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, Ephesians, Colossians and Hebrews 13:3.
Here are few observations based on my study of the metaphorical use of the term “body”:
1. The metaphorical use of “body” is primarily a Pauline metaphor (perhaps only a Pauline metaphor).
2. “Body” primarily refers to a group of believers as a community or corporate unity.
3. Typically, the “body” metaphor is used to emphasize the unity of the group in spite of the diversity.
4. The “body” metaphor is often used during a discussion of spiritual gifts, which is related to the diversity/unity aspects of the group.
5. The heady/body relationship (i.e. “Christ is head of the body”) is only used in a couple of instances when the author is illustrating Christ’s rule or source for the body. (In the “body” metaphor, “head” does not always refer to Jesus Christ.)
6. In a couple of instances, the “body” metaphor is used to focus on close association and the sharing of suffering, joy, etc.
7. Also, in a couple of instances, the “body” metaphor illustrates how different people rely on one another (like parts of a body rely on the other parts).
8. As with other metaphors (such as “yeast” or “lion”), it appears that the meaning if the “body” metaphor changes based on what the author is trying to communicate, illustrate, or emphasize. (Although the idea of a “community” seems to be consistent through each usage of the term “body.”)
So, in conclusion, in the New Testament the term “body” is used metaphorically to refer to several different aspects of the Christian community, with the aspects changing based on the author’s focus in that particular passage.
“Body of Christ” Metaphor Series
- Romans 12:4-5
- 1 Corinthians 10-11
- 1 Corinthians 12
- Hebrews 13:3