What are the ‘Powers and Principalities’ in Ephesians?

wtsIn his overview of Ephesians, Guy Prentiss Waters, nicely summarizes what the spiritual powers are in that letter and in the world. Moreover, he explains what the presence and growth of the church means to the devil.

What does Paul understand the “powers” to be in Ephesians? He has several ways of describing them. They are “the rulers,… the authorities,… the cosmic powers over this present darkness,… the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12). Paul mentions them in the same breath as “the devil” (6:11; cf. 4:27) and expressly sets them apart from “flesh and blood” (6:12), that is, human beings (cf. Gal. 1:16). We are therefore to regard these powers as unseen and angelic beings in league with and under the authority of Satan (cf. Eph. 2:2). They are not impersonal but personal. Paul locates them and their activities “in the heavenly places” (6:12; cf. 3:10), even as he documents their unceasing activity in the affairs of humanity.

Paul describes these powers in three ways.

  • First, they are malevolent (“evil”) and therefore hostile to Christ and his people.
  • Second, they possess an authority or power that is not localized but is universal (“cosmic”). The word “darkness” indicates a demonic authority that extends to all unbelieving persons, whether Jew or Gentile. “‘Darkness’ is the sphere in which these believers formerly belonged (Eph. 5:8)… and from which they were rescued by the Lord (Col 1:13).” It is, therefore, an authority that Paul associates with “this age” (Eph. 1:21; cf. 5:16; 6:13), the present Adamic order characterized by sin, corruption, curse, and death.
  • Third, the plurality of these demonic powers and their designation by terms of rank (“rulers,” “authorities”) suggests a gradation within their numbers. Earlier in the letter, Paul stresses that the “prince of the power of the air” is “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh” (Eph. 2:2–3). Satan therefore stands at the head of a host of demonic powers who govern and influence all those who are in Adam (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4).

The “powers” constitute a genuine threat to believers’ well-being (Eph. 6:11–12). Even so, Paul is insistent that the Ephesians understand that these demonic authorities have been brought into subjugation to Jesus Christ. In his exaltation, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, was “seated… far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet” The cosmic, mediatorial dominion of Jesus Christ encompasses “all things,” even the Devil and his angelic allies.

The “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” furthermore, are perpetually reminded of their defeat and subjugation (3:10). The “manifold wisdom of God,” which denotes the eternal purpose of God to redeem sinners by the death and resurrection of Christ and to gather the redeemed into a united people under the benevolent reign of the Lord Jesus, is ever proclaimed to them. The instrument through which God makes this wisdom known to the powers is “the church.” The very existence of the church, in other words, is standing testimony to the powers’ defeat and subjugation to the Lord Jesus Christ. “Ephesians” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Revealed (ed. Michael J. Kruger; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 272–73. Formatting mine.

Ever wonder why the church is under constant attack from devil and his minions? It reminds them of Christ’s Lordship, their defeat, and coming destruction. Hence, the church which is loved by God is hated by Satan. For that reason we must press into the Lord and the power of his Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Does Paul Interpret Moses Allegorically? A Few Lexical Notes on Galatians 4:24

allegoryNow this was written allegorically: these women are two covenants.
One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.[1]
– Galatians 4:24 –

What does ἀλληγορούμενα mean in Galatians 4:24?

To answer the question about the lexical meaning of ἀλληγορούμενα is difficult, because it is only used once in the New Testament. That being said, I think we can say a few things, acknowledging that this word and its immediate context (Gal 4:21–31) is a hotbed for interpretive disagreement. That said, here are a few notes on the matter which came from a recent Sunday School class. Continue reading

Learning to Read Moses’ Allegory: Matthew Emerson on Galatians 4:21–31 and Paul’s Reading of the Pentateuch

paul.jpegIn his illuminating article on Galatians 4:21–31, Matthew Emerson shows how we should learn to read Moses from the Apostle Paul. In a passage that typically is used as an example for how to not read the Old Testament like Paul, Emerson makes the opposite case. And I believe he is exactly right.

In his article,“Arbitrary Allegory, Typical Typology, or Intertextual Interpretation? Paul’s Use of the Pentateuch in Galatians 4:21–31,” he lists a number of historical and contemporary approaches to Paul’s use of allegoreō in Galatians 4:24. In what follows, I will list some of his findings (all the quotations are from his article) and summarize his compelling argument for learning how to read Moses from Paul in Galatians 4:21–31. If you can get to his article, I encourage you to read it, or anything he writes. Continue reading

On “Speaking Allegorically”: An Engagement with Friedrich Büschel in the TDNT

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[Here is the first in a few blogposts following up from today’s Sunday School lesson on Galatians 4:21–31 at Occoquan Bible Church.]

In the first volume of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Friedrich Büchsel notes how “allegorical exposition” is common among ancient people including “Indians, Mohammedans, Greeks, Jews and Christians.”[1] In particular, allegorical interpretation arose when something in the text brought modern offense, as is the case of Homer. This too carried over in Christian interpretation. Where various Old Testament texts seemed to oppose accepted theology, allegorical interpretations were made to smooth out the differences. Büschel notes, “In method, . . .  the Jewish and Christian interpretation of the OT is dependent on this allegorical exposition of Homer.”[2]

Büschel goes on to report Aristobulus as the first Jewish interpreter to adopt an allegorical approach and he learned it from the Greeks: “It can hardly be doubted that he took over the allegorical method from the Greeks, for he is saturated with Greek culture and uses the same method to interpret Greek poetry.”[3] Still, the greatest name associated with allegory is that of Philo. Philo may have been influenced by Greek culture but never at the expense of the literal sense. If anything, he upheld the literal sense of the Law and then went beyond the literal sense. This kind of polyvalent approach adumbrates that of other known ‘allegorists’ like Origen. In his own day, Büschel calls Philo “a theologian of the centre who avoids extremes and can combine diverse elements.”[4] In fact, it would be misleading to label Philo an extreme if that implied he forsook the legal requirements of the Law. Rather, as Büschel concludes,

In this matter we should bear in mind the highly complicated nature of Philo’s theology. It maintains an artificial balance between a legal and literalistic Judaism on the one side and an intellectual and spiritualistic mysticism on the other, never inclining too much to either the one or the other, but keeping the two in equilibrium.[5]

While Greek approaches to literature influenced Aristobulus and Philo, it also impacted the Jews in Palestine. For instance, one positive fruit of this allegorical approach was the inclusion of Song of Songs in the canon. “Only by means of allegorising could this collection of love songs be understood as a representation of the love which binds Israel to God.”[6] Additionally, the nature of “allegory” is different in Palestine. “Among the Palestinians allegorical interpretations are both rarer and less arbitrary; the distance between the literal meaning and the allegorical is much less.”[7] This difference stems from the Palestinians distance from Greco-Roman philosophy and from their closer adherence to the text. Nevertheless, it is apparent that among Jews there is a polyvalent approach to the text (“For the Palestinians, too, it is in keeping with the dignity of Scripture that it has many meanings”[8]), and thus an openness to reading the Scriptures allegorically. Continue reading

Hospitality is Not Optional: Five Ways to Pursue Other People

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Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7 —

A few months ago I wrote about the importance of hospitality and five ways to show hospitality in the church. Today, I want to offer five more.

While much hospitality focuses on individuals or families opening their homes to others, a vital practice which enables “house churches” to meet (e.g., Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), I am focusing attention on churches gathering outside of the home. Thus, spring-boarding from 1 Corinthians 16, a passage overflowing with gospel labor, here are five more ways we can pursue hospitality in the church.

Five Ways to Pursue Hospitality

Continue reading

Playing Your Part in the Gospel (pt. 1): Planning, Giving, Going, Hosting, Helping (1 Corinthians 16:1–11)

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Playing Your Part in the Gospel (pt. 1): Planning, Giving, Going, Hosting, and Helping (1 Corinthians 16:1–11)

When Paul finishes his doctrinal defense of the resurrection, he says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58). Clearly, in his mind the resurrection is not an esoteric point of doctrine; rather, it fuels ministry and missions. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 16 we find a flurry of gospel activity that prompts us to consider how we are living in light of the resurrection.

In this Sunday’s message, I suggested that we play our part in (proclaiming) the gospel through planning, going, giving, hosting, and helping. You can listen to this call to action or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are a cadre of resources on these actions of ministry. Continue reading

What Does the Resurrection Mean? (1 Corinthians 15:50–58)

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What does the Resurrection Mean? (1 Corinthians 15:50–58) (Sermon Audio)

This week marks the sixth and final message on 1 Corinthians 15. Since Easter, I have preached 6 messages on the glories of this chapter. Whether the sermons are any good is debatable, but the chapter is indisputably glorious. So, take time to read it, and if interested you can listen to one (or a few) of the six messages below.

Discussion questions and resources for further study can also be found below. Continue reading

Life After Death (1 Corinthians 15:35–49)

sermon photoLife After Death (Sermon Audio)

Few passages are more exhilarating than 1 Corinthians 15 and its promise of resurrection life. For those who trust in Christ, Paul says what is buried in the dust will be raised in glory. Taking up a variety of images, he describes the indescribable in verses 35–49— namely the way in which children of Adam formed from the dust of earth are raised to life in Christ to share his heavenly glory.

In Sunday’s message I took time to explain how Paul makes his argument to skeptics in Corinth. Looking to creation, to the way in which seeds come to life, and to the way dust becomes glory, I tried to follow and flesh out Paul’s argument. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and further resources—including Andrew Peterson’s lyrical eschatology—are listed below. Continue reading

Baptism and the Resurrection: Looking Again at 1 Corinthians 15:29 and ‘Baptism for the Dead’

baptismOtherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead?
If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
— 1 Corinthians 15:29 —

Few passages in Scripture are more confusing than 15:29, with its language of “baptism for the dead” (βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν). What is Paul trying to say? Is he addressing, or condemning, or condoning some strange practice in Corinth? Is he speaking of the traditional ordinance of water baptism, but using strange language? Should we read 1 Corinthians 15:29 with everything else Paul said about baptism? Or should we delimit this verse to the cultural context of Corinth?

For starters, we can clearly assert that Scripture in no way supports “proxy” or “vicarious baptism.” In the context itself, Paul is not giving instruction for baptism; he is using it as a rhetorical illustration: if many line up for baptism, which depends on the resurrection, why do you accept baptism but not resurrection. Again the focus of 1 Corinthians 15 is resurrection; “baptism on behalf of the dead” is in reference to that larger issue. Paul is not giving us any instructions for the ordinance itself

Rightly, the orthodox church has always understood Paul this way. Throughout church history, this passage was only used by heretical groups to implement such a practice; it has never found a place among true believers.[1] Among Mormons, there is a false doctrine built on this verse, that a Mormon priest must baptize someone for them to be born again—hence some are baptized today on behalf of earlier, unbaptized souls.[2] But among evangelicals there is no such practice.

What is present among biblical Christians is a wide variety of interpretations. In what follows I will attempt to list these interpretations and conclude with something of an approximation of what I believe Paul is saying. I say approximation, because this is one of those passages that we must hold with open hands. In other words, while we can confidently stress what this passage does not teach, we are in a more difficult position to lock down a precise definition of what Paul does mean. The context, the grammar, and the meaning are all difficult to us. Still, we should labor to understand his words, especially in the context of the book. But first, a list of possible interpretations. Continue reading

Raised with Christ (pt. 2): The Unfolding Reign of Christ’s Resurrection

obc-1 corinthiansRaised with Christ (part 2): The Unfolding Reign of Christ’s Resurrection

First Corinthians 15 is one giant meditation on Christ’s glorious resurrection. Verses 1–11 speak of the resurrection’s centrality in the gospel; verses 12–19 explain the necessity of the resurrection; and now in verses 20–34 we find how the resurrection of Christ applies to us.

In what follows you can find discussion questions about Sunday’s sermon and a few resources that may help you better understand the beauty and goodness of being raised to life with Christ. Sermon notes can be found here. Continue reading