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by Peter Pett
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has been described as the Holy of Holies of the New Testament. In it he reaches the heights to which his other letters have been building up. Intended for a wider audience it presents the Gospel against its background in eternity and stresses the sovereign purposes and power of God in its application. In a unique way it also presents the present position of the believer in ‘the heavenlies’ in Christ.
The Body of Christ
The idea of the body of Christ begins with teaching concerning the literal body of Christ. Thus when Jesus at the Last Supper took the bread and broke it and said, ‘Take, eat. This is my body.’ (Matthew 26:26). ‘Take you, this is my body.’ (Mark 14:22). ‘This is my body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19). ‘This is my body which is for you, do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11:24), He was clearly pointing to His death on the cross in a physical body and equally pointing to the fact that they could nourish themselves from Him and His death. He was symbolising spiritual participation in the body of His flesh as the crucified One.
It is hardly necessary to point out that someone who was alive and well at the time could hardly have meant this to be taken literally. The bread could not be His body for He was still in His body. To claim that it was His body in a mystical sense is to make such an idea meaningless. Such a ‘mystical body’ would not be His body in any meaningful sense of the term. It would not in fact be to declare a miracle but to argue a literal and factual impossibility. It would be to play with words.
What Jesus in fact simply meant was that the bread was to be seen as representing His body symbolically, just as in the Passover, of which Jesus’ words were a parallel, the leader took bread and said ‘this is the bread of affliction which your fathers ate’. Such a person did not mean that it literally was that bread of affliction, but that it represented it, it symbolised it. What he actually meant was, ‘this is to remind you of and symbolises, and allows you to partake in, by inference, by thought transference, the bread of affliction’. Each time they ate they as it were entered into the experience of eating the bread of affliction. And in the same way each time we eat the bread at the Lord’s Table we enter by inference and by thought transference into the experience of His crucifixion, confirming that we are united with Him in His death, and united with Him in His body.
He had said earlier, ‘I am the bread of life, he who comes to Me will never hunger’ (John 6:35). Thus coming to Him was pictured here by the idea of ‘eating’ of Him. And this bread now thus signified that by coming to Him and responding to His words they were to be seen as ‘eating Him’, not in fact but in symbol. Thus when in future the people of God would eat the bread at the Lord’s Table they also would be declaring their participation by faith in Him, and in His sacrifice for them made once for all (Hebrews 10:10). They would be coming to Him afresh to declare their participation with Him in His death and to partake of His spiritual blessing. And as they came He would bless them.
This very act was an act of unity based on their representation of themselves as all partaking of the one body. In 1 Corinthians 10:17 Paul says, in the context of the Lord’s Table (Holy Communion), ‘seeing that we who are many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’ The stress here is on the oneness of the people of God brtought about by all partaking of the one bread. Because we eat of the one bread we are to be seen as one in Christ. Thus we are to be seen as one ‘body’, having oneness in Christ’s own body. The idea here is metaphorical, but gives a sense of oneness in Christ. However each is individual, for each must come. They are many yet one. The metaphorical nature of the words is emphasised in that he says that by participating in the bread we become the bread. No one in his right mind would take this literally or even metaphysically. Thus the body is also metaphorical. We become spiritually one body, united with Christ in His body. We become the body of Christ.
In Romans 7:4 we read that the genuine Christian has become ‘dead to the Law through the body of Christ’. The thought here is again of the death of Christ in His physical body as a sacrifice, but once more we have each Christian participating in the totality of His sacrifice, so that by faith and response to Him His death is their death. Thus their oneness in His body is again stressed. They are united with Him, by faith, in His death and in His resurrection (Romans 6:4-11), and will thus participate in the resurrection from the dead (Romans 8:11). They are made one with His body sacrificed on the cross for them, and rising again.
But when it comes to the deeds of the body it is the deeds of the individual’s body which are to be put to death, not the deeds of the whole (Romans 8:13), although the latter will in the end be the result. They are one in Him, one body in Christ, and yet each has to respond as an individual. They do not merge into each other. Each is responsible as an individual. The ‘church’ is never a solid conglomerate whole without individuality. It is made up of responding individuals. It does, of course, finally include all who truly believe in Him, but not specifically as one indivisible whole brought together under and responding to a hierarchy, but as individuals making up a whole. Each responds directly to Christ as an individual, and that is an important fact to grasp.
So while Paul sees us all as participating in the death and resurrection of Christ in one body he sees us as doing so as individuals and not just as one whole. And the same applies to the redemption of our body in Romans 8:23. The church is seen as a totality but not as simply a corporate totality. Each individual member contributes to making up the whole. The church is not a single mass.
This is well illustrated in 1 Corinthians 6:15-17. ‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? God forbid. Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute is one body. For the two, says he shall become one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.’
Membership of the body of Christ is not mentioned but is implied in ‘members of Christ’. Our bodies are members of Christ because we are in submission to and in unity with Christ, that is, because we are united with His body. But if we then with our bodies as individuals unite physically with a prostitute we become ‘one body’ with the prostitute. We take the members of Christ and make them one body with a prostitute. The idea is clearly metaphorical and not metaphysical (as well as being totally morally unacceptable).
The unity of the Christian with Christ is in fact stated here to be ‘in one Spirit’ and not literally in one physical body. It is not in one flesh like the unity with the prostitute is. So there is a crossing over from the physical to the spiritual. The point is then stressed that for each of us our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that therefore fornication is a grievous sin against our bodies as Temples of the Holy Spirit, for the Scriptural position is that we are each a sanctuary of God (1 Corinthians 6:19) and yet together make up the sanctuary of God (Ephesians 2:21). And are to protect the holiness of that sanctuary. This is then another way of presenting our oneness in Christ.
This reminds us that when we look at an illustration used in Scripture we must always ask what the writer intended to convey by it. That, and that alone, is Scriptural truth. Any expansion that we make on it is but human speculation. And there is nothing this applies to more than the description of the church as ‘the body of Christ’ which we are now to consider further, which if stretched out of context can be used to prove anything. But in this idea the idea of the church is not of some great monolithic object but of the totality of the people of God of which all are individually priests and sons of God.
The idea of ‘the body of Christ’ does not occur outside Paul’s letters, and indeed it appears in only four of them, and that with a variety of emphases. Its purpose appears to be threefold. Firstly it is to demonstrate that all that we have is ‘in Him’. We are united with His living resurrected body by faith and thus participate in all He has done for us. His body is not just made up of Christians, it includes Him Himself, and indeed finds its significance in this fact. But it does incorporate those who are united with Him. This is why Paul could speak of ‘Christ’ rather than ‘the church’ in 1 Corinthians 12:12. That is how he thought of the body. The body is Christ, and also incorporates His people. Secondly it is to demonstrate the unity yet diversity of the church. Each member is a part of the whole. It stresses the oneness of the whole, and the importance of all the parts fitting together, the contribution of each part to the whole, and yet their working each as a part of the whole. Thirdly it is to show that the church receives from Christ its sustenance and strength. Thus the emphasis is on the well-being of the body in its union with Christ
The idea of Christ as Head over His body comes later, for in 1 Corinthians the head is but one part of the body. Thus we must not allow ourselves to fall into the easy trap of seeing Him as the head and we as the body. This is not what is in Paul’s mind. The body as applied to the church includes the head. It has eyes and ears (1 Corinthians 12:16) and the head is contrasted with the feet (1 Corinthians 12:21). Thus the body is inclusive of the head.
For the truth is that the doctrine of the Headship of Christ has rather in mind His authority and power (Ephesians 5:23), rather than signifying one part of the body, namely the head. In relation to each individual Christian He is his Head (1 Corinthians 11:3) just as the man is the head of his wife. But this can hardly mean that the one is the head and the other is the body. The man is head of his own body as well as being the ‘head’ of his wife’s body. Thus when in relation to His body Jesus is described as the ‘Head over all things’ (Ephesians 1:22), He is not being seen as just the head, in contrast with the body which is His church, but as the Head over both head and body of the body of Christ. And it is as such, and not as a bodiless head connected by the neck with its headless body, that the church are united with Him as His body. ‘The church which is His body’ does not mean His body in contrast with Himself as the head, but as accepting that the church has become one with Him in His own body (including the head) as He dies on the cross (Ephesians 2:16) and as He rises again and is exalted (Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:10). He is the Saviour of the body, which includes a head (Ephesians 5:23) which is saved by being united with Him. The church is not to be seen as joined to Him by the neck.
This in fact could not be so for, as we have seen, initially the body is literally His body, and we are united with Him in that body. We benefit from His activity as the Head of all things, but we also benefit by our oneness with His resurrection body (including the head). We are one body with Him. Thus when we are persecuted He is persecuted (Acts 9:4).
The whole idea is metaphorical, although depicting a true spiritual unity. But there is no suggestion anywhere that it is through the church as the body that Christ reveals Himself in the world, or lives out His life in the world, as though the church were ‘Christ’s body on earth’. The concept is never used in that way. That is not the emphasis. In the New Testament such revelation of Himself is by preaching and by individual living, not by a corporate presence in ‘the body’. The body is always thought of in terms of being Christward, not earthward. Indeed in ‘the body’ we are in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:10).
We will now consider this in more detail section by section. Chronologically the first passage is found in 1 Corinthians 10:17, already referred to above, where Paul says, in the context of The Lord’s Table (Holy Communion), ‘seeing that we who are many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’ The stress here is on the oneness of the people of God, and that oneness arises out of our connection with His one body (including the head). Because we ‘eat’ of the one bread by coming to Him (John 6:35) we are one in Christ. Thus we can be seen as one ‘bread’ and one ‘body’, having a kind of spiritual oneness with the one literal body of Christ through participating in the one bread. The idea of ‘the body’ is of identification with and oneness with Christ’s own body and of spiritual communion with Him, not of ourselves as a separate body.
This leads on to its use later in 1 Corinthians. Here the ‘body’ (including the head) is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 in the context of the giving of spiritual gifts to the church, the people of God. The different types of gifts and their importance to the whole are described in terms of a ‘body having many parts’.
But it is first stressed that that body is Christ. Our being the body is because we participate in Christ. “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body being many are one body, so also is Christ.” Here Christ as including His people is likened to a body which has a variety of ‘members’ or parts, each of which is important and has to play its part, and one of which is the head including its parts. (Here in 1 Corinthians the body as the church, and as Christ, clearly includes the head for it has eyes and ears (1 Corinthians 12:16) and the head is contrasted with the feet (1 Corinthians 12:21)).
Paul then goes on to say, “For in one Spirit were we all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member but many” and the differing parts of the body are then described and include the head.
Note that emphasis is placed on being ‘baptised (drenched) in one Spirit into one body and being made to drink of one Spirit’. It is the oneness of the Holy Spirit that makes His infilled people one body and conjoined with Christ in His body, and also the fact that they partake of the one Spirit, as they partook of the one bread. Thus are they one body with Him. They come to the spiritual rain that pours from Heaven and the springs of water that result. What is important here is not water baptism but its significance as indicating that the baptised person is partaking in the Holy Spirit and through doing so is being made one with Christ’s own body. Our being the body is certainly not in this instance because Christ is the head but because Christ is the body.
This is, of course, only true where the response is genuine. The Holy Spirit is not controlled by men’s ordinances, even where they follow a seemingly divinely ordained pattern. Only the person who genuinely ‘receives the Spirit’ as a result of the hearing of faith, with the signs of the working within of the power of the Spirit following, becomes a member of the body (Galatians 3:2). Those who do not ‘through the Spirit await the hope of righteousness’ are by their own attitude ‘severed from Christ’ whether baptised or not. For if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ he is none of His (Romans 8:9).
The early church would not have seen a person as necessarily having received the Spirit just because he was baptised. They baptised him because of their assumption and hope that he had received the Spirit by being converted. They looked for the response of faith and took that as the sign that men had received the Spirit.
But Paul had later to question whether the Galatians had genuinely received the Spirit. So reception of the Spirit was finally judged in other ways, not by baptism, and resulted from response to the preaching of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17). Once that response had taken place they baptised men because they had responded, and they accepted that because of this response of faith they would, if it was genuine (which they could not judge) receive the Spirit. And then they looked for evidence of the Spirit’s working, or the evidence that He was not working. They acknowledged that mistakes could be made (e.g. Ananias and Sapphyra - Acts 5:1-6). But they left that with God to sort out.
Some may believe that this can happen to a baptised infant but the whole of human experience is against it. Baptised infants tend to grow up the same as other infants. They do not especially evidence the signs of the Spirit’s working. Nor do they become members of the body of Christ in the Biblical sense. That can only happen through spiritual union with Christ resulting from personal response and faith. It is a spiritual state of individual cooperating members.
We have stressed here that there is no suggestion of Christ being the head and the church being ‘separate’ as the body. The body is ‘Christ’. The church, can be described as ‘Christ’ because they are ‘in Christ’ and one with Christ as described in 1 Corinthians 10:17. He and they are united as one. They are united with His body. It includes the head which is no different from the rest of the body (as evidenced by the mention of the ear and the eye, and the contrast between head and feet). And that body is composed of Christ and of all genuine Christians of all types and races. Thus the church is seen as being ‘in Christ’ through the work of the Holy Spirit and as such forming one complete body in Him, made up of many individual ‘members’. And as we have seen the description is bold. The body as a whole is actually spoken of as ‘Christ’, because it is composed of those who through the Spirit have come into oneness with His own body. Having been made one bread and one body there is total spiritual unity. There is total intimacy.
But we must beware of making of it more than is intended. We can mysticise it and go too far. It is describing the indescribable and we must therefore beware in applying it that we do not go beyond what the Scriptures teach about it. We must not read out of it more than we can find in each passage if we are to claim it as Scriptural truth.
So Paul goes on to say that in Christ the church is like a body which is made up of a multiplicity of members. We are made participators in that body by being drenched in the one Spirit. And we must each play our part in sustaining that body. For ‘now you are the body of Christ and severally members of it’ (1 Corinthians 12:27). The whole emphasis is on oneness with Christ spiritually, and the part that each member must play in the upbuilding of the whole as one with Christ. It looks inwards towards the growth of the body, not outwards towards the world, and stresses our communion with Christ. There is no thought of Christ in Heaven and we on the earth. Far from it. We are conjoined together in the closest spiritual union.
A similar idea is prominent in Romans 12:4-5. ‘For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office, so we who are many are one body in Christ and severally members one of another.’ Note that we are one body ‘in Christ’. It is because we are in Christ that we are part of His body and make up the one body. He then goes on to outline the spiritual gifts divided among the members of the church. Note the stress on the many within the one. The one body is called in to illustrate the oneness of the whole people of God in union with Christ, but is immediately shown to be composed of many individual members. This unity is ‘in Christ’ but it is illustrated in terms of the human body which reflects their position as one in Christ, working together for the good of the whole. Again the continuing thought is of close communion with Christ in His body with a view to spiritual growth.
This now brings us on to Colossians where the idea is expanded in the light of Paul’s arguments there. Here, having described the supremacy of Christ in all things pertaining to the universe (Ephesians 1:15-17) he adds, ‘and He is the Head of the body, the church, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence’.
The idea here is of ‘the Head’ as being ‘Lord over’ rather than as in contrast with the body. It is in context with His Lordship over everything. Compare ‘the husband is the head of the wife as Christ also is the head of the church’ (Ephesians 4:23), where the body of both husband and wife are seen as one (the husband is not the head with the wife being the body). This is parallel with ‘and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body’ (Ephesians 1:22-23) and ‘the Head of every man is Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3). This mention of ‘the body’ out of the blue suggests that the background in 1 Corinthians was by now well known.
This interpretation is confirmed by the further description of Him as ‘the beginning’ (i.e. the source of life), ‘the firstborn from the dead’ (He Who first broke the power of death and rose and is the cause of all others rising), ‘that in all things He might have the pre-eminence’. There is not even a hint here that we should see Him as the head in contrast with the body. And everything we have previously seen is against it.
This gains some confirmation from the fact that in 1 Corinthians 11:22 we read of ‘yet now has He reconciled, in the body of His flesh through death to present you holy, and without blemish and unreproveable before Him.’ Thus it is being stressed in context that the body that is ever in mind is ‘the body of His flesh’ as now resurrected as a spiritual body and united with His people This closeness of connection supports the idea that ‘the body’ in 1 Corinthians 11:18 has the union of the church with ‘the body of Christ’ in mind.
But the case is at first seemingly different in Ephesians 2:19. There we read, ‘and not holding fast the Head from Whom all the body being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God.’ Is this not contrasting Christ as the head with the church as His lower body receiving its sustenance and growth from its head. I would have no quarrel with the idea as a symbol and picture, as long as it is then recognised that it is a totally different illustration from previously. However I do not think it is what Paul was meaning.
Firstly we should note that the idea of ‘the Head’ follows on immediately after the idea of worshipping angels and experiencing great visions. The Head is in contrast with these. As described in chapter 1 He is Head over all things. Here it is implied but not stated, but in Ephesians 1:22 it is clearly stated that He is ‘Head over all things’ in a context where the body of Christ is in mind. And this is as well as being the Head of the body, the church. Thus he is speaking of those who are ignoring the overall Headship of Christ in His sovereignty.
Secondly it is questionable as to whether the ancients did see all growth in the body as springing from the head. They placed great stress on other organs. The ancients did not see the head as the controlling influence over the body, they considered that lay more in the ‘heart’ and the ‘bowels’ and other similar parts of the body (Mark 2:6; Mark 2:8; Mark 3:5; Luke 24:32; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; 1 John 3:17).
Thirdly if it did mean this it would be unique usage in Scripture, except possibly for in Ephesians 4:15-16, and it would ignore the constant idea that we are united in His actual glorified body.
Thus it would be more consistent with the ideas of Paul looked at previously to see ‘the body’ as Christ’s own body within which His people are united, and the Headship as indicating Christ as the Supreme Authority from Whom all their growth comes. Either way they are one living unit. Christ, risen and with all authority in Heaven and earth, seen as over all, controlling and directing, strengthening and empowering, and we as members of His body, one with His body, responsive and obedient, ministering to each other (compare 1 Corinthians 12:20-27; Romans 12:4-8) for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. The difference is subtle, and in some ways is not vital. Either way Christ is the source of the growth and unity of the people of God and the cause of their ‘increase’. But it has its importance in ensuring that we grasp Paul’s full meaning.
The ‘incidental’ reference in Colossians 3:15 to ‘to which also you were called in one body’ shows that the idea of the body has become well established. The idea he has in mind is that they have all been united in the body of Christ by being made one with Him and they are therefore one.
We now come to the final usage of ‘the body’, in Ephesians. In Ephesians 1:22-23 we read ‘And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness (pleroma) of him who fills all in all.’
This comes in a context where the overall supremacy of Christ has been declared, finalised by ‘He put all things in subjection under His feet,’ compare Psalms 8:6. The picture is given of the great and victorious King and Overlord before whom all His subjects and His enemies humble themselves, prostrating themselves at His feet and acknowledging His lordship.
Then we read ‘And gave him to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body.’ As ‘Head over all things’, which includes all heavenly powers and all earthly powers, He is given to His ‘church’, to those whom He has called out and redeemed, those who have been united with Him in His body on the cross, to be their Head as well. They are uniquely His, and He is Head to them in a unique way. Thus in the whole scenario of existence the people of God are depicted as unique and special. For while the remainder are seen as subjects, some even as rebellious subjects, the people of God are seen as in close relation to Him becasue they are ‘His body’, united as one with Him in His body.
We can compare here the words of Paul elsewhere in Ephesians where he likens Christ’s Headship over the church to man’s headship over his wife (Ephesians 5:23). Thus the head depicts authority and close unity in that authority. But it is the two bodies merging that makes them ‘one’. Note that there is also not total merger, they are united in one but do not actually become one entity. In the same way the church have been united with Him in His body, sharing with Him in His exaltation and in His rule, and responding to His direction and control. That is why they are ‘one body’. They are His queen. They are His wife (Ephesians 5:25-27) to be presented to Him without blemish, not as the body to the head but as the one body with His body. Note how in the case of the church as the wife Paul can immediately link it with Christ’s relationship with the church in terms of their being members of His body, gliding from the one illustration to the other (Ephesians 5:29-30), just as husband and wife are ‘one body’ by the act of union.
‘Which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all.’ Here being His body, uniting with Him in His death and resurrection, means being that which makes Him complete. Thus His people are the ‘fullness of Him Who fills all in all”. This is, of course, a paradox. He Who fills all in all surely needs no completion. Indeed all things ‘hold together’ in Him (Colossians 1:17). How then can His people be His fullness? The answer lies in the plan of redemption. Having become Man in order to redeem man He is incomplete in His body until the redeemed are gathered into His body. As representative Man He must gather in those Whom He represented. They are the fullness which will make Him whole. He died that they might be His, and they become His by being united with Him in His death and resurrection. They become His body because they are united with Him in His body.
In Ephesians 2:15 we have the idea that believing Jews and believing Gentiles are joined together as ‘one new man’. This is then connected with the body of Christ. ‘And might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.’ The ‘one body’ mentioned in Ephesians 2:16 must surely signify the actual body of Christ, crucified for us, the body of His flesh (Colossians 1:22), but is also intended to incorporate something of the idea of Ephesians 2:15, the ‘one body’ also representing the ‘one new man’, recognising that we were ‘crucified with Christ’ in His body (Galatians 2:20). Once again the emphasis is on oneness, union with Him. So we are His body as identified with Him in His body of flesh on the cross. This is confirmed in Ephesians 3:6 where the Gentiles are said to be ‘fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the body, fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel’.
Mention of the body comes again in Ephesians 4:4, where the emphasis is on ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:3). Then Paul says ‘there is one body, and one Spirit, even as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:3-6). Here all the other examples refer to that which is not itself the church but part of its essential foundations and make up. So to be consistent and in order to tie in with these comparisons, this ‘one body’ must refer to the one body of His flesh, His body, in which His people are united.
Then he goes on to outline those gifted people who have been provided ‘for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:12-13). Once again the emphasis in the use of the term ‘body’ is on the building up of the body to a full faith and knowledge of Christ, indeed to full Christ-likeness as one full-grown man, and that body is one with Christ’s body. This is clearly metaphorical and spiritual, not metaphysical. The blurring of individuals is never in mind as is clear constantly throughout. Individual responsibility is central to the Christian message.
He then adds, ‘But speaking the truth in love may grow up in all things into Him Who is the Head, even Christ, from Whom the whole body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of each several part, makes the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love’ (Ephesians 4:15-16).
At first sight this seems to be the clearest example of the idea of Christ as the head connected to a body and yet distinct from that body and providing for the needs of the body. But its use in Ephesians 5:23 on and elsewhere suggests otherwise even here. There Christ as the Head of the church is the Saviour of the body, Someone active to deliver. And the church is subject to Christ as a wife is to her husband, and this is likened to a husband’s position with regard to his wife. The husbands are to love their wives ‘as their own bodies’, in other words as much as their own bodies and as if they were their own bodies, and by uniting their two bodies they then become ‘one flesh’. There is no suggestion that the husband is the head, being connected to the wife as the body. So we are justified as seeing in this the position whereby through uniting with Christ the people of God become united with His body and thus are His body.
Even here therefore we have to question whether the idea is of Christ as the head and we as the body as two separate parts of one whole, and this obtains confirmation from the fact that ‘the Head’ is separated from what follows by ‘even Christ’. He is the Head, but the body of which Paul is speaking is His body with which His people are made one. Unlike in Colossians he does not want to move directly from the Head to what is done in the body. (Perhaps rereading that letter warned him of the danger). This would suggest that the idea of the Headship of Christ is thus maintained as the One Who is over the body as its Head and Overlord. And it is specifically Himself as the whole Body, rather than just as the Head Who unites and sustains the body, in which they are one body in Him, conjoined with Him in His body. They are ‘members of His body, in union with His body’ (Ephesians 5:30), and as its Head He is its Saviour and Overlord.
So Christ is the Head of the church as the husband is the head of his wife stressing His position in authority. In relation to the body He is its Saviour (Ephesians 5:23).
We may sum up therefore by recognising that the idea of the church as ‘the body of Christ’ has nothing to do with the behaviour of the church in the world or towards the world (except indirectly) but everything to do with its union with Him in His death and resurrection. The church, the people of God, are His because they are ‘in Christ’, because by His Spirit they have been made One with Him, and the whole emphasis behind this is that this results in the growth and development of the body as each member plays his part in the whole. The emphasis in the idea of the one body is on spiritual unity with Christ, and the benefit of the whole, and their oneness is with Christ Himself. It is inward looking not outward looking. The idea behind ‘the body of Christ’ is Christ in union with His people enabling their growth in Him, not Christ through His people revealing Himself to the world.
It may be said, ‘but surely Paul could not in Colossians and Ephesians mention Jesus as the head and the church as the body without associating the two in comparison with the human make-up?’ It is, of course, possible that the connection was to some extent there in his mind. But if so it is never specifically spelled out, and it is reasonable to argue that he was well aware that to do so would be confusing, for to him the Headship of Christ meant Lordship and Sovereignty and could not be debased to a subservient function. And the unity of Christ and His people in one body was equally a part of his thinking so that he was unlikely to move from that to another position for the sake of a good illustration. And this is confirmed by the subtle changes that took place in Ephesians, as his thought developed, in contrast with Colossians.
the Second Week of Advent