Chapter 10: the Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.


Building on the concept of being baptized into the Body of Christ from the previous chapter, Bonhoeffer turns his attention in this chapter to exploring what it means for the church to be the Body of Christ in the world today. For Bonhoeffer, this is not metaphor, but a literal statement. In the time after the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the church is the Body of Christ on earth. Just as Christ was the new “Adam,” or the new humanity, so then is the church the new humanity in the world.

This is important for two reasons. First, it means that one cannot be a Christian alone. One cannot be a part of the Body of Christ in isolation; one cannot become a new human absent of community. “Whoever seeks to become a new human being individually cannot succeed.” (DBW IV, pp 219)

Second, it means the suffering we endure as disciples, the suffering we endure as the Body of Christ, is never borne alone. The suffering we bear for the world is borne in community.

It is important to note that being the Body of Christ does not grant the church any sort of infallibility. Neither does its identity as the Body of Christ grant it any authority over Christ. Given both his strong Lutheran background and the context in which he was writing, Bonhoeffer is careful to note that Christ is the head of this Body, that Jesus retains authority over the community of the church.


Reflection Questions

When have you had the experience of bearing suffering in community? How is that different than bearing it alone?

While each of us is called into discipleship individually, Bonhoeffer seems clear that we cannot live out that discipleship except in community. How does that resonate with or challenge your understanding of our faith? How does that idea fit into our world today?