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Flesh in the New Testament

FLESH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. There are three basic ways in which the word σάρξ, G4922, is used in the New Testament. At the one extreme are those places where no negative moral judgment is implied and the word flesh bears no connotation of evil at all. At the other extreme are those places where a negative moral judgment is made and σάρξ, G4922, becomes descriptive of man’s baser nature or is defined as being simply sinful. Bridging the two extremes is a set of uses where σάρξ, G4922, is not sinful per se, but tends in that direction.

Flesh As Non-Sinful.

There are three subdivisions here and in none is sinfulness implied.

Because our essential being is corporeal, the term σάρξ, G4922, may be used to set humanity apart from beings who are not physical, but spiritual, whether it be God (Matt 16:17), or a spirit in the abstract (Luke 24:39), or spirits, concretely, whether they be demonic or otherwise (Eph 6:12). Also, while we are alive we are described as being in the flesh, but after we are gone we no longer have fleshly existence and are presumably as the angels, i.e. spiritually existent, until the resurrection of the body (1 Cor 7:28; Phil 1:24; Heb 5:7).

Third, there is the symbolic use of the word σάρξ, G4922, made by Jesus in John 6:51-56 where eating His flesh means participating in the benefits of His death. In this passage Jesus says that He is the living bread and the one who eats of it shall live forever. He defines that bread as His flesh which is to be given for the life of the world. He then affirms that His flesh, like the living bread, must be eaten in order for a man to live. All of this points symbolically to a genuine participation in the benefits of Christ’s self-offering.

Flesh As Weak.

In none of this is there necessarily sin, but the weakness of the flesh is that it cannot, in its present state, fight off temptations and lusts and therefore is the place where sin may make its malevolent entrance into human lives.

Flesh As Sinful.

What is the connection between the conception of flesh as an earthly substance and flesh as debased? The link seems to be sin. Flesh is not sinful per se, as made by God, but now, as fallen, the flesh is sinful because all men are de facto sinners. It is through the flesh that sin makes its most dramatic entrance (lust), and hence flesh and sin may become almost synonymous terms; but it must be remembered that the mind may generate desires that are sinful too (Eph 2:3), and that there is uncleanness of the spirit, as well as of the flesh (1 Cor 7:1). However, the Christian is freed from his bondage to the flesh, for although the flesh is contrary to the Spirit attempting to prevent the believer from doing what he would (Gal 5:17) it is fighting a losing battle. To walk in the Spirit is not to do the desire of the crucified flesh (Gal 5:16), because we are no longer debtors to the flesh (Rom 8:12) but alive through the Spirit and heirs of God destined to be glorified together with Christ (Rom 8:16,17).