In the first blog, I spent some time defining Faith. Here, I will start with a quick definition of Flesh. The words translated “flesh” (Hebrew, basar; Greek, sarx) have as their basic meaning the physical body. They also both are used in metaphorical sense for the whole person (of which the physical is just a part), human frailty (“he is but flesh”), the transitory nature of the physical (flesh is grass) and also kinship (descendant of David according to the flesh Romans 1:3). In Ezekiel 36:26, God promises that he will give us a heart of flesh (flesh is used as a positive notion of tenderness and sensitivity towards God). The word is used for all of humanity (all flesh) and, of course, the Word was made flesh. Significantly, the Bible does not accept or teach the Greek philosophers’ idea that sarx is inherently evil. Even though the inherent evilness of the flesh is a strong semantic use of the Greek word in its etymology, it is not to be found in the biblical usage. When John says the Word was made flesh there is no thought that the Word was made evil.
The word also has an ethical use, found in Romans 7; Galatians 5; and Philippians 3. It is that use to which my title refers. Ethically defined, the flesh is “that anti-God, self-reliant aspect of all human beings (saved and unsaved alike) that is the seat of sin, engaged in unremitting resistance to the Holy Spirit.”1
Before we get to the NT, the OT emphasizes that God is not basar. A very sharp distinction is drawn that we are flesh, he is not. This is the otherness of Creator vs creation and, as such, indicates the creation’s utter dependence on the creator. So we must begin with Genesis. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)2. The first statement in the first book of the Bible sets forth the concept: God created. As the psalmist later says, this defines our relationship, Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his (Psalms 100:3). This is further highlighted by the creation formula “and God said … and it was so”. Creation is not an emanation from God; it is not a “part” without which God is somehow lessened. Creation is the product of God’s will. Later, both Romans 1 and Hebrews 11 point to the fact of creation as both self-evident and indicative of our relationship to God, whether we reject (Romans 1:21) or accept (Hebrews 11:3) him.
The wordings of the accounts indicate a change with the creation of humanity. With the rest of the Heavens and the Earth, it says “God said, ‘let there be …’”. Upon the creation of man, it says “Let us make …” This indicates deliberateness in the creation of man, while still emphasizing the Creator/creature relationship. There is a care towards man shown by this wording that shows a deeper relationship with this creature. The result of the deliberation is that this creature bears God’s image. The image is a huge topic which I touched on in another blog, but suffice for here to say that it speaks of the created relationship between God and man. This relationship is shared – male and female. The biblical summary is, So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
In the account in Genesis 2, God gets even more personal in his creation of man. He is portrayed as the potter working clay into his chosen vessel, his own breath giving life to his creation. He then custom makes a garden for the man and a helper3 corresponding to him. God is the one who acts and man receives as one dependent. In this context, God places the man in the garden and gives him responsibility to tend it and a prohibition. The man, as a dependent creation, is expected to take on the responsibilities and obey the prohibition the creator gave him.
Thinking about the prohibition for a while, it involves the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Apparently, the knowledge is of ethical awareness. Given that man is limited and cannot know everything absolutely, the tree represents knowledge which is appropriate only for God4. For ethical knowledge, man must depend on Revelation from the one who knows good and evil (Proverbs 30:1-6)5. So, the tending of the garden gives man responsibility and dominion over the rest of creation, but the presence of the tree reminds Adam that even in his dominion he must remain dependent on the Creator.
1 Lawrence, William D. The Traitor in the Gates: The Christian’s Conflict with the Flesh in Stanley D. Toussaint and Charles H. Dyer, eds, Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, Chicago, Moody Press, 1986, p. 124
2 On a side issue, note that when God makes his covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, he calls “heaven and earth as witnesses” (Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19; 31:28. see also Matthew 5:18). Moses, through whom the covenant came, establishes first off in Genesis that God created the witnesses to the covenant.
3 The word “helper” is significant. In English it can be considered indicating someone lesser or subservient. In the Hebrew this word is used 19 times. In every other use of the term it means either 1) seeking or receiving help or rescue from the LORD or 2) seeking help or rescue from a false god. Genesis 2 is the only time the word is not used for deity but also used as a positive help or rescue from one who is not God. The woman is a divinely appointed source of divine help. I suspect this is an application of the Image of God in Eve.
4 This, I believe, supports my repeated contention that Christianity is not a system of morality and that those in the Church whose commitment is to constantly set up clashes of morality with the culture is really spinning their wheels in a direction that is not the Gospel.
5 Waltke, Bruce K, Genesis: A Commentary, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2001, pp. 86, 87