Roman Armor of God
There is much going on in Paul’s depiction of the Roman soldier as a metaphor for the Christian and that Christian’s engagement in a dangerous world:
13 Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness arrayed, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Berean Bible)
The “belt of truth” is a reference to that Roman soldier’s readiness to engage the enemy once he had girded himself with his belt and all the various instruments of battle and authority held at his side by that belt. The Latin expression for the soldier was miles accinctus, where accinctus/cingulum refers to the girding belt and miles is the military man. In preparation for necessary action, a Roman planner might ask how many “belts” were available, where a belt is a soldier at the ready.
The belt of truth is likewise the Christian’s confident assurance that he engages his neighbor and world with the truth of the gospel. The Christian’s belt is equipped with the various tools of engagement with the world and the world’s ignorance and belief in untruths.
The “breastplate of righteousness” is a reference to the Roman soldier’s body armor, whether plate or chain, against the adversaries of the Roman state. The soldier engages the public and the enemy knowing he is on the side of right Caesar, with a vest which will protect him.
The breastplate is likewise the Christian’s confident assurance that he can absorb and deflect and turn the slanders of the world’s Satan.
The soldier’s sandals, or “shoes for … readiness” enable the soldier to move along the roads and paths of the Roman empire, spreading the “peace” of Caesar’s Pax Romana throughout the world, and defending the Roman empire’s boundaries.
Likewise, the Christian mission is to go forth to all the nations and make disciples, wearing those shoes of readiness with the “gospel of peace.” This readiness has been built by study, prayer, discipleship, piety, and all the exercises of Christian discipline enabling the long walk into the world. Furthermore, the long walk is covered by the inner peace of the gospel of Christ, comforting the evangelist going forth to share that gospel of peace.
The Roman soldier’s “shield of faith” was tall and some versions partially wrapped around his body. It was covered in animal skin soaked in water, deflecting and stopping enemy arrows which had been dipped in pitch, set ablaze, and fired at the soldier. Surely the soldier’s faith in his shield strengthened his courage in battle.
The Christian has also his faith to deflect and extinguish the enemy’s arrows of fire. Whatever Satan shoots at the faithful Christian is blocked by his shield.
The Roman soldier’s helmet is of course protective, but we also observe than when it is adorned with colorful plumes and crests, whether in ceremonial or military maneuver, it announces to the world the certainty of “here I am” and “a Roman soldier is what I am,” and therefore, stand aside, for nothing can stand against me or take this away. The soldier is saved by the power of the Roman state.
The Christian’s helmet of salvation is the displayed, right now, and certain, and displays assurance of that salvation and ultimate protection by the kingdom of God. Our more subtle plumage makes at least some take notice, but draws the attention of enemies of Christ as it did the enemies of the Roman state. But to those who are unsaved, yet friendly, our plumage of peace and assurance opens the opportunity of witnessing turned into teaching the word.
Finally, the Roman soldier’s sword is used for a variety of purposes, both in defense and assertive engagement.
The Christian’s sword is his companion Holy Spirit, and capable of assertive, proactive engagement as well as defensive testimony on his behalf. The sword of Spirit does our cutting work for us.
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Here is the King James Version of our text, this time starting at verse 10:
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: (KJV)
And because we like examining the various English translations, here is the public domain World English Bible’s take:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on 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 the utility belt of truth buckled around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having fitted your feet with the preparation of the Good News of peace; 16 above all, taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. 17And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; (WEB)
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Here we offer Greek historian Polybius, writing about the Roman soldier. Polybius writes about 200 years prior to the time of Christ, and so the details of Roman armor will change, but we can get the gist of it:
From Polybius’ Histories (Loeb 1927), Book Six:
“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. 7 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).”
Let us also point a handful of allusions to armor and Christian resilience elsewhere in scripture. Some of these are from Paul’s hand, while others are from Jewish scriptures which Paul knows well and from which he has borrowed. These are presented from the New King James Version:
Exodus 12:11 11 ‘And thus you shall eat it: [with] a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It [is] the LORD’s Passover. (NKJV)
Psalm 7:13 13 He also prepares for Himself instruments of death; He makes His arrows into fiery shafts. (NKJV)
Psalm 120:4 4 Sharp arrows of the warrior, With coals of the broom tree! (NKJV)
Isaiah 11:5 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist. (NKJV)
Isaiah 49:2 2 And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, And made Me a polished shaft; In His quiver He has hidden Me.” (NKJV)
Isaiah 52:7 7 How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good [things], Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (NKJV)
Isaiah 59:17 17 For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, And was clad with zeal as a cloak. (NKJV)
Isaiah 61:10 10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks [himself] with ornaments, And as a bride adorns [herself] with her jewels. (NKJV)
Hosea 6:5 5 Therefore I have hewn [them] by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth; And your judgments [are like] light [that] goes forth. (NKJV)
Luke 12:35 35 “Let your waist be girded and [your] lamps burning; (NKJV)
Romans 10:15 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (NKJV)
Romans 13:12 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (NKJV)
2 Corinthians 6:7 7 by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, (NKJV)
1 Thessalonians 5:8 8 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and [as] a helmet the hope of salvation. (NKJV)
Hebrews 4:12 12 For the word of God [is] living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (NKJV)
James 4:7 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (NKJV)
1 Peter 1:13 13 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest [your] hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (NKJV)
1 Peter 4:1 1 Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, (NKJV)
1 John 5:4 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. (NKJV)
May God bless you. We pray you read the actual Bible for yourself.