Today’s post aims to dig deeper into the insightful text on the Christian’s spiritual armor as recorded in Ephesians 6:10-18. As Paul was under house arrest in Rome at the end of Acts 28, he would had been under constant guard and custody of a Roman Soldier. This arrangement of Paul’s incarceration in rented quarters would had included him being chained 24 hours a day to a Roman Soldier. Undoubtedly as Paul was composing this letter to the Ephesian church, the constant presence of the Roman soldier would had been used by the Holy Spirit to unfold for Paul and us the spiritual battle that must be fought and won by the Christian. As we look into the vocabulary and expressions used by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-18, our aim will be to show how this description fits very well into its first century context and how in knowing this background can shed greater light on applying this text to our lives today.
What is meant by the term “full armor of God”
Seeing how the phrase “full armor” is used in the New Testament
As we enter into Ephesians 6:11, we come across the word translated by the NASB as “the whole armor”. The Greek noun and its definite article (the) behind this phrase is ( τὴν πανοπλίαν = tayn panopolian = The whole armor). According to Adam Clarke’s commentary, this term would had referred to: “the armor of the heavy troops among the Greeks; those who were to sustain the rudest attacks, who were to sap the foundations of walls and storm cities.” Dr. Bill Mounce defines this term, found only three times in the entire Greek New Testament, as referring to: “complete armor, a complete suit of armor, both offensive and defensive, as the shield, sword, spear, helmet, breastplate.”
With two of the occurences of πανοπλίαν occuring here in Ephesians 6:11 and 13, we can note its first appearance in Luke 11:22 “But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder.” The word translated “armor” is this same word πανοπλίαν and refers to someone who is fully armed, ready to take on any opponent. Take away the full armor, and the soldier is rendered incapable of fighting the battle. In Jesus’ explanation of what takes place in exorcisms, the disarming of the enemy is done by the power of God.
This use of the word by Jesus gives insight into the nature of this armor. It is a heavy armor that requires someone more powerful than the wearer. The one wearing the armor is already behind a veritable fortress of metal. Clearly the only way such a soldier can be disarmed if Someone, no less than God Himself, is the one disarming the soldier! As will be seen later on in this post, the One providing the Christian’s spiritual armor is the One guaranteeing its success against any attacks of the enemy! The condition for having victory in spiritual warfare is by putting on the full armor of God.
How the phrase “whole armor” is used in the Greek Old Testament and other ancient literature outside of the New Testament
The Greek Dictionary or Lexicon by Walter Bauer, F.W Gingrich and Fredrick Danker provides a wealth of information about our word translated by the NASB “full armor” (πανοπλίαν = panaplian) by noting the Jewish and Greek literature in which the word would had been used. By seeing how the term “full armor” is used in the Jewish literature written before and contemporary to the New Testament, we can gain further insight into why Paul may had written this word under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I will simply reproduce some of the citations from Bauer, Gingrich and Danker’s Lexicon and offer a few comments that are relevant to the point of this post.
1). Greek Old Testament translation of 2 Samuel 2:21. The ESV of 2 Samuel 2:21 reads – “So Abner said to him, “Turn to your right or to your left, and take hold of one of the young men for yourself, and take for yourself his spoil.” But Asahel was not willing to turn aside from following him.” The word translated “spoil” here in the ESV is from the Hebrew phrase אֶת־חֲלִצָתֹ֑ו (eth-cha-lets-to = his equipment for battle). In the Greek Old Testament (LXX), this Hebrew word is rendered by the Greek word πανοπλίαν (pa-na-plee-an = full armor). Any type of armor, swords or implements of battle worn by an opponent in a battle was regarded as booty taken by an opponent as a trophy of victory.
2). Jewish literature of 2 Maccabbees 3:25. In this text we have a seen of a horse and an armored rider coming to attack a man. The rider in the text is described in R.C.H Charles translation of this text as having a “golden panopoly” or simply “a golden full armor”.
3). Jewish History of Josephus. In Josephus’ work: “Antiquities of the Jews”, Book 20, section 110, we see the account related as to how the people of Jerusalem were about ready to revolt against a Roman ruler. The insight we gain from Josephus’ historic record is how a crowd of people would had responded at the sight of soldiers who were wearing their “entire armor”. According to the record, in order to put down the attempted revolt, the Roman authority sent a garrison of soldiers who were wearing “entire armor”. The text says: “But when he could not induce them to be quiet for they still went on in their reproaches to him, he gave order that the whole army should take their entire armor (πανοπλίας)”. The rest of the account states that upon the sight of this fully furnished army, the attempted rebellion was ceased.
What we glean from these three examples about the meaning of πανοπλίας is that it was a full array of armor used by heavily armored soldiers in times of battle. In the scenes above, whenever a soldier was so arrayed, the opposing side or narrator perceived the soldier to be equipped, ready for battle or ready for victory. These insights can provide the background of the word used by Paul in Ephesians 6:11 and 13, being that such usage would had been understood by his readers at that time.
Spiritual Application: the spiritual armor, when worn, can’t fail
When we consider the πανοπλίαν or full entire armor being described here by Paul, this is an armor that when worn, renders the soldier incapable of defeat. To become a victorious Christian, you must put on the full armor of God in total obedience. Paul’s command goes back in context to his initial command of Ephesians 5:18 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” This is why Paul writes about the armor in Ephesians 6:11 as being (τὴν πανοπλίαν τοῦ θεοῦ = tayn panoplian too theoo = The entire armor from God). The noun translated “God” (τοῦ θεοῦ) is in what is called “The Genitive case”, which is used in this instance to describe either the “source” of the armor or ownership. Thus this armor of which the Christian is to put on himself and wear is armor designed by God Himself! This is armor that cannot fail!