A Theology of the Body (Or: Zombies)

Though I don’t agree with it all, this is one interesting, thought-provoking, and helpful book: Incarnate: The Body of Christ and the Age of Disengagement by Michael Frost.  In it, Frost argues that humans are becoming less involved with one another in a personal, face to face way.  One of his main points is that because of certain technologies, it is possible for people to live disembodied lives, where one can interact online, go to church online, do one-click activism work online (called slacktivism), and generally avoid real and “embodied” relationships.  He contrasts excarnate or disembodied living with incarnate, embodied living, making excellent points against the former  and arguing in favor of the latter.

In one example, Frost uses the recent zombie craze to make his point.  He asks the question, “Why are [zombies] so popular and so enduring as a pop culture device?

“Some have suggested that zombie apocalypse is a more palatable end-of-the world scenario because it’s a truly secular one with no judgmental deities presiding over the fate of humankind.  Others have speculated that it’s a cracked, secular version of resurrection.  However, culture watcher Dan Birlew suggests the reasons for the popularity of zombie fiction lies somewhere more primal:”

‘There’s an entire world full of walking punching bags.  People are now zombies, and you have to kill them before they kill you.  So it doesn’t really matter what you do to them, because they’re not people anymore.  They’re former people that you can beat down and tear apart in the most gruesome ways you can think of.  …Take out all your frustrations in all the ways you ever dreamed, it doesn’t matter anymore.  No one’s going to stop you from killing a monster, even if it used to be a person.’

Frost then says that though mowing down zombies is at one level entertaining for some people,

“[It] is horrifying because it too represents our greatest fear: that we are dispensable.  While many people are happy to treat their own bodies and those of other people like zombies – casually and indiscriminately – deeper down there’s a sense of horror that our bodies could mean so little.”

Since action scenes where mobs of humans are mowed down (e.g. Rambo) are politically incorrect these days, Frost notes, “we’ve had to resort to killing unhuman objects like zombies for the same effect.  And all the while we are picking at the scab of our nagging anxiety of our own indispensability.”

Frost ends the chapter by stating a biblical understanding of the human body: “We are our bodies.  We don’t live in our bodies.  And therefore our bodies and the bodies of others are precious and worthy of respect (cf. Phil. 1:20-23).

“[Christ’s] bodily resurrection from the dead signaled the Christian hope for the ongoing identity of a person with his or her own body. The body is not a prison to be released from but is the person in a profound sense.”

Michael Frost: Incarnate (DownersGrove, IVP, 2014), chapter three.

shane lems

“Flesh” (Sarx) in Paul’s Epistles

Fallen: A Theology of Sin (Theology in Community) The Greek word ‘sarx’ (flesh) is often a difficult word to translate and define in Paul’s epistles.  Most Bible translations use more than a few English words for the Greek word ‘sarx.’  For example, some translations use “human body,” “body,” “person,” “sinful flesh,” “earthly,” “physical,” “natural,” or other similar words to translate ‘sarx.’  So what does this word mean?  It is a long answer, I suppose, since the term has various meanings depending on context.  I appreciate Douglas Moo’s summary of this term in his article, “Sin in Paul.”  Here’s how Moo summarizes the meanings of ‘sarx.’

1) The most basic meaning of sarx, and the most common in secular Greek, is ‘the material that covers the bones of an animal or human body.’  Paul occasionally uses the word with this sense (cf. 1 Cor. 15:39, Eph, 2:11, Col. 2:13, Gal. 6:13).

2) Following precedents in secular Greek, Paul also applies sarx to the human body as a whole (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1, Gal. 4:13, Eph. 5:31).

3) But more often, Paul uses sarx to refer not to the human body narrowly but the human being generally (cf. 1 Cor. 1:28-29, Gal. 1:16, 2:16).

4) This #3 meaning merges almost imperceptibly into a bit broader concept, namely, the human state or condition.  While debated, 1 Cor. 10:18 probably falls into this category.  This is what some call the ‘neutral’ use of sarx.  [Although some scholars say] a certain negative nuance often clings to sarx even when Paul uses it in apparently neutral senses (cf. Rom. 1:3-4, 9:5).

5) Finally, sarx can designate the human condition in its fallenness (Gal. 5:16-17).  This is what some call the ‘ethical’ use of sarx.  This sense of sarx is quite common in Paul.

[As a side, this reminds me of Ridderbos’ explanation of ‘sarx’: “On the one hand, ‘flesh’ has for [Paul] the significance of what is human in its weakness, dependence on God, and perishableness in itself; on the other hand, ‘flesh’ is the pregnant and very specific description of man in his sin, and the coinciding of being human and being a sinner is therefore expressed in it” (Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 93).  It seems like Ridderbos is also working with a “neutral” and “ethical” sense of the word ‘sarx.’]

While there is more to this discussion, and while this may not answer all the questions about the term ‘sarx,’ it is a helpful outline to consider when thinking about this word in Paul’s epistles.

The above outline (which I’ve edited slightly) is found in Moo’s article in Fallen: A Theology of Sin.

shane lems
hammond, wi