Although this Letter is commonly referred to as ‘To The Assembly At Ephesus’ there is general agreement that this was not the (only) intended destination. Written around 61-63 C.E. whilst Sha`ul was in prison at Rome, there are no personal details, surprisingly so given that Sha`ul spent a long time at Ephesus. It is a very Gentile letter as oppose to other letters he wrote (Barclay p73). There does not seem to be any reference to a particular problem that needed addressing. Therefore, it is assumed that the letter was a circular to the Assemblies in Asia Minor (Barclay p82) or more specifically, the Assemblies of the Lycus Valley (Collosae, Laodecia, Hieropolis and Ephesus) (Massie p11). This reflects the addressees of Revelation 1:4.
The Letter stresses unity in Messiah (v4:3) (Massie p21) and may be the result of Sha`ul’s imprisonment leading to the opening of inter-assembly rivalries akin to the old civic and commercial jealousies of the cities. This Letter may well have been circulated to the general area to try to remove this budding problem. It may well be that with such a strong character as Sha`ul out of the way, opposition was gathering from both Gentile and Jewish non-Believers. This strife can be clearly be seen in the record of Sha`ul’s ministry (Acts 19:1-20:1; Acts 21:27-28) and referred to by Yochanan in Revelations (Rev. 2:1-11)(www.ibr-bbr.org.). Whatever was the cause, there could be only one outcome.
Sha`ul was in prison for his faith (v3:1) and calls himself an ambassador in chains (v6:20). He would have been chained to at least one Roman soldier at all times. He most probably dictated the letter in the presence of these guards.
Pax Romana, the peace that occurred under Roman rule, was extensive and was prized throughout the Empire. Syncretism of all religions was a major goal of the legislature. Therefore, any armed disputes or uprisings were severely dealt with as can be seen how the Jewish Wars were finally terminated in 70 C.E. Sha`ul had seen at first hand the vehemence of the local authorities to the Good News and how easily they stirred up trouble for Believers.
His concern was not just for the Believers but that of the propagation of the Good News message. Up to 52 C.E., all Believers were classified by Rome as being part of Judaism and that was a tolerated religion within the empire. Syncretism of all religions was a major goal of legislature. However, by 64 C.E. all Believers were considered to belong to a non-acceptable religion (www.owlcation.com). Their refusal to acknowledge the Emperor as god and their monotheistic beliefs lead to increased intolerance that finally broke out in outright persecution under Nero in 64 C.E. Sha`ul’s visitors in prison would have made him aware of the rising hostilities to the Good News message and thus to all Believers. Any sign of local disturbances would be laid at the doors of the local Assemblies, all too ready to be slandered by local opposition.
v10) “Finally, be strong in יְהֹוָה, and in the strength of His might.” Rav Sh`aul (Paul) is in prison in Rome, chained to one or two guards (v20) and he is dictating a letter to Tychicus (v21) to the Believers at Ephesus. The strength is not of us, and the text would be better rendered “be made powerful” (Massie p125). Believers are to be made strong by יְהֹוָה. Like all Scripture, this is relevant to all Believers for all times. Sha`ul is letting the readers know how he is and how they (like him) may withstand the coming onslaught of the Adversary. Sh`aul tells Believers to do two things: i) to put on the spiritual armour (v11a) and ii) to pray in the Spirit at all times (v18). Vv11b-17 can be considered to be parenthical between the two imperatives of put on and pray. These verses are used to describe exactly what spiritual armour entails.
v12) “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 hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Sh`aul instructs why Believers must be strong in Messiah for the battle is not against flesh and blood. It is important to stress that the war is not against Muslims, Hindus, Humanists etc., but against the demonic spirits that lie behind their ideology (cf 1 Cor. 10:3).
v13) “Therefore, put on the whole armour of יְהֹוָה, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.” It is necessary to view this passage (vv10-18) in light of the Roman soldier(s) chained to Sh`aul. Rome’s expansion was due to the effectiveness of the army. This came about by the constant discipline, training and superior armour and tactics. In a battle the Roman soldiers marched forward but braced themselves when confronted by a mass attack. This preparation would be foremost in the legionnaire’s mind when order to stand. This command was to stand firm and resist all attackers.
The day mentioned here is not a specific day, but is the expectation that there will surely be a time of strife or war having the most severe of consequences. Abbott quoting Meyer suggests that this time of conflict is due to the waxing stronger of satanic power as the Messiah’s Second Advent approaches. These times will become more severe and more often as haSatan becomes more and more desperate (Abbott p184).
Sha`ul exhorts Believers “to put on the complete armour of יְהֹוָה” so that we are fully equipped to face the battle. At this time, all Roman soldiers were fully kitted out by the Senate (https://historyplex.com/ancient-roman-armor). Although the costs were substantial, it ensured that every soldier was suitably equipped, as any deficiency may lead to a military defeat at a crucial time.
v14a) “Stand up therefore,”. To stand up is not in respect of being seated, but means to stand erect in the face of adversity. Stand firm – this makes no sense if put on is considered as present sense. A soldier would already have the physical armour on prior to making the stand (Abbott p185). Therefore the verbs put on (armour), gird (loins/belt), put on (breastplate), shod/protect (sandals/legs), taking up (shield), put on (helmet), take hold (sword) all should be preceded by having as is the case for the belt, breastplate and sandals according to the NKJV.
v14b) “…and gird up your loins with truth;…” This expression means to prepare for action or work (John 13:4) as it allows for free movement of the limbs. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). Many translations have a belt of truth, but these take away the emphasis of the verse, concentrating upon the belt and not upon the readiness for action (Barclay p217).
Sha`ul starts with this rather than from the head (working downwards) or feet (working upwards). This is to stress that the spiritual defence of a Believer starts with knowing the truth (Roth p959). The truth is the first, and only, defence against lies and deception. The way to know the truth is to know the Word of יְהֹוָה.
v14c) “…and put on the breastplate of righteousness.” This breastplate was probably the Lorica Musculata, bronze plate armour worn over layered linen, wool or leather (https://historyplex.com/ancient-roman-armor). This armour protects the area of the vital organs, particularly the heart. This is where it is said that a person is subject to pride and temptation. The breastplate can, therefore be likened to two things, both equally vital in our defence:
- a) Knowing the Word of יְהֹוָה. “Yahshua answered it, saying, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of יְהֹוָה.”” (Luke 4:4).; “Yahshua answered it, ‘Get behind me haSatan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship יְהֹוָה your `Elohiym and Him only shall you serve.”” (Luke 4:8); Yahshua answering, said to it, ‘It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt יְהֹוָה your `Elohiym.”” (Luke 4:12).
- b) Having faith; in יְהֹוָה “He believed in יְהֹוָה, and He reckoned it o him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:16); and in His Messiah, “and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the Law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which is from יְהֹוָה by faith;” (Phil. 3:9). Faith comes by the Word, “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of יְהֹוָה,” (Rom. 10:17).; “Every writing inspired by יְהֹוָה is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction which is in righteousness,” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Words of a Believer are never sufficient to thwart accusations as these can easily be distorted, but the continuous day-to-day actions of a person made righteous speaks more loudly than any words (Barclay p217).
v15 “and having fitted your feet with the preparation of the Good News of shalom,” The footwear of the Roman soldier was the same for all ranks. These were thick leather soled open sandals that allowed the feet to breathe to prevent infections. In colder climes, woollen socks would be worn. The underneath of the soles were studded with hobnails. Known as Caligae (https://historyplex.com/ancient-roman-armor), these sandals protected the feet given that a soldier would have been expected to march up to 20 miles a day, fully kitted out with weapons, equipment and provisions.
Not only was the caligae protection for feet, they had an offensive role. In close, hand-to-hand combat, the caligae could be scraped down an opponent’s sins and stamped on to their feet. This not only caused damage, but would be a momentary distraction that was sufficient for the Roman soldier to press his attack and kill his adversary.
Caligae were also advantageous when it came to facing of an assault. The hobnails could be ground into the earth to give better purchase when commanded to stand firm.It also helped when the order was given to march forward, pushing the enemy backwards.
The sandals were also a sign that the soldier was prepared to go wherever and whenever a command was given to move out (cf Matt. 8:8, 9).
“The Good News of shalom” could refer to the message of salvation. Here, the Believer is called to be prepared to witness to non-Believers in all situations. “The word which He sent to the Children of Yisra`el, preaching Good News of shalom by Yahshua the Messiah – He is Master of all- that the word you yourselves know, which was proclaimed throughout all Yehudah, beginning from Galil, after the immersion which Yochanan preached; even Yahshua of Natzeret, how יְהֹוָה annointed Him with the Ruach haKodesh with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for יְהֹוָה was with Him. We are witnesses of everything He did both in the country of the Yehudim, and in Yerushalayim; whom they also killed, hanging Him on a tree.” (Acts 10:36-39). HaSatan wants to keep everyone oppressed, so much that they are unable to move. Being readyto spread this Good News ensures that although Believers are constantly pressed but never oppressed (Roth p961).
Shalom may also be wholeness, completeness and unity (Roth p961). The Roman soldier was, no doubt, fearful when going in to battle. Nevertheless, he would take courage by the fact that he was one of many brethren, part of an army and that they were all united behind a proven general. Believers must take solace in the fact that we, too, are one of many in יְהֹוָה’s and follow the one true General (Rev.19:19).
v16) “above all, taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.” The shield, known as a scotum, was a large (4’-6” x 2’-6”) rectangular, semi-cylindrical affair constructed of two pieces of wood glued and sandwiched together with a covering of canvass and leather (https://historyplex.com/ancient-roman-armor). A large hemi-spherical metal boss stood proud of the centre to deflect direct thrusts. This would weigh up to 10 kgs. and be capable of being locked together with similar shields either side, forming an almost impenetrable wall (Abbott p186).
A common weapon used in the 1st. Century B.C.E. and C.E. was an arrow or dart that was wrapped in linen and dipped in inflammable tow. They would be set alight and fired at the enemy. The scotum protected most of the body’s vital areas and, if hit with a burning dart, the dart would fizzle out (Barclay p218).
Again, although the shield was primarily defensive armour, it was also used in an offensive manner. In close combat, a Roman soldier would smash the shield’s large metal boss into the body and face of his opponent.
Some translations have the shield replaced by confidence. Believers must ensure that their faith is not compromised by doubt of any kind as this weakness allows the enemy to gain access (Abbott p186). The shield wall was only as good as the soldiers and their shields either side. This is only possible to a Believer when there is a close relationship with each other through the General, Messiah Yahshua.
v17a) “And take the helmet of salvation…” There were many types of helmet worn by Roman soldiers over the centuries that the Empire prevailed. At the time of writing this letter, the commonly used type was the coolus (https://historyplex.com/ancient-roman-armor). This was a brass dome having protection for the neck and cheeks. The shape helped to deflect any force away from the head. This protected the most vulnerable part of the body, especially as the head had to be above the top rim of the scotum in order to see the enemy. Although the cheek guards protected the side of the face, it also prevented the soldier from taking sideward glances. Only by turning the head, could a soldier look around. This concentrated the soldier’s attention on the enemy directly ahead and not to be distracted by the chaos around about.
Believers are called to guard their thoughts and keep looking to their Saviour. “You will keep him in perfect shalom, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isa. 26:3). It is vital that Believers not allow their thoughts to wander into areas of potential sin. “For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and shalom;” (Rom. 8:6). Thus the helmet can represent the forgiveness of past sins and a means to combat future temptations (Barclay p218).
Upon salvation, Believers are called to proclaim that Messiah Yehshua is Master (Rom. 10:9, 10). This is, in effect a testimony of a person’s regeneration. “And they overcame it by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (Rev.12:11).
“He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head…” (Isa. 59:17). Here, Sha`ul sees an interesting play on words. יְשׁוּעָה כּוֹבַע kowba` yĕshuw`ah is what Sha`ul would remember so he adapts this in Aramaic to Sonorta d’paroqana (paroqa is the transliteration of Saviour). Both of these could be read as The Helmet of Yahshua.
v17b) “…and the sword of the Spriit, which is the word of יְהֹוָה; (https://historyplex.com/ancient-roman-weapons). The type of sword that was most commonly used at this time was known as the gladius (the root from which came the word gladiator). It was a short (approx. 20”-25”), double edged sword, used mainly for stabbing. With a shield wall up, it was possible to strike between or over the shields at an opponent. Its short length lead perfectly to close quarter fighting (where there was little room to swing a chopping sword) typical of Roman tactics.
“For the word of יְהֹוָה is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12).
The sword is both an offensive and defensive weapon. So with the word of יְהֹוָה that must be used for the tearing down the strongholds of the Adversary (1 Cor. 10:4). It is also the source of any defence that Believers may put up against haSatan and its forces (Luke 4:1-14).
“Out of His mouth proceeds a sharp, double-edged sword, that with it He should strike the nations…” (Rev. 19:15a). The Messiah, when He returns to earth, will slay the armies of the nations, not with any physical force, but by a single commandment. Creation was formed by a commandment (Gen. 1:3-25) and the nations will be destroyed by a word (Gen. 12:3).
v18) “with all prayer and requests, praying at all times in the Spirit and being watchful to this end in intercession and requests for all the set apart ones:” (cf Phil. 4:6). The final part of Sha`ul’s description of spiritual armour was the prayer. If I may be so bold, I liken prayer to the Roman pilum. This was a heavy javelin of about 6 feet in length. It was a means of attacking the enemy from a remote distance. When thrown, its weight (2-4kg.) and force of throw would easily break through any opponents armour or shield usually with fatal consequences (https://historyplex.com/ancient-roman-weapons). Although it was primarily a distance weapon, the pilum could be used up close as a stabbing weapon. A prayer offered up in U.K. could be effective anywhere in the world. Similarly, an effective prayer may be offered up for an immediate situation.
Therefore Believers, having put on the armour must stand firm (Abbott p185). The armour must already be on in order that the soldier can stand firm. The put on is a one off event and is an action that has been fully completed and is in the same sense that Messiah was sacrificed once for all. It is not to be repeated therefore the inference is that the armour is never to be taken off.
The Roman army was an effective fighting force for over 500 years. Part of its success was down to its amour and weaponry. However, another major contribution was the tactics used by its generals. A single Roman soldier was vulnerable on his own. Nevertheless, when this soldier formed part of a fighting unit, it was much stronger than the sum of its individual men. This was down to the army being a permanent standing army, not having to return to look after farms etc. This allowed for training every day that they were not on the march, carried out with strict discipline. The ultimate form of punishment for gross disobedience almost leading to military defeat (not defeat by superior forces) was decimation. This is where the offending group drew lots and a tenth of the group were killed by the other members. This ensured that orders were firmly adhere to and that each member of the group was subsequently responsible for the well-being and the discipline of the other members, so that the general’s commands may be followed without wavering.
This Letter was meant to encourage unity and discipline within the assemblies’ members. It would do well for current readers of the Letter to remember that each Believer has a responsibility towards Messiah Yahshua and other Believers.
Stand firm and pray imperatives are to be considered as events that once started continue until the outcome has been established. This would be when there is no longer a need to stand against the strategies of the Accuser i.e. when a Believer goes home to Glory or Messiah returns for His people.
In a Roman army, there were many different divisions; heavy and light infantry, cavalry, archers, sling-shots that formed the fighting arm of the army. There would also be many trades including cooks, medics, metalworkers, cobblers and carpenters. All were essential for an effective army. In the same way, the Ruach haKodesh has made available various spiritual gifts, services and workings (1 Cor. 12:1-31), that are vital to the health and effective ministry of an assembly. However, it is necessary for Believers to exercise such gifts.
During David’s mercenary years, on one occasion his fighting men raised an objection to the equal sharing of the spoils between the soldiers and the baggage handlers. “Who will listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who tarries by the baggage: they shall share alike.” (1 Sam. 30:24). David did not consider one job being of more importance than another. Whether the Apostle or the tea maker, both will be equally blessed by יְהֹוָה.
A Roman soldier, once enlisted, had to serve at least 20 years (with a possible extra 5 years as a reservist) (bbc.co.uk). Upon enlisting, he was promised an allocation of land upon which to retire. Upon salvation, Believers, too, were given promises. “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it was not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2). “Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which יְהֹוָה promised to those who love Him.”(James 1:12).
Pastor Andre Trocme knew the value of spiritual weaponry during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II:
Tremendous pressure will be put on us to submit passively to a totalitarian ideology. If they do not succeed in subjugating our souls, at least they will want to subjugate our bodies. The duty of Christians is to use the weapons of the Spirit to oppose the violence that they will try to put on our consciences. We appeal to all our brothers in Christ to refuse to cooperate with this violence.
Loving, forgiving, and doing good to our adversaries is our duty. Yet we must do this without giving up, and without being cowardly. We shall resist whenever our adversaries demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the gospel. We shall do so without fear, but also without pride and without hate. (gsp.yale.edc).
Abbott Rev. T.K. (1897) The Critical and Exegetical Commentary On The Epistles To The Ephesians And To The Colossians, T&T Clark, Edinburgh.
Barclay W. (1959) The Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Andrews Press, Edinburgh.
Massie J. The Century Bible – Corinthians, Ephesians, etc., Caxton Pub., London.
Roth A.G. (2008) Aramaic English New Testament, 4th. Ed., Netzari Press, U.S.A.