The Four Loves

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CS Lewis was a Philologist, as was his friend J. R. R. Tolkien. Philology is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection between textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics.

In his studies, Lewis had discovered a danger called "Linguistic relativity" - the idea that the structure of a language influences its speakers' world view or thoughts.

As an example, in one experiment some Zuni Indians were put alongside some English-speaking Americans. Both groups were asked to classify a series of colors. The English-speakers correctly classified all the colors. The Zuni Indians classified all the colors correctly, except for blue and green which they had difficulty telling the difference between. This was not due to color blindness, but due to the fact that the Zuni Indians have a single word which encompasses both blue and green - they were not distinct concepts to them.

Why does it matter?

The Bible wasn't written in English. The New Testament was actually written in Greek.

Just as the Zuni Indians struggled to see the difference between blue and green because of their single word for the concept, Lewis also determined that English speakers struggle to see the differences between the four loves due to our single word for the concept.

  • I love my wife.
  • I love tacos.
  • "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another." [John 13:35]
  • "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." [1 John 4:8]
  • The love between David and Jonathan, or Frodo and Sam.

To the English ear, the same word is used in all of these cases. However, they are as different as blue and green.

Let us dive into Lewis' attempt to separate these "four loves".

Storge (affectionate love)

Storge (Pronounced: STOR-jay) is a term for love in the Bible that describes affection, such as between family members.

Romans 12:10 [philostorgos]
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Examples abound in Scripture, such as in John 11:1-44 between siblings Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (whom Jesus raised).

Affection can 'go bad' when it is corrupted by jealousy, ambivalence, and smothering.

Eros (romantic love)

Eros is the romantic love, or the state of "being in love".

Portrayed in Song of Solomon in the Old Testament.

Eros frequently goes bad due to a modern tendency for Eros to become a god to people who fully submit themselves to it.

Lewis contrasts Eros with the raw sexuality of what he called Venus: the illustration Lewis used was the distinction between "wanting a woman" and wanting one particular woman – something that matched his (classical) view of man as a rational animal, a composite both of reasoning angel and instinctual alley-cat.

Philia (friendship love)

Philia is the friendship love - the strong bond existing between people who share common values, interests, or activities. Lewis differentiates philia from the other loves, as philia is "the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary...the least natural of loves". Our species does not need friendship in order to reproduce, but to the classical and medieval worlds it is a higher-level love because it is freely chosen.

Lewis explains that true friendships, like the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Bible, are almost a lost art. He expresses a strong distaste for the way modern society ignores friendship. He notes that he cannot remember any poem that celebrated true friendship like that between David and Jonathan, Orestes and Pylades, Roland and Oliver, Amis and Amiles. Lewis goes on to say, "to the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it".

Growing out of companionship, friendship for Lewis was a deeply appreciative love, though one which he felt few people in modern society could value at its worth, because so few actually experienced true friendship.

In addition to the example of David and Jonathan in the Bible, the Greek word philia is used to describes Jesus' relationship with specifically ONE of his 12 disciples. Do you know which one?

John 20:2 [ephilei]
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

It's interesting that we see Jesus had many disciples, and he had 12 apostles, and within the 12 he had an 'inner' group of three Apostles with whom he was especially close - Peter and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. These three saw him transfigured on the mountain (Matthew 17:1-2) and were the ones whom Jesus shared his sorrow with in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-38). Of those three, scripture identifies only as "the one whom Jesus loved (philia)". Jesus had a special philia love for John that distinguished him even from Peter, who Christ had appointed as the leader.

As another demonstration of this philia love, when Jesus was dying on the cross he entrusted his mother Mary to the care of John:

John 19:26-27
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Philia has numerous dangers, such as its potential for cliquiness, anti-authoritarianism and pride.

Agape (charity love)

Agape (also called Charity) is the love that exists regardless of changing circumstances.

1 John 4:8 [agapē]
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
John 13:35 [agapēn]
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.

Lewis recognizes this selfless love as the greatest of the four loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue to achieve.

Speaking of the other three natural loves, Lewis says "The natural loves are not self-sufficient" - they need to be subordinate to Agape love, the love of God, to avoid becoming corrupted.


1) Numerous worship songs use the word "Love". In "Let My Words Be Few" by Matt Redman, the refrain goes "Jesus, I am so in love with You". In "Love Song For A Savior" by Jars Of Clay, the refrain goes "I want to fall in love with You". What love is being referred to?

2) Where do you see this confusion of love playing out in modern (English-speaking) society?

3) Where else do you see this confusion of words, of "Linguistic relativity", playing out in modern (English-speaking) society?

Additional Examples

Heaven and Hell

  • Modern English uses the words "Heaven" and "Hell".
  • However the Scriptures use the Hebrew "Sheol" (Genesis 37:34-36), the Greek "Hades" (Matthew 16:18), the Greek "Tartarus" (2 Peter 2:4-5), the Greek "Gehenna" (Matthew 5:29), "the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:11-15), "Paradise" (Luke 23:39-43), "Abraham's Bosom" (Luke 16:19-31), and "Heaven" (Matthew 22:30).
  • In simplifying to just the simple words "Heaven" and "Hell", a lot of historical church belief has been lost.
  • This has led to all sorts of confused eschatologies / end times thoughts in modern Protestant Christianity


  • Modern English has the word "worship".
  • Protestants often note that Catholics "worship" Mary and the Saints.
  • However, Greek (and Latin) have three different words that are more specific than the general word "worship" - Latria, Dulia, and Hyperdulia.
  • As Jerome and Augustine (~400 AD) and Aquinas (~1270 AD) fully explained many years ago, Latria is sacrificial worship that may only be offered to God, while Dulia is a non-sacrificial veneration or honor paid to a human being (such as those pointed out in Hebrews 11).
  • Catholics, Jerome, Augustine, and Aquinas would never consider themselves to "worship" Mary or the Saints, as they can see both the shades blue and green, while the Protestants have only a singular color concept.
  • Protestants also tend to equate prayer as a form of worship, as they only pray to and only worship God alone.
  • Thus, Protestants see Catholics praying to saints and again conclude they are worshipping them.
  • However Catholics don't think of prayer to saints as worship, but as supplication - as in the old English phrase "I prithee" or "I pray thee" when you ask someone to do something on your behalf. They see themselves as asking the saints to intercede for them (by asking the saints to pray on their behalf to God).

Jesus' Brothers

  • In modern English Bible translations, numerous verses mention the brothers and sisters of Christ. (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55, John 7:3-5, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, Galatians 1:19)
  • Reading that, modern Protestants assume that must clearly mean that Mary had other children after Jesus.
  • The Greek word translated as "brothers" and "sisters" in the above verses is "adelphos".
  • In the Septuagint (Greek translation of Old Testament a couple hundred years before Christ, which Jesus himself used) the word "adelphos" is used to mean nephew (Genesis 14:14), kin (Genesis 29:15), close friend (2 Samuel 1:26), ally (1 Kings 9:13), brethren (Amos 1:9).
  • Clearly the word 'adelphos' had a far broader meaning than simply blood brothers, and could mean kin/relations, or even close friends - but reading a modern English bible, you will not see that. They use a far more specific word, "brothers", leading readers to conclude Mary did not remain a virgin.
  • All Christians, throughout all of history, believed Mary remained a virgin and had no other children after Christ up until the 1700s. It was always believed that "Adelphos" had a far more general meaning than simply brothers, until modern times with the English language and modern English bible translations.

Judas of James

  • In Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13, the popular ESV Bible translation identifies the apostle as "Judas the son of James".
  • However, the King James Version (from 1611 AD) translates the same verse as "Judas the brother of James".
  • The original Greek text simply says "Ioudas Iakōbou", or "Judas of James". It does not specify an exact relationship, and leaves both "brother" and "son" open as possible interpretations.
  • Similarly, in John 19:25 the ESV translates it as "Mary the wife of Clopas".
  • The original Greek text simply says "Mary of Clopas", leaving the exact relationship unspecified.
  • Papias (~100 AD) and Jerome (~383 AD) both say of this verse "the one who is called by John the Evangelist 'Mary of Clopas,' whether after her father, or kindred, or for some other reason" because they were reading the original Greek, not the modern English translations (which don't allow for that interpretation).
  • Jerome, by reading Luke 6:16 as "Judas the brother of James" and by reading John 19:25 as "Mary the daughter of Clopas" or "Mary from the region of Clopas" gives a resounding biblical defense of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, proving that Mary had no other children but Christ.
  • It is interesting that Jerome's defense of Mary's perpetual virginity would be unbiblical if he was using the ESV Bible today, but is biblical if you use the original Greek.