“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.