agape means a deeper love, while the Greek word phileo means friendship or affection.

The King James Bible is not alone in translating both words the same way. The standard Spanish translation is the Valera. What the KJV is to the English-speaking world, the Valera is to the Spanish- speaking world. Each time the Lord asks, "me amas?" to which Peter replies, "Si, Senor; tu sabes que te amo." In every case, the Spanish word for love is used, not two different words.

The standard French Bible is the Louis Segond. All three times the Lord uses the word, "m'aimes-tu," and Peter replies with "t'aime." It is the same French word for love.

The Italian Bible is the Giovanni Diodati. In the gospel according to Giovanni (John), the Italian word "amo" is used throughout the passage.

And, of course, Luther's German Bible uses the German word for love, which is, "lieber."

Even the NIV, NASV, NKJV, RV, ASV RSV, NRSV, ESV, TEV, and NEB translated both Greek words as love in this passage. So the KJV is not at all alone in its translation.

Most scholars teach the two different Greek words agape and phileo, mean two different things, or at the very least, two different types of love (such as, I love my wife and I love pizza). However, this does not bear itself out in the Greek New Testament. The simple fact is that these two words are used interchangeably, both meaning love. If phileo means friendship and not godly love, then why does Christ use it in Revelation 3:19? "As many as I love, I rebuke."

Both words mean love and are used interchangeably.

Finally, the real issues here was not the change of Greek words. Peter was not grieved because Christ had changed Greek words. He was grieved because he asked three times. It was not the change in words or tense that disturbed Peter. It was, "because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me?" Does not this passage in John 21 prove the point that agape and phileo are interchangeable? Jesus asks, "lovest (agape) thou me" (vs. 15), "lovest (agape) thou me" (vs. 16), and "lovest (phileo) thou me" (vs. 17). When Christ asks this last time, the texts states, "He saith unto him THE THIRD TIME" (vs.17). This is true only if these two words are interchangeable. If they are not interchangeable and carry different meanings, the text is in error, for it was not the third time. If the two words carry the same meaning, the text would be correct as it stands in the Greek manuscripts. (end of Dr. Holland's comments)

The simple reason the Lord Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him was because Peter had denied the Lord three times. Christ was restoring His wayward servant to fellowship with Himself.

Will Kinney

Numbers 11:25 "And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him (Moses), and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, AND DID NOT CEASE."

At one of the Bible clubs I belong to, a man named Frank brought up this passage in the King James Bible, and told us it is "just flat wrong". Frank writes: "Like it or not, the KJV has translation errors. One I know of is Numbers 11:25. At the end, the KJV reads "and they did not cease." All well and good except that the Hebrew reads "and they did not do so again." The KJV totally misses it. This is the only time (out of 213) they translate yasaph (increase, repeat) as "cease" and it is just flat wrong. "Cease" isn't even close to the meaning of yasaph: e.g. more, again, add, increase."

Before addressing the alleged error Frank brings up, it is always a good idea to know more about your opponent's views of Scripture, and whether he believes such a thing as the inerrant words of God actually exist or not. Fortunately, Frank has provided abundant evidence of where he stands regarding the inerrancy of Scripture. Here are some of Frank's direct quotes:

I posted: "One of the points of my post was to point out that most Christians today do not believe ANY Bible or any text in any language is now the inerrant, complete and 100% true words of God. This is true of you as well as most Christians today."

Frank then answered with the following quotes: "Well, that's partly true of me. I believe that the autographs were innerant, but that today's texts are inerrant only in so far as they are accurately copied and translated. I believe they are the complete and 100% true words of God...The MT is very well preserved but not without error... there are actual scribal errors in the MT. Actually, my final authority is God, not my own mind. I BELIEVED (my note: notice the past tense) that the originals WERE PRESERVED also until undeniable facts brought it down. I do believe in inerrancy . That of the autographs, not of the modern copies. They are inerrant only so far as they are accurate copies of the original."

Frank is a very confused and inconsistent individual. Notice that Frank says on the one hand that he USED TO believe the originals were preserved, but then "undeniable facts" caused him to no longer believe this. Yet he still says "I believe in inerrancy". Then Frank tells us that today's texts are inerrant "only so far as they are accurate copies of the original". Do you see how confused Frank is? He admits there are no originals, and they have not been preserved without error, yet Frank insists that what we have today is inerrant when it follows the non-existent, non-preserved, and never seen by him "original". How would Frank know if they followed the originals or not if he has never seen them and doesn't believe they have been preserved? Hello? Is anybody home?

Two more points about Frank's views of Scripture. When I brought up the example of 1 Samuel 13:1 where many modern versions either have blank spaces or totally invented numbers in two places, Frank tells us: "A number is missing here...So, I would say that a number has been lost here."

For an article I have written concerning 1 Samuel 13:1, which asks Have Some of God's Words been Lost? please see -

Later on Frank has these revealing comments. He says: "Interesting that you should bring up the NET Bible. Of course, your explanation of it is totally off of what it is. Dr. Wallace is not making his own translation as in he is the only one working on it. He is part of a committee and translators, students, missionaries, professors, etc from all over the world are members and contribute. .. I myself have contributed comments to their discussion forum on passages I THINK THEY GOOFED ON... I DISAGREE WITH Dr. Wallace, the verse is not giving a comprehensive report of Saul's reign."

I say that these comments are quite revealing of Frank's mindset because here we see that he is just another self appointed scholar who himself disagrees with the professed deep insight into the scholarly findings of other Bible Correctors who likewise have taken it upon themselves to "correct" the King James Bible, yet according to Frank, they have "goofed".

I am reminded here of the verse in Judges 21:25 "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

Now to address the Numbers 11:25 issue - "they prophesied, and did NOT CEASE."

Not only does the King James Bible say "they prophesied, AND DID NOT CEASE" but so also do Wycliffe 1395, Coverdale 1535, the Bishops' Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1599, Webster's 1833, the Douay version 1950, YOUNG'S 'literal' version, the Spanish Reina Valera 1909, 1960 and 1995, the KJV 21st Century Version 1994, and the Third Millenium Bible 1998.

Even though the NIV reads: "they prophesied, but they did not do so again", yet in its footnote it says: "Or, prophesied and continued to do so." The NIV editors allow for the validity of the KJB reading.

Likewise the Catholic New Jerusalem bible of 1985 reads: "they prophesied, but only once", yet in its footnote it says: "Alternative translation - "and could not stop".

Lamsa's 1936 translation of the Syriac Peshitta is a bit different, but it doesn't match many modern versions like the NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV or Holman either. Lamsa's translation says: "they prophesied, and ceased to complain."

Versions like the NASB, NKJV, NIV, RSV, ESV, and Holman all say something like "and they prophesied BUT THEY DID NOT DO SO AGAIN." This is the reading Frank thinks is the correct one and that the KJB reading is "just flat wrong".

Frank is correct when he says that the King James Bible usually translates this Hebrew verb as "to add, to proceed, more, to continue, or again", but I say, So what? Hebrew words often have multiple meanings and frequently the resultant meanings are totally opposite from each other.

For example: The "scholarly" NASB has translated the same Hebrew word barak #1288 as "to bless" some 300 times, but also as "TO CURSE" some 7 times. It also translated the same word as "to kneel", to "salute" and "thanked". All synonyms? Not hardly.

The NASB translates the same Hebrew word abbir #47 as "angels (only once), bulls, chief, mighty man, stallions, stouthearted, stubborn minded, and valient". The NIV does the same type of thing. Not quite all synonyms, are they?

The NASB has the same word yom # 3117 as "day, age, year, battle (only once), entire, forever, eternity, length (only once), life, lifetime (only once), long, midday (only once), holiday, now, older (only once), reigns (only once), period, time, today (only once), usual (only once), very old (only once), whenever (only once), whole, and yesterday (only once). The NIV does the same.

The NASB, NIV both translate the single Hebrew verb halal # 1984 as "to shine, to boast, to deride (only once), to give praise, to go mad, to be foolish, to be renowned (only once) and wedding songs (only once).

The Hebrew word chesed #2671 is most often translated in the NASB, NIV as "mercy, favor, righteousness (only once), lovingkindness, good (only once in NASB), deeds of devotion, loyalty, and unchanging love (only once in NASB), BUT yet this same Hebrew word is translated as "a disgrace" or "a reproach" in Proverbs 14:34 "Sin is a REPROACH to any people", and in Leviticus 20:17 as "if she sees his nakedness, it is A DISGRACE". Completely different meanings for the same Hebrew word.

The Hebrew word #2398 ghah-dah is translated in the NASB as SIN some 180 times, yet this very same word is also translated as TO CLEANSE, or TO PURIFY some 12 times. In Psalms 51:4-7 the exact same Hebrew word is found twice, yet translated in opposite ways. In Psalm 51:4 David says: "Against thee, thee only have I SINNED, and done this evil in thy sight." But in Psalm 51:7 we read the same word as: "PURGE me with hyssop, and I shall be clean."

The "simple" Hebrew word yad, #3027 is translated as HAND in the NASB some 963 times, yet we find this same Hebrew word translated in the following ways: "arms, abandon (once), afford, armpits (once), bank, because (once), become (once), beside, boldly, borders, bounty, care, charge, close (once), coast (once), commands, compulsion, consecrate, control, courage, creditor (once), custody, debt (once), delivered (once), deserve, direction, DIScourage, ENcourage, enough, entrust, exhausted, fist, force, four-fifths (once), go (once), guarantor (once), had (once), helpless (once), herself (once), himself (once), idle (once), influence (once), jaws (once), labor (once), large, lose (once), manhood (once), means, memorial (once), next, occasion (once), ordain, part, paw, place, pledged allegiance (once), possess, power, prepared (once), rebelled, representative, responsible, rule, seize, service (once), side, support (once), tenuous, times, war (once), wrists, yield (once) and yourselves."

So when some scholar tries to tell you: "Well, the Hebrew REALLY MEANS...yada, yada, yada" you should know that he frequently is just giving us his own personal opinion, and many others of equal or superiour learning do not agree with him.

Words clearly have very different meanings in different contexts. The context of Numbers 11:25 is when Moses complains to God that he cannot bear the burden of all the people by himself and God then tells Moses to gather 70 men of the elders of Israel - "And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them: and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou shalt not bear it thyself alone." Numbers 11:17.

Then in Numbers 11:25 God gave the same spirit of leadership to the 70 elders and "they prophecied and DID NOT CEASE." They continued to be fellow leaders and helpers to Moses throughout the rest of the wilderness journey.

The Hebrew word used here is capable of carrying different meanings. Sometimes it means to add to something that has been going on before, but at other times it can mean "to add to" in the sense of changing a past behaviour for that of another course of action. For instance, in Proverbs 10:22 we read: "The blessing of the LORD maketh rich, and he ADDETH no sorrow with it." Here the idea is that the Lord does not change his continued action of past blessings by adding or changing it to sorrow.

Likewise in Proverbs 30:5-6 we read: "Every word of God is pure; he is a shield unto them which put their trust in him. ADD NOT thou unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." Here again, the idea is of continuing along in the path of following the true words of God and not changing this course of action for that of adding your own words.

So too in the example we have before us in Numbers 11:25 where the 70 elders were given the spirit of leadership. They prophesied and did not stop this course of action and ADD something else, but instead they continued prophesying and CEASED NOT.

Here is what some commentators have to say regarding this verse:

John Gill offers BOTH views, saying: "and did not cease from prophesying; the spirit of prophecy continued with them, which, in some cases, might be necessary: OR, they ceased not to prophesy all that day, though they afterwards did: and in the Hebrew text it is, "they added not", that is, to prophesy, and Jarchi says they only prophesied that day, as IT IS INTERPRETED in an ancient book of theirs, called Siphre: wherefore this spirit of prophecy IS THOUGHT only to be given them as a temporary thing."

John Wesley agrees with the King James reading, saying: "They did not cease - Either for that day, they continued in that exercise all that day, and, it may be, all the night too, as it is said of Saul, 1 Samuel 19:24, or, afterwards also, to note that this was a continued gift conferred upon them to enable them the better to discharge their magistracy; which was more expedient for them than for the rulers of other people, because the Jews were under a theocracy or the government of God, and even their civil controversies were decided out of that word of God which the prophets expounded."

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown also agree with the King James reading - " when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease--As those elders were constituted civil governors, their "prophesying" must be understood as meaning the performance of their civil and sacred duties by the help of those extraordinary endowments they had received; and by their not "ceasing" we understand, either that they continued to exercise their gifts uninterruptedly the first day (see 1Sa 19:24), or that these were permanent gifts, which qualified them in an eminent degree for discharging the duty of public magistrates."

To allege that the reading of "they prophesied, and DID NOT CEASE" found in Wycliffe, Coverdale, Bishops, Geneva, Youngs, Spanish Reina Valera, Douay, KJV21, and the Third Millenium Bible "comes from the Latin Vulgate" is to ignore the evidence. If the Latin Vulgate says "Christ died for our sins" does this make any Bible version that reads the same way wrong? I trow not.

The Geneva Bible translators, Young, the Spanish Bible translators and others certainly were not following the Vulgate reading, but looked at the context of Numbers chapter 11 and understood the passage to be speaking about the continued ministry of the 70 elders upon whom God had placed His spirit.

The King James Bible is right, as always.

Will Kinney

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