The Bible, agape and other weird stuff
I was reading a book, "The Way of Agape: Understanding God's Love" (C. & N. Missler) that promised the secret love of God: AGAPE. "Agape is God" was the slogan. Therefore, understanding agape (and buying the book), unlocks God's secret love.
The alluring promise was that there was a mysterious and special love of God that was revealed in the original New Testament Greek Bible. The original Greek language has many different words used for love. Agape, they argue, is a unique special type of love that only God generates. They have three foundational arguments:
Firstly, agape was "coined exclusively for its specific use in the New Testament." (p 43) - Secondly, it is suggested that "every time it's used in Scripture it means, without exception, God's pure and divine Love." - Thirdly, they say there is "no other usage of the word Agape in literature."
So what do you think? True? The argument highlights a need for preachers and listeners to engage their brains and investigate what they hear. We live in an age when anyone can put anything on the internet and be accepted as truth. Simply reading a book or blog and then accepting what it says, without investigation, can cause problems, as is the case here.
Using our brains
Even if you have no Greek language skills and do a Wiki search on agape it becomes obvious that the word is used in both Biblical (Koine) Greek as well as classic Greek. Agape was around well before the New Testament. A simple search of the first Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint LXX (completed well before Christ), reveals agape was also used to translate love. Have a look at 2 Samuel 13.
The word agape is used for Amnon's incestuous and obsessive love for Tamar. Not a good start if you are trying to make an argument that agape is only a special God type love. Or in the New Testament read John 3:19 (same chapter as 3:16!) and John 12:43. Both use agape in a negative worldly sense not as a special God only love.
The classic example is John 21. The word love is used many times here. But if you looked at a Greek/English version you would see a host of different Greek words used to describe love, one of which is agape. And they are used interchangeably showing there is nothing special about agape in that context.
The whole agape storm is summarized by Professor Don Carson as, "an exegetical fallacy." That means a poor or even dangerous Bible interpretation. The problem is that it births its own errors. For example: a special kind of God love that must be mysteriously unlocked.
This theology can spiral out of control and soon you are looking at a different gospel or adjustments to God's attributes. As another example, I have heard of people trying harder to find this special agape love through special prayers, meditation, willpower etc. The real answer is actually found in the person of Jesus (as the Way).
A little investigation can stem a flood of wild Biblical thoughts that seem to have a mind of their own spawning new theories and doctrines. The nature of the human heart is to want something NEW: a new program, a new insight, discovery of a secret to the "real" Jesus etc. The reality is that this search distracts from the gospel message revealed in the Bible.
Christians shouldn't turn their brains off when reading or listening. You still have to engage, ask questions, and wrestle with concepts you hear. The Bible, as God breathed, has the answers you are looking for.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html