“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 2

“And the Word became flesh…”
kai\ o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

There are three components to this statement in Jn 1:14a; the first of these (the noun lo/go$) was discussed in part 1. We now turn to the next two components.

2. sa/rc

The noun sa/rc (“flesh”) occurs rather more frequently in the Gospel of John (13 times) than in the Synoptics (11 times, combined); these occurrences are distributed over seven references (1:13, 14; 3:6; 6:51ff, 63; 8:15; 17:2). In addition, the noun occurs twice in 1 John (2:16; 4:2 [par 2 Jn 7]).

For the most part, in the Gospel, sa/rc is used in the context of a contrast, between that which is physical/material and that which is spiritual. However, this contrast is not defined as sharply as it is in Paul’s writings, with the fundamental ethical-religious dualism between Spirit (pneu=ma) and flesh (sa/rc)—cf. Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17ff; 6:8; Rom 8:4-9ff; Phil 3:3. Only in 1 John 2:16 do we find anything like the negative ethical connotation that Paul attaches to sa/rc. The Johannine and Pauline usage of sa/rc is, though, comparable in the way that the term stands for the natural life and existence of a human being. It connotes, in particular, the mortality of the human condition, and its limitations (in relation to God).

This concept of “flesh” is not negative, per se, in the Johannine writings. The flesh cannot give birth to what is spiritual (or born of God); but this is simply because a human being (“flesh”) can only give birth to another human being (“flesh”). Only the Divine Spirit can give birth to something that is of the Spirit. That is the point Jesus makes in 3:6, and it is also emphasized by the Gospel writer in the Prologue (1:13).

There is a bit more denigration of “the flesh” in 6:63, where, again, the contrast is with the Spirit. As Jesus puts it in this famous saying, “the Spirit is the (thing) making alive [i.e. giving life], the flesh is not useful (for) anything”. This saying comes in the context of the Bread of Life Discourse of chap. 6, and, especially, the closing verses 51-58 with their apparent eucharistic language. Jesus refers to the importance of eating his “flesh” (and drinking his “blood”), which communicates life to the one eating it (vv. 53ff). And yet, in light of v. 63, it seems clear that Jesus is not referring to his physical flesh, per se, but to his life and existence as a human being. In particular, the reference is clearly to his death, by which he gives up his own life, sacrificially, for the good of humankind.

This is in accordance with Johannine usage, whereby sa/rc refers to the life of a human being, especially in its mortality and limitations. The term, in 8:15 and 17:2, connotes the human condition more generally; and, yet, mortality and limitation is clearly being emphasized (in comparison with God). The reference in 17:2 is particularly significant in the way that humankind (“flesh”) is related to the person of Jesus (the Son), with two key points of emphasis:

    • Jesus’ authority over human beings, with the idea that certain human beings (believers) have been given to him, suggests a strong point of connection and affinity between the Son and human believers.
    • The eternal life possessed by God is not normally accessible to human beings (who are mortal); it can only be communicated to humans through the person of Jesus, which again suggests a point of contact (that would make such communication possible).

Whether or not this Johannine theological orientation applied to the (original) Logos-poem of the Gospel Prologue, it is definitely present in the full Prologue. We can see this by the way that verse 14 is juxtaposed with vv. 12-13. The rather clear implication is that the Logos “coming to be” (vb gi/nomai) a human being (“flesh”) took place so that human beings could “come to be (born)” (vb genna/w) as God’s offspring. The Gospel writer likely would have had in mind that this communication of eternal life, from the Logos/Son to human believers, could only take place because the Logos/Son had himself become a human being.

The reference in 1 John 4:2 (par 2 Jn 7) emphasizes the theological—and, I think, soteriological—importance of the Son becoming “flesh”. The author was combating Christians, (former) members of the Johannine Community, who (from his standpoint) held a false view of Jesus Christ, and thus were false believers. In two passages (2:18-27; 4:1-6), he calls these false believers “antichrists”, and provides confessional statements meant flatly to oppose their view of Jesus. In 4:2, the statement is:

“By this, you may know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses/acknowledges Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) having come in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/] is of God.”

The implication, clearly, is that any would-be believer, supposedly speaking from the Spirit, who does not confess/acknowledge (vb o(mologe/w) Jesus Christ as having come “in the flesh”, is not of God. Such a person speaks from another spirit—a spirit of the world that is opposed to God, a spirit of “antichrist”, a false and lying spirit. Note how this is stated in 2 John 7:

“(It is) that many who lead (people) astray [pla/noi] have gone out into the world, the (one)s not confessing/acknowledging Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this [i.e. such a person] is the (one) leading (people) astray [pla/no$] and the (one) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$]!”

Scholars continue to debate the precise nature of the opponents’ view of Jesus, with the following three lines of interpretation being the most plausible:

    • The opponents held an early (or rudimentary) docetic view of Jesus—viz., that the Son of God only seemed to be a human being, but was neither really (or fully) so.
    • They accepted his human incarnation, but denied that the Son actually suffered and died like an ordinary mortal.
    • They accepted the reality of his human life (and death), but denied (and/or downplayed) the importance and significance of it (for salvation, etc).

I have discussed the matter at length in earlier studies (see, most recently, the discussion in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), and will not repeat any of that here. The author’s emphasis on Jesus’ death (“blood”) in 5:6ff, with the expression “having come…in water and blood” seeming to qualify the earlier expression “having come in (the) flesh”, all suggests that the opponents denied, in some fashion, the reality of Jesus’ death.

In any case, the author’s polemic in 1 John provides evidence that there were early Christians—even those within the Johannine congregations—who struggled to understand and to explain the nature (and consequences) of the incarnation of Christ. It is likely that the author of 1 John, his opponents, and many of his intended readers, were all familiar with the Gospel Prologue—and especially Jn 1:14—and sought to interpret it in various ways.

In Part 3, we will examine the use of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) in the wider Johannine context. Along with this analysis, we will consider what differences or nuances of meaning there might be between the idiom of “coming to be” flesh (Jn 1:14) and “coming” in the flesh (1 Jn 4:2 par).

 

 

Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 4:37-40

1QHa 4, continued

(Unless otherwise indicated, the translations of 1QH are my own.)

In the remaining lines (37-40) of what survives of the column IV hymn, there occur two key expressions which are most instructive for an understanding of the theology (and anthropology) of the Qumran Community, as expressed particularly in the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot). These parallel, contrastive expressions are:

    • “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr) [line 37]
    • “spirit of holiness” (vd#oq j^Wr) [line 38]

The first of these occurs at the end of the third surviving section (ll. 29-37, discussed in the previous note). The psalmist praises God for His mercy and help, recognizing the need for God Himself to act on his behalf, “…for your servant (is) a spirit of flesh”.

The noun rc*B* (“flesh”), in the Old Testament, serves as a designation for a human being, and for human nature in general. By using the term “flesh”, the emphasis is on the createdness of the human nature, in its weakness and limitation (particularly in its mortality). The term is often specifically used to contrast the human being with God. Indeed, “flesh” is that which distinguishes a created (physical/material) human being from God, who is identified with spirit (see esp. John 4:24). Admittedly, this specific distinction is not made precisely in the Qumran texts; but there can be no doubt of the important contrast between God (and the Divine nature) and human “flesh”.

In line 37, the author/protagonist is particularly emphasizing the weakness and limitation of his human nature, which requires God to act on his behalf, delivering and protecting him from sin and the attacks of harmful “spirits”. But, while the use of the word rc*B* (“flesh”) is fully in keeping with Old Testament usage and tradition, the specific expression “spirit of flesh” is peculiar. Indeed, for readers familiar with the spirit/flesh contrast in the New Testament (especially in Paul’s letters), the expression may seem quite contradictory. How, indeed, can there be a spirit of flesh?

I think that the expression can be understood on several levels. First, there is the basic idea of a person’s material body (“flesh”) being animated by a spirit (or “soul”). In other words, “spirit of flesh” can simply serve as a way of referring to a living human being. Secondly, the “spirit” also reflects an operating mindset (and will) that governs the flesh (i.e., body) of a person. The spirit directs and influences the life and action, thought, etc, of a human being. Thirdly, “flesh”, in the anthropological sense, can connote, not only human weakness and limitation, but can also be used in the more negative sense of a human nature corrupted by sin and evil. This last aspect of meaning comes close to the starkly negative meaning of “flesh” (sa/rc) in the letters of Paul.

Until recent decades, there were many attempts by scholars to ascertain the origin and background of Paul’s distinctive use of the term “flesh”. Parallels in contemporary Judaism were difficult to find—that is, until the discovery, reconstruction and publication of the Qumran scrolls. In a number of those texts, including here in the Hodayot, we find a negative anthropological use of the term “flesh” (Heb. rc*B*) that resembles Paul’s usage in a number of ways. This will be discussed further as we continue through these notes.

In the context of the 1QHa column IV hymn, the contrast to the expression “spirit of flesh” is found at the beginning of the next (fourth) section (lines 38-40f). As mentioned in the previous note, sections 2 and 3 (ll. 21-28, 29-37) each begin with a praise/blessing of God, praising Him for what He has given to the hymnist/protagonist. In line 29, specific mention is made of the “spirits” God has given to (i.e., placed “in”) him. These spirits are apparently the means by which God guides and protects the person. The wording in line 38 is parallel, both in form and meaning:

“[Blessed (are) you, God Most High, that] you have sprinkled (the) spirit of your holiness over your servant, [and have] purified (the) […] of his heart”

The verb form htwpynh can be derived either from [Wn I (“wave, shake”) or [Wn II (“sprinkle”); I have opted for the latter (cp. Schuller/Newsom, p. 19; DJD XL, p. 74). On possible restorations for the lacuna in line 38, cf. DJD XL, p. 72).

If various “spirits” have been placed within in the hymnist, as a representative of the faithful/righteous Community, then also the spirit of God’s holiness has also been “sprinkled” over him. The expression vd#q) j^Wr is sometimes translated “holy spirit”, but this can be misleading (particularly for Christian readers); a proper rendering is “spirit of holiness” (cf. Romans 1:4). This pattern of expression (“spirit of…”) occurs frequently in a number of the Qumran texts, as we shall see. The particular construct genitival pattern likely was influenced by Old Testament usage—particularly the sequence in Isaiah 11:2.

There are many such spirits that come from God (cf. above on line 29), however the spirit of holiness (vd#q)) is especially associated with God Himself, reflecting the important Divine attribute/characteristic of holiness (Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22; 77:13; 78:41; 99:3ff, 9; Isa 1:4; 6:3, etc). Even so, the specific expression “spirit of holiness” is quite rare in the Scriptures, occurring only in Psalm 51:13[11] (“spirit of your holiness”) and Isa 63:10-11 (“spirit of His holiness”); cf. also Daniel 4:8-9, 18; 5:11. The expression here in line 38 essentially matches that in Psalm 51:13: “(the) spirit of your holiness” (;v=d=oq j^Wr), i.e., “your holy spirit”.

The faithful/loyal Israelite (that is, member of the Community) is made holy by the spirit of God’s own holiness—the chief of the “spirits” that are given to the individual. This enables the human being, with his/her corrupted “spirit of flesh” (cf. above), to remain pure (i.e. holy) and faithful to the covenant (lines 39-40). The “spirit of flesh” is restored to purity, so that the human spirit is now able to receive knowledge and insight from God, and to follow the Instruction (Torah) without stumbling. The author of the hymn, as an exemplar for the Qumran Community, represents all the Community members. Just as he is made holy by God’s holy spirit, so are all those who join the Community. The spirit of holiness is given to the member—an event and dynamic that is symbolized in the ritual of the Community (to be discussed esp. in the upcoming notes on the Community Rule documents).

The column IV hymn apparently ended with line 41, since the remainder of the column (at the bottom of the page leaf) was left uninscribed (see the information given in DJD XL, pp. 77-8). A new hymn must have begun at the top of the next leaf (column V); however, lines 1-11 of column V are lost, with another hymn beginning at line 12. The short hymn at the beginning of column V presumably ended on line 10 or 11.

In the next note, we will begin looking at the hymn in column V, which may extend (partway) through column VI. There are important spirit-references in this hymn which will allow us to build upon our notes thus far. In particular, the expression “spirit of flesh” is repeated (cf. above), as is the idea of God giving a holy/righteous spirit to the author (protagonist) of the hymn.

Schuller/Newsom = Eileen M. Schuller and Carol A. Newsom, The Hodayot (Thanksgiving Psalms): A Study Edition of 1QHa, Early Judaism and Its Literature Number 36 (Society of Biblical Literature: 2012)
DJD XL = Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol. XL: 1QHodayota, with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f, by Hartmut Stegemann with Eileen Schuller, translations of texts by Carol Newsom (Clarendon Press: 2009).

June 22: 1 John 4:2-3 (9)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

In considering the opponents described by the author of 1 John (in 4:1-6), and, in particular, regarding the Christology of the opponents (addressed in vv. 2-3), the earliest interpretative information we have comes from the letters of Ignatius of Antioch. These letters likely were written not many years after 1 John. Moreover, Ignatius was writing to Christians in cities of Asia Minor (Smyrna, Philadelphia, Tralles, Magnesia), in a region centered around Ephesus. This is the same area traditionally identified as the geographical location for the Johannine churches (cf. Rev 1:4; chaps. 2-3); and many commentators would accept this identification. If correct, it raises the likelihood that the opponents with whom Ignatius is dealing (in his letters) may be related to the opponents of 1-2 John.

Before proceeding, it is worth quoting the parallel to vv. 2-3 in 2 John 7:

“(For it is) that many pla/noi (have) gone out into the world—the (one)s not giving account as one (of) [i.e. not confessing/acknowledging] Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this is the pla/no$ and the (one who is) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$].”

The noun pla/no$ is related to the verb plana/w (1 Jn 2:26; cf. 3:7) and the noun pla/nh (4:6); it refers to a person who goes astray—or, in the causative sense, makes people go astray, i.e., leads them astray (by deceiving them, etc). Here the noun pla/no$ captures the meaning of the verb in 2:26 (cp. Mark 13:5-6 par, and in the book of Revelation, 2:20; 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3, 8, 10); the noun pla/nh (in 4:6) refers to the same end-time dynamic—viz. of false prophets and evil spirits leading people astray (cf. 2 Thess 2:11; also 2 Pet 3:17; Jude 11). The opponents are thus characterized as end-time “false prophets” capable of leading even believers astray (2:26; cf. Matt 24:24). They do this primarily through their view (and teaching) regarding the person of Jesus Christ, a view which the author regards as false and inspired by an evil/lying spirit; they are thus said to be “against the Anointed (One)” (a)nti/xristo$), i.e. “against Christ”.

But what exactly was the opponents’ Christological error? In 4:2-3 and 2 Jn 7 it is summarized as denying (or refusing to confess) that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (“Yeshua [the] Anointed [as] having come in [the] flesh”). But what does this mean precisely? Some light on the question may be found by Ignatius’ use of 4:2-3, and the views of the opponents whom he combats.

In his letter to the Christians of Smyrna (5:2), Ignatius seems to refer to v. 2, describing certain people who do not confess/affirm that Jesus had real human flesh: “not giving account as one [mh\ o(mologw=n] (of) him (as) bearing flesh”. The adjective sarkofo/ro$ (“flesh-bearing”) is used instead of the participial phrase “having come in the flesh”; otherwise, the use of mh/ + the verb o(mologe/w makes it all but certain that Ignatius has 1 Jn 4:2-3 and/or 2 Jn 7 in mind.

At a number of points in his letters, Ignatius is combatting what is commonly referred to as a docetic view of Jesus Christ. The term docetism derives from the Greek verb doke/w (dokéœ), meaning “think, consider,” sometimes in the semi-passive sense of how something seems or appears to be (or how a person imagines it to be). When applied in a Christological context, to the person of Jesus Christ, it refers to a belief that Christ only seemed/appeared to be a real flesh-and-blood human being (i.e., the man Jesus). As a manifestation of the Divine Son/Christ, Jesus’ humanity was essentially a visual illusion.

Ignatius addresses such a view of Jesus, treating it as a dangerous error, from the very beginning of his letter to the Smyrneans (1:1-2). He emphasizes that Christian faith has its basis in both flesh and the Spirit, affirming that Jesus was “truly” (a)lhqw=$)

    • of the genealogical line of David “according to the flesh” (kata\ sarka/, cf. Rom 1:3)
    • born of a virgin and baptized by John
    • nailed to the cross “in the flesh” (e)n sarki/)

In emphasizing the real suffering and death of Jesus, Ignatius specifically mentions certain ‘false’ believers (lit. [those] without trust, a&pistoi) who say that Jesus only seemed [vb doke/w] to suffer (2:1-2; cf. also Trallians 10:1). The specific use of term sa/rc (“flesh”) has particular significance for Ignatius, even as it does for the author of 1 John, since it represents the reality of Jesus’ existence and life (and death) as a human being. He stresses how even after the resurrection, Jesus still had tangible flesh (3:1-2; cf. the Johannine evidence, 19:34ff; 20:17, 20, 25-29; 21:10-13). Again, Ignatius warns his readers against the dangerous false believers (“wild beasts in human form”) who teach that Jesus only seemed [dokei=n] to live and act as a human being (4:1-2; 5:1f [cf. above]; Trallians 9:1-2).

There are other points of similarity between the opponents of Ignatius and those in 1 John. He also emphasizes the opponents’ lack of true love for other believers (6:1-2; 7:1). Their abstaining from the Lord’s Supper rite (6:2) is tied to their denial of Christ’s real human flesh (cf. above), but it may also be related to an exaggerated form of Johannine-style spiritualism (cf. Jn 4:23-24 and 6:63, in connection with 6:51-58). Indeed, it is quite possible that the Johannine opponents would have seen little value in the physical partaking of the Lord’s Supper rite.

Elsewhere in his letters (e.g., Ephesians 7:2; 20:1; Romans 6:1; Trallians 9-11), Ignatius emphasizes the suffering and death of Jesus; in all likelihood, he has the same opponents (referenced in Smyrneans) in mind. Their denial of Jesus’ true humanity (“flesh”), and especially the reality of his death, certainly seems, on the whole, to correspond with the opponents’ view of Jesus in 1-2 John. Writing some years later, Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna), references similar opponents (with a docetic view of Jesus) in his letter to the Christians of Philippi. In 7:1, he quotes 1 John 4:2-3 (and/or 2 Jn 7), in a slight paraphrase:

“For, every (one), who should not give account as one (of) Yeshua (the) Anointed to have come in (the) flesh, is against-the-Anointed [antichrist].”
Pa=$ ga/r o%$ a&n mh\ o(mologh=| Ihsou=n Xristo\n e)n sarki/ e)lhluqe/nai a)nti/xristo$ e)stin

Polycarp was a younger contemporary of Ignatius, and a correspondent with him (cf. Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp; Ephesians 21:1; Magnesians 15:1). On the connection between the churches of Smyrna and the collection of Ignatius’ letters, cf. Philippians 13.

According to Irenaeus, writing no more than 20 years after Polycarp’s death, Polycarp had been a disciple of John the apostle (trad. author of the Johannine Letters). In one famous anecdote (Against Heresies III.3.4), Polycarp tells of John’s encounter with Cerinthus at a bath-house in Ephesus. By the time of Irenaeus, Cerinthus was regarded as an arch-heretic, but one who held, not a docetic view of Jesus Christ, but a separationist view—viz., that the man Jesus and the Divine Christ were two separate entities, who were joined together at Jesus’ baptism and then separated again at the moment of his death (cf. Against Heresies I.26).

This is significant, because there are some commentators who identify the opponents in 1-2 John as early separationists, though this is established more readily from the Christological statement in 1 Jn 2:22-23, rather than the one in 4:2-3. In this regard, the colorful anecdote of the confrontation between John and Cerinthus has been taken as symbolic of the crisis surrounding the Johannine opponents in 1-2 John.

In the next daily note, the final one in this set, I will briefly survey the notable theories regarding the opponents, comparing together the evidence from 1 Jn 2:22-23 and 4:2-3.

June 17: 1 John 4:2-3 (5)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

“In this [i.e. by this] you (can) know the Spirit of God: every spirit that gives account as one (of) Yeshua (the) Anointed having come in (the) flesh is out of [i.e. from] God”

In the previous note (cf. also the note prior), I examined the emphasis in verse 2 on affirming/confessing one’s faith/trust in Jesus, focusing on the author’s use of the verb o(mologe/w (“give account as one”) and the double-name Ihsou=$ Xristo/$ (“Yeshua [the] Anointed,” Jesus Christ). As I discussed, the verb o(mologe/w implies agreement with the author’s understanding of Jesus (cf. verse 6), as reflecting the common belief of all true believers. According to the author, the opponents do not affirm this Christology, and thus show themselves to be false believers, and false prophets who speak from the evil “spirit of Antichrist,” rather than the holy Spirit of God.

To understand the nature of the Christological point of dispute, we must turn to the next two components of the statement here in v. 2.

e)n sarki\ | e)lhluqo/ta
“in (the) flesh | having come”

The position of the expression e)n sarki/ (“in [the] flesh”) allows one to read it as part of a larger expression (or concept)— “Yeshua (the) Anointed (One) in (the) flesh”. Other commentators would place the emphasis on the verbal phrase— “having come in the flesh”. Before deciding on the precise force of the phrase (as intended by the author), let us examine each component.

I begin with the expression “in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki/). The precise expression, without the definite article, occurs 16 times in the New Testament; to this must be added 7 instances where the definite article is specified (“in the flesh”), along with 7 instances of the dative sarki/ (with or without the definite article) where a preposition is implied. In all of these instances, the basic meaning or denotation is the same—viz., “in the flesh”.

In the New Testament, this expression is distinctively Pauline. Of the 30 occurrences, all but four are in the Pauline letters (including 3 times in Ephesians). The only non-Pauline occurrences are here in 1 Jn 4:2 (with the parallel in 2 Jn 7), and twice in 1 Peter (4:2, 6). The use in 1 Peter is general, referring simply to a person’s existence and life as a (mortal) human being. That is also the fundamental meaning in Paul’s letters (2 Cor 4:11; 10:3, etc), though he gives to the expression a further ethical-religious and theological significance, influenced by his distinctive use of the noun sa/rc (“flesh”)—with its decidedly negative connotation of the inclination to sin and opposition to the will of God. For the most part, the Johannine writings do not use the word in this negative (antithetical) sense, a sense which is expressed by the noun ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”) instead.

The noun sa/rc occurs 13 times in the Gospel, where it refers to human life and existence, in a general (and neutral) sense. The juxtaposition between flesh and Spirit is important (3:6; 6:63 [cf. in relation to vv. 51-56]), but the contrast is quite different from the ethical-religious contrast intended by Paul’s use of the same word-pair. In the Johannine writings the focus is spiritualistic, emphasizing the role and place of God’s Spirit for the (true) believer.

Interestingly, in the only other occurrence of sa/rc in the Letters (apart from here in 4:2 [par 2 Jn 7]), 2:16, the author approaches something like the Pauline (negative) ethical-religious use of the word. As I see it, this is the only such use of sa/rc in the Johannine writings. In 4:2 (also 2 Jn 7), the word has the more general meaning that we find in the Gospel, referring simply to the life and existence of a (mortal) human being (1:13; 3:6; 17:2; cf. also 8:15). In two places this usage is specifically applied to the person of Jesus:

    • In the Prologue (1:14), where it is stated that the Logos “came to be flesh” (sa\rc e)ge/neto)—that is, became a human being. The use of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai), like the related genna/w, is probably alluding to a human birth (cf. 3:3-8; 18:37).
    • In 6:51-58 (vv. 51-56), Jesus repeatedly uses sa/rc in reference to his death—that is, his sacrificial death as a mortal human being, presented (within the Gospel Discourse) in eucharistic language (cp. Mk 14:22-24 par). Commentators continue to debate the extent to which the word sa/rc in v. 63 relates to the usage in vv. 51ff; I have discussed the matter in prior notes and articles.

In my view, this pairing of the concepts of a human birth and death relates to the pairing of the motifs of “water” and “blood” in 5:6ff. This point will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

Thus, we can say with relative certainty that the expression “in (the) flesh” here refers to Jesus’ existence and life as a human being.

What of the verb form e)lhluqo/ta (“having come”)? It is a verbal noun (participle), in the perfect tense, and is the only such occurrence of this particular form in the New Testament. The parallel in 2 John 7 has a present participle (e)rxo/menon, “coming”); the present form is more in keeping with Johannine usage, being applied to Jesus in Jn 1:9, 15, 29-30; 3:31; 11:27 (cf. also 6:14; 12:13). The perfect tense specifically indicates a past event, the effect of which continues into the present.

As a related textual note, Codex Vaticanus (B) reads a perfect infinitive (e)lhluqe/nai, “to have come”), rather than a participle. This variant is explained as a grammatical ‘correction’ that more properly phrases the Christological point—i.e., confessing Jesus to have come in the flesh. Polycarp, in quoting 4:2 (Philippians 7:1), has the same reading. The same meaning can be expressed by the particple—viz., confessing Jesus as having coming in the flesh.

The common verb e&rxomai (“come/go”), has a special theological meaning in the Johannine writings, and functions as a distinct Johannine keyword. Of particular importance are the references to Jesus (the Son) coming to earth (from the Father), and also of his return to the Father. The noteworthy references in the Gospel are: 1:9, 11, 15; 3:31; 8:14; 9:39; 10:10ff; cf. also 4:25; 6:14; 7:27, 31, 41-42; 11:27, where the reference is to the coming of the Messiah. Jesus refers (or alludes) to his coming, using the perfect tense of e&rxomai (as here), in 3:19; 5:43; 7:28; 8:42; 12:46; 16:28; cf. also the specific references to his death and exaltation in 8:20; 12:23; 16:32; 17:1. Of particular importance is the declaration to Pilate in 18:37:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] I have come to be (born) [gegennh/mai], and unto this I have come [e)lh/luqa] into the world…”

With this usage in mind, we can better determine the significance of the perfect participle of e&rxomai (here in v. 2), the present participle in 2 Jn 7, along with the aorist participle in 5:6—all of these instances carry the comparable idea of Jesus’ coming into the world (as a human being), and thus the participle has the same connotation as the expression “in (the) flesh” (on which, cf. above). In the next daily note, we will explore this point a bit further, along with a brief consideration of the final component of the statement in verse 2.

March 15: 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. 24).

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; 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 (for a discussion of this passage, cf. the articles and notes in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”). 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 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”.

The final pair of verses (vv. 18, 23b) to be considered will be discussed in the next daily note.

January 21: 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

[This series of notes, on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, is part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The previous note dealt with 2:16; and see the initial note with links to earlier notes covering 1:18-2:6; cf. also the main article.]

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

Before concluding this series of daily notes (focusing on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15), 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”.

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 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”.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (8:1-39)

Romans 8:1-39

This is the fourth, and final, major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first three sections were:

This last section (chapter 8) I would divide as follows:

  • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
    8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
    8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
    8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
    8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
  • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

Having just worked intensively through the relation between Law and Sin (see the article on Rom 7:7-25), with the emphasis on the believer’s freedom (in Christ) from both, Paul now proceeds to discuss the life of the believer in the Spirit (of God and Christ). This thematic emphasis is, in some ways, parallel to the exhortation in Galatians 5:16-25—believers who are freed from the binding force of the Law (and Sin), now live according to the power and guidance of the Spirit.

Verses 1-11

The theme of this section is the conflict for believers between the Spirit and the Flesh, introduced by Paul in Rom 7:14, but which is more familiar from the famous discussion in Gal 5:16ff. In Rom 7:7-25, human beings were dramatized as struggling with the flesh, but under the enslaving power of sin and the Law; now, having been delivered from the Law and sin, the struggle with the “flesh” (sa/rc) remains. This deliverance is defined according to two principal declarations:

  1. “Now there is not any [ou)de/n] judgment against [kata/krima] the (one)s (who are) in (the) Anointed Yeshua” (v. 1)—addressed collectively to all believers, this describes the elimination of judgment (by God) against human beings (announced in Rom 1:18ff); this judgment was the result of violation of the Law by human beings, under the power of sin. This removal of judgment is the product of “justification”, of God “making (things) right” again for humankind, and, in particular, of making believers right and just in His eyes.
  2. “For the Law of the Spirit of life, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, has set me free from the Law of Sin and of Death” (v. 2)—here Paul personalizes the matter “set me free”, much as he does in 7:7-25; however, other manuscripts read “set you free”, and this is preferred by some commentators—either way, the personal pronoun is representative of all believers. Here we find also a new use of the word no/mo$ (“law”) in the expression o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$ (“the Law of the Spirit of Life”)—pneu=ma here certainly referring to the (Holy) Spirit. In Galatians, the Spirit is seen as taking the place of the Law for believers (cf. Gal 5:16ff), and should be understood in this way here, but with the added emphasis on its sanctifying and life-bestowing power—Life contrasted with Death. The expression “the Law of Sin and Death” is an expansion of “the Law of Sin” in Rom 7:23-25; it reflects the dynamic of Sin and the Law at work, both against each other, and also working together according to God’s purpose (see esp. Rom 11:32). The expression should not be reduced simply to the “principle of sin”.

In verses 3 and 4, this deliverance is described in terms of Christ’s sacrificial death:

“For the powerless (thing) of the Law [i.e. what the Law lacked power to do], in which [i.e. in that] it was weak through the flesh, God (has done), sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us—the (one)s not walking about according to (the) flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.”

This is a complex sentence and rather difficult to translate, but it effectively summarizes Paul’s view of the Law and “Justification”:

Because the “flesh” of human beings was enslaved under the power of sin, the Law of God (as expressed in the commands of the Torah) only served to increase and reinforce humanity’s bondage—it resulted in death, not life. As such, the Law (Torah) did not have the power to make human beings right before God, because human beings lacked the power to fulfill the requirements of the Law. The requirements of the Law were fulfilled for us (lit. “in us”) through God’s work in Christ, i.e. his death. The reality of this deliverance for believers should be reflected by their “walking according to the Spirit”, and not “according to the flesh” (cf. Gal 5:16ff).

In Rom 7:7ff, Paul described the presence and work of Sin “in the flesh” (e)n th=| sarki/, v. 18), now he describes the presence and work of the Favor/Grace of God “in the flesh”. His view of this is incarnational—Christ is sent (and is born, Gal 4:4) “in the likeness of flesh of sin” (cf. also Phil 2:7), and this becomes the location where the power of sin is removed (God literally “judges against” sin, pronouncing sentence against it). For more on Rom 8:4, in comparison with the similar passage in 2 Cor 5:21, see the supplemental daily note.

The remainder of this section, vv. 5-11, follows very much in line with Galatians 5:16-25, contrasting the Spirit with the flesh. Paul’s use of the word translated “flesh” (sa/rc) is complex and highly nuanced; it primarily refers to the human body, and its parts, but especially in the sense that it is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin. Paul clearly believed that this impulse to sin still remained in the “flesh”, even for Christians (Gal 5:17), but the enslaving power of sin had been removed—believers now have the freedom and ability to choose to follow God’s will. This choosing is expressed by use of the word fro/nhma (vv. 6-7, also in v. 27), rather difficult to translate, but which indicates the exercise of the mind, both in terms of understanding and the will. In typically dualistic fashion, Paul contrasts the fro/nhma th=$ sarko/$ (“mind[edness] of the flesh”) with the fro/nhma tou= pneu/mato$ (“mind[edness] of the Spirit”). In verses 9-11, Paul gives a threefold qualification of the Spirit:

    • the “Spirit of God” (pneu=ma Qeou=) which dwells (“houses”) in [e)n] believers (v. 9a)
    • the “Spirit of [the] Anointed {Christ}” (pneu=ma Xristou=), which likewise is in [e)n] believers (v. 10), but believers are also said to “hold” it (v. 9b)
    • the “Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua from the dead” (i.e. of God), which also dwells in [e)n] believers, and gives life to our mortal (lit. “dying”) bodies just as Christ was raised from the dead (v. 11)

Verse 10 will be discussed further in a separate daily note.

Verses 12-17

The contrast between the Spirit and the flesh continues in these verses, which likewise have strong parallels with Galatians:

    • V. 12: An exhortation not to live “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka)—cf. Gal 5:16-17
    • V. 13: A reminder that living/acting according to the flesh leads to death, while the opposite leads to life—cf. Gal 6:7-8; for the idea of “putting to death the deeds of the body”, see Gal 5:24 (also 6:14)
    • V. 14-16: Declaration that through the Spirit believers are made sons/offspring of God—cf. Gal 3:26; 4:1-6
      —in particular, verse 15 is extremely close to Gal 4:5-6
    • V. 17: The declaration follows that, if we are sons of God, then we are also his heirs—cf. Gal 3:29; 4:1ff (esp. verse 7); Paul adds here the detail that we are co-heirs (“ones receiving the lot together”) with Christ (see Rom 8:29)

Verses 18-25

The theme of believers as sons (and heirs) of God continues in this section with the hope (and promise) of future glory (new creation) that we have through the Spirit. In a truly beautiful, if somewhat enigmatic, passage, Paul describes all of creation as currently in the process of giving birth to something new—”the glory of the offspring of God” (v. 21). Believers are the “firstfruits” of this new creation, a process of our being realized as sons/children of God which will only be completed with our final resurrection and glorification—”the loosing of our bodies from (the bondage of death)” (v. 23). This also is ultimately the realization of salvation (“by [this] hope we are saved”, v. 24).

It is important to note the way Paul extends the idea of slavery (doulei/a) and freedom (e)leuqeri/a), which he applied specifically to the human condition in Rom 6-7, to all of creation in 8:21-22. Certainly he is drawing here upon the same Genesis 3 narrative that inspired him in Rom 5:12ff. The implied actor of the verb u(pota/ssw (“put [in order] under”, i.e. place under authority) in 8:20 is not entirely certain; based on the context elsewhere in Romans, there are only two possibilities—(a) God, or (b) Sin—the former being more likely. Even if it is Sin (through the sin of Adam, Gen 3:17-19) that subjects creation to bondage, ultimately God is the one controlling this process. The idea that creation was enslaved, it would seem, for the purpose of being freed (by God), correlates well with the declaration in Rom 11:32.

Verses 26-30

This section emphasizes that believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit, which Paul describes in two ways:

    • Vv. 26-27—The Spirit works on our behalf before God, described according to two richly detailed, compound verbs:
      sunantilamba/netai, “he takes (hold) together opposite (us)”, i.e. he helps and assists us “in our lack of strength”
      u(perentugxa/nei, “he reaches in (and) over (us)”, i.e. he meets us and intercedes on our behalf, specifically in the context of prayer, of “speaking out toward” God
    • Vv. 29-30—God works on our behalf; here Paul presents a schematic or chain of what could be called an “order of salvation”:
      proe/gnw, “he knew before(hand)”
      prow/risen, “he marked out before(hand)”
      e)ka/lesen, “he called”
      e)dikai/wsen, “he made right”, or “he made/declared just”
      e)do/casen, “he esteemed/honored [i.e. granted honor/glory]”
      Between verses 29 and 30, Paul inserts a specific theological/Christological statement: “…with the shape of the image of His Son, unto his being [i.e. that he should be] the first produced [i.e. first-born] among many brothers”—that is to say, believers are marked out (chosen) to take on the form and image of Christ, to be children (and heirs) together with him (cf. verse 17).

In verse 28, in between his description of the work of the Spirit (vv. 26-27) and the work of God (vv. 29-30), Paul adds the following (and justly famous) declaration:

“…to the (one)s loving God all things work together unto good—to the (one)s being called according to (what He has) set forth before(hand).”

Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

The final section of 1:18-8:39 is a doxology, in praise of God’s love, so beautiful and remarkable that it virtually defies analysis. I will make not attempt here to comment upon it in this short space, other than to highlight briefly several points in the text which are relevant to Paul’s view of the Law:

      • Verse 32—the use of the verb xari/zomai, “show favor, give/grant as a favor”: pw=$ ou)xi\xari/setai “how shall he not…show favor”? The related noun xa/ri$ is used frequently by Paul, especially here in Romans (Rom 3:24; 4:4, 16; 5:2, 15ff; 6:1, etc), where it is set directly in contrast with both the Law and Sin, esp. in Rom 5:15ff; 6:14-15. God takes delight in his people and shows favor to them, and all the more so for believers in Christ—he demonstrates his favor by (freely) granting to them “all things” (ta\ pa/nta).
      • Verses 33-34—the legal/judicial language in these verses reflects Paul’s statements and arguments about the Law and “justification” in Galatians and Romans:
        • katakri/nw (“judge against”), here personified under a substantive (verbal noun) form, “the (one) judging against (us)”. This is associated in v. 33 with the verb e)gkale/w (“call in”, i.e. call someone in to answer charges or to give account).
        • dikaio/w (“make right, declare just/right”); note the parallel form “the (one) making/declaring (us) right”, contrasted with “the one judging against (us)”. This verb, along with related words of the dik-/dikaio- group, are used frequently by Paul. Note also the associated verb e)ntugxa/nw, parallel with e)gkale/w—the one making right (God) comes in to meet and help us, as opposed to the one calling us in to be judged.
      • Verses 35ffxwri/zw (“to separate, set apart”) and a)ga/ph (“love”): “who will separate us from the love of God?”. These two words dominate verses 35-39.
        • The first (xwri/zw) is related to xwri/$ (“separate, apart from”), which Paul uses in Rom 3:21, 28; 4:6; 7:8-9 in relation to the Law—”apart from (works of) the Law”, i.e. believers experience the favor and righteousness of God entirely apart from observing the Law (Torah). Here in 8:35ff, Paul makes a declaration in the opposite direction: nothing can put believers apart from the love and favor of God. Sometimes this “separation” is thought of as a wall or barrier, but the Greek word properly refers to space between—in Christ there is no space between us and God.
        • The second (a)ga/ph) is, of course, the most widely used word in the New Testament indicating love—the love which God has for us, and which we have toward God (and each other). God’s love (a)ga/ph) and the favor (xa/ri$) he shows to human beings are closely related, especially as described by Paul here in Romans. In particular, God demonstrates both his love and favor in the person and work of Christ on behalf of sinful humanity, cf. especially in Rom 3:24; 5:1-11, 15-17.

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”.