Generally speaking, the Old Testament language employs no fixed term for the human body as an entire organism in exact opposition to "soul" or "spirit." Various terms were employed, each of which denotes only one part or element of the physical nature, such as "trunk," "bones," "belly," "bowels," "reins," "flesh," these parts being used, by synecdoche, for the whole:

etsem = "bone," or "skeleton," hence, "body," is found in Exodus 24:10 the King James Version; Lamentations 4:7; nephesh = "living organism" ( Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:6,7,11; 19:11,13,16; Haggai 2:13); nebhelah = "a flabby thing," "carcass" (Deuteronomy 21:23; Isaiah 26:19; Jeremiah 26:23; 36:30); beTen = "womb" (Deuteronomy 28:4,11,18,53; 30:9; Job 19:17 the King James Version; Psalms 132:11; Micah 6:7); yarekh = "thigh," "generative parts," "body" (Judges 8:30); gewiyah = "a body, whether alive or dead" (1 Samuel 31:10,12; 2 Kings 8:5 the King James Version; Daniel 10:6); me`im, "body" (Song of Solomon 5:14); guphah = "corpse" (1 Chronicles 10:12); gewah = "the back," i.e. (by extension) "person" (Job 20:25); she'er = "flesh, as living or for food," "body" (Ezekiel 10:12); geshem = "a hard shower of rain" hence, "a body" (Daniel 4:33; 5:21; 7:11); nidhneh = "a sheath," hence, the receptacle of the soul, "body" (Daniel 7:15).

The Greek word which is used almost exclusively for "body" in the New Testament is soma, Latin corpus (Matthew 5:29,30; 6:22,23,25; 26:26; John 2:21; Acts 9:40; 1 Corinthians 15:35,37,38,44; Ephesians 1:23; 2:16; 4:4,12,16; 5:23,30). chros, signifying primarily the "surface" or "skin," occurs in Acts 19:12. A compound word with soma, as its base, sussomos = "a member of the same body," occurs in Ephesians 3:6. From the above, it appears that the New Testament places the body as a whole into opposition to the spirit or the invisible nature. Paul, of course, employs the term also to designate the sublimated substance with which we are to be clothed after the resurrection when he speaks of the "spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:44).

Frank E. Hirsch


1. In the Old Testament:

soma, Latin corpus:

The term "body" is not found in the Hebrew of the Old Testament in the sense in which it occurs in the Greek "The Hebrew word for `body' is gewiyah, which is sometimes used for the `living' body (Ezekiel 1:11), `bodies of the cherubim' (Genesis 47:18; Nehemiah 9:37), but usually for the dead body or carcass. Properly speaking the Hebrew has no term for `body.' The Hebrew term around which questions relating to the body must gather is flesh" (Davidson, Old Testament Theology, 188). Various terms are used in the Old Testament to indicate certain elements or component parts of the body, such as "flesh," "bones," "bowels," "belly," etc., some of which have received a new meaning in the New Testament. Thus the Old Testament "belly" (Hebrew beTen, Greek koilia), "Our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly cleaveth unto the earth" (Psalms 44:25 the King James Version)--as the seat of carnal appetite--has its counterpart in the New Testament: "They serve .... their own belly" (Romans 16:18). So also the word translated "bowels" (meim, rachamim) in the sense of compassion, as in Jeremiah 31:20, King James Version: "Therefore my bowels are troubled for him," is found in more than one place in the New Testament. Thus in Philippians 1:8 the King James Version, "I long after you all in the bowels (splagchna) of Christ," and again, "if there be any bowels (splagchna) and mercies" (Philippians 2:1 the King James Version).

2. In the New Testament:

"Body" in the New Testament is largely used in a figurative sense, either as indicating the "whole man" (Romans 6:12; Hebrews 10:5), or as that which is morally corrupt--"the body of this death" (Romans 6:6; 7:24). Hence, the expression, "buffet my body" (1 Corinthians 9:27, hupopiazo, a word adopted from the prize-ring, palaestra), the body being considered as the lurking-place and instrument of evil. (Compare Romans 8:13 the King James Version "Mortify the deeds of the body.")

3. Other Meanings:

Between these two the various other meanings seem to range. On the one hand we find the church called "the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13), with diversity of gifts, enjoying the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." On the other we read of a spiritual, incorruptible body, a resurrection-body as opposed to the natural body, which is doomed to corruption in death (1 Corinthians 15:44). Not only do we find these meanings in the word itself, but also in some of its combinations. On the one hand we read in Ephesians 3:6 of the Gentiles as "partakers of the promise in Christ" as "fellow- heirs," and "of the same body" (sussoma) in corporate union with all who put their trust in the Redeemer of mankind; on the other, we read of mere "bodily (somatic) exercises," which are not profitable. (1 Timothy 4:8)--where "body" evidently is contrasted with "spirit." And again, we read of the Holy Ghost descending in "bodily" (somatic) shape upon the "Son of God" (Luke 3:22), in whom dwelt the "fullness of the Godhead bodily" (somatically) (Colossians 2:9). So, too, the "body" is called a temple of the Holy Ghost:

"Know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?" (1 Corinthians 6:19).

4. The Body and Sin:

From all this it is apparent that the body in itself is not necessarily evil, a doctrine which is taught in Greek philosophy, but nowhere in the Old Testament and New Testament. The rigid and harsh dualism met with in Plato is absent from Paul's writings, and is utterly foreign to the whole of Scripture. Here we are distinctly taught, on the one hand, that the body is subordinated to the soul, but on the other, with equal clearness, that the human body has a dignity, originally conferred upon it by the Creator, who shaped it out of earth, and glorified it by the incarnation of Christ, the sinless One, though born of a woman. Julius Muller has well said:

"Paul denies the presence of evil in Christ, who was partaker of our fleshly nature (Galatians 4:4), and he recognizes it in spirits who are not partakers thereof (Ephesians 6:12 the King James Version, `spiritual wickedness in high places'). Is it not therefore in the highest degree probable that according to him evil does not necessarily pertain to man's sensuous nature, and that sarx (say body) denotes something different from this?" (The Christian Doctrine of Sin, I, 321, English edition). He further shows that the derivation of sin from sense is utterly irreconcilable with the central principle of the apostle's doctrine as to the perfect holiness of the Redeemer, and that "the doctrine of the future resurrection--even taking into account the distinction between the soma psuchikon and the soma pneumatikon (1 Corinthians 15:44)--is clearly at variance with the doctrine that sin springs from the corporal nature as its source" (318).

5. The First Sin:

The very first sin was spiritual in its origin--an act of rebellion against God--the will of the creature in opposition to the will of the Creator (Genesis 3). It was conceived in doubt--"Hath God said?"; it was born in desire--"The tree was good for food"; it was stimulated by a rebellious hankering after equality with God:

"Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil"; it was introduced from without, from the spiritual world, through the agency of a mysterious, supernatural being, employing "a beast of the field more subtle than any which Yahweh God had made." That the serpent in the Old Testament is not identified with Satan, and that the clearest utterance in pre-Christian times on the subject is to be found in the Book of The Wisdom of Solomon 2:24 ("by the envy of the devil death entered into the world"), may be true. That the narrative of the Fall is figurative or symbolical may also be granted. But the whole tendency of the early narrative is to connect the first human sin with a superhuman being, employing an agent known to man, and making that agent its representative in the "subtlety" of the great temptation as a prelude to the mighty fall. The New Testament is clear on this point (John 8:44; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 12:9). Great historic truths are imbedded in that narrative, whatever we may think of the form which that narrative has assumed. There can be no doubt that the oldest and truest traditions of the human race are to be found there. It is not denied that sin has desecrated the temple of the liv ing God, which is the body. That body indeed has become defiled and polluted by sin. Paul recognizes "an abnormal development of the sensuous in fallen man, and regards sin as having in a special manner entrenched itself in the body, which becomes liable to death on this very account (Romans 6:23; 7:24)" (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, I, 761). But we may safely say that theory which connects sin with the physical body, and gives it a purely sensuous origin, is alien to the whole spirit and letter of revelation.

J. I. Marais


In the New Testament (soma, "the body" both of men and animals) the word has a rich figurative and spiritual use:

(1) the temporary home of the soul (2 Corinthians 5:6);

(2) "the temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19);

(3) "temple" (John 2:21);

(4) "the old man," the flesh as the servant of sin or the sphere in which moral evil comes to outward expression (Romans 6:6; 7:7; compare Paul's use of sarx, "flesh");

(5) the "church" as Christ's body, the organism through which He manifests His life and in which H is spirit dwells (Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:24);

(6) the spiritual "unity" of believers, one redeemed society or organism (Ephesians 2:16; a corpus mysticum, Ephesians 4:4);

(7) "substance" (spiritual reality or life in Christ) versus "shadow" (Colossians 2:17);

(8) the ascended and glorified body of Jesus (Philippians 3:21);

(9) the resurrection or "spiritual" (v. natural) body of the redeemed in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:44);

(10) the whole personality, e.g. the spiritual presence, power and sacrificial work of Christ, the mystical meaning of "the body and the blood" symbolized in the bread and cup of the sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:27).

The term body is exceptionally rich in connection with the selfgiving, sacrificial, atoning work of Christ. It was the outward sphere or manifestation of His suffering. Through the physical He revealed the extent of His redeeming and sacrificial love. He "bare our sins in his body upon the tree" (1 Peter 2:24), thus forever displacing all the ceaseless and costly sacrifices of the old dispensation (Hebrews 9:24-28). Special terms, "body of his flesh" (Colossians 1:22); "body of sin" (Romans 6:6); "body of this death" (Romans 7:24); "body of his glory" (Philippians 3:21).

ptoma, used only of fallen, i.e. dead bodies (Revelation 11:8,9).

Dwight M. Pratt

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'BODY'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.