Have a scriptural question? Check our columnist's Q&A archive or write to him at witheringtonb@staff.beliefnet.com.

Why do people pray to Jesus? He is not God. There is only one God. In ancient times the term "Lord" referred to a teacher or master, not God. How did this interpretation evolve? While we are on the subject, why do people pray to saints? According to many Bible stories no one is going to answer your prayers except God. --Michelle

Christians have been praying to Jesus since the very earliest days of the Christian movement. Even the Aramaic-speaking Christians in Jerusalem did so, precisely because they believed Jesus was part of who God was. For example, notice the prayer at the end of 1 Corinthians 16 where Paul says 'marana tha' which translates as 'come, Lord'. The term "Lord" here--as many times in the Old Testament--means a divine being, not merely a master teacher. Early Jews and Jewish Christians would not be praying to a departed rabbi to come. Rather they were praying to the risen Lord who they believed could hear and answer them. You are quite right that no one but God answers prayers, which means that it is probably inappropriate to pray to the saints. The book of Hebrews makes clear at length that Christ is our intercessor in heaven and that we do not need another one. According to the three synoptic Gospels, Jesus was arrested and tried by
the Sanhedrin in the night of the Passover meal, and crucified and buried on Friday, the first day of Passover.

It is well known that the Sanhedrin never convened on days of Sabbath or Holidays (the first day of Passover is almost as restrictive as Sabbath). Moreover, it never convened in the night.

It is also hard to imagine the trial of Jesus before Pilate occurring on a High Holiday. The image of members of the Sanhedrin pleading to execute a Jew on the first day of Passover, or the scene of the Jewish multitude choosing Barrabas over Jesus on such a day, are simply inconceivable.

It is also hard to believe that the Romans would crucify Jesus on a holiday. Josephus reports on incidents where Jews had preferred to die, or revolt, rather than break the Sabbath under the rule of the same Pilate. Since the execution was supposedly a common project with the Sanhedrin, it is difficult to believe that Pilate would have chosen to provoke the Jews on this specific occasion.

Jewish law doesn't allow burying the dead on Sabbath or holidays, so the burial of Jesus by a Jew (Joseph from Arimathea) on the first day of Passover is also inconceivable.

What is the Christian explanation for these contradictions? --NR You have asked a series of good questions, but they seem to be based on several false assumptions. In the first place, the only gospel that really stresses when Jesus was killed in relationship to the time of the Passover

is the gospel of John. It says Jesus was killed on the day of preparation for the feast of Passover, not on one of the days of the festival itself (see John 19). In other words, Jesus was killed on the day on which the lambs were slaughtered. In the second place, you should compare the account of Jesus' trial to that of his brother James as told by Josephus. You will see that there were various irregularities in that trial as well (see Antiquities 20.197-203). There is considerable debate among scholars as to whether the last supper was a Passover meal or not. But even if it was, it could have been celebrated following the Galilean calendar rather than the Judean one, and so could have happened in advance of the first day of the festival in Jerusalem. The reason for the special night session of trial of Jesus was of course so that it and the execution would transpire quickly, before the onset of both the Sabbath and the Passover in A.D. 30. Finally, I would just caution that the later rulings found in the Mishnah and the Talmud about Passover and such festivals were not all being followed during the lifetime of Jesus, as is clear from what we find in some of the Qumran literature. It is important to be cautious about reading those later rulings back into the pre-70 A.D. period of Judaism. Where in the Bible does it mention that its wrong to eat in the church or its kitchen?

No verses suggest such a thing. In fact, 1 Cor. 11 makes clear that Christians ate together and worshipped together in the same setting. There were no church buildings in the first century A.D., so worship, fellowship, meals, and the Lord's supper all took place in Christian homes. I am hoping you can refer me to the scripture about it being easier for a camel to go thru the eye of the needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. I have been told that the eye of the needle was an actual well-known passageway into the inner city in the time of Jesus. -- Andrea W. You are thinking of the passage in Mark 10.17-31. It is untrue that there was a needle gate in Jerusalem; we have no archeological evidence supporting such a thing. Jesus was making the point that what is impossible for humans is nonetheless possible for God. He was not referring to an actual gate in Jerusalem. At what age is one required to be "born again"?

There is no set age at which one must be born again. If you read the Book of Acts closely, you will see that conversions take place at all sorts of times of life ranging from very young to very old. Is there anything in the Bible that says you should not be cremated after death?

There is nothing specifically of this sort in the Bible. But there has been traditionally some concern by orthodox Jews and orthodox Christians who believe in the resurrection of believers that cremation may be a form of desecration, for it presumes that humans rather than God should decide the the final condition of a person's body upon death. Someone has challenged the word virgin in the New Testament used to describe Mary as meaning "young woman." What word was used for virgin, and can it be taken as anything other than referring to one who has not had sexual relations?

In the New Testament, the word you are thinking of is parthenos, which certainly does mean a virgin both in the Greek Old Testament and in the birth narratives found in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 2. However, the Hebrew text--which is the original text in question (Isaiah 7.14)--uses the term almah, which means a young woman of marriageable age. It is not a technical term for a virgin. Nevertheless, this Hebrew term in that culture would normally be understood to include the notion that the young woman was a virgin.

Is it a sin to masturbate? Please provide scriptures.

A longstanding tradition has misread the story of Onan in the Old Testament, found in Genesis 38 (see especially verse 9). A careful reading of the story will show that what we are dealing with here is coitus interruptus, not masturbation. Onan did not wish to impregnate his brother's wife, even though he had a duty according to Levirate law to do so when his brother died without an heir. So instead of impregnating her, he spilled his seed on the ground when he came to a climax. As to whether masturbation might be a sin under some circumstances and not under others, most Christian moral teaching would say that in some circumstances it is, and in other circumstances it is not. For example, it is certainly not a sin to masturbate for the purpose of providing semen for an in vitro fertilization of one's own wife. I am interested in finding historical facts regarding the reference to Quirinius in the Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 2 verse 2: "([And] this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)". I have seen a few differing opinions regarding the interpretation of this verse; one was that the verse should read "this taxing was the made before Cyrenius was first governor of Syria". I would like to know if there is indeed any physical evidence of the supposition that Quirinius did indeed hold the governorship twice, or if
the translation is incorrect. -- Major Randall S.

This is one of the more difficult historical issues in the Gospel of Luke, but my reading of this text is that Luke 2.2 says "this was the first registration which happened [while/before] Quirinius was governor of Syria. " The Greek here does not include the word 'while' or 'before,' and so one must come to some conclusion as to whether Luke refers to a registration before or during the governorship of Quirinius. It probably refers to one during that governorship, but Luke is clear that it was the first such registration, which implies that he knows of subsequent ones. It was certainly not impossible that he was governor of a region more than once, and in fact we know that while he was later governor of Syria during the census of about 7 A.D., he was also an official in Syria at an earlier date as well, and may have been involved in the earlier census.

more from beliefnet and our partners