|‘Flesh’ (gr. sarx)
is a word vitally connected with the subject of the Incarnation. It
appears in three forms: sarx, which is usually translated flesh; sarkikos,
usually carnal, sometimes fleshly, and sarkinos, fleshy.
appears only once in the New Testament, in 2 Corinthians 3:3.
Forasmuch as ye are
manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us,
written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in
tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
appears eleven times; nine times translated carnal, and twice fleshly.
Examples of the former
I am carnal, sold under sin.
ye are yet carnal
And the latter translation
appears, for instance, in:
from fleshly lusts
is found in no less than one hundred and fifty texts, usually translated
flesh, but on three occasions it is translated carnal, or carnally.
Examples of the latter are:
to be carnally minded
(is) death (lit. ‘the minding of the flesh’)
the carnal mind (is)
(lit. ‘the minding of the flesh’) enmity against God.
… and carnal
Practically every other
instance where sarx is used indicates that reference is to man in
his fallen state. Examples are:
… lust of the flesh.
… the flesh lusteth
against the Spirit.
… works of the flesh
are manifest (there then follows a long list of gross sins, such
as adultery, fornication, uncleanness, etc.)
1 Peter 1:21
… filth of the flesh
. . .
2 Peter 2:10
… them that walk
after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness . . .
… in the lusts of our
flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind . .
There are six references in the New Testament to the words of Genesis
2:24, “they shall be one flesh.” Four of these are by the Lord Jesus
and two by the apostle Paul. Those by Jesus are found in Matthew 19:5
and 6, and Mark 10:8, while those of Paul are in 1 Corinthians 6:16 and
Ephesians 5:31. It might conceivably be argued that these references are
clearly to man in his unfallen state, but it must be remembered that
these are all quoted from the Genesis record., and that they do not
reflect the New Testament usage of the word sarx, or flesh.
Frequently Jesus used the word flesh to refer to Himself, an important
fact which will be considered shortly. In all other uses of the word He
clearly referred to man in his fallen state. In all other uses of sarx
the apostle Paul makes clear references to the sinful nature of man,
except, of course, such a text as 1 Corinthians 15:39:
All flesh (is) not the same
flesh: but (there is) one (kind of) flesh of men, another flesh of
Here Paul is dealing with a
totally different kind of situation, contrasting the flesh of human
beings with that of animals, and is not dealing with the question of
whether sarx could apply to the unfallen state.
There are, too, the texts which
refer to “those of the flesh” as members of the human race, such as:
… my kinsmen
according to the flesh . . .
… (them which are) my
flesh . . .
These, though not referring to the actual sinful or fallen aspects of
the human race, nevertheless do refer to that human race which has
inherited from Adam a fallen or sinful human nature. certainly there is
nothing in these texts to connect them with man in his unfallen state.
Sometimes an objection is
raised to this position based upon the words of Jesus in Luke 24:39:
‘Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see;
for the spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have’. It is
contended that the ‘flesh’ mentioned here is a superior kind such as
Adam was given originally. However, it must be remembered that in this
text we are seeing a post-resurrection appearance of our Lord, a time
when He no longer had the body of His pre-resurrection life. His body
was now a glorified body. It was not always so. John 7:39 clearly tells
us: ‘Jesus was not yet glorified’. And later, in John 12:16, we read
further: ‘These things understood not his disciples at the first: but
when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were
written of him, and that they had done these things unto him’. A
little later, in verse 23, Jesus said: ‘The hour is come, that the Son
of man should be glorified’.
When was Jesus glorified?
Clearly, at the cross, where was revealed God’s ultimate love, agape,
in the giving of His Son for a lost world. And when did Christ come to
possess a glorified body? Clearly at His resurrection shortly after. We
are told in Philippians 3:21 that our Lord Jesus Christ ‘Shall change
our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body,
according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things
Therefore, to argue that
Christ, during His life on earth, was given some kind of superior
‘flesh’, or ‘nature’, is to overlook what the above texts tell
us of the time when He actually received His ‘glorified’ body.
Then there are the texts where
Jesus tells His listeners that the ‘bread’ which He will give them
is His ‘flesh.’ This appears several times in John 6 verses 51 to
56. Here, of course, it is obvious that Jesus is speaking of His
‘flesh’ symbolically, and it would be pointless to try to make a
case for sarx as being either fallen or unfallen ‘flesh’ from
these passages. In the event of a contention that the reference here is
to the unfallen ‘flesh’ of Adam, the same logic would apply as given
above in Luke 24:39.
Finally, we have the texts
which use ‘flesh’ (sarx) as referring to the actual substance
of which human beings are composed. Examples are:
… shall eat her flesh
. . .
flesh of kings, and the
flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men … and the flesh
of all men . . .
… fowls were filled
with their flesh . . .
In conclusion it can be stated
that the overwhelming use of sarx, or flesh, in the New
Testament, especially in the Pauline epistles, is to indicate the
fallen, sinful, deteriorated human nature, which all human beings have
inherited from Adam.
George V. The Englishmans’s Greek Concordance of the New
Testament. 9th ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House,