Friday, October 05, 2007

Proof-Text Perversions: 1 Corinthians 12:13 (part one)

"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been made to drink into one Spirit."

By this time I know that universal, invisible church advocates will deny it, but 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the proof-text for their position. I’m starting with 1 Corinthians 12:13 because I believe that the perversion of its meaning has resulted in more damage to the cause of Christ than any of the others we’re going to examine in this series. The idea to do this batch of posts hatched in my mind with the thought of the distortion of 1 Corinthians 12:13. I also believe that the way this verse gets twisted is a case-study in interpretational fallacies. Studying how men wrest it from its proper and intended meaning is a model for how people do this everywhere else in the Bible. Men insert a universal, invisible church into this verse in order to get one out—it isn’t in there without reading it in (a practice called eisegesis). In 1 Corinthians 12:13 is an assembly of believers, the way "church" is used all 117 times in the New Testament, over 110 of which specifically referring to a particular church. I will explain how that a local church alone is in 1 Corinthians 12 and how that some kind of universal, invisible, mystical entity is not. In fact, the latter isn’t anywhere in the Bible.

Why do I think the perversion of this one verse is the worst? God designed the church to preserve doctrine (1 Tim. 3:15). The wrong view of church equals deterioration of all of the other doctrines. The universal church doctrine has done the greatest damage to all the other teachings of Scripture. Messing up the right belief about the church also does the most to impede Christian growth. It takes away more from the actual work of God on earth than any other twisting of what God said. Because of the importance of the false doctrine of the universal church, Satan does a lot to keep it alive. His battle against Christ’s church will manifest itself in hatred and vitriol against the truth found in this one verse. With that in mind, I suggest that personal attacks and ridicule will not add to one’s understanding of 1 Corinthians 12:13. We will flesh out the right interpretation by understanding the words, their meaning, usage, grammar, and syntax.

The Words, Phrases, and Clauses of 1 Corinthians 12:13

"Are Baptized"

What kind of baptism is this? We have only two kinds of baptism in Scripture—water and Spirit. In no place in the Bible are water or Spirit baptism ever synonymous with or simultaneous with salvation. If 1 Corinthians 12:13 is talking about justification or salvation, then this is an all new doctrine being introduced here. If a new teaching did originate here, one would expect the verse to read like that. It doesn't.

If this is Spirit baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13, then it should fit the pattern for Spirit baptism that we see prophesied in the gospels. We see Spirit baptism predicted in Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, and Acts 1:5. All five of these are the same, so you’ll get the same message in the others as you will in Matthew 3:11b: "He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Ghost." In each case, Jesus is the Administrator, the Holy Spirit is the Medium, and already saved and water baptized individuals (the timing subsequent to salvation) are the recipients. Spirit baptism was fulfilled in the book of Acts when already saved and immersed people were immersed with the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus Christ was the Administrator of that baptism, the Spirit the Medium, and converted, baptized individuals the ones being baptized. If 1 Corinthians 12:13 were actually talking about Spirit baptism as taught by Christ and John the Baptist, then it should fit that model. It doesn’t. If 1 Corinthians 12:13 were teaching Spirit baptism, then we see the Spirit the Administrator, Jesus as the Medium, and the timing is not subsequent to salvation but simultaneous. In other words, since we don’t see the pattern of Spirit baptism already established previously to when this was written, we reject the idea of Spirit baptism for 1 Corinthians 12:13.

Another important hermeneutical point is how "baptize" has been used in 1 Corinthians itself. When you look through the epistle, you will see that in 1 Corinthians 1, we have water baptism. In 1 Corinthians 10, we have something akin to a physical and water baptism as the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea. And then we have 1 Corinthians 12. Those people reading this epistle in that day would not have been thinking of something spiritual, but of physical, water baptism. There should be some reason established in 1 Corinthians to think of this as Spirit baptism if that’s what it is. We have only water baptism up to this point, so that is what we should read here too.


"For" connects v. 13 to v. 12. V. 12, speaking of the human body, says "the body is one." "One" speaks of numeric one as the "oneness" of unity. Even though there are many body parts ("members"), those body parts are still "one body." The human body is being used here as a metaphor for the church. Is there only one human body on earth? No. So when v. 12 says "the body," it isn’t speaking of a universal, invisible entity.

In not just Greek grammar, but in all grammar, the singular noun is used two ways: particular or generic. There is not mystical or invisible, some kind of platonic usage, of the singular noun. We are required to make a choice: particular or generic. "The body" in v. 12 is not a particular body, but a generic one. Just because he is not speaking of a particular body does not mean that we don’t apply this teaching to ourselves. The truth of the generic is found in the particular. We understand the body parts analogy because we have a body with body parts.

V. 12 also says, "that one body," referring to the generic human body. "One body" doesn’t mean that there is one numeric human body on earth. You know there are billions. It doesn’t mean that there is a mystical, universal, invisible human body. It does mean that each human body has this in common—all the body parts, being many, are still one, that is, they work together in unity within the body. The point here is unity.

When Paul starts v. 13 with "for," he is connecting this point of oneness in the human body with the oneness in the body of Christ. He is showing how that the members of a church are unified through water baptism. Just because v. 13 says "one body" doesn’t mean that there is one church any more than there is one human body just because v. 12 says "one body."

"Into One Body"

Each body part is water baptized into one church ("body"). "Into" is the Greek preposition eis, which shows identification. The Greek preposition eis doesn’t show position, but identification. When someone is justified, he becomes "in (en) Christ." That is a spiritual position that a saved person has in Jesus Christ. The "in Christ" relationship is the salvation relationship. "Into" doesn’t show position, but identification. In light of the context, a believer identifies with the church by means of water baptism.

1 Corinthians 10:2 says, "And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." When the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea, they were baptized unto (eis) Moses. Were the children of Israel placed inside Moses? Of course not. They identified with Moses as leader. In this same way, a child of God is baptized into one body. He identifies with the body of Christ, the church.
To Be Continued


William D said...

You forgot "by one Spirit" we are baptized into one body. How many Holy Spirits are there? Then how many bodies is he talking about here? Same answer. As much as you'd like to make this verse refer to local church only, it just doesn't jive. We have one Lord, one faith one baptism.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Couldn't wait? I'm not done yet. I didn't forget anything. I'm going to deal with everything; that's why I put "to be continued" in red letters at the end. However, you've got some problems with the little you wrote here. Did you read the whole thing? V. 12 says that there is one body too. Is there only one human body on earth, Bro. William? V. 13 parallels with v. 12. And there are a few more clinching reasons to see this as local only.

I'm not "making this verse refer to local church only." It is local only. You didn't deal with the other arguments, which are devastating to the mystical, universal position. And I've got several more.

You refer to Ephesians 4--one baptism. So which is it? Water or Spirit. It can't be both.

Finally, you are forgetting the generic use of the singular noun. What particular human body is v. 12 talking about?

Michael said...

William D,

I have heard this statement many times by those who espouse Universal Church. Every time I hear it I scratch my head and say “does this statement fit the context of the book”, and the answer is always no, because the book was written to the church at Corinth, a local visible church.

This is a lovely case of private interpretation. You may say, not so, but hear me out. When Peter said no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation, he did not simply mean that it was my opinion over yours. The word private carries the idea that it is take away from, or apart from, the rest. To take that verse alone. But scripture must interpret scripture, and doctrine (singular) is all one, there is no contradiction in it. God could not, and did not, teach Local Visible and Universal church at the same time. Scripture interpreting scripture is the public method, meaning it is done inclusively with all the other witnesses in scripture, and they all come together to make one unified point. There is no discord in doctrine.

When we apply doctrine to this verse, and let the scripture interpret scripture (the public method) then, and only then, can we get the point. Your method of stating that “we are all baptized into one body” must mean Universal Church is the private method. The rest of the witnesses in scripture cry out against that.

This book was unmistakably written to the church at Corinth, and this statement was made to that Local Visible body of believers, just like the rest of the book was.

Bill Hardecker said...

Pastor B,
When you baptize converts, do they at that point become a member of Bethel Baptist Church?

Michael M said...

I am curious as to what you believe the Universal Invisible church does?

As we know, the Greek word for church is Ekklesia, meaning, an assembly. We can see from the scripture that this is a called out assembly, called out by God. We can also see that God gave us His reason for calling out this assembly, and it was outlined in Matthew 28:18. This new called out assembly was given its prime directive, which in military terms we call standing orders: Win souls baptize believers, and teach them all things. These orders have never been changed, or added to.

What I get from this is WHAT happened, WHO did it, and WHY He did it. You could also go into WHERE, and WHEN, but I am trying to limit this.

This leads me to a very narrow view on the definition of a Church: It is a called out assembly that God has assembled for the express purpose of fulfilling His work on Earth. The work that He gave it to do was “win ‘em, baptize ‘em, and teach ‘em all things, whatsoever I have commanded you”. Anything else does not fit the definition of a church.

That rules out the Salvation Army, Gideon’s Society, John Birch, Associations, fellowships, and every other para-church organization out there. None of these fulfill the simple Prime Directive that God gave His church.

So in the Universal Church point of view, what does this universal church do? Who do they win? Who do they baptize? Who do they teach all things? I don’t mean this as a loaded or sarcastic question. I really am interested in hearing what you believe on this.

Michael M said...

The previous post by me regarding what the Universal Church does was directed to William D. , or anyone who holds that point of view for that matter.

Fresh Dirt said...

"But scripture must interpret scripture, and doctrine (singular) is all one, there is no contradiction in it."
This statement is non-biblical (not unbiblical, non-biblical). By it, I mean that it is not found (nor anything similar) in scripture. You are criticizing others for their eisegesis, this is eisegesis too. It might be true. It might not be true. We have no way of knowing. What we do know is that God's word is Truth. The modernistic, enlightenment period (one that puts its trust in science and reason and is godless) had very wild ideas about Truth that often corrupt our thinking. For the modernist, Truth had to be bomb-proof and have the exact same "results" each time the experiment or logic was applied. The ancient hebrews were more correct in their belief that Truth is found by holding many seemingly contradictory ideas together.

Kent Brandenburg said...


We baptize people into the membership. I wish more of that was happening right now.

Bill Hardecker said...

Pastor B,
Since you baptized believers into the church, I am assuming that you probably spend a lengthier time discipling them prior to getting baptized. Is that correct? It has been my experience though, and not that experience means anything, that when we see folks saved to get them baptized immediately, but that does not mean they join the church. It was just to obey the Lord in his first command after salvation. Any thoughts on this practice?

Kent Brandenburg said...

We use Biblical evangelism, preach repentance, so people are clear on salvation. That's the gist of what we do before baptism. We baptize them ASAP too, but they are baptized into the church because that's what we see in Scripture 1 Cor. 12:13/Acts 2:41.

neilgodfrey said...

The idea of scripture interpreting scripture is in fact another form of the mantic or the occult. See

Jason Schaitel said...

For William D and others, I believe A.W. Pink has your answer about the "Spirit" baptizing, see HERE

Jonathan Pascual said...

I Cor. 12:13 speaks of the spiritual body of Christ...that is the only interpretation of it because it was explain and repeated by Paul in the book of Ephesians and Colossians.
note this...
Concerning the "one body" of Ephesians 4:5, the easiest way to realize that this is not speaking of a local church is just common sense is reading the text. There are obviously many more local church bodies than just "one". The verse actually proves a universal/spiritual body of believers. Even if some deceived individual tried to make this a local Baptist church (or local Catholic church) then they would obviously be faced with which of the local bodies is the "one". There are thousands of local churches. Which local one is the one?

Furthermore, the context of the book of Ephesians also settles this. Eph.1:22-23 introduces "THE church" as "his body" (not a local body, but the body of Jesus in a spiritual sense) which cross-references Eph.2:16, 3:6, 4:12, 4:16, 5:23-32, Rom.7:4, I Cor.12:13, Col.1:8,22,24, etc... These references including Eph.4:5 cannot refer to some physical local church in any location on the earth. This church also includes individuals not on this planet in local assemblies but in heaven itself (Heb.12:22-23). There can be no schism in this body (I Cor.12:25) which cannot be true of a local one.

Gwane Martin said...

The Greek word used in this text is βαπτίζω (baptizō) Which doesn't always refer to a water baptism but it does refer to an immersion. I think the mistake that many people make is always believing that baptize means water baptism.This is an immersion into the body of Christ or into the character of Christ which represents a change from what a person once identified with to being identified with Christ. This Baptism used in this text is talking about a conversion referring to the actual substance the water baptism. Romans 6:4 tells us that water baptism is symbolic of the death burial Resurrection of Christ and also the newness of life. This is the newness of life part of that process.