Chapter 59 - The Battle Is Not Against Flesh And Blood
Isn’t Spiritual Warfare Fought Against Satan and His Minions?
We move on to make sense of the famous “spiritual warfare” passage. Placing the traditional understanding on the proverbial shelf will afford us the opportunity to see this passage in ways that will continue to uphold the view of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is to the Hebrew Scriptures we must go to find an understanding of what is being fought against in Ephesians 6. The Hebrew Scriptures do not teach of a cosmic Satan who needs to be actively defeated by the believer through spoken prayer.
We need to slow down and take a good look at this very instructive passage. Millions of believers across the globe see this passage as a battle hymn that tells them they are in a fight to the death with Satan and his demons. But the terms and words Paul uses here are all found to refer to human entities and conditions and physical places in Paul’s spiritually volatile environment.
Ephesians 6:11-12 KJV
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (12) For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
When looked at critically, we can see what this famous spiritual warfare passage is not about. It does not tell believers their fight is against human authorities and religious leaders. Certainly, upon first glance, one might conclude Paul is rallying the troops to engage in a militant battle against the devil… I admit, one might conclude this…if demons are real. However, that is not the case. Satan and demons were not in Paul’s mind when he made this statement. In fact, in Paul’s time as in all epochs, the battle against the false religious system was never won with physical attacks on human institutions or other men. The battle must take place in the minds of men in order to expunge false doctrine from the thinking of the individual and ultimately alter the collective consciousness of a people loyal to false religion.
The critical look at the famed Spiritual Warfare passage will reveal the fight is with the “devil” within each one of us. Yes, it is the case again that the biblical writer was clear on who or what it is we are battling. And the answer is, we humans are in a war against our own human desires and the intangible complex belief structures we and our culture adhere to. One will land in the right place if he or she uses correct interpretation that understands how true Hebraic thinking saw this speech of Paul’s. The first century hearer would have understood “the adversary” as a part of man not as a Satan. The adversary is the inclination in man that prompts us to choose evil instead of good. Some of the key words used by Paul have been given improper meaning by those who translated them out of the Greek. They translated them in a way that supported their Greco-Roman concept of a spiritual realm, which contains evil forces. The biased translation of men, who already believed in the Hellenized view of Satan, stemmed from the belief that an evil force must be subdued in fervent warfare through prayer by the believer. The men who advanced the mystical thinking saw the following verse as speaking of a literal cosmic Satan who must be fought.
Ephesians 6:11 KJV Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
You Can’t Fight A Philosophy With Physical Weapons
As most people read the Ephesians 6 passage they find it difficult to see that all the words and terms used in the passage are really references to physical entities found in the realm of human authority. In fact, the admonition to oppose principalities and powers in Ephesians 6 seems confused when we find that we are told to subject ourselves to principalities and powers in another letter from Paul;
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, Titus 3:1
How are we supposed to submit to these principalities in one breath and then be subject to them in the next? What if the principalities and powers, the spiritual forces of wickedness, rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness in high places can be shown to men, political and religious leaders, and the opposition man presents to himself from not understanding truth about the God of the Universe? It is then we can submit to these institutions and political systems in some instances and find our struggle is against them and what they stand for in the next.
Paul’s Dispute With The Religion of The “Jews”
After giving a short list of human authorities that we are asked to properly submit to, Paul provides the Ephesian hearer with a deeper concept. Of course advocating that children obey parents; servants obey their master; and masters treat servants properly is all good. However, Paul then extends his teaching to include the real difficulty a person has. As he moves towards a conclusion of this letter, Paul teaches we are to become righteous through Messiah by living and walking in truth, righteousness, and peace. We are told to walk in faith, which is an action to indicate that if we do what is right out of a choice to honor Messiah we will not fall to the fleshly desires that pop up in our hearts. Desires that oppose the will of God.
The “fiery darts of the wicked” is an expression that refers to the false teachings, charges, and doctrines that come from wicked men or are possibly ideas devised in our own wicked hearts. An example of a fiery dart might be a teaching that said extramarital sexual activity is good for you and will not adversely affect your relationship with God. Or a fiery dart may be the false teaching that says a gentile believer is not worthy of the kingdom because they do not act like the Pharisaical Jews.
Using what Paul calls, the full armor of God, is to be the protection against the insidious thinking. Girding oneself will prevent the evil inclination from being the guiding principal in the person who desires to yield to righteousness. What better way to disembowel the unseen internal foe than to negate the malignant influence of any imagination or reasoning that is adverse to God’s righteousness? Girding oneself with right thoughts and ideas will stop the advances of the wrong thoughts and ideas that were so prolific in the Roman Empire in Paul’s time.
Principalities Are Not Demonic Entities
Many theologians, pastors, and Christians believe “principalities” are unseen spiritual powers that rule over geographic regions and territories. An example of a principality according to this line of reasoning, would be a demon of greed or sexual lust that is brooding over Las Vegas. I of course find the claim that there is a principality of greed over any city to be laughable. But as I continue with the example, I ask that you indulge me for a moment.
It is well known that money and sex flow freely in Las Vegas. So, it is a common view of the hyper-spiritual person that a demon is responsible for the attitudes prevalent in Sin City. Prayer warriors in Charismatic circles have battled the demons of lust and greed for a long time now. There have been many an intercessory group pray against the “principalities” that they believe are looming over Las Vegas. With that in mind, it is an intriguing thing to consider the impact of this strategic spiritual warfare. Why haven’t the continuous prayers of these types had a notable effect on the demons that control an area and sow sinfulness? Why, in the face of regular prayer that occurs around the clock against demonic forces, have Satan and his demons not been weakened much less rendered inoperative? Why has there been no appreciable impact on the sin in Sin City if the demonic realm is supposed to submit to the authority of Jesus name as used by the faithful in prayer?
Again, the answer comes clear when one sees that the systems and institutions we are opposed by cannot be controlled by human intercession. The reason for this apparent ineffectiveness of intercessory prayer in stopping Satan is because we are not dealing with literal demons here, we are dealing with the free will of man. Prayer cannot change or stop the free will of a human.
The Beginnings Of The Problem
Paul states our true battle is not against other human entities but against “principalities,” interpreted from the Greek word arche. In this context, the word arche is not intended to speak of a supernatural evil and manipulative spiritual power. In fact, the word arche was only interpreted to refer to angels and demons long after James Strong and other lexicographers gave us the correct definitions for these words. In other words, Strong says the word refers to an origin of sorts. But charismatic thinkers decided it refers to a demon angel. Here is the Strong’s definition of the word.
From G756; a commencement, or (concrete) chief (in various applications of order, time, place or rank): - beginning, corner, (at the, the) first (estate), magistrate, power, principality, principle, rule.
It appears many bible scholars added their understanding to the word according to their belief system. This practice forced the definition of a word which otherwise did not have that meaning revisionists gave it. Revisionists had an understanding of a concept and therefore, when faced with interpreting a Greek word connected to an idea, they often applied their beliefs to their work and added an interpretation that was not intended by the original speaker. Notice the final entry on the word in Thayer’s definition below;
1) beginning, origin
2) the person or thing that commences, the first person or thing in a series, the leader
3) that by which anything begins to be, the origin, the active cause
4) the extremity of a thing
4a) of the corners of a sail
5) the first place, principality, rule, magistracy
5a) of angels and demons
Our Belief System Influences How A Word Is Defined.
If you or I believe that demon spirits exist then we might easily conclude, albeit wrongly, a Greek word such as arche is referring to those unseen advocates of evil. One has to believe in the world of demons for one to mis-conclude what the word arche means. Our belief system, whether right or wrong, influences how a word is defined. Often believing in such a thing as demons will lead the lexicographer to define a word in a way that supports his belief. Arche is not meant to speak of supernatural entities but is meant to point to the beginnings or origin of sin. Our fight is not against human flesh such as magistrates or religious leaders. Our fight is always against the original intent and desire in man to do that which is not what we should do. Paul has taught on this extensively in Romans Chapter 7. One point I would like to make here is important in the grand scheme of how illogical the belief in active demonic entities is. To do this, let’s consider the chaining of these entities. Perhaps you have heard about sinning angels that were chained up by God?
Sinning Angels Chained In Darkness?
If Yeshua is truly our advocate and has disarmed principalities and powers or chained them in chains until the Day of Judgment, as Second Peter and Jude both mention, shouldn’t they still be chained up and therefore rendered ineffective? Yet according to all the activities that are attributed to demons, it seems they are active. Who, I must ask, has unchained the demons that are still active today? Note how it is stated in the following two passages.
2 Peter 2:4 KJV For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;
Jude 1:6 KJV And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
According to Christian understanding on these passages, the demonic angels ought to be chained up forever … or at least until judgement day. If these verses claim the demons are in chains, then how on Earth are these supposed chained and defeated beings currently active? How did they get loose? Why on earth should we do battle against them if they are chained up? The reason is simple. These passages are speaking about men and leaders who rejected God’s ways and are presently dead. It is not about a spirit entity that is awaiting judgment. These men will be judged at the resurrection of the unrighteous. The reference to someone being chained under darkness until judgment is a reference to a person being dead and buried. This will be discussed later in this book when I cover the satan in 1st Peter and Jude.
As we talked about previously, the word “principalities” often refers to a magistrate or a leader of some type. However, the meaning of the word can also be something of origin or first in relation to time or rank. In the correct context, here in Ephesians 6, the word arche refers to man’s primal desire to sin, which has been with us from the point of creation. A point where our evil inclination was activated right at the beginning, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey The Creator. An act that is said to have brought death into the world.
What Were “the powers” To Paul?
If I referred to a difficult issue as being settled by the “powers that be”, would we understand I was speaking of some authoritative governing entity? We all know that “the powers that be” are not supernatural powers and we have no trouble understanding the language of our day. There is no mystery in the terms and words that are commonly used in the culture of our time. In like manner, the language of Paul is not mysterious to those able to perceive the context of his statements and embrace the pre-Christian mindset that believed in One God.
That we hear Paul refer to our battle as also being against “powers”, does not have to change our understanding of his speech. “Powers,” are not supernatural spirit entities any more than principalities are. And remember, Paul himself tells the hearer to be subject to principalities and powers. Why would he tell us to battle them in one place and tell us to be subject to them in another?
Paul is still referring to human issues. The Greek word exousia has been interpreted as “powers.” It is the confusion over language and concepts of demons that draw the minds of some to think this word is a reference to an evil cosmic force. A force that can exert power over humanity to get man to fall into sin. Exousia however, is a word that should be understood as “man’s power of choice and liberty of doing as one pleases.”
Do You Have The Power To Choose To Do Wrong?
From the very beginning, man has had the power to choose to do whatever he wants. From the beginning then, man has had exousia in this sense. This is apparent by the fact that in the story of the first man, he was shown two trees. At that, he was told he could eat of one but was not to eat of the other. Simply put, the reason man was told not to do something was only because he was “created” with the potential to choose either to obey or to disobey. Man has ever since struggled against the original potential to choose. The ability if you will, to choose either good or evil. The fact that choice exists is enough to see that we will always struggle on some level to make the right choice. And at times, we will make the wrong choice. So is Paul trying to say there are external cosmic forces working against humans to bring them to sin? The answer is no!
So far, the words of Paul are saying man’s battle is an internal battle, a battle against the original drive of man to use the liberty to choose. It is also a battle against that power of choice as it is displayed in other men.
Understanding the battle as not being against flesh and blood is a challenge for some. Many automatically jump to conclude that the battle then, is against a spirit entity. When we consider the battle for gender equality in our present day, do we see that as a battle of physical might and strength? Although there have been great strides towards an egalitarian society in North America, the pervasive philosophy that women are less than men in many ways, is still prevalent. Wage disparity between men and women is only one of the observable elements in this area. Treatment of women as objects is another glaring example of this social de-evolution. Now, if women and their advocates were to rise up and engage in a physical conflict with their counterparts in order to demand change to greater equality, they would be battling against flesh and blood. If seen in the way Paul is speaking in Ephesians, the downtrodden gender must understand that the fight is against a mindset and an inequitable philosophy. One that has flourished in the collective consciousness of men for millennia…in fact it seems so from the beginning. Therefore, the battle for women to attain complete equality is not against flesh and blood. It is against those forces of man that lead societal views and mores. The battle is against thoughts and beliefs, ideals and ethics…it is not a physical battle in any way.
This battle is fought daily for many against the innate potential we all have to make choices that bring death. According to the Bible, sin brings death not Satan. We are not battling against an external cosmic force. As a friend at work put it the other day, it is the devil inside of us that we all must fight. Many in Paul’s day as in our day, did not see the right way to live and walk out their faith. Many of those who are the leaders in religion and government are in a sense blinded. Their sight is darkened and they need to be illuminated by truth. When Paul mentions the rulers of the darkness of this world, he is speaking of those men who propagate the false religion that ruled the day.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world
Many regular people who are not considered the leaders in society in Paul’s day as well as in our day also have an anti-spiritual darkness at work in them. A darkness which prevents them from seeing truth and responding accordingly. When Paul uses a term “rulers of darkness”, we are not to think of it as referring to some dark, nefarious entity, which lives in a steamy pit and has a mandate to oppress the world.
If our sight is darkened, we cannot see the light of the truth. We are to think of those in Ephesus who were ignorant of divine things as people with darkened site. And because they were ignorant, they then are said to be leaders without the ability to see truth. The inability to see the truth and the practice of passing on lies makes one a ruler of darkness.
No one has to battle against a scary, dark, spiritual overlord, but we all battle against the primal propensity to disobey. And in the context of Paul’s instruction, the battle is specifically against the ignorance that was prevalent and flourishing in the pagan culture of Ephesus. If you are being oppressed by a system that holds power and authority, then you are battling against the primal propensity to control the way you live and worship. It is not a battle against the human representatives it is a battle against a philosophical system of ethics, morals, and beliefs.
What Are We Really Struggling Against When Trying To Teach Truth
Have you ever tried to explain a spiritual concept or biblical truth to one who is entrenched in false ideas and man-made doctrine? Have you ever made an effort to help someone see something in a new way when you know they have seen the thing their way for most of their life? If you have, you might see how the battle is not against them as physical humans. What you are truly up against is their inability to see. They literally have darkened sight and cannot comprehend what you are sharing with them. Those folk are darkened as far as their understanding goes. Neither is the battle against a cosmic entity. They don’t realize they can’t see and certainly don’t realize they are deceived. If they did then they wouldn’t be deceived because the nature of deception is that one trapped in it, cannot recognize they are trapped. This axiom poses a problem for the enthusiastic person desiring to share truth with another. How do you make someone see who really can’t see because they are of darkened sight? Well you can’t. But I laud you for your enthusiasm. This is the problem Paul was dealing with when he said our battle is in part against the rulers of darkness in this world. The ideas that direct and form our thinking are the opposition according to Paul.
The only way those who are guided by the powers of darkness of this world can see, is if they decide to respond to the gentle prompting of the truth and begin to make choices that honor truth through study and healthy spiritual interaction or discussions. Most of us don’t see we are deceived until we start to shed our deceptions and come out of the vast forest of erroneous thinking. When we’re lost in the forest we often don’t realize how big it is until we are rescued and get out of the forest. The darkness of this world is the deeply erroneous and entrenched false doctrines and lies people are subject to. Those who propagate and pontificate such doctrines are the rulers of the darkness of this world.
What Is Spiritual Wickedness In High Places
Lastly, Paul mentions the depravity of the human soul, which is active in those who are in positions of authority and influence. Here is how Paul puts it; .., against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Using the Greek word pneumatikos, Paul’s intended meaning is to show us that the human spirit as a rational soul is an enemy that needs to be battled. After all, the definition for the word pneumatikos is “rational soul”. That term refers to a thinking human. The message Paul delivers is not that flesh and blood are to be battled against, as some of the Zealots would have thought, rather it is the issue that humans have a will and a rational being that needs to be overcome in every individual. This will and rational soul that lends itself to wickedness has a particular impact when a person of influence operates out of a self-motivated drive. You could beat them up physically, lowering yourself to engage in a hand-to-hand battle but that won’t change the core of the wicked person, which is still unsubmitted to the truth.
The regions Paul taught and wrote to were known to have many altars and temples to many pagan gods. When Paul talked about the wickedness in high places, he was not likely talking about a place up in the sky such as heaven is thought of. In his thinking, he likely had the pagan doctrines and teachings in mind. Pagan teachings flowed from the pagan high places. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia makes it clear that pagan worship environments were called high places;
In particular, the high places are places of worship, specifically of idolatrous worship. So the title was transferred from the elevation to the sanctuary on the elevation (1 Kings 11:7; 14:23; compare the burning of the "high place" in 2 Kings 23:15), and so came to be used of any idolatrous shrine, whether constructed on an elevation or not (note how in 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Chronicles 28:4 the "high places" are distinguished from the "hills"). So the "high places" in the cities (2 Kings 17:9; 2 Chronicles 21:11 (Septuagint)) could have stood anywhere…
It is no stretch to understand Paul’s reference to the wickedness of the rational human soul in “high” places as referring to the pagan priests of the local temples and shrines. These men certainly would fit the description of one who was operating in wickedness out of their rational being. Particularly significant in this discussion, is to remember that the Ephesian believers were surrounded by pagan and idolatrous worship at every turn. Paul was not talking about spirit beings flying through the air, or dwelling in the “high” place of heaven. If these entities existed, they would not have had access to heaven. They would supposedly be evil and Yahweh is said to not have any sin present before Him. If Paul was to rewrite his famous passage on supposed “spiritual warfare” today, it might go something like this.
To: the Ephesian Believers;
From: Paul the Apostle;
Subject: How to Deal with false teachers and their entrenched ideas-
But most importantly brothers, stay focused on the Master and the power you receive because of His sovereignty and work of overcoming death. Make use of all the good doctrine and truth of the Scriptures as if it is armor of God. In so doing, you won’t fall to temptations and heresies. And with this “armour” on, you won’t often be tricked by men teaching lies. We could fight against man physically but that is not a fight that will benefit you or me in the long term. Our real battle is the evil inclination in ourselves and in other men. An inclination that has been there from the beginning of creation. We are really fighting against the primal desire to abuse our freedom of choice. It is because of the original propensity to sin that was brought into the world by Adam and Eve why we must fight our power of choice. Not just in us but that is the overriding factor in others who oppose the plan of God. Those people who are supposedly leaders in your governments, religions, and communities have darkened vision and cannot see the truth; therefore, any battle against them physically is useless. The problem is deeper than that, right in their very constitution. This original potential to sin lends to the wicked choices and directs the leaders who run the pagan temples and shrines.
These false leaders have a rational being, a will to do the wickedness they are doing and that is what needs to be taken down. You can’t fight their flesh because it is something inside of them that needs to be addressed. Something inside all of us that needs to be battled. There is no intellectual or physical fight you can engage in that will remove the conscious desire of these men to do and teach wickedness. So be aware that you can overcome this anti-god thinking and behavior in yourselves but until others submit to Yahweh, they will remain in their unregenerate state. Therefore clothe yourself in all the truth and good doctrine the Messiah has for you and you will be able to make it through the evil that these men might do to you at some time in the future.
Below is the passage as it appears in the KJV. Keep in mind that Paul was writing a letter to a group of believers who would have understood his language. Paul was not writing Scripture and would have been mortified to know that Christianity has used his words to build a demon busting, Satan binding philosophy of “spiritual warfare.” He was giving specific instruction to a specific community of believers who had issues unique to their environment. Men were power tripping and the burgeoning assembly of believers in Messiah was all but forced to adhere to the man-made religion. The words we read today are only super-imposed with meaning that is indicative of a supernatural conflict because of the centuries of reinforced erroneous teaching. Teaching that has propagated a Greek concept of a spirit world containing good and evil forces. Had we been in the audience that first heard Paul’s words, there would be no mistake Paul was telling us our battle was against the institutional philosophies, the thoughts and ideas of man … a foe that no flesh and blood combat can win against.
Things to remember when reading this passage are:
- The wiles of the devil are the false teachings of the men who run anti-God religions.
- We do not need to have physical battles because the battle is against philosophies and beliefs.
- Principalities are the politico-religious leaders such as a magistrate would be.
- The powers is the word exousia and refers to man’s power of choice and in this context man’s propensity to choose false teachings.
- The rulers of darkness are the men who have a darkened sight when dealing with truths. They are incapable of seeing the truth and therefore forcefully guide the consciousness of this world by their errors…which they cannot themselves see are errors.
- In a heavily paganized Ephesian environment, the battle was often against the false and unscriptural teaching that came from the pagan high places and the men who ran them.
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
1 See ISBE article “High Places”
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