What are the kosmocrators (Eph 6:12)?

Ephesians 6:12

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

The author of Ephesians defines the nature of opposition which believers will struggle against. Although the powers and world forces have been mentioned already in the epistle, the kosmocrators (κοσμοκράτορας) are mentioned here for the first time. This term is not mentioned anywhere else in the NT nor in the LXX. It is doubtful that the author of Ephesians coined this term because it shows up in some non-Jewish and non-Christian sources. It appears a few times in the Greek magical papyri.[1] Sometimes it is used to describe the spirits called up to help the conjurer. For example, one of the magical papyri mentions Nephotes making a recipe to the Egyptian king Psammetichos so that he can conjure up a god to answer his requests.[2] This god is called the kosmokrator. It is used to describe the deities Helios,[3] Ra,[4] and Hermes.[5] The phrase also shows up in an inscription found in a bathhouse in Rome which reads, “One Zeus, Sarapis, Helios, world-power, unconquerable.”[6]

The Jewish Testament of Solomon mentions the kosmokrators as parallel to the stoicheia.[7] This passage goes in to associate these kosmokrators with thirty-six demonic rulers of the heavenly sphere.[8] This text demonstrates the interchangeability with these “world powers” and the stoicheia, a phrase used elsewhere in Paul.[9]

In light of this evidence, the term in Ephesians begins to take form. There is not one kosmokrator but many (the term is plural). These are not beneficial spirits but rather extremely evil, being modified with τοῦ σκότους τούτου. The pagan deities are not lifeless or imaginary (and therefore harmless). They are powerful demonic agents, dwelling in the heavenly places (ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις), which need to be resisted with the full armor of God. They will eventually be summed up in Christ at the parousia.[10] 

Beware of the powers….

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[1] The earliest of these papyri date to the second century CE, but these occurrences reflect earlier usages than the date of the documents.

[2] PGM IV.166.

[3] PGM III. 35.

[4] PGM IV.1599; 2198.

[5] PGM V.400.

[6] Gk: Eis Zeus, Sarapis, Helios, kosmokrator, aneikitos.

[7] “I commanded another demon to appear before me. There came seven spirits (pneumata) bound up together hand and foot… When I, Solomon, saw them, I was amazed and asked them, “Who are you?” They replied, “We are the elemental beings (stoicheia), rulers of this world of darkness (kosmokratoras toras tou skotous). –T. Sol. 8:1-2.

[8] T. Sol. 18:3.

[9] Gal 4:3, 9; Col 2:8, 20.

[10] Eph 1:10.

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