Question: To what do the “principalities, powers, might and dominion” refer in Eph.1:21; 3:10?

Answer:  In the N.T. books of Ephesians, Colossians, and Romans a variety of terms are used to describe the spiritual beings that often (though not necessarily) stand in opposition to God and men who would serve God.

The Greek words are translated into English by such terms as principality, power, might, dominion and thrones (Eph.1:21; Col.1:16).  Obviously this creates some confusion since these are words that we generally use to describe earthly political powers.  And the terms could in fact be used that way in the Greek language too (see Tit.3:1).

But in the books of Ephesians, Colossians, and Romans the terms clearly refer to spiritual (probably angelic) beings.  This can be shown from the context in almost every instance.  In Ephesians the principalities and powers are located “in heavenly places” (3:10); contrasted with the powers of flesh and blood (6:12); and specifically identified as the forces of darkness and “spiritual wickedness in heavenly places” (6:12).  In Colossians these beings are cited as specific instances of the “invisible” things created by Christ (1:16).  And in Romans they are listed right along with the angels (8:38).

It is not necessary to assume that these terms always refer to evil angelic beings.  The Jews of N.T. times often used them in reference to good spirit beings.  In all three books mentioned above, the primary issue concerning these beings is their inferiority to Christ.  Apparently some in the church at Colossae were actually engaged in the worship of such creatures (2:18).  Paul is primarily concerned, therefore, with demonstrating that Christ has been given a position of authority far above all such beings.

But some of these angelic forms are evil.  Remember the references of Peter and Jude to the angels that sinned and were cast out of heaven (2 Pet.2:4; Jude 6, 9).  Remember also the reference of Jesus to the devil and his angels (Matt.26:41).  In Rom.8:38 these beings are described along with angels as creatures that might desire to separate us from Christ.  And in Eph.6:12 they are cited as real spiritual enemies.  I do not know of the “demons” referred to in the N.T. would be included under these terms or not.

In Dan.10:12-21 we are told that Michael, the prince of Israel, went out to do battle with the princes of Persia and Greece.  These are clearly references to angelic forces which apparently instigated the hostility of Persia & and Greece toward the Israelites.  The same type of spiritual warfare is described in Rev.12:7-9 where Michael and his angels go forth to do battle with Satan and his angels, while on earth Rome does battled with the saints.

Thus the reality of such beings cannot be denied.  But we should remember that Christ has triumphed over all such creatures; that He is head over all; and that we too can be more than conquerors (Rom.8:38) over whatever forces Satan may marshal against us if we put on the whole armor of God (Eph.6:11-18)