Bible blog 2208


You were summoned to freedom, my dears; only do not use your freedom as an incentive to your flesh and blood selves, but slave for one another through love. For the whole Law is summed up in one commandment: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. But if you snap and chew on one another, watch out you are not swallowed up by one another. So I tell you, walk by the spirit and do not carry out the craving of the flesh and blood self. For the cravings of the flesh and blood self are opposed to the spirit, and those of the spirit are opposed to the flesh and blood self; these are mutually opposed so that you may not do what you want. But if you are directed by the spirit you are not subject to Law.

Freedom from Law is a privilege, according to Paul, which can be misused to satisfy the cravings of the flesh and blood self. Paul writes simply “of the flesh”, Greek sarx, which means the physical substance of animals and human beings. Why then not translate it as “flesh”? Because Paul does not mean the material body, but rather the human self as determined solely by its material constitution. He is not using the familiar Greek distinction between mind/ soul and body, but identifying the fleshly self as a malign spiritual power. This is contrary to our contemporary humanism, which sees nothing wrong with our flesh and blood selves. It is also contrary to the Jewish bible which depicts God creating human beings from the dust of the earth, emphasising our frailty but not our sin. It does however name the root of human rebellion against God: our craving to be masters of our existence rather than receiving it from the creator. It is not an optimistic view of human being. The Law operates at the level of the flesh and blood self and tries to control it.

John Chrysostomos a Greek bishop of the 4th century wrote about Paul’s use of the word ‘flesh’ in his Homilies on Galatians:

“Here some make the charge that the Apostle has divided man into two parts, and that he states the essence of which he is compounded to be conflicting with itself, and that the body has a contest with the soul. But this is not so, most certainly; for by the flesh, he does not mean the body; if he did, what would be the sense of the clause immediately following, for it lusts, he says, against the Spirit? yet the body moves not, but is moved, is not an agent, but is acted upon. How then does it lust, for lust belongs to the soul not to the body, for in another place it is said, My soullongs, Psalm 84:2 and, Whatsoever your soul desires, I will even do it for you, 1 Samuel 20:4and, Walk not according to the desires of your heart, and, So pants my soul. Psalm 42:1Wherefore then does Paul say, the flesh lusts against the Spirit? he is wont to call the flesh, not the natural body but the depraved will, as where he says, But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, Romans 8:8-9 and again, They that are in the flesh cannot please God. What then? Is the flesh to be destroyed? Was not he who thus spoke clothed with flesh? Such doctrines are not of the flesh, but from the Devil, for he was a murderer from the beginning. John 8:44 What then is his meaning? It is the earthly mind, slothful and careless, that he here calls the flesh, and this is not an accusation of the body, but a charge against the slothful soul. The flesh is an instrument, and no one feels aversion and hatred to an instrument, but to him who abuses it. For it is not the iron instrument but the murderer, whom we hate and punish. But it may be said that the very calling of the faults of the soul by the name of the flesh is in itself an accusation of the body. And I admit that the flesh is inferior to the soul, yet it too is good, for that which is inferior to what is good may itself be good, but evil is not inferior to good, but opposed to it. Now if you are able to prove to me that evil originates from the body, you are at liberty to accuse it; but if your endeavor is to turn its name into a charge against it, you ought to accuse the soul likewise. For he that is deprived of the truth is called the natural man. 1 Corinthians 2:14 and the race of demons the spirits of wickedness. Ephesians 6:12






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