Growing by Encountering God in the Bible
What Scripture Teaches Us About Being the Body of Christ
Of all the books of Scripture and of all the writings of the early Church Fathers, it is St. Paul who first uses the concept of and writes about the “body of Christ” in those specific words.
He says clearly, "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…" (1 Corinthians 12:13). Through baptism we are so united with Christ so as to become his very body. The Father and the Son send the Spirit in baptism to make us one in Christ. St. Augustine would one day say, "What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 797).
However, beyond baptism, the church becomes more and more united to Christ through Christ’s self-sacrifice made present for us in the Eucharist. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation [communion] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). We become one body with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit in baptism, but we continue to come into a more intimate communion with Christ the head through receiving his body, blood, soul, and divinity.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Paul introducees the image of a body to explain Christ’s relationship with believers (1 Cor 12:12). 1 Cor 12:13 applies this model to the church: by baptism all, despite diversity of ethnic or social origins, are integrated into one organism. 1 Cor 12:14–26 then develop the need for diversity of function among the parts of a body without threat to its unity.
[12:27–30] Paul now applies the image again to the church as a whole and its members (1 Cor 12:27). The lists in 1 Cor 12:28–30 spell out the parallelism by specifying the diversity of functions found in the church (cf. Rom 12:6–8; Eph 4:11).
One Body, Many Parts
12 As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
14 Now the body is not a single part, but many. 15 If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. 16 Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” 22 Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, 23 and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, 24 whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. 26 If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
Application to Christ.
27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. 28 Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.