Ever heard a rousing sermon on the dunamis power of God? The dynamite power of God? Romans 1:16 is often read; I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the dynamite of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. The sermon unfolds as it does due to our English word dynamite being etymologically derived from the Greek word dunamis/dynamis. The idea has always bothered me as dynamite was invented about one thousand eight hundred and sixty seven years after the Apostle Paul wrote the passage. With this in mind it is pretty unlikely that Paul meant power in the sense of dynamite, you know, explosion, tearing things down, blowing things up, gouging holes, blasting things over etc.
D.A. Carson calls this process of determining meaning to be the exegetical fallacy of semantic anachronism. In other words, of using a late meaning of a word (1867 years later) to determine an earlier meaning. Here the problem is two-fold though. We've semantic anachronism combined with the fallacy that a words meaning can be accurately found in its root meaning. Good stuff guys.
Does it matter though? After all a sermon talking about the explosive power of God, the ability for God to turn up and turn over and blow situations up to his glory, isn't that kind of OK? Especially in relation to evil empire (yep RATM reference there).
Of course it matters. We have to let the text speak on its own terms.
For Paul, strength is found in weakness. The power of the gospel is that life is found in death. He could be ashamed of it; it is unimpressive, back-to-front, up-side-down, counter culture, foolishness and so on. He's not ashamed though because there is power in the gospel. Not to tear down and destroy but to mend and heal and reconcile and restore and redeem and make new. It's power, but it is unlike the military might and power of the Roman Empire - it is very un-dynamite like!
It also matters because if you throw together a handful of misunderstood passages to do with the power of God and signs and wonders etc - let's say this passage plus the old "greater things than these you'll do" and also "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" - you end up with some distorted theology of what and how exactly God is going to work in your life. No too much of an issue on a good day but in the midst of a crisis, with your back against the wall, when you are desperate for God to show up, when you need a miracle of some sort; if things don't unfold like you expected or wanted them to, it is all too easy to end up in a crisis of faith. Not because God let you down but because your bad theology has let you down and left you disappointed. Bad theology always does that.
So yeah, I think it matters.