DEFINITION OF BIBLE TERMS
NATURAL, SPIRITUAL, CARNAL.
A great deal oftentimes depends in a discussion on the definition of a term. Parties may dispute for a long time and finally discover that the only difference between them is, that they have been using the same term in different senses. Bible terms are often used in a very loose and careless way; if we wish to arrive at the truth we must be careful how we use Bible terms. The best way that I know of to get the true meaning of a word in Scripture is to trace it through the Book and notice in what sense the sacred writers used it. Collate all the passages where the word occurs; and then from these passages and the context, the meaning (or meanings, for some words are used in more than one sense) of the word may be very readily and surely gathered. In each number of the paper I shall endeavor to set forth the meaning of one or more important Bible terms in this way; and I invite others to send in any such terms that they wish to have explained. We will endeavor to do so to the best of our ability. In this way, after a while, we shall get quite a glossary of Scriptural words.
In this number we will first briefly discuss the correlative terms, Natural and Spiritual. A strict definition of these terms is needful in order to understand the important rule laid down in 1 Cor. 15:46, that God's order is first: the natural and afterward the spiritual. A study of the New Testament in the manner indicated above will give us such a definition. But first I will give the meaning of the words in my own language and then notice the scriptural proof.
Natural means pertaining to this fallen state, earthly, fleshly, corrupt. Spiritual, being the opposite of natural means, pertaining to the restored (or resurrection) state, finished, perfect. Both words refer to human beings; they are never applied to spirit beings, to God, or angels, or demons. Now let us look at the Bible and we shall find these statements confirmed. On the word natural see Jas. 3:15 and Jude 19. In both of these passages the words rendered "sensual" are the same in the original as the word rendered "natural" in 1 Cor. 15:46. The context clearly shows that natural pertains to the fallen man as "earthly, sensual, devilish." The spiritual being the opposite of the natural and coming after it according to God's order, may now be readily identified; the natural. as we have seen, refers to the fallen, corruptible condition; the spiritual then must refer to the restored, incorruptible state; or in other words the natural refers to the process of creation, the spiritual to the finished result.
It should be understood by all that the great work that God has in hand is the creation of a race of beings in his own image and likeness. This work was begun in Eden, has been finished in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ as the pattern man of God's creation, and will be finished in the race of man in the "ages to come." All this will appear plainer after reading in this same number the article on the two accounts of the creation. Now we refer to it simply for the purpose of bringing out the meaning of this word spiritual. If we understand that the perfect or finished man is "God's workmanship" (Eph. 2:10), and that the work is a process-made "perfect through suffering" (Heb. 2:10)-then we shall understand what is meant when it is said that the natural refers to the process and the spiritual to the finished result. The gospel dispensation might very properly be called the finishing off age of the first "order" (1 Cor. 15:23) of God's creation. Previous to the gospel age no man was ever finished or perfected; unfallen Adam was not a finished man as we have shown in the article referred to above. Christ was the first, and thus far the only man finished, at the beginning of this gospel age, as the "Head" of this first "order," the "first fruits," or "the church of the first born;" and during this age the perfecting work, the "finishing touches," so to speak, are being accomplished for those who belong to this first order. Hence the spiritual. i.e. the finished, begins to appear. The Old Testament gives us the letter; the New Testament brings out the spirit. (See for example, Rom. 2:28,29). Hence in the New Testament this idea of the spiritual occurs for the first time, and we read about spiritual gifts, spiritual meat and drink, a spiritual body, spiritual blessings, spiritual songs, etc. There is nothing of this kind in the Old Testament; in that portion of the Bible. man is presented in the rough as raw material, so to speak; crude and undeveloped, and no intimation is given of the finished, perfect, or spiritual state except in type and shadow. A portion of the race is being finished off during this gospel age hence the spiritual is in order, and the New Testament brings this out.
Now in the light of this explanation see 1 Cor. 2:6-16; especially verses 13-15. The last clause of verse 13 should read "comparing (or explaining) spiritual things [neuter plural] to spiritual men" [masculine plural]. Now the two following verses-"But the natural man [man in the crude, rough state] receiveth not the things of the spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual [being finished off] discerneth [margin] all things, yet he himself is discerned of no man."
From these considerations we can understand the meaning of the natural and the spiritual. The natural is the corruptible, crude, rough state of man. The spiritual is the finishing work. When that work is complete then are we fully spiritual, or perfect; this will be when we "awake in his likeness."
Now look at the third chapter of first Corinthians for one more thought in this connection, namely, that indicated by the word "carnal." We have been studying the significance and correlation of the spiritual and natural; here it is the spiritual and carnal; what is the import of this latter word?
We have seen that "the natural man" is man in the rough, the mere animal man, who has received no spiritual development whatever. The terms natural and spiritual are mutually exclusive; one cannot be natural and spiritual at the same time. But one may be spiritual and carnal at the same time. Many Christians have some spiritual development, and yet the carnal, the fleshly, still predominates; they are, as Paul says, "babes in Christ;" not mature and advanced, but mere infants. We know that after the spiritual begins to be developed we are still in the flesh, and more or less fleshly. Says Paul, "The life that I now live in the flesh, (still in the flesh, but living a higher life), I live by the faith of the Son of God." Again we read, "The flesh lusteth against the spirit; and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary, the one to the other." If in this conflict between the flesh and the spirit the flesh predominates, we are babes in Christ and carnal. If the spirit is paramount then we may be called spiritual, as in 1 Cor. 2:15 and Gal. 6:1.
Now read this third chapter of first Corinthians with this explanation in mind, and the carnal Christian will at once be apparent-a perfect type of many a Christian in these days. The sectarian spirit is perhaps the most hateful manifestation of this carnality. "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos." So in these days we hear, "I am a Methodist to the back bone." "I am a Baptist dyed in the wool." "I am a Congregationalist true blue," and thus these infantile disciples go on in their clannish professions, little thinking that thus they are demonstrating their own carnality and spiritual babyhood. O Lord, help us to "crucify the flesh with its affections and lust" and "press on unto full growth." Heb. 6:1, N.V.*, margin; read also the last four verses of the preceding chapter from the New Version.
Still further on these words that we have been considering, see Rom. 7:14, and 15:27, 1 Cor.10:3,4, and 12:1, etc.; also 1 Cor. 15:44, 2 Cor. 1:12 and 10:4,. Eph. 6:12, Heb. 7:16, 1 Pet. 2:11.
*i.e. New Version; refers to The English Revised Version of 1881-1885 (RSV)