How often have you heard a preacher or a teacher compare the verb agapaō(ἀγαπάω, to love) with phileō (φιλέω, to love) and wind up saying that agapaō is a special kind of love or even further divine love? I have, not only heard (John 21:15-17, and Ephesians 5:25) but also at the pulpit shared it when I did my very first preaching on Luke 6:27-36. Is it truth that agapaō is a special kind of love?
The most common comparing of this kinds of love usually begin with introducing the types of love in Greek, often like Carpenter and Comfort in Holman treasury of key Bible words:
We use the word love to describe all kinds of feelings—from adoration to lust. But the ancient Greeks had four words to express different kinds of “love”: (1) eraō for “sexual passion,” a word not found in the New Testament; (2) storgeō for “family devotion,” a word used in a negative sense in 2 Timothy 3:3 as “unloving”; (3) phileō for “friendship,” a word appearing frequently in the New Testament; and (4) agapaō for “loving-kindness.”
To which agapaō is then elevated to some special or even divine love because “Agapē-love comes from the divine nature. When we are born again through the Spirit, we too can express agapē-love (2 Pet. 1:3–9; 1 John 3:9). With this love that God gives us, it is possible for us to truly love our friends, co-workers, and neighbors.”
To our disappointment, this is not true. The reasoning behind commits a root fallacy, viz. presupposing that meaning of the word is determined by its etymology(root(s)). Not every word has a meaning bound up with its components.
Research Professor of New Testament, D. A. Carson, pointed out that agapaō does not always refer to a “good” love or a sacrificial love or a divine love, and nothing in the root to convey such a meaning.
In a similar vein, although it is doubtless true that the entire range of ἀγαπάω (agapaō, to love) and the entire range of φιλέω(phileō, to love) are not exactly the same, nevertheless they enjoy substantial overlap; and where they overlap, appeal to “root meaning” in order to discern a difference is fallacious. In 2 Samuel 13 (LXX), both ἀγαπάω (agapaō, to love) and the cognate ἀγάπη(agape, love) can refer to Amnon’s incestuous rape of his half sister Tamar (2 Sm. 13:15, LXX), When we read that Demas forsook Paul because he love this present, evil world, there is no linguistic reason to be surprised that the verb is both ἀγαπάω (agapaō, 2 Tim. 4:10). John 3:35 records that the Father loves the Son and uses the verb ἀγαπάω (agapaō); John 5:20 repeats the thought, but uses the φιλέω(phileō) – without any discernible shift in meaning. ( Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd p.29-30)
Dealing with synonyms in John 21:15-17, Carson doubt that there is a distinction between agapaō(ἀγαπάω) and phileō (φιλέω). He pointed out that the argument that translators of the Spetuagint and New Testament writers investing ἀγαπάω (agapaō) and ἀγάπη(agape) with special meaning to provide an adequate expression by which to talk about the love of God has been “overturned by the diachronic study of Robert Joly, who presents convincing evidence that ἀγαπάω (agapaō) was coming into prominence throughout Greek literature from the fourth century B.C. on, and was not restricted to biblical literature.”(Ipid p.52)
Is agapaō some kind of special divine love? Sadly no. We have fell into this lie because of false reasoning in our exegesis. Its my prayer that the Holy Spirit will lead us to be more careful, quick to see , admit and correct our errors.
 Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. (2000). Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained (328). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
D. A. Carson. Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. Baker Academic (2008)