Have a scriptural question? Write to our columnist at witheringtonb@staff.beliefnet.com.

In this column, Ben Witherington answers Beliefnet members' questions about:

  • Peter and the high priest
  • Jesus' age
  • Jesus committing his mother to John's care
  • Angels and the Greek word "angellos"
  • Different devils
  • Reincarnation
  • The age of accountability
  • Melchizedek

    Why did Peter go into the courtyard of the high priest after Jesus was arrested?

    According to John 18.15-18, Peter did not go alone to the high priest's house. He went with the beloved disciple, who was known to the high priest. Perhaps the hope was that they could be witnesses on behalf of Jesus if there was to be a hearing in the high priest's house.

    How old was Jesus when he began to preach the Gospel and when he was crucified? Also, what time period was it--A.D. 30 or 33?

    According to Luke 3.23, Jesus was about 30 when he began his work. We know he did so probably somewhere between 27-29 A.D., because he died at Passover in April of A.D. 30. See the chronological discussions in my book "New Testament History" (Baker 2001).

    I have read that in Jesus' time it was tradition that the oldest son took financial responsibility of his widowed mother. If this is true, why did Jesus appoint John the beloved to care for Mary while on the cross? I know Jesus had other brothers, James in particular, who could have accommodated this tradition.

    The evidence suggests that prior to the resurrection, Jesus' family, perhaps excepting Mary, did not believe in him (see John 7.5 and also Mark 3.21-35). In any case, Jesus believed that the family of faith was the primary family (see Mark 3.31-35). He would certainly have wanted to place his mother into the care of believers once he was deceased. It was only a resurrection appearance to James (see 1 Cor. 15.7) which apparently made James believe.

    In the original Greek versions of the Book of Luke, is the annunciation to Mary brought by an "angel" or by a being described as "a holy messenger all dressed in white"? Does the Greek version of the four Gospels ever use the word "Angel"? --Ron M.

    In Greek, the word angellos can mean either a human or a supernatural messenger, but the attire mentioned in Luke and elsewhere for this messenger is stereotypically associated with angels in the Bible (cf. Matthew 28.3).

    Looking at the devil from a biblical standpoint, is there any reference from the Old Testament that says he has the power to tempt people into sinning and he is the "king" of hell? Also, are the devil, Satan, Lucifer, the Beast, the False Prophet, and the Dragon all the same?

    The term Satan probably first appears in the Bible in Job 1-2. It is not a proper name; the word means the accuser, sort of like a prosecuting attorney. In Job 1-2, this is the role Satan plays, bewitching, bothering and bewildering Job. In the book of Revelation, the beast and the false prophet are not the same as Satan. The beast represents the ungodly empire, which is influenced by Satan (in this case John had in mind the Roman Empire), and the false prophet represents to oracles or priests who spread the false propaganda of the Roman Empire, in particular the message that the emperor was a God.

    What does the Bible say about reincarnation?

    The Bible has nothing directly to say about the matter of reincarnation. However, it indirectly denies such a concept altogether by affirming that each person is uniquely created in the image of God, and has his own destiny-a destiny not linked with any other beings in the created order, whether higher or lower beings. In the Bible, every person has one shot--in one lifetime--to sort out their relationship with God. After they die, it is too late (see Luke 16.19-31).

    Is there anywhere in the Bible that tells of the age of accountability for your sins? Some people say age 12 and some say age twenty. The only thing that I have found was in Numbers 14 about the children that were allowed to go into the land that were under the age of 20.

    The New Testament is quite clear that all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory, regardless of age, and that salvation is by grace and through faith for all. The age of accountability has nothing to do with determining whether one is a sinner or not.

    Is Melchizedek Jesus Christ or Christ like? I have read that he is of the Most High God and that he is without predecessor or successor.

    Melchizedek is not Christ. What the book of Hebrews suggests is that Christ is rather like this ancient shadowy royal figure. Read the book of Hebrews and compare Psalm 110.

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