What Is the Body of Christ?

A Short Study of the Term 'Body of Christ'

Body of Christ
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The Full Meaning of the Body of Christ

The body of Christ is a term with three different but related meanings in Christianity.

First and foremost, it refers to the Christian church all over the world. Second, it describes the physical body Jesus Christ took on in the incarnation, when God became a human being. Third, it is a term several Christian denominations use for the bread in communion.

The Church Is the Body of Christ

The Christian church officially came into being on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles gathered in a room in Jerusalem.

After the apostle Peter preached about God's plan of salvation, 3,000 people were baptized and became followers of Jesus.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the great church planter Paul called the church the body of Christ, using a metaphor of the human body. The various parts--eyes, ears, nose, hands, feet, and others--have individual jobs, Paul said. Each is also part of the whole body, just as each believer receives spiritual gifts to function in their individual role in the body of Christ, the church.

The church is sometimes called the "mystical body" because all believers do not belong to the same earthly organization, yet they are united in unseen ways, such as salvation in Christ, mutual acknowledgement of Christ as the head of the church, indwelling by the same Holy Spirit, and as recipients of Christ's righteousness. Physically, all Christians function as Christ's body in the world.

They do his missionary work, evangelism, charity, healing, and worship God the Father.

The Physical Body of Christ

In the second definition of the body of Christ, church doctrine states Jesus came to dwell on earth as a human being, born of a woman but conceived by the Holy Spirit, making him without sin.

He was fully man and fully God. He died on the cross as a willing sacrifice for the sins of humanity then was raised from the dead.

Over the centuries, various heresies arose, misinterpreting the bodily nature of Christ. Docetism taught that Jesus just appeared to have a physical body but was not truly a man. Apollinarianism said Jesus had a divine mind but not a human mind, denying his full humanity. Monophysitism claimed Jesus was a type of hybrid, neither human nor divine but a mixture of both.

The Body of Christ in Communion

Finally, the third use of body of Christ as a term is found in the communion doctrines of several Christian denominations. This is taken from Jesus' words at the Last Supper: "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19, NIV

These churches believe the real presence of Christ exists in the consecrated bread: Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Christians, Lutherans, and Anglican/Episcopalian. Christian Reformed and Presbyterian churches believe in a spiritual presence. Churches that teach the bread is a symbolic memorial only include Baptists, Calvary Chapel, Assemblies of God, Methodists, and Jehovah's Witnesses.


Bible References to the Body of Christ

Romans 7:4, 12:5;  1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 12:25, 12:27; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:12, 15-16, 5:23; Philippians 2:7; Colossians 1:24; Hebrews 10:5, 13:3.  

Body of Christ Also Known As

The universal or Christian church; incarnation; Eucharist.  


The body of Christ awaits Jesus' second coming.

(Sources: gotquestions.org, coldcasechristianity.com, christianityinview.com, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Trent C. Butler, general editor; International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, general editor; The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger.)

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Zavada, Jack. "What Is the Body of Christ?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 12, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-the-body-of-christ-700712. Zavada, Jack. (2016, September 12). What Is the Body of Christ? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-the-body-of-christ-700712 Zavada, Jack. "What Is the Body of Christ?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-the-body-of-christ-700712 (accessed April 22, 2018).