Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hoplites and Ephesians 6

This is just too interesting to not write about.

Recently, I heard an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-17 by Liam Atchison that blew me away. Bringing his expertise in history (he teaches a class in ancient greek history at Kansas State University) to bear on this rather familiar passage, he has pointed out that many of us have fundamentally misunderstood the concept of the "armor of God."

We typically imagine this as an individual matter -- protecting ourselves from the personal attacks of the enemy. But Atchison suggests that the word for "full armor" that Paul uses, "panhoplian," would have conjured up images of the Hoplite soldiers in the minds of 1st century Greek readers. The striking thing about the Hoplites is that they could not function as individuals, but only in tight formation where each warrior's shield covered half of their own body and half of the warrior next to them, forming an interlocking system of protection. This made them almost invincible in battle. (I should mention that Atchison strengthens his case by noting how this passage is located in the context of instructions about household codes and how we are to relate with others.)

The application that Atchison draws from this is that in order to appropriate the "full armor of God," we must do it in groups! We must live and fight alongside other believers, rather than as isolated individuals. Alone, we are quite vulnerable. I realized that if this is true, I may be in danger, because I really don't have the kind of tight relationships Paul is encouraging here. I have tended to fight alone in recent years. (Check out Abe's related post here.)

Now, Atchison could be wrong. The prominence of the Hoplites was a good 500 years before Paul, but the image may still have been a familiar one. Also, the term "panhoplan" could have been a generic one for armor. But what if he's right?

(The photograph is one I took at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during my recent trip. There was an accompanying placard that described Hoplite soldiers.)


Anonymous abe said...

it is not good for man to be alone.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous abe said...

i really like his idea. i can't comment on the expositional accuracy, but i do like the image.

i was writing about myself, as i tend to be a loner, but also about my friend(s) who don't see the danger.

7:18 PM  

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