The Bible’s View
Is “Éros” (Romantic Love) Scripturally Approved?
HOW do the Holy Scriptures, especially the Christian writings, show what is involved when couples vow in a wedding ceremony to love each other?
The Christian Scriptures were written in the Greek language. The Greeks have four words that are translated by the one English word “love.” The first Greek word is éros and has reference to romantic love—love between the sexes. The second is storgé, which is love between family members. The third is philía, referring to the affection felt for friends. And the fourth is agápe, a love based on principle rather than emotion or selfishness.
Classical Greek writers such as Plato, Socrates and Aristotle used the word éros repeatedly in their writings. But they rarely used the word agápe. On the other hand, the Christian Greek Scriptures use agápe some 250 times, but éros is not used even once. Why is this? Does this imply that the Bible—and hence its Author, Jehovah God—does not approve of éros, romantic love?
That could hardly be the case, because Jehovah was the Creator of man and woman. He created the bodily differences in them and the attraction between them so that they would naturally unite in marriage. Furthermore, there are many accounts in the Bible that deal with the subject of romantic love. That of Isaac and Rebekah is given in the 24th chapter of Genesis, where we read: “Thus he [Isaac] took Rebekah and she became his wife; and he fell in love with her.”—Vs. 67.
Another outstanding case was that of Jacob’s love for Rachel. “Jacob proceeded to serve [Rachel’s father] seven years for Rachel, but in his eyes they proved to be like some few days because of his love for her.”—Gen. 29:17-20.
Listen to the Shulammite girl as she expresses her feeling for her beloved shepherd boy: “Place me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; because love is as strong as death is, insistence on exclusive devotion is as unyielding as Sheol is. Its blazings are the blazings of a fire, the flame of Jah. Many waters themselves are not able to extinguish love, nor can rivers themselves wash it away.” (Song of Sol. 8:6, 7) So the Bible speaks approvingly of proper, mature romantic love.
If this is the case, then, why is it that the Greek word for romantic love, éros, never appears in the Christian Greek Scriptures? Well, the thought of it is contained therein. For instance, the apostle Paul gives straightforward counsel on marital love. (1 Cor. 7:2-5) But éros was not only the Greek word for one type of love; it was also the name of a god of the Greeks. Eros was their god of love. So, why should the apostles use a word that would remind Greek-speaking persons of one of the pagan gods? Commenting on this, The Watchtower of April 1, 1965 (page 205), said:
“Such romantic love can contribute to happiness only when it is controlled, not worshiped; and, to control it, we need the love based on principle. Today the whole world seems to be committing the same mistake the ancient Greeks did. They worshiped Eros as a god, bowed at his altar and offered sacrifices to him. The Romans did the same with Cupid, the Roman counterpart of Eros. But history shows that such worship of sexual love only brought degradation, debauchery and dissolution. Perhaps that is why the Bible writers made no use of the word.”
Jesus and the first-century Bible writers raised love higher than the mere attraction between the sexes. They understood the natural attraction of romantic love. They well knew that romantic love was accomplishing its purpose of filling much of the earth with mankind. So, under divine inspiration, those Bible writers put the emphasis on agápe love. Even when they discussed the subject of love in marriage, they invariably used the word agápe. In their married life Christians were to show agápe love.—Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:19.
Then what exactly is agápe love? Why is it so special? The definition of agápe, as given in Strong’s concordance, contrasts it with the verb philéo, which is affection as for friends. Then it says that philéo is “chiefly of the heart,” but agápe chiefly “of the head,” and defines agápe as, “the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety.” So it is love based on principle, involving primarily the mind, not one’s emotions. It may or may not include affection and fondness. It is not unfeeling and cold. Yet it is not ruled by feeling or sentiment, but is guided or governed by principle as, for instance, in Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:44) A person does good to the object of his love because it is right and good to do so.
It is this agápe love that a couple vow to give each other when exchanging the marriage vows. The romantic love the couple feel for each other on their wedding day will deepen and broaden as time passes. The romantic love is beautiful and a great aid in making adjustments to married life; but it is not the primary goal in a Christian’s life.
The goal for a Christian is to express agápe love in all aspects of life—love for God, for neighbor and for one’s marriage mate. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation: “Let all your affairs take place with love.” (1 Cor. 16:14) If that was to be true within the congregation, how much more should it be true within marriage. Unselfish kindness toward each other should be a way of life. It should be like an outward identifying garment that we wear. “Clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Col. 3:14.
Jesus set the perfect example of how a husband should treat his wife. No, Jesus was never married when on earth. But the Scriptures speak of him as being the “bridegroom” and of the members of his congregation as being his “bride.” (Matt. 9:15; John 3:26-29; Rev. 21:9) So Ephesians 5:25 counsels: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it.” Jesus tirelessly worked to benefit the congregation. He even gave his life willingly so that his congregation could be benefited.
On the night before Jesus’ death, he gave a command to the apostles and fellow believers that raised agápe love to a new height. He said: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) So their love for one another was to be of such superior quality that they would be willing to give their lives, if necessary, to protect and benefit their brothers. Husbands and wives are to show this same quality of love in all their marriage relationships.