Powerful Practices: Paul's Principalities and Powers Revisited

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Moses, Robert Ewusie


Hays, Richard B

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The concept of principalities and powers is crucial for understanding Paul's theology and ethics, since for Paul the powers pervade all aspects of existence. We contend that Paul's conception of the powers is unintelligible without a developed account of the practices he advocated for the early believers. Thus, this study proposes "practice" as a category for understanding Paul's powers. A detailed study of Paul's letters reveals that there are certain practices that Paul believes guard believers from the dominion of the powers. Other practices, however, expose humans to the work of powers of darkness. We have labeled these practices as "powerful practices," activities that guard believers from the dominion of the powers or make believers and unbelievers vulnerable to the powers.

To achieve our aims in this study, we present other models offered for understanding the powers, embodied in the work of four Western scholars: Clinton Arnold, Rudolf Bultmann, Hendrik Berkhof, and Walter Wink. We show how each of the models represented by these scholars is inadequate for understanding Paul's principalities and powers, not least because each proposed model of the powers inhabits modernity's unfortunate dichotomy between theory and practice. This study hopes to move beyond this modern divide and to contribute to the conversation on how theological conviction is embedded in Christian practices.

We, thus, draw on two contemporary accounts of practices--in the works of Alasdair MacIntyre and Pierre Bourdieu--to shed light on a practical understanding of Paul's theology of the powers. Next, we investigate Paul's letters for "powerful practices." We show that Paul offers practices such as baptism, preaching, and ecclesial discipline as ways for engaging the powers. Paul also forbids such practices as idolatry and idol sacrificial meals, because these practices expose believers to demonic powers.

Finally, since the study of the powers cannot be isolated from context and context-driven questions, we provide a cross-cultural perspective to our study by investigating how the powers are interpreted in the African context in light of African traditional religious beliefs and practices. We draw on Paul's powerful practices to respond to contextual issues that arise within the African context.


Doctor of Theology




Moses, Robert Ewusie (2012). Powerful Practices: Paul's Principalities and Powers Revisited. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/5731.


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