Some Brief Interpretive Comments on the Armor of God (Ephesians 6)

Below is another excerpt from a paper I wrote based on Ephesians 6, specifically in regards to the powers. This is an exegetical outline of the armor of God. At times, it may seem to flow out of sync, but please keep in mind this is an excerpt from a larger paper :-)…
The first piece of armor is described as a belt of truth. The admonition is that one is to gird the loins. Truth is a main theme that runs throughout the letter to the Ephesians (1.13; 4.15, 21, 24-25; 5.9). This truth is that God has acted in the world in Jesus (4.21) and is demonstrated by those who follow Christ through their relationships to each other (4.15, 25).[1] The gospel in its essence is true and this truth must hold everything together.[2] This illustration would find much of its roots in the Greek (LXX) version of Isaiah 11.5, “where God’s anointed one will gird himself with truth.”[3] Taking on the weaponry of the anointed one means that the truth in Jesus will dismantle the lies of the powers.
The second piece of armor is the breastplate of righteousness/ justice. Most English translations have chosen to transliterate the Greek word, dikaiosunē as righteousness. This very word can also mean justice, so it is important not to miss the implications. In Isaiah 59.17 (see also, Wisdom 5.18) God wears a breastplate representative of righteousness/ justice. The reason that this is significant is because the larger story of this text describes God’s just intervention on the behalf of those who were being tortured and killed without cause. God’s justice and judgment were grounds for him to intervene. Now, it is the role of the church to wear justice and judge the affairs of the powers as evil for the sake of the oppressed.[4] In this way, the holy community’s actions are a signpost towards the final consummation of God’s justice when he will “put the whole world to rights.”[5]
The third piece of armor has to do with wearing shoes that will “make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Initially this seems a bit paradoxical. How can there be peace in the midst of warfare? Does peace function in order to prepare one for this cosmic battle?[6] Yoder Neufeld insists that no paradox is present in this passage. In Isaiah 52.7, the messenger announces the good news of peace, which is where Paul draws from for his illustration. It is good news because victory has already been achieved through the end of conflict. The situation of the Ephesians text speaks of “the readiness to announce peace” which “…means that peace is not yet fully present.” [7] When Christ has finished his work of gathering up all things, then peace will be fully realized; but until then, the assault on the powers will include proclaiming the peace that will one day be brought in its fullness.
The fourth piece of armor is the shield of faith. The Greek word pistis can mean faith (traditional rendering in this passage), trust, or faithfulness. In order to better discern what a proper translation into English should be, perhaps the question of ‘who does the faith belong to’ ought to be asked? It has already been demonstrated that the armor is that of God himself. Logically, it is not as though God needs human faith to be able to attack and shield evil. God’s own faithfulness is what is useful in battle. [8] In Genesis 15.1, God is Abram’s shield[9] and in Psalm 91.4 his “faithfulness is a shield.” The faithfulness of God will protect the church as it marches on the offensive, while battle is waged against the powers.[10]
The fifth piece of armor is the call to grasp the helmet of salvation. Many commentators, including Best, understand this to be a reference to the salvation that one receives from God by faith and the assurance thereof.[11] The rhetoric in Scripture often uses the word salvation how many might think of the term. In Isaiah 59.17, God is the liberator who puts on the helmet of salvation to rescue those who are bound. The Greek word that is used in both the Isaiah (LXX) passage as well as in verse 17 is sōtērion for salvation. Earlier, in Ephesians 1.13, the more common word for salvation, sōtēria, was employed. This comparison highlights the fact that Paul was intentionally using the Isaiah passage as the backdrop of his statement about the helmet. What this implies is not the individual security of the believer, but is rather “meant to place on the church the task of bringing liberation to those in bondage by imitating the God of Isaiah 59.”[12]
The sixth and final piece of armor is the sword of the spirit, which is clarified as the word of God. Many have been tempted to claim this to be a direct reference to the whole Bible. Others, refute this and hold that the word is that which is spoken under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit.[13] It certainly cannot refer to the Bible, since when Paul wrote this letter, the cannon was not yet completed. The ‘word’ is the message of the cleansing work that Christ accomplishes in the lives of those who belong to his body (compare to 5.26). It most likely finds its roots in Isaiah 11.4-5 where the Messiah’s mouth is like a rod (sword).[14]

After Paul has listed all of the weapons of the armor, he turns the attention of the reader/ hearer on the importance of prayer. Prayer is seen by some as an extension of the armor of God listed in the previous verse. Others discredit this understanding by pointing out that prayer is not compared with a physical weapon, and therefore ought to be understood differently.[15] Whatever the case may be, it is clear that in the struggle to fight the powers prayer is a critical component. Prayer is needed so that everyone stays alert (verse 18) in the midst of warring against evil. It unites the body behind their common purpose, creating a sense of solidarity. Prayer also empowers the body through the infilling of the Spirit in order to bring courage in the midst of the battle.[16]
[1]Yoder Neufeld, Thomas R., Ephesians, 299.
[2]N.T. (Tom) Wright, The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, 2d ed. Paul For Everyone (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 74.
[3]Yoder Neufeld, Thomas R., Ephesians, 299.
[4]Ibid., 300.
[5]Wright, The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, 74.
[6]Lincoln, Andrew T., Ephesians, 449.
[7]Yoder Neufeld, Thomas R., Ephesians, 301-302.
[8]Yoder Neufeld, Thomas R., Ephesians, 301-302.
[9]Schnackenburg, Ephesians: A Commentary, 278.
[10]Yoder Neufeld, Thomas R., Ephesians, 302.
[11]Best, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians, 602.
[12]Yoder Neufeld, Thomas R., Ephesians, 303.
[13]Wimber and Springer, Power Healing, 123.
[14]Wright, The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, 75.
[15]Barth, Ephesians: Translation and Commentary on Chapters 4-6, 786.
[16]Yoder Neufeld, Thomas R., Ephesians, 305-306.
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  • jason

    Nice… I like it… What I find interesting is the view of the “sword of the spirit” as being the Bible. A fundamentalist argument for that (which I disagree with but…) is that since the Holy Spirit was the inspiration for Paul writing that, he did not have to have an understanding of the cannon. In other words… he wrote the words not realizing their full meaning… the full meaning came to fruition with the cannoninzation of the Bible. I have heard this argument a lot when someone is trying to explain something in their context that does not make sense in the original context. thats my comment for now…

  • Kurt Willems

    sounds to me like many people want to remove the bible from its historical context… huge danger!!!! As much as we believe that the bible had a divine element within its composision, we must equally hold to the fact that there was a very real human element as well. For instance, Paul says in one place “I Paul say this, not the Lord…” Anytime we fall into the slippery slope of hyper literalism and anti intellectual scholarship, sky is the limit for what can be justified by the scriptures…

  • clarissa.

    It makes sense that prayer was used as
    “an extension of armor”…prayer is fundamental in every aspect
    of life. It is a great source of comfort. I love the way you weave
    your words and allow your readers to clearly understand what you’re
    trying to convey.