Historical background for the spiritual armor in Ephesians 6

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Ephesians 6:10-13 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For ourstruggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

Today’s post is designed to give the reader access to an ancient source that could possibly shed light on what Paul wrote about in Ephesians 6:10-18. Most commentators agree that Paul would had been chained to some type of Roman soldier while under house arrest in Rome as recorded at the end of the Book of Acts. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia, Volume 1, Page 320, has this to say about Paul’s description, and the ancient literary evidence that would had been available from the Greco-Roman world:

“Polybius (6,22 and 23) describes the Roman soldier as wearing such a helmet, a breastplate of brass or chain mail (lorica) to cover especially the heart and greaves; and as carrying a javelin, a sword hanging from the right side of the waist, and a shield, either one circular or one about two and a half feet by four feet in length. This description compares favorably with Paul’s metaphorical statement (Ephesians 6:14-17) about the Christian armor…”.

Polybius was a Greek Historian who wrote the history of his people and the rising Roman empire during the years of  264-146b.c. (see article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polybius#The_Histories) In reading through Book 6, chapters 22-23 of Polybius description of ancient Roman armory, the parallels are indeed interesting and insightful. What follows are excerpts from Polybius’ history in his sixth book, 22nd and23rd chapter, as found at the reputable site: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Polybius/6*.html . May this post prove useful to those studying Ephesians 6:10-18.

22:1 The youngest soldiers or velites are ordered to carry a sword, javelins, and a target (parma). 2 The target is strongly made and sufficiently large to afford protection, being circular and measuring three feet in diameter. 3 They also wear a plain helmet, and sometimes cover it with a wolf’s skin or something similar both to protect and to act as a distinguishing mark by which their officers can recognize them and judge if they fight pluckily or not. 4 The wooden shaft of the javelin measures about two cubits in length and is about a finger’s breadth in thickness; its head is a span long hammered out to such a fine edge that it is necessarily bent by the first impact, and the enemy is unable to return it. If this were not so, the missile would be available for both sides.

23:1 The next in seniority called hastati are ordered to wear a complete panoply. 2 The Roman panoply consists firstly of a shield (scutum), the convex surface of which measures two and a half feet in width and four feet in length, the thickness at the rim being a palm’s breadth.3 It is made of two planks glued together, the outer surface being then covered first with canvas and then with calf-skin.4 Its upper and lower rims are strengthened by an iron edging which protects it from descending blows and from injury when rested on the ground. It also has an iron boss (umbo) fixed to it which turns aside the most formidable blows of stones, pikes, and heavy missiles in general. 6 Besides the shield they also carry a sword, hanging on the right thigh and called a Spanish sword.This is excellent for thrusting, and both of its edges cut effectually, as the blade is very strong and firm. 8 In addition they have two pila, a brass helmet, and greaves. 9 The pila are of two sorts — stout and fine. Of the stout ones some are round and a palm’s length in diameter and others are a palm square. Fine pila, which they carry in addition to the stout ones, are like moderate-sized hunting-spears, 10 the length of the haft in all cases being about three cubits. Each is fitted with a barbed iron head of the same length as the haft. 

11 This they attach so securely to the haft, carrying the attachment halfway up the latter and fixing it with numerous rivets, that in action the iron will break sooner than become detached, although its thickness at the bottom where it comes in contact with the wood is a finger’s breadth and a half; such great care do they take about attaching it firmly. Finally they wear as an ornament a circle of feathers with three upright purple or black feathers about a cubit in height, the addition of which on the head surmounting their other arms is to make every man look twice his real height, and to give him a fine appearance, such as will strike terror into the enemy.14 The common soldiers wear in addition a breastplate of brass a span square, which they place in front of the heart and call the heart-protector (pectorale), this completing their accoutrements; but those who are rated above ten thousand drachmas wear instead of this a coat of chain-mail (lorica). The principes and triarii are armed in the same manner except that instead of the pila the triarii carry long spears (hastae).

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About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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