Powers of Darkness (Arnold)


n many ways this is a shortened version of his dissertation. But it can also function as a supernaturalist, evangelical response to the then (and now) current leftist evangelical fascination with “powers-talk.” It also documents how conservative evangelicals, thanks to some Charismatic influences, are taking the Bible seriously on principalities and powers.

It’s important to read Ephesians. It’s even more important to read the sections in Acts where Paul engaged in “Power Apologetics” against demons, magical grimoires, and riots.

The Stoichea

Arnold follows the RSV/NEB/TEV in reading the elemental spirits as personal beings, and not as abstract elements (Arnold 53). This seems to be the correct reading because it echoes Galatians 3-4 in seeing them as guardian tutors.

He has an excellent section on Judaism. I say excellent in general, for I will push back on some parts. He notes that Jews did have categories for the “demonic,” even if they weren’t as explicit as in New Testament times. This is true, but scholarship has since shed more light on this. Take Deut. 32:16-17. Most translations read something like, “They sacrificed to demons.”

By itself this isn’t too problematic, but it leads Arnold to draw some conclusions that are in tension with the rest of his work. Arnold writes, “Biblical writers attributed no real, independent existence to these deities. Instead they called them idols” (56). I know what he is wanting to do. He wants to safeguard against henotheism, and I commend that. But if he calls these entities demons, then he is forced to admit that they do have some kind of existence.

Sure, Zeus doesn’t exist. But I don’t see what exactly is gained by saying Zeus doesn’t exist, but the demonic presence behind Zeus does exist. But is that even what the text says in Hebrew? It says they sacrified to “shedim.” This is a territorial guardian spirit whose Akkadian root word connects it to the underworld. This doesn’t refute Arnold’s analysis, but it makes it much richer.

And while Arnold does posit some sort of pre-creation angelic fall, he realizes that the Old Testament never really says that. It posits Satan’s falling, to be sure, if only by implication.

Paul and the Powers

Fairly standard NT theology material here. Examines Paul’s use of “powers-language” and makes clear that gnosticism was not involved.

Contra Walter Wink

There has been a tendency in recent theology to equate the powers with socio-economic structures. Earlier theology would have seen the powers as influencing these structures but never identifying the two. He incorporates Paul’s use of “in Christ” language to negate any perceived need for a young believer to go towards angelic intermediaries, power-intermediaries, etc.

Hilariously, Wink commits the “illegitimate totality transfer fallacy” by arguing “that one term can be made to represent all the uses” (quoted in Arnold 199).

The book ends with practical guidelines for spiritual warfare today. He understands that belief in “Powers” and “spirits” today bothers Christians, even professed conservative ones. And he doesn’t back down. The bold believer is one who affirms the reality of shedim, powers, demons, etc., and is willing to engage them in spiritual warfare


3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual warfare

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Arnold, Clinton. 3 Crucial Questions on Spiritual Warfare. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1997.

Continuing with the material in his dissertation on Ephesians, Clinton Arnold gives top-level scholarship combined with practical application for the church. In this text he steers a middle path between animism and deism. His three crucial questions:

1) Should we engage in spiritual warfare?
2) Can Christians be possessed?
3) What about territorial spirits?

Arnold begins with a simple (yet for some, baffling) observation: “ Foundational to spiritual warfare is a belief in evil spirits and a desire to get the upper hand on them before they get it on us” (Arnold, [it’s hard to cite the page number, since I am reading this on an epub]).

1. The concept of spiritual warfare reflects a primitive, prescientific worldview

2. Demons and evil spirits are not very prominent in the Bible. Even if this were true, it had force only if we limit the term to daimonia.

Supernatural Opponents

archai = Principalities

exousiai = authorities

kosmokratores = world rulers

pneumatika = spiritual forces

Arnold makes one observation with which I disagree: “These terms probably do not represent the so-called territorial spirits that we find in Daniel—that is, a demonic prince with responsibility over a country or region (see Dan. 10:1320).”

It’s hard to see how they couldn’t be territorial spirits. But maybe they don’t have to be. Arnold doesn’t mention it, but these could be the shedim and rephaim mentioned in Deut. 32. In discussing Ephesians 6, I do like how Arnold emphasizes the corporate nature of prayer.

Can a Christian Be Demon-Possessed?

After the 1970s better texts on spiritual warfare moved away from speaking of “possession” (given its connotations with the Exorcist) and more on demonization (which is actually what the Greek word says). The problem is that terms like “possession” mean “to be totally the Devil’s control.” Of course Christians aren’t totally under the Devil’s control, but in terms of bodily motions, neither are most unbelievers. Arnold then clinches the argument: ““Demon possession” is always the translation of a single Greek word, daimonizomai. Words for ownership or possession (e.g., huparch , ech , katech , ktaomai, or peripoie ) are absent in the original text.”

However, not all arguments to the effect “Christians cannot be demon-possessed” because ________ are very good. While we are a temple of God, there is no reason why demons cannot “latch onto the outer court,” to extend the metaphor. In fact, we can “give turf” to the Devil. “In your anger do not sin; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” The term translated “foothold” is the Greek word topos, an expression that was commonly used for inhabited space.

Further, we can allow evil to reign (Romans 6:12).

Did Paul Exorcise Christians?

Arnold writes that Luke tells of a massive exorcism *after* some Jews and Gentiles were converted to the Lord (Acts 19:10). Arnold: Luke then tells us that “many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds” (Acts 19:18, italics mine). The result was a massive ceremony of renunciation involving the burning of 50,000 days’ wages worth of magical papyri. These were Christians burning their occultic texts!

And Arnold documents that the type of magic they were doing involved invoking a daimon to come to one’s aid. So you have born-again Christians invoking demons to come to them.

Can a Christian Exhibit Altered States of Consciousness?

If by altered states one means “dissociative identity disorder,” and as long as that is understood by what the govt did with MK-ULTRA, and not because a spiritual entity, then yes.

Can We Imitate the Gospels on Exorcism?

The gospels are manuals for us on how to live. This is how the earliest Christians (and common sense) understood the gospels. Further, in Luke 11-12, the coming of the kingdom is also attended by exorcisms. Further, in the Great Commission Jesus commands us to teach and do all.

The early church exorcised new Christians. 

Hippolytus, Apostolic Traditions. Moreover, from the day they are chosen, let a hand be laid on them and let them be exorcised [exorkizein] daily. And when the day draws near on which they are to be baptized, let the bishop himself exorcise each one of them, that he may be certain that he is purified (20.3).

But if there is one who is not purified let him be put on one side because he did not hear the word of instruction with faith. For the evil and strange spirit remained with him (20.4).

The leader would anoint the person with oil and say, “Let all evil spirits depart far from thee” (21.10).

Tertullian: Because of the omnipresence of idolatry, Tertullian asked rhetorically, “What man is there to whom an evil spirit does not adhere, even at the very gates of his birth, waiting to ensnare his soul?” Of course, Tertullian has a lot of issues himself, so take this with a grain of salt.

Pseudo-Clement, Recognitions 2.71, as cited in Kelly, The Devil at Baptism, 124. “Everyone who has at any time worshiped idols and has adored those whom the pagans call gods, or has eaten of the things sacrificed to them, is not without an unclean spirit; for he has become a guest of demons, and has been partaker with that demon of which he has formed the image in his mind, either through fear or love.”

Origen: “Anyone who vanquishes a demon in himself, e.g. the demon of lewdness, puts it out of action; the demon is cast into the abyss, and cannot do any harm to anyone. Homily on Joshua 15.5, as quoted in Everett Ferguson, Demonology of the Early Christian World, Symposium Series 12 (Lewiston/Queenston: Edwin Mellen, 1984), 128.

Cyprian. and although he [the demon] often says that he is going out, and will leave the men of God, yet in that which he says he deceives, and puts in practice what was before done by Pharaoh with the same obstinate and fraudulent deceit” (Epistles 75.15).

Apostolic Constitutions. “Ye energumens, afflicted with unclean spirits, pray, and let us all earnestly pray for them, that God, the lover of mankind, will by Christ rebuke the unclean and wicked spirits and deliver His supplicants from the dominion of the adversary” (Apostolic Constitutions 8.6).

What about Deliverance Ministries?

Properly glossed, it is line with the practices of the earliest Christians. He does give some warning about excesses, though:

* When in doubt, cast it out!

* Uncritical acceptance of testimonies of demons.

Arnold downplays the reality of Satanic Ritual Abuse, however. Granted, he wrote this when many aspects of the “satanic panic” were being exposed. But he is wrong if he says no evidence of Satanic rituals have been found. Yet he admits that murders have been carried out in the name of Satan. So which is it? I think he is rejecting the idea of an international Satanic conspiracy cult. Well, when you put it like that, then no, they probably aren’t real. But there are other ways of framing the issue.

Are We Called to Fight Territorial Spirits?

The acronym SLSW, strategic level spiritual warfare, is what he is talking about. At the most basic level, the concept of territorial spirits is biblical. Daniel 10. And given the fact that God alloted the nations to the beney ha-elohim per Deut 4 and 32, it is legitimate to think that fallen spirits (whatever we want to call them) control (or did control) some countries.

The controversy is when we get to “spiritual mapping.” According to George Otis, it is “superimposing our understanding of forces and events in the spiritual domain onto places and circumstances in the material world” (Otis, George Otis Jr., The Last of the Giants: Lifting the Veil on Islam and the End Times (Grand Rapids: Chosen, 1991), 85).

The second aspect isn’t as problematic: dealing with the corporate sin of an area. This seems biblical. The final question is the main one: can we pray against these spirits?

Arnold’s response:

The first point is utterly biblical. And Arnold corrects the flawed translation of Deut. 32:8 with the correct one from the Dead Sea Scrolls. And while the LXX translates Deut 32:17 as “demons,” the better reading is the Hebrew shedim, which is a territorial spirit of the underworld.

Church Fathers on the topic:

Justin Martyr (2nd century A.D.) makes reference to “the power of the evil demon that dwelt in Damascus” (Dialogue with Trypho 78). “for the princes in Tanis are evil angels” (Dialogue with Trypho 79).

Clement: Well, now, let us say in addition, what inhuman demons, and hostile to the human race, your gods were, not only delighting in the insanity of men, but gloating over human slaughter (Exhortation to the Greeks, 3.1).

But can we name and discern these spirits? Arnold asks us to pause on this point. Scripture really doesn’t say we should. And if Jude is any indication, as he quotes from the Assumption of Moses, we need to be very careful in how we address these fallen territorial spirits. Arnold makes the very perceptive insight: “We do not have the right to tell a spirit to leave if it has an invitation to stay.”

And when Paul was in Ephesus, he no doubt encountered the territorial spirit of the City (i.e., Diana). He didn’t engage in SLSW against her, but in deliverance for the demonized in the city.