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Does the Bible cover romantic love?

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By Chuck McCullough

 

 

 “OK — so it’s Valentine’s Day. I guess I need to know if the Bible talks about romantic love!” — Maria

 

There are a few “love stories”: Adam was pretty taken with Eve (although that cannot be too surprising since he had seen only animals prior to meeting her; Gen. 2:18-23). 

Isaac loved Rebekah; Jacob loved Rachel (Gen. 24:67; 29:18) Ruth fell for Boaz and vice versa (even though there is no kissing or hugging that we find in the story; Ruth 1-4). 

The quintessential portrait of romantic love is found in the PG-13 rated Song of Solomon. (Of course, this classic dialogue is seen by some decidedly dispassionate commentators as an allegory for the love between God and His chosen people — a perhaps more substantive though clearly less titillating interpretation.) 

The New Testament utilizes primarily two words that are translated “love.” Neither of them refers to “romantic love” in the obvious sense. (In fact, the Greek word for sensual or erotic love (eros) does not appear in the Bible.)

Filial love (Greek word, phileo) — affection between siblings and close friends —  appears in a few places (Jn. 20:2; 21:15-17). 

The second and more prevalent word is agape. This is God-love: sacrificial and other-focused. Not complacent but proactive, this love expresses the deep and constant predilection of a perfect Being towards frail, fallible creatures. 

The clearest picture of this love in Scripture is found in the Incarnation of God in Christ and His self-denying, life-offering death on the cross (Jn. 3:16-17; I Jn. 4:9-10).

Sadly, romantic love tends to be a bit fickle, often short-lived, and somewhat self-centered — and in reality it does not get much traction in the Bible. 

The centerpiece of Scripture is God’s unconditional love for people (Rom. 5:8) and the practical love it produces in its recipients — which is precisely why you will find many texts calling you to love others honestly, freely and sacrificially (Mt. 22:37-39; Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 12:9; Eph. 5:25; passim).