Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life

Jonathan Robie (
Sun, 03 Nov 1996 18:01:54 -0500

I think that my interpretation of this may be a little unconventional, and I
want to run it by y'all to see if it passes muster, especially since I may
be preaching on the subject in two weeks.

I am teaching Sunday School, and we are working our way through 1 John. (We
do this in English, slowly and inductively, using colored pencils to mark
key concepts and patterns -- I call it my "bible coloring class".)

Most people in the class interpreted "the lust of the flesh" and "the lust
of the eyes" as sexual lust. This caught me by surprise, since I really
hadn't, though I can remember hearing sermons which treatet it that way. In
my preparation, I had looked only at the Greek, and the English caught me by
surprise. The Greek phrase is "h epiqumia ths sarkos kai h epiqumia twn
ofqalmwn kai h alazoneia tou biou". Here it is in Greek and English:

1Joh 2:15 (GNT) Mh agapate ton kosmon mhde ta en tw kosmw. ean tis agapa ton
kosmon, ouk estin h agaph tou patros en autw: 16 oti pan to en tw kosmw, h
epiqumia ths sarkos kai h epiqumia twn ofqalmwn kai h alazoneia tou biou,
ouk estin ek tou patros alla ek tou kosmou estin. 17 kai o kosmos paragetai
kai h epiqumia autou, o de poiwn to qelhma tou qeou menei eis ton aiwna.

1Joh 2:15 (RSV) Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one
loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in
the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of
life, is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world passes
away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.

I had been thinking of EPIQUMIA as "desire", and SARKOS as "natural human
self". To me, the whole passage seemed to be saying that we should not love
houses in the suburbs, nice clothes, good food, espresso, fulfilling sex
lives, college degrees, etc.

I am interpreting the three phrases this way -- is this valid?:

"h epiqumia ths sarkos" (the desire of the natural body): The desires of the
natural human body, which include sex, but include other things. (Once I was
sitting in a restaurant with a colleague. When the waitress left after
giving us our menus, my colleague remarked that she was a fine looking
woman. I was really hungry, and I replied that she would look a lot better
with a slab of ribs on her tray. He didn't seem to understand the joke, but
he may have been preoccupied.)

"h epiqumia twn ofqalmwn" (the desire of the eyes): The desire for the
things we see. Greed. Yes, this would include sexual desire, but also fast
cars, nice furniture, fine clothes, etc.

"h alazoneia tou biou" (pride of life): Once I get the cars, furniture,
clothes, and women I desire, I can show them off to you, achieving status in
your eyes by the things that I have acquired.

All in all, I see this as reminiscent of Christ's statement that "foxes have
holes, birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of man has no place to
lay his head" -- a call to radical dependence on God, not getting entangled
with the things that the rest of the world is so focussed on.

However, I notice that most translations use "lust" to translate EPIQUMIA,
which seems to suggest sexual desire. Looking through BAGD, the little
Kittel, Louw & Nida, and Vines, I don't see any reason to see this as
primarily sexual desire. Am I missing something here?



Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703
Ph: 919.598.5728 Fax: 919.598.6728
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