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
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