“you once.” This is a good translation of pote (#4218 ποτέ). The idea is that we formerly, or previously, walked according to the world.
“according to the ways of this world.” The Greek is “according to the aiōn (#165 αἰών) of the kosmos (#2889 κόσμος).” When a person walks in accord with the aiōn of this kosmos, he walks in a way that conforms to the world in its present fallen and corrupt state. The Greek word aiōn gets translated “age,” most of the time, but it is important that we think of “age” the same way the Greeks did. Generally, when we think of “age,” we mean a period of time. Although the word did refer to a period of time, it referred to the thinking and attitudes that existed in that age. Trench writes that aiōn refers to “All that floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims, aspirations, at any time current in the world, which it may be impossible to cease and accurately define, but which constitutes a most real and effective power, being the moral, or immoral, atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again, inevitably to exhale,—all this is included in the aiōn….”a
Just as the owners of a Mexican or Chinese restaurant work hard to create an “atmosphere” that represents their home country, the Adversary works hard to make sure that this world has an “ungodly atmosphere,” and that “atmosphere” is the aiōn of this world (kosmos). The unsaved and the ignorant Christians do not even notice that the “atmosphere” of this world is ungodly, and they follow the culture without thinking much about it.
Because the word aiōn includes the idea of time and behavior, we felt that in this verse the behavioral aspect was being emphasized because of the verb “walk,” and went with “ways.”
“ruler.” The Greek is archōn (#758 ἄρχων), “ruler.” The translation of archōn as “prince” started early in the English translations, especially the King James Version, primarily due to the Septuagint, which used archōn in Old Testament passages that referred to a prince (cp. Gen. 34:2). In modern English, the word “prince” can be misleading because it almost always refers to the son of the king, and that is not the meaning of archōn when it refers to the Devil, and therefore the word “ruler” is better.
“of the authority.” The Greek word for authority is exousia (#1849 ἐξουσία), and in this verse, it is a genitive singular noun. As a singular, it can refer as a collective whole to the demons through whom the Devil exercises his authority, and/or it can refer to the realm of the Devil’s authority. Thus the meaning of the verse includes both that the Devil is the “ruler of the demons who influence the air,” and the Devil is the “ruler of the realm of the air.”
“of the air.” The “air” can be literal because the Devil controls and to some extent lives in the air. However, the “air” can legitimately refer to the “atmosphere” of evil that exists in the world, which is part of the understanding of aiōn. This may be an excellent example of the figure of speech, amphibologia, double meaning. Both meanings are true and can be textually supported by the vocabulary.
[See figure of speech “amphibologia.”]
In the war between God and the Devil, the Devil works to use the “air,” the weather, against God’s people whenever he can. In Job 1:19, the Devil influenced the weather and a powerful wind came from the desert and killed Job’s children (Job 1:19). When the people of earth ignore God and His commands, the Devil has more active ability to affect the weather and afflict mankind. When God’s people are being obedient to God, then God can protect them and the weather is a blessing to people. There are many verses in the Old Testament that show the weather is greatly affected by the godliness or wickedness of the people (Lev. 18:24-25; Deut. 11:13-17; 28:1-40; Ps. 107:33-34; Jer. 3:2-3; 12:4; 23:10; Amos 4:6-10).
“at work.” The Greek is energeō (#1754 ἐνεργέω), a verb that means “works” or “energizes.”
“those who are disobedient.” Literally, “sons of defiance,” or “sons of disobedience.” The Greek is apeitheia (#543 ἀπείθεια), and refers to willful disobedience.