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:

  • Keeping business out of church
  • Salvation for non-Christians
  • Names of the two crucified criminals
  • "Mystery" of the word
  • "Jesus" vs. "Joshua"
  • Simon carrying the cross
  • Speaking in tongues
  • Babies going to Heaven
  • Marriage without a ceremony?
  • Jews & the Son of God
  • "Seeing" God

    I would appreciate any input regarding a situation our church board is facing. A proposal has been made to allow a Christian music studio (instructors giving lessons, mostly to children) to operate from our church. The music instructors are to give a double tithe in return for the use of the church facility. I see many possible conflicts with using the church for this purpose, but my first and compelling objection to approval for this is based on my interpretation of the scripture regarding the use of the church for a business. It has been argued that this is a ministry because many of the children and/or parents who come into the building for music lessons may be drawn to attend the church as well.

    Some of the board members have the opinion that Jesus' anger at the time of the cleansing of the temple was due to the excessive charges and unfair money exchange rates involved with the sale of sacrificial animals. However, while I believe he was most likely angered by such practices, I believe first and foremost he was angered by the use of the temple for commerce or business of any kind. Jesus viewed such use as irreverence for the House of God, which is to be a House of Prayer. The temple or church is to be a place "set aside," a holy place. It is my feeling that allowing businesses to function in the church building, whether they may have some value as a ministry or not, compromises the sanctity of the church. --J. Kersey


    You seem to have misunderstood the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, which has nothing to do with what you are concerned about. Jesus is concerned about activities that interrupt or prevent people from worshipping in the outer courts of the temple, and he is concerned about unethical profiteering in the temple precincts by those who ran the place. If you look carefully at a story like Mark 12:41-43 you will discover Jesus has no problems with holy places taking in money when it is done in the appropriate manner. The church should be engaged in any and all forms of legitimate ministry including musical instruction, and the Bible is perfectly clear that a "workman is worthy of his hire"-in other words there is no reason why such instructors should not be paid-1 Corinthians 10:10 in fact says they should be.

    In all my reading of the Bible, I can't seem to find any consensus about what is necessary to attain salvation. The 'Judgment of Nations' makes it sound like where we spend eternity is how we treat the "least of these." Paul, in Romans, says that we are justified by faith alone. James seems to disagree, saying that "faith is dead without works." Jesus says that if we don't forgive others, we will not be forgiven. And what happens to one who hasn't accepted Christ, such as Gandhi--one who has forgiven, turned the other cheek, and helped the "least of these"? It just seems like a cosmic injustice to eternally punish someone who is doing their very best to improve themselves, their neighbor, and this world, but who hasn't accepted Christ as their savior. God is love, so to love one's neighbor seems like the ultimate Christian act. Isn't this what ultimately matters? --Kevin M.

    This is an excellent question, and the answer is somewhat complex. In the first place, initial salvation is by grace and through faith. This is what you called justification. But conversion is not all there is to salvation, and so Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13 that we must work out the salvation which God is working into us, by both our willing and our doing. In other words, our behavior as believers affects our progress in salvation.

    Salvation actually has three tenses in the New Testament -I have been saved (conversion), I am being saved (progressive sanctification), and I shall be saved (final salvation). Our deeds do affect both of the latter two stages of salvation, but not because we are saved by the deeds. Instead, it's because they are necessary expressions of salvation if we have time and opportunity to do them (i.e. they are not optional-faith without works is dead, as James says).

    Of course it is true that if a person is converted on their deathbed they are simply saved by conversion, but the New Testament is clear that those who live beyond the time of their conversion must behave-look at Galatians 5:19-21. Paul is warning Christians about the consequences of persisting in serious sin. The end result is they shall not inherit the kingdom or receive final salvation.

    In short, while good deeds cannot earn the gift of final salvation, apostasy in various forms (moral or intellectual) can forfeit salvation even if one has been a Christian previously. In short, you are not eternally secure until you are securely in eternity. See Hebrews 6:1-4.

    I'm hoping to find out the name of one of the thieves that was crucified with Jesus and said "remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." Someone had told me his name a long time ago, but I can't remember it. --Judy D.

    The thieves do not have names in the biblical text (see Luke 23:39-43). In fact, they are not thieves; they are revolutionaries. Later Christian tradition made up names for them; for example, the good criminal was called Dismas.

    Tongues and prophecy
    Read more >>


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  • I need to know what this means: "Behold, I show you a mystery." Would the mystery be faith or the Word itself? --Cindee W.

    If you are referring to 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, the answer is neither. The secret Paul is revealing is that all true believers will be transformed into a resurrection condition with a resurrection body when Jesus returns.

    I heard that the names "Jesus" and "Joshua" are the same word in Hebrew. Why, then, is Jesus called "Jesus" and not "Joshua"? --Do Tin C.

    Jesus is the English form of the Greek word Iesous, which in turn is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Yeshua-which we transliterate in English as Joshua. So yes, are the same name, but the name's form changes as it goes through three languages.

    I was wondering where people got the idea of Jesus getting weak and falling down while he carried the cross before Simon took over and carried it the rest of the way. I have studied the Scripture, but could not find this anywhere. I am confused because I have seen many churches perform the crucifixion on Easter and every time Jesus falls and Simon takes over. --nsreynolds

    You are right to ask this question. Mark 15:21 simply says that Simon was compelled to carry Jesus' cross. There is nothing about him carrying it and then falling in our earliest gospel. Matthew and Luke say the same. John 19:17 however says that Jesus carried his own cross. When the medieval church blended these stories together it was assumed that Simon carried the cross after Jesus could no longer do so. The falling of Jesus not once but several times is part of Catholic tradition and not supported by any biblical reference.

    In 1 Corinthians 14:22, Paul states that tongues are a sign for unbelievers but prophesying is for believers. Then, in verses 23-25, he goes on to explain how tongues are a sign for believers and prophecy is a sign for unbelievers. Paul seems to contradict himself. Can you reconcile these verses? --Cory C.

    There are several issues here in play. What Paul is concerned about when it comes to unbelievers is intelligibility. Speaking in tongues is unintelligible to unbelievers and so is a sign to them that they are not in the right spiritual condition. Here, the term `sign' means a sign of judgment.

    Prophecy, however, is intelligible: it is spoken in a known language and can convince and convict an unbeliever. Therefore, it is appropriate communication in a worship service that is attended by both believers and unbelievers.

    Paul goes on to say that prophecy is, however, primarily directed to believers and so is of benefit to them. There is no contradiction here; there can be both negative and positive signs, depending on one's spiritual condition. He does not actually say that tongues is a sign for believers (if you read the text carefully in the Greek), and he does indicate that prophecy is primarily directed to and for the benefit of believers. However, there may be collateral benefit to unbelievers since it is in a known language.

    Do babies from all nations go to heaven even though their parents are non-believers?
    --Jesse D.


    There is nothing in the Bible that speaks to this question. In Mark 10:13, Jesus does say that the kingdom belongs to these little ones and those who are like them. The kingdom Jesus is talking about is on earth, not in heaven.

    Does the Bible describe how you should get married? All the scriptures that I have read only say marriage. It doesn't describe if you should get married in a church or if you are just married by being with the person. --Kelly C.

    The Bible does not prescribe a special place or locale where one must get married, but it does suggest it needs to be done in the presence of God and witnesses, and it needs to involve vows and promises. In other words, it involves a public commitment where the community of faith recognizes and supports this decision. Simply living together does not constitute being married, nor does privately making promises to each other.

    I have been raised Christian, and have always been taught that the Jewish faith does not recognize Jesus as the Son of God. However I have recently become friends with someone who is Jewish, and he tells me that is not so. I'm confused. --Jill S.

    I suppose that the question is-what constitutes recognizing Jesus as Son of God? For example, Genesis 6:1-4 refers to angels as Sons of God, but it is not referring to the Messiah. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, God's children in general could be called sons of God. In Psalm 2, David the king is called God's anointed son.

    Unless a Jewish person has become a Christian, they generally speaking do not recognize Jesus as the unique and divine son of God who is the Messiah for Jews and the savior of the world.

    What does the Bible say about seeing God? Does anyone ever "see" God, even after they die? --Rotorboat

    It depends on whom you are referring to by the word God. If you are referring to Jesus, the answer is yes: Jesus has been and will be seen when he returns. If you mean God the Father, the answer is no, since God does not have a physical form--though one could claim to have seen him when one sees his glory or brilliance.


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