“Spirited” Work – The Implications of Paul’s Use of ἐνεργέω (energeō) and Cognates for Constructing a Theology of Work

By Larry Perkins, PhD

It is impossible to present a comprehensive theology of human work in the context of the Kingdom of God within the limited scope of a single article. However, one can articulate a key principle that should shape such a theology—and this is the modest purpose of this article. Witherington is correct when he shapes the key question about a Christian ‘theology of work’ this way: “how work looks different in the light of Kingdom come, how work looks different if one believes Christ has changed the eschatological situation by his coming and that this affects the way we look at all we do as Christians.”[1] The thesis of this article is quite simple. God’s reign inaugurated in Jesus transforms the value of the human work of kingdom participants because God’s Spirit has taken up residence within them, empowering them to contribute to God’s purposes and glory in every aspect of their living. All facets of redeemed life potentially function as acts and offerings of worship because our being and doing reflects the reality of our new creation in Jesus Messiah, our Redeemer.[2] Such redeemed humans truly partner with God by his grace because he becomes resident within them and is active directly in every aspect of their living.[3]


Defining “work” as it relates to the life of a Jesus follower is not easy. Witherington proposes that “work is what weaves together the very fabric of a called person’s identity and fulfills it.”[4] In his view work constitutes “one’s vocation — what one is equipped and trained or gifted and experienced to do.”[5] However, this definition of  the essence of “work” may be inadequate. Miroslav Volf offers the following general definition of human work (not specifically the work of Christians):

Work is honest, purposeful, and methodologically specified social activity whose primary goal is the creation of products or states of affairs that can satisfy the needs of working individuals or their co-creatures, or (if primarily an end in itself) activity that is necessary in order for acting individuals to satisfy their needs apart from the need for the activity itself.[6]

Work is one way in which the ‘image of God,’ imprinted in humans at creation, presents itself in human experience. God creates humans with the capacity to work, particularly for the care of his creation, as well as for the providential care of humans. Volf’s definition has a definite human orientation and makes no specific reference to God’s plans and purposes as the framework for the meaning and value of human work.

In later comments Volf defines work using the phrase “instrumental activity for satisfying the needs of human beings” and argues that the notion of “instrumentality” distinguishes work from leisure.[7] While this definition may be functional, it does not provide a theological definition of work within the framework of Kingdom life. The term “honest” offers a moral compass for discerning what is “good work,” but a dictator might argue that his “work” is honest in that it is sincere and free of deceit within the frame of his values. However, the notion of “instrumental activity” whose purpose addresses human needs in this age has value for this discussion. How the results of such human activity might contribute to the new heaven and new earth remains unclear.

Volf offers a perspective on the work of Christians later in his treatment, arguing that “as Christians do their mundane work, the Spirit enables them to cooperate with God in the kingdom of God that ‘completes creation and renews heaven and earth’.”[8] However, his definition raises the question of what “mundane work” entails for a Jesus follower. If believers “are led by the Spirit” and “walk with the Spirit” in every aspect of their lives, does their “work” to sustain life remain “mundane,” (limited in significance to this age?) or does it also get “sanctified” in some sense by the Spirit’s activity in their lives?

Darrell Cosden goes beyond the definitions of Witherington and Volf, focusing on what he terms the “ontology of work,” as well as the issues of instrumentality and relationality. In his view the general work of any human “is understood to be more fundamental to created existence, an ontological reality, built by God into the very structures of human nature and as a result, the natural order.”[9] At the conclusion to his monograph, Cosden offers this more complex, theological definition of work:

Human work is a transformative activity essentially consisting of dynamically interrelated instrumental, relational, and ontological dimensions: whereby, along with work being an end in itself, the worker’s and others’ needs are providentially met; believers’ sanctification is occasioned; and workers express, explore and develop their humanness while building up their natural, social and cultural environments, thereby contributing protectively and productively to the order of this world and the one to come.[10]

While more needs to be said about the work of believers, particularly in relation to the creation of Kingdom communities as the interim expression of God’s mission, Cosden provides a robust place to start when it comes to generating a theology of work as it frames the activity of a Jesus follower.[11]  However, his perspective on general human work fails to consider adequately the New Testament’s teaching about the role of evil and Satan in particular in this age. If humans generally are ‘enslaved’ to this powerful evil personality, then their work contributes to his purposes, not God’s. This influences how their ‘humanness’ develops, whether according to God’s purposes or Satan’s purposes. Humanness is not a morally neutral category. The natural grace that God still provides to sustain the created order does enable humans to satisfy their needs individually and collectively, or as Cosden words it “contribute protectively and productively to the order of this world.” However, fallen humans in their work functionally and ontologically consistently commit idolatry as they work to create their own kingdoms that they control in rebellion against their Creator. This work contributes to their worship of false gods and as such is an essential violation of the Creator’s call for repentance and submission. For this reason, it falls under divine judgment.[12]

Analysis of the Use of νεργω (energeō) and Cognates in NT (Primarily Pauline) Documents

This short article intends to fill a gap in these learned attempts to help Kingdom participants to perceive the place and purpose of human work in their new Kingdom reality. None of these theologians[13] engages one of the key terms that Paul employs to describe the nature of divine-human agency involved in effective Kingdom activity.[14] As a result, their definitions fail to include essential information necessary for defining the divine-human reality of work by participating in the Kingdom community. Volf’s pneumatological framework for discerning the value of redeemed humanity’s work provides a signpost for us to follow (without accepting all his presuppositions or arguments).

Work reflects an ontological human reality (i.e., that God creates humans for and to work), but the Kingdom reality of the new creation transforms this ontological reality. The presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit in God’s people also transforms the value and significance of their human work because they have freedom in Christ from human self-centredness so that they can express God’s will and values.

The specific term whose NT usage I will analyze in this article is the verb ἐνεργέω (energeō)[15] and its cognates, namely the nouns ἐνέργεια (energeia) and ἐνέργημα (energēma) (the substantives only occur in the Pauline corpus), and the adjective ἐνεργής (energēs).[16] BDAG[17] gives the verb ἐνεργεω (energeō) different meanings depending upon whether it is active intransitive (“to put one’s capabilities into operation, work, be at work, be active, operative, be effective”) or middle[18] (always with an impersonal subject) or transitive (“to bring something about through use of capability, work, produce effect”).[19] According to BDAG the cognate noun ἐνέργεια (energeia) describes “the state or quality of being active, working, operation, action” and its companion noun ἐνέργημα (energēma) refers to “activity as an expression of capability, activity.”[20] The third declension adjective ἐνεργής “pert[ains]  to practical expressions of capability, effective, active, powerful.”[21]

Each of these terms occurs in extant Greek literature previous to and concurrent with the New Testament. These are not terms unique either to Hellenistic Judaism or to the discourse of the early Christian community. Exactly why Paul selects this terminology to discuss God’s engagement generally and specifically with creation and redeemed humans remains unknown, but he may be reflecting its use in LXX documents such as Isaiah (41:4 “Who has wrought and done these things? The one calling her from the beginning of generations has called her. I, God, am first,…”)[22] and the Wisdom of Solomon. Usage of this set of terms in the LXX[23] is quite limited, restricted primarily to documents in this collection composed in Greek and not translations (although debate continues whether 2 Maccabees in particular may have had a Hebrew exemplar). Through his choice of language Paul may be contrasting the Christian way of life with common Stoic perceptions.[24]

The Verb ἐνεργέω (energeō)

In nine of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul in the NT the verb ἐνεργέω (energeō)[25] and its cognates ἐνέργεια (energeia), ενέργημα (energēma) and ἐνεργής (energēs) describe the powerful, effective activity of God in the lives of Kingdom subjects. Primarily in Romans and 2 Corinthians Paul also uses the related verb κατεργάζεσθαι (katergazesthai) to describe the accomplishment of some activity, but its subjects are much more diverse, with the deity only occurring twice as the subject (Rom 15:8; 2 Cor 5:5).[26]  And then he employs the antithetical verb καταργέω (katargeō) throughout his letters[27] to describe ineffective, unproductive, or destructive activity. The focus will be on the cluster of terms associated with ἐνεργέω (energeō), but the other cognate κατα-compound terms will be considered from time to time.[28]

In most contexts in Paul’s letters where the verb ἐνεργέω (energeō) occurs, God[29] (Gal 2:8a, 8b; 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:6; Eph. 1:11, 20; Phil 2:13a, 13b) or the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:11) is the subject or the immediate referent of the verb.[30] What the deity “activates or operates” with divine capacity or force is defined with a direct object (δυνάμεις (dynameis Gal 3:5); πάντα (panta 1 Cor 12:6, 11; Eph 1:11); ἐνέργεια (energeia Eph 1:20); τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν (to thelein kai to energein Phil 2:13a)). In three cases the finite verb form is passive[31] (1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:7; 2 Cor 4:12). The subject in 1 Thess 2:13 is ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ (ho logos tou theou), “God’s message,” with the verb meaning “is being made operational” and thus validated. In 2 Thess 2:7 the subject is τὸ…μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας (to…mystērion tēs anomias), “the revealed secret about lawlessness,” with the verb meaning “is being made operational.” Paul is discussing death (θάνατος (thanatos)) in 2 Cor 4:12.

In four contexts the verb is an adjectival, present passive participle, indicating continuing activity. The referent varies in each context (πίστις (pistis Gal 5:6); παρακλέσεως (paraklēseōs 2 Cor 1:6); δύναμις (dynamis Eph 3.20); ἐνέργεια (energeia Col 1:29)), but the deity is the implied agent in each case. In these four contexts probably, it has the sense “is being made operational” and thus validated. The sense in Gal 5:6 is that human faith in Christ is “being operationalized” and thus validated by people’s capacity to love God and others and as a result they fulfill the entire law (Gal 5:14). Such validation is not possible through law-keeping. Paul describes the comfort/encouragement experienced by believers, when it is being operationalized and validated by means of endurance developed through sufferings (2 Cor 1:6). The construction in Eph 3:20 is complex. The clause is doxological, with τῷ…δυναμν (tōi dynamenōi), a substantival participle whose referent is God himself, i.e., “the powerful one,” functioning as the focus of the praise expressed. Paul affirms that God has the capacity to fulfill whatever we might ask or think “according to the power” (κατὰ τὴν δναμιν (kata tēn dynamin)), an intentional, intensifying repetition. The adjectival passive participle τὴν ἐνεργουμένην (tēn energoumenēn) indicates that this divine capacity (κατὰ τὴν δύναμιν (kata tēn dynamin)) is now being activated or operationalized “in us,” that is in Jesus followers. The fourth usage occurs in Col 1:29. Paul claims that “God’s activity in him” enables his intense toil for the Kingdom’s mission, becoming an effective demonstration of God’s δύναμις (dynamis).

Paul employs the adjectival present active participle in three contexts (1 Cor 12:6; Eph 2:2; Phil 2:13a). In 1 Cor 12:6 it defines ὁ θεός who effectively activates “all things in all (people or ways).”[32] According to Phil 2:13a God is the one who is actively operating in believers to effect his “good pleasure.” The subject of the participle in Eph 2:2 is τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ κόσμου (ton aiōna tou kosmou), the ‘spirit’ (πνεύματος (pneumatos)) who is effectively active in “the sons of disobedience.” Perhaps Paul uses this expression as a parody of the deity’s effective operations in believers.

All examples of adjectival participles, whether active or passive, are present tense forms and the aspect of the present tense form indicates continuing or incomplete activity. If God is the referent, then Paul employs an active form. In one case the referent is Satan (the Aeon of this world) (Eph 2:2). If an inanimate noun is the referent, then Paul uses a passive form with God as the implied agent.

In two contexts the verb form is a substantival present active participle (Gal 3:5; Eph 1:11) and once a substantival aorist active participle (Gal 2:8a). God is the referent in each case and the participle describes him enabling people to fulfil specific roles, working miracles, and accomplishing his sovereign purposes. In Gal 2:8 the finite verb form and substantival present participle occur in the same clause, but the verb forms do not have a direct object; rather this divine activity is qualified by purpose phrases marked by εἰς. The aspect of the aorist tense form would indicate an activity already completed in reference to the action of the main verb.

In most of these uses Paul marks the locus of the activity with an ἐν phrase (ἐν ὑμῖν (en hymin) “in you (pl.)” 1Thess 2:13; Gal 3:5; Eph 3:20; Phil 2:13a); ἐν ἡμῖν (en hēmin) “in us” 2 Cor 4:12); ἐν ἐμοί (en emoi) “in me: Col 1:29); ἐν τοῖς μέλεσιν ἡμῶν (en tois melesin hēmōn) “in our members” Rom 7:5); ἐν Χριστῷ (en Christōi) “in Messiah” Eph 1:20); ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς (en tois huiois) “in the sons” Eph 2:2); ἐν πᾶσιν (en pasin (this could be a neuter plural or masculine plural form) “in all things/in all people (believers)” 1 Cor 12:6)). The simple datives in Gal 2:8a, 8b (Πέτρῳ…ἐμοί (Petrōi…emoi) probably are datives of reference or advantage. Redeemed humans become the primary locus in which God exercises his supernatural power.

Often Paul adds another adverbial prepositional phrase that characterizes this divine activity in various ways: the means (διά (dia Gal 5:6 δι’ ἀγάπης (di’ agapēs)); the manner (ἐν (en Col 1:29 ἐν δυνάμει (en dynamei); ἐν ὑπομονῇ (en hypomonēi 2 Cor 1:6)); the purpose (εἰς (eis Gal 2:8a εἰς ἀποστόλην (eis apostolēn); Gal 2:8b εἰς τὰ ἔθνη (eis ta ethne)); the cause or with reference to (ὑπέρ (hyper Phil 2:13a ὑπερ τῆς εὐδοκίας (hyper tēs eudokias)); or the standard that indicates the divine counsel or force involved in this activity (κατά (kata) Eph 1:11 κατὰ τῆν βουλῆν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ (kata tēn boulēn tou thelēmatos autou); Eph 1:20 κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν τοῦ κράτους τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ (kata tēn energeian tou kratous tēs ischyos autou)). Once it is modified by a temporal adverb (2 Thess 2:7). In Gal 3:5 the present participle is qualified by two contrasting ἐκ (ek) phrases describing the cause or reason for the divine activity that occurs in people.

Paul incorporates this verb primarily into types of clauses that explain the deity’s activity. These include relative clauses (1 Thess 2:13; Eph 1:20; Col 1:29), explanatory γάρ (gar) clauses (2 Thess 2:7; Gal 2:8a, 8b; 5:6; Rom 7:5; Phil 2:13a, 13b), and a clause marked by δέ (de 1 Cor 12:6). It informs a concluding clause marked by οὖν (oun) “then, therefore” Gal 3:5). At 2 Cor 4:12 it is part of a ὥστε clause that expresses a conclusion resulting from the previous discussion (“so then”). Its occurrence in such discourse units emphasizes how important this verb is in Paul’s understanding of the divine-human engagement within the realm of faith. For him it describes how the supernatural power or capacity of the divine now spills over into the redeemed human person to enable their effective and developing capacity to participate in his mission. By means of “new creation in Christ” God reframes the capacity of humans enmeshed in the cursed creation so that they contribute substantively and meaningfully to the expanding sphere of God’s rule in this age, with entailments for the age to come. It is God’s ἐνέργεια (energeia) unleashed in redeemed humans that equips them “for good works” and this includes a transformed participation both in the creation and redemption mandates. Conversely, in several contexts it is Satan’s power that perversely operates effectively in those under his influence.

The Noun νργεια (energeia)

The cognate noun ἐνέργεια (energeia), meaning “working, operation, action,” occurs seven times, primarily in Paul’s Prison Epistles, but once in 2 Thessalonians. God is always the agent whose activity this noun describes. In five contexts it occurs as part of the adverbial prepositional phrase κατ’ ἐνέργειαν (kat’ energeian Eph 1:19; 3:17; 4:16; Phil 3:21; Col 1:29). The phrase defines the standard of effective, forceful divine activity that is operative in a specific situation. In 2 Thess 2:11 it functions as the direct object (ἐνέργειαν  πλάνης (energeian planes) “working/action of error/delusion”) of the verb πέμπω (pempō “to send”) with God as subject. The genitive construction is probably objective, indicating that it is God’s activity that operationalizes the error/delusion. God does not send the error per se, but he operationalizes the effects of such error with the result that people put trust in lies.

In Col 2:12 ἐνέργεια (energeia) forms part of a prepositional phrase, modifying the head noun “faith” (πίστεως (pisteōs)). The genitive in Col 2:12 seems to describe human confidence in God’s action (διὰ τῆς πίστεως τς νεργεας τοῦ θεοῦ (dia tēs pisteōs tēs energeias tou theou “through faith in the working/action of God”) that raises the Messiah from the dead. God’s activity also effectively recruits Paul into God’s mission (Eph 3:7) in the role of apostle and resources him for this mission (Col 1:29). This divine activity enables the faith of believers and guarantees the promise of their future resurrection (Col 2:12; Phil 3:21). It enables the growth of the body (i.e., the church) because God’s activity, exercised through his resident Spirit, empowers each member of that body in measured, productive ways (Eph 4:16).

The Noun νργημα (energēma)

Paul employs a second cognate noun, namely ἐνέργημα (energēma), meaning “activity,” that describes something resulting from and consonant with the kind of activity expressed in the cognate verb. Paul employs it twice in 1 Cor 12:6, 10 to describe the activity of God, the Father, that effectively resources the Messiah’s body, the church. In 1 Cor 12:6 it modifies the head noun διαιρέσεις (diaireseis) , functioning as a partitive genitive to express the many different expressions of God’s effective action displayed among his people, a list of which follow in the remainder of 1 Cor 12. In 12:10 it describes a specific result of such divine activity. The genitive modifier δυνάμεων (dynameōn) defines the sphere in which this activity operates. The noun could refer to spiritual powers, indicating that this ἐνέργημα (energēma) involves the subjection of spirits and results in exorcism. Or it might refer to “miracles” and thus be an objective genitive. However, the immediately preceding phrase χαρίσματα ἱαμάτων (charismata hiamatōn) refers to miracles of healings, suggesting that ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων (energēmata dynameōn) refers to a different kind of miracle and not miracles in general. The focus of this term in Pauline usage is upon the Trinity’s effective actions that resource believers in extraordinary ways.

The Adjective νεργς (energēs)

Paul employs the cognate adjective ἐνεργής (energēs) twice (1 Cor 16:9; Phlm 6), meaning “effective, active, powerful,” and the writer of Hebrews uses it once (Heb 4:12). In each context it functions as a predicate adjective characterizing an inanimate subject (θύρα (thyra) “door” (1 Cor 12:9); ὁ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεως (ho koinonia tēs pisteōs) “participation” (Phlm 6); ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ (ho logos tou theou) “God’s message” Heb 4:12[33]). In each case the adjective describes the effective operation of the noun it modifies (door, participation, or word/message). Context determines how the effectiveness shows itself. The usage in 1 Cor 12:9 and Heb 4:12 relates specifically to divine activity. According to Phlm 6, Philemon shares (κοινωνία (koinonia)) a faith connection with Paul that proves effective in helping him discern “every good thing in us [Paul] in Christ.” In other words, their common bond in this faith experience should give Philemon effective confidence in Paul’s sincerity and desire to do what is right for Onesimus and Philemon in accordance with Christ’s values.

The use of this set of terms in Paul’s letters has everything to do with the deity’s purposes and powerful capacity to accomplish his will, particularly through his redeemed people. For those who place faith in the Messiah, this supernatural activity now operates in powerful ways in their lives, particularly because the Holy Spirit is resident within them. If Clarke is correct and the indicative and participial forms of ἐνεργοῦμαι (energoumai) are passive, referencing inanimate subjects, and are not middle forms,[34] then in these cases the implied agent is God, whether Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. Robinson argues a similar position, but still sees little difference in meaning between the active and passive forms of this verb.[35] Clarke argues that the verb as used by Paul describes the effective operation of God’s power in redeemed people during this age to accomplish his purposes. He paraphrases the meaning of active forms as “to infuse with supernatural power” and so the deity resources the activities referenced and thereby makes them effective. The meaning of the passive form is either “to be infused with supernatural spirit” or “to be made supernaturally operative.”[36]

Implications of This Terminology for Constructing a Theology of Work

How does this detailed analysis of this set of terms in Paul’s letters help frame a theology of work that is engaged and accomplished by redeemed people? Five texts in his letters establish the theological framework for understanding the nature of and purpose for Christians’ work or activity. Paul expresses the essential principle in Phil 2:13, that in believers, God is working effectively and continually (present tense forms) with his incredible power to will and to do “for the purpose of his good will” (εὐδοκία (eudokia) “good purpose, will, pleasure”).

In the context of Philippians 2, Paul urges his audience of believers to imitate the Messiah’s “mindset” in every respect (2:5). At the heart of this mindset is humble submission to God and his purposes in every life situation and relationship. Paul rehearses (2:5-11) how the Messiah humbled himself in this way throughout his earthly life for God’s glory (δόξα (doxa) v.11). Even though the Messiah experienced great suffering in the course of his work, God ultimately “exalts him” (v. 9) and the Messiah’s life in its entirety, from start to finish (even his stint as carpenter/housebuilder) contributes to God’s “good will/purpose” (εὐδοκία (eudokia)).[37] The Messiah’s life forms the paradigm for all believers whose lives are infused with God’s divine power. Paul desires these believers to continue in their obedience to God (v. 12) by means of which they will accomplish or produce (κατεργάζεσθε (katergazesthe)) their own σωτηρίαν (sōtērian)), that is, give full expression in their lives to the fruit of the Spirit, both individually and corporately.[38]

In the next verse (13) Paul explains that they can fulfill his command to “accomplish or produce (κατεργάζεσθε (katergazesthe)) their own salvation” (i.e., work with the Spirit to realize the full results of being in Christ)[39] because “the one working effectively and powerfully (ὁ ἐνεργῶν (ho energōn)) in them both to will and to work effectively and powerfully (τὸ ἐνεργεῖν (to energein) is God!” Paul intentionally employs these three related verb forms, namely κατεργζεσθε (katergazesthe), ὁ ἐνεργῶν (ho energōn), and τὸ ἐνεργεῖν (to energein). God infuses people with his supernatural power so that they can effectively accomplish God’s will and purposes.

These principles are primarily applied to “spiritual work,” i.e., what Christians do specifically to serve Christ in the church. However, Paul makes no such limitation in this passage. If for Paul “to live is the Messiah” (1:21), then all aspects of his living experience, even his time of imprisonment or his tent-making, is “infused with God’s supernatural power so that he can effectively work” as God’s representative in that environment. Paul asserts without qualification that he has “the strength/capacity to handle every situation ‘in union with the one who infuses me with strength’[40]” (ἐνδυναμοῦντι (endynamounti)) (4:13). In the immediate context these situations include the extremes of life’s circumstances (4:12). The Messiah infuses Paul with his supernatural power and as a result he lives in each moment empowered by God’s Spirit. This includes every activity he engages and every relationship he engenders as a person. They all contribute to God’s glory and form his continuing worship, i.e., his daily sacrifice of self, to God (Rom 12:1-2).

Three texts in Ephesians (1:11, 20; 3:20) reinforce this essential principle of Christian work. Paul offers a sweeping generalization about divine activity in Eph 1:11. He describes God as “the one who is effectively and powerfully working all things (τοῦ τὰ πάντα ἐνεργοῦντος (tou ta panta energountos)) in alignment with the counsel of his will.” God’s activity encompasses every aspect of human salvation and his plans for the ages “for the praise of his glory” (1:12). Paul addresses the implications of this reality in 2:10 where he describes believers as God’s ποίημα (poiēma) that he has created in Christ Jesus “for good works” (εἰς ἔργοις ἀγαθοῖς (eis ergois agathois).”[41] God has prepared these good works in advance, i.e., he is orchestrating their lives so that they align with his will, “so that they might walk in them.” The verb “walk” is a metaphor describing believers’ manner of life. It comprehends all aspects of their lives and implies that in every context God empowers them so that they are intentionally choosing “the good” and, as a result, God gains praise and glory. This activity is good for God and for neighbour because it fulfills the parameters of the three great commands, that is, to love God, to love neighbour, and to make disciples. This rubric of principles frames all the work activities that believers engage. God resources believers with the wisdom, hope, and power to act effectively and powerfully in alignment with his purpose and for his glory (1:17-20). This same divine power accomplished the resurrection and ascension of Christ (as expressed in Phil 2:5-11), fulfilling the deity’s purposes for the Messiah.  Paul summarizes these supernatural processes in Eph 3:20 affirming that God’s effective power is active to accomplish in our lives all that we ask or conceive, because it will advance his purposes for the church.

Conversely, Paul asserts in Eph 2:1-2 that another supernatural power, namely the Aeon of this world (i.e., Satan) also works effectively and powerfully in the lives of non-believers. All their activities express their disobedience to God’s will. Paul describes their activity as a living death perpetuating and manifesting transgression and sin in every aspect of their “walk,” i.e., their living. In 4:17 Paul describes such activity as generated by “the vanity/emptiness of their minds,” expressing ignorance of God and a stubborn resistance to God’s message (4:18). The result is a life governed by sensuality, impurity (εἰς ἐργασίαν ἀκαθαρσίας (eis ergasian akatharsias)), and greed (4:19). Paul defines carefully the comprehensiveness of Satan’s power in effecting his will in the life of non-believers. There is no third way for human life; no person’s activity in a specific context is fully autonomous, that is, completely independent from the influence of either the deity or Satan’s power.[42]

Paul declares in 1 Cor 12:6 that God is the one activating all things in all people (the context indicates that all people refers to believers). This passage serves as a segue from Paul’s use of this terminology to describe God’s effective and powerful activity to accomplish his will and purposes generally, to its application to the deity’s activity to generate faith in people and sustain their confidence in the Messiah individually and collectively. Paul affirms that God’s power, the Trinity’s power, becomes effectively active in each believer’s life, but in different ways. However, behind this diversity lies the single source (ὁ αὐτὸς θεός (ho autos theos) “the same God”) of this supernatural power, namely God the father, the Lord Jesus, and the Spirit (12:4-6). Similarly, there is no distinction among believers because God resources each one regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, or social category. He repeats this principle in 12:11, reinforcing his message that “the one and the same Spirit (τὸ ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεύμα (to hen kai to auto pneuma)) effectively and powerfully activates (ἐνεργεῖ (energei) all these things” (12:7-10) that he distributes to each individual believer (διαιροῦν ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ (diairoun idiai hekastōi)) for the good of the ”body,” i.e., the church.

Paul references the same concept in Gal 3:5 where he describes God as “the one who furnishes (ἐπιχορηγῶν (epichorēgōn)) the Spirit and effectively and powerfully works (ἐνεργῶν (energōn)) miracles,” demonstrating the efficacy of faith in Christ for salvation. He employs similar terminology in Eph 4:16 to describe how God’s effective and powerful activity (κατ’ ἐνέργειαν (kat’ energeian)) enables each part of the body to furnish (τῆς ἐπιχορηγίας (tēs epichorēgias)) what will produce the growth of the body.

Paul also employs this terminology more specifically in terms of his mission to the nations that he regards as his divine vocation. In the autobiographical section of Galatians Paul claims that “the one who effectively and powerfully worked (ὁ ἐνεργήσας (ho energēsas)) for Peter to enable his apostleship to the Jewish people is also effectively and powerfully working (καὶ ἐνήργησεν (kai enērgēsen)) for Paul to enable his apostleship to the nations (Gal 2:8). He makes a similar claim in Eph 3:7. God’s supernatural power infuses Paul in his laborious struggles “to present every person complete in Christ” (Col 1:29), as he participates in God’s mission.


Based on this review of ἐνεργέω (energeō) and related terms in Paul’s letters, what then may be concluded regarding the nature, value and significance of work/activity produced by Jesus followers?

  1. In the Christian worldview, the deity is resident in the lives of his redeemed people individually, and to some degree collectively. The Trinity accomplishes this residence through the Holy Spirit who infuses believers with supernatural power and discernment so that they work effectively and powerfully in this age. The Spirit enables believers to align their work and relationships with the will and purposes of God, so that they contribute to the advance of his mission in this age. The deity infuses the whole life of believers giving them a new, transformed vocation as “holy ones,” fellow workers with God. All their work/activity is subsumed within this vocation.
  2. God’s infusion of supernatural power enables believers to offer their work/activity and relationships, whatever their nature and context, as sacrifices of worship to him within the scope of both the creation and redemption mandates. As Paul articulates it, such people offer their lives and work as “living sacrifices” so that God can accomplish his will (Rom 12:1-2). They can do this because they “are being transformed by the renewing of their minds” so that they understand God’s will.
  3. The work/activity of believers, as God operates effectively and powerfully in their lives, enables them to fulfill the three great commands that Jesus instructs, to love God, to love their neighbour, and to make disciples (as in Matthew 28:19-20). As they bend every effort to obey God in these ways, they witness to the power of the gospel. Their work/activity is instrumental, with God’s help, in enabling other humans to discern God’s transforming power and to accept the Messiah’s offer of salvation. In addition, their work/activity encourages other believers to follow their example, strengthening the Messiah’s assembly in this age and influencing believers to endure and persist in good works. These results are the “stuff” produced by God’s effective power in this age. The results of this action, new believers and mature Jesus followers whose lives also contribute to God’s glory, persist into the new age. As Paul tells people in the churches he has established, they are his joy and crown, because they are now part of the people of God who will enjoy him forever. Their work/activity is instrumental in the accomplishment of God’s mission because they become God’s συνεργοί (sunergoi “helpers”). Paul declares in 1 Cor 3:14 that believers, whose work “builds upon the foundation” of Christ’s righteous work and “remains” after being tested in God’s judgment, will receive a reward.
  4. Sin continues to mar the work/activity of redeemed humans when they act selfishly or yield to Satan’s temptations, arrogantly serving their own purposes, not God’s. Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 3[43] that in the final judgment such errant work/activity and its harmful results will be destroyed, but his people still will enjoy eternity with him because of the Messiah’s redemptive sacrifice for them and the promises embedded in the new covenant.

This analysis of Paul’s use of ἐνεργέω (energeō) terminology shows the work/activity of Christians is instrumental, inter-relational, and ontological, but within the framework of the new creation operationalized by the resident Holy Spirit. It is, as Volf argues, the means by which believers demonstrate or validate their sanctification, i.e., the reality of their new life in Christ. By this supernatural infusion of power, they have the capacity to fulfill the creation and redemptive mandates in Christ. Witherington is on the right track when he asserts that the work/activity of Christians is an expression of their vocation, but is not their vocation per se. In this sense God’s ἐνέργεια (energeia) makes their work/activity effective in demonstrating their love for God and love for neighbour and “making disciples of all nations,” enabling them to fulfill their vocation in Christ.

God’s supernatural power is continually resourcing his people so that all their work/activity becomes their sacrifice to him, their effective worship. Their work/activity contributes to God’s plans to establish his rule in the hearts and the lives of humans. To the extent that this occurs and human lives experience gospel transformation, the result of their work/activity continues into the new heaven and new earth. Conversely, it is Satan’s supernatural power that is at work in the lives of non-believers. As a result, their work/activity contributes to his nefarious purposes and becomes a continual expression of idolatry. No matter how wonderful they build, how carefully they craft, how exquisitely they paint or sculpt, how mystically they compose their music – in these actions they serve their master, Satan, not God. For this reason, their work as individuals is vain, coming to nothing because it will be destroyed in God’s judgment. However, God has the capacity to integrate such activities into the accomplishment of his larger purposes, so that such idolatrous actions do not thwart his purposes in any ultimate sense.

In practical terms, when believers work in the marketplace they carry forward their vocation as Christians. God infuses them with the power to express their love for God and their love for neighbour in these activities, enabling them to fulfill their creation and redemptive mandates. Through such worshipful work they seek to influence people to heed the gospel and place themselves under God’s redemptive rule. Transformed humans, whose persons persist into the new heaven and the new earth, are the lasting results of such work/activity.

Larry J. Perkins, PhD, is Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies and President Emeritus of Northwest Baptist Seminary. He taught Greek language, Biblical Studies, Septuagint Studies, and Leadership at the master’s and doctoral level. Dr. Perkins is the author of The Pastoral LettersA Handbook on the Greek Text (Waco, TX: Baylor University Text2017) and The Art of Kubernēsis (1 Corinthians 12:28): Leading as the Church Board Chairperson. He also contributed Exodus, in A New English Translation of the Septuagint and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included under that Title, ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin Wright (New York/ Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Author copyright.

Perkins, Larry J. “’Spirited” Work’ – The Implications of Paul’s Use of ἐνεργέω (energeō) and Cognates for Constructing a Theology of Work.” Northwest Institute for Ministry Education Research. www.nimer.ca (retrieved Date Accessed). Peer reviewed.

Appendix (For a more compact version, please consult the PDF article)

This appendix analyses each occurrence of ἐνεργέω (energeō), ἐνέργεια (energeia), ἐνέργημα (energēma), and ἐνεργής (energēs) employed in NT documents. The tables cite the context, parse each term, indicate how the syntax of the context contributes to understanding of the term, and discuss elements that modify it. Table 5 provides data regarding the related verb κατεργάζομαι (katergazomai) to demonstrate the distinctive contribution that ἐνεργέω (energeō) and its cognates make to Paul’s discussion about Christian activity.

Table 1 — Use of ἐνεργέω[44] (energeō) (“to be active, be at work, operate; to work hard or effectively; (of causes) be effective or valid; to work an effect, accomplish”) in Paul’s Corpus (18x).[45] Clarke[46] argues that it means “to infuse with supernatural spirit” or where the Spirit of God has already taken residence in believers it “refers to the operations of the inhabiting spirit.”

Context Form Subject and/or Function Object and Qualifiers
1 Thess 2.13 ἐνεργεῖται

3rd person singular present passive indicative. Subject is ambiguous. Present tense indicates incomplete activity. If God (the nearest potential antecedent) is the subject, then Paul affirms that the deity is continually and intentionally active in the believers he is addressing.

λόγον θεοῦ ὃς καὶ νεργεται ἐν ὑμῖν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν

The verb occurs in a relative clause. The antecedent of the pronominal subject ὅς (hos)could be either λόγος (logos – message of the gospel) or θεός (theos – God), who forms and communicates the message. The καί (kai) is ascensive giving prominence to the verb.

ἐν ὑμῖν τοῖς ιστέυουσιν

The adverbial ἐν phrase communicates a locative idea, the people in whom the message or God is active. They in turn are defined by the adjectival present active participle referring to “those believing/ expressing confidence.” The aspect of the participle indicates continuing action. The participle describes Jesus followers.

2 Thess 2:7 ἐνεργεῖται

3rd person singular present passive indicative. The aspect of the present tense indicates an incomplete action.

τὸ γὰρ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας

The subject of the verb is τὸ…μυστήριον (to…mystērion) presumably something that God activates, who functions as the implied agent of the passive verb form. The secret plan of God relates to “lawlessness” in this context. The verb is part of an explanatory γάρ (gar) clause. “For the mystery of lawlessness already is being made supernaturally operative….”

ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται

The passive verb is modified by a temporal adverb indicating that the action described by the verb is already in progress.

Gal 2:8a ὁ…ἐνεργήσας

Nominative masculine singular aorist active participle. The tense form indicates a completed activity. Activity refers to salvation and support for mission assignment.

ὁ γὰρ ἐνεργήσας Πέτρῳ εἰς ἀποστολὴν τῆς περιτομῆς ἐνήργησεν καὶ ἐμοὶ εἰς τὰ ἔθνη,…

Substantival aorist participle subject of the main verb. The referent is God (cf. 1:15-16). Intransitive usage. “The one who supernaturally acts for the benefit of Peter for apostleship of the circumcision… supernaturally has acted for my benefit for the nations….”

Πέτρῳ εἰς ἀποστολήν

locative (person in whom the activity occurs) or perhaps dative of advantage, (indicates whom God privileges by his action with involvement in his mission) and purpose (εἰς (eis)) of the activity.

Gal 2:8b ἐνήργησεν

The 3rd person singular aorist active indicative tense form indicates a completed action. Activity refers to salvation and support for mission assignment

ὁ γὰρ ἐνεργήσας Πέτρῳ εἰς ἀποστολὴν τῆς περιτομῆς νργησεν καὶ ἐμοὶ εἰς τὰ ἔθνη

The substantival participle works with the cognate verb to give prominence to the activity. The referent for the participle is God.

The verb is Intransitive in this context.

καὶ ἐμοὶ εἰς τὰ ἔθνηAscensive καί gives prominence to the dative pronoun ἐμοί (person with reference to whom the activity occurs). Or perhaps dative of advantage (indicates whom God privileges by being active in them for his mission). The antecedent of the pronoun is Paul. The εἰς (eis) phrase indicates the purpose of the activity.
Gal 3:5 ὁ…ἐνεργῶν

Nominative masculine singular present active participle. The tense form indicates incomplete activity, implying continuing activity.

ὁ οὖν ἐπιχορηγῶν ὑμῖν τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ νεργν δυνμεις ν μν….

The present active participle functions as a noun, being subject of the implied main verb (probably an indicative forms of the verb ἐνεργέω (energeō). The referent probably is God (the one who gives the Spirit). Transitive usage. “So then the one who furnishes to you the Spirit and makes miracles operative in you….”

δυνάμεις ἐν ὑμῖν

The accusative noun functions as object and defines the kind of activity, namely “powers or miracles.” The ἐν (en) phrase indicates the persons in/among whom this activity occurs (believers who possess the Spirit of God).

Gal 5:6 πίστις… ἐνεργουμένη

Adjectival nominative feminine singular present passive participle. The tense form indicates an incomplete activity. Probably passive.

ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ οὔτε περιτομή τι ἰσχύει οὔτε ἀκροβυστία ἀλλὰ πίστις δι’ ἀγάπης νεργουμνη

πίστις is the subject of a contrastive clause marked by ἀλλά (alla). The implied verb is ἰσχύει (ischuei), the main verb of the previous clause. Intransitive usage. If the form is middle, then πίστις (pistis) is somewhat personified, being the actor intentionally is active “through love.” If the form is passive, as I contend, then πίστις (pistis) is the object of the action expressed by the participle and is being activated by someone by means of love.

“but faith being made supernaturally operative through love,…”

δι’  ἀγάπης.

The διά (dia) phrase with the genitive case indicates instrumentality. Paul quotes the second great commandment (Lev. 19.18) in Gal 5:13-14 and probably has this in mind when he uses ἀγάπη (agapē) in Gal 5:6. The agent of the passive participle is implied and probably is the deity in the person of the Spirit.

Rom 7:5 ἐνηργεῖτο

3rd person singular Imperfect passive indicative, indicating a past activity that was incomplete or continuous in some sense.

ὅτε γὰρ ἦμεν ἐν τῇ σαρκί, τὰ παθήματα τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν τὰ διὰ τοῦ νόμου ἐνηργεῖτο ἐν τοῖς μέλεσιν ἡμῶν, εἰς τὸ καρποφορῆσαι τῷ θανάτῳ.

The verb occurs in an explanatory clause marked by γάρ (gar). It has an inanimate subject τὰ παθήματα (ta pathēmata) that here means “the interests or desires” and the subjective genitive τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν (tōn hamartiōn) indicates whose “interests/desires” are being discussed. The genitive may help us infer who is the agent responsible for these activities.

ἐνηργεῖτο ἐν τοῖς μέλεσιν ἡμῶν

The sphere of this supernaturally empowered activity infused by “sin” is “our body parts.”


1 Cor 12.6 ὁ ἐνεργῶν

Adjectival nominative masculine singular present active participle. The aspect of the tense form indicates incomplete activity.


ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς θεὸς ὁ νεργν

This is a verbless clause (see similar constructions in vv. 4-5). ὁ…θεός (ho…theos) is subject and ὁ ἐνεργῶν (ho energōn)  probably functions as a predicate nominative, characterizing ὁ θεός (ho theos). The subject is modified by αὐτός (autos) = same. This activity is linked specifically to life in the church. “Now the same God is the one who supernaturally activates all things among all [believers?]….”

τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν

The participle is transitive and modified by an object τὰ πάντα. It is further qualified by an ἐν (en) phrase defining the location of the subject’s activity.

1 Cor 12.11 ἐνεργεῖ

3rd person singular present active indicative whose aspect indicates incomplete activity. It functions as the main verb in an independent clause.

νεργε τὸ ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα

The subject is πνεῦμα (pneuma– reference to the Holy Spirit). It is modified by the numerical adjective ἕν (hen – “one”) and the pronoun αὐτός (= same) affirming that this is the only Spirit who operates
in the lives of believers for the good of the body. “The one and the same Spirit infuses all these supernatural powers, distributing them among us as he desires…”

πάντα δὲ ταῦτα…διαιροῦν ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ καθὼς βούλεται

The verb is transitive and the direct object is πάντα…ταῦτα (panta…tauta) referring to the list of spiritual resources in vv. 8-10 that the Spirit supplies. He activates all of these resources without exception. The adverbial present participle διαιροῦν (diairoun-“distribute, divide”) modifies the main verb and in Lk. 15.12 describes division of property among heirs. The participle could express instrumentality (“by dividing”). The clause of comparison emphasizes that the Spirit is totally in charge of this distribution.

2 Cor 1:6 τῆς ἐνεργουμένης

Genitive feminine singular adjectival present passive participle. It characterizes the preceding noun παρακλήσεως. The aspect of the present tense form indicates continuing or incomplete activity.

εἴτε παρακαλούμεθα, ὑπὲρ τῆς ὑμῶν παρακλήσεως τῆς ἐνεργουμένης ἐν ὑπομονῇ

Paul explains that his comfort and encouragement occurs “for” or “with reference to” your comfort/ encouragement. Their comfort is being infused with supernatural power as they endure sufferings. ἐν ὑπομονῇ (en hypomonēi) probably has a locative sense, i.e., in the context of endurance (of sufferings) and probably modifies παρακλήσεως.

ὑπὲρ τῆς ὑμῶν παρακλήσεως τῆς ἐνεργουμένης ἐν ὑπομονῇ

ὑπέρ + genitive probably means “purpose,” indicating why something is occurring. In this case it is “for your comfort/ encouragement.” Such encouragement “in the midst of endurance of sufferings” can only be explained as a supernatural infusion of God’s power.

2 Cor 4:12 ἐνεργεῖται

3rd person singular present passive indicative with an inanimate subject. The agent is implied, presumably God himself, given the context. The aspect of the present tense form indicates continuous or incomplete activity of some sort.

ὥστε ὁ θάνατος ἐν ἡμῖν ἐνεργεῖται

ὥστε marks a clause that summarizes implications of the previous argument. The subject is inanimate. Death is operative by supernatural power “in us.” This is God’s design so that we might experience resurrected life in Christ Jesus (v. 14). The implied agent of the passive participle probably is God in the person of the Spirit.

ὁ θάνατος ἐν ἡμῖν ἐνεργεῖται

The sphere in which death is supernaturally operative is the lives of the writers of the letter (Paul and Timothy). Just as Jesus submitted to death so that others might experience life, so Paul and Timothy, in pursuit of God’s mission submit their lives to God every day, so that others might possess eternal life in Christ.


Eph 1.11 τοῦ…ἐνεργοῦντος

Substantival Genitive masculine singular present active participle. The referent probably is the deity. The aspect of the tense form indicates incomplete activity. It functions as a subjective genitive, indicating whose πρόθεσις (prothesis – “purpose”) is in focus (see Rom 8.28; Eph 3.11)

κατὰ πρόθεσιν τοῦ τὰ πάντα νεργοντος

κατά with the accusative defines a standard within which some action occurs. In this case it is God’s purpose. The subjective genitive τοῦ ἐνεργοῦντος (tou energountos) indicates the agent whose purpose is being enacted. The present tense of the participle indicates a current and continuing reality.

τὰ πάντα…κατὰ τῆν βουλῆν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ

The participle is transitive with τὰ πάντα functioning as direct object. Its position before the participle gives it some prominence. A second κατά + accusative adverbial phrase indicates the standard within which the deity is activating “all things,” namely “the counsel of his will.” His plans drive the purpose that he is implementing, and they encompass “all things.”


Eph 1.20 ἐνήργησεν

3rd person singular aorist active indicative functions as the main verb in a relative clause. The aspect of the tense form indicates completed activity. The subject is ὁ θεὸς τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (v. 17).

κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν τοῦ κράτους τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ ν νργησεν

The relative clause (underlined) defines the previous cognate noun ἐνέργειαν (energeian). It is the deity who is expressing “The might of his strength.” κατά (kata) + accusative describes the standard within which the action described occurs. In this case it is “the greatness of his power” that is at work in believers.

ἣν…ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐγείρας αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν…

The relative pronoun (ἥν) is the direct object of ἐνήργησεν (enērgēsen) and its antecedent probably is ἐνέργειαν (energeian). The ἐν phrase indicates the location of this activity in the Messiah. The adverbial participle ἐγείρας egeiras) indicates the circumstances in which this activity is expressed (temporal participle).

 Eph 2:2 τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργούντος

Adjectival genitive neuter singular present active participle. It characterizes τοῦ πνεύματος (tou pneumatos), a reference to Satan. The aspect of the present participle indicates continuing or incomplete activity.

ἐν αἷς ποτε περιεπατήσατε κατὰ τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, κατὰ τὸν ἄρχοντα τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ ἀερος, τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργούντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας.

The participle occurs in a relative clause that describes the pre-redeemed condition of the audience Paul is addressing. The αἰών (aiōn)references a spiritual personality, probably Satan and it is this “spirit” that is currently effectively and powerfully working in fallen humans. This usage may parody the use of this verb with reference to God’s effective work.

τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργούντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας.

The adverb νῦν (nyn) intensifies the aspect of the present participle indicating continuing activity, but places that activity firmly in the present. The preposition ἐν defines the sphere or location for this activity. The people described are “disobedient” to God.

Eph 3.20 τὴν ἐνεργουμένην

Adjectival feminine accusative singular present passive participle. The aspect of the present tense would indicate incomplete activity. It modifies the preceding τὴν δύναμιν (tēn dynamin).

κατὰ τὴν δύναμιν τὴν νεργουμνην

The adjectival participle modifies the head noun in the adverbial κατά (kata) + accusative prepositional phrase that indicates the standard that defines the ability of τῷ δυναμένῳ (tōi dynamenōi)

τὴν δύναμιν…ἐν ὑμῖν

In a passive construction the object (δύναμιν (dynamin)) of the verb becomes the subject. An agent is implied and, in this case, it is probably τῷ δυναμένῳ (tōi dynamenōi). The adverbial ἐν (en) phrase indicates the location for the activity (people).

Phil 2.13a ὁ ἐνεργῶν

Adjectival nominative masculine singular present active participle. It functions as a predicate nominative. The aspect of the present tense form indicates incomplete activity.

Θεὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ νεργν ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν ὑπερ τῆς εὐδοκίας

This is an equative clause (ἐστιν (estin)) in which the subject (θεός (theos)) is begin characterized in a specific way by the predicate adjective (ὁ ἐνεργῶν (ho energōn)).

ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν ὑπερ τῆς εὐδοκίας

The participle is active and transitive. It has a compound direct object formed of two articulated present active infinitives (καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν (kai to thelein kai to energein) “both the willing and the activating”). The ἐν (en) phrase indicates the location of this activity (in you pl.).

Phil 2.13b τὸ ἐνεργεῖν

Articulated present active infinitive. The implied subject of the infinitive is θεός (theos). The aspect of the present tense indicates incomplete activity. It functions as a direct object of the cognate participle ὁ ἐνεργῶν (ho energōn).

ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ νεργεν ὑπερ τῆς εὐδοκίας

Using the cognate articulated infinitive as the direct object emphasizes the action involved in the verb, i.e., “the acting.” It is compounded with another articulated infinitive τὸ θέλειν (to thelein) that points to God as one who does “the willing.”[47]

ὑπερ τῆς εὐδοκίας

Adverbial prepositional phrase that could express cause or reason (“because of [God’s] good pleasure”) or define what one desires to attain (“for God’s good purpose/ pleasure”).

Col 1.29 τὴν ἐνεργουμένην

Adjectival accusative feminine singular present passive participle, modifying the head noun of the prepositional phrase κατὰ τἠν ἐνέργειαν (kata tēn energeian). The aspect of the present tense indicates incomplete activity. The implied agent of the passive form is either God (v.27) or Christ (vv. 27-28).


κοπιῶ ἀγωνιζόμενος κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν αὐτοῦ τὴν νεργουμνην ἐν ἐμοὶ ἐν δυνάμει

This is part of a relative clause that defines Christ as the reason why Paul is able to work and struggle as hard as he does. The κατά (kata) + accusative adverbial phrase describes the standard (ἐνέργειαν (energeian)) by which he works so intensively. ἐνέργειαν (energeian), although it is the subject of this passive participle, it none the less functions as the “object” of the passive verb’s action (“according to his activity that is being activated in me [by God/Christ]”).

τὴν ἐνέργειαν αὐτοῦ… ἐν ἐμοὶ ἐν δυνάμει

The first ἐν (en) phrase describes the location of this activity, namely “in me,” referring to Paul, the writer of the letter. The second ἐν phrase describes manner, i.e., “in power/in a powerful way.”


Table 2 — Use of ἐνέργεια (energeia)[48] (“activity, operation”; “realized power at work”[49]; “power in action,” “power in operation,” “power working”[50]). It occurs in Paul’s Corpus only (7x).

Context Form Function Qualifiers
2 Thess 2:11 ἐνέργειαν

Accusative feminine singular noun. It serves as direct object of πέμπει (pempei)

καὶ διὰ τοῦτο πέμπει αὐτοῖς θεὸς νργειαν πλάνης

Direct object of the present active indicative verb πέμπει (pempei). θεός (theos) is subject and he is the originator of this ἐνέργειαν (energeian – “activity”?). διὰ τοῦτο (dia touto) marks this clause as explaining the cause of previous activities. The deity directs this activity to a specific group of people, marked by the dative indirect object (αὐτοῖς (autois) those who have received no love of the truth 2:10). This construction occurs with the Holy Spirit in John 14:26; 15:26. The aspect of the present indicative active verb form indicates an incomplete activity from the standpoint of the writer.

πέμπει αὐτοῖς θεὸς νργειαν πλάνης

It is modified by a genitive (πλάνης (planes) that may define the purpose of the activity, i.e., deception, or the quality of the activity, i.e., a deceptive activity, or what the activity produces, i.e., deception. In this case it is an objective genitive. If πλάνης (planēs) is personified, then perhaps it is a subjective genitive, i.e., deception’s activity, but this is unlikely given that God is the subject of the verb. The dative αὐτοῖς (autois) indicates to whom or for whom God sends this specific kind of activity.


Eph 1:19 κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν

The accusative feminine singular substantive is the head noun in an adverbial prepositional phrase that defines the standard by which something is done (“according to”). It modifies the adjectival participle τοὺς πιστεύοντας (tous pisteuontas). ἐνέργειαν (energeian) is defined in the following relative clause and related to God’s action to resurrect the Messiah and seat him on “his right hand in the heavenly region” (v.20).

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

The capacity of people to put confidence in and sustain that confidence in the Messiah is a function of God’s ἐνέργεια (energeia). It indicates that God expresses his τὸ ὑπερβάλλον μέγεθος τῆς δυνάμεως (hyperballon megethos tēs dynameōs – “exceeding greatness of power”) in divine activity applied in human lives, particularly for redemption and sanctification. The following relative clause (v. 20) further defines this divine might and gives examples of its application in relation to the Messiah.


τοὺς πιστεύοντας κατὰ τὴν νργειαν τοῦ κράτους τῆς ἰσχύος

The noun also is modified by the genitive chain τοῦ κράτους τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ (tou kratous tēs ischyos autou) that probably is subjective, indicating that this activity is produced by God’s might (κράτους (kratous)) that in turn is defined by the attributed genitive ἰσχύος (ischyos). The compounding of terms related to power in this context is extraordinary and emphasizes the deity’s incomparable capacity to achieve his purposes.

 Eph 3:7 κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν

The accusative feminine singular substantive functions as the head noun in an adverbial prepositional phrase that defines the standard by which something is done (“according to”). It modifies the adjectival participle τῆς δοθείσης (tēs dotheisēs). Same construction as in 1:19.

ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, οὗ ἐγενήθην διάκονος κατὰ τῆν δωρεὰν τῆς χάριτος τοῦ θεοῦ τῆς δοθείσης μοι κατὰ τὴν νργειαν τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ.

Part of a relative clause that defines either the Messiah or the gospel. It is part of the explanation for Paul’s role as διάκονος (diakonos). This role is God’s gift and expresses the divine favour Paul is experiencing. The aorist passive participle τῆς δοθείσης (tēs dotheisēs) probably qualifies the combined phrase κατὰ τῆν δωρεὰν τῆς χάριτος τοῦ θεοῦ (kata tēn dōrean tēs charisos tou theou). This  role as διάκονος (diakonos) is God’s gracious gift to Paul (given his background). This gift is consistent with God’s “powerful activity.”

κατὰ τῆν δωρεὰν τῆς χάριτος τοῦ θεοῦ τῆς δοθείσης μοι κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ.

ἐνέργεια (energeia) is modified by a genitive construction. It could be an attributed genitive, characterizing ἐνέργεια (energeia)as divinely powerful. Or δυνάμεως (dynameōs) could function as the implied subject of the activity referred to by ἐνέργειαν (energeian). In other words, this power produces the activity.

Eph 4:16 κατ’ ἐνέργειαν

The accusative feminine singular noun functions as the head noun in the adverbial prepositional phrase, modifying the main verb. The phrase probably expresses the standard by which the body’s growth becomes possible. Alternatively, the phrase could define the previous participles, defining the kind of activity that every supplying connection provides for the construction and harmonious efficiency of the body. It is anarthrous, indicating that the focus is not on specific activity.

κατ’ νργειαν ἐν μέτρῳ ἑνὸς ἑκάστου μέρους τῆν αὔξησιν τοῦ σώματος ποιεῖται…

If the phrase qualifies the following verb phrase (τὴν αὔξησιν…ποιεῖται (tēn auxēsin…poieitai) ), then it identifies the standard of activity that produces the body’s growth.

κατ’ ἐνέργειαν ἐν μέτρῳ ἑνὸς ἑκάστου μέρους

The ἐν (en) phrase defines the manner in which this activity occurs. It is associated directly in a measured way with each “part” (i.e., person) incorporated within the body. If each part is not operating appropriately and effectively, then the body’s growth becomes limited.

Phil 3:21 κατἀ τῆν ἐνέργειαν

Accusative feminine noun functioning as a head noun in the phrase, modifying the main verb. This adverbial prepositional phrase defines the standard by which some action occurs.

ὃς μετασχηματίσει τὸ σῶμα τῆς ταπεινώσεως ἡμῶν σύμμορφον τῷ σώματι τῆ δόξης αὐτοῦ κατὰ νργειαν τοῦ δύνασθαι αὐτὸν καὶ ὑποτάξαι αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα.

The term occurs in a prepositional phrase modifying either the main verb in a relative clause or the predicate adjective σύμμορφον (symmorphon). In either case it describes the standard of working activity required to produce resurrection bodies. The antecedent of the relative pronoun in “The Lord Jesus Christ” (v.20) and so this is “his powerful working.”

κατὰ ἐνέργειαν τοῦ δύνασθαι αὐτὸν καὶ ὑποτάξαι αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα.

Paul qualifies ἐνέργειαν (energeian) by the articulated genitive infinitive τοῦ δύνασθαι (tou dynasthai). It functions substantivally as a genitive modifier of ἐνέργειαν (energeian) “the out-working of his ability…”[51]). αὐτόν (auton)is an “accusative of reference.”[52] ὑποτάξαι (hypotaxai) is a complementary infinitive indicating the application of the Messiah’s power in “subjecting all things to himself.”

Col 1:29 κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν

Accusative feminine singular noun functioning as the head noun in this adverbial prepositional phrase that modifies the adverbial participle ἀγωνιζόμενος (agōnizomenos). It expresses the standard within which limits an action occurs.

εἰς ὃ καὶ κοπιῶ  ἀγωνιζόμενος κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν αὐτοῦ τὴν ἐνεργουμένην ἐν ἐμοὶ ἐν δυνάμει

The phrase κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν occurs in a relative clause explaining that Paul works strenuously to enable every person to benefit from the gospel. The adverbial participle is probably circumstantial whose action is contemporaneous with the main verb and indicates the manner in which Paul toils and κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν αὐτοῦ (kata tēn energeian autou) explains that divine activity enables his struggle to be effective.

κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν αὐτοῦ τὴν ενεργουμένην ἐν ἐμοὶ ἐν δυνάμει

The antecedent of the possessive pronoun αὐτοῦ (autou) is probably God (v.27). It is his “realized power at work” that is “effectively operating” (τὴν ἐνεργουμένην (tēn energoumenēn)) within Paul in a powerful way (ἐν δυνάμει (en dynamei)). The aspect of the present middle participle expresses incomplete activity. ἐν ἐμοί  (en emoi) is a locative expression. ἐν δυνάμει (en dynamei) defines the manner.

Col 2:12 τἠς ἐνεργείας

Genitive feminine singular noun probably functioning as an objective genitive, indicating what one is placing confidence in (διὰ τῆς πίστεως (dia tēs pisteōs)).

ἐν ᾦ καὶ συνηγέρθητε διὰ τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐνεργείας τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν

The relative clause probably relates to the preceding noun βαπτισμῷ (baptismōi). Through baptism believers “have been raised together (with Christ)” and this happens “in a manner consistent with God’s powerful working.” It is the resurrection of the Messiah himself that demonstrates this ἐνέργεια (energeia)

διὰ τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐνεργείας τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν

The genitive τῆς ἐνεργείας  (tēs energeias) defines the head noun of the phrase διὰ τῆς πίστεως (dia tēs pisteōs), that in turn qualifies how believers experience resurrection in their baptism – it is through faith/confidence. That faith is placed in the divine ἐνέργεια (energeia) already demonstrated in the historical resurrection of the Messiah.


Table 3 — ἐνέργημα[53] (energēma) “activity”) in the Pauline corpus (2x).

Context Form Function Qualifiers
1 Cor 12:6 ἐνεργημάτων

Genitive neuter plural noun functioning as a partitive genitive, defining a group of items that has various members. For some reason Paul prefers this term to describe God’s part, among the Trinity, in supporting the body of Christ (see vv. 4-5 for the terms he uses in connection with other members of the Trinity).

καὶ διαιρέσεις νεργημτων εἰσιν, ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς Θεὸς ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν.

It is part of the noun phrase functioning as subject of εἰσιν (eisin), expressing what exists. The next clause affirms that although diverse activities operate in “the body,” there is only one deity behind this variety of activities.

διαιρέσεις νεργημτων

διαίρεσις (diairesis) means “distributions,” “differences,” “divisions caused by violent tearing.” Meanings one or two could work in this context, but not three.

1 Cor 12:10 ἐνεργήματα

Nominative neuter plural noun that functions as the plural subject of an implied present passive indicative verb δίδοται (didotai) (v.8). Neuter plural nouns usually take singular verb forms.


διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος δίδοται…ἄλλῳ δὲ νεργματα δυνάμεων…

This is one of several clauses that list various resources supplied to the body through the Spirit. The indirect object ἄλλῳ (allōi) is quite general and non-specific.

ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων

The genitive δυνάμεων (dynameōn) could be objective, describing what the activities accomplish, namely “powerful things.” In the Gospels this term often describes miracles. However, it is distinguished in this context from “healings” (v.9). Note the similar distinction in vv. 28-30. Perhaps this term refers to exorcisms, with δύναμις (dynamis) referring to a “power” (cf. Mk 6:14), functioning as a genitive of reference (“activities with reference to powers”).


Table 4 — The adjective ἐνεργής (energēs) occurs three times in the NT (2x in Paul and 1x in Hebrews).

Context Form  Functions Qualifiers
1 Cor 16:9 ἐνεργής

A nominative feminine singular third declension adjective meaning “active, effective” (LSJ, 564).  Often used to describe “strong” medicine. It is a later form of the adjective ἐνεργός (energos – “at work, busy; productive; vigorous; effective;” LSJ, 564).

θύρα γάρ μοι ἀνέῳγεν μεγάλη καὶ ἐνεργής καὶ ἀντικείμενοι πολλοί

θύρα (thura) presumably means “opportunity” and is a metaphorical way of describing “something made possible or feasible” (BDAG, 462). The position of the adjectives relative to the noun gives the noun prominence and gives the adjectives an appositional flavour. The deity would seem to be agent responsible for this “effective door.”

It modifies the subject as a predicate adjective, separated from its noun by the dative pronoun and verb. It is compounded with μεγάλη (megalē). This adjective defines something of the magnitude of the opportunity presented.
Phlm 6 ἐνεργής

A nominative feminine singular predicate adjective used with γένηται (genētai) to characterize the subject.

ὅπως ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου ἐνεργὴς γένηται ἐν ἐπιγνώσει παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ τοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν εἰς Χριστόν

The adjective occurs in a purpose clause marked by ὅπως (hopōs). The copulative verb γίνομαι (ginomai) takes a predicate adjective. The verb in this context has the sense of “might become” and the adjective defines what the subject might become. The subject is the noun phrase ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς (hē koinonia tēs pisteōs). It may be that the εν (en) prefix with ἐνεργής (energēs) is reflected in the adverbial phrase ἐν ἐπιγνώσει (en epignōsei).

The adjective ἐνεργής (energēs) is anarthrous indicating that it has a predicate function. Their “mutual participation/share in the faith experience” has the potential to enable Philemon to have the operational capacity to understand the complete goodness that resides in Paul because he is in Christ. It seems to be an assertion of sincerity and integrity.
Heb 4:12 ἐνεργής

Nominative masculine singular adjective that functions as one of three predicate adjectives modifying the subject ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ (ho logos tou theou).


Ζῶν γὰρ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἐνεργὴς καὶ τομ;τερπος  ὑπὲρ πᾶσαν μάχαιραν καὶ διϊκωούμενος…

ἐνεργής (energēs) occurs in a verbless clause, probably with an implied form of εἰμι (eimi). If so, the subject is being defined or characterized by the series of predicate adjective formations. The writer affirms the operational effectiveness of God’s word to accomplish his purposes.

Although the adjectival  participle ζῶν (zōn), functioning as a predicate adjective, has prominence, being in first position, it is bound by καί (kai)with ἐνεργής (energēs).


Table 5 — Κατεργάζεσθαι (katergazesthai) “to effect by labour, achieve; to earn, acquire; to cultivate “land” (LSJ, 924); “to make, produce, create; perform, accomplish a task; to cause something to be the case (persons, gods); to win, achieve; to defeat, overpower; to finish off, kill” (Diggle II, 2020, 783)


Context Form Function Qualifiers
Rom 1:27 κατεργαζόμενοι

Nominative masculine plural present middle participle, probably adjectival, modifying ἄρσενες (arsenes). The aspect of the present participle indicates incomplete activity. The middle voice indicates some intentionality on the part of the subjects.

ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην κατεργαζόμενοι

This phrase is appositional to the subject (οἱ ἄρσενες (hoi arsenes)) of the preceding clause. The anarthrous ἄρσενες (arsenes) picks up this reference and characterizes such individuals with the adjectival participle construction. ἀσχημοσύνην (aschēmosynēn) is the direct object of the participle and probably refers to sexual activity, given the context.

ἐν ἄρσεσιν τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην κατεργαζόμενοι

The adverbial prepositional could modify ἄρσενες (arsenes) meaning “males with males” or it could modify the participle expressing instrumentality or manner. Given the position of the direct object before the participle, the prepositional phrase probably should be read with ἄρσενες (arsenes).


Rom 2:9 τοῦ κατεργαζομένου

Genitive masculine singular adjectival present middle participle modifying ἀνθρώπου (anthrōpou). The aspect of the present tense form is incomplete activity. The middle voice indicates intentionality or volition.

ἐπὶ πᾶσαν ψυχὴν ἀνθρώπου τοῦ κατεργαζομένου τὸ κακόν

The phrase characterizes those upon whom wrath, anger, distress and anguish come because they work evil effectively. The noun ἀνθρώπου (anthrōpou) includes both genders.

ἀνθρώπου τοῦ κατεργαζομένου τὸ κακόν

The participle has a direct object, namely τὸ κακόν (kakon) “the evil.” The lives of such people are producing what is evil and this explains God’s response to them.

Rom 4:15 κατεργάζεται

3rd person singular present active indicative, finite verb in an independent explanatory clause. The aspect of the present tense indicates incomplete activity, and the middle voice indicates intentionality.

ὁ γὰρ νόμος ὀργὴν κατεργάζεται

γάρ (gar) marks this clause as an explanation why faith is necessary to receive God’s promise. Living by law produces/ achieves wrath, not promise.

ὁ γὰρ νόμος ὀργὴν κατεργάζεται

The subject is ὁ νόμος (ho nomos), an inanimate factor. However, implied in the subject is someone who is the source of law. The sense of the verb shifts to mean “to produce or achieve” or perhaps metaphorically “to cultivate.” The direct object is ὀργήν (orgēn) and it is in the focal point of the clause, positioned before the verb. In the previous clause Paul has used the cognate verb καταργέω (katarge  “nullify.”

Rom 5:3 κατεργάζεται

3rd person singular present active indicative, finite verb in a dependent content clause of indirect discourse. The aspect of the present tense indicates incomplete activity, and the middle voice indicates intentionality.

εἰδότες ὅτι θλῖψις ὑπομονὴν κατεργάζεται.

The participial phrase (εἰδότες ὅτι… (eidotes hoti) explains why believers “boast in the midst of distresses.” Paul repeats θλῖψις (thlipsis) as the subject, declaring the benefit that distress achieves or cultivates, namely endurance (ὑπομονήν (hypomonēn) direct object).

θλῖψις ὑπομονὴν κατεργάζεται.

The aspect of the present tense form indicates that distress continues to cultivate endurance. Paul again employs an inanimate subject. However, implied in the subject is some agent – human or divine.

Rom 7:8 κατειργάσατο

3rd person singular aorist middle indicative. The aspect of the aorist tense indicates a completed activity.

ἀφορμὴν δὲ λαβοῦσα ἡ ἁμαρτία διὰ τῆς ἐντολῆς κατειργάσατο ἐν ἐμοὶ πᾶσαν ἐπιθυμίαν.

This is an independent sentence. δέ (de) marks it as the next, logical topic in the discourse. Probably conjunctive here.

The subject is another inanimate element ἁμαρτία (hamartia), but implied is an evil agent of some sort. The object is ἐπιθυμίαν (epithymian) that probably has a negative connotation in this context (“evil desire” or “lust”). The initial adverbial participle describes the way the subject ἁμαρτία (hamartia) conducts itself and is probably instrumental. It frames the action of the main verb.

διὰ τῆς ἐντολῆς κατειργάσατο ἐν ἐμοὶ πᾶσαν ἐπιθυμίαν.

The verb is modified by a direct object πᾶσαν ἐπιθυμίαν (pasan epothymian). πᾶσαν has an inclusive sense and so there is no “evil desire” that is excluded from sin’s work. The means by which sin cultivates “every evil desire” is defined in the διά (dia) + genitive phrase (“by means of the command”). ἐν ἐμοί (en emoi) indicates the location in which sin accomplishes this activity.

Rom 7:13 κατεργαζομένη

Nominative feminine singular present middle participle. Probably adverbial indicating instrument or time.

ἀλλ’ ἡ ἁμαρτία, ἵνα φανῇ ἁμαρτία, διὰ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ μοι κατεργαζομένη θάνατον,…

ἀλλ’ (all’) marks a contrast that negates the inference in the previous question and indicates the correct explanation. There is no main verb in this clause. ἐξηπάτησεν (eksēpatēsen) from v. 11 is implied as the main verb. The adverbial participle then indicates the means by which or the time when sin deceived. The point is repeated that “sin produces/cultivates death.”

διὰ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ μοι κατεργαζομένη θάνατον

The adverbial participle provides information about the subject ἡ ἁμαρτία (hē hamartia). The object is θάνατον. The διά (dia) + gen. phrase again indicates means. “The good” thing refers to the law. μοι (moi) is dative of disadvantage and its position before the participle gives it some prominence.

Rom 7:15 κατεργάζομαι

1st person singular present middle indicative. The aspect of the present tense indicates incomplete activity.

ὃ γὰρ κατεργάζομαι οὐ γινώσκω.

The verb occurs in a relative clause that functions as the object of the main verb γινώσκω (ginōskō). The main clause functions as an explanation of the statement in v. 14.

ὃ γὰρ κατεργάζομαι οὐ γινώσκω.

The relative pronoun is the object of κατεργάζομαι (katergazomai) in the relative clause. Presumably it refers to the subject’s inability to control sinful activity because he is still part of the σάρκινος (sarkinos) reality. The subject picks up ἐγώ (egō) in the previous clause.

Rom 7:17 κατεργάζομαι

1st person singular present middle indicative. The aspect of the present tense indicates incomplete activity.

νυνὶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγὼ κατεργάζομαι αὐτὸ ἀλλ’ ἡ οἰκοῦσα εν ἐμοὶ ἁμαρτία.

The verb occurs in an independent clause as part of a discourse with an imaginary individual. The explicit pronominal subject emphasizes the subject’s lack of involvement in the action, in contrast to ἀλλ’… ἁμαρτία (all’…hamartia). The temporal indicators indicate current activity or lack thereof. The antecedent of the direct object αὐτό is probably the relative clause in v. 15b. The sense of the verb seems to be “produce, achieve, cultivate.”

νυνὶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγὼ κατεργάζομαι αὐτὸ

οὐκέτι (ouketi) is a negative temporal marker indicating that the verb’s activity no longer occurs. The subject is explicit. The pronominal direct object refers to the speaker’s inability to control sinful impulses (he does what he hates).

Rom 7:18 τὸ…κατεργάζεσθαι

Articulated present middle infinitive functioning as subject of a verbless clause (the previous verb παράκειται (parakeitai) is implied). The aspect of the present infinitive indicates incomplete activity.

τὸ γὰρ θέλειν παράκειται μοι, τὸ δὲ κατεργάζεσθαι τὸ καλὸν οὔ.

δέ (de) is probably disjunctive, emphasizing the contrast between the two articulated infinitives. The writer contrasts will or desire, with activity, production, cultivation, namely of τὸ καλόν (to kalon).

τὸ δὲ κατεργάζεσθαι τὸ καλὸν οὔ.

The infinitive functions as a substantive, with the sense “the effecting by labour, the cultivating” of the good. The speaker denies that he has this capacity. The first position of the infinitive in its clause gives it prominence.

Rom 7:20 κατεργάζομαι

Main verb in the apodosis of a first-class condition. 1st person singular present middle indicative with an explicit subject. The aspect of the present tense indicates incomplete activity.

εἰ δὲ ὃ οὐ θέλω [ἐγὼ] τοῦτο ποιῶ, οὐκέτι ἐγὼ κατεργάζομαι αὐτὸ ἀλλ’ἡ οἰκοῦσα ἐν ἐμοὶ ἁμαρτία.

The writer continues his contrast between θέλω…κατεργάζομαι (thelō…katergazomai). The verb is transitive. The verb means “effecting by labour, cultivating.”

Throughout this passage κατεργάζομαι (katergazomai) is linked with ποιέω (poieō) and πράσσω (prassō).

οὐκέτι ἐγὼ κατεργάζομαι αὐτὸ

The οὐκέτι…ἀλλ’ (ouketi…all’) construction indicates the contrast, with temporal emphasis. The antecedent of the pronominal object probably is κακόν (kakon) in the preceding verse (v. 19b).

Rom 15:18 κατειργάσατο

3rd person singular aorist middle indicative. The aspect of the aorist indicates completed activity.

ὧν οὐ κατειργάσατο Χριστὸς δι’ ἐμοῦ εἰς ὑπακοὴν ἐθνῶν, λόγῳ καὶ ἔργῳ, ἐν δυνάμει…ἐν δυνάμει πνεύματος [θεοῦ].

The verb occurs in a relative clause that adds details to the writer’s negative declaration. He will not boast about anything that the Messiah has not effectively worked/ cultivated in him. The subject is Χριστός (christos). The direct object is ὧν (hōn) that is genitive by attraction to an implied partitive genitive that modifies the previous τι (ti).

ὧν οὐ κατειργάσατο Χριστὸς δι’ ἐμοῦ εἰς ὑπακοὴν ἐθνῶν, λόγῳ καὶ ἔργῳ, ἐν δυνάμει…ἐν δυνάμει πνεύματος [θεοῦ].

δι’ ἐμοῦ (di’ emou) describes the speaker as an intermediate agent who was involved in the Messiah’s mission. The purpose of these activities that the Messiah accomplishes through “me” is “obedience of nations.” Paul is talking about the mission to non-Jews. The pair of dative nouns λόγῳ καὶ ἔργῳ (logoi kai ergōi) describe the manner of the actions employed by the intermediate agent under the Messiah’s authority. The power of the Spirit is the means (second ἐν (en) phrase).

1 Cor 5:3 τὸν…κατεργασάμενον

Accusative masculine singular, substantival aorist middle participle. This refers to the one who committed fornication with his father’s wife (v.1).

ἐγὠ μὲν γὰρ…δὲ…ἤδη κέκρικα ὡς παρὼν τὸν οὕτως τοῦτο κατεργασάμενον.

Paul as writer is the subject. The main verb is a perfect active indicative form, indicating a current state or condition resulting from a past action. The substantival participle functions as the object of the main verb. Note in v. 2b the use of the substantival aorist participial phrase ὁ τὸ ἔργον τοῦτο πράξας (ho to ergon touto praxis) that says virtually the same thing.

τὸν οὕτως τοῦτο κατεργασάμενον.

The substantival participle is the object of the perfect verb κέκρικα (kekrika). The adverb οὕτως (houtōs) adds specification to the kind of activity indicated by the aorist participle. The participle also has a direct object τοῦτο (touto), the demonstrative pronoun whose referent is the preceding τὸ ἔργον τοῦτο (to ergon touto).

2 Cor 4:17 κατεργάζεται

3rd person singular present middle indicative verb functioning as main verb in its clause. The aspect of the present tense form indicates incomplete activity.

τὸ παραυτίκα ἐλαφρὸν τῆς θλίψεως…αἰώνιον βάρος δόξης κατεργάζεται ἡμῖν.

The subject is an inanimate factor ἐλαφρόν (elaphron), an adjective employed as a neuter substantive. It describes something “light” and is defined by the genitive modifier.

αἰώνιον βάρος δόξης κατεργάζεται ἡμῖν.

The direct object is αἰώνιον βάρος (aiōnion baros), both elements of which contrast with the subject παραυτίκα ἐλαφρὸν (parautika elaphron), as does δόξης (doxēs) with θλίψεως (thlipseōs). “Present lightness of affliction” is effectively working or producing or cultivating “eternal heaviness of glory.” The dative ἡμῖν (hemin) is a dative of advantage.

2 Cor 5:5 ὁ…κατεργασάμενος

Substantival aorist middle participle functioning as subject of a verbless clause. The article marks the subject. The aspect of the aorist tense form indicates completed activity.

ὁ δὲ κατεργασάμενος ἡμᾶς εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο θεός

The substantival participle is subject and the anarthrous θεός (theos) is a predicate nominative. This predicate defines or identifies the subject. With a direct object the verb can mean “to produce, make; create” and this seems to be its sense in this context.

ὁ δὲ κατεργασάμενος ἡμᾶς εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο
The subject is

defined as a deity who is responsible for producing “us.” The purpose involved is defined in the εἰς (eis) phrase and the antecedent of the pronominal element is “release from mortality” mentioned in v. 4.

2 Cor 7:10 κατεργάζεται

3rd person singular present middle indicative primary verb in an independent, declarative clause. The aspect of the present middle indicative suggests incomplete activity. In the previous clause ἐργάζεται (ergazetai) is NA’s text, but many MSS read κατεργαζεται (katergazetai).

ἡ δὲ τοῦ κόσμου λύπη θάνατον κατεργάζεται

It is part of an explanatory segment. δέ (de) marks the contrast between ἡ κατὰ θεὸν λύπη (hē kata theon lypē) and ἡ τοῦ κόσμου λύπη (hē tou kosmou lypē). The verb is transitive and so probably means “produce, make, cultivate.”

ἡ…λύπη θάνατον κατεργάζεται

The object precedes the verb and occurs in the focal point of the clause. The previous clause expresses the same word order.

2 Cor 7:11 κατειργάσατο

3rd person singular aorist middle indicative whose aspect indicates completed activity. It functions as the main verb in an explanatory clause. The writer references something that has occurred.

ἰδοὺ γὰρ αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὸ κατὰ θεὸν λυηθῆναι πόσην κατειργάσατο ὑμὶν σπουδήν…

The writer employs ἰδού (idou) to draw his audience’s attention to this explanation. The subject is the articulated aorist passive infinitive qualified by κατὰ θεόν (kata theon). The interrogative adjective πόσην (posēn) marks this as a question.

αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὸ κατὰ θεὸν λυηθῆναι πόσην κατειργάσατο ὑμὶν σπουδήν…

The interrogative element πόσην…σπουδήν (posēn spoudēn) functions as the direct object, indicating what grief in accordance with God’s ways will produce in a believer’s life. The beneficiaries are indicated by a dative of advantage.

2 Cor 9:11 κατεργάζεται

3rd person singular present middle indicative. The relative clause explains why “generosity” is so important in God’s mission. The aspect of the present tense indicates incomplete activity.

ἐν παντὶ πλουτιζόμενοι εἰς πᾶσαν ἁπλότητα, ἥτις κατεργάζεται δι’ ἡμῶν εὐχαριστίαν τῷ θεῷ.

The antecedent of the relative pronoun ἥτις (ētis) is ἁπλότητα (haplotēta) and the pronoun functions as subject of the verb in its clause. The pronoun means “the kind of…that….” The verb is transitive with the sense “produces, makes, creates.”

ἥτις κατεργάζεται δι’ ἡμῶν εὐχαριστίαν τῷ θεῷ.

The intermediate agent is expressed in δι’ ἡμῶν (di’ hēmōn). What generosity produces is εὐχαριστίαν (eucharistian), “thanksgiving,” a form of praise expressed to God. The dative indicates that God is the beneficiary.

2 Cor 12:12 κατειργάσθη

3rd person singular aorist passive indicative in an independent declarative clause. The agent is implied, but presumably is Christ or God or the Spirit. The aspect of the aorist indicates completed activity.

τὰ μὲν σημεῖα τοῦ ἀποστόλου κατειργάσθη ἐν ὑμῖν ἐν πάσῃ ὑπομονῇ, σημείοις τε καὶ τέρασιν….

The particle μέν (men) is probably emphatic here. The neuter subject takes a singular verb. Some agent has produced “apostolic signs” among this audience.


κατειργάσθη ἐν ὑμῖν ἐν πάσῃ ὑπομονῇ, σημείοις τε καὶ τέρασιν

The aorist tense points to completed activity in the past among this audience. These signs were produced “with total perseverance,” presumably indicating that difficulties accompanied such signs. The dative σημείοις (sēmeiois) probably describes means. It is unusual that the same noun is used as subject and as dative of means in the same clause.

Eph 6:13 κατεργασάμενοι

Nominative masculine plural adverbial aorist middle participle, probably circumstantial, but may be causal. It frames the action of the following infinitive. The aspect of the aorist participle indicates a completed activity.


ἵνα δυναθῆτε ἀντιστῆναι ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ πονηρᾷ καὶ ἅπαντα κατεργασάμενοι στῆναι.

Part of a ἵνα (hina) clause of purpose that explains why believers need God’s armour. The referent for the participle is the subject of the main verb δυναθῆτε (dynathēte). The verb may mean “defeated, won” given the sense of πρὸς τὸ δύνασθαι ὑμας στῆναι πρὸς τὰς μεθοδείας τοῦ διαβόλου (pros to dynasthai hymas stēnai pros tas methodeias tou diabolou).

καὶ ἅπαντα κατεργασάμενοι στῆναι.

The direct object ἅπαντα (hapanta) probably refers to Satan’s many forms of spiritual attack. The believer who wears God’s armour is able to defeat this onslaught and thus “stand,” presumably being faithful to their confession.

Phil 2:12 κατεργάζεσθε.

2nd person plural

present middle imperative. Probably has the sense “be working effectively.” The audience are believers.

μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε.

Part of a concluding instruction marked by ὥστε (hōste) and framed by a clause of comparison (ὡς (hōs)) that affirms their obedience. The object of the verb is σωτήριαν (sōtērian) and since these people already are believers, this refers to their daily response to the Messiah’s mission, something the writer has discussed in 2:1-12.


μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε.

The action of the verb is framed with the adverbial phrase μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου (meta phobou kai tromou) that characterizes the context of their “effective working,” i.e., fear and awe [of God].”

The reflexive pronoun ἑαυτῶν (heautōn) suggests that there will be individual variation in how this is done. The object precedes the verb and is positioned in the focal point of the clause.

Jam 1:3 κατεργάζεται

3rd person singular present middle indicative. This is the main verb in a subordinate object clause of indirect discourse. The aspect of the present tense form indicates incomplete action.

γινώσκοντες ὅτι τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως κατεργάζεται ὑπομονήν.

The adverbial present participle γινώσκοντες (ginōskontes) provides more information as to why believers can consider testing/temptation a reason for joy. The ὅτι (hoti) contains the explanation. It indicates that joy occurs as believers realize “the tested result of your faith.” The is the subject of κατεργάζεται (katergazetai).

τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως κατεργάζεται ὑπομονήν.

The object follows the verb and refers to “endurance.” The verb has the sense “to produce, accomplish.”

Jam 1:20 κατεργάζεται

3rd person singular present middle indicative. The verb is part of an independent declarative clause. The present tense implies incomplete action.

ὀργὴ γὰρ ἀνδρὸς δικαιοσύνην θεοῦ οῦ κατεργάζεται.

The clause is probably a general statement. The subject is anarthrous, i.e., “human wrath” in contrast with “divine right action.” The verb is negatived and means “to produce, accomplish.”

ὀργὴ γὰρ ἀνδρὸς δικαιοσύνην θεοῦ οῦ κατεργάζεται.

The writer positions the object in the focal point of the clause.

1 Pet 4:3 κατειργάσθαι

Aorist middle infinitive, complementing the initial predicate adjective ἀρκετός (arketos) that forms part of a verbless clause. The aspect of the aorist tense form indicates completed activity.

ἀρκετὸς γὰρ ὁ παρεληλυθὼς χρόνος τὸ βούλημα τῶν ἐθνῶν κατειργάσθαι…

The subject of the verbless clause is ὁ…χρονός (ho…chronos). The writer indicates that this time that has passed “is sufficient” for “accomplishing the desire/will of the nations.” A new time has arrived.

τὸ βούλημα τῶν ἐθνῶν κατειργάσθαι

The writer places the object before the verb, giving it prominence.



[1] Ben Witherington III., Work. A Kingdom Perspective on Labor (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2011), 4.

[2] This article does not address what value the work of non-believers has in the larger purposes of the Creator-God, except briefly in footnotes 11 and 40.

[3] Paul Stevens explores similar themes in his various publications related to Christians in the marketplace and theology of work. The Kingdom of God in Working Clothes: The Marketplace and the Reign of God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2022) is particularly helpful.

[4] Witherington, Work, 13.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Miroslav Volf, Work in the Spirit. Toward a Theology of Work (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Pub., repr. 2001), 10-11. Volf explains his definition in the following pages.

[7] Ibid., 12-13.

[8] Volf, Work in the Spirit, 115. Volf argues for a Christian eschatology in which God transforms the current cursed earth into the “new earth.” In his opinion, this perspective allows for human work in the current age to contribute proleptically to the new, transformed earth that God will create after the Messiah’s return. Numerous theologians conversely argue that the New Testament teaches the annihilation of the current earth and its replacement with the “new earth.” Such eschatological perspectives affect how one articulates a theology of Christian work, as well as anthropological work generally.

[9] Darrell Cosden. A Theology of Work. Work and the New Creation (Milton Keynes, Great Britain: Paternoster, 2004), 18.

[10] Cosden, A Theology of Work, 178-79. Cosden gives no space in this definition to God’s intent for human work to function as part of humans’ expected worship of the deity.

[11] Just as theologians distinguish between special and natural revelation, so it might be necessary also to distinguish between definitions of work that any human does within the context of a fallen world and the work that redeemed humans do within the framework of God’s special rule contributing to the purposes of God’s mission for his redeemed people.

[12] Karl Barth considers human culture as a “place where God could raise up parables of his own acts and kingdom.” Robert J. Palma, Karl Barth’s Theology of Culture. The Freedom of Culture for the Praise of God (Pittsburgh Theological Monographs 2 (Allison, PA: Pickwick Publications, 1983), 28-29. However, Barth concludes that “the use of the good gift of God and therefore human work and its great and small results have been most grievously compromised by man’s perverted attitude to God, to his neighbour and to himself” (The Humanity of God, translated by Thomas Wieser and John Newton Thomas; Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1960, 45). For humans to be truly free and able to express cultural goods as God intended, they must be liberated from the effects of this fall. When expressions of human culture by God’s grace most nearly approach and express God’s values and not human absolutism, there the paradigmatic possibilities of human culture reach their greatest potential.

[13] In my view Paul Stevens also belongs in this group.

[14] Although this set of terms occurs occasionally in the letters of James and 1 Peter, as well as the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, it is Paul primarily who employs this lexical group to describe divine activity operative effectively in the lives of redeemed people.

[15] According to James 5:16 πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη (energoumenē) (“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” NIV). Most English versions interpret ἐνεργουμένη (energoumenē) as a present middle participle and this generates immense difficulties when it comes to explaining what the writer meant. If it is a middle form, it makes the righteous person and their prayer somehow the agent and the action responsible for generating an effective result, i.e., healing. This suggests that certain humans who are δίκαιος (dikaios) have the capacity through their prayers to perform miracles. However, if as Clarke argues (Kenneth W. Clark, “The Meaning of ἘΝΕΡΓΕΩ and ΚΑΤΑΡΓΈΩ in the New Testament,” in The Gentile Bias and Other Essays. SuppNT LIV. (Leiden: Brill, 1980), 189) the participle is passive, the conundrum gets resolved. James merely states that the prayers of righteous people are powerful because they are “being set in operation by supernatural force.” Such prayers are effective not because of “human effort, sincerity, fervor or persistency,” but because the deity makes them effective through his supernatural power.

The present active tense form occurs in Mark 6:14 (καὶ ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἐνεργοῦσιν (energousin) αἱ δυνάμεις ἐν αὐτῷ  “and some were saying that John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead and for this reason the powers are effectively operating in him” (my translation)). This language is very similar to that used by Paul in Eph 3:20. English versions usually translate the plural noun αἱ δυνάμεις (hai dynameis) as “miracles.” However, the people in the pericope seem to be claiming that special powers are operative in Jesus because John the Baptizer has returned from the dead in the person of Jesus in some sense, giving him access to extraordinary, supernatural powers. Matt 14:2 contains the same popular claim, but makes the identity with John the Baptist even more specific – “he himself has been raised from the dead and for this reason the powers are effectively operative (ἐνεργοῦσιν (energousin)) in him.” Jesus is John the Baptist returned from the dead and this explains his remarkable actions.

In each of these cases the verb refers to supernatural power active in people that enables specific kinds of effective activity.

[16]Occurrences of the verb ἐνεργέω (energeō; Matt 14:2; Mk 6:14; Rom 7:5; 1 Cor 12:6, 11; 2 Cor 1:6; 4:12; Gal 2:8(2x); 3:5; 5:6; Eph 1:11, 20; 2:2; 3:20; Phil 2:13(2x); Col 1:29; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:7; Jam 5:16); the noun ἐνέργεια (energeia; Eph 1:19; 3:7; 4:16; Phil 3:21; Col 1:29; 2:12 2 Thess 2:9, 11); the noun ἐνέργημα (energēma; 1 Cor 12:6, 10); and the adjective ἐνεργής (energēs; 1 Cor 16:9; Phlm 6; Heb 4:12).                     .

[17] BDAG refers to Frederick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000).

[18] BDAG disagrees with Clark’s argument that ἐνεργεῖσθαι (energeisthai) is passive and not middle. Clarke (“The Meaning of ἘΝΕΡΓΕΩ”) offers several arguments to support his contention that forms such as ἐνεργεῖται (energeitai) and ἐνεργούμενος (energoumenos) are passive and not middle voice. He concludes that “the contexts in which ἐνεργοῦμαι appears [in the New Testament] are all satisfied by the passive of the meaning we have already assigned to ἐνεργέω” (188). First, reading these forms as passives clarifies the interpretation of various difficult passages (e.g., Jas 5:16 (see footnote 13 in this article); Gal 5:6; 2 Thess 2:7). The sense of the passive forms “fits precisely into the first century mood, and more particularly into its context” (190). In addition he notes that this passive sense seems to be employed in two of the Apostolic Fathers’ writings, namely 1 Clem 60.1 (τῶν ἐνεργουμένων (tōn energoumenōn), referring to the things created by God in the universe that have revelatory significance) and Barn 1:7 (βλέποντες ἐνεργούμενα (blepontes energoumena) referring to human perception of things prophesied by God and then made operative). Barn 2:1 uses the present active participle to refer to Satan’s activity.

  1. Armitage Robinson, Commentary on Ephesians. Exposition of the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1979), 241-47, adds further arguments for a passive reading of these forms. He cites passive uses in the writings of Polybius, Josephus, and Aristotle (244-45). He notes that “ἐνεργεῖσθαι is never used by St Paul of a person, while ἐνεργεῖν is always so used. If the words be respectively passive and active, this distinction is perfectly natural; but there seems to be no reason why the middle should be specifically applicable to things in contrast to persons” (246). He also asserts that to his knowledge “there is no trace of a middle in any other writer” (246).

[19] BDAG, 335.

[20] BDAG, 335.

[21] BDAG, 335.

[22] LXX Isa 41:4 reads τίς ἐνήργησε (enērgēse) καὶ ἐποίησε ταῦτα; ἐκάλεσεν αὐτῆν ὁ καλῶν αὐτῆν ἀπὸ γενεῶν ἀρχῆς, ἐγὼ θεὸς πρῶτος,…

[23] Occurrences in the LXX: ἐνεργέω (energeō) (Num 8:24 (Levites); 1 Es 2.16 (work on the temple); Prov 21:6 (human agent); 31:12 (wife); Wisd 15:11 (divine agent); 16:17 (fire); Isa 41:4 (divine agent)); ἐνέργεια (energeia) (Wisd 7:17 (earthly elements), 26 (divine activity); 13:4 (nature); 18:22 (armament); 2 Macc 3:29 (divine agent); 3 Macc 4:21 (providence)); ἐνεργός (energos), an earlier form of the adjective (Ez 46.1(work days)).

[24] Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Paul and the Stoics (Louisville, KTY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000).

[25] Clark, “The Meaning of ἘΝΕΡΓΕΩ,” 183-91. G. Bertram, “ἐνεργέω, ἐνέργεια, ἐνέργημα, ἐνεργής,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II. Ed. By Gerhard Kittel; translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley; (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 652-54. Bertram indicates that the intransitive use of the verb means “to be at work,” “to act or start to act” and transitively “to set at work,” “to effect.” Bertram regards forms of ἐνεργεῖσθαι (energeisthai) to be middle and not passive. He concludes by saying that “In the NT, then, the word group is used of irrational operations, whether divine or demonic.” I think what he means by ‘irrational’ is ‘supernatural.’

[26]The cognate verb κατεργάζομαι (katergazomai) expresses the achievement of an action in some way (create, produce), whereas ἐνεργέω (energeō) focuses on describing an effective action in itself, often with a focus on the capacity or force that enables such activity. Paul employs κατεργάζομαι (katergazomai) twenty times (primarily in Romans) and it occurs twice in James (1:3, 20) and once in 1 Peter (4:3). While God or Christ (Rom 15:8) occasionally may be the subject of a finite verb form or the referent of a participial form (2 Cor 5:5), subjects of this cognate verb form tend to be spiritual forces, events or actions, such as sin, distress, wrath (divine and human), law, generosity, signs of an apostle, demonstrated faith, or time, and occasionally human agents who are believers (Eph 6:13; Phil 2:12) or non-believers (Rom 7:15, 17, 20). Its semantic significance overlaps somewhat with ποιέω (poieō) and πράσσω (prassō). The diverse agents involved indicate that the writers perceive a broad range of ‘spiritual’ activity in human lives, producing some negative and some positive results. Writers tend to select κατεργάζομαι (katergazomai) instead of ποιέω (poieō) or πράσσω (prassō) when they emphasize the thorough accomplishment of a particular action or process. The middle voice marks the intentional or engaged involvement of the subject in the action.

[27] καταργέω (katargeō)  means “to invalidate, make powerless; abolish, wipe out, set aside; be discharged, released” (BDAG 525-26). It occurs 25x in Paul’s letters and once each in Luke (13:7) and Heb (2:14). In some contexts, God is the subject (e.g., 1 Cor 1:28; 6:13; 15;24; Eph 2:15; 2 Thess 2:8; 2 Tim 1:10).

[28] ἐνεργέω (energeō) is related to the verb ἐργάζομαι (ergazomai) “to work; to do” that occurs frequently in the NT and is the default verb employed to describe work activity. κατεργάζομαι (katergazomai) means to do something with success or thoroughness, intensifying in that way the sense of ἐργάζομαι (ergazomai). ἐνεργέω (energeō) has the sense of being engaged in some activity or function, with possible focus upon the energy or force involved (Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, vol. 1, 511 §42.4).

[29] Whether Paul uses the term “God” in such contexts in a trinitarian sense is not easy to determine. I suspect he employs it in the OT sense of “Yahweh,” without specifying whether he is referring to God the Father, the Son, or the Spirit. An exception would be his usage in 1 Cor 12:6. In several contexts Paul uses the resurrection of the Messiah as an example of “God’s” activity.

[30] It is perhaps noteworthy that in the Gospels Jesus never is the subject of this verb. What idiom do the writers employ to describe Jesus “doing” a miracle? In Mark 6:5, for example, the terminology is ποιῆσαι οὐδεμίαν δύναμιν (poiēsai oudemian dynamin) “to do no miracle.”

[31] BDAG lists these as examples of middle forms and defines this usage as he does the active forms. However, none of these participles are transitive. Clark argues that they are passive in voice.

[32] Daniel Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervans, 1996), 372) notes that ἐν + dative can indicate sphere (locative) or instrumentality (means).

[33] This use with ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ (ho logos tou theou) is similar to Paul’s expression in 1 Thess 2:13 λόγον θεοῦ ὃς καὶ ἐνεργεῖται ἐν ὑμῖν (logon theou hos kai energeitai en hymin).

[34] Clarke, “The Meaning of ἘΝΕΡΓΕΩ,” 188. In his view “the contexts in which ἐνεργοῦμαι appears are all satisfied by the passive of the meaning we have already assigned to ἐνεργέω. ‘To be infused with supernatural spirit’ (or, possessed) is the meaning in two instances; and in the other seven ‘to be made supernaturally operative’.” The two contexts he refers to are Eph 1:19-20 and 1 Cor 12:6, 11.

[35] Robinson, Commentary on Ephesians, 241-47.

[36] Clarke, “The Meaning of ἘΝΕΡΓΕΩ,” 185-88.

[37] The noun εὐδοκία (eudokia) “good will, favour” is cognate with the noun δόξα (doxa) “glory” and both are related to the verb δοκέω (dokeō) “I think, believe; seem.” We gain insight into how the work of believers has lasting value (in this age and the next) by considering how the Messiah’s work/activity, both as carpenter and during the three years of his Messianic mission, have significance for the new heaven and earth.

[38] Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Paul and the Stoics (Louisville, KTY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 51 argues that in Stoicism moral insight (phronesis) enables a person to discern virtuous action that is actualized (energeia) so that the person may enjoy the good life (eudaimonia). The goal (telos) is self-sufficiency (autarkes). The Stoics adopted this formulation from Aristotle’s treatment in his Nichomachean Ethics. This concept, however, embeds energeia in the closed system of human endeavour. If such activity is marred morally, then there is no other source of moral power by which this can be remedied. Paul’s prescription in Phil 2:12-13 offers a very different understanding of moral insight, moral power, and the telos of human life, all centred in the reality of Christ. The discussion in Romans 7 suggests that Paul discerns similar limitations in Judaism’s understanding of the Law.

[39] Paul’s use of the language of “perfection, maturity” (τετελείωμαι (teteleiōmai) and τέλειοι (teleioi)) in Phil 3:12-16 describes the goal that such human effort seeks to accomplish with God’s help.

[40] Translation proposed by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians WBC 43 (Waco, TX: Word Books Pub., 1983), 201.

[41] In several contexts Paul asserts that the resurrection of the Messiah and the supernatural infusion of power that enabled this miraculous event, is the same ἐνέργεια (energeia)) at work in believers (Eph 1:20; Phil 3:21; Col 2:12).

[42] People wonder whether work by non-redeemed humans has any lasting value. Different scholars offer varying perspectives. At least four principles give us some direction in this matter:

  1. If Satan has enslaved non-believing humans so that they contribute to his mission, as Paul argues, then the significance of their work is not spiritually neutral, but constitutes rebellious activity that is essentially idolatrous.
  2. God’s general grace provides life and sustenance to humans, just as he does all his creatures (Psalm 104). Human work becomes one means by which God enables his human creatures to sustain life in this age by his mercy.
  3. Sometimes, when it suits his purpose, God uses the work/activity of non-believers to advance his cause. For example, Cyrus, king of Persia, functions as God’s ‘anointed’ as he enables the Israelite exiles to return and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple (Isa 44:24-45:1-7). Another example is the action of the Judaic religious leaders and Pilate to crucify Jesus. Perhaps Paul’s thorn in the flesh would constitute another example (2 Corinthians 12).
  4. God judges human work and its results at the end of the age, and it all is condemned and cast into the ‘lake of fire.’ The work/activity of the great Babylon gets consumed and destroyed at the end of the age according to Revelation 18-19.

Given these inter-related realities, it does not seem that work conducted by non-believing humans has significance beyond this age. It may sustain human life, generate pleasure, or create beauty in this age, but because humans do not offer these activities as worship to God, the Creator, they do not advance his kingdom purposes directly. Consider Barth’s formulation as discussed in footnote 12.

[43] For more detailed discussion of this passage and Paul’s ideas about the implications of final judgment for various kinds of human work see Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 311-15.

[44] Occurrences in LXX: Num 8:24; 1 Es 2.16; Prov 21:6; 31:12; Wisd 15:11; 16:17; Isa 41:4.

[45] Other occurrences in the NT are in Matt 14:2; Mk 6:14; and Jas 5:16.

[46] Clarke, “The Meaning of ἘΝΕΡΓΕΩ,” 186.

[47] Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 261.

[48] References in LXX: Wisd 7:17, 26; 13:4; 18:22; 2 Macc 3:29; 3 Macc 4:21. Note how NT usage is confined almost exclusively to Paul’s Prison Epistles.

[49] William J. Larkin, Ephesians. A Handbook on the Greek Text (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009), 23.

[50] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians WBC 43 (Waco, TX: Word Book Publishers, 1983), 173.

[51] Hawthorne, Philippians, 173.

[52] Ibid.

[53] The term in the NT only occurs in 1 Corinthians 12.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *