In this column, Ben Witherington answers questions about the Bible and:
God providing for us
Giving to panhandlers
Financial support for your parents
Christians celebrating Passover
"Replenishing" the earth
The "image and likeness of God"
Q: The Bible tells me not to worry about money. I don't work and I live on a fixed income. Does that mean I can spend money as long as I spend wisely, give generously to those that are in need, and give to my church? My income is $1056 per month but I spend about $1700 each month. Am I foolish? I believe God will always meet all of my wants and needs. Have I misunderstood what the Bible is trying to tell me? --Jwwalby
You have certainly misunderstood some of what the Bible says about money. God does not promise to meet all our wants, especially in our consumer culture. And it is equally true that God does not promise you will always have a steady flow of money just because you give generously. When Jesus sets up the example of the widow who gave "her whole living," he was not exalting tithing. Rather, he was lauding sacrificial giving even by the poor, and he did not suggest that there was some sort of reciprocity agreement she had with God that guaranteed she'd get more back.
Some of the great saints of the church have been both generous and poor. Beware the American gospel of health and wealth, which does not comport with what Jesus says--for example, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16).
In fact, Jesus warns about the danger of wealth keeping us out of the kingdom. John Wesley once said, "If you make a great deal of money and keep much of it to yourself, you may be a living person, but you will be a dead Christian."
Q: Am I being unchristian if I don't give money to people who are in front of stores asking for it? Not people asking for a charity; people who say they are homeless or need food for their children. I most often say no because I don't believe them. But Jesus told us that what we do to the least of our brethren, we do to Him. I am turning down God when I say no? --Mflynn
This is an excellent question and requires a careful answer. Certainly Jesus was all for helping the poor, and there is a sense in which we have an obligation to give, whether or not the person receiving the funds does the right thing with them or not. If I see a hungry homeless person, then I will try to take them to place where I can pay for them to eat. If this is not possible, then I will give them some money. The essential issue however is my living up to my responsibility to give. The Bible says, "To whom more is given, more is required."
Q: What is meant by "Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother"? One religious leader says that we are to care for them as they get older, while another says that we just have to "honor" them by avoiding being judgmental and deferring to them. --Fred C.
Jesus teaches that "honor thy father and mother" does entail financial responsibility to them when there is such a need. This is very clear from the Korban passage found in Mark 7:9-13.
Christians are not under the Old Covenant, but rather under the new one. In the New Testament, there is no prohibition against mixed marriages of the sort you have in mind. The prohibitions in the Old Testament were meant to try and protect a tiny minority religion from the polytheism and immorality that existed all around Israel.
Q: Do Christians still have to keep the 7th-day Sabbath?
Christians are not obligated to keep any day as the Sabbath because we are not under the Mosaic Law. Rather, we are to celebrate the Lord's day, and we can do so on whichever day we choose (see Romans 14:5-6). However, for theological reasons, the church has always celebrated on the first day of the week--the day Jesus rose from the dead (see 1 Cor. 16.2; Rev. 1:10). This day (Sunday) came to be called the Lord's day.
Q: In the Old Testament, God says we must celebrate Passover. So why is it that Christians do not celebrate it? --Jessica M.
Christians do not celebrate Passover because we are not under the Mosaic Covenant. See Galatians 3-4 on the issue of our being under the new covenant.
The Hebrew text in question can mean fill, but it is the context which determines the sense of the word, not the dictionary. In the case of the Noah story, it means re-fill, simply because it had already happened before. There is no implication in Genesis 1:28 that people were on the earth before Adam and Eve.
Q: Why are there several places in the Bible where Aramaic is used? Is there a special significance as to why these phrases are singled out and not literally translated with the rest of the text? --Jim B.
The Aramaic phrases that we find in Mark, and in some of Paul's letters, are there to remind us that Jesus and the earliest Christians primarily spoke this language, not Greek. Therefore we are dealing with translation phenomena. Usually such phrases are indeed translated on the spot (Mark 5:41).
Q: It was written that we were made in God's image. What did God mean by "his image"? --Dixie
In my view, the image of God is something which distinguishes us from all the other creatures on the earth. It has to do with the fact that we have a capacity for a personal relationship with God, a loving relationship that other creatures cannot have. We are the religious creatures on the earth, created "to love God and enjoy his presence forever," as Calvin once said.