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The Whole Armor of God

23 Aug

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always preserve in supplication for all the saints.

Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.[1]

The Whole Armor of God in the Letter to the Ephesians is attributed to the Apostle Paul or one of his disciples. The Whole Armor of God reinforces that Christians participate in a fierce struggle, which the biblical passage encourages Christians to vigorously engage. Christians are equipped with defensive armor and an offensive weapon that has been provided by God.[2]

The struggle, however, is spiritual. Ephesians 6: 10-13 identifies the dynamic of the fierce struggle as πάλη, which literally translates as wrestle [3]. This term invokes the concept of an opponent, yet the opponents are not of flesh and blood. Christians are summoned to firmly oppose the trickery of the devil demonstrated through the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil. Raymond E. Brown in An Introduction to the New Testament states that
usually evil or, at least, capable of being understood as rivals to Christ, they are  superhuman (angelic or diabolic [Eph 6:11]) and have a type of control over human  destiny….A modern demythologizing interpretation would see them as powerful
 earthly agents that seek to dominate people’s live (government, military, etc.),  but does such reduction to human tyranny retain what Pauline writers meant to convey? Eph 6:12 explicitly distinguishes between a struggle against principalities,
powers, and world rulers (pl. of kosmokrator) of this present darkness and a struggle against flesh and blood.
[4]
In essence, Brown questions whether a twenty-first century interpretation of rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of darkness as earthly agents jeopardizes the intention of the Pauline author. If the divine, superhuman opponent with ability to manipulate human destiny is transformed into earthy, human tyrants dominating human experience then the message is improperly conveyed. Therefore, arguably the Pauline opponents were not earthy agents but rather spiritual agents of the devil.

Ephesians 6: 14-17 compares the protective armor of the Christian to that of the Roman soldier, however the armor is spiritual instead of physical. Accordingly the armor represents elements of Christian practice, in order to firmly oppose the trickery of evil and continue Christian discipleship.[5]

Ephesians 6:14 introduces the belt of truth.  The Roman belt bound the entirety of Roman armor together.
“Likewise, truth holds everything together in our Christian walk, and therefore is paramount. Without the truth revealed to us by God in scripture, there would be no righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation for us to “put on.” Without the truth revealed to us by God in Scripture, we would not have the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”[6]
Christian truth revealed through the Holy Scripture enables righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation.

Ephesians 6:14 also introduces the breastplate of righteousness (δικαιοσυνης). The original Greek, δικαιοσυνης, encompasses the character of equity or Christian justification [7]. Righteousness may invoke appropriate Christian behavior.[8] Davina C. Lopez, in Apostle to the Conquered: Reimagining Paul’s Mission, states that
“the Roman cuirassed [breastplate] statue functioned as an important form of honorific dedication that would have been recognized as such in Rome and its provinces….Cuirassed portrait statues utilized iconographic programs to communicate to the viewers the message of imperial victory, Roman identity, and non-Roman subjugation. Often such programs visually documented Roman territorial expansion and invasion, communicating that such conquest ensured peace.”[9]
The Roman breastplate represented identity, honor, expansion, and the assurance of peace. Similarly, the Christian breastplate embraces identity, honor, expansion, and the assurance of peace. The Christian breastplate represents Christian identity through discipleship and practice. The Christian breastplate represents honor demonstrated in justification through grace. The Christian breastplate represents the expansion of Pauline Christianity throughout the Roman Empire and into the communities of Gentiles. The Christian breastplate represents peace in the Holy Gospel through the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ. In essence, the Christian breastplate incorporated established associations of the Roman breastplate into the spiritual (and political) struggles of the Christian community.

Ephesians 6:15 introduces shoes for our feet to proclaim the gospel of peace.
“Scripture sometimes uses the imagery of walking to represent our daily conduct, such as Paul says, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, KJV). Therefore, when Paul says that the “gospel of peace” is as foot gear for our Christian walk, he is telling us that the intellectual content of the gospel must not only be a topic of discussion during certain specific times and activities, but that it must be an integral and pervasive part of our daily conduct. In the context of spiritual warfare, the gospel is the means by which we will stand our ground, as well as advance the kingdom of God.”[10]
The concept of footwear and proclaiming the gospel are intimately connected with Christian discipleship. Christians are called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus the Christ (a good message of love and of peace), to follow the footsteps of Christ, and to stand firmly opposed to the oppression of evil.

Ephesians 6:16 introduces the shield of faith (πίστεως). Faith is the reliance upon Jesus the Christ for and the assurance of salvation. [11] Christians, particularly Lutherans, confess justification by the grace of God alone through faith in, or reliance upon, Jesus the Christ. Ephesians 6:16 explores the shield that extinguishes all the flaming (πεπυρωμένα) arrows of the evil one. The original Greek, πεπυρωμένα, literally is ‘having been made fiery’. However, figuratively represents the concept of inflamed with anger, grief, lust, etc.[12] The Christian shield, therefore, demonstrates reliance upon Jesus the Christ is able to extinguish the inflamed arrows of sin, particularly anger, grief, and lust. Christians acknowledge captivity to sin, but Jesus the Christ released those bonds. Similarly, the Christian shield extinguishes the flames of temptations and sin.

Ephesians 6:17 introduces the helmet of salvation. Salvation is deliverance from evil spiritual powers.[13]  “When Paul writes that salvation is as a helmet, it means that the biblical truth about salvation is meant to protect our minds.”[14] The Christian helmet is the awareness of salvation through the Holy Gospel, which defends Christians from intellectual and spiritual struggles involving evil.

Ephesians 6:17 also introduces the sole offensive weapon of Christianity, which is the sword (μάχαιραν) of the Spirit. The sword, μάχαιραν, is a symbol of war or judicial punishment. Similarly, the presence of the Holy Spirit Gospel is a double-blade instrument of Law and Gospel.
“The gospel is indeed good news to God’s elect, and it brings the believer to a state of peace with God and his people. It is the “fragrance of life” to those who accept it, but as it is also a weapon against the enemy, it carries the “smell of death” to those who reject its claims and demands (2 Corinthians 2:16). Thus the one who preaches the gospel brings the power of God to summon and to save those whom God has chosen to believe, and at the same time brings destruction and condemnation to those whom God has designated as reprobates. The one who preaches the gospel is God’s massager, releasing the power to save and to destroy, to justify and to condemn.”[15]
Similarly, the Law and Gospel are to be summoned together. However, when the gospel of Jesus the Christ is present, the Holy Spirit is present, and the double-blade Christian sword is present as well.

“Martyn Lloyd-Jones observes that there are three dangers when it comes to spiritual warfare: 1) Thinking that there is no warfare, 2) Avoiding the warfare, and 3) Fighting with the wrong weapons…because we are at war, and because there is evil forces in this world that threaten the peace and unity that Christ has established for the church, Paul concludes his letter with a call to arms.
Admittedly, Paul’s emphasis here is on the defensive.”[16]
The Whole Armor of God, Ephesians 6: 10-20, expresses a call to arms in a spiritual struggle against evil. The defensive and offensive equipment required for this struggle has been provided. However, Biblical texts depicting militant Christianity should be regarded with particular delicacy. The Christians exposed must be educated that the nature of the struggle is spiritual, rather than mistaken for physical battle. The armor of God as the spiritual assets of truth, righteousness,  peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God must be reinforced. Thus, the individual does not emphasis the physical assets of belts, breastplates, shoes, shields, helmets, and swords.

[1] Ephesians 6: 10-20 (New Revised Standard Version)
[2] Vincent Cheung. Commentary on Ephesians (2004): 120
[3] Strong’s Concordance. http://www.eliyah.com/lexicon.html
[4] Raymond Brown.  An Introduction to the New Testament. (Doubleday, 1997): 636-637
[5] Vincent Cheung. Commentary on Ephesians (2004): 124
[6] Vincent Cheung. Commentary on Ephesians (2004): 125
[7] Strong’s Concordance. http://www.eliyah.com/lexicon.html
[8] Michael D. Coogan, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version
[9] Davina C. Lopez. Apostle to the Conquered: Reimagining Paul’s Mission (Fortress Press: Minneapolis): 39
[10] Vincent Cheung. Commentary on Ephesians (2004): 127
[11] Strong’s Concordance. http://www.eliyah.com/lexicon.html
[12] Strong’s Concordance. http://www.eliyah.com/lexicon.html
[13] Michael D. Coogan, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version
[14] Vincent Cheung. Commentary on Ephesians (2004): 124
[15] Vincent Cheung. Commentary on Ephesians (2004): 128
[16]Vincent Cheung. Commentary on Ephesians (2004): 120

*Originally Submitted (by self) for The Apostle Paul taught at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley California. 22 October 2010.

*Revised + Shortened for blog post on 23 August 2012.

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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Commentary/Exegetical

 

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