Pauline demonology and/or cosmology? Principalities, powers and the elements of the world in their Hellenistic context

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Abstract

This paper follows on from the case of ‘Paul’s Principalities and Powers: Demythologizing Apocalyptic?’ (JSNT 82 [2001], pp. 61-88). It argues that the distinctive concepts expressed by Paul’s ‘principalities and powers’ language are best understood against the background of popular Middle Platonism, particularly as it is expressed in Philo and Plutarch. Rather than ‘demythologizing’ the demonology of his apocalyptic heritage, Paul saw a continuum between pure abstractions (‘height and depth’, Rom. 8.38), personifiable abstractions (‘principalities and powers’), literary personifications (‘Law, Sin and Death’) and ‘actual’ personal spiritual beings. Such a view has its roots in Greek thinking going back as far as the fifth century BCE, and still current in the popular Platonism of the first and early second centuries. In his understanding of ‘principalities and powers’, Paul is working creatively between the angelology and demonology of his Jewish heritage, and the world-view of the thoughtful Graeco-Roman philosophical amateur.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-73
Number of pages23
JournalJournal for the Study of the New Testament
Issue number85
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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