What allegories are presented regarding the believers in the New Testament? (Part Two of Two)
Believers as the Body
“Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”
In this metaphor all believers (men and woman) are the body of Christ. He has already taught us in allegory that we are his bride. It is appreciated from scripture that Christ is “one flesh” with his bride. That allegory says we are a sanctified, single entity. So how do we function while we await our bridegroom’s appearance? “You are Christ's body and each of you is an individual part of it.” Christ is the head of his Church and we are all members of his body. In nature some organs of the body can compensate for the loss of another organ. However, no organ of the body can compensate for the loss of the head. Christ does not have a “representative” head in his body. We are all his body, and he is the head – that is the allegory!
In the human body the head decides what needs to be done and then “sends forth” the message. Once the message is sent the individual parts the body will perform as directed. “In the church God has appointed first apostles, next prophets, third teachers, then those who perform miracles, then those who have the gift of healing, then those who help others, those who are managers, and those who can speak in a number of languages.” (See footnote.) Male and female believers make up the body of Christ. It is the head who decides what part of the body is called into action. Apostles are sent forth by the head, prophets are given “revelation” by the head, teachers are taught their lesson by the head. In scripture headship of the Church (in reality or in allegory) is only attributed to Christ. (Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 5)
In Paul’s allegory the body has many functions and who performs what function is determined by “spirit gift” or by the “measure of faith”. The service any part of the body provides is never described based on any other criteria except “in proportion to our faith.”
3 For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith…
I implore you, brothers and sisters, to read and reread Romans 12. Note here with me, that the ONLY criteria for rendering service are one’s “measure of faith,” “according to the grace given us,” “in proportion to our faith.” There is a tendency in human nature to impose some other standard, to make some excuse to place one member above the other. Paul’s allegory here counters such tendencies. And Jesus stated his desire is “one body” among his disciples, but they discussed among themselves: “Who shall be greatest in the Kingdom of God?” Jesus said the behavior of his believers must be nothing like that of the gentiles. They seek ways to position themselves above their peers and then take full advantage of that position. But again in Paul’s allegory we are all members of one body, and none but Christ can define the service of another. That service is inspired and directed by the Christ, “who is the Spirit.”
In furthering the allegory, Paul illustrates these two points of view:
1. The thinking one might have of himself/herself as a part of the body;
2. And the thinking one might have of another as a part of the body.
I Corinthians 12: 12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? Paul is exhorting us when being introspective to appreciate our usefulness “in proportion to our faith.” Whatever we think our function is, perform it with the knowledge that a body works because all parts function together. In the body every part has value. However, we can fail not only to appreciate our value, we can fail to appreciate the value of others! 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don't need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don't need you!” It is inappropriate for one part of the body to assert its value over the other. Not only is it an inappropriate attitude, it is a ridiculous assertion. If the eye could minimize or delete the function of the hands, then it could SEE what it wanted but never be able to reach for it! This would surely be a miserable and ineffective state. 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now Paul extends the allegory of the body again, to teach the purpose of the body employing its various functions in unison:
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. What is this unity except the oneness that Christ has with the “bride” and the oneness or unity he prayed for us to have with each other? 4 There is one body and one Spirit [“The Spirit and the bride say come”], Reinforcement of Paul’s teaching in Romans and Corinthians is offered here: ONE BODY and one Spirit. …just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift… Again, as in other passages, Paul will repeat here the only criteria mentioned for the expression of one’s service in the ecclesia. Those criteria are one’s “gift” and one’s “faith” as the Spirit gives it. 11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, We must note that no other criteria are taught except that each believer (with no mention of his or her human station) serves according to Christ’s “gift” and inspiration of his Spirit, “the measure of Christ's gift.”
There is one body and one Spirit 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, Christ inspires according to his will the works that build up his body so it can grow and mature. But if we restrict portions of the body, even if spirit moved, then I suggest we have based this action on criteria other than those ordained in the teaching of these allegories. In essence our parts attempt to direct each other. Our hand says to our mouth, “You can’t be a mouth.” Our foot says to our arm, “Hey! You can’t be an arm.”
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; Christ directs the works of His body until we attain maturity. We are not qualified to make those decisions for the body parts. So if the Lord himself issues the directives and Paul says here and in Romans and Corinthians that the Head inspires the actions then we can not say to another body part, “Do not obey the head’s inspiration.”
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Human tendency to rework the intent of God’s word is well documented in the Gospels and the Epistles. Christ’s teaching is oneness and unity with him and each other. Paul teaches one body unified, working at the direction of the head. There is no mention of any male/female criterion for that working. Some are called to be different things, but only their measure of faith, their gift, is acknowledged as pertinent. These are perfectly clear teachings and repeated thematically in the NT. So let us shun any interpretation of passages that violate this clear teaching and seek an understanding that does not!
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and builds up itself in love. When one part of the body “binds” another part of the body, it is not working properly. And this action prevents us for growing up in every way to our head. A body can function with an amputated limb or deaf or mute or stumble around without its sight. But it does not function as it was intended to and its growth is impaired. Allegorically we bind some body parts keeping them from responding to the direction of the head. We don’t amputate them, but we thwart their function. Willingly and against nature we bind up parts of the body and then ask, “Why do some parts of the body seem to suffer atrophy? Why are we in pain?”
What is said about The Body
What is not said about The Body
Jesus prays to God, asking Him to help us become one with each other. I have emphasized some obvious omissions in these allegories because I believe the interpretations given some other passages conflict with these clear and thematic allegories. In the next study I will offer my thoughts on the passages used to support the distinction made of female believers in general. I do implore you for now to study the allegories I’ve commented on here, consider them, and see what they teach from your perspective. And then I ask you to hold other interpretations up to these allegories. These more clearly expressed images will shed light on other passages. Read, consider, and then judge for yourselves.
I commend your thoughts to God’s Grace until then.
My husband suggested I make comment on this observation: Doesn’t “First Apostles, then prophets, then teachers” suggest some sort of order of importance or “hierarchy” if you will? The response I would offer is one which seems to be a more consistent expression of the headship allegory. The head (Christ in reality) first had to “send forth” apostles, then appoint prophets to speak his message, then teachers to instruct those responding, then gifted healers to confirm the message with miracles and then pastors to strengthen those new members of the body. I suggest this speaks of a natural sequence of the allegorical function of the body. It is not a level of importance, as Paul makes a point to say that all parts in every single function make the body operate. In a body there is no hierarchy of function but depending on the task there is indeed a sequence of operation.