Word of the Week
April 17, 2021
Palē: The Great Wrestling Match
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
“I’ve been wrestling with this algebra assignment for an hour!”
Obviously, that’s a figure of speech. This student is surely not rolling around trying to pin the algebra book to the ground. We use the term “wrestling” to describe all kinds of struggles, and it provides a vivid image of intense effort. Whether you think of boys “rasslin’” with each other on the playground, or the Hulk Hogan kind of professional showmanship, wrestling involves a wild melee where you’re straining every muscle trying to contain a squirming opponent who is trying to flip you on your back and sit on you for a count of three.
No wonder the apostle Paul chose to use wrestling to describe the spiritual conflict that every Christian faces!
In Ephesians 6:12, he proclaimed, “Our struggle” – literally, our wrestling – “is not against flesh and blood.” The Greek word is pale (PAH-lay), which had both literal and figurative uses.
Paul’s readers knew what physical wrestling was like. Palē was the most popular organized sport in ancient Greece. It was the first non-running event added to the original Olympics in 708 B.C., and the top wrestlers were super stars with massive followings.
This kind of wrestling had rules, unlike pankration, the Mixed Martial Arts of the Greek world, where eye-gouging and biting and almost anything else was permitted. In pale, you could throttle someone unconscious, but there was a referee to ensure that contestants seldom died.
This was flesh-and-blood wrestling, the dominant sport until the Romans escalated the violence to include the actual combat of gladiator games.
Paul, however, is talking about a different kind of wrestling match in Ephesians 6, the only place where pale occurs in the New Testament.
- It’s a fight against spiritual forces – the evil angels who operate under Satan’s control.
“the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly spheres” (verse 12)
- It’s a contest where the other side fights dirty. Satan feels no obligation to observe any of the rules.
“the schemes of the devil” (verse 11)
- It’s a battle that requires armor. You will only be able to stand firm by using all the armor and all the weapons that God provides.
“put on the full armor of God” (verse 11)
There are days when you have the distinct feeling that somebody is out to get you. And you’re right! 1 Peter 5:8 warns that the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone – like you! – to devour.
Even the best armor is insufficient if you don’t have the ability to use it, and that’s why Paul adds a last admonition in Ephesians 6:18-20. I believe he moves immediately from the inventory of armor into a call for prayer, without even stopping to start a new sentence. We are too weak to win a spiritual conflict on our own, so we call on the One who wields all power.
It’s like a modern Marine calling in an air strike to prevent his position from being overrun. The Lord Himself is the one who can intervene on our behalf, and there is no shame in asking for His help!
We don’t have space here to discuss the details of the spiritual armor in Ephesians 6, but you can access a 20-page set of notes on the Greek text on the Ezra Project Web site. Just click here: https://ezraproject.com/notes-on-ephesians-6/
Q & A
Q – What was the location of the moneychangers whom Jesus drove out of the Temple in John 2?
A – John 2:14 uses the word hieron to describe the Temple. This word was used to describe the entire Temple complex, including all the courtyards and outer walls. A different Greek word, naos, referred specifically to the temple building itself, consisting of the Holy Place and the inmost Holy of Holies.
The commercial ventures were probably happening in the Court of the Gentiles, the outermost courtyard. This was the only place where a Gentile could come to worship the Lord, so the bustling marketplace made it almost impossible for a non-Jew to approach God. They were obstructing the purpose for which the Temple was originally built.
The New Testament has more to say about the battles that Christians must fight. Next time we will find out how to “fight the good fight,” as Paul instructed Timothy.
©Ezra Project 2021