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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(σάρξ, κρέας)

Of the two words rendered ‘flesh’ in the English Version of the NT, κρέας is found only twice (Romans 14:21, 1 Corinthians 8:13), and in both cases applies to the flesh of slaughtered animals eaten as food. σάρξ occurs very frequently and in various significations, of which the following are the most important.

1. Its most literal and primary meaning is the soft tissues of the living body, whether of men or beasts (1 Corinthians 15:39, Revelation 19:18), as distinguished from both the blood (1 Corinthians 15:50) and the bones (Ephesians 5:30 TR [Note: Textus Receptus, Received Text.] ; cf. Luke 24:39).

2. As the chief constituent of the body, and that which gives it its visible form, ‘flesh’ frequently indicates the whole body (Galatians 4:13 f.), which it designates, however, not as an organism (σῶμα, 1 Corinthians 12:12), but with reference to its characteristic material substance (2 Corinthians 12:7).

3. It is further employed, just as in the OT (Genesis 29:14; Genesis 37:27), to denote relationship due to natural origin through the physical fact of generation. Thus St. Paul describes Jesus Christ as ‘born of the seed of David according to the flesh’ (Romans 1:3), and refers to the Jewish people as ‘my kinsmen according to the flesh’ (Romans 9:3), or even as ‘my flesh’ (Romans 11:14). Similarly be calls Abraham ‘our forefather according to the flesh’ (Romans 4:1), and the author of Heb. characterizes natural fathers as ‘the fathers of our flesh’ in contrast with God as ‘the Father of spirits’ (Hebrews 12:9).

4. Again σάρξ is used, in the same way as σῶμα, to designate the lower part of human nature in contrast with the higher part, without any depreciation of the corporeal element being thereby intended. Thus ‘flesh’ is combined or contrasted with ‘spirit’ (Romans 2:28-29, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Peter 3:18), as ‘body’ is with ‘soul’ (Matthew 10:28) or ‘spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:20, James 2:26), apart from any idea of disparagement, and only by way of indicating the fact that man is a unity of matter and spirit, of a lower part which links him to the outer world of Nature and a higher part which brings him into relation with God, both of them being essential to the completeness of his personality (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 2 Corinthians 5:1-4).

5. In many instances ‘flesh’ assumes a broader meaning, being employed to denote human nature generally, usually, however, with a suggestion of its creaturely frailty and weakness in contrast with God Himself, or His Spirit, or His word. ‘All flesh’ (Acts 2:17, 1 Peter 1:24) is equivalent to all mankind; ‘no flesh’ (Romans 3:20, 1 Corinthians 1:29, Galatians 2:16) has the force of ‘no mortal man.’ Similar to this is the use of the fuller expression ‘flesh and blood,’ as when St. Paul says that he ‘conferred not with flesh and blood’ (Galatians 1:16), and that ‘our wrestling is not against flesh and blood’ (Ephesians 6:12). That this use of ‘flesh,’ although pointing to human weakness, is free from any idea of moral taint, is sufficiently shown by the fact that it is employed to describe the human nature of Christ Himself (John 1:14, Romans 1:3; Romans 9:5, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 2:14) by writers who are absolutely convinced of His sinlessness (John 8:46, 1 John 3:5, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26).

6. In Heb. we have a special use of ‘flesh’ to designate earthly existence-a use which must be distinguished from those that have been already dealt with. ‘In the days of his flesh’ (Hebrews 5:7) does not mean in the days when He possessed a body, or in the days when He bore our human nature; for the author firmly believes in the continued and complete humanity of our heavenly High Priest (Hebrews 4:14 f.). It evidently means in the days when He lived upon earth as a man amongst men. Similarly, ‘through The veil, that is to say, his flesh’ (Hebrews 10:20) points to His life in those same ‘days of his flesh’-the whole period of His suffering humanity; and when the writer describes the rites of the OT Law as ‘ordinances of flesh’ (δικαιώματα σαρκός, English Version ‘carnal ordinances,’ Hebrews 9:10) and contrasts these with the blood of Christ in respect of atoning efficacy, the antithesis in his mind, as the context shows, is not so much between the material and the spiritual as between the earthly and the heavenly, the passing and the permanent, the temporal and the eternal. In the same way he draws a contrast between ‘the law of a carnal (σαρκίνης) commandment’ and ‘the power of an endless life’ (Hebrews 7:16).

7. In addition to the foregoing, which may all be characterized as natural meanings of ‘flesh,’ we find the word used by St. Paul in a distinctly theological and ethical sense to denote the seat and instrument of sin in fallen humanity, as opposed to the ‘mind,’ or higher nature of man, which accepts the Law of God (Romans 7:25), and the ‘spirit,’ which is the principle of life in the regenerate (Romans 8:4 ff., Galatians 5:16 ff; Galatians 6:8). In precisely the same way he employs the adj. ‘fleshly’ or ‘carnal’ in contrast with ‘spiritual’ (Romans 7:14, 1 Corinthians 3:1, etc.; see, further, Carnal). Pfleiderer and others have sought to explain this peculiar usage by supposing that in the Pauline anthropology there was a fundamental dualism between ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit,’ and that the Apostle saw in the physical or sensuous part of man the very source and principle of sin. Such a view, however, is contrary to St. Paul’s thoroughly Hebrew conception of the unity of body and soul in the human personality (see 4), and is expressly negatived by his teaching on such subjects as the sinlessness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21) and the sanctification of the body (1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:19), and by his application of the epithet ‘carnal’ (1 Corinthians 3:3) and of the expression ‘works of the flesh’ (Galatians 5:19 ff.) to sins in which any sensuous or physical elements are entirely wanting. The most probable explanation of this Pauline antithesis of ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ is that it amounts to a contrast between the natural and the supernatural. Sin in St. Paul’s presentation of it comes in the case of fallen man through natural inheritance-all mankind descending from Adam ‘by ordinary generation’-and is therefore characterized as ‘flesh’; while the life of holiness, as a gift of the Divine Spirit, is described as ‘spirit’ with reference to its source.

Literature.-H. Cremer, Lex. of NT Greek3 Edinburgh, 1880, s.v. σάρξ, and article ‘Fleisch’ in Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 3; H. H. Wendt, Die Begriffe Fleisch u. Geist im bibl. Sprachgebrauch, Gotha, 1878; J. Laidlaw, Bible Doct. of Man, new ed., Edinburgh, 1895, p. 109ff., and Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 14; W. P. Dickson, St. Paul’s Use of the Terms ‘Flesh’ and ‘Spirit,’ Glasgow, 1883; A. B. Bruce, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, Edinburgh, 1894, ch. xiv.

J. C. Lambert.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Flesh'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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