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Agape (// or //; Classical Greek: ἀγάπη, agápē; Modern Greek: αγάπη IPA: [aˈɣapi]) is one of the Koine Greek words translated into English as love, one which became particularly appropriated in Christian theology as the love of God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.. Although the word does not have specific religious connotation, the word has been used by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including biblical authors and Christian authors. Greek philosophers at the time of Plato and other ancient authors have used forms of the word to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to philia (an affection that could denote friendship, brotherhood or generally non-sexual affection) and eros, an affection of a sexual nature. Thomas Jay Oord has defined agape as "an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being."
A journalist of Time Magazine has described John 3:16 as "one of the most famous and well-known Bible verses. It has been called the 'Gospel in a nutshell' because it is considered a summary of the central doctrines of Christianity." The verb translated "loved" in this verse is ἠγάπησεν (ēgapēsen), past tense of "agapaō".
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.—John 3:16, KJV
Agape received a broader usage under later Christian writers as the word that specifically denoted "Christian" love or "charity" (1 Corinthians 13:1–8), or even God himself (1 John 4:8, ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν, "God is Love").
The term agape is rarely used in ancient manuscripts, but was used by the early Christians to refer to the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity, which they were committed to reciprocating and practicing towards God and among one another (also see kenosis). When 1 John 4:8 says "God is love," the Greek New Testament uses the word agape to describe God's love.
Agape has been expounded on by many Christian writers in a specifically Christian context. C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, used agape to describe what he believed was the highest level of love known to humanity – a selfless love, a love that was passionately committed to the well-being of the other.
The Christian usage of the term agape comes almost directly from the canonical Gospels' accounts of the teachings of Jesus. When asked what was the great commandment, "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40) In Judaism, the first ("...love the LORD thy God..."), is part of the Shema.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love (agapēseis) your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love (agapāte) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?—Matthew 5:43-46, RSV
Christian writers have generally described agape as a form of love which is both unconditional and voluntary.. 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).
Anglican theologian O. C. Quick cautions however that this agape within human experience is "a very partial and rudimentary realization," and that "in its pure form it is essentially divine." Quick suggests that,
If we could imagine the love of one who loves men purely for their own sake, and not because of any need or desire of his own, purely desires their good, and yet loves them wholly, not for what at this moment they are, but for what he knows he can make of them because he made them, then we should have in our minds some true image of the love of the Father and Creator of mankind.
In the New Testament the word agape is often used to describe God's love. However, other forms of the word agape (such as agapaō) are at times used in a negative sense. Such examples include:
In these cases, the sense is that the object of that agapē is an idol, taking the place that should be God's own.
Pope Benedict XVI' recent encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est has an extensive examination of the Christian interpretation of agape and the difference between it and its complementary term of eros. Pope Benedict's distinction of love that is selfless, agape, and love that is possessive, eros makes clear that where there is one, there is the other, though agape is generally preferred in the christian context.
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