What Is Life?

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

We often overlook the fact that the Bible text uses a unique word for “life” that is never applied to plants and vegetation. The word choice of the Holy Spirit is chay (and its derivatives) and occasionally the word chayah. Together, those words are used 763 times in the Old Testament—never applying that quality to plants or vegetation. Plants are food.

Another unique fact about living things is that they move. “God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth” (Genesis 1:21). The Hebrew word is ramas, used 17 times in the Old Testament. It is used to describe birds gliding through the atmosphere. It is used of insects “sneaking” around on the floor of the earth. It is used of large beasts “stalking” and moving freely through the wild lands of the earth. Living things have the ability to move independently. Plants do not.

“The life of the flesh is in the blood,” announces Leviticus 17:11. The concept is pretty simple. If a moving creature has blood, it is alive. Life also has nephesh—the Hebrew word for “soul”—perhaps best equated with the self-conscious awareness that “I” exist.

The other noncorporeal term used by the Holy Spirit to describe and define life is the Hebrew word ruwach. Of the 389 times that word appears, it is most often translated “spirit.” Lots of mystery here, but it is very clear that living things are not plants!

Humans have all of the above qualities and share them with other living things. But we were especially created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). That makes an enormous difference. HMM III

Adapted from Unlocking the Mysteries of Genesis by Dr. Henry Morris III.

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