Being originated from the ancient Greek philosophy, the word “agape” defining this kind of selfless and all-giving love, elevated in Christian teachings as the universal love of mankind, the love for all and for everyone. The core feature of agape love is altruism, along with its unconditional kindness, compassion, and empathetic feelings for others.
Ancient Greek Origins of Agape Love
The word “agape” and the term “agape love” originated from the philosophy of the Ancient Greeks. Since those times, it has conveyed the meaning of universal love for all and for everyone. It is love of mankind. However, it also carries the meaning of unconditional and empathetic love, connotated with kindness, compassion, and concern for others. In this regard, agape love is selfless love. It serves the interests and wellbeing of others without expecting anything in return. Because of this, the concept of agape love is often associated with the concept of altruistic love.
Agape love was one of many kinds of love in ancient Greece, along with philia, storge, eros, and pragma.
Agape love was elevated in the Christian Scriptures as the transcendent love, the highest form of love. It was contrasted with the erotic love of eros and the brotherly love of philia.
What Is Agape and Altruistic Love in Christianity?
Agapē in the New Testament was defined as the fatherly love of God for humans and the human reciprocal love for God. The culture of Christianity further elevated the ideals of selflessness and unconditional love, known to the ancient Greeks as agape (Post, 1990, 2002).
In Christian culture, the altruism of agape love means universal love. Agape is the highest type of Christian love; it is the “gift of love” (Lewis, 1960; Post, 2003; Templeton, 1999).
The unconditional, compassionate, and caring love that God has for all people is referred to as agape love. It is regarded as the most important theological virtue. The agape, as noted above, represents both the love that God has for humanity and the love that humanity has for God in return. These kinds of love also serve as models for the love that people should have for one another—through their relationship with God.
The teachings of Jesus Christ revolve around selfless and unconditional love as the core religious value. The love that Jesus has for his followers transcends all boundaries. And the Gospel of Luke emphasizes this (Meisinger, 2000). In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we see a perfect illustration of altruistic love that puts others before oneself (Luke 10:25–37). The moral of this teaching is that benevolence and kindness should be extended to all people.
The Christian Perspective on Agape Love
Here is a summary of Jesus’s commandments:
“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.” (Matthew 22:36-39, NRSV).
According to Christian teaching, love entails taking responsibility for the wellbeing of other people. In other words, this idea emphasizes the significance of loving the people around oneself, including members of one’s immediate family as well as strangers. The Christian principle of universal love implies the meaning of altruistic love for everyone. Such agape love does not require anything in return. It is the highest form of love.
The golden rule of love entails the following:
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12 NRSV).
Throughout the centuries, Christian religion and theology have had a significant impact on many different cultures, not only in Europe and North America but also in other parts of the world (Karandashev, 2022a).