(Eph. 1:23) Is Jesus incomplete without the church?

CLAIM: Paul writes that the church “is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23). John Calvin believed that we (the church) fill Christ: “Until he is united to us, the Son of God reckons himself in some measure imperfect” (Calvin on Ephesians 1:23). Is this the case?

RESPONSE: This view is false. God is not a cosmic Jerry McGuire! (“You complete me…”) We find it theologically unsound to state that God is “incomplete” without the church for a number of reasons:

First, nowhere else in Scripture does the church “complete” Christ. The closest we come to this idea is Colossians 1:24, which is not a justifiable interpretation (see comments on Colossians 1:24).

Second, Paul just got done explaining that Christ is Lord and sovereign over creation—not dependent on creation.

Third, the church is Christ’s body (he directs it), and it is his fullness (he fills it). Jesus is the “head” of the church—not filled by the church.

Fourth, grammatically, this passage can be understood in the passive or middle voice. F.F. Bruce explains that this passage can be taken in the passive voice (“the one who is being filled”) or in the middle voice (“the one who fills”).[1] Wood states that the middle voice is preferable: “That which is filled with Christ… or by Christ.”[2] This would fit with Paul’s later statement in Ephesians, when he writes, “That you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19) and “[Jesus] might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10) and “until we all attain to the unity of faith… the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

Francis Foulkes paraphrases this passage in this way: “It is God’s purpose that the church should be the full expression of Jesus Christ, who himself fills everything there is.”[3]

[1] Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (p. 276). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[2] Wood, A. S. (1981). Ephesians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 31). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[3] Foulkes, F. (1989). Ephesians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 10, p. 74). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.