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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Life, Book of
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A principle or force considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings. What is living has movement; in death, all movement ceases. “Life” is used in the Bible to describe the animating force in both animals and humans (for example, Genesis 1:20; Genesis 2:7; Genesis 7:15 ). Living organisms grow and reproduce according to their kinds. Human life as bodily existence, the value of human life, and its transient nature is described (for example, Exodus 1:14; Psalm 17:14; Psalm 63:3; James 4:14 ). This physical, bodily existence is subject to suffering, illness, toil, death, temptations, and sin (for example, Psalm 89:47; Psalm 103:14-16; Psalm 104:23; John 11:1-4 ,John 11:1-4,11:17-44; Romans 5:12-21; Romans 6:21-23; Romans 8:18; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; 2 Corinthians 11:23-29; 1 Timothy 6:9; Hebrews 9:27; James 5:10 ). “Life” as used in the Bible, however, has a much wider application than only to physical, bodily existence.

God's Unique Life Only God has life in the absolute sense. He is the living God (Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26; Matthew 16:16 ). All other life depends on God for its creation and maintenance (Genesis 2:7 ,Genesis 2:7,2:19 ,Genesis 2:19,2:21-22; Psalm 36:9; Acts 17:25; Romans 4:17 ). God is spoken of as the God of life or as life giving (Numbers 14:28; Deuteronomy 32:40; Judges 8:19; Ruth 3:13; 1 Samuel 14:39; 1 Samuel 19:6; Jeremiah 5:2 ). In stark contrast to God, the idols are dead (Psalm 115:3-8; Psalm 135:15-18; Isaiah 44:9-20; Jeremiah 10:8-10 ,Jeremiah 10:8-10,10:14 ) as are those who depend on them for life (Psalm 115:8; Psalm 135:18 ).

In the same way that God is Creator by giving His breath or spirit to living creatures, so no possibility of life exists when God withholds His breath or spirit (Job 34:14-15; Psalm 104:29 ). Thus, God is Lord of both life and death (2 Corinthians 1:9; James 4:15 ). Life is something which only God can give (Psalm 36:9; Psalm 66:9; Psalm 139:13-14 ) and which only God can sustain (Job 33:4; Psalm 119:116; Isaiah 38:16 ).

This being the case, every life is solely the possession of God. No one has a right to end a life (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17; compare Genesis 4:10 ,Genesis 4:10,4:19-24 ). Since life belongs to God, one must abstain from the consumption of blood, the vehicle of life (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 12:23-25 ). Thus, even animal life is valued by God as is evidenced by the fact that animal's blood was sacred to God.

Earthly existence, physical life The Bible summarizes the lives of many people. Often the biblical account includes a statement about their life-span, i.e., “These are the years of the life of Abraham which he lived —a hundred and seventy five years” (Genesis 25:7 AT. Following quotations marked AT are the author's own translation.). The Old Testament emphasizes quality of life. The person who finds wisdom is fortunate: “She [wisdom] is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her” ( Proverbs 3:18 NRSV). Wisdom affects how people live. Psalm 143:1 testifies to the dark moments of life. Then the psalmist prays for God to intervene: “For the sake of your name [person], oh Lord, revive my life; in your righteousness, bring my soul out of distress” ( Psalm 143:11 AT).

Jesus at His temptation quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 : “A person shall not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4 AT). Rather each person must live “by every word that proceeds out through the mouth of God” ( Matthew 4:4 AT). Earthly life involves God.

Jesus warned that “one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15 NRSV). Yet many people see one's belongings as the criterion of success. Jesus healed people and raised some from the dead to relieve the harshness of life (compare Mark 5:23-45 ). Jesus brought wholeness into human, physical life.

Life as fellowship with God The Old Testament uses bold metaphors for fellowship with God: “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9 ). We come to God to receive life. We walk in fellowship with God, and in His light we see life. Otherwise, we are devoid of life and cannot see. Even when we do come to God, we may depart from Him. Another psalmist pleaded for God's hand to be upon him: “Then we will not move away or backslide from you. Revive us with fullness of life and we will call upon your name” (Psalm 80:18 AT).

The proper response to life as the gift of God is to live life in service to God (Isaiah 38:10-20 ) by obeying the Law (Leviticus 18:5 ), doing God's will (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 7:21 ), and feeding in God's Word (Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Deuteronomy 8:3; Deuteronomy 32:46-47; Matthew 4:4 ). Only that life which lives in obedience to God deserves to be called life in the true sense of the word (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Ezekiel 3:16-21; Ezekiel 18:1-32 ).

The New Testament deepens this emphasis. Paul points out that Christians differ in terms of food they eat and days they celebrate (Romans 14:1-6 ); these things are part of custom and tradition. All 4Christians are to make the Lord Jesus central and live so as to show that He is their purpose for living. “Not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; if therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:7-9 NAS). Such living demands fellowship with the Savior who is the purpose for living.

Paul wrote that we died with Christ and were raised together with Him (Colossians 3:1-3 ) and that the lives of Christians (individually) have been hidden with Christ in God. When Christ (the Christians' life) comes a second time, we will be manifested with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4 ). Our fellowship with Him now is dependent on our constantly seeking and thinking the things above (Colossians 3:1-2 ). This is the new and transformed life.

Paul describes God's servants as an aroma for God among the people to whom they witness (2 Corinthians 2:15 ). To those who are perishing, believers are a fragrance from death to death. To those who are being saved, they are a fragrance from life to life (2 Corinthians 2:16 ). Those who reject the message continue on in death. Those who accept the message move from one level of life to another. The life that Christ initiates grows. Paul exclaimed: “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16 NRSV).

Paul set forth his picture of life: The process of living for me, Christ; the act of death, gain ( Philippians 1:21 ). When Christ is central, life has no boundaries.

Christ as the life, the One who imparts life. Old Testament believers identified life with God (Psalm 42:8; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 66:9 ). The “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John identify life with Jesus. “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35 ,John 6:35,6:48 ). “I came that they may have life (John 10:10 NRSV). “I am the resurrection and the life” ( John 11:25 ). “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 ). John states the purpose for his Gospel: “But these things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and because you are believing you might be having life in his name [i.e. person]” (John 20:31 AT). Since Jesus was God incarnate, he made genuine life a reality—not a distant prospect.

Life to Come, Life Beyond This Life The genuine life that comes from Jesus to those who obey God is true or eternal life. Just as physical life is the gift of God, so is eternal life (John 6:63; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Ephesians 2:8-10 ). Eternal life, or true life, refers as much to the quality of life one has as to the quantity of life. According to the Bible, all people will have an endless duration of life either in the blessing of God's presence or in the damnation of God's absence (see, for example, Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:28-29 ). The thing that distinguishes the life of these two groups of people is not its duration but its quality. Eternal life is of a quality like God's life. This kind of life is a true blessing (Luke 18:29-30; John 3:15-16; John 6:40; John 17:3; Romans 2:7; 1 John 5:12 ). The quality of this life is marked by freedom from the power of sin to destroy, by holiness, and by a positive relation with God (Romans 6:20-23 ). True life is not only something to be hoped for in the future; it is a present reality. Believers share in the life of God in this life (Luke 11:20; John 5:24; Romans 6:4 ,Romans 6:4,6:11; Romans 8:6; Colossians 3:3; 1 John 3:14 ), but the believer does not fully experience true life until the resurrection when believers obtain the crown of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10 ).

True life is offered to all, but it is received only by those who realize that the source of true life is what God has done in Jesus Christ and does not come from within the individual (John 6:63; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10 ). Those who have true life as a gift are to conform themselves to them manner of life Jesus exhibited (Matthew 10:25; John 5:39-40; 1 Timothy 1:16 ). Christians are to lose themselves (Matthew 10:39; Romans 6:2; 2 Corinthians 5:15 ) and serve God in love (Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 10:17-45; Luke 10:25-37; Romans 2:7; Romans 14:7-8; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 2:19 ). Just as food maintains physical life, service to God maintains true life (Matthew 4:4; John 6:27 ,John 6:27,6:32-58; Acts 7:38; 1 Corinthians 9:14 ).

Eternal life is indestructible (1 Corinthians 15:42-57; 1 Peter 1:23 ), though threatened by the devil, the law, and death. The devil attempts to destroy this life (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4-5; 1 Peter 5:8 ), but he is not able to harm it for God protects the believer (Romans 8:7-39; Ephesians 6:10-18 ). The Law threatens this life by tempting people to believe that they can attain this life by their own efforts (Romans 7:10 , Romans 7:13; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 ). Death is also an enemy of true life, but it is powerless to destroy the life that God gives (Psalm 9:13-14; Psalm 23:4; Psalm 33:18-19; Psalm 89:48; Psalm 116:3-4 ,Psalms 116:3-4,116:8-9; Psalm 118:18; Romans 5:12-21; Romans 6:9-10; Romans 7:24-8:11 , Romans 8:35-39; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Galatians 6:8; Titus 3:7 ).

Life beyond this life is not that of a “spirit” but that of a bodily resurrection. Paul highlighted both earthly existence and the life to come: “Godliness is profitable with respect to all things, because it has promise of life now and of the one about to be” (1 Timothy 4:8 AT). This “now” life is one of testing. James says those who pass this test “will receive the crown, i.e. life,, which God promised to those loving Him” ( James 1:12 ). This future life is one of open fellowship with God (see Colossians 3:4 ). See Eschatology; Eternal Life; Resurrection .

A. Berkley Mikelson and Phil Logan

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Life'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​l/life.html. 1991.
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