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The Sinful Nature

As I have been reintroducing myself to the NLT, I noticed that that the NLT also uses the phrase “sinful nature” rather than the literal translation “flesh.” This follows the NIV and TNIV which also use “sinful nature” rather than “flesh” in Romans and Galatians. The NLT, NIV, and TNIV all footnote that the Greek literally means “flesh.”

I understand the translators are attempting to offer clarity to those who do not understand what Paul means when he speaks of the flesh. For example, below is Romans 8:4-5 translated by the ESV:

4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

I would imagine that there are many people who are new to the scriptures and new to the faith who do not understand what it means to “walk not according to the flesh.” I believe the translators of the NIV, TNIV, and NLT are trying to help the reader understand that Paul is not talking merely about the body, but about the desires of the body. But are the NIV, TNIV, and NLT really any clearer by using “sinful nature?”

4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. 5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. (NLT)

4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. 5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (NIV & TNIV)

I don’t know that a person who is new to the scriptures or new in the faith would understand what it means to “not live according to the sinful nature.” I do not think they would understand what is meant by “no longer following our sinful nature.” While attempting to help to explain the “flesh”, I simply question if “sinful nature” is any improvement.

When the apostle Paul speaks about “not living according to the flesh,” I believe he means that we not to obey the impulses, lusts, and desires that come from our minds and bodies. We are to fight those desires and live according to the Spirit. My suggestion then would be that we discard “sinful nature” as the explanatory term for the “flesh.” Why not use “fleshly desires” or “bodily lusts?” Would this more accurately represent the meaning of the term “flesh” while still making it easier for those new to the scriptures to understand?