Word Study #35 — Resurrection!

February 25, 2010

During his time on earth, Jesus said very little about the implications, or even the fact, of his resurrection, except to assure his confused followers that it was going to happen (Mt.16:21, 17:23; Lk.9:22, Jn.2:19, Mk.9:31, 10:34). My favorite of the direct quotes comes later – from Rv.1:17-18: “Don’t be afraid! I AM the first and the last! I ‘m the one who is alive! I was dead, but look! I am alive forever! And I have the keys of death and hades.” And yes, I know he did not use any of the “resurrection” words in that statement, but the message is certainly, gloriously, there!

That illustrates the difficulty of working on this subject as a word study. It is a concept that permeates the whole New Testament, in many different forms. The task is further complicated by the fact that there are only two Greek words specifically used for the purpose, but traditional translators have used them interchangeably, and rendered them variously as “to rise, to arise, to raise, to be raised, risen, to stand up, to awaken,” and many more.
The classical writers aren’t much help here, either. Anistemi – one of the primary verbs – was used of just about any kind of “getting up”, whether from sleep or a sick bed (Herodotus), to arise as a champion or to rise from one’s seat as a token of respect (Homer), to produce witnesses, to mount a rebellion, to set up a building or statue, or, rarely until the New Testament era, to rise from the dead. Egeiro, the other most-used verb, has virtually the same list of meanings. I have been unable to discern a difference. Egeiro is used more frequently in the New Testament, unless one includes the noun forms. Anastasis, “resurrection”, would push the balance the other way.

In addition to prophesying his own situation (Mt.16:21 and parallels), Jesus listed “raise the dead” among his instructions when he commissioned his disciples for their journey (Mt.10:8), and also as evidence for his identity in replying to the messengers from John the Baptist (Mt.11:5 and 11). Accounts of his own activity in that regard include (Lk.7:14) the raising of the widow’s son at Nain, (Lk.8:54) Jairus’ daughter, and of course (Jn.11) his friend Lazarus. Recorded incidents of disciples following those instructions are in Ac.9:36-42 (Peter and Dorcas), and Ac.20:7-12 (Paul and Eutychus) – although Dr. Luke, in this latter account, questions whether the boy was actually dead.

Because the verb forms are so frequently used of other situations – getting up and going somewhere – I have chosen to focus primarily upon the noun, anastasis.

The resurrection of Jesus was (and should still be!!!) the primary burden of the gospel message! It was presented as the ultimate proof of Jesus’ identity. Peter cites it early on (Ac.1:22) in his urging that a replacement be found for Judas “to become a witness with us of his (Jesus’) resurrection.” In his Pentecost sermon (Ac.2:31-36) he declares that the resurrection reveals Jesus as the source of the Holy Spirit’s coming, and provides evidence that “God made this Jesus, whom you all crucified, both Lord and Christ [the Anointed One]!” The complaint of the Council, a short time later (Ac.4:2) was that the apostles were “teaching the people, and proclaiming, in Jesus, the resurrection of the dead!”, and as the brotherhood met together (4:33), “the apostles gave testimony of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection.”
Paul attracted curious attention in Athens by “preaching about Jesus and the resurrection”(Ac.18, 32), and answered his accusers, before the Sanhedrin (Ac.23:6) and the Roman court (24:15) that the resurrection was the basis for the charges against him. This totally confused Festus, who explained his dilemma to Agrippa (Ac.25:19), that the Jews had brought no accusations of evildoing, as he expected, but “some argument about their own religion, about a certain Jesus who had been put to death, whom Paul said was alive”!

Why, then, in so-called “Christian” teaching or “doctrine”, is the balance so heavily weighted toward Jesus’ death, rather than his resurrection? Because a “cross” is so much easier to symbolize (read, “idolize”) than an empty tomb? Because it is still a symbol of condemnation and blame, and can be used to induce crippling guilt and abject submission? The truly Scriptural “symbol” of our faith is the Resurrection life – both his and ours!

The Epistles contain two complementary strands of teaching concerning the Resurrection: establishing the certainty of that fact, as a validation of Jesus’ identity, and exploring the results that should consequently be evident in the lives of his followers.
In Rom.1:4, Paul reiterates that the resurrection shows Jesus to be God’s Son. The writer to the Hebrews lists it (6:2) among the most basic teachings, that form the foundation for everything else, and Peter (I Pet.1:3) represents it as the source of the “living hope” with which the faithful are gifted, and later (3:21) the producer of a “healthy consciousness of God.” Paul even goes so far as to declare (I Cor.15:17) that if Christ wasn’t raised, we might as well forget the whole thing! Of the principles listed in the first paragraph of that chapter, the resurrection is the only one that includes extensive documentation – fully half the paragraph!

Elsewhere, emphasis is strong, upon identification of faithful individuals with the Lord to whom they belong. Peter (I Pet.3:21-22) and Paul (Rom.6:3-11) both connect the expected transformation of life with the symbolism of baptism – the “burial” of the former life, and “resurrection” to the new. A similar theme appears in Col.2:12 – “buried with him in baptism, you all were resurrected together, in him….” and its corollary (3:1-3)”since you all were resurrected together with Christ, keep seeking what is above…” He goes on in the rest of his letter to outline the characteristics of a resurrection life.
Eph.2:1-10 also contains a vivid before-and-after picture: “You all had been dead…” whereupon he proceeds to describe the life of a person who has not been “raised with Christ”; (v.4) “But God … made us alive!” and then proceeds to describe the graciousness and kindness thus manifested, and (v.10) its expected results.

Brother Paul summarized the matter even more eloquently (if that is possible), in his letter to Philippi (3:10-11): “I want to know [become intimately acquainted with] him, and the power of [that comes from] his resurrection: and the sharing of [that comes from] his sufferings, being transformed together by [with] his death, if somehow I may arrive into the resurrection from the dead.”

Please notice: “suffering” and “death” are neither denied, nor minimized, nor avoided; but they are bookended – with the Resurrection! Paul’s aspiration – and ours – starts with Jesus’ resurrection, and ends with our own!

And that makes an enormous difference.
All praise to the glory of his graciousness!

Word Study #34 — The Cross

February 25, 2010

As we approach this topic, please remember that it is in no way intended to diminish or disparage the enormous impact upon the human family of Jesus’ act, in allowing himself to be tortured and put to death by people who had rejected the invitation to enlist in his Kingdom. “He came to his own (world, people), and his own refused to welcome him” (Jn.1:11) summarizes incalculable suffering.
I do, however, intend to put that event into a more Biblical perspective, by calling your attention to the overwhelmingly greater attention paid by the New Testament writers to the glorious truth and power of his Resurrection! By becoming narrowly fixated only upon the cross, (nearly, if not altogether, to the point of idolatry), well-meaning writers and speakers have badly skewed the Biblical message.

It was very difficult to find historical information about “crosses” or “crucifixion.” The early classical historians and writers, Herodotus and Thucydydes in the 5th century BC, and Homer at least a century earlier, used stauros to refer to any kind of stakes or pilings driven into the ground as a foundation for a building, as fencing, or as fortifications. Not until Polybius in the second century BC, and Didorus Siculus in the first, does Liddell/Scott mention any use of a “cross” as an instrument of execution. In the first two centuries AD, of course, it is common in Plutarch, Josephus, and Lucian, among others. I found one suggestion that the Roman Empire may have copied the practice from Carthage, in North Africa; but apparently that particular form of brutality came on the scene comparatively late in ancient history, and was inflicted primarily upon the lowest classes of criminals.
Most writers of “history” tend to concentrate on gruesome descriptions of the process (which was indeed horrible), and leap from there into complex doctrinal dissertations that have no New Testament basis. They frequently try to relate it to the Old Testament sacrificial system and its law – conveniently ignoring the fact that in that system, the prescribed form of execution was stoning. I do not intend to argue the fine points in which such writers/speakers delight. I would only ask, as many times before, “What did Jesus say?” Can one claim to be proclaiming Jesus, without consulting him?

Of the 28 occurrences of stauros in the New Testament, eleven are simply describing the circumstances of Jesus’ death. The only other references in the Gospels are the parallel passages in Mt.10:38 and 16:24, Mk.8:34 and 10:21, and Lk.9:23 and 14:21. These are considered in the previous post (#33). The verb form, stauroo, to crucify, is a bit more frequent, with 46 New Testament uses, of which 25 are in accounts of Jesus’ trial and death, and 4 in accounts of his resurrection! Only in Mt.20:19 and 26:2 is Jesus himself quoted, and in both instances, he is giving a simple forewarning to the disciples of what is about to happen. In no case does Jesus himself make any statement about either the causes or the implications of that event.
Peter’s two sermons, recorded in Ac.2:36 and 4:10 – the only uses of stauroo in that earliest history of the church – vividly point out to the listeners that although they thought they had disposed of Jesus, HE IS ALIVE!!!, and thereby demonstrated to be “both Lord and Christ [the Anointed One]” (chapter 2), and (chapter 4) active among his people!

There is a bit more reference to the cross in the Epistles, but much less than I expected. Paul speaks of the cross eleven times, and uses the verb form eight times. Some of the “accomplishments” attributed to the cross, that are seldom mentioned in modern teaching, include Eph.2:16 – the reconciling of Jew and Gentile into one Body, Col.1:20 – making peace by reconciling everything to himself (Jesus), Gal.5:24 – those who belong to Jesus have (active voice) “crucified the human nature with its cravings and passions”, and its parallel in Rom.6:6 – “our old person was (passive voice) crucified together with him … so that we may be no longer enslaved to failure.” In Gal.6:14, Paul affirms “In no way will I brag, except about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified, as far as I am concerned, and I with respect to the world.”

Paul becomes somewhat more theoretical about the subject in both of his letters to Corinth. Scolding the group for their divisions, he asks (1:13) “Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he?”, making the point, in the first two chapters, that no one but Jesus deserves their loyalty. There, as in Gal.5:11 and Phil.2:8, where this is only one element of Paul’s description of Jesus’ obedience, his intention seems to be to highlight the degradation assumed by society at large to be associated with crucifixion. He notes that the willing acceptance of this dishonor by Jesus should be a strong motivation for eschewing the elevation of any individuals. Only once does Paul make any connection with “charges against us” (Col.2:14) – something Jesus himself never mentioned at all – yet, tragically, that has become, in the minds of many, the sum total – the only focus – of their “gospel message”! (Please refer to W.S.#7, for a study of “forgiveness”, and note that Jesus’ authority to forgive was derived from WHO HE WAS/IS – “God-with-us”– and is not connected in any of the Gospel accounts to his death.)

In this regard, it is useful also to include some of Paul’s references to Jesus’ death, where the cross is not specifically mentioned, in trying to reconstruct the message. Please refer to the end of chapter 12 of Citizens of the Kingdom for a summary of these. One is made to wonder, why we hear so little about most of these.
And don’t forget that even Paul, whom folks that delight in designing “doctrines” love to quote (often not very carefully), qualifies his statement about Jesus’ death (I Cor.15:3) with the assertion (v.14), “If Christ hasn’t been raised, our preaching is useless!”

It will be necessary to save a more detailed examination of the primacy of the resurrection for the next posting. I will only note here that in contrast to the 28 references to the cross, there are 40 to anastasis, the primary word used for the resurrection. The verb form, anistemi, occurs 112 times (as opposed to 46 uses of “crucify”), and that is without taking into account the other words used in the glorious message that JESUS IS ALIVE – and in him, we too shall live!
Stay tuned.

Word Study #33 — Worthy/Unworthy

February 16, 2010

I suspect that people who are accustomed to liturgical “confessions” in which they are obliged to refer to themselves as “unworthy sinners” will be amazed to discover that the term “unworthy” (anaxios) appears only four times in the entire New Testament! It is a tragic reality that both hymnody and theological pronouncements, under the guise of “appropriate humility” (see W.S.#14), have bamboozled unsuspecting believers into continually wallowing in their imagined “unworthiness” instead of rejoicing and growing in the gracious provision of our Lord, who has (Col.1:12) “qualified us (KJV “made us meet) to share in the inheritance of his people, in the light!”

Who is really “unworthy”? In Ac.13:46, Paul and Barnabas, as they left the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, warned the authorities that in rejecting the message of Jesus, they had “judged themselves to be unworthy of eternal life.” Later, Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth (I Cor.6:2), amazed that they considered themselves “unworthy” to settle their own disputes, but rather used civil courts; and later warned them (11:27,29) to evaluate their “worthiness” to share in the observance of communion, in which admonition he listed (1) divisions, centered upon people and their ideas, (2)lack of concern for the poor members of the group, and (3) failure to “discern the Body” (see Chapter 7 of Citizens of the Kingdom)and their relatedness to it, as disqualifying a person from participation.
That’s ALL, folks. Those are the only references.

Nevertheless, a great deal is said about “worthiness”, and it is true that some references indicate its perceived lack: we should also examine those. The concept is expressed in two “families” of words: axios (adj.)/axioo(verb)/axios(adv.), and hikanos (adj.)/hikanoo(verb). In classical usage, they are somewhat similar.
Axios may refer to a price or monetary value, as well as to a person’s character. It often carries the idea of being deserving of reward or honor, or even retribution.
Hikanos, occasionally translated “worthy” (5 x out of 38), more frequently expresses ideas of competence or sufficiency (of quantity or ability), or appropriateness.
Axios was also used in a courtroom setting, where Pilate (Lk.23:15), Lysias (Ac.23:29) and Paul (Ac.25:11) all declare that nothing “deserving of death” has been proven.
Jesus spoke of workers “deserving” their wages (Mt.10:10, Lk.10:17), and Jewish elders told Jesus that a centurion “deserved” his attention (Lk.7:4), although the man himself maintained that he did not (7:7) and elsewhere (Mt.8:8 and Lk.7:6), hikanos is chosen in that same situation.
Axios also describes persons of similar status, as in John the Baptist’s oft-quoted statement about his “not being worthy” to untie Jesus’ sandals. This may be what has triggered the “humility competition” in many churches, but John was simply making the point that he, personally, did not have the status of the promised Messiah. Some versions of that quote also use hikanos. In the parable of the prodigal, the son who had wasted his inheritance rightly admitted his “unworthiness”, but note that the father did not leave him there.

“Deserving,” of course, works both ways. Heb.10:29 warns that disregarding Jesus “deserves” greater severity than disregarding Moses, having already established (3:3) that Jesus “deserves” the greater glory. And Jesus himself warns prospective disciples that to be “worthy” of him requires that one give him absolute priority over all other affections (Mt.10:37).
The rest of that statement (Mt.10:38) has been grossly abused. The phrase, “taking up one’s cross” has become so ubiquitous, that practically any unavoidable difficulty, aggravation, or inconvenience is likely to be piously labeled, “just the cross I have to bear.”

The cross, for Jesus, was NOT an unavoidable inconvenience! Neither was it a case of submission to illness, natural disaster, or insurmountable evil! Jesus was speaking sober truth when he said he could have called upon all the hosts of heaven to rescue him! He CHOSE not to do so, in order to ransom the people of his Kingdom from the domain of death and fear (Heb.2:14-15), by his triumph over both! Cross-bearing entails voluntarily suffering completely undeserved and avoidable injustice for the sake of the Kingdom of Jesus! (This topic definitely “deserves” its own separate study, but it is integral to this one, since Jesus includes “cross-bearing” as a criterion of “worthiness” for his followers.) Ac.5:41, where the verb form occurs with an intensifying prefix, is an early example of disciples making this connection. See also II Thes.1:5. The writer to the Hebrews notes (11:38) that the world was not worthy of the disciples whom it persecuted and killed.

If “worthiness” was really entirely out of reach, we would hardly have so many admonitions to behave in a manner “worthy of the Lord” (Col.1:10), “worthy of his calling” (Eph.4:1), or “worthy of God’s calling into his Kingdom” (I Thes.2:12). Some of the characteristics listed as part of that “worthiness” are (Col.) bearing fruit, and growing in acquaintance with Jesus; (Eph.) avoiding status-tripping, and displaying generosity, gentleness, and mutual care and concern.
John the Baptist had also admonished his listeners to “bear fruit worthy of [appropriate for] a changed life (Mt.3:8). Perhaps the difference is clarified by the use of both words together, in Col.1:10 and 12. As noted above, in v.10, Paul instructs his readers to live worthily (axios), and then reminds them (v.12) that the Father has enabled (hikanoo) them to do so.

It might be prudent for us to take a lesson from the three uses of axios in Revelation 5. We are told, in answer to the question in v.2, “Who is worthy (axios) to open the book?”, that “no one in heaven or on earth, or below the earth” was able to do so. But in v.9, the Lamb is acclaimed as “worthy to take the book and to open its seals.” We are not told the content of the book – although many folks have undertaken to pontificate about it – only that the opening of its seals results in horrific judgments upon the earth, and finally in everyone around the throne breaking out in praises to the Lamb (v.12).
The lesson? That the province of God’s people is NOT to pass – and certainly not to exact – judgments upon the world – or each other!– but to occupy ourselves with exuberant praises to the Lamb, who is “worthy (axios) to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!!!”

It would be most appropriate (hikanos) for the people of God to leave behind their programmed protestations of unworthiness (anaxios), and concentrate their attention upon worthily (axios) representing their Lord and King in his world! The Lord has made you/us worthy to be citizens of his Kingdom, a part of his very own Body! Let’s quit contradicting his Word, and get on with the business of living its truth!

Word Study #32 — “Holy”

February 12, 2010

Word Study #32– “Holy”

“Holy” is another term that has been the subject of much (un-holy) conflict, finger-pointing, and general misunderstanding. I am under no illusion of ability – mine or anyone else’s – to straighten it all out; but perhaps a careful examination of the vocabulary can shed a little light.

Hagios is a word that can be used either as a noun or an adjective; and sometimes the translator must make a call, since the Greek grammar allows an adjective or a participle to be used as a noun when it represents a person, idea, thing, or situation which carries the characteristics described by the adjective: e.g., “the faithful” may refer to the person who is faithful, and similarly with other descriptive designations.
In classical writings, hagios referred to anyone or anything devoted to the gods, whether in service or in sacrifice. There was an occasional corollary of purity of intention or behavior, but that idea, in pagan worship, bore little resemblance to a Christian understanding of “purity.”
Hagizo, the verb form in ancient texts, referred to making something or someone “sacred” by a burnt offering. The later form, hagiazo, appearing only in the LXX and NT literature according to Liddell-Scott, retained the connotation of total devotion to God. Notice that in both cases, it is an active verb, denoting an overt act of setting apart for divine use or service.
Hagiasmos, only later theologically colored (and distorted) by its traditional translation “sanctification”, linguistically, is simply the derivative noun applied to the effect of that “setting apart.”

Anything more elaborate than that – of which there is no short supply in theology and tradition – is neither linguistically nor grammatically derived, and certainly does not appear in the New Testament text. Far from being the province of a few singularly exalted individuals, these words describe the life that is reasonably to be expected of anyone who is committed to the Lord – who is “set-apart” from the surrounding culture, wholly devoted to him.

Interestingly, hagios (the adjective), although applied in the Old Testament (LXX), as it was in pagan usage, to places, objects, garments, official assignments, and ceremonies, in the New Testament – except for a few historical references (as throughout the letter to the Hebrews, when highlighting the failure and inadequacy of the old system) —  is almost exclusively applied to people.   We read of “holy brethren” (I Thes.5:27, Heb.3:1), “the Holy One” (Mk.1:4, Lk.4:34, Ac.3:14, I Jn2:20, Rv.3:7), “holy messengers” (Lk.9:26, Ac.10:22, Rv.14:10), “holy prophets” (Lk.1:70, Ac.3:21, Eph.3:5, II Pet.1:21), “holy children” (I Cor.7:14), “Holy Father” (of which there is only one – God himself!– Jn.17:11), “holy apostles” (Eph.3:5). Please notice that in referring to the “holy temple” (I Cor.3:17 and Eph.2:21), Paul hastens to add “which you all are!”. This designation, along with those to the “holy nation” and “holy priesthood” (I Pet.2:5-9) now belongs to the faithful brotherhood!
Other mentions of a holy “living sacrifice,” (Rom.12:1), “your holy calling” (II Tim.1:8), “the holy commandment” (II Pet.2:21), and the “first-fruits, roots, and branches” (Rom.11:16) are all unmistakably connected to the lives of the faithful.

This is even more universally the case when hagios is treated as a noun, and has been traditionally rendered “saints”.  Most of Paul’s letters are addressed to the hagiois (the “saints”), clearly referring to the entire congregation of the faithful, in each locale. He usually includes greetings both to and from the “saints” at both ends of the correspondence. Some translators, bound, I suppose, by the marble-statue-on-a-pedestal image, have rendered kletois hagiois “called to be saints/holy” – but there is neither infinitive nor purpose construction in the text. The calling, at least in this text, is not a goal or a mandate: it is a simple statement of fact — a label. The person who accepts the calling to follow the Lord Jesus, is henceforth designated as a “saint/holy person” – the possession of his Lord, “set apart” for his sovereign purpose.
Please note, however, that this understanding does not by any means abrogate the constant necessity to grow into greater maturity in that position, nor does it imply any sort of magical “instant perfection”. We encounter elsewhere, for example, admonitions that “the saints” ought to be able to mediate each other’s disputes (I Cor.6:1-2); the need for prodding to assemble the relief offering for the “poor saints”(Rom.15:26), and countless (often corrective – “saints” can also be scolded!) instructions to devote ourselves to mutual love and service. The point is, the designation “saints” or “holy brethren” is not reserved for a few rare, unusually devoted or powerful individuals. It is not an achievement, but simply a label – a way of referring to citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus.

This is further reinforced when one notices that every occurrence of the noun form, in any of the New Testament writings, is plural. “Saints” are not lonely hermits obsessed with keeping away from the “dirty” world. Neither are they super-heroes, swooping in to display magical powers. They are simply members of a devoted brotherhood, helping one another to learn to live lives of service – whether messy or glorious – controlled and empowered by their King.

Probably the best example of what Jesus had in mind for those who are “set apart” for his purposes (the lexical meaning of the verb form hagiazo, traditionally rendered “sanctified”), is found in his prayer recorded in Jn.17, especially verses 15-19, where the verb appears three times:
“I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not from (do not belong to ) the world, just as I am not from (do not belong to) the world. Set them apart [Make them holy] by the truth: your word is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I also sent them into the world. And for their sake, I am setting myself apart, in order that they also may be truly set apart.”

All of Jesus’ people are “set apart/made holy”, in order to be able faithfully to represent him in the world!

May we do so, together, with devotion and joy!

Word Study #31 — Power

February 1, 2010

Since, as we have seen in many of these studies, the principle message of the New Testament concerns the revelation, the establishment, and an invitation to participative citizenship in the Kingdom of God, it should come as no surprise that the concept of “power” is a frequent subject of discussion. Also not surprisingly, even a cursory English survey of the uses of “power” reveals a wide variety of ideas, due in large part to the fact that this single English word has been used to represent four different Greek words which, despite some overlap, have quite distinct meanings.

Dunamis, the word most frequently used (117 times), is the only one that refers to miraculous deeds, by Jesus or his followers (22 times specifically, and many more by implication). Interestingly, that usage appears to be almost unique to Biblical writings. Classically, the word was used for a person’s ability to do a task, or to any natural capacity. Aristotle used it of the elementary forces, such as heat or cold; Galen, of the basic characteristics of substances, of medicines, or formulas; Plato of the “meaning” of a word; Archimedes of mathematical powers and roots; Heliodorus of magical substances or objects; and Herodotus of forces deployed for war. (Liddell/Scott) Not until the Septuagint (LXX) and New Testament writings is it applied to the activity of divine beings or miraculous works. Perhaps this is why it often appears in a phrase – “the power of God”, “the power of the Spirit”, “the power of the Lord”, “the power of Christ” (at least 43 times): to emphasize whose capability is in view.
Malevolent powers are also mentioned – Lk.10:19, Ac.8:10, Rom.8:38, I Thes.2:9) – as well as simple abilities of individuals – Mt.25:15, Ac.3:12, Ac.6:8, II Cor.8:3,4 – but the overwhelming majority of references are to a manifestation of the power of God, either directly (by Jesus), or through one or more of his people.
It is also interesting to note some of the words closely associated with dunamis:
– Jesus challenging his accusers that they know neither “the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mt.22:29)
– Lk.5:17 “The power of the Lord was present to heal
– Peter and John’s declaration that “our own power or holiness” was not the source of the healing (Ac.3:12)
– I Cor.2:4: “demonstrations of the Spirit and power”
– I Cor.4:20 “The kingdom of God is not in words but in power”
– Rom.1:4 Jesus “declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection
– “The power of his resurrection” II Cor.13:4, Phil.3:10, and many others.

Exousia, the second most frequently used among the “power” words (103 times), is quite distinctly different. Without exception, it refers to delegated authority. It is often paired with dunamis. When Jesus commissioned his disciples for their mission (Mt.10:1, Mk.3:15 and 6:7, Lk.9:1), he gave them both dunamis and exousia – the ability necessary for their assignment, and the authority to use it. On the other hand, his reference to the power of the Holy Spirit to be conferred at Pentecost used only dunamis (Ac.1:8), as did the subsequent discussion with the temple hierarchy, who questioned their display of dunamis with, “Where did THAT come from?(4:7)”. Maybe they had given up on the “authority” question by that time. His opponents among the scribes and Pharisees had not challenged Jesus’ ability to act as he did: that was obvious. They questioned his right (authority – exousia) to do so (Mt.21:23-27, Mk.11:28-33, Lk.20:2-8).
Political power, natural or supernatural, is universally represented by exousia, in conformity with classical usage (Lk.23:27, many times in Eph. and Col.) L/S lists “office, magistracy, consulate,” and “to exercise authority over a political entity”, as well as the abuse of that authority; but also notes exousia as simply “permission to act”. The Roman centurion who approached Jesus on behalf of his child [servant] understood this (Mt.8:9), noting that his own authority was delegated, and he himself also assigned responsibilities to inferiors. The same idea appears in several parables (Mk.13:34, Lk.19:17), and in Paul’s accounts of his former assignment from the Jewish authorities (Ac.9:14, and 26:10, 12). In every case, exousia is assigned by a superior to a lesser person.
Jesus’ conversation with Pilate (Jn.19:10,11) is an interesting case in point. When Pilate boasted of his authority (exousia) either to crucify or set Jesus free, Jesus’ answer is often touted by deterministic “theologians” as “proof” that “God intended all this to happen”. However, the use of exousia in both Pilate’s question and Jesus’ answer may indicate simply that both men clearly understood the meaning of the word: authority can only be conferred by a higher authority, (whether divine or political is not specified), upon a petty politician! Pilate is much less “powerful” than he thinks he is!  Jesus, in a sense, has called his bluff!  And he knows it.
In Romans 13, Paul maintains that no legitimate authority (exousia) exists, except that which is properly regulated “under God”!

Ischus (9 times) and kratos (11 times) are somewhat harder to separate, as both, classically, referred primarily to bodily strength. Kratos was also used as an attribute of the power of the gods in Homer (which may highlight the difference in the perception of divinity between the classical civilizations and the Biblical community – which would be an interesting cultural study!). It also referred to political sovereignty in the LXX, and to the possession of territory in Herodotus. Pythagoras used it as a “name” for the number ten.
Ischus , also primarily referring to physical strength, tended more toward the idea of brute force (Aeschylus), and was used by Plato and Idumeus of a powerful kingdom, and militarily, of a main body of troops (neither of which violates the concept of “brute force”!)
The words are similarly difficult to distinguish in the New Testament, often appearing paired with dunamis or exousia, as if the writer is trying to be sure that all the bases are covered! In Eph.6:10, three of the words are included: “Be strengthened (dunamis) in the Lord, by the force (kratos) of his strength (ischus)” (traditionally, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might”.) In Rev.5:12 and 7:2, ischus is paired with dunamis, and in Jude 26, kratos is paired with exousia.
Peter’s urging the brethren to “serve” (“minister”) with the strength (ischus) supplied by God would lead one to conclude that the “diakonia” (serving) in view is more practical than theoretical. A similar flavor comes through in the admonition (Mk.12:30, 33; Lk.10:27) that love for God is to consume one’s heart, “soul” (see W.S.#28), mind, and strength (ischus), all physical attributes.
Kratos in the NT often seems focused primarily on God/Jesus’ eventual triumph (I Pet.5:11, 4:11; Rv.1:6; Eph.1:19; Col.1:11, I Tim.6:16; Rv.5:13) which is already being realized as a consequence of his having (Heb.2:14) already “destroyed the one who had – PAST TENSE!! – the power (kratos) of death” and set his captives free!

All of these “power words” – and more – are piled together in Paul’s enthusiastic prayer recorded in Eph.1:17-23: that all of us, his people, may be supernaturally enlightened and enabled to know “…the exceeding greatness of his (Jesus’) power (dunamis) that is available for us …. the energy (energian) of God’s powerful (kratos) strength (ischus) was demonstrated definitively when he raised him from the dead, and seated him at his own right, in heaven, far above every ruler (arche) and authority (exousia) and power (dunamis) and title of nobility (kuriotetos)…!!!

To him be all honor and glory and praise!