The word “life” appears 47 times in the ESV translation of the Gospel of John. “Life” is translated from three primary Greek words–“Zoe,” “Psuche,” and “Bios.” One appears in the Gospel of John more than any other. One appears only a few times. And one doesn’t appear at all.
The Reason for This Study
I recently returned home from my second trip to Kenya. God has graciously given me a heart for the people of Kenya and a heart for His Church in that country. I attribute this to the wonderful opportunity the Lord has given me, through the elders of my church and International Church Planters, to serve as a teacher in the Didache Institute. I have the honor, privilege, and blessing to teach a 5-day, 20-hour New Testament survey course to indigenous pastors. In 2017, I taught the course to a group of pastors in Murang’a. Just a couple weeks ago I taught the course to a group of pastors in Thika.
While teaching my class in Thika, I reached the point in the syllabus in which I survey the major themes in the Gospel of John. One of the major themes is John’s focus on eternal life. During the ensuing discussion, the meaning of John 10:10 was examined.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
The Christian Church in Kenya has been infiltrated and harmed by most of the false theological systems, which saw their inception in the United States, including the false prosperity gospel and the false Word of Faith system. One of many verses used and abused by false teachers and charlatans is John 10:10. The verse is used to give people the false hope that Jesus came to give people a materially abundant life. Jesus NEVER made such a promise.
Some in the class were initially unwilling to submit to the authority of Scripture when faced with the truth that Jesus’ words in John 10:10 have nothing to do with material blessing. Sadly, both the rhetoric and demeanor of some of the men grew increasingly negative. It was at that time that Pastor Mike issued a stern and warranted rebuke to the class.
By God’s amazing grace, by week’s end, the men in the class not only acknowledged the truth regarding the meaning of “life” in John 10:10, but also expressed a desire to submit to the authority of Scripture. All the men left the week of training looking forward to the next Didache Institute module.
As a result of what happened in the Thika Didache Institute, I decided to write this article for the men in the class, for the readers of this blog, and to add to the next revision of my syllabus.
“Life” in the New Testament
As mentioned above, there are three primary Greek words translated as “life” in the New Testament. From these three primary words come many derivatives that are translated as verbal phrases that include the word “life,” as well as “live,” “lived,” “living,” etc. The three primary Greek words are: “Zoe,” “Psuche,” and “Bios.” Here are examples of how each word is used in the New Testament, along with the basic definitions of each word:
- Bios, in Luke 8:14: “…anxieties and riches and pleasure of this life.” This Greek word refers to the life of the physical body and is where we get the word biology.
- Psuche, in Matt. 16:25: “For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it.” The Greek word here refers to the psychological life of the human soul, that is, the mind, emotion, and will. It is where we get the word psychology.
- Zoe, in John 1:4: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Here the Greek word refers to the uncreated, eternal life of God, the divine life uniquely possessed by God.
Now, let’s look at the word “life” in the Gospel of John.
The Word “Life” in the Gospel of John
What follows is every occurrence of “life” in the Gospel of John.
“In him was life [zōē], and the life [zōē] was the light of men.” ~ John 1:4
“That whoever believes in him may have eternal life [zōēn].” ~ John 3:15
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life [zōēn].” ~ John 3:16
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life [zōēn]; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life [zōēn], but the wrath of God remains on him.” ~ John 3:36
“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life [zōēn].” ~ John 4:14
“Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life [zōēn], so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” ~ John 4:36
“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life [zōopoiei], so also the Son gives life [zōopoiei] to whom he will.” ~ John 5:21
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life [zōēn]. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life [zōēn].” ~ John 5:24
“For as the Father has life [zōēn] in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life [zōēn] in himself.” ~ John 5:26
“And come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life [zōēs], and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” ~ John 5:29
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life [zōēn]; and it is they that bear witness about me.” ~ John 5:39
“Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life [zōēn].” ~ John 5:40
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life [zōēn], which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” ~ John 6:27
“For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life [zōēn] to the world.” ~ John 6:33
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life [zōēs]; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'” ~ John 6:35
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life [zōēn], and I will raise him up on the last day.” ~ John 6:40
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life [zōēn].” ~ John 6:47
“I am the bread of life [zōēs].” ~ John 6:48
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life [zōēs] of the world is my flesh.” ~ John 6:51
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life [zōēn] in you.'” ~ John 6:53
“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life [zōēn], and I will raise him up on the last day.” ~ John 6:54
“It is the Spirit who gives life [zōopoioun]; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life [zōē].” ~ John 6:63
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life [zōēs].'” ~ John 6:68
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life [zōēs].'” ~ John 8:12
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life [zōēn] and have it abundantly.” ~ John 10:10
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life [psuchēn] for the sheep.” ~ John 10:11
“Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life [psuchēn] for the sheep.” ~ John 10:15
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life [psuchēn] that I may take it up again.” ~ John 10:17
“I give them eternal life [zōēn], and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” ~ John 10:28
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life [zōē]. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” ~ John 11:25
“Whoever loves his life [psuchēn] loses it, and whoever hates his life [psuchēn] in this world will keep it for eternal life [zōēn].” ~ John 12:25
“And I know that his commandment is eternal life [zōē]. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” ~ John 12:50
“Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life [psuchēn] for you.” ~ John 13:37
“Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life [psuchēn] for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.'” ~ John 13:38
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life [zōē]. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” ~ John 14:6
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life [psuchēn] for his friends.” ~ John 15:13
“Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life [zōēn] to all whom you have given him.” ~ John 17:2
“And this is eternal life [zōē], that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” ~ John 17:3
“But 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 [zōēn] in his name.” ~ John 20:31
It’s clear that both Jesus and John (the disciple whom Jesus loved and one of the four chroniclers of Jesus’ earthly ministry), through their overwhelming and consistent use of the Greek word “zoe,” and the fact that the Greek word representing physical life (Bios) is not used even one time in the Gospel of John, emphasized the gift and blessing of eternal life, through faith in Jesus Christ. Neither Jesus nor John had in mind man’s “best life now,” or the unbiblical concepts of guaranteed “health, wealth, and prosperity.” Nowhere is this truth more obvious than in the very verse many false teachers cite to support the unbiblical notion of promised material blessing–John 10:10.
The Abundant Life in John 10:10
The promise Jesus makes in John 10:10 is far greater than any temporal blessing one might receive.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
As is the case almost everywhere else in the Gospel of John, the apostle uses the Greek word “zoe” in quoting Jesus, in John 10:10.
Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. His failed mission (at least as it pertains to God’s Elect) is to keep people from receiving the free gift of God, which is eternal life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23). Jesus, the perfect antithesis of Satan, came on a mission diametrically opposed to that of Satan. He came to set people free (John 8:34-38). He came to secure eternal life for those whom God determined before the foundation of the world to cause to be born-again (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:31-39; 1 Peter 1:3-9).
Read what more learned men than me have written about John 10:10.
“Might have it more abundantly – Literally, that they may have abundance, or that which abounds. The word denotes that which is not absolutely essential to life, but which is superadded to make life happy. They shall not merely have life – simple, bare existence – but they shall have all those superadded things which are needful to make that life eminently blessed and happy. It would be vast mercy to keep men merely from annihilation or hell; but Jesus will give them eternal joy, peace, the society of the blessed, and all those exalted means of felicity which are prepared for them in the world of glory.” ~ Albert Barnes
“The sense is, that Christ came that his people might have eternal life, with more abundant evidence of it than was under the former dispensation, and have stronger faith in it, and a more lively hope of it: or, as the words may be rendered, “and that they might have an abundance”: besides life, might have an abundance of grace from Christ, all spiritual blessings in him now, and all fulness of joy, glory, and happiness hereafter.” ~ John Gill
The Christian can draw great and wonderful encouragement from tracing the apostle John’s use of the word “life” in the Gospel of John. The encouragement is found in the finished work of Christ–the work by and through which every Christian has the assurance of eternal life. And it is this assurance–the assurance that comes by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone–that allows and motivates the Christian to see the abundance of eternal blessing that the gift of eternal life brings.
Unlike temporal blessings, which are fleeting and will burn up in The Judgment, unlike the false promises of temporal blessings that can most often be attributed to Satan (Matthew 4:1-11), the real promise of an abundant, eternal life allows the Christian, regardless of life’s circumstances, to live in a state of blessing (Matthew 5:2-12), hope (Romans 5:2-5), and joy (James 1:2-4).