Monday, August 27, 2012

Studies in Acts (1): "Power" in Luke and Acts

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon
you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea and Samaria and even
to the remotest parts of the earth.
Acts 1.8

Acts 1.8 is a familiar verse.  I want to look at the nature and meaning of the concept of "power" mentioned in this verse.  I want to make the case that the word "power" in this verse has connotations of the miraculous.  The word, by itself, does not necessarily imply miracle working power but the context in which this word is used shows a link with miraculous power--especially focused on healing and exorcisms.  The best way to come to an understanding of this word in this context is to see how this word is used throughout the book(s) of Luke and Acts.
And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through all the surrounding district.  Luke 4.14
Why did news spread about Jesus?  It seems reasonable to link this to Jesus' performance of healings and exorcicms.  This can be seen by the next passage.
And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, "What is this message? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out."  And the report about him was spreading into every locality in the surrounding district.  Luke 4.36-37 
"Power" is linked with an exorcism (Luke 4.33-37) and it is this report that helped cause the spread of Jesus' fame throughout the surrounding district.
One day he was teaching and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for him to perform healing.  Luke 5.17
"Power" is linked here with healing.
And all the people were trying to touch him, for power was coming from him and healing them all.  Luke 6.19 
Again, "power" is connected with healing.
But Jesus said, "Someone did touch me, for I was aware that power had gone out of me." Luke 8.46
This is in reference to the woman with  a hemorrhage for twelve years "and could not be healed by anyone" (Luke 8.43) who was healed when she touched Jesus.
And he called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases.  And he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing."  Luke 9.1-2
"Power" is here linked with the ability to heal and cast out demons.
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.  Luke 10.19
Here "power" refers to the enemy's power.  This might be a reference to the enemy's (Satan) causing of sickness.  Luke 13.11 refers to a "sickness caused by a spirit" and Luke 13.16 speaks of how "Satan has bound" a woman who was afflicted with a bent spine.  There is also Acts 10.38 in which Peter speaks of Jesus as "healing all who were oppressed by the devil."
"You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending forth the promise of my Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."  Luke 24.48-49
This is the ending of Luke and provides a number of linguistic connections to the beginning of Acts.  The language of "witnesses" and "power" are used in Acts 1.8.  The language of "promise" is used in Acts 2.33 in reference to the Holy Spirit being poured out on the church.

This leads us up to Acts 1.8.  Now it is important to watch how the book of Acts continues to use the language of "power."  The Greek word used for "power" in Acts 1.8 is dunamis.  This word is used ten times in Acts and is translated by either "power" or "miracles" in the New American Standard Version.     Here are the other nine instances of this word:
"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know..."  Acts 2.22
This is an obvious reference to the miracle working power of Jesus as Peter is speaking of his pre-cross ministry.
But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, "Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why are you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?"  Acts 3.12
This is in reference to the healing of a lame man.
When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, "By what power, or in what name, have you done this?"  Acts 4.7
This is in continuing reference to the healing of the lame man in chapter three.
And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.  Acts 4.33
This use of "power" is not explicitly tied to healing in the immediate context but it makes sense in light of the larger context of chapter four of the healing that happened earlier (see above Acts 4.7).
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.  Acts 6.8
"Power" is linked with "great wonders and signs"--miraculous power.
Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him saying, "This man is what is called the Great Power of God."  Acts 8.9-11
Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.  Acts 8.13
Here in this context the Greek word dunamis is used twice and translated as "power" and "miracles" respectively.  The context is a miracle working context.
"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  Acts 10.38
"Power" is associated with Jesus' ministry of healing those "who were oppressed by the devil."
God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.  Acts 19.11-12
Here the word dunamis (translated as "miracles") is obviously associated with healing and exorcisms.

Dr. Wayne Grudem draws some conclusions from this data.  He writes:
Therefore, when Jesus promised the disciples in Acts 1:8 that they would receive "power" when the Holy Spirit came upon them, it seems that they would have understood it to mean at least the power of the Holy Spirit to work miracles that would attest to the truthfulness of the gospel.  Because the context of the sentence talks about being witnesses for Jesus, they may have understood Him to mean they would also receive the power of the Holy Spirit to work through their preaching and bring conviction of sins and awaken faith in people's hearts.
The point is, we cannot separate these uses and say the only kind of power the New Testament talks about is power to preach the gospel, or to bring regeneration.  The New Testament often uses "power" in referring to power to work miracles in connection with the preaching of the gospel or in the ongoing life of the church.  "Should Christians Expect Miracles Today? Objections and Answers from the Bible" in The Kingdom and the Power edited by Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer (Regal, 1993), p. 70.