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Body of Christ

BODY OF CHRIST. Within the NT this may be understood in three ways:

1. As the natural, human body of Jesus that the eternal Son made his own in the womb of Mary, and in which he offered himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world (Heb.10.10). This body was transformed from a physical into a spiritual body in resurrection and then taken to heaven in ascension. Yet it remains a human body, and thus he who sits at the right hand of the Father as coregent is still the God-Man.

2. As the people of God or the church (local and universal) united to Christ in grace by faith and through baptism. Believers are “one body in Christ” (Rom.12.5) in each locality and, as a universal community, are the “body of Christ” (Eph.4.12) ruled and sustained by Christ, the Head (Eph.5.23).

3. As the bread used at the Last Supper by Jesus and then as the bread used in Holy Communion by believers. “This is my body,” said Jesus (Matt.26.26). As his body (bread) was broken on the cross and as by eating the Passover meal the Israelites had been associated with delivery from Egypt and bondage, so the believers participate in the saving work of Christ on the cross by taking this bread (and wine).——PT

CHRIST, BODY OF (σω̂μα του̂ Χριστου̂). The term is used in three connections:

The human body of Jesus while on earth.

The bread of the Eucharist.

At the Last Supper Christ said, “This is my body” (Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24). This cannot mean that in the Eucharist the consecrated bread actually changes into the body of Christ. The disciples in the Upper Room can only have understood Jesus’ words symbolically. The bread represented Christ’s self-giving, received in the heart by faith.

The Church.

The origin of Paul’s thought of the Church as the body of Christ has been sought in four fields: (1) the communal participation in the communion bread, as suggested by 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17; (2) the Stoic description of an ecclesia, a public meeting, as a united body composed of different independent persons; (3) the meaning of the “corporate personality” of Israel in the OT, as in the figure of the vine (Ps 80:8); (4) the close identification of Christ with Christians, as for example in their sufferings (Acts 9:4, 5; Col 1:24).

Some regard the phrase as indicating that the Church is the extension of the incarnation, but it is better understood metaphorically, signifying the unity of believers in the Church, a unity which depends upon Christ.


S. Hanson, The Unity of the Church in the New Testament (1946); K. L. Schmidt, The Church (tr. J. R. Coates 1950); F. J. Taylor, “Body,” RTWB (1950); J. A. T. Robinson, The Body (1952); L. Newbigin, The Household of God (1953); E. Best, One Body in Christ (1955); A. Nygren, Christ and the Church (1956); A. Cole, The Body of Christ (1964); E. Schweizer, The Church as The Body of Christ (1965).

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