Paul’s exhortation to take up the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10–18 is a favorite passage for many Christians. It is stirring and vivid. It reads like an inspiring call to battle. It inflames the Christian’s heart with language that radiates strength and courage for the warfare we face “in the evil day” (v. 13). Its position at the end of Ephesians makes this passage a reprise of Paul’s earlier teachings in the epistle and a final exhortation before he passes on to a very brief ending to the letter. The exhortation is quite simple: “Stand firm” and “pray.” But this beloved passage has a few striking features that come out with a closer reading, which we will briefly survey here.
The first striking feature of Ephesians 6:10–18 is an unusual term Paul uses for armed warfare. In verse 12, Paul refers to this warfare as “our struggle” (NASB, NIV), rendered as “we wrestle not” or “we do not wrestle” in the KJV and ESV, respectively. In Greek, the word is a noun that refers to a wrestling match. Such matches were commonly conducted in ancient Ephesus and elsewhere as well as in local, regional, and international games such as the Olympics. As is the case today, wrestling matches in the ancient world were not carried out in full military armor or with “flaming darts” (v. 16) and swords (v. 17).