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The following is not meant to be exhaustive--one could also profitably include field, olive tree, flock, vine--but the following are verses that deal with the main New Testament metaphors for the church: body, marriage, family, and buildings.

The church is made up of many different members that comprise the one body of Christ.

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Rom. 12:4-5)

“We who are many are one body” (1 Cor. 10:17).

“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” (1 Cor. 12:12).

“You are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).

“Equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).

“Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph. 5:23).

“We are members of [Christ’s] body” (Eph. 5:30).

“In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24).

The church is the bride of Christ.

“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:9).

“The marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (Rev. 19:7-8).

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:12).

“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32).

The church is the family of God.

“I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18).

“Stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'” (Matt. 12:49-50).

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

“As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).

“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:1).

The church is God’s house.

“Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Heb. 3:6).

“I am writing these things to you so that . . . you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:14-15).

“It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17).

The church is the temple of God, built with living stones, with Christ as the foundation and cornerstone, and the Holy Spirit indwelling it.

“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).

“The household of God [is] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22).

“‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ . . . ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone'” (1 Pet. 2:6-7 [Isa. 28:16; Ps. 118:22).

“You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).

“Do you not know that you [plural] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16-17).

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19).

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4 thoughts on “New Testament Metaphors for the Church”

  1. MatthewS says:

    Good stuff!

    Some people seem to place “soldier” as THE operating metaphor of the NT, and everything else will have to fit in later, when or if we ever get the time. I think there can be a certain combative fear that arises from over-emphasizing Soldier against all the other metaphors.

  2. Phil says:

    This makes me want to find a good list of current metaphors for the church that would resonate with us as well today as did these metaphors when they were written. It raises the question of if we are called primarily to be faithful keepers of these ancient metaphors or faithful keepers of the truth they represent. I wonder, if the distinction is really so important, how can defenders of the ancient metaphors lose sight of the truth they tell.

  3. Ben says:

    I really love this blog. I don’t know why I haven’t been visiting more often. thanks.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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