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Breastplate of Righteousness, Ephesians 6:14 by Dr. Terry Harman

Updated: Dec 5, 2023


“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,

and having on the breastplate of righteousness.”


Defining Culture War

The term “culture war” is heard every day. Defining it is hard to nail down. It involves the tensions between various ideologies or perspectives. On the one hand, the news media strokes the flames of polarization between, Conservative, Liberal, progressive, left-wing, right-wing, MAGA, woke culture, and popular culture. On the other hand, film and television programs like The Jesus Revolution, The Sound of Freedom, and The Chosen series have added their voices to the culture wars.


We may not be able to define the term culture war, but we feel the tension anytime one of these ideologies' clashes with the other. The result is polarization and people using various litmus tests to catch you off guard to determine which camp you belong to or whether are you an “Allie” or not. There is one difficulty with all of the contemporary litmus tests, Judeo-Christian culture has always been “counter cultural.”


Situation at Ephesus

During the period when the Apostle Paul composed his letter to the Ephesians, around 60-62 AD, Ephesus emerged as a city characterized by both liveliness and unrest. Set within the broader context of the Roman Empire, a diverse fusion of cultures encompassing Greeks, Romans, Jews, and others. Ephesus was marked by bustling trade and impressive architectural achievements like the esteemed Library of Celsus.


Ephesus had always been the epicenter for the worship of the goddess Artemis aka Diana aka Ishtar aka Astarte, the most famous and most worshiped Mother Goddess in the ancient world for over 1,000 years. She was a fertility goddess and is sculpted with many nourishing breasts cascading down to her abdomen. Many idols, large and small, of this ancient Mother figure have been found all over the Near and Middle East over the centuries. (1)


However, Paul's impassioned preaching had a striking impact. His message triggered a spiritual awakening that clashed with the city's deep-rooted devotion to Artemis. The nineteenth chapter of the Book of Acts captures the clash of cultures Paul created in the city of Ephesus. Paul's promotion of a new “Way,” an early title for the emerging Christian faith, led to significant upheaval.


This cultural melting pot of cultural diversity found itself at a pivotal moment, navigating the transformative undercurrents of Paul's teachings while wrestling with the conflicting traditions centered around the multi-breasted depiction of Artemis. While under house arrest in Rome and awaiting trial (Acts 28:16-31), Paul writes his letter to the new converts (1:15) and Gentile members of the church at Ephesus (2:11).


Military Significance of the Breastplate

The Roman Empire's military prowess hinged on its soldiers' strength and equipment. The piece of equipment that provided the most protection was the Lorica Segmentata armor. This type of breastplate was used effectively by the Roman army for over four centuries.

Lorica Segmentata Style Breastplate, phot by T. Harman 2021

The design of the Lorica Segmentata armor or breastplate connected metal plates by leather or metal straps. The straps connecting plates resisted wear and maintained the integrity of the breastplate, even with extended use. These metal plates absorbed weapon impacts while retaining integrity of the breastplate. The overlapping plates provided an extra layer of protection against spears, arrows, and swords.


Unlike the previous single, frontal breastplates of the past, the Lorica Segmentata covered the chest, back, sides, and shoulders. The plated design made it possible for the soldier to easily move across the battlefield. The flexibility allowed rapid, nimble soldier movement, offering a major battlefield advantage.


Breastplate of Righteousness or Integrity

When reading Ephesians 6:14 it is important to recognize that Paul associates the belt of truth with the breastplate of righteousness. The belt or baltea secured the soldier’s sword and dagger not only to his waist but it made it an integral part of the breastplate. The integrity of the combined equipment strengthened the protective elements of each individual piece of equipment.

The Baltea (belt) and Lorica Segmentata of the Roman Soldier, photos by T. Harman 2021


"Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,

and having on the breastplate of righteousness."


Paul describes the third piece of spiritual armor that needs to be worn, the breastplate of righteousness. indicating integrity is the key. Why do I say “integrity rather than righteousness? The Greek word translated as righteousness in the KJV is dikaiosune. This word refers to righteous in ethical sense rather than salvation. Dikaiosune in the Greek use of the word is better understood as integrity, just, straight and denotes acting fairly. I prefer to use integrity as this is more in line with the belt and the breastplate being one integral piece of protection when connected with each other.


Spiritual Significance of the Breastplate

People of righteousness must be people of integrity - not mixed devotion. We must strive to maintain a sense of moral and personal integrity in a culture that is counter to the principles of the Bible. We cannot give our heart over to just anything. Matthew 5:8 says that the pure in heart shall see God.


Paul would have recited the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4 as a prayer of confession of faith. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” The Shema (hear) recited by observant Jews twice daily, derived from the biblical mandate, “when you lie down and when you get up.” Equally important is verse 5, “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (JPS Deuteronomy 6:4-5 JPS 1917). The verses are also found in Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:329-30 and Luke 10:27.


Combined Protection of Truth Synched with Integrity

In the ancient world of the Bible the heart represented the mind and the will. Physically speaking the breastplate protects the heart and other vital organs. Spiritually speaking having a heart “girded” by our commitment to integrity (breastplate) which is based upon the principles of truth (belt), protects us from the traps and pitfalls of the dominant culture of our day.


In Colossians 2:8 Paul warns the church a Colossi to not fall prey the philosophies and cultural norms of their city. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”


Conclusion

I admit maintaining our personal, professional, and spiritual integrity (breastplate) is not always easy. Basing our moral decisions on what we believe is the principles of biblical truth (belt) must be the core of our value system. These positions will put us at odds with the current philosophies of the day and put us in direct line of fire in the current cultural wars. But we must stand firm in our convictions. We are to be the light and the salt of the earth.


This does not mean we are excused to poorly treat those with opposing personal, political, religious opinions. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we give in to every new wave of thinking and behaving sooner or later, we will have an identity crisis. We will lose our sense of self and we will no longer know who we are as an individual and as a member of our religious communities.


These crises of identity can also happen within our spiritual communities when that body has shifted due to an alignment with the thinking of the culture of this world. We must be ware of those who spiritually present themselves as wolves in sheep’s clothing.


These are tough position to stand firm on. Everything will attempt to knock you off your feet and lose ground. Stand firm. I am not a saint. I am a regular guy who just wants to do the right thing. Two times in my professional career I had to stand firm on my convictions that were based on what was right, lawful or biblical. Both times, it cost my family financially.


In the first instance, I held firm to my position and did not get sucked into the supposed "financial opportunity" that was prevented. I continued to offer "pushback" on what I believed was wrong. Some of those individuals now reside in the Federal Penitentiary or remain entangled with the federal courts. The second instance involved unlawful clinical practices that I refused to participate in. I have a colleague who says, "I can get another job. I cannot get another professional license if I lose this one." It is a good principle to work by. Professional integrity is everything. In both cases trouble followed those involved. Not because of my stance but because the principle of Proverbs 10:9 came to fruition.


He that walketh uprightly walketh securely;

But he that perverteth his ways shall be found out.


It is easier to look the other way or not to get involved but is that the right thing to do? It is easier to go along to get along but is that the right thing to do? The Apostle Paul would discourage us from both approaches and instead exhort you and me to stand firm and


“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good,

meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity” (2).


References


(2) The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips (1906-1982) offers a unique translation of Romans 12:2. His goal was to produce a translation of the New Testament that would communicate truth in a relevant way to his Church of England youth group. This verse has resonated with me for many years.

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JP
JP
Sep 27, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Again thank you for the excellent read.


As I do not disagree with the interpretation of Paul’s inspiration looking upon the Roman soldier however I can not but think that he was describing the uniform of the high priest. (Of course I will admit I may be projecting that which is what I read.)


“This does not mean we are excused to poorly treat those with opposing personal, political, religious opinions. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we give in to every new wave of thinking and behaving sooner or later, we will have an identity crisis. We will lose our sense of self and we will no longer know who we are as an individual…


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Dr. Terry Harman
Dr. Terry Harman
Sep 27, 2023
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Yes there are parallels to the garments of the high priest.

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