Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
FORCE.—1. Force, as defined by modern science, is inherent in matter and inseparable from it. It is defined also as the power of doing work. The modes and the effects of its activities are mechanical. It can neither exist nor act, therefore, within the moral sphere of the universe. And from this fact it follows that force and its activities are entirely foreign to the essential facts and truths of Christianity. This truth is recognized by the four Gospels, for in their records of Christ’s life and mission, the entire import of which was moral, no word is employed capable of being construed into the meaning of force as just explained. The word ‘force’ occurs only twice in these records (Matthew 11:12, John 6:15 Authorized and Revised Versions); and in both cases it is used as the translation of ἁρπάζω, which signifies to seize or carry off (an object by physical force or compulsion). It is the use of physical force or compulsion that is denoted by St. John’s statement that the people wanted to take Jesus by force to make Him a king; and it is probable that our Lord had the employment of force of the same kind in His mind when He said, as St. Matthew reports: ‘From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence (βιάζεται = ‘is carried by force or assault’), and the violent (or assailants) take it by force’ (ἁρπάζουσιν). The order of ideas here expressed is exactly in terms of the principle of domination by force, which was universal in antiquity; a principle which was entirely antagonistic to His essential ideas as to the moral nature of the kingdom of heaven, and the moral conditions by means of which alone entrance to it could be gained. And as He fully realized that the principle alluded to was hostile to the nature, interests, and laws of the heavenly kingdom, and warned His disciples against it (Mark 10:42-45), it may be concluded that He did not express Himself in the language of the force which the dominating powers of the ancient world employed, meaning thereby that places in the kingdom of heaven, as He understood and wished His hearers to understand the latter, were in great demand, and that men were eagerly doing their utmost to secure them. His real meaning is not quite apparent. He Himself represented the kingdom of God. He had come to found it. In His life and activities its principles came to perfect realization. To subject Him in any way to the abusive treatment of the force of dominating powers or authorities, was to do ‘violence’ in His Person to the kingdom of heaven; and it was also ‘to take’ the kingdom, in the sense of making it in His Person an object of violent abuse. When He spoke the words in question His ministry in Galilee was closing in disappointing circumstances. John the Baptist had been already made a victim of violent abuse; and He knew that His ‘hour,’ a more terrible destiny than John’s, would not be long delayed. Might it not be His cross, then, that was in His mind when He spoke the words in question? [For the more usual view that the violence which takes the kingdom by force is the friendly violence of those who seek to enter it, see A. B. Bruce, Expositor’s Gr. Test. in loc., Expositor, i. v.  p. 197 ff.].
2. ‘Force,’ however, is a term which is not aways used in its strictly scientific sense. In ordinary use it is synonymous with strength or power. ‘Power’ is a word of frequent occurrence in the Gospels, and in many instances where it is employed it possesses moral significance of very high value. The word ‘power’ in the Authorized and Revised Versions of the Gospels is represented by two Greek terms in the original, viz. ἐξουσία and δὑναμις, the former of which is sometimes translated by the word ‘authority.’
Ἐξουσία may be taken first. Power in the sense of this word is not always spoken of as Christ’s power; but it is as His power that it has its chief interest here. The power (ἐξουσία) that Christ possessed was a power in which might was combined with right; and this is why it is sometimes called authority in the Gospels and sometimes power. He was able to do things because He had the right to do them; and no one had any right to hinder Him or to call Him in question. And the things that He had the right and the power to do were all of a nature purely moral; and things, moreover, which He alone could do, and which were of transcendent importance. What were they? (1) He, as the Son of man, had power on earth to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6, Mark 2:10). (2) He has power to give eternal life to those whom the Father has given to Him (John 17:2). (3) He has power, or authority, also to execute judgment, because He is the Son of man (John 5:27). (4) He is invested with all power in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18). (5) Lastly, He had power to lay down His life on earth, and power to take it again (John 10:18). The explanation of the various forms of power (ἐξουσία) possessed by Christ, and of the grounds on which His claim to the possession of them rests, lies in a domain of essential Christian truth.
It needs to be strongly emphasized that all the forms of the power in question are moral. The power to forgive sins, to judge men as moral beings, to give eternal life to men as moral beings, to lay down one’s life in perfect self-sacrificing love and service for others’ good, to exercise the moral government of heaven and earth,—to do all these things, to have the right and the power to do them, manifestly means the possession and the exercise of moral power of the highest possible order. Again, it is evident that this power in its nature and in all its forms of manifestation belongs to the supernatural order of things. But in the sphere of things into which the order of ideas considered here introduces one, the supernatural and the natural are one. It is within the sphere of the moral order of things that Christ, in His moral position as Mediator between God and men, exercised, or exercises, the forms of His power alluded to. And within this moral sphere there is no absolute distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Here all that is in harmony with God’s will and purpose is in Him, and He is in it. This is the real truth; and whether it be called natural or supernatural is only a difference in name.
Once more, all the forms of power that Christ claimed for Himself were His by delegation from God. But this does not mean that He had the right and the power to exercise them in a merely official capacity, without their having any relation to and dependence on what He was as a moral Being. He was invested with them by God, as all but one of the passages referred to above indicate. But one of the passages tells us that He had power on earth to forgive sins as the Son of man; and another, that God had given Him authority to execute Judgment because He was the Son of man. He was both the Son of God and the Son of man in all that He was as a moral Being when on the earth, exercising the high moral powers that He claimed to possess. And it is as the same moral Being, now glorified, that He exercises every moral power that He claimed as His own by Divine gift and prerogative. In other words, the power to do all the things that have been specified is His because of what He is as a moral Being. To forgive sins, to judge men, etc., are all acts of moral power which belong to the administration of the moral order of the world as it now is with Christ in it as the one only Mediator between God and men. And the reason why the administration of all things belonging to the moral relations between God and men is in His hands, is—that in His life and death on earth He earned the moral right to occupy this momentous position of mediation and power. For He fills this position and administers its powers as one who has proved Himself all that God can be to men, and all that every man ought to become and be to God. He is thus, because of what He is, the Divinely human and the humanly Divine, true way of forgiveness, of judgment, of life, and of moral government for men. From His Father’s own commandment He had the power to lay down His life, in living and in dying to qualify Himself for this destiny of absolute pre-eminence in the moral universe. And as the Father commanded Him, so He did. Therefore His name is now above every name (Philippians 2:5-11, John 17:20-26).
Δύναμις is the other word which is translated ‘power’ in the Authorized and Revised Versions of the Gospels. It is note-worthy that none of the Evangelists includes the word ‘energy’ (ἐνέργεια) in his terminology; a word which St. Paul employed to denote the effectual working of God’s redeeming power as manifested in (1) the raising of Christ from the dead, and in the setting of Him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, i.e. in the moral order of things (Ephesians 1:19-23); (2) the Divine grace that was bestowed on St. Paul himself by the working in him of Divine power (Ephesians 3:7); (3) the working of the same Divine power in the creation or evolution of an order of moral unity in the relations of all men to one another in Christ; (4) the working of the same power as in Christ as destined to fashion the resurrection body of believers into the glorious likeness of His own, ‘according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself’ (Philippians 3:21). But the absence from the Gospels of the term ‘energy,’ which occupies a place of such extensive and high importance in St. Paul’s general conception of essential Christianity, does not imply the absence from them of that order of Divine working for which the word stands in the Apostle’s writings. The entire body of moral phenomena, reproduced by the Evangelists in their several records, and in which the power of God in Christ was manifested, was a revelation of the Divine energy in St. Paul’s sense of the word. But, further, the meaning of the word ἐνέργεια is included in that of the word δύναμις as the latter is used in the Gospels; for in them it signifies, on the one hand, the possession of power capable of action; and, on the other, power manifesting itself in a state of activity, in which case it appears in the form of energy. Power, then, as δύναμις, holds a fundamental place in the Gospels as records of how Christ conceived it and manifested it in His activities.
(1) Christ regarded the power with which He associated Himself and His activities and their effects as moral, and as having its ultimate source in God. He conceived God as a moral Being, and to Him as such He ascribed the power alluded to (Matthew 22:29; Matthew 26:64, Mark 9:1; Mark 14:02, Luke 22:69).—(2) But, again, such being Christ’s view, He never conceived of Himself as possessing and exercising power independently of God. His feeling of absolute dependence on God for power had a deep and controlling place in His consciousness. It was the feeling He gave unreserved and clear expression to when He said, for instance, ‘The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do’; ‘I can of mine own self do nothing’; and, again, ‘The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works’ (John 5:19; John 5:30; John 14:10).—(3) It was, therefore, through His dependence on God that our Lord obtained the power by means of which He was enabled to attain to His perfect moral self-realization, and by means of which He was enabled to finish the work His Father had given Him to do. And the question thus arises as to how He was kept in possession of a continuous supply of power for the great moral task and service of His life. The answer to this question is to be found in the Gospels. The secret of His strength lay in His inner life of perfect, never-broken union and fellowship with His Father in all things. But this life of union and fellowship with His Father needed itself to be continually maintained; and the Gospels also show how this was done by Him. He did it by paying perfect loyalty to His dependence on His Father; by striving in every situation of His life freely and perfectly to identify Himself with His Father’s will and purpose for His life and His mission; by means of habits of self-discipline and prayer (Luke 3:21-22; Luke 4:1-14; Luke 6:12; Luke 9:28-35; Luke 22:39-46, John 3:34; John 8:28-29).
(4) Christ, moreover, believed that His disciples needed the same Divine power that was His strength, in order to be able to fulfil the moral task in life to which He called them; and He believed that this power would be available for them as it had been for Himself during His life on earth. His Spirit in them would be the very power (δύναμις) that had been His own. And in their task of overcoming temptation, of moral self-realization, of achieving good in service for the kingdom of God, they would find His Spirit’s power all-sufficient for them. But they would need to remember that the servant was not greater than his Lord. They would need to depend on Him as He depended on God. They would need to abide in union and fellowship with Him. They must keep His words as being the Father’s words. And they must also follow Him in the path of humility, self-discipline, prayer, and self-denial (Matthew 10:38; Matthew 17:19-21; Matthew 26:41, Luke 11:9-13; Luke 22:31-32; Luke 24:49, John 12:24-26; John 13:13-17; John 14:10-18; John 15:4; John 17:11-19, Acts 1:4-5).
(5) It was, finally, in the exercise of the Divine power here referred to that our Lord performed those extraordinary works of His to which the name ‘miracle’ has been given. In some of the Gospels they are called ‘mighty works’ (e.g. Matthew 11:20, Mark 6:5, Luke 19:37). These works of power (δυνάμεις) were only special forms in which was manifested the same power that was revealed in so many other ways in the moral activities of Christ’s life. He wrought His miracles by the same power that enabled Him perfectly to overcome all the temptations of His life, and to accomplish all those other things in which He fulfilled His Father’s will and purpose.
Again, it never occurred to Him that in the doing of His mighty works He contravened or suspended any of those uniformities of nature to which the term ‘law’ is applied by modern science; though with many of those uniformities He was quite familiar, and, besides, attached to them great importance. The question raised for science by His mighty works is in reality not a question of natural law; it is a question of natural force or energy. Are the forces inherent and operative in the physical or moral order of the world of such a nature as to render it impossible for the miracles ascribed to Christ’s power to have happened? That is the real point at issue as between the testimony of the Gospels and Science. And the man of science who has the most extensive and the deepest knowledge of the energy or forces of the Universe, and who has therefore entered furthest into the presence of the marvels and the mysteries of these forces and their modes of manifestation, would be the last person to answer the question in the affirmative.
Once more, the mighty works ascribed to Christ in the Gospels are not the most wonderful of His achievements. It is often pointed out in defence of these mighty works, and rightly, that they were wrought to serve beneficent ends, that they were manifestations of power and love ministering in various ways to human well-being; and that as so viewed, they were originally and homogeneously related to all the other beneficent activities of our Lord’s ministry. It is also argued in favour of the possibility and the historical truth of the miracles in question, that His perfect personal sinlessness and holiness was a moral miracle as great as, if not greater than, any of the mighty works reported by the Evangelists as performed by Him. There is justice in this argument. It was by the power of God immanent and operative in Him, and by His own free co-operation therewith, that He achieved His perfect moral self-realization in which He was morally as perfect as God. That was a miracle indeed; and, to say the least, there is no mightier work on record in the Gospels and represented there as wrought by Him in the exercise of the Divine power of which He was a personal organ. See, further, Miracle.
But that was only the beginning of the mightiest work of all with which the power of God in Christ is associated, and which is only coming slowly to manifestation in the moral progress of humanity. Christ in the power of His Spirit is in the moral life of mankind. He is morally re-creating the life of the human race. The moral order of the world is being evolved by means of His moral power as the Mediator between God and men. By means of His moral power in man’s life and history, He is conducting humanity onwards in the path that will bring it to a perfect moral destiny in the kingdom of God. This is the greatest, mightiest of all His miracles; and whosoever understands the momentousness of the moral task it implies will not stumble at any of the mighty works on record in the Gospels.
Literature.—On ἐξουσία and δύναως see the Lexicons of Cremer and Grimm-Thayer, s.vv. On Christ’s miraculous power see art. ‘Miracles’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible; Mozley, Bampton Lectures, esp. Lect. vi.
W. D. Thomson.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Force'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/f/force.html. 1906-1918.