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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. Biblical Meaning.
The classical passage in which it occurs is 1 Corinthians 2:14 King James Version: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." In his anthropology Paul uses four groups of descriptive adjectives in contrasted pairs: (1) the old man and the new man ( Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 2:15; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10 ); (2) the outward man and the inward man ( 2 Corinthians 4:16; Romans 7:22; Ephesians 3:16 ); (3) the carnal man and the spiritual man ( Romans 8:1-14; 1 Corinthians 3:1 , 1 Corinthians 3:3 , 1 Corinthians 3:4 ); (4) the natural man and the spiritual man ( 2 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:3 , 2 Corinthians 3:4; Ephesians 2:3; 1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Corinthians 15:46; Galatians 6:1 ). A study of these passages will show that the adjectives "old," "outward," "carnal," and "natural" describe man, from different points of view, prior to his conversion; while the adjectives "new," "inward" and "spiritual" describe him, from different points of view, after his conversion. To elucidate the meaning, the expositor must respect these antitheses and let the contrasted words throw light and meaning upon each other.
1. The Old Man:
The "old man" is the "natural man" considered chronologically - prior to that operation of the Holy Spirit by which he is renovated into the "new man."
The old house is the house as it was before it was remodeled; an old garment is the garment as it was before it was re-fashioned; and the "old man" is man as he was before he was regenerated and sanctified by the grace of the Spirit. "Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Romans 6:6 the King James Version). Here the "old man" is called the "body of sin," as the physical organism is called the body of the soul or spirit, and is to be "crucified" and "destroyed," in order that man may no longer be the "servant of sin." "Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt.... Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" ( Ephesians 4:22 , Ephesians 4:24 the King James Version). Here the "old man" is said to be "corrupt," and we are called upon to "put it off." The figure is that of putting off old clothes which are unclean, and putting on those garments which have come from the wash clean and snowy white. We have the same idea, in different language and with a slightly different imagery, in Col 8:9, 10.
When Paul calls the "natural man" the "old man," and describes it as the "body of sin" which is "corrupt" in its nature and "deeds," and tells us that it must be "crucified" and "destroyed" and "put off" in order that we may "not serve sin," but may have "righteousness" and "true holiness" and "knowledge" and the "image" of God, we get some conception of the moral meaning which he is endeavoring to convey by these contrasts (Galatians 5:19-24 ). He has reference to that sinful nature in man which is as old as the individual, as old as the race of which he is a member, which must be graciously renovated according to that gospel which he preached to Corinthians, Colossians, Ephesians, Romans and all the world. See OLD MAN; MAN ,
2. The Outward Man:
The apostle also establishes a contrast between "the inward man" and "the outward man." "Though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16 ). Now what sort of man is the "outward man" as contrasted with the "inward man?" In Greek, the
"The contrast here drawn between the 'outward' and the 'inward man,' though illustrated by the contrast in Romans 7:22 between the 'law in the members' and 'the inner man,' and in Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9 between 'the old man' and 'the new man' is not precisely the same. Those contrasts relate to the difference between the sensual and the moral nature, 'the flesh' and 'the spirit'; this to the difference between the material and the spiritual nature" (Stanley, in the place cited.).
"The outward man" is the body, and "the inward man" is the soul, or immaterial principle in the human make-up. As the body is wasted by the afflictions of life, the soul is renewed; what is death to the body is life to the soul; as afflictions depotentiate man's physical organism, they impotentiate man's spiritual principle. That is, the afflictions of life, culminating in death itself, have diametrically opposite effects upon the body and upon the soul. They kill the one; they quicken the other.
"The inward man" is the whole human nature as renewed and indwelt and dominated by the Spirit of God as interpenetrated by the spirit of grace. As the one is broken down by the adverse dispensations of life, the other is upbuilt by the sanctifying discipline of the Spirit.
3. The Carnal Man:
There is another Pauline antithesis which it is necessary for us to interpret in order to understand what he means by the "natural man." It is the distinction which he draws between the "carnal mind" and the "spiritual mind." The critical reference is Romans 8:1-14 . In this place the "carnal mind" is identified with the "law of death," and the "spiritual mind" is identified with the "law of the Spirit." These two "laws" are two principles and codes: the one makes man to be at "enmity against God" and leads to "death"; the other makes him the friend of God, and conducts to "life and peace." The word "carnal" connotes all that is fallen and sinful and unregenerate in man's nature. In its gross sense the "carnal" signifies that which is contrary to nature, or nature expressing itself in low and bestial forms of sin.
4. The Natural Man:
The "natural man" is the "old man," the "outward man," the "carnal man" - man as he is by nature, as he is firstborn, contra-distinguished to man as he is changed by the Spirit, as he is second-born or regenerated. There. is an "old" life, an "outward" life, a "carnal" life, a "natural" life, as contrasted with the "new" life, the "inward" life, the "spiritual" life, the "gracious" life. The "natural man" is a bold and vivid personification of that depraved nature which we inherit from Adam fallen, the source and seat of all actual and personal transgressions.
II. Theological Meaning.
We know what we mean by the nature of the lion, by the nature of the lamb. We are using perfectly comprehensible language when we speak of the lion as naturally fierce, and of the lamb when we say he is naturally gentle. We have reference to the dominant dispositions of these animals, that resultant of their qualities which defines their character and spontaneity. So we are perfectly plain when we say that man is naturally sinful. We are but saying that sinfulness is to man what fierceness is to the lion, what gentleness is to the lamb. The "natural man" is a figure of speech for that sinful human nature, common to us all. It is equivalent to the theological phrases: the "sinful inclination," the "evil disposition," the "apostate will," "original sin," "native depravity." It manifests itself in the understanding as blindness, in the heart as hardness, in the will as obstinacy. See MAN ,
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Man, Natural'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/m/man-natural.html. 1915.