Holman Bible Dictionary


An illustration Paul used to teach how the living human body is like the church with Christ as the head. This provides one way of better understanding the nature and functions of a church.

The word church means an assembly or the “called out” ones. Most New Testament references to church refer to local congregations. A few references such as in Ephesians are to the church as the larger group of all believers of all ages. Paul teaches in Romans 12:4-8 that the church is like a human body and in Ephesians 5:23 and Colossians 1:18 that Christ is the Head. Every believer, like every part of the human body, has individual functions to perform. Christ is the Head of the church, which means He has the authority over the church to guide it. This also means that Christ (the Head) and the church (the body) exist together in organic unity. The church is more than an organization; it is a living organism. The diversity of the gifts of grace among many members are fully unified under Christ (Romans 12:4-8).

Sexual immorality is wrong based on the truth that a believer and Christ are unified as one body and spirit (1 Corinthians 6:15-17). A husband and wife are one flesh. A husband cannot be one flesh with both his wife and another woman. The oneness of husband and wife is used to help the Ephesian church understand the oneness of Christ as Head and the church as the body (Ephesians 5:23-32).

Another meaning of the church as a body is that the sovereign God has chosen each member. All individuals are of equal importance to God, as every body part is important to the body. God “set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him” (1 Corinthians 12:18). In the larger passage (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) Paul argued that it is not right for one member to feel more important than another. He asked if the body is all foot or all nose. His answer is that all members have various gifts and functions to cultivate and use. Paul also taught that the Gentiles are “fellowheirs” in the same body (Ephesians 3:6) with the Jews. The apostle exhorted the church to unity based on the oneness of the body (Ephesians 4:4). He strongly declared there is one Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, and one God and Father of all. God calls leaders into His church; apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers are designed to equip members to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). Christian unity in the body of Christ is damaged by mistrust, anger, unwholesome talk, bitterness, wrath, anger, and clamor. All of this among fellow members (Ephesians 4:25) is to be put away by being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving to one another.

There are four passages in Colossians on the body of Christ. The teachings are that: Christ, Head of the body, is to have the one permanent position of honor (Colossians 1:18); when the body suffers, it is an extension of the sufferings of Christ, the Head (Colossians 1:24); a puffed up (fleshy) mind has lost connection with the Head, Christ (Colossians 2:16-19); and members of the body of Christ are to avoid disputes and live in peace (Colossians 3:12-15). See Body; Church.

Lawson Hatfield

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'BODY OF CHRIST'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.