Word of the Week
November 13, 2021
Bios: So That’s Life?
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
1 John 2:16 NASB
When I was a kid, we couldn’t wait for the Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog to arrive – 200 pages of gift ideas for everyone. My brother and I would thumb through endless pages of trains, bicycles, chemistry sets, Lincoln logs and everything else you could imagine. We would circle everything that we wanted, in hopes that it would appear under the Christmas tree.
At that moment, happiness consisted of the things that we would get on Christmas Day.
Now we are adults, but even grown-ups can fall into the trap of thinking that life centers around the things that you can get. Just look at the Black Friday ads and the Christmas goodies that fill the aisles of every store. Business expect to get the bulk of their profits during the holiday season, and shoppers plunge down the aisles searching for the gift that will make someone happy.
Even in the ancient world, people were tempted to belief that life consisted in their possessions. You can even see that truth reflected in the Greek vocabulary. The Greeks had two different words for “life.”
One is the word zōē (from which we get “zoology”).
The other is bios (from which we get “biology”).
Most of the time the New Testament uses zōē (135 times). It is the word that describes something that is alive. A sparrow is alive, but a rock is not. More important, it is the word of choice when the Bible describes eternal life. This life is more than just existing for a certain period of time. It is the quality of life that we will enjoy forever in heaven, thriving in the presence of God. And one of the great joys of the Christian walk is the fact that God has already created that new life in us. We experience it a little bit now, and we will experience it fully in eternity.
That is the predominant Greek word for life, but there is another one, one which seems particularly apt as a description of our attitudes at the holidays. The word is bios, which occurs 10 times in the New Testament.
Bios can be a period of time when we are physically alive, the daily patterns of our life.
- Peter uses it to describe the time of life before a person becomes a Christian, the time characterized by wild, sinful behavior (1 Peter 4:3).
- Paul urges us to pray for government authorities so that we can experience peace and stability in daily life (1 Timothy 2:2).
- He explains that a soldier avoids entanglement with civilian life, in order to devote full attention to his military duties (2 Timothy 2:4).
More often bios refers to a person’s possessions or income, the resources that we use to sustain life.
- Jesus praised the widow who dropped two small coins into the offering at the Temple, pointing out that she had given “all her bios, all that she had to live on (Mark 12:44; Luke 21:4).
- Jesus healed a woman who had suffered from internal bleeding for twelve years, spending “all her living [bios]” on physicians (Luke 8:43 in some manuscripts).
- When the prodigal son asked for his share of the estate, his father “divided his living [bios] with him (Luke 15:12). Later he squandered it on immorality (Luke 15:30).
The Bible tells us clearly how to think about bios, about the possessions that so easily come to possess us.
Jesus warned that the word of God often fails to take root in a person’s life because it is choked out by the worries, riches and pleasures “of this life” [bios] (Luke 8:14).
When life consists of our possessions, spiritual growth is squeezed out.
When John warns against loving the world, he specifies three destructive features of that love: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and “the boastful pride of life” [bios] (1 John 2:16).
When life centers on what we have, we become bloated with arrogance.
If a person is blessed with “this world’s goods” [bios], we are hypocrites if we refuse to use them to help a brother in need (1 John 3:17).
Possessions are not wrong, but we need to see them as resources that can be used to show God’s love to others.
The old Sears catalogs were fun for children, but the child of God should be more excited about the kind of Christmas catalogs offered by organizations like Compassion International. You can thumb through the pages looking for ways to help the poor and spread the gospel.
This word is a good example of the fact that words have multiple meanings. Sometimes bios refers to material possessions; sometimes it doesn’t. A good student starts by noticing the possible shades of meaning, then looking at the context to see which meaning is used in each verse.
A profitable exercise would be to actually look up each verse listed here and checking the context for yourself.
Q – When I look at different Bible translations of 2 Timothy 1:12, I notice that there are two very different translations of the last phrase. Some Bibles say that God is able to keep “what I have committed to Him,” and other Bibles say God is able to keep “what has been entrusted to me.” Why the difference?
A – The Greek here literally says, “to keep my deposit.” The word simply means something that has been entrusted to a person for safekeeping. The issue here isn’t the definition of the word; it is a matter of grammar. Even in English, “my deposit” could mean two different things. “My deposit” could be the money that you entrusted to someone else, or it could be the money that someone entrusted to you. It’s a little like the phrase “the baptism of Jesus.” Is that a description of Jesus baptizing someone, or is it a description of someone baptizing Jesus?
In a situation like this, both translations are theoretically possible, and you have to look at the context to figure out which idea is intended. In the case of 2 Timothy 1:12, I lean toward the idea that Paul is proclaiming that he can trust God with everything.
When we say that someone is “tenderhearted,” we know what we mean. In Greek, however, the heart is often not the part of the body that is tender. Next week, we’ll examine some unusual spiritual anatomy.
©Ezra Project 2021
Again thank you for these helpful notes on biblical language!