The crucial issue of Pauline interpretation is how to reclaim Paul's radical, contextual theology of soma christou. Namely, "the body of Christ" can be reimagined as the crucified body of Christ that evokes the broken images of the body in a Greco-Roman world. My debut book, Christ's Body in Corinth: The Politics of a Metaphor, was published by Fortress Press in 2008. Since then, this book has become a must read for serious readers of Paul.
DECONSTRUCTING A SOCIAL WORLD THROUGH METAPHOR
"I highly recommend this work to all who take seriously Paul's metaphor of 'the body of Christ.' Kim interprets the metaphor as an alternative vision of vital reconciling community, over against conceptions that emphasize boundary markers to establish social groups. What is at stake in the interpretation of 1 Corinthians, he argues, is not just the ways first-century Christians constructed and lived out social unity but the consequences of our choices for the way we live out our own responsibilities today."
--David Odell-Scott, Professor of Philosophy, Kent State University
"Reading as a citizen of an increasingly diverse postcolonial world, Yung Suk Kim protests the scholarly consensus that reads Paul's language of the "body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians as a metaphor for social unity, current in Hellenistic and Roman philosophical and political discourse, in which the integrity of the social body required the vigilant maintenance of group boundaries and the harmony of its members. Kim points out the potential of this reading to promote coercive patterns of enforced unity in the contemporary world. Kim argues instead that in speaking of the church as Christ's body, Paul relies upon the metaphoric language of embodied vitality and growth, seeking instead to nourish the life-giving practices of a diverse community and to oppose the ideology of a powerful in-group that threatens to "disembody" the Christic body in Corinth. Reading the language of soma christou exclusively from a sociological lens fails to comprehend the important christological coordinates of Paul's thought, which nevertheless have clear and urgent social and political implications. Paul's exhortation is a message of particular importance, Kim suggests, for us who seek to discern the true value of difference in the contemporary world."
--From the inside flap of the book cover
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.
"Thanks 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."
--A message from Marcus Borg (2009)
--a Message from Neil Elliott, editor of Fortress Press (2009)
WHY I WROTE THIS BOOK:
The 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 the "body of Christ" as reimagined through his body crucified, which 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 a way of 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 issue that we are to grapple with and resolve. 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).