Some time has elapsed since we discussed in these pages the truth that those who receive Paul's Evangel are figuratively joint-body-people, belonging to the church which is Christ's body. Both in 1. Corinthians and Ephesians the disclosure is emphasized that this called-out company of people is one body. Also, by implication, it is supported by the fact that no other set of people is figured by the term "body."
The circumstance that the one body is described in a different way in these two epistles is simply the result of development of the figure consequent upon the further truth revealed in Ephesians which we generally describe as "the Secret," owing to its outstanding glory and its supreme importance in God's purposes. In 1. Corinthians 12 the emphasis is on the body as consisting of many members of separate functions and varying degrees of dignity. Even so, no suggestion is made that they are of varying degrees of importance to the body as a whole or in the eyes of God. There were plenty of uncomely and even, to all appearance, undesirable and even evil members in the Corinthian assembly. Few churches, even in the modern world, could have contained more Christians whose life was a perpetual scandal and reproach to the cross of Christ; yet all were members of the one body, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.
The Thessalonian assembly was a very different affair, so far as the account discloses. No one can properly declare that all in it were ideal Christians. Quite likely, if we could go back in time and look into the hearts of these people, we would find no very great difference from the others, deep down, in their individual make-up. What brought them, collectively, into a different class from the Corinthians and, to be wholly candid, ourselves generally, is that the Holy Spirit had acted mightily on them and that they had responded mightily; whereas, for reasons known fully and for certain by God alone, He had not chosen to act so mightily on the Corinthians and they had not chosen to seek Him and to follow righteousness and holiness with the splendid wholeheartedness of the Thessalonians. But we can perceive that it was necessary for our learning that there should be two model churches displayed in the Greek Scriptures, in order that we should shun the behaviour of the bad model and emulate the good model.
That this is a reason and perhaps the main reason for the existence of two such churches at that time comes out when we examine the epistles themselves. 1. Thessalonians is short, and contains only one doctrine of great importance; and it is no coincidence that this doctrine is related to the secret which is the culminating point of 1. Corinthians, the epistle to a faulty church and ranking second in length and doctrinal content only to Romans itself. In what one might term general doctrine Romans exceeds 1. Corinthians in bulk; but in the practical application of doctrine the latter is supreme over all the other epistles. There can be little doubt that this is why 1. Corinthians is so unpopular: deep down, we none of us really like teaching which sets out bluntly and uncompromisingly how we ought to behave. And equally there can be little doubt why the carnal Corinthian church was specifically chosen for this demonstration. The lengthy and severe reproofs administered to the Corinthians are reproofs to us when we follow the Corinthian model, just as Paul's praise of the Thessalonians is praise of ourselves on the regrettably rare occasions when we follow the Thessalonian model.
Yet it was to the Corinthian church that the doctrine of the one body was set out in detail. For why? Simply that this doctrine, if kept whole and undefiled, is the essential medicine for the ills of the Corinthians and therefore for our ills. That is why it is so heavily attacked or, what is worse, undermined subtly. If only the one body in 1. Corinthians can be, somehow, severed from that in Ephesians; the practical doctrine in 1. Corinthians can be severed too, leaving us free from its witness against our own sins and able to enjoy a false "grace" which permits us to sin with what we try to pretend is a clear conscience. From that sort of standpoint there is something very attractive in a dispensational system which casts aside the restraints of Paul's earlier epistles; although, even with such a system, it is necessary to shut the eyes to the practical exhortations which (unfortunately from this point of view) Paul thought fit to insert even into Ephesians. We may imagine we have to do with "a Man up there in the Glory," and so we have; but the fact remains that so long as our bodies are corrupted with mortality we must continue to have most to do with our walk down here and the various temptations which continually beset us.
At one time, many of us supposed that the "one body" of 1. Corinthians had been changed by the Secret of Ephesians 3 into a joint-body. That this is not quite the truth is shown by the fact that the word "sunsOma" or "sussOma" in Eph. 3:6 is not strictly a noun, but is adjectival in force. For that reason, in our Vol. 11, p. 271 the verse was rendered as follows:—"In spirit the Gentiles are to be joint-heir-people and joint-body-people and joint-partaker-people of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Evangel of which I became dispenser." This Evangel is set out in the very epistle, 1. Corinthians, which sets out the doctrine of the one body. This doctrine is therefore indicated in this early epistle as part of that Evangel; and would be so even if we could manage to eliminate the bulk of this epistle from our thinking. The reason for this is perfectly obvious: it is an essential part of the teaching of Ephesians as well. We cannot sever the figure of "one body" from Paul's Evangel in 1. Corinthians, we cannot sever it from either Paul's Evangel, or the Secret, in Ephesians.
How, then, can we manage to get rid of the doctrine of the one body—that is if we want to, as so many do?
The solution is the invention of two sets or kinds of "one body," and, it appears, according to some writers, even more than two. The very fact that in order to do this it is necessary to apply the term" body" to various different groups, in spite of the explicit application of "one" to it in 1. Corinthians and Ephesians, indicates the extreme confusion of thought which, it is to be feared, is in some cases deliberate. The figure of a body is used in the Greek Scriptures for one group of people only—the assembly of those who had received Paul's Evangel. To attempt to apply it to other groups of people which the Greek Scriptures do not describe by the term and to make out that any of these groups is a "body" in the same sense, is to deliberately falsify God's Word. The Jews did "belong to a body" in the loose figurative sense in which we call a crowd or an assembly "a body of people." But Scripture allots this figure to the church which is Christ's body and to nobody else, so it is absolutely necessary to avoid using this figure in other contexts also; that is, if we want to be honest and to keep to the truth.
It seems that now some are even going so far as to propagate the idea that Eph. 2:14 and 16 refer to "two bodies." The excuse offered for this is that the latter speaks (literally) of "reconciling the both in one body to God." But it does NOT say "both bodies" and nobody has the smallest right to pretend that it does. The words "the both," or in ordinary English "both these," must refer to two entities. It just cannot refer to one only. That is part of the very nature of things and is not open to dispute. So, in order to interpret Paul's words, we have to look for two entities which need to be reconciled; and we have not very far to look to find two, namely: "those termed 'uncircumcision'" and "the one termed 'circumcision.'"
Furthermore, the word "body" has not occurred previously in the section of the epistle which begins at Eph. 2:1. The word does occur in Eph. 1:23, but in quite a different context and with no hint whatever of more than one body being in view. Here Paul says "the church, that-one-which is His body," and not "the body, that-one-which is His church." If there were no such pair as that suggested in the previous paragraph, and if Paul had spoken of two bodies, then it might be arguable that "the both" referred to two bodies, but not otherwise. This solution is not submitted dogmatically; and it is open to anyone to suggest a better one. The point is that it is a solution, whereas there is nothing whatever to be said in favour of the "two bodies" solution.
However, our concern here is not to expound this exceedingly difficult passage, but simply to kill finally one particular perversion of it. When this is accomplished finally it will be easier in due course to learn what it all does mean. At least we are now aware that it does not refer to two bodies.
Not all propagators of error about this matter are so rash as to stick out their necks in this way. Some, more sweeping yet more cautious, content themselves by declaring that the two epistles belong to two different dispensations, so therefore they cannot be referring to the same "one body." This error in its most extreme form is found in "The Word of Truth" for August, 1953, p. 133. Mr. Sellers writes:—"Some think that the unique character of God's present calling is based upon the fact that it is 'the body of Christ.' This is most certainly an error, since Paul said to men of another calling 'Now ye are the body of Christ' 1. Corinthians, 12:27."
On the contrary, what he has written is most certainly an error. Neither Mr. Sellers nor anyone else has yet produced any real proof that the Corinthians belonged to a calling different from that of the Ephesians. As such proof does not exist, the statement in 1. Cor. 12:27 coupled with the six preceding verses and with Eph. 1:22, 23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4 proves beyond any possibility of doubt that the division of Paul's epistles between those written before Acts 28:28 and those after is nothing but a blunder, a rash and badly founded guess. Paul speaks of "one body" and "body of Christ." We ought to refuse, absolutely, to compromise with those who prefer their theories about Acts to the plain words of Scripture. On the same page Mr. Sellers says:—"Those who were called in the Acts period have just as much right to the designation 'body of Christ' as we have." Quite so, because their severance from us is an illusion.
If references to this figure "body of Christ" were all without "the" and if the explicit ONE were absent, it might be quite reasonable to suppose that two or more groups might be a body of Christ in figure, even though the idea is rather fantastic. As this is not so, the question does not arise.
It is very odd that we find some people cheerfully writing as if there could be only one "gospel," one "parousia," one "church," even though Scripture is utterly silent about any such limitation; yet writing of two or more "bodies" in direct defiance of Paul's explicit "one." Mr. Sellers says that "it was right to make the sharpest possible distinction between the believers of the Acts period and the believers of to-day." It is not right. It is all wrong. And if this unreal and wholly unnecessary distinction had never been invented, there would never have been any need to invent a second "body." Error always breeds fresh error, just as recovery of one truth always leads to further recovery. To put the issue plainly; it is more important to such people that both Scripture and good sense should be set aside than that untenable pet theories should be abandoned, They must be left to the mercy of God, Both in his early epistle 1. Corinthians and his Prison Epistle Ephesians, Paul wrote of ONE BODY. Those who insist on two bodies, or even more, are thereby admitting that they prefer their own opinions to Paul's carefully chosen words.
R. B. WITHERS. Last updated 14.1.2006