Word of the Week
April 8, 2023
Bios and Zōē: Life at Easter
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies.
John 11:24 NASB20
Everyone celebrates life at Easter, but not everyone celebrates the same kind of life.
We appreciate the awakening of crocuses and daffodils, the budding of branches after long months of winter. Apparently dead trees revive, teeming with tiny blades of green. The return of life in the world of nature lifts our spirits.
But Easter means more than just fertile flower beds and newly active bunny rabbits in the yard. It commemorates the day when the dead body of Jesus came back to life. His heart began to beat again and He rose from the slab where his corpse had lain. He walked out of the tomb, conqueror of death, bearer of eternal life.
What does Easter mean to you: plant life or eternal life?
We find a similar tension when we look at the words for life in ancient Greek. When you read your New Testament in English, you just see the word “life.” But in Greek, there are two words with significantly different meanings, and only one of them works to describe the resurrection.
The first Greek word is bios, the source of our word biology. Biology is the study of living things, so it’s an appropriate way to remember this Greek word for life.
Bios is the word that describes our physical life, simply the fact that we are alive. Our bios consists of the daily routines and events that occupy our time. 2 Timothy 2:4 points out that a soldier is absorbed in his military duties, not the bios of everyday civilian life. And Paul prays for things that will enable us to live a tranquil and quiet life (1 Timothy 2:2).
Bios often refers to the things that keep our physical life going, the resources and livelihood that supply our needs. When Jesus saw a widow put two coins into the Temple treasury, he praised her because she had given “her entire bios,” everything she had to live on (Mark 12:44). And 1 John 3:17 points out the hypocrisy of anyone who has “the bios of this world,” the material and financial resources to help someone and yet refuses to help a brother in need. The prodigal son received and squandered his father’s wealth (bios) (Luke 15:12, 30)
In short, bios is limited to our physical life here on earth. It is essential, of course, just as flowers and green grass make Spring possible. But there is another kind of life that is even better!
The second Greek word for life is zōē, the source for our word zoology, the study of animal life. When you see the word “life” in your English New Testament, the odds are 10 to 1 that this is the word you are reading.
Zōē can describe our physical life. As Paul explained to the philosophers of Athens, God has given “life [zōē] and breath and all things” to humanity (Acts 17:25).
However, the word usually goes beyond our present “fourscore and seven years” of earthly existence. Again and again, Jesus promised eternal life. The theme shows up most clearly in the Gospel of John. Some samples:
- For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believers in Him shall not peris, but have eternal life (John 3:16)
- He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36))
- But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst, but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life (John 4:14)
- You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me, and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life (John 5:39-40)
- I am the bread of life (John 6:35, 48)
- I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)
At Easter, zōē is the word that catches the true significance of the season. When Jesus rose from the dead, He opened the door for us to have life that goes beyond this life. As He said before raising Lazarus from the dead, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
He gives eternal life to those who trust in Him. We already possess that life (see John 5:24), and we will enjoy it in the unending ages of eternity. We may experience physical death, but the eternal life goes on without interruption.
And that’s what Easter is really about.
Here is the basic information about these two words:
Bios (bee-ahss) – noun, “life” – occurs 10 times in the New Testament
Bioō (bee-AH-oh] – verb, “live” – occurs once in the New Testament
Zōē (zoh-AY) – noun, “life” – occurs 135 times in the New Testament
Zaō (ZAH-oh) – verb, “live” – occurs 143 times in the New Testament
Q: The Bible tells us not to love the world, including the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Which Greek word for life is used here, and what does it mean?
A: The passage you mention is 1 John 2:16, and the phrase “pride of life” uses the word bios. In this context, it clearly means the material possessions that we use to support our lifestyle. John reminds us that wealth is often a spur to arrogance. It lures us into thinking that we can provide for our own needs, leaving God out of the equation. The whole concept of “world” in the New Testament is a description of an approach to life that attempts to provide satisfaction without the need of the Lord.
Hebrews 12 tells us that Jesus “despised the shame” of crucifixion when He died for us. Next week, let’s meditate on the meaning of “despise.
©Ezra Project 2023