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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Flesh

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@בּשׂר , bāsār , שׁאר , she'ēr ):

1. Etymology

Used in all senses of the word, the latter, however, most frequently in the sense of kin, family, relationship (compare שׁארה , sha'ărāh , "kins-woman," Leviticus 18:17 ): Leviticus 18:6 ; Leviticus 25:49 ; Proverbs 11:17 ; Jeremiah 51:35 , and probably Psalm 73:26 . In all other places she'ēr means "flesh" = body (Proverbs 5:11 ) or = food (Psalm 78:20 , Psalm 78:27 ; Micah 3:2 , Micah 3:3 ). טבחה , tibhḥāh , is "(slaughtered) flesh for food," "butcher's meat" (1 Samuel 25:11 ). The word אשׁפר , 'eshpār , found only in two parallel passages (2 Samuel 6:19 = 1 Chronicles 16:3 ), is of very uncertain meaning. The English versions translate it with "a good piece (portion) of flesh," the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible , 390-405 ad) with "a piece of roast meat," others with "a portion of flesh" and "a measure of wine." It probably means simply "a measured portion." לחם , לחוּם , laḥum , literally, "eaten," then food (compare לחם , leḥem , "bread"), has been rarely specialized as flesh or meat (compare Arabic laḥm , "meat," "flesh," so in Zephaniah 1:17 , where it stands in parallelism with "blood"). The Greek terms are σάρξ , sárx , and κρέας , kréas , the latter always meaning "butcher's meat" (Romans 14:21 ; 1 Corinthians 8:13 ).

We can distinguish the following varieties of meaning in Biblical language:

2. Ordinary Sense

In a physical sense, the chief substance of the animal body, whether used for food and sacrifice, or not; also the flesh of man (Genesis 2:21 ; Exodus 21:10 m; Isaiah 31:3 ; Ezekiel 23:20 ; 1 Corinthians 15:39 ; Revelation 19:18 , Revelation 19:21 ).

3. The Body

The whole body. This meaning is the extension of the preceding (pars pro toto ). This is indicated by the Septuagint, where bāsār is often translated by the plural ἁι σάρκες , hai sárkes (Genesis 40:19 ; Numbers 12:12 ; Job 33:25 ), and occasionally by σῶμα , sō̇ma , i.e. "body" (Leviticus 15:2 ; 1 Kings 21:27 ). This meaning is also very clear in passages like the following: Exodus 4:7 ; Leviticus 17:14 ; Numbers 8:7 ; 2 Kings 4:34 ; Proverbs 5:11 , where bāsār and she'ēr are combined; and Proverbs 14:30 ; Ecclesiastes 12:12 .

4. The Term "All Flesh"

Flesh, as the common term for living things, animals and men, especially the latter (Genesis 6:13 , Genesis 6:17 , Genesis 6:19 ; Numbers 16:22 ; Jeremiah 12:12 ; Mark 13:20 ); often in the phrase "all flesh" (Psalm 65:2 ; Isaiah 40:5 , Isaiah 40:6 ; Jeremiah 25:31 ; Ezekiel 20:48 ; Joel 2:28 ; Luke 3:6 ).

5. As Opposed to the Spirit

Flesh as opposed to the spirit, both of which were comprised in the preceding meaning (Genesis 6:3 ; Psalm 16:9 ; Luke 24:39 , where "flesh and bones" are combined; John 6:63 ). Thus we find in John 1:14 , "The Word became flesh"; 1 Timothy 3:16 , "He who was manifested in the flesh"; 1 John 4:2 , and all passages where the incarnation of Christ is spoken of. The word in this sense approaches the meaning of "earthly life," as in Philippians 1:22 , Philippians 1:24 , "to live in the flesh," "to abide in the flesh"; compare Philippians 1:16 and perhaps 2 Corinthians 5:16 . Under this meaning we may enumerate expressions such as "arm of flesh" (2 Chronicles 32:8 ; Jeremiah 17:5 ), "eyes of flesh" (Job 10:4 ), etc. Frequently the distinction is made to emphasize the weakness or inferiority of the flesh, as opposed to the superiority of the spirit (Isaiah 31:3 ; Matthew 26:41 ; Mark 14:38 ; Romans 6:19 ). In this connection we mention also the expression "flesh and blood," a phrase borrowed from rabbinical writings and phraseology (see also Sirach 14:18, "the generation of flesh and blood," and 17:31, "man whose desire is flesh and blood" the King James Version). The expression does not convey, as some have supposed, the idea of inherent sinfulness of the flesh (a doctrine borrowed by Gnostic teachers from oriental sources), but merely the idea of ignorance and frailty in comparison with the possibilities of spiritual nature. The capabilities of our earthly constitution do not suffice to reveal unto us heavenly truths; these must always come to us from above. So Peter's first recognition of the Divine sonship of Jesus did not proceed from a logical conviction based upon outward facts acting upon his mind, but was based upon a revelation from God vouchsafed to his inner consciousness. Christ says therefore to him: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17 ). Similarly the kingdom of God, being a realm of perfect spiritual submission to God, cannot be inherited by flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15:50 ), nor was the richly endowed mind a competent tribunal to which Paul could refer his heaven-wrought conviction of his great salvation and the high calling to be a witness and apostle of Christ, so he did well that he "conferred not with flesh and blood" (Galatians 1:16 ). That "flesh and blood" does not imply a sense of inherent sinfulness is moreover shown in all passages where Christ is declared a partaker of such nature (Ephesians 6:12 ; Hebrews 2:14 , where, however, we find in the original text the inverted phrase "blood and flesh").

6. Applied to the Carnal Nature

Flesh in the sense of carnal nature (σάρκικος , sárkikos , "carnal"; the King James Version uses sarkinós in Romans 7:14 ). Human nature, being inferior to the spiritual, is to be in subjection to it. If man refuses to be under this higher law, and as a free agent permits the lower nature to gain an ascendancy over the spirit, the "flesh" becomes a revolting force (Genesis 6:3 , Genesis 6:12 ; John 1:13 ; Romans 7:14 ; 1 Corinthians 3:1 , 1 Corinthians 3:3 ; Colossians 2:18 ; 1 John 2:16 ). Thus, the fleshly or carnal mind, i.e. a mind in subjection to carnal nature, is opposed to the Divine spirit, who alone is a sufficient corrective, Christ having secured for us the power of overcoming (Romans 8:3 ), if we manifest a deep desire and an earnest endeavor to overcome (Galatians 5:17 , Galatians 5:18 ).

7. In the Sense of Relationship

Flesh in the sense of relationship, tribal connection, kith and kin. For examples, see what has been said above on Hebrew she'ēr ̌ . The following passages are a few of those in which bāsār is used: Genesis 2:24 ; Genesis 37:27 ; Job 2:5 ; compare the New Testament passages: Matthew 19:5 , Matthew 19:6 ; Romans 1:3 ; Romans 9:3 , Romans 9:5 , Romans 9:8 . The expressions "bone" and "flesh" are found in combination (Genesis 2:23 ; Genesis 29:14 ; Judges 9:2 ; 2 Samuel 5:1 ; 2 Samuel 19:12 , 2 Samuel 19:13 ; Ephesians 5:31 , the latter in some manuscripts only).

8. Other Meanings

Some other subdivisions of meanings might be added, for example where "flesh" takes almost the place of "person," as in Colossians 2:1 : "as many as have not seen my face in the flesh," i.e. have not known me personally, or Colossians 2:5 , "absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit," etc.


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Flesh'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/isb/f/flesh.html. 1915.

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