12.12.2011

Armour of God 1: Death of a Roman Soldier


Did you know that in Ephesians 6 Paul is citing portions of Isaiah when he talks about the "armour of God"?  It's true.  Now think about that for a second, what does that say about how that verse is to be interpreted?  If Paul is using Old Testament passages he is doing it for a purpose and we should take that seriously.  For Paul, Isaiah had something very important to say about living the Christian life, and we should listen too.
Some of the portions that Paul quotes from Isaiah are found in 11:5 and 59:17:

Isaiah 11:5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness (truth - in Ephesian) the sash around his waist.

Isaiah 59:17 He [God] put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

The context of Isaiah 59 starts in chapter 56 where YHWH warns Israel that justice and righteousness need to be persevered because salvation is on its way, but greedy and unjust people are still prevailing and serving idols.  These people exploit the poor and the needy but when trouble comes they will have to rely on their own idols for help.  YHWH is strong enough to save, but the people have corrupted themselves and righteousness, justice, truth and salvation have been driven out - by them.  There is not a single person in Israel who will stand up for justice and intervene.  YHWH prepares to go to war and prove that his "hand is not so short that it cannot save" (v.1), he will bring not only justice, righteousness and salvation but also judgement.  This is where Isaiah 59:17 comes in (Isaiah 11 has a very similar context), YHWH puts on the armour in order to bring about righteousness and salvation.

In Ephesians, Paul is stressing to the believers that Christ is seated on the right hand of God, high above all powers and principalities.  It's because of this position he holds that he can give believers God's armour.

This raises some interesting questions like, where did the idea of Paul using the image of a Roman soldier come from?  I don't know, but it's obviously not what Paul has in mind.

Paul has no interest in the Roman soldier's armour: Ephesians 6 is inspired from Isaiah, a book written well before the Roman soldier and using imagery that comes from deep within Israel's history.  These verses have nothing to do with soldiers and everything to do with God as a warrior (I'd go as far as saying that the Roman soldier theme not only contributes nothing useful to the Biblical text, but actually damages other's understanding of the text - since it doesn't acknowledge the texts source - and should never be used as an illustrative guide).  When the Isaiah context is considered the traditional conceptions of what the armour is no longer makes any sense.  Therefore, in ignoring the Old Testament context, the point is missed entirely.

So how does considering Isaiah change our understanding of the armour passage in Ephesians 6?  You'll have to check back to find out.