For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 2 John 7 NASB
Flesh – The Greek word translated “flesh” is sarx. It is quite clear that John believes Yeshua came en sarki, “in the flesh.” And it is quite clear that John does not believe that Yeshua’s coming in the flesh made Him sinful. He was a human being without sin. He was in the flesh yet He did not sin. Right?
John’s claim raises some important and difficult issues for the doctrine that being born human makes us sinful. That doctrine is generally called “sinful nature.” It teaches that ever since Adam, the very fact that we are born in the flesh means that we are born with a sinful nature that causes us to sin. According to this idea, we are all sinners not because we each choose to sin but because we were born that way. This is why the NIV chooses to translate that Greek sarx with “sinful nature,” not “flesh,” in Paul’s letters. But this is a theological concept, not a linguistic one and the NIV translation hides this fact by pretending that Paul meant sinful nature when he used the word sarx.
Of course, if having flesh means being sinful, we have a big problem. Yeshua had flesh. This would imply that He was sinful. Not acceptable. So how do we get around this? Well, we start by claiming that since He was the child of the Holy Spirit and not a human father, He did not inherit sinful nature from Joseph. But what about Mary? Yeshua was the product of two, not one. So, the sinful nature issue still applies – as long as Mary was born in the flesh. Voilá, the solution appears. Catholicism invents the “Immaculate Conception,” the doctrine that Mary was miraculously prevented from sinning from the time of her conception. In this way, she did not pass sin on to Yeshua because she too was without sin. I suppose that helps explain why Mary is often held in higher regard than her son. She is a woman who never sinned and she experienced sinless perfection first. Doctrine trumps reason. Of course, since there is no Scriptural evidence for this claim, it rests on the authority of the Church. Protestants reject Mary’s sinlessness – but for some unexplainable reason, some Protestants continue to assert the notion of transferred sinful nature. Perhaps Luther didn’t really leave the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church as far behind as we imagine. He remained a descendant of Plato who actually originated the ideas behind this theological notion.
So when does sarx mean “sinful nature”? Well, actually, never. It only means “sinful nature” when I already embrace the doctrine from Plato. Sarx just means “flesh,” but how you read it depends on you, not the text. But you already figured that out, didn’t you?
This leaves us with the crucial question. If Yeshua was fully human, then why didn’t He sin? Don’t tell me it was because He was God. That pushes you toward Docetism. Don’t tell me it was because his mother didn’t have a sinful nature. Tell me how the idea of sinful nature got there in the first place – and then ask yourself whether or not the story of Yeshua makes any sense if that doctrine is true. Is He like us, or isn’t He? Can we be like Him, or can’t we? Is obedience up to you or is it all Adam’s fault?
Topical Index: sinful nature, sarx, flesh, 2 John 7, Immaculate Conception