Can you explain “impotent?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

We find “impotent” just four times in the King James text. The first clue as to its meaning is that it always sits in the context of infirm or sickly physical bodies. Observe:

  • John 5:3,7: “[3] In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water…. [7] The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.”
  • Acts 4:9: “If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole;….” (This points back to the healing in chapter 3.)
  • Acts 14:8: “And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked:….”

The second clue is that “impotent” contains a familiar word—“potent” (as in “powerful, strong, effective”). We can at least obtain a general idea. However, with the addition of the prefix “im–” (a variant of “in–”), a negative is introduced, thus cancelling the description. “Impotent” therefore literally means “not powerful”—that is, weak, helpless, powerless. In Greek, it is “adunatos” (literally, “unable, without strength”—our English word “dynamic” [“lively, active”] is derived from the Greek language).

Regarding each of these instances, not only is a miracle of physical healing involved (read the contexts), it is a communication of how the God of the Bible can cure spiritual illness (sin) that these physical ailments represent, whether amongst the Jews (John chapter 5 and Acts chapter 4) or Gentiles (Acts chapter 14). We sinners are helpless, which is why we need Almighty God to do what we cannot: save us from our sin problem by sending Jesus Christ to die for those sins, be buried, and be raised again so we can walk in newness of life (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)!

Also see:
» What does “lusty” mean?
» What does “ruddy” mean?
» What does “pernicious” mean?
» What is the significance of The Parable of the Good Samaritan?