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The Body of Christ Metaphor: Introduction

Posted by on Oct 15, 2012 in community, members, scripture, spiritual gifts, unity | 16 comments

The Body of Christ Metaphor: Introduction

While reading a chapter in one of my favorite books on the church, I was inspired to study the “body” metaphor in Scripture. (See my post “The Body Metaphor in Paul: Familiar and yet unique.”) While reading that chapter, I realize that I had never looked into that metaphor for myself. I don’t really expect to find anything different or unusual. But, since I want to study it more, I thought I would share what I found on my blog.

Metaphors are interesting… and dangerous. As a figure of speech, a metaphor is a great way to explain one thing by comparing it to something else, usually something more familiar. Of course, the danger is that it’s easy to press a metaphor too far or to assume that people using a similar metaphor making the same kind of comparison.

For example, Jesus uses leaven as a metaphor, but he uses it different ways. (Consider Matthew 13:33 and Matthew 16:6.) Also, it’s easy to take a comparison too far, assuming too many points of comparison between original point and the metaphor.

I wonder if Paul always uses the “body” metaphor in the say way, or if he uses it in different ways at different times, depending on the point he is communicating or explaining to his readers. So, as I read through these passages, I’m going to be asking these kinds of questions: What 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?

(By the way, I mention Paul above because he is the only New Testament writer who uses the “body” metaphor. Well, there is one usage in the Book of Hebrews. Perhaps Paul wrote that, and perhaps he didn’t. I think he did, but it doesn’t really matter in this discussion.)

The word “body” is used many times in Scripture, often referring to a physical body. In this study, I’m particularly interested in those metaphorical usages of the term “body”… those times when we usually refer to it as “the body of Christ” even if the “of Christ” is not actually part of the passage.

As far as I can tell, these are the verses or passages in which the term “body” is used in that metaphorical sense.

Romans 12:4-5
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
1 Corinthians 11:27-29
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
Ephesians 1:23
Ephesians 3:6
Ephesians 4:4-16
Ephesians 5:23
Ephesians 5:30
Colossians 1:18
Colossians 1:24
Colossians 2:19
Colossians 3:15
Hebrews 13:3

So, over the next few days, I’m going to step through those passages. I’ll probably combine some of the passages into single quotes. But, the longer passages will each require their own post.

I look forward to your input as I work through the “body” metaphor in Scripture.

To kick this off, I thought I’d ask you a question: What is the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase “body of Christ”? (And, if possible, I’d prefer to just a short answer… as short as possible. I’m not asking for a complete description… just the first thing you think about.)

———————————

“Body of Christ” Metaphor Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Romans 12:4-5
  3. 1 Corinthians 10-11
  4. 1 Corinthians 12
  5. Ephesians
  6. Colossians
  7. Hebrews 13:3
  8. Conclusion

16 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-15-2012

    What is the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase “body of Christ”?
    ———

    I actually see a human body with Christ as The Head, and millions upon millions of humans making up the rest of it, woven together like a tapestry/cloak.

  2. 10-15-2012

    Donald,

    Thanks! It looks like you and I are the only ones interested in this topic for now. :)

    -Alan

  3. 10-15-2012

    church

  4. 10-15-2012

    How was that for a short answer? ;)

  5. 10-15-2012

    Unfortunately, I primarily think of just a local church that I am involved with and this is based on my previous limited exposure and fellowship with the universal body. Now it is almost the opposite!

  6. 10-15-2012

    A living organism, not an organization.

  7. 10-15-2012

    Excellent series.

    Is it worth considering that the “Body of Christ” is not a metaphor?

    That we are literally the only body Jesus has one earth?

  8. 10-15-2012

    Chuck,

    That’s fairly concise, but perhaps you could cut a few letters somewhere? ;-)

    Richard,

    That’s interesting. It sounds like there’s a good story behind your comment. If you ever want to write that story, I’d love to publish it as a guest post.

    Jeffery,

    Thanks… that’s a good short answer too. :)

    Dave,

    I don’t see how “body” would be anything but a metaphor… a figure of speech.

    -Alan

  9. 10-16-2012

    I think of the amazing design of the central nervous system – that every part of the body has direct access to the brain, without the need for a “middle man”. Of course, I could be taking the metaphor too far.
    - Kathleen

  10. 10-16-2012

    Kathleen,

    There are definitely times in Scripture when Paul uses the “body” metaphor to describe our connection to Christ.

    -Alan

  11. 10-19-2012

    Alan..well, it all depends on what means by “metaphor” and “literal,” I guess! But many have called a literal reality and not a metaphor, including serious theologians. See:

    Michelle Lee from Biola in Cambridge U journal:
    http://www.cambridge.org/aus/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521864541&ss=exc

    Kasemaan:
    http://books.google.com/books?

    See this about Augustine:
    The identification of the Church with Christ is not a metaphor: “The complete Christ is made up of the head and the body, as I am sure you know well. The head is our Savior himself, who suffered under Pontius Pilate and now, after rising from the dead, is seated at the right hand of the Father. And his body is the Church. Not this or that church, but the Church which is to be found all over the world. Nor is it only that which exists among us today, for also belonging to it are those who lived before us and those who will live in the future, right up to the end of the world. All this Church, made up of the assembly of the faithful – for all the faithful are members of Christ – has Christ as its head, governing his body from heaven. And although this head is located out of sight of the body, he is, however, joined to it by love.” (Saint Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 56, 1). http://www.examiner.com/article/unity-and-variety-the-mystical-body-of-christ

    id=JLzErItyonUC&pg=PA6&lpg=PA6&dq=body+of+christ+%22not+a+metaphor%22&source=bl&ots=1inATrHKIE&sig=SiOoBZJNcSgsFYhm8X4ixh6IJuM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=eHqBUM66OKbJiwKM5oHoDg&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAzgK#v=onepage&q=body%20of%20christ%20%22not%20a%20metaphor%22&f=false

    This:
    http://c3mministries.com/notes/Bible%20Study%20Notes%20-%20the%20Body%20of%20Christ.pdf

    Robinson:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=RqHbIHAdAOkC&pg=PA231&lpg=PA231&dq=body+of+christ+%22not+a+metaphor%22&source=bl&ots=av86F3SUD3&sig=N1h1CrpRbYQyb9pshYHTfn47AHY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=kneBUOC7DKrriQL9rIHQCQ&ved=0CDIQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=body%20of%20christ%20%22not%20a%20metaphor%22&f=false

    W. Lee:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=u8W7Io9r9SIC&pg=PA104&lpg=PA104&dq=body+of+christ+%22not+a+metaphor%22&source=bl&ots=HfRsshmlyr&sig=3w043oDYuLXNe6jA_iVOEIC-3LI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=kneBUOC7DKrriQL9rIHQCQ&ved=0CDUQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=body%20of%20christ%20%22not%20a%20metaphor%22&f=false

    Keep up the great work!

  12. 10-19-2012

    Dave,

    “Metaphor” and “literal” are pretty well defined. Jesus was raised from the dead with a real, literal body. We are a body, but not the real, literal body of Jesus Christ. We are a body in the metaphorical sense of a community. I read the first article, and I think that’s what Lee is saying as well: “Gundry rightly objects to the equation of believers with the physical body of the risen Christ… However, he does not deny some sort of equation between Christ and the believers.”

    -Alan

  13. 10-21-2012

    A local institutional church. I am now involved in an organic gathering of believers, but my first thought was back to my old way of thinking. My second thought is much different. I look forward to this series, Alan! Abundant GRACE to you and yours!

  14. 10-21-2012

    If believers make up the body, that would explain why some people are butts. Grace, grace.

    Anyway…the idea of an organism as opposed to being an organization seems to ring true. One thing with an organism, not only does it live, but it changes, grows and requires attention, care and maintenance.

    Just like a physical body, there are things that are good for it and things which will harm it – if it is treated and acts according to design, this is good for it. If it is not, this is harmful to it. The “rules” or “morals” we (are supposed to) live by are really a matter of living by design, which enables us to live a more abundant life. It is not living by rules that gives us that, but living according to design…much as in the same way our body needs proper food, water and exercise, the Body of Christ needs Gods words, His Spirit and walking in faith. A healthy body functions well and holds its integrity, which is important as each of its parts are inter-dependent…this is no different than the Body of Christ.

    Am I reading too much into this? Well, this my thought on it.

  15. 10-22-2012

    Clif,

    I’d love to hear how your thoughts are changing? Also, is the change in thinking affecting the way that you treat people?

    John,

    Well… that’s not brief, but it’ll do. Thank you! ;)

    -Alan

  16. 12-28-2012

    I’m with Donald, Jeffery, and Kathleen.
    Nelson