Vol.XVI No.IV Pg.7
June 1979

?You Know What?

Robert F. Turner

Bro. Turner:

Will you please discuss "sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3) in Plain Talk? DT


Flesh, per se, is not sinful. The Adamic "flesh and blood" "natural body" "of the earth" of 1 Cor. 15:21-f was characteristic of Adam before the first sin (Gen. 2:7). Adam was to reproduce (Gen. 1:28), eat physical food (1:29) had natural appetites and desires (2:9; 3:6), before he sinned. To partake of Adams nature, as set forth in 1 Cor. 15: simply meant to be mortal. The early gnostic error that flesh is sinful in essence led them to argue that Christ did not come in the flesh, an error John refuted in 1 Jn. 4:2-3; 1:1-2. Jesus partook of flesh and blood "that through death" he might accomplish His purposes (Heb. 2:14-15). Being in the flesh He had the capacity to be tempted (Matt. 4:), hence to sin; but "flesh" of itself, does not necessitate sin (Heb. 4:15f).

Westcott's notes on John's use of the word "flesh," clearly show an extension of meaning. "By 'flesh' we are united to earth; and by 'spirit' to heaven. 'The will of the flesh' (Jn. 1:13) is the determination which belongs to the earthly powers of man as such. 'The desire of the flesh' (1 Jn. 2:16) is the desire, which, as it springs out of man's present earthly constitution, is confined within the earthly sphere and rises no higher. 'Judgment after the flesh' (Jn. 8: 15) is external, superficial, limited by what catches the senses (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16). Thus the idea of evil attaches to the flesh not in virtue of what it is essentially, but from the undue preponderance which is given to it... It does not include the idea of sinfulness, but it describes human personality on the side which tends to sin, and on which we actually have sinned." (See notes on 1 Jn. 3:19.)

"All (mortals, 'flesh') have sinned" (Rom. 3:23) fulfilling (unlawful) desires of the flesh (Eph. 2:3), so that "sinful flesh" aptly describes mortal man. The Son of God came in the likeness (form) of man — in that nature which in us is identified with sin. "This identification does not belong to the essence of our nature, but to its corruption... the uniform teaching of the N.T. is that Christ is one with us — short of sin." (Expositor's) "Flesh" is spoken of as "sinful" because of the universal "giving in of the flesh" to sin, which is characteristic of mankind. It is the same adaptation of terms that allows "worldly" to mean sinful — not that God's creation is sinful of itself, or in essence; but that "the course of (the people of) this world" (Eph. 2:2) is sinful.

In exactly the same way, the Adamic "nature" which in 1 Cor. 15: refers to mortality, is made in Rom. 5: to refer to the rebellious and sinful spirit of Adam. When we sin we are acting like Adam acted --- following suit with Adam. If we will carefully determine the context in various passages, and accept the terminology in keeping with the context, we can understand. Using Rom. 8:3 to deny the humanity of Jesus emphasizes difference rather than likeness to his brethren, and introduces elements alien to Paul's way of reasoning.