Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"Body of Christ" Defined

One verse in the New Testament defines the "body of Christ." 1 Corinthians 12:27, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." Paul says that the church at Corinth is the body of Christ. He says, "Ye," not "we." Paul was a believer, so by excluding himself, he surely defined the body of Christ as the assembly, the congregation, only local. If the body of Christ is all believers, then every saved person in the world was in Corinth. We know that isn't the case.

Let me deal with a couple of arguments brought against this understanding of 1 Corinthians 12:27. It probably seems pretty cut and dry to you. "Ye are the body of Christ," speaking to a church in a particular locale, then the body of Christ must be a congregation of believers. Well, men have developed their beliefs to include what they call a "universal, invisible church." Invisible church gives me a little chuckle. If you ever visit our church, and think there aren't enough people, well, you should just understand that you only see the visible church, not the invisible. H. G. Wells would be proud. They all have their Tolkien rings on and this renders them, yes, invisible. OK, enough chuckles. There isn't a universal church. Those two terms are mutually exclusive. Anything that congregates or assembles is not universal. Air is universal. We could say universal water. Universal wind. Universal space. But not universal church.

The first argument I get is this. By the way, many men blush when they give these arguments because they seem so lame. But here it is: The church at Corinth is the body of Christ, but there is also the universal body, the mystical one, so there are actually two bodies of Christ. It would go like this: You at Corinth are the body of Christ and then all believers are also the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:4 should ruin this argument, when it says, "There is one body." Ouch!!! Well, we do know for sure there is the body that is the congregation, only local (1 Corinthians 12:27). So if there is only one body, then the big one made up of believers that are dismembered all over the universe must not exist. I've never seen it. Maybe that's why they call it.....invisible.

You say, "Well, that pretty much settles that, doesn't it." No, they keep going after that seemingly clinching Ephesians 4:4 argument. They say, "The one true body is all believers and the local one is a visible manifestation of the one true one." Say again? (Scratching head) It must be convenient to make up new rules for interpretation as we go along. I can't seem to get by with that in any other venue of life. "That was traveling." "No, I just made that rule up, so it was legal!"

This whole "true in the invisible" concept comes from the pagan Greek philosopher Plato. He started the real in the realm of the Idea with physical items just being visible manifestations of them. Why listen to Plato? I don't, but why they do is because Augustine, the Roman Catholic "scholar" liked him. Augustine (pronounced O-gu-stin) lived 354-430 and he became extremely important to the state church in Europe. A group of people who believed the Bible, the Donatists, asked Augustine why so many unconverted were in the Catholic church. Augustine said there was the visible and the invisible Catholic (universal) church. He said that the invisible was the genuine church made up of all true converts and the visible was the one people could see that had some unconverted. The Protestant Reformers were all former Catholics and most of them were big Augustine fans, so they adopted his universal, invisible church idea. It isn't in the Bible.

You ask, "Why is the two body argument wrong?" Because the Bible has only one body (1 Cor. 12:27) and the other isn't in there anywhere. The universal body side will say that certain instances are talking about all believers; they just have to be. The ones they are talking about are when the singular nouns "body" or "church" are used generically, speaking of the "body" or the "church" institutionally. For instance, if I said, "I answered the phone," I wouldn't be talking about a particular phone, but "the phone" as an institution. If I say, "The church is important to God," I'm not talking about a particular church, but the church generic. There is no such thing as a Platonic, Augustinian use of the singular noun. That was made up to protect this doctrine that isn't in the Bible.

The other big argument against 1 Corinthians 12:27 defining the body of Christ as only local is the lack of a definite article before "body" in the Greek text. The English definite article does not translate a definite article in the Greek text behind that English translation. Without that article, universal church or body advocates say that 1 Corinthians 12:27 is saying that the church at Corinth ("ye") is "body material," that the absence of an article makes "body" qualitative---something like: "Ye are the body stuff or material of Christ." They have it all wrong.

The absence of an article does not mean that "body" (soma) is not definite. A. T. Robertson writes in his mammoth Greek Grammar (p. 790), "The word may be either definite or indefinite when the article is absent. The context and the history of the phrase in question must decide." On the next page, A. T. writes under "With Genitives.", "We have seen that the substantive may still be definite if anarthrous (without an article)." Much of the NT koine (common Greek of the NT) is Hebraic. A.T. Robertson writes in his grammar: 'Schaff said that the Greek spoken by the Grecian Jews "assumed a strongly Hebraizing character.' According to Hatch 'the great majority of NT words...express in their biblical use the conceptions of a Semitic race' (p. 88). The genitive construction "body of Christ" fits into this Semitic pattern: the head, "body," the nomen regens; and the tail, "Christ," the nomen rectum.

Compare this with "the angel of the Lord" (angellos Kuriou) in the NT. "Angel," like "body," is treated definite, like a proper noun, so translated "the angel of the Lord," even though no article precedes either "angel" or "Lord." Proper nouns do not need an article to be definite. In John 1:1, the absence of an article with a proper noun does not make "Word" indefinite, i.e., "a god." This is called a Semitism in the New Testament, a word for a Hebrew language influence in the New Testament Greek. For instance, we don’t find the Hebrew definite article in the OT with "the congregation of the Lord," and yet it is called "the congregation of the Lord." This is why they (the KJV translators) translated it "the body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians 12:27.

I believe that uniquely the absence of the definite article occurs here because this is referring to "body" as a proper noun. The proper noun is definite. This makes a stronger argument for "the body" than if it had the article. Soma Christou ("the body of Christ") acts as a proper noun, the official title of God's governing institution in this NT era.

Let's put this in a logical syllogism.
Major Premise: The church at Corinth is the body of Christ.
Minor Premise: The church at Corinth is local only.
Conclusion: Therefore, the body of Christ is local only.

The body of Christ is local only.


Terry McGovern said...

I would agree there is no universal church, and that the few verse not referring to a local church are dealing with the church as an institution.

With the reference to the church being the body of Christ, I have taught it like this: Each local church is the body of Christ in their community. They are to accomplish the task Jesus would be accomplishing if he was here bodily in your town. Thus the local church is the body of Christ

DaCatster said...

So Pastor Brandenburg does this mean my church as I am in it is the body of Christ? The members, the staff, the pastors and such? So if someone would attack my church,it would be the same as attacking Christ? And I should just bow down and play dead, as I have been told?

Not that you related that too me, but others have.

Guess, I am just another Pyscho Fundy....... ;o)

Matthew Brasel said...

[b]"Well, that pretty much settles that, doesn't it." No, they keep going after that seemingly clinching Ephesians 4:4 argument. They say, "The one true body is all believers and the local one is a visible manifestation of the one true one."[/b]

This argument sounds very much like the one used by Mormons when you show them in the Bible that there is only one God. You normally get an answer like “ Yes there is only one true god that we have to do with is what that verse means.”

Throwback 13 said...

* Just a small list here:
... 1) church of the Thessalonians
... 2) church of the Laodiceans
... 3) "I persecuted the church of God"
* The church is the body of Christ.
* Just how many bodies does Christ have?
* Is the body of Christ generic or local? How many heads does it have?
* The fact is that the Bible refers to each local church as the body of Christ, but all churches together are also refered to as the church. I don't think that the concept of a generic church answers all the objections.
* Talking through my hat ...
* ... Joel

Kent Brandenburg said...

Joel, just saying you don't think it answers all the objections doesn't mean it doesn't, respectfully. The multi-bodied, single head, you're right could be another argument, but it isn't an argument from Scripture. If Christ can head every man (1 Cor. 11:3), does that make him a multi-bodied head as well?

Just because you can speak of the man or the woman or the husband or the wife generically doesn't mean there are two husbands and two wives. You are either speaking of His body, which is only local, generically, or you are speaking of His body, which is only local, particularly. Those are the two usages of the singular noun.

Anonymous said...

Good article. It is a blessing to read this in a day when so many are so confused on the subject.

Anonymous said...

Great passage, Great truth, Great teachihg.

Your 6th grade buddy,
Jethro Bodeen

Jeff Voegtlin said...

Does Romans 12:4-5 give a definition of the church? It seems like it has a similar construction as the 1 Corinthians 12 passage. Here's what it says:

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
Romans 12:4-5

To me the siginificance here is that, Paul did use the pronound we as he was speaking to Christians in more than one church in a city he had not yet even visited. It seems like there is at least two churches and Paul included in the pronoun 'we.'

I don't think this passage argues for a "universal church," but it must be answered. And it seems to lean (on first impression) toward a "universal? body?".

I really don't even like to introduce that term, so I would like to be corrected, but not "out of hand."

How is this passage different from the one in 1 Corinthians? If the one in 1 Corinthians was not there, what would our understanding of the body of Christ be? How does the one Scripture compare/complement the other? How is our understanding affected by both passages?

Thank you for addressing this topic. I look forward to your response.

Kent Brandenburg said...

1 Corinthians 12:27 is earlier chronologically, establishing the meaning of "body of Christ." This does not say "body of Christ" (soma Christou). With "ye" in 1 Cor. 12:27 as the subject, the body of Christ cannot be all believers. We know it is at least the church at Corinth. That is one body, and then in Eph. 4:3, 4, we see there is only one body. In light of the clear passage in 1 Cor. 12:27 about the nature of the body, then we interpret the next mention chronologically in light of that.

However, yes, we should answer Romans 12:4, 5. We can see in v. 3 that he is addressing "every man that is among YOU." V. 4 starts with "for." He is illustrating his point using the body analogy. V. 4 is completely in the realm of the physical body, speaking to them about how it works.

The point here is that our differing gifts and differing grace and differing faith are supposed to be understood not as differences among contestants in a game where we try to beat each other, but differences among parts of a body where we try to serve each other and work together with one another like a physical body does, which does occur in one locality, not spread out in dismembered fashion.

The members of the body in Rome had physical bodies and Paul had a body. They could relate with him in this truth that a physical body has many body parts. He starts using "we" in the description of the physical body in v. 4 and then just continues with that. Like we have many members, we are members in one body. Our body parts are all attached to one body in one location. All of the recepients of Romans and Paul were members of bodies. The term one shows the unity, and certainly since there is only one body of Christ, the body of Christ, then Paul was a member of it and they were members of it. That body is local only, but it is still one body, all bodies the same in that they were in Christ.

The use of we, including the author, does not necessitate him being in their body. However, the term ye, does exclude the author. We can show many uses of this kind of usage of "we." Just because Paul included himself in the subject, didn't mean that he was a member of the body of which they were members, any more than when 1 Timothy 3:12 says, "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife," it means that the same wife was married to each of the deacons.

In Romans 16:5, Paul writes: "Likewise greet the church that is in their house." Are all believers in one house? The word "church" here has a definite article. This is "the church." Is there only one in the world and it is in this one house? "The church" can meet in a house, because is is local only. This is how the people would have understood it that were hearing it in that day.

Jeff Voegtlin said...

Thank you for this explanation. So, if I may summarize... 1 Corinthians is definitive, and Romans is illustrative. That may be too simple a summary, but is it close?

I also think I can understand the idea of 'we' being inclusive but not particular and the 'ye' being exclsive and therefore particular (particular is probably not the best word to tell what I'm trying to say).

Thanks again for answering this. Especially on a Saturday night when you have other more important things to be thinking about.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I had my sermon ready on Friday, and I liked thinking about Romans 12:4, 5 on a Saturday night. Thank you.