The Tenth Day of Christmas: Flesh is Good

This time of year, people get caught up in all kinds of resolutions–a modern, if short-lived, renunciate lifestyle that would do the monks of yesteryear proud. Now, far be it from me to talk you out of going to the gym or passing on that second helping of pie, but let’s not lose our balance. Like the Preacher said, eat your bread and drink your wine with a merry heart all the days of your fleeting life, for God has already accepted your work.

In the teeth of the philosophers’ disapproval, the early Jesus-followers stubbornly maintained the goodness of material things. If the Divine Order of the universe–the Logos–could become flesh, then flesh had to be good. 
They even put this into their early baptismal formulas: the closing of the early versions of the Apostles’ Creed have a line that we translate, “I believe…in the resurrection of the body.” Except it doesn’t quite say that. The Greek word for “body” is soma, and that’s not the word they used. They used the word sarx, which is the same word the apostle John used in the shocking climax of his prologue: “The Word became flesh.”

What the creed actually says–and remember, this is the creed you would memorize and say in public in order to be baptized; every Christian knew it–is “I believe in the resurrection of the flesh.” That which Christ assumed–full humanity, including the physical, fleshly body–is good, and will be fully redeemed on the last day.

So eat the fat and drink the sweet before God with a merry heart; He has given us all things richly to enjoy, and every gift of God is good, if it is received with thanksgiving. 

5 Responses to The Tenth Day of Christmas: Flesh is Good

  1. Jim Reitman says:

    OK, call me wet blanket or stick-in-the-mud or rain-on-my-parade or party-pooper, but why do you believe the Apostles Creed got it right with sarx?

    I went back to 1 Cor 15 and indeed there is one verse (39) that uses sarx as metonymous for soma; but nowhere does it say sarx is ever raised. Paul goes on to say there are two kinds of soma: natural and spiritual, or earthly and heavenly. But the natural soma is not raised, and sarx is only metonymous for natural soma in 15:50 and Rom 8:12-13. So how can sarx be raised?

    My second observation relates to how Jn 1:14 may relate to Jn 3:6 and Rom 8:3: Isn’t there is an “unbridgeable gap” between what is born of flesh and what is born of spirit? I think this is quite different from the false Greek dualism between body and soul. And the fact that Jesus was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh” does not mean he ever indulged the flesh, does it? How would that fit Rom 8:13?

    Finally, having written a commentary on the Preacher’s “thought experiment” on ambitious autonomy in Ecclesiastes, I would have to agree that he is indeed a Preacher of “enjoyment,” but I would say that he is not advocating the indulgence of flesh; rather it is honoring the body/soul unity that is inherently human. When Jesus turned water to wine, was he indulging the flesh or honoring the body/soul unity at the marriage feast?

    Please tell me if I’m missing something here about the Creed and its application to Jn 1:14.

  2. Jim Reitman says:

    [signed up for comments]

  3. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim, good questions. Polysemy is a real thing, and obviously flesh is a freighted term. But Luke 24:39 has to be reckoned with. The sarx was not left behind in the tomb; it was there on the bones of the risen Jesus. So there’s that.

  4. Jim Reitman says:

    Hmmm. If we go by the pattern of 1 Cor 15, it underwent metamorphosis with the bones of the risen Jesus. It had to be transformed from a natural to a spiritual body, though still tangible.

  5. Tim Nichols says:

    Yes. What that means is that “spiritual body” can’t be interpreted as some sort of ineffable light (in a manner congenial to the Greek contempt of matter).

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