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The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 19, 1999

Amy Laura Hall
Pages 97-113

Complicating the Command
Agape in Scriptural Context

While some of Anders Nygren's critics supplant agape with eros or philia, we may best correct the false simplicity of Nygren's account through a scriptural retrieval of agape itself. I suggest what this textual turn may impart by discussing agape in passages from Exodus, Leviticus, Hosea, Luke, and John. Agape in these texts reflects motivations as disparate as passionate desire, parental longing, committed dutifulness, and protective seclusion—depictions at odds with Nygren's atemporal portrayal of agape as unmotivated and spontaneous. We may be called at times to heed one of these scriptural strains more than another, but to say either that impassivity (Nygren) or any one of these motivations represents the apex of love is misleading. I suggest that we resist the urge to condense our intentionally enigmatic canon.