What is God’s full armor, according to Ephesians?

Q. What is God’s full armor, according to Ephesians?

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes the “full armor of God” as follows.

The “belt of truth.” In biblical times, soldiers would gather up their robes and fasten them with a belt so that they could move freely in battle. So we can think of speaking the truth and proclaiming the true message of God as something that allows us to work unencumbered for God, without having to think about whether we are “sticking to the story” that we have made up and without having to defend positions that have no grounds in the word of God. One translation says, “Let the truth be like a belt around your waist.”

The “breastplate of righteousness.” The breastplate was the piece of armor that protected a soldier’s chest and abdomen and the vital organs inside. One translation says, “On your chest wear the protection of right living.” The best protection against accusations of doing wrong is to have done right! Don’t give the opponents of God’s work any grounds to thwart that work based on your conduct.

“Your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” This is a reference to footwear that would allow a soldier “to face the enemy with firm-footed stability,” as one translation puts it. The “gospel of peace” is the good news that God wants peace with people, based on the reconciliation that Jesus achieved on the cross, and that God wants people to be at peace with each other on that same basis. Someone who ultimately wants peace and has good intentions can deal with conflict with a confident assurance that a hostile and hateful person cannot experience.

“The shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Soldiers would carry shields to fend off sword blows and attacks from flying weapons such as spears and arrows. As Paul observes, sometimes arrows were even set on fire before being shot at soldiers. This is a reference to the way the attacks of the devil, the evil one, have a special sting or burn to them, because the devil tries to make us believe wrong things about the character of God. But if we respond in faith, that is, implicit trust in who God is and what God wants, then those flames are extinguished.

“The helmet of salvation.” Soldiers wore helmets to protect their heads, perhaps the most vital part of their bodies. They certainly could not fight if they could not see or hear or think. The word “salvation” can be understood in the sense of “deliverance,” meaning that we must ultimately count on God to deliver us, and when we do, we will see his power working to do that. But “salvation” could also be understood in the sense of being saved from sin and being forgiven by God. One translation says, “The covering for your head is that you have been saved from the punishment of sin.”

“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” This means the Bible. It has often been noted that this is the only offensive piece of the “full armor of God.” All the others are defensive. They protect us so that we can carry on our mission of advancing God’s purposes in the world. And we see here that we advance those purposes by knowing and applying God’s word to our situations and by proclaiming its truth and promises to those who need to hear its good news.

I hope this answers your question and gives you a better idea of what the “full armor of God” is. So now, as Paul says at the beginning of the passage in which he describes it, “Put on the full armor of God.”

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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