Question: "What is the meaning of the Greek word dunamis in the Bible?"
Answer: The Greek dunamis is used 120 times in the New Testament. Loosely, the word refers to “strength, power, or ability.” It is the root word of our English words dynamite, dynamo and dynamic.
In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30), the servants are given wealth based on their dunamis, or their “ability” to handle money. In Mark 9:1 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” “Power” here is dunamis.
However, dunamis is not just any power; the word often refers to miraculous power or marvelous works (such as in Matthew 7:22; 11:21, 23; Mark 5:30; Luke 5:17; 9:1; 10:13; and Acts 8:13). Dunamis can also refer to “moral power and excellence of soul,” according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon.
Perhaps most importantly, dunamis can refer to “inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth” (ibid.). In Matthew 22:29 Jesus tells the Sadducees, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” Jesus also said, “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). In other words, the Lord has inherent power residing in Himself. Dunamis is part of His nature.
We do not live the Christian life in our own power, but in God’s. It is God’s ability that makes us able to accomplish anything of value, for apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). It is His strength that makes us overcomers.
Several key uses of dunamis in the Bible are listed below:
Luke 1:35: “The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’“
Luke 4:36: “All the people were amazed and said to each other, ‘What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!’“
Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
First Corinthians 1:22–24: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Second Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Second Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Ephesians 3:20–21: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Second Timothy 1:7: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
Hebrews 1:3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
Second Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”