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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Life And Death

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1. Life.-In a consideration of the subject of life as dealt with in the Acts and Epistles, three Gr. words-βίος, ψυχή, and ζωή-require to be distinguished.

(1) βίος denotes life in the outward and visible sense-its period or course (cf. ‘the time past of our life,’ 1 Peter 4:3), its means of living (hence in 1 John 3:17 the Revised Version renders ‘goods’), the manner in which it is spent (cf. ‘that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life,’ 1 Timothy 2:2), its relation to worldly affairs (2 Timothy 2:4) and to the world’s love of pomp and show (1 John 2:16).

(2) ψυχή (fr. [Note: fragment, from.] ψύχω, ‘breathe’) originally means the breath of life, and in such an expression as ‘his life is in him’ (Acts 20:10) would quite adequately be rendered ‘breath.’ But, as breathing is the sign of the presence in the body of an animating vital force, ψυχή (cf. Lat. anima) comes to mean ‘life’ in the sense of the animal soul, and especially the life of the individual as distinguished from other individual lives. This is the life that may be injured or lost through a shipwreck (Acts 27:10; Acts 27:22), counted dear or willingly surrendered (Acts 20:24, Revelation 12:11); the life which Jesus Christ laid down for His people (1 John 3:16), and which they should be prepared to lay down for Him (Acts 15:26) or for one another (Romans 16:4, Philippians 2:30, 1 John 3:16). From meaning the animal soul or life (anima), however, ψυχή comes to be used for the individualized life in its moral and spiritual aspects, the ‘soul’ in the deeper significance of that word (Lat. animus), the part of man which thinks and feels and wills (Acts 2:27, Romans 2:9, 2 Corinthians 1:23, etc). See, further, Soul.

(3) But of the three words for life ζωή for the purposes of the present article is much the most important. Occasionally it is employed in a way that makes it practically equivalent to βίος (1 Corinthians 15:19, ‘If in this life only we have hoped in Christ’; cf. Luke 16:25, ‘in thy lifetime’ [ἐν τῇ ζωῇ σου]), and more frequently in connexions not far removed from those of ψυχή in the sense of the vital energy or animal soul (e.g. Acts 17:25, James 4:14), though even in these cases it is noticeable that ζωή does not denote, like ψυχή, the life of the individual, but life in a sense that is general and distributed. Ordinarily, however, ζωή stands for a life which is not existence merely, but existence raised to its highest power; not a bare life, but’ life more abundantly’ (John 10:10), a life which St. Paul describes as ‘the life which is life indeed’ (ἡ ὄντως ζωή, 1 Timothy 6:19), a life, i.e., which in its essential nature is full and overflowing, and in its moral and spiritual quality is perfect and complete. In this employment of it, ζωή is very frequently characterized as ‘eternal (αἰώνιος) life’; but the epithet does not impart any real addition to the connotation of the word as elsewhere used without the adjective, much less restrict its reference to the life after death; it only expresses more explicitly the conception of that life as something so full and positive that from its very nature it is unconquerable by death, and consequently everlasting. See, further, Eternal, Everlasting.

(a) In the usage of the NT this ζωή or ζωὴ αἰώνιος is first of all a Divine attribute-a view of it which finds its most complete expression in the Johannine writings. It inheres in God and belongs to His essential nature. ‘The Father hath life in himself’ (John 5:26), the life eternal is ‘with the Father’ (1 John 1:2). The Father, however, imparts it to the Son, so that He also possesses ‘life in himself’ (John 5:26), and possesses it in a manner so copious that this endowment with life is predicated of Him as if it were the most characteristic quality of His being (John 1:4). Thereafter this life which Christ possesses is communicated by Him to those who are willing to receive it, the record being that God gave unto as the eternal life which is in His Son (1 John 5:11), and that he that hath the Son, viz. by believing on His name, hath the life (1 John 5:12 f.)

(b) The ζωή (αἰώνιος) thus becomes a human possession and quality; and it is with the manifestations in human character and experience of this life flowing from God through Christ that the apostolic writers are principally concerned in what they have to say about it. Their references bear chiefly upon the source from which it comes, the means by which it is obtained, its fruits or evidences, its present possession, and its completion in the world to come.

(α) As follows from the fact that this life inheres essentially in God, its primal source is God the Father, from whom it comes as a gift (Romans 6:23, 1 John 5:11) and a grace (1 Peter 3:7). But this gracious gift is manifested and mediated only by Christ (1 John 1:2, 1 Timothy 2:5). According to St. John, the eternal life which men enjoy resides in God’s Son (1 John 5:11), and that in so absolute a sense that ‘he that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life’ (1 John 5:12). Similarly St. Paul writes that it is through the Son that the gift of life is bestowed (Romans 6:23), describes Christ as ‘our life’ (Colossians 3:4), and declares that this life of ours ‘is hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3).

(β) But this gift of life is not bestowed arbitrarily or apart from the fulfilment of certain conditions. It is not thrust upon anyone, but needs to be laid hold of (1 Timothy 6:12; 1 Timothy 6:19). In the symbolic language of the Apocalypse the fruition of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God is promised to him that overcometh (Revelation 2:7). Various energies and attitudes of the soul are mentioned as conditioning the attainment of life, e.g. patience in well-doing (Romans 2:7), en durance of temptation (James 1:12), sowing to the Spirit (Galatians 6:8), But the fundamental conditions, on which all the others depend, are repentance (Acts 11:18) and faith (Acts 13:48, 1 Timothy 1:16, 1 John 5:10-12). The old life must be renounced if the new life is to begin; that is what is meant by the demand for repentance. And life cannot be self-generated, but can only be received from a living source; that is the explanation of the call for faith.

(γ) Among the fruits or evidences of the possession of life St. Paul includes freedom from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:6) and a way of walking in the world which is new (Romans 6:4) and has God for its object (Romans 6:11). Inwardly the life reveals its presence in a daily experience of renewal (2 Corinthians 4:16), in the possession of a spiritual mind (Romans 8:6), in the consciousness of spiritual liberty (Romans 8:2). Outwardly its fruits are seen in holy living (Romans 6:22) and its signature written even upon the mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11). To St. John the great evidence of life is love to the brethren (1 John 3:14). Everyone that loveth is born of God (1 John 4:7); but the love which is the proof of this Divine birth and consequent Divine life must flow out towards the visible brother as well as towards the invisible God if there is to be any assurance of its reality (1 John 4:12; 1 John 4:20). In the mystical language of the author of the Apocalypse life has the evidence of a written record. The names of those who possess it are written in a book which is called ‘the book of life’ (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:19), or more fully ‘the Lamb’s book of life’ (Revelation 13:8; Revelation 21:27). With this may be compared St. Paul’s use of the same figure in Philippians 4:3. See Book of Life.

(δ) To the apostolic writers life or eternal life is a present possession. While distinct from the ordinary forms of earthly existence, with which it is contrasted (1 Timothy 6:19), it is not separated from them in time, but here and now interfused dynamically through them all. This is a conception which is especially characteristic of the Johannine writings. In the Fourth Gospel it occurs constantly (John 3:36; John 17:3 etc.), and in the First Epistle we see it reappearing, as when the writer declares that he that hath the Son hath the life (1 John 5:12), and that those who possess eternal life may know that they possess it (1 John 3:14; 1 John 5:13). But it is evident that St. Paul also conceives of life as a present reality when he proclaims that Christ is out life (Colossians 3:4), and that our life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3), when he makes our baptism into Christ’s Death, and resurrection in His likeness, determinative of our present walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4), and declares that to be spiritually-minded is life and peace (Romans 8:6).

(ε) And yet this life, though it is a present experience, is not realized in its totality in the present world. The promise given to godliness in 1 Timothy 4:8 is said to be for the life that now is and that which is to come. Similarly it is in ‘the time to come’ that ‘the life which is life indeed’ arrives at its completion (1 Timothy 6:19). St. Paul gives especial prominence to this future aspect of the life in Christ. He anticipates a time when what is mortal shall be swallowed up of life (2 Corinthians 5:4), co-ordinates eternal life with immortality (Romans 2:7; cf. 2 Timothy 1:10), and places it in direct antithesis with death (Romans 6:23) and corruption (Galatians 6:8). And yet, though life for its completeness must wait for the full revelation of the powers of the world to come, which are only tasted here (Hebrews 6:5), the present and the future life are essentially one and the same. It is because the Christian life is hid with Christ in God that it carries the assurance of immortality within itself. As, in St. Peter’s language, it was not possible that Christ should be holden of death (Acts 2:24), so it is impossible that those whose very life Christ is (Colossians 3:4) should not be sharers in His victory over death’s pains and powers. To all who abide in the Son and through Him in the Father there belongs this promise which He promised us, even the life eternal (1 John 2:24 f.). And in this promise there lies enfolded the hope not only of the immortality of the soul but of the resurrection of the body. It is the frailty and imperfection of the earthly body, its domination by the law of sin and death, that hinder the full enjoyment of eternal life in the present world (2 Corinthians 5:2; 2 Corinthians 5:4). But when mortality shall be swallowed up of life, Christ’s people, instead of being ‘unclothed,’ shall be ‘clothed upon’ (2 Corinthians 5:2; 2 Corinthians 5:4). To the natural body will succeed a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44), to the body of death (Romans 7:24) a body instinct with the Lord’s own life, to the house that must be dissolved a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1).

2. Death (θἀνατος, to which in its various senses correspond the vb. ἀποθνήσκω, ‘die,’ and the adj. νεκρός, ‘dead’).-Death is frequently used in the apostolic literature in its ordinary, everyday meaning of the end of man’s earthly course (βίος) or the extinction of his animal life (ψυχή) through the separation of the soul from the body (Acts 2:24, 1 Corinthians 3:22, Philippians 2:27). Much more important than this purely physical employment of the word are its various theological uses, the chief of which maybe distinguished as the punitive, the redemptive, the mystical, the spiritual and moral.

(1) For the NT writers, and above all for St. Paul, death has a punitive significance as the judicial sentence pronounced by God upon sin. When St. Paul writes, ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23), or ‘Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned’ (Romans 5:12); or when the author of Hebrews links together the facts of death and the judgment and relates them to the Death and redeeming Sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9:26-28); or when St. James says, ‘He which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and shall cover a multitude of sins’ (James 5:20), death is used to denote the punitive consequences of sin and the state in which man lies as condemned on account of it. For, just as ζωή in the NT means not the earthly existence but the larger life of the Christian salvation, so θάνατος means not the end of the earthly existence merely but the loss of life in the full Christian conception of the word-the whole of the miserable results that flow from sin and constitute its penalty. Among these penal consequences certainly physical death is included, as passages like Romans 5:12; Romans 5:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:21 f. make perfectly clear. More than this, the death of the body is treated as ‘the point of the punitive sentence, about which all the other elements in that sentence are grouped’ (H. Cremer, Bib.-Theol. Lex.3, 1880, p. 284). Death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23), it is the recompense received by the servants of sin (Romans 6:16). Sin reigns in death (Romans 5:21); it is the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:56). The saving significance of the Death of Christ is due to this same punitive relation between death and sin. He died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3); He bare our sins in His body upon the tree (1 Peter 2:24). And it is through the Death of His Son that we are reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). In including physical death among the penalties of sin, however, the apostolic writers are not to be held as meaning either that man was naturally immortal or that until he fell there was no natural law of death in the physical world. In neither the OT nor the NT is the assertion ever made that death entered into the natural world in consequence of the sin of man (the ‘world’ in Romans 5:12 is the moral world, as the context shows). And when man became liable to death because of sin (Romans 5:12; Romans 5:14; cf. Genesis 2:17), this does not imply that he was not created mortal (cf. Genesis 3:19). But it does imply that, mortal as he was, he differed from the rest of the animal world in a potentiality of exemption from the law of decay and death, owing to the fact that he was a spiritual being made in God’s image; and that by his transgression he lost God’s proffered gift of physical immortality (Romans 5:14, 1 Corinthians 15:21 f.).

But, while physical death is the point of the punitive sentence, the sentence of death stretches far beyond it. Just as ζωή has a future and otherworldly as well as a present reference, so is it with θάνατος. Sometimes it plainly refers to a death that is not an earthly experience but a future state of misery which awaits the wicked in the world to come (Romans 1:32, 1 John 3:14; 1 John 5:16). In Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 14; Revelation 21:8 this future condition of woe is called ‘the second death,’ in contrast, viz., with the first death by which the life on earth is ended (see Punishment).

(2) At the other extreme from this punitive sense of death is the use of the word with a redemptive meaning. When St. Paul declares in Romans that we died to sin (Revelation 6:2), that we were buried through baptism into death (Revelation 6:4), that he that hath died is justified from sin (Revelation 6:11); or when in Galatians he says of himself, ‘For I through the law died unto the law’ (Revelation 2:19), the death he speaks of, as the last passage shows, is a legal or judicial death which carries with it a deliverance from the state of condemnation into which the sinner has been brought by his sin (Romans 6:7). And when he speaks of this death as a dying with Christ (Romans 6:8), and explains more fully that all died because one died for all (2 Corinthians 5:14), he reminds us that this redemptive death is possible for Christians only because a punitive Death was endured by Christ on their behalf. If they can reckon themselves to be dead unto sin (Romans 6:11), it is because ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3).

(3) Side by side with this redemptive death in Christ-a death to the penalty of sin-St. Paul sets a mystical dying-a dying to its power. The Christian’s union with Christ in His redeeming Death is not only the ground of his justification but the secret source and spring of his sanctification. If the transition from the one to the other is not very clearly marked, the reason is that for St. Paul the two were inseparably joined together. He passes at a bound, and as it were unconsciously, from the legal aspect of the Christian’s death in Christ to its mystical aspect, from a death in the eyes of the law against sin to a death to the principle of sin itself (2 Corinthians 5:14 f.). Baptism into Jesus Christ is the symbol and seal of a baptism into His Death, which means not only a dying to the retribution of the of offended law but a crucifixion of the old man, a destruction of ‘the body of sin,’ so that we should no longer be in bondage to sin’s power (Romans 6:2-7; cf. Galatians 2:12). It may be that St. Paul’s view of the body, not indeed as essentially sinful, but as the invariable seat and source of sin in fallen humanity (see article Body) helped him to think of the Crucifixion of Christ as carrying with it a destruction of the polluted flesh (cf. Romans 8:3) through which the way was opened for a new life of holiness. But in any case death to the law meant life unto God, because crucifixion with Christ meant the death of the former self and the substitution for it of a life of faith in the son of God (Galatians 2:19 f.). Nor is it only to sin that the Christian died in Christ, but to the world (Galatians 6:14), to the world’s doctrines and precepts (Colossians 2:20 f.), to the attitude and affections of the mind that is set on earthly things (Colossians 3:2). ‘For ye died,’ the Apostle writes, ‘and your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3). And in this case, at least, it is plain that the death of which he thinks is not the judicial but the mystical dying, the dying which is at the same time the birth to a new life (cf. John 12:24 f.) that carries with it a putting to death of all that is earthly and evil in the natures of those whom Christ has redeemed (Colossians 3:5).

(4) Once more, death is used to denote the spiritual atrophy and moral inability of fallen man in his unregenerate condition. This is the sense that belongs to it in the expression ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1; cf. Colossians 2:13), in the summons to the spiritual sleeper to awake and arise from the dead (Ephesians 5:14), in the description of true believers as those that are alive from the dead (Romans 6:13) and of false professors as having a name that they are living when they are really dead (Revelation 3:1), in the statements that the mind of the flesh is death (Romans 8:6) and that the woman who lives in pleasure is dead while she liveth (1 Timothy 5:6). This, especially on the side of moral inability, is the death which St. Paul describes so powerfully in Romans 7:14 ff., from which, conscious of his helplessness, he cries to be delivered (Romans 7:24), and from which he recognizes that no deliverance is possible except through the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2).

Literature.-I. Life.-S. D. F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality3, 1895, p. 487ff.; E. White, Life in Christ, 1878; E. van Schrenck, Die johan. Auffassung von ‘Leben,’ 1898; the NT Theologies of B. Weiss (Eng. translation , 1882-83, 2 vols.) and W. Beyschlag (Eng. translation , 1895, 2 vols.), passim; J. R. Illingworth, Sermons preached in a College Chapel, 1882, p. 60; J. Macpherson, in Expositor, 1st. ser. v. [1877] 72ff.; J. Massie, in do., 2nd ser. iv. [1882] 380ff. II. Death.-J. Laidlaw, The Bible Doctrine of Man, 1895, p. 233ff.; J. Müller, The Christian Doctrine of Sin, Eng. translation , ii. [1885] 286ff.; H. Martensen, Christian Dogmatiecs, Eng. translation , 1866, p. 209ff.; J. Orr, The Christian View of God and the World, 1893, p. 228ff.; G. B. Stevens, The Theology of the NT2, 1906, p. 423; J. R. Illingworth, Sermons preached in a College Chapel, 1882, p. 1; G. Matheson, in Expositor, 2nd ser. v. [1883] 40ff.

J. C. Lambert.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Life And Death'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/l/life-and-death.html. 1906-1918.

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