In this column, Ben Witherington answers questions about the Bible and:
Is it actually said that every believer must have a conversion experience, that is, something that really happened to bring about repentance? In my own case, I don't have any, other that I grew up hearing and loving the way of Christ and have never had any unnatural experience. It's been two years now since I formally gave my life and apart from God's intervention in many cases of my life nothing of note has really happened to me. What do you think is my problem? I am not convinced that I am a child of God though people who know me think otherwise.
You seem to have been misled by someone who suggested you had to have some particular kind of experience to be a born-again Christian. This is not true. There are as many different ways to come to Christ as there are believers.
Consider, for example, the story of C.S. Lewis' conversion, in his book "Surprised by Joy." He says that he had no joyful experience or mountaintop experience or anything like that. Rather for him it was just a matter of giving in, and accepting that God had set him apart. He added, "I became the most reluctant convert in all of Christendom." Yet, as his writings show, he was one of the most profoundly Christian ones.
If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, as 1 Cor. 12 makes clear, no one can truly and earnestly do that unless they are indeed saved, as this requires already having the work of the Holy Spirit within you. The fact of your conversion should not be mistaken for some particular kind of experiential response to the work of God in your life.
I have been working at my new job for about 5 months now. I have become really close with one of the men I work with, who is black. He is everything I have been looking for in a man, and he feels the same way towards me. I would like to start dating him, but my parents strongly disagree with interracial dating. They believe the Bible says it's wrong. --Ginger
The New Testament is perfectly clear on this issue. There can be no problems with interracial dating and marriage, since, as Galatians 3.28 says, "in Christ there is no Jew or gentile, but rather all are one in him."
Matthew's gospel opens with a list of "begats" tracing Joseph's lineage back through David to Abraham. How is this relevant, considering that the Holy Ghost is the father of Jesus? Why do they not give us Mary's lineage? -Margot
The genealogy in Matthew 1 is a royal genealogy, and as such it has several features of such ancient genealogies. For one thing, it is schematized and does not include all the generations. For another, it reflects the Jewish practice that if a man adopted a son, then he was entitled to his stepfather's genealogy, even though he wasn't physically his offspring. In the case of Jesus, this meant when Joseph accept him as his son he was entitled to Joseph's genealogy. The author does not give us Mary's genealogy because we are dealing with a patriarchal Jewish culture, where the father's genealogy is all-important.
Your question is a complex one, and it involves several components. In 1 Cor. 7, Paul advises a Christian person not to divorce their non-Christian spouse because that spouse might indeed be sanctified by the believing partner, and the children of such a marriage are called holy. In other words, Paul hardly suggests that a Christian married to a non-Christian is in any danger of being defiled or living in sin simply because he has a non-believing spouse. If you are also a Christian, but have not had a Christian marriage ceremony, it might allay your husband's fears if you had a service of consecration of your marriage celebrated by a minister.
Doing a comparison of twelve tribes list in Genesis 35 and Revelation 7, what happened the tribe of Dan? Could you explain why Joseph ends up with his own tribe plus the tribe named after his son? --Annette C.
The tribe of Dan, the northernmost tribe, was considered apostate in some circles of early Judaism, and so was replaced in some lists of the twelve tribes that appear around the turn of the era.
Who or what is the immoral woman mentioned in Proverbs 2:16-19? --Mourad
The woman in question is called a 'strange' woman in the Hebrew text. Then, in what follows in Prov. 2.17-19, it is made clear that she is an adulteress, one who has violated a marriage which was arranged for her when she was a teenager. The advice given may in fact suggest that the woman has gone so far as to become a prostitute, for it speaks of 'those' who go to her, referring to more than one. It is also possible, indeed likely, that the term 'strange' indicates we are also dealing with a foreign woman.
Read carefully what Paul says in 1 Cor. 7. His advice is that one should get married if one wishes to avoid immoral sexual activities. Your boyfriend is letting his hormones do the talking, and yes it does matter to God. Sex is a gift from God. Indeed, sex is such a great and beautiful gift from God it should be reserved for the person one is prepared to give one's life and love to unconditionally in holy matrimony.
I enjoyed your Beliefnet column on apocalyptic literature. Are you saying that parts of Revelation are a blueprint for the End Times and parts are not? Was it because the early Christians were convinced the Parousia was imminent? --Carla B.
This is a long and complicated question. The short answer is that the earliest Christians believed they already lived in the End Times, ever since Jesus had been raised from the dead. The book of Revelation does not skip from their day to the end of time, but sees all future events as part of the End Times, including events in their own day.
I would urge you to read my little book Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World to help you sort this one out. I do not believe that the earliest Christians thought Jesus would definitely return in their lifetimes, as Jesus himself told them no one knows the timing of the second coming, not even Jesus in his own day (Mark 13.32). It's presumptuous for any of us to think we know better than Jesus did when he said no one knows the time of that event.
Did Jesus appoint Peter as the head of His church, or was the appointment made later by a Pope? --Jack M.
The issue about Peter being made the head of the church has to do with one specific New Testament passage, Matthew 16.18-19. If this saying goes back to the historical Jesus, then Jesus said this in Aramaic, which among other things means the word "church" was not involved, as that is a later Christian term.
There were no popes before or during the lifetime of Peter to appoint him. It is Jesus himself who commissions Peter. The phrase here could be rendered somewhat literally as follows "you are 'rock', and on this shelf of rocks I will build my community." The point would be that Jesus would build his community on Peter and those like him who make the solid confession about Jesus that we find Peter making on this occasion. In view of the fact that Matthew 16.19 recurs in Matthew 18.18-19, applied to all the disciples, it seems unlikely that Jesus is suggesting some unique role for Peter that could not also be played by other disciples.