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There is curious wording in the apostle Paul's Letter to Ephesus:

Ephesians 3:14: "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father... 16that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man... 17and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge"

Naturally, we can understand three: "breadth and length and height". But why might Paul add another dimension: "depth", to verse 18? Is there some interpretive significance to this?

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    The observer is situated internally. If external, an observer sees three dimensions, length, breadth and height. If the observer is suspended inside a structure, the height becomes a height and a depth. It indicates that the saints are inside the love of God experiencing Him, not outside as mere spectators. (Up-voted +1.)
    – Nigel J
    Jul 12, 2021 at 17:55
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    You should turn this into an answer @NigelJ
    – Robert
    Jul 12, 2021 at 17:58
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    @NigelJ But why would the Z axis be treated differently than the X or Y axes? If I'm inside a structure, it's just as likely the there space to my left and right, or in front and behind me, as there is above and below me.
    – chepner
    Jul 13, 2021 at 18:54
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    @chepner Why wouldn't it be? Paul is writing to people who know the sky and sea, but are as of yet unaware of the cartesian coordinate system. Jul 15, 2021 at 0:02
  • @CharlesBamford I believe their point is only that there is nothing special about up and down compared to left and right or forwards and backwards. You don't need to express it in a specific coordinate system to have an intuitive sense of directions. More generally a "depth" is only measured inwards from a surface - it could be in any direction. However this is getting too far into semantics when the word choices themselves are those of a translator, not the original wording. Jul 15, 2021 at 13:25

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Paul didn't take analytic geometry. People in his day would look at spatial dimensions based on how they would measure them, not on a coordinate system. They could measure length all at once, and width all at once. But, height they would measure from ground/water surface level up, and depth from ground/water surface level down. Combining height and depth wouldn't seem practical to them.

With the plant metaphor, "being rooted and grounded in love" (in Eph. 3:17, ESV), is the height of the plant, the depth of the roots, and the length/width spread of the plant. But, the strength and stability of the plant greatly depends on the roots (the importance of the term depth). For a tree you wouldn't want the dimension from the tip of the tap root to the top of the tree. You would want how deep the roots went and how tall the tree was both based on ground level.

There is also the passage in Job 11:7–9 (ESV):

Can you find out the deep things of God? 
  Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? 
It is higher than heaven—what can you do?
  Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? 
Its measure is longer than the earth
  and broader than the sea.
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    Genius, I was thinking more along the lines of "depth" as in not "hollow" or "empty" but instead "full", but this is much more, um... grounded and explanation.
    – Austin
    Jul 17, 2021 at 5:53
  • +1 @PerryWebb I really like your answer. I started a subreddit at reddit.com/r/BibleVerseCommentary. Can I copy your answer here and share it with the members of my subreddit? Of course, I will attribute the post to your name and hermeneutics.stackexchange.com :)
    – user35953
    Feb 3, 2023 at 19:01
  • Nice perspective however, in the phrase rooted and grounded ἐρριζωμένοι καὶ τεθεμελιωμένοι only the first term is botanical/agricultural. The second is architectural and relates to building on a solid foundation. Aug 20, 2023 at 22:47
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This is quintessential Hebrew idiom based on multiple hyperbole. Paul is trying to convey the matchless riches of God's love and grace and struggles to find words to express it. He uses three metaphors:

  • a tree "rooted and grounded in love", ie, firmly anchored and convinced of God's love
  • size/magnitude, "breadth and length and height and depth", ie, if you met God's love, you might describe it as being very wide and long, plus very high and very deep". That is it spreads out in all directions - to the left and right, as far as one can see ahead, and as high and deep as one can imagine.
  • God's love surpasses all knowledge/understanding - bigger than anything we could imagine!

Thus, Paul's "four dimensions" might even be expanded to six by saying something like - God's love is bigger than anything to the left, anything to the right, anything behind, anything in front, anything above or anything below.

Paul is not discussing Euclidean geometry but a metaphor of magnitude. He employs a similar metaphor in Rom 8:39 where only height and depth are used. Both may allude to OT passages about great height and depth such as, Ps 95:4, Prov 25:3, Isa 7:11, etc.

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  • Rooted and grounded ἐρριζωμένοι καὶ τεθεμελιωμένοι. The first is botanical/agricultural; the second is architectural and relates to building on a solid foundation. the first can apply to a tree, the second does not. Aug 20, 2023 at 22:44
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Why, indeed? My first thought was that the love of Christ is such that he laid down his life for us and literally went into “the depths” – the grave, not to be confused with hell. However, I suspected there was much more to it than that. To find out if there is some interpretive significance to the “depth” of the love of Christ, I went to Matthew Henry’s commentary on Ephesians 3:18:

Section III, point 5: It is observable how magnificently the apostle speaks of the love of Christ. The dimensions of redeeming love are admirable: The breadth, and length, and depth, and height. By enumerating these dimensions, the apostle designs to signify the exceeding greatness of the love of Christ, the unsearchable riches of his love, which is higher than heaven, deeper than hell, longer than the earth, and broader than the sea, Job 11:8, 9. Some describe the particulars thus: By the breadth of it we may understand the extent of it to all ages, nations, and ranks of men; by the length of it, its continuance from everlasting to everlasting; by the depth of it, its stooping to the lowest condition, with a design to relieve and save those who have sunk into the depths of sin and misery; by its height, its entitling and raising us up to the heavenly happiness and glory. We should desire to comprehend this love: it is the character of all the saints that they do so; for they all have a complacency and a confidence in the love of Christ:

And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, v. 19. If it passeth knowledge, how can we know it? We must pray and endeavour to know something, and should still covet and strive to know more and more of it, though, after the best endeavours, none can fully comprehend it: in its full extent it surpasses knowledge. Though the love of Christ may be better perceived and known by Christians than it generally is, yet it cannot be fully understood on this side heaven. Source: https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mh&b=49&c=3

Matthew Henry references Job 11 where it asks, in verses 7-9:

Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens – what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave – what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.

I believe that the Hebrew word for grave is ‘quever’ (or something similar). It literally means the place (a tomb or a grave) into which the dead body is laid.

Paul’s use of four dimensions in Ephesians 3:18 reminded me of what he wrote in Romans 8:37-39:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew Henry has written a wonderful commentary on these inspired words of Paul. Section 2 deserves reading in full, but I will refer only to the specific reference to “height and depth” of the love of Christ:

(4.) Nor height, nor depth—neither the height of prosperity and preferment, nor the depth of adversity and disgrace; nothing from heaven above, no storms, no tempests; nothing on earth below, no rocks, no seas, no dungeons. (5.) Nor any other creature—any thing that can be named or thought of. It will not, it cannot, separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It cannot cut off or impair our love to God, or God's to us; nothing does it, can do it, but sin. Observe, the love that exists between God and true believers is through Christ. He is the Mediator of our love: it is in and through him that God can love us and that we dare love God. This is the ground of the stedfastness of the love; therefore God rests in his love (Zep. 3:17), because Jesus Christ, in whom he loves us, is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Source: https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mh&b=45&c=8

Take your pick from these interpretive significances to “depth” as used in Ephesians 3:18 to describe the love of Christ:

Higher than heaven, deeper than hell (or the depths of the grave)

Stooping to the lowest condition to relieve and save those who have sunk into the depths of sin and misery

The height of prosperity and preferment, to the depth of adversity and disgrace

From heaven above to the rocks, seas and the deepest dungeons on earth

Thank you for asking this question. I have been uplifted and inspired by delving into this subject.

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Mathematically, height and depth run along the same axis of dimension.

Ephesians 3:

17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

The emphasis is on the dimensions of love as in Romans 8:

39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord

Jesus can reach us from our lowest depression and exalt us to a joyously high state.

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Why might Paul emphasize FOUR spatial dimensions when describing the love of Christ (Eph. 3:18)?

Ephesians 3:17-18 NASB

17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the [a]saints what is the width and length and height and depth,

“The Breadth and Length and Height and Depth”

How, though, can we become “rooted” and “stabilized in the faith”? One important way to send our roots deep into the soil, so to speak, is by a diligent study of God’s inspired Word. God wants us “to grasp mentally with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of the truth. (Eph. 3:18) No Christian, therefore, should be content with a mere superficial understanding, being satisfied with knowing only “the elementary things” found in God’s Word. (Heb. 5:12; 6:1) On the contrary, each of us should be eager to deepen our understanding of Bible truths.​, Prov. 2:1-5.

Proverbs 2:1-5 NASB

The Pursuit of Wisdom Brings Security

1 My son, if you will receive my words And treasure my commandments within you, 2 Make your ear attentive to wisdom; Incline your heart to understanding. 3 For if you cry out for insight, And [a]raise your voice for understanding; 4 If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, And discover the knowledge of God.

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Why might Paul emphasize FOUR spatial dimensions when describing the love of Christ (Eph. 3:18)?

Christ is the one who is rooted and grounded in God's love. It's only through his life living in our hearts that will we be able to perceive His love for his entire creation.

He who descended is the very One who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things.

His love never fails and in order for us to be filled with the fullness of God we too will need to know that His love Is all encompassing. Nothing is outside of his love.

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Not enough rep to post comments, but I just wanted to add a morsel to the conversation that Paul was a tentmaker, lived and ministered with tentmakers, and likely used those skills to pull his own weight in the cities he travelled to for ministry. @NigelJ's comment about being inside what's being measured seems related.

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    – agarza
    Jul 15, 2021 at 22:05
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because he is alluding to the the 4th dimension - the spiritual dimension. Do a bible search of things that listed as 4th.

For example there were 3 Hebrews in the fiery furnace but the 4th person was not human.

Stars were created on the 4th day.

There are 4 gospels but John is the one that emphasises Jesus divinity.

The cherubims in Ezekiel have 4 faces and 4 wings.

In Ephesians 6 the spiritual enemies come in 4 types.

So the number 4 is a reference to the spiritual dimension.

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    Four in scripture usually relates to the earth (either the present earth or that yet to come) : north, south, east and west - all on one plane.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 13, 2021 at 19:36
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Four is not the spiritual, rather it is a he material, earthly, subject to Space-Time, which manifests at lower than the speed of light. The spiritual is in the Light, Space-Time compressed to zero. Abiding in Love; in the Spirit of the Father and the Son. In Eternity. No longer combined to earthly material/mass, which are represented spatially by four.

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    Aug 20, 2023 at 17:06
  • Welcome to the site, Ed. Your answer has some interesting points, but on Hermeneutics, the actual text in question has to be 'unearthed' and examined to see what it says itself about the question. Is there anything in the Greek, or in the context, that sheds light on the question? This avoids just giving opinions, which Hermeneutics tries to avoid.
    – Anne
    Aug 22, 2023 at 13:18
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I was doing some study on Ephesians 3:18 and 19. And stumbled into this site. I will like to contribute with what I had learnt. Firstly, Ephesians 3:18 must be read/studied together with Ephesians 3:19. Because there is a Greek connection particle (AND or ALSO) that links these 2 verses together. Most of the versions as well as the Greek New Testament, kept this conjunction. It is not a deduced or inferred word. Secondly, if a AND conjunction is present, then the "breadth and length and height and depth" cannot be the same as "the love of Christ" as in Ephesians 3:19. We do not write "an apple AND an apple", but we do write "and apple AND an orange". Paul in Ephesians 3:19, has given the framework of what this phrase should fit into - "filled to the fullness of God". And the meaning of this phrase, is to be cognitively comprehended as in Ephesians 3:18. We can deduce that Paul is referring to the Vastness of God's Wisdom and Vastness of God's very Nature. Ephesians 3:18 refers to what Paul had been exhaustively writing about from Ephesians 1 till Ephesians 3. The vastness of God's Wisdom and God's Nature. Internal evidences within the Book of Ephesians Eph 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. Paul had already prayed for the Christians in Ephesus to have a spirit of wisdom and revelation. Thus, Wisdom of God is part of the meaning of this phrase. In Ephesians 1:19-23, we again see the dimension of the Greatness of God’s power, dimension of height and depth (Ephesians 1:20-23 – far above all rule and authority, death and under His feet). Eph 2:4,6,7 - we sees more of this vastness that Paul is referring to: Here we have 2 more terms for vastness: Rich in Mercy, His great love Surpassing riches of His grace in kindness Eph 3:8 - Here is another term for vastness, the unfathomable riches of Christ. Eph 3:10 - Finally, another term for vastness, the manifold wisdom of God. From all these, it is clear that Paul is referring to the Vastness of God’s Wisdom, God’s Power, God’s Mercy, God’s Love. Indeed, the fullness of God as revealed in Scripture. Remember, the NT has yet to be written, and most probably not accessible to Christians at that time. Thus, it is more like referring to God's Nature as revealed in the OT. Which Job 11:6-9, has the precise match to this phrase used by Paul.

External evidences of Paul's own writing: Depth as used for Wisdom and knowledge of God, by Paul. Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! 1 Corinthians 2:10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. Depth and deep (things of God) - both used by Paul to refers to the unsearchable Wisdom and Knowledge of God. Quote from MacArthur Bible Commentary on Philippians 1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, in knowledge. This is from the Greek word that describes genuine, full, or advanced knowledge. Biblical love is not an empty sentimentalism but is anchored deeply in the truth of Scripture and regulated by it (cf. Ephessians_5:2-3; 1 Peter_1:22). discernment. The English word aesthetic comes from this Greek word, which speaks of moral perception, insight, and the practical application of knowledge. Love is not blind, but perceptive, and it carefully scrutinizes to distinguish between right and wrong. See note on 1 Thesselonians_5:21-22. (MacArthur Bible Commentary) This is a statement from the Apostle Paul, that emphasise the need of Love and Wisdom, as in Philippians 1:9. … “that your love” may abound still more and more “in knowledge and all discernment”,

Comprehension of the Fullness of God, is not just knowing the Love of Christ (Eph 3:19), but also with the Wisdom and Nature of God (Eph 3:18).

God bless.

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