ἀγάπη Rejoinders

I recently posted a few of the kinds of statements my dissertation is opposing. For example, a Bible textbook avers, “Love is not an emotion, but an act of the will. Feelings may ebb and flow, but love remains constant.”

Let me now offer a few rejoinders:

  1. “Love” as the Bible employs and describes it (whether it’s using love terminology like ἀγαπάω and φιλέω or not) simply is not an emotionless act of the will. That just won’t work exegetically or in in daily practice. 1 Cor. 13:1ff. says the act without love profits you nothing. So the act must not itself be love. You must not say, “Love is an action.” Paul specifically says it is not. It’s deeper.
  2. We should know better than to isolate one faculty of the human person, whether the will or the intellect or the emotions (or even imagination or experience, suggests John Frame), and make it the supreme Christian faculty. Homo sapiens is a unit. His mind, will, and emotions do not work independently from one another, if they can be separated meaningfully at all. And all of man is fallen; it’s not as if his thinking is sound but his emotions are not. The fall has bent them both; neither can be trusted.
  3. I think it’s significant that Phil. 2:3 does not demand that you look to the things of others to the exclusion of your own, but in addition. That’s still a radical change for fallen man, but Jesus’ second great commandment asks us to love others only as much as we love ourselves (as if it’s not possible to go any higher, perhaps?). Jesus assumes we love ourselves, that we desire pleasure. Much talk about so-called ἀγάπη love seems to deny that we should have a desire for pleasure at all. But if I truly love my wife, I take delight in sacrificing for her. Early this morning I enjoyed comforting her when she couldn’t sleep. Was I really loving her, since I got something out of it, namely enjoyment? Am I more holy the less I delight in and enjoy the pleasure of others? If so, then God would be the ultimate disinterested party.

Just do a search in the NT for ἀγάπη. Love is love. Individual Greek words don’t communicate whole ethics every time they’re used. The average English dictionary is more likely to define it correctly than the average theological dictionary, because the latter still hasn’t gotten hold of James Barr’s 50-year-old arguments.

Let’s try the New Oxford American Dictionary:Picture 2.png

Now the Oxford English Dictionary:Picture 3.png

Good work, dictionaries! Now please let the theologians know!

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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