Word of the Week
September 25, 2021
Piling Up Words for Power
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know . . . what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe, in accordance with the working of the strength of His might.
Ephesians 1:18-19 (NASB)
You’ve been stuck behind a slow tractor-trailer for several miles, waiting for a chance to pass him on a two-lane road. Finally, as you’re climbing up a steep hill, you see an opening!
At that moment, you need to know how much power you have under the hood. I have driven cars that would barely climb a steep grade – passing a truck just wasn’t an option! With other vehicles, I knew I could hit the gas and zoom right by.
Life is full of situations where we need to know what kind of power is available to us. The bills are piled high . . . or a marriage is on the verge of collapse . . . or the doctor has just given us a frightening report. We simply lack the resources to solve our own problems, and we are desperately need a powerful ally to come to our rescue.
How wonderful to realize that we can turn to a God who has all the power required to deal with the most daunting disasters!
In Ephesians 1:19, the apostle Paul tells the believers in Ephesus, “One of my prayer requests for you is that God would enable you to recognize the full extent of the power that He has made available to you.” To help them understand how much power God has “under His hood,” he piles up four different Greek words for power.
- “the surpassing greatness of His power”
“Power” here is dunamis. This is the source for the English word dynamite, but Paul wasn’t thinking about high explosives, since dynamite wasn’t invented until the 1800s. Instead, dunamis comes from a verb that means “to be able.” It describes the ability to do whatever is required.
When the angel told Mary that she would conceive a baby, she asked how this could possibly be. The angel replied, “The power [dunamis] of the Most High will overshadow you . . . nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:35, 37). God has the power to produce an impossible birth.
Romans 1:16 declares that the gospel of Christ is “the power [dunamis] of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The good news of God’s grace is sufficient to save sinners who were hopelessly lost.
In fact, dunamis is often translated as “miracle,” an act that displays God’s power (see Mark 6:2).
Dunamis: the ability of an omnipotent God to do anything He chooses.
- “in accordance with the working”
“Working” is energeia, the source of our word energy. It describes power in action, potential power that actually goes to work. Dunamis describes the size of your engine, but Energeia tells what happens when push the accelerator to the floor.
The word is almost used to describe God at work. The only time it describes human action is in Philippians 2:13, where Paul uses the matching verb to explain that God goes to work in our lives so that we will go to work in doing His will.
Energeia: the power of God displayed by its actual use.
- “of the strength”
“Strength” is kratos, which includes not only the idea of potential strength, but the clout to wield that strength. The word is never used for humans and only once to describe Satan (Hebrews 2:14). Instead, it consistently describes God as the sovereign authority who has dominion over the universe. A person with kratos not only has enough strength to move a mountain, He has the right to do so without asking permission from anyone else.
Kratos: the authority to use power without being limited by anyone else.
- “of His might”
“Might” is ischuos, a term that describes a person’s inner capacity or physical strength. An Olympic weight lifter has the ischuos to hoist hundreds of pounds above his head. The Bible sometimes mentions human strength, but most passages talk about the infinite strength that is built into the character of God.
Ischuos: the inner capacity to accomplish tasks
How much power does God have? Paul goes on in the Ephesians 1:20 to explain that all this power went on display in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. God showed His infinite ability [dunamis], putting His power into action (energeia) and demonstrating His right to act (kratos) in a display of His raw strength (ischuos).
That’s how much power He has!
I suspect that He can handle the difficulty that I bring to Him today.
The Greeks often piled up multiple words for power as a way of underscoring the unimaginable greatness of a monarch, and Paul was right to use it in a description of the greatest King of all. As with all synonyms, there is a great deal of overlap between the meanings of these four words. They all mean “power” with varying shades of emphasis. Each one is worth a separate word study.
Q – Acts 4 describes the bold witness of Peter and John when they were arrested and questioned by the Sanhedrin, the ruling Council of Jerusalem. They proclaimed that Jesus was the only one who could grant salvation, urging the Council members to repent and turn to Christ. Do we know whether any of the Sanhedrin did become believers?
A – The book of Acts doesn’t record any converts at that time. However, Acts 6:7 says that “a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” That was a little later, but it suggests that some members of the Council might have paid attention to the message. According to Acts 8:1, Saul of Tarsus was involved in the Sanhedrin’s stoning of Stephen, and we know that he eventually became the apostle Paul. There may well have been others.
Everybody loves a mystery. That’s why there are so many crime shows and mystery novels on the market. Mysteries were popular in the fist century as well, so it will be fascinating to see what the New Testament says about the Greek word for mystery.
©Ezra Project 2021
Thanks again for your faithfulness in sending me these helpful studies!