The phrase “god of this age” is found once in the Bible:
In their case the god of this world (aion, age) 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. (2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV)
Background – This evil age
Some versions (including the ESV above somewhat confusingly translate “age” as “world”, but the meaning is this time, this period, rather than this planet or realm. The “princes of this age” who crucified Christ (1 Co 2:6, 8), “the present evil age” (Gal 1:4), principalities and powers named in this age (Eph 1:21), are other examples of “this age” as a corrupt force. The usage is similar to some of the uses of “this world” (cosmos) as an evil realm:
Now is the judgment of this world (kosmos): now shall the prince of this world (kosmos) be cast out… (John 12:31)
The two ideas combine in the following verse :
in which you once walked, following the course (aion, age) of this world (kosmos), following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2)
Background – What is a god?
To answer what the “god of this age” is, we first need to ask what is a god? Fundamentally in the Bible a god is something that is worshipped as a god. In the Old Testament this generally means idols, particularly the gods of the Gentile nations, and the majority of the 220-odd occurrences of “gods” in the Bible refer to those. And incidentally “gods” is never used to refer to angels or judges, a mistaken idea based on the King James Version having followed the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew in some passages, but which is corrected in most cases in modern versions. This use of “gods” continues into the New Testament:
“For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— (1 Corinthians 8:5)
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. (Galatians 4:8)
But perhaps the most relevant to “the god of this age” is “their god is their belly” (Philippians 3:19) which goes beyond the idea of idols to personify, or deify, physical lusts, such as greed, as a god. This belly god is part of Paul’s overall view of “this evil age”, and therefore must form part of Paul’s concept of “the god of this age”.
Background – Paul’s God of not-this-age
In explaining the “god of this age” the obvious opposite counterpart is “the God of heaven”, a title given to God 20 times in the Old Testament and twice in Revelation (Rev 11:13, 16:11). This title occurs far more often than similar titles such as “the God of glory” (once in Psalm 29:3 and Stephen in Acts 7:2 only).
However “the God of heaven” is not a Pauline term. Instead Paul if he qualifies God, does so in terms of relationship – such as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory”, (Eph 1:17), but more often with God’s qualities: “the God of endurance and encouragement” (Romans 15:3), “the God of hope” (Rom 15:13), “the God of peace” (Rom 15:33, 16:20, Philippians 4:9, 1 Thess 5:23, cf. Heb 13:20), “the God of love and peace” (2 Co 13:11).
So what did Paul mean by the “god of this age”?
The above three sections were setting out the stall, as it were, to look at “god” and “this age” in the context of Paul’s view of gods and the age, before jumping straight into an answer.
The first answer that can probably be ruled out is the normal New Testament Satan. It might be surprising to rule this out as it is probably the one that many people expect. Yet Paul follows strictly the Old Testament teaching that there is no god but One: “there is no elohim besides Me” (Deuteronomy 32:39, Hebrew text), “apart from Me there is no elohim” (Isaiah 44:6, Hebrew text). Simply because of the Old Testament teaching of One God, only, Paul could not apply the term “god” to Satan in the same casual way as he applies it to “belly”. Although (please see the other answers on this website concerning Satan) Paul does not conceive of Satan as existing as a literal being, nevertheless the literary origin of Satan in late Old Testament books, Zechariah and Job, is as a heavenly accuser, a kind of angel. The temptation accounts of Jesus also introduce Satan to the New Testament as an angel-like device, acting out elements of the Zechariah 3 and Job 1 precedents. So to use “god” in any way relating to Satan – even when Paul writes around Satan as a literary device, personification or parable – would be cutting too close to the Old Testament teaching of no elohim but One. Paul cannot even hint that Zechariah and Job’s heavenly courtier could rise to be a “god”.
The above paragraph may require reading twice and a pause to think.
Those who are accustomed to the (justified from Old Testament precedent in Zechariah and Job) reading of Satan in the New Testament as a parable of sin may at first not see why it is a problem to roll Paul’s “god of this age” into terms such as “prince of this world” (John 12, above) or “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2, above), after all the terms are certainly similar. Is is it then really significant that Paul should upgrade his language from “prince” (Greek archon) to “god” (Greek theos) in dealing with the scriptural devil, sin and death? Well, yes. Paul chooses his words with precision, perhaps more so than any other writer in the Bible. Paul does not have any problem with using the terms “Satan” or “devil” frequently, sometimes in challenging and jarring contexts. If he has chose here to use other language it is deliberate.
Go back to the context – what do we know about this “god”. We know it is worshipped, because being worshipped is what makes a god a god. We know it is of this evil age, part of the zeitgeist of Paul’s day. We also know that it blinds. It is this identification of the “god of this age” as a blinding god which brings us nearest to an answer. This verb “to blind” is only used three times in the New Testament. Once of God himself by Jesus (John 12:40 citing Isaiah 6:10), once by Paul of “the god of this age”, and once by John describing the darkness in which he who hates his brother walks (1 John 2:11).
So, a suggested answer:
The natural contrast in 2 Corinthians 4:4 is to see Paul as expanding on John 12:40 and Isaiah 6:10 to make clear what is already there in Isaiah, that the blame for the blinding of the age is not on God, but on the choices of the age itself. As such Paul’s phrase is perfectly in accord with 1 John 2:11 which identifies the cause of blindness as the choice of the man to walk in darkness. It is not a god-angel which blinds the brother-hater in 1 John 2:11, but the choice of the brother-hater himself.
But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:11)
So there in 1 John 2:11 is our god of our age. Likewise Paul’s “god of this age” in 2 Cor 4:4 is not a simple equation with the general parable of Satan in the New Testament. It is something special, a special personification, or deification, of all that is worshipped in this age – whether that be the wisdom of this age, wealth, power, or any other part of the darkness of the age that blinds. 2 Corinthians 4:4 describes a blinding god. It is worshipped and blinds. If we are letting the local context of 2 Corinthians 4 decide it a different creature than the standard New Testament Satan.
Footnote : 2 Corinthians 11:14?
Against the above conclusion however it has to be noted that there is the possibility that 2 Corinthians 4:4 looks forward to the “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” material of 2 Corinthians 11:14. This is discussed in a separate answer elsewhere on this site (How does Satan disguise himself as an angel of light? ). That 2 Corinthians 11 material is one of the most “difficult to understand” (as Peter called them in 2 Peter 3:16) passages in Paul’s writings, not least because it is probably addressing an extra-biblical Jewish legend circulating among some of the Corinthian church. But again the 2 Corinthians 11:14 material is clearly and specifically identifying Satan as an “angel” not as a “god”, so if anything the 2 Corinthians 11:14 reference to Satan as an angel makes a stronger cases that the “god” in 2 Corinthians 4:4 is exactly what Paul says, a god, and not an angel.