The Sacred “Inner” Space Between (Eph 3:16): Church as Revelation of God's Reconciling Mystery and Its Potential for Church Growth Outcomes (3 of 5)
II. Weighing the Context and the Burden of Interpretation: Individual or Corporate?
Virtually every commentator affirms, without question, an individual referent for Paul’s Ephesians 3:16 phrase “inner man.” For most, with little to no explanation as to how anthropos (lit. man, human being) can be understood as “self” or how esō (inner) is a reference to the inner being (that incorporeal, ethereal, intangible, soul-ish, or heart aspect of the human being);  or, there is an immediate assumption, again with no explanation, that Paul has turned his prayer’s attention to the individual Christian—that is, the inner self of the individual believer. Some appeal to similar Pauline expressions (i.e., Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:16) are typically made, assuming, as well, those texts are similarly individual referents. Nonetheless, given that the prayer as a whole and the surrounding context is highly corporate, the burden of interpretation, then, seems to be on those assuming an individualistic reference for Paul’s phrase “inner man” (ἔσω ἄνθρωπον).
Max Turner helps refocus our attention on the corporate nature of Ephesians:
Descartes, Enlightenment ‘man’, the Romanticists, Kant, Freud, Jung, and developments since, have placed the major emphasis of personhood on the inner self, the subjective and all-too-readily individualistic pole of experience, the world-interpreting (including ‘self-interpreting’) ‘I’. The first century Greco-Roman world, like so much of the modern Eastern and Southern worlds, was fundamentally different. Their concept of the ‘person’ (as with the Fathers!) is fundamentally much more dyadic, that is, essentially relational and group-orientated. The ‘person’ marks him- or herself by (a) what place she has in the wider society (e.g., her lineage); (b) with which society she is identified (e.g., her ethnos, her city, etc.); (c) his or her upbringing, education and training (under which teachers, involving what skills, and understanding, etc.); and (d) his or her accomplishments, in terms of public deeds, and visible ‘persona’. Within such a cultural setting, introspective and psychologising accounts of the ‘self’ may be expected to be found little more frequently than the proverbial mare’s nest.
In other words, Paul, in Ephesians, is helping to revise the church’s mental and social map of their world in that place (Ephesus et al.). As they had experienced before coming to faith in Messiah Jesus, the temples and their experience of the temples revealed the heavenly mysteries and created habits that molded them according to the deities represented in and through the temple; now, however, as God’s temple, they are to do essentially the same, yet now, reflecting God in Messiah Jesus. Their natural “bandwidth” was limited by their previous social and cultural experience. As suggested in the words of Leonard Sweet, “When the root metaphors change, so does everything else.” This seems to be what Paul is after in Ephesians.
Paul’s reference to “inner man.” Paul utilizes almost the same exact phrase in Romans 7:22 as he does in Ephesians 3:16. Both are set within prepositional phrases, the only difference is kata (according to is used in the Romans 7:22 text and eis (into) in the Ephesians 3:16 text.
For most commenting on one or both these texts, they are considered the same and simply taken as the “inner person” of an individual. Lincoln has a long discussion and rationale (essentially the only commentator to do so) for taking “inner man” as an individual reference; however, he makes inferences from what he considers relevant Greek- and Hellenistic-world authors concerning the dualistic “notion” of “an inward person” or “the person within the person.” The argument seems to start with the assumption of what “inner man” means (i.e., inner, real self), not whether it actually means inner person; then, Lincoln precedes assuming a dynamic similarity to such Hellenistic writers’ use of other linguistic words and phrases (not the actual phrase, however). Furthermore, without much consideration, Lincoln indicates that the “new man” (Eph 2:15c) and the “inner man” (Eph 3:16c) are not to be equated. Nonetheless, he only cites inferences and concepts of “the inner person” from, what are obviously, platonically influenced dualistic, writers. Yet, there is no exact or even any closely resembling phrase among Greek writers and thinkers. Barring any appropriating from Gnostic or Platonic thought, Paul is, still, unique in forming this phrase. Also, to go with the reading, one must still argue that Paul was offering a Greek understanding of a person within some dualistic framework and not, the natural assumption, from an Old Testament or Hebraic understanding of the referent. The apostle does not draw on any other relevant or traditional language used to describe a human being in this way.
1. In the Ephesians 3 prayer, Paul is entreating God on behalf of the whole church in Ephesus, which is made plain by (a) the repeated plural “you” address, (b) the second person plural verbal expressions, (c) implied by the reference to the “fullness of God” in verse 19, and (d) the benediction call toward the whole church (which I maintain should be heard as local to the Ephesus et al. house-churches rather than some notion of a universal church) in verses 20–21. All components of the prayer are directed at the whole of the church being addressed (vv. 16, 18, 19c), which suggests there is either an exception being made in the reference to “inner man” or “inner man” has, as does the rest of the prayer, a corporate reference. It is the church, which is Jesus’ (earthly) body, that is God’s fullness, according to Paul’s previous description in 1:23. Identifying “inner man” as the individual in Eph 3: 16c would mean Paul has changed the framing of his prayer. It seems more reasonable to retain the corporate thread in vv. 16–19, which would imply that “inner man” is to be understood corporately.
2. The Ephesians 3 prayer parallels both Paul’s previous prayer (1:15–23), which is most certainly addressed to the whole of the church (in Ephesus et al.) and, as well, the affirmations made throughout chapters 1-3 concerning God’s action in Jesus toward the whole Ephesus et al. church. In fact, Paul “reuses many of the words and ideas of his earlier intercession, 1:17–19,” implying a similar focus. For example, in the first prayer (1:14–23), Paul prays that the church would comprehend “what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (v. 19). This has parallel meaning in the Ephesians 3 prayer when Paul prays that the church “be strengthened with power through His Spirit” (3:16), thus allowing a continued corporate focus, which would include the intent of the phrase “inner man.”
3. Other references to anthropos regarding the nature of the church, i.e., the one new man (2:15c; including 4:22–25) in Ephesians fall squarely on, not the individual Christian, but the corporate unity of the new Gentile-Jew co-fellowship, house-temple in and through Messiah Jesus. Furthermore, the pattern of the whole phrase “inner man” as a prepositional phrase mirrors Paul’s “one new man” reference in 2:15c:
4. The reason for the prayer itself (3:14) is seen in the immediate paragraph where the imagery and concept of the “one new man” is apparent: that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (3:6). These are the same words and concepts used to describe the incorporation of the Gentiles as an element of the Ephesians 2 “one new man.”
5. The reference to “glory” (according to the riches of His glory, v. 16b) draws the readers back to the trio of verses (1:6a, 12c, 14c) that are tied to the result of the Father’s action toward and on behalf of the church, namely that all, on account of God’s action in Messiah, through faith, have access to the Father’s presence (2:18; cf. 3:12):
Paul’s trio-reference to God’s “glory” carriers resonance of God’s temple presence (which will occupy are attention later in the essay). The OT is filled with references to Yahweh’s presence either being associated with his “glory” or with “glory” indicating God’s actual presence in earthly space and time. Given Ephesian’s liturgical rhetoric and Paul’s very concrete reference to the church as God’s temple (2:19-22), there is no doubt that the apostle “has drawn on the manner in which the OT writers expressed the divine presence and manifestation of God in the temple.” Paul’s repeated use of “glory,” particularly as the ultimate result of God’s action in Messiah (i.e., to [note into, eis] the praise of His glory, 1:12, 14; cf. 1:6 ), we should, therefore, understand the term “coextensive with the concept of God’s glory filling the temple.” Thus, there is a strong tie to the access to the Father, which is at the heart of the two preceding paragraphs:
This not only links the “inner man” to the “one new man,” it, furthermore, also strengthens the corporate reference of the whole prayer.
6. The three escalating hina clauses in 3:14–19 imply that all the clauses are intended to be taken corporately, that is the prayer is applied to the church as a whole. This is particularly recognized in Paul’s final and ultimate hina clause that contains the requested result and content of his prayer to the Father: that you [the church in Ephesus et al.] may be filled up to all the fullness of God (3:19c).
The phrase “the inner man” comes in the first of three escalating requests; not necessarily three independent clauses, but components that build (i.e., are stacked) or further explain Paul’s entreaty on their behalf. Note the use of corporate language in the Ephesians 1 prayer also ends with reference to the church being “the fullness of God” (1:23b), which seems to be the case here in the Ephesians 3 prayer (cf. 3:19c). The first hina clause, which contains the phrase “inner man,” is a request that the whole of the “saints in Ephesus” be strengthened with/in power that results in Messiah dwelling in their hearts as gathered-church(es). The “dwelling” seems to imply the need for “inner man” to be a corporate reference, reflecting what it means to be the fullness of God in Ephesus.
7. The last of the hina clauses, the final request--that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God, 3:19c—draws from Paul’s first church reference to “fullness” in 1:22-23: And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
It is clear that the earthly body of Messiah, the church, is the fullness of God. The whole prayer (3:14-19), that is, its content (i.e., the choice of words and imagery), is to request that the Father on behalf of the “saints who are at Ephesus” (1:1) to realize who they are in Ephesus as gathered-church, God’s one new man (i.e., one new humanity) the house-temple, God’s dwelling place; thus, they are to know/comprehend/experience the fullness of God (as the one new humanity, the inner man). Additionally, the “one new man” is the house-temple of God, that is the dwelling place of God, which has a conceptual reference to Paul’s “fullness” references elsewhere.
8. Paul prays the Ephesus church is strengthen in the inner man “through His Spirit” (3:16b). All references to the actions or person of the Holy Spirit situated in Ephesians are corporate references to church (cf. 5:18). Paul’s “inner man” would be the sole exception if it were a reference to the individual Christian. More explicitly, the church had been just described as God’s new temple, a dwelling of God in the Spirit (2:22c)—a specific reference to the (local) church as a whole.
10. The agricultural and building imagery in 3:17 associated with the “inner man” (3:16c) is also drawn from (or is parallel to) the Ephesians 2 “one new man.” Paul uses οἰκοδομὴ συναρμολογουμένη αὔξει (2:21) and ἐρριζωμένοι καὶ τεθεμελιωμένοι (3:17), a blend of building, growing, and agricultural imagery to indicate the growth of the church. This language, as in chapter 2, is more suited to reference the growing/building nature of the (local) church. There is also a connection to the Ephesians 2 “one new man” with the old/new man in Ephesians 4 through the growing and building language. The connection to the Ephesians 3 prayer and the “inner man” can be seen in the en agape (in love) parallels—both connected to the growing imagery. [See chart II.1.10]
11. Finally, Paul’s measuring language in verse 18 not only is addressed corporately to the church also suggests a reference to the church as temple: may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth (3:18). This would further indicate a link between the Ephesians 2 “one new man” and the church being addressed in Paul’s culminating prayer in 3:14–19. As will be discussed below, measuring language in the Bible has multiple levels of meaning. The Ezekiel 37 background to the “one new man” and its Ephesians 2:11–22 context is important here: Ezekiel 37, a vision of restored Israel, leads into a vision of a restored temple, resulting in God’s glory returning to the temple (43:1–5; cf. 1:6, 12, 14; 3:16, 21). The dimension language in Ephesians 3:18 (τὸ πλάτος καὶ μῆκος καὶ ὕψος καὶ βάθος) is the same language used of Ezekiel’s description of the eschatological temple’s altar in Ezekiel 41:22. Furthermore, the highest prevalence of dimension language in the LXX is located in Ezekiel 40-47, where it is used to refer to the dimensions of the new temple.
The above review of the context and the repeated emphasis on the corporate nature of the prayer-petition and on the church in Ephesus as God’s house-temple strongly suggests that Paul’s reference to the “inner man” should demand a corporate reading. This places the burden of interpretative rationale on those who read “inner man” as an individual rather than a corporate reference. In the following section we will focus on the potential implications of Paul’s use of the Solomon temple dedication and other OT temple texts on both the Ephesians 3 prayer and the significance of the term “inner man.”
 Stirling, “Transformation and Growth,” 139. There is also a problem determining what this “inner man” is without degenerating into a dualistic or platonic view of a human being, moving even into Gnostic understandings of human existence—certainly this is not Paul’s view of the human being. Secondly, how does one have the “inner, deeper, human aspect” of one’s self know anything? How would—based on this prayer—one allow, make the “inner man” in this way strengthened?
 The tendency to translate the Greek word anthrōpos (man) in some texts as “self,” or even “human nature” seems more an applicationally-leveraged rendering (i.e., interpretation) than one based on the social and intellectual worldview of the NT era. Those associated with “deeper life” circles or experience-centered faith (and worship) tend to build spiritual life doctrine of human nature, an individualistic Christian life, and personal application from the translations rendering Paul’s reference to “new man” or “old man” as “new self” or “old self,” which spills over into the apostle’s reference to the “inner man.” Although significant, application for personal spiritual (or deeper) life experiences should not anachronistically move from the English rendering to Paul’s meaning. Since Paul’s new man is a corporate concept, I translate the Ephesians 2:15 text as “new humanity,” an appropriate verbal expression, which fits the apostle’s original intention, keeping the Adam referent (see Romans 5-6) intact. This should be considered when weighing Paul’s meaning and intention of “into the inner man” [Eph 3:16c, my translation].
 Max Turner, "Approaching 'personhood' in the New Testament, with special reference to Ephesians,” EQ 77.3 (2005): 211-33.
 Assuming churches in someone’s houses in and around Ephesus, Laodicea, and Colossae.
 Leonard Hjalmarson, No Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place (Portland, OR: Urban Loft, 2014), 110; “Seven Questions.”
 Walt Russell, “Insights from postmodernism’s Emphasis on Interpretive Communities in the Interpretation of Romans 7,” JETS 37/4 (December 1994): 511-27.
 Lincoln, Ephesians, 205.
 Paul’s reference to the “inner man” in Romans 7:22b is heard through the assumption that Paul is completely referring to himself, i.e., the “I,” throughout Romans 7. However, there has been some discussion that Paul, perhaps, represents a corporate reference, such as a community. Even Ridderbos (Paul: An Outline of His Theology) sees the potential that Paul is not just Paul, but Paul the Pharisee (under the law) and Paul the new community of God (under the Spirit). So, perhaps, the parallels and/or similarities between Paul’s meaning of “inner man” in Romans 7 and “inner man” in Ephesians need more review and further consideration—beyond mere individualizing the text.
 William Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1967), 171.
 Ephesians 1:22–23: “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
 Ernest Best, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesian (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 339
 The same phrase occurs in Romans 7:22, similarly with the definite article preceding ἔσω. Given the very likelihood that Paul is using himself as a representative of the whole congregation no longer under Law vs. under grace, perhaps the antecedent for ἄνθρωπον is found in Paul’s Adam-new Adam referenced in Romans 5-6.
 Stirling, “Transformation and Growth: The Davidic Temple Building in Ephesians,” PhD thesis, University of St. Andrews, 138; Arnold, Ephesians, 116.
 Ibid., 138.
 The hina clauses seem to function as both the content of Paul’s prayer (i.e., indirect address), but also the result he is seeking on their behalf.
 Author’s modified NASB translation.
 Whole church in Ephesus (i.e., Asia Minor), as well as the local congregations (i.e., gathered-house-churches) were equally the fulness of God, not lacking in anyway.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.