Angels and Demons, The Cosmic Evil Powers
The principalities and powers cannot be referring to human rulers or kings. It is referring to the spiritual forces of darkness, the evil powers or in simple terms demons. The human rulers are mentioned positively (Rom 13:3, Titus 3:1); compare a similar verse:
[Eph 6:11-12 NHEB] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world's rulers of this darkness, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Robertson's World Pictures:
The world-rulers of this darkness (τους κοσμοκρατορας του σκοτους τουτου). This phrase occurs here alone. In Joh 14:30 Satan is called "the ruler of this world" (ο αρχων του κοσμου τουτου). In 2Co 4:4 he is termed "the god of this age" (ο θεος του αιωνος τουτου). The word κοσμοκρατωρ is found in the Orphic Hymns of Satan, in Gnostic writings of the devil, in rabbinical writings (transliterated) of the angel of death, in inscriptions of the Emperor Caracalla. These "world-rulers" are limited to "this darkness" here on earth.
On Romans 8:38 Utley comments,
"principalities. . .powers" This refers to (1) the evil angelic or demonic forces of this age (cf. Eph. 2:2; 6:12; 1 Cor. 15:24; Col. 1:16) or (2) possibly the impersonal structures of the fallen world (religion, government, education, medicine, etc.) that allows fallen mankind to be independent of God (cf. Hendrickus Berkhoff, Principalities and Powers).
Archon (Greek: ἄρχων, romanized: árchōn, plural: ἄρχοντες, árchontes) is a Greek word that means "ruler", frequently used as the title of a specific public office. It is the masculine present participle of the verb stem αρχ-, meaning "to be first, to rule", derived from the same root as words such as monarch and hierarchy. (Wiki)
- The plural in Greek ἀρχαὶ (Rom 8:38) is used in the verse, the word order in KJV differs which puts power early in the sequence. The NIV, NLT has used demons for this word taking the phrase parallel to the contrasting 'life and death; present-future; heights and depths'.
- NET Bible: "heavenly rulers", says in notes: "BDAG 138 s.v. ἀρχή 6 takes this term as a reference to angelic or transcendent powers (as opposed to merely human rulers). To clarify this, the adjective “heavenly” has been supplied in the translation. Some interpreters see this as a reference to fallen angels or demonic powers, and this view is reflected in some recent translations (NIV, NLT)."
It is likely the reference to heavenly or cosmic evil powers includes or directly addresses the Gnostic Archons.
Archons of the Gnostics
Archons are, in Gnosticism and religions closely related to it, the builders of the physical universe. Among the Archontics, Ophites, Sethians and in the writings of Nag Hammadi library, the archons are rulers, each related to one of seven planets; they prevent souls from leaving the material realm. The political connotation of their name reflects rejection of the governmental system, as flawed without chance of true salvation. In Manichaeism, the archons are the rulers of a realm within the "Kingdom of Darkness", who together make up the Prince of Darkness. In The Reality of the Rulers, the physical appearance of Archons is described as hermaphroditic, with their faces being those of beasts.
Hebdomad A characteristic feature of the Gnostic concept of the universe is the role played in almost all Gnostic systems by the seven world-creating archons, known as the Hebdomad (ἑβδομάς). These Seven are in most systems semi-hostile powers, and are reckoned as the last and lowest emanations of the Godhead; below them—and frequently considered as proceeding from them—comes the world of the actually devilish powers. There are indeed certain exceptions; Basilides taught the existence of a "great archon" called Abraxas who presided over 365 archons.
Evidently from works such as the Apocryphon of John, the Ophite Diagrams, On the Origin of the World and Pistis Sophia, archons play an important role in Gnostic cosmology. Probably originally referring to the Greek daimons of the planets, in Gnosticism they became the demonic rulers of the material world, each associated with a different celestial sphere. As rulers over the material world, they are called ἄρχοντες (archontes, "principalities", or "rulers"). As with ancient astronomy, which thought of a sphere of fixed stars, above the spheres of the seven planets, beyond the spheres of the evil archons (Hebdomad), there were the supercelestial regions which a soul must reach by gnosis to escape the dominion of the archons. This place is thought of as the abode of Sophia (Wisdom) and Barbelo, also called Ogdoad.
[Eph 2:1-2 NHEB]
You were made alive when you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience;
"In the NT the air is the realm of the demonic. The lower air (açr) was seen by the Greeks to be impure and therefore the domain of evil spirits. Some see this use of "air" as referring to the immaterial nature of the spiritual realm" (Bob Utley). The “airy spirits (ariel spirits)” who the Gnostics said were the lords of darkness and the mischievousness of spirits of the air. The Christians had considered them to be wicked spirits on high whose habitation was mainly the air which was said to be the mansion of evil spirits, of whom Satan (Great Dragon) is the chief.