Below is an excerpt from our local area men’s Catholic Bible study.
So What Does The Phrase: “The Flesh” Mean In A Jewish Sense?
Today we use the term “the flesh” to refer to our fallen nature (concupiscence). This is close but not exact to how the Jews of Jesus’ day would have meant it.
Protestants use this term today the same way (regarding “concupiscence” or “fallen nature”). For example you might hear something like . . . . “Don’t fall to ‘the flesh’ brother Jones when you go to the Bible convention in Las Vegas next week.” “I won’t fall to ‘the flesh’ brother Smith, but you cover me with prayer anyway.”
“The Flesh” has a couple of specific meanings in a Jewish culture, either of which could fit in with what Jesus is teaching here.
Jesus is likely referring here to the works of the flesh on our own (we can’t save ourselves).
But even more, “the flesh” refers to specific aspects of being unable to “save yourself”. The specific aspects likely would concern Old Covenant rituals and not grace from Christ’s work, especially Old Covenant rituals such as circumcision so we need something more. We need something MUCH more—HIS (Jesus’) flesh.
“The flesh” in Biblical terms has to do with doing mere works under your own power.
Not by cooperating with the power of a special spiritual grace from God. Just 2 chapters later in John, Jesus uses this phrase again in the same way. John 8:15 is an example of this.
[INDENT]JOHN 8:15 15 You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one.
Much more fully though, Jesus is probably also referring here to the Old Covenant ritual disciplinary works of the law such as family lineage (being of Jewish heritage), ritual fulfillment (such as being circumcised on precisely the eighth day), and carrying out other ritual Old Covenant disciplines.
This isn’t good enough to save you – “THE FLESH is of no avail”.
In either case, He is undoubtedly NOT talking about His OWN flesh being of NO avail. His OWN flesh that He just said that He “gives for the life of the world” (John 6:51)!
JOHN 6:51b the bread which I shall give for the life of the world IS my flesh.”
To Jews, “the flesh” would mean things like family lineage (being of Jewish heritage), Tribe, and circumcision (especially precisely on the eighth day as the Jewish teaching prescribed). Also keeping kosher etc. “The flesh” is used that way in Scripture. St. Paul uses it that way too as we will soon see.
NOWHERE in Scripture does “the flesh” refer to Jesus’ Sacred flesh.
We cannot say . . . . “JESUS’ flesh is of NO AVAIL!”
Let’s look at “the flesh” as St. Paul applies this term to himself in giving us further insight into this term for us. We will see again that “the flesh” IS “of no avail”!
Let’s look at Philippians 3:3-6 for a reasonable example of the Jewish meaning of what “the flesh” means to an ancient Jew.
St. Paul specifically talks about the phrase “the flesh” with regards to himself. Let’s see how he uses it.
(Special emphasis will be mine)
PHILIPPIANS 3:3-4 3 For we are the true circumcision who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in THE FLESH.
4 Though I myself have reason for confidence in THE FLESH also.
If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in THE FLESH, I have more:
Why? Why St. Paul, can you say that before you were a Christian, you had so much confidence in THE FLESH?
Fortunately St. Paul is about to tell us why.
PHILIPPIANS 3:4b-6 4b If any other man thinks he has reason
for confidence in THE FLESH, I have more:
5 circumcised on the eighth day,
of the people of Israel,
of the tribe of Benjamin,
a Hebrew born of Hebrews;
as to the law a Pharisee,
6 as to zeal a persecutor of the church,
as to righteousness under the law blameless.
“The law” incidentally that St. Paul is blameless in, is ritual law, NOT moral law. Pedigrees and various rituals such as circumcision is where Paul refers to himself as “blameless”.
St. Paul when referring to moral laws in 1st Timothy 1:15, refers to himself as “foremost” among sinners and NOT “blameless”.
Since Paul fulfilled these Old Covenant ritual classifications perfectly, he considers himself blameless or perfect in these categories, and thus he could put more confidence in “THE FLESH” than anybody.
So St. Paul basically is telling these Philippians what?
**That “THE FLESH” is of no avail! **
Remember, “the flesh” refers to Old Covenant rituals (works done on your own and not accompanied by justifying grace) and tribal pedigrees, etc.[/INDENT]