Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Body of Christ

One of the things that I have been looking at for my PhD is the question of whether - according to Paul - Christ currently has an independent physical body. Philippians 3:21 and 1 Corinthians 15 seem to make it clear but interestingly a number of people argue that the church (and/or the bread in the Lord's Supper) is the only physical body that Christ possesses.

So Graham Ward in an essay on the Body of Christ in the volume Radical Orthodoxy contends that

The body of Jesus Christ is not lost, nor does it reside now in heaven as a discrete object[…]. The body of Jesus Christ, the body of God, is permeable, transcorporeal, transpositional. We have no access to the body of the gendered Jew […] because the Church is now the body of Christ, so to understand the body of Jesus we can only examine what the Church is and what it has to say concerning the nature of that body. […] God in Christ dies and the Church is born. One gives way to the other, without remainder.

Similarly, Robert Jenson in his Systematic Theology notes that ‘in a Copernican universe [there] is no plausible accommodation for the risen Christ’s body’. However, if ‘there is no place for Jesus’ risen body, how is it a body at all’? Jenson concludes that although

Paul clearly thinks of the Lord as in some sense visibly located in heaven spatially related to the rest of creation, the only body of Christ to which Paul ever actually refers is not an entity in this heaven but the Eucharist’s loaf and cup and the church assembled around them.

I think that as well as the verses I mentioned above, that there are strong theological reasons for insisting that Christ continues to exist as a human being which means that he has his own, independent human body. Hopefully, in due course I will post on it...(but given my posting record I wouldn't hold your breath!).

1 comment:

Dave Clancey said...

Looking forward to hearing them, Pete. While they're not positive reasons, two immediate implications of the positions those you quote hold are that what the church does, Christ does (the idea of Christus prolongatus - with all the positives (and nagatives) that that brings, and the immportance, even neccesity of praying to the elements at communion.

I remember John Owen wanting to affirm that the Spirit does create a body for Christ - first in the annunciation and then at Pentecost when he creates the church - but I don't think he ever used this affirmation (of the church being Christ's body) to deny the truth of a post-resurrection corporeal body.