What Is the Meaning of Dunamis in the Bible?

The Greek word “dunamis,” used in the New Testament, refers to the power, miraculous works, and specific spiritual gifts manifest in individual believers through the Holy Spirit’s anointing. But do we have dunamis today?

Contributing Writer
Updated Oct 28, 2022
What Is the Meaning of Dunamis in the Bible?

There are different kinds of strength and power at work in the world today. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, and no matter how powerful, healthy, or strong we think we may be, life regularly reminds us how fragile and frail we are. At times, we often feel helpless and powerless. Christians, however, know that a power beyond themselves exists to guide, equip, and strengthen them in life. It is not the power derived from political influence, earthly wealth, or good health that gives peace and confidence to the believer. It is the treasured strength of divine power and provision that equips Christians for every good deed. 

However, even in the Bible, there are several forms of power described that sometimes get conflated with each. In the New Testament, the Greek word “dunamis” is one of the most common. 

What Kind of Power Does Dunamis Describe?

We know from Scripture that the Holy Spirit regularly works in believers’ hearts to sanctify and grow in them the spiritual fruit described in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Galatians 5:22-23). However, dunamis deals with the power given to individuals to perform certain miracles, signs, and wonders, including healing and the ability to prophesy and speak in tongues.

 Of course, no Christian can perform such mighty works of their own power. Scripture reminds us, however, that Christ’s power (dunamis) is perfected in our brokenness and weakness, and we are made stronger (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

 Where Does the Bible Use the Word Dunamis?

 The word dunamis is used almost 120 times in the New Testament, beginning with the gospels and culminating with John’s vision of the Second Coming of Christ in Revelation. 

We see, starting in the gospels, that the impartation of dunamis is the unique power that Jesus exercised throughout His ministry. It is the same power He promised and imparted to His disciples to equip them for ministry and the building of His church.   

The gospel writers regularly point to the dunamis of Christ at work as He healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead to life. 

For example, in one instance, a woman suffering from a terrible disease reached out and touched the cloak of Jesus as He passed through the crowd. Mark writes that “immediately she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction” (Mark 5:29). Here, Jesus sensed that power (dunamis) from Him had gone out (Mark 5:30). By simply touching his cloak, the woman had experienced the healing power and dunamis of Christ in her life. She would not be the last, nor would the dunamis imparted to Jesus be limited to the Messiah.

At the last supper, Jesus told His disciples that they would one day perform the same works, and even greater works after He had departed (John 14:12). He also promised that a time would come when they, too, would receive the Holy Spirit’s dunamis.

How Did Receiving Dunamis Change the Disciples?

There’s no question that the original disciples had been radically changed by the grace and power of Jesus Christ. For three years, they had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, heard His teachings, witnessed His miracles, and seen the resurrected Savior face to face. The disciples had also been trusted to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, appointed to lay the foundation of Christ’s church after Jesus ascended into heaven. 

This was no easy task. Jesus had promised that His trusted apostles would not be left alone (Matthew 28:20), nor would they be expected to rely on their limited and wholly insufficient human power to advance the kingdom or wage war in the spiritual realm. 

In fact, before Jesus left this earth, He instructed His disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they had been “clothed with power (dunamis) from on high” (Luke 24:29). There, they would “receive power (dunamis) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

As promised, the apostles and those with them were anointed with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). Here, Luke writes, “a noise like a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And tongues that looked like fire appeared to them, distributing themselves, and a tongue rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with different tongues, as the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak out.” (Acts 2:2-4)

The initial display of dunamis (speaking in tongues) astounded the Jews living in Jerusalem, many hearing the apostles speaking in their own language. However, speaking in tongues was just one component of the power the apostles received that day.

Shortly after, while Peter and John went to the temple, they met a lame man, who they proceeded to heal. In response to the astonishment of those who’d witnessed the miracle, Peter replied, “men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why are you staring at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him walk? (Acts 3:12)

Thus, from the beginning, Peter acknowledged that the dunamis he and the others demonstrated was not a power of their own making. It was a power given to them from above. In fact, the apostle Paul would later write that signs, wonders, and miracles were distinguishing marks of a true apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12).

Needless to say, those broken vessels given the dunamis of the Holy Spirit were changed and transformed from the inside out. Not only would the disciples become more effective ministers who performed signs, wonders, and miracles, coupled with their ability to prophesy, speak in tongues, and discern spirits (1 Corinthians 12). Through the dunamis of the Holy Spirit, they would be given insight, wisdom, boldness, and the authority to speak about the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 4:20).

Once timid, selfish, and impulsive, the disciples would soon become outspoken spiritual leaders, fully equipped to carry the gospel message to the ends of the earth. Christ’s power (dunamis) was made perfect in their weakness, and they would be made stronger (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Can We Receive Dunamis Today?

Christians have debated for centuries whether or not biblical dunamis and spiritual gifts, particularly the “miraculous” gifts described in the New Testament, are available to believers today.

Cessationists will argue that the kind of dunamis manifest through miraculous gifts was limited to the prophets and the apostles, who were uniquely appointed to receive divine revelation and lay the church’s foundation. Once that foundation was established, the impartation of dunamis was no longer required. As the apostle Paul wrote, “the church been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22).

Under the cessationist view, the apostles’ and prophets’ teaching provide everything the Christian must know for salvation and sanctification. If the apostles were a select group the Holy Spirit chose (Acts 9:15), who witnessed the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1), and regularly performed dunamis-inspired signs and wonders which publically confirmed their divine calling (Acts 2:43; 2 Corinthians 12:12), it follows this kind of apostle no longer exists today.

Furthermore, since it was the prophets and apostles who received the special revelation that became Scripture, cessationists would argue the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues ended with the original apostles’ passing. Cessationists would maintain the same holds true for the gifts of healing and miracles, which existed to affirm the apostles as the early church’s divinely appointed leaders.

Many cessationists believe that God can (and still does) work miracles in the world today. However, they maintain that God no longer gives (or requires) the specific power related to apostleship, prophecy, tongues, healing, and miracles. Therefore, they believe those powers are not a regular feature of the church today.

Continuationists and charismatics take the apostles’ writings regarding dunamis at face value. They hold that biblical dunamis and spiritual gifts are still available to believers and just as important for the edification and encouragement of the Body of Christ as they were during the first century. Believers should, therefore, “earnestly desire” such gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31) and not seek to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

The continuationist view holds that Scripture never suggests that manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power (dunamis) were limited to the apostles. While we can acknowledge the apostles’ unique role in the church, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians affirms Christians of every era as co-inheritors of the gospel mandate and the power required to fulfill it. “For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:18-19).

Continuanists maintain that believers today are afforded the same rights, powers, and privileges as the apostles, including dunamis.

On another note, many cessationists warn that even entertaining the possibility of receiving new revelation through the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues opens the door for false teaching (Deuteronomy 4:2; 2 Corinthians 4:2). However, many continuationists affirm that no prophecy or word received in tongues possess the same authority or stands equal with Scripture’s sufficient and infallible truth. Understanding and implementing Paul’s guidelines for using spiritual gifts becomes essential for this reason (1 Corinthians 14:1-25).

Though misuse and abuse of spiritual gifts have occurred throughout church history, continuationists point to individual believers’ immaturity as the problem. As Sam Storms writes in his defense of continuationism, “it wasn’t the gifts of God but the childish, ambitious, and prideful distortion of gifts on the part of some that accounts for Paul’s corrective comments.”

Needless to say, there are strongly held and well-supported views for the cessation and continuation of dunamis. However, despite their disagreements, both cessationists and continuationists agree that the Holy Spirit, as the third member of the Trinity, is still active in the world today and vital to the church’s strength and the individual believer’s spiritual health. Christians today would be foolish to try and operate in ministry on their own strength. Assuming that one can effectively minister or achieve their calling outside of the Holy Spirit’s anointing, authority, and power is a recipe for disaster and likely defeat.

The gifting of dunamis today is debated. The Holy Spirit’s transforming power as the primary sanctifying force at work in believers’ lives of believers is not. Nor is the Holy Spirit’s ability to grow and develop the kind of spiritual fruit that Galatians describes as growing in Christians’ hearts.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/BrianAJackson

Joel Ryan is an author, writing professor, and contributing writer for Salem Web Network and Lifeway. When he’s not writing stories and defending biblical truth, Joel is committed to helping young men find purpose in Christ and become fearless disciples and bold leaders in their homes, in the church, and in the world.

This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog, exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith:

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