The use of the term flesh in the Hebrew scriptures.

Literal and figurative uses.


There are some 294 instances of the term בשר (flesh) in the Hebrew scriptures.

Refer also to the use of the Greek word σαρξ (flesh) in the Pauline epistles.

בשר most commonly refers to the actual flesh of humans or the meat of animals:

Genesis 2.21, 23 (second instance); 9.4; 40.19; 41.2, 3, 4, 18, 19;
Exodus 4.7; 12.8, 46; 16.3, 8, 12; 21.28; 22.30; 29.14, 31, 32, 34; 30.32;
Leviticus 4.11; 6.27; 7.15, 17, 18, 19 (×3), 20, 21; 8.17, 31, 32; 9.11; 11.8, 11; 13.2 (×2), 3 (×2), 4, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15 (×2), 16, 18, 24, 38, 39, 43; 14.9; 15.2, 3 (×2), 7, 13, 16, 19; 16.4 (second instance), 24, 26, 27, 28; 17.14 (×3), 16; 19.28; 215. 22.6; 26.29;
Numbers 8.7; 11.4, 13 (×2), 18 (×3), 21, 33; 12.12; 18.18; 19.5, 7, 8;
Deuteronomy 12.15, 20 (×3), 23, 27 (×2); 14.8; 16.4; 28.53, 55; 32.42;
Judges 6.19, 20, 21 (×2); 8.7;
1 Samuel 2.13, 15 (×2); 17.44;
1 Kings 17.6 (×2); 19.21; 21.27;
2 Kings 4.34; 5.10, 14 (×2); 6.30; 9.36;
2 Chronicles 32.8;
Nehemiah 5.5 (×2);
Job 2.5; 4.15; 6.12; 7.5; 10.4, 11; 13.14; 14.22; 19.20, 22, 26; 21.6; 31.31; 33.21, 25; 41.23;
Psalm 16.9; 27.2; 38.4, 8; 50.13; 63.1; 78.39; 79.2; 84.2; 102.5; 109.24; 119.20;
Proverbs 4.22; 5.11; 14.30; 23.20;
Ecclesiastes 2.3; 4.5; 5.5; 11.10; 12.12;
Isaiah 9.20; 10.18; 17.4; 22.13; 31.3; 44.16, 19; 49.26 (first instance); 65.4; 66.17;
Jeremiah 7.21; 11.15; 19.9 (×3);
Lamentations 3.4;
Ezekiel 4.14; 10.12; 11.3, 7, 11, 19 (×2); 24.10; 32.5; 36.26 (×2); 37.6, 8; 39.17, 18; 40.43;
Daniel 1.15; 10.3;
Hosea 8.13;
Micah 3.3;
Haggai 2.12;
Zechariah 11.9, 17; 14.12.

The term בשר can sometimes be used as a euphemism for the penis; this usage of the word is intimately related to its usual meaning, since the penis is part of the flesh of the male body, and at times it is difficult to tell which shade of meaning is intended. Accordingly, this list is approximate:

Genesis 17.11, 13, 14, 23, 24, 25;
Exodus 28.42;
Leviticus 6.10; 12.3; 16.4 (first instance);
Ezekiel 23.20 (×2); 44.7, 9.

The term בשר can also stand for humans (humanity) or animal life in general by way of synecdoche:

Genesis 6.3, 12, 13, 17, 19; 7.15, 16, 21; 8.17; 9.11, 15, 16, 17;
Numbers 16.12; 18.15; 27.16;
Deuteronomy 5.26;
Job 12.10; 34.15;
Psalm 56.5; 65.2; 136.25; 145.21;
Isaiah 40.5, 6; 49.26 (second instance); 66.16, 23, 24;
Jeremiah 12.12; 17.5; 25.31; 32.27; 45.5;
Ezekiel 20.48; 21.4, 10;
Joel 3.1;
Zechariah 2.17.

An extended use of בשר is to represent kin or family, or a marriage partner:

Genesis 2.23 (first instance);* 2.24; 29.14;* 37.27;
Leviticus 18.6; 25.49;
Judges 9.2;*
2 Samuel 5.1;* 19.12,* 13;*
1 Chronicles 11.1;*
Isaiah 58.7.

* The asterisked instances also use bone (עצם) as part of the expression.

In Ezekiel 16.26 the phrase גדלי בשר (great of flesh) appears to mean something like lustful or carnal (perhaps voluptuous would capture the feel of the idiom).