71Paul's Use of the Analogy of theBody of ChristWith Special Reference to 1 Corinthians 12by Brian DainesMr. Daines, a graduate in Sociology and Biblical Studies of theUniversity of Sheffield, looks afresh at Paul's presentation of thechurch as the body of Christ and concludes that this is one of a numberof analogies and one that should not be pressed beyond the limitswithin which Paul uses it.THE subject of the church as the Body of Christ in Pauline theologyis one which has received a great deal of attention and has produced a wide divergence in views 1 As a consequence, this essaycannot hope either to summarize the work done in this area or toenter into detailed debate with the various positions that have beenadopted. We shall approach the problem from the perspectives ofhow Paul uses the Body of Christ as an analogy and whether morethan an analogy is implied. In doing this our emphasis will be onunderstanding Paul's use of the Body of Christ concept in the contextof his letters and against the background of the situation of thechurches to which he was writing. As the analogy is worked out mostfully in 1 Corinthians 12, this provides a suitable focus for discussion.As Ruef notes 2 , the two main poles around which the debateabout the Body of Christ concept in Paul has taken place are, on theone hand, that it is a key, if not the key, in Paul's theology), and, onthe other, that it is not a key term but one of four terms which Pauluses to describe the unity of the church4 Nelson puts it thus:"According to the nature of one's interpretation of the New Testament language and theology, the Body of Christ is either a verysuggestive, though often limited and misleading, metaphor, or elseit is the name of a supernatural entity, possessing both human anddivine nature, which is related to Christ in a way which may be called1234For a summary of material on the subject see: Jewett, R., Paul's Anthropological Terms (Leiden: Brill, 1971), pp. 201-304.Ruef, J., Paul's First Letter to Corinth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971),p.129.For example see: Newbigin, L., The Household of God (London: SeM,1953), pp. 60-86.See Cerfaux, L., The Church in the Theology of St. Paul (New York: Herder& Herder, 1959), pp. 239-43.
The Evangelical Quarterly72'mystical' or 'mysterious' "5. Against this background we shall nowmove to consider Paul's usage of the term in his letters.1 Corinthians 12.Best6 suggests that at first reading verses 12-17 of this chapter seemto indicate that the church is really the Body of Christ and not justlike his Body but proposes three objections to this understanding.First, throughout the Old and New Testaments metaphors areused in a very vivid and concrete way without more than a metaphorbeing implied. For example in Jeremiah 50: 6 or Isaiah 5: 7 no oneseriously believes that we are meant to understand more than ametaphor. This principle applies also in the New Testament, forexample in John 10: 7 and Revelation 1: 20. Secondly, within thewriting of Paul, the description of the church as the Body of Christinvolves two pictures. In 1 Corinthians 12: 21 the head is an ordinarymember of the body whereas in Colossians 1: 18 and 2: 19 the headis Christ. This is an important point to which we shall have cause toreturn later. Finally, phrases like "Body of Christ" and "in Christ"are to be related to the idea of corporate personality of Christ andbelievers and therefore some elements in Paul's usage which at firstsight seem mystical or metaphysical need not be so.Best concludes: "Thus we feel justified in describing the church asthe Body of Christ in a metaphorical sense. Regarded from one pointof view it is the Body of Christ; from other points of view it is not.Such a solution implies that we cannot extend the conception justas we please. We have no right to speculate with it and draw from itconclusions which are not in Paul and then father them on Paul;if we are to be faithful to Paul we must look at it from the same pointof view as he does and use it for the same purpose as he does. Thisdoes not mean that all extensions are wrong, but we cannot claimPaul's support for them no matter how natural they may seem toUS."7In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul introduces the idea of the church as theBody of Christ in the context of a discussion of spiritual gifts. Itseems likely that he was speaking out against a situation wherethose with a spiritual gift (probably speaking in tongues) wereclaiming superiority to other believers, and those without such agift were feeling superfluous because of its absenceS. The introductionof the analogy at this point is a means to an end-a description of aS678Nelson, J. R., The Realm of Redemption (London: Epworth Press, 6thedit., 1963), p. 101.Best,E., One Body in Christ (London: SPCK, 1955), pp. 98-100.Ibid., p. 100.Cf. G e, G. M., The Use of Analogy in the Letters of Paul (Philadelphia:Westminster Press, 1964), p. 116, and Best, op. cif., p. 101.
The Analogy ofthe Body of Christ73proper view of the working of the gifts of the Spirit in the church9and not the proposal of a valid description of the structure of thechurch as such. The point needed to be made in a concrete way andthe body analogy achieves this by showing first that diversity isnecessary in the body, and then that the members of the body areinterdependent and interrelated.Gale 10 locates several elements in the analogy which evidence theinfluence of the situation on its use. Among these are:(i) The inclusion of v. 13 after the initial analogical statementin v. 12 shows that something other than the picture of thehuman body occupied the central position in Paul's mind.This was an explanation of how this unity in diversity cameinto being.(ii) Reflection on the physical body would not suggest even thepossibility that one member or another might not "belongto the body" (vv. 15, 16.).(iii) The idea of discord is not a possibility within the physicalbody (v. 25).(iv) Members of the physical body cannot "have the same carefor one another" (v. 25), nor strictly speaking can they"suffer together" or "rejoice together" (v. 26).All this indicates that Paul has introduced the analogy for apolemical purpose. The fact that the questions posed in vv. 15-17are so ludicrous with reference to the physical body is part of theeffectiveness of the analogy as well as an indication that Paul wasnot providing a rational, carefully thought-out model to account forthe phenomenon of the church. Although members of the physicalbody are personified, there is no completely worked out allegory.Neither is there any attempt to represent different parts of the body asdifferent people or sections of the church community at Corinthll.Paul develops the analogy only to the point (and in the directions)that he needs in order to further his arguments concerning spiritualgifts. The analogy is therefore subordinate to his main purpose.Other References in 1 Corinthians.In 1 Cor. 6: 15 the term "Body of Christ" is not used but there isthe idea that "your bodies are members of Christ". Paul uses this aspart of an argument that, if we are united with Christ, then this isincompatible with union with a prostitute. It is not possible here todiscuss all the issues raised by 1 Cor. 10: 16, 17 12 The reference in9101112Cf. Ruef, op. cit., p. 130.Gale, op. cit., pp. 121-4.Cf. ibid., p. 125.See Best, op. cit., pp. 87-91, 106-111, who discusses some of the problemsassociated with these verses.
The Evangelical Quarterly74v. 16 is probably to be understood in its physical aspect in parallelto the reference to the blood of Christ 13 At least Paul is using theterm "Body of Christ" in a different way from when he developsthe analogy in chapter 12. Again in v. 17 the term is not used in full,but there is the notion that "we who are many are one body". Inthis verse Paul is expressing the unity of Christians by referring tothe fact that all share the same loaf at the Lord's Supper, and thisloaf represents Christ's physical body. The immediate context is anexplanation by the apostle that unity must express itself in love inrespect for other's scruples l4 This discussion of references outside chapter 12 in 1 Corinthianshas shown that Paul uses "Body of Christ" or aspects of a bodymetaphor as steps in his main argument and they are best understoodas carrying just a metaphorical sense. His use of the analogy is verylimited and it does not receive development in the same way as inchapter 12.RomansPaul uses the analogy of the body in Romans 12 in the context ofan exhortation to the believers at Rome to serve one another 1S Themain points that he draws out are that the members of the body donot have the same function and, though individual, belong to eachother l6 Here again Paul's use of the analogy is as a contribution tohis main argument. It is significant here that the term "Body ofChrist" is not used although the analogy is developed in a similarway to that found in 1 Corinthians 12.Colossians.The use of the analogy in Colossians represents a different line ofdevelopment in response to a different situation. In Col. 1: 18 it isused in the context of a Christological hymn proclaiming Christ ashead of all things and it is natural for Paul to point to Christ as thehead of the church. He does this by calling him "the head of thebody", thereby indicating a relationship of authority as well as ofinseparability17. In Col. 2: 18 Paul introduces the analogy again toshow the members of the church at Colossae their unity with Christand with each other, which needed to be affirmed in the light of thegnostic heresy present in the church. Presumably to have developedthe analogy along the same lines as in I Corinthians 12 would have1314151617Cf. Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians(London: A. & c. Black, 1968), p. 233.Cf. ibid., pp. 234-5.Cf. Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (London:A. & c. Black, 1962), p. 236.The similarity of the context here to that in I Corinthians 12 is pointed outby Best, op. cit., p. 105.Cf. Moule, C. F. D., The Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (Cambridge:University Press, 1957), p. 68.
The Analogy of the Body of Christ75been equally appropriate for this purpose, but having used the ideaof Christ as the head in chapter 1, it would be natural for him to beconsistent, as well as to emphasize a point already made. The useof the term "body" in Col. 3: 15 would seem to be metaphorical,though overtones of the ideas implied in Col. 1: 18 and 2: 18 shouldnot be excluded from our understanding of this verse.Therefore, in this letter, Paul develops the idea of the church asthe Body of Christ in a different way to that found in the letter to theCorinthians, but still to only a very limited degree. His purpose inusing it is to portray Christ as head of the Church and to assure thebelievers at Colossae of their unity with Christ and with each other.This need not be seen as a change or development in Paul's doctrineof the church, but rather should be viewed as the use of a previouslyapplied analogy worked out in a different way for a different situation. Once more his use of the analogy can be seen to be subordinateto the main lines of argument in the letter l8 Ephesians.The first thing to be noted in connection with the letter to Ephesusis that, whereas in the letters we have already looked at the term"body" is used not only of the church but also in other ways, inEphesians it is employed exclusively in connection with the church l9 Both Eph. 2: 16 and 4: 4 use the term "body" and not "Body ofChrist". The former reference appears to be a metaphorical usein connection with the unity of the church as achieved throughthe cross 20 The latter is a similar usage designed to show the unityof the Spirit as already present as a gift in the church 21 The employment by the writer of "Body of Christ" in Eph. 4: 12 isin the context of the building up and unity of the church and theanalogy is developed in verses 15 and 16. The use of the analogy inconnection with Christ's gifts to the church is a parallel to 1 Corinthians 12 and the idea of Christ as the head has an affinity with thethought of Colossians. The confusion of metaphors in verse 12 maybe due to oikodome having ceased to suggest its primary meaningto the apostle 22 , but an alternative understanding is that the idea of"Body of Christ" has taken on more than a metaphorical or analogical role.1819202122A similar point is made by: Simpson, E. K., & Bruce, F. F., Commentaryon the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians (London: Marshal!,Morgan & Scott, 1957), p. 204.This is pointed out by Furnish, V. P., The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentaryon the Bible (London: Collins, 1972), p. 838.This interpretation is discussed by Abbot, T. K., The Epistles to the Ephesiansand to the Colossians (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1897), p. 66.See Furnish, loc. cit., p. 841 and Abbott, op. cit., p. 108.Abbott, op. cit., p. 119.
76The Evangelical QuarterlyThe final passage containing the Body of Christ analogy is Eph. 5:21-33. The context here is teaching concerning how members of thechurch should be subject to one another. The writer begins by usingChrist's relationship with the church to show what the wife's relationship to her husband should be. As this theme is developed, he appearsto become taken up with the subject of the church and as we read onit is not clear what his basic subject is and what are metaphors andanalogies. The omission of verses 23 to 33 in no way affects the logicof the writer's argument concerning sUbjection to one another anda good case can be made out for seeing this digression as having thechurch as its primary subject.The reference to "a great mystery" (v. 29) should not be taken asmeaning a mysterious thing or saying, but has the sense; "Thisdoctrine of revelation is an important or profound one"23. The firstmention of "body" in this section (v. 23) seems to be introd