Our study of the Old Testament view of the soul has already established that body and soul are an indivisible unity, namely, man as seen from two different perspectives. The body is the physical reality of human existence, the soul is the vitality and personality of human existence.
It is unfortunate that during much of Christian history the physical aspect of human nature has been depreciated and even vilified as undesirable and evil. The word flesh has been associated with immorality. The sins of the flesh invariably means sinful indulgences. The reason for this negative view is that flesh is a synonym for the body, and the body, according to classical dualism, which has enormously influenced Christian life and thought throughout the centuries, is bad, or at least suspect.
It is true that in the Bible the flesh does not represent the highest and noblest aspect of human nature. Paul especially speaks of the enmity that exists between the flesh and the spirit. But this does not mean that Paul or the rest of the Bible condemns the flesh or the body as ethically evil per se. Rather, the flesh is used metaphorically to represent the whole unregenerated person acting according to his natural sinful desires and propensities.
Historically, much of Christian spirituality and piety has been influenced by a negative view of the body as the seat of sin. The mortification of the flesh by depriving the body of food, warm clothing, or even the physical pleasure of a warm bath has been seen as indispensable for cultivating the spiritual life.43 Thus, to straighten our Christian spirituality, it is imperative to recover the Biblical wholistic view of human nature, especially the positive view of the physical aspect of our existence.
Body Created by God. The creation story provides the logical starting point for the study of the Biblical attitude toward the physical aspect of human nature. The story tells us that matter, including the human body, was created by God. Matter is not an eternal principle of evil antagonistic to God, as in Plato 's Timaeus, but part of God 's good creation to accomplish His eternal purpose. The whole physical order, including the human body, has been created by God according to His eternal purpose.
Repeatedly, throughout the creation story we are told that God looked at what He had created and saw that it was good (Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25). After He created man in His own image God, admired everything He had created and declared it very good (Gen 1:31). On the basis of the Biblical account of creation, we can assert that this material world is God 's good creation and it has a fitting place in His eternal purpose.
It is important to note also that God created man not of some divine spiritual substance, but of dust from the ground (Gen 2:7) and in the image of God (Gen 1:27). There is no part of man that is of divine origin and that comes down to take up temporary residence in the alien 'body. ' Man in no way participates in the divine nature. He is made of the dust of the ground, and his relationship to God is not that of a spark to the fire or a drop of water to the ocean but rather that of an image to the original. Thus there is nothing in man that establishes an identity or even a continuity between him and God, as the rational 'soul ' does in the 'religious [dualistic] ' view. Instead of identity, there is merely likeness; instead of continuity, there is radical discontinuity, as between creature and Creator. 44
Physical Body Is Not Evil. The fact that the human body was created out of the material substance of the earth does not mean that matter is the source of evil in human life. In Platonic dualism, matter is the source and origin of evil. Evil is identified with matter, which is an eternal principle independent of and antagonistic to the good God. The identification of evil with matter has led to a pessimistic view of the body and of physical existence. It is unfortunate that this pessimistic view of the body has greatly influenced Christian thought and practice.
In the creation account of Adam and Eve, there is not the slightest hint that the physical body is to be blamed for their disobedience and fall. One popular Christian tradition interprets the original sin as consisting of an illicit act of sexual intercourse. Such an interpretation is totally devoid of Biblical support. The temptation to which Adam and Eve yielded was not the desire to have sex but to act as though they were God. Sex is God 's good creation in the same way as all the other physiological functions of the human body.
The temptation was, You will be like God (Gen 3:5). The origin of sin in human life has nothing to do with sexual intercourse or any other physical act of the body. Rather, it is to be found in the fact that man succumbed to the temptation to be like God, instead of being a reflector of God 's image. This has been the fundamental manifestation of sin, namely, to place oneself, rather than God, at the center of everything.
In the Bible, the origin of sin is found not in some defect in the physical constitution of the human body, but in the wrong, self-centered choice made by free human beings. Humanity today is in a sinful condition because people live self-centered lives rather than a God-centered existence. Because of this self-centeredness, the tremendous possibilities inherent in our human nature created in the image of God have been realized in a disastrously wrong way. What are godlike possibilities become demonic actualities. 45
The Biblical account of the creation and Fall of mankind locates the origin of sin not in the body, but in the mind, namely, in the desire to act and to think of oneself as being God. Sin is volitional, an act of the will, and not a biological condition of the body. The Bible has a healthy view of the body as the object of God 's creation and redemption. This point becomes clearer as we examine the Old Testament meaning and usage of flesh bashar.
The Flesh as the Substance of the Body. The precise Hebrew term for the whole body is geviyyah, which is rare. It is used a dozen times to refer to a living or dead body (Gen 47:18; 1 King 31:10,12, Ez 1:11, 23; 1 Sam 31:10, 12; Dan 10:6). The common term used in the Hebrew Bible to designate the body is bashar, which technically means flesh. Bashar occurs 266 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Its most common meaning is the flesh that constitutes the body. An example of this usage is Genesis 2:21-24:
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon man, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh [bashar]; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh [bashar].
Another example is found in Psalm 79:2 where the Psalmist laments: They have given the bodies of thy servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh [bashar] of the saints to the beasts of the earth. The parallelism indicates that flesh [bashar] is used as a synonym for the body. Bashar denotes the fleshly substance that human beings have in common with animals. Both man and animals are flesh. The account of the flood bears this out: For behold, I will bring a flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh [bashar] in which is the breath of life from under heaven (Gen 6:17; cf. 6:19; ; 9:17). Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh [bashar] birds and animals, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (Gen 8:17).
The above examples indicate that flesh [bashar] stood for the substance of the body which man has in common with the lower orders of animals. The flesh is created by God who can destroy as well as heal and restore it.
The Flesh as the Whole Man. There are texts in which the flesh bashar stands for the whole person, not only as a fleshly substance, but as a rational and emotional being. O God, thou art my God, I seek thee; my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh [bashar] faints for thee (Ps 63:1). My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh [bashar] sing for joy to the living God (Ps 84:2). Job says of him who lies on his sickbed: His flesh [bashar] upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn (Job 14:22, KJV).
The parallelism in these texts between soul and flesh indicates that the flesh, like the soul, can function as the seat of emotions. Flesh and soul are not two different forms of existence, but two manifestations of the same person. The Biblical wholistic view makes it possible to use flesh and soul interchangeably because they are part of the same organism.
Flesh is also used to denote the kinship that binds people together as blood relatives or as members of the human family. Thus Judah counsels his brothers not to kill Joseph, for he is our brother, our own flesh [bashar] (Gen 37:27). A frequent formula to express blood relationship is my bone and my flesh (Gen 29:14; Jud 9:2; 2 Sam 5:1; 19:12). In the Flood story, all flesh (Gen 6:17, 19) denotes the larger bond of the human family.
The Flesh as Human Nature in his Weakness. Flesh bashar is also used in the Bible to characterize the weakness and frailty of human nature. Hans Walter Wolff entitled the chapter on Flesh Bashar as Man in His Infirmity. 46 The title reflects the frequent use of flesh in the Old Testament to denote human nothingness in the eyes of God. We read in Job 34:14-15: If he [God] should take back his spirit to himself, and gather to himself his breath, all flesh [bashar] would perish together, and man would return to dust. Because human beings are flesh (weak and frail), God remembers them: He [God], being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, . . . He remembered that they were but flesh [bashar], a wind that passes and comes not again (Ps 78:38-39).
In relationship to God, man is flesh, a creature dependent upon Him for continued existence. All flesh [bashar] is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field (Is 40:6). Because human beings are flesh, they are powerless before God. In God I trust without fear. What can flesh [bashar] do to me? (Ps 56:4; cf. Is 31:3). Consequently, it is imperative for human beings to trust in God and not in their flesh (human resources). Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh [bashar] his arm (Jer 17:5). In this text, flesh [bashar] denotes human opposition to God. The flesh is not intrinsically ethically evil. It may be weak, but not inherently sinful per se. When a heart of stone is turned into a heart of flesh, it becomes a heart that obeys God (Ez 11:19). Because of its natural endowments, the flesh can become proud, self-deceptive, and, consequently antagonistic to God. The latter meaning carries over in the New Testament where Paul develops it more than the others.
Conclusion. Our study of the meaning and use of flesh [bashar] in the Old Testament shows that the word generally is used to describe the concrete reality of human existence from the perspective of its frailty and feebleness. Contrary to classical dualism, the flesh and the soul never are seen as two different forms of existence. Rather, they are manifestations of the same person and, consequently, they often are used interchangeably. A good example is Psalm 84:2, where the soul, the heart, and flesh all express the same longing for God: My soul longs, yea, faints for the court of the Lord; my heart and flesh [bashar] sing for joy to the living God. In the Old Testament view of human nature there is nothing that is merely physical. Any physical part of the human body can express psychical functions as well.
The wholistic view of human nature made it possible for the Bible writers to see the body and the soul as expressions of the same organism. Pedersen rightly notes that the proposition that the soul is flesh, is indissolubly connected with the converse, i. e., that the flesh is soul. 47 The two are indissolubly connected because the body is the outward form of the soul and the soul the inward life of the body.