xxvii. ζωή, βίος.
The Latin language and the English not less are poorer than the Greek, in having but one word, the Latin ‘vita,’ the English ‘life,’ where the Greek has two. There would, indeed, be no comparative poverty here, if ζωή and βίος were merely duplicates. But, contemplating life as these do from very different points of view, it is inevitable that we, with our one word for both, must use this one in very diverse senses; and may possibly, through this equivocation, conceal real and important differences from ourselves or from others; as nothing is so effectual for this as the employment of equivocal words.
The true antithesis of ζωή is θάνατος (
But, while ζωή is thus life intensive (‘vita quâ vivimus’), βίος is life extensive (‘vita quam vivimus’), the period or duration of life; and then, in a secondary sense, the means by which that life is sustained; and thirdly, the manner in which that life is spent; the ‘line of life,’ ‘profession,’ career. Examples of βίος in all these senses the N. T. supplies. Thus it is used as—
α. The period or duration of life; thus, χρόνος τοῦ βίου (
β. The means of life, or ‘living,’ A. V.;
γ. The manner of life; or life in regard of its moral conduct, having such words as τρόπος, ἤθη, πρᾶξις for its equivalents, and not seldom such epithets as κόσμιος, χρηστός, σώφρων, joined to it;
In βίος, thus used as manner of life, there is an ethical sense often inhering, which, in classical Greek at least, ζωή does not possess. Thus in Aristotle (Politics, i. 13. 13), it is said that the slave is κοινωνὸς ζωῆς, he lives with the family, but not κοινωνὸς βίου, he does not share in the career of his master; cf. Ethic. Nic. x. 6. 8; and he draws, according to Ammonius, the following distinction: βίος ἐστὶ λογικὴ ζωή: Ammonius himself affirming βίος to be never, except incorrectly, applied to the existence of plants or animals, but only to the lives of men.1 I know not how he reconciled this statement with such passages as these from Aristotle, Hist. Anim. i. 1. 15; ix. 8. 1; unless, indeed, he included him in his censure. Still, the distinction which he somewhat too absolutely asserts (see Stallbaum’s note on the Timoeus of Plato, 44 d), is a real one: it displays itself with singular clearness in our words ‘zoology’ and ‘biography;’ but not in ‘biology,’Etym. Note. 15 which, as now used, is a manifest misnomer.2 We speak, on one side, of ‘zoology,’ for animals (ζῶα) have the vital principle; they live, equally with men, and are capable of being classed and described according to the different workings of this natural life of theirs: but, on the other hand, we speak of ‘biography;’ for men not merely live, but they lead lives, lives in which there is that moral distinction between one and another, which may make them worthy to be recorded. They are ἔ τ η ζωῆς, but ὁ δ ο ὶ βίου (
From all this it will follow, that, while θάνατος and ζωή constitute, as observed already, the true antithesis, yet they do this only so long as life is physically contemplated; thus the Son of Sirach (xxx. 17): κρείσσων θάνατος ὑπὲρ ζωὴν πικρὰν ἢ ἀῤῥώστημα ἔμμονον. But so soon as a moral element is introduced, and ‘life’ is regarded as the opportunity for living nobly or the contrary, the antithesis is not between θάνατος and ζωή, but θάνατος and βίος: thus compare Xenophon (De Rep. Lac. ix. 1): αἰρετώτερον εἶναι τὸν καλὸν θάνατον ἀντὶ τοῦ αἰσχροῦ βίου, with Plato (Legg. xii. 944 d): ζωὴν αἰσχρὰν ἀρνύμενος μετὰ τάχους, μᾶλλον ἢ μετ᾽ ἀνδρείας καλὸν καὶ εὐδαίμονα θάνατον. A reference to the two passages will show that in the latter it is the present boon of shameful life, (therefore ζωή, ) which the craven soldier prefers to an honorable death; while in the former, Lycurgus teaches that an honorable death is to be chosen rather than a long and shameful existence, a βίος ἄβιος (Empedocles, 326); a βίος ἀβίωτος (Xenophon, Mem. iv. 8. 8; cf. Meineke, Fragm. Com. Groec. 142); a βίος οὐ βιωτός (Plato, Apol. 38 a); a ‘vita non vitalis;’ from which all the ornament of life, all the reasons for living, have departed. The Two grand chapters with which the Gorgias of Plato concludes (82, 83) constitute a fine exercise in the distinction between the words themselves, as between their derivatives no less; and Herodotus, vii. 46, the same.
But all this being so, and βίος, not ζωή, the ethical word of classical Greek, a thoughtful reader of Scripture might not unnaturally be perplexed with the fact that all is there reversed; for no one will deny that ζωή is there the nobler word, expressing as it continually does all of highest and best which the saints possess in God; thus στέφανος τῆς ζωῆς (
its own point of view, the highest blessedness of the creature. Contrast with them the following uses of βίος, ἡδοναὶ τοῦ βίου (
A little reflection will supply the answer. Revealed religion, and it alone, puts death and sin in closest connexion, declares them the necessary correlatives one of the other (
It follows that those expositors of
1 See on these two synonyms, Vömel, Synon. Wörterbuch, p. 168, sq.; and Wyttenbach, Animad. in Plutarchum, vol. iii. p. 166.
2 The word came to us from the French. Gottfried Reinhart Trevisanus, who died in 1837, was its probable inventor in his book, Biologie. ou la Philosophie de la Nature vivante, of which the first volume appeared in 1802. Some flying pages by Canon Field, of Norwich, Biology and Social Science, deal well with this blunder.
3 Ζωὴ αἰώνιος occurs once in the Septuagint (Dan. xii. 2; cf. ζωὴ ἀέναος, 2 Macc. 7:36), and in Plutarch, De Is. et. Os. 1.