Re: EXOUSIA (was "Re: Greek Help")

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Aug 26 1997 - 21:17:25 EDT

At 5:59 PM -0500 8/26/97, lakr wrote:
> > I'd translate (as literally as I can): "For even as (hWSPER) the Father has
> > life in himself, just so (hOUTWS) did he give (EDWKEN) to the Son (the
> > ability/capacity/authority--I think EXOUSIAN is implicit here) to have
> > Regards, cwc
> > Carl W. Conrad
> I've been curious for some time about this passage as to what exactly is
> meant by the phrase 'EXEI ZWHN EN EAUTW'.
> The LJS9 indicates that the word 'EXOUSIAN' (found at John 5:27, regarding
> the judging) is related to EXESTI. I realize that usage is more important
> than etymology, and I don't know how reliable these references are in
> any lexicon, even Liddel Scott, however I always get the sense that such
> 'authority' is always delegated from someone else. The other word I
> associate with power is DUNAMIS, and I would think that this is more an
> inner quality. If Christ is given to 'EXEI ZWHN EN EAUTW' in the same
> manner as (hWSPER) the Father, the nuance of a delegated authority
> or as the meaning of EXESTI alludes (it is allowable), does not seem to
> fit with the ability of the Father, who gets authority from no one.
> Perhaps I am reading too much into the comparison between the Father and
> the Son is this regard as descriptive of the nature of the 'ZWHN
> EXEIN EN EAUTW' of the Son.
> I get an entirely different feeling about the usage of EXOUSIAN in verse
> 27, since one does not need any innate quality to pronounce judgement
> (KRISIS). There it fits that the son 'has permission' to perform the
> judgement as given to him by the Father. But in the sense of the Son
> acquiring the ability or power to raise the dead -- to have life in
> himself -- as the Father has life in himself, authority seems too
> weak a word to describe that.

It is true that etymology can be misleading in some of the things it may
suggest a word SHOULD mean when there's clear evidence that a word in
actual usage DOESN'T convey the meaning we'd expect by virtue of its
etymology. We've seen problems of this sort in the little-lamented last
lost thread on MONOGENHS (the last thing in the world of my desire being to
resurrect it). However, the usage of EXESTI in its relationship to EXOUSIA
is helpful, I think, in clarifying the meanings which EXOUSIA can have.
EXESTI(N) most commonly does equate to Latin LICET, "it is allowed" or
"permission is granted"--and EXOUSIA deriving from that usage does readily
translate as the English derivative of the Latin derivative of
LICET-->LICENTIA-->"license." There's a wide range of senses of EXOUSIA
branching off from this basic sense of "authority conferred, delegated,"
"certification," etc. The centurion of the gospels declares himself an
ANQRWPOS hUPO EXOUSIAN TASSOMENOS: he is in a chain of command and
exercises command himself by virtue of being in that chain. Jesus is a
maravel to those who observe him teach hWS EXOUSIAN ECWN KAI OUC hWS hOI
GRAMMATEIS, where we might say that Jesus is one who "has credentials"--he
teaches authoritatively because he's got what he's got directly from the
source, and not from a tradition of scriptural interpretation. Here the
sense of EXOUSIA goes half-way over into the other major sense of "power,"
something closer to Latin IMPERIUM (the authority to command) or even
AUCTORITAS, which doesn't really mean "authority" in our sense but rather
_discernible legitimacy to speak and act_. That second sense of EXISTI +
dative is "X CAN (do whatever the appended infinitive indicates)." One
might argue that this is not originally inherent in the word EXESTI, but be
that as it may, it is the confusion between the two senses is very much
like that in English between "can" and "may." We are TAUGHT the difference
between the two auxiliaries, but how often do we use them as precisely as
we were taught to do? Even in German there seems to be a clear relationship
between "moegen" and "vermoegen," the first meaning "may/might," the second
"be able"--and "Macht" and its English cognate/equivalent "might" both mean
"power" and both come from that same root seen in the verbs "moegen" and

So the words fade readily from one of the senses into the other, sometimes
clearly pointing to the notion of delegated or conferred right ("license")
to act in a certain way, and at other times apparently completely lacking
in any notion that the capability for action comes from any source other
than oneself. Thus in John 10:15 Jesus as Good Shepherd says of his life
Here it's a matter of what Jesus can do, and if his power has been given
him by some other, that's completely outside of any consideration. However,
Pilate says in an almost identical construction in 19:10 EXOUSIAN ECW
APOLUSAI SE KAI EXOUSIAN ECW STAURWSAI SE; he means, perhaps, to make as
absolute a statement as did Jesus in 10:15, but in the very next verse
Jesus tells him that he holds that EXOUSIA only by virtue of its having
been delegated to him. One has to be very careful to discern the context in
order to know whether "power" or "authority" or something in between these
is most appropriate for EXOUSIA in a particular instance. There is another
significant Hellenistic usage also that we occasionally see in the NT, and
that is "astral power"--as in Ephesians and Colossians, where there seems
to be an allusion to the notion that there is a ruler over each planetary
sphere or orbit that one must transcend in order to gain freedom. That's an
astrological sense, and in the NT it seems to be brought within the
perspective of a network of evil powers that oppose God's will.

Suffice it to say that this is only a cursory sketch. This is a word that
will repay the effort taken to examine all the NT instances in their own
contexts. It is not only profitable but even fun!

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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