The Whole Armor of God


It must be significant that one of the most glorious and uplifting of the Epistles should terminate with a call to the battlefield. Compared to almost every other Epistle the Epistle to the Ephesians is trouble free. It also tends to major on spiritual and uplifting topics that only tangentially impinge upon the rigors of the world. Yet right at the end Paul quite brutally switches tack and moves into what must surely be one of the most blatant 'calls to arms' issued within scripture.

I also believe it is important to note that this is not just a winsome sound-bite. Paul does not issue a short pithy phrase that can be used as a rallying shout. On the contrary the Apostle appears to be at some pains to detail a sizeable list of items that the believer should acquire and deploy before answering the call. Paul is not attempting to rouse an enthusiastic rabble; he is attempting to turn of body of Christ into a fighting machine.

Much of the literature I have been able to find on Ephesians 6 appears to fall foul of one of the preceding two paragraphs. Many Ephesians commentaries are spiritual and uplifting and the authors feel compelled to treat the final chapter in a similar light. This emphasis results in a focus upon the adjectives describing the armor; to the detriment of the military overtones. Others attempt to turn this passage into an overly brief summary that largely ignores the depth and detail contained within the passage.

There is of course one famous exegesis of this passage that does not fall into the trap of sentimentalism and certainly cannot be accused of brevity. I am of course referring to 'The Christian in Complete Armour' by William Gurnall. This six hundred page tome contains a wealth of research and exegesis. John Newton claimed that if he could have only two books he would pick the Bible and that book[1]. However to the modern reader this volume is massively beyond anything that could reasonably be approached if the intent was to discover the meaning of the last chapter of Ephesians.

Thus the aim of this paper is to perform a detailed exegesis upon Ephesians 6:10-18. The intent of the exegesis will be to attempt to explain the meaning of the text as it was originally written and would have been understood by the hearers. Whilst it may use modern illustrations to clarify a point the intent is not particularly to provide a modern or practical application of the material; that is left as an exercise to the reader.

Which Armor?

I believe that a correct understanding of Ephesians 6 requires accurate extra-Biblical information regarding the nature of Roman armor and weaponry. It is unusual for me to take such a position; I generally argue that scripture is the best interpreter of scripture. Indeed up until I wrote this particular paper I have always assumed that a scriptural understanding of the military hardware referred to in this chapter would be the key to unlocking it. However as appealing as the 'sola-scriptura' mantra is; one needs to carefully consider how the readers and writer of this epistle would have interpreted what is written.

The matter of getting the correct historic context is particularly important for the extended armor metaphor that permeates this passage. It is vital partly for the centrality of the image but also because armor changed so radically over relatively brief periods of time. The Jews were frequently in a position of feeling inferior because the surrounding nations had outpaced them in the technological arms race[2]. Therefore if one assumes that the armor imagery is derived from the Old Testament one will be drawing on Jewish warcraft from the time of David; this would be completely different from the Roman regalia of the first century AD.

Apart from general preference the strongest argument for using Old Testament armor as the basis for interpretation is that there is a clear parallel between Ephesians 6 and Is 59:17. In particular both the helmet and breastplate are seen although the other details are either not seen at all or are different. The secondary argument is that armor reappears again in Revelation in an 'end-times' context. It would seem strange to assume that Roman armor will be the norm in the end-times and thus one has to assume that there is a Biblical standard for armor that is independent of the historic context of any given passage.

The counter argument stems from the fact that one must attempt to understand a passage in the same way that the original readers would have read it. It thus is noted that Paul was writing to the Ephesians: a gentile culture that would have far greater knowledge of Roman armor than of Ancient Jewish armor. In fact the whole book of Ephesians has 6 Old Testament quotes and 4 allusions[3] this is a far lower ratio than found in those books written to Jews or to a general audience[4]. In some of his other writings to Gentiles Paul is even sparser in his Old Testament usage[5]. Is it really reasonable to assume that these recent gentile converts would interpret armor imagery in the context of Old Testament writings or in the context that they saw every day of the week as they walked down the high road?

The single fact that shifted the balance of my position on this issue was the observation that this is a prison Epistle. Paul notes this fact twice[6]. It is generally reckoned[7] that this was the two year period during which Paul was under house arrest[8]. It is therefore quite probable that as Paul was writing about the 'whole armor of God' he was staring straight at the 'armor of the Roman Empire'. Of course it is still quite possible that the Holy Spirit could direct his mind to the armor of scripture despite what he was seeing.

However as the immediate context of both writer and readers would involve extensive contact with Roman armor it appears reasonable to me to assume that it is Roman armor that is principally in view in this passage. This is reinforced by the observation that immediately following this passage[9] Paul's attention is moved to his bonds. In fact the culmination of the passage is a request that they reader pray for him in his predicament

Inverting the Context: Strength and Power

Eph 6:10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

Most scripture makes best sense when read in context; however this verse introduces a context switch that is so dramatic that it might also be thought of as an inversion. The latter part of Eph 5 and the first nine verses of chapter 6 deal with the issue of submission. Submission to everyone[10], husbands[11], Christ[12], parents[13] and even slave owners[14]. The readers have been exhorted to meekness and humility even if that leads to weakness and humiliation. Yet suddenly we land upon a verse that contains three different Greek words every one of which is rendered 'strength' at least once in the KJV[15]. Of course this shift is not an accident and does not represent a real contradiction. Instead we will find an exhortation to the form of strength that will allow us to endure the task that we face.

The next thing to notice is that the strength we are exhorted to is not one that can be readily achieved by pumping iron. In fact the rendering 'be strong' could be a little misleading. The underlying word is 'endunamoo' which literally means 'in-power' or empowered. It is also in a passive tense[16] so this clause really reads: 'be empowered in the Lord'. This is most certainly not a call to self reliance or 'digging deep within yourself' or 'summoning up your energy' or 'pulling yourself together'. This final challenge is that we should seek to obtain our strength from the Lord Himself.

Of course the immediate fear we feel when faced with the suggestion that we should be strengthened by God is 'will it work?' The verse moves on to tackle this as it states that we should not just be empowered by the Lord but also by His power. The word here is 'kratos'. Strong's takes this from a root for 'vigor' or 'greatness' whilst Vine suggests[17] it comes from the root 'kra' meaning completeness and that it possibly ties in with creation. Either way the emphasis of the word that is rendered power in the KJV is that God's power is manifest. The power of God is not some abstract concept or theological assumption. The very creation in which we live declares the eternal power and Godhead of God[18]. Everything is held together by the Word of His power[19]. We can have confidence that God can strengthen us because His willingness and ability to exert force, or exude power, is seen all around. In particular it can be seen within ourselves; a point Paul reminded the Ephesians of in the opening of the Epistle[20].

Perhaps a true skeptic has one last refuge of doubt: 'Does God have enough power to go around?' Paul has anticipated this objection. With typical Greek precision they do not just define the doing of great deeds they also have a word to define the ability to do deeds. More accurately they define the inherent quality within an individual that allows those deeds to be done. The word is 'ischus' and it is the word rendered might in this verse. God does not 'somehow manage' to act powerfully; it is entirely inherent within Him. We can no more exhaust the power of God than we can measure the extent of God.

Each of these words relating to strength has a message and sometimes majesty of their own. It is however when they are strung together as they are in this verse that the full force of the suggestion hits home in a way that is almost shocking. It is the manifestation of the power of the inherently strong God that should be providing the strength that we have. Viewed this way our own feeble attempts at 'self improvement' and 'standing on our own two feet' can be seen as laughably inadequate.

I believe we therefore see the link between the practical submission of the context and the call to arms in the passage that is to follow. They are actually not antithetic but natural complements. True meekness and submission requires divine strength. Divine strength is predicated upon meekness and the ability to submit. Therefore as we enter the battlefield we must do so in the context and atmosphere of humility.

The Commitment

Eph 6:11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Many of the components of the armor of God appear to be self contained and there is a tendency to wish to pick and choose the accessories that most readily fit the lifestyle we wish to lead. However this opening verse firmly states that such an approach to this passage is wholly unacceptable.

Whilst some of the power is lost in translation the opening clause asserts that the armor of God cannot be taken piecemeal and it cannot be taken casually either. The word rendered 'put on' is 'enduo' which literally means 'sink into' or engulf. Interestingly it also is in the Middle Voice implying that this is something that one does to oneself. Whilst the armor of God is from Him, and whilst the power of His might is available to us and whilst it is Him that strengthens us; it is up to us to appropriate the armor of God to ourselves. Thus we are to take the armor voluntarily but then allow ourselves to be engulfed by it.

'Whole armor' is actually a translation of one Greek word 'panoplia'; it is the word from which we get the English 'panoply'. It can be rendered 'complete array'. When we think of Spiritual gifts and natural aptitudes we see a wide diversity amongst believers. We fully accept and expect that we differ from one another[21]. We may even allow our personal preferences to act as a guide as to which of these gifts and aptitudes we choose to exercise. The armor of God is not designed in this fashion. It is a 'one size fits all' and 'everyone should take all of it regardless of preference'. There are places for individuality and self expression but a battlefield isn't one of them.

There is however another feature of the first clause of this verse which should perhaps concern us even more than its inclusiveness. That is the seriousness of the battle we must be facing. This is the armor of God yet we are soberly enjoined to take all of it. Anyone familiar with fantasy literature will know that it is normally sufficient to take one magic sword or powerful cape in order to save the day. Yet this battle is sufficiently serious that every believer is told that he will need the complete array of divine weaponry in order to fight.

This seriousness is underscored by the fact that the panoply of armor is not required for some daring offensive or strategic push: instead it is required simply to stand our ground. This thought should be a challenge to two different strands of thought that permeate the Western church: triumphalism and progressivism. There are many that speak about the 'church victorious' and there are even some that expect the Gospel to go forth and 'defeat' the world. There are others that are constantly seeking some 'new thing' and believe that the church should leave her primitive roots as she becomes 'more enlightened'.

The fact is that on nine separate occasions[22] the church at large or some portion of it is told to 'hold fast' to what it already has. Christ was born, died and rose again that we might live with Him. We are accounted righteous in Him. We have peace with God. We are co-heirs with Christ. It doesn't get any better than that! There is no room for improvement. There is every scope and opportunity to lose ground. In fact we should note that the verse states that we need the whole armor that we might be able to stand. The clear implication is that without the whole armor of God we will be unable to even stand our ground. This is humbling yet it should be encouraging. God knew we had the need and has provided. But we must be willing to avail ourselves of His provision.

For me the scariest word encountered in the first two verses of this section is the one rendered 'wiles' in the KJV. It is a rendering of 'methodia' which literally means 'after a way' or 'to follow up after' and is noted by many lexicons as 'craft or deceit'. However I suspect that Wuest is closer with 'stratagem' and from my scientific background the word I would use is 'methodology'. We like to think of the Devil as some form of raging psychopath; in fact my neighborhood is currently regaled with many pictures of him lurking around corners carrying various weapons. But the picture given here is really of a man in a lab coat performing scientific tests, noting the results and then refining his approach.

I truly believe that this paper would be worth reading if it convinces us of nothing else other than the fact that we are in a battle with a patient, observant, intelligent, focused, determined and capable adversary. However for some these verses might almost tempt us to relax. Given the lead up from the early part of the verse we might have expected the onslaught of the evil one, or the persecution of the adversary. These things do occur. However the general threat is much subtler; it comes from the accuser[23]. The main threat facing us would appear to be that we will be tempted into something of which we can later be accused; it is not actually external events which are the major challenge to the church.

The Nature of the Battle

Eph 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

If verse eleven defines for us the commitment required for the battle then it is verse twelve that defines the nature of the battle. Again it is the opening clause of the verse that sets the tone; in this case very graphically. The word rendered 'wrestle' is 'pale'; it is a technical term for Greek wrestling. This essentially involves two naked or semi-naked men grappling with each other until one is able to hold the other to the ground by the throat. If we remember that the loser of such a contest traditionally had his eyes gouged out rendering him permanently blind[24] it is easy to envisage that this would be a close and intense battle. And this is the nature of the battle which we should be fighting daily.

We should note however that whilst our battle is 'up close and personal' it is not principally a physical battle. It is not something involving our muscle[25] and it is not something threatening our physical life[26]. This does not of course imply that believers will never have to face physical threat; obviously many do. It need not even imply that the physical threats we face are not tied to some of the issues discussed in this passage; there may well be some link. However that battle that this passage is discussing and the battle for which the armor detailed below helps is not a physical battle. I think this needs to be understood. Some of the following verses are rolled out as platitudes to people facing physical hardship. The whole armor of God is a spiritual solution to a spiritual problem. God may well help the believer on the physical battlefield; but this isn't the way He is going to do it.

I believe a lot of the complexity and confusion that some perceive in the latter part of this verse disappears if we remember that Satan in neither omniscient nor omnipresent. Our relationship with God is direct, personal and individual and thus we tend to presume that the Devil is our personal and individual adversary. The reality is that the Devil and only directly reveal with one individual at a time and the chances that he will ever pick you are negligible. However at the point he fell he brought down a third of the angels with him[27]. Therefore there are at least hundreds of thousands of satanically inspired beings that are set on the downfall of individuals.

Further we can easily imagine that they are all selfish, bickering and power grabbing beings that require a hierarchy to be kept in order. I believe it is just such a hierarchy that we see detailed in this verse. Firstly we read of principalities; these suggest regions or spheres of influence controlled by an individual. Then we read of powers; this is the more executive form of evil. It may suggest that regional power and expressive power have been separated into different chains of command. This could be to prevent the formation of regional power bases. Next we find that the earth and the heavens have been split into two spheres. The world and the darkness of this world seem to have a set of rulers over it. This would suggest some kind of governing council managing the evil that manifests itself on earth. Then the heavens have their own group or hosts[28] that deal with the 'spiritual' side of the evil.

The Mission

Eph 6:13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

The similarities between Eph 6:13 and Eph 6:11 are sufficiently striking that one is tempted to dismiss that latter verse as an artistic flourish. Verse eleven instructed us to put on the armor so that we could stand; here we are told to take the armor so that we can withstand so that eventually we can stand. This sequence appears a trifle repetitious especially as both verses also appear to repeat the opening sequence.

However a close look at the meaning of the word rendered stand and withstand begins to unveil a subtle but important distinction. The word rendered 'stand' on both occasions is 'histemi'; the word means to stand or to stand firmly. However the emphasis is on 'putting in place'. The image is entirely of something being set so as to achieve permanence. The word rendered 'withstand' is 'anthistemi' which means to 'stand against' or to 'push back' or resist. Withstand does not necessarily require that the withstanding is able to hold ground and certainly doesn't imply immovability. On the contrary the picture is of a battle where the withstander is doing all they can to resist.

The next thing to notice is that the command to acquire the armor is different between the two verses too. In Eph 6:11 we were commanded to be engulfed by the armor. In this verse we are actually being told to take it up to ourselves or to receive[29] it up. I'm sure there have been occasions at work, school or even at home where a new method or idea has come in and you have been forced to make it a major part of your life. That is an allowable picture under verse 11; we may have been engulfed by the new thing but we haven't actually willingly accepted it. Verse 13 goes the extra step and tells us to take hold of the new thing and accept and receive it up.

I believe the final distinction between the two verses is temporal. Verse eleven is immediate. Verse thirteen looks forward to two different times: the evil day and the time after the evil day. Whilst there is always a temptation to make any future looking expression eschatological I don't think that is appropriate for the 'evil day'. The expression only occurs once elsewhere[30] and there it says it is a mistake to think of the evil day as far off. Also if we are to view the evil day as yet future then we have to assume that for the last two thousand years believers have been picking up their whole armor for no valid reason. I think instead it is better to view the evil day as that time when our faith is particularly tried often by temptations[31] which are known method of the Devil.

Therefore in the apparent duplication of verses eleven and thirteen what we actually see is a temporal progression. We are to surround ourselves by the whole armor of God independently of the attempts of the enemy and brace ourselves so that when the real trial arrives we will be able to receive the armor and resist the attack so that when the attack eventually abates we are again standing in the position we have been placed in.

The Foundation

Eph 6:14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

The foundational piece of attire for a Roman soldier was the belt[32]. It was not the most visible if you were facing a fully armored Roman soldier but if he hadn't been wearing it the effect would have been entirely different. Note only did it have a purpose of its own in protecting the groin region but it also had the latches to which the scabbard, quiver, shield and breastplate were attached. It was thus not just the base of the armor but also the 'glue' which bound them together into one cohesive piece. In fact the word rendered 'girt' is 'periszonnumi' which really means to 'tie all around' and is used of strapping together clothing.

However from the verse as we have it particular attention is drawn to the fact that it is the loins which need to be girt with truth. The belts protective function centers upon what the NKJV refers to as the 'unpresentable' parts. It had flaps of overlapping leather studded with metal which hung from the waistband. This obviously served to retain the bearer's modesty but also afforded some defense against a most painful and debilitating attack[33].

With the preceding in mind we should note that the belt we are to take is one of truth. It is a little startling that this is viewed as even more foundational that righteousness or salvation. But viewed properly I think this is entirely logical. In order to be saved and to attain righteousness one needs to accept truth; truth about oneself and truth about God[34]. We live in a culture both a secular one and I fear a Christian one where half truth and deception are commonplace and even accepted. This is anathema to Christianity. Satan is the father of lies[35]; if we tolerate falsehood we are playing into his hands. If we lie then all of our speech is worthless[36] as others cannot know whether we are telling the truth. Therefore if we are to stand as this verse enjoins we must have a true foundation: truth.

Now some take the picture of truth and equate it to the Bible. The justification is that the Lord Himself described the Word of God as truth[37] and in 2Co 6:7 the word of truth is seen side by side with the 'armor of righteousness' which could easily be a reference to the breastplate which we shall be dealing with presently. Personally I don't think this equation is quite correct. We should remember that the Lord also equated Himself to the truth[38] and likened the Word to a sword both in this passage[39] and elsewhere[40]. I therefore think that the truth that we gird ourselves with is the truthfulness within ourselves; of course the Bible is the standard that we use to measure that.

In contrast to the belt the breastplate was a work of art. They were generally custom made for the soldier. A negative cast was made of the soldier's torso which was then used to make a positive upon which brass could be beaten out to conform to the exact lines of the man himself. When the solider could afford it the breastplate would then be covered with elaborate adornments and polished to a mirror finish which was blinding in bright sunshine. The brilliance of the work was also matched by important function; it protected all the vital organs from penetration[41].

Regrettably the clarity of the breastplate is not matched by clarity of interpretation of the word 'righteousness'. Is this the imputed righteousness that comes from God at the point of Salvation or the practical righteousness that comes from faithful listening to the indwelling Spirit? W. E. Vine highlights the dilemma by pointing out that the word usually refers to the imputed righteousness of God whilst simultaneously using Eph 6:14 as an example of when it refers to a practical righteousness.

I believe a key to distinguishing the two cases may be seen in the other examples of a breastplate being used as a spiritual metaphor. Firstly we note from Isa 59:17 that the Lord Himself put on this breastplate. Whilst Christ clearly has both divine and practical righteousness there is no need for Him to put on practical righteousness as it is inherent within Him. Then from 1Th 5:8 we see the breastplate being described as one of faith and love. Faith is obviously the conduit of salvation but love is certainly a work[42]. From this it appears to me that the breastplate speaks of practical righteousness.

The main argument against treating the breastplate as practical righteousness is that it would not be adequate to withstand Satan. I think this is true however it is also somewhat invalid in context. From verse 16 we know that a shield is also required to withstand the darts of the enemy; thus the picture does not require that the breastplate alone be adequate. I also think that adequacy counter argument slightly misses the point that this passage is enjoining us to pick these things up and take them on board. If this we simply our imputed righteousness then we would have nothing pick up. Once we are saved we have the imputed righteousness; end of story.

The Approach

Eph 6:15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

Far from being a humble sandal the shoe of a Roman soldier was one of the most high-tech and adaptable pieces of equipment he owned. The soles where made from layers of metal and leather. The sole also could have spikes of varying lengths attached to allow the soldier to grip. Some even came with toe-spikes and spurs to allow the shoe to have offensive capability. The also had detachable greaves to protect the shin and knee and another metal covering to protect the foot from above.

However a key distinctive of the shoe was that the soldier typically wanted to adapt it to the terrain; much as a modern sportsman might choose the length of his spikes dependant upon the surface on which he is about to play. Long spikes on soft ground give much needed extra grip; the same spikes are a complete liability if walking upon rock. From this we can see that with regard to footwear the soldier had to carefully prepare himself based upon the nature of the terrain he was about to encounter.

I suggest it is not accident that we thus find that in our verse we are to be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. The word is 'hetoimasia' which can mean 'readiness' or it can mean 'firm footing'. At its' simplest we thus have that our preparation or footing is to be based upon the Gospel. This certainly passes the reasonability test and the theology test. I wonder if there isn't a secondary shade of meaning however. Whilst there is only one true Gospel it is described at least five different ways[43].

The terrain we are to be preparing for is the Gospel of Peace. The Gospel of Peace is only mentioned twice[44] and on both occasions it is mentioned in the context of feet. On the other occasion it is mentioned specifically in the context of evangelism and glad tidings. I believe that the instruction here is that we are to be preparing ourselves to deliver a Gospel message which is essentially peaceful in nature. Whilst trouble may come to us it is not to come from us. It is very tempting to our pride to wish to deliver a triumphant or even fatalist message based upon the nature and awesomeness of our God. However I believe we are instructed here to prepare to be winsome rather than threatening. This ties in with our instructions to stand; we are not leading an attack, we are merely standing ground.

The First Line of Defense

Eph 6:16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

In the English the opening of this verse is rather ambiguous. Is it telling us that what follows is the most important or simply that the shield is a layer on top of the others? The Greek does not suffer from this; the word for above is strictly prepositional. The shield of faith is not more important than truth or righteousness but it is the outer layer that covers them both.

The observation that the shield was a covering to the rest is also attested by the choice of word used for shield. The Roman soldier had two shields; a light one and small one used when speed and maneuverability were required and another one almost three feet by five feet that was used to form a defensive wall. The Greek word for the latter is derived from the word 'door' and it is that word that is used here. We see then that this shield was not an arm adornment used to parry blows but a wall to stand behind.

It should be noted too that the shield was made from six layers of toughened leather woven together to form an extremely tough yet light material. Further it was water retentive; so it could be soaked in water prior to a battle and then it would be relatively invulnerable to the fiery darts which would be aimed at it. One has to be careful not to stretch a metaphor too far: but one may ponder whether the soaking in water could be analogous to the need for the Spirit[45] to energize our own faith.

The latter part of this verse introduces two important facts: one implicit and unpleasant, the other explicit and wonderful. The explicit statement is that the shield of faith is able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. This parallels John's assertion that our faith is able to overcome the world[46]. It also reminds us that the degree of the attack that the Devil is allowed to make upon us is still controlled by God[47]; He does not allow a temptation beyond what we are able to withstand[48]. Of course this also produces a challenge. We have no excuse for failure. We are only facing as much of the battle as we are able to overcome.

The implicit assertion also warrants close investigation however. The enemy is going to be shooting fiery darts at us. Some may see the adjective 'fiery' as simply an evocative device; for me it is far more significant. An armor piercing dart had a very sharp point and it could only damage insofar as it could penetrate. A fiery dart had a much blunter point although it also had a barb. It was not particularly designed to inflict damage by penetration; in fact excessive penetration would remove the benefit of the fire. It was designed to penetrate just enough that it could gain a footing from which it could produce a conflagration which should cause far more damage than single arrow ever could.

Similarly we are to expect that the jabbing and piercing that we feel is really no more than a harbinger of what our methodological enemy is really attempting. If an enemy were to approach you with a syringe and jab it in your arm you would be foolish to concern yourself with the pain of the needle; instead you should focus upon what has been injected. In the same way many of the troubles that we notice are but relatively shallow surface wounds; we need to beware of the long term effects. It is precisely these long term effects that faith counteracts or quenches. Faith may not prevent you losing a job; but it will prevent you from sinking into a morass of despair, hopelessness and irresponsibility which would in turn render you unemployable.

The Finishing Touches

Eph 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Verse seventeen provides us with a third shade of meaning for taking something. W. E. Vine[49] distinguishes between the meaning in verse thirteen and that used here in that the word in verse thirteen means to accept; in this verse we have to accept favorably. In other words one might almost accept with a sense of resignation or resolution that certain aspects of the Christian armor need to be acquired. However the two that follow are to be taken with a sense of eagerness and anticipation.

The commentators are generally agreed as to the significance of the helmet. It is the head that contains the mind which guides the body. It is probably the part most vulnerable to the Devil's wiles and thus it is need of particular protection. Roman helmets were also ornamented and thus could almost be viewed as the military equivalent of a crown. It is thus not unreasonable to see salvation as the pinnacle of our armor.

Far more controversy surrounds what type of salvation is actually in view. One possibility championed by Wuest is that this is a 'salvation from the world' and thus is roughly equivalent to sanctification or practical righteousness. This could also be the definition behind the controversy in Php 2:12 were the Philippians are told to 'work out' their salvation with fear and trembling. However this then becomes essentially a duplication of the call to practical righteousness posted earlier. Another possibility is that our full salvation is in view[50]. However this runs into the dual objection that Ephesians appears to have been written to believers and that Christ Himself also took the helmet[51].

The majority view[52] equates this verse to the parallel one in 1Th 5:8 where we are told it is the helmet of the hope of salvation. If one is prepared to accept that the Spirit simply missed out a bit in Ephesians 6 then this makes the interpretation significantly simpler. The hope of our salvation is yet future; whilst we are saved already the point at which that salvation is visibly manifest is yet to come[53]. Of course one may object that a hope is not much of a defense however we are told that this is a form of hope that does not disappoint[54]. I am inclined to the majority view on this occasion although more by a process of elimination than through complete conviction.

The latter part of this verse courts no such controversy as it is explicitly explained in the text and also is paralleled elsewhere[55]. We are to be armed with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Whilst the interpretation is simple the implication should not be ignored. The Roman sword was light, finely honed on both sides and had a sharp point. It was really designed for targeted thrusts rather than clumsy slashes. It has to be well maintained or it would quickly loose its edge. Similarly it is our familiarity with the Word rather than our possession of it that equips us for battle. We are also told that it is the sword of the Spirit. This of course can be viewed as a simple assertion that the Holy Spirit wrote the Word of God; but it may also be a reminder that we need the working of the Spirit within us to enable us to handle His Word effectually.

The Game Book

Eph 6:18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

I would have to say that I was not initially certain that I would include this verse in the paper. It does not after all relate directly to preparation or to armor. It can even be viewed as a segue into the final section of the chapter. However upon reflection I think my initial inclination was entirely misguided. There is little point in giving a soldier all of the best equipment in the world if he doesn't have the training or know the battle plan. It is quite possible that this final verse is actually the primary purpose of the passage rather than an addendum to it.

The most notable point regarding the verse is the comprehensiveness and inclusiveness of the language. We are to pray always[56] with all prayer and supplication and watch with all perseverance for all the saints. The meaning is clear but hard to grasp. We are to use all of the forms of prayer and requests, we are to do it in every situation, we are always to be alert for the response and we are to be equally involved in prayer warfare for all the saints. We occasionally here the expression 'prayer warrior' but I wonder how many genuine prayer warriors there are out there? How many believers can look at this verse without feeling a twinge of guilt and inadequacy?

It is possible that the verse also helps to explain some of our malaise. We are to pray in the Spirit. So often we use our minds to construct prayer requests and then reel off the petitions without spending adequate time getting spiritually minded. This is doomed to failure as we are told that we do not naturally know how to pray[57]. Secondly we are to be watchful. Many of our prayers are 'fire and forget'; we do not take the time to monitor and record the answers to prayer. Many of us do however take the time to keep a list of the things we are still praying for. This is the opposite of what the verse commands us! We are not enjoined to make sure we don't forget a prayer; genuine needs will always come to us. We are enjoined to make sure we don't forget at answer to prayer. Perhaps if we were more mindful of the power of prayer and less mindful of the things that haven't happened yet we would be more motivated to keep praying.


This paper started with a relatively simple aim; to provide a detailed exegesis of the whole armor of God. It did not have any central premise or contention to prove or explore. It did not even have challenge or edification as a primary goal. The aim was simply to collect, collate and present information. Thus the success or failure of this effort entirely rests upon the extent to which it has enlightened the reader. For myself I have gleaned some insight; something I believed before have changed, others are believed more firmly.

One issue that I attempted to resolve at the outset was that of the hermeneutic interpretation of the armor. Should it be viewed purely Biblically resulting in pictures from 900BC Jewish armor or should the Roman armor that was contemporary of the writer and readers of this epistle be used. I concluded that the fact that Paul was probably looking at Roman armor as he wrote this would have made it very unnatural for anything other than Roman armor to be in view.

As we commenced looking at the passage we noted that there really was a complete contextual switch from the humility of submission in preceding verses to the call to strength with which the text opens. Further investigation however showed that this wasn't personal strength; but an empowering with the strength of God. Further we noted that the strength of God was reliable and inexhaustible.

Then came the famous call to arms; the exhortation to put on the whole armor of God. We noted that we were to be engulfed by the armor and that we were to take all of it. Note was also taken that the adversary was not some mindless barbaric thug; however evil and vial He may appear. Instead he is a cunning and methodical adversary that will take the time and trouble to probe away at any weakness that appears.

Looking at the nature of the battle revealed that it would be what we describe in the modern vernacular as 'up close and personal'. In fact Paul's picture was taken from Greco-Roman wrestling. However the battle is not principally physical; instead it is a spiritual battle which I suggested was waged against at least two distinct hierarchies of evil angelic beings.

Against that backdrop we considered that our mission was to stand. During the preparation phase we were to stand perfectly in the place we have been allotted; independent of any external consideration. We were also assured that eventually we would stand in a similar position: unencumbered by the adversary. However there was to come a time to each of us, an evil day or day of temptation in which it would take all of our weaponry & training just to be able to withstand the onslaught.

The armor itself commenced with the belt. The relatively invisible piece that protects us from shame but which also acts as the binding to tie the whole panoply together. This belt represents truth. Without truth the believer has nothing to protect them from shame and has nothing upon which he can hold the rest of his assemblage together.

Protecting the believer's body is the breastplate. It is required to protect the vital parts of the believer and to keep him alive. Each one was tailored to the individual. We considered the question as to whether this was absolute righteousness imparted at the point of salvation or the practical righteousness that we are to strive towards. The latter was settled upon as the former had to reason to still be taken; it having been imputed once and for all.

Next we looked at the footwear; the part of the soldiers kit that needed to be carefully tailored to the terrain. In fact it is a part of the armor that required specific preparation prior to battle. We noted that the nature of the terrain was explicitly laid out; we are to be shod with the gospel of peace. Thus we should look to spreading the gospel in a peaceful manner. Certainly the message itself may be offensive as it convicts men of their sin. However the message is offensive enough of itself; we do not need to exacerbate the problem by being offensive ourselves.

The first line of defense was then the shield: a huge device made from layers of skin that could hold water to put out arrows of fire. We noted that fiery darts cause most damage not at the point of initial penetration but by causing a subsequent conflagration. Our shield is to be faith. It will not prevent the pain of the initial wounds that may come to us; but it should extinguish the long term damage that such mental anguish would otherwise produce.

The finishing touches to the armor were the helmet of salvation and sword of the Spirit. We considered the possible interpretation of salvation and settled upon the notion that it is really the helmet of the hope of salvation. In other words our minds are to be protected by the knowledge that once we have finished the race that glory awaits us. The sword of the Spirit was rather simpler; we are explicitly told it is the Word of God. We noted however that the Word needed constant attention and training to keep it sharp and to ensure it is handled powerfully.

Finally we looked at the game book: the instructions for what to do once this panoply has been assembled, taken and made a part of oneself. The mandate is clear and simple although somewhat difficult to execute. To pray in all situations, will all prayers for everybody and to remain diligent in looking for the answers to those prayers.

As stated previously; this paper is not designed to prove or encourage some 'new thing'. It does however aim to enlighten and perhaps encourage extra care in our own obedience towards the goals of the Biblical passage it considers. My prayer for you is that it worked.






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