What Is Philia Love in the Bible?

Philia describes close friendship

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Philia means close friendship or brotherly love in Greek. It is one of the four types of love in the Bible. St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354–430 AD), understood this form of love to describe a love of equals who are united in a common purpose, pursuit, good, or end. Thus, philia refers to love based on mutual respect, shared devotion, joint interests, and common values. It is the love near and dear friends have for one another.

Philia Meaning

Philia (pronounced FILL-ee-uh) conveys a strong feeling of attraction, with its antonym or opposite being phobia. It is the most general form of love in the Bible, encompassing love for fellow humans, care, respect, and compassion for people in need. For example, philia describes the benevolent, kindly love practiced by early Quakers. The most common form of philia is close friendship.

Philia and other forms of this Greek noun are found throughout the New Testament. Christians are frequently exhorted to love their fellow Christians. Philadelphia (brotherly love) appears a handful of times, and philia (friendship) appears once in James:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4, ESV)

The meaning of philia here in James involves a deep level of commitment and association that has moved beyond the basics of acquaintance or familiarity.

According to Strong's Concordance, the Greek verb philéō is closely related to the noun philia. It means "to show warm affection in an intimate friendship." It is characterized by tender, heartfelt consideration and kinship.

Both philia and phileo originate from the Greek term phílos, a noun meaning "beloved, dear ... a friend; someone dearly loved (prized) in a personal, intimate way; a trusted confidant held dear in a close bond of personal affection." Philos expresses experience-based love.

Philia Love in the Bible

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10 ESV)
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another... (1 Thessalonians 4:9, ESV)
Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1, ESV)
And godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:7, ESV)
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart ... (1 Peter 1:22, ESV)
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8, ESV)

When Jesus Christ was described as a "friend of sinners" in Matthew 11:19, philia was the original Greek word applied. When the Lord called his disciples "friends" (Luke 12:4; John 15:13–15), philia was the word he used. And when James named Abraham the friend of God (James 2:23), he employed the term philia.

Philia Is a Family Word

The concept of brotherly affection that unites believers is unique to Christianity. As members of the body of Christ, we are family in a special sense.

Christians are members of one family—the body of Christ; God is our Father and we are all brothers and sisters. We ought to have a warm and devoted love for one another that catches the interest and attention of the non-believers.

This close union of love among Christians is only seen in other people as members of a natural family. Believers are family not in the conventional sense, but in a way that is distinguished by a love that is not seen elsewhere. This unique expression of love ought to be so attractive that it draws others into the family of God:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34–35, ESV)

Sources

  • Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  • The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Second Edition, Revised and Expanded, p. 237).
  • Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 602).