The Greek text of 2 Cor. 10:4 according to the Textus Receptus states:

τὰ γὰρ ὅπλα τῆς στρατείας ἡμῶν οὐ σαρκικὰ ἀλλὰ δυνατὰ τῷ θεῷ πρὸς καθαίρεσιν ὀχυρωμάτων

How should we understand and translate the phrase δυνατὰ τῷ θεῷ, in particular, the dative τῷ θεῷ? What does τῷ θεῷ mean here?


2 Answers 2


English translations are not in agreement in how to classify this dative. The phrase:

οὐ σαρκικὰ ἀλλὰ δυνατὰ τῷ θεῷ

Is generally translated as:

not of the flesh, but divinely powerful (NIV, NASB)

or as:

are not worldly, but are powerful through God (KJV, HCSB)

Murray Harris (NIGTC) presents the full range of translation options, in order he deems most likely:

  1. A dative of possession: “God’s (powerful weapons)” (GNB; Louw and Nida §§7.21; 20.54; similarly NLT). But the word order is against this; Paul did not write τῷ θεῷ (καὶ) δυνατὰ πρὸς κτλ. Moreover, this dative tends to put the emphasis on the object possessed rather than the possessor (cf. BDF §189), which is inappropriate in the present case.
  2. An instrumental dative: “through God” (KJV; Lang 328; Wolff 194, 198; cf. also Barclay, Carrez 197). But ἐν normally precedes this dative when the reference is to a personal agent (cf. BDF §219[1]).
  3. A circumlocution for the elative superlative, modeled on the Hebrew idiom in which lēlōhı̂m expresses this superlative: “very (mighty)” (Turner, Style 91);75 “enormously (powerful)” (NAB2), “divinely (potent)” (NEB; similarly Moffatt, Goodspeed, NASB; Hughes 351 and n. 6).76 Jonah 3:3 LXX (πόλις μεγάλη τῷ θεῷ, “an exceedingly large city”) is an example of this usage, and in the NT possibly Acts 7:20 (ἀστεῖος τῷ θεῷ, “very beautiful,” GNB). But this rare Septuagintalism would scarcely have been recognized by the Corinthians.
  4. An ethic(al) dative77: “(wielded) in the sight of God” (Cassirer); “(powerful) in God’s eyes/estimation,” “before God” (RV). Comparable uses may be found in Acts 7:20 (ἀστεῖος τῷ θεῷ); 23:1 (πεπολίτευμαι τῷ θεῷ); Barnabas 4:11 (ναὸς τέλειος τῷ θεῷ); 8:4 (μεγάλοι τῷ θεῷ). This same thought is expressed in 4:2; 7:12 by ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ.
  5. A dative of advantage: “for God” (Weymouth),78 “in God’s cause” (JB, NJB), “for God’s sake” (cf. θεῷ in 5:13). That is, Paul’s weapons were powerful in achieving God’s purposes, in God’s service.79 This dative, designating the person whose interest is affected (BDF §188[2]); cf. §192), is more common with verbs than with adjectives (here δυνατά) but is the preferred explanation of τῷ θεῷ. Paul sees himself as a military commander and strategist in God’s service, not his own, who uses  [2 Cor., p. 680]  spiritual weapons that are potent in carrying out the purposes of the Supreme Commander.

The Orthodox New Testament, an extremely literal translation done by some schismatic Greek Orthodox, suggests "mighty through God", as in:

For the weapons of our warfare [are] not of the flesh, but mighty through God to [the] pulling down of strongholds.

In the Nicene Father series, the verse as it appears in John Chrysostom's Greek commentary is translated "mighty before God", which conveys more or less the same meaning, I think. The full translation:

“For our weapons are not of the flesh.”

For what sort of weapons are of the flesh? Wealth, glory, power, fluency, cleverness, circumventions, flatteries, hypocrisies, whatsoever else is similar to these. But ours are not of this sort: but of what kind are they?

“Mighty before God.”

And he said not, ‘we are not carnal,’ but, “our weapons.” For as I said, for the present he discourseth of the Preaching, and refers the whole power to God. And he says not, ‘spiritual,’ although this was the fitting opposite to “carnal,” but “mighty,” in this implying the other also, and showing that their weapons are weak and powerless. And mark the absence of pride in him; for he said not, ‘we are mighty,’ but, “our weapons are mighty before God.” ‘We did not make them such, but God Himself.’ For because they were scourged, were persecuted, and suffered wrongs incurable without number, which things were proofs of weakness: to show the strength of God he says, “but they are mighty before God.” For this especially shows His strength, that by these things He gains the victory. So that even though we are encompassed with them, yet it is He that warreth and worketh by them.

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