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University of Lund

It has been a while since systematic theologians attended to the task of developing a more comprehensive approach to love. The last major discussion on love in Christian theology took place around the middle of last century. 1 In the meantime, occasional essays and articles, mostly in theological dictionaries and handbooks, have restated the tradition and its developments, but rarely attempted a larger contemporary discussion of the different dimensions of and possible changes in the theology of love. Of course, the ethical implications of Christian love have often been examined and developed. 2 More recently, love has also received new attention in philosophical theology and in phenomenology. 3 A number of important exegetical studies have added to the understanding of love in its diverse biblical texts and contexts. However, no larger conversation between biblical scholars and theologians on love has emerged as of late. All Christian thinkers agree that love is the central theme of Christian religion. Love refers both to the nature of God (1 John 4:16) and the divinely created nature of relationship. Thus it concerns a broad network of interdependent relationships: between God and the universe; God and human beings; God and the church; between human beings and God; between one human being and another; between human beings and the universe; between human beings and their diverse cultural and religious traditions and expectations; and between each human being and her or his own emerging self.
1 Among prominent contributors to that discourse on love we find Anders Nygren, Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis and Hans Urs von Balthasar. 2 Gene Outka, AGAPE: An Ethical Analysis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972). 3 See Vincent Brmmer, The Model of Love: A Study in Philosophical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and Adriano Fabris, I paradossi dellamore fra grecit, ebraismo e cristianesimo (Brescia: Morcelliana, 2001).

Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2003 Also available

Biblical Interpretation 11, 3/4

biblical challenges to a theology of love


In this brief article I would like to explore the ground for such a conversation between biblical scholars and theologians on love. First I would like to comment on the present intellectual horizon for a discussion on love. Secondly, I shall discuss some of the biblical challenges to a contemporary theology of love. And finally, I shall identify some promising themes for a conversation between biblical scholars and theologians on love. 1. Approaching Christian Love Today Today a theology of love faces major suspicions: (1) Since all expressions and theories of love obviously have a history, how can love be the ultimate principle of Christian thinking about God and a successful divine-human relationship? Does not this principle and its expressions tend to change in response to historical circumstances and challenges? (2) The ongoing inter-religious encounter has shown that love cannot be considered to be a Christian possession. Moreover, Gods love cannot be restricted to the realm of the Christian churches. To what extent then is love the carrier of Christian identity? (3) Within the Christian movement, love has had a variable history: Even a brief glance at its career in the Christian tradition discloses the fact that love has been used or invoked in order to commit what we today would consider to be atrocious crimes: Corporal punishment has been inflicted on children in the name of love for them and their personal development. Infidels have been persecuted and killed in the name of love for the truth. Women who had challenged the given order in church and society were burned out of love for their souls though not for their bodies. People have perished in the shadow of love. (4) Psychology has been uncovering further ambiguities: How authentic are human love relationshipsbetween adults, between parents and children, between human beings and God? What acts of projection, repression and transference do occur in experiences of love? (5) Sociology has added its voice to the debate on the ambiguities of love by pointing to the level of unrealistic expectations invested in contemporary love relationships. The love of the postmodern couple, for instance, is expected to resolve all imaginable problems of both partners, i.e. the problem of loneliness, the desire to be accepted and confirmed as a person, the fulfilment of all sorts of sexual wishes etc. The love between both partners is often considered in terms of social therapy


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or as a mutually fabricated social basis that provides a space of personal security in an all too complex, fragmentary, over-regulated and globalized world.4 Thus, today it appears rather difficult to talk meaningfully and constructively about love. However, becoming aware of the complexity and ambiguity of the discourse on love does not mean that one could not consider the potential of love, even of Christian forms and expressions of love. Since many contemporary Christian discourses on love, in the academy, in the church and in society at large, claim to stand in the tradition of love provoked by the Christian movements foundational experiences, it would seem appropriate to approach the biblical resources of the Christian movement with a view to exploring their treatment of love. 2. Biblical Approaches to Love Traditionally theologians were particularly keen to ascertain the differences between the Jewish and the Christian understanding of love, which then allowed them to build a case for the superiority of Christian religion. More recent biblical studies, however, have uncovered a more sophisticated understanding of love by profiling its respective development within particular biblical contexts. The shift in exegetical interest from Christian apologetic concerns to a more critical and self-critical discussion of the biblical texts has promoted a review of the treatment of love within the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Hence, more nuances in the development of love have emerged and challenged some of the classical theological convictions. One of the most significant insights into the nature of biblical texts has been the discovery that biblical texts are texts. That means that they ought not to be reduced to collections of propositions, but seen as complex linguistic entities. As such they are able both to refer back to their particular contexts and to open their semantic potential to readers from very different social, religious and linguistic contexts. Moreover, as texts they always already participate in a communicative system that is marked by changing conventions and styles. Hence, the fact that biblical texts always appear in particular literary forms (e.g. hymns, laws and regulations, nar4 See Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, Das ganz normale Chaos der Liebe (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1990).

biblical challenges to a theology of love


ratives, etc.) and are received with the help of particular reading genres and reading styles has challenged any nave use of biblical texts for the sake of providing building material for ambitious and unambiguous theological doctrines. 5 These and related hermeneutical developments have sharpened the theologians perception for the phenomenon that all discussions and descriptions of love in the Bible witness to particular experiences, circumstances, expectations and desires. Biblical love has a rich history. Therefore any effort to converse with biblical texts on the development of love draws the contemporary reader and thinker into this historical flow of experiences, ideas, ambiguities and expectations. I would like to illustrate this point with regard both to the double love command, namely the love of God and the love of neighbour, and the changing horizon of love. Love of God and Love of Neighbour There is great unanimity in the different biblical texts about the origin of love. Love comes from God. It emerges from Gods creative and reconciling presence in the universe. This divine love makes human love first of all possible. Gods love manifests itself both through the divinely granted covenant with Gods people and through Gods acts as creator of the universe. Within the covenant, therefore, the love of God is the greatest commandment: Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deut. 6:4-5).6 In this Shema Israel as well as in its communicative context, the love relationship between God and his people is based on the Sinai covenant. It is important to note that here the expression of love of God is not so much a matter of intimate affection than a matter of obedience to Gods commandments, serving God, showing reverence for God, and being loyal to God alone. 7 Depending on which Hebrew word is used to express the nature of the relationship between God and his people, different nuances are em5 See Werner G. Jeanrond, Text and Interpretation as Categories of Theological Thinking (trans. Thomas J. Wilson; Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1988); and Jeanrond, Theological Hermeneutics: Development and Significance (London: SCM, 1994). 6 All Bible quotations refer to the New Revised Standard Version . 7 Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Love (OT), in The Anchor Bible Dictionary , vol. 4 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 375-81 (376).


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phasized in the texts. Hence, there are many meanings of love in the Hebrew Scriptures and a number of different terms that give expression to them (e.g. dd, ray, ydd, haq , } hb, and hesed ). The single English term love has contributed to the widespread illusion that we here are dealing with a well-defined phenomenon and its unambiguous expression. All of the different Hebrew expressions translated as love nevertheless refer to experiences of close relationship, although not all of them denote (sexual) intimacy. The expression of Gods relationship through the verb }hb, for example, enjoys a significant development over time and context. Hosea uses this same expression when likening Gods relationship to Israel to the relationship of the (patriarchal) husband to his wife. In spite of this enlargement of association into the area of marital intimacy, there is no question that all the founding activity and energy of this relationship originate in Gods will. God makes Israels love possible.8 Even the expression of Gods relationship through the noun hesed undergoes a development. This term compactly incorporates all three of these dimensions (commitment, provision for need, freedom) in a single word. 9 The Mosaic covenant tradition stretches the meaning of the term beyond its usual secular usage to incorporate the possibility of forgiveness as an act of divine hesed. 10 The communicative possibilities of dealing with the different dimensions of Gods love for Israel and Israels love for God were somewhat restricted in the process of the Septuagint translation where the Greek term agap was allowed to lend expression to nearly all of the Hebrew terms for love. The verb phile is used only very rarely. The Greek verb era , which can refer to sexual love, was avoided altogether in the Pentateuch as a translation of the Hebrew }hb (which can have the same connotations). 11 The price for this restriction of connotations has been high, especially for later Christian readers of the Hebrew Bible through Greek. The reduction of a wider imagination of religious love that includes the erotic dimension of human relationality to a narrower
Cf. Sakenfeld, p. 377. Sakenfeld, p. 378. 10 Sakenfeld, p. 379. 11 Cf. William Klassen, Love (NT and Early Jewish), The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), vol. 4, pp. 381-96 (381).
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imagination that wishes to understand religious references to love to be free from eros has contributed to the problematic rupture between eros and agape in the Christian theology of love. Of course, we can appreciate the Greek translators dilemma to find a word that would not lead to a false identification between Yahweh and eros, the Greek god of love, whose veneration was widespread and popular at the time. Nevertheless, avoiding one problem in translation has led to other problems in the reception of the text. Translations rarely reduce ambiguities. The New Testament writers do not use the term eros either. Their preferred terms for talking about love were agap and phile. In spite of the shifts in language, there is agreement throughout the Hebrew Bible on the faithfulness of Gods love and on Gods mercifulness and willingness to forgive breaches of that relationship which God has offered to his people. The divine offer of love embraces all aspects of reality. To love God implies to respect and accept the creative power of Gods love and presence, but also to love the other human being and ones own emerging self.
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear (Deut. 10:17-20).

Love of God and love of neighbour thus belong together. Although they need to be distinguished, they must not be separated. For women, men and children to love God demands openness to Gods creative project, letting oneself be drawn into this project and following its rules and wisdom, respecting Gods divinity, accepting Gods otherness, desiring to know more about God and longing for an always intensifying closeness to God. According to the synoptic gospels, even Jesus theology of love is naturally anchored in this covenantal understanding. The covenant and its laws provide the framework for the successful divine-human relationship. Jesus never abandoned the covenantal order. Rather he re-emphasized the love commandment from Deuteronomy when provoked to identify the greatest commandment within the Torah.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.


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And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:3740 and par. in Mark 12:29-31 and Luke 10:27).

This double commandment is based on citations both from Deut. 6:5 (see above) and from Lev. 19:18 and 34 and thus emphasizes the Hebrew tradition (though in its Greek Septuagint translation) in which the Christian love command is rooted. 12 Theologically speaking, it is not of great importance to know whether or not Jesus was the first to have introduced the combination of both love commands.13 It is more important to appreciate the significance of this double command for the proclamation of Gods reign in the synoptic gospels. Love is the central focus of the human-divine and the human-human relationship. However, for Jesus this focus calls for concrete action rather than for a lengthy theological or legal deliberation. This fact is most clearly expressed in Lukes gospel where the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is told immediately after the citation of the double love command. Moreover, by redefining the meaning of neighbour, the Lucan Jesus establishes a principle of moral obligation which is independent of the Mosaic law. In the context of the group-oriented ethics of first-century Palestine this was indeed a radical step.14 Sren Kierkegaard sees in the commandment to love ones neighbour an eternal transformation of human love. Thus, only when it is a duty to love, only then is love eternally reliable. 15 The praxis of love, which Jesus proclaims and lives through his actions, reaches out to all sorts of people: the friends, the needy, women, children, the poor, the suffering, the sick, the sinners, the foreigner, and the enemy. This praxis reflects Gods goodness to all and gathers all people around Gods creative and reconciling presence.
Cf. also Klassen, p. 385. Birger Gerhardsson does not think that Jesus was the first in Israel to make this combination. B. Gerhardsson, The Shema in the New Testament (Lund: Novapress, 1996), p. 276. 14 Philip F. Esler, Jesus and the Reduction of Intergroup Conflict: The Parable of the Good Samaritan in the Light of Social Identity Theory, BibInt 8 (2000), pp. 325-57 (345). Esler (351) draws attention also to the related passage in Acts 10: 34-35 where Peter says, I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 15 Sren Kierkegaard, Kjerlighedens Gjerninger [1847] (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2000) (my translation), pp. 37-38.
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biblical challenges to a theology of love


But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you ... Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:27-28 and 35b-36).

The constructive and charitable relationship to all people that characterizes this understanding of love is an important theological eventnotwithstanding whether or not it is original. Rather its centrality in the synoptic gospels provokes the theologian to widen the horizon of love so as to include the enemy, the foreigner, and the sinner.16 Parallel with this widening of the horizon, the gospels reveal a relativisation of traditional family bonds: Jesus is reported to have redefined the question of identity in his community now in terms of belonging to God and active participation in Gods reign: My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it (Luke 8:21). The Changing Horizon of Love The Johannine community too stresses the close connection between love of God and love of the other, though in its writings the others refer to members of this Christian community.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them ... We love because he first loved us. Those who say, I love God, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also (1 John 4:16b and 19-21).

The Johannine understanding of Christian love includes two further dimensions: (1) the love of God is related to oneness or harmony within the Christian community and (2) to Jesus own example of self-sacrifice for his friends. With regard to the first, it is striking to see how much the author of the gospel focuses on the issue of abiding in the love of God. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I kept my Fathers commandments and abide in his love (John 15:9-10). It is obvious that love characterizes the network of relationships between God, the Son and the community against the very real threat of
16 See here also Gerd Theien, Die Religion der ersten Christen: Eine Theorie des Urchristentums (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 3rd edn, 2003), p. 106.


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hatred, namely of that what destroys the inner-Christian bond, from inside and outside. With regard to the second dimension, it is important for the author to show that love has to do with self-sacrifice on behalf of the others within the same community.
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for usand we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does Gods love abide in anyone who has the worlds goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? (1 John 3:16-17)

The Johannine approach to love evolves around an intensification of love that aims to strengthen the community from within (cf. John 13: 34-35). There is no question that love is central to Christian discipleship also according to John, though the scope of love in Johns community differs from other New Testament writings. The Johannine discourse on love centres around the Christian communitys own life including the call to pay attention to those brothers who require help and assistance. The equality of the members of the Christian community may thus be stressed,17 however, the shift from a love that is actively concerned about all the others now to a love that is directed towards the inner circle of a Christian church cannot be overlooked. Love functions in this community first of all in terms of internal loyalty over against a societal context experienced as threatening. 18 Moreover, here love and oneness are linked in such a manner that suggests that love is not so much the way to handle difference, conflict and otherness as a way of avoiding all three. Here, John clearly differs from Paul and Luke. All New Testament discourses on love witness to the divine origin of love, but draw quite different conclusions from this insight. To acknowledge God as the author of love and to reflect upon Gods nature as love does not necessarily lead to the same kind of theological conviction or indeed to the same kind of praxis of love in church and world. With regard to the vogue of Trinitarian approaches to church and society in contemporary theology one might wish to add a cautionary remark here: References to the inner-trinitarian love do not automatically lead to an adequate Christian praxis. Insights into the divine mystery do not necessarCf. Thei en, p. 108. See Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), pp. 59-61 and p. 233.
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ily provide guarantees for adequate Christian action. 19 While for John love is a means of unity for those who belong to the Johannine church, Paul considers love to be a means of handling conflict, difference and otherness in the Christian community. To the disunited community at Corinth Paul wishes to offer an unusual, extraordinary way of approaching one another in everyday life. Paul does neither moralise, nor sentimentalise, nor psychologise this way of love. Instead he demonstrates a praxis inspired by the goal of Gods creation. Love is not an idea or abstraction.20 Rather Paul attempts to show concrete attitudes springing from this extraordinary way.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).

Moreover, for Paul love is the central dimension of Christian discipleship and existence (cf. Gal. 5:6). Love draws the Christian into the truth. It thus has an eschatological dynamics (1 Cor. 13:1213). But it also has a personal dynamics, for love draws the Christian disciple into union with Christ. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Rom. 8:35) Paul answers himself:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:37-39).

Not even death can separate the Christian from the love of Christ. That means that this love not only is unlimited, rather it has the quality of eternity, namely of Gods own realm. Gods presence, love and respect for creation will never end. This in turn means that the love relation which God offers to the human being in Christ both respects Gods divinity and the humanity of the hu19 See Werner G. Jeanrond, Revelation and the Trinitarian Concept of God: Are they Key Concepts for Theological Thought? in Werner Jeanrond and Christoph Theobald (eds.), God: Experience and Mystery , Concilium 2001:1, pp. 12030. 20 Cf. Wolfgang Schrage, Der Erste Brief an die Korinther , vol. 3 (1 Kor 11,1714,40), EKK VII/3 (Zurich: Benziger and Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchner Verlag, 1999), p. 294.


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man being without dissolving the one into the other. Gods love then respects the difference between the human being and God and thus invites to an eternal disclosure of the mystery both of Gods divinity and the humanity of the human being. Yet for Paul, this understanding of love is not confined to the limits of the human subject. Rather every genuine love comes from God and extends to the entire community, which God has called into existence through Christ (cf. Rom. 5:5). It is interesting to note that Paul seems most comfortable speaking about the love of God/ Christ in the first person plural.21 Without discussing further New Testament communities and their respective references to love, already at this point we can conclude that the Bible offers important aspects and initiatives for a theology of love. However, this theology is characterized by a plurality of different contextual insights and expressions. There is agreement on the divine origin of the gift of love and on the potential love has for the development of a Jewish and a Christian praxis. Love neither is a Christian invention or possession. Rather the Christian understanding of Gods relationship to the world in Christ opens up an ethos marked by attention to love. However, there is a shifting horizon within this attention to love: is love to inspire only the relationship between the Christian community and God or does it even concern the relationship between Christians and non-Christians? Does love extend to the enemies and outsiders? How much otherness inside and outside of the Christian community is to be approached through love? 3. Challenges to a Theology of Love Our brief discussion of some of the biblical approaches to love has drawn our attention to some problems and questions: First of all, biblical love has a history. Tracing the development of a theology of love throughout different biblical contexts and traditions can make the contemporary reader aware of the variety of communal and personal expressions of love as well as of the connection between the commandments to love God, to love the other human being, and to love oneself in the right way. Second, both in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament we detect trends of including and of excluding others from the

Klassen, Love (NT and Early Jewish), p. 392.

biblical challenges to a theology of love


horizon of love. The universal horizon of Gods love to which the various creation accounts and covenant narratives witness is at times narrowed down by concerns for communal identity both in Israel and the church. Third, a combination of linguistic and cultural developments has promoted the reduction of the degree of passion in biblical considerations of love. Desire and Leidenschaft are present in a number of texts in the Hebrew Bible, but strikingly absent in the texts of the New Testament. In Exod. 20:5 God is described as a jealous God. In Jeremiah 23 we read of Gods passionate love for his people, but also of Gods disappointment over Israels failure to love God. Emotions are evoked when God contemplates his love for Israel (see Isa. 49:15-16). Likewise human love for God is expressed in images portraying deep emotions:
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, Where is your God? (Ps. 42:1-3)

Body and soul are involved in this love relationship between human beings and God. The entire human person loves God. In such texts the unholy separation between eroticism and piety that later on was to permeate the Christian spiritual development is not yet visible here. Rather the whole human person desires Gods presence. Notwithstanding later allegorical interpretations and theological reconstructions, the rich imagination of the love poetics in the Song of Songs offers the reader a beautiful hymn to love in all its erotic splendour and shapes. The presence of this text in the biblical canon might serve as a promising reminder that human sexuality ought to be well integrated into the network of divine-human love relationship. The human person is created as a subject capable of loving God, other human beings, herself, and Gods entire creation. Human sexuality is not only not an obstacle to the human vocation to become an agent of love. On the contrary, God meets the human being in the incarnate son. Gods assuming of a human body does not only exclude any thought of human love without a body, but stresses the participation of the body in all acts of eternal love. The story of the woman with the alabaster jar, which we find in all the gospels, illustrates very plastically the respect for and appreciation of Jesus body (Matt. 26:6-


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13 and par.). At the same time it inspires the readers erotic imagination and thus might help in overcoming the contemptuous attitude of some Christian periods toward the body, an attitude that sharply separates between pure (i.e. non-physical) and impure (i.e. physical) expressions of love. At times eroticism has been challenged and erotic expressions of love in the Bible have been explained away with reference to deeper spiritual senses and concepts. Bodily love was often considered ambiguous, whereas spiritual love (agap ) was considered above suspicion. However, in our reading of the Bible there is no unambiguous expression of love. The crucial question, then, is not the one between pure and impure love, but between love affected by eternity and love not affected by eternity. Fourth, many of the biblical texts confirm a certain amount of ambiguity with regard to the question that occupies so many of todays readers: How can I relate to my own emerging self within the network of interdependent love relationships? Feminist thinkers have often reminded theologians that one needs first some measure of selfhood in order to invest it then into the network of love relationships.22 While many biblical texts, the gospels in particular, point to Jesus regard for the entire human person including her bodily integrity, the process of maturing in love is only reflected in passing. Paul testifies to a radical transformation of self-identity as a result of the power of Christs love: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:19b-20). What does such a view of intimate unity between Christs love and the human person mean for the human persons selfunderstanding as a subject of love? Finally, a theology of love would need to attend to the question of criteria of adequacy for Christian love. According to Kierkegaards suggestion it would be important to explore to what extent human love relationships reflect their eternal character. Following Pauls and the synoptic gospels line of argument, we could ask to what extent the praxis of love represents an adequate response to Gods always prior love for us, a love that is unlim-

22 See Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad, 1993), p. 265.

biblical challenges to a theology of love


ited, faithful, respectful and eternal. Or with reference to Johns community it would seem appropriate to ask: Does Christian love reflect Christs invitation to follow him on his way to God, a way that does not know either status claims or hierarchy, but heeds the call to be the servant of his friends (cf. John 13). A more comprehensive theology of love is needed. It requires the constructive and critical co-operation of biblical scholars and theologians. But already at this point it has become evident that neither Jewish nor Christian love can be taken to be an object of faith or a principle. Rather, love is a way of life, a praxis. It is not an attempt to lift all human differences and forms of otherness to a higher spiritual level. On the contrary, it is firmly rooted in the everyday encounter of belonging and difference, conflict and otherness. It seeks a new world order where all human beings can respect Gods otherness as well as each others otherness and actively explore Gods gift of creation and reconciliation.

A contemporary systematic theological reflection upon love requires a crossdisciplinary attention to the plurality of approaches to love within the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. This article explores the retrieval and development of Jewish love traditions within three New Testament traditions, namely the Synoptic Gospels, the Johannine texts, and Paul. These approaches agree on the divine origin and gift-character of love, but differ in their assessment of both the horizon of love and the significance of love for the Christian community. John stresses the communitys need to be united in love against a hostile environment; Paul recommends the praxis of love as means of dealing with difference, otherness and conflict within the community; and Luke considers the universal scope of neighbourly love. Thus, acknowledging God as the author of love and reflecting upon Gods nature as love does not necessarily lead to the same theological convictions or praxis of love in church and world. Moreover, the rich and ambiguous history of biblical love includes a shifting emphasis on human desire, the erotic, and the body. A critical theology of love would need to pay close attention to both the possibilities and ambiguities of the plurality of approaches to love in the Bible.

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