2016-06-30
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:
  • Seeing spouses in heaven
  • Forgiveness of all sins
  • Greed and hard work
  • Peace in the Middle East
  • Drinking alcohol
  • The Jehovah's Witness Bible

    I know wedding vows say 'until death do us part.' Does this mean that once in heaven you are no longer with your spouse? What about your children or other family members? It saddens me to think that I won't spend eternity with my husband. Also, where in the Bible does it describe what life in heaven is like? --Kelly S.

    The Bible in fact says very little about life in heaven after death. We could turn to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, but it is just that, a parable--a form of literary fiction. What this parable shows is that there is a heaven and there is a hell, but it tells us nothing about whom one will spend their time with in either locale. The book of Revelation says the most about heaven, but again apocalyptic literature is highly figurative in character, being made up of visions. Revelation 4-5 suggest heaven is a wonderful place where the saints dwell with God, but one can not deduce much more. It is interesting to note, however, that the martyrs are cranky in Revelation 6:9-10, wanting to know how long before God will judge their tormentors.

    Paul in Romans 7:1-4 reminds us that when one's husband dies, one is no longer bound to him, which means, among other things, that one can remarry. This makes perfectly clear that marriage is an earthly institution, not a heavenly one. Jesus makes this clear as well when he says in the resurrection there will be neither marrying nor being given in marriage (Mark 12:25), which means marrying will not be going on at the eschaton either.

    But perhaps we are asking the wrong question. The focus of the New Testament is not on life in heaven after death but on life after Jesus returns to earth and the dead in Christ are raised. The images of the messianic banquet in the Gospels, or of the new earth after it has been transformed by the new heaven that comes down with Jesus in Revelation 21, make clear that it will be wonderful. Perhaps we can say that the communion we will have with everyone then and there will be as blessed, or more blessed, than even the best moments in earthly marriage.

    When you become a Christian and ask for forgiveness for your sins, you are forgiven. I read that after we die and we are in front of God, all of the Book of Life is opened and we are judged by it! Why is that? I thought we were forgiven for all our sins. Why, then, are we still judged for them? --Linda M.

    The fact that a person is forgiven does not mean that there are not consequences for sin. We experience this all the time in our broken relationships in this life. We may be forgiven, but the relationship has been irreparably damaged and there are scars. The references to the Book of Life in Revelation about rewards correspond with what Jesus says about rewards in heaven. One could also consult what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 about the testing of even Paul's works. These texts all suggest that even Christians must render account for the deeds they have done in the body, and there will be rewards, or the lack thereof, for their behavior in this life. Salvation is not a reward, salvation is by grace and through faith, but there will be rewards in heaven for works that glorify God and edify others.


    Recently in a Bible study group there was mention of the fact that the Bible says there will never be peace in the Middle East. I'm not sure if this just refers to Israel or the entire region. Can you tell me where this scripture is found if it exists? --Jmontgo

    Such a text does not exist, but it is true that there will be no final peace until the new heaven and new earth come after the return of Christ, as Revelation 21-22 makes perfectly clear.

    I have been working for three Mormon doctors for two years. The owner doctor is angry because the two employee doctors do not see enough patients. I instituted a production-based bonus to encourage the other two doctors. It seemed to help for several months as the clinic had more patients. Recently the two doctors went to the owner doctor and said they should not be so busy - that I am making them see too many patients (they are below national average of optometry benchmarks) and that I am greedy. The owner doctor told me that we should not see too many patients and read me 2 different passages about greed from the Bible - one was from Timothy and I think the other one may have been Matthew. I have been trained to run offices and feel this was very inappropriate - when I came to the practice it was almost bankrupt. Now we actually have a small profit margin. Does the Bible say that you are greedy when you try to do the best job that you know how? Does the Book of Mormon say anything about greed?? The only people who profit from the increase are the doctors. I am on salary and receive the same amount of money whether I do a good job or not. Are there any scripture in the Bible that relate to this issue?
    --Rebecca P.


    Several scriptures come to mind that could be of relevance, so let's start with the first issue, which is work. Paul is perfectly clear that those who refuse to work, and indeed to work with some industry, should not eat (2 Thessalonians 2:10-13). On the other hand, Paul is also clear that people who do work deserve to be paid according to the work they do--"a workman is worthy of his hire." You may want to quote to them Galatians 6:5--"each person should carry their own load!" You may also want to point them to 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14, which speaks of warning the idle and respecting hard work.

    Greed, however, is a very different issue. Sometimes people will bring up the subject of greed simply because they are lazy, or can't be bothered to do their share of the work. Greed is a sin condemned in numerous places in the New Testament (for example, in 1 Timothy 6:6-10). The fact that your company now has a small profit margin does not suggest anyone there is getting rich quick.

    Problems with the Jehovah's Witness translation
    Read more >>


    I'm confused. Is drinking alcohol a sin? If it is, why did Jesus turn water into wine? A friend has told me that it wasn't really wine--it was just sweetened water. My belief is that drinking in moderation (e.g. having a glass of wine when having a meal) is fine. Am I wrong? -Ijeoma D.

    You are not wrong. Wine in the Bible could range in alcoholic content from about 2% if it was `new wine' to much stronger (14%), in which case it was classified as `strong drink'. The Bible says nothing against having a glass of wine once in a while; in fact, Paul urges Timothy to have a glass to settle his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). Wine was the replacement for water in antiquity for health reasons, as there were no water purification plants in antiquity. It was the normal table beverage.

    In response to a previous column about the translation of the Bible by Jehovah's Witnesses:

    John 1:1 was not falsified by Jehovah's Witnesses in order to prove that Jesus is not Almighty God. Jehovah's Witnesses, among many others, had challenged the capitalizing of "god" long before the appearance of the New World Translation, which endeavors accurately to render the original language. Five German Bible translators likewise use the term "a god" in that verse. At least 13 others have used expressions such as "of divine kind" or "godlike kind." These renderings agree with other parts of the Bible to show that, yes, Jesus in heaven is a god in the sense of being divine. But Jehovah and Jesus are not the same being, the same God.

    Moffatt's translation:
    John 1: 1-3
    "The Logos existed in the very beginning,
    the Logos was with God,
    the Logos was divine.
    He was with God in the very beginning:
    through him all existence came into being,
    no existence came into being apart from him."
    --Robert L.


    Thank you for your recent column in which you comment on [quote] "The Jehovah's Witness Bible." There you seem to agree with the contention that the New World Translation is part of "a scholarly conspiracy to amend the Bible to suit particular theological views" of Jehovah's Witnesses. Curiously, the example you chose to cite does not actually "amend the Bible" but simply includes a single solitary indefinite article ("a"), which is completely acceptable to secular Greek scholars. The only real objections to the NWT wording of John 1:1 come from within Christendom, rather than from strict academia. Isn't this an example of intellectual dishonesty on your part, your calling this "amending the Bible"? --Theresa A.

    I will answer these two queries together. First of all, it is disingenuous to cite Moffat's translation of John 1:1-3 as if he meant something other than "God" by the word "divine" in that Scripture, when it is perfectly clear from reading the rest of his translation that he takes the two terms "God" and "divine" as synonymous. Moffatt was not a supporter of Jehovah's Witness ideas about the deity and would have been appalled that his translation might be used to suggest that Jesus ought not to be called God.

    Secondly, there are at least seven or eight places in the New Testament where Jesus is simply called God, and there is no reason to think the term means anything less than God the Father. A good example of this would be in John 20:28, where Jesus is called both Lord and God by Thomas. Or one could point to Romans 9:5.

    As for the second comment of Ms. A, I must explain the Greek in some detail. We are dealing with a predicate nominative in a sentence where the word order in the Greek would be backwards to an ordinary English sentence--it reads literally "and God was the Word." The author certainly does not want to say "and the God was the Word," because that would imply that the one called the Word exhausted the godhead, indeed replaced the Father. Our author's theology is that there are several persons in the godhead, including the Logos, or Word.

    The fact that "the Word" is the subject of this Greek clause, but follows the verb, dictates what one does with the object of the verb, "God" which precedes the verb. In such a case in a Greek sentence, the object does not normally take a definite article and the absence of the article certainly doesn't provide warrant for a translation like "a god" or "divine." In this very same chapter the definite article is omitted in verses 6,12,13, and 18, where the term "God" refers not to the Word, but to God the Father. Again, the absence of the article tells us nothing about whether or not we should capitalize the noun Theos here.

    B.M. Metzger, the leading Bible translator of the modern era (head of both the RSV and NRSV teams) stresses that "those who translate 'a god' [or divine] here prove nothing thereby save their ignorance of Greek grammar" (see C. Keener's discussion in his The Gospel of John. A Commentary, Vol. One, p. 373). There was a perfectly good Greek term for "divine"--"to theion"--which our author could have used if he wanted to merely say Jesus was "divine" in some lesser sense than God is divine. This phrase is never used of Jesus either in John's Gospel or elsewhere in the New Testament.

    Therefore, I stand by my statement--the New World Translation is meant to bolster an ideology that is at odds with what the New Testament says and means by calling Jesus God.

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