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“To possess power or to be powerful,” wrote Stanley I. Benn in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “is to have a generalized potentiality for getting one’s own way or for bringing about changes (at least some of which are intended) in other people’s actions or conditions.” This useful analysis of human relationships, however, does not take into account the many additional catalysts which, according to Scripture, may alter our lives.

Types of Power in the Bible

Power of God

In contrast to the nature gods of the Greek and Hellenistic worlds, the God of the Bible is a Person transcendent to immanent processes. As Lord of history, He has both the ability and the right to carry out His will in the world in the way He chooses. God is the ultimate source of all power, as the doxologies say.

Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from thee, and thou rulest over all. In thy hand are power and might; and in thy hand it is to make great and to give strength to all (1 Chron 29:11, 12).

Power of angels and Satan

Power of sin

Fallen men have an evident ability to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. Both Jews and Greeks are “under the power of sin” (Rom 3:9). Paul supports the universality of this judgment (Rom 1:18-3:20). His thought may be similar to that of Christ who said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).

Power of government

In a fallen world, God permits the armies of one nation to bring judgment on another nation. The prophets pronounced judgment upon one corrupt government after another. Should the Israelite nation turn from the Lord, He would “break the pride of [their] power” (Lev 26:19). Israel defected, and so Ezekiel delivered the Word of the Lord: “Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the desire of your soul; and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword” (Ezek 24:21). With respect to nations as well as persons, “God has power to help or to cast down” (2 Chron 25:8). With that confidence in his background, Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” In a fallen world, governmental powers are “ministers of God” to implement justice upon wrongdoers (Rom 13:1-7).

Power of prophets

Power of Christ

Karl Barth discerningly shows how the crucified Christ displayed omnipotence. “This is the perfection of His divine omnipotence, that (in distinction from all abstract omnipotence) it can assume the form of weakness and powerlessness, and triumph as omnipotence also and even especially in this form.”

Power of Christ’s disciples

With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were to be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and so have ability to witness (Acts 1:8). Soon after Pentecost “with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (4:33). Not only the apostles, but also Stephen was full of grace and power (6:8). So evident was Philip’s power that Simon wanted to buy it (8:19).

Power of the Church

Believers are to use their God-given abilities for the edification of the whole body. “Power” is used for a gift (1 Cor 14:13). Collectively the Church is to “have power to comprehend with all the saints...the love of Christ” (Eph 3:18, 19). The church at Philadelphia, although it had not denied the Lord’s name, had “but little power” (Rev 3:8).

Power of the age to come

“The powers of the age to come” (Heb 6:5), M. S. Terry explained, “are best understood of all the supernatural gifts and spiritual forces which belong to the age or dispensation of the New Covenant, of which Jesus is the Mediator (cf. Heb 9:15).

Additional Material

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Bibliography and Further Reading

  • G. C. Berkouwer, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth (1956).
  • O. Cullmann, “Authorities,” ed. by J. J. Von Allmen, A Companion to the Bible (1958), 26-31.
  • M. S. Terry, “Power,” HDB rev., 785.
  • G. Kittel, TDNT, II (1964), 284-317, 560-575.
  • S. I. Benn, “Power,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 6 (1967), 424-427.
  • See also

  • Authority
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