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In defending His actions of healing the invalid and instructing him to pick up his bed and leave the pool, Jesus compares His actions to His Father's and makes this statement:

For the Father loves (φιλεῖ) the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. (John 5:20 ESV)

Rather than agape love, Jesus says the Father's love for Him is phileō. That is, in contrast to God's love for the world which is ἠγάπησεν, the Father's love for the Son is φιλεῖ.

Since phileō is used for kiss, there is a sense of proximity which is not necessarily present in agape. The BDAG notes "a more intimate relationship may be implied; one may extend 'love' in general, but close friendship is limited."1One might even conclude the attempt to kill Jesus was exacerbated by for the Father loves/kisses the Son...

In this passage does Jesus use φιλέω to imply equality with His Father which would not be present if He had used ἀγαπάω?


1. Fredrick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 2000, p. 1056

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    I'll look for references and data before answering, but from memory, especially in the LXX, φιλέω is usually used when relating to family relationships.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 9, 2022 at 14:18
  • @Revelation Lad. Jesus' use of phileo does not imply equality with his God. In the next chapter, he pointed to God as the source of his life. He was created. His life was caused by his God. John 6:57 Jul 10, 2022 at 0:03
  • Does the Q about equality here imply a right to be identified as "God"? Jul 10, 2022 at 5:26
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    I do not understand why this question has received 3 down-votes.+1 from me.
    – Bagpipes
    Jul 10, 2022 at 10:30
  • Bagpipes, Likewise. It's puzzling why some people here down-vote others' contributions without comment as to why. I'd rather not speculate on their possible motives. Personally, I found it to be an interesting, revealing, and provocative question. I'm glad you did, too!
    – Dieter
    Aug 21, 2022 at 20:08

5 Answers 5

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The word phileo, which is also used to mean kiss, does imply a sense of nearness and proximity. In Jn 5:20 the use of phileo fits well with the context of the passage, which details the unique relationship between the Father and the Son. The proximity in their relationship contrasts with the distance that exists between God and man because of sin (Is 59:2). Moreover, man cannot close that distance on his own. Thus men are not commanded to love God in the phileo sense.

W E Vine - phileo (φιλέω, 5368) is to be distinguished from agapao in this, that phileo more nearly represents “tender affection.” The two words are used for the “love” of the Father for the Son, John 3:35 (No. 1), and 5:20 (No. 2); for the believer, 14:21 (No. 1) and 16:27 (No. 2); both, of Christ’s “love” for a certain disciple, 13:23 (No. 1), and 20:2 (No. 2). Yet the distinction between the two verbs remains, and they are never used indiscriminately in the same passage; if each is used with reference to the same objects, as just mentioned, each word retains its distinctive and essential character. Phileo is never used in a command to men to “love” God.

Because men are unable to do so, the Son was sent to bridge the gap between God and man (cf 1 Pet 3:18, Eph 2:18-19).

For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father – Jn 16:27

“In this passage does Jesus use φιλέω to imply equality with His Father which would not be present if He had used ἀγαπάω?”

While the word φιλέω implies proximity and not necessarily equality, the proximity inherent in the very nature of the relationship that Jesus claimed to have with God the Father was understood by Jesus’ opponents to signify a claim to equality.

For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. – Jn 5:18

While the answer to the OP’s question is not clear, the significance of φιλέω lies in how it reinforces the proximity between the Father and the Son and what that proximity ultimately says about the Son’s identity. In my opinion, the word φιλέω reflects and amplifies that proximity in a way that ἀγαπάω would not.

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The Greek word for 'love' in John 5:20 is phileō but it could be a mistake to put any emphasis on the idea of 'kiss', with this particular type of love, and especially not in this particular verse. Just look at the other occurrences of phileō in John's gospel:

11:3 - Lord, behold he whom thou lovest is sick... [Lazarus]

11:36 - Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved... [this one, Lazarus]

12:25 - He that loveth his life shall lose it...

15:19 - The world would love his own...

16:27 - For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me...

20: 2 - ...to the other disciple whom Jesus loved

21:15-17 Lord thou knowest that I love thee.

This type of love is more about that between friends, especially in family relationships. Don't forget either that when Judas Iscariot kissed Jesus, that was not a kiss of love, but of betrayal. Nevertheless, the Greek for 'kiss' in Luke 22:47 & 48 (where Jesus asks Judas if he would betray him with a kiss) uses phileō in the sense of 'to kiss, be friendly'. However, the text in question is speaking of phileō as that of the Father towards the only-begotten Son, an on-going love, not a one-off occasion where a kiss might be indicated. The text cannot imply a kind of love where the Father would kiss the Son. Indeed, the Father commands sinners to kiss the Son (Psalm 2).

The other examples you give in the New Testament (John 16:27, 20:2, 1 John 3:1) do not use either of the two Greek words for a kind of friendship love that involves kissing.

Certainly, Jesus' claim to the men who hated him, that the Father loves him (5:20), riled them, but due to what the rest of that verse has Jesus telling them:

"...and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickenth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son, that all should honour the Son even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him." (20-23)

So, when your comments include the statement, "One might even conclude the attempt to kill Jesus was exacerbated by 'for the Father loves/kisses the Son'..." the inclusion of 'kisses' is wrong. The attempt to kill Jesus was exacerbated by Jesus continuing that sentence to list ways in which the Father's love for him was exclusive, and to a degree that went far beyond mere friendship. If Jesus had 'merely' being speaking of a friendship love (which other humans could experience), he would never have gone on to state the Father's love shown in those exclusive ways.

It was almost as if Jesus wanted to enrage his angry accusers to the uttermost by beginning with a phileō love, but immediately progressing towards supernatural evidences of just how great that love of the Father was for the Son. Therein lies the astounding proof of the equal love of Father and Son, in a relationship that is so unique as to speak of the deity of both - in one divine nature, with absolute unity of the Spirit in that nature.

Therefore, the answer to your question is that it was Jesus' entire sentence in verses 20 to 23, which started with mention of phileō love but then made claims of a divine relationship between Father and Son that showed equality with His Father.

Source: Young's Concordance, 8th edition

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  • Good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Jul 9, 2022 at 21:50
  • @Anne. In the next chapter, Jesus pointed to God as the source of his life. He was created. His life was caused by his God. John 6:57. Jesus is not equal with his Father. Jul 10, 2022 at 0:04
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    @AlexBalilo - what verse are you speaking about - John 6:27, 40 says that Jesus is the source of eternal life. This is not the place for debate!!
    – Dottard
    Jul 10, 2022 at 2:27
  • @Dottard. Partly read, it would seem like Jesus is the source of eternal life, John 6:27 says Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him the Father, even God, hath sealed. He gives eternal life because His God approved it. Consider John 17:3. Jesus' God is the source of eternal life, Jesus himself was created, John 3:16, John 6:57 and Revelation 3:14. Is the Father's life caused by Jesus? Is the Father begotten? Jul 10, 2022 at 3:04
  • Up-voted. And then an excellent edit. Much appreciated.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 10, 2022 at 20:12
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The two verbs used for "love" in the NT are:

ἀγαπάω (agapaó)

This word is used to describe the Father's love to Jesus and vise-versa (John 3:35, 14:31, 15:9, 17:26, 2 Peter 1:17) and humankind generally (John 3:16, Rom 5:8, 1 John 3:1). It also describes the love that Christians should have to all people (1 Thess 3:12, 1 Cor 16:14, 2 Peter 1:7).

[NOTE: Isa 63:9 expresses the kind of empathetic love that God has for each person. “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”]

[Further NOTE: This word also describes the love that sinners have for "the world". 1 John 2:15.]

φιλέω (phileó)

The word is used to describe the love of the Father for Jesus (John 5:20) and the believing Christian (John 16:27, 20:2, 1 John 3:1). However, in the New Testament, this philos love is never used in a command of men to love God.

Thus, both verbs are used to describe the kind of relationship between the Father and Son, AND the Father toward the Christian. Thus, nothing can be deduced about the divinity or otherwise of Jesus from these verbs.

However, Jesus equality with the Father is explicitly claimed in V23 as well as several other places in John 5.

APPENDIX - Commentators

I note that some commentators attempt to make much of the use of φιλέω (phileó) to show Jesus' equality with the Father such as Gill, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Ellicott, etc. However, I struggle to see the basis for their deductions.

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  • John 5:20 is the only time Jesus used this word to describe His Father’s love for him. I don’t think saying He used the other word in other places addresses His choice in this situation or how others responded to it. For example, why not translate the Father kisses the Son? Jul 8, 2022 at 22:48
  • @RevelationLad - It is true that the same verb to love can also be kiss but so can καταφιλέω. Why not proffer an answer yourself? Further, if God loves us using this same verb, does not make us equal with God?
    – Dottard
    Jul 9, 2022 at 0:03
  • @RevelationLad - I fully agree. However, that does not provide any evidence (for or against) that Jesus is divine.
    – Dottard
    Jul 9, 2022 at 3:24
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It was natural for John to translate Jesus' conversation using the word φιλέω in John 5:20 because that was a common way of expressing love in a family relationship.

25.33 φιλέω; φιλία, ας f: to have love or affection for someone or something based on association—‘to love, to have affection for.’ See the discussion of the meaning of φιλέωa and φιλία in 25.43. -- Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 292). United Bible Societies.

However, the problem with giving significance to φιλέω over ἀγαπάω is you first have to assume that Jesus spoke to the Jewish authorities in the temple in Greek rather than Aramaic/Hebrew. The possible words Jesus might have used, such as אוֹהֵב or ܪܴܚܶܡ, lose the distinction you might try to make with the Greek words. You might try to argue why Jesus didn't use חֶ֛סֶד, but the fact is we don't know what word Jesus used.

What we do know is the context that John gave us:

19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. (John 5:19–20, ESV)

This is not the description of God as so-many-great grandfather through Adam or through Moses that a Jew might use. This is the description of God as the Father who raised Him. The context, not the verb, is what put Jesus on the same level as God.

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  • I agree with your post, but I do not follow your final sentence. (You know that I hold that Jesus is as much God and the Father.) However, I cannot see how the choice of this verb allows you to draw the conclusion in your final sentence. (Not my downvote BTW.)
    – Dottard
    Jul 9, 2022 at 21:34
  • @Dottard I edited the sentence to make it clearer.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 9, 2022 at 23:44
  • OK, so now it appears that we might agree (I do not want to put words in your mouth) but are you suggesting that it is not the choice of verb here but the surrounding comments about giving equal honor to both the Father and son (etc, etc) that teach equality?
    – Dottard
    Jul 10, 2022 at 0:45
  • @Dottard yes, there is too much uncertainty about the verb.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 10, 2022 at 1:12
  • I did another edit to make it clearer.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 10, 2022 at 1:14
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In episode with Peter (John 21:15-17) when the resurrected Lord three times asks Peter “Do you love me”, He says φιλεῖς and ἀγαπᾷς interchangeably with the same semantics, so, I do not think that it matters here.

However the divinity and hence equality of the Son/Christ with the Father is expressed by the saying that Father “shows all deeds” to the Son, and “shows” means “does”, for the Lord just had done the miracle immediately before saying those words, which means that this deed as any other (for that is what the "all" mean) divine deed, are done jointly by the Father and the Son. What we read here, therefore, is that Father does nothing, has done nothing, will do nothing and, moreover, can do nothing without the Son co-doing, the very creation of the universe thus having been done together by the Father and the Son (John 1:1-3) - Both thus being Uncreated and Both being God - and similarly all divine deeds.

Just see what an illogicality follows if one affirms that Father can act without His Logos/Son: then it will follow that the Lord's words that Father "shows all His deeds to the Son" are not true, because at least one deed, a deed of creation of the Logos/Son - which Arians and their theological heirs purport - was not shown to the Son, for He was not yet in existence, and was done solely by the lonely Father, who was not yet even a Father before the creation of His Logos, but a solitary God with nobody and nothing to refer to. Now, such a theology, a fallacious and unbiblical one for that matter, claims that after the creation of Logos, He, the Father chose to create the world not alone, which He could do even without His Logos, alone, but the participation of Logos in creation of the universe is just an ontologically unnecessary choice and deliberation of God the Father.

But this is a mythology, not theology based on the Holy Scripture, which here clearly says that Father shows a l l deeds to the Son, which, as we have said above, means that He does all His deeds jointly with the Son and cannot not do so essentially, not by any sort of choice.

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    Gigineishvili. In the next chapter, Jesus pointed to God as the source of his life. He was created. His life was caused by his God. John 6:57. Jul 10, 2022 at 0:00
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    @Alex - really?? In John 6:27 Jesus claims to be the source of eternal life!! But please confine your comments to clarifications and pointing out errors of fact rather than trying to theologically provoke. Comments are not the place for debate.
    – Dottard
    Jul 10, 2022 at 2:25
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    @Dottard. My comments to this answer points out its errors. Jul 10, 2022 at 3:22
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    @LevanGigineishvili. According to Jesus, the one and only God gave him the authority to give eternal life. John 17:1-3. Paul says eternal life comes from God through Jesus Romans 6:23.It was the Father’s will that eternal life would come through the Son: John 6:40. The verse used in this Q does not identify Jesus as the Father/God. Does the Q about equality here gives a right to be identified as "God"? Jul 10, 2022 at 4:59
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    @AlexBalilo Your mistake is to say that Father just willed to use His Son to create the world and to give eternal life to men; as if the Father had option not to use His Son in creating the world, just like He willed to use sexual intercourse of man and woman for creating a new life, while of course He could do without it, like with Adam, for instance. But this is total nonsense! Father ontologically cannot create the world or give eternal life without the Son co-creating and co-giving, just like a physical sun cannot bypass its rays and enlighten without them - a good patritstic analogy btw. Jul 10, 2022 at 6:14

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