Bible Review 19:6, December 2003

From Hesed to Agape

What’s love got to do with it?

By Ben Witherington III

Bible Review

“Love” is undoubtedly the most used and abused word when it comes to discussing the ethics of the Bible. Endless studies have been written on the meaning of the various terms translated as “love” in the Old and New Testaments. Yet endless confusion remains about their meaning.

Consider, for example, the Hebrew term hesed, which turns up regularly in the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms. It is typically translated “love” (though sometimes we find the rendering “mercy,” as in Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy [hesed] shall follow me all the days of my life,” in the King James Version). Yet careful study of this term in both biblical contexts and elsewhere indicates hesed has a much narrower definition than the English term “love” conveys.

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