Saturday, February 23, 2013


I recently took the King James Version of the bible to task for the inclusion of the word "office" when translating the Greek word diakonos into the English phrase "the Office of deacon" which is not just a poor translation but a mis-translation, in fact.  [Adding a word to the text.]

I want to now deal with the same kind of problem about a different word found in the New International Version or the NIV as the very popular version has come to be known. It is the word sarx in the Greek which is best translated "flesh." It will take several verses to adequately point out the problem we find in the NIV.

Galatians 5;24 NIV says this, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified [aorist indicative active__have been crucified to something and it has been crucified to them] the "sinful nature" [sarx] with its passions and desires."

But Romans 13:14 says this, "Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the "sinful nature."  Wow...It it just me or are these scriptures contradicting themselves. One seems to say the old nature has been crucified. The other appears to say it is still alive. Is there a contradiction here? I don't think so.. Here's why I say that. It is simply a poor translation of a word in the NIV and it is a mistake that is actually exclusive to the NIV translation

[The shortened length of this post will not permit further evidence of this troublesome mistranslation but for more examples go to and compare....[Col. 2:11-Rom. 7:25b___Rom. 7:5-Col. 5:5]

It appears to me that the translators of the NIV, and I personally had some Seminary classes with or under a couple of them, had a theological problem when it came to this "sinful nature" thing. In fact, I'm thinking that those translators, all good men I'm sure, had a personal desire, recognized or unrecognized, for wanting to see the "two nature" idea accepted by all believers as being theologically correct.. If this was true, I think it led them astray in their translation.

11 Peter 1:4 says this, "Whereby are given unto us [believers] exceeding great and precious promises: that we might be partakers 'in the divine nature," [Physeos_ GK_Genitive feminine singular noun_] having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."

Peter is saying we have a new nature here and what he says about it is in the aorist tense or is a past action done to us. It's called "becoming a Christian."

What Peter is saying is when you and I were born again  we didn't just get a "new nature" to go along with your "old nature." We were made new creations in Christ. We got a whole new life because whereas we had been dead we are now alive in Him. [Col.2:11] We're a different kind of critter as a result. [That's "creature" in Okie language.]

So, let me be clear. In not a single place in scripture does the word "old" appear with the word "nature" when it is referring to believers. It is a different word entirely. It is, as found in all the verses referenced above, the Greek word sarx translated "flesh" in all major translation except the NIV. In the NIV sarx  is mis-translated "old nature." Oh we have a problem with sin, to be sure, but it isn't a "nature thing" with us. It is the "flesh." [sarx]

What Paul is talking about in the above verses that refers to our struggle and war that is with the "flesh," and not the "old nature." AND, "flesh"remember, is our physical bodies and our sensual [senses] appetites or patterns of behavior that belong to the natural realm in which we still reside even as new creations in Christ. It is what the bible means when it makes a distinction between the "natural and the spiritual."

It is incredibly important to remember that our body and its appetites are not sinful per se. They are just flesh. [sarx] Jesus had "flesh." John 1 :14 says He was "made flesh" and dwelt among us. Jesus certainly wasn't born under the curse of sin and death as are we, but he had the full natural world experience of flesh, apart from sin.

Our problem is our full natural world experience DOES have a sin problem and continues to include the principle of sin and death and WILL until the resurrection. That's why our "hope" is in the resurrection. But we are to and, in fact, CAN live out the spiritual realities of our new creation. But it is always with a struggle and a war between the natural and the spiritual. It is a walk that necessitates faith or trusting what God has done in us.

The point I'm laboring to make, however, is that we're not "two natured" Christians as human beings, but in two worlds, the natural and the spiritual, with the corresponding struggle with sin in it all. Then, when the resurrection morning comes even that will be remedied.

This is what Paul is addressing in the very first verse we looked at which was Galatians 5:24. There the NIV translates it "old nature." But it is referring to the body in-dwelt by sin [until the resurrection] active through our flesh. Paul is saying simply that we were once slaves to sin but we are no longer that at all.

John MacArthur says it this way.. [I don't agree with MacArthur on some things, but this, yes.]

"Salvation is not a matter of improvement or perfection of what has previously existed. It is total transformation...At the new birth a person becomes `a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come' (2 Cor. 5:17). It is not simply that he receives something new but that he becomes someone new...The new nature is not added to the old nature but replaces it. The transformed person is a completely new `I.' Biblical terminology, then, does not say that a Christian has two different natures. He has but one nature, the new nature in Christ. The old self dies and the new self lives; they do not coexist. It is not a remaining old nature but the remaining garment of sinful flesh that causes Christians to sin. The Christian is a single new person, a totally new creation, not a spiritual schizophrenic...The believer as a total person is transformed but not yet wholly perfect. He has residing sin but no longer reigning sin. He is no longer the old man corrupted but is now the new man created in righteousness and holiness, awaiting full salvation." (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary-EPHESIANS, p. 164)

So why do we as Christians sin? I'm glad you asked.

We sin because we sometimes choose to walk by sight and not by faith. We can choose to walk as natural instead of spiritual. [Romans 14: 23]  And, unfortunately, we often do. That is what the biblical admonitions are speaking to. We may walk that way by habit [learned patterns of behavior] or ignorance, [Not knowing the truth that sets us free] but when we do act out the old, we are acting and living hypocritically because we're pretending to be someone we're not. We ARE the new.

So let's set our minds on heavenly realities instead of inferior natural or earthly things which lead to indulging the lusts of the flesh. We've been crucified to all that and we are, after all, new creations in Christ Jesus.

Paul B.

By the way, the new NIV has corrected the "old nature" fiasco in their newest editions of the NIV with a footnote that says this...

“In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit.”

Well, that's better than before.


The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

This is what Jeff VanVonderen points out in his book Tired of Trying to measure Up, and what you've said makes it even clearer for me. Thanks!

Paul Burleson said...


I've read Jeff's book and, in fact, had him speak a couple in the last church I pastored. He's a good friend and a friend in agreement with this view.

I'm glad what's said here is of some help. Thanks for commenting.

Steve Martin said...

Our problem isn't sins. It's sin. We are bound to it. It's a part of us and it will be till the day we die.

But, even though we will sin (Romans 7 and our own lives)..."we are to consider ourselves dead to sin" (Romans 6)...because of what Christ has done for us. This is the truth about ourselves, for Jesus' sake.

As St. Paul says in Galatians 4, "Those of you who were baptized have put on Christ".


Aussie John said...


I recently wrote about the word "hypocrite" meaning an actor or performer, which I believe we have trained church goers to be, by the "two natures" teaching.

The other Paul (the apostle) was very aware of the possibility of performance as he wrote those heart wrenching words (they are to me) in Romans 7-8:1 recognizing the internal battle which he mentioned in Gal. 5:16-17.

He is anguished by the fact that he still sins (is a sinner) but acknowledges he has responsibility.

We have exacerbated this problem by closing our minds to the New Covenant and its promise which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and, to use the apostle's word transforms the believer, as you indicate with your quote from 2 Cor.5:17.

The Apostle was very clear: "You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him".

I cannot leave without this observation: Those who want to apply the Old Covenant to those they teach are the cause of performance based living. I know from my own early experiences in the church!

Paul Burleson said...


I agree. Here's the way I say it.

"Walking after the flesh" is what we are doing when we attempt to get our needs met independently of God. It’s drawing from on our own understanding, our own strength, our own resources. Sinners do this as their only way of life, BUT WE Christians can act this way as well.

In either case, the results are always the same...horrible, with the smell of death all around. (Rms 8:13).

When a Christian lives solely on the basis of their own will-power and understanding they will sow death into their relationships, or whatever their doing, even ministry.

“But someone might say says, "Doesn’t Romans 8:9 say, ‘you are not "in the flesh" but "in the spirit?"

It does. But I see a difference in scripture between being "in the flesh" and "walking after the flesh."

In Rm 7:5 Paul is referring to our state before we were born again. We were "in the flesh" but now we are "in the spirit. In Rms 8"9a he says, "But you are not "in the flesh" but "in the spirit."

One is not "in the spirit" because of the way one walks and flesh does not give birth to spirit. (Jn 6:6)

But even though we are "in the spirit" we can still walk "after the flesh." Even though we are "in Christ," we can still act as though we're in Adam."

Does that make sense?

Aussie J,

I'm glad you DIDN'T leave without saying this...

"I cannot leave without this observation: Those who want to apply the Old Covenant to those they teach are the cause of performance based living. I know from my own early experiences in the church!"

I couldn't agree more!

Scott Leonard said...

Paul, I think the Romans 8:9 passage is a much overlooked window shining light on the whole issue of our nature, when Paul says "you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit." My reformed brothers are not fond of exegeting that verse nor Romans 7:17&20, where Paul says twice in four verses (wow!) "it is no longer I who sins!"

Another good exercise is to notice how interchangeable the words "flesh," "body," (see "body of death") and "members" are in chapters 6-8. And it all culminates in 8:23 when Paul says we are eagerly awaiting the Lord's return and "our adoption as sons, the redemption of our BODY!"

Paul Burleson said...


Very astute comment. Thanks.