The word of the day is “power.” Power is the dynamic ability to do something. It is a force that produces an effect or the capacity to act upon something. In today’s reading of Acts 4:1-10, the religious authorities arrest Peter and John for preaching the Risen Christ. And the rulers interrogate the Apostles asking, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” (Acts 4;7). Our close reading of this question will open new insight into Peter’s response to the religious authorities and the superior nature of the power of the Name of Jesus.
An Important Point Missed
With one exception, all the major translations of Acts miss an important point about the question of the power and authority of the apostles. They overlook a single word, an adjective of specificity. The Greek text does not just refer to “power” but emphasizes “what kind of” or “what sort of power” was the means by which Peter and John healed the lame man.
Recall that the religious authorities asked a similar question of Jesus. Again, most translations omit the matter of the type of power in question. The Greek text reads, “By what sort of authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” (OSB Matthew 21:23).
Many Kinds of Powers, Visible and Invisible
The question put to Jesus as well as to the apostles assumes that there are various kinds of powers and authorities. There are the powers in heaven (Ephesians 6:12), the powers on earth (Philippians 2:10), and the powers under the earth (Philippians 2:10).
Some of these forces are visible, the rulers and authorities that govern the affairs of the nations. However, most are invisible. For example, Ephesians 10 refers to “thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers” (OSB Ephesians 1:10). And according to Ephesians 6, we wrestle against “principalities, against powers, against the rules of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (OSB Ephesians 6:13).
However, countering these dark forces are angelic powers (1 Peter 3:22), the angelic hosts (Luke 2:13). These are the “innumerable company” (Hebrews 12:22) of the “legions of angels” (Matthew 26:40).
The Scriptures Assume Invisible Spiritual Forces
Though the secular world denies all invisible spiritual forces, the Scriptures testify to their existence, pervasiveness, and impact on the world. Even the enemies of Christ believed in them. Thus, in this world view, the question of the kind of power was relevant. In fact, some of Jesus’ opponents charged that He performed exorcisms by the power and authority of a specific spiritual dynamic, the “Prince of Demons, “Beelzebub” (Luke 11:15).
By a close reading of our key passage, we discover an insight that provides a deeper understanding of Peter’s answer to the religious authorities. Peter replies that the healing was “in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (OSB vs. 10). That meant that the power to heal was not by any of the countless powers that influence human affairs, both angelic and demonic. But the Healer was the Crucified and Risen Savior. He is the One whom God raised from the dead and is seated at His right hand (OSB Ephesians 1:21).
Christ’s Power and Authority Are Far Greater Than Any Other
The Scriptures teach that as he sits at the right and of God, the Risen Christ exists “far above all principality and power and might and dominion” (OSB Ephesians 1:21). Therefore, Paul says, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth…” (OSB Philippians 2:10). Note that The Orthodox Study Bible, The King James Version, and The New King James Versions read that the powers “should bow,” not “will bow.” Theirs is the best translation because the point is that the power and authority of Jesus Christ are far greater than any other kind of power, whether in heaven, earth, or hell.
In fact, the Scriptures maintain that Christ was the agent who created all things, including “thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers” (Ephesians 1:16). These were made “through Him and for Him” (OSB Colossians 1:16).
Though our secular society believes in the unseen forces of “dark matter,” “black holes,” and the “solar wind,” it denies the invisible spiritual forces that Scripture and Holy Tradition assume. But if we are faithful to the Word of Life, we will live in a three-dimensional world, a world that includes angelic and demonic powers as well as earthly rulers and authorities.
Certainly, the orders of hosts of angels minister to us. And in the Divine Liturgy, they serve with us, joining with us in glorying the goodness of God (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 39). Yet, Christ has “become so much better than the angels” (Hebrews 1:4). As the apostle says He is better in terms of His name, His rule over creation;, and His authority at the right hand of God.
Moreover, we must look to Christ to contend with the dark forces of evil that otherwise would overpower us. Of all the visible and invisible forces that surround us, only He has won the victory over them. Therefore, we must put our faith in Him as our champion in our fight against the rulers and powers of darkness. And all that we do should be done in His Name.
St-Tikhon’s. 1984. Service Books of the Orthodox Church. Third ed. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.