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THEOLOGY > Sin > Man's Disobedience > The Natural Man 


The natural man
does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,
for they are foolishness to him,
and he is not able to understand them
because they are spiritually discerned.
I Cor. 2:14

The word “natural,” an adjective used with man in verse 14, is the Greek psychikos, a word that stands in contrast to the “spiritual” (pneumatikos) person of verse 15 and comparable to sarkinos in 3:1 (trans. “carnal” in NKJV and “people of the flesh” in ESV). Limited in usage, psychikos appears only a few times in the New Testament: I Cor. 2:14; 15:44, twice; 15:46; Jas. 3:15; Jude 19. What does “natural” mean?

The use of the word in the Scriptures is clear and precise; there are two aspects to the word with one aspect building on the other aspect. The word is used in a physical sense and in a spiritual sense, with the physical being foundational for the spiritual: The natural man in terms of creation is the man of the earth; and the natural man in terms of the Fall is man as he is because of Adam.

The natural man is associated with flesh:
regarding his physical origin, he is a man of the earth (I Cor. 15:44, 46);
regarding his spiritual state, he is in Adam (I Cor. 2:14).

The natural man is a man of the earth.

It can be argued that psychikos is used of the physical nature of man, the fact that man is made of flesh, and thus is a material being in contrast to a spirit being (see: I Cor. 15:44, 46; in Jo. 3:6 sarx is used in the same sense); thus, the word is a reminder that man is from the dust and will return to the dust—man is mere flesh and blood (I Cor. 15:47-49). Man is limited by time and confined by space; he is natural and of the earth.

Some would reject this understanding because they feel that I Cor. 15:44, 46 must be interpreted in light of I Cor. 2:14. It is apparent that I Cor. 2:14 goes beyond a simple application of the word to the physical nature of man, but that does not require the same expansion to be understood in I Cor. 15:44, 46. In other words, each passage is interpreted in its own context.

The word speaks of the physical, the natural man—the man of the earth, the flesh and blood man, the one who is from the earth and will return to the earth. This usage is found in I Corinthians 15:

It is sown a natural (psychikos) body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural (psychikos) body, there is also a spiritual body (v. 44);

It is not the spiritual that is first but the natural (psychikos), and then the spiritual (v. 46).

The natural man is man in Adam.

BBuilding upon the above usage, the word can also describe man at a deeper level, a spiritual level. The word is associated with the earthly, the animal, the sensuous; it is translated in the ESV as “natural,” “unspiritual,” and “worldly” (“natural,” and “sensual” in the NKJV). It speaks of one who is of the earth, devoid of the Spirit and, therefore, living worldly and sensual, spiritual destitute. It is man in Adam. In the following passages this usage is seen:

The natural (psychikos) man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:14);

This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual (psychikos), demonic (Jas. 3:15);

It is these who cause divisions, worldly people (psychikos), devoid of the Spirit (Jude 19).

It is obvious that psychikos in I Cor. 2:14 carries a deeper meaning in regards to the nature of man. The natural man in this text is the man of the flesh, with “flesh” describing man’s spiritual condition at the time of conception and the condition of every man outside of Christ. It is the plight of man because of Adam’s sin and man’s identification with Adam at the time of his sin in the garden of Eden (see: The Principle of Identification). The natural man is a man controlled by the flesh. This understanding of I Cor. 2:14 is supported by the verses in James and Jude.

The New Testament speaks of “fleshly wisdom” (II Cor. 1:12), “fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18), and “fleshly lusts” (I Pet. 2:11; see: I Jo. 2:16). To be a natural man is to be “by nature” a child of wrath, one that is governed by the flesh; Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “. . . we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). The words “by nature” indicate the inheritance of man from Adam, not the creation of man’s nature by God. In another context Paul speaks of the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26).

The natural man is a man of the flesh, not only flesh and blood, but he is living like an earthly, selfish, self-centered, and autonomous affirming individual—the natural man is outside of Christ, with no concern for God. He is bound by his base nature with its desires and passions. Because of his condition he cannot please God. He is psychikos, a natural man.

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh . . . for to set the mind of the flesh is death . . . for the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot; those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:5-8; NKJV speaks of the “carnal mind” – the same as the mind “set on the flesh”).

Four points can be extracted from I Cor. 2:14 regarding the natural man:

One, it teaches the fact of the natural man;

Two, the natural man cannot accept and does not understand the things of God; that is, it is impossible for the man of the flesh to perceive and comprehend those things that be of God; “no one understands” (Rom. 3:11);

Three, the things of God are foolishness to him; “no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11);

Four, the things of God must be spiritually discerned.

Note: Romans 3 describes the life of the natural man spoken of I Corinthians 2:14; to be natural is to be “under sin” (v. 9):

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes (vs. 10-18).

Several point can be concluded:

One, no part of man is immune from the curse of sin, both in the state into which man is born and in the actions of one’s life;

Two, men are vicious by nature; the problem of man is man; the basis for culpability and punishment resides in what man is, a creature beset by a sinful nature; in fact, man is his sinful nature;

Three, God is not to be blamed for the state of man, but man bears responsibility for his state; man’s state is the fault of man; his nature has experienced vitiation and it is the doing of man.

The natural man is “utterly devoid of all good”
(Calvin, Institutes, II. Ch. 3, 2).

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