When Did the Body of Christ Start?

The answer to this crucial question is important to understand, not for any date-setting, but to comprehend exactly what God is doing today in this dispensation of grace and what He plans to accomplish in the coming ages. Sadly, there is much confusion by people who don’t understand dispensational Bible study, or “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15). The result is the mixing of law and grace, Paul’s gospel and the Jew’s gospel, trying to make them all one conglomerate mesh but instead ending up with one big confounding mess. It’s like trying to mix oil and water: no matter how hard you shake it up, it never sticks. They are incapable of meshing together, and weren’t meant to be integrated.

We know that the church, the Body of Christ, couldn’t have started before Paul, because he alone is unique in using that term (“Body of Christ,” or “body” in reference to it). So it’s good reasoning to think that it was not earlier than Acts 13 (about 46 a.d.[1]). This is when the Lord “separated” Barnabas and Saul “for the work” to which He was calling him (essentially, you can view this as Paul’s preparation for his ministry in the dispensation of grace in which we now live, in which Paul revealed the “mystery” which had not been known nor revealed by anyone before him), and changed his name from Saul to Paul, and he began writing his epistles to the church(es) after that point. It is also interesting to note that Saul is a distinctly Jewish name, while Paul is a Greek, or gentile name.

I Corinthians, which was written, according to E.W. Bullinger, about 57 a.d.[2] is the earliest of Paul’s epistles that mentions the “Body” (chapter 12).

Paul had a “dual” ministry in Acts: to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile. This ministry was God’s appeal to Israel on a national basis to entreat them to accept His work on their behalf by Jesus Christ, after their rejection of God in the “Old Testament” and His Son during His earthly ministry. We find 3 pronouncements by Paul that, after the Jews’ refusal to believe his message concerning Jesus Christ, he would go to the gentiles and they would believe him (13:46; 18:6; 28:28). After the final pronouncement he is not recorded as ministering to the Jews (in the national sense). Sir Robert Anderson makes a crucial observation regarding the transitional nature of the Acts period that you may find helpful:

We must recognize the intensely Jewish character of the Pentecostal dispensation. The Jerusalem Church was Jewish. Their Bible was the Jewish Scriptures. The Jewish temple was their house of prayer and common meeting-place. Their beliefs and hopes and words and acts all marked them out as Jews.

My contention is that the Acts, as a whole, is the record of a temporary and transitional dispensation in which blessing was again offered to the Jews and again rejected.[3]

The final proclamation by Paul in Acts 28 is seen as God’s final dealings with the nation of Israel, and the interjection of the dispensation of the mystery, until the resumption of the prophetic time clock when God again takes up His work with His people Israel as preparation for their earthly rule under Christ. We learn from Paul, though, that God has a much grander plan in mind – namely, the reconciliation of ALL of His creation – and that it was necessary for Israel to be brought low in order that “He might have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32). This is the mystery of which Paul speaks in his post-Acts epistles,[4] which commences with his announcement of God’s work now to reveal this mystery through Paul at the end of Paul’s last epistle (Romans) in the Acts period:

Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith (Romans 16:25-26).

In I Corinthians 12 Paul clearly says that the Body is comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, identified and placed as such by God’s spirit. We see also the same language used in Paul’s post-Acts epistles, especially Ephesians.

To refuse Paul’s authority as our apostle for this age is to refute God’s appointment of him for the establishment and building of the church, the Body of Christ.

If you want to have a place in God’s program for today during the dispensation of grace, and have a much higher calling in the celestial realms one day to rule and reign as part of God’s royal family, then you must accept Paul’s designation as your apostle for today.

— André Sneidar

[1] E.W. Bullinger, Companion Bible Appendix, #180.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918), The Silence of God, page 56.
[4] Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Timothy, Titus.

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