It’s the “three little words” that Christians sometimes say to each other: “I agape you.”
One of the most interesting things about the Christianese that English-speaking Christians use is that sometimes it’s not in English. Because the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, Christians sometimes pull a word from one of these original languages in order to express a nuance of meaning or a specific idea that there just isn’t a good English word for. Agape is one of those terms.
Perhaps you’ve heard that the Greek language has four different words for love? There was even a book written about it: The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. I’ll cut to the chase, though. These are the four Greek words for love: phileo (friendship love), eros (sexual love), storge (goodwill love), and agape (unconditional love).
The agape is sometimes referred to as divine love or God’s love. It’s a noun that refers to the love that God has for the world—a special, perfect, selfless, unconditional love. (Don’t confuse God’s agape love with another kind of attitude that people sometimes have: sloppy agape! As you can probably tell from the modifier “sloppy,” sloppy agape is something that might look like “agape” but is far from selfless or unconditional.)
What you might not know, and what you won’t learn from C.S. Lewis’s book, is that Christians have gone and turned the noun agape into a verb too! That’s right. In the same way that you say “I love you,” you can also say “I agape you” in Christianese. By using the Greek word agape as a verb, Christians can let people know that they’re referring specifically to the agape type of love.
When you agape someone, you’re saying that you love them with platonic and unconditional love. Agape love is greater than mere phileo or storge love, and it’s not the same things as eros love. If you just told someone that you loved them, they wouldn’t know which of the four loves you had in mind. With the verb agape, you can let people know specifically which love you mean!
My favorite use of “I agape you” is the one you sometimes find in younger crowds of Christians. When a Christian boy or girl wants to let someone know that they care about them but that they want to remain “just friends,” then they can find a way to work “I agape you” into the conversation. It’s a gentle way to let down someone who might be crushing on you in youth group!
²agape v. \uh-‘gop-ee\ or \ah-guh-‘pay\ [see *¹agape] See various senses.
See also *love in the Lord; *phileo.
1. To love God with *¹agape love; for God to love someone with agape love.
• 1948 The Living Church CXVII. 11 : God “agape’s” us. He does not necessarily like us, or approve of us, or share many common interests with us; but He is determined to let nothing interfere with our very highest good. 1978 Berry Can You Love Yourself 84 : Do you love yourself the way God agapes you? If you do, you’re on the way to developing a good self-image. 1993 Briscoe Living Love 30 : This is what God came to earth to tell us, that he wants us to agape him. To philia God was not enough. 1998 Arthur As Silver Refined: Learning to Embrace Life’s Disappointments 271 : If we can’t say to Him, “I agape You,” if all we can say is “I phileo You,” He will still commission us to tend His lambs and feed His sheep. 2009 Brock Rapture and Revelation 308 : I submit theoretically that if Jesus would have approached Peter after the day of Pentecost and asked him if he agaped him, Peter would have said proudly, yes Lord I agape you! 2011 Bank Sanctiprize: Restoration to the Person You Were Created to Be 111 : If we suffer for mistreatment in doing what is right, we have opened the door to receive blessings of the Father. He sees, He knows, and He loves (agapes) you but He also loves (agapes) the person who has mistreated you.
2. To love someone with *¹agape love.
• 1969 Weatherly “The Language of Love” in Postman, Weingartner, Moran Language in America 136 : But we English-speakers … can’t go around saying, “I agape you,” to Tom, Dick, and Jane no matter how close we might happen to be. 1977 Gillham He Said, She Said 000 : It is entirely possible for me to admire Anabel, and feel deep romantic attachment to her, and yet be ignorant of just how to agape her as Christ agapes. 1991 Crosby Illusion and Disillusion: The Self in Love and Marriage 101 : What does all of this mean when a young man or woman is tempted to use the big “L” word and say “I love you”? Does it mean he/she should say “I Philos you” or “I Eros you” or “I Agape you”? 1997 Meredith Becoming One 107 : How do you change your mate? You agape them, and allow God to do the changing. 1999 Burgen What’s the Big Deal About Sex: Loving God’s Way 84 : It was the commitment that we had made to stick together, even through the ugly, sad, hurtful, depressed, unromantic times. These periods haven’t always lasted just a few minutes of a day; sometimes they have involved days, weeks, months. Some conflicts and “for worses” have gone on for years. “Hey, I agapé you. I’m saying. I promised.” 2004 Spiegel How To Be Good In A World Gone Bad: Living A Life Of Christian Virtue 204 : Who would be so boastful as to say, “I have a fully virtuous affection toward you” (which is what “I agape you” means)? 2007 Bell Sex God 119 : So the man is to love the woman, to agape her, like God agapes the world. 2011 Griggs Ray of Hope 135 : “I found out tonight about agape … unconditional love. And Sahara, to be honest, I want that in my life.” “You have it. I agape you. May Ray agapes you.”
3. To love someone in a strictly platonic way.
See also *DTR.
• 2009 Myers Rooster in the Cathedral 155 : We used to go around saying to our comrades, “I agape you!” … Agape had unmentionable, subliminal meanings at times also. As code language between the sexes, “I agape you” often meant “I have a raging desire to sleep with you, but I’m really trying to resist.” 2009 Walker Becca by the Book 303 : Agape … [is] sometimes said by guys in singles group when they’re afraid a girl is interested and they want to make sure she understands that they don’t care for her in that way. “I agape you.”