Dunamis Does Not Mean Dynamite

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I heard it again on the radio today. How many times I have heard it over the years is impossible to count. As is always the case, a pastor was explaining a Bible text which spoke of the power believers have through the Holy Spirit. Most often in such cases, Acts 1:9 is the text; I don’t recall if that was the case today.

What I heard – and have heard so many times before – went something like this: “That word for power there? That’s dunamis in the Greek (true). It’s the word from which we get our word ‘dynamite’ (also true). So the Holy Spirit gives us dynamite power – explosive power (false).”

If you think through the logic of the above conclusion, you will find that it doesn’t make sense. After all, what does a 19th century usage of a Greek word have to do with the first century understanding of that word? Answer: absolutely nothing. The fact that Alfred Nobel considered the word dunamis an appropriate word to describe his powerfully explosive invention does not mean that dunamis means dynamite or anything like dynamite. In fact, the writers of the New Testament, along with every Greek-speaking person in the first century, knew nothing about anything that could blow stuff up the way dynamite does. When they used the word dunamis, they had no thoughts at all about anything explosive.

Now, does the Holy Spirit give power to believers in Jesus Christ? Yes. Power to live the Christian life. Power to serve one another. Power to be witnesses for Jesus. We could substitute words like strength, ability, and capacity, but not explosiveness.

So for the sake of accuracy, I urge my fellow Bible teachers to stick a fuse in this logically fallacious sermon cliche and blow it to smithereens, never to be used again. But then tomorrow I will turn on the radio again and…

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2 thoughts on “Dunamis Does Not Mean Dynamite

    Colleen said:
    May 15, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I’m studying dunamis and have found it to also mean mighty works. Conservatives don’t believe in miraculous healings…but I’m wondering if that’s true. I wonder if we really made it a point to connect our spirits more to the dunamis, however that may happen, if we wouldn’t see more mighty works today. Not just healing, but loving people more instead of being self serving, would be a miracle. I think dunamis is under taught, and not well understood or we’d see more mighty works.

    swomble said:
    May 25, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    this is what DuVall & Hays call “the time-frame fallacy.” i always tell my students that sometimes we know just enough to be dangerous. this is the classic example of butchering a word study.

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