N.T. Wright Interprets “Flesh” for Everyone

New Leaven

In two recent posts, we explored the meaning of sarx (“flesh” in ESV, NRSV, and “sinful nature” in T/NIV and NLT) as used by Paul.  We even had Wayne Leman, a professional linguist and translator of Better Bibles, going back and forth with Kyle Phillilps here.

Well, I decided to consult a Paulinist on the matter at Romans 8:5-11:

But what do “fleshly”…mean?  ….[“Flesh”] is so problematic that it would be nice (as I have tried to do with some other technical language) to avoid it altogether, but I have found that doing so produces even worse tangles.  Better to learn, once and for all, that when Paul uses the word “flesh” and other similar words he does not intend us simply to think of the “physical” world, in our normal sense, as opposed to the “non-physical.”  He has other language for that.  The word we translate, here and elsewhere…

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A Warlord Messiah

Found in The The Son Of God scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Column 1
(1) [the king. And when the Spirit] came to rest upo[n] him, he fell before the throne. (2) [Then Daniel arose and said,] ‘0 Wing, why are you angry; why do you [grind] your teeth? (3)[The G]rear [God] has revealed to you [that which is to come.] It shall indeed all come to pass, unto eternity. (4) [There will be violence and gr]eat [Evils.] Oppression will be upon the earth. (5) [Peoples will make war,] and battles shall multiply among the nations, (6)[until the King of the people of God arises. He will become] the King of Syria and [E]gypt. (7) [All the peoples will serve him,] and he shall become [gre]at upon the earth. (8)[… All w]ill make [peace,] and all will serve (9) [him.] He will be called [son of the Gr]eat [God;] by His Name he shall be designated.

Column 2
(1) He will be called the son of God; they will call him son of the Most High. Like the shooting stars (2) that you saw, thus will be their Kingdom. They will rule for a given period of year[s] upon (3) the earth, and crush everyone. People will crush people, and nation (will crush) nation, (4) until the people of God arises and causes everyone to rest from the sword. (5) His Kingdom will be an Eternal Kingdom, and he will be Righteous in all his Ways. He [will jud]ge (6) the earth in Righteousness, and everyone will make peace. The sword shall cease from the earth, (7) and every nation will bow down to him. As for the Great God, with His help (8) he will make war, and He will give all the peoples into his power; all of them (9) He will throw down before him. His rule will be an Eternal rule, and all the boundaries..

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Legends of Melchizedek


Melchizedek is a character found in Genesis. Abraham gains spoils of war, and then he meets a mysterious priest of the “most high” God. To this priest, Abraham tithes. This priest is named Melchizedek:

Gen 14:17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).
Gen 14:18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)
Gen 14:19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth;
Gen 14:20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Melchizedek is mentioned two other places in the Bible. There is a mention to the “Order of Melchizedek” in Psalms 110 (which is not necessarily a reference to Melchizedek himself). Jesus takes this psalm as a reference to “the Christ” in Matthew 22:24.

The second reference to Melchizedek is a very interesting description in Hebrews 7 (starting in Hebrews 6:19):

Heb 6:19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,
Heb 6:20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus is said to have gained the priesthood of Melchizedek. Jesus is said to become a priest “forever” a term also used in Psalms 110 (perhaps the author of Hebrews was identifying Jesus as the subject of the psalm). Melchizedek’s order seems to have been commonly viewed as an eternal priesthood. Those of the line of Melchizedek were in some sense immortal, as the author of Hebrews goes on to claim. This point is less obvious in Psalms 110, although the same ideas could have been around during the writing of this psalm.

Heb 7:1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him,
Heb 7:2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.
Heb 7:3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

Melchizedek is said to have no beginning of days. He is said to live forever. He is said to resemble the “Son of God” and be a priest forever. The reference is that Melchizedek is like Jesus (or an argument to the reader that Jesus is like Melchizedek). Recall that Jesus is said to “have become” a priest of the order of Melchizedek in the previous chapter. In any case, Melchizedek looks to be some sort of divine creature within these pages.

Melchizedek is said to be greater than Abraham. This is a very important point to the author of Hebrews, as he is attempting to explain how Jesus is superior to Levite preists:

Heb 7:7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.
Heb 7:8 In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives.

“Whom it is testified that he lives” suggests the author has access to some sort of reference stating that Melchizedek has not died. From this source, the author appears to have gained the information that Melchizedek has no beginning and no end (verse 3). Very likely this is a reference to texts that existed which are similar to our current texts of Enoch and certain Dead Sea Scrolls legends.

The Dead Sea Scrolls describe Melchizedek as a Messiah figure:

13 But, Melchizedek will carry out the vengeance of Go[d’s] judgments, [and on that day he will fr]e[e them from the hand of] Belial and from the hand of all the sp[irits of his lot.]

The entire text is about Melchizedek but the translator abstracts the text:

The figure Melchizedek in 11Q13 (11QMelch) has usually been described as an angel (Martínze 1992, 176). However, some scholars argue that Melchizedek is a divine title (Van de Water 2006, 75-86). In order to understand the figure of Melchizedek, it is necessary to discuss how the manuscript interprets the Old Testament passages in relation with Melchizedek. 11Q13 interprets a number of verses from Isaiah, Leviticus, and other books in the Old Testament dealing with remission of debts and liberation of slaves at the end of a jubilee cycle as referring to the last judgment.

In Second Enoch (Exaltation of Melchizedek, Slavonic Enoch), Melchizedek is given a virgin birth before the Noahic Flood. Furthermore, he is born fully clothed and ages supernaturally. He is immediately marked for the priesthood:

Sopanim was in the time of her old age and in the day of her death. She conceived in her womb, but Nir the priest had not slept with her.

When they had gone out toward the grave, a child came out from the dead Sopanim and sat on the bed at her side. Noah and Nir came in to bury Sopanim and they saw the child sitting beside the dead Sopanim, wiping his clothing. Noah and Nir were very terrified with a great fear, because the child was fully developed physically, he spoke with his lips and blessed The Lord.

Noah and Nir looked at him closely, saying, “This is from The Lord, my brother.” And behold the badge of priesthood was on his chest, and it was glorious in appearance. Noah said to Nir, “Behold, God is renewing the priesthood from blood related to us, just as He pleases..”

Noah and Nir hurried and washed the child, they dressed him in the garments of the priesthood, and they gave him bread to eat and he ate it. And they called him Melchizedek .

Slavonic Enoch is a first century AD text. This is likely a typical view of who Melchizedek was. Taken in conjunction with Hebrews 7 and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Melchizedek is portrayed as some sort of divine agent who functions as a God’s agent in the world. Likely there were other legends that survived about Melchizedek, even informing the Psalms 110 reference to his eternal priesthood. The 4th century Gnostic text, The Coming of the Son of God Melchizedek, identifies Melchizedek as Jesus.

The identification of Jesus as Melchizedek is improbable in the 1st century. In Hebrews, Jesus is being compared to Melchizedek and initiated into the line of Melchizedek. All these events as said to happen after the Levitical priesthood and the law have been formed (events which post-date the first meeting of Melchizedek in Genesis). Hebrews 7:11 reads:

Heb 7:11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?

Jesus had two options for priesthood. Jesus, Hebrews admits, was not descended from Judah, and thus his priesthood had to be through Melchizedek. The author spends some time defending the idea that the Melchizedek priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood, thus giving Jesus a preferred status. If Melchizedek was Jesus, this would be the time to state as much to prove Jesus’ obvious superiority. But the argument is that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham who is greater than Levi. Since Jesus is of Melchizedek then Jesus is above Abraham and Levi by Transitive Property.

All these facts put Christians in a strange place when dealing with Melchizedek and Hebrews. The Christian can affirm one of the following:

1. Melchizedek is a divine being (without beginning and end).
2. The author of Hebrews is using the story of Melchizedek in a legendary sense. Like a pastor preaching about Jesus using popular culture (like Star Wars), Hebrews is associating Jesus with Melchizedek.
3. The author of Hebrews believes in a divine being without beginning and end, but is wrong. The book of Hebrews is not canonical, as Luther maintained. Eusebius also mentioned it was a disputed book.
4. That Melchizedek is Jesus (as in the Gnostic text), and texts about Jesus being initiated after the Levite Priesthood and law have been established must be reworked.

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The Galatian Heresy

F.F. Bruce attempts to recreate the arguments against Paul being advanced by the Galatians. From The Epistle to the Galatians by F. F. Bruce:

“The Jerusalem leaders are the only persons with authority to say what the true gospel is, and this authority they received direct from Christ. Paul has no comparable authority: any commission he exercises was derived by him from the Jerusalem leaders, and if he differs from them on the content or implications of the gospel, he is acting and teaching quite arbitrarily. In fact,” they may have added, “Paul went up to Jerusalem shortly after his conversion and spent some time with the apostles there. They instructed him in the first principles of the gospel and, seeing that he was a man of uncommon intellect, magnanimously wiped out from their minds his record as a persecutor and authorized him to preach to others the gospel which he had learned from them. But when he left Jerusalem for Syria and Cilicia he began to adapt the gospel to make it palatable to Gentiles. The Jerusalem leaders practised circumcision and observed the law and the customs, but Paul struck out on a line of his own, omitting circumcision and other ancient observances from the message he preached, and thus he betrayed his ancestral heritage. This law-free gospel has no authority but his own; he certainly did not receive it from the apostles, who disapproved of his course of action. Their disapproval was publicly shown on one occasion at Antioch, when there was a direct confrontation between Peter and him on the necessity of maintaining the Jewish food-laws.” (Galatians, 26).

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Joseph Conrad on Starvation


“No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as to superstition, beliefs, and what you may call principles, they are less than chaff in a breeze. Don’t you know the devilry of lingering starvation, its exasperating torment, its black thoughts, its sombre and brooding ferocity? Well, I do. It takes a man all is inborn strength to fight hunger properly. It’s really easier to face bereavement, dishonour, and the perdition of one’s soul – than this kind of prolonged hunger.

-Joseph Conrad

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refuting acts 9 dispensationalism


This article is meant to discuss the Acts 9 dispensationalist position, and discuss ways in which it is falsifiable. The most likely Acts 9 dispensationalist position (the one most in agreeance with secular scholarship) is as follows:

1. Jesus taught a kingdom gospel: one in which an imminent Kingdom of God was to appear and those who were unrighteous would not be accepted. This included following Mosaic laws such as circumcision and Kosher food laws.
2. Even after Jesus’ death and 30 days of teaching after resurrection, Jesus’ disciples continued this teaching.
3. In Acts 9, God raises a new apostle, this one to the Gentiles. This was Paul and he taught the Gentiles (and the Jews) to forsake the law as a means to attain righteousness.
4. Paul’s message is that through Jesus’ blood, righteousness is obtained. Those under the Jesus’ blood are no longer under the law, both the symbolic and moral elements of the law. All things are lawful.
5. Paul taught that although all things are lawful (including moral sin), sin is still serious, has serious consequences, should be administratively punished, and one should live for God.
6. When this view comes into conflict with James and the 12, the dispute is resolved in Acts 15, but flares up again in Acts 21, in which Paul is accused of violating the terms of agreement.

This view is in conflict with mainstream, modern, Christian narratives of the early church. As such, many people argue against this view in passionate terms. A correct understanding of the view is needed to accurately refute it, and plenty of bad arguments have been leveled against it:

Bad arguments:
1. Jesus and the 12 disciples taught that one can lose salvation through sin.
-This is literally affirmed by the Acts 9 position. This point does not, in itself, refute the Acts 9 position.
2. If Paul were to teach salvation could not be lost, then he would be in disagreeance with Jesus and the 12.
-This is literally what the debate is about. The Acts 9 position is one which argues that this is true, that Paul was teaching something new that was not taught by Jesus or the 12. One cannot assume their position at the start of a debate. That is the Begging the Question fallacy. There is also plenty of New Testament texts which describe this tension.
3. If Paul is teaching something different than Jesus, James and the 12, then Paul is teaching a false gospel.
-This is not necessarily true. Another possibility is that there are two equally legitimate ways of reaching God simultaneously, which is the Acts 9 position.
4. If Paul were teaching something different than Jesus, this would be another gospel.
-This is a semantical move, which is crutched in the fallacy of assuming that terms have to be definitive and absolute (fallacy of Equivocation). Paul talks about a gospel he is countering (James’ gospel) as “not another gospel” (Gal 1:7). Paul’s use of the word “Gospel” both includes his own and James’ while noting the differences. This is not alien to normal modes of speaking.
5. Paul condemns sin in the sharpest of manners.
-This is not denied by the Acts 9 position. The Acts 9 position is that sin is serious, but not a make or break salvation issue. This argument is often used as a strawman, used to claim that Acts 9 proponents are teaching people to sin. This is not at all accurate.

Good arguments:
1. If Paul is shown saying that someone can lose their salvation through sin (as opposed to disbelief).
2. If Paul is shown to be preaching the law.
3. If Paul is shown to never including moral sins in statements where he claims he is not under the law.
4. If Paul’s use of the word “law” is shown to be limited to the Mosaic law and universal moral law is not included in this understanding.
5. Paul has multiple uses of the word law, and does not include moral law in his condemnation of the law.

There may be other good arguments, but the arguments need to speak to the basic Acts 9 position without just assuming the Acts 9 position is wrong. With this in mind, Acts 9 dispensationalism is not without strong roots.

Key points that point towards the Acts 9 position:
1. All the events of Acts 15, including the hearing over new issues that have not been resolved.
2. All the events of Acts 21, in which James forces Paul into action to prove he is not teaching the Jews to forsake the laws of Moses.
3. James’ use of Pauline points and phrases to attempt to make opposite points.
4. Peter’s statement that people misunderstand Paul to their own destruction.
5. Paul’s claims that his critics were accusing him of teaching people to sin.
6. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, recounting his experiences and interactions with the 12, and advocating his authority as independent of theirs.
7. Paul’s consistent disclaiming of the law, and linking the law with sin.
8. Paul’s countering of arguments that are listed in the “bad arguments” category. If people were using the same arguments against Paul in his time, this is a good indication that the Acts 9 position is accurate.
9. Paul being persecuted for different reasons than the 12, by different people, and more severely.

This article should serve as a basic for fruitful refutation of the Acts 9 position, if one wishes to attempt it.

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1 corinthians 10 as a parallel to 1 corinthians 6


In an article called freedom from the law under paul, I explain (from what it seems) is the most natural reading of the text. Paul introduces a concept in which “all things are lawful”, which I suspect the Corinthians began using as motto to enable their sinful lifestyles (perhaps a widespread phenomenon referenced in 2Pe 3:16). The Corinthians seem to have fully embraced Paul’s teachings. They seem also to be free from Judaizers until at least 2 Corinthians is written.

Paul writes as if he is on a mission to reclaim the phrase “all things are lawful”. This is used in two key places:

1Co 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
1Co 10:23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.

Both places sound like Paul is embracing the teaching that “All things are lawful”, but he adds modifiers. He doesn’t want the idea to stand on its own (perhaps due to the wickedness that Paul describes as tolerated in the Corinthian church). While the context of chapter 6 is about sinful things that are widely disavowed by works-salvation proponents today (thus driving those proponents to disclaim what seems like the most natural reading), chapter 10 is about food and food idolatry. Paul’s style of argument can be more neutrally observed here.

1Co 10:15 I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say.
1Co 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
1Co 10:17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
1Co 10:18 Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?

In 1 Corinthians 10:15, Paul begins building an argument. He begins by illustrating through Israel that communion unites worshipers. Recall that in Chapter 8, Paul informs his listeners that eating food offered to idols is of no consequence (1Co 8:4). In that chapter, Paul then explains that the reason that Christians should refrain is if there is an observer who doesn’t understand this, and perhaps believes that Christians are worshiping false gods. This argument is picked up, starting in verse 16. Paul argues that communion unites. He then states that the same applies to pagan communion:

1Co 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
1Co 10:17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
1Co 10:18 Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?

The argument holds that if Jewish communion unites under Yahweh, then pagan communion is meant to unite under the false gods. But Paul again makes clear his concern is not that real pagan worship is occurring, rather a fake worship is occurring:

1Co 10:19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything?
1Co 10:20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.
1Co 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.

Paul’s argument is not that Christians will be worshiping false gods if they partake with pagans. Instead he argues that they might be befriending demons, which is scary and dangerous. Paul says that his hearers cannot partake in both fellowship with demons and fellowship with Yahweh (Paul may believe that knowingly choosing another god rather than Yahweh was a clear disqualifier as a Christian). Paul makes clear his concern is not that Yahweh will be jealous, after all, the idol sacrifices are nothing:

1Co 10:22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?

In this context, Paul says that all things are lawful for him:

1Co 10:23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.

The pattern is the same as in Chapter 6. Paul states a rule, and then modifies it. One would think Paul would then give examples, related to the context, as to how this is true. Paul does do this, using the same topic he had just been writing about:

1Co 10:24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
1Co 10:25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake;
1Co 10:27 If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake.
1Co 10:28 But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S, AND ALL ITS FULLNESS.”
1Co 10:29 “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?

Verse 24 points out that people should be looking out for each other (which becomes the primary thrust of Paul’s commands to refrain from certain foods). In context, Paul argues that it is not lawfulness that compels people to eat or not eat pagan food, but concern for people who do not understand the law. In this sense, yes, it is lawful to eat the food, but it is not expedient. It is lawful to eat the food, but it is not edifying.

Within Corinthians 10, we see how Paul’s mind works. When dealing with what he does not consider unlawful, but bad taste or harmful, Paul condemns the action. He then explains this does not negate the truth that “all things are lawful”. Then then modifies that general truth to explain why, even if something is lawful, that one should refrain from that action. Paul is arguing systematically, and in a focused manner.

Applying the same understanding of how Paul argues, one can see that “all things are lawful” as stated in 1 Corinthians 6, is all about “sexual immorality”. That is the subject being addressed. Paul believes that although “all things” are lawful, there are perfectly valid reasons to refrain from those activities, and the church should condemn such acts.

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