of Theology at Virginia Union University.
Yung Suk Kim
- to help students understand a diversity of interpretation
of the "body of Christ,"
- to help students understand Paul's language of the body of
Christ in a different way by making distinction between ekklesia
(church) and soma christou (body of Christ),
- to help students be more open to ecumenism, and reappraise
their relation to non-Christians or other religions,
to explore and practice a radical new vision of Paul's theology
in a diverse, challenging life context today.
- Yung Suk Kim, A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters:
Exploring a Threefold Theology of Paul (Cascade Books,
2011). Book info page.
- Marcus Borg and John D. Crossan, The First Paul: Reclaiming
the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon,
HarperOne, 2009. book
info at Amazon.
are we concerned with this colloquium?
A popular understanding of unity-oriented interpretation of the
body of Christ is certainly plausible. If we are organically
in the body of Christ (a metaphor of ecclesiological organism
or organic unity), theoretically, there should be an ideal state
of diversity. That is why many people think that unity leads to
diversity. But the real issue is: "who defines this unity
or what kind of unity is this?" Often, as we see in Stocism,
or in some rigid understanding of this kind of an organic or ecclesiological
sense of the body of Christ, unity is often imposed (like "unilateral,
forced unity") on to others at the sacrifice of dynamic ongoing
diversity (whether in terms of diverse thinking or even diverse
theology). In this situation, unity might lead to divisiveness;
true diversity is not allowed in that forced, unilateral unity.
The real key is if we practice the body of Christ in the sense
of embodiment of Christ (in my term, it is Christic body -- in
the sense of attributive genitive), then there is ekklesia
possible. Only if this happens (in other words, only when we practice
this kind of body of Christ), unity and diversity in ekklesia
go hand in hand. This kind of sense of unity and/or diversity
in ekklesia should be understood not as an once-and-for-all
boundary/belonging but as an ongoing, dynamic reality
of life. Then, this image and understanding of the body of Christ
have significant implications to our lives: room for ecumenical
relations, inter-faith, and inter-cultural conversations. In this
way, now the body of Christ metaphor can be conceived
or imagined as Christ's broken, crucified body, which recalls
all broken, humiliated bodies around the world.
Excursus -- the Greek genitive
of Christ" (soma christou) is composed with a genitive
case, which is similar to an "of" relation between two
nouns in English. English possessive expression is a little different
from Greek. For instance, if John owns a hat we can write in genitive
form: "the hat of John," which also can be written more
clearly to indicate John's possessive status: "John's hat."
But in Greek there is no way of using an apostrophe like John's
but there is always a genitive case (like "of") involved
between two nouns. Even in English, when two nouns are related
with each other, linked with "of," its relationship
is not always clear-cut. Let's suppose the phrase "the love
of God." In the first place, it can be "God's love";
we call this a subjective genitive case in terms of Greek grammar,
because God is a subject which acts (love). In the second place,
it can also mean "the love for God"; we call this an
objective genitive case in Greek term, because now God is an object
which receives love. Depending on the syntax and context of the
text, the meaning of this genitive case in English shall be decided.
However, in a real world of literature, the task is not that simple.
It becomes more difficult in Greek because there are more complex
relationships expressed through this genitive case: possession,
measurement, origin, character, and etc. To name a few examples
of New Testament genitive phrases which give us difficulties understanding
them: dikaiosyne theou -"the righteousness of God,"
soma christou - "the body of Christ," and pistis
christou - "faith of Christ," we begin to realize
that how important and difficult it is to explain the meaning
of these genitive phrases. All these genitive phrases, however
complex or difficult, are fundamentally crucial to the matters
of theology or Christian ethics. That is why the understanding
of Greek genitive case is essential to our interpretation of the
In our case
of the "body of Christ" for example, at least three
possibilities exist. First, the genitive case can be an "objective"
case, so that here Christ is an object of "body" that
is meant as metaphorical organism (body as a social body). So
its meaning is that it is a body (an assembly or community) belonging
to Christ. 1 Cor 12:27: "You are the body of Christ"
can mean, with this option, "you are members of the community
which belongs to Christ." Second, the genitive case also
can be understood as the "subjective" one, so that here
Christ is the subject of the body; in other words, it is Christ's
own body -- physical body. Third, the genitive case can be an
"attributive" one, so that Christ functions as an adjective
(the technical term for this is an attributive genitive; for example,
"body of sin" in Rom 6 as "sinful body").
So its meaning here is Christ-like body (Christic body). I would
call this kind of metaphor as a metaphor for "a way of living").
multiple uses of body
body as a
temple of the holy spirit, body as holistic life union, body as
person (some body), body as part of the letter, body as a group
of things (a body of teachings), physical body, body as an organism
(like a social body, student body), body as existence/space, and
- What is Paul's primary use of the body in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20,
11:23-26, and 12:12-27?
Paul equate the church (ekklesia) with "the body
of Christ" (soma christou) in 1 Cor?
Compare with Col 1:18, 24, Eph 3:6, 5:23.
- What kind
of relation is there between "the body of Christ"
and the church in 1 Cor?
- Can "the body of Christ" be reimagined as the crucified
body of Christ in 1 Corinthians?
If so, what is the significance of the message of Christ crucified
- Why is
it important to distinguish the "body of Christ" from
the "church" in Paul's letters? Let us talk about
theological, pastoral implications.
more information, please visit my web site,
the book information page, reviews
of the book page or my
interpretation of the "body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians
is a pressing concern in the present context of a diversified
global church because its predominant interpretation as an ecclesiological
organism characterized by unity and homonoia (concord) serves
as a boundary marker that tends to exclude the voices of marginality
and diversity. This traditional reading, while plausible, ignores
a deeper, ethical meaning of "body of Christ" as Christ's
body that questions an ideology of hegemonic power in both the
Corinthian context and today. From the perspective of a different
conception of community and of soma christou in the image of Christ
crucified, this metaphor of soma christou becomes a metaphor for
"living" through which the Corinthian community is expected
to live as a Christic body, identifying Christ's body with the
most vulnerable and broken bodies in the community and in the
world -- an urgent issue for Christians in marginalized communities
and today's fragmented society. Read this way, Paul's theology
continues the legacy of Jesus tradition in terms of deconstruction
(critique of religion and culture) and reconstruction (advocacy
of the beloved community for all). Paul's theology should be reclaimed
as such so that we might truly appreciate what he lived for."
-- from the book info page.
or mentions of Christ's Body in Corinth
Although much has been written on the Pauline notion
of the "body of Christ," this contribution by Presbyterian
scholar Kim offers a thoughtful and provocative insight worth
considering. Kim observes that the Pauline metaphor can be interpreted
as setting boundaries or differentiations between the Christian
community and those outside. However, if we consider the "body
of Christ" as the crucified body of Christ it can be seen
as a means of dissolving boundaries and being more inclusive,
particularly of those who are pushed to the margins or who suffer.
Kim draws out from this key Pauline symbol the implications for
the church and society today, particularly in the Gospel call
for solidarity with those who are marginalized. --Donald
Senior, The Bible Today, 47(2) p.141. (Mar-Apr
also for calling attention to your book on the body of Christ
in 1 Corinthians. I read the attachment that you sent, and it
sounds like your interpretation and ours are very supportive of
each other. I do think the body image is about inclusive egalitarianism
in the new life in Christ, and not about sharp social boundaries."
Marcus Borg (May 21, 2009).
add my own encouragement to it – I was at a clergy meeting
last week where the question of “the nature of the church”
came up, and someone said “well, we’ve all got to
strive for unity because we’re the body of Christ,”
and I described your book and said that metaphor meant a lot more
than just unity. People had never heard the idea before. I hope
it revolutionizes our thinking!"
-- Neil Elliott,
editor of Fortress Press (May 21, 2009).
"A must-read for every thoughtful Christian
familiar with St. Paul’s metaphor of the church as the Body
of Christ. Providing an alternate interpretation of this beloved
image, Kim reclaims Paul’s vision of the church as an open,
reconciling community rather than a closed group. This is as transformative
a truth in the 21st century as it was in the first." The
United Church of Canada Readings
for the Intercultural Church
The following are two excerpts from the
blog Exploring Ecumenism:
1) "Kim's exegesis of
1 Corinthians is detailed and complex and it is not my intention
to reproduce it in detail here. Details of the book can be found
in the left hand sidebar. My intention is to attempt a hermeneutic
based upon the particular context of ecumenism in 21st century
Britain and more specifically England. However, to do this I must
attempt a brief summary of the main argument in Kim's text. The
primary metaphor Kim refers to is the Body of Christ. The question
is how does this metaphor inform our understanding of unity and
diversity? Particularly, given the common ways in which Kim argues
this metaphor is misunderstood. Kim's conclusion leads to a paradox.
Unity leads to divisiveness whilst diversity leads to unity. Kim
puts it like this on page 4: 'Paul's argument presupposes that
the divisiveness of the Corinthian community results not from
a lack of unity but from a failure on the part of its members
to acknowledge and respect the diversity present in the community.
(...) But unity is not the goal or purpose of Paul's letter because
in Greco-Roman society, unity can be a destructive and oppressive
language.'" from Exploring
Ecumenism in UK.
2) "Returning to the theme of the Body of Christ.
Fundamental to our understanding of what Paul means by this is,
according to KIm, the cross. Crucifixion was for slaves, the marginalised
and the poor. Through Jesus God identified with them. This is
why Kim argues Paul cannot mean hierarchical or hegemonic unity.
Jesus' death identifies God with the lowest in society. The problem
in Corinth was the patronage system and the resultant perception
of unity as between leadership, rather than in the solidarity
of the most marginal people.
Kim cites several passages from contemporary accounts of crucifixion
and then comments (page 53):
How could we believe that Paul would disregard the experiences
of the most vulnerable, the slaves and victims of the Empire,
when he talks about Christ crucified? How could we believe that
the same Paul who made the cross central to his message would
side with the hegemonic body politic based on the Stoic ideal
of unity? It appears, to the contrary, that the image of Christ
crucified deconstructs society's wisdom, power and glory.
This view stands in direct contradiction to the idea of the crucifixion
as a sacrifice made by God to atone for human sins. It overlooks
the suffering of the marginalised and draws attention away from
the reality of human sin.
It seems to me this reinforces the fundamental idea of incarnation.
The God we know is incarnated in the flesh of the marginalised
and the crucifixion is evidence of this.
Unity then is to be understood not as drawing boundaries between
those who believe correctly and those who do not. Rather it is
solidarity between those who know the crucified Christ and bear
his scars. In terms of conversations it is a radical reminder
of those who most definitely need to be involved. It is not therefore
the formal ecumenical talks that matter, but the wider oikoumene."
--from Exploring Ecumenism. excerpt
Unity or Reconciliation?