The International Journal of African Catholicism, Winter 2013. Volume 4, Number 1



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The International Journal of African Catholicism, Winter 2013. Volume 4, Number 1


Paul’s Theology of the Church as the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27): Its Missionary Implications for the Church in (Africa) Nigeria

Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Sacred Heart School of Theology, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Introduction

The importance of St. Paul in the New Testament studies cannot be overemphasized. In fact next to Jesus, majority of theologians and scholars would agree that Paul is the most prominent and influential figure in the history of Christianity.1 He is a unity figure for all Christians, regardless of culture, continent, nation, color, race and language. He represents the unity of humanity. This is clearly reflected in his theological teachings and writings.2 Issues dealt with in some of these writings, particularly 1 Corinthians, are in some form, the same problems that globally confront our pluri-religious communities including the Church in Africa, particularly Nigeria.3 They include divisions of all kinds, sexual immorality, and marginalized role of women in the society. Others are crises of conscience and faith, social and political disharmonies, liturgical abuses, and pride over spiritual gifts and lack of hope in the resurrection.4

These problems no doubt overlap. Using literary-historical approach this paper attempts a detailed exegetical and robust contextual theological discussion of 1 Corinthians 12:27. This text emphasizes Paul’s theology of unity or moral union, among members of the church, the Body of Christ. While identifying in detail some areas of disunity in Nigeria (social disharmony, political mismanagement and division among religious groups), this work highlights the relevance of 1 Corinthians 12:27 for the Church in Africa, particularly in Nigeria. The concluding section proposes the evangelizing mission of Church, particularly Catholicism, to this part of the world. Stronger members of the Church must educate and support weaker members, even of the larger society and share the fruits and richness of scriptures, especially Pauline writings with them. Love, forgiveness and search for common-good must be key ingredients of this community, the Body of Christ. For Paul there is no Church without Christ. His teachings in 1 Corinthians 12:27 remains an inspiration for African Catholicism, particularly the Church in Nigeria.

Historical Context of 1 Cor. 12:27: A Reappraisal

Historically, the context and setting of Paul’s missionary teaching on the importance of unity among members of the Church, the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), is not different from the overall setting of the entire First Letter to the Corinthians. Corinth played a leading role in uniting Greek city-states in the time of Macedon and Alexander the Great. Destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C.E, and rebuilt during the time of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.E., Corinth became a provincial capital in 27 B.C.E.5 During Paul’s time (32/33-66/67 C.E.), Corinth was a thriving commercial center, mainly because of its geographical location.6 It attracted devotees of various traditional Greek cults as well as proponents of religions, including Judaism and Christianity, which were all familiar to Paul.

Paul brought Christianity to Corinth, before proceeding to Ephesus from where he wrote the 1 Corinthians to a divided and disunited community of Corinth (1 Cor. 12–14).7 He wrote to a Church he founded, but now plagued with dissension, unhealthy competition, disunity, boasting, pride and division. Yet, this community of Corinth (as in African culture) was also known for all kinds of religious manifestations that were very spectacular and tantalizing. But the down-side is that these tantalizing religious gifts were used negatively for selfish purposes. This turbulent or divisive picture is well painted by Murphy-O’Connor when he wrote:

The potential for dissension within the community is evident. Most members had in common only their Christianity. They differed widely in educational attainment, financial resources, religious background, political skills and above all in their expectations. A number were attracted to the church, because it seemed to offer them a new field of opportunity, in which the talents whose expression society frustrated could be exploited to the full. They were energetic and ambitious people, and there was little agreement among their various hidden agendas. A certain competitive spirit was part of the ethos of the church from the beginning.8

As an exemplary missionary Paul addresses this turbulence and divisiveness in his writings. He reminds the church in Corinth that when they were pagans they were “attracted and led away” by idols (1 Cor. 12:2). Idolatry attributes the honor and devotion that belongs to God to false gods. As a man of many cultures and missionary zeal, Paul teaches the Corinthian church that true conversion to Jesus Christ is not contradictory to unity with others who also worship the same God. Their gifts (1 Cor. 12:10; 13:2; 14:3–6, 24; 1 Thess. 5:20) should be for the common good. And unity in diversity must prevail in a Christian community. 9Unlike the Corinthians Paul uses his knowledge of Hellenistic Greek and Stoic Philosophies, positively and to the advantage of the Church. This is true where he rhetorically adapts the popular image of the “body” found in those philosophical thoughts not to confuse the society, but to provide theological reflections. He also uses it pastorally to illustrate the importance of unity among members of the Church, the Body of Christ, in the text that follows.10

Text, Translation, Structure and Delimitation of 1 Cor 12:27

Paul says: humeis de estesōma Christou kai melē ekmerous (“You are the Body of Christ and individual member of it”).11 But in the textual apparatus of N27, the neuter noun, merous (part) is replaced with melous (of member), the genitive neuter of melos (a member, limb, any part of the body),12 in Codices Bazae (D), Athous (Y), Latin Text (Vg) and in the SyriachPeshitta (Syh). In fact, even though Codex Bazae (D) is known for emendation, the meaning is basically the same as in these other Codices. The scribes would have been wrestling with the closeness in meaning and structure of “melē/,merous and its repetitive occurrences in this unit, especially in the preceding verse 26, “kai eitepaschei hen melos sumpschei panta ta melē eite doxazetai [hen] melos sugchairei panta ta melē (“whenever one part suffers, all other parts suffers with it; but when glorified all other part rejoice with it”).

Additionally, 1 Corinthians 12: 27, is unquestionably from the remote context of chapters 12–14, where Paul addresses the situation of abuses and usages of spiritual gifts in the church in Corinth. Chapter 12 argues for diversity of gifts, while the hymn of love in chapter 13 serves to illustrate the unity that should cha1racterized the church in Corinth. This love is stress in chapter 14:1. In other words, our text, (1 Cor. 12:27) is linked with what precedes as well as with what follows. Proximately, in the unit of 1 Cor. 12:27–31, Paul concludes the argument that began in verse 4, by tying together its two parts (vv.4–11 and 12–26) and thus returning to the original emphasis. In verse 27, the preceding imagery of the body (vv.12–26) is now applied specifically to the Church in Corinth emphasizing the need for unity in the face of multiplicity of their talents.13 Further thorough exegesis of this key verse (1Cor. 12:27) , serves to highlight the relevance and implications of Paul’s enduring theology of unity among members of the Church, our 21st century multicultural and diversified religious communities, particularly the Church in Africa.

Exegesis of 1 Cor. 12:27: The Church as the Body of Christ

E. Schwizer carries on an extensive discussion of the Greek term, sōma (body), which in Homer means “corpse.”14 The Greek did not differentiate linguistically between “body,” (i.e., visible matter pertaining to a particular entity), and “body’ as the vessel of the human soul with its attendant implications of feelings, sentiments and life in the non-physical aspects. For some of them sōma can refer to a celestial body or any other inanimate object, and then later to a slave, and not merely to the animal or human as a vessel of a spirit. Plato and his school thought of the body as that which falls away with death and liberates the soul, just as the Stoics and the Aristotelians had their own interpretations of the body. In the OT, there is no precise word for “body,” but a person is both transitory and mortal. In the NT, there are several non-Pauline texts which often speak of the dead body (Mk 14:8), as raised body (Matt. 27:52; Acts 9:40; John 2:21).15

In few other places Paul with his pluralistic- educational and missionary backgrounds talks of the “sacrifice of the body as putting oneself at the disposal of the service of the Lord (Rom. 12:1).16Fitzmyer notices also that Paul uses the expression sōma Christou/ (“body of Christ”), in many senses: of his historical, crucified body (Rom. 7:4), and of his Eucharistic Body (1 Cor. 10:16), and of the Church (1 Cor. 12:27–28).17 In 1 Cor. 12:27, it is a metaphor or a figurative way of expressing the corporate identity of Christians with Christ. No wonder Mascaranhas rightly reiterates that “there is no Church without Christ.”18

Returning to this figurative way of expression, this metaphor of sōma Christou (the body of Christ), is widely disputed by scholars. Does the expression in 1 Corinthians 12:27 mean the Corinthians as a group, is the “Body of Christ,” while maintaining their individual membership? J. Weiss for instance in his commentary on 1 Corinthian 6:13 once proposed a holistic definition of the “body,” which was later adopted by subsequent commentators like, R. Bultmann, and J. A. T. Robinson, which paved the way for the cosmic sacramental hypothesis of P. Benoit.19

Similarly, Murphy-O’Connor rightly notices that, in the first part of the letter, Paul introduces the name “Christ,” about four times in the context in which it cannot be understood as the individual Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:13; 6: 15; 8:12; 12: 12). It can only be a designation of the community.20 This designation of community as Christ has also like the issue of the “body,” provoked some arguments among commentators. Uppermost in mind is that of C. Wolff, who, based on 1 Corinthians 12:12 (activity of the spirit) insists that, “the community is “Christ,” in so far as it is the sphere where the saving power of the spirit is at work.”21

I agree with Murphy-O’Connor that it is only functionally could the community and Christ be considered one. Believers were the means by which the Risen Lord acted in the world. What Christ had accomplished while physically present, the Church continues to do in his name and through his power.22

In other words, according to Paul, the most fundamental activity of the church is an expression of its being. By calling the community, the Body of Christ, Paul uses stoicism positively to identify the physical presence of Christ in the world, for the common good. The mission of the Church is to continue in time and space, the ministry of Christ on earth (1 Cor. 1:24).

Paul’s insight into the nature of the church as an organic unity inevitably conditions his understanding of individuation. For him, individuation by independence (“I think therefore, I am”) has no place in his missionary work, because this threatens the basic foundation of his theology of unity and inclusivity.23 In other words, the text of 1 Corinthians 12:27, expresses the moral unity of members of the church. This also confirms the observation of Lambrecht that, “although Paul’s arguments in dealing with difficulties are mostly theological and Christological, the problems in Corinth concern above all the ethical behavior of the Christians.”24 The more reason perhaps why Paul recognizes and warns earlier in verses 2-11 that,

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one I given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing the same Spirit; to another might deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes (NAB).

In Paul’s view and vision the spiritual gifts enjoyed by the church in Corinth are to be used “for the common good,” and not for its disruption. As all the members of the limbs of the body conspire for its well-being, so it is with the Body of Christ.25 As mentioned earlier, issues raised and emphasized in 1 Corinthians 12:27 are in some forms similar to those prevalent in the Church in the continent of Africa today, particularly in Nigeria. How can this local Church in the light of 1 Corinthian 12:27(unity in diversity) manage its gifts in the face of multiple challenges of disunity and disharmony?

Missionary Implications /Relevance of 1 Cor. 12:27 for the African Catholic Church (Nigeria)

Like the tantalizing gifts and manifestations of Paul’s time in the Corinthians’ church, African Church or society as a whole is blessed with some sense of communal living, sharing, extended family sharing, respect for seniors and deep sense of value of the dignity of the human person. A deep sense of the sacred also characterizes this culture, even before the advent of Christianity, in their practice of their African Traditional Religion (ATR).26 In terms of natural endowments Nigerian Church and society in particular are endowed with mineral resources like black gold, crude oil, good climate, soil, oceans, food, (sea and land),vegetations and with enviable human resources yet to be well harnessed for the common good.27

In other words, Nigeria till date and in spite of these gifts is still struggling to overcome multiple set-backs: ethnicity, lack of adequate or in-depth dialogue among religious groups, issues of social justice, human promotion and freedom, role of women, poverty and lack of responsible political leadership, bribery and corruption, discriminations, social disharmony and other kinds and acts of division. For lack of space, let me select three of these divisive challenges (social, political and religious disharmonies) facing Nigeria for further discussion.

Challenges of Social Disharmony

Nigeria as a nation once described as “the giant of Africa,” is constantly searching for social understanding or harmony. This harmony no doubt is traceable to the family whose mission is described by the Vatican II as “being the primary vital cell of society.”28 The family is the basic unit of social organization as well as the first and fundamental school of social living.29 It is a place where different generation come together and help one another for the purpose of growth and harmony of individual’s right with other demands of social life.30 As a font of new life, Henry Peschke sees the family not just as a primordial community, but as the centre in which the human person can develop bodily and spiritually in a healthy fashion.31

In other words, in any given society the families propagate and help detect the pace of social order. A good church or nation begins from a good family. And the “well-being of the individual person in both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.32 It is in the family that young people particularly in Nigeria receive primordial knowledge of the ethics of the world around them, including the ethics of unity in diversity, stressed by St. Paul. It is here that they are supposed to be taught the unselfishness of the mutual love of co-existence, unity, humility, charity and justice as well as those virtues of obedience, modesty, patriotism and deep sense of the dignity of fellow human persons. Africa and Nigeria in particular cherishes family life, filial piety, in fact, an extended one for that matter. But ironically or unfortunately the foregoing values, virtues and ideals are not common in modern African (Nigerian) families today. Where they were found and cherished in the past, they are today gradually eroding. Today parents have little time for children upbringing, perhaps and effect of the down-side of social globalization. African children today talk back to their parents and some disrespect their elders or seniors, unlike in the past when such behavior was seen a taboo. Incessant longing for materials things, money, power have become the order of the day. Poverty and lack of contentment are among the contributing factors to these ugly images of disharmony in Nigerian families. This in turn has negative effects on the nation as a whole.

Today, Nigeria has become a society where the poor are assisted to become poorer, while the rich become greedier. Justice and honesty have become subjects of caricature. Wealth and the nation’s resources distributed among the minority privileged few, no matter the means, is extol as virtuous behavior. And everyone is over if not unnecessarily tribal conscious, such that response to national duties and responsibilities are daily painted with questionable impression such as, where is he or she from, south, north, east or west?” Or is he or she a Muslim, Christian, Catholic or Protestant?”33

Decrying this type of social disharmony and divisions, Michael Edem in his work Confused Values in Nigeria, Rituals and Reveal Mythology, writes, “Socially, Nigeria is propelled by the philosophy of conglomerationism, groupism, gathering together or bonding together or drawing together for a particular purpose...what the psychologist call mob or group psychology.”34 Doubling down on the non-constructive roles Nigerian leaders play in this type of socially divided atmosphere Edem insists;

They will say so many lofty and beautiful things about Nigeria, but will not lift a finger to implement. Such people are very much at home with their language. Their language is used as a barrier to cut off others. Even transaction is carried out in their language. The so call Lingua-Franca-English is thrown away as garbage. One who does not speak the language is at a loss. It happens in the offices and at conversation at family circles as well. In the offices, a non-speaker of such language cannot transact any business.35

Apart from this barrier of social harmony posed by multiplicity of wrong or uncharitable use of languages and dialects, the social condition of living in Nigeria is heart-breaking. Disorderliness is notice from the airport to market and business areas; and from worship places to cultural and eating centers. Schools, political and commerce offices are sorrowfully not different, including banks and post offices. Renouncing these “sorrows” Ezenwa Hilary Odili once wrote, “the Hobbesian might is right’, “Machiavellian” means justifies the end prevalent in our society today are antithetical to the correct understanding of justice. They are not and will never be the right paths towards the preservation of law and order.”36 They militate against equity, orderliness and social harmony.

Challenges of Political Disharmony

Politically, Nigeria is nothing compared to what the world recently witnessed in American politics that culminated in the swearing-in ceremony of President Barack H. Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America. There was no blood shed, no mob actions, no anarchy, and no accusation of bribery and corruption, nor money laundering or coup as such. Rather the world witnessed not only a peaceful and a strongly contested democratic election, but also a peaceful concession, transition and transfers of power.

On the other hand it is no secret to anyone that in politics Nigeria is not only extremely divided, but has been a confused environment where kidnapping of political opponents or their family members, money laundering and physical cash distributions to loyal supporters, dishonesty, bribery and corruption have become a common and regular exercises.37 This goes back to Nigeria 1960’s independence from the British colonialism.

In fact, since Nigeria was introduced into an independent parliamentary system of government, no military or civilian leader, governor, president or head of States has come and gone without serious and open allegation of cases of corruption that leaves a horrific stigma of scandal in the minds of Nigerian citizens.38 This does not restore of foster unity. And no lessons seem to have been learned neither from the past nor from the western democratic process. Addressing his fellow Nigerians Odili sorrowfully comments again that,

Why we in this country suffer political instability is because we play politics in a manner no mature country ever does. Our own politics is a sorry situation…. It is a sink or swim affair. Survival of the fittest is the maxim. Election malpractices and riggings are common. The people are fooled.39

In addition to social and political disharmonies, religious groups in Nigeria are still till today been confronted as I said earlier with similar challenges that Paul’s contemporary witnessed in 1 Corinthians 12, bad ethical behaviors including division, violence, lack of dialogue and intolerance.

Challenges of Religious Disharmony

The three major identifiable religious groups in Nigeria are mainly Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion (ATR), mentioned earlier.40 Like the Corinthians’ church instructed by Paul, unity or harmony can hardly be seen among them. In Islamic religion Nathaniel Ndiokwere once rightly observed the internal disunity among them. He brilliantly wrote,

There are liberals and conservatives as well as “born again” fundamentalist and fanatics. There are mystics. Over 90% of all Muslims are said to be Sunnis (from ‘Suna, the tradition of the Prophets), who consider themselves to possess Islamic orthodoxy. There are also Shi’ite Muslims found mostly in Iran and Iraq who differ from the Sunnis in Islamic Theology and in their understanding of Mohammed’s successors.41

In Nigeria these various groups of Muslims with their different theological perspectives are also found. In fact, Yahaya, the leader of the Shi’tegroup in Northern Nigeria or the spokesperson was once quoted as saying that he would defy all laws as far as they are man-made and not from Allah.42 The point is that these differences in Islamic group are obstacles to dialogue, stable politics and unity not only within Islamic world but also between them and other religious groups. In terms of political decisions religion plays a huge role that would often lead to violent or rise of tension.

There are many cases of such violent and conflict in Nigeria traceable to differences that exists between Islam and Christianity which I have already discussed elsewhere.43 Most recently in Nigeria is the threat of the so called ‘Boko Haram,’ a terrorist group suspected to be causing recent killings of innocent people especially Christians in Northern Nigeria. This threat is spreading and threatening harmony and trust among other religious and cultural groups in the nation and beyond.44 Some would see it as “religious and northern agenda” and therefore have very recently invited all Nigerians to join hands irrespective of religious and ethic affiliation, to fight this menace of Boko Haram insurgency.45

In terms of African Traditional Religion there might be minor internal disharmonies and differences here and there, depending on its adherents or worshipers and their locations. But its overall structure and contents are the same: belief in deity, blessings and curses, witchcraft, rituals, customs and divination, spirit and ancestors, sacredness of human life and hospitality.46

African Traditional Religion’s lack of a single leader, founder and Scripture as well as their primitive and syncretistic nature may be counted as signs of weaknesses, decline and disharmonies, hence threats or obstacles to dialogue and unity.47 But its resilience in different parts of Nigeria particularly in Ikot Ekpene area of Akwa Ibom States should not be ignored. In this part of the world, although many former adherents to ATR have resisted modernization or deflected to Islam and Christianity, Nyoyoko observes that, “the vast majority of them while claiming Christianity as their denomination, carry over and retain almost intact the beliefs and some practices of ATR.” 48 Part of the reasons he argues is that basically the average African still retains traditional world-view and moreover, Christianity has not yet succeeded in dialoguing with ATR, nor presents adequate substitutes for some of the ATR’s values condemned by Christianity, leaving room for more challenges to solve, division to bridge and dialogue to engage in. 49

African Christianity and particularly Catholicism have its share of disunity and disharmony to work on. This is reflected in the number of proliferated churches and worship centers scattered on every street and village corners of Nigeria.50 Some of the reasons given for such break-ups or disunity is unconnected from what has been socially, politically, religiously discussed already, including poverty, the need to belong, search for power, healing, money, freedom and cultural identity.51

Antidotes and Mission of African Catholicism in the Light of Pauline Theology (1 Cor 12:27)

In the face of these challenges, the evangelizing mission of the Church, in the light of Paul’s theology must be the foremost antidotes. Perhaps the more reason why the Synod Fathers in recognition of this mission unequivocally said:

It has been rightly noted that, within the borders left behind by the colonial powers, the co-existence of ethnic groups with different traditions, languages and even religions often meets obstacles arising from serious mutual hostility. Tribal oppositions at times endanger if not peace, at least the pursuit of the common good of the society. They also create difficulties for the life of the churches and acceptance of pastors from other ethnic groups. This is why the Church in Africa feels challenged by the specific responsibility of healing these divisions. For the same reason the Special Assembly emphasized the importance of ecumenical dialogue with other churches and Ecclesial Communities, and dialogue with African Traditional Religion and Islam.52

Besides these dialogues that have been suggested by the Synod Fathers, this study argues that the text of 1 Corinthian 12:27, the word of God could also be closely studied, translated into local Nigerian languages, re-embraced or re-actualized by religious communities, in African (Nigerian) Church. 53 This confirms the report given by Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja on October 6, 2008 during the Synod on the word of God, of which 1 Corinthians 12:27 forms a part. Stressing the importance of access to the word of God he said,

Since Vatican II, large sections of the lay faithful have developed a strong thirst for the word of God in Sacred Scripture. However, with the weak economies of Africa, a Bible may cost as much as one month’s wages in many places. The Protestants are to be commended for making access to the word of God a priority. In many places, the Catholic Church has teamed up with them within the context of the Bible Society. One must also mention the efforts of the Fathers and Daughters of St. Paul (the Paulines) and the SVD (Congregation of the Divine Word), who publish many Bible texts and material at more affordable prices. Many languages do not have adequate translation of the Bible, yet the Bible in the vernacular is absolutely essential.54

Reading and listening to the word of God (1 Cor.12:27) in native languages reminds the Church in Africa and Nigeria in particular of the reality of the wounds and the danger of disunity and disharmony, already discussed. It also calls for urgent but closer attention for the need to work for greater unity and harmony among the social, political and religious fabrics of the society. It further drives home the message of Paul that the most fundamental ministry of the church is to be the antithesis of a world which is constantly characterized above all by threats of divisions and fragmentations. As the Body of Christ, the Church is to liberate the captives by revealing the opportunities of freedom in dependence on others.55 Her mission is clearly encapsulated as well in that missionary mandate of Matthew’s Gospel “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matt 28:19).

In addition the mission of the Church, a missionary Catholicism is further stressed by Vatican II, in her initial pages of The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Like Paul, the principal work of the Church as underlined in this document includes the promotion of the unity of the human person, “It is man himself who must be saved. It is mankind that must be renewed. It is man, therefore, who is the key to this discussion, man considered whole and entire, with body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will.”56

Just as it was for Paul, the Church as an organic unity has far-reaching implications for our understanding of Christian morality or development of the Christian conscience. Paul for instance, taught some litigants of his time in the same Corinthians’ context that” to have lawsuits with you is a total failure for you” (1 Cor. 6:7). In other words, for Paul when a Christian brings a law suit against another Christian, it is equivalent to bringing a case against oneself, because they are both members of one body, the Church.

African Catholicism must imitate Paul in the education of the Christian community since excessive practice of divisions is a clear sign of ignorant. This could be done from the pulpits, catechetical instructions, through modern means of communication and media channels, radio, television, newspapers and church bulletins, and other forms of training.

The Church can help in educating the Nigerian electoraes. It does no harm to draw the attention of Christians and Catholics in Nigeria, to the definition of politics given by John Paul II. In his Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens, that commemorates the ninetieth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s RerumNovarum, he defined politics as the “prudent concern for common good.”57

I believe this is what the Vatican II document, Gravissimum Educationis, was meant to suggest, when she observes that as a mother the Church has “the obligation to offer assistance to all people for the promotion of a well-balanced perfection of the human personality for the good of the society in this world and for the development of a world more worthy of humanity.”58

Conclusion

1 Corinthians 12:27 reminds us that, Paul is a unity figure for all Christians. He represents the unity of humanity in his preaching, teachings and writings. This is true in the foregoing discussion of Paul’s address to the Corinthian church plagued with unethical issues of various kinds: divisions, rivalries among members, abusive and wrong use of spiritual gifts, boasting, pride and selfishness. Others were sexual immorality, crises of conscience, lack of hope in the resurrection, ambitious tendencies and hidden agendas contrary to the spirit of the common good.

Similar moral phenomena in Corinthians’ Christian Community are found to be common challenges in our contemporary societies today, especially in the Church in Africa (Nigeria). Gifted with openness to multiple cultures, Jews and Gentiles, endowed with great missionary zeal, rudiments of Judaism, Greek Philosophy and Stoicism Paul positively uses the familiar image of the “body” (sōma) to offer theological, Christological and pastoral teaching to the troubling church in Corinth. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:27 he stresses unity in diversity in the church as the Body of Christ. He sees in the church an organic unity and ethical union with far-reaching moral implications, including respect for one another’s culture, religion above all, the dignity of the human persons.

With this, Paul remains an inspiration to the universal and missionary Church, particularly the Church in Nigeria (African Catholicism) in the challenges of her evangelizing mission. Besides dialogue with ATR, Islam and other denominations, the Church must translate, re-actualized the text of St. Paul, in her catechetical instructions, seminars, homilies and sermons through various available means of modern media today. The role of good family upbringings in a stable social and political modern society must be kept in mind and emphasized in homilies and catechetical instructions. Stronger members of the Church especially leaders should support, socially and politically educate and religiously encourage weaker members through exemplary love, promotion of unity in diversity and reconciliation. This must be within and outside the Church, and among all religious bodies, thereby keeping the candle of inspiration and the richness of the missionary and theological implication of 1 Corinthians 12:27, burning in the Church in Africa (Nigeria).

Selected Bibliography

Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

Edem, Michael I. Confused Values in Nigerian Context: Rituals,Reveals Mythodology. Logos, Nigeria: Jeromelocho and Associate, 1993.

Fee, Gorden D. God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing Inc., 1994.

Fitzmyer, Joseph. Paul and His Theology: A Brief Sketch. 2nd Edition, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1989.

Flannery, Austin. Ed. The Basic Sixteen Documents, Vatican II Council, Constitutions Decrees Declarations: A Completely Revised Translation in inclusive Language. New York: Costello Publishing, 2007

Harrington, Daniel J. Meeting St. Paul Today: Understanding the Man, His Mission and His Message. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2008.

Idowu, E. B. African Traditional Religion: A Problem of Definition. London, SCM Press, 1977.

John Paul II: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Role of Christian Family in the Modern World, FamiliarisConsortio, November 2, 1981

––––––. The Encyclical Letter on Human Work, LaboremExcercens, Vatican City.LibreriaLibreria, 1981.

––––––. Post-Synodal Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa. Vatican City: LibreriaEditrici, 1995.

Lambrecht, Jan. “1 Corinthians,” in The International Bible Commentary: A Catholic and Ecumenical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century. Edited by William R. Farmer, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998, 1601-1632.

Magesa, Laurenti. “On Speaking Terms: African Religion and Christianity in Dialogue,” in Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: The Second African Synod. Edited by Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2011, 25-35.

Mascarenhas, Theodore. “The Missionary Effort of St. Paul: A Model for Proclamation in the Multicultural and Pluri-Religious Situations,” Lectures at Pontificia Universitά S. TommasoD’Aquino, Rome 16 February, 2009.

Mbiti, John S. African Religions and Philosophy. New York: Praeger, 1969.

Mounce, William D. The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome.”Freedom or the Ghetto (1 Cor 8:1–13; 10:23–11:1,” in Review Biblique 85(1978b): 563-564.

–––––––."The First Letter to the Corinthians," in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990, 798-815.

––––––.Paul: A Critical Life. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Ndiokwere, Nathaniel. The African Church Today and Tomorrow: Prospect and Challenges. Vol.1, Nigeria: Effective Key Publishers, 1994.

Nestle-Aland. Novum Testamentum Graece. 27th edition, Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblelgesellschaft, 1998.

Nyoyoko, Vincent. “Dialogue and Inculturation,” in Reconciliation and Renewal of Services in the Church, Lineamenta for the First Synod of the Catholic Diocese of Ikot Ekpene 2002.Uyo: Nigeria: Trinity Press, 2002.

Odili, Ezenwa H. Sorrows of a Nation. Enugu, Nigeria: Snaap Press, 1993.

Odozor, Paulinus I. “Africa and the Challenge of Foreign Religious/Ethical Ideologies, Viruses, and Pathologies,” in Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: The Second African Synod. Edited by Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2011, 214-225.

Okoye, James C. Scripture in the Church: The Synod on the Word of God and the Post-SynodalExhoration, Verbum Domini. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2011.

Okure, Teresa. “Church-Family of God: The Place of God’sReconciliation, Justice and Peace” in Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: The Second African Synod. Edited by Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2011, 13-24.

Orobator, Agbonkhianmeghe E. ed. Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: The Second African Synod. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2011.

Park, Eung Chun. Either Jew Or Gentile: Paul’s Unfolding Theology of Inclusivity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003.

Peschke, Henry C. Christian Ethics: A Presentation of Special Moral Theology in the Light of Vatican II. Vol.2, Dublin: C. GoodlifeWeale, 1978.

Udoekpo, Michael U. Corruption in Nigerian Culture: the Liberating Mission of the Church. Enugu, Nigeria: Snaap Press, 19994.

______ The Limits of a Divided Nation. Enugu, Snaap Press, 1999.

______Family Functions Children’s Education in Modern Society. IkotEkpene, Nigeria: Pathom Graphics, 1997.

Ugwuanyi, Theresa. “Why we pulled out of CAN-Catholic Church,” in Featured News, January 23, 2013.

Wolff, C. Der erste brief des Paulus an die Korinther: Zweiter Teil, Auslegung de Kapital 8–16. Theologiescher Hankommentar zum Neuen Testament 7/2, Berlin: Evengelische Verlagsanstalt, 1982.

Michael Ufok Udoekpo, STD,specializes in OT/Hebrews bible Exegesis and Theologoy is an Asssistant Professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart School of Theology, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with interest in relating texts to reader’s faith context. He is the author of Re-thinking the Day or YHWH and Restoration of Fortunes in the Prophet Zephaniah: An Exegetical and Theological Study of 1:14-18; 3:14-20(Das Alte testament im Dialog= An Outline of an Old Testament Dialogue, 2, Bern: Peter Lang, 2010) widely reviewed in OT Abstract, Theological Book Review, Estudios Biblicos and Theologische Revue. His recent works and book reviews have also appeared in Theological Book Review, and Catholic Biblical Quarterly. mudoekpo@shst.edu



1 Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 422; Daniel J. Harrington, Meeting St. Paul Today: Understanding the Man, His Mission, and His Message (Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2008), 1.

2Cf.Theodore Mascarenhas, “The Missionary effort of St. Paul: A Model for Proclamation in a Multicultural and Pluri-Religious Situations,” (Lectures at PontificiaUniversitά S. TommasoD’Aquino, Rome, 16 February, 2009). Mascarenhas also noted that “Paul’s biography as an Apostle of the Gentiles also makes him unique. And reflecting on him is timely, since recently Pope Benedict XVI, had declared the period from June 29, 2008 to June 29, 2009 as “the Pauline Year.”

3Much have been written on the history of the emerging Church in Africa, her strengths, weaknesses and challenges in terms of evangelization, such that it suffices here to avoid repetitions, but refer readers to these basic and indispensable documents, The Church in Africa and her Evangelizing Mission Towards the Year 2000 “You Shall be My Witnesses” (Acts 1:8): Lineamenta Synod of Bishops, Special Assembly for Africa (Vatican City: LibreriaEditrice, 1990). See also the InstrumentumLaboris (Vatican City: LibreriaEditrice 1993); John Paul II, Post-Synodal Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa (Vatican City: LibreriaEditrice, 1995). I would also like to add that through out this work and to avoid homogenizing Africa (the sub-Saharan West African region), particular attention would be paid to Nigeria.

4 See Michael Ufok Udoekpo, Corruption in Nigerian Culture: The Liberating Mission of the Church (Enugu, Nigeria; Snaap Press, 1994), 9–10 for a list of problem facing Nigerian Society which include ethnicity, disunity, violence, political instability, religious conflicts and fanaticism, bigotry and intolerance of all forms.

5 See also the “Battle of Corinth (146BC)” in http://wn.wikipedia.org/wiki/battle_of_Corinth_(146_BC) accessed 1/24/2013. Here it is stressed that the “Battle of Corinth was a battle fought between the Roman Republic and the Greek state of Corinth and its allies in the Achaean League in 146BC, that resulted in the complete and total destruction of the state of Corinth which was previously so famous for its fabulous wealth.” See also Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990, 798.

6 For detail chronological listing of Paul’s life , see, Joseph Fitzmyer, Paul and His Theology: A Brief Sketch, 2nd ed. (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1989), 2–21; Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: A Critical Life ( Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 1–31; Harrington, Meeting St. Paul Today, 15–17.

7Harrington, Meeting St. Paul Today, 45. See also Jan Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians” in The International Bible Commentary: A Catholic and Ecumenical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century, edited by William R. Farmer, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1998, 1601. Lambrecht suggests that, “Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus, most probably in the fall of 54 C.E.”

8Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: A Critical Life, 273.

9Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians,” 1604.

10 Cf. Ibid, 46–51, where Paul’s philosophical education is discussed and possible presence of Stoic teachers in Tarsus, Paul’s place of birth.

11 Although the translation is mine, the Greek is that of Nestle-Aland, NovumTestamentumGraece, and 27th Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblelgesellschaft, 1998 (from now on, N27). For scholarly curiosity, see The New Testament in Hebrew and English (Middlesex, England: The Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures, 1993), 344 for how this text is rendered in the Hebrew New Testament:( wql.x,Bdx'a,-lK' wyr"b'aew> x:yviM'h; @WG ~T,a;w>) =wĕ’tam guph hamăshita wă’baruaw kôl ‘ehād bĕhelqw (“Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular”).


12 See M. Völkel, “me,loj,ouj, melos member or a body,” EDNT 2: 404–405 and William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 313 for detail analysis of occurrences of this noun.

13Gorden D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, Inc., 1994), 187–88.

14E. Schweizer, “sw/ma,(sōma) atoj, to,”EDNT 3: 322. See also BDAG, 983–984 where sōma, has been extensively discussed under the umbrella of meanings such as; (1) “body of humans” , “slaves”, “plant and seed structure”, “substantive reality”, “ a unified group of people.” It is in this last sense that our text (1 Cor. 12:27) belongs.

15 Ibid.

16Ibid., 323.

17Fitzmyer, Paul and His Theology, 90. See also Col. 2:17 and Eph. 4:12.

18Mascaranhas, “The Missionary Effort of Paul,” (Lectures in Angelicum, March 16, 2009).

19 See Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: A Critical Life, 287 where Bultmann and Robinson are noticed to have regarded “man” as a “soma,” and nearest to our word “personality,” respectively, challenged by R. H. Gundry, who in the line of Paul proposes “a distinction between the individual body of Christ in which he arose and ascended to heaven, lives on high and an ecclesiastical Body consisting of believers in which he dwells on earth through the spirit.”

20 Murphy-O’Connor, “Freedom or the Ghetto (1 Cor 8:1–13; 10:23–11:1,” Review Bibligue 85 (1978b): 563–4, cited in idem, Paul: A Critical Life, 286.

21C. Wolff, Der erste brief des Paulus an die Korinther: Zweiter Teil, Auslegung der Kapital 8–16. Theologiescher Handkommentar zum Neuen Testament 7/2 (Berlin: Evengelische Verlagsanstalt, 1982), 107–8, cited in Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: A Critical Life, 287.

22 Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: A Critical Life, 287.

23 See Eung Chun Park, Either Jew Or Gentile: Paul’s Unfolding Theology of Inclusivity (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), esp.65–73 where Paul discusses the unity of the church. But this work, though there are some places where scripture is used arbitrary, is very relevant to our discussion on 1 Cor. 12:17. Terms like, “cultural pluralism” and “universalism,” among others, closed to the heart of this study, runs through Park’s work.

24Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians,” 1604.

25Fitzmyer, Paul and his Theology, 91.

26 For a deeper insight into ATR see John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (New York: Praeger, 1969); idem, Concept of God in Africa (New York: Praeger, 1970) and E. B. Idowu, African Traditional Religion: A Problem of Definition (London: SCM Press, 1977), 106. See also Instrumentum Labors, 78–83 for an extensive list of the components ATR(religious, ritual, moral cultural and social) which could further be broken down into belief in a supreme God, prayer, use of symbols, blessings and curses, sacredness of human life, great sense of hospitality, a special place for the poor, children and widows.

27 Udoekpo, Corruption in Nigerian Culture, 9.

28Vatican II, Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People,Apostolicam actuositatem, 18 November, 1965, n. 11.

29 John Paul II, Post synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Role of Christian Family in the Modern World, Familairis Consortio, 2nd November, 1981, n. 37.

30 Michael Ufok Udoekpo, The Limits of A Divided Nation, Enugu: Nigerian, Snaap Press, 1999, 17.

31 Henry C. Peschke, Christian Ethics: A Presentation of Special Moral Theology in the Light of Vatican II, vol. 2. Dublin: C. Good Life Weale, 1978, 242.

32 See Vatican II; Gaudium et spes, n.47.

33 Udoekpo, The Limits of a Divided Nation, 23.

34 Michael ImedieduEdem, Confused Values in Nigerian Context Rituals Reveals Mythodology, Lagos, Nigeria: Jeromelocho and Associate, 1993, 33.

35Edem, Confused Values, 34-35.

36Ezenwa Hilary Odili, Sorrows of a Nation. Enugu, Nigeria, Snaap Press, 1993, 30.

37 In terms of corruption in Nigeria I refer readers to my 1994 work,Corruption in Nigeria Culture: The Liberating Mission of the Church, especially the local literature or newspapers that address this phenomenon. There no point recycling the arguments here.

38 Udoekpo, The Limits of a Divided Nation, 51.

39Odili, Sorrows of a Nation, 53.

40 Apart from my comments on footnote 23 I would like to bring readers attention to John Bakeni Bogna’s work, The Encounter of the African Traditional Religion, Islam and Christianity in Northeastern Nigeria: Towards a Contextual Theology of Interreligious Dialogue, a 2012 doctoral dissertation accepted at the faculty of Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome. In addition to its rich and up-to-date bibliographical materials, here the author attempts and discusses with affirmation not only the historical emergence and existence of this religion but the challenges facing them in terms of unity, dialogue and tolerance for one another.

41 Nathaniel Ndiokwere, The African Church Today and Tomorrow: Prospect and Challenges, vol. 1, Nigeria: Effective Key Publishers, 1994, 71.

42 See Udoekpo, The Limits of a Divided Nation, 32

43 See my discussion of this in The Limits of a Divided Nation, 34-35.

44 In fact the United States Senate Benghazi Hearing group that questioned the Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, on the last Benghazi incidence where about four US diplomats lost their lives, significantly mentioned the threats that Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorist group might present beyond the boundary of African nations.

45 Cf. Theresa Ugwuanyi, “Why we Pulled Out of Can-Catholic Church,” Featured News,January 23, 2013.

46 See a good summary of the structure and philosophy of African world-views by Vincent Nyoyoko, “Dialogue and Inculturation,” in Reconciliation and Renewal of Services in the Church, Lineamenta for the First Synod of the Catholic Diocese of IkotEkpene, Uyo: Nigeria, Trinity Press, 2002, 111-115.

47 See Bakeni, The Encounter of African Traditional Religion, 189-196 for extensive discussion on these weaknesses.

48Nyoyoko, “Dialogue and Inculturation,” 112.

49 Ibid, 112-113. See also LaurentiMagesa, “On Speaking Terms: African Religion and Christianity in Dialogue,” in Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: The Second African Synod. Edited by Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2011, 25-35.

50See Udoekpo, The Limits of a Divided Nation, 36-40, for extensive list of some of these churches and worship centers.

51 Ibid, 46.See also Paulinus I. Odozor, “Africa and the Challenge of Foreign Religious/Ethical Ideologies, Viruses, and Pathologies,” in Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: The Second African Synod. Edited by Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2011, especially pp. 216-218 where he discusses religion and violent in Africa with particular reference to Nigeria. One of the reasons for rise in religious tension in Nigeria is economic, Odozor stresses.

52 John Paul II, Ecclesia in Africa, 49. See also various Vatican II documents like, the Declaration on the Relation of Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, October 28, 1965; Degree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, November 21, 1964; Degree on Missionary Activity of the Church, Ad Gentes, 1965. See also, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Declaration “Dominus Iesus” On The Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20; accessed March 21, 2009;

53 The transformative power of this word of God is interestingly discussed by Paul Béré, “The Word of God and Transformative Power in Reconciling African Christians,” in Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: The Second African Synod. Edited by Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2011, 48-58.

54 Cf. James ChukwumaOkoye, Scripture in the Church; The Synod on the Word of God and the Post-synodal Exhortation Verbum Domini, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2011, 26-27.

55 Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: A Critical Life, 289.

56 Cf. Gaudium et spes, no. 1.Seealso Teresa Okure, ”Church-Family of God : The Place of God’sReconciliation, Justice and Peace” in Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: The Second African Synod. Edited by Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2011, esp. 17-18 where she appropriately discuses the Church as “Agent of Reconciliation.”

57 John Paul II,Encyclical on Human Work,Laborem Excercens September 14, 1981, n. 98.

58 Cf. Declaration on Christian Education, GravissimumEducationis, 28 October, 1965, no. 3




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