Re: Re. A possible conceptual link between EXOUSIA & DUNAMIS in

Carl W. Conrad (
Tue, 10 Dec 1996 12:25:15 -0600

At 5:42 AM -0600 12/10/96, Paul Evans, sub nomine John Doe wrote:
> [omitted material]
>I am trying to understand how the promise of DUNAMIS plays into this
>contextual link because of the close proximity with what we (little Greeks
>that is) ordinarily think of as a synonym, EXOUSIA. In English we make much
>of the conceptual link, I suspect because of a great deal of cross
>translation, particularly in the familiar KJV. My question is to those of
>the list who seem to have a "feel" for Koine, how much of a conceptual link
>actually exists? Or, is it more of a figment of our own tranlational
>imagination? Is there a conceptual overlap between these words, and does it
>go both ways or only from one to other?
>I am not trying to ask an interpretive question here, which is beyond the
>scope of the list, but I am trying to get at a raw understanding of the
>words as they relate to one another, if in fact they do in any significant
>way. Most word studies are too mechanical to deal with what I think I am
>trying to ask. Synonym studies haven't convinced me that they are not
>unduly prejudiced by English concepts of power and authority.

This is an interesting question, one that makes me want to grab the ball
and run with it--i.e., to start speculating before doing the appropriate
homework on which any real theoretical understanding of the overlapping and
distinct senses of DUNAMIS and EXIOUSIA must be grounded. Nevertheless,
after a quick check of the newest LSJ on EXOUSIA, I can't resist "thinking
out loud" about this, even as it lurks in the back of my mind that there
are probably dissertations gathering dust somewhere on precisely this

=46irst of all, it seems to me that DUNAMIS in Luke generally has a sense of
divine power available and at work in God's chosen agents (QEIOI
ANDRES?--but not all masculine, at any rate); often it means "miracle"
without further ado. It also seems to me that Luke has an almost "magical"
sense about DUNAMIS. If I had time to check it out I'd take a quick look at
the section about Simon the magician and his endeavor to acquire and
exploit the DUNAMIS at work in the Twelve for his own purposes.

EXOUSIA, on the other hand, derives its most common usage from the
impersonal verb EXESTI, regularly used with a dative: it means authority
accruing to a person or group--but especially to a person--to act in a
given sphere. It usually has the sense of authority bestowed upon a person
from an unquestioned source of authority. We first met this word in
Greek--most of us, probably--in the saying about Jesus, "He teaches MET'
EXOUSIAS and not like the Sribes." The Latin equivalent, for what it's
worth, is LICENTIA, and that's instructive because Latin LICET has the
precise sense of the usage described above, and it seems to me that EXOUSIA
in the sense in which it is most commonly used has precisely the sense of
authority to act in a particular sphere bestowed by an unquestionably
legitimate source, so that "license" or "certification"--such as the
physician gets from the State board, a lawyer gets from the State bar,
etc., etc., is exactly the sense called for. The term is also used for
elected magistrates outside the Biblical texts, sometimes even for an
appointive or elected board of officers. But always the sense seems to be
that of 'designated authority.'

There is, however, a second sense that derives from a second usage of
EXESTI in the sense, "it is possible" or "there are resources"--always with
a view to a desirable end: means for carrying out a project. Thucydides and
Demosthenes use it this way and at one point it is coupled with PLOUTOS. It
may be that something close to DUNAMIS is involved in this sense, although
it seems to me to be closer to the Aristotelian idea of POTENTIALITY as the
antithesis or counterpart of ACTUALIZATION, REALIZATION (ENERGEIA).

These are "first thoughts," which calls to mind the Euripidean proverb, hAI

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR