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

Carl W. Conrad (
Sun, 3 Nov 1996 20:44:26 -0600

At 5:01 PM -0600 11/3/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:

(I have omitted all the good parts about sitting in restaurants and lusting
after waitresses with good ribs, etc., etc.)

>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?

Interesting point. I'd like to contribute two observations here which may
or may not be relevant.

(1) I don't have the LXX text handy with me here at home, but I think that
the 10th commandment reads MH EPIQUMHSEIS ... (If I misremember this,
ignore what follows!). I was very impressed by Martin Buber's comment on
the 10th commandment: he said it was the foundation for all the other
commandments regarding interpersonal relationships--that the others were
concrete prohibitions of particular acts but this one warned against the
very underlying attitude of envy of one's neighbor that makes it possible
for one to carry out those concrete acts. In this regard--if indeed the
verb in question in the LXX is EPIQUMEW--EPIQUMIA goes far beyond anything

(2) In Plato's tri-partite psychology as set forth especially in the
_Republic_, there is NOUS at the top of the psychic hierarchy with a
capacity to discern what is in the best interest of the whole self; at the
next level below is TO QUMOEIDES, sometimes called "spirit" or "spirited
element" or "pride," though it has always seemed to me to be the
self-defensive drive that can readily and suddenly be converted to
aggression if not held in check by the discernment of the NOUS into the
proper boundaries between self and alien-to-self; finally at the bottom are
the EPIQUMIAI, and these are all the animal urgencies for food, sex, etc.,
etc.--Plato would say that they are the urgencies toward those things which
animal selfhood must have to sustain healthy existence; he would also say
that satisfying them is necessary but that only the NOUS can ascertain what
measure of satisfaction of them is conducive to health and what is
excessive and tends to undermine health. Now I realize that EPIQUMIA in
the Platonic sense cannot be quite equivalent to what John in 1 John is
talking about, but I don't think it's altogether alien either, and it
appears to be consistent with what you've found in Louw & Nida, etc. In
sum, I think you're right to want to extend the sense of EPIQUMIA beyond
the sexual and perhaps, while note excluding the sexual, not making it the
core sense of the word either.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR