What does Aloha Ke Akua mean? It’s a Hawaiian phrase most commonly translated to “God is love”. But to us, Aloha Ke Akua is more than just descriptive of God. It encompasses a larger value and even a command from God. To understand Aloha Ke Akua deeper we have to look at Hawaiian language, the origin of the phrase in Hawaiian history, and the biblical value it represents.
The Origin of Aloha Ke Akua
The first place we find the phrase “Aloha Ke Akua” is in the Baibala (Hawaiian Bible). The Bible was first translated in the early 1800’s by highly educated missionaries, high ranking Ali‘i (Chiefs) and kākā‘ōlelo (Chiefly advisors). Each of the missionaries involved were masters in the Bible’s original languages being Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. While the native Hawaiians were profound scholars in the Hawaiian language with a deep understanding for mele (Hawaiian poetry), mo‘olelo (Hawaiian history and literature) and ka‘ao (Hawaiian legends).
These two groups of foreign missionaries and native leaders worked together for years to translate the entire Bible. The very first New Testament Bible was printed and bound in Lāhainā and gifted to Queen Ka‘ahumanu just before she passed away in the early 1830’s. Ka‘ahumanu was one of the first to accept Christianity in Hawai‘i and instrumental in the acceptance of Christianity across Hawai‘i.
It’s in that very first New Testament edition we find the first mention of “Aloha Ke Akua” in ‘O Ka ‘Episetole Ho‘olaha Mua A Ioane or First John.
1 Ioane 4:8 “O ka mea e aloha ole ana, aole ia i ike aku i ke Akua, no ka mea, he aloha ke Akua.”
1 John 4:8 “He who does not love does not know God, Because God is Love.”
To understand Aloha Ke Akua, we have to recognize that it comes from the Hawaiian translation of the Bible.
Understanding Aloha Ke Akua from a Hawaiian Mind
When understanding the values of the past we have to think in context to place and person where those values were derived. In Ke Alaula: Volume V, #9, published on December 1st 1870 in Honolulu we see a native Hawaiian way of understanding the value of Aloha Ke Akua. The writer explains there are many aspects of God mentioned in the Bible, but all of those qualities are encompassed in He aloha ke Akua (God is Love).
This native speaker takes us on a descriptive journey through Hawai‘i nei, painting a picture of all the waihooluu or colors we see in nature. The Lehua tree with its bright red flowers. The Kukui and its white blossoms. The lush green forest of koa. Our writer explains all of these colors are only able to be seen because of the light of the sun, and that in the darkness all we see is ‘ele‘ele (Black). The writer compares the natural colors and light to the ‘ano (character) of God; expressing that while God has many different characteristics, His main and constant characteristic that allows the others to be seen is “He aloha ke Akua” (God is Love).
Understanding the Meaning of Aloha Ke Akua
You may have noticed that the writing of Aloha Ke Akua in the Baibala and in Ke Alaula included “He”. “He” in Hawaiian language would translate to: A, an; to be a, have, is. It’s a possessive marker. We know “Aloha” means “Love”, and “Ke Akua” means “God”. The full phrase “He aloha ke Akua” would translate to "God is Love". While more commonly in our day we shorten the phrase to “Aloha Ke Akua” (without “He”), we can still derive the same meaning.
With the biblical and historical context of Aloha Ke Akua in mind, we understand it as a Hawaiian way of expressing God’s character of love. Today we see Aloha Ke Akua as a movement rather than simply descriptive. Just as Aloha ‘Āina is a movement in Hawai‘i to perpetuate the people’s connection to the land, Aloha Ke Akua should be a movement to perpetuate the people’s connection to God.
What is Aloha Ke Akua? Aloha Ke Akua is a biblical principle that describes the character of God.
What does it look like to live with the value of Aloha Ke Akua? It would be living a life that continually seeks God, and not just any god, but the God of the Bible. We learn from 1 John 4 that if God’s underlying character is love, we also should love. Aloha Ke Akua is recognizing God’s love for you, and loving others with that same love.
We pray you take up this commandment from God. To live out Aloha Ke Akua in your life.
If you found this post encouraging please share it with your hoa (friends) and ‘ohana (Family), and encourage others to Aloha Ke Akua.