Ephesians 6.13, the Panoplia of God: A Short Study in Historical & Cultural ContextsAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Apocrypha, Bible, Ephesians, Exegesis, Wisdom of Solomon
Paul’s text in Ephesians 6.10-18 bristles with power, excites the mind, and challenges the soul. It is one of my favorite (of course Ephesians is probably my favorite Pauline epistle too but . . .). This text also has evoked a plethora images in the imagination down through the years as well.
Many a preacher (including this one) has waxed eloquently on how Paul was meditating on the dress of a Roman soldier and then applied that to the Christian life. Though this makes for a great analogy, it is probably not what Paul was doing at all — much to my consternation.
Rather Paul is meditating, first and foremost, upon Scripture as he so often does in his writings as he wrestles with new life in the messianic age. I have argued elsewhere that the NT writers are saturated with the Hebrew Bible and virtually every paragraph is written on the “subtext” of the Hebrew Scriptures or its Greek translation the Septuagint (LXX).
In Ephesians 6 for example the text to begin with is Isaiah 59. I recall reading through Isaiah years ago and saying to myself that the language of Isaiah 59.17 sounds awful familiar! The text reads in the NIV:
“He [Yahweh] put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head . . .”
And sure enough the Greek NT puts Isaiah 59.17 down as the “echo” or “allusion” (this is the technical term) for Eph. 6. Paul’s mode of thought was “scripture” — primarily. This satisfied me until about 1999.
In 1999, I was introduced to a body of literature known for centuries to others (early Christians, Reformation Christians, Jews, etc). That body of literature is called the Apocrypha. I now regard the Apocrypha as one of the key elements as far as the background of the NT is concerned.
One of those writings is known as the Wisdom of Solomon. This work was written sometime after 220 B.C. and had a profound influence in early Christianity. The Apostle Paul shows himself to be familiar with this writing in a number of places. This should hardly surprise, nor trouble, us being the Rabbi and scholar that he was. One of the most interesting places of connection between Wisdom and Paul concerns this very text describing the “whole Armour of God” in Isaiah and Ephesians. Both Wisdom and Ephesians are clearly reflecting back Isaiah 59. But interestingly Paul includes two things that Isaiah 59 did not: 1) the shield and 2) the sword. Significantly enough Wisdom includes both of these. Here is the Wisdom text:
“The Lord will take his zeal as his WHOLE ARMOR,
and will arm all creation to repel his enemies;
he will put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and wear a helmet of righteous justice;
he will take holiness as an invincible shield,
and sharpen stern wrath for a sword”
(Wisdom of Solomon 5.17-20, the BV translation – but see the
Wisdom goes on to mention a bow as well. I remember when I read this passage and thinking — that sounds a lot like Paul. More than a faint echo for sure. One of the most interesting parallels between Paul and Wisdom is with the word “panoplia” (whole armor). This word ONLY occurs twice in all biblical Greek. Guess where? You got it: in Ephesians 6 and Wisdom 5.17. (I say biblical Greek because Wisdom is part of the LXX which is in fact “biblical” Greek).
Paul, the Jewish rabbi turned Messianic theologian, uses a text that is literally describing the personal armor of God in his battle against his foes and applies that text to Christians who are to take on God’s own armor — not a Roman soldier’s but God’s! To do battle against the same spiritual realities, the principalities and powers, that are God’s enemies.
Thus Ephesians 6 and the “panoplia” of God gives us a remarkable case study in the usefulness of in depth background study. There a numerous other examples where the Apocrypha sheds rich light onto the customs and even at times the very words of the NT. A good commentary on Ephesians will bring this background out for the modern reader. We may have not noticed the connection before — but the ancients most certainly did.