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Agapē (IPA: [ɑˈgɑ.pε] or IPA: [ˈɑgɑˌpε]) (pronounced "ah-GAH-peh") (Gk. αγάπη [a'ɣa.pi]), is one of several Greek words meaning love. The word has been used in different ways by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including Biblical authors. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love. Greek philosophers at the time of Plato and other ancient authors used the term to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to philia — an affection that could denote either brotherhood or generally non-sexual affection, and eros, an affection of a sexual nature, usually between two unequal partners. The term agape is rarely used in ancient manuscripts, but was used by the early Christians to refer to the special love for God and God's love for humanity, as well as the self-sacrificing love they believed all should have for each other.

Agape has been expounded on by many Christian writers in a specifically Christian context. In this Christian context, agape has been defined as an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being (Thomas Jay Oord).

Ancient usage

Agape as a term for love or affection is rarely used in ancient manuscripts. A title of the goddess Isis was agape theon, or "beloved/darling of the gods," denoting her role as a fertility goddess and her pairing as a partner with multiple gods. While this pairing was often sexual in nature, the term "agape" implied a genuine affection and love for the goddess. Agape appears in the Odyssey twice, where the word describes something that creates contentedness within the speaker. It is this usage that is most common in later texts, where agape is used to describe one's feeling about a certain meal, one's feelings towards one's children or spouse, and epigraphs of heroes who are described as being "enoroen agapeon," loving or contented with heroism. In the Roman Empire, agape was often used to open letters of friendly correspondence, analogous to the modern usage of "Dear ____."

Agape and the verb agapao are used extensively in the Septuagint as the translation of the common Hebrew term for love which is used to denote sexual desire, affection for spouse and children, brotherly love, and God's love for humanity. It is uncertain why agape was chosen, but similarity of consonant sounds (aḥaba) may have played a part. It is not impossible that the Greek concept even originated as a transliteration from some Semitic tongue. This usage provides the context for the choice of this otherwise obscure word, in preference to other more common Greek words, as the most frequently used word for love in Christian writings.

Agape in Christianity

See also: 1 Corinthians 13

Agape received a broader usage under later Christian writers as the word that specifically denoted "Christian" love or "charity" (1Corinthians 13:1–8

), or even God himself (1 John 4:8, Theos ein agape, "God is Love"). The New Testament provides a number of definitions and examples of agape that generally expand on the meanings used in ancient texts, denoting brotherly love, love of one's spouse or children, and the love of God for all people.

The Christian usage of the term agape comes directly from the canonical Gospels' account of the teachings of Jesus. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus said, "'Love (agape) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love (agape) your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-41


At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said, 'Love (agape) your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love (agape) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?

Christian writers have generally described agape, as expounded on by Jesus, as a form of love which is both unconditional and voluntary; that is, it is non-discriminating, has no pre-conditions, and is something that one decides to do. Saint Paul described love as follows: "Love (agape) is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1Corinthians 13:4-8a

).Tertullian, in his 2nd century defense of Christians remarks how Christian love attracted pagan notice: "What marks us in the eyes of our enemies is our loving kindness. 'Only look' they say, 'look how they love one another'" (Apology 39).

"Agape" and its various forms are generally used in the New Testament in a positive sense. However, 2Timothy 4:10

is the New Testament exception where the Greek word is used in a negative sense: "…for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world…." Thus it is clear that the word did not always refer to "divine" love.

Agape as a meal

The word agape in its plural form is used in the New Testament to describe a meal or feast eaten by early Christians, as in Jude 1:12, and 2nd Peter 2:13. It is sometimes believed to be either related to the Eucharist, or another term used for the Eucharist.

See also Agape feast.

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