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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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FLESH . This word is used in Scripture to express: (1) the substance of the animal body , whether of man or of beast ( Genesis 41:2 ). (2) The whole human body ( Exodus 4:7 ). (3) Relationship by birth or marriage ( Genesis 2:24; Genesis 37:27 , Nehemiah 5:5 ), for which also the further phrase ‘flesh and bones’ is found ( Genesis 2:23 , 2 Samuel 19:12 ) a phrase which is also used to describe the reality of the humanity of Jesus after His resurrection ( Luke 24:39 ). (4) The finite earthly creature , in contrast with God and His Spirit ( Isaiah 31:3 , Genesis 7:21 ) a use of the term to emphasize man’s frailty and dependence on God ( Job 34:15 , Isaiah 40:6-8 ), but without any moral disparagement, as it is applied to the whole human race without reference to its sin ( Joel 2:28 ), and to the human nature of Christ ( John 1:14 , Romans 1:3 ). We have the equivalent phrase ‘flesh and blood’ in the NT ( 1 Corinthians 15:50 ||‘corruption,’ Hebrews 2:14 = human nature [cf. John 1:13 ]). (5) One element of the nature of man in combination or contrast with the others, such as ‘soul’ ( Psalms 63:1 ), ‘heart’ ( Psalms 73:26 ), ‘soul’ and ‘heart’ ( Psalms 84:2 ); while it is the lower element, it is recognized even in man’s relation to God ( Job 19:26 ). In the NT ‘flesh’ is, without suggestion or moral defect, either combined or contrasted with ‘spirit’ ( Matthew 26:41 , 1 Corinthians 5:5 ). As a necessary element in human nature under present conditions, it is in no way condemned ( Galatians 2:20 ); the duality is ascribed to Christ Himself ( Romans 1:3-4 ); and sin is represented as infecting the other elements in man as well as the body ( 2 Corinthians 7:1 , Ephesians 2:3 ). (6) The seat and vehicle of sin , as contrasted with the ‘mind’ which approves and serves the law of God ( Romans 7:25 ), and the ‘spirit’ which is the gift of God ( Romans 8:4 ff., Galatians 5:16 . A similar use is made of the adjective ‘fleshly’ or ‘carnal,’ in contrast with ‘spiritual’ ( Romans 7:14 , 1 Corinthians 3:1 , Colossians 2:18 ). It is to be noted, however, that in this use the ‘flesh’ is not conceived as exclusively material substance, for among the works of the flesh are included idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strifes, jealousies , etc. ( Galatians 5:20 ). The explanation usually given of this use of the term ‘flesh’ is that, man having fallen, sin comes by natural inheritance (flesh), whereas goodness is given by supernatural grace (spirit). Whatever be the explanation of the Pauline use, that the term gets a distinctly ethical content, and is used with reference to sin as dwelling in human nature, cannot be denied.

Pfleiderer endeavours to show how from the Hebraic use of the term for creaturely weakness , St. Paul passed to the Hellenic use for moral defect . His conclusion is that ‘from the opposition of physically different substances results the dualism of antagonistic moral principles’ ( Paulinism , i. p. 54). The usual explanation of the depravity of human nature is rejected ‘there seems to be no allusion,’ says Usteri, quoted by Pfleiderer (p. 61), ‘in the writings of Paul to a change in the moral nature of man, or of his bodily constitution in consequence of the fall, i.e. of the first actual sin of Adam.’ St. Paul is supposed to leave us with two explanations of the origin of sin. Against the assumption of this dualism Bruce offers the following arguments: (1) It is un-Hebrew, and St. Paul’s culture is Rabbinic rather than Hellenistic; (2) the body is capable of sanctification as well as the spirit ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23 , 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 , 2 Corinthians 7:1 ); (3) the body as well as the soul will be raised from the dead, although it will be changed ( 1 Corinthians 15:44-50 ); (4) the Christian salvation is in the present life, and not only after the death of the body ( St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity , 269 ff.). It may be added that flesh is ascribed to Christ, and St. Paul’s phrase ‘the likeness of sinful flesh’ ( Romans 8:3 ) is intended to deny sinfulness, not a similar body in Christ (see Comm. in loc. ).

Alfred E. Garvie.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Flesh'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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