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It’s always a metaphor

Miroslav Volf’s excellent volume on ecclesiology, After Our Likeness has a number of helpful and important comments about the nature of the imagery of the body of Christ. One all-important point that is often glossed over in ecclesiological discussion is about the metaphor’s, well, metaphorical character:

Every interpretation according to which the church is not strictly identical with the earthly body of Christ is construing the body of Christ as a metaphor, including the interpretation according to which the church as the body of Christ is identical with the resurrection body of Christ [. . .], since a body consisting of a multiplicity of human, corporeal persons can be called a “body” only in a figurative sense. The question whether or not Paul is using the body of Christ metaphorically is falsely put; the only correct query  concerns the referent for that metaphor in Paul’s use. (p. 142n. 61)

This is a crucial point in relation to the common instance where one person accuses another having an “insufficient” ecclesiology because they resist understanding the body of Christ in a strongly physical manner. Everyone, whether they admit it or not views the church as the body of Christ as a metaphorical mode of theological speech. The question is which interpretation of that metaphor is most persuasive.


  1. adhunt wrote:

    Being in the midst of a Ward spree right now I’m curious as to how Volf might agree/disagree with Ward’s account of the continually displaced body of the gendered Jew Jesus the Christ?

    Ward, it seems, makes a closer connection between “Christ” as resurrected body and “The Church” as Christ’s body which has been on a path of dissemination from the beginning climaxing in Ascension then Pentecost.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    I guess I couldn’t really speak to that as I haven’t looked at that article in ages. My sense though is that Volf would (probably rightly) think Ward was using the language of “body of Christ” in rather too loose of a way (all the talk of displacement, etc.).

    I’m not qualified to rule on that, though.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink
  3. Where is Jesus’ body, by the way? The one that rose on the third day. Seated at the right hand of the Father, no doubt…but what a strange thing we believe?

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 1:58 am | Permalink

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