What is the meaning of the Greek word dunamis in the Bible?

The Greek word dunamis in the Bible generally means "power, force, or ability." Paul used the word in 2 Timothy 1:7 when he wrote "for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." This Greek word dunamis is where the English words "dynamite" and "dynamic" originate. Paul wanted Timothy to know that God had given him the dynamite ability to stand strong in the faith and the dynamic skill to share that faith with others.

Because of the sense of explosive power in the word dunamis, it is also used to refer to miraculous power or to a miracle itself. When the bleeding woman touched Jesus' garment and was healed, Mark recorded, "And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, 'Who touched my garments?'" (Mark 5:30). When that healing miracle occurred, Jesus felt the dunamis, or power, of it. In the next chapter, Mark recorded that when Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth, "he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them" (Mark 6:5). The words "mighty work" in the original Greek are dunamis. So in this sense, dunamis refers to the miracles themselves. In fact, when Jesus cast out a demon in Luke 4:35, the people around Him commented on this miraculous power. "And they were all amazed and said to one another, 'What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!'" (Luke 4:36). Jesus had power that was unexpected and different than other healers of their time. Thus dunamis can refer to the power of God.

Hebrews 1:3 says of Jesus, "he upholds the universe by the word of his power." Paul explains about God in Romans 1:20, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." So dunamis can refer to this boundless power of our creator God.

Amazingly, God's power is available to His followers. Jesus promised His disciples, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8). God told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." God intended to manifest His power in Paul's life, not so that Paul would be seen as powerful, but so that God would be glorified. Paul affirmed this in 2 Corinthians 4:7 saying, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."

In Ephesians 3:20–21, Paul prays, "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." God's power is at work within His people to bring Himself glory, whether it is the quiet power of changing hearts or the more visible power of working miracles. Acts 6:8 says Stephen was "full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people." So this power God has He desires to display in the lives of those who love Him.

Dunamis is used over one hundred times in the New Testament, most often to describe this dynamic power from God. However, it is also used to refer to human ability in the story of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30) and in relation to giving (2 Corinthians 8:3), and even the impact or meaning of a word (1 Corinthians 14:11). Even in these examples, though, we see that dunamis means a type of power. Since all power ultimately comes from God, we can understand dunamis as the power, strength, or force of God at work.

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