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Holman Bible Dictionary

Brotherly Love

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A concept which appears throughout the Bible, but the specific word for this type love appears only in the New Testament.

The word which is usually rendered “brotherly love” in the New Testament is the Greek philadelphia and is used only five times ( Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7 ). A similar word, philadelphos , appears in 1 Peter 3:8 , and means “loving one's brother.” However, the idea of brotherly love is much more extensive than these few occurrences.

Old Testament Two words in the Old Testament cover the full range of ideas associated with “love,” the Hebrew ahab and hesed , though the latter is often associated with covenant love. Israelites were called upon to love other people in many relationships: as friend to friend (Psalm 38:11; Proverbs 10:12 ); between slave and master (Exodus 21:5; Deuteronomy 15:16 ); with the neighbor (Leviticus 19:18 ); with the poor and unfortunate (Proverbs 14:21 ,Proverbs 14:21,14:31 ); and especially significant is the command to love the stranger and foreigner (Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19 ). Often the love relationship between people is in the context of covenant, as with David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1-3 ).

New Testament Brotherly love in the ancient Christian literature means to treat others as if they were a part of one's family. This kind of love means “to like” another person and to want what is best for that individual. The basic word used for the brotherly type of love, phileo , sometimes means “to kiss,” which was to show close friendship (Mark 14:44 ). This kind of love is never used for the love of God nor for erotic love.

Jesus constantly taught His followers the principle of “brotherly love,” even though the New Testament never records Him using this very word. He declared that the second great commandment is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 12:31 ), and in the parable of the Good Samaritan He explained who that neighbor is (Luke 10:25-37 ). He also encouraged forgiveness of a brother (Matthew 18:23-35 ) and offered the Golden Rule as a guide in relating to one's brother (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31 ).

Paul spoke of “brotherly love” in the context of the community of believers, the church. Twice he used the term philadelphia : first in 1 Thessalonians 4:9 , then in Romans 12:10 . In both cases he encouraged Christians to live peaceably with one another in the church. He underlined the idea of love for the brethren in Galatians 5:14 , “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Also in Romans 13:8-10 , he declared, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another,” and in 1 Corinthians 8:13 , on causing a weaker brother to stumble, he wrote, “If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh. “

In the Johannine writings, brotherly love is a dominant theme. Jesus gave a new commandment “that ye love one another” (John 13:34 ). The idea is repeated in John 17:26 , “that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them.” A series of emphatic statements on brotherly love in 1,2John are designed to show that this is truly the central command of Jesus (1 John 2:9; 1John 3:10,1John 3:18,1 John 3:23; 1John 4:8,1 John 4:20; 2 John 1:6 ).

In the Epistles the specific word, philadelphia (brotherly love) appears in Hebrews and in 1,2Peter. Hebrews 13:1-2 connects it with “hospitality to strangers,” 1 Peter 1:22 with being pure, and 2 Peter 1:7 has it in a checklist of virtues which Christians should possess. See Love; Hospitality; Ethics .

W. Thomas Sawyer


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Brotherly Love'. Holman Bible Dictionary. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/view.cgi?n=1067. 1991.

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