The whole range of meanings of this English word, physical, emotional, intellectual, are found in the Bible. There is the love of God for Israel (Hos. 3: 1) where it denotes his fidelity to his own covenants. There is also a command that his people shall love God, and this is not the deep affectionate love for a personal God but rather an injunction to loyalty. The word in Hebrew is found in ancient treaties where a subject king is enjoined to ‘love’ (be loyal to) his overlord. But ‘love’ is also used in quite a modern sense as when Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed but a few days because of the love he had for her (Gen. 29: 20). Hosea used the images of love, marriage, and faithlessness to describe the relationships of Israel to God (Hos. 6: 4–6). And Deutero‐Isaiah, also to proclaim the love of God for Israel, compares it to the love of a mother for her child (Isa. 49: 15).
In the NT the Greek noun eros (sexual love) is not found for the love of God, or love for God, or for love within the Christian community. Jesus brings together from Deut. 6: 5 and Lev. 19: 8 the commands to love God and neighbour but goes farther and emphasizes the duty to love one's enemies (Matt. 5: 43–6). An episode in Luke 7: 36–50 indicates that the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus was so liberated by forgiveness that she gave out a wealth of love.
In Paul's epistles love is united with faith and hope (1 Cor. 13: 13) as a gift of the Holy Spirit; it is not a human achievement and not therefore a ground for boasting (1 Cor. 13: 4). The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was the supreme sign of the love of God (Rom. 8: 39), and therefore Christian lifestyle was to be in imitation of it (Luke 9: 23; 1 Cor. 11: 1). This is the outworking of faith and involves special care for the weaker members of the community (1 Cor. 8: 11–12). Love is a prominent theme in the Johannine writings and the mutual love of the Father and the Son (John 16: 28) is to be reflected in the disciples (John 17: 26). At John 18: 25ff.; 21: 27, Peter reverses his threefold denial of Jesus by a threefold affirmation of his love. The epistles of John maintain the same teaching on the primacy of love (‘no new commandment’, 1 John 2: 7).