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Five Greek Words for Love: Mania, Storge, Eros, Philia, and Agape

AlethiaBy Robert Ray,

Why should we reflect on the five Greek words for love? Well, in English, we have a problem. We have one word for “mild preference in taste” and “undying loyalty.” That all-elusive, one-size-fits-all word is love.

With a straight face, we say, “I love donuts,” “I love the Dallas Cowboys,” “I love my country,” “I love my girlfriend,” and “I love my eighty-year-old grandmother.”

That is incredibly unhelpful.

Other languages often use multiple words for love. As a Christian (and counselor), I spend a lot of time in the Bible, and Greek is the language of the New Testament. So, let’s consider the five words for love in ancient Greek and their impact on equipping us to live a flourishing life.

The five ancient Greek words for love

I’m not a Greek scholar, so I’ve linked to a couple of sources, but a straight-up definition isn’t the value I add through this article anyway (you could find these facts on Wikipedia). Instead, the definitions include my teaching and insights based on the words’ meanings. Much of my thinking reflects C.S. Lewis’ insights in The Four Loves.

Let’s begin with Mania.

1.    Mania means “obsession”

Manic love is not really a “love” at all. However, in today’s world, when people say they “love” something in English, they sometimes refer to this concept. The word “lust” is close but probably not strong enough—obsession and possession are more accurate.

I “Mania” that which I madly desire to own and have all to myself.

Mania is generally seen as taking over the “lover” like insanity—thus the connection to modern concepts of madness (kleptomania, pyromania). It is the opposite of a phobia (an obsessive need to avoid something). “Mania” is translated as “madness” and “beside yourself” in Acts 26:24.

This unquenchable desire for possession of someone is unhealthy in any relationship.

2.    Storge means dependence or familial love

Storge is defined by dependence and natural ties, commonly called “motherly love.”

When your dependent is no longer reliant on you—when your beloved daughter, your precious flower, goes off to college and eventually marries off—this love remains only in its emotional remnants. It’s one of the more vital loves because it rests on the commitment of one trait of the receiver: that he or she is dependent. When a child grows up and becomes an adult, they are no longer dependent. The love of a mother never fades, of course, but as the child gains independence, this kind of love should blossom into Agape and philos.

However, this type of love can be toxic. For example, in normal circumstances, Storge love can undermine and corrode a marriage. As strange as it sounds, the tendencies of how mothers should treat their sons or how fathers treat their daughters can creep into spousal relationships. If one partner relies like a child on their spouse or one partner constantly parents their spouse, something is amiss.

3.    Eros means the feeling of love

Eros is the root word for “erotic,” but it does not merely describe pleasurable, sexual love. It describes all emotional love, the feeling of love, the desire to be near a person. Eros is the exciting, passionate, nervous butterflies that sweep over us in the right circumstances. It says, “I enjoy how you make me feel.” As an emotion, Eros changes, sometimes suddenly. It’s based on circumstances, the interpretation of those circumstances, and the target of its emotion. As an emotion alone, it is morally neutral. However, it can just as easily lead to lust (sinful/wrong desire) as well-placed passion, romance, or sexual magnetism.

Modern culture prizes this love most. After reading the definition of Eros, did you think, “Well, that’s what love is, right? Why define another kind of love for romantic partners?”

I’ll say this emphatically: Eros love by itself can’t be the foundation for a healthy relationship; from crushes to marriage, we need something more than Eros.

Think of Eros as the fruit and flowers of a new and exciting relationship. Eventually, as a new season arrives, the fruit will die away, but it will produce later in the next season. Eros is in constant flux (like all human emotions), and understanding this variability will help create healthy, sturdy, long-term marriages. The word Eros does not appear in the New Testament, but we see it play out in the Old Testament book, the Song of Solomon.

4.    Philia means friendly love

Philia love refers to brotherly, friendship love. It describes the love between two people who have common interests and experiences. Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love. It also denotes “fondness for.” There are some exceptions to this based on biblical context, but it’s sufficient to make my point here.

Hemophiliacs seemed to ancient doctors to have a “fondness” for bleeding.  In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, this word is translated as affection and, most commonly, friendship. Philia’s love generally grows over time except in the case of some kind of betrayal or some other reason for intense dislike. Many New Testament passages employ it, including Matt. 10:37, John 12:25, and Revelation 3:19.

Unlike Eros, which pulses up and down like waves, Philia grows steadily, like a building constructed brick by brick. For this reason, when close friends reunite after years of separation, they say, “It’s like we picked up exactly where we left off.”

Philia is half about the circumstances and half about the commitment of two people to one another; it says, “I love who we are together,” or in the case of a non-person: “I am fond of this.” So Philia refers to both fondness in a more general way (as in, “I am fond of playing Poker”) and to the development of fondness in fellowship (“I am fond of spending time with John, playing Poker”).

This kind of love should consistently arise in our lives. Through hobbies, social activities, church, family, and romance, strangers turn to acquaintances, turn to friends, turn to loyal life-long partners (whether romantic or “platonic”). Close friendships raise life expectancy (comparable to not smoking cigarettes) and quality of life (online connections don’t count).

Philia is also essential for marriages. It’s not the only love required in a marriage, but it provides good pillars for your marriage to stand on. Philia makes marriage far more enjoyable, but it’s unnecessary for every single area. I may bond with my friends over my collection of Detective comic books, and my wife may connect over a new Christian fiction series she’s reading. Usually, we don’t bond over those particular interests. Don’t feel any pressure that all your fondnesses need to overlap; they won’t.

“Marry your best friend.” True enough. Or, better yet, if you’re already married, “make your spouse your best friend.” Finding shared interests and investing time in those commonalities will grow Philia. So, some of Philia is up to choice in our relationships.

5.    Agape means absolute love

Agape love is entirely about the lover and their virtue and has nothing to do with the one loved (though context can make it mean something like close friendship). In its purest form, Agape love requires no payment or favor in response. In the Bible, we are commanded to Agape our enemies whom we don’t have Philia for. We may vehemently dislike (feel strongly anti-friendly or anti-Philia), but we are called to Agape such people anyway. Why? Because we understand their inherent value in the eyes of God.

The most common word for God’s love for us is Agape (I John, John 3:16). Jesus commanded us to have Agape for one another (Matt. 5:44, I Cor. 13). This lack of input from the recipient makes it possible for us to love our enemies because Agape love is not dependent on circumstances; it says “I love you because I choose/commit to.” You can see why the translators of the King James Version of the Bible used “charity” for this Greek word. Agape is love freely given and freely committed to.

Unlike Eros or Philia, Agape creates a straight line that neither fades nor grows in its ideal form (which only exists perfectly from God outward). Oddly enough, even though many people marry because of Eros’s love, they make vows that speak of commitment despite any circumstance: “For richer or poorer, better or worse, in sickness and in health.” That’s Agape love, a commitment to the best for another, no matter what emotions or feelings exist.

Greek words for love in modern times

Although we praise emotional love and desire in modern times, we should also prioritize self-sacrificial love and friendship love.

  • Storge is beautiful for parents.
  • Mania is like a landmine to avoid.
  • Eros makes life electrifying.
  • Philia is essential to well-being.
  • Agape is one of humanity’s highest ideals.

We can’t build our lives on the foundation of Eros or even Philia. Instead, we must build it on the foundation of God’s Agape love. Even if you’re not a Christian, hopefully, this article equipped you to make distinctions in the different kinds of love.

While love is such a positive force in life, its absence or perversion is just as important to grapple with. If any of these loves feel disjointed in your personal life, you might consider seeing one of our counselors. For example, if:

  • your spouse feels childishly dependent on you,
  • you obsess with jealousy,
  • you don’t have any close friends,
  • you live life primarily through a selfish lens or
  • you are struggling with unfaithful romantic feelings,

you will struggle to live a flourishing, love-filled life.

If that’s you, don’t feel ashamed. Instead, take courage and book a session with one of our trained therapists, who would love to help you process and unpack corrupted forms of love in your life.


This article has been adapted from Sex and Marriage, Chris Legg, LPC’s newly released book on romance, biblical marriage, and sex. You can find it on Amazon today. If you liked what you read here, I can guarantee you’ll find the book uplifting, insightful, and encouraging.

Find it on Amazon: Sex and Marriage: Unlocking and Restoring the Power of Sex and Marriage through Biblical and Psychological Insight.