Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun σαρξ (sarx) means flesh, that is to say: the muscular tissue of a living organism. The flesh of a dead animal, meat, was known as κρεας (kreas) and the entire body was called σωμα (soma). Note that humans don't eat flesh while animals don't eat meat.
Our noun σαρξ (sarx) survives in English in a large array of "sarco-" words, which are mostly scientific terms having to do with flesh and being fleshy. A more familiar one is sarcophagus, which literally means flesh-eating (because after a while, an inspected body would have turned into a flesh-less skeleton). A more surprising surviving sarx-derivative is the noun sarcasm, which comes from the Greek noun σαρκασμος (sarkasmos), meaning the same. This latter noun derives from the rare verb σαρκαζω (sarkazo), which appears to literally mean to do fleshy; to act in the manner of the flesh. In practice this verb means: to sink one's teeth into something and rip off a mouthful. This verb is used to describe dogs tearing into their prey with their teeth but also of horses ripping off grass with their lips.
With our lips we kiss and speak kind words, but lips are also the organs with which we hide our most personal assault weapons: our teeth and our biting remarks. Some of us even have venom, and while sticks and stones may break bones, a carefully aimed bite from a venomous mouth may cause a wound that will never heal, and in time lead to an agonizing death.
Organisms have flesh because their genetic identity constitutes it, and having flesh has nothing to do with having obtained it by will. Still, fleshy species are maintained because fleshy individuals copulate, and fleshy individuals maintain their personal flesh by taking in and digesting food (and all this constitutes the "way of flesh"; Romans 1:3). Flesh is the part of the body that lets an organism engage in willful activities. Since eating and observing are in the Bible considered exactly the same process but in a different context, physical flesh is the same thing as a mental skill set — whereas bones are certainties and one's digestive system the inner workings of the psyche. As we discuss more elaborately in our article on the verb διδασκω (didasko): the ancient Proto-Indo-European root dens-, means to learn/teach, whereas the closely related root dent- means tooth (hence our word dentist). The Hebrew verb שנן (shanan) means to sharpen (of the mind, to teach) and the noun שן (shen) means tooth.
The Hebrew word for flesh is בשר (basar), which stems from the verb בשר (basar), to bring glad tidings. To the Hebrews, all flesh was an expression of joy.
Flesh is not the opposite of the soul or spirit, as certain pagan models assert, but soul (ψυχη, psuche) is the condition of being alive and spirit (πνευμα, pneuma) is the ability to relate and bond to others in a self-sacrificial way. Ants and bees have tiny rigid bodies but are highly spiritual creatures (Proverbs 6:6). Among mammals, spirituality beyond a pack or pod is very rare.
One's "mental body" is the substance of one's mind: the mental skeleton is one's certainty and factual knowledge, and one's mental muscles are the things one knows how to do (and when one is blessed with, say, a form of higher function autism one finds that although one would love to connect with others, one has no idea how to work it — Matthew 26:41).
Pagan models will insist that spirits and souls can exist separately from the body, but that's certified nonsense, as Jesus stresses with some force when he shows himself to his still superstitious disciples (Luke 24:39, see Matthew 14:26). The mind is not a thing that exists separate from the body just like fire cannot exist separate from its fuel. Mind is rather a function of the body — and people who think that the mind sits merely in one's head should be administered a colossal kick in the butt, and then asked if they care to revise their position. Of course the brain is the organ that does most of the thinking, but the entire mind and consciousness is generated by every cell of the whole body, like the sweet spring fragrance that emanates from every flower in a large field. As Candace Pert explains in her book Molecules of Emotion, the nervous system governs only a fraction of the body's informational economy; "The body is the unconscious mind!"
Our consciousness is a bit like our planet's gravity that is generated as the accumulative gravities of every little kernel of sand that makes up earth.
Mind emanates from every cell that has DNA, is rooted in every cell and cannot exist separate from the physical functioning of that cell. In other words: slugs, squirrels and paramecia have souls and minds just like ours (contrary to what translations suggest, Genesis 1:20 reads: "Let the waters swarm with swarms of living souls," and 1:24 reads: "Let the earth bring forth living souls after their kind"). The difference between animals and us is that we have the capacity for nouns (see our article on ονομα, onoma, meaning noun or name), and thus speech and thus script (see our article on γραφω, grapho, to write) and thus the Word of God. All animals including humans have bodies, and thus souls (the state of being alive) and thus spirits (the ability to engage). But because of nouns, humans are vastly more spiritual than any animal out there.
In the New Testament, our noun σαρξ (sarx) almost exclusively refers to "mental flesh," that is: the function of our physical body that lets us do Sudoku; the willful "mind" that is rooted in every cell with DNA. The familiar term "flesh and blood" (Matthew 16:17) corresponds to the same duo as "matter and energy" (see our article on the verb φαω, phao, to emit) and refers to one's conscious knowledge plus one's processing nature. Human minds come in all kinds of sizes and blood types, from huge cold-blooded crocodiles to tiny warm-blooded mice, and from sleepy grass eating cows to ferocious carnivorous weasels; there are even whales and dolphins among us.
A carnivorous mind respects only himself and his own kind, and will kill and devour anything other. They are either solitary or hunt in small packs. Solely for feeding purposes, a carnivorous mind will rip the knowledge and certainties of someone else apart, until that person's mind is dead and only the shivering body remains. A herbivorous mind, on the other hand, cares little about the substance of other people's facts and certainties. A herbivorous person is usually very social and eats only resources that easily replenish. These are our artists and musicians.
Cold-blooded minds need the sun to warm up and grow cold and sluggish in the night. Warm blooded minds are hot always, from their internal heat source. During times of bounty and sunny skies the difference is hard to tell, but when darkness falls and cold creeps in, the difference becomes clear indeed (but there is no "better"; they're all wonderful). Land animals share their solid ground with most other mammals. Sea mammals don't stand on solid ground but glide through worlds unknown to land dwellers. It's not that they don't want stand; they simply have no legs. Still, they too are home in their world.
Husband and wife were decreed to be one flesh (Matthew 19:5, Genesis 2:24), which obviously says something about their mentality and nothing about their bodies (because neither copulation nor the firmest of handshakes make two bodies one). All "flesh" will see the salvation of our God (Luke 3:6), which is of course great news for humans and pets alike, but it's doubtful that our pooch will get worked up about it. Experiencing the meaning of the salvation of the Lord requires the nouns of a human mind.
Human flesh is different from animal flesh (1 Corinthians 15:39) not because the physical substance differs (it doesn't) but because the mental aspect of having a human body allows for a vastly different worldview (and a worldview comprises one's mental body: everything you are aware of, is you). Likewise, the Word was made flesh and walked among us (John 1:14) because humanity was able to understand the difference between Jesus of Nazareth and yet another young man from Judea. To the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem, Jesus was an ordinary human. That's why the donkey never shouted Hosanna and the people did (Matthew 21:9, Zechariah 9:9).
Our noun σαρξ (sarx) meaning flesh is used 150 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it come the following two derivatives:
- The adjective σαρκικος (sarkikos), meaning fleshly in the sense of pertaining to the flesh or in the way of the flesh. And the way of flesh is: continuous eating for sustenance, copulation for perpetuation, and a propensity for loss-aversion that keeps the organism from bonding so thoroughly to others that they identify entirely with the collective and no longer with themselves. This adjective is used 11 times; see full concordance.
- The adjective σαρκινος (sarkinos), also meaning fleshly but rather in the sense of being made out of flesh (2 Corinthians 3:3 only).