Epistle to the Romans
The Body of Christ
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Anyone who's ever had a broken foot knows it's pretty tough to get around without the help of that appendage. We take our bodies for granted when they're working well, but when something goes wrong, we see how much we need every single bit of ourselves to function. The same is true for the Christian community. At least according to Paul.
We Are One Body
Paul uses the metaphor of a person's physical body to describe the way that Christians must work together:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. (12:4-8)
Basically, Paul is saying that we're all like different body parts. We each have our own job to do, but we need to work together to keep this thing going. Some people are more like a heart, beating blood through the body. Shmoop is more like the brains of the operation. (We're modest like that.) The point is that every part of the body is important to keep the whole thing working like it's supposed to.
Rock That Body
So that's pretty easy. But Paul takes this a step further and calls individual Christians members of the body of Christ. What does he mean by that?
Well, it's hard to say. Some people think that it means we become a part of Jesus through our belief in him. Others think it only refers to the church and that you have to be a member of a specific Christian church in order to be part of Christ's official body. There are lots of different interpretations. It just depends which member of the clergy you ask.
What's clear is that Paul wants to say that we're all related to each other and all in this together. Peace, love, and fully-functioning body parts for all.
• In the Eucharistic meal, the bread is sometimes referred to as "the body of Christ." But be careful: this means something different from what Paul is saying.
• The Catholic Church also refers to its members as "the mystical body of Christ." Does this mean unicorns are allowed to join?
• The 1990s sitcom, Herman's Head, was literally about a bunch of different characters working together inside one guy's brain. Maybe they should have called it "The Brain of Herman?"