Chapter 55 - The Mundane Spiritual Realm of Principalities
Are Principalities Really So Invisible?
In the Letter to the Ephesians, we are introduced to a few terms for human authority and governing systems. The earliest hearers of Paul’s letter were not confused by his meaning and they understood that principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness which is elevated, were all referring to different but similar human forces. It is easy to sit here and share my interpretation of these terms resulting in the reader saying, “Well that’s your understanding, but I see it like this.” The gold standard for many folk is to simply reject another person’s interpretation because they feel interpretation of Paul’s meaning is so broadly subjective anyway. While others will dismiss another understanding, simply because it is not the understanding they have always had.
Let me ask a couple of questions regarding interpretations. Is it possible for all interpreters to be correct in their interpretation? Is it possible for any one of the interpreter’s interpretations to be correct? How are we to decide which interpretation is correct? We can’t all be right but there should be an acceptable interpretation that when scrutinized, stands out as the most plausible and correct amongst all the interpretations. Ahead of proposing my interpretation for the Ephesian passage, I would like to provide a brief statement on an acceptable standard for interpretation.
A Gold Standard For Interpreting Scripture
In order to settle a dispute of interpretations for any message we are given, from Paul or any other authoritative source of biblical teaching, the interpretation must comply with the teachings found in the Hebrew Scriptures. That is to say, if my view of the New Testament writings opposes the concepts of the Old Testament, then my view is faulty. Most of us have generally accepted the incorrect interpretation of verses like these in Ephesians. Verses about “principalities and powers” that really aren’t too difficult to explain. In the face of a more historically accurate culturally correct explanation, some will simply dismiss the “new” idea as coming from someone trying to discredit Paul or the words of the Apostolic testimony. The mistake we are inclined to make is that we reject any interpretation that doesn’t sound like our preset understanding, thus closing ourselves off to enhancing our knowledge of the truth due to a stubborn attachment to what feels comfortable.
Principalities Are Not Cosmic Forces
Understanding the Ephesians references to principalities and powers is not a matter of applying a different definition for the Greek words used to affirm our theory. It is more a matter of understanding the biblical view of the spirit world and recognizing the definitions given in the current text are seen through the superstitious understanding, which falsely builds a doctrine of satan and demons. We will better understand the truth if we see a definition to the Greek word that fits the overall instruction of God on this subject. Which means, the teachings in the entire Old and New Testaments. Paul has a mastery of many things. These things included a knowledge of rabbinic Judaism, a knowledge of the pagan culture, a knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, and a knowledge of the language used by those in his culture. Paul was intent on expressing in the most concise and meaningful manner, the preeminence of Yeshua over all human rule and authority that ever has or will exist. This flowed into preeminence over and above all pagan philosophies and ideas.
Many who lived in the city of Ephesus paid homage to numerous pagan saviors. Dianna of Artemis was worshipped all throughout Asia at the time and was thought by many to be the primary deity in the region holding the most authority and power. Although these false gods were nothing as Paul saw them to be, he still worked within the parameters of his culture to express to the followers of pagan religions that Yeshua was the highest above all of the perceived deities. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul was not agreeing that these fabricated deities actually existed, but affirmed they were nothing by his statements about the only God. In Colossians, Paul uses the phrase, “sit at the right hand of God.”
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1 KJV
The term, “sit at the right hand of God,” is used to speak of one who has ultimate power and authority. The actual power of the fabricated deities was no more than that found in a woodcarving or a bronze statue of a cow that one decides to worship. Worship of a thing or an idea does not make the thing or idea real. Given enough time and enough attention through many generations, worship of anything would take on many of the same feelings and patterns of any ancient pagan worship. Including for instance, Dianna worship, which is the topic Paul is addressing here.
Take the bronze statue of a cow for instance. Even though no inherent power exists in the statue, it is still being worshipped. It would be at the forefront in the mind of a speaker such as Paul, that the fabricated worship icon was completely powerless. A speaker, who came to the worshipper’s house and said Yeshua is far above all power and principality, would be saying so with the view to express that the other god was non-existent. Paul understood that the hearers of his statements in Ephesus thought the “god” they were worshipping did in fact have power. Yet Paul clearly stated the authority of his God was so superior to the authority of their false god that indeed their false god was not even an animate force.
In this instance, the speaker would be referring to the supposed authority and supernatural traits of the fabricated goddess Dianna, which has become an object of worship. In a Greco-Roman culture, the claim that one deity is “far above” all others, is tantamount to emptying any local or national deity of any real power. In essence, Paul is once again saying that the pagan gods are nothing. The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary explains Paul’s terminology:
Many of the words used here would ring bells within the religious milieu of Asia Minor; Christ is greater than any local, religious right, prevailing philosophy or spiritual power 
The first passage we will look at in Ephesians is one that shows “principalities and powers” are human forces that are present in the physical Earth as we see it today. These forces are the concepts and ideas that are given power from many false ideologies common in Paul’s time.
Principalities And Powers Are Human
20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
Paul is not building a cosmic spiritual warfare concept here; rather he is stating that Yeshua is the ultimate authority. And whether you or I have ideas of another entity possessing power or another human system of rule or governance possessing authority matters not. It is the Messiah who overcame death and is the preeminent and thus the only real power and authority.
We see below, in the letter to the Colossians that all these principalities and powers are created for Yeshua; all things were created by him, and for him. The thought Paul shares in Colossians is that principalities and powers, meaning rulers, governments, ideas of religion and concepts, which ascribe power to any deity, are all made to glorify , exalt, and see Yeshua lifted up. They are not made or allowed to exist for any other reason but to point to and to support the Messiah and God. Seeing these terms used in the letter to the Colossians, we get a distinct flavor of them referring to systems of government. The word principalities is better understood as “magistrate” and the word powers as “jurisdiction.” Both jurisdiction and magistrate are options for translating the Greek words archeand exousia; which are said to be “principality” and “powers” here in Colossians and elsewhere. Simply put, the principalities and powers of Ephesians are the same magistrates and jurisdictions that are found in Colossians.
16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
The words of Daniel, in his prayer to Yahweh where he recognizes who it is that sets up and removes the rulers of this world, agrees with the idea in Colossians that says magistrates and jurisdictions are created by Him.
20 Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his:
21 And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:
If as verse 17 of the above quoted Colossians passage attests that all things are created by Him and all things originate by Yeshua, then we have come to a very difficult spot. An argument for the existence of Satanic forces is challenged if we choose to believe the principalities and powers mentioned are evil demonic spirit forces that hold sway over man to some degree. If we recognize “principalities, powers, and dominions,” to be human forces, we then can find agreement with the theme of God’s word. A theme which tells us evil comes from man’s heart, and man’s heart is deceitfully wicked above all else.
The breakdown of the idea is this:
- Yahweh, who is the same as Yeshua according to Paul, has placed all leaders and leadership in their positions.
- No leader has attained to any position of leadership apart from the hand of the Father allowing it. And in a great way, orchestrating it.
- The purpose of Yahweh appointing leadership is so that those appointed might choose to be honorable leaders and lead His people in ways of righteousness.
- Human leader are what is meant by the mention of principalities and powers in Colossians 1. The verse is speaking of magistrates and jurisdictions not a variety of principalities and powers thought to be a supernatural spiritual force.
We are told Yeshua is far above everything named in this world, which is speaking of the present age, and in the age to come. The context of the verse allows us to understand that this reference does not have to refer to any supernatural entity but can be referring to those systems and concepts that exist as a result of human activity and actions. I am careful to say the context “allows” us to believe, because to choose to believe differently than most of us have been taught to believe about this passage or any passage pertaining to “satanology,” is an opportunity one must embrace to move forward in his or her thinking on the subject. Taking the opportunity to believe something differently than we have become accustomed to, is an opportunity worth embracing if we want to make way for truth to enter in where false teachings have been the norm for most of our lives.
1 Women’s Bible Commentary Pg 698, International Varsity Press, Edited by Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary J. Evans
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