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Word Study: "Flesh" in Romans 8:3-8

Word Study: "Flesh" in Romans 8:3-8

by Mike Prah on December 22, 2019

“3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:3-8 (NASB, Emphasis mine).

The Greek word σάρξ or σαρκός (transliterated as sarkos or sarki) and translated as "flesh" in English, is used eight (8) times in Romans 8:3-8. Blomberg notes that “most words have a range of meaning so that one word does double, sometimes even triple and quadruple duty, concerning the concept it symbolizes (Blomberg, 119). This guideline applies to σάρξ, σαρκός, ἡ, transliterated into English as sarkos. The range of meaning in the context in which Paul used it is, (1) the weaker element in human nature (Matt. 26:41; Rom 6:19; 8:3a); (2) the unregenerate state of men, (3) the lower and temporary element in the Christian (Gal 3:3; 6:8), and  (4) the natural attainments of men (1 Cor 1:26; 2 Cor 10:2, 3b) (Strong’s 4561). 

Paul in Romans 8: 3-8 launches a somewhat extended statement contrasting the terms “flesh,” translated in NASB and NIV as “sinful nature,” and “Spirit.” While Paul uses “flesh” to denote the ordinary physical life shared by the believer and unbeliever alike (cf. 2 Cor 10:3), usually Paul uses σάρξ to refer to human nature as corrupted as weakened by sin.

Harrison and Hagner note that σάρξ in Romans 8:3-8 are to be understood as referring to the unregenerate person, judging by the care with which Paul excludes believers in v.9 (Harrison and Hagner, 132).



Blomberg, Craig L. A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.

Harrison, Everett F. and Donald A. Hagner. “Romans.” In the Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. by Tremper Longman, III, and David E. Garland, pages 21-257. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Strong, James. The New Strong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Red Letter Edition. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010.

Tags: flesh, exegesis, word study, rom 8:3-8

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