Rabbi’s Reflections – Saturday, January 20, 2024
Shabbat Shalom,

Agape – part 3 (see last Saturday for part 2)
by David Harwood

Last week we shared, and then established this:

Agapaō (the verb) and agapē (a noun) convey the emotion we call love. These words became familiar to the Jewish people through the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Septuagint. In the Septuagint ahavah (Hebrew for love) is translated as agapaō/agapē over 200 times.

We will now look into the next part of my defining agapē.

In the New Covenant Scriptures agapaō/agapē is found a similar number of times. They parallel the use of agapaō/agapē in the Septuagint.

Last week I mentioned that agapē is found in the Septuagint over 200 times. Someone might ask, “How many more times than 200?” Here’s the answer: Agapē is used about 250 times in both the Septuagint and the New Covenant Scriptures. Consider, between them agapē is used about 500 times.

The Hebrew word primarily translated love is ahavah. In the beginning of my studies on agapē I was struck by the parallel uses of ahavah in the Hebrew Scriptures with agapē in the Apostolic Writings. I was going to write about that, but it was complicated and, as I began, it looked like a lot of work that would require too much thought for the reader. (I don’t want to wear anyone out.)

Then it crossed my mind that the Tanach was translated into Greek and I wondered how ahavah was rendered in the Septuagint. Pretty much everywhere I looked ahavah was translated as agapē. They are used identically.

Back to the definition:

Here are some examples:

We are commanded to (agapē) God (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37) and our neighbors (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39).

Let’s look at these Scriptures which command us to love God.

The Septuagint:

And you will love (agapē) the Lord your God from your whole mind and from your whole soul and from your whole strength (Deuteronomy 6:5 LES)

The New Covenant Scriptures’ parallel: And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love (agapē) the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37)

Here is the command enjoining us to love our neighbors.

The Septuagint:

‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love (agapē) your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18 LES)

The New Covenant Scriptures:

“The second is like it, ‘You shall love (agapē) your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39)

This love is a holy, sanctified emotion. It is ahavah. It is agapē. Love is an emotion.

Question: In what language is love not an emotion? Is it possible to love God with all our heart and for our feelings to not be involved? What about our neighbors? In Leviticus the emotion, love (ahavah/agapē), is contrasted with bearing a grudge. Bearing a grudge is a sinful emotion. Loving our neighbors is a holy emotion.

I’ve heard it said that one cannot command someone to have positive emotions. The same people have no problem believing that we can be commanded to stop having sinful emotions. If we examine the command to love our neighbors, we find that we’re told to exercise our authority over our emotions. We’re not to bear a grudge. We are to love our neighbors.

Agapē/ahavah can be commanded, and we’re commanded to love God. We’re commanded to love our neighbors. That’s holy agapē.

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