Skip to main content
Bible Q

What was the “clean flesh” hoax among Christadelphians?

An unhealthy subject

This is not a particularly healthy subject and anyone asking (or being asked) questions about “clean flesh” should probably ask back – “why are are you interested in a Christadelphian controversy from 150 years ago?”

The origin of the term “clean flesh” goes back to a disagreement between two early Christadelphians, Edward Turney and Robert Roberts in Birmingham in 1873. Turney adopted one extreme position, that children of Adam had no legacy from the sin of Adam, and Roberts responded with another extreme position that sin was actually physical. Roberts in over-reacting to Turney’s error made the mistake of mis-citing Romans 8:3 “condemned sin, in the flesh” as “condemned sin-in-the-flesh” (sic), as if sin-in-the-flesh was an actual thing, ignoring the comma required in the Greek, rather than Christ condemning sin, by or in his human life.

The argument grew with Turney’s side being accused of “clean flesh” and Roberts’ side “dirty flesh”, none of which has any root in the Bible. Since both sides effectively agreed on the main point – that mortality is not a medical product of sin (otherwise embryos would not die, and Christ would not have succumbed to crucifixion), both sides agreed that sin is not physical, and not really in the tissue of the body.  The argument was mainly about personalities, jealousies and rivalry:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (James 4:1 ESV)

Effectively “clean flesh” and “dirty flesh” were false accusations. Hoaxes.


The “clean flesh” hoax today

The actual fight between Turney and Roberts did not survive Turney’s death six years later in 1879. But “clean flesh” continued to be waved around as a term whenever argumentative individuals got into disagreement about “the atonement”, although it is difficult to understand from their writings which one of the two very different Greek words translated atonement in the King James Bible (in modern Bibles one rendered ‘reconciliation’ and the other ‘propitiation) they were fighting over. They also argued about the “nature” of Christ – another word not found in the Greek text – generating more heat as both sides misread Bible passages.

Again the more relevant verse is related not to the wonderful reconciling work of our Lord Jesus, but the divisive tendency in some of his followers. Paul warns us to keep away from those who stir division among what Paul called “one bread, one body” and  baptised by one spirit  (1 Cor 10:7, 12:13).

10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11)

Unfortunately human nature being what it is there is still magnetism is old controversy. The Christadelphian writer George Booker in his Biblical Fellowship deals fully with the very human, and unholy, causes of division.

This is magnified in the world of the Internet where exactly the Titus 3:10 -11 teachers who want to preach division can set themselves up as one-man websites pretending to be the true keepers of Christadelphianism (again not the way healthy Bible-based Christadelphians in the worldwide body go about teaching)  and pull at people all over the world. Titus 3:10 “have nothing to do with them”, includes clearly, not giving these individuals air time, or exposing people to them on social media, any more than inviting them to take the platform or pulpit at a church.


Set your hearts on things above

So then, what is the best way to deal with “clean flesh”. To refuse to have discussion based on terms that are not in the Bible.  To focus on healthy teaching about the sacrifice Christ made for us.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)




No Comments yet!