Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, Part 1

Breadth and Length and Height and Depth

Prayer for the Readers: Eph 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[1]

A puzzling paragraph….As one does with a masterpiece of art, examining each portion of the painting reveals depths never seen if one simply takes it all in at once and moves on.  This paragraph has spoken to me my whole life.  It needs examining, close examining phrase by phrase.  We can take our time, we have all eternity.  We can wander through the fields of wisdom the Holy Spirit has given us and enjoy the wonder of, the inspiration of, the glory of just these few words of Scripture.

For this reason: This seems to be referring to the previous paragraph where Paul gives this reason: to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.

To preach,…to bring to light…the manifold wisdom of God. It reminds me of There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. There is nothing kept secret that will not come to light which all three Synoptics quote. [Mt 10:26; Lk 8:17; Mk 4:22] or of Jesus telling the disciples that the Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. [Jn 14:26]

I kneel before the Father: It would seem that, if we are preaching the inscrutable riches of Christ, it should be Christ before whom Paul is kneeling, a’la Thomas’ My Lord and my God. [Jn 20:28]. But it is the overwhelming realization that it is the Providence and plan of the Father, the God who created all things, this infinitely orchestrated plan of the mystery hidden from ages past, conceived in every minute detail before Creation itself, that brings Paul to his knees. It is manifold wisdom of the Father, this 360° reality of Salvation unfolding in real time and space known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time [1Pet 1:20] that will now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.

From whom every family[2] in heaven and on earth is named: Naming plays an important role in Scripture and in the lives of the ancients. Naming something gave one some control, some power over that thing. “God, the creator of all the families of beings, established his power and control over all creation in the act of naming them (He numbers the stars, and gives to all of them their names. [Ps 147:4]; Lift up your eyes on high and see who created these: He leads out their army and numbers them, calling them all by name. [Isa 40:26]; cf. Gen 2:19-20).”[3]

This is borne out also in the first days of creation when God names those things that are beyond the immediate use by and control of man, the Cosmos, the sky, the earth, the sea: God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” God called the dome “sky.” God called the dry land “earth,” and the basin of water he called “sea.” (Gen 1:5, 8, 10) However, then, in both the Elohim (Gen 1-2:3) and the Yahweh (Gen 2:4-3:24) versions of Creation, there is a distinct break where the LORD stops naming things and, in both versions, gives that responsibility over to man:

  • Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. [Gen 1:26]
  • So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. (Gen 2:19)

Thus, God gives man power over the creatures with which he would interact, use and control, at least to some degree. And in the latter version, this power is established by man naming the creatures.

How does this relate to God from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named? One could point to God’s renaming of the first Patriarch and his wife: No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations….As for Sarai your wife, do not call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. (Genesis 17:5,15) But this renaming, while symbolic, doesn’t seem to come up to Paul’s every family, particularly since the meaning of the names did not change.[4]

The more plausible explanations are (a) that the Father is the ultimate father, i.e. of the Trinity, His eternal family, and the archetype of all families, and (b) that the same Father both providentially foreordained each family and then created them, thus exhibiting his power over or naming every family in heaven and on earth.

In passing, it is interesting to note that Paul includes families in heaven. Since Jesus pointed out that human, at the resurrection…neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven [Mt 22:30], one must look for a different definition of family. Jesus provides that when asked about his family: For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother. [Mk 3:35; Mt 12:49; Lk 8:21] Here, our heavenly Father is tied directly in to all families, beyond the ties of blood and heritage to the ties of the Kingdom and obedience and love. It is perhaps in this context that every family in heaven and on earth is named by God as his adopted sons and daughters: I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty. [2 Cor 6:18; cf. Eph 1:5].

(To be continued)

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] “The term (Gk. patria) refers to a group of related individuals who trace their origin to a common father or forefather and is linguistically related to the word Father (Gk. pater) in the preceding verse. Because God is the supreme Father of men and angels, his life-giving paternity is the reality of which created fatherhood and family life are only a reflection. (CCC 239, 2214)” Note for Eph 3:15, Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The New Testament: The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible RSV 2nd Catholic Edt (San Frncisco, Ignatius Press, 2010), 349

[3] Note on Eph 3:15, Paul Kobelski, “The Letter to the Ephesians,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Edts. R. Brown, J. Fitzmyer, and R. Murphy (Upper Saddle River, Prentic Hall, 1990), 888.

[4]“Abram and Abraham are merely two forms of the same name, both meaning, “the father is exalted”; another variant form is Abiram (Nm 16:1; 1 Kgs 16:34). The additional -ha- in the form Abraham is explained by popular etymology as coming from ab-hamon goyim, ‘father of a multitude of nations.’”…“Sarai and Sarah are variant forms of the same name, both meaning ‘princess.’” NABRE Notes on Gen 17:5 and 17:15.

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