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I'm translating Ephesians 1:19, and at the very end there's a phrase that seems like pleonasm.

19 καὶ τί τὸ ὑπερβάλλον μέγεθος τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ εἰς ἡμᾶς τοὺς πιστεύοντας κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν τοῦ κράτους τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ.

and what the exceeding greatness of His power to us who are believing, according to the working of the power of His might. (YLT)

Is the phrase τοῦ κράτους τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ meaningful, and not redundant?

I feel that, to answer this question, we have to ask ourselves whether the words κράτος and ἰσχύς, which both relate to power, are synonymous, or whether there is any real distinction between the two. I cannot easily access a New Testament lexicon at the moment, but Liddell and Scott is a reputable dictionary for Attic Greek which may provide some basis for comparison.

(Liddell and Scott) κράτος
I.strength, might, Hom., attic; κατὰ κράτος with all one's might or strength, by open force, by storm, Thuc., Xen., etc.
2.personified, Strength, Might, Aesch.
II.generally, might, power, Hom.: rule, sway, sovereignty, Hdt., attic
2.c. gen. power over, Hdt., attic; in pl., ἀστραπᾶν κράτη νέμων Soph.
3.of persons, a power, an authority, Aesch.
III.mastery, victory, Hom., attic; κρ. ἀριστείας the meed of highest valour, Soph.

(Liddell and Scott) ἰσχύς
I.strength of body, attic, Hes.; a fortified place, Thuc.
2.might, power, force, Aesch., etc.; κατ᾽ ἰσχύν perforce, id=Aesch.; πρὸς ἰσχύος χάριν Eur.
II.a force of soldiers, Xen.

Unfortunately, both definitions suggest meanings of strength, might and power. It's hard to make any distinction using these definitions alone. Add to this the unfortunate fact that we're looking at an Attic lexicon, and not a New Testament lexicon.

Since my feeble efforts have failed, what do you make of the phrase τοῦ κράτους τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ? I know little about the sense of these words. Do they work well in combination like this? Is there a meaningful distinction between the two?

On a different note, do you think Young's translation is a good one?

  • Good question. Up-voted. – Nigel J Jan 16 '18 at 12:48
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Another fairly literal translation - The Orthodox New Testament - suggests the surpassing greatness of his power. Both ἰσχύς and and κράτος are in the genitive (as you probably noted), so the phrase could be rendered either as "the might of his power" or "the power of his might".

ἰσχύς is not very common in the New Testament, appearing only 10 times. It is related to the verb ἰσχύω which means to be able or have power. κράτος is just as common, appearing only 12 times. It is related to the verb κρατέω, which means to seize or arrest.

ἰσχύς is much more common in the Septuagint, where it appears over 300 times; whereas κράτος appears around 50 times. The two appear together in Deuteronomy 8:17, where Brenton proposes translations of "strength" and "power", respectively.

μὴ εἴπῃς ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου Ἡ ἰσχύς μου καὶ τὸ κράτος τῆς χειρός μου ἐποίησέν μοι τὴν δύναμιν τὴν μεγάλην ταύτην

Lest thou shouldest say in thine heart, My strength, and the power of mine hand have wrought for me this great wealth.

So we might think of ἰσχύς as the quality or state of being strong and κράτος as an ability to act (following roughly COED definitions). But the two are so closely related - in English and in Greek - that you might be right in discerning a pleonasm.

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  • Thanks for the helpful answer! Given the distinction you draw, "power of his might" could be a good translation, as power implies the ability to effect change, whereas "might" is more a state of strength. – ktm5124 Jan 16 '18 at 20:29

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