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Life – zoe or psuche

In the beginning was the Word [that is, Jesus Christ before the first Christmas], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life [zoe]…..         John 1: 1, 2, 3 and 12

It happened around 1,000 times in Jersey in 2014 and no one quite knows how or why. All those little human beings came out into the light from their mother’s womb - and they were, all of them, alive. But what, on earth, is “life”? We know that each little one actually breathes, that each heart beats and that each life is no longer dependent on mum (or dad) to give it “life”.

We know how to arrange for a birth to occur - and lots of medical, social and technical names are given to "life". But, despite millions of pounds of effort, no life has ever been created by mankind - other than by using life from another person or animal.

Even Professor Dawkins (of "The God Delusion" fame) writes on page 165 of that book: "...the midwifing of a new origin of life in the laboratory.... hasn't happened yet, and it is still possible to maintain that the probability of its happening is, and always was, exceedingly low - although it did happen once."

The close follower of Jesus named John wrote a biography of Jesus Christ around AD 90. In his book he used two different Greek words for "life". Unfortunately for us, both of those Greek words - "zoe" and "psuche" - are translated into English as "life". We don’t know which is which without looking at the original Greek text.
 ‘There is no wealth but life.’ (John Ruskin, writer, 1819-1900)

John uses the Greek “psuche” on 10 occasions. For instance, he reports that Jesus taught, "Greater love has no man than this - that someone lays down his life (psuche) for his friends." Clearly psuche was, in John’s mind, the right word to use there. It means the ordinary life (extra-ordinary life, really) that we all have and can lay down for others. We’ve heard a lot about that in connection with the centenary of World War 1. “Psuche” is the same “life” as was in all of the babies born as “Live Births” in Jersey in 2014.

But much more numerous in John's biography of Jesus Christ (36 times) is his use of the word "zoe" – also translated as “life”. That's the word used in the extract in bold above. In the man Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem in AD Zero there was “zoe” – life – as well as “psuche” – life.

For John, "zoe" meant absolute life, the life of God. It was and is the life of the God who was “in the beginning”, who has always lived and will always live. In other words, “zoe” is life at its eternal source: unending and unchangeable. When John wrote, about Jesus Christ, "In him was zoe", he was stating that Jesus Christ, who was God, had absolute life......... And he wrote this as one who had been with this man Jesus for several years, had eaten with him, listened to him, seen him die and seen him rise again.

In his biography John records that Jesus foretold his own death. John wrote: Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life (psuche) for the sheep.” Yes, John knew that there was a big difference between psuche-life and zoe-life……
‘The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life (zoe) to the world.’ (Jesus Christ AD 30 after feeding the 5,000)

But there’s something more, something truly fantastic. In John’s faithful record of Jesus' teaching, we find that Jesus said that "zoe-life" could actually apply to us.

John recorded these words of Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life [zoe]. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life [zoe].”

Many years ago my wife and I passed on "psuche-life" to our children - when they were born. They became our children.

The Lord Jesus Christ gives the gift of his own "zoe-life" to the men and women who hear his word and love his Father. They become God’s children. They are truly born of God.
Richard Syvret

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