Friday, August 30, 2013

γαρ δυναμις εν ασθενεια τελειται

No, your computer isn't malfunctioning.  The title of this post is a portion of II Corinthians 12:9 in the original Greek, and I've grown very fond of it during the last month.  What started as a meaningful summation of my dad's final months (see *LINK TO PERFECT IN WEAKNESS*) has become a bit of an obsession.  I looked up the verse a couple days after the funeral, and I found the Greek verbiage to sketch it into a tattoo design.

Quite honestly, the tattoo design was done as a catharsis.  I do this every few years when something major happens.  I've always wanted to have a tattoo, but I'm either too grounded or too chicken to follow through with having a piece of art permanently affixed to my body (it's probably the latter).  I'm also not much of an artist, so when I make the design, I usually end up with overly simple elements in overused arrangements that scream "cliche."

But something was different this time.  I played with graphical elements to represent II Cor 12:9, tried working "perfect in weakness" into the images, and even spelling out "II Cor 12:9."  I was spiraling into a cliche as usual when I found the original Greek.  Honestly, I first thought that using any kind of foreign lettering would add to the cliche, but instead it started to open my eyes to the meaning of this verse.

γαρ δυναμις εν ασθενεια τελειται

I started with Greek to English translations, but since this Greek was 2,000 years old, I didn't have much luck.  I tried searching dictionaries and lexicons for detailed meaning, then I came up with a transliteration of the verse.

For power in weakness perfect

A little nonsensical, right?  Well, the NIV translates this a little differently.  It says "for my power is made perfect in weakness."  I asked my brother (the Christian university graduate, twice over) for a little help.  He said he doesn't know much about ancient Greek, but he knew where to look.  The first thing he noticed was the absence of 1 word: my.

The Greek word μου represents the English word my, but it isn't included in the original Greek.  Apparently Biblical scholars don't believe this word was originally included in Paul's letter, and they even wrote footnotes mentioning the slight difference between the original Biblical texts.  Isn't this important?  This verse is supposed to represent God speaking to Paul!  He's talking about His own power, and isn't that the most important, most significant power out there?  But if we're talking about God's power, shouldn't the fact that it's His power be important?

Exactly.  The only power worth mentioning in all the universe is God's.  All other power is weakness compared to His.  Apparently Paul saw this so clearly that he saw no need for distinction.  But he did leave us another clue.

I found it in something that bugged me about the original Greek phrase for weeks: the final word, τελειται .  I know transliterations aren't an accurate representation of the original meaning, but something was missing.  The translation I found for τελειται was "perfect."  It's just a noun in the English language.  An object, even.  Sure, it could be used as an adjective, but even this leaves our sentence without a verb.  There's no action, no change, no moving forward!

Recently, I found the answer in a paper.  It was a short mention, only a couple of sentences in a footnote, in which someone defined τελειται a little more deeply.  The nearly anonymous author says that the root word of τελειται "denotes completion, accomplishment, or fulfillment."

Suddenly, perfect wasn't the right translation.  In my language, perfect is static, intangible, and superficial.  But Paul's intent was to shape what little power we have into completion, accomplishment, or fulfillment.

Paul's words, taken straight from the mouth of God, tell us that when we are weak, when we cannot persevere, and we have no strength left, we are transformed in to fulfillment!  He tells us that when our own strength fails, a greater power will step in and follow us to completion!  He says that in our greatest weakness, God will bring us to accomplishment.

In short, it's not about us, it's about what God's power can do through us.  (Thanks to Toby Slough for this sentence, which sums up my thoughts so well)

This phrase has meant so much to me during the last month.  I could spend hours reciting every moment that this verse has come to mind, and the myriad of ways that it has spoken to me, and I could spend days on my multifaceted theories of how these 5 words communicate nearly the entirety of the gospel.  Instead, I'll let you find your own meaning in these words.

γαρ δυναμις εν ασθενεια τελειται

Always moving forward,


P.S.: I have an artist picked out, and I plan to get the tattoo in the next couple months.  Wish me luck!


  1. That's beautiful. Let me know who your artist is. I've got one in mind for me too but I can't put it down just right. :D

    1. Cassie -
      I'm planning to go with Tristan at Aces Tattoos in Denton. 3 or 4 people in the area recommended him pretty strongly. I also had some recommendations for artists in Arlington, Irving, and North Richland Hills, but I ignored those because I didn't want to drive that far :)


  2. I love this post! And good luck with the tatooo!