When I was a beginning Greek student, I was strongly cautioned against a common error in translating and interpreting God’s Word: When encountering a Greek word that has become part of the English language, it is critically important to not practice reverse translation, i.e. to use our understanding of an English word to assign meaning/connotation to its Greek forerunner. For sure, this is excellent advice. But there is, I believe, merit to considering how we have taken Greek words and incorporated them into our vocabulary culture. A good candidate for this is the Greek word dunamis. It is the word upon which our word dynamite is based.
We all know what dynamite is. It is a concentrated source of incredible power. Dynamite can provide power for human use and for human purposes. Dynamite is explosive and dangerous.
Dunamis appears well over 100 times in the New Testament. Aside from its obvious translation, “power,” it is translated, “wonderful works,” “mighty works,” “ability,” “miracle,” and “strength.” Dunamis is the power that enabled a virgin to give birth to God Incarnate. It is the power that fueled the ministry of John the Baptist. Dunamis enabled Jesus and His disciples to heal, and it is associated with the authority of Christ as He faced the hostility of Jewish leaders. Most importantly, dunamis is the power of the resurrection of Christ in history and the power of our resurrection in Him as we walk into our eternal future as heirs of the kingdom of God.
Now, if we compare God’s dunamis to our dynamite, dynamite doesn’t seem so impressive. Dynamite is power, to be sure, but it is limited, impersonal, and imprecise. Dunamis, on the other hand, is unlimited and eternal, personal, and often tender. Dynamite is dangerous, and when wielded by sinful human beings, all the more so. Dunamis, however, is that which enables our good, wise, loving, and sovereign God to show His love to us, to bring us to Him, to enable us to do the works for which He created us, and to complete the work He has begun in us. Dynamite might be necessary to build a road through a mountain, but dunamis is the fuel for all holy construction projects.
If we return to the advice I was given as a beginning Greek student, it is apparent that the words of caution were right on target. If we took our understanding of dynamite and superimposed it upon our understanding of the power of God, we would be limited by a seriously impoverished view of our God. Fortunately, the dunamis of God is not so limited. We can place our hearts, lives, and eternal futures into His hands, trusting that the Lord’s dunamis is sufficient to guide and guard us through the challenges of this life and to transform us into creatures fit for an eternal heavenly home.
For Thine is the kingdom and the dunamis
and the glory forever. Amen.