Is the Sword the Spirit? - Eph 6:17 (Monday with Mounce 103)
In Eph 6:14-17 we have a series of genitives. We are to take up:
- the breastplate of righteousness (τὸν θώρακα τῆς δικαιοσύνης),
- the shield of faith (τὸν θυρεὸν τῆς πίστεως),
- the helmet of salvation (τὴν περικεφαλαίον τοῦ σωτηρίου),
- and the sword of the Spirit (ρὴν μάχαιραν τοῦ πνεύματος).
The question was asked, can the last genitive be appositional, which would mean that the Sword is the Spirit, and it is the Holy Spirit that we are to take up in battle. If not, then the idea is that the sword is supplied or empowered by the Spirit.
Whenever you have a string of modifiers like, I think the default position is to see them as the same type of grammatical construction. It appears that the writer is on a kind of a roll, and is thinking in parallel structures.
So could it be the breastplate, which is our righteousness in Christ, the shield, which is faith, the helmet, which is our salvation (or, the hope of our future, full salvation), and the sword, which is the Spirit? Sure. This is a standard well-attested use of the genitive. But there are a couple problems.
1. The series actually begins with “the belt of truth,” which is not a genitive construction. στῆτε οὔν περιζωσάμενοι τὴν ὀσφὺν ὑμῶν ἐν ἀληθείᾳ. “Stand firm, therefore, girding around your waist in truth.” The ESV “having fastened on the belt of truth” mistakenly creates a parallel structure that is not in the Greek, as does the NIV (“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist”). The NASB does a better job; “Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth.”
2. V 15 interrupts the series of genitives, “with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (NIV). In this case “of peace” is not appositional as it is the peace that is produced by the gospel. The case of seeing all the genitives is being appositional is being weakened.
3. But the greatest problem with seeing “of the Spirit” as appositional is that the text follows with the clarification, “which is the word of God” (ὅ ἐστιν ῥῆμα θεοῦ). Whatever the “word of God” is (the Old Testament, the gospel), it is the sword wielded by the Spirit.
Now, it would be spiritual suicide to attempt to engage the enemy without the power of the Holy Spirit. As Paul just said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (NIV). And we are incapable of fighting this battle on our own. But the question is, what is this particular text teaching.
The overall decision is whether you see this list as the gifts of God given to believers, or are as human acts of obedience? Is the focus on God or the believer? Or is it a combination of both?
I suspect Paul is saying that the only way to stand against the evil of the Enemy is not to try and do it on our own but to rely on the armor that God provides. This starts with understanding at our deepest levels the truth of what God has said in the gospel. Our protection comes from our righteous acts done in response to Gods imputation of righteousness into our own lives; God calls us to act. The gospel not only produces peace but also prepares us to live at lights in a dark world. God’s gift of faith to us protects us. God’s gift of our salvation protects us. And the Spirit wields the sword, which is the proclamation of the gospel.
John Piper’s frequent admonition to adopt a wartime lifestyle is surely key to being ready vehicles of God’s sovereign plans to defeat the Enemy.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.
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