The Bible on Hell, Satan,
...and other cheery topics.
Have a scriptural question? Write to Ben Witherington III at columnists@staff.Beliefnet.com.
In this column, Ben Witherington answers questions about the Bible and:
The soul immediately after death
John 5:16's "sin unto death"
The virginity of Mary
Q: Where in the Bible does it support the belief in predestination?
There are several texts usually thought to support the notion of predestination, mostly in the Pauline epistles. For example, Ephesians 1:3-14 is thought to suggest this idea, as does Romans 8:29-30. On closer inspection, the former text is speaking about Christ being the one destined by God for various things, and those who are 'in Christ' (Christians) receiving benefits. One is said to enter the body of Christ by grace through faith, according to the same text. Romans 8:29-30 stresses that God has destined those who are in Christ to be conformed to his image. That is the believers' destination. This, however, does not mean that a person can't derail this process. Apostasy is a real possibility referred to in a host of texts (see, for example, 1 John 5:16-17; Hebrews 6:4-5). What the predestination texts suggest is that God has a plan and is executing it, and unless the believer opts out, this plan will come to fruition.
Q: The Christian Bible teaches that reincarnation does exist. God himself preexisted and entered into the body of Jesus. The Christian Bible teaches that God's son appears on the earth three times, twice as the son of man. Is that not talking about reincarnation?
You may be confused. There are no New Testament texts that speak of God entering into the body of Jesus. Rather, we are told in texts like Philippians 2:6-11 that the pre-existent Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, took on flesh--flesh which was created in Mary's womb by means of the miracle of the virginal conception (see Luke 2). Neither does the Old Testament or the New Testament teach that God's Son appears on earth three times. Rather, we are told that Jesus appeared for the one and only time during the reign of Herod the Great--though, to be sure, texts like Mark 14:62 indicate that he will return at the time of the final resurrection and last judgment.
Q. What does the Bible say about death? Do we immediately go to heaven, or is our soul in an interim existence?