The Greek-Hellenistic culture often downplayed the value of the body. Humans were seen as having two or three parts—body and soul or body, soul, and spirit. Greek culture placed small value on the body, the mortal house of the immortal soul. Modern research, on the other hand, shows that body and soul cannot be observed separate from one another. Body and soul do not form two separate substances. Instead, they comprise the one individual human in an inseparable union. The body is one aspect of the whole individual existence. The Bible says the same thing.
Old Testament The Old Testament differs from the New in that Old Testament Hebrew does not express the idea of body. Of the thirteen words which refer to the animal or human body, the most frequent is basar, “flesh.” It can designate the body as a whole, but the form or shape of the body or of its parts is not what is important. The focus is on the function or dynamics. Reference to the eye expresses interest in vision, not in the physical organ. Hand and arm stand for power and might. “Body” can mean the earthly existence of an individual. For example, in
Psalms 119:20, “my flesh” means “I.” This can also occur in a collective sense as in
Ezekiel 11:19, where “their flesh” means “they.” Humans do not have bodies; they are bodies. (Compare
Genesis 2:24.) Reference to a person as “flesh” points to the earthly, passing, and decaying nature (Job 10:4). This differentiates humans from God, who is Spirit (Isaiah 31:3;
John 4:24). The material bodily existence binds humans together. Thus “flesh (and bone)” designates kinship (Genesis 2:23;
Leviticus 18:6) and fellow human beings in general (Isaiah 58:7).
“All flesh” refers to the entire human race (Isaiah 40:5-6;
John 17:2), or even all living creatures (Genesis 6:17;
Psalms 136:25), since through material bodily existence the human being is tied even with the animal world (Genesis 6:19). Finally, “flesh” can mean simply “human being” (Leviticus 13:18,Leviticus 13:24;
Psalms 56:5). A person's bodily nature reveals not only human mortality but also provides the plane of attack for sin (Genesis 6:3,Genesis 6:12;
Ecclesiastes 11:10). Physical existence as flesh withers away under God's judgment (Isaiah 40:6-7), but survives through His grace (Genesis 9:11-17;
Also in the New Testament body and soul are two inseparable aspects of the one human being (Matthew 6:25).
Bible Teachings The Bible then makes basic claims about physical human existence. 1. The body is our realm of personal evaluation. The body is created by God—mortal, with physical needs, weak and subject to temptation. The body is not, however, without significance. In the body the person lives out the “I” of human existence, relating to God and to fellow humans. The body is the place of proper worship (Romans 12:1), the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and thus is to be disciplined (1 Corinthians 9:27). In Corinth the people emphasized spiritual life. Paul followed Jesus in opposing them by showing that the inner and outer life belong together. The inner spiritual life is not to be played off against the outer, physical life (Matthew 6:22;
1 Corinthians 6:12-20;
2 Corinthians 4:7,2 Corinthians 4:10). That means the war in the name of the spirit is not against the body but against sin. The goal is not liberation of a “divine” soul from the body but the placing of the body in service for God. Every action must be accounted for before God one day (2 Corinthians 5:10).
2. The body and sexuality. Physical love is a gift of the Creator (Genesis 2:23-24). An entire book of the Bible rejoices over this reality—the Song of Solomon. Humans express love with their entire person not only with their sexual organs. This means that sexuality differs from eating and drinking, which satisfy only the requirements of the stomach. Sexual sin rules the body, that is, the entire person. Because the body of the Christian belongs to the Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit, sexual sin is forbidden for the Christian (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
3. The redemption and resurrection of the body. The earthly human stands under the power of sin and of death. No persons can distance themselves from this power, but all long for redemption (Romans 7:24;
Romans 8:23). Redemption is not guaranteed by a bodiless soul which continues to live after death. Such redemption is guaranteed only by God, who continues to care for the body and soul of humans even after death (Matthew 10:28). Death is not the redeemer; God is. He makes the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23) in that Jesus Christ became an earthly Human and offered Himself for us (John 1:14;
Romans 7:4). Those who follow Him in faith and baptism experience the reality that the body does not have to remain a slave of sin (Romans 6:6,Romans 6:12). A person will not be redeemed from the body; rather the body will be redeemed through the resurrection of the dead (Romans 6:5;
Romans 8:11). The existence of the resurrected is a bodily existence. The earthly body of lowliness will be renewed like the glorious body of the resurrected Jesus, becoming an unearthly body or building or house (1 Corinthians 15:35-49;
2 Corinthians 5:1-10;
Resurrection of the body does not mean that the personality dissolves into an idea, into posterity, or into the society. It means, instead, the total transformation of “flesh and blood” into a “spiritual body,” that is a personality created and formed anew by God's Spirit. The resurrection body is that communion with the Lord and with people that begins before death and finds an unimaginable completion through the resurrection.
4. The body of Christ. Jesus Christ had a physical, earthly body which was crucified in front of the gates of Jerusalem (Mark 15:20-47;
Hebrews 13:11-12). The body of Christ also designates the body of the Crucified One “given for you,” with which the church is united together in the celebration of the Lord's Supper (Mark 14:24;
1 Corinthians 10:16;
1 Corinthians 11:24). The continuing power of the sacrifice of Golgotha leads humans to join together in a church community, which in a real sense is joined together with the exalted Lord. Bodily is not, however, physical. The joining with the body of Christ does not occur magically through bread, but historically through the realization of the presence of the suffering and death of Jesus.
5. The church as the body of Christ. The image of the body calls the differing individual members into a unity (1 Corinthians 12:12-27); however, the church is not just similar; it is one body, and, indeed, one body in Christ (Romans 12:5;
1 Corinthians 10:17). In Christ the body of the church community is incorporated. The community of Christians does not produce the body; the body is a previously given fact (1 Corinthians 12:13). In the body of Christ the body of the church community lives, because Christ is greater than the church. He is the Head of the entire creation (Ephesians 1:22-23;
Colossians 2:10) and as Head does not only belong to the church community but rather also stands over against the church. While the world stands in a relationship of subjection to Christ (Ephesians 1:20-23;
Philippians 2:9-11), only the church is His body (Colossians 1:18,Colossians 1:24;
Ephesians 4:4,Ephesians 4:12;
Ephesians 5:23,Ephesians 5:30), which He loves (Ephesians 5:25). The church is joined to Him in organic growth (Colossians 2:19;
Ephesians 4:15-16). The church grows by serving a future which through Christ has already begun to be incarnate (Colossians 2:9,Colossians 2:16). The growth of the body occurs as the church marches out in service to the world (Ephesians 4:12), even to the demonic world (Ephesians 3:10). The individual Christian is joined to Christ only as a member of the body. The Bible knows nothing of a direct, mythical union of the individual with the Lord. The Bible knows of a union with Christ only as faith embodied in the realm of the church community and with the church in the realm of the world.