Biblical considerations on the ‘god of this world’:
It is the first part of this verse that I mainly wish to discuss. As with some other passages in this series, it may not be a difficult text as such, but it is susceptible to misunderstanding. Let me feature it in six different translations, in order to make a point about it:
ESV: In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
HCSB: In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
NASB: in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they will not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
NIV: The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
NKJV: whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
NLT: Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
As can be deduced from this list, the word “Satan” is not actually found in the Greek, but has been supplied by some of the translations. Those with a Greek New Testament can readily look this up. So it is being assumed that Satan is the one called the god of this world, or this age.
And I agree with others that Satan indeed is the one being referred to here. But it is how we understand all this that I want to discuss. Some Christians seem to think that he is some all-powerful enemy of God who has the world completely under his thumb.
Other verses also omit the name Satan but make the clear implication. For example, in John 12:31 Jesus says this: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” And in Ephesians 2:1-2 Paul writes: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
So we find Satan described as “the god of this world,” “the ruler of this world,” and “the prince of the power of the air.” All this is nothing to sneeze at. He has real powers and is doing real damage indeed. But that does not mean he is somehow God’s equal. And it does not mean we should have absolutely nothing to do with this world. Let me look at each matter in turn.
As to the first, there are at least two extremes we must avoid. To deny that reality of a malevolent, personal spiritual being is to deny the entirety of the biblical witness. But to think Satan is some great power who is fully on a par with God is also quite incorrect.
Christians do not believe in metaphysical dualism. That is, we do not believe there are two equal and two eternal spiritual forces in the universe. There is just one living God – end of story. Satan happens to be a created being. He is not omnipotent and so on.
And we believe that while God allows him to do some dirty deeds on planet earth, all this is limited. Just as Satan was allowed to torment Job only as much as God allowed or permitted (see Job 1:12 and 2:6 eg.), so too in other areas. God has Satan on a leash in other words. And that is good news indeed.
God is on the throne – not Satan. God is working out his purposes – not Satan. God is sovereign – not Satan. But yes, Satan and the demonic hordes can do great damage indeed, which is why we must always have on our spiritual armour (as in Ephesians 6:10-20, eg.), and why we must keep praying and engaging in spiritual warfare. Let me offer a quote from the commentary by George Guthrie on this:
In calling Satan a “god,” the apostle does not ascribe divine status to the evil one but rather speaks of the functional status given him and the subordination of the fallen world to him. The phrase is comparable to John’s “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Ever since the fall, this “god” has beclouded the Word of God (Gen. 3:1), blinding the minds (1 John 2:11) of those who do not believe. Thus peoples’ minds constitute one very significant battleground in the cosmic conflict between God’s gospel and the twisted machinations of the god of this world (2 Cor. 2:11; 3:14; 4:4; 10:5; 11:3).
And Judith Diehl stresses the limits of Satan’s ‘rule’:
The “god of this age” is a unique phrase, as it occurs only here in the NT. It refers to Satan and the dominion that he has over those who reject God and his agent, Jesus Christ (see 2:10–11). Here, Satan represents lawlessness, darkness, unbelief, moral depravity, and the worship of idols (see 6:16, especially apparent in polytheistic Corinth). Paul is fully aware of Satan as his personal adversary and Satan’s attempts to impede Paul’s mission and his unique calling to ministry. We can notice, too, that in Paul’s view, the power and influence of Satan are limited to “this age.”
See here for more on the reality of Satan: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/01/17/yes-the-devil-is-real/
And see here for more on the need for spiritual warfare and protection: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2019/11/06/dressed-for-battle/
Consider also the matter of the world and our involvement in it. When we read about how Satan is the god of this world, we need to be clear on just what is being said. The Greek word for world – cosmos – is used in different ways in the New Testament. Often it can just mean the globe that we all happen to inhabit.
But at other times it refers to the current evil system that we must have nothing to do with. Thus, we all LIVE in this world, but believers are not to take part in the evil, worldly system that is all around us. That we can do both simultaneously is made clear by Paul when he said this in another context:
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
We are in the world but not of it, as the saying goes. Thus we can enjoy life on earth, including – because of God’s common grace – the many good things we find here, including aspects of food and drink, learning, work, leisure, culture, music, the arts, literature, poetry, sculpture and so on. But we avoid entanglements with any spiritual forces of darkness that are at work.
See more on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/08/16/world-affirming-or-world-denying/
In sum: yes, Satan is the god of this world. But that does not mean he is in any way equal to the one true God. And the world is a mixed bag. Because we are all fallen and sinful, our world is fallen and sinful, and Satan exploits that to the max. But still, the world is God’s world. He made it and pronounced it good. Although tarnished and stained now, it will one day be recreated for us to enjoy forever.
I finish with some positive words from Sam Storms:
Satan is indeed active and operative and powerful in his efforts to blind and bind those who know not Christ. But God’s gracious work through his Spirit is more powerful still. Our prayer for unsaved friends and family must be that God would sovereignly dispel the darkness of unbelief and shine the light of truth into their hardened and spiritually lifeless souls, giving them a taste for the sweetness of the saving mercies of Christ and an eye for his incomparable beauty.