The adjective philostorgos occurs once in the New Testament in Romans 12:10. In the NIV it is rendered as “be devoted.” Other translations render it simply as “love” (NRSV, ESV, NLT). Louw and Nida define it as meaning “pertaining to love or affection for those closely related to one, particularly members of one’s immediate family or in-group” (25.41). BDAG, 1059 suggest “loving dearly” as its meaning in Romans 12:10. For the cognate noun philostorgia (not used in the NT) BDAG, 1059 offers “heartfelt love, strong affection” as possible meanings.
An extensive note is provided by Horsley in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, 2(1977), 100-103. He observed that when this term and its cognates occur in material from Asia Minor they tend to involve women in the relationship (with one exception), whereas examples from Egypt suggest a more generalized meaning was also possible (103). He offered further examples and comment in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, 3(1978), 41-42. He notes one inscription from Asia Minor in which this term is “used of priestesses in relation to gods and goddesses” and “this appears to provide an exception to the conclusion…that in Asia Minor examples familial ties are always in view.” However, the most helpful article regarding the biblical use of this term is that by C. Spicq, ΦΙΛΟΣΤΟΡΓΟΣ (A PROPOS DE ROM., XII, 10), Revue Biblique 62 (1920): 497-510.
From the various English versions it is difficult to discern whether philostorgos should be considered a synonym for agapē (Romans 12:9 hē agapē anupokritos) or philadelpiai (Romans 12:10). Clearly philostorgos is being used with terms whose semantic domains relate to deep affection, love, and concern, particularly in family contexts. Is it just a synonym for the noun storgē, “strong affection particularly in family contexts”? Perhaps there is data that enable us to be more specific as to the kind of Christian response philostorgos defines.
In his article Spicq discusses and evaluates many occurrences of philostorgos and its cognates. In the Greek Old Testament philostorgia occurs once in 2 Macc. 6:20. The hero, Eleazar, is forced to eat swine flesh to demonstrate his apostasy from Judaism, but he spits it out and is willing “to forfeit life…in spite of a natural urge (philostorgian) to live.” This usage corresponds to a primary sense of storgē, “deep-seated, natural love.” Consider also the use of these various terms in 4 Macc 15:6,9,13 by which the writer describes the tender affection of the mother for her seven sons, yet “for the sake of piety” would not allow her affection to “change her course.” The warning is clear — following such tender affections imprudently leads to disastrous and unintended consequences.
In 2 Macc. 9:21 the cognate adverb demonstrates a different use of this term found in political discourse. Anitochus Epiphanes writes an edict to the Jewish people informing them that he has appointed a successor. He begins the edict by saying “I recall with affection (philostorgōs (adverb)) your esteem and good will.” Of course, this is a gross misrepresentation of the relationship between Antiochus and the Judeans. However, it does reflect a common use of this term in political edicts to describe the devotion (real or pretended) that rulers have for their subjects.
The Hellenistic Jewish scholar Philo, a contemporary of Paul, uses both the noun and adjective numerous times, but always to describe the “natural affection” of a father or mother for their offspring. For example, Philo describes Abraham’s affection for Isaac as “a great tenderness” (ischurai… philostorgiai) (De Abr. 168), but still he proceeds to sacrifice him at the Deity’s instruction. Often we find the noun eunoia, “favour, affection, benevolence,” (as in this context) associated with philostorgia. Philo regards both of these as virtues that the pious person will express. He extols Moses for not promoting his sons to positions of power, “allowing the incorruptibility of reason to subdue his natural affection (philostorgian) for his children” (Vita Mos. I, 151). Reason should always keep such natural affection in proper balance.
In papyri written around the time of the letter of Romans we find the use of the noun extended to define affection direction towards friends, special slaves and medical practitioners. Often in wills from the late first and early second century AD we read that individuals bequeath kata philostorgian (“affectionately”) property to people who have rendered special service. Slaves are granted freedom at the death of their master because of the affection (kat’ eunoian kai philostorgian) he has developed towards them by reason of their service. These examples are noted by Spicq, pages 500-01. Notions of benevolence and generosity become associated with the term.
In the second century BC we read in various inscriptions found in Greece and Asia Minor that rulers are eulogized because of their philostorgia demonstrated through some action or gift for a particular person, institution or city. Sosistratos erects a statue in honour of Crateros, tutor of Antiochus Philopater (130-117 BC) “because of his virtue kai eunoias kai philostorgias (and affection and benevolence) towards himself.” In such dedicatory inscriptions philostorgia simply means “good will” which perhaps is based upon a special relationship. However, often it becomes formulaic (as in 2 Macc. 9:21 cited previously).
When Spicq draws his conclusions and then looks to apply them to the use of the adjective in Romans 12:10 he says that “the philostorgos is a person of good will who acts and demonstrates the sincerity of his fondness” (507, my transl.), but this person also governs the expression of this attachment by the necessary use of reason. In this way it gets recognized as a virtue in the Hellenistic period. However, it continues to define the attachment of parents to children, as well as the fondness the individuals have for others, e.g. slaves and friends which leads to acts of benevolence or eulogy. In the case of leaders people will include philostorgia in the list of virtues based upon acts of generosity, wise leadership, etc. Leaders in turn express their philostorgia, “devotion,” to their subjects in order to explain the manner of their leadership. This virtue sometimes is linked with the piety that such leaders have towards the gods.
Returning in summary to the use of philostorgoi in Romans 12:10 we might suggest as a translation “be generously devoted to one another with brotherly affection,” with actions being the expression of this “generous devotion” and solicitude. Whether we should consider the use of this language a reflection of the “family nature” of the Kingdom community or related more specifically to virtuous leadership (note the latter part of v.10) remains debated. The recognition of philostorgia as a virtue in the Hellenistic period may have encouraged Paul to incorporate it in his list. Followers of Jesus will demonstrate commonly appreciated virtues.