Vincent Word Studies - John 1:4 - 1:4

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Vincent Word Studies - John 1:4 - 1:4

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In Him was life (ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν)

He was the fountain of life - physical, moral, and eternal - its principle and source. Two words for life are employed in the New Testament: βίος and ζωὴ. The primary distinction is that ζωὴ means existence as contrasted with death, and βίος, the period, means, or manner of existence. Hence βίος is originally the higher word, being used of men, while ζωὴ is used of animals (ζῶα). We speak therefore of the discussion of the life and habits of animals as zoology; and of accounts of men's lives as biography. Animals have the vital principle in common with men, but men lead lives controlled by intellect and will, and directed to moral and intellectual ends. In the New Testament, βίος means either living, i.e., means of subsistence (Mar 12:44; Luk 8:43), or course of life, life regarded as an economy (Luk 8:14; 1Ti 2:2; 2Ti 2:4). Ζωὴ occurs in the lower sense of life, considered principally or wholly as existence (1Pe 3:10; Act 8:33; Act 17:25; Heb 7:3). There seems to be a significance in the use of the word in Luk 16:25 : “Thou in thy lifetime (ἐν τῇ ζωῇ σου) receivedst thy good things;” the intimation being that the rich man's life had been little better than mere existence, and not life at all in the true sense. But throughout the New Testament ζωὴ is the nobler word, seeming to have changed places with βίος. It expresses the sum of mortal and eternal blessedness (Mat 25:46; Luk 18:30; Joh 11:25; Act 2:28; Rom 5:17; Rom 6:4), and that not only in respect of men, but also of God and Christ. So here. Compare Joh 5:26; Joh 14:6; 1Jo 1:2. This change is due to the gospel revelation of the essential connection of sin with death, and consequently, of life with holiness. “Whatever truly lives, does so because sin has never found place in it, or, having found place for a time, has since been overcome and expelled” (Trench).

Ζωὴ is a favorite word with John. See Joh 11:25; Joh 14:6; Joh 8:12; 1Jo 1:2; 1Jo 5:20; Joh 6:35, Joh 6:48; Joh 6:63; Rev 21:6; Rev 22:1, Rev 22:17; Rev 7:17; Joh 4:14; Rev 2:7; Rev 22:2, Rev 22:14, Rev 22:19; Joh 12:50; Joh 17:3; Joh 20:31; Joh 5:26; Joh 6:53, Joh 6:54; Joh 5:40; Joh 3:15, Joh 3:16, Joh 3:36; Joh 10:10; Joh 5:24; Joh 12:25; Joh 6:27; Joh 4:36; 1Jo 5:12, 1Jo 5:16; Joh 6:51.

Was the Light of men (ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων)

Passing from the thought of creation in general to that of mankind, who, in the whole range of created things, had a special capacity for receiving the divine. The Light - the peculiar mode of the divine operation upon men, conformably to their rational and moral nature which alone was fitted to receive the light of divine truth. It is not said that the Word was light, but that the life was the light. The Word becomes light through the medium of life, of spiritual life, just as sight is a function of physical life. Compare Joh 14:6, where Christ becomes the life through being the truth; and Mat 5:8, where the pure heart is the medium through which God is beheld. In whatever mode of manifestation the Word is in the world, He is the light of the world; in His works, in the dawn of creation; in the happy conditions of Eden; in the Patriarchs, in the Law and the Prophets, in His incarnation, and in the subsequent history of the Church. Compare Joh 9:5. Of men, as a class, and not of individuals only.