This term finds its origin in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians; but is this the type of behavior he was really referring to when he called them carnal?
1 Corinthians 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 FOR ARE YE NOT YET CARNAL: for whereas there is among you ENVYING, AND STRIFE, AND DIVISIONS, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
We see here that what he was actually condemning as carnal, was their envying, strife and divisive behavior. It was their immature, and unloving attitudes toward each other in their debates about who was better- Paul or Apollos.
That all seems like almost a small thing compared to what we excuse as carnal today. Now, we know that there was also fornication reported within the Corinthian church; but this was not simply labeled carnal. This is what Paul said about those types of things:
1 Corinthians 5:1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.
2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
These Christians, according to Paul were puffed up believing they were showing great love and kindness in tolerating this fornication. Paul told them:
1 Corinthians 5:6 YOUR GLORYING IS NOT GOOD. Know ye not that A LITTLE LEAVEN LEAVENETH THE WHOLE LUMP?
7 PURGE OUT therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
Paul told them that this was not to be tolerated within the Church by one who is called a brother in Christ. This was for not only the good of the church, but also for the good of the one involved in fornication.
He goes on to tell them the fate of such as live the way we call carnal today.
1 Corinthians 6:9 KNOW YE NOT THAT THE UNRIGHTEOUS SHAL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 NOR THIEVES, NOR COVETOUS, NOR DRUNKARDS, NOR REVILERS, NOR EXTORTIONERS SHALL INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
Paul then reminds them of their own pasts, and how that they are no longer what they once were if they are now Christians.
1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.