Evil Spirits and Church Power

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” —Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/sabbath-school/2023/evil-spirits-and-church-power

Today, Kundera passed away at age 94 in France, his home since fleeing communism in 1975.

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The fact that in the first century Christians believed in the chain of being in which evil principalities and powers existed, should not make us believe in “principalities and powers of the air.” Biblical authors wrote for their contemporaries expressing their faith in who created the heavens and the earth in terms of their cultural symbolic universe. In the twenty first century believers must express their faith in the God who created the heavens and the earth in terms of their cultural scientific universe. Otherwise it is totally irrelevant.


I believe they are both, (angels, good and evil; earthly rulers) in their respective spheres, in the heavenly places and earth.


The interest in naming deities and powers in spells was a feature
of religious life in Ephesus (see Acts 19:13), and among some even
today. Paul wishes to make clear the relationship between Christ and
“the powers”: The exalted Jesus is “far above all rule and authority and
power and dominion” (Eph. 1:21, ESV).
Just to be sure that his audience understands that there is no power
outside of the sovereignty of Jesus, he adds an allusion to the practice
of gathering up the names of deities in spells: “and above every name
that is named” (Eph. 1:21, ESV). Turning from the dimension of space
to that of time, Paul stresses the unlimited chronology of Jesus’ exalted
rule. His rule over all powers applies “not only in this age but also in
the one to come” (Eph. 1:21, ESV).
What are some present-day manifestations of these same evil
forces, and how can we make sure that we don’t get caught up in
any of them?

Eph 1:15-23 is a “prayer report.” In it, Paul reports to the believers in Ephesus his prayers for them, asking the Father to give them the Spirit, who actualizes in their lives the power of the risen and exalted Jesus. If believers get drawn back into the worship of the numerous deities and powers on offer in Ephesus, they will miss out on experiencing this supreme reality: Jesus sits on the throne of the cosmos and dispenses the Spirit who conveys inestimable power to believers. [Note a crucial correction on p. 23 of the quarterly where a sentence should read: “Here is Paul’s transforming secret for prayer: pray in the key of praise and thanksgiving.”]
–John McVay
The Power of the Exalted Jesus – Good Word

I was told that John McVay recently led the lesson study at The Gathering Place in Loma Linda. It would have been nice hearing him in person but I missed it.

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I found this article confusing. There is much speculation and criticism of the lesson, and then a comment about WO! What was the real purpose of all this? Less criticism and more desire to understand would seem to be in order.

I have been writing a sermon for this Sabbath on Jesus’ comments to Peter in Luke 22. Jesus says, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.”

Who is this Satan that is so intimate with Jesus, that he makes requests such as this one? What does this Satan know about Peter such that he can make such a request?

Jesus’ comment is almost off handed. He reveals to Peter a conversation to warn him. But the conversation is troubling in the extreme. It’s not just about Spirit possession such as occurs in the more ignorant areas in the world, but the stark reality of their existence, and of our weakness and their strength if we are not in Christ.

Mr. Carpenter takes a rather caviler attitude toward this subject that shows he does not understand the profundity of the matter. Such an attitude leads to the same experience as Peter had.


This is the problem with most of Mr. Carpenter’s lesson comments. They are very low on information and high on assumptions. The idea that we know anything about demons or angels is simply an assumption. Angels are messengers of God and that is about it. Most of what people assume about angels and demons is particular traditions that often have nothing but accepted assumptions to back up the views.

Why does Mr. Carpenter refer to the Ephesians and ignore the things Jesus said about demons. Like the reference to someone cleansed of a demon and comes back to find the house empty and brings in more demons and his case is worse than before. There are several useful ways of taking that by the way.

If Carpenter spent a bit of time answering his questions, It might have been a more useful message. :What are these powers, authorities, and dominions that Ephesians references? Are these spirit beings or human beings or both? Individual or institutional, natural or supernatural?"
The idea that it could be all of those things is a more interesting commentary. The idea that it is some sort of medieval demonology may not be so useful/ But it would be better to point out why it is not useful rather than just assume it is because of some anti-science demon-haunted world.

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I find it interesting that the powers of Ephesians 1:21 are assumed to be spiritual. They may be, and that would match the language of Ephesians 6:12 (with the armour against evil forces). But, Paul’s language is not that specific. If you are threatened by evil forces, you will be relieved that Jesus has overcome them. However, if the powers you struggle against relate to human greed and tribalism, then it is no less appropriate to note the Jesus has risen above these sources of evil.

We live in a disenchanted world. That is partly a consequence of rational thought and science. But it is also part of the Christian, especially the Protestant, project. Is there really a god called Artemis? As noted by Demetrius, Paul’s argument to the Ephesians was not that Artemis was a bad god, but that Artemis was a figment (Acts 19:26).

It would be ironic (and arguably regrettable) if our study of Christians dismantling Greco-Roman superstition would lead us back into magical thinking. Rather, we should follow the lead of Paul to be enlightened (1:18) and grounded in truth (4:15), intentionally moving from darkness to light (5:8).


One naive question…if we assume that God is Spirit, and that he is good, and that as people of faith we don’t find this to be a clash with living and moving in our symbolic world of modernity and post modernity, then why should we throw out the idea that there can be a spirit or spiritual beings that oppose this? Iow, evil powers that are unseen.

Why is this superstitious, but belief in an unseen God is not? Many here will assume that even such belief in God is the product of a superstitious worldview. I’m just wondering if the author wants to have his cake and eat it, too.

Considering the experiences that others close to me have had in the spirit realm, I wouldn’t be so quick to throw out everything in this area as pre modern ignorance and superstition. Such thought comes across with a good dose of modern hubris.



One of the things that should be clear to us is the actual presence of negative spirit beings- demons. If we can appreciate the fact that God is spirit, and his angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to us- the heirs of salvation, surely we can appreciate the converse- there are evil spirits and this is no figment of one’s imagination either!
Recall the incident in Acts 16_ 16- 34 where Paul becomes annoyed at the slave girl’s repeated utterances-( who was controlled by a demon) and casts the demon out of her. The reference in Ephesians is undoubtedly to evil angels and can also refer to human beings, both good and bad as well as human rulers- who perhaps are being controlled to varying degrees by these forces.

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Reminds me of when I was a teenager many years ago and I was absolutely sure that if I went into the movie theatre, that my good angel would not go in with me, which, of course, left me with only the evil one.

How could anyone deny that there are evil spirits…who else is that voice in my ear telling me that it is ok to do something that I know I shouldn’t?

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A friend in Northern Ireland told me how he once saw a ghost while travelling down the road. He told his uncle, who insisted on going back to the spot. When they got there, instead of a ghost there was a mule caught in the scrub. My friend concluded, “I wish we hadn’t gone back, because then I would have seen a ghost.”

While some appreciate the knowledge that comes with de-bunking myths, others feel loss from losing the mystery.


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