Life - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


zoe (G2222) Life
bios (G979) Lifetime
There is only one Latin word, vita, and one English word, life, for the two Greek terms zoe and bios. If zoe and bios were synonyms, this would not be a problem. But zoe and bios view life from different perspectives and so are not synonymous. Inevitably, by using one word to translate both Greek words, we have concealed the important differences between zoe and bios.
The antithesis of zoe is thanatos, and the antithesis of zen (G2198) is apothneskein. Zoe is closely related to ao, aemi (to breathe the breath of life)a necessary condition of livingand to pneuma, (G4151) and psyche (G5590).
Although zoe refers to intensive life, bios refers to extensive life, the period or duration of life. In a secondary sense, bios also refers to the means by which that life is sustained. And in a tertiary sense, bios refers to the manner in which that life is spentthat is, one's profession or career. The New Testament includes examples of all three senses of bios.
Bios as the period or duration of life is referred to as chronos tou biou (time of life; 1 Pet. 4:3, a variant reading). Bios as the means of life, or "livelihood," is referred to in Mark 12:44; Luke 8:43; 15:12; and 1 John 3:17. Bios as the manner of life, or life in its moral conduct, is referred to in the passages listed in the accompanying note.
When bios is used to refer to a manner of life, it often has an ethical sense not found in the classical usage of zoe. Aristotle said that the slave is "a partner of zoes"(he lives with the family) but not "a partner of biou"(he does not share in the career of his master). According to Ammonius, Aristotle defined bios as "a rational life," and Ammonius argued that bios was never, except incorrectly, applied to the existence of plants or animals but only to the lives of men. Although that distinction is made too absolutely, it is a real one that is reflected in our words zoology and biography but not in biology, which as now used is a manifest misnomer. On the one hand, we speak of "zoology," for animals (zoa) live equally with men and may be classified according to the differences of their natural lives. On the other hand, we speak of "biography" for human beings, not merely because they live but because they lead lives and make moral choices. They not only have "years of existence [zoes]," they also have "ways of living [biou]" (Prov. 4:10).
Thanatos and zoe are antonyms only when physical life is contemplated.When life is regarded from a moral perspective as the opportunity for living nobly, thanatos and bios, not thanatos and zoe, are antonyms. Thus compare Xenophon: "Noble death [thanaton] is preferable to shameful life [bion]" with Plato: "Striving soon for a shameful existence [zoen] rather than for an honorable and blessed death [thanaton]." In the last passage the craven soldier prefers the present boon of a shameful life (therefore zoe) to an honorable death. In the former passage Lycurgus teaches that an honorable death is to be chosen, rather than a long and shameful existence, a vita non vitalis (a life not livable) because all the reasons for living are gone. Plato distinguished between the words themselves, as well as their derivatives.
Although bios, not zoe, is used in an ethical sense in classical Greek, in Scripture the opposite seems to be the case. In the New Testament zoe is the more noble word and expresses the highest and best that the saints possess in God. Thus we read of the "crown of life [zoes]" (Rev. 2:10); "tree of life [zoes]"(Rev. 2:7); "book of life [zoes]"(Rev. 3:5); "water of life [zoes]" (Rev. 21:6); "life [zoe] and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3); "life [zoe] and immortality" (2 Tim. 1:10); "the life [zoe] of God" (Eph. 4:18); "eternal life [zoe]"(Matt. 19:16; Rom. 2:7); "an endless life [zoe]"(Heb. 7:16); and "what is truly life [zoes]" (1 Tim. 6:19). Sometimes zoe is used by itself (Matt. 7:14; Rom. 5:17; and often). All of these examples illustrate the highest blessedness of the creature. Contrast the preceding examples with the following uses of bios:"pleasure of life [biou]" (Luke 8:14); "affairs of this life [biou]" (2 Tim. 2:4); "the pride of life [biou](1 John 2:16); "the livelihood [bios] of the world" (1 John 3:17); and "cares of this life [biotikai]"(Luke 21:34). How may we explain these differences?
Only revealed religion relates death and sin as necessary correlatives (Gen. 1-3; Rom. 5:12) and consequently relates life and holiness. Only God's Word proclaims that wherever death exists, sin was there first. And wherever there is life, sin has not existed or has been expelled. Because Scripture reveals that death came into the world only through sin, life is the correlative of holiness. Against this background, zoe assumes profound moral significance and becomes the best way to express blessedness. Absolute zoe is synonymous with absolute holiness. In John 14:6 Christ affirmed: "I am... the life [he zoe]"(cf. 1 John 1:2) and implicitly affirmed that he was absolutely holy. This is also true for the person that truly lives, or triumphs, over death (both spiritual and physical). Such a person has first triumphed over sin. It is not surprising that Scripture should use zoe to set forth the blessedness of God and the blessedness of the creature in communion with God.
Expositors who translate apellotriomenoi tes zoes tou Theou in Ephesians 4:18 as "alienated from a divine life" or as "from a life lived according to the will and commandments of God" are wrong. Such an alienation exists, but in Ephesians 4:18 the apostle was affirming the miserable condition of those estranged from the one fountain of life, those who did not possess life because they were separated from the only One who absolutely lives (John 5:26)the living God (Matt. 16:16; 1 Tim. 3:15). Only those in fellowship with him have life. Galatians 5:25 will always seem to contain a tautology until zoe (and the verb zen as well) receives the force claimed for it here.

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