Friday, February 24, 2017

Why was the blind man born blind?

Many people argue that the man born blind, as described in John 9, was born blind in order to eventually be healed by Jesus. Refuting this view is really pretty straightforward; but it is equally understandable that Bible readers would draw such an incorrect view. The solution to the question is suggested by observing a little bit about what goes into translating Greek to English. But first, let us look at the particularly horrendous reaading from my otherwise favorite translation, the New Revised Standard Version:
John 9:1-4 (NRSV)
1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.
2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.
4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work."
What is a Bible student supposed to think? Verse 3 clearly says, "He was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him!" Presumably, he lived with his blindness for at least 30 years predestined for this moment when Jesus would come along and heal him. The hidden problem here is that the words "he was born blind" was totally supplied by helpful translators. Sometimes, when the translators are trying to help, they do not help. They are only trying to make a word-for-word translation make better sense in English. The New American Standard Bible at least uses italics to show the reader what words were supplied.
John 9:3-4 (NASB)
3 Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
4 "We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work."
Another thing all translators must do for English readers is supply punctuation. The ancient Greek did not have punctuation. When the text was read out loud, as it was intended, the punctuation was supposed to be obvious to the listener.

Observe how NASB reads in English without the added words and with no punctuation:
Jesus answered neither this man sinned nor his parents but so that the works of God might be displayed in him we must work the works of him who sent me as long as it is day night is coming when no one can work
Read it out loud. Different punctuation is suggested. I suggest the following.
Jesus answered, "Neither this man sinned nor his parents; but so that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work the works of him who sent meas long as it is day. Night is coming when no one can work."
Jesus did not say that God determined this man to be blind so that Jesus could eventually cross his path and heal him. He said that the disciples should not look at this man as an opportunity to debate Original Sin. The man is an opportunity, rather, to work the works of God.

The meaning is similar to the Lord's point given in Mark 2:10-11 (∥ Matthew 9:6 ∥ Luke 5:24).
10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the paralytic—
11 "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home."
Demonstrating Jesus' authority to forgive sins was not the reason for the man's paralysis; but that was the reason Jesus healed him.

Regarding John's account of the man born blind, several translations are acceptable with adjusted punctuation (KJV, RSV, NKJV, etc.). Most translations are somewhat misleading in that passage; but not all of them are so misleading. Here is one example of a good and clear translation:
John 9:1-4 (Contemporary English Version)
1 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who had been blind since birth. 2 Jesus' disciples asked, “Teacher, why was this man born blind? Was it because he or his parents sinned?”

3 “No, it wasn’t!” Jesus answered. “But because of his blindness, you will see God work a miracle for him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do what the one who sent me wants me to do. When night comes, no one can work.

Why did Joseph's brothers sell Joseph into slavery?

In Genesis 37 Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, was sold by his brothers to some traveling merchants. He eventually ended up in Egypt. After having some really hard times, he became a high official in Egypt. Through his administration, he was able to impose a tax on the Egyptians that eventually saved a lot of lives when a seven-year famine later struck the land. Joseph's brothers went to Egypt to buy food and they discovered that their brother Joseph was now chief of staff to the Pharaoh. They were seized with fear.
Genesis 45:4-5 (NRSV)
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 
Genesis 50:18-20
18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.
These passages seem to clearly teach that God orchestrated the sin of Joseph's brothers in order to bring about a greater good. The plain sense of a passage is not always the correct sense. Consider evangelist Stephen's explanation in his swan-song sermon in Acts.
Acts 7:9-10
9 “The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, 10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.
According to Stephen, God's action began after the sin of Joseph's brothers. God worked through various people to bring Joseph into a better situation in which the work of God would be evident. He granted that Joseph would have favor in the eyes of his master Potiphar (Genesis 39:4, which did not work out all that well), his jailer (Genesis 39:21) and Pharaoh (Genesis 41:44, Acts 7:10).

Thus, God did indeed mean it for good but only after the fact of the brothers' sin. God did not need the sin of these brothers to accomplish his plan. God took a negative intention and worked out a positive result.

This interpretation was understood by Stephen in Acts. It is also the usual understanding given by scholarly Bible interpreters.

New Interpreter's One Volume Commentary (Abingdon Press):
Joseph has the benefit of hindsight. He sees that God has made good come out of his suffering, preserving the life of his family and many other "families of the earth."

New King James Version Study Bible, 2nd Edition (Thomas Nelson):
God transformed the evil of a group of men into an exceedingly great work. Joseph not only saved the lives of numerous people in the ancient world, he also testified to the power of goodness of the living God. God works His plan even through the evil plans of evil people.
New International Version Study Bible (Zondervan):
Their act, out of personal animosity toward a brother, had been used by God to save life―the life of the Israelites, the Egyptians and all the nations that came to Egypt to buy food in the face of a famine that threatened the known world. At the same time, God showed by these events that his purpose for the nations is life and that this purpose would be effected through the descendants of Abraham.

The following astute observation comes from a Facebook thread. The writer is Rohan Holt. He noticed that the action of the brothers may have actually delayed God's work and did not help it along.
In one of Joseph's dreams he saw the sun, moon, and the stars bow down before him. This was interpreted as his father (the sun), his mother (the moon), and his brothers (the stars). However, because of his brother's evil the fulfillment of the prophecy was so delayed that Joseph's mother had died, so the "moon" never did actually bow down before Joseph when the rest did.
The above understanding requires that Genesis 35:19 (by the Elohist) predates Genesis 37:10 (by the Yahwist). Or, more likely, in order for there to be eleven brothers, symbolized by eleven stars (Genesis 37:9), the Yahwist did not incorporate or know about a tradition of Rachel's death at the occasion of Benjamin's birth. Long-story-short, Rohan Holt's analysis takes a little bit of textual criticism to demonstrate its validity.

We should feel comfortable to conclude that God did not determine for Joseph's brothers to sell Joseph to traveling merchants. God meant it for good only after the brothers committed the dastardly deed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reading the Gospels as preaching rather than technical history

A careful study of the Gospels exposes some surprising features about them that may throw us temporarily off balance. That is, they shaped their sources (written, eyewitness and traditional) into a kind of Gospel sermon. Each writer had a different agenda and that agenda affected the way he reported events in his Gospel account. The end result is that there are events in the four Gospels that do not harmonize. As long as we realize that the writers are not trying to report technical history, we can appreciate the lessons behind the Gospel accounts. It is our task, as Bible readers, to try to appreciate the message behind each Gospel individually.

As for being thrown off balance, we are comfortable assuming what the four Gospels harmonize in their reported events. In many cases, they do not. What are we, the readers, supposed to do with these inconsistencies? I offer only a couple examples, although a list of examples could easily get quite large. A small sampling should be sufficient to make the point.

Calling the first apostles:
Mark 1:16-20 || Matthew 4:18-22 Jesus called Simon and Andrew while they were fishing. Then, he called James and John from mending their nets.

Luke 5:1-11 Jesus preaches to the crowd from Simon's boat. After his preaching, he has Simon take the boat out into the deep water. Jesus has Simon lower his nets and he catches a large amount of fish. James and John join Simon to help with the catch. Andrew is not mentioned.

In each synoptic case with the fishermen, Jesus calls them to follow him and they will catch men from now on.

In John 1:35-50 John the Baptist is teaching and Jesus walked by in visual eye-shot of John. John indicates Jesus to the two disciples who were with him and he says, "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:36). One of the disciples was Andrew who tracked down his brother Simon. He did not ask these three disciples to follow him. They just started following. The next day, Jesus found Philip and indeed called him. Philip found Nathaniel who joined up.

John's account mentioned no business about fishing or leaving nets. The scene is not even at the Sea of Galilee. It is down around the Jordan River (John 1:28, 3:22-23).

The different accounts cannot be reconciled. Matthew and Luke based their accounts on Mark and Luke integrated other traditional material. Luke's account is the most believable of the three because there was an incident that was persuasive to the disciples that Jesus was a worthy rabbi to be followed. John's information came from a different source. In John, Jesus' resumé was based upon what John the Baptist had taught about him.

All four Gospels agree that Jesus died by crucifixion, was buried in a sepulcher and was raised from the dead three days later. The accounts of what happened after the resurrection diverge.

Post-resurrection events:
Matthew, following Mark, receive orders from an angel (or "angels") to meet up with Jesus in Galilee (Mark 16:7; Matthew 28:7). Neither Mark nor Matthew mention an ascension. They just kind of end abruptly, leaving the reader to wonder what Jesus did after the last verse. The longer, textually dubious, ending of Mark briefly mentions an ascension (Mark 16:19); but in this longer ending in Mark, the ascension takes place in Jerusalem and the disciples disobeyed the order in Mark 16:7 to meet Jesus in Galilee. Really, Mark ends abruptly with Mark 16:8. Everyone is terrified about the angel's report and the empty tomb. The End. No after-resurrection appearance. No Great Commission.

Luke goes his own way after the resurrection. The angel at the tomb does not mention a trip to Galilee but only announces that Jesus has risen. Nobody goes to Galilee. Jesus makes a few appearances in and around Jerusalem. Luke gives a detailed account of the Lord's ascension from Jerusalem, not Galilee. The ascension seems to take place about 24 hours after the resurrection; but according to Luke's own account in Acts, the ascension happened around 40 days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3); so the details in Luke 24 are compressed in their details.

In John, Jesus has a few post-resurrection appearances and then the Gospel ends. It is like Jesus just fades away.

The point here is that the Gospel writers were evangelists. They were preaching. They were making Christological points. That was their primary goal. They wanted to teach something that affected people's Christian lives and their relationships with Jesus. Presenting a technically accurate account of the events described was not a major goal.

One important lesson for the Bible reader is that each Gospel account should be read and analyzed in its own context. Attempts to harmonize one Gospel to another only distracts the reader from the point of each Gospel writer. In order to appreciate Luke's doctrinal teaching, read Luke as a unit. Instead of trying to find harmonies, more can be learned by noting how the various accounts differ. Why did Luke leave out this detail? Why did Matthew add this detail. Why did Matthew change the order of these stories? That kind of analysis helps us to see Christ through the eyes of the writer. The Bible has four Gospels, not one.

The writers were not being dishonest. Each writer shaped the material he had into a sermon. The reader should be interested in each Gospel's meaning behind the stories as the writer brought them together into a coherent message.

A case example:
Matthew and Luke drew from Mark in their account of Jesus' rejection in his hometown.

Mark 6:1-6 (NRSV)
6 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching.

Matthew locates this account much later in his Gospel. He tightenned up the Greek (evident even in translation) and omitted some details that would have been obvious to a Jewish reader without explanation.

Matthew 13:54-58 (NRSV)
54 He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” 58 And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

Luke specifies that the place where the Marcan event took place was in Nazareth. As Mark reads, the synagogue sermon was in Jesus' hometown of Capernaum, not Nazareth; but Mark is not specific in what he means by "hometown," so we can talk about it on some another day.

Luke adds a lot of information of his own or from other traditional sources. He gives some of the content of Jesus' sermon.

Luke 4:14-30 (NRSV)
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

This passage in Luke shows how Luke shaped his own account from traditional material. The quote from Isaiah is not exact. It is cobbled (artistically) together from several places (Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6). It is also a blend of the Hebrew and Septuagint. Luke omitted the part of Isaiah 61:2 about "the day of vengeance of our God." As we read Luke, it is clear that Luke's Jesus was tender, forgiving and compassionate to people. He was not going to fulfil the harsh Messianic expectations of some people―either of the Roman-hating Jews or of the Jerusalem-judging John (Luke 3:16-17).

The passage read by Jesus agrees with Jesus' message to John in Luke 7:18-23.
18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples 19 and sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 20 When the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?' " 21 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22 And he answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
In Jesus' response to John's messengers he quotes Isaiah 35:5; 61:1. Jesus' point is that he is fulfilling Messianic expectations but not necessarily the ones John expects.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review of the Christian Standard Bible

Since the new Christian Standard Bible is available for reading online and in electronic media, I thought I would give a little personal review of it.

The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) is an update of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Allegedly, the update is significant enough to give the version a new name by dropping the "Holman."

I have for a long time appreciated the HCSB. I believe it is the best, or one of the best contemporary translations available for the New Testament. On the other hand, I never thought the HCSB Old Testament was useful for Bible study. I think it is too interpretive and textually uncritical in the Old Testament. Below, I will compare the two in light of my impressions of the HCSB.

One of the features I have appreciated about the HCSB is that it translates the word "Yahweh" in the Old Testament. It does not translate it everywhere the name appears; but it does translate it as "Yahweh" in places where the name has special significance. So, in Genesis 2:4 we have "... at the time that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens" (HCSB). However, in Isaiah 42:8, where the name has special significance, HCSB reads
I am Yahweh, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another
or My praise to idols.
I like that HCSB translates "Yahweh" in some places. I wish it translated it everywhere. Apparently, translating "Yahweh" in the Old Testament bothers a significant segment of the Bible buying market; so the CSB translates the divine name as "the LORD," following the tradition of most English translations. Thus, in Isaiah 42:8, CSB reads
I am the LORD. That is my name,
and I will not give my glory to another
or praise to idols.
I can handle "LORD." I supposed I have conditioned myself to it. Sometimes, the reading of a version that uses "LORD" can be a little misleading. Take, for instance, Isaiah 7:14.
Therefore, the Lord [not "LORD"] himself will give you a sign....
In an out-loud reading of that passage, it is unclear of what is read is "Lord" or "LORD." It may not matter in the above example; but "Lord" (adonay) could refer to the king in other contexts. Readers can tell the difference; but listeners cannot tell the difference between "LORD God," "Lord GOD" and "LORD GOD" (Isaiah 12:2). Currently, there is not a comfortable solution to that minor problem.

I am not a big fan of Bible translations that capitalize pronouns that refer to God or Jesus. The main reason for my disdain is that too often the translators have to guess whether a pronoun refers to God or Jesus or someone else. (For the same reason, I am not a big fan of red-letter Bibles―too much guessing). You may have noticed in the example of Isaiah 42:8 that CSB has dropped the use of the capital pronouns. Zechariah 12:10 is a good case-example where the capitalized pronouns amount to guesswork.
“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at Me whom they pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for Him as one weeps for a firstborn. ..."
You may agree that the emphasized (in bold text) pronouns in that verse apply to Jesus; but you should be honest and admit that it is your own interpretation of that verse that applies it to Jesus. When the HCSB (and other translations that capitalize divine pronouns) supply the capital letters, they are forcing an interpretation that means Jesus is the one pierced. Such an interpretation should be the task of the Bible student and not the translator. To CSB's credit, there are no more capitalized divine pronouns. CSB otherwise reads identically to its predecessor in Zechariah 12:10.
“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at me whom they pierced. They will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for him as one weeps for a firstborn. ..."
CSB made another change in the Old Testament that I find interesting. CSB changed "the LORD of Hosts" (HCSB) to "the LORD of Armies." For example, Isaiah 1:9 says
If the LORD of Hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we would be like Sodom,
we would resemble Gomorrah.

If the LORD of Armies
had not left us a few survivors,
we would be like Sodom,
we would resemble Gomorrah.
I am not sure what I think about that; but it is interesting. Some translators prefer to not translate the Hebrew tsbadah ("hosts" or "armies), preferring a transliteration "Yahweh Sabaoth." P. Kyle McCarter argues that not translating tsbadah is more meaningful as a longer form of the divine name than as a description of creator of armies (McCarter, 59).

I mentioned above that I thought the HCSB was insufficiently critical, textually, in the Old Testament. There are numerous ancient copyist mistakes that have been identified by scholars and restored to the text of English translations. In most of the cases, the HCSB relegated the restored text to footnotes. The CSB restored a significant number of them into the text proper. Consider 1 Samuel 14:41.
So Saul said to the Lord, “God of Israel, give us the right decision.”[footnote] Jonathan and Saul were selected, and the troops were cleared of the charge.

So Saul said to the LORD, “God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant today? If the unrighteousness is in me or in my son Jonathan, LORD God of Israel, give Urim; but if the fault is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were selected, and the troops were cleared of the charge.
The CSB is a BIG improvement over HCSB in that text. First Samuel 14:41 is a good litmus-test verse when evaluating a new translation. Another sample text is 1 Samuel 10:27-11:1. There is a huge copyist error there that NRSV restored to the text proper. In the case of CSB, the restored text is still relegated to a footnote.

Addendum: Another good litmus-test verse for new translations is Jude 1:5. If the name "Jesus" appears in the verse as the one who saved Israel from Egypt, the translation is taking the textually critical way rather than the textually safe route. Here is the CSB:
Now I want to remind you, although you came to know all these things once and for all, that Jesus saved a people out of Egypt and later destroyed those who did not believe;...

One of the strongest features of the HCSB New Testament is its treatment of perfect tensed verbs. The closest approximation in English for perfect tense is English present tense... not English past tense. Ephesians 2:5, 8 are shining star examples (emphasis mine).

Ephesians 2:5, HCSB:
... made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!

Note the present tense "are" over the usual "have been" of most English translations. Throwing the perfect verb into English past-tense makes the verse suggest that salvation was a one-time event in the past rather than a life-long process. Currently, the only other major translation that properly translates the verb in Ephesians 2:5, 8 is the King James Version; but KJV fumbles on the perfect tense in Matthew 16:19 while HCSB and CSB do not. There, HCSB and CSB read slightly differently from each other, but not significantly.

Also, in the example of Ephesians 2:5, CSB changes HCSB's Messiah to Christ. That works better in my mind too.

HCSB and CSB (also NKJV) have a weakness at Matthew 10:29. HCSB and CSB read the same:
Aren't two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father's consent.
The verse suggests that God ordains the deaths of sparrows; but that is not the meaning. The meaning is that even sparrows do not die alone. God is with them. This meaning is clear in many translations including NABRE, MEV, CEB, NRSV and KJV.

I am personally bothered when a translation bends an Old Testament text to help it to conform to a New Testament text. A really good litmus-test verse to check for New Testament bias in translating an Old Testament text is Psalm 89:4. HCSB and CSB read alike in that verse.
I will establish your offspring forever
and build up your throne for all generations.
Instead of "offspring" the text should read "descendants," "children," or even "seed." HCSB and CSB betray an interest in conforming this verse's translation to New Testament passages such as John 12:34 and Galatians 3:16. Again, interpretation is the job of the Bible student, not the translator.

No translation is perfect and I am very pleased with the upcoming CSB. I am especially pleased with the Old Testament improvements in this update. I like it a lot.

McCarter, P. Kyle. Commentary on 1 Samuel. Anchor Bible. Doubleday: 1980.

More useful articles on the CSB:
Matthew William Bassford

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why Sin Is A Problem? (and the heresy of meriting salvation)

The usual answer to the question of why sin is a problem is to turn to Isaiah 59:1-2 and read:
See, the Lord's hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear (NRSV).
The context of the above passage is rampant social injustice and economic hardship. The people were praying for better times but God was not listening because they were unrepentant of their sins. The prophet even lists the real problem sins: violence, lying, unjust courtroom activity and civil laws that are impossible for regular people to follow (Isaiah 59:3-8).

The passage still applies generally to the problem of sin in the Christian age; but the connection may not be so obvious if we are aware of the context. I am thus motivated to examine the problem of sin in a New Testament context.

Spiritual death is the dreadful consequence of sin. Romans 6:23 says
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The death spoken of by Paul is not physical death but spiritual death. Common sense makes that point because some very righteous people die at very young ages while some vile sinners live to ripe old ages. Paul is talking about a kind of death that is the opposite of resurrection (that follows physical death, Romans 6:5).

James says the result of sin is death:
… when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:15)
And Revelation 21:8 makes a clear connection that the death we most want to avoid is the one that results from sin:
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
Sin will keep us out of heaven. The reason to obey the gospel is because we practice sin. We need to deal with sin! Obedience, while not meritorious of forgiveness of sin, is a condition
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22)
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:8-9, emphasis mine)
Subtopic: Does the requirement of obedience mean salvation is earned?

The first act of obedience is belief. That is, to have faith. Faith is more than verbalizing the words, “I believe in Jesus.” It is belief that results in action. I give you The Blind Beggar in Luke 18:35-43. He heard that Jesus was passing by and he called to Jesus for mercy. He called so vigorously that the people who were with Jesus became annoyed. Jesus healed the man, saying, “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 18:42). How did the blind man’s faith save him? Did he do a great and difficult task? No. Did he do anything? Yes. He called, vigorously, to Jesus.

Did his calling to Jesus merit his salvation? No. However, it was a condition for his salvation. If the man had believed in Jesus’ ability to save him and yet he never called out, he would have remained blind. See? Faith that saves is faith that acts.

The Roman jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:28-31). John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.”

If you believe Jesus can save you from the Second Death (Revelation 21:8) and you turn to him for that salvation and you are willing to obey in whatever way necessary to obtain that salvation, that’s saving faith.

Reprinted in part from the Safford church of Christ bulletin, January 5, 2014