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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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lxxi. ψυχικός, σαρκικός.

Ψυχικός occurs six times in the N. T. On three of these it cannot be said to have a distinctly ethical employment; seeing that in them it is only the meanness of the σῶμα ψυχικόν which the faithful now bear about that is contrasted with the glory of the σῶμα πνευματικόν which they shall bear (1 Cor. 15:44 bis, 46). On the other three occasions a moral emphasis rests on the word, and in every instance a most depreciatory. Thus St. Paul declares the ψυχικός receives not and cannot receive, as having no organ for their reception, the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14); St. James (3:15) characterizes the wisdom which is ψυχική, as also ἐπίγειος, ‘earthly,’ and δαιμονιώδης, ‘devilish;’ St. Jude explains the ψυχικοί as those πνεῦμα μὴ ἔχοντες (ver. 19). The word nowhere appears in the Septuagint; but ψυχικῶς in the sense of ‘heartily’ (==ἐκ ψυχῆς, Col. 3:23) twice in the Apocrypha (2 Macc. 4:37; 14:24).

It is at first with something of surprise that we find ψυχικός thus employed, and keeping this company; and the modern fashion of talking about the soul, as though it were the highest part of man, does not diminish this surprise; would rather lead us to expect to find it associated with πνευματικός, as though there were only light shades of distinction between them. But, indeed, this (which thus takes us by surprise) is characteristic of the inner differences between Christian and heathen, and indicative of those better gifts and graces which the Dispensation of the Spirit has brought into the world. Ψυχικός, continually used as the highest in later classical Greek literature—the word appears first in Aristotle—being there opposed to σαρκικός (Plutarch, Ne Suav. Vivi Posse, 14), or, where there is no ethical antithesis, to σωματικός (Aristotle, Ethic. Nic. iii. 10. 2; Plutarch, De Plac. Phil. i. 9; Polybius, vi. 5. 7), and constantly employed in praise, must, come down from its high estate, another so much greater than it being installed in the highest place of all. That old philosophy knew of nothing higher than the soul of man; but Revelation knows of the Spirit of God, and of Him making his habitation with men, and calling out an answering spirit in them. There was indeed a certain reaching out after this higher in the distinction which Lucretius and others drew between the ‘anima’ and the ‘animus,’ giving, as they did, the nobler place to the last. According to Scripture the ψυχή, no less than the σάρξ, belongs to the lower region of man’s being; and if a double employment of ψυχή there (as at Matt. 16:26; Mark 8:35), requires a certain caution in this statement, it is at any rate plain that ψυχικός is not a word of honour1 any more than σαρκικός, being an epithet quite as freely applied to this lower. The ψυχικός of Scripture is one for whom the ψυχή is the highest motive power of life and action; in whom the πνεῦμα, as the organ of the divine Πνεῦμα, is suppressed, dormant, for the time as good as extinct; whom the operations of this divine Spirit have never lifted into the region of spiritual things (Rom. 7:14; 8:1; Jude 19). For a good collection of passages from the Greek Fathers in which ψυχικός is thus employed, see Suicer, Thes. s. v.

It may be affirmed that the σαρκικός and the ψυχικός alike, in the language of Scripture, are set in opposition to the πνευματικός. Both epithets ascribe to him of whom they are predicted a ruling principle antagonistic to the πνεῦμα, though they do not ascribe the same. When St. Paul reminds the Ephesians how they lived once, “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Ephes. 2:3), he describes them first as σαρκικοί, and then as ψυχικοί. For, indeed, in men unregenerate there are two forms of the life lived apart from God; and, though every unregenerate man partakes of both, yet in some one is more predominant, and in some the other. There are σαρκικοί, in whom the σάρξ is more the ruling principle, as there are ψυχικοί, in whom the ψυχή. It is quite true that σάρξ is often used in the N. T. as covering that entire domain of our nature fallen and made subject to vanity, in which sin springs up, and in which it moves (Rom. 7:18; 8:5). Thus the ἔργα τῆς σαρκός (Gal. 5:19-21) are not merely those sinful works that are wrought in and through the body, but those which move in the sphere and region of the mind as well; more than one half of those enumerated there belonging to the latter class. But for all this the word, covering at times the whole region of that in man which is alienated from God and from the life in God, must accept its limitation when the ψυχή is brought in to claim that which is peculiarly its own.

There is an admirable discussion on the difference between the words, in Bishop Reynolds’ Latin sermon on 1 Cor. 2:14, preached before the University of Oxford, with the title Animalis Homo (Works, Lond. 1826, vol. iv. p. 349). I quote the most important paragraph bearing on the matter in hand: ‘Verum cum homo ex carne et animâ constet, sitque anima pars hominis praestantior, quamvis saepius irregenitos, propter appetitum in vitia pronum, atque praecipites concupiscentiae motus, σάρκα et σαρκικούς Apostolus noster appellet; hic tamen hujusmodi homines a praestantiore parte denominat, ut eos se intelligere ostendat, non qui libidinis mancipia sunt, et crassis concupiscentiis vel nativum lumen obruunt (hujusmodi enim homines ἄλογα ξῶα vocat Apostolus, 2 Pet. 2:12), sed homines sapientiae studio deditos, et qui ea sola, quae stulta et absurda sunt, rejicere solent. Hic itaque ψυχικοί sunt quotquot τὸ πνεῦμα οὐκ ἔχουσι (Jud. 19), utcunque alias exquisitissimis naturae dotibus praefulgeant, utcunque potissimam partem, nempe animam, omnigenâ eruditione excolant, et rectissime ad praescriptum rationis vitam dirigant. Denique eos hic ψυχικούς vocat, quos supra Sapientes, Scribas, Disquisitores, et istius seculi principes appellaverat, ut excludatur quidquid est nativae aut acquisitae perfectionis, quo naturae viribus assurgere possit ratio humana. Ψυχικός, ὁ τὸ πᾶν τοῖς λογισμοῖς τῆς ψυχῆς διδούς, καὶ μὴ νομίζων ἄνωθεν δεῖσθαι βοηθείας, ut recte Chrysostomus: qui denique nihil in se eximium habet, praeter animam rationalem, cujus solius lucem ductumque sequitur.’ I add a few words of Grotius to the same effect (Annott. in N. T.; 1 Cor. 2:14): ‘Non idem est ψυχικὸς ἄνθρωπος et σαρκικός. Ψυχικός est qui humanae tantum rationis luce ducitur, σαρκικός qui corporis affectibus gubernatur; sed plerunque ψυχικοί aliquâ in parte sunt σαρκικοί, ut Graecorum philosophi scortatores, puerorum corruptores, gloriae aucupes, maledici, invidi. Verum hic [1 Cor. 2:14] nihil aliud designatur quam homo humanâ tantum ratione nitens, quales erant Judaeorum plerique et philosophi Graecorum.’

The question, how to translate ψυχικός, is one not very easy to answer. ‘Soulish,’ which some have proposed, has the advantage of standing in the same relation to ‘soul’ that ψυχικός does to ψυχή and ‘animalis’ to ‘anima’; but the word is hardly English, and would certainly convey no meaning at all to ordinary English readers. Wiclif rendered it ‘beastly,’ which, it need hardly be said, had nothing for him of the meaning of our ‘bestial’ (see my Select Glossary, s. v.); but was simply == ‘animal’ (he found ‘animalis’ in his Vulgate); the Rhemish ‘sensual,’ which, at Jam. 3:15; Jude 19, our Translators have adopted, substituting this for ‘fleshly,’ which was in Cranmer’s and the Geneva Version. On the other three occasions they have rendered it ‘natural.’ These are both unsatisfactory renderings, and ‘sensual’ more so now than at the time when our Version was made, ‘sensual’ and ‘sensuality’ having considerably modified their meaning since that time; and now implying a deeper degradation than once they did. On the whole subject of the relations of the ψυχή to the σάρξ and the πνεῦμα, there is much very interesting, though not very easy to master, in Delitzsch’s Psychology, English Version, pp. 109–128.


1 Hilary has not quite, however nearly, extricated himself from this notion, and in the following passage certainly ascribes more to the ψυχικός than the Scriptures do, however plainly he sets him in opposition to the πνευματικός (Tract. in Ps. xiv. 3): ‘Apostolus et carnalem [σαρκικόν] hominem posuit, et animalem [ψυχικόν], et spiritalem [πνευματικόν]; carnalem, belluae modo divina et humana negligentem, cujus vita corporis famula sit, negotiosa cibo, somno, libidine. Animalis autem, qui ex judicio sensûs humani quid decens honestumque sit, sentiat, atque ab omnibus vitiis animo suo auctore se referat, suo proprio sensu utilia et honesta dijudicans; ut pecuniam spernat, ut jejuniis parcus sit, ut ambitione careat, ut voluptatibus resistat. Spiritalis autem est, cui superiora illa ad Dominum studia sint, et hoc quod agit, per scientiam Dei agat, intelligens et cognoscens quae sit voluntas Ejus, et sciens quae ratio sit a Deo carnis assumptae, qui crucis triumphus, quae mortis potestas, quae in virtute resurrectionis operatio.’ Compare Irenaeus, v. 6.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G4559,G5591.]

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