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. When advising the church at Ephesus the apostle Paul tells them to put on the breastplate of righteousness

Name KJV Ephesians 6 : 14

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

Yet when he advises the church at Thessalonica he tells to put on faith and love as a breastplate

KJV 1 Thessalonians 5 : 8

But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

Why does Paul interchange the armour?

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  • 5
    Paul is using metaphors! Such need not be consistent!
    – Dottard
    Apr 16, 2023 at 21:52

5 Answers 5

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The two passages have slightly different contexts.

Paul is writing to the Thessalonians in Chapter 5:1ff on the need to remain watchful because one does not know when the Lord will return (... the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in a night ...), whereas in Ephesians 6:10ff he instructing on how to withstand the devil (... that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil ...).

In the first context, he emphasizes watchfulness, driving a need for sobriety, aided by faith, love and hope:

Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation (v.6-8).

In the second context, he emphasizes the need to withstand evil, which requires a different, more diverse arsenal:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints (v.12-18).

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Illustrations are used to make particular points at particular times. Circumstances may warrant slight adjustments, especially when if there is a considerable time gap (as there was here), and different people are being told the illustration. Today, we might call that "tweeking".

But an illustration is simply a tool to use to serve a particular purpose. It is not an unadjustable statement that states eternal truths that are set in stone. It is not a doctrine.

With the Ephesians, Paul might have had in mind some points in his memory from previous contact with them that caused him to speak of righteousness and truth - for he had written about the righteousness of God and the truth of God. Perhaps he was depicting those things as qualities that only God could equip them with - HIS righteousness, and HIS truth, to withstand this attack of Satan.

With the Thessalonians, Paul might have had in mind a need for them to be more vigilant regarding what they did. They might have needed to be reminded of the need for them to practice more faith and love which are not defensive things, but outreach strategies.

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I do not think we need be too concerned about a variation in Paul's metaphors!

Recall that the point of both a breastplate of faith (1 Thess 5:8) and a shield of faith (Eph 6:14) is to gain protection from -

... all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Eph 6:16)

The fact that faith protects us from Satan's "schemes" (Eph 6:10) designated as "flaming arrows" (Eph 6:16) does mot matter if it likened to a shield or a breastplate. The meaning is the same - faith gives the victory as we are told several times in Scripture:

  • 1 John 5:4 - because everyone born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith.
  • Heb 11:33 - who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions,
  • Rev 2:10 - Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
  • Ps 89:24 - My faithfulness and mercy will be with him, and in my name he will be victorious.
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Background
Based on Paul's Gospel, one could make the argument a breastplate of righteousness and a breastplate of faith and love are two ways of describing the same thing:

5We eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith. 6 Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter. (Galatians 5 CEB)

The cornerstone of Paul's Gospel is righteousness by faith, and having been made righteous by faith, the love of God is poured into the heart:

22 God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him. There’s no distinction. 23 All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, 24 but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus (Romans 3)
1Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ...5This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5)

Arguably, Paul has simply combined faith and love into righteousness. If the two are not the same piece described with different terms, they are are very similar in nature.

Complete-Armor and Pieces of Armor
If we are to see a difference, it is primarily due to the difference between the Thessalonians and the Ephesians. The message to the Christians in Thessalonica, who are new to the faith, focuses on reinforcing the hope of salvation. The message to the mature Ephesians focuses on reinforcing the purpose of salvation. In the first, Paul is describing two pieces with an inward perspective. In the second, Paul is describing the complete-armor with an outward perspective.

Two Pieces of Armor
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:8 ESV)

Complete-Armor
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 (Ephesians 6)

Here is a comparison of the two:

Two Pieces of Armor                   Complete-Armor
Helmet: hope of salvation             Helmet of the salvation
Breastplate: of faith and of love     Breastplate of the righteousness
                                      Belt of truth
                                      Shoes of preparation of the gospel of the peace

                                      Shield of the faith
                                      Sword of the Spirit

The helmet is also described differently. It is not the helmet of the salvation; it is simply helmet of hope of salvation. In the letter to the Thessalonians Paul does not use the article with either piece of armor; in the letter to the Ephesians, each piece and its purpose are written with the article.

The Thessalonians are new Christians working through the significance of their recent rebirth. They cannot put on the complete-armor without first being assured in their salvation. Therefore, Paul instructs them to put on helmet of hope of salvation and breastplate of faith and love.

The Ephesians are mature Christians and Paul instructs them to put on τὴν πανοπλία, the panoplia, the complete-armor. Here faith, which was in the breastplate is identified separately in the shield. Nevertheless, one does not have righteousness unless one has faith. To the Ephesians, Paul assumes the faith which makes one righteous and calls for a different faith, sharing the Gospel.

Conclusion
I think it is reasonable to understand the two breastplates as being identical. The difference lies in what the breastplate becomes when worn as part of the panoplia of God. Worn separately it describes what the new Christian has. Just as they have hope of salvation in their mind, they have faith and love in their heart. On the other hand, when the Christian goes out to share the Gospel, they are to put on the complete-armor.

Righteousness in God is based on faith in Christ and His love in the heart. One could say the assurance of salvation in the mind has completely fused faith and love into righteousness. With that assurance, the other pieces are needed in order to successfully share the Gospel. Their shield of faith is not in the hope of their salvation, but in the hope of salvation for others. That is, the assurance of salvation is reflected in how both the helmet and the breastplate are identified.

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We should also consider the possibility that Ephesians was not written directly by Paul. The Catholic editors of the New American Bible point out:

Much of critical scholarship has considered the letter’s style and use of words (especially when compared with Colossians), its concept of the church, and other points of doctrine put forward by the writer as grounds for serious doubt about authorship by Paul. The letter may then be the work of a secretary writing at the apostle’s direction or of a later disciple who sought to develop Paul’s ideas for a new situation around A.D. 80–100.

The Methodist-published Interpreter's Bible One-Volume Commentary, meanwhile, goes further, saying that "several considerations weigh decisively against Pauline authorship". These include literary style, vocabulary, the author's more positive attitude toward other apostles and an ecclesiology significantly different from Paul's. (p. 834)

Whether written by a secretary or by a later disciple attempting to summarize Paul's teaching, the hypothesis of two different authors would explain why the two letters use two different 'amour' analogies.

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