“Virtue” or “Power” in Mark 5:30 et al.?
And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? (Mark 5:30, KJV)
Luke 8:46 is a parallel account to Mark 5:30. Some people question the KJV’s choice of translating “δυναμιν (dunamin)” as “virtue”. The NIV, ESV and NASB translate this word as “power” in this passage. Although “power” is a valid translation of “δυναμιν”, the choice of “virtue” in the context is supported by Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon. The given definitions are:
1) strength power, ability
1a) inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth
1b) power for performing miracles
1c) moral power and excellence of soul
Luke 6:17-19 shows that definition 1c applies to “δυναμιν” in the context of Mark 5:30 and Luke 8:46:
“And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judaea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.” (Luke 6:17-19, KJV)
Thayer’s definition 1c is satisfied as this “δυναμιν” was power of a type that drove out the unclean spirits (Luke 6:18-19). Such “power” is to be distinguished from any generic “power”, let alone the “power” of Satan. Satan has “power” too; so do his minions, as can be seen in them “vexing” the people. Vexing requires “power” too. But only our Lord has the power of “virtue”, which alone can overpower the power of unclean spirits.
“Virtue” is power, but of moral strength. It is derived from the Latin “virtus” meaning “moral strength, manliness, valour, excellence, worth”. In using the word “virtue” which gives a positive connotation, the KJV is not using dynamic equivalence translation; rather, the KJV is translating the word with the proper nuance according to the context. “Δυναμιν” carries a positive connotation in certain contexts even without any associated positive adjective.
In English, for example, the word “moral” is in and of itself a neutral word, but it can be used to give a positive connotation even without any associated positive adjective. We say, “This man has morals” to mean “This man has good morals”. Nobody will take the statement, “This man has morals” to mean that this man has “some kind of” morals or “bad” morals. The goodness of this man’s morals is implied by the very use of the word. Likewise, the positive connotation of “δυναμιν” is implied in the passage in question. The power of our Lord is virtue, which performs the good will of God and drives out the evil spirits.
A Virtuous Man
The reading from St. Luke’s gospel, in the King James translation, had an interesting use of “virtue.” It is from the story of the woman with the issue of blood, who was healed when she secretly touched the robe of Christ as He walked by:
And Jesus said, “Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.” (8:46)
Here “virtue” is used to translate the word dynamis, “power.” It captures something of an older, more proper meaning of virtue. Virtue is the “power” of a person to do the right thing in a given circumstance. That power is rooted in “character,” the formation of the personality such that its habits tend towards doing the right thing.