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In Eph. 2:2, it is written,

in which once ye did walk according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience, (YLT)

ἐν αἷς ποτε περιεπατήσατε κατὰ τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου κατὰ τὸν ἄρχοντα τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ ἀέρος τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργοῦντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας (TR, 1550)

To what or whom does the phrase "[of] the authority of the air" (τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ ἀέρος) refer?

  • I just noticed you've asked 10 questions and haven't accepted an answer to any of them. Accepted answers is an important part of the SE model. Please consider accepting some answers - people will be hesitant to spend their time answering if it looks like there is no chance of an answer being accepted. – ThaddeusB Sep 20 '15 at 2:52
  • Sorry, how do I accept an answer? – user10231 Sep 20 '15 at 10:16
  • 1
    No worries. Use the checkmark below the down arrow to the left of the answer to accept it. For more info, see What should I do when someone answers my question? – ThaddeusB Sep 23 '15 at 14:32
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Clues from the Immediate Context of the Verse Itself

In Eph 2:2, this "ruler" (τὸν ἄρχοντα) is clarified as to what he rules over. This clarification comes, as is common with this word, in the form of a genitive case noun.1 However, there is a series of four genitives that follow:

  1. "the authority" (τῆς ἐξουσίας)
  2. "the air" (τοῦ ἀέρος)
  3. "the spirit" (τοῦ πνεύματος)
  4. "the [one] now working in the sons of disobedience" (τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργοῦντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας)

Just taking the first two genitives to begin with, there are two possible meanings:

  1. "of the authority over the air" (i.e. the ruler has the rights of control over the air)
  2. "of the power of the air" (i.e. the ruler has control of what the air has power to do)

The two meanings are possible because a genitive associated to "authority" (ἐξουσίας) can be either an objective or subjective genitive,2 that is respectively, what is being ruled over by authority or what is possessing the authority.

What one finds with either rendering of the two genitives, it amounts to the same idea: this ruler controls the air such that what the air has power to do, this ruler has power over it.

The air (ἀέρος) is strictly speaking of the atmosphere, sky, etc., generally as we think of it,3 minus our more scientific understanding in this day. As such, in the immediate context, it does not help much to identify who this "ruler" is.

However, the last two genitives inform us more about this ruler, for he is in some way associated with "the spirit," specifically, "the [one spirit] now working in the sons of disobedience." The final genitive in the sequence is a participle phrase that is describing "the spirit." It could be rendered "the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience."

The question is, why the genitive for "the spirit" (τοῦ πνεύματος)? If "the spirit" was renaming "the ruler," it would have been in the accusative case as an appositive to the accusative case used for "the ruler" (τὸν ἄρχοντα). That means either the genitive is intended to be an appositive to the preceding genitive, or it is intended to be an additional extended object of what is "ruled" over. So it means on of these two:

  1. "... the air, which is the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience" (i.e. the air is the spirit)
  2. "the ruler ..., of the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience" (i.e. the ruler commands both the air and the spirit working disobedience)

For the question at hand, identifying "the ruler," we discover it does not really matter whether 1 or 2 is correct, because in either case the ruler who has authority over the air is also the one having authority over that which works in the sons of disobedience.

And this ruler's "path" is parallel to being "according to the age of this world" (κατὰ τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου) by the parallel "according to the ruler..." (κατὰ τὸν ἄρχοντα). This is the path that those Paul is immediately addressing "once walked" (ποτε περιεπατήσατε) in, implying (and later explicitly stated) they walk no more in.

So far the immediate evidence from the verse tells us then:

  • The ruler is over a direction the audience is no longer following
  • That direction is in accord with the age of this world
  • The ruler is over the air or the air's authority
  • The ruler is over the spirit (which may be the same as the air) which controls the direction of people to be in disobedience

Finalization from the Context of Ephesians

This ruler's direction is soon contrasted with another direction, the direction of one having faith in being saved by God's grace in Christ (Eph 2:4-9), which direction leads to good works (i.e. not disobedience; Eph 2:10, cf. Eph 4:1). The one with such salvation was "once" partaking in the direction of the ruler of Eph 2:2, having not been saved, but rather part of the "children of wrath" (Eph 2:3). Compare also Eph 4:17-19 (disobedience) with 4:20-24 (obedience), and really continued contrast with much of the rest of Ephesians after 4:24.

So from this, we know that "the ruler" of 2:2 is not referring to God or Christ, based off the contrast. Yet that ruler, and the power and authority he possesses, are all ultimately under the final authority of the exalted Christ, who is "seated ... far above all principality [ἀρχῆς] and power [ἐξουσίας] and might [δυνάμεως] and dominion [κυριότητος]" (Eph 1:20-21; NKJV).

Notice the first two words referring to what Christ is over (ἀρχῆς, ἐξουσίας) are related to, or the same word as, the words in Eph 2:2 (ἄρχοντα, ἐξουσίας). Later, it is further learned that there are "principalities and powers in the heavenlies" (ταῖς ἀρχαῖς καὶ ταῖς ἐξουσίαις ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις; Eph 3:10) that something is being made known to (indicating they are "personal" beings referred to, ones that can gain "knowledge").

Paul also, later, returns to use the air with respect to false teachings, when he exhorts those who are no longer walking with this ruler:

that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind [ἀνέμῳ] of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting (Eph 4:14, NKJV)

The word "wind" (ἀνέμῳ) is not the same word as used in Eph 2:2, but the conceptual link is evident, as the wind is the air's movement, or even more so, the power evidenced by the air—air's power. The purposeful, figurative use of this phrasing here in Eph 4:14, to me, seems like a strong allusion back to Eph 2:2.

There is a long continued contrasting of the two directions through Ephesians chapters 4 and 5, of which space and time do not permit examining. But we do find two important points made related to the contrast of directions that also appear to isolate who is "the ruler" of the wrong direction:

  1. Those walking in the right way are to guard against "giving place to the devil" (Eph 4:27) by walking again in the wrong way.
  2. Those walking in the right way are to be prepared to "stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph 6:11).

While "giving place to the devil" may allude to the idea of "air" (which is empty space as a place), that would be a weak connection. More important with the Eph 4:27 passage is the fact that by walking wrong, one is basically ceding to the devil's ways (which does relate to the disobedience).

More important is the Eph 6:11 verse, for the "wiles [μεθοδείας] of the devil" refers to his "schemes" or methods,3 which conceptually relates both to the direction "according to" which disobedient people walked that "the ruler" ruled over (Eph 2:2) and the "wind of doctrine" to be avoided (Eph 4:14).

Additionally, the Eph 6:11 passage is in the same context as referring to the subject matter of rulers and authority, for in v.12 it states the opposition is:

principalities [ἀρχάς], against powers [ἐξουσίας], against the rulers [κοσμοκράτορας] of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts [πνευματικὰ] of wickedness in the heavenly places (NKJV; "heavenly places" or "heavenlies")

The methods of the devil, then, are in relation to the opposition from "rulers" (ἀρχάς; i.e. "principalities" above), and "authorities" (ἐξουσίας; i.e. "powers" above), and "world-controllers"/"world-holders"/"world-rulers" (κοσμοκράτορας; i.e. "rulers" above), and "spiritualities" (πνευματικὰ; i.e. "spiritual hosts" above). Notice three of the terms relate to the Eph 2:2 statement: ἀρχάς, ἐξουσίας, and πνευματικὰ.

The revelation from Eph 6:11 is that the methodology put out by the devil is enacted through rulers, authorities, world-controllers, and spiritualities that are not "flesh and blood" (Eph 4:12a), but spiritual persons (as Eph 3:10 noted as well).

Conclusion

So the apostle Paul (who I do take to be the writer of the epistle; Eph 1:1), in referring to the ruler of Eph 2:2, later clarifies the statement to be the one in charge of the direction of things against God, the things of disobedience, which is the devil, according to Eph 6:11-12.

Ephesians 2:2 is probably best translated like so (my opinion):

In which once you walked, according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority over the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience

Where "the ruler" is the devil (per Eph 6:11), "the authority over the air" is one of the spiritual "authorities" against God (per Eph 6:12) under the scheming of the devil (per Eph 6:11), which spiritual authority is also the same spirit working in disobedient people (latter part of Eph 2:2), by carrying those people about with false doctrine spoken (speech goes through the air) to them by men in disobedience (per Eph 4:14).

If so, it means the direct answer to your question of who is "the authority over the air" is that spirit under the devil's rule with such authority, which then makes the devil himself the chief commander of the air through his underling.

Note, however, that if "authority of the air" does mean the "air's power," then the ruler himself is the one over the air.

Yet again, in either case, the one calling the shots with respect to the air is the devil. This matches with prior revelation as well, assuming one associates the devil with Satan as Rev 12:9 and 20:2 do. This is because Job 1:6-19 indicates that Satan used disobedient men (the Sabeans, 1:15, and Chaldeans, 1:17), "fire of God from heaven" (lightning most likely, but from the air, 1:16, and further showing Satan's power to direct actions God has allowed him to direct; i.e. what God has given him authority over), and a great wind (also air's power, 1:19) to work destruction on the righteous Job. The parallel is not likely a coincidence on Paul's part.

Whether the destruction by air aspects were also enacted by a spiritual underling of Satan, as the men were acting as underlings against Job, or by Satan directly becomes somewhat of a mute point.

The devil, Satan, is the one with authority of, or authority over the spirit who has authority of, the air and the disobedient people within humankind.


NOTES

1 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1999), 103. He refers to it as a "genitive of subordination," which is usually a "subset of the objective genitive."

2 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. ἐξουσία, #3, gives examples "W. gen. of the one who has authority" or "W. gen. of that over which the authority is exercised." NOTE: Hereafter, this work will be referenced by the common BDAG abbreviation.

2 BDAG, s.v. ἀήρ.

3 BDAG, s.v. μεθοδεία.

  • Your exegesis of the grammar is very helpful – thank you! I wonder, though, if BDAG is steering us wrong on the meaning of ἀέρος (‘air’) in this text. This writer seems to engage the full Greek idea of air (aēr) / wind (pneuma) as bearing life and consciousness, including the lusts and desires of the psyche. Rather than simply meaning ‘sky’, for this writer aēr is an arche (‘authority’, following Anaximenes), the Greek’s ‘ground of being’, now revealed to be subject to Christ. The best science of the time made air and it's powers the primary characteristics of living in the world. – Schuh Apr 9 at 0:08
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My friends and I were conducting evangelistic street meetings one day when "out of the blue" a pigeon crapped on my friend Billy's head and some of it got into his mouth. He said, "Do you see that! Satan is the prince of the power of the air and he just tried to kill me!" To which I responded, "If he had that power there would be a lot more pigeons pooping on people"!

In the Greek the sentence contains a string of four genitives that give this sense:

"...in which you once walked, in the trajectory of this age, following the ruler who controls the air of the breath that is now operating in the disobedient..."

The use of the Koine genitives in this way indicates that the Satan controls the air of the breath that is the anti- version of the holy breath from God that controls the saints. The reference is what is called the "Zeitgeist":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeitgeist

Update:

Later in the same letter he elaborates some more showing that not only does the devil operate in the disobedient but he also tries to influence the holy ones:

BSB Eph 6: …11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world's darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand.…

Update

Below is an earlier answer of mine that I had originally posted under a previous user account. It contains a lot of relevant stuff:


Phil 2:2 GNT εν αις ποτε περιεπατησατε κατα τον αιωνα του κοσμου τουτου κατα τον αρχοντα της εξουσιας του αερος του πνευματος του νυν ενεργουντος εν τοις υιοις της απειθειας

As @ScottS pointed out there is a string of four genitives which are chained together. I would offer this translation:

"...among whom you once walked in the ways of this age of this lost world, according to the ruler of the domain of the air of the breath that is now active in the sons of rebellion..."

BDAG offers "domain" as being in the semantic domain of εξουσιας and since rulers rule domain not authority, it seems to fit:

⑥ the sphere in which power is exercised, domain (4 Km 20:13; Ps 113:2) Lk 4:6. ἐκ τ. ἐξουσίας Ἡρῴδου ἐστίν he comes fr. Herod’s jurisdiction 23:7. ἐ. τοῦ σκότους domain of darkness 22:53; Col 1:13 (opp. the βασιλεία of Christ). Hence ἐ. τοῦ ἀέρος simply domain of the air Eph 2:2; s. ἀήρ 2b.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 353). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Now I've just opened a can of worms, but here goes...

  • unlike the monist Jews, the writers of the NT were dualist in that they ascribed a great deal of causation, authority, power, influence and the like to the satan, which they personified only a few times but who appears on page after page of the NT personfied as "Satan" and "The Devil" and even "the god of the lost of this age";
  • here Satan is said to control the air of the breath of the rebels and that that air/breath is active in the sons of the rebels. In chapter 6 Paul explicitly names the Devil as the force with which they contend:

Eph 6:11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

  • clearly the air of the breath had a moral nature. There is "holy breath" (aka "Holy Spirit") and here, unholy breath. So also:

1 Cor 2: 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit [breath] of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit [breath] of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit [breath] of the world, but the spirit [breath] which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

In Biblical Hebrew, Koine Greek (and all of ancient Greek), Latin, Old German and even Olde English there was no separate word "spirit". And in Ephesians 2:2 there is no question that Paul has in mind "breath" because he explicitly refers the air of the breath. This is because in Moses' account the breath is conferred on the clay of Adam and he gains all kind of things like life, speech etc.

But for Paul there are two kinds of air/breath and whereas God is the ruler of holy breath, Satan is the ruler of the domain of the air of the breath that is active in the sons of rebellion. This is a prescientific view of the breath but is clearly scriptural.

As evidence I'll give a few passages normally translated "spirit" and we'll see that they are more in the flow of scripture when translated as "breath":

(ISV) So the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground, breathed life into his lungs, and the man became a living being.

Rom_8:2 For the law [principle] of the Spirit [breath] of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Rev_11:11 And after three days and an half the Spirit [breath] of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.

Joh 20:22 (Darby) And having said this, he breathed into them , and says to them, Receive the Holy Spirit [breath]:

2Co_3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit [breath]: for the letter kills, but the spirit [breath] gives life.

Act 2:2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind [moving air!], and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Act 2:3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost [breath], and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit**[breath] gave them utterance**.

Those are just a few but I could go on and on. In my view, "spirit" and "ghost" are just synonyms of "breath". It is absolutely necessary to understand this in order to understand the writings of Paul in particular because the principle of the "breath of life" is key to so much of what he writes.

Somewhat like Diogenes I am ever hopeful that I will encounter an open mind...

Update 2

I came across this excellent paper that shows that Paul's writings indicate that he was engaged in spirit conflict with a cosmic enemy that hindered his ministry, blinded people to the gospel, etc. Well worth a read.

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George Lamsa, a native speaker of Aramaic, understands "the prince of the power of the air" to be the dynamic equivalent of the Arabic / Aramaic "resh shultana", which he claims would've been understood as meaning simply 'the head of the government', with no intended reference to the literal air. The Greek word for "air" here comes from the root "automatic breathing" and is not the word for "sky". (however it has often been preached as sky or world thus making Satan the obvious culprit)

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. If you haven't done so already, be sure read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. This is not a comment on the quality of your answer, but rather a standard welcome message. – ThaddeusB Sep 17 '15 at 16:52
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    1 Thes. 4:17: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air (ἀέρα): and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Kinda' shoots down your theory, doesn't it? – user862 Sep 17 '15 at 21:25
  • yes, @ThaddeusB the "Satan theory" gets shot down since Paul uses G109 (aer) and not G3772 (ü-rä-no's) which he would have used if he meant "sky", or the heavens where lightening and thunder come from (and where the birds fly) – Joe Perrott Sep 19 '15 at 19:06
  • Joe, did you miss @H3br3wHamm3r81"s point? Your own theory is weak because G109 (aer) is used of the sky in 1 Thes 4:17 (and Act 22:23, Rev 9:2, etc.). Essentially "air" and "sky" are the primary definitions of the term in BDAG. So while you may be able to present a better argument as to why it should be taken figuratively, your statement about the Greek is wholly wrong. – ScottS Sep 19 '15 at 22:51
  • The Blue Letter Bible and my E-Sword KJV+ with Strong's numbers and definitions has lead me astray - my bad. (still can't see "sky" in 1 Thes 4 & Acts 22) – Joe Perrott Sep 21 '15 at 16:53

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