Part Five: The Congress of Living Stones
From SaveTheWorld - a project of The Partnership Machine, Inc. (Sponsor: Family Music Center)
OK, so Hell’s “Gates” describe tyrannical politics stinking of spiritual death, and εκκλεσιαν describes a political involved assembly of free Christians smelling of Eternal Life. Or at least the metaphors could be pressed into that service.
But isn’t that a lot of tradition-assaulting interpretation to pile on one poor innocent passage? Doesn’t the whole rest of the Bible say churches should never get involved in politics because Jesus never got involved in politics, we are supposed to obey government not change it, we are supposed to separate ourselves from the world, politics is controversial – which is divisive, our war is not with flesh and blood, we should not preach against sin because we don’t want to offend sinners and keep them from coming to church to hear (what’s left of) the Gospel, and churches would lose their tax exemption?
Honestly, is there any other verse in the Bible that supports an interpretation of the battle between the Gates of Hell and the εκκλεσιαν as occurring, even at any time at all, in political forums?
Well yes. One or two.
Something gravely misunderstood (pun intended) throughout Christendom is that not all politics are of Hell. This is underscored by the fact that Jesus specified “the gates of Hell”, indicating that there were “gates” which were not of Hell.
It is underscored also by the fact that Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith” - a list of Bible heroes who were examples of faith to us, were all either political leaders themselves or they got in the Bible for their interaction with political leaders. See “God’s Political Heroes”.
It is underscored also by Paul’s joy that he was able to witness to everyone in Caesar’s palace.
Philippians 1:12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; 13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; 14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
It is underscored also by the fact that the majority of Jesus’ reported teachings were interactions with the local government of Palestine – the priests of the Sanhedrin, and much Bible attention is given to His interactions with Pilate and Herod as well as the Sanhedrin. See “How Jesus Changed Government”.
“We wrestle not against flesh and blood.”
Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
“So there. Politicians are flesh and blood”, you say. “So we shouldn’t be involved with them. We shouldn’t oppose them. We should just obey them.
“Not just sometimes, but we should obey ‘every ordinance of man’, 1 Peter 2:13 says. We don’t have to obey God’s laws because we are saved by grace not by works, but we must obey every law of men. Even the laws of wicked men. Translators and commentators mostly agree ‘flesh and blood’ means ‘humans’. That is, we do not wrestle humans.”
But the verse doesn’t say our struggle is not with humans. Humans are more than flesh and blood. The verse simply says our battle is not physical. We do not fight bodies, with our bodies. Our battle is spiritual. But we very definitely wrestle with the souls, hearts, and thoughts of humans.
The “principalities and powers” Christians oppose certainly have support from the unseen, but it is with physical humans that we consciously and verbally interact. We communicate with humans. Not demons. Ours is not a physical battle but a battle of ideas, of principles, of love, of wisdom. We indeed battle humans possessed by demons, but we do not normally see demons, and it was a capital crime under Moses to communicate with them. We communicate with humans. Humans fight, torture, molest our bodies but we fight the myths, the hate, the lies, the shortcuts around the challenges of life, that bind their souls.
Certainly we are opposed not only by possessed humans but by the demons who possess them, and prayer to God is part of our wrestling with them. But prayer without action is not prayer, according to the example given in James 2:15-17. Our prayer is made real prayer by giving relief to “the least of these my brethren” of Matthew 25. We rescue those being led away to slaughter, Proverbs 24:10-12.
To theorize that we should not communicate with evil humans running our government because this verse says our battle is with demons is an excuse from Hell for keeping our light under our bushel and bottling up the Gospel in our Sunday Schools.
And yet that theory is shared by most commentators. For example, Patrick Gill adopts that theory side by side, even, with a verse that refutes it:
“...but against principalities, against powers; by whom are meant not civil magistrates, or the Roman governors, though these are sometimes so called, Titus 3:1, and may be said to be the rulers of the darkness of this world, or of the dark Heathen world, and were in high places, and were of wicked and malicious spirits, against the people of Christ....”
Why must we assume “principalities” and “powers” could not possibly mean human governments in Ephesians 6:12, even though the words have to mean human governments in Titus 3:1 and Romans 13:1?
Titus 3:1 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,
Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
At least I hope Paul wasn’t asking us to be subject to demons!
“Principalities and powers” obviously mean human government, in the context of Titus 3:1 and Romans 13:1. It cannot mean demonic powers in that context. That biblical pressure to interpret “principalities and powers” as human government in two passages should make us suspicious of an assumption that it cannot possibly mean human governments in a third passage.
Bible commentator Adam Clarke summarizes the view of most Bible commentators that Ephesians 6:12 is not about wrestling humans, either bodies or ideas, but is about wrestling demons:
Bible Commentator Adam Clarke: But commentators in general...think that by principalities, etc., we are to understand different orders of evil spirits, who are all employed under the devil, their great head, to prevent the spread of the Gospel in the world, and to destroy the souls of mankind.
The spiritual wickedness are supposed to be the angels which kept not their first estate; who fell from the heavenly places but are ever longing after and striving to regain them; and which have their station in the regions of the air. “Perhaps,” says Mr. Wesley, “the principalities and powers remain mostly in the citadel of their kingdom of darkness; but there are other spirits which range abroad, to whom the provinces of the world are committed; the darkness is chiefly spiritual darkness which prevails during the present state of things, and the wicked spirits are those which continually oppose faith, love, and holiness, either by force or fraud; and labor to infuse unbelief, pride, idolatry, malice, envy, anger, and hatred.” Some translate the words εν τοις επουρανιοις, about heavenly things; that is: We contend with these fallen spirits for the heavenly things which are promised to us; and we strive against them, that we may not be deprived of those we have.
It is interesting that Clarke also reports the find of a commentator who shows a strong connection between the “the rulers of the darkness of this world” and the Sanhedrin, the human rulers of Jerusalem.
First, another look at Ephesians 6:12, then the connection to Jerusalem:
Now the connection:
Adam Clarke: By the spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, he thinks false teachers [in churches, which might be characterized as stairways to Heaven], who endeavored to corrupt Christianity, are meant; such as those mentioned by St. John, 1 Jn_2:19: They went out from us, but they were not of us, etc. And he thinks the meaning may be extended to all corrupters of Christianity in all succeeding ages. He shows also that the Jews called their own city שר של עולם sar shel olam, κοσμοκρατωρ, the ruler of the world; and proves that David’s words, Psa_2:2, The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, are applied by the apostles, Act_4:26, to the Jewish rulers, αρχοντες, who persecuted Peter and John for preaching Christ crucified.
In other words, Clarke means, the Sanhedrin arrogantly called themselves “the rulers of the world”, but Paul, a refugee of the darkness there, called them “the rulers of the darkness of this world”.
There is another difference between the passages: we must both “be subject to” and “wrestle against” these same powers.
We must “be subject to principalities and powers”, Titus 3:1. “...subject unto the higher powers”, Romans 13:1. “...the powers that be are ordained of God.” Yet we “wrestle...against principalities, against powers”, Ephesians 6:12, against “wickedness in high places”. What does God mean by “being subject to” human authority, yet at the same time “wrestling” with human authority?
1 Peter 2:13-16 offers an explanation. It addresses the same principle as these three verses, but specifies details only implied in these three verses. The Greek words in 1 Peter do not indicate that we are to slavishly, mindlessly obey every last petty regulation any bureaucrat can make up – Jesus certainly didn’t – but rather it is the human relationship created by God that we are to obey, and try to restore it to God’s model. Bible heroes demonstrate how that is possible: if the ruler is far from God’s model, we witness to the ruler about what he should be doing better, even if that requires a terrible personal cost, all the while we obey insofar as the ruler’s laws are in harmony with God’s model.
But that sure isn’t what you read in the KJV translation.
Here is the passage:
1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
That translation sure makes me look wrong, doesn’t it? King James certainly loved this verse. And not just King James! Unqualified obedience to the laws of men, no matter how tyrannical, is the message of most modern translations: “every ordinance of man” ASV, “all the laws of men” BBE, “all human authorities” CEV, “serve the people who have authority in this world” ERV, “all manner ordinance of man” Geneva, “every human authority” GNB, TLV and ISV, “the authority of human governments” GW.
But wait, what happened to JUB “be subject to every human ordinance that is of the Lord”!!! That certainly allows elbow room to civil disobedience! That takes account of Acts 5:29, where Peter told the Sanhedrin, “We ought to obey God rather than man!”
And look at TS2009 “Be subject to every institution of man”. Hmmm. And YLT, “Be subject, then, to every human creation....”
The Greek: ῾Υποτάγητε οὖν πάσῃ ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσει διὰ τὸν Κύριον· εἴτε βασιλεῖ, ὡς ὑπερέχοντι,
Literally: ῾Υποτάγητε (place yourselves under) οὖν (therefore) πάση (every) ανθρωπίνη (for humans – common to man – adjective – dative: refers to the person to whom something is given or for whom something is done) κτισει (God-designed social structure) δια (through – created by – denotes the channel of the act) τον (the) Κύριον· (Lord, God, Master) εἴτε (both – a conjunction of addition – starting with) βασιλει (sovereign) ως (as) υπερέχοντι, (above; superior)
That is, “Arrange all your authority relationships the way God designed them to be arranged when He gave them for the benefit of all mankind. Starting with...” (The rest of Peter’s letter is a vision for every human authority relationship, beginning with government/citizen. After that are husband/wife, employer/employee, bishop/Christian, and in conclusion, everyone should be subject to each other.)
A bit more technical detail:
The verse begins with ῾Υποτάγητε [hupotagehte] which KJV translates “Submit yourselves” while I translate “arrange”. This is from the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon:
A Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a miliary fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”
All the translations on my computer say we are to religiously obey man-made κτισει. [ktisei] That is, rules. Human “ordinances”. Laws. Authorities. But the Greek word κτίσει isn’t about anything man-made at all. It is about what God creates.
Here are the translations, followed by definitions of the Greek word:
We are to obey “every human authority”, GNB, ISV, TLV, “every ordinance of man”, ASV, KJV, “Keep all the laws of men”, BBE, “all human authorities”, CEV, “the people who have authority”, ERV, “all manner ordinance of man”, Geneva, “every human ordinance that is of the Lord”, JUB, “every institution of man”, TS2009, “every human creation”, YLT, “Place yourselves under the authority of human governments”, GW.
Here are the κτίσει definitions:
κτισει 1. LN 42.35 creation, exclusively God’s work (Mk 13:19; Mk 16:15 v.r.); 2. LN 42.38 creature, that which has been created (Ro 1:25); 3. LN 1.4 universe, the totality of what was created (Ro 8:20); 4. LN 42.39 institution, human social structure (1Pe 2:13),... Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek [DBL Greek] (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
DBL Greek's #4 definition doesn’t quite say “government” but rather “human social structure”, and 1 Peter 2:13 is the only verse where κτίσει is seen as coming even that close to referring to government. Notice this wording is carefully neutral about whether we are to obey this “human social structure” as God designed it or as humans corrupt it. I contend that here, too, the emphasis is on what God created. Jesus gave unto Caesar as well as to Caesar's local officers, the Sanhedrin, all the honor and obedience God thought they deserved; certainly not all that Caesar and the Sanhedrin thought they deserved!
Further evidence that “Human social structure” is more correct than “ordinances”, “laws”, or “government authority”, is that verse 13 is an introduction not just to a teaching about the government/citizen relationship in verse 14, but to several other human relationships which are the remainder of Peter’s letter.
Another definition of κτισει:
In the NT κτίζω and derivatives are used only of God’s creation. κτίζω, “to create”; κτίστης, “creator,” occurs only at 1 Pt. 4:19, since the NT, like the Heb. and older parts of the LXX, prefers a part. to the noun (R. 1:25; Col. 3:10; Eph. 3:9; cf. Lk. 11:40; Ac. 4:24; 17:24; R. 9:20; Hb. 3:2) or uses a relative clause (Rev. 10:6; cf. Ac. 14:15). κτίσμα, “creature,” the individual creature, 1 Tm. 4:4; Jm. 1:18; Rev. 5:13; 8:9; κτίσις a. “creation” as an act, R. 1:20; b. the “creature,” R. 8:39; 2 C. 5:17; Gl. 6:15 (7); Col. 1:15; Hb. 4:13; 1 Pt. 2:13 (→ 1034); c. “creation,” i.e., the totality of all created things as a comprehensive term, Hb. 9:11: οὐ ταύτης τῆς κτίσεως; Rev. 3:14; cf. also Mk. 10:6; 13:19; 2 Pt. 3:4: ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως. Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964–). Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 3, p. 1028). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.