“You are Still Fleshly” (1 Cor 3:3): A Neglected Text for Discerning the ἐγώ in Romans 7

In recent years new life has been breathed into the discussion and debate surrounding the identity of the ἐγώ in Romans 7 through the excellent work of Will Timmins—his Cambridge dissertation in 2014, his SNTSMS publication in 2017 (Romans 7 and Christian Identity: The ‘I’ in Its Literary Context), and an accessible summary of that monograph written for The Gospel Coalition in 2018 (“What’s Really Going On in Romans 7?”). His basic thesis is that the ἐγώ in Romans 7 is “a believer in Christ who confesses an ongoing, Adamic, anthropological condition of fleshliness” (Romans 7 and Christian Identity, 210). Such a condition pertains until the completion at the resurrection of the good work already begun in us at conversion. In the course of his argument, he rightfully recognizes the central importance of verse 14 in this discussion: “everything in verses 14–25 stands under the banner of verse 14” (see his TGC post: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/romans-7-apostle-paul-confession/).

But for many, this is precisely why his view remains open to one of the chief objections raised against the similar view that the ἐγώ reflects general Christian experience—namely, that Paul could not describe a believer in Christ as “of the flesh, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14). Timmins has his own answers to that objection, but this paper seeks to add an additional argument in support of his view from Paul’s use of “fleshly” in 1 Cor 3:1–4, a text too often neglected in this debate. There Paul says, “But I, brothers and sisters, could not address you as spiritual people [πνευματικοῖς], but as people of the flesh [σαρκίνοις], as infants in Christ” (3:1). He goes on in verse 3: “for you are still of the flesh [σαρκικοί]. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh [σαρκικοί] and behaving only in a human way [κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖτε]?”

This paper will argue that the use of “fleshly” in 1 Corinthians 3 answers the objection that Paul could not or would not describe genuine Christians as “fleshly,” which removes the chief objection to Timmin’s view that the ἐγώ of Romans 7 is first, Paul the Christian, and then by implication, every believer in Christ. The argument will proceed in three steps. First, it will be established exegetically from 1 Corinthians that Paul’s use of “fleshly” is, in fact, applied to genuine Christians. Second, it will be shown that Paul is working with a similar “spiritual”/“fleshly” contrast in 1 Corinthians 3 as he is in Romans 7, further inviting the association of the two texts. Finally, attention will be drawn to the probable Adamic connection with the concept of “fleshly” in 1 Corinthians 3, thus corroborating the notion that a believer, though infused with the power of the Spirit and new life in Christ, nevertheless retains that “Adamic, anthropological condition of fleshliness.” In the end, 1 Corinthians 3 provides strong support for understanding the ἐγώ of Romans 7 as the experience of a genuine Christian.

1 thought on ““You are Still Fleshly” (1 Cor 3:3): A Neglected Text for Discerning the ἐγώ in Romans 7”

Leave a Comment