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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

xxvii. ζωή, βίος.

The Latin language and the English not less are poorer than the Greek, in having but one word, the Latin ‘vita,’ the English ‘life,’ where the Greek has two. There would, indeed, be no comparative poverty here, if ζωή and βίος were merely duplicates. But, contemplating life as these do from very different points of view, it is inevitable that we, with our one word for both, must use this one in very diverse senses; and may possibly, through this equivocation, conceal real and important differences from ourselves or from others; as nothing is so effectual for this as the employment of equivocal words.

The true antithesis of ζωή is θάνατος (Rom. 8:38; 2 Cor. 5:4; Jer. 8:3; Ecclus. 30:17; Plato, Legg. xii. 944 c), as of ζῆν, ἀποθνήσκειν (Luke 20:38; 1 Tim. 5:6; Rev. 1:18; cf. Il. xxiii. 70; Herodotus, i. 31; Plato, Phoedo, 71 d; οὐκ ἐναντίον φῂς τῷ ζῆν τὸ τεθνάναι εἶναι; ); ζωή, as some will have it, being nearly connected with ἄω, ἄημι, to breathe the breath of life,Etym. Note. 14 which is the necessary condition of living, and, as such, is involved in like manner in πνεῦμα and ψυξή, in ‘spiritus’ and ‘anima.’

But, while ζωή is thus life intensive (‘vita quâ vivimus’), βίος is life extensive (‘vita quam vivimus’), the period or duration of life; and then, in a secondary sense, the means by which that life is sustained; and thirdly, the manner in which that life is spent; the ‘line of life,’ ‘profession,’ career. Examples of βίος in all these senses the N. T. supplies. Thus it is used as—

α. The period or duration of life; thus, χρόνος τοῦ βίου (1 Pet. 4:3): cf. βίος τοῦ χρόνου (Job 10:20): μῆκος βίου καὶ ἔτη ζωῆς(Prov. 3:2): Plutarch (De Lib. Ed. 17), στιγμὴ χρόνου πᾶς ὁ βίος ἐστι: again, βίος τῆς ζωῆς (Cons. ad Apoll. 25); and ζωὴ καὶ βίος (De Plat. Phil. v. 18).

β. The means of life, or ‘living,’ A. V.; Mark 12:44; Luke 8:43; 15:12; 1 John 3:17, τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου: cf. Plato, Gorg. 486 d; Legg. xi. 936 c; Aristotle, Hist. An. ix. 23. 2; Euripides, Ion, 329; and often, but not always, these means of life, with an under sense of largeness and abundance.

γ. The manner of life; or life in regard of its moral conduct, having such words as τρόπος, ἤθη, πρᾶξις for its equivalents, and not seldom such epithets as κόσμιος, χρηστός, σώφρων, joined to it; 1 Tim. 2:2; so Plato (Rep. i. 344 e), βίου διαγωγή: Plutarch, δίαιτα καὶ βίος (De Virt. et Vit. 2): and very nobly (De Is. et Os. 1), τοῦ δὲ γινώσκειν τὰ ὄντα καὶ φρονεῖν ἀφαιρεθέντος, οὐ βίον ἀλλὰ χρόνον [οἶμαι] εἶναι τὴν ἀθανασίαν: and De Lib. Ed. 7, τεταγμένος βίος: Josephus, Att. v. 10. 1; with which compare Augustine (De Trin. xii. 11): ‘Cujus vitoe sit quisque; id est, quomodo agat hoec temporalia, quam vitam Graeci non ζωήν sed βίον vocant.’

In βίος, thus used as manner of life, there is an ethical sense often inhering, which, in classical Greek at least, ζωή does not possess. Thus in Aristotle (Politics, i. 13. 13), it is said that the slave is κοινωνὸς ζωῆς, he lives with the family, but not κοινωνὸς βίου, he does not share in the career of his master; cf. Ethic. Nic. x. 6. 8; and he draws, according to Ammonius, the following distinction: βίος ἐστὶ λογικὴ ζωή: Ammonius himself affirming βίος to be never, except incorrectly, applied to the existence of plants or animals, but only to the lives of men.1 I know not how he reconciled this statement with such passages as these from Aristotle, Hist. Anim. i. 1. 15; ix. 8. 1; unless, indeed, he included him in his censure. Still, the distinction which he somewhat too absolutely asserts (see Stallbaum’s note on the Timoeus of Plato, 44 d), is a real one: it displays itself with singular clearness in our words ‘zoology’ and ‘biography;’ but not in ‘biology,’Etym. Note. 15 which, as now used, is a manifest misnomer.2 We speak, on one side, of ‘zoology,’ for animals (ζῶα) have the vital principle; they live, equally with men, and are capable of being classed and described according to the different workings of this natural life of theirs: but, on the other hand, we speak of ‘biography;’ for men not merely live, but they lead lives, lives in which there is that moral distinction between one and another, which may make them worthy to be recorded. They are ἔ τ η ζωῆς, but ὁ δ ο ὶ βίου (Prov. 4:10); cf. Philo, De Carit. 4, where of Moses he says that at a certain epoch of his mortal course, ἤρξατο μετα-βάλλειν ἐκ θνητῆς ζωῆς εἰς ἀθάνατον βίον.

From all this it will follow, that, while θάνατος and ζωή constitute, as observed already, the true antithesis, yet they do this only so long as life is physically contemplated; thus the Son of Sirach (xxx. 17): κρείσσων θάνατος ὑπὲρ ζωὴν πικρὰν ἢ ἀῤῥώστημα ἔμμονον. But so soon as a moral element is introduced, and ‘life’ is regarded as the opportunity for living nobly or the contrary, the antithesis is not between θάνατος and ζωή, but θάνατος and βίος: thus compare Xenophon (De Rep. Lac. ix. 1): αἰρετώτερον εἶναι τὸν καλὸν θάνατον ἀντὶ τοῦ αἰσχροῦ βίου, with Plato (Legg. xii. 944 d): ζωὴν αἰσχρὰν ἀρνύμενος μετὰ τάχους, μᾶλλον ἢ μετ᾽ ἀνδρείας καλὸν καὶ εὐδαίμονα θάνατον. A reference to the two passages will show that in the latter it is the present boon of shameful life, (therefore ζωή, ) which the craven soldier prefers to an honorable death; while in the former, Lycurgus teaches that an honorable death is to be chosen rather than a long and shameful existence, a βίος ἄβιος (Empedocles, 326); a βίος ἀβίωτος (Xenophon, Mem. iv. 8. 8; cf. Meineke, Fragm. Com. Groec. 142); a βίος οὐ βιωτός (Plato, Apol. 38 a); a ‘vita non vitalis;’ from which all the ornament of life, all the reasons for living, have departed. The Two grand chapters with which the Gorgias of Plato concludes (82, 83) constitute a fine exercise in the distinction between the words themselves, as between their derivatives no less; and Herodotus, vii. 46, the same.

But all this being so, and βίος, not ζωή, the ethical word of classical Greek, a thoughtful reader of Scripture might not unnaturally be perplexed with the fact that all is there reversed; for no one will deny that ζωή is there the nobler word, expressing as it continually does all of highest and best which the saints possess in God; thus στέφανος τῆς ζωῆς (Rev. 2:10), ξύλον τῆς ζωῆς (2:7), βίβλος τῆς ζωῆς (3:5), ὕδωρ ζωῆς (21:6), ζωὴ καὶ εὐσέβεια (2 Pet. 1:3), ζωὴ καὶ ἀφθαρσία (2 Tim. 1:10), ζωὴ τοῦ Θεοῦ (Ephes. 4:18), ζωὴ αἰώνιος (Matt. 19:16; Rom. 2:7),3 ζωὴ ἀκατάλυτος (Heb. 7:16); ἡ ὄντως ζωή (1 Tim. 6:19); or sometimes ζωή with no further addition (Matt. 7:14; Rom. 5:17, and often); all these setting forth, each from 1

its own point of view, the highest blessedness of the creature. Contrast with them the following uses of βίος, ἡδοναὶ τοῦ βίου (Luke 8:14), πραγματεῖαι τοῦ βίου (2 Tim. 2:4), ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου (1 John 2:16), βίος τοῦ κόσμου (3:17), μερίμναι βιωτικαί (Luke 21:34). How shall we explain this?

A little reflection will supply the answer. Revealed religion, and it alone, puts death and sin in closest connexion, declares them the necessary correlatives one of the other (Gen. 1–3; Rom. 5:12); and, as an involved consequence, in like manner, life and holiness. It is God’s word alone which proclaims that, wherever there is death, it is there because sin was there first; wherever there is no death, that is, life, this is there, because sin has never been there, or having once been, is now cast out and expelled. In revealed religion, which thus makes death to have come into the world through sin, and only through sin, life is the correlative of holiness. Whatever truly lives, does so because sin has never found place in it, or, having found place for a time, has since been overcome and expelled. So soon as ever this is felt and understood, ζωή at once assumes the profoundest moral significance; it becomes the fittest expression for the very highest blessedness. Of that whereof we predicate absolute ζωή, we predicate absolute holiness of the same. Christ affirming of Himself, ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ζωή (John 14:6; cf. 1 John 1:2; Ignatius, ad Smyrn. 4: Χριστὸς τὸ ἀληθινὸν ἡμῶν ζῇν), implicitly affirmed of Himself that He was absolutely holy; and in the creature, in like manner, that alone truly lives, or triumphs over death, death at once physical and spiritual, which has first triumphed over sin. No wonder, then, that Scripture should know of no higher word than ζωή to set forth the blessedness of God, and the blessedness of the creature in communion with God.

It follows that those expositors of Ephes. 4:18 are in error, who there take ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι τῆς ζωῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ, as ‘alienated from a divine life,’ that is, ‘from a life lived according to the will and commandments of God’ (‘remoti a vitâ illâ quae secundum Deum est:’ as Grotius has it), ζωή never signifying this. The fact of such alienation was only too true; but the Apostle is not affirming it here, but rather the miserable condition of the heathen, as men estranged from the one fountain of life (παρά Σοὶ πηγὴ ζωῆς, Ps. 35:10); as not having life, because separated from Him who only absolutely lives (John 5:26), the living God (Matt. 16:16; 1 Tim. 3:15), in fellowship with whom alone any creature has life. Another passage, namely Gal. 5:25, will always seem to contain a tautology, until we give to ζωή (and to the verb ζῆν as well) the force which has been claimed for it here.


1 See on these two synonyms, Vömel, Synon. Wörterbuch, p. 168, sq.; and Wyttenbach, Animad. in Plutarchum, vol. iii. p. 166.

2 The word came to us from the French. Gottfried Reinhart Trevisanus, who died in 1837, was its probable inventor in his book, Biologie. ou la Philosophie de la Nature vivante, of which the first volume appeared in 1802. Some flying pages by Canon Field, of Norwich, Biology and Social Science, deal well with this blunder.

3 Ζωὴ αἰώνιος occurs once in the Septuagint (Dan. xii. 2; cf. ζωὴ ἀέναος, 2 Macc. 7:36), and in Plutarch, De Is. et. Os. 1.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G2222,G979.]

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