Principalities and powers are two names or titles given to spiritual forces, along with authorities, and rulers. Depending on the version of the Bible being used, the words “principalities” and “powers” occur more or less frequently. The King James Version and its derivatives (NKJV, MKJV) use the words principalities and powers most frequently. These spiritual forces are mentioned in six different Scripture passages.
The first occurrence is in Romans 8:37-39. In this passage, Paul makes the point that there is nothing in heaven or earth that can separate believers from God’s love. Principalities and powers are included in the list of things that are unable to separate us from God. In this context, principalities and powers can mean demonic forces themselves, or the false prophets and teachers empowered by demonic forces to come against the truth and deceive us. In either case, the passage is clear that they will not succeed.
The second occurrence is in Colossians 1:16, which says that principalities and powers are among the created beings, made by God for His purposes. The fact that God made and sustains the very enemies that rebel against Him is a mind-boggling reality that may never be fully clear to us. He is the King, and has a purpose for everything—even for evil principalities and powers (Proverbs 16:4; Daniel 4:35; Isaiah 46:10-11).
Again in Colossians, we see that principalities and powers have been defeated and shamed by Jesus Christ’s work on the cross (Colossians 2:15). The verse says they have been “disarmed” and that Jesus “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15 NIV). Satan’s goal has always been to steal the affections of mankind from God, and to then destroy His beloved creation. But Jesus made it possible for all who believe to be reconciled to God—apart from the law, and in spite of any and all sins by which Satan has tempted them (Romans 3:21-28).
Two more references to principalities and powers are found in Ephesians. The first passage talks about the heavenly powers and authorities, who see the church, Christ’s body, advancing through the world and understand something about God’s wisdom by what they see (Ephesians 3:10-11). This concept is seen again in 1 Peter 1:12, as Peter speaks of the gospel as something “into which angels long to look.” These principalities and powers are holy, good, and powerful, and they love to see the display of God’s work and wisdom on the earth. Conversely, the unholy principalities and powers are unhappy to see God’s work and wisdom through humanity, and they struggle against us to defeat us (Ephesians 6:12). That being so, they will not win. As Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress, says: The Prince of Darkness Grim / We tremble not for him / His rage will not endure / For lo, his doom is sure / one little Word shall fell him (Romans 16:20; Revelation 20:10).
The last reference in the Bible to principalities and powers is in Titus 3:1. This is a reference to earthly authorities and governments, who are ultimately placed over us by God’s will. We are told to submit to governments out of respect for the God who ordained their rule over us. Rebellion against earthly authority brings judgment (Romans 13:2).