This passage in Ephesians is St. Paul’s answer to Isaiah. Isaiah 59 speaks of the alienation between man and God caused by sins such as dishonesty, injustice, violence, contrivance, denial of the Lord… the picture he paints as a result of the alienation is one of the blind stumbling in the dark (Is 59:9-10) at which time the Lord will come and will
put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as a mantle.
Isaiah speaks of how the Lord will come and bring justice to those who have done evil, and they shall fear Him, and they shall see His glory. He tells us:
And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from their transgression, says the Lord. And as for me, my covenant with them , says the Lord: my spirit which is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your children, or out of the mouth of your children’s children, says the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore.
Isaiah illustrates the victory of the Lord over the darkness he describes in verses 9 and 10 when he describes the Lord’s coming as the rising of the sun (Is 59:19) and it is this total victory that makes the covenant described above possible.
11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; 16 besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel
Paul challenges the people of Ephesus to put on the armor worn by the Lord in Is 59. Paul frames his text within a battle against principalities, powers, the world rulers of this present darkness (referencing Is 59:9). He asks each Christian to equip himself for battle and to fight with these tools in order to withstand the wiles of the devil, and to quench his evil darts. He shows his reader that this is the way for him to begin living the covenant that Isaiah records the Lord making in chapter 59, where the Spirit is upon him and that the words of the Lord are being given him.
Where the Greek gets interesting
Verse 11 is enough to give me chills, and here’s why.
11 Put on the πανοπλιαν of God, that you may be able to stand against the μεθοδειας of the devil.
The two words of interest are πανοπλιαν (transliteration: panoplian) which literally means “whole armor” and εθοδειας (transliteration: methodeias) which means wiles/tricks. So far, so good… so what? At this point its all about the word selection Paul has made, and the word he chose NOT to use.
The pan prefix at the beginning of the word for “whole armor” is the part of the word that translates to “whole” (think panorama, pantheism, etc.)
In biblical Greek, there are two words for wiles/tricks. One of the words is the one that Paul chose to use in this text, i.e. methodeias. The other word with the same basic meaning is πανουργια (panourgia.) Notice the inclusion of the prefix pan in the word that Paul chose not to use.
Why is this important? Paul is trying to illustrate that the battle is uneven… no, that its already won! God provides whole armor, complete protection. The devil doesn’t have a complete arsenal of tricks to throw at us, the kind of tricks that would match up to whole armor. This is highly encouraging!
Put on, then, the whole armor of God. Christ came, the Dawn of Compassion that broke among us, the Rising Sun that vanquished the rulers of this present darkness. He came, He fought and He won. We who follow Him are still playing our part, we are still fighting in the name of His victory as the saga of time and space plays out to its conclusion. If we fulfil our part of the covenant of the Lord by wearing His armor, quenching the darts of the evil one, praying at all times in the Spirit, keeping alert, persevering and making supplication for each other… so too will the Lord keep His promise to us – the Spirit will be upon us and His Word will always be with us. We will abide in Him and He will abide in us, participating in the Trinitarian Life that is the birthright of those adopted sons of God who were born to new life in baptism.