When the problem of rendering 1. Cor. 12:27 presented itself in our recent paper "In Part," the need to explore a fresh and wider field became evident. This is nothing less than the whole question of the meaning of the word "body" as applied to ourselves. For there is no donbt that the correct rendering of the sentence is: "Yet you are Christ's body and members out of part" or "members in part" more idiomatically, or perhaps even better, "members partially," that is to say, in an incomplete way. This notion is so startlingly at variance with many things that are confidently taught that a fresh examination is necessary.
Although I believe that what I wrote about "the church" in Vol. 22, No.3 (June, 1960) pp. 108-110 is sound and scriptural, one aspect remains that was not made plain then. The various occurrences of the word "body" in connection with the Christ, the church and ourselves are not at all as clearly understood as they ought to be, and it is high time they were sorted out and clarified. As with so many other matters, full enlightenment can be achieved only by microscopic attention to detail. Here, as so often, the particular detail is the presence or absence of the Definite Article the. So widespread is the confusion caused by inattention to this word which, regrettably, most people regard as quite trivial, that with the utmost care alone can any of us avoid going astray.
The first association of hen, one, and sOma, body, is in Rom. 12:4, 5, which reads as follows: "For even as in one body many members we are having, yet not. all the members have the same function; yet we, the many, are one body in Christ, yet the severally, members of one another." Here "the severally" appears to mean "as regards individuals." It occurs only in this passage.
Not for nothing was Romans placed by the Apostles in the canon as the first among the epistles; for it forms, so to speak, the trunk from which branches out, and developes, much of the teaching that follows. There is a beautiful logic, too, in the unfolding of doctrine within Romans itself. We reach what appears at first to be the actual summit with the closing words of Romans 8. But no! Instead of a summit which, as is the nature of summits, is virtually a dead end, for when it is reached there is no activity left to the climber except to turn and descend, there is an apparent change of subject leading to a fresh summit at the close of Romans 11. It is as if the climber were to move along a col to scale another summit. Yet even here we have not reached the limit; for Paul takes up the thread as from Rom. 8:39, not as simply a practical closing exhortation, but as a fresh leap forward through the important revelations developed in 1. Corinthians right up to one aspect of the crowning glories of the Prison Epistles, the summit beyond and above those already scaled.
This view of Romans may strike some as novel and rather uncomfortable; but it is certainly correct as one way at least of viewing the epistle. Several commentators, including the annotator of the 1930 C.V., have perceived that Romans 12 follows logically on from Romans 8; yet it does not appear to have occurred to them to enquire why Chapters 9-11 were caused to intervene. Yet this intervention is the key to the understanding of Romans 12. Here Paul has moved into a different world of thought: he has passed through the basic problem of how a man may be put right by God, through the inward storms occasioned by sin in our mortal bodies, through the outward storms occasioned by Israel's failures and problems and casting away. These weathered, Paul can turn, first to our logical divine service, and then to the splendours thereby made possible—what he sums up in Rom. 12:2 as "the good and well pleasing and mature." And it is significant that he leads us at once into the three main themes of 1. Corinthians, one body, love and our great expectation. For us, all three depend entirely on Israel's casting away. With Israel's covenant privileges removed from the world for the present, it became possible for God to make the fresh start, begun in Romans, developed in the other earlier epistles, and reaching its crown in the Prison Epistles.
From this it follows that if we would understand the doctrine concerning the one body we must start with Romans 12. Here we see set out the analogy of one body. First comes the obvious point that the body of any person has many members yet not all have the same function. This is a commonplace fact; nevertheless on it is based one of the supreme revelations of Scripture: collectively we are one body in Christ. The original Greek turns into English literally, "thus the many one body we are in Christ." The only "the" in this is before "many": it does not say "many are one body," as if some of us are not, but "the many," the whole lot, however numerous they may be. It is a plain unvarnished revelation of a novel and most wonderful fact.
On this disclosure Paul now bases his revelation of the practical consequences that follow. The individuals, the whole lot of them who collectively are one body in Christ, are each in themselves members of one another. In fact, we can no more separate ourselves from one another than we can separate ourselves from Christ, no matter how violently we may attempt to do so or how successfully we may appear to do so.
The next association of one and body (1. Cor. 6:16) is the violent contrast discussed already in Vol. 23, p. 211. It is a particularly vivid warning sandwiched between Rom. 12:4, 5 and its amplification in 1. Cor. 12:12-14, which reads very literally: "For even as the body one is, and members many has; yet all the members of the body the one, being many, one body (collectively) is—thus also the Christ. For in one spirit also, we all into one body are baptized, whether Jew or Greek, whether slave or free, and all are made to imbibe one spirit. For the body is not one member, but many..." Here we stop, because from v. 15 the subject matter, though an expansion of Rom. 12:6-8, is irrelevant to our main theme at the moment, though "one body" again occurs in v. 20.
The chief thing to note is that Rom. 12:4, 5 has no "the" before "body" at all; yet here in 1. Cor. 12:12-14 the first two occurrences of "body" have it. This completely justifies referring 1. Cor. 12:12-14 back to Rom. 12:4, 5 and refusing to consider it apart from its predecessor, which speaks twice of "one body," whereas its successor has "the body one is" and "the body the one." The former says, simply, "yet we, the many, are one body in Christ"; the latter, "yet all the members of the body the one, being many, one body is." The change from the plural "are" in the former to the singular "is" in the latter is very illuminating; for it emphasizes that plurality has become unity and "the one body in Christ" has become (in some sense, at any rate} "the Christ."
Before this passage is another occurrence of "one body" (1. Cor. 10:17), but for reasons which will become apparent we postpone its study till the next paragraph. "One body" also occurs in Eph. 2:16, in the sevenfold unity of Eph. 4:3-6 and in Col. 3:15. These add little to the two main passages set out above, so far as our immediate purpose is concerned, though on a general view they considerably widen our understanding. The main point, until we presently go into them more fully, is that in no way do they interfere with, or subtract from, what we have already learnt. So we can conclude already that those to whom Paul wrote are "one body" and in so far as we are members of this "the body the one" we are collectively in some sense "the Christ."
Having cleared the ground so far, we can now turn to the five passages wherein "body" and "Christ" occur in the same context. Of these, three, accurately rendered, are "the body of the Christ." The first is in Rom. 7:4, and can only refer to His actual physical body. The second, mentioned above, is in 1. Cor. 10:16, 17. The passage reads, literally, "The cup of the blessing, which we are blessing, is it not communion of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we are breaking, is it not communion of the body of the Christ? Seeing that one bread, one body we the many are, for all out of the one loaf are partaking." Now here, quite plainly, it is again the actual physical body of the Christ that is in view. This is readily perceived when we reflect that if the "one body" were meant by "the body of the Christ," then the "one blood" would be meant by "the blood of the Christ" and nowhere are Christians so described. This is gone into in Part 6 of the series "Flesh and Blood," in which I remark that here, though the cup is an essential part of the analogy, it lacks that vital association, implied in the bread, that characterizes the "one body"; so in the passage it has to come first so as to leave the way clear for the development of the analogy of "one bread" and "one body." As also pointed out in the paper above referred to, this passage belongs to those who are members of the "one body" and to nobody else. After we have been snatched away, God's people on earth will continue to partake of the Lord's Supper till He should be coming. There authority for so doing will be the accounts of its institution in the Gospels, and it will be sufficient. What is taught about it in 1. Corinthians belongs to us. It will be for their learning. 1. Cor. 10:16 is true of the Supper for all, 1. Cor. 10:17 is true for ourselves only.
The third occurrence of "the body of the Christ" is in Eph.4:12. In this epistle the "body" idea occurs in 1:23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:3, 4, 11-13, 15-16; 5:23, 28-30. In these, "the body of the Christ" or "the body of Him" in direct reference to Christ occurs in Eph. 1:23; 4:12; 5:30. In the first, the seminal revelation already discussed developes into the full glory, the revelation that, at the present time, "the many," is the whole assembly of those who receive Paul's Evangel. Yet it is not put baldly like that, for as just written it is in almost every respect an understatement. For Eph. 1:23 is, as it were, the last step but one in an ascending stairway of glory rising from v. 18, the final step being "the complement which is completing the entire universe."
The preceding step has, too, a significance of its own which we must observe if we are to have the whole truth of this: "and gives Him—Head over all—to the church: that which is the body of Him." The word head, kephalE, occurs in two previous passages, 1. Cor. 11:3-5; 12:21. The former is irrelevant to our study. The latter is also irrelevant; but the very obviousness of this has induced many who have failed to appreciate its significance to be so foolish as to try to use it to sever the Corinthian Epistle "dispensationally" from Ephesians. Yet Paul's rather elaborate analogy in the latter of the two has an importance of its own which is in no way inconsistent with his teaching in Ephesians and hardly even impinges on it except in one place, Eph. 5:23, where we read: "A husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is Head of the church, and He is Saviour of the body." The remaining occurrences of head in the Prison Epistles are Eph. 4:15; Co1. 1:18; 2:10, 19. As with the rest, these refer to the Christ. Placing all of them together, we get the great revelation that the Christ is Head over all, and given by God, to the church—that which is His body; that the growth and upbuilding of the body is out of Him; that He is not only Head over all but Head of the church; that He is the Original, Firstborn out of the dead; and that the purpose of all this is that in all He may be becoming first; that in Him, Who is the Head of every sovereignty and authority, we have become complete. Finally, there is a warning against not holding the Head.
This is all too vast and wonderful to be commented on; for no mind in our present state of mortality can properly grasp the whole fulness of it. So we have to accept it in instalments, just as God through His Apostle Paul gives it to us in instalments: first the revelations about "the body" in Romans and 1. Corinthians, then the vast forward step in Eph. 1:22, 23, and then the majesty of the revelations that follow it. Yet before passing on, we have to relate them to our present subject. Eph. 1:23 shows Christ as given to be Head over all to a certain company, "the church, that which is the body of Him," that is, a particular company, the church as it is while Paul's Evangel is in force on earth. Eph.4: 15 amplifies this, pointing out that the growing into Him is not a completed process, but still in progress. Co1. 1:18 tells us that He is Head of the body and that "the body" is the "company," the "church" of which Paul is still writing. Co1. 2:10 does not refer directly to either, but Co1. 2:19 developes further what is taught in Eph. 4:15 and stresses again that the growth is as yet not a completed process.
Now we are ready to turn back to 1. Cor. 12:13-31 and understand something of the less exalted but still immensely important revelation disclosed there. The first thing to appreciate is that in the passages we have examined "the Christ" is seen in two ways, as part of the body, as Head of the body.
The former idea is explicit in 1. Cor. 12:12: "For even as the body one is . . . thus also the Christ." Indeed, the seed of the idea is in Rom. 12:4, 5: "thus we . . . are one body in Christ." And, lest there should be any misunderstanding of the character of that relationship, in 1. Cor. 12:13 we are told: "For in one spirit we are all baptized into one body. . .and all are made to imbibe one spirit." It is, essentially, a spiritual relationship; and this is underlined in the setting out of the Secret of Eph. 3:6-12: "In spirit, the Gentiles. . . ."
The difference between these passages and those which consider the Christ as the Head of the body is simply a matter of viewpoint. The latter set is concerned with His exaltation and our exaltation in Him, the former with how our membership of His body should affect our relationship with one another. It is ridiculous to attempt to put the two sets in conflict.
Once this is appreciated, 1. Cor. 12:12-26 explains itself, and we should read it, and read and read again, till we have firmly fixed in our minds that all the members are needed if the body is to function as one, that we should not look down on others, that we are all interconnected by the one spirit so that none of us can function without the others and, most important, that if there were no Christ there could be no body.
Paul sets out his point at some length; and then, suddenly, in v. 27, he gives his subject a new turn. Right here he introduces a term which occurs nowhere else: "Now you are Christ's body and members out of part." In spite of its lofty claims the C.V. blots this out by rendering it incorrectly, and so far has failed to correct the error, which Rotherham, the New World Translation and even the New English Bible have all avoided. The translators should all have been warned by Eph. 1:22, 23; Co1. 1:24, where "His body," referring to Christ, defines a particular aspect of "the church" and is not a general definition of it such as we find in the all too common expression "body church" (see below).
Suppose Paul had written in 1. Cor. 12:27: "Now you are the body of the Christ" (that is, with the twice, instead of not at all), how would the Corinthians have read his words? To begin with, his assertion would have clashed with what he had written already in 1. Cor. 10:16. And then they would have clashed permanently with what he was later to write in Eph. 4:12, tor the upbuilding of the body of the Christ is not yet complete. It would clash, too, with the rest of the sentence; for, as pointed out in the paper "In Part," the term ek merous is one of contrast, in express opposition to the idea of a complete whole. Lastly, it would clash with Greek grammar: for such expressions with the Article the are defined in their entirety, but without it they are characterized but not defined. With the, the object itself is presented to the mind. Without the the character of the object is what is in view.
Going back again to 1. Cor. 10:16, 17 we get a clear illustration. Here the cup and the bread are not themselves "the communion" or "the fellowship," and there is no the in the Greek. What they do is characterize the fellowship; they each represent that fellowship which it is the purpose of the Lord's Supper to display.
Now we can profitably consider some points made in our Vol. 23 pp. 210-219. On p. 215 it was pointed out that hen, one and sOma, body, are associated in seven passages and that ekklEsia, church, and sOma, body, are associated in three entirely different passages, thus warning us against mixing the two associations. Reference was then made to the examination of these three passages in our Vol. 22, pp. 106111. The following conclusions pertinent to this paper were reached. "So long as God's Evangel is conditioned by uncircumcision, Christ's called-out Company on earth bears the relation to Him figured by the relation of a body to its head" (22, p. 109). "All God's people on earth form His called out Company. Risen, changed and ascended we shall still be 'His body' and all that this implies; but we shall have been His called out Company on earth, an earthly relation to Him which, by then, will have served its purpose. There will be no occasion for a 'called out Company' in heaven, for there will be no others from which to call them" (22, p. 111). "The language Paul uses when the words church and body come into the same context is extremely guarded and. . . never more so than in Eph. 5:22-31. Here he is most careful to avoid placing the words together in such a manner as to suggest any 'body-church' or 'church body' . . . We cannot fail to see that something is wrong about speaking of 'the Church of the One Body,' considering that Scripture never uses such a phrase" (23, p. 216).
We can now add the coping stone by putting 1. Cor. 12:27, which speaks of "Christ's body" alongside Eph. 1:23; 4:12; 5:30 and Col. 1:24, which speak of "the body of the Christ" or of "His body," literally, "the body of Him," where "Him" directly refers to "the Christ," which is being built up to complete the entire universe. With Christ's body, we do not see Christ as Head of the body; but the body as in process of becoming "the Christ"; one, yet consisting of many members, related to one another as the various parts of the human body are shown in Paul's analogy. As yet the membership of each member is incomplete, "out of part," just as our knowledge is "out of part." Nevertheless, partial though our attainment may be, we are Christ's body, we have that character; and the day is coming when the body will be completely built up, to be united with the Head, to become the body of the Christ.
R.B.W. Last updated 6.11.2005