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:

Divorced ministers
Being perfect
The Book of Life
Satan as musician
Jesus calling his mother "woman"
God "Lying" to Eve
Pets Going to Heaven

What is the biblical standpoint on divorced church leaders, like pastors, youth pastors, etc.?

Some scholars would interpret 1 Timothy 3:1-12 to rule out the possibility of divorced clergy. However, the key phrase here--"the husband of one wife"--could refer to a prohibition of polygamy, or it could refer to an endorsement of only serial monogamy (that is, one wife at a time). Certainly it is true that religiously mixed marriages were viewed differently than Christian marriages (see, for example, what Paul says about a mixed marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16). Nowhere in the New Testament is divorce called the unforgivable sin. So it would be difficult to talk about the "biblical" view on divorced clergy when the key texts are interpreted differently by equally devout and careful scholars.

There is a scripture that says "be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect." I know I am not perfect, and I don't know anyone who is perfect. Please explain this. I do try to do right, but I cannot attain to what I want to be. --rainbowpak

You are referring to the verse in Matthew 5:48, which needs to be read in light of Matthew 5:43-47. Jesus is referring to loving others as God the Father loves us--in other words, following God's example and behavior, rather than that of others.

Jesus is probably not referring here to inward moral perfection, or even perfect execution of all the good things we intend to do. He seems to be referring to our intent and attempt to emulate God's love. Those things are attainable goals if we rely on God's grace to help us.

St. Augustine once said "give what you command, Lord, and then command whatever you will." In this case, we should pray for God to fill us with his love, and then share it with others. This is the perfection Jesus had in mind.

I have heard that your name can be blotted out of the Book of Life. Is this true? I have found several verses that say our name can never be erased but am still searching for the verse that proves otherwise (if there is one). --Jenny

You are thinking of Revelation 3:5 (see Rev. 17:8; 20:12; and 21:27). This passage involves a stern warning to Christians in Sardis that they must be faithful to Christ until the end of their life, even if that means martyrdom. The warning reminds us that we are not eternally secure until we are securely in eternity. We must rely on God's grace every day to remain faithful until the end. Apostasy is a possibility for Christians, and so this passage warns against it.

During a recent Bible study, the leader told the group that before Satan was thrown out of heaven, he was the chief musician in heaven. We have searched and searched and cannot find any reference to this. Can you help us?

You are quite right. There is no reference in the Bible to Satan being the chief musician in heaven. The only real passage that discusses Satan's role in heaven is Job 1-2, where Satan is presented as the accuser of believers in the heavenly court.

Why did Jesus always call the Blessed Virgin Mary "lady" and not "mother"?

This is an excellent question (see John 2-19). It is my view that Jesus calls his mother "woman" (not lady) rather than "mother" because he is disengaging from her parental authority. As a text like Luke 2:41-52 shows, Jesus had to follow the dictates of his heavenly father rather than his earthly mother if they did not correspond.

I have been considering getting a tattoo. Is there anything in the Bible that I should consider before taking this step?

You are thinking of Leviticus 19:28. Notice that this text first says that it is wrong to make gashes in one's flesh for the dead. We are talking about cutting or marking the flesh as part of some religious ritual (see for example the gashing of the wrists in 1 Kings 18:28). This text is probably not a general prohibition against tattooing, since that act in antiquity always had specific religious associations.

Still, it is fair to say that if you choose to get a tattoo, it should not involve an inscription that is inappropriate for a believer to display.

In the Bible, God told Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate from the tree. The snake told Eve that she would gain knowledge between right and wrong. Isn't that what did happen? I mean, they didn't die, so does that mean that the snake was telling the truth and God lied?

Actually, your interpretation is incorrect. Adam and Eve did go on to die, as God said they would. God did not say they would die instantly. The awareness that Adam and Eve gained from eating the apple was not proper moral knowledge of good and evil but rather an awareness that they had sinned. Also, an extreme form of self-consciousness and self-centeredness resulted from this sinful act.

My friend and I were talking about whether or not animals go to heaven. He heard someone speak about the animals in heaven, as stated in the Bible; did that mean all our animals or a selected few? It is my belief that animals have a soul/spirit too. But he won't believe me until I have proof from the Bible that states this. --Denise

The Bible is quite clear that only human beings are created in the image of God. Nothing in the Bible suggests that other parts of the creation have eternal spirits. Nor are there any texts about animals dwelling in heaven. What we do find is a promise that in the new creation at the end of human history there will be animals present, with even the wolf lying down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6-7). Since Revelation 21-22 speaks of a new earth as well as a new heaven, there is no reason why God might not renew the animal kingdom as well as the human one when the final kingdom of God comes here on earth.

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