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Starting in verse 5.

1Co 2:5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 2:6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 2:7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 2:8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (ESV)

Most commentaries I've read attribute the rulers of age of which Paul spoke as being human rulers (or princes as KJV reads). These same rulers are said to have responsible for the crucifixion of the Lord of glory. We immediately think of those rulers complicit someway in the Lord's death: Herod, Pilate and Caiaphas. Those three mentioned were either dead or out of power at this epistle's writing, making the vs. 6 present tense who are doomed to pass away difficult to attribute to them.

My question: Was Paul referring to demonic rulers in this passage? A few verses where demons are called rulers or princes: John 6:31, John 16:11, Eph 2:2, Eph 6:12,

  • Perhaps something related to this? hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/17378/… – Juan Jul 28 '15 at 16:45
  • "Those three mentioned were either dead or out of power at this epistle's writing, making the vs. 6 present tense who are doomed to pass away difficult to attribute to them" - The time span of the Present Tense in that verse may be way broader than the life span of rulers alive and in power at the time of that verse' writing. It can be a Present Tense embracing the whole time of the existence of this world - sort of like the Present Tense in "the Earth orbits the Sun" – brilliant May 23 '19 at 18:52
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Another answer gave evidence in support of the idea that this passage refers to demonic powers and echoes (or rather, anticipates) gnostic ideas. Clearly this is one widely held scholarly viewpoint. I would like to point out, however, that this is not the only available, defensible interpretation. I have bolded here the references given by the OP to other NT passages that could support the “demons” interpretation. I think their relationships to 1 Cor 2:8 can be otherwise explained.

Arguing against a reference to demonic powers here, Gordon Fee in his commentary The First Epistle to the Corinthians (pp 103-104):

This oft-repeated assertion needs finally to be laid to rest since the linguistic evidence, the context, and Pauline theology all argue against it.

I summarize his main points in support of the idea that earthly rulers are in view here:

  • Paul uses a different, related word to describe spiritual opposition. See, for instance, Colossians 1:16 and Ephesians 6:12 where the term ἀρχή (pl. ἀρχαί) is used. This sort of “ruler” is never equated with the ἄρχοντες (sing. ἄρχων) used here. (Ephesians 3:10, mentioned in the other answer, also belongs in this category.)
  • Although ἄρχων in the singular does at times refer to Satan (Eph. 2:2 belongs here), the plural form does not refer to demonic forces of any kind in any Jewish or Christian writings prior to the second century.
  • In the New Testament ἄρχων as plural invariably refers to early rulers. (Rom 13:1 is particularly important here.)

These arguments are also covered in Fee’s New Testament Exegesis (pp 87-89). For broader contextual support, including refutation of the idea that this passage and others in Pauline literature invoke gnosticism, see Wesley Carr’s monograph Angels and Principalities: The Background, Meaning and Development of the the Pauline Phrase kai archai kai hai exousia.

With regard to the term sofia, see Gene Miller’s ΑΡΧΟΝΤΩΝ ΤΟΥ ΑΙΩΝΟΣ ΤΟΥΤΟΥ -- A New Look at 1 Corinthians 2:6-8. Here, Miller challenges the arguments of those such as Héring that the attribution of sofia to these powers is evidence that they are of the supernatural, gnostic type:

The theory is decisively refuted by the fact that in this passage and its entire context the wisdom which Paul sets over against the "wisdom of God” is specifically human wisdom (cf. 1:25, 26; 2:5,13).

The question also mentioned John 16:11 (cf. 12:31, 14:30) (I’m not sure of the relevance of John 6:31 - perhaps a typo?) where Satan is referred to as ὁ ἄρχων· These references in John are all singular (see bullet 2 above) but have indeed been used in support of a spiritual referent for 1 Cor 6:8 due to the shared attributive "τοῦ κόσμου [τούτου]" ("of [this] world"). Fee points out that, in addition to being singular, this phrase is particular to John and has no parallel in Pauline writing.

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Earl Doherty says, in The Jesus Puzzle, there has not been a universal scholarly consensus on what Paul has in mind when referring to 'rulers' (archons) in 1 Corinthians 2:8, but that over the last century a majority of commentators, some reluctantly, have decided that he is referring to the demon spirits. He cites Paul Ellingworth, S. G. F. Brandon, C. K. Barrett, Jean Hering, Paula Fredriksen and S. D. F. Salmond as among the "majority of scholars [who] think that supernatural powers are intended here."

Hermann Detering (The Dutch Radical Approach to the Pauline Epistles) says that 1 Corinthians 2:8 includes a typically Marcionite thought. Of course, Paul wrote nearly a century before Marcion, so the flow is from Paul to Marcion, but at least this tells us that 1 Corinthians 2:8 was close to second-century gnostic thought. Andrew Phillip Smith says in The Gnostics, page 75, 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 can be translated in a way that at first glance could be an extract from any Gnostic text, especially when transliterated from Greek as we would transliterate a gnostic text:

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (transliterated): Yet among the mature we do speak of Sophia, though it is not the Sophia of this aeon or of the archons of this aeon, who are doomed to perish. But we speak of the holy Sophia, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the aeons for our glory. None of the archons of this aeon understood this.

The term aeon, "age," or sometimes in the plural "ages," was in a religious and apocalyptic context a reference to the present age of the world, in the sense of all recorded history, since the next age was the one after the Parousia when God's Kingdom would be established. Doherty says that one of the governing ideas of the period was that the world to the present point had been under the control of the evil angels and spirit powers, and that the coming of the Kingdom would see their long awaited overthrow. Humanity was engaged in a war against the demons, and one of the strongest appeals of the Hellenistic salvation cults was their promise of divine aid in this war on a personal level.

Ephesians 2:2 refers to the prince of the power of the air (KJV) or the ruler of the power of the air (NAB), and in both translations, Ephesians 3:10 refers to them synonymously as the principalities and powers in heavenly places.

You are right that because of the present tense, who are doomed to pass away is difficult to attribute to Pilate, Herod Antipas or Caiaphas, if Paul was writing in the fifties of the first century. This means that Paul was not writing of those given responsibility for Jesus' crucifixion in the gospels; in fact in his epistles Paul never seemed to know that Jesus had been crucified under the direction of these men. The evidence is that 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 refers to demons who crucified Jesus, and it may be suggested on other evidence in the epistles that the crucifixion took place in heaven.

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Plural form of ἄρχων refers to angelic beings in both Daniel LXX-OG & Theodotion.

Concerning 1Cor 2:6,8 rulers τῶν ἀρχόντων Gordon Fee[1]

“the plural form does not refer to demonic forces of any kind in any Jewish or Christian writings prior to the second century.”

G. Fee draws a unnecessary semantic boundary between the singular and plural form of ἄρχων “ruler” which doesn’t seem to hold up under scrutiny. Fee also ignores the fact that a semantic distinction between good and evil angelic/human agents is not a feature of ἄρχων “ruler.” The term is used for both good and evil angels in greek versions of 2nd Temple apocalyptic texts (e.g. Daniel, 1Enoch) where angelic beings have dominion over earthly empires.

David Aune[2]

“The term archontes used as a designation for angelic beings first occurs in the LXX of Daniel 10:13 and and seven times in Theod. Daniel 10:13, 20-21; 12:1 … Dan. 10:10-21 contains the first references to the conception of angelic beings who are the patrons of specific nations on earth.”

The plural form rulers τῶν ἀρχόντων is used of angelic beings in Daniel LXX-OldGreek and Theodotion. One will notice that στρατηγὸς “commander” is used interchangeably with ἄρχων in Dan. 10:13 LXX-OG whereas Daniel Theod. consistently uses ἄρχων to render שׂר Sar “prince, cheif.” This undermines Fee’s notion that ἄρχων has sort of technical or restricted semantic significance.

NASB 1970 Dan. 10:13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.

In the relevant portion of the text one of the chief princes NASB 1970 is tolerably close to the text of LXX-OG and Theodotion. In this context Michael[3] is one among others referred to as εἷς τῶν ἀρχόντων τῶν πρώτων one of the chief princes all of whom are certainly not human rulers.

There are some textual issues with the LXX-OG and Theodotion. For Greek readers I have included Rahlfs and the Göttingen critical text. Thanks to Ken M. Penner, Phd. of St. Francis Xavier University for providing the readings from Göttingen LXX.

Rahlfs Dan. 10:13 LXX-OG καὶ ὁ στρατηγὸς βασιλέως Περσῶν ἀνθειστήκει ἐναντίον μου εἴκοσι καὶ μίαν ἡμέραν, καὶ ἰδοὺ Μιχαηλ εἷς τῶν ἀρχόντων τῶν πρώτων ἐπῆλθε βοηθῆσαί μοι, καὶ αὐτὸν ἐκεῖ κατέλιπον μετὰ τοῦ στρατηγοῦ τοῦ βασιλέως Περσῶν.

Göttingen Septuagint XVI, 2 (1999) Da 10:13 text OG: καὶ ὁ στρατηγὸς βασιλέως Περσῶν ἀνθειστήκει ἐναντίον μου εἴκοσι καὶ μίαν ἡμέραν, ἰδοὺ [εἷς τῶν ἀρχόντων τῶν πρώτων,] εἷς τῶν ἁγίων ἀγγέλων ἐπῆλθε βοηθῆσαί μοι, καὶ αὐτὸν ἐκεῖ κατέλιπον μετὰ τοῦ στρατηγοῦ βασιλέως Περσῶν.

Rahlfs Dan. 10:13 Theodotion καὶ ὁ ἄρχων βασιλείας Περσῶν εἱστήκει ἐξ ἐναντίας μου εἴκοσι καὶ μίαν ἡμέραν, καὶ ἰδοὺ Μιχαηλ εἷς τῶν ἀρχόντων τῶν πρώτων ἦλθεν βοηθῆσαί μοι, καὶ αὐτὸν κατέλιπον ἐκεῖ μετὰ τοῦ ἄρχοντος βασιλείας Περσῶν

Göttingen Septuagint XVI, 2 (1999) Da 10:13 Theodotion: καὶ ὁ ἄρχων βασιλείας Περσῶν εἱστήκει ἐξ ἐναντίας μου εἴκοσι καὶ μίαν ἡμέραν, καὶ ἰδοὺ Μιχαηλ εἷς τῶν ἀρχόντων τῶν πρώτων ἦλθε βοηθῆσαί μοι, καὶ αὐτὸν κατέλιπον ἐκεῖ μετά τοῦ ἄρχοντος βασιλείας Περσῶν

Analysis of scenarios and semantic prototypes:

1Cor. 2:5-9 NASB 1970 ed. 1Cor. 2:5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

1Cor. 2:6   Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the cages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”

I would argue that an analysis of the scenario and semantic prototypes 1 Cor. 2:6-8 doesn’t bode well for an exclusively spiritual (angelic/demonic) referent for: τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος “the rulers of this age.”

First of all, the language seems to support the view that “the rulers of this age” were human agents in crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Not neccessairly direct agents but agents close to the action. I am not sure if Paul would say that evil spiritual beings “crucified the Lord of glory.” I suppose it is possible. In the gospels we find evil spiritual beings depicted in the semantic role of agents. That question leads into the next.

I am working with a semantic prototype of “spiritual authorities/rulers” which assumes that they are immortal beings who have a factually correct knowledge about the identity of Jesus Christ. The exorcism pericopes in the gospels make it plain that demons knew who Jesus Christ was and made factually correct statements about him. For this reason they would not appear fit into the scenario[4] depicted in 1Cor. 2:6-8 where Paul states that the “the rulers of this age” would not have crucified Jesus if they had been in possession of the “hidden wisdom.” An objection might be that knowledge about the identity of Jesus Christ isn’t what Paul was talking about. However, attributing any sort of wisdom deficiency to “spiritual authorities/rulers” as the reason for the crucifixion would seem to identify the nature of spiritual evil as a wisdom deficiency which could be addressed by “enlightening” the evil spiritual agents. I suspect that this is not what Paul would say in regard to evil spiritual agency, that it was deficient in wisdom.

However, a counter argument might run some thing like: The spiritual authorities behind the agents who crucified Jesus Christ didn’t understand all the consequences of the crucifixion or they would not been pursuing that course of action through their human agents. Paul might be saying that the deficiency was such that the spiritual powers of evil didn’t understand that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a victory not for them but for their enemies. All of this hang’s on the meaning of “hidden wisdom” which makes the argument somewhat precarious.

Paul says that “the rulers of this age” are “passing away” which appears to situate the scenario within an historical space and time framework. Perhaps this is another reason to question an exclusively spiritual referent for: τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος “the rulers of this age.” This isn’t an air tight argument, since in the apocalyptic literature both the “spiritual authorities/rulers” and their earthy representatives will be overthrown at consummation of history.

While it seems improbable that “the rulers of this age” has a primary or exclusive reference to spiritual beings, this doesn’t rule out a composite view where the earthly representatives of the “spiritual authorities/rulers” are primary but understood as acting on behalf of supernatural beings who are depicted in apocalyptic literature as the real powers behind their human agents. While human agents might have crucified Jesus Christ because of some sort of blindness, their spiritual rulers knew exactly what they were doing. Again, one could argue that this is missing Paul’s point; that according to Paul, the blindness behind the crucifixion was something shared by both the spiritual rulers and their human agents.

[1]G. Fee, 1Cor NICNT, 1987, p104 n24.

[2] Article for Archon, David Aune, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed. 1999, p.84.

[3] The critical edition of Daniel OG doesn’t read “Michael” here.

[4] Scenarios, Discourse, and Translation, Richard A. Hoyle, 2008 SIL International. From Word to Scenario: The Influence of Linguistic Theories Upon Models of Translation, Kenneth A. McElhanon, Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 3 (2005).

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What has to be taken in to consideration is that whether Paul was directly or indirectly was referring to demons or not is irrelevant. Why? Simply because whether it was the rulers of that time or demons, it was demons that influenced the human rulers to do what they did. The whole crux of it in the mind of the enemy was to somehow stop God's plan that was first articulated in Gen 3:15

Since Scripture plainly states for anyone willing to read it and accept it that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the hierarchy of Ephesians 6, that is a statement of fact not a possibility. If that is true when it was written, it was true when Christ walked the earth and it's true today.

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If we stay with the context of these verses it is very evident that Paul was speaking about men, rulers of the time and age (this age) in which they were living when this book was written - before the passover in 55 AD (1).

The age in which they were still living in the first century AD was still the Mosaic age, which had not yet passed away, but was waxing old (Heb. 8:13). "This age" is not our age when we are reading these verses almost 2,000 years later. The demonstrative "this" indicates a close and present object to the speaker. This age was Paul's time in the first century AD under the rule and authority of the Roman empire of their day when Judea was a province of Rome.

We must stay with the context and time period of the scriptures, with the first audience perspective. Just because we are reading the English translations, doesn't mean that the common meaning today of that English usage is what it meant to them 2,000 years ago. The words have to be understood in their time frame, and in the original usage.

From the Complete Jewish Bible:

"3 Also I myself was with you as somebody weak, nervous and shaking all over from fear; 4 and neither the delivery nor the content of my message relied on compelling words of “wisdom” but on a demonstration of the power of the Spirit, 5 so that your trust might not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power."

"6 Yet there is a wisdom that we are speaking to those who are mature enough for it. But it is not the wisdom of this world or of this world’s leaders, who are in the process of passing away. 7 On the contrary, we are communicating a secret wisdom from God which has been hidden until now but which, before history began, God had decreed would bring us glory. 8 Not one of this world’s leaders has understood it; because if they had, they would not have executed the Lord from whom this glory flows. "

The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) version is correct. Paul, a man, spoke of the human flaws and characteristics of a human messenger sent by God to speak directly to the people. The subject is men, that the word did not come through the power of men, but through the power of YHVH.

Those who were mature enough to hear it were men and women who could discern truth from lies. The wisdom of the world comes from the philosophical thoughts of men, not from God. That was Paul's point. The rulers of "this age", or as some English translations have it "this world" were those men who ruled under the Roman empire of the first century AD with expectations and authority to carry out their will and impose it upon the people. They were not demons in the sense of some ethereal, unseen evil presence.

The world rulers of that age called themselves "sons of god", and they existed under the Roman emperor cult worship of the Caesars... the "god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4). Interpreting this as "the devil" distorts the context and leads people astray causing a great deal of confusion such as the worship of Lucifer and Satan. No such thing is meant by these verses nor by 2 Cor 4:4.

The word translated from the OT as "gods" in Psa. 82:6 meant judges of the law under the Mosaic age. The Levitical priests had been appointed by YHVH to teach His word, His law, and judge accordingly. They were representing Him to the people. Just as we are His ambassadors now under the gospel of Christ to be His priests and kings in His kingdom (2 Pet. 2:9).

John 16:11..."the ruler of this world" was still speaking of the man who held authority during that time over the people. This was either a Caesar emperor, or the high priest of the Sanhedrin (council). He was judged and would be thrown down from his position of authority which was described in prophesy as falling down to earth, or falling by the sword, or stars falling from heaven.

"But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes." (Psa. 82:7, KJV)

"They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen: there is none among them that calleth unto me." (Hos. 7:7, KJV)

Men in authority, kings ruling kingdoms and empires sat on their thrones in their "heavenly places" (Eph. 3:10) were often referred to as "their heavens" being a ruler over a dominion, a part of the earth, a national kingdom of the entire earth that is always under YHVH's rule and kingdom. Their smaller heavens were always those that could be shaken and removed from power at God's will (Jer.24:6; 31:28).

So, stars falling from heaven, or princes falling down were removed from their positions of power and authority over the people. These are the same as Eph. 2:2 "ruler of the authority of the air" (YLT). Civil rules, regulations and governmental authority are issued by rulers of this world - men, and their rules are spoken from their mouths into the air and then written and broadcast through their national kingdoms of this world. They have authority over the air that is above their earthly kingdoms and domains. It speaks to their dominion area, not to a subset demon spiritual rule. God has never abdicated His position of rule and authority to any demon, nor to satan, the adversary (Ex. 19:5).

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:12, KJV)

They and we are not fighting man to man, against flesh and blood, but against the ideas and evil practices set in place by the rulers and authorities spoken of in Eph. 6:12. They operate in the heavenly places, heavenly realm of their nation / kingdom, their principalities, and are the powerful ones who commit evil deeds from their evil spirits. All men have spirits, and those that commit evil deeds and harm others are the spiritual forces of evil in that kingdom / nation, and are the darkness of this world. They are the spiritual wickedness in their high places of their positions of authority. They are the children of wrath and disobedience spreading their evil throughout their area of authority - their heaven.

"17 And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.

18 And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins."

"19 And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:

"20 And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits." (Lev. 26:17-20, KJV)

Israel's heaven and Israel's earth was their land area, their kingdom, their heavenly realm. When Israel's rulers, priests and scribes became evil, did evil things, their evil spirits were operating in the air of their territory. God punished them for their evil.

None of this speaks of demonic powers ruling over us. Evil comes from within the heart of man (Gen. 6:5; Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21). It is men in power and authority that have succumbed to evil thoughts, greed, and lusts that become those evil spirits that we are to fight with the sword of God, with His word (Eph. 6:17).

More on this at my blog ShreddingTheVeil.org (2) (3)

Notes:

1) Dating the New Testament - 1 Corinthians here

2) The God of This Age, & The Prince of The Power of The Air here

3) The Signs of Revelation - Part II: The Codes & Symbols of Nature here

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I believe that this referred to both human and demons. The god of this age blinded the minds of the unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4). The devil is the liar and the father of lies and a murderer (John 8:42-47). He prompted Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus and later entered him (John 13:2, 27). God has spoken in Genesis 3:15 that the Serpent has offspring and he used them to strike the Son of God. All this happened because God was in control of every situation (John 13:3;Acts 2:23). This is hidden wisdom of God and the mystery hidden now revealed (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His dead and resurrection were for our justification, sanctification and glorification. Christ in us (His Church , His Body) continue to crush Satan under our feet (Ephesians 1:22; Romans 16:20; Hebrews 2:8). Satan still function as ruler of this age to persecute the church and he is behind steal, kill and destroy by working through his offspring. Therefore, I believe it is both. It is the demons manifest through the sinful nature of fallen humanity.

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