In the Old Testament the word occurs but once (Jeremiah 13:18, "your principalities shall come down"). Here the King James Version margin "head tires" is properly preferred by the Revised Version (British and American) for mera'ashoth (from ro'sh, "head"), "head-parts."
In the New Testament "principality" occurs for arche, "rule," generally in the plural, referring
- to men in authority (Titus 3:1, "Put them in mind to be subject (the King James Version; "in subjection," the Revised Version (British and American)) to principalities (the King James Version; "rulers," the Revised Version (British and American)), and powers" (the King James Version; "to authorities," the Revised Version (British and American));
- to superhuman agencies, angelic or demonic (Romans 8:38; Ephesians 3:10; 6:12; Colossians 1:16; 2:10,15). Paul was keenly sensible of the dualism of mind and body and of the law in his members warring against the law of his mind (Romans 7:23), and of the temporary victory of the evil, residing in the flesh, over the good of the spirit (Romans 7:14).
This dualism was objectified in Zoroastrianism, and among the Babylonians the several heavenly bodies were regarded as ruled by spirits, some good, some evil. The same belief, appropriated by the Jews during the captivity, appears also in Greek thought, as e.g. in Plato and later in the Stoics. The higher spheres, which hold the even tenor of their way, were in general regarded as ruled by good spirits; but in the sublunar sphere, to which the earth belongs, ill-regulated motions prevail, which must be due to evil spirits. The perversities of human conduct, in particular, thwarting, as was thought, the simple, intelligible divine plan, were held to be subject to rebellious powers offering defiance to God. While Paul clearly recognized a hierarchy of such powers (Colossians 1:16, "thrones or dominions or principalities or powers"), it is not certain that he had elaborated a system of eons to serve the purposes of metaphysical theology and ethics, such as appears among the Gnostics, although they evidently believed they were developing his thought. In 1 Corinthians 2:6 he repudiates the wisdom of this world (aion) and of the rulers of this world aion), and declares (Ephesians 6:12) that the Christian has to contend with "the world-rulers of this darkness," and proclaims the triumph of Christ over "the principalities and the powers" in the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 2:15). The same personification of such agencies or powers appears also in another passage, where the rendering of English Versions of the Bible obscures it (Ephesians 1:20,21 "when he raised him (Christ) from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all (read "every") rule (Revised Version; "principality," the King James Version), and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world (aion), but also in that which is to come"). Not the least interesting passage is Ephesians 3:10, where the church is said to be the means of revealing to "the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places" "the manifold wisdom of God." One naturally inquires what was the purpose of this revelation. Was it to effect a redemption and reconciliation of these demonic powers to God? To this question Paul supplies no answer.
William Arthur Heidel
These files are public domain.