Sinful Nature?

A friend asked me about what the New International Version of the Bible calls the “sinful nature” of humanity. Other Bibles don’t have that phrase — is it a real thing?

Short answer: The Greek word sarx means flesh, and refers to the experience and consciousness that responds like an animal to flee pain and seek pleasure; not just the body, but the mind united to the body and alienated from God. Translators would do better to translate the word literally as “flesh” and leave it to catechists and teachers to describe the darkening and illumination and healing of the nous.

Longer answer: That unfortunate translation “sinful nature” is willfully ignorant of what classical Christianity meant by the word “nature.”

There is one human nature: the nature of Adam. Christ united it to himself in the incarnation. Christ received from his mother a physical body, along with all the damage sin has done to the soul of man. And Christ made it his own, uniting that human nature to all of God in himself. As when the woman with the issue of blood touched Christ, he was not made impure but she was made whole; lepers touched him and he was not made unclean but they were healed. Christ was baptized, not to wash away sin, but the muddy Jordan river received Christ and was made pure and holy. The nature of Adam, being received by God the Word, was made whole and pure and entirely holy.

And Christ took that human nature down into death by means of the Cross, burst the place open, and brought all of humanity back with him in union with his own Life, and seated it in himself beside the Father..

If there’s a “sinful nature,” then in Christ it is now a fallen, dead, buried, resurrected, justified, glorified, deified nature that sits on the throne of God Almighty, and we’re all predestined to participate in that glory. The only way we can fail to achieve that destiny is if we can’t be bothered to live lives of repentance that cooperate with the saving, healing, sanctifying power of God.

So give me all that “sinful” nature — it’s the nature of man in Christ.