Discovering the Power of Luke's Gospel: A Greek Word Study without Greek
- Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Whether you have spent countless sleepless nights pouring over Greek flash cards or can barely manage to order a gyro, you can reach beyond your English Bible to the original Greek in four easy steps.
In Luke 8:46, a desperately ill woman touches Jesus in order to be healed. Jesus then says, "Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me" (Luke 8:46 ESV). What does the word "power" mean in the passage? What precisely went out from Jesus? To find out, we need to investigate the Greek word behind the English word "power."
Step 1: Make the Switch to Greek and Establish a Working Definition
For those who don't read Greek, the most effective way to make the English to Greek transition is to use a tool like the ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament. Simply find the English word "power" in the reverse interlinear and look at the Greek word placed below it—δύναμις (dunamis).
Now that we know that the Greek word for "power," dunamis (δύναμις), is the subject of our investigation, we need to formulate a working definition.
If you are using print books, you can use Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible for this step. The key to efficiently using this resource is to take note of the Strong's Number allocated to the word dunamis (δύναμις) in the interlinear Bible—1411. We can use this reference number to look up the word numerically in the Greek to English Dictionary-Index to the New Testament appended to Strong's. Here we see that dunamis (δύναμις) can refer to a literal or figurative force, specifically the ability to work miracles, or even to a miracle itself.
We can skip this step entirely in Logos Bible Software by just double-clicking a word in a reverse interlinear. When we do this, our preferred lexicon* automatically opens to dunamis (δύναμις). For me, this lexicon is A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG). BDAG tells me that dunamis (δύναμις) in Luke 8:46 falls under the definition of "potential for functioning in some way, power, might, strength, force, capability." BDAG also includes a sub-definition, which reads: "specifically the power that works wonders."
Step 2: Briefly Track the Word through the Greek World
With one of these working definitions in mind, the next step is to investigate how this definition functions in literary contexts and biblical passages.
The key to an efficient study of a Greek word is not to reinvent the wheel by personally searching through literature of various time-periods. Rather, streamline the process by consulting a resource such as the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Abridged in One Volume) (TDNT). The TDNT provides concise articles that explain how and where a word occurs in various passages and contexts.
This resource accommodates to English readers by providing a table of English keywords. When we look up the word "power" we are directed to the entry discussing dunamis (δύναμις) on page 186. This entry discusses the word in Greek literature (such as Homer's Iliad) and in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (the Septuagint).
While dunamis (δύναμις) in Greek literature often had to do with various forces (powers) moving and governing the universe, the Greek translators of the Old Testament viewed "power" as something God himself possessed and exerted. This shift in meaning further develops in the New Testament.
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