5.2) Pseudo-Paul 2: Colossians and Ephesians:
The heavenly Powers and Devil
Unlike the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Epistle to the Colossians does not mention Satan or Devil, but it does discuss the heavenly Powers. In our treatment of Paul’s genuine epistles, we wondered whether some of his references to the Exousiai or Powers referred to earthly authorities or some kind of spiritual entities. In Colossians it is clear that the Jewish idea of the “Principalities and Powers,” the Angelic Governors of the Nations, is in view. According to this concept, God delegated some of the members of His celestial court to rule over all of the Nations, with the exception of Israel.
To back up a bit, let me explain that the Canaanites, who inhabited Israel before the Hebrews took over, had an elaborate religious mythology consisting mostly of nature Gods. These Gods were effectively incorporated into the monotheistic Jewish system by being relegated to the status of “Sons of God,” Bene ha-Elohim, Angelic members of the Divine Council of Yahweh. We have seen that “the satan” of the Book of Job was one of these Sons of God.
The Hebrews also incorporated the astral Deities of the East in a similar way. The upshot was that Yahweh became the God of the Sabaoth, “the Hosts of Heaven.” The Greek Septuagint translates Yahweh Sabaoth, as in Psalm 80.4, as Kurie, ho Theos ton Dunameon, “O Lord, the God of the Powers” (LXX 79.5). But sometimes these figures are still called “Gods,” as in Psalm 82:
God has taken His place in the Divine Council;
In the midst of the Gods He holds judgment. (Ps. 82.1)
The Septuagint renders this verse thus:
God stands in the Synagogue of the Gods;
In the midst of the Gods He judges. (LXX Ps. 81.1)
The judgment that God passes on the Gods is not favorable, for He blames them for being unjust judges and for showing partiality to the wicked. His sentence is grim:
You are Gods, Sons of the Most High, all of you.
But you shall die like mortals,
And fall like any Prince. (Ps. 82.6-7)
The last line can mean, “And fall as one man, O Princes.” The Septuagint says: “And fall like one of the Princes [Archontes].”
So, the stage is set for considering Angels to be the actual rulers of the countries of the world, making good and bad decisions like human rulers. According to the Book of Deuteronomy,
When the Most High apportioned the Nations,
When He divided Humankind,
He fixed the boundaries of the Peoples
According to the number of the Gods.
Yahweh’s own portion was His People,
Jacob His allotted share. (Deut. 32.8-9)
“According to the number of the Gods” is the original reading, as we know now from the texts discovered at Qumran. It was later “censored” to read “according to the number of the Israelites.” The Septuagint translates the original phrase as, “according to the number of the Angels of God.”
The idea that both the Angelic rulers and the human rulers will be punished at the same time can be found in a late addition to Isaiah (classified nowadays as Third Isaiah):
On that day, Yahweh will punish
The Host of Heaven in Heaven,
And on Earth the Kings of the Earth.
They will be gathered together like prisoners in a pit;
They will be shut up in a prison,
And after many days they will be punished. (Isa. 24.21-22)
The author of the Epistle to the Colossians takes a more sanguine view of the governing Angelic Powers. Near the beginning he cites what seems to be a hymn depicting Christ, the Wisdom of God, as participating in the creation of all things, including the Angels:
He is the image (eikon) of the invisible God.
He is the First-Born of all Creation.
For in Him all things were created,
In the Heavens and upon the Earth,
All that is visible
And all that is invisible—
Thrones (Thronoi), Dominions (Kuriotetes),
Principalities (Archai), Powers (Exousiai).
All things have been created through Him and for Him.
The hymn ends by affirming that through the blood of the Cross God reconciled to Himself all things on earth and in the heavens (Col. 1.20).
Just before this hymn, we are told that the Father has allowed us to inherit the Light by rescuing us from the power (exousia) of Darkness (Col. 1.12-13). “Darkness” here has been taken to refer to Satan, but it is not clear to me how Satan could be fitted into the Angelic authorities mentioned in the hymn.
In the next chapter, the author, speaking in Paul’s name, tells the Christians of Colossae that they have come to fullness in Christ, who is the Head of every Principality and Power (Col. 2.10). But if Christ finally reconciled the Angelic Rulers through his Cross, it seems to have involved a certain humiliation for them. By canceling the indictment against us and nailing it to the Cross,
He disarmed the Principalities and Powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. (Col. 2.15)
This is a mysterious passage, and it need not detain us, since the author of Colossians evidences no explicit interest in Satan or Devil, beyond a possible allusion in referring to the power of Darkness. It is enough to have shown that at Colossae, which was not far from Ephesus, there was great interest in the Principalities and Powers. Let us now move on to Ephesus itself.
The author of the Epistle to the Ephesians claims to be Paul writing while in prison. At first it might seem that the letter deals with the Angelic Powers and Devil as operating in two different spheres.
To begin with, we hear of the Powers. God’s force (dunamis) in favor of believers has been manifested in the working (energeia) of the might (kratos) of the strength (ischus) that He worked in Christ when He raised him from the dead and set him in the Heavens, far above every Principality (Arche) and Power (Exousia) and Force (Dunamis) and Dominion (Kuriotes) (Eph. 1.19-21). Then we hear of a single Ruler, not in the Heavens but in the Air:
In time past you walked according to the Age of this World, according to the Archon of the power (exousia) of the Air, the Spirit whose energeia now works in the sons of disobedience. (Eph. 2.2)
Next, back to the Powers: “Paul” says that his mission is to preach to the Gentiles and to make known the mystery hidden in God from the beginning of creation, “so that the manifold Wisdom of God might be made known, through the Church, to the Principalities and the Powers in the Heavens” (Eph. 3.10). Then on to Devil:
So, then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry, but do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for Devil. (Eph. 4.25-27)
Finally, however, Devil and the Powers are combined, and suddenly the Powers take on a sinister aspect:
Be empowered in the Lord and in the might of His strength. Put on the full armor (“panoply”) of God, to be able to resist the wiles of Devil. For our conflict is not against flesh and blood but against the Principalities, against the Powers, against the World-Rulers (Kosmokratores) of this Darkness, against the Spirituals of the Heavens. (Eph. 6.10-13)
The author continues with the armor-imagery, urging the faithful to be prepared for “the harmful day,” using the shield of faith, to quench the fiery arrows of harm (to poneron) or Harm, the Harmful One (ho Poneros) (Eph. 6.16).
As in the Gospels, I want to avoid the prejudicial term, “the Evil One.” But whatever we call him, Devil seems pretty evil here, doesn’t he? He is certainly out to do “evil” to us. He is wily, a dirty fighter, using burning arrows. But when we come right down to it, it is our fault if Devil’s arrows hit home, because they can only penetrate through a chink in the armor of our virtue and faith. Or, to vary the metaphor slightly, Devil is on the look-out for an opening so that he can “occupy” us or our defenses. The example given is that if we are angry and stay angry, it will give “a place,” some sort of opportunity, to Devil.
There is still the question of Devil’s connection to the Principalities and Powers, the Rulers of the Cosmos. Earlier on, we saw that God installed Christ in a place superior to the Powers. One should think that the Powers would be aware of this exaltation of Christ, and therefore “be converted” and accept their new situation of subordination. But then “Paul” seems to think that the Powers are ignorant of what God had done through Christ, but that they are nevertheless apt subjects for evangelization–to be informed of the riches of God’s wisdom. However, they end up by being allies of Devil in the battle against the Christian faithful.
Perhaps the connection of Devil with the Powers lies in his role as the Archon of the power of the Air. But we have to confess that the underlying “force-field” of the Epistle to the Ephesians is puzzling.