Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Total Recall of Sinful Nature

As I was browsing the web on the question of mans sinful nature I was delighted to find one particular post. It was from "Better Bibles Blog" regarding the gross mistranslation of the Greek word sarx. The Greek word sarx should be translated as flesh and is in most bibles. In the ever popular NIV ,TNIV and NLT however there has been a long dispute among bible scholars of their mistranslation of the word. NIV, TNIV and NLT translate the Greek word sarx as sinful nature in certain verses and body or flesh in other verses. All the while it is the same Greek word sarx. Not only is this a mistranslation it is doctrinally misleading and wrong. But there may be hope in the matter. The NIV is coming out with a new version of the NIV next year. The word on the street is that the term sinful nature will be removed and replaced with the word flesh. To read more on this click here.

Now why is this such a big deal? Because the verses take on a whole new meaning when they are translated correctly.
Christians seem hung up on the notion that their flesh is intrinsically evil and sinful by nature. Nothing can be further from the truth. But since their bible says so they believe it. People I can not stress enough how important it is to get a KJV or NASB. Or at least get hooked into a online bible program that has Greek and Hebrew texts. I use Blue Letter Bible and Biblios. Lets compare some verses. All words in red are the Greek word sarx or a form thereof.

John 17:2 NIV "For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life..."
KJV "For thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life..."
The KJV shows Jesus has authority over all flesh.

Acts 2:17 NIV "...I will pour out my Spirit on all people..."
Acts 2:17 KJV"...I will pour our my Spirit on all flesh..."
The KJV shows that the flesh is what houses the Spirit.

Acts 2:26 NIV "Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in
Acts 2:26 KJV "Therefore did my heart rejoice and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh
shall rest in hope..."
The KJV shows that hope can rest in our flesh.

Acts 2:31 NIV "...resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did
his body see decay."
Acts 2:31 KJV "...resurrection of the Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did
see corruption."
The KJV shows that flesh doesn't have to be corrupted.

Romans 8:3 NIV "For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful
nature, God did by, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so condemned sin in sinful man..."
Romans 8:3 KJV " For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh..."
The KJV shows that the sin was in the flesh. The flesh was not sin. The flesh devoid of the Spirit is weak. Jesus condemned sin not man.

2 Cor 3:3 NIV "...written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."
2 Cor 3:3 KJV "...written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but in the flesh tablets of the heart."
The KJV shows that flesh and human heart can house the Spirit. Making neither evil in and of themselves.
Can you see the difference it makes when sarx is simply translated flesh. It does exactly what it is suppose to do. That is it makes flesh neutral. Look guys our flesh is just our shell. The flesh is what can either house the Holy Spirit or the spirit of sin. It is no more than that. Think about it. If your flesh was evil through and through it would be impossible for the Holy Spirit to ever live there. If the flesh was evil through and through Jesus could never have come in the flesh!The Spirit is against the enemy, not the flesh. The bible is telling us the same thing. Don't house evil in your flesh, house the Spirit.

In the NIV bible the term "sinful nature" is used 23 times. Eleven of those times are in the book of Romans. Seven of those eleven times are in Romans chapter 8! Talk about negative reinforcement! The same is true in Galatians. Five of the six times "sinful nature" is used in the book are in Galatians chapter 5. Now what does that say to a person seeing that over and over again. No wonder they believe they have a sinful nature! It's wrong guys. You have flesh. Flesh that can house the Holy Spirit or sin simple as that.

Let's think about the people that Paul was writing these letters to. What was Paul trying to say about the flesh and the Spirit? I will explain in very simple terms since I am a simple kind of girl. You had the Jews that had become Christians that were totally stoked they no longer had to follow the law. They had been justified in righteousness and saved by grace. So they thought woo hoo its party time! They thought they could do whatever they wanted because of grace. Or you had Jews that were still horribly legalistic. There were still performing the mosaic law but lacking any inward change. In other words they were not housing the Spirit. Likewise you had Gentiles who had become Christians who thought their spirit had been saved so their flesh could still do whatever it wanted. They could still live in the same sinful habits because their spirit had been saved.

Paul said "NO! This is how we must live..." Paul appealed to the Jews and the gentiles of the first century in a way they would understand. Greek philosophy was all the rage at that time. Dualism was specifically the belief that all matter {non-spiritual ie. flesh} was evil and that only a man's soul or conscience could be enlightened. Moreover that the matter and soul we equally powerful and struggled against one another in constant conflict.

An off shoot of this Greek philosophy was Gnosticism. The Gnostic believed that all matter was created by a lesser god. That knowledge {gnosis in Greek} and super spirituality was the was the only way to rise above evil matter and be "free" from it. So Gnostics would deny their flesh to become super spiritual and then once they had achieved being the divine elect or seed they could do whatever they wanted with their flesh because their spirit had reached a higher plain of consciousness or knowledge. This is why the Gnostics didn't believe Jesus was the son of God. They said that there was no way a high god could come in evil flesh. John addresses this heresy in 1 John. The Gnostic were known for twisting the biblical texts to support their believe, namely in regards to the spiritual and the flesh. Sound familiar?...cough...cough...NIV.

Paul was no longer bound to the law, he was not a Greek dualist or a gnostic and neither should we be! Paul simply used the concept that the Spirit and the flesh are separate. Paul taught that the the body or the flesh without the Spirit is powerless. There is no struggle between the two. You may struggle between what spirit to put in your flesh---spirit of sin or the Holy Spirit. But the flesh in and of itself is neutral. Now be aware that the flesh devoid of the Holy Spirit is prone to sin. The flesh will house one or the other. That is precisely why Paul said house the Holy Spirit!

So Paul had to give the new Christians of the time a marker to live by. The Jews were used to the Mosaic law. The gentiles were used to no law at all. He met both in the middle with the flesh and the Spirit. This gave understanding to the Jews that no law didn't mean go hog wild in your freedom. To the gentiles it meant now there are some rules. No your flesh is not evil. But what you house in your flesh can be. So to cover all the bases Paul said to walk in the Spirit. Both Jew and gentile should be new creatures that don't do the things they used to do. Think of what Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians. Read this as personal. Not fighting your flesh that is neutral but the devil that seeks take place in your flesh over the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 6:10-17
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms. Put on the full armor of God...the belt of truth...the breastplate of righteousness...feet fitted with readiness...from the gospel of peace...shield of faith...helmet of salvation...and the sword of the Spirit."

Protect your flesh people. Notice the only offensive thing in that verse is the sword of the Spirit. Walk in the Spirit so that your flesh will be protected against the enemy that still tries to bring sin and bondage into people's lives.


  1. I appreciate the point that you make in this blog. Gnosticism is rife in the church today, and its important to understand where it came from. At the same time, I have a couple of bones to pick. :)

    My understanding from what I read in "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth" is that the NIV translation committee chose "sinful nature" in those spots because it seemed to fit the context best. Gordon Fee, one of the authors of the book and a member of the translation committee, explained the thinking behind the translation in such a way that it partially reconciled me to the translation.

    My problem with the use of "sinful nature" is that it makes it seem that it is something you're born with that you just can't help. On the other hand, if you think of "sinful nature" as a nature or a tendency toward sinning that you develop through sinning, then "sinful nature" might fit quite well as a translation.

    Obviously, when one is doing translation, one must consider carefully the meaning of the word in context. It really isn't inappropriate to translate sarx in a variety of ways - because it does indeed have a variety of meanings. In Bible scholarship, this is called a semantic range. It would be impossible to produce an accurate translation without using a variety of words to translate the same Greek word, because that range of meaning is encapsulated within the Greek word. Choosing the right word is part of the art of translation. Thus, in John 17:2, "people" may well be the best translation, because that is probably what the author had in mind - that all people are under the authority of Jesus. Sarx is an idiom for people. So to translate it people is perfectly appropriate. The idea of the verse is not that he has authority over our flesh. It is over all people.

    I would hesitate to say as well that 2 Corinthians 3:3 shows that the flesh can facilitate the Holy Spirit. The point of the verse is that God isn't writing his words on tablets made of stone, but on hearts of flesh. I think I would prefer the translation fleshly (the adjectival form is used) heart - because I think that Paul is referencing Ezekiel's promise that God would give us hearts of flesh in place of hearts of stone. At the same time, I understand the choice to translate it as human as well, and I believe the reason is that the translators realize that flesh has a pejorative connotation in our (gnostic) world. Paul isn't trying to make a point about our flesh being able to facilitate the Holy Spirit. Not at all.

    I actually think that the NIV was trying to make the distinction that flesh isn't evil in and of itself by using "sinful nature" rather than flesh. In the end, I don't think it was the best choice, but I understand why they did it. I think that the translators were trying to distinguish the flesh given over to sin (that form of sarx) and the many other uses of the word sarx.

    Just some things to think about. Translation is an art and a science. One word does NOT fit the bill in all circumstances. This is true for translating any language into another. Context has to rule. This is the first law of hermeneutics, and it would behoove us as Christians to obey.

  2. Yes, I absolutely believe translation is an art and a science. I also totally agree that the word needs to be taken in the context of the verse.

    What I was trying to show is that when the word "sarx" is just left as "flesh" it doesn't give "flesh" a bad name. It seems that the NIV translates "sarx" as "neutral" ie.body, people, human then all the sudden as sinful nature which is far from neutral. So then when people see the word "flesh" it now has a negative conotation instead of a neutral one. Does that make sense? So my main beef in the NIV is with the term sinful nature. It gives the sense that man is intrinsically evil and that is not so. Flesh is simply the neutral body that can either house the Spirit or sin.

    I agree with you that facilitate is not the best word to use. I think I will change that to "house". I was trying to show that the Spirit can in fact live in our flesh which makes the flesh in itself not evil.

    Thank you so much for you comment. Context is certainatly key. As well as checking it against the character of God since He in fact was the Author.


  3. I see you point about the translation of "sin nature" but it seems like you are denying sin nature altogether. Is that what you're attempting in the post?

    While it's absolutely true that physical human flesh isn't 'evil,' (as in platonic dualism) I hope you'd agree that there is a serious ontological difference between pre-Fall humanity and post-Fall humanity.

    In short, my question is, are you taking issue with the translation of "sin nature" or the concept of sin nature? I hope not the latter; as that is a fountainhead of heresy.

  4. Totally agree! I have several other posts on the fall and how our sin has effected humanity and creation. We are absolutely lost without the grace and blood of Jesus. So to answer your question...only issue with the 'translation'. Please read more posts. I would love to hear your thoughts.

  5. Hi - I'm the original poster - not the second anonymous poster. I can't figure out how to post as myself.

    I get what you're saying, Cherie, that consistently translating sarx as flesh does leave you feeling that flesh isn't bad in and of itself. I think that the translators of the NIV (and heaps of other translations obviously) are addressing the audience which they've got to work with - and that is an audience that is far more Greek in its thinking than it has any idea that it is. I was just pondering this over the weekend actually - it is such an fixed idea in my mind that the material and the spiritual are two entirely separate entities, one of which is eternal and one of which isn't. I am wondering now - is that just an idea that I've inherited from the Greekness in my thinking? Or is it something that is inherently true? It SEEMS so true...but it's a concept I'm starting to question, because I know where it came from.

    In answer to Anonymous #2, I'm not sure exactly whom you're addressing...but I'll answer for me. I think it is important to define exactly what it is that we mean by "sin nature". And then we should *seriously* question what the Apostle Paul (and the Holy Spirit through him of course) meant by his use of the word sarx in the context. I think we all think we know what it means, and there is much accepted wisdom out there about what it means. But the real question is...are we right? If we can't even ask the questions, then we might as well return to life before the Reformation. I, for one, am not up for that ride.

    By the way, I'd be curious to know what "ontological" differences you see between pre-Fall humanity and post-Fall humanity. Are we not responsible for our choices now? Does God not act as if human beings are responsible for their choices? Does he not act as if we can identify good and evil and choose accordingly? There is indeed a difference in our knowledge (we KNOW good and evil now), but I'm not sure what you mean by ontological differences.

  6. LOL. I am totally confused as to who is who. None the less read my posts called "love and war" discussing the fall and what I believe it effected.

  7. Cherie, great job taking on one of the golden cows of modern Evangelical theology. Clearly presented and stimulating good thought and comments from others.

    Ed Sinke


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