As It Is Written...
His Gift of Life
Of the standard Greek nouns commonly translated as "life" in the New Testament, John's Gospel uses only two: psyche and zoe. Psyche, often translated as "soul," indicates the life or being of an individual. For example, in the sustained pastoral parable in John, this is the term used when the "Good Shepherd gives his psyche for the sake of the sheep" (John 10:11; cf. 10:15,17). This is also the word used by Simon Peter when he rashly boasts, "I will give my psyche for your sake" (13:37–38). A person's psyche is what he is prepared to lay down for the love of his friends (15:13).
The second term, zoe, is used far more commonly in the Fourth Gospel, where it appears 36 times. Its cognate verb zo appears 17 times. This zoe is, first of all, proper to the Word: "in him was life" (John 1:4). This is the "life in himself" that the Son receives from the Father: "For just as the Father has life in himself, so he gave the Son also to have life in himself" (5:26).
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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