What does the Bible mean by the term Body of Christ?

by Matt Slick

The phrase "body of Christ" only occurs in three verses in the Bible: Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 10:16; Eph. 4:12 and is used in three different senses. The first is regarding the literal physical body of Jesus (Rom. 7:4). The second is about the Last Supper (1 Cor. 10:16). And, the third is about the Church (Eph. 4:12).

  1. “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God,” (Rom. 7:4).
  2. “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16).  
  3. “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ,” (Eph. 4:12).

Romans 7:4 is specifically dealing with the issue of the physical body of Christ because it speaks of him being raised from the dead.  He prophesied his own resurrection in John 2:19-21 and accomplished it as is demonstrated by John 20:25-28.

1 Cor. 16:16 is in reference to the communion supper that was instituted by Jesus in Matthew 26:26 where he said, "Take, eat; this is my body."  Of course, it was not his literal body that he was asking the disciples to eat because he would have been asking them to violate Levitical law about not eating blood (Lev. 17:14). Jesus still referred to the wine as wine (Matt. 26:26-29).

Eph. 4:12 equates the phrase "body of Christ" with the church. In other words, those who are true Christians are members of the body of Christ. There is in theology what we call the visible and the invisible church. The visible church is the building, the people, the structure, etc. The invisible church is comprised of the truly regenerate. So not all in the visible church are true Christians and are therefore not truly in the invisible church. Nevertheless, Ephesians 4:12 is talking about the body of Christ being the body of believers, those who are in the invisible church.

So we can conclude that there are three senses in which the term body of Christ refers, Christ's literal physical body (Rom. 7:4),  the Last Supper (1 Cor. 10:16), and the church (Eph. 4:12).

The body of Jesus

The closely related topic to the body of Christ, is the body of Jesus.  The phrase, "body of Jesus" occurs seven times in the New Testament

  • “This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him,” (Matthew 27:58).
  • “Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus,” (Mark 15:43).
  • “this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus,” (Luke 23:52).
  • “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body,” (John 19:38).
  • “So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews,” (John 19:40).
  • “and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying,” (John 20:12).
  • “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” (Hebrews 10:10).

In every instance, it is talking about his physical body. So, where the term "body of Jesus" always means the physical body of Christ, the term "body of Christ" only references that sense once in Romans 7:4. The others are figurative usages.




About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.