[Supplement to Gospel Doctrine New Testament lesson 39]

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 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. [1]

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17; this passage, with a few modifications, appears in D&C 27:15-18.)

Paul employed military imagery in some of his other epistles:

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. (Romans 13:12)

By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. (2 Corinthians 6:7; cf. cf. 2 Nephi 1:23)

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. (1 Thessalonians 5:8)

Some Old Testament books also describe protective garb. Isaiah, whose writings seem to have been Paul’s inspiration, wrote, “And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him. For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke” (Isaiah 59:16).

Most of the pieces of armor mentioned by Paul are intended to protect the wearer. [2] Just as physical warfare requires the wearing of protective armor, the spiritual war between good and evil necessitates the wearing of spiritual armor. This is why Paul likened the various pieces of armor to qualities that the Lord requires, such as truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and “the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Some scriptural passages mention non-military clothing as symbolic of God’s efforts to protect his people. The messianic prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-3, cited by Jesus, in reference to his own mission (Luke 4:17-21), mentions “the garment of praise.” Isaiah also wrote, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).

Similarly, Job 29:14 declares, “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem.”

The Book of Mormon uses the same imagery. Nephi implored, “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies!” (2 Nephi 4:33). Nephi’s brother Jacob, speaking of the judgment to come, said that “the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness” (2 Nephi 9:14).

The use of sacred clothing to symbolize righteousness and purity is found in a pseudepigraphal work entitled The Shepherd of Hermas. The text is attributed to Hermas, brother to Pius, bishop of Rome (A.D. 140-155), and comprises three books describing a vision in which an angel appeared to Hermas as a shepherd. The last of these books, the “Similitude,” speaks at length concerning the symbolism of the garment and of the temple. The Church, like the Temple in D&C 101:43-64, is represented as a tower. [3]

In the vision, an angel of the Lord crowns and sends into the tower those “who had branches that were green and had offshoots, but no fruit, having given them seals. And all who went into the tower had the same clothing — white as snow. And those who returned their branches green, as they received them, he set free, giving them clothing and seals (Similitude 8.2). [4] Hermas then saw twelve virgins, four of them standing at the gate “clothed with linen tunics, and gracefully girded, having their rights shoulders exposed, [5] as if about to bear some burden (Similitude 9.2). [6] He was told by an angel that the tower represented the Church and that the virgins were holy spirits, and men cannot otherwise be found in the kingdom of God unless these have put their clothing upon them: for if you receive the name only, and do not receive from them the clothing, they are of no advantage to you.  For these virgins are the powers of the Son of God.  If you bear His name but possess not His power, it will be in vain that you bear his name. (Similitude 9.13) [7]

The angel then explained the meaning of certain stones that had been removed from the tower, [8] which “bore His name, but did not put not on the clothing of the virgins. [9] Their very names … are their clothing. Everyone who bears the name of the Son of God, ought to bear the names also of these; for the Son Himself bears the names of these virgins.”

He went on to explain that all who hoped to remain in the building should wear the same garment and receive “the name of God, and … also the strength of these virgins. Having received, then, these spirits, they were made strong, and were with the servants of God; and theirs was one spirit, and one body, and one clothing” (Similitude 9.13). [10]

The angel gave the names of the virgins standing at the gate as Faith, Continence, Power, and Patience. The others virgins or qualities of righteousness are Simplicity, Innocence, Purity, Cheerfulness, Truth, Understanding, Harmony, and Love. “He who bears these names and that of the Son of God will be able to enter into the kingdom of God” (Similitude 9.15). [11]

The symbolism found in the Similitudes derives from the writings of Paul. The concept that the saints are building blocks in the Church, with “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” is from Ephesians 2:19-22 (cf. 1 Peter 2:5-9, citing Isaiah 28:16). That the saints are temples of God is affirmed in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:16, 19. Ignatius, a late first-century A.D. bishop of Antioch, also compared Christians to stones in a temple (Ignatius to the Ephesians 2:10; cf. 3:23).

The Similitude also draws on Paul for the idea that one cannot be saved by good works alone, and that one must also bear the name of Christ. Paul compares the Savior to a garment when he wrote, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14).

“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).



Borrowing from Paul, Cyril, a fourth-century A.D. bishop of Jerusalem described the anointing and baptism of new converts: [12]

Which ointment is symbolically applied to thy forehead and thy other senses; and while thy body is anointed with the visible ointment, thy soul is sanctified by the Holy and life-giving Spirit.

And ye were first anointed on the forehead, that ye might be delivered from the shame, which the first man who transgressed bore about with him everywhere; and that with unveiled face ye might reflect as a mirror the glory of the Lord.

Then on your ears; that ye might receive the ears which are quick to hear the Divine Mysteries, of which Esaias said, The Lord gave me also an ear to hear; and the Lord Jesus in the Gospel, He that hath ears to hear let him hear.

Then on the nostrils; that receiving the sacred ointment ye may say, We are to God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved. Afterwards on your breast; that having put on the breast-plate of righteousness, ye may stand against the wiles of the devil. For as Christ after His Baptism, and the visitation of the Holy Ghost, went forth and vanquished the adversary [Satan], so likewise ye, after Holy Baptism and the Mystical Chrism [anointing], [13] having put on the whole armor of the Holy Ghost, are to stand against the power of the adversary, and vanquish it.

Having been counted worthy of this Holy Chrism, ye are called Christians, verifying the name also by your new birth. For before you were deemed worthy of this grace, ye had properly no right to this title, but were advancing on your way towards being Christians. (Catechetical Lecture 21:3-5) [14]

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul mentions the “armour of light” (Romans 13:12), which seems to tie the protective military clothing to the garment of light said to have been worn by Adam before the fall and described in many ancient texts. Protective clothing from God is intended to protect us against the power of the destroyer, Satan.

For additional material relating to this lesson, see:

John A. Tvedtnes, “Priestly Clothing in Bible Times,” in Donald Parry (ed.), Temples of the Ancient World (Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1994).

John A. Tvedtnes, “Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices,” in First Annual Mormon Apologetics Symposium: Proceedings (Ben Lomond, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, 1999), also posted on the FAIR web site at http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR

John A. Tvedtnes, “Rod and Sword as the Word of God,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (Fall 1996). Republished in John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon (Provo: FARMS, 1999). In 1999, the article was read by Lloyd Newell for the FARMS audiotape series Pressing Forward With the Book of Mormon.


[1] Compare this with the “fiery darts of the adversary” in 1 Nephi 15:24 and D&C 3:8.

[2] The Nephites evidently did not have metal armor such as was had in the ancient Near East. Alma 43:19 says that they were clothed “with breastplates and with arm-shields, yea, and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing.” Like other Mesoamerican peoples, their arm and head shields were probably made of wood.

[3] Cf. Ephesians 2:19-21; Ignatius to the Ephesians 2:10. The tower in the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7 (borrowed by Christ in Matthew 21:33-45) has sometimes been interpreted as the temple. See Ephrem of Syria in Diatessaron Commentary (Armenian) 16.19; Isaiah 5:2-5 in Targum Jonathan; Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 49a.

[4] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers (New York: Charles Scriberner’s Sons, 1913), 2:39-40.

[5] This would imply that the robe was draped over the left shoulder.

[6] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2:43.

[7] Ibid., 2:48.

[8] Cf. Matthew 22:11-12.

[9] Cf. Matthew 7:21.

[10] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2:48.

[11] Ibid., 2:49.

[12] After the great apostasy that followed the death of Christ’s apostles, rituals previously reserved for temple initiation became confused with public initiation. Thus, the washing was identified with baptism, making it logical that anointing should also be administered to those being baptized.

[13] The title “Christ” derives from this same root and hence means “anointed [one],” having the same meaning as Hebrew Messiah.

[14] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 7:150.