In our last issue, we considered the Body of Christ in the Acts period. We saw that in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, the body of Christ is based around the miraculous gifts that the believers of the time received, something that does not apply to believers of today. So what then of the phrase “Body of Christ” as it appears in the books written to us today? Are we not the Body of Christ? This phrase does occur in the post-Acts 28:28 books. Yet if we remember the basic meaning of “body,” and therefore the meaning of “Body of Christ,” this should not be difficult. We have partaken of the body, that is, the substance of Christ. If we had not, we would not have the fruit of the Spirit, and would not be showing forth Christ-likeness in anything. Yet we are not “the Body of Christ” like the believers in the Acts period were. We do not share miraculous gifts that all are meant to work together with those of other believers to form us into “the Body of Christ.” That is simply not truth for today.

A quick examination of the passages having to do with “body” today should help us reach a conclusion about this.

Ephesians 1:22. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

This speaks of the ekklesia which is His body. This ekklesia, I believe, does not exist on earth today, but is something that will be realized only after the resurrection to come, and during God’s kingdom. It might well be that we will be a part of this, but this does not speak of anything that exists right now.

Ephesians 2:16. and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

The two are reconciled in one body, that is, one substance through the cross. The point is that two who were formerly separate and very different are now together as one and the same substance. This substance was created by Christ, but it does not necessarily mean that this is the “Body of Christ” that is referred to here.

Ephesians 3:6. that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel,

This tells us that the nations are joint or equal bodies. This means they have the same substance or same position before God. No one nation is preferred over another in His sight. Yet this is not really a reference to the body of Christ at all.

Ephesians 4:4. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;

This tells us that there is one substance today. This, of course, is the substance of Christ, of which we all partake. However, this does not mean that we are all forming a group that functions with miraculous gifts from Him, as was taking place in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. It merely means we are partaking of what He is. For example, I John 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” That means that anyone who loves has partaken of the substance of Christ. They have partaken of what He is, and become in a measure like Him. Yet they have not displayed a miraculous gift and become part of a group that displays miraculous gifts, like took place in the Acts period.

Ephesians 4:11-12. And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

I believe that this is talking about what Christ did just after He “ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things,” as verse 10 states. He filled His people in the Acts period, and the result was that they showed forth the miraculous gifts given here. Yet these gifts no longer exist today.

Some have tried to argue that, while apostles and prophets have passed off the scene, we still have evangelists, pastors, and teachers today. Yet this is not taking into account what a God-given evangelist, pastor, or teacher would be. We know that there are many who act as evangelists today. Yet not all of these have the same message. Some claim one thing about salvation, and some claim another. Different people today have different ideas about which evangelists have the right message. Yet how could this be, if God was giving the evangelists? If God gives the evangelist, He does not just give that person a knack for evangelizing. He must have given that person the gospel, the message he uses to evangelize, as well. Yet what a mixed up mess God’s gifts would be if they resulted in the number of different evangelists teaching the many and various messages they do today! God must have split personalities or confused ideas indeed if He has given all the different messages to all these different evangelists.

Also consider what a God-given pastor would be. The word “pastor” means “shepherd.” The Greek word is poimen. It occurs eighteen times in the New Testament, and is translated “shepherd” in every passage where it appears except here. A shepherd, as we know, is one who herds sheep. This right away should give us pause, for as I have set forth in my message on “The Sheep and the Shepherd,” the sheep in Scripture are always Israel. On the other hands, we Gentiles are dogs, as is set forth in Matthew 15:26 and Mark 7:27. Yet who ever heard of a “dogherd”? Moreover, if God really gave you a shepherd to lead you, then you would be bound to follow that shepherd wherever he leads you. Many people who would claim that God gives the gift of pastors today will not follow their pastor wherever he leads. If they ever disagree with what their pastor is doing, they reserve the right to refuse to follow his lead. Yet if he really is a God-given shepherd, such an attitude would be nothing short of disobeying God. Moreover, if God gives shepherds, who says you are only bound to follow the pastor of your choosing? Really, any pastor God has given should be able to tell you what to do, and you would be bound to do it. What would it matter, if God gave him, if he is not from your church, or not from your denomination? No, if there are God-given shepherds on earth today, then we are duty-bound to follow them. Yet if there are not, then let us stop saying that there is a gift of “pastors” today.

Finally are listed God-given teachers. Again, this does not just mean someone who has a talent for teaching. A God-given teacher would be teaching God’s truth. You would have no right to disagree with a God-given teacher on anything. To disagree with a teacher God gave would be to disagree with God, and you would be worthy of the severest punishment for doing so. Yet what teacher is there today who is like this? I do not believe there are any. We simply do not have these gifts today.

Then why, we might ask, are these gifts listed in Ephesians, the book of God’s present purpose? An examination of the context in which these gifts are listed will reveal the truth to us. Paul is here contrasting the unity of the Spirit which exists today, as he has listed it in verses 4-6, with the unity which existed in the Acts period, as he explains it in verses 7-16. His readers were living soon after the Acts period had closed out, and these new, young believers might know many of the older, Acts-period believers who had experienced the miraculous gifts that existed then. They might know some of the believers who were a part of the great unity that existed in Jerusalem in Acts 2-7. They might hear how they were all of one heart and of one soul. And they might start to wonder why they did not see such unity among the believers of the dispensation of grace. If such a great unity existed in the Acts period, why could they not experience such a unity now?

Paul sets out to answer this question in the minds of these young believers. First, he points out to them the unity that is theirs, and that we can experience in this time. It is a unity that revolves around seven great truths, as they are set forth in Ephesians 4:4-6.

Ephesians 4:4-6. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

These seven things make up the unity that all believers should experience today. Yet this is not something that they shall experience without question, but something they must endeavor for, as Paul urges them in verse 3.

Ephesians 4:3. endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Now, having set forth to them their own unity, he proceeds to deal with the unity of the Acts period, of which they have heard, but which they have never experienced.

Ephesians 4:7. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

He assures them that this was given by the grace of God. It was not a unity that proceeded from them, as if they were much better believers than those who exist today. No, this unity was not a measure of them, but was according to the measure of Christ’s gift, as it was given to them in the Acts period. They were measured a great gift from Christ, far beyond anything they could earn. The lack of unity among the believers today is not because they are less than the believers of the past, but because Christ’s gift is not given, as it was in the past.

Ephesians 4:8. Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”

Paul now quotes from Psalm 68, applying this to Jesus Christ. When He ascended on high, as we have it in Acts 1, He gave gifts to men, as we see Him doing in Acts 2.

Ephesians 4:9. (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?

Paul cannot help but digress here to point out that the Lord could not have ascended unless He had descended first to the lower parts, that is, the earth.

Ephesians 4:10. He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

The Christ Who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all these heavens with His powerful gifts.

Ephesians 4:11. And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

So, having ascended to the place of God in heaven, the Lord gave these gifts to men.

Ephesians 4:12. for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

The men who had these powerful gifts would be a great asset to their fellow believers. They were then able to equip them for the work of the ministry, and to edify those who were the substance of Christ on the earth at that time.

Ephesians 4:13. till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

These gifted ones brought the believers at that time to the unity of the faith. Imagine, for example, if you had a God-given teacher. If on any issue you were not sure what was right, you might listen to the teacher, and he would teach you the truth he was given from God. No longer would you have to wonder about this, for God’s teacher had taught you the truth about it. Suppose, on the other hand, you had a disagreement about doctrine with a fellow believer. There would be no need for the argument to escalate, for tempers to flare, or for the two of you to separate and head off to “different churches.” Instead, you could just go to a God-given prophet. You would ask this prophet for the word of God on this matter, and he could speak, telling you what the right and what the wrong of your argument was. Neither you nor your opponent could deny that the prophet’s words were from God, so upon hearing the truth and perhaps both receiving some correction, you could shake hands and go from the prophet arm-in-arm, now in agreement because you have heard the truth.

Consider what a great benefit to produce unity such a thing would be! And this is what they had in the Acts period. Yet notice that the body of Christ Paul is referring to here is that of the Acts period, not that of today. Today, we have no such gifted individuals to straighten us out when we have a disagreement. Today, doctrinal differences often do result in disunity. Well, that is as it must be. We just do not have the gift of Christ to hold us all together in perfect unity. We must live with this, and endeavor to keep the unity we have been given, which comes from being unified with the truth.

Ephesians 4:14. that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

The Acts period believers did not need to be children for long, being tossed about with every wind of doctrine. With the help of their God-given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, they could reach maturity in faith and in the truth. Yet Paul’s point here reaches out to us as well. If God wanted this for them, much more does He want this for us. He wants us to to no longer be children. Yet for us, there is only one thing we can turn to to help us in this: the Scriptures God has given us. We do not have the God-given leaders they had to help us in this.

Ephesians 4:15. but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—

His goal, both for the Acts period believers and for us today, is that all may speak the truth. Yet not in an argumentative way, only hoping to win arguments, but in love. In this way, all will grow up in all things into Him Who is the head, that is, the true source of all things to the believer: Christ.

Ephesians 4:16. from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Now we come to the next mention of the “body” in a post-Acts book. Yet this is a very strange reference. From the study of anatomy, we know something of the human body and how it works. Even in Paul’s day, they were not ignorant of this. Yet we know very well that “joints” do not supply anything. They do “join” and “knit together.” Yet never do they supply the body. This is done by the blood, the circulatory system of the body. What, then, does Paul mean by speaking of joints that supply?

To understand this, we must divest ourselves of the idea that the word “body” in Scripture is always meant to refer to a human body. As I have argued, this word really means the “substance” of a thing. We know that many things have physical substance, like animals or cloth or paint, all of which can be spoken of as having “body.” Yet I believe what Paul is referring to here is not any of these, but a body of water. We know that a body of water is often linked to other bodies of water by many joints. For example, we know that rivers often run into each other and combine. Lakes are fed by streams, and oceans and seas by rivers. The joints between these supply water from one body to another. So I believe that Paul is using such a system of lakes, rivers, and streams as his illustration of a body here. The entire body system of water is joined and knit together by joints of supply. Every river and stream does it share in supplying the water, and so the lakes and seas grow and build up. So it should be with the body of Christ. Every part supplies, and all benefit.

If we wanted to insist on an illustration having to do with the human body, I suppose we could apply this one to the circulatory system. There, the joints knit the system together, and supply all parts of the body. Yet I do not think applying this to the human body is at all necessary. The picture here is of a system of water courses forming a body of water. That is the illustration of the body here. For remember that the body is an illustration only of a great spiritual truth.

Ephesians 5:23. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.

Here, the Holy Spirit through Paul is using Christ and the ekklesia as an illustration of the husband and the wife, though by the end of the passage he turns the figure around, and reveals that he is really concerned with revealing truth regarding Christ and the ekklesia. What He says here is that the husband is the head (or the outflowing source) of the wife, as Christ is of the ekklesia. He is the Savior of the body, that is, of those who partake of His substance. We all do this, for we partake of what He is to become what we are. This is not in miraculous gifts, as we saw in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, but rather in things like the fruit of the Spirit. We partake of these things, and become in some measure what He is. Yet ultimately what the Lord is referring to here is the ekklesia as He will present it to Himself in the kingdom to come, as a glorious ekklesia without any spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish. This He could not do today, for we remain imperfect even though we partake of Him. The ekklesia in mind here is the finished ekklesia as He forms it in the future.

Ephesians 5:30. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.

This tells us that we are participants of the substance of Christ. We partake of what He is to become in some measure what He is. Again, however, this finds its final fulfillment in the kingdom to come, when we all will be in totality what we only are now in part.

Philippians 1:20. according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.

Paul is clearly referring here to his own body, so this has nothing to do with the body of Christ.

Philippians 3:21. who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

Here is a reference to Christ’s body. The lowly substance we all now share in this life will someday be transformed in order to conform to His glorious substance. This does not refers to our lowly bodies, as if it was only referring to the bodies that will be replaced by resurrection bodies someday, but rather refers to our (plural) body (singular,) meaning the earthly substance we all now share, which will yet be transformed into the glorious substance of Christ when the day of resurrection comes.

Colossians 1:18. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

Here the Lord speaks of Jesus Christ as head (or source) of the substance, the ekklesia. They receive of what He is and become that in a measure, thereby becoming out-positioned. This is again a reference not to something that exists now, but rather to the glorious ekklesia He will yet form in His kingdom to come.

Colossians 1:21-22. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—

We who were once alienated from God and enemies in our mind through the wicked works that we did, are now conformed to God in the body of His flesh through His death.  It was the death of His body that worked to bring us into conformity to God as holy, blameless, and above reproach. So this is a reference to His physical body, and not any illustration of His substance.

Colossians 1:24. I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

Paul rejoiced in his sufferings on behalf of Christ. He was going through this for the sake of His substance, which is the ekklesia. Again, though he is referring to believers of today, this ekklesia will never reach its fullest form until the kingdom of God to come, when the “hope of glory” will be realized.

Colossians 2:11. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

Just as in circumcision the foreskin was put off, so in Christ the very substance of the sins of the flesh is put off by the circumcision of Christ. This circumcision is one that He enacts the moment a person believes. Yet this verse is no reference to the body of Christ.

Colossians 2:19. and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.

Again, we have mention of a body that is nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments. This makes no sense if the reference is to a human body, but we believe this refers to a system of lakes, rivers, streams, and seas, which are knit together and nourished by joints and “ligaments.” The reference is to Christ as an outflowing source, nourishing all others bodies of water through His increase.

Colossians 2:23. These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

Here neglect of the body is spoken of, clearly referring to one’s human body, and not the body of Christ.

Colossians 3:15. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

We were called to the peace of God, that is, a true union with Him, in one body. We partake of the substance of the one God, and so we are one substance with Him.

Thus we come to the end of the references to “body” in the books written post Acts 28:28. No reference to “body” may be found in I or II Timothy, Titus, or Philemon. So we have seen that in none of these references is there any word that this body is formed by various members partaking of miraculous gifts, which are meant to work together as the different parts of a body work together. That was the illustration in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. The only passage like this in the post Acts 28:28 books is that in Ephesians 4:11-12, which passage we looked at at length, and saw that it was referring to the situation that existed in the Acts period, not what exists today.

So though the illustration of a body exists both before and after Acts 28:28, as indeed the substance of Christ exists both before and after, the way we partake of that substance now is far different than how they partook of it during the Acts period. We do not enjoy the miraculous gifts they enjoyed. We look forward to being presented as an ekklesia in the future, but now we only partake of what He is, anticipating the glory that will yet come to us.

So what of the claim of some that we who divide at Acts 28:28 would make there to be two bodies, when the Scripture clearly says there is one body? We would affirm that there is indeed only one body of Christ. We partake of that same body, just as they did in the Acts period. However, in the Acts period they partook of Christ’s substance in order to display miraculous signs and wonders. We, however, partake of that substance, and display it only in things like the fruits of the Spirit in our characters and hearts. Though the substance is the same, the measure of which we partake of it is different.

So there is no proof in the appearance of the phrase “body of Christ” before and after the Acts 28:28 dividing line. If we look at how the illustration is used, we will see the difference, and see that this crosses the dispensational line, though it means something somewhat different on the two sides. Yet this phrase “body of Christ” is not the characteristic phrase for God’s work today that many make it out to be. It is merely an illustration of those who partake of what Christ is to become what He is in some measure. Was this not true of the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings who were gifted by Him as well? Anyone who has acted as he has because of what he has received from God has partaken of that same substance; past, present, or future. The mistake is in thinking this phrase is one characteristic only of today. It is not, as a study of the concept shows. Yet thank God for His great gift, that we can, even in small measure, partake of the body of Christ!