We all know that “God so loved the world,” that “God is love,” and that when it comes to love, nobody exemplifies it better than Jesus (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 4:8; Jn 15:13). We’ve often heard First Corinthians’ “love chapter” (1 Co 13) at weddings.
But if you wanted to take a closer look at how the Bible talks about love, where would you go?
Let’s look at the books of the Bible that talk about love most, and then drill into a few chapters that really focus on love.
The Bible talks about love a lot
The word “love” shows up in the English Bible a good deal—though the precise count varies a bit from translation to translation.
- NIV: 762 mentions
- NASB: 529 mentions
- KJV: 419 mentions
- NRSV: 791 mentions
- HCSB: 766 mentions
- ESV: 745 mentions
That count varies because some translations saw “love” as the correct word to communicate what the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts said. For example, the NIV translates sex acts in Genesis as “made love,” while the KJV and ESV prefer “knew,” and the NASB uses the highly romantic “had relations.” (If you’d like to study the Bible in its original languages, check out the certificate program my friends at Zondervan Academic put together.)*
By the way, these counts include variations like “loved,” “lovely,” and “loves.”
Now, let’s see where all this talk of love happens in the Bible.
The 3 books of the Bible that talk about love most
I want to see which books of the Bible focus on love most. To do this, I’ll take every mention of “love” in each book of the Bible, and then divide it by the number of words in that book. (Logos Bible Software makes this pretty simple.)
This way, we’ll see which books have the highest concentration of verses on love. Here’s what we get:
The clear winner: if you read this book, you’ll understand why. John is writing to help Christians separate truth from lies, brothers from enemies, light from darkness. In many of John’s arguments, love is the key to understanding the difference. Specifically, John believes that the way to recognize true Christians is by their love for one another.
When it comes to the L-word, no book of the Bible tops 1 John. In fact, for every 50 words you read in John, one of them is the word “love.”
This letter is only one chapter long, but it still mentions love four times. This very short book of the Bible explores the relationships between truth, love, and obedience:
- Love and truth. John loves those who know the truth, because the truth “abides” in them (2 Jn 1–2). When two parties know the truth, love comes naturally.
- Truth and obedience. God the Father commanded that His children walk in truth (2 Jn 4). When you know the truth, obedience comes naturally.
- Obedience and love. The commandment that God gave isn’t anything new: “love one another” (2 Jn 5). A sure sign of obedience to God is love for His church, and a sure sign of love is obedience to God (2 Jn 6).
The two books we’ve looked at previously are about the love that Christians should have for one another. But when we think of love today, it’s often in the context of romantic, sexual love.
Lucky for us, the Bible isn’t silent on that matter. In fact, there’s a whole book of the Bible that explores the passion between a man and a woman. It’s the song of Solomon. This song (or anthology of songs)has more of that Valentine’s-Day love. It’s a passionate poem in which a bride and groom profess their love and desire for one another.
Song of Solomon is a fascinating book of the Bible. According to itself, it’s the greatest song of all. But if you’re looking for advice on how to find a godly mate, you’re not going to find a lot of help here. This is one of the two books of the Bible that doesn’t even mention God. To be fair, there’s a good deal of church tradition that argues the whole poem is an allegory for Christ’s love for the church, or perhaps Yahweh’s love for Israel. (I’m not convinced.)
Honorable mention: In case you’re wondering, the book with the most mentions of love overall is Psalms.
The 5 chapters that focus most on love
Now let’s apply that same approach at the chapter level. Here are the three chapters of the Bible with the highest concentration of words like “love” and “lovingkindness”:
1. Psalm 136: God’s lovingkindness
Once you look this up, you’ll know why it’s number one. This psalm is a series of two-liners: the first lines walk through God’s acts in Israel’s history, the second lines repeat that “His lovingkindness is everlasting,” or “His love endures forever.” Here’s a peek at the first three verses of the Psalm in the NIV:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
FYI: God’s love endures forever.
2. 1 John 4: “Love one another”
The whole book of First John is about how to recognize the children of God; one of the key tells is that the children of God love one another. (Which is one of the “one another” commands in the Bible.) In this chapter, John explains that God is love, and so if we are of God, we ought to love each other.
Reading this chapter is like getting caught in a vortex of love language. Here’s a sample:
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:10–11, NIV, emphasis mine).
3. Psalm 117 (shouldn’t count)
This one is kind of cheating—it mentions God’s lovingkindness once, but the psalm is only two verses long. Normally I’d weed out this kind of unhelpful data, but since I find this really amusing, it stays.
4. 1 Corinthians 13: The “love chapter”
Finally we come to the famous “love chapter” in the Bible. You’ve heard this at weddings. You’ve seen the tattoos. You know how the chapter starts:
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud […]
Oh wait! That’s totally not how it starts.
It starts with Paul saying that if he speaks “in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
How’s that for a romantic wedding homily?
This chapter isn’t about marital bliss. It’s part of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, and how the church should be exercising their gifts out of love for one another, not their own desires to be important.
5. Hosea 3: An example of God’s love
This little chapter rounds out the top five, and it’s a good one. The prophet Hosea is told to love the wife who left him—just like God loves the nation that left Him. You can read more about Hosea’s love story here.
A few takeaways
When I studied what the Bible says about love, a few things struck me as important:
- Most of the time, it’s about God’s love for His people.
- That love shows up in both the Old Testament and the New Testament—God is love, but He’s also unchanging. We find good examples of His love throughout the Scriptures.
How about you?
You can easily read any one of the chapters and books I listed here in half an hour. In fact, some of these are on the list of shortest books in the Bible. Try reading one of them.
I’d love to hear what you learn in the comments!
* Sometimes I’ll partner with organizations to help more people know about their resources—in return, they give me a kickback when people purchase. This is one of those times. ;-)