The Hebrew ba·sarʹ and the Greek sarx primarily refer to the soft substance of a physical body, whether of man, beast, bird, or fish; more specifically, the parts composed chiefly of muscle and fat. The Bible points out that the flesh of the various kinds of living things differs. (1Co 15:39) This has been found to be the case by researchers; they have noted that the chemical composition and cellular structure of the flesh of mankind, beasts, birds, and fish vary greatly.
Jehovah God the Creator is responsible for the existence of all flesh and for its life. He is referred to in the Bible as “Jehovah the God of the spirits [including the life-force] of all sorts of flesh.” (Nu 27:16; compare Ge 6:17.) He states that the soul (life) of the fleshly creature is in the blood. (Le 17:11-14) Originally, vegetation and fruit, and not flesh, were given man as his diet. But after the Flood, God added animal flesh, commanding, however, that “flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.”—Ge 9:3, 4.
Eating human flesh was mentioned as a curse from God. The Israelites were repulsed by it, as it is naturally repugnant to the human mind. (De 28:45, 53-57; 2Ki 6:28-30) Neither could they eat the flesh of an animal torn by a wild beast, or one that died of itself. These would be detestable, besides not being properly drained of blood.—Ex 22:31; Le 17:15, 16; De 14:21.
God commanded that, before eating the flesh of an animal, his people were to pour out its blood on the ground and cover it with dust, being careful not to eat the blood, on pain of death. (De 12:23-25; Le 7:27) The governing body of the early Christian congregation restated this prohibition, forbidding the eating of animals strangled or not drained of blood. They additionally forbade eating meat as part of a communion offering to idols, a common practice among pagans in those days. (Ac 15:19, 20, 28, 29) The eating of flesh by Christians is proper, but the apostle Paul pointed out that flesh is not absolutely essential to man as food when he said that if his eating of meat was a source of stumbling to other Christians, he would “never again eat flesh at all.”—Ro 14:21; 1Co 8:13.
Kinship. Kinship is expressed by the term “flesh.” Eve bore the closest possible kinship to Adam in that she was, as he said, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Ge 2:23; see also Ge 29:14; 37:27; 2Sa 5:1.) The close relationship of man and wife is forcefully stated: “They must become one flesh.” (Ge 2:24; Mt 19:5, 6) Paul calls Jesus one “who sprang from the seed of David according to the flesh.”—Ro 1:3; compare 9:3.
The Person, Humankind, Fleshly Creation. An extension of the idea that flesh composes the visible, tangible parts of the body is the use of the word “flesh” to refer in a general way to the whole body. (Le 17:14; 1Ki 21:27; 2Ki 4:34) It is also used to refer to the person, or individual, as a human of flesh. (Ro 7:18; Col 2:1, 5) All humankind, especially from the viewpoint of God the Spirit, are described as “flesh” (Ge 6:12; Isa 66:16; Lu 3:6), and at times the animal creation is included. (Ge 7:16, 21) The Bible often makes a contrast of flesh with God the Spirit, emphasizing particularly the relative insignificance of man. (Ge 6:3; 2Ch 32:8; Ps 56:4) Jehovah in his superior position nevertheless recognizes and accordingly takes this fact into account in dealing with mankind with surpassing loving-kindness and merciful long-suffering.—Ps 78:39; compare Ps 103:13-15; 1Pe 1:24, 25.
The word “flesh” may also refer to a part of the body, particularly the male genital organ. Leviticus 15:2 states: “In case any man has a running discharge occur from his genital organ [literally, “his flesh”], his discharge is unclean.”—Compare Ge 17:11; Ex 28:42; Eph 2:11; Col 2:13.
Spiritual Bodies. The apostle Paul declares that “if there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual one.” (1Co 15:44) This is corroborated by the apostle Peter when he tells persons of fleshly, human nature, called to be joint heirs with Christ, that they are to become partakers of “divine nature,” namely, spirit life in the invisible heavens. (2Pe 1:4) This requires a change in organism, for “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom, neither does corruption inherit incorruption.”—1Co 15:50-54.
Jesus Christ’s Fleshly Body. Jesus, who was “the Word” of God, “out of heaven,” divested himself of spirit nature and “became flesh.” (Joh 1:1; 1Co 15:47; Php 2:5-8; Joh 1:14; 1Ti 3:16) That in being born as a human he was no spirit and that he did not merely assume a fleshly body, as angels had done in the past (Ge 18:1-3; 19:1; Jos 5:13-15), is attested to by the apostle John, who says that one is antichrist who denies that Jesus Christ came “in the flesh.” (1Jo 4:2, 3) In order to provide the ransom for mankind and thereby to help those who would be his associates in the heavenly calling, the Word became flesh, being born all human, no incarnation. The Bible tells us this: “Since the ‘young children’ are sharers of blood and flesh, he also similarly partook of the same things.” (Heb 2:14-16) His earthly sojourn was spoken of as “the days of his flesh.” (Heb 5:7) “The bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world,” Jesus said. He went on to state that those hoping to remain in union with him must ‘eat his flesh and drink his blood.’ Not appreciating the spiritual, symbolic significance of his words, some construed the statement as cannibalistic and were shocked.—Joh 6:50-60.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, although he knew that he would be put to death as the ransom sacrifice, his flesh ‘rested in hope.’ This was because of his knowledge that his Father would resurrect him, that his sacrifice would successfully serve the ransom purpose, and that his flesh would not see corruption. (Ac 2:26, 31) Jehovah God evidently disposed of Jesus’ fleshly body in his own way (possibly disintegrating it into the atoms of which it was constituted). (Lu 24:2, 3, 22, 23; Joh 20:2) Jesus did not take back his fleshly body and thereby cancel out the ransom for which it was given. The apostle Peter testifies that Christ went into heaven, the realm of spirits, not flesh, “he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit.” (1Pe 3:18) Before his ascension to heaven Christ, as a mighty, immortal spirit person, did materialize various fleshly bodies to suit the occasion, for the purpose of giving to his disciples visible, palpable evidence of his resurrection.—Joh 20:13-17, 25-27; 21:1, 4; Lu 24:15, 16.
In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews the curtain in the sanctuary before the Most Holy, which represented heaven itself, is shown to have been symbolic, representing Jesus’ flesh, for before he sacrificed his fleshly body, the way to life in heaven was not open.—Heb 9:24; 10:19, 20.
Man in His Imperfection. “Flesh” is often used in the Bible to represent man in his imperfect state, ‘conceived in sin’ as an offspring of rebellious Adam. (Ps 51:5; Ro 5:12; Eph 2:3) In humans who are trying to serve God, ‘the spirit [impelling force emanating from the figurative heart] is eager, but the flesh is weak.’ (Mt 26:41) Within these servants of God there is a constant conflict; God’s holy spirit is a force for righteousness, but the sinful flesh continually wars against the spirit’s influence and exerts pressure to induce the individual to perform the works of the flesh. (Ro 7:18-20; Ga 5:17) The works of sinful flesh are contrasted with the fruitage of the spirit, at Galatians 5:19-23.
The apostle Paul also tells us that the Law given through Moses to Israel was “weak through the flesh,” the imperfect flesh of those who were under the Law. The Law under which the Aaronic priesthood served was spiritual, from God, but by it fleshly persons “sold under sin” were condemned, instead of being pronounced righteous. (Ro 8:3; 7:14; Heb 7:28) The high priests of the fleshly line of Aaron assigned by the Law were not able to offer an adequate sacrifice for sin.—Heb 7:11-14, 23; 10:1-4.
In saying that “flesh . . . is not under subjection to the law of God, nor, in fact, can it be,” the apostle Paul is not saying that flesh in itself must of necessity be corrupt. He tells us that Jesus Christ, although partaking of blood and flesh, becoming “like his ‘brothers,’” was “guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners,” “tested in all respects like ourselves, but without sin.” (Ro 8:7; Heb 2:14, 17; 4:15; 7:26) Jehovah proved that human flesh can be sinless. “God, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” (Ro 8:3) Eventually, through the provision of Christ’s sacrifice, all who exercise faith will become perfect, and God’s righteous laws will then be kept perfectly by mankind.—Re 21:4.
One of the temptations that influenced Eve to sin was “the desire of the flesh.” The Devil used it against Christ but failed. (1Jo 2:16; Ge 3:6; Lu 4:1-4) Jesus’ followers, by permitting God’s spirit to operate freely in their lives and by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, defeat the sinful flesh.—Ga 5:16, 22-26; Ro 8:1-4.
No Fight With Those of Flesh. It is not fleshly reasoning, but Jehovah’s spirit, that reveals God’s purposes to men of faith and that guides them. (Mt 16:17; 1Co 2:9, 14; Eph 3:5) Accordingly, Christians do not carry on their Christian warfare “according to [the] flesh,” and they do not have a fight with persons of flesh and blood; neither do they use fleshly weapons against anyone. Their fight is against “wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” (2Co 10:3, 4; Eph 6:12) They trust, not in the ‘arm of flesh,’ but in Jehovah the Spirit. (Jer 17:5; 2Co 3:17) They are striving, with God’s help, to cleanse themselves of “every defilement of flesh and spirit,” and God views and judges them, not according to what they are in the flesh, as man often does, but according to what they are spiritually.—1Co 4:3-5; 2Co 5:16, 17; 7:1; 1Pe 4:6; see DECLARE RIGHTEOUS; SOUL; SPIRIT.