“Flesh” is not “Human effort” in Gal 3:3

“Flesh” is not “Human effort” in Gal 3:3

Stephen Carlson has put up a good post on why the translation of σάρξ as anything other than “flesh” in Gal 3:3 is “weak tea.” Carlson observes that Paul is making a point concerning literal flesh—the foreskin—but many translations unfortunately treat Paul’s language as metaphoric, translating σάρξ as “human effort” or other related phrases.

I’ll repeat my comment from Carlson’s blog here: In addition to spoiling the vividness of Paul’s speech, these translations import additional theological problems into the passage. I find no evidence anywhere in the letters that Paul has any issues with “human effort”; sure, he wants these efforts in conformity with χάρις, but he even points to his own efforts at times as an example of how to live. These translations import an a works/grace dichotomy that Paul doesn’t hold. As you know, the distinction is between works of Law and Grace as entrance points to righteousness, not suggesting all human effort is bad. It’s unfortunate that by their translation of σάρξ here, Paul’s overarching theme is badly distorted. Some of these minor translation bugs are bigger theological problems than many want to admit.

There’s a pretty good string of comments going as well; it’s well worth the brief read.

  • Stephen C. Carlson
    Posted at 08:49h, 20 February Reply

    Good point. I hadn’t really considered the extent of the theological problems with the rendering.

  • Ryan King
    Posted at 14:49h, 03 September Reply

    I can really appreciate what you are saying about using ‘human effort’ instead of ‘flesh’ as diminishing a really strong and valid point. While this discussion really interests me, I would say that the grace vs. works argument is so very important and Paul definitely supports the grace argument as I’ve discerned from Romans and especially in the entirety of Galatians.

    I think that the theme of grace is so very important for our churches to emphasize. I appreciate theological discernment but at the heart of things I sometimes think that the simple, yet appropriate, rendering of the message held in scripture is best for new Christians especially.

    I’ve been writing about religious legalism on my blog and would love to know some of your thoughts about what I’ve written.

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