In 2 Samuel 13, Amnon is said to "love" his beautiful sister Tamar (v. 1). The verb "love" is apparently translated agapao, the verb form of agape, in the Septuagint. Long story short, Amnon tricks Tamar into a situation leading to rape due to his "love" for her, the chapter explains.

I was surprised to hear of the Septuagint's translation, as I've always heard that "agape love" is the kind of love that seeks the best for the one loved. Obviously, this wasn't the love that Amnon had for Tamar. Therefore, has my understanding of agape been mistaken?

  • 1
    Indeed the verb agapao and agape occurs five times in the sordid story of Amnon and Tamar in 2 Sam 13:1, 4, 15 (twice) and 21 of the LXX.
    – Dottard
    Dec 5, 2021 at 9:04

2 Answers 2


Very rarely does one word have one single meaning in all contexts. If that were the case, then high quality machine translation would be possible, since replacing one word by another would be mechanical.

There was a great linguist, Firth, who pointed out: You shall know a word by the company it keeps. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rupert_Firth)

So a situation and a context contributes to what a word means. There is no reason for you to change your understanding of agape, as long as you realise that there is a wide register of meanings, depending on the context.

A simple look-up in the Greek-English dictionary by Liddle-Scott-Jones will give a good feeling for the range of meanings, there are many nuances.


It is well known that:

  1. classical Greek had at least six different words to describe different types of love.
  2. Only two of these are used in the LXX and NT, namely, agape and phile. Others such as storge and eros are never used.

In the case of the words in the sordid story of 2 Sam 13, the Hebrew word is אָהַב (aheb) which is used to describe a variety of loving relationships such as that between Abraham and Isaac (Gen 22:2), Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 24:67), Isaac and Esau (Gen 25:28), God and man (Deut 4:37), etc.

The fact that this same word is used to describe the feelings of Amnon for his half-sister (2 Sam 13:1, 4, 15), Tamar, demonstrates the elasticity of meaning possible in some Hebrew words. However, it just one of many words used to describe relationships.

Given the comparative paucity of words used by the LXX translators, I am also surprised that they chose agapao to translate the Hebrew in this case. However, like Hebrew (but to a lesser extent) Greek word meaning do have some elasticity.

However, the meaning in the NT, written almost 300 years after the LXX, may have shifted somewhat. In any case, in the NT the meaning is clearly (BDAG)

the quality of warm regard for and interest in another, esteem, affection, regard, love

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