Chapter 5 – Powers and Principalities
We will continue our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey. Today is Chapter 5 – Powers and Principalities. To complete the Biblical picture of the non-human creation, Jon gives a brief examination of “powers and principalities” as mentioned in the NT. The reason he considers them relevant is because some references make them appear to be “natural forces” as well as personal angelic or demonic. And some traditional views attributes satanic agency to the natural creation.
Jon deals with the concept, especially more common since the Enlightenment, that powers and authorities have an institutional reality. He notes there must be more to them than ontological evil powers, or we would be opening the door to theological dualism. He says, “Whether or not they are involved now in moral evil, these are ‘powers’ and ‘authorities’ created by God and therefore, presumably, with some intended ongoing role for good in creation. Our task is to identify what those roles are.”
Paul uses “authorities” to commend Christians to respect earthly political authorities in Romans 13:1-2; and it is not obvious the he is referring to anything fundamentally different from other mentions of powers and authorities elsewhere in scripture:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Based on this passage, on the face of it, it appears that in the political sphere, all God-given authority operates through these powers. If that is so, their created purpose is to somehow enable human government, whether good or oppressive, or even unbelieving, to function.
But this impersonal interpretation does not do justice to the specific mention Paul makes in passages like Ephesians 6:12, “12. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. A possible explanation is cited by Jon in the what Owen Barfield termed “correspondence” i.e. there is a spiritual correlation between power exerted by these supra-human forces, and the power exerted by , and the accountability of humans for, their own treatment of others. Pilate has power, but only because it is given from above, and yet he is its accountable wielder, not merely its victim. Here is an interesting take from Richard Beck, but I have to part company with my progressive friends at this point and side with Jon and the traditional interpretation of a personal evil being(s), however un-enlightened that seems to make me.
But what is the role of these “authorities and powers” in the natural creation? Jon says:
I suggest that in the original economy of creation that the “powers and principalities” were created, like the other angelic beings, as servants for the people created in the image of God, that is, in the image of the Son. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” That means that however personal their power, it was intended to be under the control of sinless humanity to assist in the government of the world, under God.
… the fact is that it does not appear that any role in the running of the natural world is attributed directly to such powers and authorities, either in the New Testament or in the Old, whereas God claims exactly such a role… The conclusion appears to be that neither the sin of humanity, nor the corruption of the angelic powers, is associated in Scripture with any major changes in nature.
That concludes Jon’s consideration of the biblical material.
Next, in Section 2, he discusses the history of the doctrine of nature, with reference to the fall, through the last 2,000 years, and he shows how he believes the balance has shifted from a strongly positive view of the goodness of creation to a negative one. He also looks at the possible reasons why the so-called “traditional view” became prominent around the sixteenth century.