Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians 6 by Holly J. Carey

In Eph 6, Paul exhorts his audience to don certain character traits and spiritual tools in a manner reminiscent of a warrior clothing himself for battle: Truth and Righteousness, Peaceful Proclamation of the Gospel, Faith, and Salvation and the Word are all tools in the toolkit of the Christian. According to Paul, this armor is essential so that they can be empowered with the type of strength that God possesses.

What kind of battle is being waged and against whom?
Throughout Ephesians, Paul has emphasized that what happens on earth has cosmic repercussions, that God’s work through Christ is a manifestation of his power, and that believers who are in Christ are also engaged in the work of God. Scholars from contemporary evangelical settings have traditionally interpreted Eph 6:10-17 as a reflection of Paul’s concern for individuals to make sure that they are protected from “the devil” (Eph 6:11) for their own sakes, and these settings have often reduced their understanding of the danger to spiritual matters. However, the context of the passage suggests something far more expansive, spanning both the spiritual and earthly realms. Just as God had previously put on his armor to act as the Divine Warrior against the enemies of justice, righteousness, truth, and uprightness for the sake of those who have experienced the effects of injustice, unrighteousness, falsehood, and duplicity (Isa 59:14-19), so now Paul expects his audience to do the same. Two of the four pieces of God’s armor are now part of the Christian warrior’s wardrobe, as they must put on the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. By using the language of Isa 59, Paul is calling on Ephesian Christians—and for our purposes, the contemporary church—to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. As is the case throughout the epistle, Paul sees the effects of the power dynamics between earthly kingdoms and earthly rulers as a reflection of the cosmic power struggle between God and Satan. Christians are called to join the battle, not just to protect themselves and their own spiritual standing, but to advocate and fight for those who are most likely to feel the sting of the ugliest manifestations of human power, ego, and greed. It is no wonder, then, that Paul’s urgent instruction to believers to clothe themselves with the armor of God follows immediately after the household codes of Eph 5:21-6:9, which challenge those potential social dynamics within what the Romans considered to be a microcosm of the empire: the home. Thus, the spiritual warfare described in Eph 6 has implications—not only for the Christian as an individual—but ultimately for the Christian community that is called to live in such a way as to reflect the reality of God’s power and work in the world through Christ.

Holly J. Carey, "Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians 6", n.p. [cited 17 Aug 2022]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/passages/related-articles/spiritual-warfare-in-ephesians-6



Holly J. Carey
Professor of Biblical Studies, Point University

Holly J. Carey is Professor of Biblical Studies and the Department Chair of Biblical Studies at Point University, West Point, GA, USA. She received her PhD in New Testament and Christian Origins from the University of Edinburgh and is the author of “An Armored Household: Isaiah 59 as the Key to Ephesians 5:21-6:9 and 6:10-17,” JBTS 3.2 (2018): 260-70.

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

A broad, diverse group of nations ruled by the government of a single nation.

A detailed letter, written in formal prose. Most of the New Testament books beyond the gospels are epistles (letters written to early Christians).

Advocating zealously for Christianity.

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Sets of instructions, most prominent in Ephesians and Colossians, that gave guidelines for behavior at home to different groups of people (e.g. husbands, wives, slaves, and masters).

Visible or tangible form of something ethereal, abstract, or invisible.

Eph 6

Children and Parents
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord,[a] for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a prom ... View more

Eph 6:10-17

The Whole Armor of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand ag ... View more

Eph 6:11

11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Isa 59:14-19

14 Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands at a distance;
for truth stumbles in the public square,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is l ... View more

Isa 59

Injustice and Oppression to Be Punished
1See, the Lord's hand is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.2Rather, your iniquities have been barriers ... View more

Eph 5:21-6:9

The Christian Household
21Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.22Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.23For the husband is ... View more

Eph 6

Children and Parents
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord,[a] for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a prom ... View more

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