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And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

Posted by on Dec 12, 2012 in scripture | 9 comments

And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

As I’ve mentioned several times, we’ve been discussing Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when we gather with the church on Sunday mornings. (We often discuss this book at other times also, but we’ve decided as a group to study Ephesians together at that time.) We’ll probably finish Ephesians this Sunday by discussing the last part of chapter 6.

Of course, one famous section of Ephesians 6 deals with “the armor of God.” In that passage (Ephesians 6:14-17), Paul exhorts his readers to “take up the whole armor of God,” and then he lists several pieces of armor: belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword. Of course, each of those is associated to an aspect of our lives in Jesus Christ. For example, the belt is associated with truth and the breastplate is associated with righteousness.

But, in this post, I’d like us to consider the list item of “armor” in that list: “The sword of the Spirit.” It, along with the helmet of salvation, is mentioned in Ephesians 6:17 –

…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… (Ephesians 6:17 ESV)

The last part of that verse – “which is the word of God” – is a relative clause. All relative clauses begin with a relative pronoun. This relative clause begins with the relative pronoun “which.” The relative pronoun points back to a noun in the previous sentence and connects the relative clause back to that noun. In other words, “the word of God” describes one of the nouns in the previous sentence.

But, which noun?

There are two primary options:

1) The clause “the word of God” refers back to “sword.” Of course, “sword” has already been described as being “of the Spirit.” So, in this case, the “sword” which is “of the Spirit” is also “the word of God.” This is the way that I usually hear this phrase interpreted.

2) The clause “the word of God” refers back to “Spirit.” In the case, the “sword” is still “of the Spirit,” but it is the Spirit which is then described as “the word of God.”

In English, there is ambiguity regarding the relationship between the words “sword” and “Spirit” and the relative clause “the word of God.” In other words, either options #1 or #2 above are valid in English.

In Greek, however, some of this ambiguity is removed. Why? Because relative pronouns (like other kinds of pronouns) must match their antecedent (the word they point to) in gender (masculine, feminine, neuter) and number (singular, plural). “Sword” is a feminine singular noun, while “Spirit” is a neuter singular noun.

The relative pronoun which is translated “which” above is a neuter singular pronoun, indicating that the relative clause “which is the word of God” refers back to the noun “Spirit” not the noun “sword.”

Of course, recognizing this distinction is only the first part of the issue. Now, we can finally get to the real question: What is the difference between “the sword of the Spirit” being described as “the word of God” and “the Spirit” being described as “the word of God”? Or, to ask my question a different way: Does it matter that “the word of God” only refers to “the Spirit” and not to “the sword of the Spirit”?


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  1. 12-12-2012

    Could the inference be that the Spirit of God has aspects that are like a sword but being more related to the effects the word of God has on the souls of individuals? When I think of the work of the Spirit in lives, I think of conviction, conversion and completion. The sword in the sense of the Spirit brings us to a place of being vanquished where we change our fealty, only then can we begin the process of sanctification, again through the work of the Spirit.

  2. 12-12-2012

    Maybe it helps to consider this passage as another depiction of Jesus, and how He lives in us by His Spirit. We know how He is the embodiment of all these things which we need to live by His life: He is our truth, righteousness, gospel, peace, faith, salvation, and the word.

  3. 12-12-2012

    I think it’s another way in which God gives us His Word. I was reminded reading this of the argument between those who say that Scripture is the Word of God and those who say that Jesus is the Word of God. I think that’s a false dichotomy. I think Jesus, Scripture, and the Spirit are all the Word of God, in harmony with each other, and pointing to each other.

  4. 12-13-2012

    Thanks for the Greek lesson…seriously.
    Several years ago I came to see the amour in a different light due to the context that precedes it. Over and over the emphasis is on stand…stand…stand. I had always heard of it as the weapons we take out to do battle for the Lord, when, really, the role is defensive. The attacks are doubts from our spiritual enemy and the defense is found in all these: reminders of our salvation, reminders from the Word of God, the understanding of our righteousness in Christ, and praying in the Spirit. Much to my surprise it all fit!

  5. 12-13-2012


    I think those are good thoughts about the sword in connection to the Spirit. I don’t know why Paul picked the various pieces of “armor” and why he connected them to certain aspects of our life in Christ. Since armor is not a part of our everyday life, I try to focus more on the other parts: righteousness, salvation, Spirit, etc… which alone is enough to make my head spin.


    You said, “He is the embodiment of all these things which we need to live by His life.” I think that’s a great way to put it.


    Yes, I think so too. In Scripture, we see several ways that God communicates with us. The Spirit is definitely active in communicating with us today!


    That goes along quite well with Ephesians 6:10, in which Paul writes, “Be strong in the Lord…” or literally, “Be strengthened (made strong) in the Lord…”


  6. 12-16-2012

    I think of Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” and Revelation 1:16, “In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” There are others; “sword” and “mouth” brings up a bunch of results.

  7. 12-17-2012


    Ah, yes. In that passage, the “word of God” is described as a sword. Of course, in Ephesians 6:12 it is the Spirit which is referred to as “the word of God.” But, then, the sword is “of the Spirit,” so there is a connection there also.


  8. 12-17-2012

    I meant to suggest further that “of the Spirit” might (based on the English ‘of,’ I don’t know the Greek) also mean “belonging too. That is, if were were to be excessively picky about the poetic language, the Word is the Sword the Spirit uses to convict men. The enemies of God will be destroyed, but no one will be destroyed without knowing that they did wrong (“bowing knee” before God). The Spirit accomplishes that conviction, both for the believer (to repentance) and the unbeliever, to condemnation.

    This does not limit the Word to being EITHER the Bible or “human Jesus,” because both function as the revelation of the will/Spirit of God. But it is the action of the Spirit through the revelation of God’s word which divides the righteous man from the sinner – and that both within a man (as when Jesus rebukes his disciples, or Paul rebukes Peter) or within a people (as when the prophets rebuked Israel). It is separating the wheat from the tares, the light from the darkness.

  9. 12-18-2012


    I think you may be on to something there. Thanks for continuing to work through this with me.