Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians (Arnold)

Not open for further replies.


Puritanboard Clerk
Arnold, Clinton. Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1989.

It has long been my understanding that some evangelicals get their demonology from movies such as The Exorcist and their understanding of spiritual warfare from slightly better, if somewhat deistic, sources. In other words, for them, a demon is a fallen angel, but not to worry, none of that stuff happens today. I used to say that evangelicals got their understanding of the demonic realm from Dante and Milton. That is not accurate. Demons rarely appear in Dante, and Milton has his own project that cannot be so simply reduced.

That is why Clinton Arnold’s work, a popularization of his dissertation, is so welcome. He explains, with heavy background work, the spiritual reality of the world in which the average Ephesian lived. That allows Paul’s references to “the powers” to hit home with new vigor.

My review could take several directions. One could be a review of Arnold’s arguments and their cogency, or it could be as a practical manual for spiritual warfare. Or both. Both are good.

Arnold helpfully summarizes every chapter, and through those summaries one gains a picture of the Christian’s positional, positional because he is in Christ, authority over the various powers that terrorized the minds of those in Asia Minor. Therefore, we will begin with an abstract of the whole project.


Paul’s opponents in Ephesus are not Gnostics. Even though there are some dualist roots, none of the key tenets of later Gnostic teachings appears in Ephesians (or Colossians). For example, we see nothing of the Pleroma, so prominent with Irenaeus of Lyon’s opponents. A more likely candidate is Jewish mysticism, but even here we have to be careful. It is not clear why the world-capital of Artemis worship would be that interested in bastardized Jewish teachings.

When we approach the actual archeological evidence, a simpler conclusion appears: magic. The average Ephesian pagan would have been far more interested in magical spells for daily use than ascending the mystical echelons of Jewish or Gnostic heavens. Magic, as used here, is the manipulation of the physical world by spiritual means, namely spells, talismans, and the like.

What, then, is the relationship between “powers” and Artemis? The powers could either have been forces or personal demons. The average Ephesian would not have cared too much about the distinction, as long as he got the desired result.

Because has defeated and been exalted over the powers, the Christian a) has nothing to fear from them, nor b) any reason to consult them. Indeed, Paul transforms the “powers” language and reveals the Christian’s access to Christ’s own power.

Exposition and Analysis

Power, understood in the ancient world, was something close to a substance (36). It was similar to a “fluid” or “electricity,” to use an anachronism. More formally, it was the capacity to effect change. Such a view was still operative in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa. On the other hand, “power” still has a reference to “angels” or spirit-beings; interesting enough, they are marginalized by the end of this study. They are not that important, given the believer’s access to the true power in Christ.

Any discussion of dunamis must mention the closely-related “energia.” Dunamis is the capacity to effect change; energia is the actualizing of that capacity (73). More important, though, is the fact that this “power” language has taken on personal dimensions largely absent in the Hellenistic world. Therefore, when we pray, as Paul did in Ephesians 3:14-19, we ask for “inner strengthening through the Holy Spirit and through the indwelling Christ who roots the life of a believer in love, and (2) for a personal knowledge of both the power and love of Christ” (86).

In conclusion, the believer has no need to consult the powers. Because he is in union with Christ, he has access to him who is already above all the powers.

We warmly recommend this book by Dr. Arnold. It is technical and the reader should have some knowledge of Greek, but it is still reasonably accessible to the well-read layman.
I appreciate the background provided to some of the cultural ideas about power and magic in that region.

I rather think, though, that the NT is rather chock full of the idea that we are dealing with power beyond our ability to understand and free ourselves from apart from the death and resurrection of Christ.

Paul not only speaks of sin (harmartia) as something we do but it is also personified as an acting subject that deceives and does warfare with the believer.

The message of the NT is certainly that the dominion of sin and death has been broken and I don't think the kind of "principalities and powers" that Paul speaks about in Ephesians are "net new" simply because people there used magic arts.

That said, the idea is that a Christian is in constant battle with sin (flesh, power, etc). He is not to "worry" in the sense that sin can no longer have dominion, but neither is he to conclude that there's nothing to be concerned about with regard to the foe.
Maybe he has a mouse in his pocket.
Characters - OMAMMG
The complete list of those allowed to use "we" when writing an essay:
  1. Kings
  2. Newspaper editors
  3. People with tapeworms
In Acts 19 we get some background of magic and sorcery (Acts 19:19 NIV) in Ephesus of Paul's day. The 7 sons of Sceva, self-appointed exorcists, tried to cast out a demon in Jesus' name, the Jesus preached by Paul (but whom they did not know) – and the demon violently overpowered all 7 of them, which incident came to be known throughout the city, "And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled" (Acts 19:17).

The magic, incantations, and sorceries prevalent there were shown to be effete against the demonic world, and the power of the risen Christ proclaimed there by Paul (he labored in that city some three years, teaching and preaching) was shown to be mighty against the dark powers.
Not open for further replies.