Meditations / March 11, 2016

Principalities & Powers | Ephesians

The supernatural realm is just as real as what you see in front of you. In fact, this realm affects our lives more than we may realize. This doesn’t mean we need to look for a demon behind every bush but it would be just as foolish to pretend they don’t exist. There’s a lot we can learn from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It’s full of rich theology concerning supernatural warfare. The church in first century Ephesus was entrenched in a spiritually charged environment and had no idea how to navigate their new faith within their old culture. Ephesians is one of my favorite books of the Bible as it contains lessons on our authority in Christ, how to engage in supernatural warfare and Christ’s supremacy over all things. I hope this study helps you grow in your knowledge of Christ and in your love for the Bible!


The City of Ephesus

Throughout the ancient world there were few cities as beautiful and prestigious as Ephesus. Situated on the coast of the Aegean Sea, it was “hospitable to the trade and wealth of the world”.[1] After centuries of various rulers the city was given by the Kingdom of Pergamum to Rome in the second century B.C.[2] and particularly began an ascent toward prominence when it became the capital of the Roman Province of Asia during the rule of Octavian.[3] Yet centuries before Ephesus ever became a political capital, it was a center of religion.[4] Known as the home of the Greek goddess Artemis and her temple, the city was also filled with all sorts of pagan practices. The Ephesians had a worldview that believed in and often experienced the power and influence of the supernatural realm in everyday life.


The Church in Ephesus

Although a mostly gentile church, there was a large community of Jewish people in Ephesus who had been descendants of the deported and transplanted Jews of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles.[5] When Paul first arrived in Ephesus he first went to the Synagogue to reason with the local Jews and with the assistance of Priscilla and Aquila established the first Christian community.[6] The Ephesian congregation consisted partly of Jews, but mostly of gentile converts.[7] By the time the letter to the Ephesians is written Paul has been to Ephesus three times, according to the book of Acts, yet the church seems to be trying to find it’s feet as followers of Christ in the middle of the highly-supernatural pagan culture that they previously belonged to. The concepts of the authority and supremacy of Christ along with the believer’s identity addressed in Ephesians help the young church to understand how to engage and win against the forces of evil assaulting them. Specifically in 6:10-18, we find the most advanced Pauline theology on spiritual warfare.


Why Was Ephesians Written?

The letter to the Ephesians was written around 60 A.D. As Paul had been absent from Ephesus for several years many, possibly even most people in the church by this time, would not have know him directly or been present during one of his previous visits. Outside of confirming his apostolic authority, several things would have necessitated Paul’s letter including unity with Jewish believers[8] and general further instruction in the truth. One of the primary themes that he addresses shows his pastoral concern toward the people’s genuine fear and lack of knowledge of how to handle their spiritual environment. It carries throughout the letter and spoke to the heart of everyday life for this church: supernatural warfare.


Supernatural Warfare in Ephesians

Being converts from a Hellenistic religious environment—mystery religions, magic, astrology—these people needed a positive grounding in the Pauline gospel from the apostle himself. Their fear of evil spirits and cosmic powers was also a great concern, especially the question of where Christ stands in relation to these forces.”[9]

Not only was Ephesus hospitable to the occult, but was likely the central location in Asia Minor during this time period for magical arts, astrology and sorcery. It was normal for people to carry around written spells in small leather bags, known as “Ephesian Letters” for all types of things from physical ailments, to winning athletic challenges. There were potions to make someone fall in love with you and it was common to have a spell cast on an enemy.[10]

Within the Ephesian culture there was…

the cognizance of a spirit world exercising influence over virtually every aspect of life. The goal of the magician was to discern the helpful spirits from the harmful ones and learn the distinct operations and the relative strengths and authority of the spirits. Through this knowledge, means could be constructed (with spoken or written formulas, amulets, etc.) for the manipulation of the spirits in the interest of the individual person[11]… It was a regular practice not only among the Gentiles, but also among the Jews [that] an exorcist, under the influence of a higher demonic power, would exorcise lesser demonic powers from the demonized person in a magically devised way…”[12]

The fact of hierarchy within the spirit world was a familiar concept and the new Christian converts needed to understand where their God fit into this puzzle.

This cultural understanding also gives us insight into the situation that occurs in Ephesus with the Jewish exorcists in Acts 19:13-17. They were trying to perform an exorcism using the name of Jesus “whom Paul preaches” as a superior power to the demon. The demon responded back to them that it knew Paul and Jesus but didn’t know them. As they ran away naked and bleeding they learned that the name of Jesus cannot be manipulated for commercial use and in order to call upon his authority one must be under his authority.

While Paul was initially preaching and teaching in Ephesus his preaching was apparently very effective and created many followers from those who has previously been highly involved in the Occult. Acts chapter 19:18-19 tells of an occasion where ‘many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver’. In addition to being a capitol for magical arts, Ephesus was the home of the Greek goddess Artemis[13]. On another occasion Paul’s influence in Ephesus had so affected the people that a group of Artemis idol makers became incised at their loss of profits and started a riot, seizing two of Paul’s fellow workers and dragging them to the authorities. There was such uproar in the city that Paul was kept from going outside by his disciples.[14]

Needless to say that occult practice was tightly interconnected with life and worldview, making it difficult for the new believers to separate their prior culture from their new life in the kingdom.


The Armor of God: Ephesians 6:10-18

Set within the greater context of Ephesians, we find in 6:10-18 a passage containing the most developed theology on spiritual warfare in Pauline Literature. It is the climax of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He works to establish several theological truths before tying everything together with his final point. He helps the believers to understand that Christ’s Lordship is supreme over all the powers of Satan[24], whom he calls the “ruler of the kingdom of the air”. Since the believers have been completely united with Christ[25] and “transferred to the kingdom of light”[26] then they are “raised up with Christ and seated with him in heavenly places”[27]. They share in Christ’s authority and therefore have nothing to fear as long as they keep their lives free from giving Satan a foothold.[28]

In 6:12 Paul highlights the specific agents of Satan that we are engaging with in the supernatural battle. He identifies them as: principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age and spiritual hosts of wickedness. He also identifies these beings in Romans and Corinthians.[29]  The original hearer would have most likely understood Paul to be speaking of “demonic, personal powers that control regions, societies, political systems and institutions”[30]. Also in Hellenistic culture, devotees of astral powers worshiped the elemental spirits of the universe, calling them “rulers”[31] and magical traditions provide compelling evidence in the common belief in angels and demons.[32] There is also plenty of evidence and references within early and pre-church literature that not only the Greeks, but also the Hellenistic Jews would have had a prior cultural understanding of spiritual hierarchy and spiritual beings that were both good and evil.[33] It would also seem that the early church took Paul’s teaching literally as there are several sources that would attribute the Christian’s ability to exercise power over the demonic as the most convincing proof of the Lordship of Christ and truth of the gospel in the early church.[34]

Paul proclaims that God’s manifold wisdom has been revealed to these powers and authorities by raising Christ from the dead and by the emergence of the church, who now hold His authority.[35] The “Church’s continuing warfare is against these powers, and it’s task to display the wisdom of God to them.”[36] These powers underestimated God’s wisdom in crucifying Jesus[37] and had previously assumed “that they were forever to rule over various parts of a fragmented world”.[38]

Although Ephesus had high status within the Roman Empire, it was still an occupied territory and it’s citizens would have recognized the typical armor of a Roman soldier. Paul uses this imagery of a soldier ready in the natural and uses it to illustrate the truth of spiritual readiness. He also seems to draw multiple parallels from the book of Isaiah,[39] the most profound of which is Isaiah 59:16-17. It is not directly quoted, but certainly Paul draws a parallel.[40] God is speaking of the need for an intercessor, though one could not be found among men and therefore brings salvation through Himself instead. It’s interesting that when Paul refers to the armor in Ephesians he does so off the back of the confirmation that Christ has provided salvation, that He has ultimate authority and that through putting on “God’s armor” we can take our stand against all the forces of Satan.

The verb used for standing our ground in verse 13 implies an “active ongoing resistance against evil”.[41] We are to remain ready at all times so that when attack comes we will be able to withstand.

In verse 13 Paul begins with the belt of truth. “In Ephesians the “truth” is fundamentally God’s incarnation act of salvation in Jesus Christ, spoken in love, and demonstrated in testimony.”[42] Followed by the breastplate of righteousness, which represents our right standing before God by remaining in Christ. The Roman breastplate protected more than just the front of the soldier, it also wrapped behind to the back, protecting all of the vital organs.[43] By remaining positioned “in Christ” the enemy doesn’t have access to bring assault that leads to ultimate spiritual death. Next are the sandals of peace. The Roman sandal was especially made to withstand any unexpected circumstance.[44] We too need a readiness that comes from peace, being prepared in any situation to fight from peace instead of becoming entrapped by anxiety or fear; ready to preach the gospel at any time. The shield of faith is mentioned next. The shields of Roman soldiers would link together into a formation preventing an enemy from infiltration and the shield were also soaked in water so that “fiery darts” were not able to light them on fire.[45] By maintaining unity and faith in Christ’s supremacy we are able to diffuse attacks that otherwise could cause great injury to ourselves or to those in our community. Then, the helmet of salvation. Protecting one’s mind is the first line of defense against Satan’s schemes. By “taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ”[46] we can stop many attacks right where they begin. Finally, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The Greek term for “word” is “rhema”. This is speaking of the proceeding word of God, for right now, for a specific situation. By knowing what God is saying specifically, we are able to quickly diffuse the lies of the enemy. Lastly in verse 18 Paul instructs the church to pray continually, in every situation. In prayer we have the ability to partner with God to see his will done “on earth as it is in heaven” as we were instructed to pray by Jesus.[47]


The Modern World

Many people in the western church today struggle with this particular passage of scripture and it’s original meaning. If there were indeed “powers and principalities” working to influence peoples and societies in the first century, then they are still among us today (and likely more successful since they mostly go on without interference). Countless ministers and missionaries all share the same testimony that the battle still exists, and not just in the third world. As people in the west, we can often be very ignorant, not only of our personal spiritual condition, but also to the spiritual forces affecting and influencing our nations. “If we find this worldview strange, we should at least recognize that we westerners are the odd ones out. Many people adopt this worldview without difficulty. “[48]

Supernatural experiences and encounters are just that- experiences. Some streams of Christianity claim that experience is not a basis for theology[49] as if experience and the Bible are always at odds. Or that God is so small that he could never do anything that is not already documented. The Bible is meant to lead us to a personal knowing of the God it’s talking about. It’s only when the Bible clearly opposes a teaching or practice that it should be deemed “wrong or heretical”. Unfortunately, there was great loss in the understanding of supernatural encounter with the rationalism that sprang up out of the reformation.[50] We need a restoration of the understanding of the principles written in Ephesians in the church today so all people can live with the authority purchased for them by Jesus.


PS. I left out a section I wrote on authorship and scholar opinions of intended audience. If you’re interested, message me. 🙂


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[1] John Henry Jowett. The Whole Armour of God. (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1916):14.
[2] Hans Willer Laale. Ephesus: An Abbreviated History From Androcles to Constantine XI. (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press. 2011): 268.
[3] Ibid., 321
[4] W.M. Ramsey. “Ephesus” (The Biblical World. Vol. 17, No. 3, 1901):174.
[5] Hans Willer Laale. Ephesus, 240. From Samaria to Media by the Assyrians in the reign of Shalmaneser V (727-722), the son of Tiglath-Pileser III (744-727), and from Jerusalem to Babylon by the Babylonians in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (606-562), the son of Nabopolassar (626-605).
[6] Acts 18
[7] DPL. Letter to the Ephesians, 12 & Alstrup Dahl Nils. “Gentiles, Christians and Israelites in the Epistle to the Ephesians” (The Harvard Theological Review. Vol. 79, No. 1/3 1986): 38.
[8] Ephesians 3:6; 2:11–22
[9] DPL, Letter to the Ephesians, 12.
[10] Hans Willer Laale. Ephesus, 345.
[11] Clinton E. Arnold. Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishing, 2001):19.
[12] M. O. Fape. Powers in Encounter with Power: Spiritual Warfare in Pagan Cultures. (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2003):47; Acts 19:13.
[13] Also known as Diana
[14] Acts 19:23-41
[15] Victor Paul Furnish. “Ephesians ABD”, Epistle to the Ephesians, 3.
[16] e.g., Metropolis, Hypaipa, Diashieron, Neikaia
[17] e.g., Pergamum, Laodicea, Colossae and Hierapolis
[18] Ephesians 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23–32; Victor Paul Furnish, “Ephesians ABD”, 6.
[19] Hans Willer Laale. Ephesus, 270.
[20] The Pauline authorship of Ephesians seems never to have been doubted in the early Church. The earliest specific references to the letter all presume that it is Paul’s (Irenaeus, Her. 5.2.3—who uses Paul’s name in citing Eph 5:30 [cf. 1.8.4–5]; Clement of Alexandria, Str. 4.65; Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.11.17; 5.17.1). Ephesians is listed among the apostle’s letters in the Muratorian Canon (usually dated to the late 2d century), and (according to Tertullian in the passages already cited) it was also accepted as Paul’s by Marcion (even though he identified it as a letter to the Laodiceans). There could be echoes of Ephesians as early as 1 Clem (36:2 [cf. Eph 4:18; 1:18] and 46:6 [cf. Eph 4:4– 7]) and it seems probable that Ignatius was acquainted with it (in the inscription of Ephesians [cf. Eph 1:3–23]; Schoedel Ignatius of Antioch Hermeneia, 9–10, 37). Alleged echoes in other Apostolic Fathers (Barnabas, Hermas, Polycarp) are not as clear, but from the end of the 2d century Ephesians is frequently cited in the patristic literature. Victor Paul Furnish pg 9)
[21] DPL, Letter to the Ephesians, 3.
[22] Victor Paul Furnish, “Ephesians ABD”, 9.
[23] 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Philippians.
[24] Ephesians 1:18-23, 2:1-7.
[25] Arthur C. McGiffert. “Mysticism in the Early Church” (The American Journal of

Theology. Vol. 11, No. 3, 1907): 409.
[26] Colossians 1:12
[27] Ephesians 2:6.
[28] Ephesians 1:9, 4:27.
[29] Romans 8:37–39, 1 Cor. 2:7–8.
[30] Francis MacNutt. Deliverance from Evil Spirits. (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 1995): 493.
[31] M.O. Fape, Powers in Encounter with Power, 59.
[32] Clinton E. Arnold. “The ‘Exorcism’ of Ephesians 6:12 in Recent Research: A

Critique of Wesley Carr’s View of the Role of Evil Powers in First Century AD Belief.” (Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30.01, 2001): 76.
[33] Ibid., 73; Adam 4.1-8, 2 En. 20.1; Qumran texts make frequent mention of “spirits of darkness” that are led by Satan. Texts likely written during the Maccabean period such as Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs mention personified demons by name. 1 Enoch and Jubilees also make reference to evil spirits and fallen angels.
[34] Edward Gibbon. History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I. (Oxford: Modern Library, 1977):1668.
[35] Clinton E. Arnold, The ‘Exorcism’, 85.
[36] Chris Frobes. “Paul’s Principalities and Powers: Demythologizing Apocalyptic?”, (Essay, Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 2001): 87.
[37] 1 Corinthians 2:8
[38] 1 Cor. 2:7–8, Eph 3:10; Nils Alstrup Dahl Oslo, Ephesus, 35.
[39] In 11:4–5, Isaiah speaks of the Messiah’s righteousness girded about his waist and the word of his mouth with which he will slay the wicked. Isa 49:2 notes that God’s servant speaks—“he made my mouth like a sharpened sword.” Isaiah 52:7 speaks of the feet of the one preaching the good news of peace. And Isaiah 59:17 speaks of God himself putting on righteousness as a breastplate and placing on his head a helmet of salvation.
[40] He saw that there was no man, And wondered that there was no intercessor; Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; And His own righteousness, it sustained Him. For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, And was clad with zeal as a cloak.
[41] L.H. Cohick. Ephesians. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010): 157.
[42] Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:25; Paul T. Eckel. “The Devil Made Me Do It”. (Expository Articles. Interpretation 45.03., 2001): 288-293.
[43] John Henry Jowett. The Whole Armour of God. (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1916): 52.
[44] Ibid., 73
[45] L.H. Cohick, Ephesians, 154–155.
[46] 2 Corinthians 10:5
[47] Matthew 6:10
[48] D.A. Carson. “God, the Bible and Spiritual Warfare: A Review Article”. (Journal

of the Evangelical Theological Society, 42.02, 1999): 252.
[49] Jean DeBarnardi. “Spiritual Warfare and Territorial Spirits: The Globalization

and Localization of a Practical Theology”. (Religious Studies and Theology, 1999): 75.
[50] Ibid., 91.

Tags:  Bible Study Deliverance Doctrine Holy Spirit Identity Jesus New Testament Supernatural Theology

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Mar 11, 2016

You so smart! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Mar 15, 2016

    Thanks Ashley, you are also very smart 😉

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