3. The Spirit and the Flesh
Paul's Political Anthropology
Greco-Roman Judaism and the Problem of Universalism
Paul was not the first or alone in the problem which I imagine concerned him, the relation of all of the other people of the world to the God of Israel. Judaism had been in increasing interaction with Greco-Roman—Hellenistic—culture for several centuries by the time Paul was born, and this interaction had led to several striking cultural developments. The most important of these developments for my present purpose was the transformation in the significance of universalism. Some notion of universal humanity had already existed in ancient Israel, particularly in certain of the prophetic texts, but this notion had—it seems almost imperceptibly—shifted in the centuries of Jewish contact with Hellenistic culture and Greek philosophy. To understand Paul, some appreciation of this development is necessary.
As Martin Hengel has shown, in antiquity there was great appreciation for Judaism on the part of Greek philosophy. The alleged abstractness of the Godhead and, of course, the pure monotheism greatly appealed to philosophically minded Greeks and Romans who commonly identified the Jews (and the Hindus) as philosophers (Hengel 1974, 255–61). On the other hand, there were aspects of Jewish religiosity which were repellent to these same philosophers:
The universal religious attitude of learned men which developed in the Hellenistic period through “ theocrasy ” regarded the different religions as in the end only manifestations of the one deity. Thoughtful Greeks like Hecataeus, and later Posidonius, may have acknowledged Jewish belief in its unfalsified form to be a high stage of spirituality, and Greek philosophy with an interest in religion had long been on the way to monotheism, but they found the claim of Jewish religion that it embodied the one revelation of the one God, to the exclusion of all else, to be inacceptable. In their view the—relative—truth of even the Jewish faith could be expressed only in a universal way without national and historically conditioned limitations. (Hengel 1974, 261)
As Hengel shows, the notion that the different gods are manifestations of the one deity has deep roots in Hellenistic culture. Thus, while biblical universalism was founded on a notion of the mission of Israel to save all of humanity and bring them to the true worship of the only God, Hellenistic notions of universalism involved the assumption that all the gods were really different names for one God. It is not surprising, given this double atmosphere of enormous respect for Jewish ideas about God coupled with disdain for the particular, national, embodied, and practiced aspects of the religion, that thoughtful Hellenized Jews more and more emphasized the former at the expense of the latter and that one of the strategies employed in this shift of emphasis was the—again very Hellenistic—demonstration through allegoresis that the latter signified the former. Moreover, once this type of exegesis was available, the very particularity of Judaism to the Jews could be called into question as well, for there were others in their world who had similarly “philosophical” ideas about God. Thus, the “‘monotheizing’ tendency and the strict way of life practiced by Orphic conventicles with their esoteric, didactic house-worship devoid of sacrifice early aroused the interest of Jewish circles in Egypt who, as Aristobulus and Artapanus show, made Orpheus a witness to the truth of the Mosaic law” (Hengel 1974, 262–63)—Mosaic law, hardly, but better to the truth of the Torah. Importantly, this development was by no means confined to the Diaspora. Indeed, as Hengel has argued, Palestinian Judaism was no less Hellenized than its Diaspora version. Alan Segal has aptly remarked, “Hellenistic Judaism, deeply influenced by classical thought, was the majority Jewish culture of the day” (Segal 1990, 84). On the other hand, in Palestine there had been and was to be again a strong reaction movement against Hellenization. Within this Hellenistic Judaism, Greek, universalist notions of God had taken firm root:
Since, as I have been at pains to discover, the God who gave them their law is the God who maintains your kingdom. They worship the same God—the Lord and Creator of the Universe, as all other men, as we ourselves, O king, though we call him by different names, such as Zeus or Dis. (Ps. Aristeas 15/16)
Although in the text, this remarkable speech is placed in the mouth of a gentile, the text itself was written by a Jew, and as Hengel emphasizes, a Jew from circles not suspected of any sort of “assimilation or syncretism” (Hengel 1974, 264). This passage and the text in which it was embedded were quoted approvingly in their entirety by Paul's contemporary Josephus (Hengel 1974, 266). It was in this atmosphere that Paul grew up, whether his childhood home and education were in Tarsus, Damascus, or Jerusalem. By virtue of his training, he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, while clearly, by virtue of his linguistic culture at least, he was also a Hellene. He could very well have been formed and informed by two nearly contradictory cultural tendencies, one toward a universalism which emphasized the capacity for all human beings to be saved and the other a reaction against this universalism which re-emphasized the particular privileges of the Jewish People in the eyes of the sole God. That powerful and tense combination, whereby Paul becomes a synecdoche of the Jewish cultural situation, gave rise to Paul's religious passion. One could say with only some extravagance that if Judaism is the mother of “Universal Man,” then Hellenism is the father, and Paul the shadkhen who made the match.
This Dualism Which Is Not One
My key claim is that Paul is mobilized by as thoroughgoing a dualism as that of Philo. I am quite aware of how heterodox such a claim will appear to the present community of Pauline scholarship, at least on English-speaking soil, so in this chapter I wish to establish the grounds and terms upon which I make it. Moreover, the morphology of Paul's dualism has to be carefully delineated, because it does not imply a rejection of the body. Various branches of Judaism (along with most of the surrounding culture) became increasingly platonized in late antiquity. By platonization I mean here the adoption of a dualist philosophy in which the phenomenal world was understood to be the representation in matter of a spiritual or ideal entity which corresponded to it. This has the further consequence that a hierarchical opposition is set up in which the invisible, inner reality is taken as more valuable or higher than the visible outer form of reality. In the anthropology of such a culture, the human person is constituted by an outer physical shell which is non-essential and by an inner spiritual soul, which represents his [sic] true and higher essence. “In this life itself, what constitutes our self in each of us is nothing other than the soul” (Laws 12.959a7–8). For Philo, “The soul may be seen as entombed in the body” (Winston 1988, 212). This conception was commonly held through much of the Hellenistic cultural world.
Paul also uses similar platonizing dualist imagery, although significantly enough, without negative imagery of the body. The clearest example of this in his writing is in 2 Corinthians 5:1–4:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Paul's whole point here is to insist on resurrection in the body; however, the body that is resurrected is not the same kind of body as the one “that we dwell in” now. He considers some kind of a body necessary in order that the human being not be naked and polemicizes here against those who deny physical resurrection. He is not, then, to be understood as holding a radical flesh/spirit dualism that sees the goal of human perfection as liberation from the body. Nevertheless, the image of the human being which Paul maintains is of a soul dwelling in or clothed by a body, and, however valuable the garment, it is less essential than that which it clothes. (See also Käsemann [1933, 103] and especially Brandenburger 1968.) It is “the earthly tent that we live in”; it is not we. The body, while necessary and positively valued by Paul, is, as in Philo, not the human being but only his or her house or garment. The verse just preceding this passage establishes its platonistic context beautifully: “While we look not at the things which are seen [τὰ βλεπόμενα], but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal [πρόσκαιρα]; but the things which are not seen are eternal [αἰώνια]” (2 Corinthians 4:18). What could possibly be more platonic in spirit than this double hierarchy: on the one hand, the privileging of the invisible over the visible, and on the other hand, the privileging of the eternal over the temporal? The continuation of the passage dramatizes this point even more: “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Bultmann recognized that these verses “are very close to Hellenistic-Gnostic dualism, but not identical because of the ‘indirect polemic against a Gnosticism which teaches that the naked self soars aloft free of any body’” (1951, 102). Bultmann further points out that Paul's famous report of his mystical experiences “either in or out of the body, I do not know” also supports an understanding within which self is in body (2 Corinthians 12:2–4). I could not agree more.
That Paul holds an essentially dualist anthropology is also shown by such expressions in 2 Corinthians 7:1 as “let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit.” Flesh can be cleansed of defilement in Paul, but it is a separate, distinct element of which human beings are composed and not, I suggest, the essential one. Indeed, Paul can recommend that a sinner be “delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Whatever the delivery unto Satan means and however the flesh is to be destroyed, it is clear that Paul holds that it is the spirit which will be saved at the end. This is in direct contrast to rabbinic eschatology within which, famously, the soul and the body will be rejoined for salvation or destruction at the end.
Paul is, however, not quite a platonist. As we have seen in the 2 Corinthians passage quoted, immaterial existence of souls without any bodies seems to arouse in him a sense of horror. There is, therefore, a body, but one entirely different from the body of “flesh and blood” in which we dwell today. Paul's very special dualism is also manifest in another text of his, 1 Corinthians 15:42–50:
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body [σῶμα ψυχικόν], it is raised a spiritual body [σῶμα πνευματικόν]. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written: The first man Adam became a living soul [ψυχὴν ζῶσαν], the last Adam became a life-giving spirit [πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν]. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual.…I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
We observe here the absolutely astonishing combination in Paul of a biblical “positive” sensibility toward the body, combined with a Hellenistic/platonistic devaluation of the physical. Even though for Paul there is no question, as we have already seen, of a human being persisting as a disembodied soul, nevertheless body itself becomes for him a dualistic term. There is a physical body and a spiritual body, a body of σάρξ; και αἷμα (flesh and blood) and a body of πνεῦμα (spirit)! Moreover, these dyadic conjunctures are so necessary or so obvious in Paul's thought that he can use them as a logical argument. He says: If there is a physical body, there must be a spiritual body as well. This argument can only be explained, I submit, if we assume that for him everything physical has a spiritual counterpart—i.e., some version of platonism. A further argument for this kind of platonism in Paul is the famous distinction in Romans 7:22–23 between the members and the inner self: “For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind.”
A solution to some conundra of apparent discontinuities in early Christian discourse, which seems at one and the same time to affirm bodiliness and disavow sexuality, is to emphasize the distinction between “body” and “flesh.” The first is a term that often has positive valence, while it is the latter that is usually of increasingly negative connotation. It is in this sense of a body without flesh—that is, a body without sexuality, among other matters—that various early Christian thinkers can assert the positive status of “the body.”  Thus that the Cappadocian Fathers held that the creation of humanity was for the purpose of bringing God into the material world, thus uniting the world with God, but they, nevertheless, considered sexuality as temporary and a sign of “man's” fallenness (V. Harrison, personal communication). Caroline Walker Bynum raises sharply the question of whether the “platonic” ideology of the person as soul was every fully accepted in Christian culture (Bynum 1991). This seems then to produce a moment of unresolved tension, or even incoherence in Christian platonism, beginning, I think, with Paul. In a stunning paper, Patricia Cox Miller has provided what I take to be an enormous contribution toward resolving this tension. Basing herself on Jean-Pierre Vernant's essay, “Dim Body, Dazzling Body” (Vernant 1989), Cox Miller argues that this distinction—between the sub-bodies of human beings and the super-bodies of the gods—explains as well Christian imaginings of the transformed body of the perfected Christian. She remarks:
However, this perception of the body as the sign of human misfortune does not conform to the Platonic, and later Cartesian, dichotomous model of human composition that splits the person into a positive soul or mind housed in a negative body construed as a prison or a mechanistic object in space. As Vernant says, “the human misfortune is not that a divine and immortal soul finds itself imprisoned in the envelope of a material and perishable body, but that the body is not fully one”—that is, for the archaic Greeks, the problem is that the human body is not fully a body. (Cox Miller forthcoming)
The remarkable thing about Cox Miller's analysis from my point of view is that she shows its compatibility with an avowed, explicit, and extreme platonism, that is to say, she shows how even radical platonists in the patristic tradition, including especially Origen and the Cappadocians, can—nay, must— tertain at one and the same time “a dichotomous view of the human person” and an affirmation of “the positive valuation of the created world in the biblical book of Genesis.” As Cox Miller shows by analyzing the imagery of the dreams of Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzen, two of the most important of the Cappadocian Fathers, in their anthropology, Adam's body, Christ's resurrected body, the body of the ascetic in this life, and the resurrection body of all the saved are dazzling bodies, while the bodies of the rest of us are dim. Now Gregory Nazianzen—for example—is one of the wildest of the wild platonists (the term is Peter Brown's) in the early Christian tradition. As Cox Miller notes he considered the body an obstacle to insight and referred to it in terms reminiscent of the disgust of a Plotinus: “Bitter serpents biting, jackals swarming and snarling, wild animals with tusks, the sepia fish with its poisonous black vomit, herds of swine, lions, bears, the entrails of Jonah's monster: all these describe what it is like to live in a body.” In classic platonistic fashion Gregory regards the physical world and material language both as illusions and mere signs of that which is higher. This man, however, when he dreams of his dead brother, dreams of him as inhabiting a heavenly body, not as a disembodied soul. And as Cox Miller demonstrates, Nazianzen was explicitly aware that this dreamed, brilliant, transformed body was that of his own desire. Gregory, like the other Gregory, his compatriot, whom Cox Miller also treats, found a way to balance the seemingly incompatible denigration of body of platonism and the valorization of body drawn perhaps from Jewish roots of Christianity (Genesis).
Although she does not say so, it seems to me that this hypothesis provides a hermeneutic key to Paul as well and particularly to such a text as 1 Corinthians 15. Paul, too, on my reading, was balancing platonistic and “Hebraic” world views and anthropologies. Indeed, I would go so far as to argue that it may very well have been Paul who introduced into Christian thought this particular combination of a platonic dualism and an anthropology that does not regard the body as “problematic because of its sheer materiality as part of the physical world”—indeed, that 1 Corinthians 15 may be its most important source. At any rate, Cox Miller's analysis demonstrates the possibility of such a combination and the necessity of assuming that it has existed at some stage of Christian thought, and whether or not Paul is, as I claim, in some sense the author of this combination, its very existence increases dramatically the plausibility of reading such an anthropology in Paul.
Robert Jewett has provided another very elegant exemplum of Paul's dualism and its special character. In Romans 15:27 Paul writes that the gentiles are pleased to send alms to the church in Jerusalem, “for if the gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are obligated to share with them in the fleshly things.” Jewett glosses this verse:
The distinction between the fleshly and the spiritual things is therefore unrelated to the concrete problems in Rome; rather than being polemically motivated, it is something of an incidental reflection of Paul's thinking about the offering which shows the extent to which the technical flesh-spirit antithesis has come to affect his daily usage.…The assumption upon which the a majori ad minus argument is based is the intrinsic superiority of the spiritual over the fleshly things. Such an assumption in itself would point to Hellenistic dualism as the source of the categories, but Paul's argument would be impossible for the Hellenist. For how could a spiritual obligation be paid off by fleshly means if the two are completely incommensurable? And how could fleshly things be of such importance to the spiritual man that he would devote his attention to them to the extent that Paul confesses in these verses? (Jewett 1971, 165–66)
Aside from a strangely reified notion of the “Hellenist,” I find this a perfect account of Paul's dualism. There is flesh and spirit. The spirit is higher and more important, but the flesh is not to be disregarded either. While I do not claim that these Pauline texts cannot be interpreted otherwise, I invite the community of Pauline scholars to recast their sense of what Paul could mean and observe the effects on reading his texts of an assumption that Paul held a dualist anthropology that does not abhor the body.
What Is “Flesh”?
Σάρξ, “the flesh” is the most important term in Paul's anthropology, where it contrasts with πνεῦμα, “the spirit.” A recent “history of research” by Robert Jewett counts the following interpretations:
- Many of the Fathers of the church interpreted σάρξ “as material sensuality which solicited or directly induced sin” (Jewett 1971, 50).
- The Augustinian tradition which the Reformation continued understood the flesh as “man in revolt from God.”
- The “father” of modern critical study of the New Testament, Ferdinand Christian Baur, understood σάρξ, once more, as the material body which is the source of sin, however, for him, as for his follower Carl Holsten the πνεῦμα, spirit, is not the human spirit, soul, or mind but the Holy Spirit.
- Holsten's contemporary, Hermann Lüdemann proposed that there is “within man himself a dichotomy of πνεῦμα ἀνθρώπου [spirit of man] (ἔσω ἄνθρωπος [inner man] which consists of νοῦς [mind] and καρδία [heart]) and σῶμα σαρκός [body of flesh] (ἔξω ἄνθρωπος [outer man] consisting of σάρξ [flesh], ψυχή [psyche] and σῶμα [body])” (Jewett 1971, 52). In a rather brilliant theorization, Lüdemann argued that Paul's anthropology was a unique blend of Hebraic and Hellenistic notions, such that while Paul did distinguish an inner man from an outer man in Hellenistic fashion, the inner man could be either controlled by the flesh or not, a more biblical notion. In spite of certain excesses, aspects of Lüdemann's contribution remain central, particularly the insight that for Paul, spirit and flesh were both inner- and extra-personal forces. These views, that is, various combinations of Holsten's and Lüdemann's, formed a sort of scholarly paradigm and consensus for Pauline interpretation that was challenged in the late nineteenth century.
- One of the dominant trends developing in the second half of that century was a view that understood σάρξ to be simply the “whole human being,” something like the “flesh and blood” of Hebrew usage, which certainly means the whole human being and not merely an aspect thereof. And the closeness to Hebrew usage in this view is no accident, for this interpretation in general sought to bring Paul closer to “Old Testament” categories and paint him as relatively un-Hellenized and certainly non-dualistic. This was the view of, among others, Albrecht Ritschl.
- In the next stage of research, as Jewett narrates it, there were two prevailing views: an apocalyptic conception which saw the flesh and the spirit as cosmic forces locked in combat in the last days and a gnostic one within which the fleshy human being is taken possession of by a divine fluid in the experience of gnosis and transformed. Jewett himself characterizes the ensuing situation as “The Resultant Confusion” (Jewett 1971, 63).
- Dominant in current interpretation and scholarship is the Bultmannian-inspired “existential interpretation,” within which σάρξ is “the earthly sphere which becomes the source of sin only when man places his trust in it” (Jewett 1971, 67): “Each person is determined by either spirit or flesh, has a tendency towards one or the other; if one lives by spirit, he lives in midst of the indicative and the imperative and is enabled thereby to overcome the fragmentation of life and to achieve existential unity; but if one lives by the flesh, he does his own will and seeks to secure his own future by works” (Jewett 1971, 68–69). Bultmann's student and disciple Ernst Käsemann, about whom I shall have much to say in another context, took his teacher's views further by emphasizing the cosmological and eschatological dimensions, essentially, I think, by taking seriously the clear implication of Romans 7:5 that ἐν τῇ σαρκί (in the flesh) represents an eon. He remained, however, with the essentially existential definition of that eon as one determined by living according to the flesh defined as worldliness.
- Egon Brandenburger has in some ways come closest to the view that I am espousing in the present work. In his Fleisch und Geist, Brandenburger proposed that Paul's σάρξ / πνεῦμα opposition bore significant parallels to Philo's dualism, a conclusion which I find compelling. This does not mean, however, that Paul has to be taken as a representative of the philosophical school of which Philo was a part or that Paul has been “influenced” (whatever that might mean) by Hellenistic Judaism, but it might very well reflect the existence of this dualism in the Jewish and wider cultural koine of the first century. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Paul manifests themes which are quite unknown in Philo. Philo's platonism is such that cosmic history nearly drops out of the picture, whereas for Paul the apocalyptic sense of changing eons is powerful, as well as the cosmic drama between realms. Jewett has, I think, judiciously summed up the situation: “One would have to say that Brandenburger has succeeded in tracing a flesh-spirit antithesis in Hellenistic Judaism which offers some precedent for Pauline usage. But his attempt to document the cosmic dimensions of this antithesis is less than convincing because it does not properly relate to Philo's actual philosophical stance” (Jewett 1971, 92).
Jewett himself proposes an interpretation of Paul's σάρξ language which in one respect is close to the one that I am theorizing here. He argues that the origins of the term are in the controversy over circumcision, which is referred to as being “in the flesh.” In Paul's conflict with the Judaizers in Galatia he came to portray his opponents as those who have confidence in the flesh in two senses: (1) they believe that circumcision as the entry marker into the Jewish People is the requirement for salvation, and (2) they wish to be saved themselves from zealot vengeance on the Judean church (Jewett 1971, 96; Jewett 1970). Then, “the fact that σάρξ had a negative connotation in the Hellenistic world made its polemic possibilities particularly attractive.” Jewett's proposal, while in the right direction, is much too narrow in my view. First of all, it comprehends only one of the metaphorical senses of “flesh” allowed by the Bible and Jewish usage, namely, the penis which is circumcised. It thus ignores a second, equally powerful usage: kinship. When Jewett discusses the allegory of Galatians 4, therefore, he does not realize that there the child according to the flesh has to do not with nomism but with physical descent. Second, Jewett, in his zeal typical of moderns to deny any platonistic idealism in Paul, denies that which Paul himself asserts, namely, that his interpretation of the Hagar story is an allegory, because “it neither begins nor ends with abstract principles. It is a typological application of a past event onto a concrete present situation. The connection between past and present is apocalyptic rather than idealistic” (1971, 100). The move, however, from fleshy kinship to kinship according to promise and faith commitment, from earthly Jerusalem to heavenly Jerusalem, is certainly a move from the material to the spiritual. Since it is from the material expressed in material language to a set of ideas more abstract than the ones expressed by the material language, this is certainly allegorical, just as Paul would have it, and eloquent evidence for a dualist sensibility. What is so striking in Paul is precisely the way in which the apocalyptic or typological is allegorical, that the world and history move from the realm of the literal to the realm of the allegorical in time. Apocalyptic is thus precisely, for him, a revelation, as its etymology implies. Third, Jewett falls back ultimately on the Bultmannian categories to explain what Paul finds wrong with the flesh, namely, “It is religious man who rests on his own virtuous obedience and thus enters into conflict with the spirit” (1971, 101). Jewett thus nearly cancels out the virtues of his insight. Fourth, Jewett locates the origins of the flesh / spirit opposition in the Galatian controversy rather than seeing that it is this opposition which occasions the controversy. Fifth, I see very little evidence for Jewett's understanding that σάρξ in Paul is demonic. Finally, I disagree entirely with the claim that “it was the concrete situation of conflict with the Judaizers which led him to connect σάρξ with the old aeon” (1971, 101). Σάρξ belongs to the old eon, because that was the eon in which the Torah and physical Israel had a role, and it was always preparatory to the present eon in which the Spirit has been revealed and the flesh of the Torah and of Israel are superseded. Once more, this explains Paul's opposition to the Judaizers and does not arise from it.
The upshot of my dispute with Jewett and the premise of this book is that for Paul the term flesh enters into a rich metaphorical and metonymic semantic field bounded on the one hand by the metaphorical usages already current in biblical parlance and on the other hand by the dualism of spirit and flesh current in the milieu of Hellenistic—that is, first- century—Judaism. It was the working out and through of these multiple semantic possibilities that generated Paul's major semantic innovations. Flesh is the penis and physical kinship; it is the site of sexuality, wherein lies the origin of sin; it is also the site of genealogy, wherein lies the ethnocentricism of Judaism as Paul encountered it. All of these could be opposed, Paul came to see, by a spiritual or ideal set of counterparts which would enable the escape from the two elements of human life that Paul felt most disturbing: desire and ethnicity. The circumcision controversy is not the fountainhead of Paul's theory of σάρξ, but the theory of σάρξ is that which occasioned and fueled the controversy. Paul came to oppose the Law because of the way that it literally—that is, carnally—insisted on the priority and importance of the flesh, of procreation and kinship, symbolized by the mark in the flesh, par excellence, the penis. This set of notions, then, expanded and complicated will be the foundation for my understanding of Paul.
“According to the Flesh” as the Literal: 1 Corinthians 10
The dyadic opposition between “flesh” σάρξ and “spirit” πνεῦμα is central on all accounts to Pauline thinking and expression. Its interpretation, however, is as we have seen contested. Where once (i.e., since patristic times) they were understood as hermeneutical terms, referring to the “literal” and the allegorical respectively, it has become current in Pauline studies to understand the key terms κατὰ σάρκα (according to the flesh) and κατὰ πνεῦμα (according to the spirit) as axiological/sociological terms. In one typical formulation the former means, “human life organized without reference to God and his purposes,” and the latter the opposite (Martin 1986, 151). In other accounts, these terms are taken to refer only to types of people and/or the communities they form. Typical for recent sociological interpretation is the following remark of Alan Segal:
All opponents boast of the flesh (Phil. 3:3; 2 Cor 11:18), since they hold their fleshly lives, their superior ritual status in Judaism over the gentile converts. The language of flesh and spirit is not allegorical. It is a reference to two kinds of Christian community—one priding itself in the flesh, circumcision; the other defining itself by means of a spiritual transformation, baptism, those who are converted in faith. (Segal 1990, 140)
The hermeneutical aspect of this opposition has been marginalized (or even completely discredited) by these interpreters. I would like to revive it here, taking into consideration the difficulties raised by modern scholarship and attempting to include their valid insights as well. I suggest that seeing Paul's thought in terms of an opposition between the literal and the allegorical interpretations of the Law goes a long way toward answering the outstanding question of Pauline studies, the “contradictions” between Paul's “negative” remarks about the Law and his “positive” ones. I place this interpretation, moreover, in context with recent advances in Pauline scholarship which demonstrate the social nature of much of his gospel.
“Having begun in the Spirit, are you now finishing up in the flesh,” Paul rails at his Galatian converts (3:3). The ethical flaw in the Galatians’ desire is not that they suddenly are becoming proud and self-righteous but that they are abandoning the higher condition of being “in the spirit” for a lower one of observance of circumcision in the flesh, the penis and all that this synecdochally signifies. “Perfected in the flesh” does indeed mean performance of the Law, but not reliance on the Law; nor is performance of the Law marked as human self-sufficiency as opposed to faith, but as outer, bodily activity, marked with the specificity of ethnic Jewishness, opposed to inner faith and spiritual experience. The observance of circumcision in the flesh becomes a veil that impedes attainment of the spiritual τὲλος of the Law, as we will see in the discussion of 2 Corinthians 3 in the next chapter. Paul is arguing to his Galatian converts that they have already achieved a higher state, which is the purpose of the Law and should not wish now to regress to a lower state; he is not asserting here that there is something in itself morally or spiritually opprobrious in observance of Law. An important text for interpreting this passage is Colossians 2:16–23, whose author, Paul's disciple, argues similarly to Galatians that if the converts have achieved a higher state of having died with Christ, why do they now submit to regulations, “which are only a shadow of that which is to come” (17)! The Law is not opprobrious in itself, but it is surpassed in the Spirit.
Κατὰ σάρκαdoes, however, often enough have a pejorative sense. This is derived from its primary sense of the literal, concrete, flesh of the language. Those who remain enthralled by the literal in hermeneutics are necessarily enslaved as well by the flesh and the elements of this world. This explanation accounts for the slippage between κατὰ σάρκα understood as a hermeneutic term and its axiological or moral implications. Those who do not realize the true spiritual meanings of things are those who are trapped in their own flesh and cannot see beyond the flesh of the text as well. This interpretation has the signal advantage of obviating the need to assume wide swings in Paul's usage of his technical terminology; for example, many of the putative contradictions in Paul's usage which Robert Jewett alleges simply disappear (Jewett 1971, 2). The pitfalls of the currently held interpretations of “according to the flesh” as an inherently pejorative term are perhaps most clearly exemplified in the tortuous interpretations of Romans 1:3–4:
Concerning His son who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the son of God in power, according to the spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:3–4)
περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα, τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιοσύνης ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν
Paul is very likely citing a baptismal or otherwise confessional formula here (Schweizer 1957). The assumption that κατὰ σάρκα has, in itself, pejorative connotations leads one to the absurd conclusion that verses 3 and 4 contradict one another. As Jewett has put it:
If the congregation were really Hellenistic as the opposition between κατὰ σάρκα and κατὰ πνεῦμα implies, it would scarcely be interested in claiming messianic honors for the fleshly Jesus; if the congregation were Jewish Christian as the messianic interest implies, it would scarcely contradict itself by the addition of the derogatory expression “in the realm of the flesh.” Schweizer's article reveals first and foremost the impossibility of holding that this confession including the phrases “according to the flesh” and “according to the spirit of holiness” came from a single source. (1971, 136)
Jewett seems unaware of the implications of this Schweizerian “revelation” for our apprehension of Paul. Wherever this formula “came from,” Paul is now using it, and if the terms contradict themselves, how could he do so? It seems that an exegesis which leads to such conclusions ought to examine itself. If κατὰ σάρκα is a neutral hermeneutic term which takes on its value from its context, the problem simply disappears. Jesus is indeed the son of David, when interpreted according to the flesh, i.e., he is literally and physically a descendant of David, but he is the son of God when considered according to the spirit, that is, in the realm of the allegorical—which is, it must be emphasized, the revelation of a true ontological condition and not a mere metaphor. It is important to see that the gloss “according to the flesh” accomplishes the important hermeneutical task of resolving the apparent contradiction—as in Luke 1:34, for example—between Jesus as simultaneously son of David, which must mean “son of Joseph,” and son of God (Fredriksen 1988, 28)!
The passage that proves this case is Romans 9:5: “The Christ which is according to the flesh [ὁ Χριστὸς τὸ κατὰ σάρκα].” I submit that it is impossible to gloss this expression as “The Christ who lives without reference to God”; or “The Christ who seeks justification by works.” The passage must be understood as the Christ in his human aspect, Christ before Easter (without, of course, necessarily committing Paul to one or another later christology). We cannot, therefore, understand this as an essentially pejorative term, although, to be sure, this mode of Christ's existence is inferior to that of the risen Christ, κατὰ πνεῦμα, by implication. Other terms are simply neutral in their evaluative tone, such as “My brothers according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3), which surely means only my physical, Jewish kin, as opposed to the brethren in the spirit, the Christian believers. In the context of that verse, understanding κατὰ σάρκα as a pejorative would be entirely inappropriate, as it would be in Romans 4:1, which refers to Abraham, our father “according to the flesh.” In 1 Corinthians 1:26, σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα seems simply to mean those who are wise in worldly matters. Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 1:17, the phrase simply means in ordinary human fashion.
There are, accordingly, a significant number of passages in which κατὰ σάρκα is hardly to be understood in an axiological or evaluative sense as a term of opprobrium. I suggest that it is not necessary at all to regard these varied usages of κατὰ σάρκα as contradictory or inconsistent. The term κατὰ σάρκα itself is morally neutral, although always subordinated to κατὰ πνεῦμα. Its semantic value is one, with the variations in nuance directly contributed by the pragmatic context. In all of these passages, I think, it would be appropriate to say that Paul refers to an ordinary level of human existence that is, to be sure, lower than that of the spirit but not by any means stigmatized as being evil, venal, or without reference to God. Such an understanding of the term is particularly appropriate when the referent is either of two aspects of human existence: physical observances of Jewish ritual, especially circumcision in the flesh, and physical kinship—as opposed, in both cases, with their spiritual referents. This anthropological duality is thus matched by a homologous hermeneutical duality as well, which works perfectly, because that interpretation which is literal, “according to the flesh”—the outer meaning of the language—is precisely the mode of interpretation which on the plane of content privileges physical observances, physical kinship, and the paradosis (knowing) of the “historical Jesus,” ὁ Χριστὸς τὸ κατὰ σάρκα, or “the physical knowing of Christ,” which comes down to the same thing. Because the ways of both Jews and the Jerusalem Christians emphasize precisely these values (and not because they are self-righteous, without reference to God or against the will of God), they can be identified by Paul as “according to the flesh.” Life and interpretation κατὰ σάρκα become pejoratively marked only when they have the negative social effects in Paul's eyes of interrupting the new creation of the universal Israel of God. The Law understood spiritually remains the ethical foundation of the new Israel, just as the Law understood carnally was the ethical foundation for the old.
In studying passages in Paul's writings in which “according to the flesh” is used as a hermeneutical term, we can see the intimate connection between hermeneutics and cultural critique in his thought. The crucial text for establishing such an interpretation is 1 Corinthians 10. I will begin by quoting the passage (with some ellipses):
I want you to know, brethren, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things are warnings to us, not to desire evil as they did.…Consider Israel according to the flesh; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?
The key to my understanding of this passage is the last verse. Almost precisely because it is so understated in its form, “Consider Israel according to the flesh” must be understood here as a hermeneutical term. In other words, while the phrase certainly includes all of the overtones that it does elsewhere, to wit, physical descent and over-literal understanding (and perhaps even “carnality” as a moral judgment), Paul is here appealing to the Corinthians to consider the verse/practice in its literal sense, not to concern themselves with axiological judgments of the Jews! RSV translates here simply, “Consider the practice of Israel,” which is just what Paul means. I thus disagree with Richard Hays's implied interpretation that Paul refers here to “Israel according to the flesh” because he is discussing the golden calf episode (Hays 1989, 96). By verse 18, Paul is no longer referring to that story but rather to Israelite sacrifice in general. He wishes here to draw an analogy for his argument from that concrete, historical fact. Just as the literal Israel—according to the flesh—when they eat the sacrifices are partners in the altar, so also the figurative Israel—according to the spirit—are partners in the altar when they eat the Eucharist, and they should behave accordingly. If, at this point, the text is understood allegorically, the point of the analogy is lost. Paul calls to his Corinthian readers to take a look for the moment at the literal, concrete, and historical meaning of a particular textual moment. Accordingly, he insists on the literal meaning, κατὰ σάρκα of the verse, at least momentarily.
I think we learn much from this utterance. First of all, as earlier commentators have pointed out, the very positing of an “Israel according to the flesh” implies necessarily the existence of an “Israel according to the spirit” as well. Now, in light of the resonance created by the reference to “Israel in the flesh” in verse 18, I think we go back and interpret the references to spiritual food and drink in the previous verses and understand them as hermeneutical utterances as well. Thus, the food and drink may literally [!] have been spiritual in nature, but they are also to be understood spiritually (that is typologically/allegorically) as signifying the food and drink of the present Christian ritual. The Israel of that story signifies the present Israel which is the church—not, I emphasize, the institutional church of, e.g., Hebrews, but the present Christian congregations characterized and defined by the inclusion of ethnic gentiles into “the Israel of God” (Hays 1989, 86).
This interpretation is further dramatically strengthened by Paul's explicitly hermeneutic statement that “the rock was Christ.” Once again, there has been much discussion of the exact mode of figurative interpretation that Paul is here supposing, but in any case, it is very telling that he uses the past tense here: The rock was always Christ. Paul's “in-the-spirit” interpretation, whether typological or allegorical (or, as I claim, both at once), represents a dehistoricization of the text as well as an implicit claim that Christ is the always-existent Christ in heaven and not his temporary historical avatar on earth. Paul certainly held that the literal, historical meaning of the text was true—Consider Israel according to the flesh—but just as unquestionably he also located its significance not in its concrete historical moment but in that which it signified and which one way or another stops time and exits from history.
The platonic preference for the immovable supersedes temporality, and this is the essence of allegory as I understand it. Having demonstrated that Paul interweaves his discourse here with a series of allusions to Deuteronomy 8 and 32, as well as Psalm 106, Hays reads the discourse as essentially midrash and even explicitly argues that “there is nothing distinctively Christian in the lessons that Paul draws from the Scripture that he cites here. Deuteronomy has already performed the imaginative act of turning the exodus into a paradigm for Israel's future experience; consequently, Paul's typological reading of the story is nothing other than a fresh performance within Israel's long-established poetic-theological tradition” (94). Yes—and no. On the one hand, Hays is undoubtedly correct; Paul draws here a lesson from the concrete historical events which is not entirely dissimilar from the lesson that Deuteronomy wishes Jews to learn from the same story, “And you shall remember.…” Paul, however, supplements that hermeneutic of memory of historical events with claims that the historical events already figured the current situation; the food and drink were spiritual and the rock was Christ. As in so much of my reading of Paul, I see here a brilliant conflation of hermeneutical cultural traditions, such that the “platonistic” moment of his spirituality is made wholly one with the biblical sensibility. Paul produces here an extraordinary synthesis between Palestinian and Hellenistic Judaisms. On the one hand, Paul is not denying significance to the concrete, historical Israel, neither now nor a fortiori in the past, as can be clearly demonstrated by, among other places, Romans 11, which also entertains the idea that in the end historical Israel will repent and rejoin the New Israel. On the other hand, however, there is a strong implication that this Israel finds its true meaning and always did as a signifier of the community of faith which would include all humanity and not only the ethnic Israel. The story of Israel exists for two purposes: to prefigure and figure the Israel of God and to teach that Israel of God how it should behave. Both of these moments are uncovered together in 1 Corinthians 10. “Israel according to the flesh” is thus the literal, concrete, historical Israel, while Israel according to the spirit would be the allegorical, spiritual, ontological, and ideal Israel—ultimately the Church.
The dual person of Christ in the world is a perfect homology, then, to the dual nature of language and the necessity for allegorical interpretation to fulfill the spiritual meaning of concrete expression. Corporeal difference yields to spiritual universalism. This structure is manifested beautifully in our passage from 1 Corinthians, where the manna and water given the Jews in the wilderness is called “spiritual” (πνευματικός), and the rock which followed the Jews in the Wilderness is interpreted as Christ (10: 3–4). Thus, “ our ancestors were all under the cloud” (10:1), that is, Paul's and the Corinthians’ ancestors were all under the cloud, interpreted as baptism! Thus, the “all” of this verse is the same “all” as the “we all” of the passage from 2 Corinthians above. As Conzelmann remarks, “ οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν, ‘our ancestors’: Paul is speaking as a Jew, but includes also his Gentile-Christian readers. The church is the true Israel” (Conzelmann 1976, 165). The point has been made even more eloquently by Gordon Fee:
By calling Israel “ our Fathers,” he emphasizes at the outset the Corinthians' continuity with what God had done in the past. Since this is being written to a Gentile congregation, this language is sure evidence of the church's familiarity with the OT as their book in a very special sense, and of Paul's understanding of their eschatological existence in Christ (cf. v. 11) as being in true continuity with the past. God's new people are the true Israel of God, who fulfill his promises made to the fathers. This identification is precisely what gives the warning that follows such potency. (Fee 1987, 444; see Hays 1989, 96)
It does even more than that. Through its interpretative method it establishes the very hermeneutic by which the Corinthians can be considered members of the new Israel, indeed, by which the new Israel is constituted.
The crucifixion is what makes possible the fulfillment of Israel in the flesh by Israel in the spirit as well, and thus the erasure of the difference between “Jew and Greek” and their reconstitution as the new single People of God. Those who remain enthralled by the literal in hermeneutics are necessarily enslaved as well by the flesh and the elements of this world, and they, therefore, render Jesus's sacrifice in vain. This, to my mind, is the fundamental message of Galatians and ultimately of all of Paul, fully revealed already in that one moment in which the risen Christ—Christ according to the spirit—appeared to Saul the Pharisee, he who had never known Jesus according to the flesh and was about to transform that apparent disability in his apostleship into an advantage. A platonic hermeneutic, similar to that of Philo, is what empowers and energizes Paul's gospel, however otherwise different are the moral and religious visions of these two first-century Jews.
Answering Davies's Objections
In his now-classic Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, W. D. Davies has argued against a hermeneutical reading of the flesh / spirit opposition in Paul. Davies has two major objections to the notion that in the usage of σάρξ Paul accepts “a typical Hellenistic dualism” (Davies 1965, 18). In the first place, he argues that “the ascription of Hellenistic dualism to Paul involves us in a psychological, ethical and spiritual impossibility. It would be to make Paul's faith in the real coming of Christ into the world an absurdity. To Paul Christ was of the seed of David, a figure in history, a man after the flesh. If the latter was intrinsically evil, as Hellenistic dualism maintained, then Paul's faith in the historic Christ was in vain” (18). The second argument that Davies mobilizes is a lexical one. He claims, correctly it seems, that σάρξ almost never (but not quite never) refers in Hellenistic Greek to the material as opposed to the ideal.
The first of Davies's arguments can be easily answered. Paul's “dualism” was precisely not a typical Hellenistic dualism, one that would maintain that the flesh is intrinsically evil. Davies is absolutely correct; such a value system would make very difficult the notion of a real human Christ, and indeed, “gnostics” who held such views have also held a docetic christology, that Jesus only appeared to be a man of flesh. A dualism, however, of another sort, one that values the flesh, albeit considering the spirit to be the essence of the human and the essential meaning of things and of language as well, would explain precisely the coming of Christ, as a visible manifestation of God, into the world. Such a dualist mode of thinking will account for both the literal, physical Jesus who is the son of David according to the flesh and the pre-existent, spiritual Christ who is the son of God. On the other hand, a monistic ontology, such as that of much of rabbinic thinking, will not dematerialize Godhead to begin with, and will accordingly not require an Incarnation (or the Pauline equivalent thereof).
My explanation of Paul also accounts for the second objection as well. Σάρξ, רשב, flesh has two well attested metaphorical usages in Jewish parlance. It refers on the one hand to the penis and on the other hand to the physical connection of genealogy of filiation and of family relationship. These are the primary senses in which Paul uses the term as well, thus referring to circumcision “in the flesh” and brothers “in the flesh” (Romans 9:3). And even “my flesh” as simply “my kin,” e.g., Israel in Romans 11: 14. However, Paul goes one step further in my view. Since for him, these physical entities and connections have been fulfilled/annulled by their spiritual referents, “according to the flesh” becomes a hermeneutical term referring to the literal, the flesh of language as well. Let us see how this is achieved. In the wake of these familiar metaphors, Paul easily sets up a set of parallel ratios, a very common practice in Hellenistic argumentation. A quick look at Romans 2:28–29 will exemplify this procedure:
Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.
οὐ γὰρ ὁ ἐν τῷ φανερῷ 'Ιουδαῖός ἐστιν οὐδὲ ἡ ἐν τῷ φανερῷ ἐν σαρκὶ περιτομή. ἀλλ' ὁ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ 'Ιουδαῖος, καὶ περιτομὴ καρδίας ἐν πνεύματι οὐ γράμματι.
In this verse—which I discuss in much more detail in the next chapter—the relevant oppositions are:
outer inner in the flesh (penis) in the heart in the letter in the spirit
We have here an absolutely marvelous syncretism of biblical and Hellenic notions, so organized that they become synonyms for each other. On the one hand, in the Bible itself, as is well known, the opposition between circumcision of the penis and circumcision of the heart is attested. In the second of these ratios, therefore, Paul is apparently just using the biblical formula. However, by combining them with the other two sets of oppositions new and additional meanings are generated as well. Thus, once “in the flesh” (meaning “penis”) is on the same side of the ratio as “in the letter,” and the latter is opposed to “in the spirit,” then “in the flesh” can become opposed to “in the spirit” as well. The association of “letter” and “flesh” promotes an understanding of the flesh as the literal as well. Finally, the hermeneutical opposition of “outer” and “inner,” which is purely Hellenistic, supports these transfers also, for the material language, the outer flesh of the language, is that which is opposed to its spirit, its true meaning, which is within it. It is further important to note that since “flesh” in Hebrew refers, as I have said, to physical kinship, exactly the same set of transfers will be possible for that term as well. It is precisely this ability that Paul had—perhaps greater in him than in any other Hellenistic Jewish thinker—to discover and animate the ways in which Hellenistic and biblical ways of thinking could illuminate and enrich one another that constitutes his genius. And note that it is exactly this formal move that, on my account, makes his political, ideological, and theological passion. One could with justice say that in Paul, as in Christ, “There is no Jew or Greek.” The ethical dualisms of the Bible are mapped onto hermeneutical, anthropological, and ontological dualisms of Plato in a way that often seems almost seamless. I think that Paul, unlike Philo, is not performing this mapping consciously but that it has become for him the very organic mode of his thinking. Jewgreek is Greekjew.
Furthermore, the usage of body and soul, respectively, for the literal and the allegorical is in fact known from Hellenistic language, namely from Philo, who writes that his interest is in “the hidden meaning which appeals to the few who study soul characteristics, rather than bodily forms” (Abraham, 147). Moreover, the radical allegorizers who deny the necessity of keeping the literal commandments are referred to by him as people who are “trying to live as souls without bodies” (ibid., 89). In Greek as well, σάρξ is more than occasionally used as a synonym or near-synonym for σῶμα, “body.”  I hypothesize that two factors would have led Paul to choose the former over the latter for this meaning. The first is the powerful homology that is set up between the literal in language and those symbols of literality that are so central to his thinking, literal circumcision and literal connection with the family/tribe of Israel, by using the term flesh, which carries those metaphorical senses, and not body, which does not. Secondly, precisely because σῶμα had taken on particular significances for Paul (as we have seen in 1 Corinthians 15), including the notion of a spiritual body and often something like the whole person, it was not available to him for the sense of the outer, the merely physical. Accordingly, he could not use σῶμα for the physical, literal, outward sense, but only σάρξ. Finally, there are passages in which Paul himself indicates that σάρξ, flesh, is being used by him as a synonym for σῶμα, body: “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh [οὐ τῇ σαρκὶ τοῦ κατὰ σάρκα ζῆν]. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body [εἰ δὲ πνεύματι τὰς πράξεις τοῦ σώματος] you will live” (Romans 8:12–13). Another such passage is Romans 6:12: “Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions,” where, as Bultmann has pointed out, “passions of the body” is equal to “passions of the flesh,” as in Galatians 5:16 et al. Once more, as Bultmann has shown, “the body of sin [τὸ σῶμα τῆς ἁμαρτίας]” in Romans 6:6 is equivalent to “sinful flesh [σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας]” of 8:3 (1951, 197). Furthermore, at several points in 1 and 2 Corinthians as well, the terms seem interchangeable (Jewett 1971, 58). It is therefore not at all surprising to find that Paul uses “flesh” to mean the outer, literal sense of the language with all of its concomitant outer, physical referents, whereas Philo used “body” to mean these same things.
Circumcision in the spirit of the language, that is, the true allegorical meaning of circumcision, is also a spiritual experience, and it is this homology which makes Paul's expression so powerful. Paul's thought and mode of expression at this point are nearly identical to Philo's:
It is true that receiving circumcision does indeed portray the excision of pleasure and all passions, and the putting away of the impious conceit, under which the mind supposed that it was capable of begetting by its own power: but let us not on this account repeal the law laid down for circumcising. Why, we shall be ignoring the sanctity of the Temple and a thousand other things, if we are going to pay heed to nothing except what is shewn us by the inner meaning of things. Nay, we should look on all these outward observances as resembling the body, and their inner meanings as resembling the soul. It follows that, exactly as we have to take thought for the body, because it is the abode of the soul, so we must pay heed to the letter of the laws. (Philo 1932, 185)
For Philo, as for Paul, the allegorical interpretation of circumcision, explicitly figured by Philo as “resembling the soul,” refers to an event which takes place in the soul, while the literal understanding, “resembling the body,” refers to an event which takes place in the body. It is this very homology between language theory and anthropological ontology that makes Paul's text so effective. Two very natural senses of “the flesh,” namely, the observance in the flesh of circumcision and filial connection, are concatenated with embodiedness or fleshliness as an attribute of the literal meaning of language as well. Because the literal sense of the Hebrew Bible refers as well, par excellence, to these fleshy entities of genealogy and fleshly observance, such as circumcision and kashruth, the three senses of “flesh” all work together in Pauline rhetoric in synergistic fashion. The spiritual then refers to an observance such as baptism, which is not “in the flesh,” made not with hands; to faith in general as opposed to physical observances; to the spiritual Israel, namely, the community of Christian believers; and to spiritual filiation according to the promise as opposed to the physical, genetic community of Israelites descended from Abraham. All these denied senses are comprehended together in κατὰ σάρκα, which is not a term of opprobrium by itself but becomes so when the flesh is allowed to occlude the spirit.
“For we are the circumcision”
Philippians 3 gives an excellent illustration of the nexus linking circumcision, genealogy, and physical observance of the Law as coordinated terms in Pauline thought, indeed as “ the flesh.” It demonstrates as well that Paul's issue with the flesh was not self-righteousness and finally argues for my last point above, namely that the fleshy, literal interpretation of the Torah only becomes illegitimate when its true meaning is revealed through and in Christ Jesus. In words made particularly famous in modern scholarship for their role in making Stendahl's case for Paul's “robust conscience,” Paul writes:
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the [true] circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory [καυχώμενοι] in Christ Jesus, and put not confidence in the flesh. Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law of Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless. But whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (3:1–7)
This text renders highly problematic the regnant theological interpretations of several elements of Pauline language à la Bultmann. We see from here that καυχώμενοι—suddenly translated “glorying” and not “boasting” as elsewhere—is not a pejorative term in Paul's discourse or thought-world. One must “boast” in the right thing. Indeed, I would claim that the correct nuance for this verb is not boast in the modern English sense of brag but rather something more like “have confidence in,” in accord with its parallel in the antithesis of verse 3. We see that Paul's issue with the Law has nothing to do with an alleged self-righteousness to which it leads. Second, we have an exact and explicit definition of what Paul means by “the flesh” here, and it is not human striving for righteousness. He tells us just what he means: being circumcised, being genealogically Israelite, and being devoted to the literal, physical carrying out of the Law as opposed to the inner movements of its spiritual referent. “The flesh”—σάρξ—carries not the slightest shred of sinfulness, human arrogance, or any of the other burdens that translators lay upon it. These literal and physical marks of status—this commitment to the corporeal as locus of meaning and value—become mere dung (σκύβαλα) in Paul's eyes in the light of Christ's invitation to all people to join the spiritual circumcision.
Bultmann Against Bultmann
Paradoxically enough, the account I am giving here of the flesh ~ spirit opposition is similar in significant ways to that of Bultmann. However, as I will try to show, on this point Bultmann's exegesis and his theology are divided against themselves. I accept the exegesis and reject the theology (both as an account of Paul and in itself). As I have claimed above, Bultmann with his exegetical acumen correctly identifies the passages in which Paul clearly speaks of the body as a home for the spirit but immediately seeks to deny their theological import. Precisely the same thing happens when he speaks of another platonistic concept par excellence: the “inner self.” Bultmann writes:
What does Paul call man, and how does he regard him, when he is the subject of his own willing and doing, when he is his real self who can distinguish himself from his soma-self? In Rom. 7:22 and II Cor. 4:16 as a formal designation for that self he uses the term “the inner man” (ὁ ἔσω ἄνθρωπος), an expression that appears to be derived from the anthropology of Hellenistic dualism. But it has a purely formal meaning in Paul, as may be seen from the fact that it means two things of different content in the two passages cited. In Rom. 7:22, “the inner” is man's real self in contrast to the self that has come under the sway of sin: “the soma of death” (7:24) or “the soma of sin.” In II Cor. 4:16 “the inner man” is still the real self, it is true, but in contrast to the physical body. Rom. 7:2 deals with the unredeemed man under the Law, II Cor. 4:16 with the Christian, in whom God's power is at work (4:7), and in whom the Spirit dwells (5:5). The “inner man” of Rom. 7:22 is identical in content with the nous (“mind”), which belongs to man's essence (note how “inner man” is picked up, v. 23, by the term “mind,”) but the “inner man” of II Cor. 4:16 is the self transformed by the Spirit. Thus the term “inner man” as formal designation for the subject-self confirms our conception, derived from the interpretation of soma, of Paul's view of human existence as the having of a relationship to one's self. (1951, 202 [emphases added])
This is an extraordinary combination, in my opinion, of brilliant exegesis and totally arbitrary theologizing. With unfailing accuracy, Bultmann has identified the Hellenistic, platonistic elements of Pauline expression and anthropology. In both the Romans and the 2 Corinthians passages (and for the Corinthians passage I have already argued its pervasive platonism above), Paul demonstrates the essentially dualistic nature of his understanding of human being. People have outer and inner selves, and while the outer is not rejected or despised, there is no question that it is lower on the scale of value than the inner. The association of the inner self with nous strengthens the platonistic connections of the thought sevenfold. But Bultmann's distinctions between the two passages make no difference whatsoever. Why one would want to assume that for Paul the soma of death is not the physical body and thus regard these usages as self-contradictory or inconsistent escapes me entirely. Indeed, the fact that in two different contexts Paul assumes the same dyad of inner and outer selves proves that this was for him the simple, natural way of thinking about human beings. Note that I am not claiming that Paul was in any way exceptional in this regard. I think virtually anyone in his Hellenistic-Jewish (and even gentile) world would have assumed the same things. That theologoumenon which Bultmann takes to be confirmed by the analysis of these texts is his alone and bears almost no relationship at all to the Pauline text.
These tensions within Bultmann are graphically manifest in the following quotation:
To the category of conduct “according to the flesh” belongs above all zealous fulfillment of the Torah: it does so because a man supposes he can thereby achieve righteousness before God by his own strength. The Galatian Christians who want to adopt the Torah and be circumcised are indignantly asked: “Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?”— ding, that is, not in sensual passions but in observance of the Torah (Gal. 3:3). In fact, not only zeal for the Law but also pride in all the pious Israelite's merits and titles of honor belong to the attitude of the flesh—or, the Torah and the merits and dignities of Israel fall within the concept “flesh” as belonging to the sphere of the visibly occurring and the historically demonstrable. (1951, 240)
What Bultmann seems not to have noticed is that the two interpretations he gives, of which the second one (marked by the dash and the “or,”) is an afterthought, are quite different from one another. The first involves “according to the flesh” as a term of moral condemnation of the Jews for pride and trust in their own powers to achieve righteousness. This may be good Lutheran theology; I submit it is not Paul. Bultmann's second interpretation, which I think the exegete and scholar in him (as opposed to the Lutheran theologian) did not allow him to ignore, is that what “in the flesh” means is the outer, the visible, the historical, the ethnically specific, in short the literal interpretation of Torah, that which marks off Jews from gentiles. I am convinced, of course, that only the second adequately characterizes Paul's expression.
This split between the exegete and the theologian is, I think, emblematic of Bultmann's interpretation of σάρξ in general. Thus in his Theology of the New Testament he correctly described the σάρξ as the natural, the physical, as referring to the activities performed in the flesh (circumcision) and filial descent and connection. He furthermore understood the hermeneutical aspect of the term as well:
“Flesh” here means, first of all, simply the physiological flesh on which circumcision is performed, and flesh in this sense by the juxtaposition of “outward” is brought into the wider sphere of “the outward.” But the antithesis, especially by using “spirit” as a contrasting term, makes it clear that the sphere of “the outward” is precisely the sphere of the “flesh.”…This is also the sphere of “the letter” or “the literal.” (1951, 234)
So far so good. In the very next section of the book, however, Bultmann leaves off the exegetical exactitude of his analysis of “flesh” as the literal, the concrete, the physical, and thus Jewish observance of literal, physical commandments such as circumcision in the flesh, kashruth, and Holy Days, and theologizes in ways slanderous of both Paul and the Jews. I will not rehearse this last point at length, since it has been much done already, and anyway my main point here is to argue that Bultmann's perception of Paul is correct and important, until he begins his theologizing. Let me just cite one example, however, to back up the claim:
The sinful self-delusion that one lives out of the created world can manifest itself both in unthinking recklessness (this especially among the gentiles) and in considered busy-ness (this especially among Jews)—both in the ignoring or transgressing of ethical demands and in excessive zeal to fulfill them. For the sphere of “flesh” is by no means just the life of instinct or sensual passions, but is just as much that of the moral and religious efforts of man. (1951, 239)
Paul, I am sure, would not recognize such sentiments as his own, not for one second. Yes, “flesh” does mean for him both giving in to the body and observing the literal Jewish Torah, but not certainly because he objected to zeal in fulfilling ethical demands or was opposed to the moral and religious efforts of “man,” but rather because both the body and the literal observance of Torah belonged to the sphere of the physical and outward. The physical Torah, moreover, in the way that it marked off Jewish bodies from gentile ones frustrated God's plan for all humanity as “The Israel of God.” What concerned Paul, as I hope yet to make plausible, was the literal observance of the Law insofar as it frustrated what Paul took to be the moral and religious necessity of humankind, namely to erase all distinction between ethnos and ethnos, sex and sex and become one in Christ's spiritual body. The dualism of spirit and flesh was thus necessary for his entire political and theological program to be carried forth. As we have seen in the passage quoted above (from page 240), Bultmann understood this and could express it clearly, but he could not let it stand because it was not consistent with his own theological positions.
Paul's “Mainline Platonism”
Once more, let me state the major thesis of this book. Paul's genius was not as a philosopher, which he was not, but in his realization that the common dualist ideology—ontology, anthropology, and hermeneutic—which together for him formed a christology, provided the answer to the theological problem that troubled him the most: How do the rest of the people in God's world fit into the plan of salvation revealed to the Jews through their Torah? Let me be absolutely clear. I am not claiming for Paul a radical dualism which denies value to the phenomenal world, but rather a dualism of the sort which has characterized western thought practically since its inception, that is, the understanding of human beings, the world, and language as all composed of a material and a spiritual component in correspondence with each other. In other words, what I am claiming is that Paul held to the kind of dualism, which N. T. Wright calls “cosmological duality: the classic position of Plato,” and identifies as “a mainline belief of the Greco-Roman (and modern Western world).”  There is, in this sense, nothing striking in claiming that Paul was such a dualist; if anything the bold step that I am making is to claim that the Rabbis (as opposed to both earlier Hellenistic Jews and later ones) resisted this form of dualism.
1. Howard Eilberg-Schwartz explains this, in part, as owing to a misunderstanding on the part of these Greek philosophers of the nature of biblical religion. They thought that the Mosaic prohibition on the making of images of God was indicative of a spiritualized conception of divinity that resisted imagining the deity in human form, while in fact the opposite might be claimed, namely, that such spiritualized theological conceptions (and I am not claiming them as better) only developed in the wake of the contact with Greek philosophical thought (Eilberg-Schwartz forthcoming; Boyarin 1990a). [BACK]
2. Note how this completely revises older paradigms, in which Judaism and Hellenism are considered as alternative options for explaining Paul. See, e.g., the account of H. A. A. Kennedy's and A. D. Nock's work in Smith (1990, 65–71). To this day, however, in much Pauline scholarship we find statements not unlike those of Kennedy's to the effect that Paul is fully explicable as a development of biblical religion pure and simple in an apocalyptic framework. Even more to the point, however, are the recurrent figurations of Hellenism or “platonism” as taints or contaminants which must be exorcised from the Pauline corpus. Nock described the New Testament as “the product of an enclosed world living its own life, a ghetto culturally and linguistically!” (qu. in Smith 1990, 71). [BACK]
3. Compare the “standard” account of the historical origins of universalism out of monotheism offered (critically) by Wallerstein (1991, 30). [BACK]
4. Compare the similar views of Gundry (1976, 31 and esp. 84). Although I tend to agree with his view in general, I think he overstates the case when he writes, “Nor does the difference and separability of the corporeal and the incorporeal in man imply any inferiority on the part of the corporeal.” Gundry also distinguishes between “radical dualism” and “duality,” while I prefer to use the term “dualism” and suggest that the relative axiological weight placed on body and soul is a separate function from the dualism itself. [BACK]
5. This is an attempt not at super-PCness but simply at emphasis of the fact that the universal, spiritual human almost always ends up being universally male—and Christian. See Chapter 9 below. [BACK]
6. Philo, however, can refer to the body as “a sacred dwelling place or shrine fashioned for the reasonable soul” (Op 137), a much less misomatist but just as dualist image. See also D. Boyarin (1992b, n.6). [BACK]
7. For the notion of the disembodied self as “naked” and its Greek roots, see Lucian's account of Charon's charge to a “client”: “Off with your beauty then. Off with your lips, kisses and all. Off with that lovely long hair, and those rosy cheeks—in fact off with your whole body” (Lucian 1961, 66). See also 1 Corinthians 15:35–49, a notoriously difficult passage, and discussion in Conzelmann (1976, 280–88). [BACK]
8. I think that Gundry has rather missed the point when he writes, “In view of the evidence, it is difficult to comprehend failure to see duality in rabbinic anthropology” (1976, 93). Of course, the Rabbis also believed in a soul that animates the body. The point is, rather, that they identified the human being not as a soul dwelling in a body but as a body animated by a soul, and that makes all the difference in the world. Gundry similarly misses the same distinction with respect to the Hebrew Bible. There is no evidence among the data that he cites (117–34) that the soul has an individual personality or that it is the essence of the self, a fortiori no notion that an individual could be rewarded with a disembodied bliss after death. To the extent that such ideas appear widely in Hellenistic Judaism and to some extent in rabbinic Judaism (not at all “standard for Judaism” [!] as Gundry (148) would have it), they are indeed, it seems, a product of the Hellenistic culture of which Judaism was a part at that time (pace Gundry, 148n.2). See also Barclay (1991, 184n.11), who has leveled a somewhat similar critique at Gundry's work. See also the very important discussion in Kuschel (1992, 183–84 and passim). [BACK]
9. I accordingly respectfully dissent once more from Davies's interpretation here to the effect that “Paul calls the earthly body a σκῆρος and although there are abundant parallels to this, as we saw, in Hellenistic literature, the term would also be quite natural to a Rabbi” (1965, 313). In the parallel that Davies cites there from Genesis Rabbah, it is not the body which is referred to as a clay vessel but the entire person, and this makes all the difference. On the other hand, Josephus provides a perfect parallel to Paul (Wars 7, 8, vii), adopting, however, the much more negative metaphors of prison and corpse for the body in which the soul is captured until released by death. Another elegant argument for this interpretation of Paul's anthropology is provided by Philippians 1:19–26, for which see Gundry: “‘To depart’ is to die bodily death. ‘To be with Christ' is to be absent from the body (cf. II Cor 5:7–9)” (Gundry 1976, 37). Contrast this with Bultmann (1951, 1, 194). However, even Bultmann is constrained to admit, “From the very fact that Paul conceives the resurrection-life as somatic, it is apparent that his understanding of the self was not shaped by this dualism. But, on the other hand, he sees so deep a cleft within man, so great a tension between self and self, and so keenly feels the plight of the man who loses his grip upon himself and falls victim to outside powers, that he comes close to Gnostic dualism. That is indicated by the fact that he occasionally uses soma synonymously with sarx (‘flesh’)” (Bultmann 1951, 199). [BACK]
10. For a full catalogue of Hellenistic parallels to 2 Corinthians 5, see Knox (1939, 128 ff.) and discussion in Davies (1965, 311–13). For the seen and the unseen, cf. also Romans 1:20. Arlene Saxonhouse traces this theme back to the pre-Socratics: “It is, then, in the fragmentary writings of the pre-Socratics, of Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Parmenides, that we discover the early fear of diversity and how that fear leads them to dismiss what is seen in favor of what is unseen.…They search for a unity in the natural world that can overcome the experience the senses have of a vast multiplicity” (1992, x–xi). [BACK]
11. Bultmann thus contradicts his own view as quoted above in n.9. I think here we see Bultmann the exegete contradicting Bultmann the systematic theologian, a point that I develop below. It has long been recognized that Romans 1 shows clear signs of Alexandrian influence. See Charles (1913, 28). For a critical discussion of this view (a critique that I do not find entirely convincing), see Davies (1965, 28–31). Strikingly, even Davies writes, “Unconsciously of course, he follows Plato, who in order to understand justice in the soul drew a large-scale picture of justice in the state” (30). [BACK]
12. But I cannot, of course, understand what allows Bultmann then to say, “It would be an error in method to proceed from such passages as these to interpret the soma-concept that is characteristic of Paul and determines his fundamental discussions” (202). To be sure, “soma” has other meanings in Paul and his dualism does not involve the denigration of the body that we associate with certain gnostics or with a Plotinus, for example, but given these differences it seems to me methodologically sound to proceed from such passages to an understanding of Paul's anthropology, like his ontology, christology, and hermeneutics, as fundamentally dualistic. [BACK]
13. It is important to note that Paul does not use σάρξ here for the physical but rather ψυχή, but I would not make too much of this, as it is possible that he uses the latter term for the sake of the midrash. In any case,ψυχή and σάρξ seem quite close in Pauline anthropology. [BACK]
14. See also Bultmann (1951, 204) on this passage. Once more he produces essentially the same reading that I do (“Paul is influenced by Gnostic usage”), and then undermines its import, because it does not suit his theology. Even stranger is his assertion (233) that “flesh and blood here means humanity as such, human nature.” There is no doubt at all in my mind that “flesh and blood” here means physical bodies and nothing else! [BACK]
15. See the following surprising convergence on this point:
As in Freud's account of moral masochism, Reik's typical subject seems ardently given over to self-mortification of one kind or another…but the psychic dynamics are otherwise quite different. To begin with, an external audience is a structural necessity, although it may be either earthly or heavenly. Second, the body is centrally on display, whether it is being consumed by ants or roasting over a fire. Finally, behind all these “scenes” or “exhibits” is the master tableau or group fantasy—Christ nailed to the cross, head wreathed in thorns and blood dripping from his impaled sides. What is being beaten here is not so much the body as the “flesh,” and beyond that sin itself, and the whole fallen world.
16. Another way of approaching this question would be through N. T. Wright's typology of dualisms. Thus Paul's would fit Wright's “cosmological duality: the classic position of Plato…a mainline belief of the Greco-Roman (and modern Western world)” and his anthropological duality, which is the human-centered counterpart of the cosmological, but would avoid “theological/moral duality,” which sharply divides the world into good and bad principles with the body/material on the side of the bad (not necessarily the product, however, of an evil god). I have added to Wright's typologies a hermeneutical dualism which is the counterpart for language of the cosmological and anthropological dualisms. Once this distinction between these (and other) types of what has been called dualism is clearly made, I think that objections to referring to Paul's dualism should be greatly lessened. (Wright 1992b, 253–54). See also Vincent Wimbush, who writes:
Thus, what was now required was “salvation”—from the self, or from the “house” (σῶμα, κόσμος) in which the self abides. Almost universally (Panhellenistically) “salvation” entailed some form of ascetic behavior, namely, some form of renunciation of the world, or part thereof.
17. All of the following summary is drawn directly from Jewett's very useful Forschungsgeschichte. I am only citing certain of the major views that I find interesting in particular as background for my proposals here, so for the full history, Jewett must be consulted directly. Jewett several times remarks of scholars that they have remained “aloof from previous or contemporary discussion” and therefore have produced interpretations that “could about as well have been written in the last century” (1971, 76). This suggests to me—although not to Jewett, apparently—that perhaps the last century was on to something. I feel strongly that this is the case with regard to the profound denial of any platonistic-dualist moments in Paul's religious culture. Jewett's own ideas are bound up in a neo-Reformation theology within which “strict obedience to the law” is sarkic because it is a “human revolt against God” (94). One of the advantages, I believe, of the view of σάρξ which I am promulgating here is that it allows us to understand why Paul refers to the Law as the flesh without making the assumption that he believed that those who kept the Law were thereby in revolt against God and ipso facto sinners. [BACK]
18. Jewett's main argument for this suggestion is that Paul does not use the term σάρξ in the allegedly parallel Thessalonian situation (108–14), but this argument is dependent on a very specific interpretation of the Galatian situation as being one of libertinism and a “serious outbreak of sensuality,” for which I see not the slightest shred of evidence in Galatians. My interpretation of Galatians 5 takes it as evidence only for Paul's concern for possible misunderstanding of his gospel of freedom, an interpretation which 5:13 strongly supports. See Chapter 7 below for extensive discussion of this point. If the strong analogy with the Galatian situation falls, all Jewett is left with is a particularly weak form of argument from silence, i.e.: If Paul had had the spirit / flesh opposition why did he not use it in Thessalonians? This claim is based on so many presuppositions that it would be better not to use it at all. [BACK]
19. Even Galatians 5:13ff. is not sufficient to establish an independent agency for the flesh as Jewett and others claim (102–08). Paul could certainly be speaking in very vivid metaphor here when he says that the desires of the spirit are against the flesh, and the desires of the flesh are against the spirit. The intrapsychic dualism is, nevertheless, striking here. The only cosmic agent in Paul which is opposed to God is “Sin.” [BACK]
20. See the partial anticipations of this interpretation already in Robinson:
In this connection,σάρξ, again like the basar in the Old Testament, stands especially for the solidarities of sex (“the twain shall become one flesh,” 1 Cor. 6.16; Eph. 5.31) and of race (“my kinsmen according to the flesh,” Rom. 9.3, contracted to “my flesh” in Rom. 11.14). So, in Rom. 4.1, Paul speaks of “Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh,” and says of Christ that He was “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1.3) and was an Israelite τὸ κατὰ σάκα, in what concerned race (Rom. 9.5).
This usage constantly tends to fall over into a contrast (already implicit in the τό of Rom. 9:5) between mere external, racial connection and what is of real, spiritual, divine import. “Israel after the flesh” (1 Cor. 10.18) is distinguished from the Christian Church, the true Israel of God. In Gal. 4.23 and 29, the son born “after the flesh” is contrasted with the one born “through the promise” and “after the Spirit.” in Rom. 8.9, the antithesis becomes quite stark: “It is not the children of the flesh that are the children of God.”
Robinson's extraordinary exegetical good sense comes aground, however, for him as well, on the shoals of existential neo-Lutheran theology:
Consequently, as Bultmann rightly stresses, “the mind of the flesh” stands primarily for a denial of man's dependence on God and for a trust in what is of human effort or origin. Thus, when Paul asks the Galatians, “having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3), he refers, not to a lapse into sensuality, but to a return to reliance upon the law. The flesh is concerned with serving “the letter” (Rom. 7.6; 2.28 f), which is “of men” (Rom. 2.29) and represents human self-sufficiency (2 Cor. 3.5 f). (Robinson 1952, 25)
2 Corinthians 3:5 is, of course, totally irrelevant, as it speaks of Paul's competence as an apostle and his credentials and has nothing to do with the Law at all. There is accordingly nothing whatever in the cited verses that supports the notion that what troubles Paul is human self-sufficiency! Nor does Romans 2:29 say that the Law is of men! [BACK]
21. I think, however, that even Martin's discussion of the text itself contradicts this interpretation. If the Christ κατὰ σάρκα, whom they have known until now is “Christ in his worldly accessibility, before his death and resurrection,” or even according to the views that the adverbial modifies the knowing and not the object of the knowing, so we have known Christ according to the flesh, it still is impossible, in my view, to gloss this as “without reference to God”! Even Christ according to the flesh, or known according to the flesh, was by no means without reference to God. Martin's tacit attempts to overcome this difficulty only point it up all the more, in my opinion: “It would be a human achievement (σάρξ, ‘flesh'; cf. Phil. 3:3), and Paul cannot accept such knowledge because it is narrowly circumscribed, i.e., he denies that this way of knowing Christ has any scope in a person's relationship to God.” [BACK]
22. To be sure, the sociological twist on this interpretation is new to Segal (and Watson), but the denial of hermeneutical significance to the flesh and spirit has become near-orthodoxy. [BACK]
23. See the discussion of 2 Cor. 5:16 below. See also 1 Cor. 3:3–4, but note that Paul there uses different adverbial forms:σαρκικός and σάρκινος and not κατὰ σάρκα, which I am claiming has an hermeneutic Sitz im Leben. He does, on the other hand, use κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖν in the same context where it clearly is to be taken axiologically. [BACK]
24. A point made by Barclay (1991, 212). I think, however, that my notion of semantic multi-valence is far superior to Barclay's styling of Paul's usage of σάρξ as ambiguous. It is not ambiguity that Paul is exploiting but the rich generative possibilities of a polysemic word and its cultural associations. The association of both keeping the Law and libertinism with σάρξ is not some kind of a rhetorical trick on Paul's part but the very essence of his thought. [BACK]
25. Thus, to take only one example among several, Jewett alleges that Paul's usage of κατὰ σάρκα is inconsistent vis-à-vis ἐν σαρκί, claiming that in 2 Corinthians 10:2–3 the two terms are distinct, while in Romans 7:5 and 8:8–9, they are alleged to be synonyms. Examining the texts, however, in the light of the exegesis proposed in this book shows this not to be the case. Rather there are complicated nuances (as well as a paradox that Paul himself sees). “In the flesh” has indeed two senses. On the one hand, in Romans 7:5 and 8:8–9 it refers to the condition of those who live in the fleshy condition of commitment to the literal law of the flesh. In the Corinthians passage it refers to the condition of being alive in a human body. The paradox is exactly the same paradox that we find explicitly recognized by Paul in Galatians 2: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and what I now live in the flesh I live in faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me” (2:19–20). The fleshy existence of the Christian is only apparent—precisely what Paul is arguing in the 2 Corinthians passage as well—but the fleshy existence of those who live according to the flesh is real. They are really in the flesh! There is thus no contradiction in Paul's semantics here. [BACK]
26. Jewett's arguments to the contrary (1971, 162–63) are invalid. Paul, however, throughout addresses his “brothers,” who are kinsmen not literally but only in faith, in the spirit, allegorically. Here, therefore, he draws a contrast by referring to his literal kinsmen. Far from being tautological, the adverb is necessary to avoid misunderstanding. Finally, the notion that “Israel according to the flesh” describes the nature of the Jews and not the hermeneutical status of their nomination as Israel is incredible. Jewett writes, “If the phrase κατὰ σάρκα was inserted by the Hellenistic congregation in the confession cited in Rom. 1:3 with the intention of deprecating the fleshly existence in contrast with pneumatic existence, should we not expect that it has a similar negative significance in Rom. 9:5”—where it refers to Christ! Why not argue the exact opposite? If in Romans 9:5 Christ according to the flesh means simply the earthly, physical Christ as opposed to the risen Christ, according to the spirit, then perhaps that is what it means in 1:3 as well, and we need not assume multiple, contradictory glosses in that poor maligned verse. Jewett writes, “And if σάρξ is blandly neutral in v. 5, why does Paul emphasize the phrase with τό and thereby stress that Christ came from Israel only insofar as his flesh was concerned?” The question answers itself (see also Robinson's insightful understanding, cited above in n.20). The whole point of Romans 9–11 is to emphasize the positive but limited role of physical Israel. [BACK]
27. On my reading, even if the church is (and I think it is) the spiritual Israel κατὰ πνεῦμα, this does not mean for a moment that Paul implies that it could not fall into error (pace Hays 1989, 96). Quite the opposite. The Israelites κατὰ σάρκα could very well have been highly spiritual, and the church which is Israel κατὰ πνεῦμα could very well prove itself carnal indeed, which is certainly the danger that Paul's letter to the Corinthians comes to guard against. We must not conflate κατὰ σάρκα with the description of the Corinthians as σαρκικοί (carnal) in 1 Cor. 3:3–4, as Hays does. [BACK]
28. Cf. also Schweizer in TDNT, VII, 127: “This expression carries with it an evaluation; this is the Israel which understands itself only in terms of descent. In the context, however, this is not the point at issue, and it is no accident that we do not find the antithesis ὁ Ἰσραὴλ κατὰ πνεῦμα.” [BACK]
29. Hays's reading of this entire passage (91–102) is, as usual, astute. For my explicit points of disagreement with it, see below. On the interpretation of “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), I am entirely persuaded by the arguments of Dahl (1950) that this means the new community of the faithful, both those of Jewish as well as those of gentile origins. See also Sanders (1983, 173ff.). Sanders wonders how Paul would have referred to his new creation, since other than here, he does not seem to actually use the term “true Israel” or “Israel of God,” and he certainly does not use a term like “Christians.” I think that at least one further clue is to be found in Philippians 3:3: “for we are the [true] circumcision.” Since “the circumcision” is clearly a technical term in Paul for Israel, when combined with Galatians 6:16, I think it is hard to escape the conclusion that the notion of Verus Israel was at least embryonic in Paul (pace Campbell [1992, 48 and 74–75]). [BACK]
30. Richard Hays has written to me on this matter (personal communication, March 10, 1993):
No, for Paul, that which Israel signified (signifies?) is instantiated in the historical phenomenon of the early Christian communities. I think that you (ironically) here do to the concrete historical Christian community what you complain I do to the concrete historical Jewish community: spiritualize it out of historical existence.
I think that there is a certain (understandable) misunderstanding of my position revealed here, and I had better try to clarify myself. There is no question but that Hays is right in his claim that that which Israel signifies is manifested in the Christian community; however, note that I substitute for “instantiated” “manifested.” The question is what the nature of that “historical phenomenon” is. If for the historical, fleshy Israel, it was a life “according to the flesh,” that is, a life of historical action in the world, getting and spending, procreating and dying, for the new Israel, it is a life “according to the spirit,” that is, beyond dying and birthing. The Christians have conquered death, Paul says repeatedly, and as such, have exited from history, because death is the necessary condition for history! Paul himself is troubled by the paradox of being in the body while living according to the spirit and treats that paradox at least once, when he writes that your seeing him in the flesh is only apparent, but the spirit of Christ lives within him. “For through the Law I died to the Law, in order that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and what I now live in the flesh I live in faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:19–20). (See my discussion of this passage below, Chapter 5.) It is this sense that Paul constantly communicates of Christians being beyond history that creates his (realistic) anxiety that they will misunderstand and think that ethics no longer applies to them as well, an anxiety that he is quick to allay, on my readings, in Galatians 5–6 and 1 Corinthians. [BACK]
31. The term “Judaisms ” may go back to Claude Montefiore's work on Paul, as I learn from Westerholm (1988, 35). [BACK]
32. See Fredriksen (1988, 172) for similar notions of the relationship between Paul's “high” christology and his universalism. [BACK]
33. I say this primarily to exclude the notion that Paul's doctrine of justification by faith and its entire hermeneutic are a secondary part of his thought, “forced upon him, not by vision of the risen Christ, but by developments in his mission to the Gentiles. Practice determined theory rather than the other way around” (Wrede, as paraphrased by Westerholm 1988, 20). [BACK]
34. See also Davies's precise formulation with regard to 1 Corinthians 15:
Paul, in his doctrine of the Second Adam, asserts the same truth that the Fourth Gospel proclaims in its insistence that the Word became flesh, in another, Rabbinic way, that the particular is not a scandal. He was impelled to assert this not from philosophical motives but from the mere fact of Christ in history. (52)
The determination, however, of Christ in history as this or that kind of fact is, of course, a product of “philosophical motives.” [BACK]
35. Thus the Rabbis can refer to “circumcision in the flesh” and also “the Covenant of the flesh” to mean circumcision, with, obviously, quite a different valence from its usage in Paul. [BACK]
36. I therefore disagree with Martyn (1985, 416) that the Law has become an ally of the flesh in the eschatalogical moment. The Law has always been of the flesh; that is its essence. The issue has rather to do with the evaluation of fleshiness within Pharisaism (later Rabbinism) and Hellenistic Judaism, with Paul an extreme representative of the latter. (See Segal: “Philo criticizes the extreme allegorizers for their attempt to ignore daily life, imagining themselves to be disembodied souls.…Philo, had he known Paul, would have considered him one of the radical allegorizers. Though Paul certainly did not ignore the body, he preached its radical transformation through death and rebirth in baptism and through a mystical identification with Christ, which opened him to a criticism similar to Philo's when he claimed to have left behind the body of flesh and entered the one spiritual body of the Lord” [1990, 246].) Moreover, it is impossible for me to follow Martyn in his assumption that the new age obviates the antinomies of the past, when the fundamental antinomy around which all others are organized—the flesh and the spirit—still exists. On the other hand, I see no reason to doubt that for Paul the place of the flesh and all of its concomitants—ethnicity, sexuality, the Law, etc.—has been entirely changed in the realized eschatology of the crucifixion. The pedagogue belongs to a certain historical moment, now transcended. See also Cosgrove (1988, 181–83). [BACK]
37. This is the transfer that lies at the bottom of the allegory of Galatians 4:21–31 as well, discussed above in the first chapter. [BACK]
38. In the Septuagint both translate רשב (flesh). There is, of course, in biblical Hebrew no word that distinguishes “body” as opposed to “flesh.” [BACK]
39. There is even a variant reading here which readsτῆς σαρκὸς “deeds of the flesh,” thus further suggesting their synonymity. “Deeds of the body” is, apparently, the better reading. [BACK]
40. I am not convinced by Jewett's explanations for the particular instances. Even with his over-elaborate theories, dependent on very particular and specific analyses of the breakdown of the Corinthian letters, Jewett is still forced to admit that “at times such usage appeared to be motivated and at other times it did not.” [BACK]
41. I am not distinguishing here between soul, spirit, and mind, which all have different referents in philonic anthropology. For the purpose of the present typology, the broad distinction between flesh and spirit or body and soul is sufficient. [BACK]
42. I am just adding a further (but to my mind crucial) wrinkle to the point already made well in Hays: “Of course, the expression κατὰ σάρκα is a theologically loaded one for Paul. At the superficial level, it refers simply to the process of natural physical descent, but there are at least two other levels of meaning in Paul's usage of the term: it alludes to circumcision and, at the same time, to the mode of human existence apart from God. The meaning of the expression in Rom 4:1 is to be determined not by choosing among these possibilities but by discerning their complex interweaving in the present context” (1985, 86). This seems to me to be just right, except that I add the hermeneutical sense of “literal” to the interwoven senses identified by Hays, and that I would question whether κατὰ σάρκα truly refers to an existence apart from God. This seems to me a relic of another mode of interpreting Pauline discourse. [BACK]
43. Although nearly every translation I have seen silently supplies here “true,” as they do also in Romans 2:28–29 in a similar context, Paul writes just ἡμεῖς γάρ ἐσμεν ἡ περιτομή “For we are the circumcision,” i.e., the Jews, Israel. [BACK]
44. Cf., for instance, 2 Corinthians 5:12: “We are not recommending ourselves to you once more, but rather providing you a suitable basis to boast in us, that you may have something to say to those who are boasting of what is outward and not of what is within,” i.e., to have confidence in us that you may have something to say to those who rely on the outer (lit., what is on the face) and not the inner (what is in the heart). The issue is surely not one of false pride or arrogance but of a mistaken placement of trust by the opponents. This point is even clearer if we adopt the reading of several very important manuscripts that have here ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν “have confidence in yourselves” rather than ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν “in us.” This lectio dificilior may be difficult from the point of view of Greek syntax and usage. Note that nearly the exact same phraseology also appears in Galatians 6:4: “But let each one test his own work, and this his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each man will have to bear his own burden.” Here, once more, “have confidence in” or “rely on” gives better sense than “boast.” This interpretation of καυχᾶσθαι has the singular virtue of obviating the need for comments to the effect that Paul uses the verb sometimes positively and sometimes negatively; if we are not speaking of a moral quality, then the verb itself is neutral and the positive or negative valence is a product of the object of the verb. See also Bultmann (1951, 1, 243), who makes substantially the same point: “Very closely related to ‘boasting after the flesh'—in fact, even synonymous with it—is ‘putting one's confidence in the flesh.’ In Phil. 3:3 it constitutes the antithesis to ‘boasting in Christ Jesus’” (emphasis original). [BACK]
45. For a similar unthematized tension in Bultmann between exactly these two elements, see Watson:
In Gal. 5:2ff, Christ and circumcision are contrasted with each other. Bultmann rightly notes that the demand for circumcision means that “the condition for sharing in salvation is belonging to the Jewish people” (Theology, I, 55), but he can still claim that Paul's discussion of circumcision brings us to the heart of “the Pauline problem of good works as the condition for participation in salvation” (111). This mental leap from circumcision to a wrong understanding of good works is quite illegitimate. Paul opposes circumcision because it is the rite of entry into the Jewish people, and for that reason alone.
46. I trust, therefore, that my interpretation will not be subject to the strictures that have met similar proposals to the effect that they “repristinize Paul” as a Hellenistic philosopher (Jewett 1971, 77). [BACK]
47. It is at least partially this which is meant when all Western philosophy is regarded as footnotes to Plato. [BACK]