Three Bodies

How have we missed it? The three bodies of Christ.

Various New Testament scholars have highlighted the historical body (born of the Virgin Mary), the eucharistic body (the bread and the cup of communion), and the Body of Christ (the Church).

Most of us are familiar with these different bodies. We’ve just not linked them together. Yet, the early church saw profound connections.

The “three bodies” find common ground in their physicality—the physical Jesus who walked on this earth, the physical bread and cup that we eat and drink, and the physical gathering of God’s people that we call “the Church.”

This simple observation leads to an important biblical truth. God works out His plans and purposes in a physical world. While we may want to separate the physical from the spiritual, the Lord never does.

That doesn’t sound particularly profound.

We all affirm that God is at work in the world. But He also works through the world. The physical realm often provides a gateway to our experience of the spiritual.

We generally fail to see this. Consequently, the Lord’s Supper becomes no more than a memorial; baptism degenerates into a simple declaration of faith; and marriage denotes merely an exclusive friendship. Similarly, the church becomes optional and art, music, and architecture become simplistic and utilitarian.

It’s true. Many of us yearn to escape the physical and the material, longing for the day when we are free to inhabit the celestial and spiritual heaven. But this hardly does justice to biblical truth.

The Garden of Eden was not a stop-gap measure while God sorted out a few things and got it right. This planet, our bodies, and everything around us has its genesis in God’s plan. Physical bodies are His idea.

When we steward the world and our own physical lives well, we fulfill the original purpose and plan of God.

We must discard the ancient false teaching (Gnosticism) that downplays the physical and overstates the “spiritual.” Such heresy has no place in Christian thought. Instead, we celebrate the reality that the physical and the spiritual intertwine in a most delicate and unbreakable mystery. And, as followers of Christ, we come to the eucharist, baptism, the church, and the world with a different set of eyes and expectations.  

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10 Responses to Three Bodies

  1. David, I know that this is probably VERY controversial in some circles with many people but I firmly believe, even though I can’t put my finger on any specific passage(s) to “prove” my position….that immersion (baptism) IS the point at which the Spirit of God begins His habitation in our spirit and the blood of the Cross is applied to our lives. The only passage which comes to mind is Acts chapter two — the sermon of Peter, the response of the people, and the answer given by Peter …which was provided by the Holy Spirit. If this is correct, then this could be one of the points you are making, right? Thanks for such thought-provoking words of wisdom!

    • David Timms says:

      Jerry, there are various views on the point of reception of the Holy Spirit. But I have no doubt that baptism is closely linked with the grace of God — one of many physical acts through which God imparts special grace to us.

    • Thanks Jerry,
      If we understand salvation as the forgiveness of sins, then this seems to be the gift to which you refer in Acts 2. Peter mentions this in 1 Peter 3:21. I think it is also important to consider “clothing” as it is used in the New Testament. Galatians 3:26-28 equate this with baptism and we later see that this is an important issue in heaven (Rev. 7:9-14; Rev. 22:14). When folks accept Peter’s original gospel message, the teaching of salvation is very simple. It seems only to be complicated when this message is not accepted. Many elderly folks in our area have been immersed who had not previously been. “It’s a starting point” is a phrase that resonates with these folks. It’s good to see God’s word making a difference in an elderly community where folks are generally slow to accept the new.
      Phil McKinley

  2. I have had the opportunity to baptize many elderly folks in our area who were living this separation of bodies. Becoming a Christian is very simple. God blesses as we obey (the spirit works as the physical works). As in a marriage, we are after all one.

  3. Scott says:

    Facinating. I had not seen that before. It seems that in each case where there is the body of Christ there is also the Spirit of Christ. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20). When Jesus told the disciples to eat of his body and drink of his blood he also said to them “the words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life.” And of course the Spirit came doun upon the church on Pentecost. The church was born, the body of Christ took shape under the annointing of the Holy Spirit. Cool.

    • David Timms says:

      Nice observation, Scott. Your note about the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in each instance reinforces the sacramental view I was expressing. Thanks for the helpful insight!

  4. Chris Thornhill says:

    This is a critical and necessary adjustment much needed in our worldview as western Christians. Thanks for reminding us of the influence of Greek-thought that has long since detrimentally held Christianity firmly in its grip. I may be getting off topic here with your post, but NT Wright writes some great stuff that helps reconnect Christian faith to its Hebrew roots – particularly with our often ‘over-spiritualized’ view of Heaven. In ‘Surprised by Hope’ he offers one polemic in particular: “Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world”. Perhaps Jesus’ example in prayer has been telling us this all along: “Your Kingdom come Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven…’?
    I have found the journey captured in much of what you’ve written here David, to be confronting and challenging. It is remarkable how deeply entrenched our tendency to separate the spiritual from the physical can be. I appreciate your thoughts immensely!

    • David Timms says:

      Chris, I love that quote from Wright — “Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world.” Might we tweak it a bit to say, “Heaven is important because it is in the fabric of the world”?

  5. Tim Ross says:

    “This delicate and unbreakable mystery”…this has always been a mystery to me. I have always wondered why God chose to come to earth in the form of a man. Why not in spirit only? Originally it didn’t make sense to me. As I have grown in my knowledge, understanding, and faith I can see that He did it because we are flesh. How else can we understand the spiritual than if He comes down to inhabit our world in our form. This all the more staggers me because He is so immense, so limitless, and so perfect yet He chose to become one of us…for us. Very incredible for my little mind to ponder yet I love to think about it. The bottom line is still true…”When we steward the world and our own physical lives well, we fulfill the original purpose and plan of God.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. God is so amazing!

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