In contending against the truths I have set forth regarding Acts 28 dispensationalism, one of the most common arguments brought forward is the fact that the phrase “the Body of Christ” appears in the books of Paul written before Acts 28:28. Many feel that, since in their minds “the Body of Christ” is the exclusive phrase for believers of today, this is conclusive proof that God’s work today had already begun long before Paul made his momentous proclamation in that verse.

A problem that constantly comes up, and is, alas, not exclusive to this issue, is not defining your terms. A favorite phrase that evangelical believers of today like to use is “the Body of Christ,” yet a real, honest, Biblical examination of what that is and what it entails is seldom undertaken. Un-Biblical and unhelpful phrases like “the mystical Body of Christ” are adopted by many, and this does much to cloud the issue and to hold the truth seeker back from finding what God meant when He inspired the apostle Paul to use this phrase.

Several ideas are commonly held as to what the Body of Christ is all about. The first is that the word “body” is used as when we speak of a governing body, a legislative body, and so forth. In other words, the Body of Christ is a phrase meaning all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ considered as a collective whole. The phrase “the Universal Body of Christ” comes out of this idea. This explanation seems to satisfy many, and the phrase, “the body of believers” is often used by those who hold this idea as almost a synonym for the phrase, “the Body of Christ.” However, this use of the word “body” is actually an English idiom, and an examination of the Greek usage of the word soma, the word translated “body” in our English Bibles, would reveal that it did not share this idiomatic usage. Therefore, whatever the Body of Christ might be, it is not all believers considered as a collective group.

Others adopt the idea that the Body of Christ is a conglomeration of all believers into a giant figure that resembles the man, Jesus Christ. All believers are represented as if they were standing on each other’s shoulders, and each one makes up the equivalent of a pixel on a screen in forming this giant picture of Jesus Christ. The believer could be any part of this giant model of Christ, even, it is said, down to just a strip of flesh in His side. This idea seems so foolish as to hardly be worth refuting, except for the fact that otherwise competent Bible expositors have actually set this forth as truth.

That the Greek word soma and our English word “body” are basically the same is a fact that can hardly be disputed. Apart from the idiomatic use of our English word “body” just mentioned, these words are practically the same, and we can for the most part treat them as such in our study of this concept of the Body of Christ. Yet this realization that soma means “body” will not help us understand what the Body of Christ is if we do not in fact know what the English word “body” means.

It seems that many have the idea that this word “body” means nothing more nor less than the body of a human being. Yet we know that animals have bodies as well as men. Why, then, is it generally assumed by some that this word “body” must refer to the body of a man? I suppose this is generally assumed since Christ is a man, so it is thought that His body must be that of a man as well. And yet a man is not made up of a collection of many individuals standing on top of each other, and so the logic does not follow.

Now there are many things in English that are referred to as “body” that have nothing to do with either an animal or a human body. The most commonly used, perhaps, is “a body of water,” referring to some lake or stream or ocean. Yet there are other things that can be referred to as “body,” such as the body of a liquid like paint, or the body of a piece of cloth. Anyone who lives in a place with extreme temperature variations like Minnesota knows the importance of wearing clothes that have the right body for the weather that is currently taking place. If we wish to discover the meaning of the word “body,” we have to discover a meaning that covers usages such as these.

A good place to establish both the meaning of the English word “body” and the Greek word soma is in the Word of God. There, in Colossians 2:16-17, we read:

16. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17. which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

In verse 17, the word soma, which means “body,” is translated by “substance,” and this is contrasted with a “shadow.” A shadow, we know, is just a dark outline or image of something cast on the ground, whereas its substance is what it is actually made of. Really, this is what the body of something is—its physical substance, the essence of what it is, and the stuff of which it is made. “Body” usually refers to an organized substance that makes up a thing. This can be seen to apply to the body of an animal or man, which is the physical material of which the person or creature is made. A body of water is also the physical water of which that lake or river or sea is made. Even the body of paint or of cloth refers to the characteristics of the organized physical material that makes up those things.

So the phrase, “the Body of Christ” refers, I believe, to the actual substance or essence of which Christ is made. Now the substance of a man, as we know from the Old Testament, is made up of the dust of the ground. This is the material from which God made us. Yet this is not true of Jesus Christ. He existed as God before He ever became a man, and so while His human body was made of dust like ours, this was not His essence. What He was in essence existed long before His human body ever did.

To really understand what the substance of Christ is, we will need to examine the passages that relate to the Body of Christ. First of all, let us look at I Corinthians 12.

1. Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant:

Much error has come out of this passage, yet I believe that is largely because the passage is broken up, and not allowed to speak as a whole. Verses are removed from their context, and error and confusion is the result. If we start off this passage at the beginning, we will see right away what the topic of this passage is. This chapter is talking about spiritual gifts, and so if we were putting a label over this passage as a whole, we could call it just this, “Concerning Spiritual Gifts.” That is what this passage is basically about, and any teaching it sets forth regarding the Body of Christ should be taken in the light of this. God does not want us to be ignorant regarding spiritual gifts, and this passage will help us to understand them.

Now much error has also arisen about what a spiritual gift is. If we wanted to follow every rabbit trail we come upon, we could follow out this word “spiritual” to discover what it means. Since I have done this in other studies, however, let me just for now set forth that the word “spiritual” refers to things that come directly from God, and not by natural means. That is, they might be things that do occur naturally, but if in this case they are supernaturally given and come from God apart from the normal agencies by which they are typically produced, then those things are spiritual. Thus, spiritual gifts are not just natural talents and abilities, but are abilities that one otherwise would not have that are supernaturally given by God.

2. You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. 3. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
4. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.

We will skip over some obvious problems and difficulties here to focus on the topic at hand. Notice that the Spirit is operating all these gifts, He is the Lord of them, and God works through them. This demonstrates what I said about spiritual gifts above. This is all about God working with and through the individual by His Own direct, supernatural action.

7. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8. for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9. to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10. to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

Clever men have redefined these things to make them into something that one can do out of his own power, or imagine he has done or accomplished with some kind of help from God. But these things if we examine them honestly are all things that are gifted to a person by the supernatural intervention of God, and no one can do these things without powerful help from Him. These are the supernatural gifts that God freely gave in the Acts period.

11. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

Again, Paul emphasizes that it is the Spirit working through all these things, orchestrating them as He wills. These things are not left up to the will or imagination of the one to whom they are given. All is controlled and meted out by the Spirit.
12. For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.

Here is where many jump into the passage, picking up the references to a body, and ignoring the fact that the topic up until now has been, and continues to be, spiritual gifts. Christ or Messiah is said here to be like the body that has many members that all make up one body. The application to gifts is obvious. The gifts are given by the Spirit to all, and they work together in harmony, just as the members of a body must all work together in harmony to make up the person whose body they are. Those who bear Christ’s gifts, then, make up His substance, and all must work together in harmony if they are to produce a worthy representation of that One Whose body they are.

13. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

Spirit baptism is not synonymous with salvation. To be baptized is to be identified with something, and being baptized with the Spirit is identification with Him through the evidential sign of a supernatural spiritual gift. It was when they manifested forth their supernatural gift that these people were baptized into that one body that is the substance and the essence of Jesus Christ. It was when they drank into one Spirit that this became a reality.

14. For in fact the body is not one member but many.

They too were many, and yet were to make up one substance to represent Christ.

15. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?

God now furthers the illustration by comparing the various spiritual gifts to various members of a human body. The foot cannot say it is not of the body because it is not the hand, and the ear cannot make the same complaint because it is not the eye. These members have an important function of their own, and they cannot complain because their function does not seem quite as spectacular to them as that of another body part. So those who were given their own spiritual gift could not complain that they were not real members of the body just because they did not bear the same gift as some other.

18. But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.

This was even more important for them to keep in mind. God had placed them into the body as He pleased. They were not assigned gifts via something like a random number generator. No one drew straws, and so no one got the short end. God had given each one of them his gift as He saw fit. How, then, could they complain against their gifts, when that meant complaining against the God Who gave them?

19. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

If they all had the same gift, they could not well represent Christ.

20. But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22. No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24. but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25. that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Again they are urged to unity. Throughout this passage the figure of a human body is used as an illustration, wherein all members care for each other, all suffer or rejoice with each other, and there is no schism there. This was how they were to behave, as partakers of Christ’s substance who represented Him through the gifts He had given.

27. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

Now he proclaims them members of the body of Christ. Yet we must remember what we have learned previously in this passage about what made each one of his readers a member. They were made a member by the gift they possessed. Anyone without a gift was not a member. Moreover, they did not have to wonder about what sort of a member they might be. What their gift was was made obvious when they were baptized with the Spirit. No question could be asked once they had manifested a spiritual gift. This showed them to be a member, and proved they were part of the body. Those who claim membership in this body today can make no such demonstration.

28. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30. Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

Now Paul starts to list the various gifts that were given, corresponding to the various members of the Body of Christ. These included apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, administrators, and tongues-speakers. Not all did every one of these things, but they were to all work together as one, since they were all partakers of the essence of One, Jesus Christ. He was God’s great apostle, and those who were apostles were that because He was God’s Apostle first, and they were allowed to partake of His essence. He was the Prophet, and those who were prophets partook of the essence of Him Who was God’s Prophet. He was the Teacher, He was the Miracle Worker, He was the Healer, He was the Helper, He was the Administrator, and He was the Creator and Possessor of all tongues. As they partook of the essence of what He was, they became each one of these by Divine gift. This is what made up this body.

31. But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

It seems that many of those who claim we are the Body of Christ are not desiring ANY gift, or at least nothing that is not a mere talent or ability that is natural to men. How can we define ourselves as the Body of Christ, or state that this is for our dispensation, when it is so obviously tied up in things with which we have nothing to do?

Romans 12:3-8 is another passage that talks about this Body of Christ as it functioned in the Acts period. Let us examine this passage together as well.

3. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 4. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5. so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

This passage, as we can see, states something very similar to what is said in I Corinthians 12:12. From what we learned there, however, we would expect that, if this illustration is the same, then what it is talking about is probably the same, and that is spiritual or miraculous gifts. A glance at the following verses will confirm that this is so.

6. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7. or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8. he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Paul goes on here to list different gifts, and how they should be used. These gifts, as we learned in I Corinthians 12, are what make up the various members of the Body of Christ. In this list, the gifts mentioned are somewhat different, yet I believe that each of these lists is merely a representative sampling, and is not meant to be a complete list of the gifts which were available at that time. Notice that both I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 do overlap in that they both mention prophecy and teaching as two of the gifts that were available. These few verses in Romans 12 seem to be a condensed version of what was said in I Corinthians 12, written for a different reason and thus in less detail. Yet the illustration is the same. What makes one a member of the body here is the fact that you have a spiritual gift, not the fact that you are a believer.

So however much some might want to argue that these passages have to do with what we are today, it is clear from reading both of them that this is not the case. The body of Christ that believers in the Acts period were a part of was made up entirely of members who had a spiritual gift that was in all ways miraculous. They had partaken of Christ’s substance by becoming in a measure what He was. This we have not done today. We cannot represent Christ like this. We are not the body of Christ in the way these people were in the Acts period. To claim to be a part of what is described in these two chapters is just empty boasting. We are not a part of these things.