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Paul’s Use of the Image of “Body”

It is easy to fall into an error here, by simply considering our own association with the word “body.” However, my personal associations will tell something about me; but it may have nothing to do with Paul’s understanding of the word. Therefore, our work is to begin with Paul’s use of the term.

The first use of the term takes place here in this very sentence: a body is the object offered up to be sacrificed; a body is the thing offered in a sacrifice. For the people to whom Paul was writing, “sacrifice” was not metaphor or exaggeration for undergoing a difficulty, It was such a sacrifice to do this or that. For his original audience, a sacrifice meant slaughtering a living body. 

Second, in a related way, he uses the word “body” to refer to being physically present with someone:

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 

1 Corinthians 5:3. 

Third, Paul uses the image of the church as a body:

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 

Romans 12:4–5. 

Fourth, when Paul speaks of our individual bodies, he uses the same imagery of members and body to describe us:

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 

Romans 6:12–13.

Fifth, in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul joins these various pictures of the “body” to show how our even our individual bodily actions involve us in the life of the entire body of Christ, and underscores our relationship to Christ:

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body

1 Corinthians 6:12–20. Here again, we can see Paul draw a connection between the life of our body and the body of Christ, although in this place, it is to the actual body of Christ which is then lived-out in the body as the Church:

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 

2 Corinthians 4:10.

Thus, by using the idea of presenting our bodies in the body of Christ as a sacrifice, Paul is drawing on a number of related concepts which draw together the individual creation in terms of one’s own body, the gathering of Christians as the Body of Christ, and the body of Christ in life and death which gives life to the individual and to the whole:

22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. 

Ephesians 1:22–23