The harmful legacy of Paul’s image of σάρξ (“flesh”) demands a rethinking of the term’s meaning in the allegory of Hagar in Gal 4:21–5:1. Σάρξ has been viewed as a spiritualized metaphor for sin, a connection that has perpetuated a racist sanction of slavery and a gendered, sexualized condemnation of materiality. In dialogue with Hortense Spillers’s paradigm-shifting notion of the flesh, I explore the powerful and painful images in this passage with attention to their embodied, social, and structural elements. In Spillers’s formulation, the flesh is a locus of the structural dispossession, dehumanization, and ungendering of African and African American people under the logics of American slavery, whereas the body is a locus of white people’s violent advantage. I propose that in Galatians Paul’s σάρξ indicates vulnerability and wounding, in contrast to the security indicated by the image of the πνɛῦμα (“spirit”). Galatians associates Hagar and Ishmael with the σάρξ, not to distance this enslaved family from the divine but rather to call attention to the social disenfranchisement of both mother and son.

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