John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

2 (Ephesians 2:2)

Verse 2

2.In which for some time ye walked. From the effects or fruits, he draws a proof that sin formerly reigned in them; for, until sin displays itself in outward acts, men are not sufficiently aware of its power. When he adds, according to the course of this world, (120) he intimates that the death which he had mentioned rages in the nature of man, and is a universal disease. He does not mean that course of the world which God has ordained, nor the elements, such as the heaven, and earth, and air, — but the depravity with which we are all infected; so that sin is not peculiar to a few, but pervades the whole world.

According to the prince of the power of the air. He now proceeds farther, and explains the cause of our corruption to be the dominion which the devil exercises over us. A more severe condemnation of mankind could not have been pronounced. What does he leave to us, when he declares us to be the slaves of Satan, and subject to his will, so long as we live out of the kingdom of Christ? Our condition, therefore, though many treat it with ridicule, or, at least, with little disapprobation, may well excite our horror. Where is now the free-will, the guidance of reason, the moral virtue, about which Papists babble to much? What will they find that is pure or holy under the tyranny of the devil? On this subject, indeed, they are extremely cautious, and denounce this doctrine of Paul as a grievous heresy. I maintain, on the contrary, that there is no obscurity in the apostle’s language; and that all men who live according to the world, that is, according to the inclinations of their flesh, are here declared to fight under the reign of Satan.

In accordance with the practice of the inspired writers, the Devil is mentioned in the singular number. As the children of God have one head, so have the wicked; for each of the classes forms a distinct body. By assigning to him the dominion over all wicked beings, ungodliness is represented as an unbroken mass. As to his attributing to the devil power over the air, that will be considered when we come to the sixth chapter. At present, we shall merely advert to the strange absurdity of the Manicheans, in endeavoring to prove from this passage the existence of two principles, as if Satan could do anything without the Divine permission. Paul does not allow him the highest authority, which belongs to the will of God alone, but merely a tyranny which God permits him to exercise. What is Satan but God’s executioner to punish man’s ingratitude? This is implied in Paul’s language, when he represents the success of Satan as confined to unbelievers; for the children of God are thus exempted from his power. If this be true, it follows that Satan does nothing but under the control of a superior: and that he is not ( αὐτοκράτωρ) an unlimited monarch.

We may now draw from it also this inference, that ungodly men have no excuse in being driven by Satan to commit all sorts of crimes. Whence comes it that they are subject to his tyranny, but because they are rebels against God? If none are the slaves of Satan, but those who have renounced the service, and refuse to yield to the authority, of God, let them blame themselves, for having so cruel a master.

By the children of disobedience, according to a Hebrew idiom, are meant obstinate persons. Unbelief is always accompanied by disobedience; so that it is the source — the mother of all stubbornness.

- John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible