Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:10-12 2) Principalities and powers (continued).
A third presentation of this view of the Powers was given in 1954 by G.B.Caird in a series of lectures in Canada which were published in 1950 as *Principalities and Powers, A Study in Pauline Theology*. It is a more careful biblical study than either of the two previously summarized books, although I cannot personally approach with any high degree of confidence a work which can refer to Paul’s ‘faulty logic and equally faulty exegesis’, not to mention ‘the insufficiency of Paul’s spurious arguments’. Affirming in his introduction that ‘the idea of sinister world powers and their subjugation by Christ is built into the very fabric of Paul’s thought’, Dr Caird goes on to isolate three principal ‘powers’.
The first is ‘pagan religion and pagan power’, including the state, and he interprets Ephesians 3:10 as teaching that these have already begun to be redeemed through Christian social action. The second power is the law which is good in itself because it is God’s, yet when it is ‘exalted into an independent system of religion, it becomes demonic’. The third power concerns those recalcitrant elements in nature which resist God’s rule, including wild animals, diseases, storms and the whole creation’s bondage to corruption. So ‘Paul’s view of man’s dilemma’ is as follows: ‘He lives under divinely appointed authorities – the powers of the state, the powers of legal religion, the powers of nature – which through sin have become demonic agencies. To expect that evil will be defeated by any of these powers, by the action of the state, by the self-discipline of the conscience, or by the process of nature, is to ask that Satan cast out Satan. The powers can be robbed of their tyrannical influence and brought into proper subjection to God only in the Cross’.
In his commentary on Ephesians published twenty years after *Principalities and Powers*, Dr. Caird seems more willing to concede that Paul was referring to ‘spiritual beings who preside over all the forms and structures of power operative in the corporate life of men’. Indeed, ‘The real enemies are the spiritual forces that stand behind all institutions of government and control the lives of men and nations.’
The only other author I will mention by name is Dr Markus Barth, whose *The Broken Wall (A study of the Epistle to the Ephesians*) was published in 1959 and whose monumental two volumes in the *Anchor Bible* followed in 1974. In the former book he identifies the principalities and powers ‘by reference to four features of Paul’s thinking and terminology’, namely the state (political, judicial, ecclesiastical authorities), death, moral and ritual law, and economic structures including slavery. ‘We conclude that by principalities and powers Paul means the world of axioms and principles of politics and religion, of economics and society, of morals and biology, of history and culture’, and therefore ‘it is of the essence of the Gospel to include utterances concerning political, social, economic, cultural and psychological situations, dogmas and problems’.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.