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The Body of Christ Metaphor: Conclusion

Posted by on Oct 24, 2012 in community, members, scripture, spiritual gifts, unity | 3 comments

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, 1 Corinthians 10-11, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians, Colossians and Hebrews 13:3.

Here are few observations based on my study of the metaphorical use of the term “body”:

1. The metaphorical use of “body” is primarily a Pauline metaphor (perhaps only a Pauline metaphor).

2. “Body” primarily refers to a group of believers as a community or corporate unity.

3. Typically, the “body” metaphor is used to emphasize the unity of the group in spite of the diversity.

4. The “body” metaphor is often used during a discussion of spiritual gifts, which is related to the diversity/unity aspects of the group.

5. The heady/body relationship (i.e. “Christ is head of the body”) is only used in a couple of instances when the author is illustrating Christ’s rule or source for the body. (In the “body” metaphor, “head” does not always refer to Jesus Christ.)

6. In a couple of instances, the “body” metaphor is used to focus on close association and the sharing of suffering, joy, etc.

7. Also, in a couple of instances, the “body” metaphor illustrates how different people rely on one another (like parts of a body rely on the other parts).

8. As with other metaphors (such as “yeast” or “lion”), it appears that the meaning if the “body” metaphor changes based on what the author is trying to communicate, illustrate, or emphasize. (Although the idea of a “community” seems to be consistent through each usage of the term “body.”)

So, in conclusion, in the New Testament the term “body” is used metaphorically to refer to several different aspects of the Christian community, with the aspects changing based on the author’s focus in that particular passage.


“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


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-24-2012

    This is an interesting and useful series, Alan. There are so many metaphors in the Bible (Old and New Testaments). We do need to think about them in depth.

    As far as the body goes, there’s also Ezekiel’s vision of the bones in the desert. As he prophesied over them, the bones assembled themselves into bodies, but they only lived when the Spirit was breathed into them. And the living bodies finally stood up and were an army. An army is itself a body of people, like the church.

    We can learn from this earlier use of the body image, perhaps not a metaphor exactly, but a partly explained vision. It set me thinking nearly a year ago and resulted in a series of my own – .

    But what about other metaphors using ideas from our own time? If Paul was writing today, would he choose other metaphors in addition to the body and the temple of living stones? Might he have used programs running under the control of an operating system, perhaps; or vehicles on a road network; or … Fill in the gaps.

    Metaphors are powerful ways of presenting and reinforcing ideas, getting them deeper into our hearts and minds. Jesus himself used similes in the same way; the kingdom of heaven is like…

  2. 10-24-2012


    I love the modern metaphors. Thank you! I think the “body” metaphor remains popular today (more popular than other metaphors used in Scripture) specifically because we can still relate to it.


  3. 12-29-2012

    Thanks, Alan. You’ve done all the heavy lifting. Now I’ll sound smart when I talk about it.
    More importantly, you’ve given me something to think about.
    Thanks again.