Agapē (Gk. αγάπη [aˈɣa.pi]), is one of several Greek words translated into English as love. The word has been used in different ways by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including Biblical authors. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love. Greek philosophers at the time of Plato and other ancient authors have used forms of the word to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to philia—an affection that could denote either brotherhood or generally non-sexual affection, and eros, an affection of a sexual nature. The term 'agape' is rarely used in ancient manuscripts, but was used by the early Christians to refer to the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity, which they were committed to reciprocating and practicing towards God and among one another (also see kenosis).
Agape has been expounded on by many Christian writers in a specifically Christian context. Thomas Jay Oord has defined agape as "an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being."
A title of the goddess Isis was agape theon, or "beloved/darling of the gods," denoting her role as a fertility/life goddess and her pairing as a partner with the masculine god aspects. While this pairing was often sexual in nature, the term "agape" implied a genuine affection and deep love for the goddess.
Although some sources claim Agape appears in the Odyssey twice, the word is in fact not used. Instead, two forms of the word agape may be found: agapêton and agapazomenoi. Agapêton is found in Book 5 of the Odyssey and means "beloved" or "well-loved". Agapazomenoi is found in books 7 and 17 of the Odyssey and means “to treat with affection”.
The verb agapao is used extensively in the Septuagint as the translation of the common Hebrew term for love which is used to show affection for husband/wife and children, brotherly love, and God's love for humanity. It is uncertain why agapao was chosen, but similarity of consonant sounds (aḥava) may have played a part. It is not impossible that the Greek concept even originated as a transliteration from some Semitic tongue. This usage provides the context for the choice of this otherwise obscure word, in preference to other more common Greek words, as the most frequently used word for love in Christian writings. The use of the noun agape in this way appears to be in innovation of the New Testament writers, but is clearly derived from the use of the verb agapao in the Septuagint.
Agape received a broader usage under later Christian writers as the word that specifically denoted "Christian" love or "charity" or even God (Theos ein agape, "God is Love"). The New Testament provides a number of definitions and examples of agape that generally expand on the meanings derived from ancient texts, denoting brotherly love, love of one's spouse or children, and the love of God for all people.
The Christian usage of the term agape comes almost directly from the canonical Gospels' account of the teachings of Jesus. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus said, "'Love (agapao) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love (agapao) your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." ()
At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
Christian writers have generally described agape, as expounded on by Jesus, as a form of love which is both unconditional and voluntary. Tertullian, in his 2nd century defense of Christians remarks how Christian love attracted pagan notice: "What marks us in the eyes of our enemies is our loving kindness. 'Only look,' they say, 'look how they love one another'" (Apology 39).
In the New Testament the noun agape is often used to describe God's love. However, the verb form agapao is at times used in a negative sense, where it retains its more general meaning of "affection" rather than divine love. Such examples include: