Energies in the Bible and Select Fathers by Rev Dr John (Patrick) Ramsey

The Orthodox churches are known for the general acceptance of the arguments of St Gregory Palamas in a series of 14th Century councils such that we can speak of the ἐνέργεια (energies, working, operations or activities) of God as distinct from the essence of God, what God is. They are, though, proper to the essence or nature of God as the natural operations (energies) of that nature. These ἐνέργεια can be said to be various and divine and one knows God according to His energies rather than essence.

This article will attempt to demonstrate that the the use of the term ἐνέργεια is found in the Scriptures and how it is used in the Scriptures as well as two select Patristic writings. From this one can then examine whether the acceptance of the teachings of St Gregory Palamas in regard to the ἐνέργεια is consistent with the Scriptures and to Patristic witness.


The term ἐνέργεια, is found in the epistles of St Paul. Here is a series of quotes from his epistles in which the term is found in one form or another. The Greek text will be provided with an English translation and a short comment. The English translation is from Young’s Literal Translation and the Greek text is from Scrivener, 1881.

To begin, a passage from the first epistle to the Corinthians will be provided for context and then individual verses discussed.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

Διαιρέσεις δὲ χαρισμάτων εἰσί, τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ Πνεῦμα. 5 καὶ διαιρέσεις διακονιῶν εἰσι, καὶ ὁ αὐτὸς Κύριος. 6 καὶ διαιρέσεις ἐνεργημάτων εἰσίν, ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς ἐστι Θεός, ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν. 7 ἑκάστῳ δὲ δίδοται ἡ φανέρωσις τοῦ Πνεύματος πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον. 8 ᾧ μὲν γὰρ διὰ τοῦ Πνεύματος δίδοται λόγος σοφίας, ἄλλῳ δὲ λόγος γνώσεως, κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ Πνεῦμα· 9 ἑτέρῳ δὲ πίστις, ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ Πνεύματι· ἄλλῳ δὲ χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ πνεύματι· 10 ἄλλῳ δὲ ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων, ἄλλῳ δὲ προφητεία, ἄλλῳ δὲ διακρίσεις πνευμάτων, ἑτέρῳ δὲ γένη γλωσσῶν, ἄλλῳ δὲ ἑρμηνεία γλωσσῶν· 11 πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἐνεργεῖ τὸ ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ Πνεῦμα, διαιροῦν ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ καθὼς βούλεται.

And there are diversities of gifts, and the same Spirit; 5 and there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord; 6 and there are diversities of workings, and it is the same God—who is working the all in all. 7 And to each hath been given the manifestation of the Spirit for profit; 8 for to one through the Spirit hath been given a word of wisdom, and to another a word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; 9 and to another faith in the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healings in the same Spirit; 10 and to another in-workings of mighty deeds; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits; and to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another interpretation of tongues: 11 and all these doth work the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each severally as he intendeth.

Now, given the context, we will discuss elements of this passage:

1 Corinthians 12:6:

καὶ διαιρέσεις ἐνεργημάτων εἰσίν, ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς ἐστι Θεός, ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν

And there are varieties of activities, but the same God works all in all.

Here we see the word used in the plural and pointing to a diversity or variety of ἐνέργεια (workings or activities) and these are worked by the same God. Thus, we have one God working a variety of activities, operations or energies. These “energies” are the energies or workings of God, who works all in all. We can also say that God has many activities or many energies. These can be multiple even though God is singular and their diversity does not deny them all being of the same God; they do not divide God in their diversity. Also, one God is not constrained to one activity, but rather He is able to act in a diversity of ways.

1 Corinthians 12:10

ἄλλῳ δὲ ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων

to another the working of miracles,

Again the plural use of the term and that these workings can be distributed by God and participated by humanity. That is the works of God can be shared and participated by the saints in that they can be said to work miracles as well as God working miracles.

1 Corinthians 12:11

πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἐνεργεῖ τὸ ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ Πνεῦμα, διαιροῦν ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ καθὼς βούλεται

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

In this verse, we see that the same Spirit works, ἐνεργεῖ, all and distributes according to His will. That is the energies of God can be distributed by His will into a diversity of activities, yet it is the same God working all things.

From this passage, we can see that there are Scriptural grounds for the teaching of St Gregory Palamas in that the energies are those of God, who works them all, and they can be diversified according to His will. The energies of God can be multiple while God remains one and the same. Also, man can participate in the energies of God because while God works all in all, it can be said that it can be given to man to work miracles or to heal or any of the other gifts, a term indicating receiving something from another and so not merely God working in man, but man working too with these activities, energies, as given by the Spirit as He wills. There is a real participation not in the effects of the energies, but in the energies or activities themselves. Yet, man does not become God by nature in doing so, and so there must be a distinction between the energies of God and the essence of God.

Turning to the second epistle to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 4:12

ὥστε ὁ μὲν θάνατος ἐν ἡμῖν ἐνεργεῖται, ἡ δὲ ζωὴ ἐν ὑμῖν

So then death is working in us, but life in you.

Here the death is spoken as working in us. This is opposed to life. We can take from that that the energies are proper to essences in general as the works of that essence.

Now to consider a couple of verses from the epistle to the Galatians.

Galatians 2:8

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

for He who worked with Peter in the apostleship to the circumcised, worked also with me in that for the Gentiles

Here we see the working of God with Peter and with Paul as Apostles. Further support for the concept of synergy.

Galatians 5:6

ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ οὔτε περιτομή τι ἰσχύει, οὔτε ἀκροβυστία, ἀλλὰ πίστις διʼ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

Here as death and life, we now have faith working.

Turning to the epistle to the Ephesians to consider four verses.

Ephesians 1:19

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

and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty strength

Here the faithful believe according to the strength of God working in them. The working, or energy, is God’s according to His strength.

Ephesians 2:2

ἐν αἷς ποτε περιεπατήσατε κατὰ τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, κατὰ τὸν ἄρχοντα τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ ἀέρος, τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργοῦντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας

in which you once walked according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit which is now working in the sons of disobedience

Here the working is applied to the evil one. Energy here is the activity of any particular being.

Ephesians 3:7

οὗ ἐγενόμην διάκονος κατὰ τὴν δωρεὰν τῆς χάριτος τοῦ Θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσαν μοι κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ

of which I became a deacon according to the free gift of the grace of God which was given to me according to the working of His power.

Here God works according to His power in giving the gift to become a deacon. The grace of ordination is an energy of God. Because there are different orders of clergy, there is a distinct energy proper to each order. Thus, we can speak of energies in the plural.

Ephesians 4:16

ἐξ οὗ πᾶν τὸ σῶμα συναρμολογούμενον καὶ συμβιβαζόμενον διὰ πάσης ἁφῆς τῆς ἐπιχορηγίας, κατʼ ἐνέργειαν ἐν μέτρῳ ἑνὸς ἑκάστου μέρους, τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ σώματος ποιεῖται εἰς οἰκοδομὴν ἑαυτοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ

from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the working of the measure of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the edification of itself in love.

Each part of the body works or operates for the edification of the whole. Here a diversity of workings in the same body.

Turning now to two verses from the epistle to the Philippians.

Philippians 2:13

ὁ Θεὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν ὑπὲρ τῆς εὐδοκίας

for it is God who is working in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Here the energy or work in us is that of God for us to will and to work for His good pleasure. We have here again the basis of synergy of God working in man for man to work to the good pleasure of God. The energy is God’s, He is working in us, and so we can speak of divine energies or workings; they are not created activities or energies.

Philippians 3:21

ὃς μετασχηματίσει τὸ σῶμα τῆς ταπεινώσεως ἡμῶν, εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι αὐτὸ σύμμορφον τῷ σώματι τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ, κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν τοῦ δύνασθαι αὐτὸν καὶ ὑποτάξαι ἑαὐτῷ τὰ πάντα.

who will transform our lowly body, that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subject all things to Himself.

God here works to subject all things to Himself and to transform our bodies to conform to the resurrected body of Christ. Further evidence of God working as God.

Next we will consider two verses from the epistle to the Colossians.

Colossians 1:29

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

For which I also labor, striving according to His working which is working in me with power

Here were have God working in St Paul and St Paul striving according to this working and so working in synergy with God, who has His work and St Paul has his both to effect the labour in which St Paul is engaged.

Colossians 2:12

συνταφέντες αὐτῷ ἐν τῷ βαπτίσματι, ἐν ᾧ καὶ συνηγέρθητε διὰ τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐνεργείας τοῦ Θεοῦ, τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν

having been buried together with Him in baptism, in which also you were raised together through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Again the working of God in raising us in baptism from the dead through faith. The energy is God’s.

We come towards the end of our discussion of the Scriptures with two verses form the epistles to the Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 2:13

Διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ Θεῷ ἀδιαλείπτως, ὅτι παραλαβόντες λόγον ἀκοῆς παρʼ ἡμῶν, τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐδέξασθε οὐ λόγον ἀνθρώπων, ἀλλὰ καθώς ἐστιν ἀληθῶς λόγον Θεοῦ, ὃς καὶ ἐνεργεῖται ἐν ὑμῖν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν.

Because of this we also give thanks to God unceasingly, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you received not the word of men, but just as it truly is, the word of God, which also is at work in you who believe.

Here we see again that God is working in the faithful; God is active in the faithful.

2 Thessalonians 2:9

οὗ ἐστιν ἡ παρουσία κατʼ ἐνέργειαν τοῦ Σατανᾶ ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει καὶ σημείοις καὶ τέρασι ψεύδους

whose coming is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,

Satan is here working. We can see as noted earlier that energies are proper to creatures too.

Finally, a verse from the second epistle to the Corinthians focused on synergy rather than directly on ἐνέργεια.

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1

συνεργοῦντες δὲ καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν μὴ εἰς κενὸν τὴν χάριν τοῦ Θεοῦ δέξασθαι ὑμᾶς

And working together with Him, we also urge that you not receive the grace of God in vain.

Here we see direct mention of man working with God, so as not to receive the grace in vain, as synergy. Thus, the concept of synergy is directly mentioned in the Scriptures.

To conclude the consideration of the Scriptures, St Paul speaks in a number of places though his epistles of the God working in us and that we work with Him in synergy. The workings or energies are indeed God’s and can be said to be divine. The use of the Greek term: ἐνέργεια, is clearly used in the Scriptures and used in a manner that is consistent with them being diverse and distinct from the essence of God and that we can work with them, or participate in them, in synergy. The evidence here supports that Orthodox acceptance that the teachings of St Gregory Palamas are fully consistent with the Scriptural witness and so faithful to Apostolic Tradition, even to the extent that to reject the teaching of St Gregory would be reject the Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition.

Fathers: Pope St Agatho and St Gregory of Nyssa

Having looked at the Scriptures, a couple of potentially many Patristic sources will also be considered that refer to the energies of God.

Firstly to consider a short quote from the letter of Pope St Agatho to the Sixth Ecumenical Council and approved at the Council.

…Also ”For it is impossible and contrary to the order of nature that there should be a nature without a natural operation”

Here he is clear that a nature or essence cannot be considered without a natural operation or energy. This quote requires a distinction between essence and energy because he does not say that the operation is the nature but that the operation exists with the nature as a natural operation, which confirms the position of St Gregory Palamas as being in conformity with the Ecumenical Councils.

This is confirmed when St Agatho states in the same letter:

we confess the holy and inseparable Trinity, that is, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to be of one deity, of one nature and substance or essence, so we will profess also that it has one natural will, power, operation, domination, majesty, potency, and glory.

After confessing one nature or essence, he also processes one natural will, power, operation, or energy. Thus, in professing ‘also’, he affirms that the energy is distinct from the essence, but of the nature as natural. The energy is not of itself but as proper to the nature, even though distinguishable from it.

Turning also to St Gregory of Nyssa from his letter to Ablabius: “On ‘Not Three Gods’”:

Most men think that the word “Godhead” is used in a peculiar degree in respect of nature: and just as the heaven, or the sun, or any other of the constituent parts of the universe are denoted by proper names which are significant of the subjects, so they say that in the case of the Supreme and Divine nature, the word “Godhead” is fitly adapted to that which it represents to us, as a kind of special name. We, on the other hand, following the suggestions of Scripture, have learnt that that nature is unnameable and unspeakable, and we say that every term either invented by the custom of men, or handed down to us by the Scriptures, is indeed explanatory of our conceptions of the Divine Nature, but does not include the signification of that nature itself.

Hence it is clear that by any of the terms we use the Divine nature itself is not signified, but some one of its surroundings is made known. For we say, it may be, that the Deity is incorruptible, or powerful, or whatever else we are accustomed to say of Him. But in each of these terms we find a peculiar sense, fit to be understood or asserted of the Divine nature, yet not expressing that which that nature is in its essence. For the subject, whatever it may be, is incorruptible: but our conception of incorruptibility is this,—that that which is, is not resolved into decay: so, when we say that He is incorruptible, we declare what His nature does not suffer, but we do not express what that is which does not suffer corruption. Thus, again, if we say that He is the Giver of life, though we show by that appellation what He gives, we do not by that word declare what that is which gives it. And by the same reasoning we find that all else which results from the significance involved in the names expressing the Divine attributes either forbids us to conceive what we ought not to conceive of the Divine nature, or teaches us that which we ought to conceive of it, but does not include an explanation of the nature itself. Since, then, as we perceive the varied operations of the power above us, we fashion our appellations from the several operations that are known to us

Ἐπεὶ τοίνυν τὰς ποικίλας τῆς ὑπερκειμένης δυνάμεως ἐνεργείας κατανοοῦντες ἀφ’ ἑκάστης τῶν ἡμῖν γνωρίμων ἐνεργειῶν τὰς προσηγορίας ἁρμόζομεν

Here St Gregory’s argument is founded on a distinction between nature and operation or energy. The names of God are proper to the energies rather than the essence or nature. This he argues is consistent with and derived from the Scriptures. This affirms the comments regarding the Scriptures above. He also affirms the operations to be varied and several. The arguments of St Gregory Palamas are largely a repetition of what is stated by St Gregory of Nyssa:

“If, indeed, Godhead were an appellation of nature, it would be more proper, according to the argument laid down, to include the Three Persons in the singular number, and to speak of “One God,” by reason of the inseparability and indivisibility of the nature: but since it has been established by what has been said, that the term “Godhead” is significant of operation, and not of nature”

Ἐπειδὴ δὲ κατεσκευάσθη διὰ τῶν εἰρημένων ἐνέργειαν σημαίνειν, καὶ οὐχὶ φύσιν τὸ τῆς θεότητος ὄνομα

Here St Gregory is not only affirming the operation or energy, but also that the appellation of “God-head’ is proper to the energy thus, clarifying it as divine and that speaking of God as divine is speaking of Him according to His operation or energy. He is also clear that the operation is distinguished from the essence because it is not the nature. This is affirmed in the following statement also:

As we have to a certain extent shown by our statement that the word “Godhead” is not significant of nature but of operation

Ἐπειδὴ μετρίως ἡμῖν ἐκ τῆς κατασκευῆς ἀπεδείχθη οὐ φύσεως, ἀλλ’ ἐνεργείας εἶναι τὴν φωνὴν τῆς θεότητος λέγων

The consideration of these two Patristic sources, one with the approval of an ecumenical council and the other as well-respected Father, conforms with the evidence from the Scriptures in regard to the ἐνέργεια and to the understanding and teaching of St Gregory Palamas as confirmed in the 14th Century Councils.


In conclusion, we find the use of ἐνέργεια in both the Scriptures and in the Fathers including in a letter affirmed by an Ecumenical Council. In all these cases, we find that the use of the term confirms exactly with the use as defined by St Gregory Palamas in the 14th Century. There is a clear distinction between essence and energies, the energies are varied and multiple, the energies are of God and they are necessary in relation to the nature or essence, yet distinct from the nature or essence. They are used to name God and are properly said to be divine and God as being the proper locus of the appellation of the term:”God-head”. This is the position of St Gregory Palamas, who is speaking entirely within the Scriptural and Patristic testimony.

Rev Dr John (Patrick) Ramsey, March 2021.

Leave a Reply