Photograph by Jean-Leo Dugast in The
Thai Life by John Hoskin (Bangkok: Tamarind Press, 1993)
Topics in Chapter
When people come to Christ, they interpret the scriptures through the filter of their own worldviews. Timothy Warner rightly draws a continuum bounded by Animism on the one extreme and secularism on the other. He comments that all peoples tend to be syncretistic, that is, they blend beliefs and practices from different systems into new religious configurations. While Westerners are syncretistic on the secular side of the continuum, third-world peoples are frequently syncretistic on the animistic side. Both extremes are dangerous, and truth is found somewhere between these extremes (Warner 1988a).
Fig. 4: The Secular-Animistic Axis
Syncretism on the Secular Extreme
Secularists disavow any powers which cannot be perceived, studied, and analyzed by the five senses. God is relegated to the spiritual realm, where he is allowed little authority over the world he created. Only "natural" powers which can be empirically analyzed are thought to operate in the "natural" world. Paradoxically, people view themselves as self-sufficient, not in need of God in the world that he created. Their world is a "closed universe" because natural powers are thought to operate with no interference from the spiritual realm. Even Christians within secular societies reflect this thinking when they compartmentalize the secular and spiritual. Jeremiah's words call the secular person to dependence on Creator God: "I know, O Lord, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23).
Western theologians, in particular, have reflected a secular perspective toward spiritual powers. They reflect this secular orientation in different ways.
First, Western theologians have ignored the concept of spiritual powers in biblical writings. In writing about the Pauline perspective toward angels and demons, Otto Everling remarked, "The utterly subordinate significance of this segment of Paul's thought world seems to have become too generally axiomatic for one to give serious attention to it" (1888, 4). Western theologians have therefore neglected such studies "precisely because they were not easily reducible to modern themes" (Wink 1984, 102).
Second, some Western theologians have determined that although personal spiritual powers once existed, they no longer exist. The dispensation of their activity came to an end with the death of Christ. Teachers of this perspective say that they see no evidence of the spirit world. The lack of any present-day activity of spiritual powers confirms that the demonic powers were destroyed and no longer exist.
Third, Western theologians have found various secular models of reality to explain why the powers are not personal spiritual beings. Harnack distinguished between core elements of religion, which are both timeless and eternal, and the temporary garb in which Christianity was clothed in New Testament times. He considered spiritual powers as part of the temporary garb, which was to be discarded (O'Brien 1984). Bultmann perceived personal spiritual powers as representing mythological and, therefore, uncritical thinking. These perspectives had to be "demythologized" and interpreted existentially (MacGregor 1954, 26-27). Wesley Carr attempted to prove that all powers in the Bible were angels and that spiritual beings opposed to God did not exist (1987, 72). Hendrik Berkhof and Walter Wink sought to prove that spiritual powers do not have a separate spiritual existence but are seen only in the structures of society (Berkhof 1977; Wink 1986). After reviewing these perspectives, one wonders why these Western theologians were forced to find a new paradigm for interpreting spiritual powers in the Bible. Why could they not have interpreted the passages literally as personal spiritual beings? Is it possible that their interpretations were determined more by a secular mind-set than by biblical exegesis?
Some Western theologians have effectively critiqued these secular interpretations of scripture. J. S. Stewart in a perceptive article in the Scottish Journal of Theology called the study of spiritual powers "a neglected emphasis in New Testament theology" because these elements "are integral and basic components to the gospel" (1951, 291, 294). P. T. O'Brien critiqued various interpretations of the principalities and powers and then analyzed New Testament teachings on the subject without demythologizing them (1984).
Western missionaries, having mind-sets conditioned by Western theology, are consistently surprised to hear that their host peoples interpret literally passages that they have either ignored or in some way demythologized. P. T. O'Brien, who taught in an Indian theological school, relates the dissatisfaction of Asian students with Western commentaries because they fail to "take seriously the accounts about demons, exorcism, or Christ's defeat of them" (1984, 130). In the African context the existence of spiritual powers is never doubted, except by those indoctrinated by secular education. Any biblical commentary which did not accept the reality of spiritual beings would be incomprehensible. In such animistic contexts the church is impotent--without power--if she does not develop a perspective of spiritual powers and actively confront these powers.
Syncretism on the Animistic Extreme
Syncretism on the animistic extreme is equally dangerous. The world is perceived as so pervaded by spirits and forces that humans have little free will. Fears pervade life where freedom in Christ should reign. Christians believe in Christ but continue to believe in the power of spirits and impersonal forces over their lives. For example, Congdon's study of the Zulu demonstrated that 69.6 per cent of all professing Christians believed that ancestral spirits accompany and protect them (Congdon 1985, 297). Although the Colossian Christians had received Christ, they were tempted to follow the elementary principles of the powers along with Christ. Paul wrote that Christ was to have all "fullness of Deity"; that is, all things were to be brought under his authority (Col. 1:19; 2:6-8, 20). Like the Israelites of the Old Testament, some contemporary Christians worship God while paying homage and making sacrifices to propitiate other gods and spirits (2 Kgs. 17:9-18).
The church must take two concurrent actions in handling this problem of syncretism. First, the church of God must recognize how syncretistic she has become. She must recognize that she has blended Christianity with both secularism and Animism. The secular Western church must be called to open her "closed universe" without swinging to the animistic side of the continuum (Burnett 1988, 247). The church which is syncretistic on the animistic side must realize that "all fullness of Deity" dwells in Jesus Christ so that he becomes all in all (Col. 2:9-10). God, our Creator, becomes jealous when allegiance is given to other spiritual beings who in comparison to Him are "no gods" (Deut. 32:21). Nevertheless, the God who created us, has given us the free will to choose whom we will follow. Syncretism toward either extreme can be avoided by respect for God's word and by doing proper biblical exegesis. C. S. Lewis has aptly said that demons themselves "hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight" (1961, 9).
Second, the church must let the Bible determine her understanding of the nature of spiritual beings and their work in the world. While the secular view questions the existence of personal spiritual beings, the animistic view believes that these powers control every aspect of life. The Bible calls the church to a middle ground in which God is sovereign over his world but allows his people the freedom to choose their allegiance. This perspective, called theism, acknowledges a cosmic struggle in the world between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan (Burnett 1988, 245-247). While the extremes of secularism and Animism are amoral, the theistic position poses a moral God in charge of his universe. This chapter gives a theological undergirding to a theistic worldview based upon biblical perspectives of the powers.
Much of the Bible portrays the struggle of the people of God with animistic powers. In the Old Testament the Israelites had to continually choose between the God of Israel and the gods of the nations. The gospels describe a struggle between Jesus and the demonic world. In the Pauline epistles the Christian battle is against principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12) and the elementary principles of the world (Col. 2:8, 20). The student of the Bible is forced to develop some rationale for explaining these various terminologies of the powers in the scripture. There are four possible explanatory views.
First, the evolutionary view conceives that spiritual powers are not real powers in and of themselves. Rather, the human need for an explanatory system led to the belief in such powers. People have created "a negative parent" because they have a need for one (Wink 1986, 26-30). Originally all evil was ascribed to God. But since a benevolent God could not logically do evil, Satan was created to explain the source of evil. After the development of the concept of Satan, demons evolved to be his servants. The evolutionary view is ultimately a denial of all spiritual power. Man has created beings because he needed them.
Second, the terminal view states that demonic activity occurred only during New Testament times in order to counter the coming of Christ. When Christ died, he defeated these powers, and they no longer exist. However, two verses in the Old Testament (Ps. 106:37; Deut. 32:17) show the existence of demonic activity prior to the coming of Christ. Demonic activity also existed after the cross of Christ. Those with unclean spirits were healed (Acts 5:16; 8:7). A magician was confronted and struck blind (Acts 13:6-12). A slave girl with a spirit of divination was cured (Acts 16:16-18). Paul wrote, "In the later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (1 Tim. 4:1).
The evolutionary and terminal views are both secular attempts to explain that spiritual powers do not currently exist as real beings. The evolutionary view does this by attempting to prove that people created the powers because of their need to explain the source of evil and suffering. The terminal view provides a model for those whose secular perspectives cannot accept the present existence of spiritual powers although they desire to interpret the Bible literally. This view is usually held by those with a conservative perspective toward biblical authority.
Third, the functional view states that demonic powers operate in different ways at different times depending on the beliefs of the people. In C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters Screwtape writes this to Wormwood:
Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence, we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism, and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and skeptics. At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologize their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The `Life Force,' the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work--the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshiping, what he vaguely calls `Forces' while denying the existence of `spirits'--then the end of the war will be in sight. (1942, 32-33)
The principalities and powers opposed to God work in various ways to alienate people from God. They use gods who are no-gods so people will believe in them and worship them.
Fourth, the systemic view sees the powers as personal spiritual beings who are actively impacting the socio-economic and political structures of societies. These powers have established their own rules and regulations which pull cultures away from God. The "elementary principles" (stoicheia) of Pauline writings (Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:8, 20) are an example of this. Stoicheia are literally the rudimentary principles, the ABCs of culture. These are the directives through which the powers have established legalistic control of society. Thus in Colossians and Galatians the stoicheia are illustrated by legalistic observances of the law, worship of angels, and returning to pre-Christian animistic practices. Stoicheia within these contexts are the demonic contortions of human society. The powers, although personal spiritual beings, have invaded the very fabric of society. Thus even Christian institutions reflect these demonic influences when the powers invade human institutions.
My contention is that the essence of these powers, although taking different forms and manifesting themselves in different cultural ways, is the same in all ages. They are not merely socio-economic systems which have rebelled against God, but personal spiritual powers opposed to the very being of God. Although the names of powers who oppose God vary in different biblical contexts, their origin and essence are one.
When the Bible student conceives of this power struggle in the scriptures, he is forced to answer some penetrating questions: Who are these powers? Are they personal beings or institutional forces? What is their origin? What is the relationship between the God of Israel and the various "gods of the nations" in the Old Testament? How did Jesus treat demons in the gospels? What effect has the death and resurrection of Christ had upon these powers? Who are the principalities and powers described in the Pauline epistles? Are these powers one or many different manifestations? How does the church relate to these powers? The answers to these questions, addressed in this chapter, help to prepare the missionary theologically to minister in animistic contexts.
Their Origin and Fall
The book of Colossians describes the powers as created beings. They were created by Christ to be under his sovereignty: "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col. 1:16-17). The purpose of the passage is to show that all powers were created to be in a dependent relationship with Christ. As things created "by him and for him," they were to be Christ's servants--instruments of his sovereignty. "Fullness, completeness" dwells in Christ alone (Col. 1:19; 2:9). The passage implies that fullness does not dwell in powers that desire to be independent of their Creator. The supremacy of Christ is therefore declared in relation to the creation of the powers.
These powers did not originate as foes of God but were created to live under the sovereignty of Christ. In Colossians Paul infers that at some point there was a cosmic rebellion against Christ and his sovereignty. The powers forsook their allegiance to Christ and became independent. They broke with God's sovereignty to establish their own sovereignty. The motivation for this seems to come from Satan, under whose dominion they had fallen. The man of lawlessness, who came according to the will of Satan (2 Thess. 2:9), desired to exalt himself over God--to take "his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God" (2 Thess. 2:4). Instead of pointing to God, Satan and his powers accepted the idolatrous worship of humans, "which exalted them to a divine and absolute status" (Caird 1967, 48). When humans worshipped idols, they were exalting what was "secondary and derivative into a position of absolute worth" (Caird 1967, 9). Origen wrote,
According to our belief, it is true of all demons that they were not demons originally, but they became so in departing from the true way; so that the name `demons' is given to those beings who have fallen away from God. Accordingly those who worship God must not serve demons. (Against Celsus VII. 69)
The issue at stake was one of glory. The created saw the glory of God and desired to usurp that glory (Warner 1988a, 3-7).
Paul in Colossians assumed that the reader understood that the powers have rebelled against God and therefore must be reconciled to Christ. He emphasized that "all things," implying all powers, were "held together" in a system with Christ as their head (1:16-17). But the rebellion of the powers led God to send Christ in order to reconcile "all things to himself" (1:20), as in the beginning, so that all "fullness" dwells in him alone (1:19). God reconciled "all things" to himself through Jesus on the cross. In this event Christ disarmed the powers, made a public display of them, and triumphed over them (Col. 2:15). By defeat of the powers in his death and acceptance of his headship by those who believe, Jesus became "head over all rule and authority."
Their Present Status
The powers are now alienated from God and oppose him. They now desire to estrange believers from the love of God (Rom. 8:38). They hold the non-believer in bondage (Gal. 4:3). They bind people to their rules (Col. 2:20). They control the lives of the ungodly (Eph. 2:2).
These powers, who oppose God, have become part of the dominion of the kingdom of Satan. O'Brien writes, "Despite the variety in nomenclature, the overall picture is the same: a variety of evil forces under a unified head" (1984, 137; Green 1981, 82). When demons were cast out, Jesus could say, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:17-18). The "devil's schemes" are connected to the Christian's struggle against the powers (Eph. 6:11-12). Jesus was accused of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons (Matt. 12:22-28). Satan has become the god of this world (1 John 4:4; 5:19) working in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2) with legions of spiritual powers in league with him.
The Nature of the Powers
The Bible assumes that the powers are personal spiritual entities. They are not merely non-personal, alienated structures of society. Many biblical names for the powers--lords, gods, princes, demons, devils, unclean spirits, evil spirits--have personal connotations. Names for Satan--the evil one, the accuser, the destroyer, the adversary, the enemy--also infer a personality.
The personal nature of spiritual beings is illustrated by Christ's delivering those possessed by demons. When Jesus healed the demon-possessed man who was blind and dumb, he was confronting personal spiritual power (Matt. 12:22-29). The first miracle of Jesus recorded in Luke's gospel was the cleansing of an unclean man in Capernaum (Luke 4:31-37). This spirit was also personal. First, the spirit cried out to Jesus, and he responded. This was not an institutional manifestation of the evils of the world, but a personal spirit speaking to Jesus. Second, the demon differentiated himself from the one he had possessed by using the first person plural pronoun "us" when he cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?" The terminologies in this account suggest that the demons are evil spiritual beings. According to Ferguson,
[Their] spiritual nature . . . permits them to enter a human person. Once more we notice that the demon had his own distinct personality. He was different from the person in whom he dwelled and was able to control the person he possessed to the extent of throwing him down. (1984, 6)
Schlier defines personal spiritual beings as "beings of intellect and will, which can speak and be spoken to" and are "capable of purposeful activity" (1964, 18). This definition reflects the qualities of personal spiritual beings in the scriptures as seen in the preceding paragraphs.
Nevertheless, these personal powers diffuse into human cultures. They have the power to invade human beliefs, institutions, and structures and to obscure their origin. Consequently, people of God will fall away not only because of the overt working of "deceitful spirits" but also because of obscure "doctrines of demons" that radiate from their work and become a part of human strictures (1 Tim. 4:1). For example, when Jesus confronted the traditions of the Pharisees, he was confronting the power of Satan ingrained in Jewish tradition (Matt. 15:1-20). A most apparent example of this is the great dragon, who is called the devil and Satan (Rev. 12:9). He gives authority to the beast, representing the persecuting world dominion of Domitian's Rome (Rev. 13:2), to execute his will. Even today the great dragon has his beasts who perform his work in the world.
The stoicheia were the regulations of the powers which bound those not in Christ (Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:8, 20). Schlier writes that the powers "conceal themselves in the world and in the everyday life of mankind. They withdraw from sight into the men, elements, and institutions through which they make their power felt" (1964, 29). This is the meaning of Paul's statement "We . . . were held in bondage under the elementary things of the world" (Gal. 4:3). These rules which bound the non-believer might be those of the Jewish law or pagan beliefs prevalent in their various localities. The Colossian heresy was similar to that in Galatia. The Colossians were allowing the "elementary principles of the world" to displace Christ as the mediator between God and man (MacGregor 1954, 22). The Colossians should have escaped their control. Paul inquired, "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why do you submit" to their decrees? (Col. 2:8, 20). The Colossians were still tied to the old demonic system although they considered themselves to be in Christ. Personal spiritual powers had become systemic.
Apocryphal literature speaks of the powers as angels who have fallen away from God (2 Enoch 29:4; Jubilees 10). Jude likely builds on this tradition when he speaks of angels leaving their "proper abode" (vs. 6), alluding to their proper "domain" under the sovereignty of God. These angels fell away from God when they sinned, and some have already been cast into hell (2 Pet. 2:4). Thus Jesus could speak of the place "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41).
Caird does not differentiate between angels and the gods of the nations, which are spoken of throughout the Old Testament. He believes that they are angelic beings "to whom God had delegated some measure of his own authority" (Caird 1967, 48). Their worship became the source of idolatry in the Old Testament when the nations and even God's elect people chose to serve such powers rather than Yahweh. A variant reading of Deuteronomy 32:8b-9 says that God "set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God for the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance." According to this interpretation, angels were placed over all the nations, but Israel was God's special inheritance over which he ruled without any intermediary. These angels were never to be worshipped but only to serve as messengers of God. The cosmic rebellion against God occurred when these "angels of the nations" desired to be worshipped rather than allow all praises to be directed to God. This cosmic rebellion is depicted in Daniel. The angel of God was delayed from coming to Daniel because he was fighting with the angelic prince of Persia and must return to continue the fight and also fight the prince of Greece (Dan.10:20-21). They are referred to as the "princes of the nations" in Isaiah 41-46 and 48 (Wink 1984, 26-35). The worship of these beings became the source of idolatry in the Old Testament when the nations and God's own people chose to serve such powers rather than Creator God. The powers therefore are powers who forsook the sovereignty of God and accepted the worship of those whom they were sent to serve. Despite their original state, they have now aligned themselves with Satan and must be resisted by faithful Christians (Eph. 6:12).
Powers that were originally beneficent have become malevolent. Once they sang the praises of Creator God and existed under his sovereignty; they now desire control and power apart from God without giving him recognition as their Creator. They once were ministering servants of the people of God; they now desire to be their gods. Because they forsook the sovereignty of God, they have become participants of the kingdom of Satan.
God and the Gods
The most overlooked theological issue of the Old Testament among Western theologians is the relationship of Israel to Yahweh and the gods of the nations. The Decalogue expressed God's jealousy when Israel paid allegiance to other gods and bowed down before their idols (Exod. 20:2-6). Rhetorical questions declaring God's distinctiveness, like "What god is great like our God?" (Ps. 77:13), occur repeatedly throughout scripture. The Israelites, from the youngest to the oldest, were to live according to the reality of the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deut. 6:4). The oneness of God negated any allegiances to spiritual beings below the status of Creator God. Yahweh was unique among the gods; no other spiritual being could be compared to him. The significant issue was that of allegiance: Who would Israel follow--Yahweh or the gods of the nations?
The history of Israel shows her temptation to forsake Yahweh and depend on the gods of the nations. Ps. 106:34-39 summarized this tendency:
They did not destroy the peoples as the Lord had commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood. They defiled themselves by what they did; by their deeds they prostituted themselves.
The kingdom of David was divided between North Israel and Judah because of the issue of allegiance. Solomon's many wives "turned his heart after other gods" so that "his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God" (1 Kgs. 11:4). The resulting punishment was the division of the kingdom (1 Kgs. 11:11-13). Later both Israel and Judah were sent into captivity because they continued to follow the gods of the nations. Israel sinned because she "feared other gods" (2 Kgs. 17:7). God sent prophets to declare repentance, but Israel refused to listen (2 Kgs. 17:13-14). So God "removed them from his sight" (2 Kgs. 17:18). The people of Judah were also taken into captivity for following the gods of the nations rather than Yahweh. When asked about their captivity, the Jews were to explain that they had been forsaken by their God because they had served other gods (Jer. 5:19).
These passages demonstrate that the great issue of the Old Testament was allegiance. Israel was asked to decide which god she would serve: the gods of her forefathers (Josh. 24:2), the gods of Canaan, the gods of Egypt, or Yahweh (Josh. 24:14-15). The prophets declared that the people must trust only in Yahweh, an allegiance ultimately rejected by an idolatrous and rebellious people. Old Testament history shows that Israel chose to follow the gods of the nations and reject Yahweh.
This tension between God and the gods is reflected in all cultures with an animistic heritage. Since many animistic cultures have much in common with these Old Testament struggles, an in-depth study of God and the gods will help to theologically equip the missionary going into animistic contexts. The great issue is the nature of Creator God and his jealously for our allegiance.
God and the Gods in a Polytheistic Environment
Numerous ancient peoples organized their gods into pantheons. The most powerful god, such as El or Baal in Canaan or Marduk in Babylon, was the supreme god of the pantheon. Lesser gods having their own levels of divinity were under the supreme god. In this type of polytheistic environment it was easy for worshippers of Yahweh to consider him as the chief God with other gods under him. Yahweh's heavenly entourage might wrongly be considered as this type of pantheon with Yahweh equivalent to Baal or Marduk. These beliefs were especially prevalent during the reign of Manassah (Labuschagne 1966, 83) when Judah worshipped "the host of heaven" (2 Kgs. 21:3). These practices were condemned by the prophets during the Josian reform (Zeph. 1:5; Jer. 19:13). A number of Psalms, likely written during the Josian reform after the death of Manassah, refute this type of syncretism.
Psalm 89 describes the relationship of God to the heavenly host. Verse 6 asks the rhetorical questions "For who in the skies can be on a level with Yahweh? Who among the heavenly beings is (or looks) like Yahweh?" The psalm explicitly proclaims that Yahweh is incomparable! No one in the heavenly host can compare to him! These rhetorical questions of God's incomparability are asked in the context of verse 5 in which the heavenly entourage praise him: "Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Yahweh; your truth in the assembly of the holy ones." The passage assumes that "the heavenly beings should not regard themselves as being on the same level as Yahweh, basking in the praises due to Him, but should join in the act of praising Him, for the simple reason that Yahweh is exalted above them as well" (Labuschagne 1966, 81). The psalmist was saying that these beings must not be elevated to the level of gods because God is the one "feared in the council of the holy one, great and terrible above all around him" (vs. 7). The question "Yahweh, God of hosts, who is like you?" (vs. 8) proclaims that God is incomparable; no one is like him. The heavens and earth and all they contain belong to him alone (vs. 11). The entourage of God should never be considered gods but as the servants of God. All praise must therefore be directed to Yahweh and Yahweh alone.
Psalm 82 pictures God standing in the heavenly assembly judging the gods. The word elohim, which is frequently translated "ruler," can be translated "gods." These gods were likely "the deified attendant beings and the foreign gods, constituting the divine assembly presided over by Yahweh" (Labuchagne 1966, 84). The gods were asked to prove that they had the qualities of Yahweh. Unlike Yahweh, these "gods" were judging unjustly, showing partiality to the wicked, and failing to show compassion to the weak, fatherless, destitute, and needy (vss. 2-4). Since these "gods" were unable to counter God's indictment, the foundations of the earth were shaken (vs. 5). Labuschagne interprets verse 6 as the confessional words of the psalmist. The psalmist admitted that he had once considered the heavenly beings to be "gods, sons of the Most High." He later realized that they were no-gods and that God would pronounce judgment on them: "Surely, you shall die like men, and like one of the princes you shall fall" (vs. 7). Finally, the psalmist urged Yahweh, the one "who possesses the nations," to stand up and judge the gods (vs. 8). The issue of this psalm was syncretism. The psalmist was "a man who freed himself from the prevailing syncretistic view of his time, who openly confessed his guilt, admitting that he too had held a false notion about the exclusiveness of Yahweh" (Labuschagne 1966, 83-85).
In a polytheistic environment the follower of Yahweh must realize that there is none like his God. Because God is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth" (Ps. 86:15, 5), all nations will come and worship Yahweh (Ps. 86:9) and say, "Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours" (Ps. 86:8)!
God and the Gods in the Egyptian Context
Israel, a polytheistic people in Egypt (Josh. 24:15; Exod. 3:13), learned that Yahweh was the Incomparable One based on God's activity in delivering them from Egyptian captivity. Israel's faith, which allowed her to believe the words of Moses (Exod. 4:31) and to prepare for the Passover (Exod. 12), grew to the point of recognizing Yahweh as the Incomparable One after God's destruction of the army of Egypt: "Who is like you among the gods, O Yahweh? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?" (Exod. 15:11). These mighty acts of Yahweh were to be remembered by Israel in a confessional statement throughout the generations:
My father . . . went down to Egypt . . . few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation. . . . And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders. (Deut. 26:5-8)
But it was also important that Yahweh's incomparability be demonstrated before Pharoah and the Egyptians. Yahweh was the lord of the whole earth and all powers were to be subject to him. The Pharoah was considered to be the son of Ra, the sun-god of the Egyptians and god over all gods of the Egyptian pantheon (Labuschagne 1966, 58-62). The Egyptian's boast of the incomparability of both Ra and their god-king was an affront to the sovereignty of Yahweh. The mighty acts of God were performed not merely before Israel but also before Pharoah and the people of Egypt.
The Exodus account indicates that the deliverance was a contest between Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the god-king of the Egyptians (and the sun-god who stood behind him). God sent the plagues to force Pharoah to acknowledge that "no one is like Yahweh" (Exod. 8:10; 9:14). The Egyptian magicians recognized the plagues to be the "finger of God" (Exod. 8:19), an admission of Yahweh's superiority. Even Pharoah confessed Yahweh's superiority: "I have sinned this time; the Lord is the righteous one and I and my people are the wicked ones" (Exod. 9:27). God wanted Pharoah to acknowledge "that the earth is the Lord's" (Exod. 9:29).
The deliverance was also a defeat of all the lesser gods of Egypt. In the plague of the death of the firstborn, God said that he was executing judgment "against all the gods of Egypt" (Exod. 12:12). Since Egyptian gods stood behind every facet of nature, the plagues demonstrated "that the power of God defeated each god where its locus of power was concentrated" (Kamps 1986, 33). For example, the plague of darkness demonstrated the defeat of Ra, the sun-god; Tem, the god of sunset; and Shu, the god of light (Kamps 1986, 34). Yahweh's deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian captivity clearly demonstrated that no gods can stand up against Yahweh, the Incomparable One.
God and the Gods in the Song of Moses
The song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 acknowledges Yahweh to be the only true God. Yahweh is described as Israel's "Rock," who is perfect, just, faithful, and righteous (vs. 4). This Rock guarded and blessed Israel (vss. 10-14). The writer explicitly indicates that during this time of blessing "the Lord alone guided Israel and there was no foreign god with her" (vs. 12). But when Israel "grew fat" with Yahweh's blessings, she "scorned the Rock of her salvation" (vs. 15). Yahweh became jealous and angry with this betrayal (vs. 16). The following parallelism (vs. 18) denotes God's pangs of remorse over Israel's betrayal:
You neglected the Rock who begot you, And forgot the God who gave you birth.
So Yahweh grew jealous (vss. 16, 21) and punished Israel (vss. 23-33). Instead of Yahweh being the Rock of her salvation (vs. 15; 1 Sam. 2:2), Yahweh became the Rock of her punishment: "How could one chase a thousand (Israelites), and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had given them up?" (vs. 30). In the midst of this punishment, even the nations realized that "their rock is not like our Rock" (vs. 31). In this song Yahweh's judgment of Israel cannot be separated from his judgment of the gods that they followed. Yahweh with passion asked, "Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge?" (vs. 37). The emotions of this song build to a culminating point showing the incomparability of Yahweh: "See now that I, even I am He--there is no god besides me." Yahweh's incomparability is expressed in the midst of the struggle with the gods of the nations (Labuschagne 1966, 71).
One final comment must be made about the essence of the gods. The song of Moses affirms that demons stand behind these gods. Note the parallelism in verse 17:
They sacrificed to demons who were not God, To gods whom they have not known.
Gods have become the fronts for demons. In a sense idols are no-gods because they were carved by human hands. These gods have power only because they are used by demons. Paul affirms this: "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons" (1 Cor. 10:20). Weiss writes, "Though Paul denied the existence of idols (1 Cor. 8:4), declaring them dead (1 Thess. 1:9) and no gods by nature (Gal. 4:8), he expressly stated that the sacrifices offered to pagan deities were really given to devils" (1953, 401). The same word for demons (shedhim) is used in Ps. 106:37, which reveals that in sacrificing their sons and daughters to idols, the Israelites were, in reality, sacrificing them to demons. Gods and demons, and by inference polytheism and Animism, cannot not be theologically separated because they are based on the same power source. The demonic did not evolve from the gods; the demonic has simply appeared in different guises at different times.
God's Incomparability Contrasted to the Nature of the Gods
Israel could know that her religion was distinctive only if her God was distinctive. What characteristics of Yahweh made him different from the gods of the nations?
First, Yahweh was incomparable because he was creator. On the basis of being creator, Yahweh could say, "I am the Lord, and there is none else" (Isa. 45:18). Unlike material idols, Yahweh was not the result of human creativity (Isa. 44:9-17; 45:20; 46:1-7). As creator, he was unlike the heavenly beings of his entourage (Pss.89:5-10; 82:1-8). Other powers claiming incomparability are impostors--rebellious creations of God--rather than God himself.
Second, Yahweh was an intervening, redeeming God who wished to bear people on "eagle's wings and bring them to himself" (Exod. 19:4). He first worked to redeem Israel. Only Yahweh of all the "gods" took a people for himself from the midst of another nation (Deut.4:34). He took Abraham, a man with a polytheistic heritage (Josh. 24:2) and made him into His chosen people. As a universal God, Yahweh wished to redeem all nations to himself and to bless them through Israel (Gen. 12:3). Thus Israel was to be a light to the nations (Isa.42:6; 49:6). Yahweh was "ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations" (2 Chr. 20:6)--praised as "the God who works wonders; [who] made known [his] strength among the people" (Ps.77:14).
Third, the attributes of Yahweh made him distinctive. Micah's concluding confession declares Yahweh's distinctiveness: "Who is a God like you? One who pardons iniquity and passes over transgressions for the remnant of his inheritance!" (7:18a). Yahweh presented himself at Sinai as "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin . . ." (Exod. 34:6-7; cf. Pss. 86:15; 103:6-8). Although Yahweh is holy (1 Sam. 2:2), just (Ps. 35:10; Jer. 31:11), and powerful (Ps. 77:14), his overriding attribute is hesed--steadfast, covenant love. Yahweh's hesed is the motivation for his redeeming activity. While in other religions there was an element of uncertainty about the intention of the gods, Israel's God was motivated by steadfast love (Eichrodt 1961, 235).
The uniqueness of Israel's God set him apart from all other gods. Note Labuschagne's stirring description:
The intervention of Yahweh in history as the redeeming God, the fighting God, who revealed Himself as the Living, Great, Mighty, Holy and Terrible God, the God of justice, who on the one hand renders help to the oppressed, the wronged and the weak, and who on the other hand judges the self-sufficient and the haughty, the God of the Covenant, the Ruler and the wise Conductor of history, was utterly new and unique in the religious world at that time (1966, 136).
Christ and the Demons
Just as the gods of the nations occupied a central place in the Old Testament, so the devil and demons played a prominent role in the gospels. Jesus' ministry began with his being tempted in the wilderness by the devil and concluded with Satan entering into Judas leading to Christ's death. Mark summarized Christ's ministry with the statement: "And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons" (Mark 1:39; cf Matt. 4:23-24; Acts 10:38). Casting out demons was central to the ministry of Christ. The term daimonion, referring to demon possession, is used sixty times in the New Testament, fifty-two times in the gospels. The word daimonidzomai, with the approximate meaning of "to be possessed by a demon," occurs thirteen times, exclusively in the gospels. Daimon, referring to "demon, evil spirit," is only used in the gospels in speaking of the Geresene demoniac (Lawrence 1960, 50-53). These terms all refer to Christ's encounters with the demons. The frequency of these encounters demonstrates the fundamental role of the demons in gospel writings. These beings cannot be dispensed with or demythologized without significantly changing the content.
Beliefs in demons were prevalent in both Greek and Hebrew cultures. Ferguson documents seven different meanings attached to demons in Greek thinking (1984, 36-59). The words for demons (1) were used interchangeably for gods (theos), especially when the identity of a specific god was unknown; (2) alluded to fate, fortune, and chance; (3) were synonymous with spirits of the deceased; (4) defined individual guardian spirits; (5) designated intermediaries between the gods and humans; (6) referred to malevolent spiritual beings; and (7) indicated evil beings who could possess a person. These ideas were fluid, "often overlapping," not showing a consistent progression (Ferguson 1984, 36). Despite their various interpretations, the Greeks were extremely conscious of demons and never denied their existence.
Jewish literature was concerned with the source of demons (Ferguson 1984, 69-104). The book of 1 Enoch equated demons with the nephilim, or "the fallen ones," of Gen. 6:1-4 (1 Enoch 6:1ff; 15:7-16:1). These fallen ones originated when the "sons of God" had intercourse with the "daughters of men." These beings were cast out by God and began to tempt people to do evil. By the time the Septuagint was translated, these "sons of God" were accepted as the "angels of God." The book of Jubilees tells that God commanded all evil spirits to be bound in answer to the
prayer of Noah. However, Mastema, the chief of all spirits who probably was Satan himself, pleaded that some of the spirits be left to him so that he could execute his power upon the will of men. God decided that one-tenth of all demons would be allowed to serve Satan on the earth while the rest would be bound (Jubilees 10). Without any reference to Gen. 6, 2 Enoch describes the rebellion of angels against God, motivated by the desire to be equal in rank with God (29:4ff). The apocryphal Life of Adam associated the angelic fall with man's creation. The devil was jealous that man was created in the image of God and therefore rebelled against God (chs. 12-17; cf. Wisdom of Solomon 2:24; Josephus Antiquities I. 41ff). These origins defined the nature of demons as personal spiritual beings who were once under the sovereignty of God. For some reason they rebelled against his sovereignty and now work against his purposes. Jewish writers expected this demonic activity to continue until the messianic age, when the power of the demonic would finally be broken (1 Enoch 55:4; 10:20-27; Testament of Zebulun 9:8; Testament of Simeon 6:6; Testament of Levi 18:10-12).
The Nature of Demons in the Gospels
The gospel writings assume demons to be personal spiritual beings, created by God and standing in opposition to him. Eight common characteristics can be deduced.
First, these demons were considered "spiritual beings." Their spiritual nature is reflected by the fact that the words for demons and spirits were used interchangeably. Luke quoted a father who described his son as one seized by a "spirit" (Luke 9:39) and then called this spirit a "demon" (Luke 9:42). When the seventy returned rejoicing that the "demons" were subject to them, Jesus referred to these demons as "spirits" (Luke 10:18, 20).
Second, these beings were described as unclean or evil spirits (Luke 4:33; 11:24), frequently bringing illness upon those whom they possessed. When the demon-possessed man of Matt. 12:22, who was both blind and mute, was delivered, he could both see and talk. However, not all the demon-possessed were ill, and not all of the sick were demon-possessed. For example, Mark comments that the people were "bringing to him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed" (Mark 1:32). Luke says that many came to him "to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured" (Luke 6:17-18). At times the one possessed was driven away from contact with his family and community. The Geresene demoniac was driven by the demon into the deserts (Luke 8:29) and lived in the tombs (Matt. 8:28). Unlike Greek traditions in which demons might be considered both good and evil, the stance of Christ was that demons were of the competing realm of Satan (Matt. 12:24-26).
Third, demons were described as disembodied spirits who desired to possess bodies and were pictured as wandering about seeking a body. If a spirit did not find a body, he might return to the body out of which he had come (Luke 11:24-26). The unclean spirits possessing the Geresene demoniac requested, "If you are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine" (Matt. 8:31; cf. Luke 8:26-37). They feared being cast out into a disembodied state. The shocking part of the narrative is that the swine ran into the sea and perished rather than becoming the home of the demons. The gospels portray possession as a common phenomenon.
Fourth, demons were shown to have power and knowledge beyond that of humans. Their physical power was demonstrated by the Geresene demoniac, who was able to break the fetters and chains that bound him (Luke 8:29). As beings of exceptional knowledge, they instantly identified Christ as "the son of God" (Luke 4:41; 8:28). This recognition of Jesus was a regular occurrence: "And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they would fall down before him and cry out, saying, `You are the Son of God!'" (Mark 3:12). Jesus consistently rejected their testimony. He rebuked them and "would not allow them to speak" (Luke 4:41; cf. Mark 3:12). He did not need demonic testimony before humankind. Most likely, the demons were using such "power-charged" words as "You are the son of God" (Luke 4:41) in an effort to bring Christ under their power by magic (Ferguson 1984, 7-8).
Fifth, demons operate as part of the kingdom of Satan, as described in an earlier section. After rejecting God as their sovereign, they have come under the powers of Satan. Jesus therefore affirmed that Satan's kingdom was not divided. The casting out of demons demonstrated a clash of kingdoms rather than the interworking within one kingdom (Matt. 22:24-26). Jesus interpreted demons' being cast out as a defeat of Satan: "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning" (Luke 10:18). The defeat of the demons was an indication of the fall and defeat of Satan himself.
Sixth, human beings became the arena for the struggle between Jesus and the demons. Satan and his angels were defeated in heaven and cast down to the earth where they work to deceive the whole world (Rev. 12:9). Those without the power of Christ were frequently demon-possessed. But even followers of God were not immune to the powers of Satan and his angels. Peter was told by Christ that Satan desired permission "to sift" him as wheat (Luke 22:31). Early Christians were told that their battle was not against flesh and blood but "against the rulers, against the powers, against the world-forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness" (Eph. 6:12). Since Satan and those in allegiance with him were great tempters, they frequently caused illness (2 Cor. 12:7; Job 1-2), contorted eternal doctrines of Christ leading to heresy (1 Tim. 4:1), and tempted people of God to sin (Luke 22:3; John 13:2). Followers of God were therefore enjoined to "resist the devil" so that he might "flee" (Jas. 4:7).
Seventh, demons were overcome by the power of God. The reality of the power of God was not a secret to them. The Geresene demoniac declared to Jesus, "What do we have to do with you, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before our time?" (Matt. 8:29; cf. Luke 8:28). The Capernaum demoniac said, "What do we have to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?" (Mark 1:24). They recognized the power of God and shuddered (Jas. 2:19), realizing that their defeat was certain.
Christ's power over demons was absolute. The demons' obedience to his commands to come out was unwilling but unavoidable. They were cast out by the "Spirit of God" (Matt. 12:28), or "the finger of God" (Luke 11:20), not by the power of magical adjuration. When Jesus healed a demon-possessed man, he described the event as a Stronger Man--Jesus Christ himself-- entering the strong man's house and plundering his goods (Matt. 12:29). Since Christ was sovereign over all of God's creation, the demons were forced to obey his commands.
Eighth, followers of God were given the authority to overcome demons. This authority was given especially to the apostles. Christ appointed the twelve in order to send them out to preach and cast out demons (Mark 3:14-15). However, not only the twelve (Luke 9:1-6) but also the seventy were given authority to cast out demons. These seventy reported to Jesus: "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name" (Luke 10:17). In the Great Commission disciples of Christ were sent out into all the world with the authority of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20). The fact that this authority was delegated is evidenced by the book of Acts, where demons continued to be cast out by Christ's power (Acts 5:16; 8:7).
Those with power to cast out demons should never become proud. They are mere earthen vessels of God who must recognize "that the surpassing greatness of the power" is of God, not of man (2 Cor. 4:7). Although God had given the seventy authority over the forces of evil, the "authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions" (Luke 10:19), they were told not to rejoice in this power. Rather they were to rejoice that their names were "recorded in heaven" (Luke 10:20).
There was a distinct contrast between the way Jesus and his disciples cast out demons and the methodologies of pagan exorcists. The pagans used magical paraphernalia and formulas in the context of elaborate ceremonies (Kittel 1964, 19). Jesus' method, by contrast, was simple, straightforward, and unfailingly successful. He cast out spirits "with a word" (Matt. 8:16). He verbally rebuked the Capernaum demon and commanded him to come out (Mark 1:25). He eliminated all physical materials which had been traditionally used in magic (Ferguson 1984, 11). Typically the disciples used the "name of Jesus" to cast out demons (Luke 10:17; Mark 16:17). There was one instance in which the disciples of Jesus were unsuccessful in casting out a demon (Mark 9:17-29). When the disciples asked why they were not successful, Jesus told them that certain types of spirits come out only by means of prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). In every case Christians displaced the magical adjuration of traditional exorcism with prayer and reliance on the Lord.
A major theme of the ministry of Jesus was the defeat of Satan and his demonic realm. The purpose of his coming was "that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). The defeat of these powers during the ministry of Christ was only a preview of their ultimate defeat when they were disarmed at the cross (Col. 2:15). Christ was the triumphant Messiah who defeated the powers and reconciled the creation to himself (Col. 1:20). In animistic contexts the metaphor of "the triumphant Messiah" is strongly appealing.
Although the term for demons is used only twice in Pauline literature (1 Cor. 10:20; 1 Tim. 4:1) and the term for gods is employed infrequently, the concept of the powers of Satan is not absent. Although many terms describe these powers, they are generally categorized as "principalities and powers."
For example, Paul's writings to the Ephesians assume that the people understand these powers but have not been completely freed from their control. Paul writes this message about the powers to a center of cultic activity where animistic practices and beliefs were flourishing. The city was known for the Ephesia Grammata, the "Ephesian letters" thought to be laden with magical power to ward off demons and employed "either as written amulets or spoken charms" (Arnold 1989, 15-16). Artemis was worshipped as a supreme deity of unsurpassed power--a god who descended directly from heaven (Acts 19:35). She was called upon to protect followers from malevolent powers and "to raise the dead, heal the sick, and protect the city" (Arnold 1989, 20-22, 39). Magic was frequently used in the cult of Artemis: "In many instances there seems to be little or no difference between calling upon Artemis to accomplish a certain task and utilizing a `magical' formula" (Arnold 1989, 24). Astrology was also intertwined with the worship of Artemis. In New Testament times the angels were typically associated with the planets and the stars, which were thought to control earthly fate. However, Artemis was pictured as the master of these astral forces because "the signs of the zodiac were prominently displayed around the neck of the cultic image" (Arnold 1989, 28). Demons were everywhere thought to exist and were immensely feared. The book of Ephesians, therefore, describes how Paul responds to converts who have questions and continuing fears about malevolent spiritual forces (Arnold 1989).
The Nature of the Principalities and Powers
In the Pauline epistles the principalities and powers are described by names which are heaped one upon another in a series: "Our struggle is . . . against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness" (Eph. 6:12; cf. Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16; Rom. 8:38). These lists should not be regarded as precise descriptions of a hierarchy of spiritual beings but as interchangeable synonyms (Schlier 1964, 14-16). The series indicates that spiritual powers cannot be described by only one name. The powers of Satan have become too diffused, appearing in various manifestations, and can no longer be described by concrete terms (Wink 1984, 13-34).
Wink's comprehensive study of the various terms shows that "75 per cent of the time terms such as arche and archon (organizational power), exousia (authority), dynamis (power), and thronos (thrones) refer to human institutions" (Hiebert 1987, 109). Such terms as arche and archon are used exclusively for power in human structures while dynamis is used most frequently in relation to personal spiritual powers. The powers are further described thus:
divine but human, not only personified but structural, not only demons and kings but the world atmosphere and power invested in institutions, laws, traditions and rituals was well, for it is the cumulative, totalizing effect of all these taken together that creates the sense of bondage to a "dominion of darkness." (Wink 1984, 85)
The purpose of these lists therefore is to be comprehensive. These terminologies are broader than "demons" or "gods" because they include the structural, institutional inroads made by personal spiritual powers as well as personal spiritual beings themselves.
In the letters of Paul, as in the gospels, the powers are pictured as functioning under the authority of Satan. The struggle is against the powers, "against the schemes of the devil" (Eph. 6:11) and "the flaming missiles of the evil one" (Eph. 6:16). Satan is described as the "prince of the power of the air, the prince that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2). Their purpose is to use the desires of the flesh and mind to alienate man from God (Eph. 2:1-3). These powers are under Satan and serve him in his realm.
In the Heavenlies
The phrase "in the heavenlies" (ta epourania) occurs five times in the book of Ephesians (Eph. 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). A. T. Lincoln shows it to be a unique formula in the book and to have the same meaning throughout (1973, 469). While other books of the New Testament mention the heavenly father, the heavenly son, heavenly men and women, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the heavenly kingdom, the distinctive phrase ta epourania ("heavenly places") appears only in Ephesians (Barth 1974, 78).
Blessings in the Heavenlies. The Christians at Ephesus were told that they had been blessed "in the heavenlies with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). This first use of the phrase "in the heavenlies" (ta epourania) signifies a spiritual realm. Believers now have all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies while still living on earth. The heavenlies have invaded the earthlies in such a way that "the riches of his grace" have been "lavished upon" those who believe while they are still in the earthly realm (Eph. 1:7-8).
Christ Exalted into the Heavenlies. The second use of the phrase "in the heavenlies" refers to Christ's exaltation and enthronement: God has raised Christ "from the dead, and seated him at his right hand in the heavenlies" (Eph. 1:20). This exaltation of Christ is a central theme of Ephesians. Christ is shown to be "not only a risen, living Savior, but an exalted, reigning Lord who is sovereign over all" (Penner 1983, 18). During the life of Christ, the principalities and powers opposed him, even plotting his death (1 Cor. 2:8). Christ put himself under their power in order to break their power (Powell 1963, 168; MacGregor 194, 23). Christ became human in order to break the power of death, which Satan had used to hold humanity in his grasp. He rendered "powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14).
Christ's death exalted him to a place of sovereignty in the heavenlies seated at the right hand of God "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named" (Eph. 1:20-21). "Far above" (Eph. 1:21) refers to the authority of Christ over the principalities and powers. The powers have no authority over him. Christ is sovereign!
The Believers' Exaltation into the Heavenlies. The third use of the phrase "in the heavenlies" refers to the believer's exaltation and enthronement (Eph. 2:1-6). Believers, who had been subject to the powers (Eph. 2:1-3), have been raised by God and seated "with Him in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4-6). Christ's own exaltation and enthronement in the heavenlies (Eph. 1:20) is compared to the believer's exaltation and enthronement (Eph. 2:6). Ps. 110:1, referred to in Eph. 1:20 in regard to Christ's exaltation to the right hand of God, is used in Eph. 2:6 in relation to the believer's exaltation. The verbs of this verse are in the past tense showing that believers now dwell in the heavenlies because of Christ's exaltation. Allen says, "What God, who is the principal actor in both passages, has accomplished in Christ, he has accomplished for believers" (1986, 104). Christians, who are raised with him, share in his authority. From this position of authority they cannot be overwhelmed by the principalities and powers.
God's Wisdom Made Known in the Heavenlies. The fourth use refers to making known the manifold wisdom of God "in the heavenlies" (Eph. 3:10). The context of this verse (Eph. 3:10) is concerned with the unity of the church (Eph. 3:4-13). When the powers saw the unified church, that both Jews and Gentiles were worshipping together, they realized that their dominion had been broken. The unified church, by being an "example to all creation," by letting "God's light shine" (Barth 1974, 365), makes known the wisdom of God to spiritual powers, who are looking on. The unity of the body of Christ is a "proclamation, a sign, a token to the Powers that their unbroken dominion has come to an end" (Berkhof 1977, 51). The church actively "preaches" (euangelisasthai) to "the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8) but the wisdom of God is only passively "made known" (gnoristhei) to the principalities and powers (Eph. 3:10). The principalities and powers, as created beings, do not have total understanding. With amazement they peer at the church to see the outworking of God's cosmic design.
Cosmic Warfare in the Heavenlies. The church's task is seen from the perspective of cosmic warfare. Satan and his forces are at war with the church. She is to "put on the full armor of God" to resist the principalities and powers (Eph. 6:10-18). Wild shows that the words of 6:12, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood. . . ," are central to the meaning of 6:10-18 and cannot be extracted from the text (or demythologized) without significantly changing the meaning. This passage is also important as the conclusion of the ethics section (Eph. 4:1-6:20) of Ephesians (Wild 1984, 284-288) because the powers are seen as contorting the church's ethics and leading Christians away from God. The significance of Eph. 6:12 to the early church is demonstrated by the fact that the verse is referred to 545 times by almost a hundred different authors in the Letter to the Ephesians in the Veus Latina (Wild 1984, 284). Because of opposition from the principalities and powers, the church is told to arm herself with weapons from God.
These weapons should not be thought of as defensive. "Stand" in verses 11 and 14 has "the sense of drawing up a military formation for combat" (Wink 1984, 87). What most commentators call defensive armor is in reality offensive. What good are the weapons, Wink asks, unless they are effective in defeating evil?
What good is truth--unless it is the way the Powers are finally unmasked? What use righteousness--unless it reveals God's true will for the world? What value salvation--unless the certainty of it is needed for reassurance in the moments of despair or darkness when the gathered might of the Powers makes doubt seem only sensible? What can the shield of faith do--unless we have learned to discern when flaming darts are aimed at our hearts, with their insinuations of inadequacy and guilt or their appeals to egotism and the worship of the golden calf? What good is a sword made only of words, in the face of such monolithic evil--unless evil is not nearly so much a physical phenomenon as a spiritual construct, itself born of words and capable of destruction by the word of God? And why pray--unless that is the only way we can consolidate, by continual affirmation, the divine counterreality which alone is real, and freight it into being. (1984, 88)
In this offensive battle against the principalities and powers Christians are advised to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with "shields overlapping." Because the whole church is being called to take up arms, the plural is used throughout the paragraph (Wink 1984, 88). The church, as a body, is being called to take up arms against spiritual powers aligned with Satan.
The task of the church is to displace the principalities and powers. Christ must be declared sovereign. He is "head over all things to the church, . . . the fulness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:22-23). Markus Barth rightly equates "all things" (ta panta) in this passage to mean the enemies of God (1974, 179). Christians, then, are called to come under the sovereignty of God and to give homage to him. They must no longer seek to manipulate spirits by magic and ritual. They have been exalted with Christ to sit with him "in the heavenlies" in a position above the principalities and powers!
Christians live in the age between the coming of the kingdom of God and its consummation. In the ministry, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ, the kingdom has come--the victory has been won. The outcome is assured; however, the age has not yet been consummated. Although Christ's kingdom has broken into the world, Satan's kingdom continues to exist and to compete with the kingdom of God. Paul refers to this when he speaks of believers dwelling in the heavenlies far above the principalities and powers "not only in this age, but also in the one to come" (Eph. 1:20-21). "The Powers are still present; but wherever Christ is preached and believed in, a limit has been set to their working" (Berkhof 1977, 43). Using military metaphors MacGregor writes, "The tide has turned at `D-Day,' even though the final `V-Day' may still lie far ahead" (1954, 24). Thus there is tension between what has "already" occurred in Christ and what is yet to happen at the end. The "`already' and `not yet' are the poles of the tension which dominates the entire New Testament proclamation" (Berkhof 1977, 43).
The consummation of the age will occur at Christ's second coming, when he will deliver up the kingdom to God after "he has abolished all rule and all authority and power" (1 Cor. 15:24). At this point the devil will be "thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone" along with his human emissaries, the beast, representing Satan's political oppressors, and the prophet, representing Satan's message manipulators (Rev. 20:10). Only then will tares be separated from the wheat. The tares will be "cast into the furnace of fire where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their father. He who has ears, let him hear" (Matt. 13:42-43).
The Christian evangelist in animistic contexts ministers on both a personal and a cosmic level. On the personal level evangelists are being used as earthen vessels by God to break the yoke of Satan and convert specific people, clans, tribes, and cities and to bring them under God's sovereignty. Like Paul, they have been sent "to open [peoples'] eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God" (Acts 26:17-18). From this perspective evangelism is claiming for God what has been Satan's. Christianization is the breaking down of the powers of Satan and making his territory God's territory. On the cosmic level the battle is of one of ideology. False models of reality are being contrasted to a Christian worldview. Allegiance to sovereign God is being contrasted to allegiance to gods who claim incomparability but who are no-gods in comparison to Yahweh. World cultures are choosing from three broad perspectives: a secular orientation that man can live without God, an animistic perspective that man is controlled by spirits and forces which pervade life, and a theistic belief that sovereign God is in charge of his universe although he allows people the free will to decide who they wish to follow. On the cosmic level the evangelist must present a Christian worldview in a culturally appropriate way. As Wink says, "At one level, Christian evangelists sought only to convert people, but at another, they sought to claim an epoch, to take captive an entire culture, to mediate a new way of seeing the world" (1986, 5-6).
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