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Saint Paul's: "The Body"

Updated: Jan 27

The physical meaning of the Body makes it stand for solid reality in contrast with unsubstantial shadow. The Body of Christ comes to mean the Church, its limbs and organs made up of individual believers united in Christ for the mutual benefit of all believers (l Cor. 12: 12-31). In this paper we shall attempt to analyze the four ways in which the Apostle Paul views the Body and conclude with an overall picture of Saint Paul's interpretation of the "Body".

{ A } The Body of Sin

" We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin." Romans 6:6

In Saint Paul's letter to the Romans, the Apostle refers, in 6:6, to "the sinful body", and in 7:24 to "this body of death". It was not uncommon, certainly at this time in history, (Rom. 7: 4-25, Gal 5:16-24) to regard the flesh as the seat of sinful desires. Body and flesh are thus equated. For Saint Paul, the body of sin is opposite to the Body of Christ and we reside within the "body of sin' as long as we remain in servitude to it. If the body is not in union with Christ, then it is considered to be in union with sin and all that it would entail.

Saint Paul uses the term "body" in the sense of "personality" or "self". It should be noted that the body does not mean the opposite of soul or spirit. The literal Greek here is the "body of sin", the genitive of sin being descriptive, as in similar phrases, "body of humiliation'' and "body of glory" in Philippians 3:21.

Therefore, the body or whole person is in the grip of Sin. The "old self" is under the domination of sin and exposed to Devine wrath, as opposed to the "new self" who lives in union with Christ and is liberated through Him from sin and any consideration of it. The destruction of the sinful self through baptism and incorporation into Christ means liberation from enslavement to sin.

{B} The Redeemed Body

'' I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me." Galatians 2:20

One of the paradoxes of the Apostle Paul, is that at the same time, the Body of Sin may be the Redeemed Body. This idea involves the full range of Saint Paul' s Doctrine of Atonement. Saint Paul makes use of the spatial concept of being in Christ (Rom 6:11., 8:2) and it is baptism that brings one into the Body of Christ (Gal3:27).

The Union of Christ is expressed as a Marriage (l Cor 6:13-20), with the individual Christian as the Bride of Christ; the idea being that husband and wife are one body. So the Apostle argues that the body is not meant for immortality but for the Lord and the Lord for the body. The Body is also referred to as a temple in which the deity dwells. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit." This means that Christ resides in the physical body of the individual Christian.

A sense of the mystery of spiritual fellowship with Christ, which belongs to the redeemed, is Saint Paul's most startling image of our identification with the Saviour; which is through His death. As we read in Galatians 2:20, the Christian, in fact, dies and rises to life again with Christ. Christ now lives in them, by virtue of their faith in His Atoning Death. By participating in Christ' death, one dies to their old self and is freed from the tyranny of the past, the world and their own ego.

By participation in Christ' Resurrection, the Christian then turns to God and is freed for a life of Joy and grateful obedience. They are so invested by the Power and Grace of God, that, as Saint Paul tells us, it is not the Christian themselves who live in Christ, but Christ who lives in them. This is where the perfection of Christian life is expressed.

Christian life is not merely an existence dominated by a new psychological motivation; that being living for God, since faith in Christ does not substitute a new goal of action. Rather, it reshapes human beings anew supply1ng them a new level of activity. Saint Paul views membership in the Redeemed Body as the reshaping of human life by the transcendent influence of Christ's indwelling.

{C} The Church as the Body

"Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." 1 Corinthians 10 : 17

What did the Apostle Paul mean by the Church as the Body? Well, he used a loaf of bread as the prime example of a Faith Community united together in Christ. One bread: Sharing the one life source, a Divine sustenance. It is the loaf that is the Body of Christ.

The Faithful are constituted as a Body whose diversity is rooted in an organic unity. The Body of Christ represent the believing people who are united in a table fellowship with the Blessed Trinity through Jesus Christ. Since it is Christ' loaf, when people are worthy to receive it, they are fully united into the One Body. Referencing the Holy Communion in which only one loaf is used, Saint Paul teaches us that we who are many, are one body and that this body is the Church with Christ as its head. The Apostle goes even further by describing Christ as the husband of the Church, which he loves as his own flesh.

{D} The Immortal Body

"It is sown a physical body, it is raised a physical body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body ." 1 Corinthians 15: 44

Saint Paul works out this point of view in 1 Corinthians. This is his most sustained effort to present the Christian Doctrine of immortality. The issue of immortality arose from the fact that the Greek Christians had difficulty with the concept of a physical resurrection, judging the body as a barrier for the soul. But the Apostle, with his Hebrew idea of man, felt that a human being is incomplete without a body, and it would also be required for a future life after death.

Saint Paul believes that as there are heavenly and earthly bodies, both mortal and immortal. So the human body which is buried is mortal, but that which is raised is immortal. The basis of his conviction, of course, is the personal testimony of those, including himself, who saw the Lord after His resurrection.

Without losing their personal identity, the Risen Christian will be in Christ in both the physical sense and part of His Glorified Body in the Spiritual sense. For Saint Paul, this paradoxical term derives its meaning from Christ's own Resurrection. Faithful Christians desire such a spiritual body and it is in Christ, who as a man-The Son of Man-became for people a life-giving Spirit.

The body which is raised is spiritual: either it is composed of spirit, or it is under the rule or power of God's Spirit, or it is both. The New Testament speaks of a Spiritual Body which people will receive at their own Resurrection. "A house made with hands, eternal in the heavens." (1 Cor: 15: 44)

Saint Paul doesn't mean that there is going to be a restoration of the fleshy particles of the deceased. Instead, he tells us that each individual will be bestowed as God sees fit. In essence, a Spiritual Body - a body of another order, other than flesh and blood.

As mentioned above, Body is a word which is also used to describe the whole community of Christians as the Body of Christ (Rom 12:5ff) and there can only be one body of Christ, as Christ is one and not divided (l Cor 1: 13).

It is into one body that Christians are baptized and set by God in there appropriate places. Even as limbs are by the creative act of God set in the physical body to fulfill the several functions required to enable the whole life of the body to be articulated according to Devine intention. (l Cor 12:13)

Saint Paul makes this point in Romans 12: 5ff and 1 Corinthians 12:12ff to express the close identification of Christ with His people and the spiritual solidarity of the members of the body without the distinction of race, sex, learning or social status. The People of God can not therefore be other than one, as the body of Christ. Every member has its own appointed place with an indispensable function, so all depend on each and each depends on all.

We can conclude that a productive life for the body is impossible unless each limb makes its own distinctive contribution to the whole body without presuming to attempt a function which is not its own. Thus, Christ died in the body of His flesh, but gained a new body in the spirit - that being the faithful men and women who have been raised with Him. The Church is the Body of Christ because it presents Christ to the world in all His fullness.

This Post was originally presented as an Academic Paper for the Undergraduate Course Religious Studies 103 - Introduction to the New Testament Literature (Instructor: The Rev. Dr. R. Rhys Williams) on March 22nd, 1993 (Revised June 23rd, 2023)

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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