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Love and Charity

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:14 ESV

“And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Colossians 3:14 KJV

Depending on the version of the Bible you own you may develop different priorities – especially if you actually read it. In the next few paragraphs I’ll attempt to explain why and provide my reasoning on the subject, utilizing a word study concerning the Greek word Agape.

The modern Bibles almost exclusively use the word love when translating the Greek word Agape. On the other hand, the King James Version (KJV) occasionally translates the word Agape as charity. As a matter of fact, the KJV translates Agape, charity, 24 times. The English Standard Version (ESV) translates Agape, charity, once and the New International Version (NIV) never translates it as charity. So, why do we have this difference? Is it a disparity? Is there a right and wrong way to translate Agape?

Current definition of charity, according to Bing:

“An organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need. The body of organizations viewed collectively as the object of fundraising or of donations. The voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need. Help or money given voluntarily to those in need. Kindness and tolerance in judging others.” [1]

Definition of charity from Webster’s Dictionary 1828 version:

“In a general sense, love, benevolence, good will; that disposition of heart which inclines men to think favorably of their fellow man, and to do them good. In a theological sense, it includes supreme love to God, and universal good will to men. In a more particular sense, love, kindness, affection, tenderness, springing from natural relations; as the charities of father, son and brother. Liberality to the poor, consisting in almsgiving or benefactions, or in gratuitous services to relieve them in distress.” [2]

Notice the glaring difference. The modern definition focuses on impersonal giving of money and to a lesser degree, caring for people. The 200 year old definition focuses on the love of God and needs of people and the love and benevolence of the giver. These are typical of changes to word meanings that occur over time, and that Webster’s Dictionary was written over 200 years after the 1611 KJV version was written. So, what does that mean? Well, the differences are due to word meaning changes over time. It is not a disparity, because the translators of each era were using the correct definition for their time period. There is no right or wrong translation, but you have to know and understand the time period of the people doing the Bible translation.

Usually the Greek word Agape is translated love. This is true for every English language version of the Bible. The KJV translates Agape, love, 442 times, the 1599 Geneva Bible (GNV) 499 times, the ESV 684 times and the NIV 686 times. Notice that the older English language Bibles use words including charity to describe this notion of God’s love and selfless giving generosity with an emphasis on caring for one another, “…Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Matthew 22:39. The newer versions use the word love instead of the word charity and to describe many other forms of love, including: brotherly/friendship love, familial love, amorous love, and God’s love for us and our love for mankind.

As I stated in the beginning, depending on the version of the Bible you own, you may develop different priorities. The obsession with love that permeates modern society is mirrored in churches that use modern versions of the Bible. Is that bad? Well, no, if people understand the root meaning of the Biblical passage they are reading. If they don’t understand the root meaning and fail to use proper context, people can make the Bible mean almost anything. They can justify sin, they can disregard purpose and intent.

Those who insist that, “It’s all about love.” have already failed, if they are disregarding scriptural context. What type of love is being discussed, in context? There are 4 Greek words for love used in scripture, Eros, Phileo, Storge and Agape. You must know what Greek word is being used to properly understand the context, and you must understand the definition of the English words according to the time period in which they were translated. It all comes down to Bible study, that includes studying history, tradition, linguistics and the sociology of ancient cultures, and more. Christianity is not a lazy man’s religion.

I hope this study blessed you.


[2] "Webster's Dictionary 1828 - Charity," Websters Dictionary 1828, accessed August 18, 2018,

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