In this column, Ben Witherington III answers questions about:
- Physical healing in Psalms
- Apocrypha and Non-Canonical Books
- Praying for the dead
- Celebrating birthdays
- If Satan hears our prayers
- Marriage--for everyone?
- Pentecostal prayers
- "Mixed" race relationships
- Colleen B.
The best thing you can do is read through the four Gospels slowly, especially the passage about Jesus' miraculous healings. God does not promise us physical healing, but he does provide it to those who approach him in faith and trust. In many cases, there is some kind of positive correlation between having faith in Christ as the healer and the physical act of healing itself. You might also want to read through the Book of Psalms, especially Psalm 23. Reading psalms will help you prepare emotionally for what is to come.
Why is it that most Bibles only have the old and new testaments? My son came across a Bible with the old and new testaments along with the Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical books. Why were these books taken out of the Bible?
Actually, it is not true that most Bibles don’t have any Intertestamental books. Catholic and Orthodox Bibles have them, but some Protestant Bibles include them while others do not. In fact, the first editions of the first real Protestant Bible with wide distribution in English—namely, the King James Version of 1611--included such books. However, you need to distinguish between Jewish Deuterocanonical books, like Sirach for example, that are included in some Bibles and the Christian apocryphal books that were never part of anyone’s scriptural canon.
Could you please elaborate on the practice of praying for the dead? Did Jesus preach to the dead (1 Peter) when he descended? I have been learning about a certain prominent religion that believes we are obligated to pray for the deceased and even to baptize them by proxy. I want to know what the Bible says about this.
- Diane C.
I imagine you have been talking to Mormons who have a very different theology than orthodox Christians about praying and baptizing the dead. The Bible does not encourage us to pray for the dead. Parables like Luke 16:19-31 suggest that once a person dies there can be no change in one’s eternal status. The practice of baptizing for the dead is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15, but it is not endorsed or encouraged. The Corinthians did all sorts of things that Paul did not encourage them to do, and this is one of them.
Where does it say in the Bible that we shouldn't celebrate birthdays or holidays?
There isn't a place. There is no such killjoy passage in the Bible.
I know that when we pray, God hears us. Does Satan hear our prayers too? I know he is not omnipresent and I also believe that when we talk to God the spiritual connection is private. I've heard the expression, "the devil might be listening," so when does he do that?
- Cheryl S.
I think your doubts about Satan are probably correct. Satan is simply a fallen angel, and there is much fallen angels do not know. In fact, Mark 13:32 says that even fallen angels do not even know the timing of Jesus' second coming. Also, in Revelation 22 the angel rebukes John of Patmos and tells him not to revere him as he is just another servant of God.
Are some people born or destined not to marry? In other words, is marriage a commandment if you are a Christian?
- Fernando G.
Marriage is a blessed option for Christians but not a requirement or obligation. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, one needs to have the same gift of grace to be married and to remain celibate. In Matthew 19, Jesus makes it clear that his followers have two options—fidelity in heterosexual marriage or celibacy in singleness.
Is it biblical for an entire congregation to pray different prayers at the same time as seen in many Pentecostal circles?
- Sammy N.
In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul suggests that there should not be a a cacophony of speech during a worship service. He instructs a prophet to wait until another finishes before speaking. The same applies to speaking in tongues. Paul says that if no one is present to interpret tongues, one should not speak tongues out loud in the context of praying. Paul’s principle is that God is a God of order, not chaos, and worship is meant to be intelligible to all present, not just to the speaker. Order is especially important because visitors might stumble if the speech in the service is not intelligible.
Does the Bible say that it's wrong to have a "mixed" race relationship?
- Patricia M.
There is nothing in particular about "mixing" races in the Bible. There are Old Testament rules for Jews to not "mix" with non-Jews, but there are specific reasons for that, and these rules do not apply to Christians today.