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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Flesh and Spirit

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Two important terms often contrasted with one another in referring to human existence. Bible readers often suppose that any mention of the word “flesh” is automatically in contrast with the concept of “spirit” and is, therefore, intrinsically evil. However, the early appearances of the word “flesh” in the Bible contrast with spirit only in the sense that the flesh is material substance, while the spirit is immaterial substance. The first mention of flesh occurs in Genesis 2:21 , the account of the creation of woman from the side of man. The Bible simply records that God closed up Adam's flesh. Adam's own judgment in Genesis 2:23 was that this is now “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” Thus Adam recognized that whatever he was, Eve was the same. Genesis 2:24 suggests that the man and his wife would become “one flesh,” apparently indicating the sexual as well as the psychological union. All that God created in Genesis is called “very good.” Therefore, it may be safely concluded that the concept of “flesh” as such is not an evil concept but a part of the artistry and design of God.

Nevertheless, it remains true that the Bible frequently contrasts flesh with spirit. Once our first parents had sinned, all subsequent offspring were born with a tendency toward evil that manifests itself particularly in the flesh. Hence, we are told in Mark 14:38 (NAS) that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Thus, we are introduced to the fact that many of the temptations to which the human family is subject are those that relate to the flesh. We are, therefore, instructed not to fulfill “the lust of the flesh” ( 1 John 2:16 ). We are warned, in fact, that “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17 ). Perhaps the fifth chapter of Galatians, Galatians 5:16 and Galatians 5:17 , focuses on the problem more decisively than any other verses. Paul wrote,

“Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”

The walk of obedience to the Holy Spirit, who is enshrined in the human spirit of twice born men, is the only way to avoid allowing the flesh to rule. Essentially, the emphasis that Paul provides is not intended to suggest that the Spirit is good and the flesh is evil, but rather that the flesh should never rule the spiritual life of a man. Instead, the flesh must be subjugated and made useful to the spiritual purposes and goals of humanity.

Sometimes the Bible speaks of carnality. The word translated carnal, for example, in Romans 8:7 , in which we are told that the “carnal mind” is enmity against God is a derivative of the Greek word for “flesh.” Some Christians are carnal Christians (1 Corinthians 3:1 ) meaning that, while they have been saved, they nevertheless are ruled more by their fleshly desires than by the Spirit.

One final limitation of the flesh is its limited duration. 1 Peter 1:24 informs us “all flesh is as grass.” Flesh, therefore, passes away, but the spirit of man survives the grave and lives on in either hell or heaven.

See Anthropology; Flesh; Spirit .

W. A. Criswell

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Flesh and Spirit'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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