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Old Testament Foundations: A Biblical View of the Relationship of Sin and the Fruits of Sin: Sickness, Demonization, Death, Natural Calamity, by Peter H. Davids

In the Old Testament there is an answer, which is Yahweh himself. “I am the Lord who heals you.” (Exo 15:26, NRSV). How does one appropriate this health? By submission to Yahweh, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God …” (Exo 15:26a). The essence of sin in Gen. 3 was to seek independence from God, thus the essence of the healing of sin is to return to a relationship of submission to God. Naturally, with the healing of the sin itself comes the healing of the effects of sin, such as sickness. (See also Prov 3:7-8; 4:22.) Thus Ps 103:3 (NRSV) describes God as the one, “who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,” and then goes on to describe rescue from death (“the Pit”) and promise long life. The Psalm continues and describes Yahweh as the one whose nature focuses on forgiving. (So also Isa 33:22-24, and in a metaphorical sense of the nation as a whole, Jer 30:17.) In Psalm 103 submission to Yahweh is also presented as protection from the fruit of sin in the world around us (specifically, protection from disease and death in battle).

Salvation in all its aspects has three tenses—those of having been saved, being saved, and going to be saved—and these three tenses apply to the spiritual results as much as to the physical results in the New Testament.

While we have chosen specific illustrative texts, this is a consistent picture throughout the Old Testament. Yahweh is the one who announces the penalty for sin; he is also the one who describes himself as, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness …” (Exo 34:6-7, NRSV). Now it is true that the same passage indicates that he will “[visit] the iniquity of the parents upon the children … to the third and the fourth generation,” but this appears to be more the divine response to continued rebellion than the core of his nature. While one can find plenty of examples of severe judgment in the Old Testament, God is also continually pictured as forgiving. We might not be surprised that David (a “man after [God’s] own heart”) is forgiven when he commits adultery and murder (2 Sam 12:13),23 but Jonah pictures God as forgiving the Assyrians, 1 Kings 21:29 as forgiving Ahab, 2 Kings 5 as healing the Aramean commander Naaman (when the latter submits to the directive of God), and Jer 38:17-23 as offering salvation to Zedekiah if the king would only obey Yahweh. None of these latter three individuals were good folk in any sense of the word. In two of the cases they were within days of a judgment (a fruit of sin) which had been announced without any “ifs” about it. Yet repentance and submission could still advert the judgment.

A similar picture of God as the deliverer from the fruit of sin appears in Job, in which suffering for other than personal sin is discussed. The pious Job does suffer because of the sin of others (assuming that Satan is viewed as an evil being and the attacks of the various raiders are sinful acts). All of the time Job is suffering, God is not seen on the earthly plane. For some reason never explained, he has accepted Satan’s challenge and permitted the evil to happen. When God is seen by Job, he shows up as the deliverer.

Thus in the Old Testament the answer to the fruit of sin is Yahweh. When one repents and returns to a position of submission to Yahweh, the corporate and individual fruits of sin are removed. The drought ends, the armies are victorious, the plague ceases, the individual disease is healed, etc. There are certainly ambiguities in this picture, but the basic picture itself is clear.


Reversing the Fruit of Sin in the New Testament

In the New Testament God has already shown up on earth in Jesus. According to the whole witness of the New Testament, the culmination of Jesus’ mission was his death on the Cross which atoned for all sins, providing the basis for God’s sanctifying, restoring work to reverse the fruits of sin (Mat 8:16-17 and Isa 53:4-6; Mat 20:28; Mk 10:45; Jn 12:27-33; Rom 3:22-25; 5:8-9; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13; Col 1:21-22; 1 Tim 2:6; Heb 2:14; 9:14, 26-28; 10:10; 1 Pet 1:18-21; 2:24; 3:18; 1 Jn 2:2; 3:5, 8).

Jesus’ ultimate mission in the New Testament’s view, then, was to atone for sin and reverse sin’s fruits. Accordingly, when Jesus arrives on the scene, the fruits of sin are reversed. Mark presents this paradigm through narrative. In Mark 1:21-28 the presence of Jesus excites a demon (presumably one which the people did not know existed in the man it was affecting) who cries out, “Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus’ response is affirmative, at least in the sense that he expels the demon. Demonization is an effect of sin, conceivably, the primary effect of sin, if we view the whole world as demonized by Satan through the results of the fall as 1 Jn 5:19 suggests (cf. Jn 12:31). Because of this, the presence of Jesus reveals this fruit of sin and then reverses it. This is a consistent pattern in the life of Jesus.

Mark moves directly on to the healing ministry of Jesus (Mark 1:29-31), including the healing of leprosy, a disease that made one ritually taboo (1:40-45). It is in the healing of the paralytic in Mk. 2:1-12 that the forgiveness of sins is followed immediately by the healing of the disease. That is, both sin and the fruits of sin are removed.24

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2006

About the Author: Peter H. Davids is a visiting professor of Christianity at Houston Baptist University and part-time professor at Houston Graduate School of Theology. He has taught biblical studies at Regent College (Vancouver, British Columbia) and Canadian Theological Seminary (Regina, Saskatchewan), and he continues to teach in theological schools in Europe. He is the author of commentaries on James and 1 Peter. He is the New Testament editor of the Word Biblical Commentary series, the translator (from German) of Reinhard Feldmeier, 1 Peter (Baylor, 2008), and has also been part of several Bible translation projects (including The New Living Translation, The Voice, and The Common English Bible). Davids’ passion for the church has been expressed in his deep church involvement. He served as a Plymouth Brethren US Army Chaplain for 5 years, then an Episcopal priest for 34 years. He is presently a Catholic priest in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Faculty page Ministry page

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