Does I Corinthians 12:13 Teach Universal Church

Dr Pierre Coovert

I Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

This verse is often used to support the idea that there is a universal body of Christ into which all of the saved are baptized upon their salvation. The context, taken without the prejudice of universal church teaching, will not support this idea.

The first reason is that a body, by definition, is local, not universal. The human body is used to describe this body. The human body is always local and can not function when it is dismembered.

The universal body (universal church) does not function and is not united. It, therefore, cannot be called a body in the sense described in this passage. The edification of the body described in Ephesians 4:12, the discipline of church members described in Matthew 18:17, and other church functions can only be done in a local body.

In I Corinthians 12:27 Paul excludes himself from this body of Christ. You will notice that he says to the church of Corinth, “ye are the body of Christ.” Ye is not we. Ye excludes self. Paul was a member of the body of Christ at Antioch. His ministry was under the authority of that church. He reported back to that church from time to time.

Since this passage is written to a local church, and since there is nothing in the context that makes any other application, this passage must be understood in the local church context. This is just good hermeneutics (proper methods of interpretation). (see article on the importance of words)

For by one Spirit is the phrase of this passage that causes the confusion in this verse. The meaning of this phrase rests on the little word “by”. My Webster’s 1828 dictionary has fourteen definitions for this word. The first, and therefore the primary, meaning is in close proximity and I doubt that this is the meaning here. The third definition is: Through, or with, denoting the agent, means, instrument or cause. The Spirit in this passage is the agent which moves us to obedience.

The second difficulty in this passage is that word “baptized”. The Bible says there is one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). We are clearly taught that we are, as Christians, to be baptized in water (Matthew 28:19) so if there is only one baptism, this must be it.

“For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body” does not mean we are all baptized into one universal body. It means that the saved, following the leading of the Holy Spirit and in obedience to the commands of our Lord, submit to scriptural baptism and unite with a local church, the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27).

Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved

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