Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Abortion and Scripture: Ephesians 6:12 - Identify the Enemy

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. -- Ephesians 6:12 NAS

When it comes to the abortion battle, it seems the lines are drawn pretty clearly: prolife vs. prochoice. No matter which side you align yourself with, it's easy to tell who is friend and who is foe, right? If you're prolife, the prochoicers are the enemy. If you're prochoice, the prolifers are the enemy. Right?

Well, it might be possible to put forth that argument from a purely secular perspective (although I don't think it holds water even from a secular perspective). But from a Christian perspective, the idea that this is a war of prolife versus prochoice -- or even "good guys" versus "bad guys" -- is bogus.

The Bible makes it pretty clear who the Enemy is. We can explore this Enemy at length at another time. Right now, we'll look closely at Ephesians 6:12, as a reminder of who the enemy is not:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Let's turn to the Greek Lexicon and see what we can find about the words used in this passage.

We can start with the Greek word transliterated "pale" (pal ay). This word is used only in this passage, and means "wrestling (a contest between two in which each endeavours to throw the other, and which is decided when the victor is able to hold his opponent down with his hand upon his neck); the term is transferred to the Christian's struggle with the power of evil." So it looks like we're not talking about a "live and let live" situation, in which our Enemy will let us be if we ignore it. We're engaged in a wrestling match in which one, and only one, can emerge victorious.

We can then look at the Greek words transliterated "sarx," indicating "flesh (the soft substance of the living body, which covers the bones and is permeated with blood)...used of natural or physical origin, ...denotes mere human nature, the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin and opposed to God;" and "haima" (hah ee ma), "blood." We can take this then pretty literally -- we're not fighting flesh and blood, mortal creatures, men and women like ourselves.

Well, then, what are we fighting? Here's where it really gets interesting.

The word translated here as "powers" is the Greek transliterated "exousia" (ex oo see ah). Here are some of the ways this word is defined:
  • power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases
  • physical and mental power
  • the ability or strength with which one is endued, which he either possesses or exercises
    the power of authority (influence) and of right (privilege)
  • the power of rule or government (the power of him whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed)
  • the leading and more powerful among created beings superior to man, spiritual potentates

I find it fascinating that Paul chose this word here, a word that means not just those in authority or those with power, but free will itself. Although this idea is not, I would presume, the crux of the passage, I think we'd do well to remember that our own free will is often ready to trip us up. The very capacity for making choices which the abortion advocates hold up as the ultimate good seems here cast as a potential pitfall. This stands as a warning to all Christians no matter what side of the abortion battle they've stationed themselves on: just because we can does not mean we should. Having been given free will, and the power to make choices, we are given at every moment of our lives the capacity to rebel against God and set ourselves up as petty tyrants over our own lives and the lives of those around us.

Again, though, this is an interesting side concept. Biblical scholars point to the meaning of this word in this passage as focusing on spiritual powers having control in the world, and over people.

"World forces of this darkness" is a concept built of three words:

The word translated as "world forces" is transliterated "kosmokrator." This word is used only in this passage, and means "lord of the world, prince of this age; the devil and his demons."

The word translated as "darkness" is transliterated "skotos," meaning "darkness of night; darkness of darkened eyesight or blindness; metaphorically of ignorance respecting divine things and human duties, and the accompanying ungodliness and immorality, together with their consequent misery in hell; persons in whom darkness becomes visible and holds sway."

We can pull this together into a picture of Satan and the way he works in the world, where he has dominion. Note also, that the word translated "darkness" can refer to "persons in whom darkness becomes visible and holds sway," this doens't indicate that these persons themselves are that which we are fighting, but the darkness that is being manifested in them. This is, perhaps, a fancy way of restating, "Hate the sin, love the sinner."

The third concept of what we are fighting is translated here, "spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."

The word translated "spiritual" is transliterated "pneumatikos," and translates as "sprit." The specific meaning that fits in this passage is "belonging to a spirit, or a being higher than man but inferior to God."

The word translated as "wickedness" is transliterated "poneria," meaning "depravity, iniquity, wickedness; malice; evil purposes and desires." That's pretty straightforward.

The word translated "heavenly" is transliterated "epouranios," which translates pretty much into our current "heavenly." We tend to think of "heavenly" as meaning "good," or "superior," but in this passage it can't be indicitave of anything good or superior, and therefore must designate that we're talking about a spiritual realm, a higher reality, and not the physical world visible around us. This stands in contrast to what this passage says we do not contend against, i.e. "flesh and blood," or worldly enemies.

This is not meant to be the final word on how we can apply this passage, either in our lives or as we struggle to put an end to abortion. But it's certainly a start.


Kathy said...


Anonymous said...

Romans 13:1
¹ Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Ephesians 6:12
¹² 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.