the weblog of Alan Knox

People, Body, Temple, or Family?

Posted by on Nov 29, 2006 in definition | 2 comments

(This is another quick intermission from my series on “Gifting vs. Office.”) During my recent trip to Washington D.C. and the ETS conference, some friends and I began discussing various metaphors for the church. There were several papers presented during ETS that used the standard metaphors to discuss the church: 1) People of God, 2) Body of Christ, and 3) Temple of the Holy Spirit. These metaphors are also usually studied in detail in ecclesiology books.

While these three metaphors fall neatly into a trinitarian theology, I wonder if they are truly the main biblical metaphors used to describe the church. In fact, each of the three are used a handful of times in the New Testament, but only a handful of times each. There are other metaphors that are used more often. Consider the following metaphors:

Family. How many times are believers called brothers and sisters? How many times is God called Father? Are we not “adopted” by God?

Citizens. This may actually be realted to the “Family” metaphor, but let’s consider it separately. Are we not “citizens” of the kingdom of God? Is Jesus not our Lord and King? Are we not told to live as good citizens? Is God not our benefactor?

Are there other metaphors that may be more prevalent in Scripture than people of God, body of Christ, or temple of the Holy Spirit? What can we learn from these more prevalent metaphors that we miss in the standard three?


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  1. 12-1-2006


    I have enjoyed talking with you about this before. When I look at these different descriptions of believers, I wonder if some of them are even metaphors at all. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance. Are we literally family (brothers and sisters) who have been adopted by the Father or are we only family symbolically. The same may apply for the people of God, body of Christ, and temple of the Holy Spirit descriptions. Are these three descriptions literally true of believers or are they trying to suggest a resemblance between believers and something else? At this point I think I would say that none of these are metaphors, but they are literal descriptions of what believers are. I would love to hear thoughts that others may have on this topic as I am still studying this myself. Thanks for the stimulating post Alan.


  2. 12-1-2006


    You ask an interesting question. In fact, in the Ecclesiology seminary we are presenting a synopsis of our papers. One student is studying Paul’s use of “Body of Christ” language in order to determine if it is a metaphor or not. Apparently this debate has been raging for some time. I’m looking forward to reading this paper.

    I tend to agree with you that “family” and “citizen” are not metaphors. We are literally God’s family, and we are literally citizens of His kingdom. I also agree that we are literally the people of God (which is probably related to both family and citizen). However, I think that body and temple may be used in a more metaphorical sense – or at least a spiritual sense.

    This reminds me of the eucharist question: What did Christ mean when he said, “This is my body”?

    Thanks for continuing the discussion. Maybe this would be a good topic for your blog? hint… hint…

    – Alan