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The Body of Christ Metaphor: 1 Corinthians 10-11

Posted by on Oct 17, 2012 in community, members, scripture, spiritual gifts, unity | 1 comment

As I explained in the “Introduction” of this series, I am stepping through the passages in the New Testament in which the authors (primarily Paul – perhaps only Paul) use the term “body” in a metaphorical sense. As I read through these passages, I’m going to be asking these kinds of questions: What is Paul comparing to a “body”? What comparison is he making? At what point does it seem the comparison ends? How is this usage similar to or different from other usages?

Now, the term “body” is found often in Scripture. It usually refers to an actual body… that is, a person physical body. But, there are a few times when the term “body” does not refer to a person’s physical body, but is used in a metaphorical sense. I’ve already discussed the usages of “body” in Romans 12:4-5, and in this post I’ll look at the uses of the term body in 1 Corinthians 10-11.

The next instance (in canonical order) of a metaphorical use of “body” is found in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 –

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17 ESV)

Now, the term translated “participation” above (twice) is the same term often translated “fellowship” or “sharing,” and it is a very important term in this context. In this section of his letter, Paul is distinguishing between fellowship with Christ and fellowship with idols/demons.

While the first use of the term “body” above (in 1 Corinthians 10:16) could refer to either Christ’s physical body (paralleled with “blood”), or it could refer to a corporate unity or community as we saw in Romans 12:4-5. However, the second occurrence of the term (in 1 Corinthians 10:17) seems to refer to the corporate unity or community.

Again, there is a focus on the “many” and “one” characteristic of the Christian community, which is associated with the sharing of the body/blood of Christ. Without going into detail (which he will do in chapter 12), Paul still recognizes the diversity among the parts of the community, even though he also recognizes that they are unified – one.

The next occurrences of the term “body” are found in 1 Corinthians 11 –

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29 ESV)

Both of the instances of the term “body” above could refer to the physical body of Jesus (paralleled with “blood” again). However, it’s also possible that the second occurrence refers to the community in Christ, since the focus in the passage is the relationships (or lack thereof) among the believers in Corinth.

However, either way, this passage does not give us much new information about metaphorical use of the term “body.” Once again, though, we do not see Paul referring to a “body of Christ” as he will later. Instead, if the term is used metaphorically in these passages (1 Corinthians 10-11), it is once again referring to the community of believers who are both diverse and also unified because of their participation in (fellowship with) Christ.


“Body of Christ” Metaphor Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Romans 12:4-5
  3. 1 Corinthians 10-11
  4. 1 Corinthians 12
  5. Ephesians
  6. Colossians
  7. Hebrews 13:3
  8. Conclusion

One Comment

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  1. 12-29-2012

    From what little I know about NT Greek, I gather that there is a word for animal bodies (or groups of people so closely associated as to be almost an organism, such as a family). And there is another word for groups (bodies) of people less closely associated, as in committees or councils.
    Paul seems to be using the one for an organism or an organism-like group of people.
    I don’t know if this reading will hold water, but v. 29 seems to say we are in deep kimchi if we don’t get this right. 😉