How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways . . .


I remember being in a linguistics class and discussing how the words a culture uses to express itself gives insight into what is important to that culture.  For example, the Inuits of Alaska are known to have over 100 words for snow.



These range from TLAPA for “powder snow” to the slightly more unexpected TLALMAN for “snow sold to German tourists,” or QUINYAYA meaning “snow that has been mixed with the poop of a lead dog.”  Yep, you read that correctly. 

Snow is important and ubiquitous, so they honor it by differentiating meanings to be a precise as possible.



February is thought of as the month that we celebrate love.   We celebrate things that are important, right?

How is it then, that we simultaneously use the word LOVE to talk about the person we want to be with forever, and also how we feel about the turquoise dollar store flipflops with a plastic flower at the toe??????

The Greeks had at least six words for love, each with a different undercurrent of meaning.  In their religion and philosophy, each had a place.


  1. EROS

The first kind of love was Eros, named for the Greek God for fertility.  He was the youngest and most immature of the Gods.  He was romantic, but full of mischief and often amused himself by making poorly matched people fall in love.  Today, we like to talk about “falling head over heels” or “madly” in love as if it’s a good thing.  This is the sexual and romantic kind of love that seems to be the most prevalent now, but was more like the most base and even dangerous kind of love to the Greeks.


The second kind of love was one of deep friendship, often forged by surviving some great hardship together.  Compatible mission companions might be said to share this kind of love that is based on shared experiences, beliefs, and concern for one another’s well-being.


The third kind of love is similar to philia, but is typically used more for families, specifically to describe the love between parent and child or other similarly close family relationships.  Sometimes this kind of love is thought of as “long-suffering” because you put up with someone because you love them in this way.


The fourth kind of love must be earned through time and effort.  This is the love between mature, long-married couples.  It is this kind of love that Elder Boyd K. Packer talked about when he said,

“And if you suppose that the full-blown rapture of young romantic love is the sum total of the possibilities which spring from the fountains of life, you have not yet lived to see the devotion and the comfort of longtime married love. Married couples are tried by temptation, misunderstandings, financial problems, family crises, and illness, and all the while love grows stronger. Mature love has a bliss not even imagined by newlyweds.”[1]


The fifth kind of love was love of self, which could be positive or negative.  Taken to an extreme, this kind of love was typified by Narcissus, who was self-centered.  In its rightful place though, it is more like the second great commandment as found in the scriptures:

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Mark 22:39.

  1. AGAPE

Finally, AGAPE was the kind of love that the Greeks understood to mean selfless love for all.  In fact, AGAPE was later translated into Latin as “caritas”, which is the origin for the word “charity.”

I love the Bible dictionary definition of charity.  It reads,

“The highest, noblest, strongest kind of love, not merely affection; the pure love of Christ. It is never used to denote alms or deeds of benevolence, although it may be a prompting motive.”[2]

The act itself of doing something for someone is not “charity,” rather it is the love itself that is the charity.

I find it interesting that at least one source claims that

“AGAPE is the most common word for love in the New Testament. It occurs 259 times as a verb or as a noun. PHILOS and PHILEO occur only 54 times. EROS and S[TORGE] do not occur at all in the New Testament.”[3]

So all of this is tantalizing to the mind, but as Elder Oaks taught about the importance of actually applying the things that we learn, “Therefore, what?”[4]

What if we focused a little more on the AGAPE kind of love this month, rather than the other kinds of love?  As President Hinckley said,

“Each of us can do a little better than we have been doing. We can be a little more kind. We can be a little more merciful. We can be a little more forgiving. We can put behind us our weaknesses of the past, and go forth with new energy and increased resolution to improve the world about us, in our homes, in our places of employment, in our social activities.”[5]

A 14-day Challenge called “Love One Another” has been posted by the Church.[6]  I love (SEE, I DID IT TOO!!) the ideas that require no visit to a craft store or hours spent on Pinterest.  Rather, they just encourage us all to one thing each day to become a little more like Christ.  Even better, I can testify that if we ask for Heavenly Father to inspire us, He will help us make our own personalized list for what we can do for those around us to share the love of Christ a little more.  Give it a try.  I’d love to hear about your experience of giving and/or receiving in the comments.









4 thoughts on “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways . . .

  1. Thank you, Natalie, for this fascinating post. I loved learning about the different meanings of love in Greek culture. Even more interesting is which types of words for love are most commonly used in the New Testament. This was all new to me and I loved it!


  2. I’m not sure why, but I’m having trouble leaving a comment. I keep on getting told my comment has already been published and it has not. Sigh. Let’s try this again.

    Thank you, Natalie, for this fascinating post. I loved learning about the different meanings of love in Greek culture. Even more interesting is which types of words for love are most commonly used in the New Testament. This was all new to me and I loved it!


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