In this column, Ben Witherington III answers questions about:
- Christians losing salvation
- Why we should go to church
- When Christians are raptured
- Drinking alcohol--a sin?
- Children in heaven
- When angels began existing
- Cremation vs. burial
- Difficulty believing in Christianity
- The significance of the number 3
- Jesus descending into hell
- George B.
No, Christians can’t lose their salvation the same way they lose their glasses. But, Christians can commit apostasy—a deliberate, willful rejection of the work God has already done in their lives. For more information, read Hebrews 6.
Why should we go to church?
- Naimah R.
As the book of Hebrews points out, we should not neglect having fellowship with one another because Jesus is always present wherever two or more are gathered together. More importantly, church is where we worship God, and the most important act for any human being is to worship God in the company of other believers.
After the rapture will there still be some Christians left behind to save souls? Will there be another chance for people to accept Christ?
- Carol S.
The rapture is not a doctrine which can be found in the New Testament. No one ever thought of this idea until the 19th century. Christians will not be escaping the final tribulation. The Book of Revelation is clear that they will go through it. What is promised, however, is that God will spiritually protect them through the suffering, even if it ends in martyrdom. For more information, read Revelation 12 and my book, "The Problem with Evangelical Theology."
Is there any Bible passage that clearly defines the use of alcohol as being a sin?
- Alfredo C.
No, but Christian leaders are warned about having too much to drink in the Pastoral Epistles. Ephesians 5:18 also says Christians should never get drunk on wine.
Some friends of mine have been reading various Christian authors who have had out-of-body experiences where they visited heaven. These people have stated that the children in heaven were learning and will continue to grow. I have searched the Bible for scriptures about children in heaven but haven't found any. Please help!
There aren’t any particular scripture passages about children in heaven. Jesus does say, however, that unless we all become like children, we will not enter the Dominion of God when he returns. He also says that the Dominion belongs to children who have been brought to Jesus as well as those who are like them (Mark 10:14-16).
Did angels exist before the creation of the universe? When did Satan get kicked out of heaven? What are the scripture references to these answers? - Rosemarie A.
No created beings existed before the creation of the universe and there are no texts about them because of this fact. As for when Satan got kicked out of heaven, the Book of Revelation suggests that it happened as a result of Christ's death and resurrection (see Revelation 12). According to Job 1-2, Satan is still operating in the heavenly courts before the time of Jesus.
Immolation, where bodies are thrown on the funeral pyre, is a practice that goes back to antiquity. Romans practiced immolation before and during New Testament times. Cremation is simply a modern variant of the practice, only now the ashes are retained. The Bible says nothing about cremation. The Bible does say that the body of a believer should be treated with respect because it belongs to God. Some theologians will see cremation as an attempt to play God with one’s own body, while others think that it assumes the body will not be resurrected, which is not what the New Testament teaching says. In other words, there is no explicit statement on cremation in the Bible, so theologians have different views on the matter.
How can the theology of John Calvin and Theodore Beza, as espoused through modern theologians such as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Harold Camping et al., be interpreted as another variation of the Christian faith rather than a separate religion?
The idea that God created the human race with the intent to damn most people and save a small “in crowd” called the “elect” (whether they want to be saved or not) calls into question what the Bible actually means when it says that “God is love.” The “character” of the God the Calvinists believe is radically different from God’s “character” as portrayed in the Bible and by most Christians. Loving father to the fatherless? Good shepherd? Only to that small "in crowd" called the Calvinist elect? How can we approach God in the spirit of “Abba Father” if we are not even sure that God loves us, since we may not be a member of the “elect?”
What idiots we would be to devote our lives to a God that never intended to love or save us , but created us as "hell fodder" to be a contrast to his elected "in crowd"! This thought has been the major stumbling block preventing me from being part of the Christian life.
- Conrad M.
Conrad, I feel your pain. In fact, I agree with your complaints for the most part. However, I do not think that the Bible presents a theology of God creating an "elect"; the theology is a creation of Augustine and his successors, such as Luther and Calvin. You need to understand that this theology is a minority opinion even amongst today's theologians and Bible scholars, as well as Christians world wide today. You won’t find too many Catholics, Orthodox scholars, or lay people supporting this particular theology, and you won’t find any Methodists, Wesleyans, Assemblies of God, Nazarenes, and various Armenian denominations supporting the theology either. I suggest you read Jerry Walls book, "Why I am Not a Calvinist." Calvinist theology may be popular in certain Evangelical circles, but that does not make it the Gospel truth or the majority opinion within the church.
Can you tell me why the number 3 appears in the Bible so much and why a lot of things are related to the number, such as Jesus rising on the third day, the cock crowing three times, etc.?
There is no particular reason the number three appears so much in the Bible, but it is interesting that the phrase ‘after three days’ (which appears in the Gospels as a reference to Jesus’ resurrection) simply means ‘after a while.’ It is a general time reference but not a specific one. ‘On the third day…’ would be the way to say it specifically.
Where in the Bible does it say that Jesus went to hell after his death on the cross but before his resurrection? Does the Bible mention him going to hell at any time?
- Cynthia G.
Nowhere in the Bible are there verses that say Jesus went to hell after his death on the cross. Some Christians believe that 1 Peter 3:19 refers to Jesus' descent into hell, but this verse actually refers to Jesus proclaiming the victory over the fallen angels (referred to in Genesis 6:1-4 as the celestial sons of God who mated with human women on earth) on his way up to heaven.