Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Helmet of Salvation (Ephesians 6:17)

Which famous set of clothing contains the helmet of salvation? The whole armor of God

The Epistle to the Ephesians’ last teaching section (before the closing greetings) invokes military imagery. The believer is advised to don the whole armor of God, an analogy by which tenets of Christianity correspond to pieces of armor (Ephesians 6:11-17). Six elements of the well-armed soldier are listed. The fifth item mentioned is the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17).

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17 NASB)
Helmets were not merely a defensive armament but rather a necessity, literally a matter of life and death to the soldier. Charles H. Talbert (b. 1934) relays, “These were the last two items to be put on before battle. God’s own helmet and sword have been offered to the saints. The saints are now to receive them (Talbert, Ephesians and Colossians (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 166).”

Matthew N.O. Sadiku (b. 1955) adds, “A soldier puts on the helmet only when he faces impending danger. (Sadiku, Ephesians: A Pentecostal Commentary, 143).”

Helmet (perikephalaia) is used only twice in the New Testament, here and in I Thessalonians 5:8. In both instances it is connected to salvation. CWO-4 Ray R. Fairman (b. 1945) quips:

Helmets really shouldn’t need much explanation, should they? It matters not if it is a soldier’s helmet, a motorcyclist’s, a bicyclist’s, a hockey player’s, or a pilot’s, you know what a helmet is designed to do. Its purpose is to protect your head and everything it contains! (Fairman, Ephesians: God’s Battle Plan for Spiritual Warfare: A Combat Veteran’s View, 136)
Peter T. O’Brien (b. 1935) notes, “The helmet used by the Roman soldier was made of bronze and had cheek pieces so as to give protection to the head (O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 480-481).”

Bruce B. Barton (b. 1943) adds, “Helmets were made of leather and brass, or sometimes bronze and iron—no sword could pierce a good helmet (Barton, Ephesians (Life Application Bible Commentary), 134).”

Harold W. Hoehner (1935-2009) expounds:

The word περικφαλια means “head covering” but in military context it refers to the “helmet”. The word occurs ten times in the LXX (nine times in the canonical books) and it is always used of a helmet (e.g. I Samuel 17:5, 38; II Chronicles 26:14; Ezekiel 27:10, 38:4-5). In the New Testament it is used only twice (Ephesians 6:17; I Thessalonians 5:8) and continues to have the military sense. Twice in the LXX the metal of the helmet is depicted as bronze (I Samuel 17:38; I Maccabees 6:35). In Roman times it had various shapes at different times and places, but it generally was made of bronze fitted over an iron skull cap lined with leather or cloth. During Claudius’ reign (A.D. 37-41) the helmet was revised so that it covered the back of the neck, fitting slightly over the shoulder, a brow-ridge fitted above the face to protect the nose and eyes, and hinged cheek pieces were fastened by a chin-band to protect the face. (Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 850)
The connection between a helmet and salvation originated with Isaiah 59:17. F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) informs:
The “helmet of salvation” is taken from Isaiah 59:17, where Yahweh wears it. In such a context it might well be the helmet of victory...for the God of Israel does not receive salvation; he bestows it. Here too “the helmet of salvation” recommended to the believer might be called the helmet of victory, for God’s victory is his people’s salvation...In this letter...salvation is viewed as already accomplished — “it is by grace that you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5)—so “the helmet of salvation” is available for the protection of believers. (Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 409)
Ernest Best (1917-2004) compares:
In Isaiah 59:17 God as victorious warrior wears the helmet of salvation; now he gives it to believers for their protection...Previously he had used a sequence of participles to itemise the equipment; now he introduces a new finite verb, receive. The soldier, already partially equipped, receives from his armour bearer his helmet and sword; the Christian receives from his God salvation and the word of God; this is not to suggest he collected the other items of equipment for himself; all his military hardware comes from God. (Best, Ephesians: A Shorter Commentary, 324)
As noted, in the whole armor of God, the helmet is connected with salvation. John Muddiman (b. 1947) speculates:
The last two images, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit...may refer to the final goal of the Christian life...While the separate elements in this allegory may be arbitrary (faith could just as well be the belt or the breastplate as the shield, for example),yet as a set in this particular sequence, the correspondences are not arbitrary. (Muddiman, The Epistle to the Ephesians (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 286)
Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) connects:
The helmet is immediately interpreted metaphorically as ‘salvation’ or ‘deliverance’, in connection with Isaiah 59:17...As the breastplate covers the chest, so the helmet surrounds the head...God himself is salvation and deliverance for all those under attack (cf. Psalms 3:3ff, 18:3, 46, 35:3, 37:39ff, 65:5 et al.; Isaiah 33:3; Jeremiah 3:23). In I Thessalonians 5:8 the helmet is interpreted as the hope of salvation, in the context of a decidedly eschatological perspective. In this the author of Ephesians diverges from Paul; for him it is a matter of God’s protection and deliverance in the present battle against evil. (Schnackenburg, The Epistle to the Ephesians: A Commentary, 279)
Ernest Best (1917-2004) adds:
The helmet is depicted as salvation; salvation is rare in the New Testament appearing only in Luke 2:30, 3:6; Acts 28:28, all passages heavily dependent on the Old Testament, it is found more frequently in the LXX, and is used in Isaiah 59:17. However, when Paul used Isaiah 59:17 in I Thessalonians 5:8 he substituted for it another noun, the normal New Testament noun for salvation; the author of Ephesians’ retention of the LXX word confirms his dependence here on Isaiah 59:17. Paul had also varied the LXX in another way by speaking of the helmet as the hope of salvation, thus imparting an eschatalogical flavour. The author of Ephesians’ stress here on the present nature of salvation is in line with his normal understanding of it. (Best, Ephesians: A Shorter Commentary, 324)
The verb’s middle voice attests that believers are responsible for taking the helmet and sword. The Christian does not automatically inherit these items as evidenced by the fact that Ephesians is addressed to Christians who were already saved but still needed the instruction to put on the helmet (Ephesians 6:11).

Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) explains:

The believer is equipped for the spiritual battle by being given the very armor of God himself. It is interesting how some of the verbs refer to something simply given to the believer (the helmet, the sword) and some refer to the action that the believer himself must take once these gifts are in place — standing, praying, resisting, speaking, and the like. Salvation and faith are gifts, but they are gifts that do not work automatically. They are gifts that must be embraced, used, and expressed. (Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, 360)
Have you ever worn a helmet? Have you donned the helmet of salvation? Do you see yourself as being at war? Why is the helmet connected with salvation? What is the purpose of the helmet of salvation?

The helmet of salvation, like any other helmet, protects the head’s contents. Greg Laurie (b. 1952) writes:

As believers, we need to put on the “helmet of salvation” because our minds, our thoughts, and our imaginations must be protected. It’s here that most temptations start. Satan recognizes the value of first getting a foothold in the realm of the thoughts and imaginations, because this will prepare the way for those thoughts to translate into action. As the saying goes, “Sow a thought; reap an act. Sow an act; reap a habit. Sow a habit; reap a character. Sow a character; reap a destiny.” It starts with a thought. (Laurie, Because..., 56)
Derek Prince (1915-2003) adds:
Just as the breastplate protects our hearts, so the helmet protects our minds—our thought lives. The mind is the area in which Christians are most regularly attacked. Inside our minds there is often a continuing war. Satan seeks to insinuate thoughts that will disturb us or distract us or in some other way make us ineffective in our war against him. (Prince, Rules of Engagement: Preparing for Your Role in the Spiritual Battle, 160)
Witness Lee (1905-1997) summarizes, “Satan injects into our minds threats, worries, anxieties, and other weakening thoughts. God’s salvation is the covering we take up against all these (Lee, The Conclusion of the New Testament: Messages 50-62, 584).”

Would you add any items to the whole armor of God? Are you protecting your thoughts?

“After victory, tighten your helmet chord.” - Japanese Proverb

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