Power is an English logical construct referring to a variety of ideas relating to ability, capacity, authority, and might/strength. In human relationships, power is the authority one person holds over another. Terms such as boss, president, sheriff, and sexual harassment bring the picture of power to mind. The images that exist among Christians concerning "power" often depend upon the English translation with which they are familiar. The Bible uses a variety of Hebrew and Greek terms that represent the semantic domain of power although they may be translated in different ways. For example, the King James Version uses "power" for a large number of Hebrew and Greek terms. The Greek term exousia [ejxousiva] is most often translated "power" in the King James Version but it is almost always translated "authority" in modern versions. The contextual nuance of each occurrence of a Hebrew or Greek word must be considered in translation.
Power (dunamis [duvnami"]) in the ancient Greek world was portrayed as a major cosmic principle. Some philosophers viewed it as second only to mind (nous [nou'"]). They viewed God and cosmic principle as equivalent. It was rare for them to speak of "the power of God" since these ideas were nearly equivalent. In the Bible, however, God is a person not merely power. Therefore, a phrase like "the power of God" takes on new meaning because a person who possesses the characteristic of power is the prime mover of the universe. Furthermore, the biblical deity is a God of history, not just nature. Therefore, this God brings the world into existence ( Jer 27:5 ; 32:17 ) and distributes power to people to fulfill his historical purposes (cf. Exodus 15:6 Exodus 15:13 ; Deut 3:24 ; Psalm 46:1 ; 86:16 ).
The biblical description of power relates primarily to God and people. Power is an inherent characteristic of God ( Rom 1:20 ). It is the result of his nature. God's kind of power is seen in his creation ( Psalm 19 ; 150:1 ; Jer 10:12 ). His inexplicable power is the only explanation for the virgin birth of Jesus ( Luke 1:35 ). Power is always a derived characteristic for people, who receive power from God ( Deut 8:18 ; Isa 40:29 ; Micah 3:8 ; Matt 22:29 ; 1 Cor 2:4 ; Eph 3:7 ), from political position ( Esther 1:3 ; Luke 20:20 ), from armies ( 1 Chron 20:1 ), and from other structures that provide advantage over others. When humans perceive that their power is intrinsic to themselves, they are self-deceived ( Lev 26:19 ; Deut 8:17-18 ; Hosea 2:7-9 ; John 19:10-11 ).
Jesus as the God-Man demonstrated both the intrinsic and derived aspects of power. He proclaimed his power and authority as derived from the Father ( John 5:27 ; 17:2 ; 5:16-23 ). He also demonstrated that his power was derived from his authority as the Son of Man and that the two were an inseparable testimony to his divine nature ( Matt 9:6-7 ; Luke 4:36 ; 9:1 ).
Power in the New Testament is used to describe the unseen world. The angelic realm is described as "powers" or "authorities" ( Rom 8:38 ; Eph 3:10 ; 6:12 ; Col 1:16 ; Colossians 2:10 Colossians 2:16 ). Jesus exercised power over the unseen world through his exorcism of demons ( Mark 6:7 ; Luke 9:1 ).
Paul especially images the living of the Christian life as an empowerment from God. The believer's union with Christ delivers him or her from the power of sin (cf. Rom. 6-8) and introduces him or her to the "power of [Christ's] resurrection" ( Php 3:10 ). Salvation and holy living provide the Christian with a "spirit of power" for witness ( 2 Tim 1:7-8 ). Paul's view of the gospel itself is imaged as power ( Rom 1:16 ). "Power" in Romans 1:16 renders the Greek word dunamis [duvnami"]. It is often noted that the gospel is the "dynamite of God" because the English word "dynamite" is derived from dunamis [duvnami"]. Such an observation, however, is not a valid use of etymology. Dynamite was not in existence during Paul's time. He had no such image in his mind. For Paul, the gospel dunamis [duvnami"] was the dynamic of God's power conveyed through God's message. When presented to the world, the gospel dynamically works salvation in those who believe. Paul develops the motif of divine power as the key to Christian living by noting that unless the believer is empowered, it is impossible to please God (Rom. 6-8; 1 Cor 15:56-57 ).
Peter also utilizes the concept of power to image the Christian life as an empowerment from God. Second Peter 1:3 states that "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness." The context views this power as channeled through knowledge and virtue. Peter does not view this power as passive, but as the foundation and motivation to pursue a circle of virtues ( 1:5-9 ) that produce and evidence productive Christian living.
Gary T. Meadors
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Power'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".