Book review: Powers of Darkness
by Clinton E. Arnold
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. –Ephesians 6:12
This is a fascinating five-star book by a guy who believes in demons. He reasons that because belief in the spiritual world of demons and angels was prevalent among New Testament authors, we should believe the same today. In the preface, Arnold states “If we want help from the Bible for dealing with the problem of evil, we must be willing to take seriously what the Bible takes seriously: the intense involvement in life of a figure named Satan and his powers of darkness.” However, Arnold’s beliefs (other than the occasional call to take these things seriously) do not get in the way of excellent research into Biblical Demonology, and I thoroughly enjoyed his book.
I think Arnold is correct in stating that virtually everyone in Jesus’ day believed in such powers, and in astrological signs. Witches, demons, magic, divination, these things were to be feared and opposed. Angelic battles in heaven drove the fortunes of the nations they represented on earth.
By the time of Jesus, opposing gods were no longer considered on par with Yahweh, and were relegated to the level of demons or mere idols. The Serpent of Eden was unanimously equated with Satan by the early church (and still is today by many Christians). The church fathers strongly believed Satan himself animated the gods of the nations with his powers of darkness, based largely on the writings of Paul. (Note that Arnold takes the conservative approach of assuming Pauline authorship of all the letters traditionally ascribed to him, and that he leans quite heavily on the book of Ephesians.) Paul is not alone in emphasizing dark powers; the book of Acts records four instances of magic and divination, and Jesus often performed exorcisms, but Arnold’s study relates to Paul.
Unless you’ve studied the topic, many of Paul’s references to dark powers may not be obvious. All of the terms Paul used for the powers can be found in Jewish documents of the Greco-Roman period, so scholars agree on what they imply. The Testament of Adam lists the angelic powers according to their various orders, from the lowest to the highest. The lowest order is angels, followed by archangels, archons, authorities, powers, dominions, and then the high orders, thrones, seraphim and cherubim. Paul seemed unconcerned about rank and order, but used many of these words.
Only by really immersing yourself into first-century beliefs can the writings of Paul be put in perspective, and Arnold does this. His insistence that such dark powers surround us today brings Paul’s superstitious world even more alive. Great book.