The Meaning of “Life” in John’s Gospel

Tuesday, 18 Jun 2019 | 6/18/2019 | Staff
moricamorica (Posted by) Level 3
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Richard from St. Petersburg, FL writes:

“The distinction between ‘eternal life’ (aeon zoe) and ‘life’ (zoe) in John, is, exactly, what? Zoe-life is itself eternal, yes? Why does John’s Gospel have a hundred references to zoe with only 17 of them joined with the word eternal?”

Thanks - Question - Richard - Word - Zoe

Thanks for your question Richard. The Greek word zoe, can be used to refer to ordinary human life, and to eternal life as well. The way to spot the difference would be to pay close attention to the context. As with some of the cases you mentioned, whenever “life” is modified by the word “eternal,” it’s easy to tell that our never-ending life in heaven is in view. Elsewhere, contextual factors make clear that ordinary human life is in view. This is evident in texts such as Luke 16:25 in which a rich man is told, “Child, remember that in your life (zoe) you received good things,” or John 4:50 in which Jesus tells the royal official, “Go, your son will live (zao).” The context of both those passages make clear that the word “life” refers to our temporal earthly existence.

Now there are passages in John in which the word “life” appears without being modified by the word “eternal,” and yet the context makes clear that “eternal life” is actually the focus. This can be seen in a verse such as John 20:31 in which the narrator explains his own motivation for writing this Gospel: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life (zoe) in his name.” Though the word “life” here is unmodified, we know what the author is getting because he has made similar statements throughout his work, and has connected “believing” with “eternal life” (cf....
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