Even a quick internet search will turn up huge numbers of sermons and site describing just exactly what the “Whole Armor of God” really is. They will meticulously detail just exactly what the helmet of salvation is and how we both get and keep it. They will lavish attention on the Sword of the Spirit and urge us to keep it sharp. And the whole parade of details will entirely miss the point.
Yes, the Greek word meant armor but even then it meant more than just armor. It meant the entire collection of accoutrements which make up a fully dressed soldier, ready to work. It meant the entire list, the whole panoply, and there’s the interesting bit, the Greek word is panoplia which is in fact the root of our word panoply.
The panoply is the fullness of all the things needed to be ‘well put together’ as the Brits say, and that is a lot more understandable than a description of greaves and arm bracers. Paul even makes it explicit that he is using the word for armor but not talking about armor. He reminds us that “our battle is not against flesh and blood” it is against the dark voices in our heart, the conflicted relationships around us, and the imperatives of a society where violence is considered a legitimate answer to disappointment and body image is exalted to the point that people who cannot fit choose suicide. Paul rejects this idea quite fiercely and affirms that we are fighting ideas not people.
And how did Judah Ben Hur say to fight an idea? with another idea. How do you fight a battle against dark voices? With voices of light. How do you fight against spirtual evil? With spiritual good. So perhaps it is time to take another look at this whole armor idea, and chuck it out the window.
Instead, what are the qualities Paul describes? Truth – the absolute, real opposite of lies and bullshit. Righteousness – the fully lived, real life of faith. This is a thing we do every day, a living, breathing reality rather than a static list of qualities for us to worry if we have enough of them. Readiness – this is the eager, poised, preparedness to see God at work and point this out to others. Faith – this is trust without reservation, rather than belief without doubt and trust in God will indeed extinguish all the firey arrows of our enemy. Salvation – the reality of being called and claimed by God. It includes the idea that we are cared for and kept in safety by the God who is present and active. Word of God – usually assumed to be the Scripture or a pronouncement of God’s Will but John put it differently. “In the beginning was the Word” and that Word is Jesus. So the Word of God is a living being rather than letters on a page.
This then is the panoply of God, the “whole armor” we are urged to put on. It is a series of attitudes and ways of being . One could just as easily speak of hard hat and work boots or briefcase and handbag in order to give modern descriptions of what we translate as “armor.” The point is not the exact name but that it points to ways of being and living that flow from the fullness of God in us.