Debating Bible Basics Duncan Heaster  


The Wiles Of The Devil

Ephesians 6:11-13: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 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. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand”.

Popular Interpretation

This is taken to indicate that there are wicked spirits in heaven who are making the world sinful, against whom we have to fight. These spirits/angels are thought to be super-human in power.


1. Angels are not mentioned here.

2. This passage lists various things against which the Christian fights - it does not say that those things are trying to enter men and make them sin.

3. The world is under God’s control, not that of evil beings in heaven (Dan. 4: 32). “All power” in heaven and in earth has been given to Jesus (Matt. 28:18) by God (Rev. 3:21; Lk. 22:29), so it cannot also be possessed by wicked beings in heaven.

4. We have seen that there can be no sinful being in heaven itself (Ps. 5: 4 & 5; Hab. 1:13; Matt. 6:10).

5. Verse 12 may be translated, “For we wrestle not only against flesh and blood...” i.e., we do not only wrestle against individual men, but against organized systems.

6. There is much figurative language in vs. 11-17 - the armour of the Christian is figurative, as is the wrestling, seeing that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men” (2 Tim. 2:24); v. 12 should be similarly interpreted.

7. If the “devil” was cast out of heaven in Eden, how could he and his followers still have been in the literal heavens in Paul’s time?

Suggested Explanations

1. The context is set in v. 13. The preparation was to be because the church was facing “the evil day”. This refers to a period of especial persecution of the church, which was to come at the hands of the Romans, seeing they were the only people with enough power to create an “evil day” for the Christian church at the time Paul was writing. (1 Pet. 4:12; 5: 8-9). The wrestling was against “the rulers of this dark world”, who at the time were the Romans. Note that the wrestling is spiritual wrestling to keep the faith (2 Cor. 10: 3-5). This time of evil had already begun as Paul was writing (Eph. 5:16)- “the days are evil’.

2. “Principalities” is translated “magistrate” in Luke 12:11; human “rule”, in the sense of human government, in 1 Corinthians 15:24, and the “power” of the Roman governor in Luke 20:20. So it does not necessarily have reference to any power or prince in heaven.

3. “Powers” is translated as the “authority” of the Roman governor in Luke 20:20, and regarding one having “authority” in Matthew 7:29. We must “be subject to principalities and powers” (Titus 3:1) in the sense of earthly governments, insofar as they do not ask us to do things which are contrary to the Law of God (Acts 5:29; 4:19; Matt. 19:17). If “principalities and powers” are evil beings in heaven whom we must resist, why are we told to be subject to them? If we accept that they refer to human governors and authorities, then this is easily understandable.

4. “Wicked spirituals in high (heavenly) places”. We have shown that this cannot refer to wicked beings in heaven itself. The exalted position of the true believers in Christ is described as being “in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 2:6). “Spirituals” can be used to describe those in the church who had the gift of the spirit; having given a list of commands as to how the gifts of the spirit should be used, Paul concludes: “If any man (in the church) think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual (i.e. spiritually gifted, see N.I.V.), let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). 1 Corinthians 14 shows there was a big problem in the church of believers misusing the spirit gifts. Hebrews 6: 4-6 describes some Jewish Christians in the first century who had the gift of the spirit, but who were leading the church away from true Christianity by their attitude. These would be a prime example of wicked spirituals in the heavenlies (i.e. in the church). The temple and ark are sometimes referred to as the heavens (2 Sam. 15:25, cp. 1 Kgs. 8: 30; 2 Chron. 30:27; Ps. 20: 2 & 6; 11: 4; Heb. 7:26). The church is the new temple. In the same way as wicked people could be in the temple, so, too, they could be in the heavenlies of the church. Possession of the Spirit did not mean that someone was necessarily acceptable in God’s sight, e.g. Saul possessed it for a time(1 Sam. 10:10) as did the judges of Israel (Num. 11:17) although they were not righteous; they did not believe the report of Joshua and Caleb and therefore were condemned to die like the other Israelites, despite their having the Spirit - Psalm 82:1-7 says as much. For a period the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 possessed the gifts despite their errors, until eventually their candlestick was removed (cp. Acts 20: 28-29; Eph. 4:11; Rev. 2:5). Thus the wicked spirits in the heavenlies were apostate Christians within the church, leading the church into an “evil day” of temptation.

5. Thus the threat to the church was twofold: from the Roman/Jewish persecution and from the (often Judaist) “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13) within. Remember Ephesians 6:11-13 was written to the church at Ephesus. Paul had previously warned them about this threat from within: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).

Rotherham’s translation brings this out well:

“Our struggle is against the principalities against the authorities against the world - rulers of this darkness, AND against spiritual wickedness in heavenlies”.

6. Thus, all these things are “the wiles of the devil” (v. 11) in the sense of the evil desires of the flesh expressed through the system of world government and apostate Christians.

7. “Heavenly places” may also refer to positions of authority in the secular world. Thus the king of Babylon was a figurative “star” in heaven (Is. 14:12), i.e. a great ruler. Jesus is the “sun” (Mal. 4:2), the saints are the “stars” (Dan. 12:3) of the future order. The present “heavens” of man will be replaced by the new Heavens when the Kingdom is established on the earth (2 Pet. 3:13), i.e. the positions of power and rulership, now in the hands of sinful men, will be handed over to the true Christians. The saints of the Most High shall possess the kingdoms of men (Dan. 7:27). Thus wicked spirits in the “heavens” could refer to men of wicked minds in places of power in the world who were persecuting the Christians.

8. It is just possible to still interpret “the devil” in v. 11, as having a certain degree of reference to the “Jewish Satan”. The “Heavenly places” of v. 12 may refer to the Jewish heavenlies; 2 Peter 3 and Deuteronomy 32:1 speak of the Jewish heavens. This is strengthened by the fact that the “sun, moon and stars” are sometimes figurative of the Jews ( e.g. Genesis 22:17; 37: 9; Dan. 8: 9, 10, 24). We have shown that the wicked spirituals may have reference to the Jewish Christians who were spirit-gifted, but turned to apostasy. They would thus be in both the Christian and Jewish “heavenlies”. The threat from within the church posed by the Judaizers infiltrating the church (see “Suggested Explanation” - all points - of 2 Cor. 11:13-15), who were Jews. In “Suggested Explanation” No. 2 of 1 Timothy 5: 14-15, it is shown that the “seducing spirits” (spirituals) of 1 Timothy 4:1 were Jewish false teachers. Thus “the devil” was manifested in the Roman authorities AND the Jews within the Christian church.

The “wiles of the devil” offers support to the Jewish context in that one of its few other occurrences the word for “wiles” is translated “to lie in wait to deceive”, in a verse which talks about the Judaizers subtly trying to introduce false doctrine into the church: the church was being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). If the “heavenly places” also represent the Jewish system, further meaning is given to Ephesians 3: 3-10: “The mystery...that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs (with the Jews), and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel...to make all men (both Jews and Gentiles) see what is the fellowship of the mystery...to the intent now that unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God”, i.e. that by the church showing the unity that existed between Jew and Gentile within it, the Jewish leaders (“principalities and powers in heavenlies”) might come to appreciate “the manifold wisdom of God”. This, in turn, opens up John 17:21, “That they all (Jews and Gentiles) may be one...that the world (this phrase almost always means the Jewish world in John’s Gospel) may believe that thou hast sent me”.

The “evil day” of v. 13 would be a result of the Judaizers, who were “evil men and seducers” (2 Tim. 3:13). For the links between 2 Timothy 3 and the Judaizers, see notes on 2 Timothy 2:26 ; between them and “seducers”, see “Suggested Explanation” No. 2 of 1 Timothy 5:14.