Have a scriptural question? Check the Q&A archive or write to our Bible expert: witheringtonb@staff.beliefnet.com.

In this column, Ben Witherington III answers questions about:

  • Wealth as a sign of God's favor
  • Withholding charity
  • Whether Satan causes sickness
  • Who gets into heaven
  • The Ten Commandments & the New Covenant
  • Premarital sex
  • "Living by the sword"
  • How the dead will be raised
  • The Catholic vs. Protestant Bible
  • Where Jesus was pierced by the spear
  • Destruction in the Middle East
  • The Jehovah's Witness Bible

    Research on Luke 16:19-31 indicates that the Pharisees and others of Jesus' day perceived wealth to be a sign of God's favor. Hence, Jesus' story [about Lazarus and the rich man] was intended to correct this thinking.

    Oddly, research on James 2:5 (particularly from Peter H. Davids's commentary on James) indicates that the popular opinion was that poverty signified God's favor/election. Can you make sense of these apparently contradictory claims? --Greg H.

    While it is true, if one reads the book of Proverbs, that wealth is sometimes seen as a blessing from God, poverty is never viewed as a blessing, not even in James. James suggests that wealth is not necessarily a sign of God's blessing, and that the poor can often be closer to God than the wealthy--indeed, that poverty can be the stimulus that drives one to God.

    Is there biblical support for withholding charity in certain cases? A year ago a man was hired at my husband's workplace, and at the time the boss told my husband he was doing it as a charitable act because the man has had trouble with drugs and is practically penniless. Without subjecting you to a huge litany of gripes, however, suffice it to say that the man is a very poor worker, usually arrives late and leaves early, often doesn't show up at all, and has a terrible temper. He's a big man, and the other employees are rather afraid of him. They're also demoralized because they know they would have been fired a long time ago if they performed as poorly as he does. The boss is aware of the problems but has done nothing, as far as anyone knows.

    I seem to recall that the Bible has something to say about this--something about knowing the person you're giving charity to--but I haven't been able to find the verse. --Anonymous

    This falls under the category of being wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I would suggest that you look over the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Compassion and charity are acts that should be done wholeheartedly, of course, but giving someone a job which then hurts other workers is not compassionate towards those other workers. Compassion must be exercised wisely.

    I have a very devoted Christian friend who has taught her kids that when they are sick, it is Satan trying to "get" them. I was shocked at this as her child developed strep throat and was at her bedroom door shivering with sickness and fever, saying, 'Satan, Satan'...Is this true to Christian belief? And if it is, where in the Bible does it say that getting an organic sickness is due to the devil? --Mary Kay B.

    This is certainly not a Christian perspective. Consider, for example, what Jesus says in John 9 about the man born blind. He says that it is neither because he had sinned nor because his parents had sinned that he was in this condition. There is no one-to-one correlation in the Bible between sickness and sin, or between sickness and the Devil, for that matter. Satan is linked to one and only one particular condition in the New Testament--namely demon possession, and strep throat definitely doesn't fall under the heading of demon possession. To demonize all illness is to give the Devil way too much credit.

    Can you give me the verse and scriptures in the Bible that explain who gets into heaven and under what circumstances? --Ayanna

    There is very little discussion about dying and going to heaven in the New Testament, so I am not surprised you have not found the appropriate verses. What is discussed in the New Testament frequently is the means of salvation which is repeatedly said to be Jesus, whether we think of the Johannine "I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6) or "there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved" (Acts 4:12). Jesus is certainly portrayed in the New Testament as the exclusive means of salvation for anyone.

    Which of the Ten Commandments was not followed or enforced in the New Testament? I located 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. But I was having trouble finding 2, 3, and 4. --scotland_dreamer

    The Sabbath commandment was not reinforced in the Christian era--see, for example, what Paul says about keeping Sabbaths in Colossians 2:16. Christians worshipped on the Lord's Day, or Sunday, not on the Jewish Sabbath, and did not feel they had to keep the Jewish Sabbath anymore.