I. Leveraging the Concept of Sacred Space reFocuses a Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation
Paul’s heighten rhetorical flourish undergirds an interpretation. Paul’s correspondence to “the saints who are at Ephesus” (Eph 1:1) is by no means a simple letter. It stands closer to a homily, deeply embedded with the language of worship, than as a direct polemical address or Epistle, and is, as well, most probably circulatory in nature—that is, a scroll or parchment to be read at symposia following the breaking of bread and a common meal (i.e., a supper) among believing communities in Asia Minor. The rhetorical style and the nature of its content, especially in chapters 1-3, are highly liturgical or hierophantic in nature. Witherington suggests that Paul was harnessing a rhetorical style known as Asianism, a very “self-conscious expression in diction, sentence structure and rhythm.” This accounts for Paul’s long sentences; the stacking, repeating, or expanding, almost hyperbolic, heightened words and phrases; and, the flourish of liturgical language throughout chapters 1-3. Paul exploits this style most certainly to provoke the hearer’s/reader’s imagination with words, concepts, and imagery with intensity, so as to more fully grasp the connection of church (in Ephesus et al.) to God’s action in Messiah Jesus, the Head of the body. This strongly suggests that Paul is addressing the whole of the gathered saints in Ephesus in his chapter 3 prayer, which should focus any interpretive inferences placed before the contemporary hearer/reader. Such recognition of the rhetorical style and social setting adds to the necessity of hearing Paul’s message corporately rather than simply leveraging individual application to determine his admonitions and ethical commands.
The “epideictic rhetoric” can clearly be seen in the two Ephesian prayers (1:15–23; 3:14–19), the second of which (3:14–19) contains our text under consideration (3:16c). Paul offers these prayers on behalf of the church in the greater Ephesus area, each provoking a heightened imagination of God’s action in Messiah toward the house-churches (cf. 3:20–21). Paul prays that God would increase their comprehension of God’s action and what it does in and through them as household-gathered-churches. The prayers are self-actualizing and actually fulfills what is requested of God on behalf of the Ephesus church—the prayer is initially answered as the believing community hears the words of Paul’s petition. He beseeches God to open their hearts as a local believing community so that they would expand and enhance their knowledge and experience of God’s powerful work in Messiah Jesus. The stacking and enhanced language and imagery not only fits the temple worship experience formerly encountered by the Ephesus believers, it also gives an enhanced imagery for the new house-churches, who, as they are gathered, are God’s fullness (1:23) and temple-house (2:19–22) in Ephesus et al. (The new temple in town!) And, although often taken and preached individualistically (i.e., to the believer), the culminating verses of this highly liturgically charged and lofty worship section (1:3-3:19) has a benedictory call addressed to the whole of the church in Ephesus.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we [that is, the church, the one new man; cf. 2:15ff.] ask or think, according to the power that works [which is the content of the two prayers, the resurrected and ascended Messiah] among us [en humin, among us, i.e., the one new man], to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (3:20–21)
These prayers, which take up a rather large of amount of word count in the first three chapters of Ephesians, “are acts of praise and adoration [themselves], even though they include petitions on behalf of the audience.” The requests (themselves) are to lift the congregation as a whole, who is God’s temple in Ephesus et al., into the realm of reality that reflects what Paul has written already in 1:3–14 as well as 1:15–23 and 3:1–13. The rhetorical function of the paragraph, 3:14–19, with its doxology and benedictory call that follows (vv. 21–22), is to enlarge the vision of the congregation as agathered-church in that place, God’s temple-house in Ephesus et al. The “epideictic rhetoric” is being used to arouse the emotions, pulling on the collective congregational imagination, the realization of what it means to be seated with Messiah Jesus in the heavenly places (2:5; 3:10), to be God’s fullness in Christ, that is conveyors, illustrators, a display of God’s mystery (1:23; 3:10) as a gathered-house-temple-church in that place. Paul uses this sacred-space and enhanced, liturgically-charged and hierophantic prayer to mold, corporately, the “saints who are at Ephesus” to recognize their own relationship (as a bound together social group, i.e., a church) is how God is revealing the gospel (Eph 3:6).
Sacred space implies the stylistically veiled polemic target. The lack of an obvious polemical target in Ephesians suggests to many that the Letter is universal in nature, focusing on the “invisible” church. However, perhaps we should look in a different direction (i.e., listen differently) for Paul’s purpose. As Paul has highlighted in chapter 2, the Gentile believers are to understand a new identity apart from their former temple-life and the powers associated with those temples (cf. 2:1–11) and are, now, to conform to a new identity as the household-temple in the Lord (cf. 2:11–12; 4:17–32). In Ephesians 2, the Gentile audience is first reminded of their former “deadness” as they once walked (i.e., lived) according to the evil powers of creation (2:1–3), which was learned and expressed by their former temple-life, and, second, to grasp their new standing in “the heavenlies” in Messiah (v. 6). Now, “the saints who are at Ephesus” are to rethink everything as God’s new creation, the one new man (2:15c), God’s new humanity, his temple-household (2:19–22). The church, with the Gentiles, has become God’s sacred space throughout Asia Minor.
Temples revealed these mysteries, allowing participants to step into the heavenly realm—through the rites and practices of the temple priests and through the way in which the participant experiences both the temple itself and the worship.
Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) temples were considered sacred places. The primary purpose of ANE temples was to provide a residence for a local deity or deities. Each temple represented and depicted the abode or dwelling, as well as, the geographic extend of the deity’s/deities’ power and authority. The daily habits of it’s the worshippers (in and outside the temple) reinforced both the temple’s sacredness and the “truth” (its reality, its worldview) associated with the deity/deities dwelling in it. The temple-keepers created or followed rituals and rites, for themselves and for attendees, enacting and participating worship, appeasement, and petition to the deities resident in the temple. These temples also were centers of local political power and sources of civil control and societal blessing. Of course, Empire-centered temples housed thesupreme deity and deified emperor cult. Temple as sacred space, in the ANE, were liminal spaces, thin lines between earth and haven, between the mundane and the mysteries invisible to ordinary human beings. Temples revealed these mysteries, allowing participants to step into the heavenly realm—through the rites and practices of the temple priests and through the way in which the participant experiences both the temple itself and the worship.
If these blogs and teachings benefit you in some way, please consider supporting the ministry of Christ Presbyterian Church in The Hill. Our church plant and ministry in the Hill is dependent on the kind and generous financial support from outside the Hill. The Hill is one of Connecticut's poorest and under-resourced, self-sustaining neighborhoods; we will be dependent on outside support for some time. Please consider supporting us with a one time donation or join us as a financial partner in ministry.
You may donate online through our website or send a donation to our anchor church marked for CPC in The Hill @ 135 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06510 (checks are to be made out to Christ Presbyterian Church or simply CPC; and in the memo please indicate Hill/CA). For more information or to receive our Hill News Updates, please contact me, Pastor Chip, through this email address: ChipCPCtheHill@gmail.com.
 I.e., an approach to reading literature that focuses on values, social-worldviews, and beliefs in the texts; reading texts as performances relevant to its particular historical and cultural social-location; it presupposes that a text is a tapestry of interwoven textures, social, cultural, ideological, sacred texture. This fits well with how Paul writes and the word choices he made in the Ephesian Letter.
 This in no way means the Letter is less polemical in desired outcome; the question would be, then, how does the rather non-polemical style act as a polemic against any perceived opposition, obstacles, or barriers to the gospel of Messiah Jesus? The remaining section will offer a potential answer to this question.
 Ben Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 4; refers to G.A. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 32; B. Reicke calls it “Asianism.” (“It was called ‘Asian’ style because its foremost representatives came from Asia Minor, and it was characterized by a loaded, verbose, high-sounding manner of expression leaning toward the novel and bizarre, and careless about violating classic ideals of simplicity. . . Our epistle was undoubtedly written in conformity with the rules of the Asian school which was still important during the first Christian century”).
 Witherington, The Letters, 4.
 For the inappropriate leveraging of application to determine interpretation, see chapter 6 of my Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism (Wipf & Stock, 2013).
 Witherington, The Letters, 7.
 Although most take Ephesians as a sermonic Epistle concerning the universal church (i.e., the “invisible” church), it seems more likely that Paul’s intended audience is the household churches gathered throughout Asia Minor. What we refer to as The Letter to the Ephesians was meant to be circulatory, meaning it was to be read elsewhere, which seems what is to be inferred by the reference in Colossians 4:16 that the Colossian Letter was to be read elsewhere as well as the Letter coming from Laodicea (cf. Col 2:1, 13, 15). Additionally, as will be discussed later in the article, there is no reason to think the Letter’s polemic can not be addressing specific churches in Asia Minor, i.e., Ephesians et al., rather that some ambiguous concept of a invisible, universal church.
 Witherington, The Letters, 270.
 Ibid., 270.
 Perhaps we should read the Ephesians 4 “leadership list” in light of this as well.
 I had thought the images, descriptions, and teaching Paul renders on “the Church” in Ephesians was intentionally universal in nature—that is, “the Church” capital “C” in Ephesians is about the universal church as opposed to being about the or a church (small “c”) local. I believe I was incorrect on this. As Paul starts the letter he wrote, “To the saints who are at Ephesus” (1:1), making it local. While I grant the circulatory nature of this Letter (i.e., to the churches of Asia Minor, and is probably the Letter referenced in Colossians as “the letter from Laodicea,” 4:16), the Letter known to us as Ephesians is about the local church at least, the community of believers in a local area (geographic and municipal in make up). I believe this shift has implications for defining biblical church growth.