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Context:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV)

What does Paul mean by "the word of God" (verse 17)? Can the meaning be inferred from the surrounding context or intertextually from other passages? Of course, the preceding sentence describes it allegorically as "the sword of the Spirit", but then I would ask the same question: what does Paul mean by "the sword of the Spirit"?

4 Answers 4

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Key Element of the analogy
To properly understand the analogy of the word of God as the sword of the Spirit it is helpful to understand what, within the analogy, the sword of the Spirit is meant to be wielded against.

11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. - Ephesians 6:11

Ultimately, the sword is meant to destroy the schemes of the devil.

Jesus our Example
In fact, we actually have the example of our Master Jesus Christ, full of the Holy Spirit, doing exactly this when He was led out into the wilderness:

​1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil... -Luke 4:1-2

Against each and every one of the devil's temptation schemes, our Master, defeated him with the Word of God:

3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered,
“It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and
“‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him,
“Again it is written, ​‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him,
“All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him,
“Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

11 Then the devil left him... -Matthew 4:3-11

Conclusion
Jesus, our master and example, full of the Spirit, used God's spoken and inspired word to defeat the temptation schemes of the devil. Thus, it seems that Jesus understood the sword of the Spirit to be God's spoken and inspired word, and so I conclude likewise.

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  • 1
    A very straightforward and biblical answer. I’d give it +100 if I could.
    – bob
    Apr 30 at 17:53
  • Another reference that I just read today: He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. - Revelation 19:13-15 (emphasis added)
    – mbomb007
    May 2 at 15:55
  • And the Spirit (capitalized) is, of course, the Holy Spirit.
    – mbomb007
    May 2 at 15:59
5

In the message regarding the armor of God, the sword is the only offensive weapon that is presented. Everything else is designed to defend & protect areas of vulnerability, such as:

  • Helmet (knowledge, thoughts)
  • Girded loins/belt (chastity, family)
  • Shoes (where we're going)

In battle, one may survive with merely defensive implements, but one cannot conquer without offensive instruments.

The sword of the Spirit is referred to as the word of God. Some enlightening passages on the word of God:

  • He speaks and the universe obeys (Gen. 1:3)

  • It brings light where there is darkness (Gen. 1:3 as well)

  • It is pure (Proverbs 30:5)

  • It shows the way (John 5:39)

  • It pricks the heart to facilitate repentance (Acts 2:37-38)

  • It instructs & reproves (2 Tim. 3:16)

  • In another brilliant sword analogy it pierces, divides, and cuts right through insincerity & deception:

12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

When a person is trustworthy, their word can be relied upon. An honest person's credibility and the full weight of their influence & resources stand behind their word. God is the ultimate example of such a Being: when He speaks, there can be a certainty (to a degree not possible for information gained from other sources--see discussion of epistemology here).

When He speaks, the full weight of His influence & resources stand behind it. God's word provides light where there is darkness, knowledge where there is ignorance, truth where there are lies--in other words, it overcomes the very tools the devil uses to tempt, distract, and destroy.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

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  • Very interesting answer. I don't agree with everything in it. I think the word of God spoken of in 2 Timothy 3:16 is different from the Word of God that constructed an inhabitable cosmos in Genesis 1:3; the former refers to, well, the scriptures, while the latter refers to the Word of God, who is a person. However, this is a unique perspective. I think the rest of it is very well said. Especially this -- "An honest person's credibility and the full weight of their influence & resources stand behind their word. God is the ultimate example of such a Being" Upvote just for that! Brilliant. :)
    – Rajesh
    Apr 30 at 4:36
  • @Rajesh - it looks like you are not too fond of tautologies, nor of other people's writing styles. Perhaps you should post an answer of your own (I'd be very curious actually :-)) Apr 30 at 4:42
  • 1
    @SpiritRealmInvestigator "nor of other people's writing styles" Oh no, I'm fine with other people's writing styles. My edits are really only suggestions, since it is his answer, and he can roll back to the original anytime he wants. But, generally, tautologies are considered to be a fault in style. "it looks like you are not too fond of tautologies" You got that right. I mean, would you like it if I told you to get me some liquid water in a cup? "Take a look at that skyscraper building!" :>> "Perhaps you should post an answer of your own" I don't really have much to say on this subject.
    – Rajesh
    Apr 30 at 4:48
  • And the Spirit (capitalized) is, of course, the Holy Spirit.
    – mbomb007
    May 2 at 15:58
2

Let us take this in two steps:

The Word (Logos) of God

According to BDAG, the Word (Logos) of God "is simply the Christian message, the gospel", Luke 5:1, 8:11, 21, 11:28, Acts 6:2, 13:44, 14:36, 2 Cor 2:17, 4:2, Col 1:25, 1 Peter 1:23, Rev 1:9, etc.

The Sword of the Spirit

The NT clearly teaches that the inspired Word of God as recorded in the Bible can only be understood by the divine enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, John 14:16, 17, 15:26, 1 Cor 2:6-16, Eph 1:17-19, 2 Peter 1:21, 2 Tim 3:15, 16, 1 Thess 1:5, Heb 9:8, 1 Peter 1:12, Ps 119:18.

The expression in Eph 6:17 is also reminiscent of Heb 4:12 : “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” But there (as in 1 Cor 14:26; 2 Cor 2:17; Col 1:25; 2 Tim. 2:29) the original word is the larger and deeper word (Logos), signifying the truth of God in itself (Ellicott).

Result

Putting these two halves together we have Paul's teaching that the word of God is sharpened by the sword of the Spirit as the Christian's only offensive weapon. That is, the Word of God can only be wielded by a Spirit-empowered Christian.

That is why the sword of the Spirit is the word of God.

-2

WORD of GOD

Like "spirit" πνεῦμα can have a general meaning of the essence of God (to the result that Father is πνεῦμα /cf. John 4:22/, Son is πνεῦμα /cf.1 Cor. 15:45/ and H. Ghost is πνεῦμα), and also πνεῦμα has a specific, personal-hypostatic significance as being one of the Hypostases of the Trinity /cf. John 15:26/ (to the result that Father and the Son are not πνεῦμα, but only the H.Ghost is πνεῦμα in this sense), similarly with the term "word".

On the one hand this term can mean the Hypostasis of the Son, and on the other hand it can mean the energy of action of divine will and wisdom on human heart, which energy of action is also God, albeit not with reference to the Hypostasis of Logos, but with reference of the energy and activity of God, for God's activity is also inseparable from the reality of God and thus is also God. This presence of divine energy in our hearts can even transform and embolden our hearts, helping us to find our hidden roar and turning us from cowards to heroes, from feeble men, to the titans, the titans of Spirit; like in Psalms 104:19, which says that Joseph's heart was made fiery by the presence of the word of God (τὸ λόγιον τοῦ Κυρίου ἐπύρωσεν αὐτόν), and weren't hearts of Luke and Kleopas burning (καρδία καιομένη) when hearing the inspiring words of the resurrected Lord (Luke 24:32)?

Here in Ephesians the "word" means not the Hypostasis of Logos, but the Activity, the Operation or Grace of the Hypostasis of Logos, that of the Hypostasis of Father and that of the Hypostasis of H.Ghost, that is to say, the working of the divine truth and wisdom, that belong likely to all Three of Them, in our hearts, and this Activity is the Activity that must govern and conquer any other activity in us.

For instance, if I have in my heart an activity of an infatuating romantic eros towards a beautiful wife of my colleague and see the same eros of her towards me, so that nothing is there to block our prospect of mutual romantic-sexual rejoicing in a secret date, and I am completely carried away by this powerful drive, to the extent that even the idea of not having such a date seems terrifyingly appalling to me, then only the Activity of God's wisdom and commandment in my heart can stop this irresistible drive - like in Psalm 118:13 "I was pushed [by the sinful drive] and about to fall, but the Lord helped me" - and this salvific Activity is called the "word of God". That's why the "word" or "commandment" ἐντολή of God is said to be the "sharpest", and I would add "most venomous", for it poisons and kills all sinful delectations, that are ruinous for soul, just like snake's venom is used against deadly infections in the art of medicine.

Thus, we can say that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, gives us the Word(s) of God, i.e. His articulable commandments, as well as also the Power to fulfill those commandments, and when He works in us to make His commandments in our hearts - that is to say, His "Word" in us - our existential reality, we can say that "not we but He lives in us" (Gal.2:20), which is the same to say "Logos' word or words/commandments live(s) in us".

SWORD of SPIRIT

Now, why this "word", this graceful-operational presence of God in our hearts is called the "sword of the Spirit"? First of all we should establish the semantics of 'spirit' here, for it can mean a) Holy Spirit as a trinitarian Hypostasis, or b) Spirit as the Holy Trinity's divine essence which is totally spiritual (so as for the expression "sword of Spirit" to be translated as "spiritual sword"), or c) a human soul or human created spirit, for Paul sometimes uses πνεῦμα in this sense also (cf. 1 Cor. 14:14 /"my spirit prays"/). All three are possible. The b) and c) variants are easy to interpret: b) The action of God in us, His graceful presence in us is a "spiritual sword", for exactly divine action in us repels and kills the influence of sinful passions in us; and c) If we want to overcome the demons' and sin's influence on us, our spirit/soul/personality should ask God for not removing His graceful presence from us, for only through this presence can our spirit be rescued from a defeat and subjugation to the sweet drive of sin, and that's why it can be called as "sword of our spirit".

But what if the a) option is the one Paul had in mind? This is most difficult and I will timidly try to hazard this explanation: there might be some causality or sequentiality here: we have to first receive Holy Spirit in order to understand the full meaning and intent of the Lord's words/commandments (John 16:12-15), and thus, Lord's words so understood in the light of the Holy Spirit, will indeed become "Sword of the Holy Spirit", that is to say, caused by and preceded by acceptance and presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Otherwise, without the enlightening effect of the Holy Spirit the same words of the Lord can be understood pervertedly, and a man can amputate his hand by an axe really after hearing from the Lord "it is better to cut one's hand and enter heavenly Kingdom one-handed" (Matthew 5:30), and the word of God so understood, that is to say, without enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, will not be a "sword of the Spirit", but an "axe of idiocy", as a matter of fact.

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  • @Down-voters Dear down-voters 1st and 2nd, articulate you’re objections, pls., why not to drag me out of my darkness of ignorance in such important matters? Be charitable! Apr 30 at 8:40
  • In my observation, such down-voter base their objections on ignorance - what they cannot understand is wrong. Take these downvotes as an indirect piece of flattery that you answer is higher and better than such people are capable of understanding - a bit like Jesus' pearl before swine. I also suspect that a person of your character would like their appreciation because, "It is no distinction to be distinguished by those who cannot distinguish." I have offered an upvote to help balance things.
    – Dottard
    Apr 30 at 9:13
  • @Dottard Gratitudes! One positive feedback from a person like you by far outweighs hundreds of anonymous downvotes from the ones who do not deign it worthy to substantiate and articulate their negative standpoints. Apr 30 at 9:41
  • I downvoted this because honestly it is very hard to understand what you intend to say. It would help if you communicated your thoughts more succinctly—there are a lot of words and moving parts and thoughts that don’t seem at least at face value to go together. Basically it’s not clear to me from this how you conceive us using the Sword of the Spirit. This is not a an attack, but constructive criticism (per your request) in how to improve this answer.
    – bob
    Apr 30 at 18:00
  • 1
    @bob Thanks dear Bob for your feedback. You are right, I was not enough attentive and did not read the entire question, so that I did not treat the "sword of the Spirit" metaphor at all. I will think more and amend my post, thanks again! Apr 30 at 18:50

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