As I explained in the “Introduction” of this series, I am stepping through the passages in the New Testament in which the authors (primarily Paul – perhaps only Paul) use the term “body” in a metaphorical sense. As I read through these passages, I’m going to be asking these kinds of questions: What is Paul comparing to a “body”? What comparison is he making? At what point does it seem the comparison ends? How is this usage similar to or different from other usages?
Now, the term “body” is found often in Scripture. It usually refers to an actual body… that is, a person physical body. But, there are a few times when the term “body” does not refer to a person’s physical body, but is used in a metaphorical sense. I’ve already discussed the usages of “body” in Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 10-11, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians and in this post I’ll look at the uses of the term body in Colossians.
The uses of the term “body” in Colossians are very similar to the uses that we found in Ephesians, but with less detail:
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18 ESV)
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church… (Colossians 1:24 ESV)
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:18-19 ESV)
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body… (Colossians 3:15 ESV)
In the passages above, as we saw in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians, the “body” metaphorical refers to a community of people. When it comes to the community, the metaphorical “body” illustrates how the individuals members relate to one another (both in unity and in interdependence).
Plus, as in Ephesians, 1) the metaphorical “body” is associated directly with the “church,” and 2) the metaphor is expanded to include Jesus Christ in relationship to others as the physical head is related to the physical body. We’ve seen these last 2 items (#1 and #2 in the previous sentence) in Ephesians and now Colossians, but not in Romans and 1 Corinthians.
There is an added aspect of the head/body relationship (in the body metaphor) in Colossians 2:18-19. While the relationship of believers to Jesus Christ is emphasized in Ephesians, Paul goes further in Colossians by stating that those who are “insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” are also “not holding fast to the head.”
Interestingly, Paul does not connect the “body” metaphor to the diversity/unity of spiritual gifts in Colossians as he did in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians. But, then, Paul does not discuss spiritual gifts in Colossians.
So, while the “body” metaphor in Colossians is very similar to the metaphorical use in Ephesians, there is some difference. And, as we saw in Ephesians, the use of the “body” metaphor in Colossians is quite different than Paul’s use in Romans and 1 Corinthians.
In Colossians, the “body” metaphor continues to emphasize the community aspect of the church (a corporate unity) although the diversity aspect is not as emphasized in Colossians. Similarly, Paul also utilizes the “body” metahpor in Colossians to emphasize the necessity of remaining connected to Jesus Christ (as the body must remain connected to the head).
“Body of Christ” Metaphor Series
- Romans 12:4-5
- 1 Corinthians 10-11
- 1 Corinthians 12
- Hebrews 13:3