Ephesians 2: 1-3: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others”.
The prince of the power of the air is said to be the Devil, who is a spirit making people disobedient to God.
1. The words “Satan” and “Devil” do not occur here.
2. “Walking”, v. 2, (i.e. living) according to the prince of the power of the air, is defined in v. 3 as living according to the lust of our fleshly mind. The “lusts of our flesh” come from within us (Mk. 7: 21-23; James 1:14) not from anything outside of us.
3. “The power of the air” is clearly a figurative expression - “the prince” probably is also.
4. “The prince” is “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience”. The spirit frequently refers to an attitude of mind (e.g. Deut: 2:30; Prov. 25:28; Is. 54:6; 61: 3; Ez. 18:31; Mk.14:38; Lk. 2:40; 2 Cor. 2:13; 12:18; Eph. 4:23). This is confirmed by v. 3 - such people’s lives are controlled by “fulfilling the lusts of our flesh (which come from our heart- James 1:14), fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind”. Fleshly people do not allow their lives to be controlled by a physical “prince” outside of them, but by following their fleshly desires which are in their minds. A physical being cannot exist as a “spirit” in the sense of an intangible essence. A spirit does not have flesh and bones, i.e. a physical body (Lk. 24:39); therefore because “the prince” is a “spirit”, this must be a figurative expression not a physical being. The “spirit” or attitude of mind is a figurative prince, as sin is a figurative paymaster (Rom. 6: 23).
5. This passage (and v. 11) speaks of their former Gentile lives. 1 Pet. 4:3 speaks of life before conversion as: “In the time past we wrought the will of the Gentiles…we walked in lusts”. Their own flesh was their “prince”. Thus walking according to the prince of the air (v.2) is parallel with walking in the flesh (v. 11). The more common antithesis to walking in spirit is walking after the flesh- here termed “the course of this world”.
6. 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 (1).
7. Athanasius argued that the death of Jesus cleansed the air where the demons / fallen angels now live, and therefore physically opened up a way for [supposed] immortal souls to find a way into Heaven (2). Not only was all this unBiblical, it reflects a literalism which reduces God to a being hopelessly bound by physicality. In short, this kind of thinking arose from a basic lack of faith in God as the Almighty, who doesn't need to build bridges over problems which men have created for Him in their own minds. It should be noted that the idea of saying "Bless you!" when someone sneezes derives from Athanasius' idea that demons can become so small that they enter a person from the literal air. This is what happens if we insist that the Devil was thrown out of heaven and some of his angels are still in the literal air- it's literalism gone wrong.
1. Verse 1 says that “you” - the faithful at Ephesus - were dead in sins. Verses 2 and 3 then express the reason for this in four interchangeable ways:
(a) “...ye walked according to the course of this world”
(b) “...according to the prince of the power of the air”
(c) “...the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience”
(d) “...were by nature the children of wrath”.
The “whole world lieth in wickedness (1 Jn. 5:19) because by nature we all have a fleshly mind or spirit. “The children of disobedience” show this by their lives “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (v. 1 & 3). Thus “the prince of the power of the air” is our evil, fleshly mind, i.e. the real Devil.
2. There are many links between Ephesians and Colossians. One of the clearest is between these verses and Colossians 3: 3-7. Colossians 3:3 speaks of us having died to sin as Ephesians 2:1 does. Verses 5-7 amplify what are “the lusts of the flesh” which “the children of disobedience” fulfil:
“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye walked in them”. These things of v. 5 are “the works of the flesh” mentioned in Galatians 5:19. These things come from within us, not from anything outside (Mk. 7:21-23). Therefore the prince of the power of the air, which causes these things, is again defined as our evil desires.
3. “The air” normally refers to the literal air around us which we breathe. It is a different word to that translated “air’ in the sense of the heavens, e.g. “the birds of the air” (Lk. 9: 58). The seven angels of Revelation 16 pour out their vials on people in various parts of the earth in preparation for the establishment of God’s Kingdom. “The seventh angel poured out his vial into the air” (Rev. 16:17) because his work affected the whole of the earth; it is as a result of this vial that the Kingdom of God is established on the earth and the kingdoms of men are ended. Thus the “power of the air” is a phrase which figuratively refers to a power which has influence over the people of the whole earth - and the power of sin, the fleshly mind, is worldwide.
(1) George Lamsa, New Testament Light (San Francisco Harper & Row) p. 248.
(2) See Nathan K. Ng, The Spirituality of Athanasius (Bern: Lang, 2001).