Three Greek Words for Life in the New Testament and How They Apply to Us

09 Mar 2014

What does the New Testament mean when it says “life”? For instance, when the Lord Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life and may have it abundantly,” what did He mean? Did He mean He would help us to have a better human life, that He would enrich our life, or improve our life?

If we want to know what the New Testament means by “life,” we need to look at the word as it appears in the original Greek language. In the Greek language, three different words—bios, psuche, and zoe—are translated as “life” in English, and each has a different meaning. Here are some examples of where each is used:

1. Bios, in Luke 8:14: “…anxieties and riches and pleasure of this life.” This Greek word refers to the life of the physical body and is where we get the word biology.

2. Psuche, in Matt. 16:25: “For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it.” The Greek word here refers to the psychological life of the human soul, that is, the mind, emotion, and will. It is where we get the word psychology.

3. Zoe, in John 1:4: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Here the Greek word refers to the uncreated, eternal life of God, the divine life uniquely possessed by God.

It’s all about zoe

The eternal life can be seen everywhere in the Bible. From the very beginning in Genesis, the Word of God presents the tree of life. The tree of life in the Garden of Eden signifies the divine, uncreated, incorruptible, indestructible, eternal life of God—the zoe life. And in the Garden, God gave this tree of life to Adam as food. This was before Adam fell and sin entered the picture. Although Adam was sinless, he possessed only the human life; he did not have the life of God. God’s intention was not just for Adam to be sinless, but even more, for Adam, representing all mankind, to take in and share His eternal life.

The tree of life is seen again at the very end of the Bible in Revelation 22:14: “Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have right to the tree of life.” Here, because mankind fell into sin, we see God’s provision of the precious blood of Christ for washing us so we can partake of the tree of life, the eternal life, which was God’s original intention.

The tree of life being mentioned in the first and last books of the Bible helps us see that life, the zoe life, is a central theme in the Bible.

What God wants is that we human beings would take in His eternal life. By our taking in His life, He becomes our real life and we can express Him through our living.

Why is it important for us to know zoe?

Let’s revisit John 10:10 by replacing the English word life with the original word zoe in this verse:

“I have come that they may have zoe and may have zoe abundantly.”

Reading the verse this way makes it clear that Christ came that we may have the eternal, divine life of God. This is vastly different from thinking Christ came so that we could have a better or improved human life.

We need to have God’s view as shown in the Bible. The God who created the universe wants to share His divine life with us. And by our living by His life, we can express Him. He made us specifically for this purpose.

By our natural birth, we human beings possess only the soulish (psuche) life and the physical (bios) life. But when we believed into the Lord Jesus Christ, we were not only redeemed; we also received the divine life (zoe) into us. We were born again with the life of God. This brings us back to God’s original intention for us, which is that we would have His life.

God is not interested in human beings becoming more refined and cultivated by themselves, in their own life and by their own effort. What He wants is for His zoe life to increase in us, and for us to live by His zoe life and to live out His zoe life. Then the riches of His divine life will be lived out of us, and He will be manifest in our living to the people around us.

Living by zoe daily

If we know that God’s desire is altogether related to our having and living out His divine, eternal, zoe life, we won’t waste time by focusing on our bios or our psuche, looking for spiritual progress there. We won’t be disappointed when we can’t seem to fix or improve ourselves. We’ll remember that Christ came that we may have zoe abundantly, so we’ll focus on that eternal, zoe life in our spirit. We’ll feed and nourish this zoe life by eating and drinking Christ in His Word, spending time with Him in prayer, and experiencing Him day by day as our life. As we daily care for this life within us, the eternal life will increase and grow within us, expressing more and more of God in our living here on earth.


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