August 31 (1): 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous note dealt with 2:16]

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

Before concluding this series of daily notes (on 1 Cor 1:18-2:16), it is necessary to study briefly the opening of the section which follows (3:1-4:21), in which Paul applies the arguments of 1:18ff more directly to the situation at Corinth. To begin with, the parallel between 2:6 and 3:1 is unmistakable, and must be noted:

“And we speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete…” (2:6)
“And I was not able to speak to you as (one)s with the Spirit…” (3:1)

This allows us to supplement the earlier conclusions regarding a proper interpretation of 2:6a more precisely: the ones who are “complete” essentially = the ones who “have the Spirit”. However, the distinction in 2:6-16 was between those who have the Spirit and those who have (only) the soul/spirit of a human being—the contrast of the adjectives pneumatiko/$ and yuxiko/$ being that of believer vs. non-believer. Here in 3:1ff, on the other hand, Paul is speaking directly to believers, which means that he now gives a somewhat different nuance to the adjective pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual”). To the basic sense of “one who has (received) the Spirit”, we must add the connotation of “one who thinks/acts according to the Spirit“. This is confirmed by Paul’s use of the more familiar contrast between “Spirit” and “flesh”, with its strong moral/ethical implication. The Corinthian believers are not living out (i.e. thinking and acting according to) their identity as believers who have the Spirit. We can capture this through a careful translation of v. 1:

“And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as (one)s of the Spirit [pneumatikoi/], but (rather) as (one)s (still) of the flesh [sarki/noi], as infants in (the) Anointed {Christ}.”

This “fleshly” manner of thinking/acting is marked by the very divisions (“rips/tears”) in the Community mentioned in 1:10ff, along with jealously, quarreling and partisan/sectarian identity (“of Paul”, “of Apollos”, etc). Paul actually makes use of two related adjectives:

    • sa/rkiko$ (sárkikos)—generally belonging to, or characterized by, the flesh (sa/rc)
    • sa/rkino$ (sárkinos)—more specifically, something made of, or constituted by, the flesh

The second of these is used initially in v. 1, followed by the first (twice) in v. 3. The adjective sa/rkino$ (sárkinos) carries the more neutral sense of a physical human being (i.e. made of flesh). It is used by Paul, somewhat metaphorically, in 2 Cor 3:3, while in Rom 7:14 it preserves the moral/ethical sense of the spirit vs. flesh distinction; the only other NT occurrence is in Heb 7:16. The adjective sa/rkiko$ (sárkikos) is a bit more common, used by Paul in 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12; 10:4 and Rom 15:27; the only non-Pauline occurrence in the NT is 1 Pet 2:11. It is likely that the specific use of sa/rkino$ in 3:1 is due to the earlier usage of the adjective yuxiko/$ (psychikós) in 2:14. There would seem to be a progression of terms involved, which narrows the focus of Paul’s discussion:

    • yuxiko/$ (2:14)—one who has the inner life-breath (“soul”) of a human being, but has not received the Spirit of God
    • sa/rkino$ (3:1)—a human being who is “made of flesh”, i.e. in his/her physical and sensual aspect
    • sa/rkiko$ (3:3)—a person who thinks/acts “according to the flesh”—that is, fundamentally in a sinful, selfish or “immature” manner

The progression involves a kind of natural and logical consequence:

    • The person without the Spirit is merely a human being, and is not able to be guided by the power and direction of the Spirit
    • He/she is left to be guided by his/her own natural impulses and inclinations, which tend to be dominated by physical and sensual concerns
    • As a result, the person tends to act, and ultimately think, in a selfish and sinful manner

This again allows us to refine a basic conclusion regarding Paul’s terminology in 2:6a: the ones who are “complete” are defined, in a negative sense by the opposite—those who think and act in a “fleshly” manner are “incomplete”.

The discussion on 1:18-2:16 will conclude (in a final note) with a summary interpretation of 2:6a in context.

August 27: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:13]

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

Before proceeding with the translation of these verses, it is necessary first to examine two important words which are central to a correct interpretation of the passage.

yuxiko/$ (psychikós)—An adjective here parallel to pneumatiko/$ (pneumatikós), the two being related to the words yuxh/ (psych¢¡, usually translated “soul”) and pneu=ma (pneu¡ma, usually translated “spirit”), respectively. The fundamental meaning of both words is of something blowing (cf. the primary verbs yu/xw and pne/w)—especially of wind (as a natural phenomena) or breath (of a living being), the two concepts or images being related in the ancient mind (wind as the ‘breath’ of the deity). The main difference between the word-groups can be described this way:

    • yu/xw refers to blowing in the sense of cooling—i.e. a cool(ing), cold breeze
    • pne/w refers primarily to movement—a stream of air (i.e. wind) with its visible effect (causing motion)

Each aspect, however, could be (and was) related to the life-breath of a (human) being. The ancient conception is preserved in Genesis 2:7, in which God breathes (blows) a wind/breath into the first human being; according to the Greek version (LXX), God breathes/blows in (e)nefu/shsen) a “living breath [pnoh/]” and the man becomes a “living breath [yuxh/]”. Here we see the two words used in tandem—pnoh/ (pno¢¡, closely related to pneu=ma pneu¡ma) and yuxh/ (psych¢¡). John 20:22 records a similar process (a “new creation”), when Jesus blows/breathes in(to) the first believers and they receive the Holy Spirit [pneu=ma]. The distinction between the two nouns can be defined generally as follows:

    • yuxh/ is the “life-breath”—that is, the invisible, inward aspect of a person, marking him/her as a living, breathing being (i.e., “soul”)
    • pneu=ma is the life-giving “breath” which animates and sustains a (human) being (i.e. “spirit”)

The two terms overlap in meaning, and the relationship between them in Greek thought is rather complex. Paul uses them each to refer to the inner dimension of a human being, but they are not to be understood as separate “things”, as though a person has “a spirit” in addition to “a soul”. Earlier in 1 Cor 2:11, Paul refers to the “spirit/breath [pneu=ma] of man th(at is) in him“, and distinguishes it from the Spirit/Breath of God—that is to say, every human being has a “spirit” in him/her, but only believers (in Christ) have the “Spirit (of God)”. Now here in verse 14, a similar contrast is made—i.e., between the believer and the “ordinary” human being. This time, Paul establishes it, not by playing with the two senses of pneu=ma (“spirit”), but by playing on the difference between the two words pneu=ma and yuxh/ and their corresponding adjectives; which brings us to the problem of translation:

    • pneumatiko/$ (pneumatikós)—something belonging to, or characterized by, pneu=ma “spirit” (i.e. “spiritual”), only here it refers specifically to the “Spirit (of God)”
    • yuxiko/$ (psychikós)—something belonging to, or characterized by, yuxh/ “soul”, that is, the human soul

Unfortunately, there is no appropriate English word corresponding to this last adjective. A formal equivalence would be something like “soulish”, but that is exceedingly awkward. Most translators tend to use “natural”, for lack of any better option; however, while this manages to get the meaning across, and preserves a meaningful comparison here in verse 14, it distorts the original Greek and the fine word-distinction being used. Based on Paul’s vocabulary elsewhere, we might expect him to use the adjective sarkiko/$ (sarkikós, “fleshly”) here (see esp. 1 Cor 3:3, also Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12; 10:4). Only that word carries a definite negative connotation in Paul’s thought (associated with sin); here he wishes to preserve the more neutral, quasi-scientific sense of a normal, living human being. The adjective yuxiko/$ appears in only three other passages in the New Testament; in Paul’s letters, the only other occurrences are in 1 Cor 15:44-46, which I will touch on below. The other two instances are in James 3:15 and Jude 19 and may help us to understand its usage by Paul here:

    • James 3:15—As in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, a contrast is made between the wisdom (sofi/a) of God (“from above”, a&nwqen) and earthly (e)pi/geio$) wisdom. The adjective “earthly” (lit. “[from] upon earth”) is followed by yuxiko/$, and then daimoniw/dh$ (“of the daimons“). Here yuxiko/$ means essentially human, as part of a triad of terms characterizing this inferior “wisdom”—earthly–human–demonic. In verse 16, the author (“James”) mentions jealousy and strife/quarrels associated with this worldly “wisdom”, which is also an important aspect of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians.
    • Jude 19—Again the adjective yuxiko/$ is the second of three descriptive terms, characterizing the ‘false’ Christians of vv. 5ff:
      (a) oi( a)podiori/zonte$ “the (one)s marking (themselves/others) off from”, i.e. separating (them) from the rest of the (true) believers
      (b) yuxikoi/—i.e. “ordinary” human beings, the term being glossed by
      (c) pneu=ma mh\ e&xonte$ “not holding/having the Spirit (of God)”

Paul uses the adjective yuxiko/$ in much the same sense as Jude—referring to human beings who possess a soul/spirit but who have not (yet) received the (Holy) Spirit. Without the guidance of the Spirit, they are led by their own human (or animal) desires and impulses.

a)nakri/nw (anakrínœ)—Paul uses this verb several times in vv. 14-15, but it does not allow for easy translation. The primary verb kri/nw I have consistently rendered with the semantic range “(to) judge”, sometimes with the nuance of “decide, examine,” etc, though its original meaning was something like “(to) separate, divide, distinguish”. The prepositional component a)na/ is best understood here as “again”, in the sense of doing something again (i.e. repeatedly); however, in the verbal context it essentially functions as an intensive element. Perhaps the best translation of the verb is “examine closely“; in a judicial setting, it can refer to an interrogation or investigation. More than half of the NT occurrences (10 of 16) are in 1 Corinthians, the only letter of Paul where the verb is used; 6 are in 1 Cor 1:18-4:21 (2:14-15; 4:3-4), being neatly divided:

    • 3: 2:14-15—the reference is to the “complete” believer, “the spiritual (one)” (see v. 6)
    • 3: 4:3-4—the reference is to Paul himself as a minister of Christ

On 1 Cor 15:44-46—Returning to the word yuxiko/$ (cf. above), it may be helpful to consider briefly Paul’s use of it in 1 Cor 15:44-46, where the context is the (end-time) resurrection. Here, too, it is contrasted with pneumatiko/$; the human being is:

    • scattered [i.e. sown, in death] (as) a yuxiko/$ body—i.e., as body in which there is a life-breath (yuxh/, “soul”)
    • raised [i.e. from the dead] (as) a pneumatiko/$ body—i.e., as a spiritual body, transformed by the Spirit of God/Christ

In verse 45, Paul explicitly cites Gen 2:7 (cf. above), making the contrast more definite—between the human soul [yuxh/] (Adam) and the Spirit [pneu=ma] (Christ). It is not simply the Spirit of God (YHWH), according to traditional Jewish thought; following his resurrection, Christ himself becomes a life-giving Spirit. The two passages, using the yuxiko/$/pneumatiko/$ contrast, reflect the two ends of early Christian (and Pauline) soteriology:

    • Regeneration—The believer experiences a “new creation” in Christ, whereby the human soul/spirit is united with the Spirit of God/Christ
    • Resurrection—The human soul (and body) of the believer is completely transformed by the Spirit of God/Christ

In 1 Cor 2:14-15, Paul has the first of these in view. The analysis above should go far in helping us gain a solid understanding of what Paul is saying in these two verses. A translation and (brief) interpretation will be offered in the next daily note.

August 2: Romans 8:10

Today’s note is on Romans 8:10, supplemental to the discussion on Rom 8:1-39 in the series on “Paul’s View of the Law in Romans”.

Romans 8:10

Verse 10 cannot be separated from the context of verses 9-11, which form the culmination of the exhortation in 8:1-11, regarding the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh. The announcement of freedom from the Law in vv. 1-4 means that the believer must rely upon the Spirit for guidance—Paul characterizes believers as “the ones walking about according to the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16, 25). Deliverance from sin also means that believers are no longer under its enslaving power, and now have the freedom and ability to follow the will of God; however, the flesh remains as a source of struggle and conflict. This is the emphasis in verses 5-11, which correspond in many ways to the exhortation in Gal 5:16-25. According to Paul’s anthropology, the flesh itself remains opposed to the “Law of God” (vv. 7-8). The main argument in verses 9-11 is that believers are, and should be, guided and influenced by the Spirit, and not the flesh:

“But you are not in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/] but in (the) Spirit [e)n pneu/mati]…”

The preposition e)n here has the specific sense of “in the power of”—in a manner similar to the expression “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|). However, this is only one aspect of union with Christ and the Spirit; in the rest of vv. 9-11, the focus shifts from believers “in the Spirit” to the Spirit “in believers”. In other words, the power which guides and controls believers is based on the presence of the Spirit in them. Living, thinking, and walking “according to the flesh” is not, and should not be, characteristic of believers. This is reflected in the conditional clause which follows in v. 9a:

“…if indeed [ei&per] the Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

The particle ei&per is somewhat difficult to translate; literally, it would be something like “if (indeed) about (this)”, with the sense that “if (indeed) it is so that…”. It indicates a condition, but one that is generally assumed to be true: “if it is so (as indeed it is!)”, i.e. “since (it is so that)”. For true believers in Christ, the condition would be true: the Spirit dwells in them. A series of sentences follow in vv. 9b-11, each beginning with the conditional particle ei) (“if”) and the coordinating particle de/:

V. 9b: “But if [ei) de\] any (one) does not hold the Spirit of God, that (one) is not of him.”
V. 10: “But if [ei) de\] (the) Anointed is in you…”
V. 11: “But if [ei) de\] the Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you…”

The first (9b) is a negative condition: “if any one does not have [lit. hold] the Spirit of God”. Most likely the genitive au)tou= (“of him”) means “of Christ”, belonging to Christ—i.e. a true Christian has the Spirit of God. The last two sentences have positive conditions, and the two are closely related, connecting Christ with the Spirit of God:

    • V. 10—”the Anointed is in you [e)n u(mi=n]”
    • V. 11—”the Spirit of (God)… dwells in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

In each instance, the apodosis, indicating the fulfillment or result of the condition (“then…”), involves the theme of life vs. death. I begin with the last verse (v. 11):

    • “If the Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then)…
      • …the (one) raising (the) Anointed out of the dead also will make alive your dying [i.e. mortal] bodies through his Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] in you”

The reference here is to the bodily resurrection of the end-time, which represents the culmination and completion of salvation for believers, according to early Christian thought. Note the repetitive symmetry to this sentence:

the Spirit of the one raising Jesus from the dead dwells in you
——will make alive your dying bodies
the one raising Christ from the dead…through his Spirit dwelling in you

This brings us to verse 10:

    • “If (the) Anointed (is) in you, (then)…
      • …the body (is) dead through sin, but the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness”

Here the apodosis is expressed by way of a me\nde/ construction:

    • me\n (on the one hand)—the body is dead through sin
    • de\ (on the other hand)—the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness

If verse 11 referred to bodily resurrection at the end, verse 10 refers to a dynamic that is already realized in believers presently. It still involves life and death, but not one following the other (as in the resurrection); rather, the two exist at the same time, side by side—the body is dead, the Spirit is life. This anthropological dualism is typical of Paul’s thought; however, it is interesting to note that he has here shifted away slightly from the flesh/Spirit conflict emphasized in vv. 1-8. The “flesh” (sa/rc) relates to the impulse toward sin, the “body” (sw=ma) to death itself. It may be helpful to consider the anthropological terms Paul makes use of in Romans:

    • sw=ma (“body”)—that is, the physical (human) body, which is subject to death (“dying/mortal”, Rom 6:12; 8:11), according to the primeval judgment narrated in Gen 3:3-4, 19, 22-23. In Rom 7:24, Paul refers to it as “the body of death” (cf. also Rom 4:19). For believers, the redemption of the body, i.e. the loosing it from the bondage of death, is the final, culminating event of salvation—the resurrection (Rom 8:23).
    • ta\ me/lh (“the [bodily] parts”)—the different components (limbs, organs, etc) of the physical body, which should be understood two ways: (1) the sensory/sensual aspect of the body, which is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin, and (2) the means by which human beings act and work in the body. The first of these is expressed in Rom 7:5ff, 23—it is specifically in the bodily members that sin dwells and works. The second is indicated in Rom 6:13ff, as well perhaps by expression “the practices/deeds of the body” in Rom 8:13.
    • sa/rc (“flesh”)—a wide-ranging word and concept in Paul’s thought, it refers principally to the physical/material aspect of human nature (the body and its parts), but also within the specific context of sin. The “flesh” indicates human nature as enslaved under the power of sin (throughout Rom 7:7-25 and 8:1-11ff [cf. above]). Believers in Christ are freed from the enslaving power of sin, but can still be affected, in various ways, by the flesh and the impulse to sin which resides in it (Rom 8:1-11, and see esp. Gal 5:16-25).
    • nou=$ (“mind”)—according to Rom 7:13-25 (esp. vv. 23-25), the mind, representing intellectual, volitional and ethical aspects of human nature, is not enslaved by the power of sin the same way that the flesh is. Though it can come to be dominated entirely by wickedness (cf. Rom 1:28), in Rom 7 (where Paul likely is speaking for devout Jews and Gentiles), the mind is torn, wanting to obey the will (or Law) of God, but ultimately overcome by the power of sin in the flesh. For believers, the “mind” is to be renewed (Rom 12:2), through “walking in the Spirit” (not according to the flesh or the things of the world), so that we may be transformed more and more into the likeness of God in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3:18).
    • o( e&sw a&nqrwpo$ (“the inner man”)—Paul uses this expression in Rom 7:22, contrasting it with the “(bodily) parts”; it is best, I think, to understand it as representing a human being in the exercise of the mind, as opposed to following the (sinful) impulse of the flesh. That it is largely synonymous with the “mind” (nou=$) for Paul is indicated by his use of the expression in 2 Cor 4:16, compared with Rom 12:2. For believers, it reflects that aspect of the person which recognizes the will of God and experiences the work of the Spirit (cf. Eph 3:16).
    • pneu=ma (“spirit”)—it should be noted that Paul rarely applies this word to ordinary human nature; it is reserved for believers in Christ, and there it refers, not to the human “spirit”, but to the Spirit (of God and Christ), i.e. the Holy Spirit. However, at the inmost “spiritual” level, believers are united with the Spirit (cf. above) and it becomes the guiding power and aspect of the person.

With regard to Rom 8:10, it is interesting to observe that, after the phrase “the body is dead”, Paul does not say “the Spirit is alive”, but rather, “the Spirit is life“, using the noun zw/h. This is because it is not a precise parallel—as indicated, above, pneu=ma is not the human “spirit” but the Spirit of God (and Christ); as such, it is not alive, it is Life itself. What then, does it mean that the Spirit is life “through justice/righteousness”? Here again, it is not an exact formal parallel:

    • dia\ a(marti/an (“through sin”)—the power and work of sin results in death for the body
    • dia\ dikaiosu/nh (“through justice/righteousness”)—the power and work of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ) results in the believer experiencing the life that the Spirit brings

Some commentators would say that Paul does mean pneu=ma in v. 10 as the human “spirit”. I disagree completely. While this, admittedly, would allow for a more natural parallel, it contrasts entirely with Paul’s use of the word throughout Romans. The whole emphasis in 8:1ff is on the Spirit of God (and Christ), not the human “spirit”.

July 22: Galatians 5:17, 24

In the previous note, I discussed the pair of statements which bracket vv. 16-25 (see the chiastic outline for this section), the first of three concentric pairs (vv. 16-18, 23b-25) surrounding the central lists of vices (“works of the flesh”) and virtues (“fruit of the Spirit”). As previously indicated, these pairs may be summarized:

    • Exhortation (vv. 16, 25)
    • Conflict—Flesh vs. Spirit (vv. 17, 24)
    • Affirmation regarding freedom (vv. 18, 23b)

Today’s note will examine the second pair.

Conflict for believers (Flesh vs. Spirit)—Gal 5:17, 24

This conflict is expressed two different ways by Paul: (1) the current conflict (v. 17), and (2) its resolution (v. 18).

Verse 17:

aFor the flesh sets (its) impulse against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh—bfor these lie (stretched out) (one) against the other, so that you might not do the (thing)s which you might wish (to do).”

On the juxtaposition of flesh and Spirit in Galatians (and elsewhere in Paul’s letters), see the previous note and articles; on the “impulse [e)piqumi/a]” of the flesh, cf. also the previous note. Here, in verse 17, we find the related verb e)piqume/w, which I have translated by way of conflating two valid renderings: (a) “have an impulse toward (something)”, and (b) “set (one’s) mind/heart upon (something)”. The principal statement is 17a, which juxtaposes “flesh” and “Spirit”, setting them against each other. Previously in Galatians kata\ sarko/$/pneu/mato$ meant “according to the flesh/Spirit”, here it means, more precisely and fundamentally, “against the flesh/Spirit”. The opposition and mutual incompatibility (even hostility), indicated throughout Galatians, is here expressed directly.

Verse 17b expounds the essential statement with two, related, explanatory clauses:

    1. “for these [i.e. flesh and the Spirit] lie out (one) against the other…”—The particle ga/r relates this clause to what came before (the statement in 17a). The verb Paul uses is a)nti/keimai, “to lie (stretched out) against”, as two opposing animals or armies, etc; the preposition a)nti, like kata, means “against”, but in the more precise sense of two opponents facing each other.
    2. “…so that you might not do the (thing)s which you might wish (to do)”—The subordinating conjunctive particle i%na could indicate either a purpose or a result clause, i.e. “so (in order) that…” or “so that (as a result)…”; formally, a result clause is more appropriate, however, there is clearly the sense of a will being imposed, whether that of the opposing forces, or the overriding will/purpose of God (or both). The two verbs—qe/lhte and poih=te—are both subjunctive forms (“might wish”, “might do”); in other words, each opposing force obstructs and resists the will and action of the other.

Anyone familiar with Paul’s letters will recognize the similarity between verse 17 and Romans 7:15-25. A proper discussion of this passage will have to wait until its place in the series of articles and notes on “Paul’s View of the Law (in Romans)”. Even though, by consensus of most commentators, in Romans 7, Paul is dramatizing the situation of human beings prior to faith in Christ, while Galatians 5 relates specifically to believers as they live in Christ and by the Spirit, the dynamic he describes in each letter is very similar. The main difference, I believe, is that, in Romans 7, the flesh is additionally bound up under the enslaving forces of the Law and sin; in Galatians 5, on the other hand, only the flesh (the “impulse of the flesh”) is involved. The believer, as Paul teaches repeatedly in Galatians (and in Romans, for that matter) is free from both the Law of the Old Testament and the “law of sin”.

Verse 24:

“But the (one)s of (the) Anointed [Yeshua] have put to the stake [i.e. crucified] the flesh (together) with the sufferings and impulses (it brings)”

If the conflict (between flesh and Spirit) was stated in verse 17 (above), the way of resolution to the conflict (if believers are willing to accept it) is presented in verse 24. Each of the important expressions in this verse ought to be examined, at least briefly:

de\ (“but”)—the adversative conjunctive particle de/ properly relates to the prior verses (vv. 19-23), but it could just as well connect back to the statement of conflict in verse 17; in many ways, it is more appropriate and makes better sense in this context.

oi(tou= Xristou= [ )Ihsou=] (“the ones of the Anointed [Yeshua]”)—here Christian identity is described with a genitival expression, i.e. believers as the ones belonging to Christ, “of Christ”. Certainly this should be understood in relation to the familiar Pauline expression “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|).

e)stau/rwsan (“have put to the stake”)—the reference of course being to the believers’ identification with, and symbolic/spiritual participation in, the death (crucifixion) of Christ. This was already stated, famously and most powerfully, by Paul in Gal 2:19f:

“…I died away to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been put to the stake (together) with the Anointed…”

For other mention of the death and cross of Christ in Galatians, see Gal 1:1, 4; 2:20-21; 3:1, 13; 5:11. Through identification with the crucifixion (at the spiritual level), believers are freed from the Law, and, with it, from the power of sin (the “curse” of the Law, cf. 3:10-14). This freedom is expressed vividly in terms of dying—becoming dead to the Law; in Col 2:13-14, we find the even more dramatic image of the Law (and sin [debt/trespass]) itself dying, being nailed to the cross.

th\n sa/rka (“the flesh”)—on Paul’s use of sa/rc (“flesh”) see the previous notes and articles on the relevant passages in Galatians (“Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians”). Interestingly, while Paul declares that, in Christ, believers are free from the Law and the power of sin, he never goes so far as to extend this freedom to the flesh. As he indicates repeatedly in his letters, and specifically here in Gal 5:17 (cf. above), believers face a regular conflict and daily struggle against the “impulse of the flesh”. For more on this thought, see below.

su\n (“with”)—the conjunction su/n, “(together) with” also appears in Gal 2:19, but prefixed to the verb stauro/w (“put to the stake”) in the compound form sustauro/w (“put to the stake [together] with”). There the conjunction connects the believer with Christ; here, in a different, opposite direction, it connects the flesh with its “sufferings and impulses”

toi=$ paqh/masin kai\ tai=$ e)piqumi/a$ (“the sufferings and the impulses”)—on the word e)piqumi/a (translated here as “impulse”), cf. the previous day’s note; the expression e)piqumi/a sarko/$ (“impulse of the flesh”) was used in verse 16. The word is fairly common in Paul’s letters (cf. 1 Thess 2:17; 4:5; Rom 1:24; 6:12; 7:7-8; 13:14; Phil 1:23; Col 3:5, also Eph 2:3; 4:22, etc), and can be fairly rendered “desire, longing”, sometimes in a positive sense, but more often in the negative sense of fleshly/carnal or sinful desire. The word pa/qhma refers to pain or (painful) suffering, hardship, affliction, etc., often indicating a strong emotion or impulse, i.e. “passion”; as such, the word (or the related noun pa/qo$) may be connected semantically with e)piqumi/a, cf. 1 Thess 4:5; Col 3:5. The nouns are plural, and should be seen as both deriving conceptually from the singular “impulse [e)piqumi/a] of the flesh”—the “impulses” (pl.) reflect the reality that believers will experience the “impulse” of the flesh on different occasions and in various forms, along with the effects (the “pains/sufferings”) they bring.

There is an important implication in the language of verse 24, when Paul states that believers (“the ones of Christ“) have put to death (crucified) the flesh—in other words, it does not happen automatically (or magically) as a result of Christ’s death; it requires involvement by the believer, in at least two respects:

    • Identification/participation with the crucifixion at the symbolic/spiritual level, through faith and the work of the Spirit—see esp. Gal 2:19-20 (cf. above)
    • The daily life of the believer, whereby the flesh—both its “impulse” and its “works”—are regularly “put to death” in a practical, habitual sense, cf. Rom 6:6ff; 8:13; Col 3:5; also Gal 6:8-9, 14; and note Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34 par. In traditional theological language, this is sometimes referred to as (self-)mortification.

Just as we are exhorted to “walk” in the Spirit (even though we already live in the Spirit), so we are exhorted to put the flesh to death (i.e. “crucify” it), even though we have already been “crucified with Christ”.