Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Search for…
Prev Entry
Care, Careful
Next Entry
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

In two cases (Romans 8:7, Hebrews 9:10) the adj. ‘carnal,’ and in one (Romans 8:6) the adv. ‘carnally,’ are used in Authorized Version to render the gen. of σάρξ ‘flesh’; in Romans 8:6-7 Revised Version substitutes ‘of the flesh.’ The ‘carnal mind’ or ‘mind of the flesh’ (Romans 8:6-7) denotes, according to St. Paul’s frequent usage, human nature as fallen, sinfully conditioned, and hostile to the influences of the Holy Spirit; ‘carnal ordinances’ (Hebrews 9:10) are material ordinances as contrasted with those that are spiritual.

On the other occasions when ‘carnal’ is found in the Epistles it represents the adjectives σάρκινος and σαρκικός, which, according to their strict meanings, correspond respectively to the Lat. carneus and carnalis, and the Eng. ‘fleshy’ and ‘fleshly.’ Belonging to the general class of proparoxytone adjectives in -ινος which are used to denote the material of which a thing is made (cf. ξύλινος, wooden, λίθινος, made of stone, etc.), σάρκινος properly describes that which is composed of flesh. It is the more literal and grosser term, while σαρκικός has an abstract and ethical application as denoting the ‘fleshly’ or what pertains to the flesh.

With regard to the use of the two words in the Pauline Epp., a difficulty arises owing to the way in which they are interchanged in different Manuscripts . In the view of some scholars, σάρκινος, which was much the more familiar word of the two, has been substituted in some cases for σαρκικός, an adjective almost wholly unknown outside of biblical Greek (Winer, Gram. of NT Gr., translation Moulton, ed. 1882, p. 122). Others, conversely, are of opinion that σαρκικός as the more abstract term may have taken the place of the grosser σάρκινος, which might seem to a copyist less appropriate to the Apostle’s meaning (Cremer, Lexicon, s.v.). There are cases, however (e.g. Romans 7:14), where according to the best readings σάρκινος stands when σαρκικός might have been expected. According to some commentators (Tholuck, Alford), St. Paul used the two adjectives indiscriminately. Meyer, on the other hand, who lays stress on the difference of meaning between the two words, thinks that the Apostle sometimes of set purpose employed σἀρκινος as the stronger expression in order to indicate more emphatically the presence of the unspiritual element. He calls the Corinthians σἀρκινοι (1 Corinthians 3:1) because the flesh appeared to constitute their very nature; he says of himself in Romans 7:14 ‘I am carnal’ (σἀρκινος), to show by this vivid expression the preponderance in his own case of that unspiritual nature which serves as the instrument of sin.

The use of σἀρκινος in such cases, however, is not to be taken as lending any support to the view that St. Paul recognized in the body the source and principle of sin. The language he uses in Galatians 5:19 ff., 1 Corinthians 3:3 suggests rather that his contrast of ‘carnal’ and ‘spiritual’ (Romans 8:5 ff.) is equivalent to the contrast he elsewhere makes of ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’ (1 Corinthians 2:13 ff.). The ‘carnal mind’ or ‘mind of the flesh’ is the mind which is not subject to the law of God (Romans 8:7) because it has not received the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 2:14). See, further, Flesh, Body.

Literature.-H. Cremer, Lex. of NT Greek3, Edinburgh, 1880, and R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the NT3, London, 1876, s. vv. σαρκικός, σάρκινος; Comm. of Alford and Meyer on passages referred to; J. Laidlaw, Bible Doct. of Man, new ed., Edinburgh, 1895, ch. vi.; Sanday-Headlam, Romans 5 (International Critical Commentary , 1902), pp. 181, 412; H. B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the NT, 1909, pp. 190, 214.

J. C. Lambert.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Carnal'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​c/carnal.html. 1906-1918.