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:

  • Adam's rib or Adam's side?
  • Spouses struggling over money
  • Tongues vs. prophecy
  • Can Satan hurt children?
  • Putting a fleece before God
  • Genealogies in Genesis
  • Who compiled the New Testament?
  • Why is the King James Version so revered?
  • Is it possible to lose salvation?
  • How is the Tower of Babel related to Pentecost?

    Where in the Bible does it say that Eve was taken from Adam’s left rib? I have only read that she was taken from his side.

    It doesn't say this anywhere in the Bible. It is a later mythological tradition.

    In this era of two-income families, I am looking for direction on family finances. My husband provided well for our family while our children were growing up and I was not working. As soon as I went back to work after we become empty nesters, the problems started. Should all the income go to one account and be budgeted jointly? We did that, but my husband treated the joint account as "his," and if he wanted to spend $500 on an item, he did. I, on the other hand, had to get any purchase I wanted to make "pre-approved." I see in Proverbs 31 a woman who seems to have total control of her money; she is able to make business decisions independently of her husband. I have read several of the current Christian budget books and find no clear direction on this dilemma. Please help!

    Finances are always a touchy subject in a family, as they reflect the level of trust between husband and wife, and also become a means of controlling one another. This is unfortunate, and I would suggest that you need to have a frank conversation about the double standard that seems to be being applied in your situation.

    You are right to point to Proverbs 31, and we could even point to the widow with her two copper coins in Mark 12:41-44 or the Parable of the Lost Coin in Luke 15. The upshot of such texts is that women did and should have access to some funds, and should be trusted to be good stewards of what they have.

    One way to avoid the "your money-my money" tussle is to recognize that whoever makes the money, it all belongs to God, and we are just stewards of it. This being so, you need to ask questions about how you and your husband can be better stewards of the money, and not just impulse buyers. You need to rebuild trust; you should sacrifice and defer to each other in order to reestablish that trust.

    In 1 Corinthians 14:22, Paul states that tongues is 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?

    This is not quite what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14. When he uses the term "sign," he is talking about a sign of judgment or conviction. Prophecy is a sign to believers that can convict or exhort them, but tongues will only alienate unbelievers and so is a sign of judgment on them, revealing their distance from God. You will notice, in fact, that Paul does not repeat the word "sign" in verses 24-25. He does not call prophecy a sign for unbelievers for the very good reason that hearing it may convert them, not judge them, and the word "sign" implies judgment. Prophecy is intelligible speech, and as such it can not only exhort the believer; it can convict, convince, and convert the unbeliever.

    Tongues, on the other hand, is an indicator to believers, who understand the phenomenon to be a spiritual gift—that God is moving on the assembly and that some believers are prompted to respond in angelic prayer language, which is what glossalalia is (see 1 Cor. 13:1).

    I have often heard that Satan has to ask God's permission before touching a child of God or doing anything horrible. Is this true? If that is so, does God give reasons for allowing pain and sickness to affect children?

    Perhaps you are thinking of Job 1-2, where Satan is given permission to test Job. Job, however, was not a child, but rather an exemplary adult. There is nothing in the Bible that suggests that God gives permission to Satan to torment children, nor that God afflicts them directly. Human suffering is a mystery, and most of the causes are not supernatural, but natural.

    I recently ran into a prospect for my home-based business. She told me that she never makes a move without praying a "fleece" to hear from God. She said that Gideon always set out a fleece to God for answers. Where would this woman get the idea of a fleece being a prayer for guidance?

    The old fleece idea is in fact based on several texts where Gideon puts God (through his angel) to the test in order to know if he can trust the instructions he has received (Judges 6:17-24 and 36-40).

    There are, however, two major problems with Christians using this as their guide for praying:

    First, Gideon lived when neither the Bible nor the inner presence of the Holy Spirit was available to guide him. In other words, he reflects a bygone era, and his situation cannot give guidance to Christians.

    Second, Gideon is manifesting weak faith in God, as he keeps putting God to the test.

    This is precisely what New Testament Christians are not supposed to do. In any case, God cannot be tempted or tested by us (see James 1:13), nor can he be wheedled into doing something that is against the divine will.

    I've been looking at genealogies in the Bible, starting back in Genesis. For Esau, Genesis 26:34 gives his Canaanite wives as Judith, daughter of Beeril, and Basemath, daughter of Elon. Genesis 28:9 gives his third wife as Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael. Later, in Genesis 36, his wives are listed as Adah, daughter of Elon, Oholibamah, daughter of Anah, and Basemath, daughter of Ishmael. How can these passages be reconciled?

    The original Hebrew text is often hard to reconstruct, especially with lists of names and their inter-relationship. The original inspired text had no vowels in it, only Hebrew consonants. Later Jewish interpreters put in the vowels, and sometimes did it wrongly. So we are probably dealing with a textual problem here. The other possibility is that Esau had a set of Canaanite and non-Canaanite wives (after all, he was not a model of biblical virtue), and some of them had similar names.

    How would you relate the story of the healing of a demon-possessed man in Mark 5 to today's world? My daughter has to make a 15-minute devotional from this.

    There is plenty of evidence in the modern world for spirits, and in this case unclean or demonic spirits. I recommend that you look at the book "Jesus the Exorcist" by Graham Twelvetree.

    It is tempting to suggest that some of these stories are just about mental illness, and some may be, but in fact some of them (like the one you reference) cannot be explained that way.

    Was Athanasius of Alexandria the first to compile the books of the New Testament?

    No, but he was a person who agreed that these 27 books are what belong in the canon. We have a similar list of books in the Muratorian canon from the second century.

    Where does the Bible mention anything about not adding to or taking away from the scriptures?

    The last chapter of the Bible.

    Why do so many churches today cling to the King James translation of the Bible and denounce all others, including the NIV and NRSV?

    It's all about familiarity and tradition. Some people want to believe there is an infallible translation, which is certainly not true. You might want to read Alistair McGrath's wonderful book on the King James Version called "In the Beginning."

    Can you ever lose salvation?

    There is no short answer to this question. I would suggest you read Hebrews 6. But it's not a matter of losing one's salvation; it's a matter of apostasy—the willful rejection of the salvation one has already received in rebellion against God. Though rare, this certainly does happen. The ordinary Christian, however, does not need to worry about losing salvation. It requires quite a malicious and conscious effort to wrench oneself free from the strong grasp of Christ on one's life.

    Who is the Bride of Jesus?

    The Church. Ephesians 5:21-25 makes this clear, as does Revelation 21-22.

    Paul told the Ephesians to walk as wise men and "make the most of the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 4:15). Did the apostle really mean the days are evil? If he did, why and how?

    Yes. He meant that he lived in a dark time, and in fact that he lived in the eschatological age when the powers of darkness were already at work. See 1 Peter 5:6-11.

    I'm a Catholic dating a Protestant woman. I read the book of Tobit this morning. I wanted so much for Jessica to read it, but it's not in her Bible. Why is that?

    Tobit is in the Apocrypha, which is in the Catholic Bible but not in the Protestant Bible. It is not in the Hebrew Bible either; it is an inter-testamental book, which the Catholic Church says is deutero-canonical. Protestants don't agree that it has that authority, but of course it is a valuable book to inform us about early Judaism.

    My question pertains to the Tower of Babel. Am I right in believing that Nimrod suggested building the tower, although the Bible stated that "we" built the tower? Also, how does it relate to Pentecost?

    Most scholars see the Tower of Babel story as a version of the story of building a ziggurat—something that that would have looked like the hanging gardens of Babylon. The essence of that story is about idolatry. It is about human beings trying to exalt themselves and even reach up to and make a claim on God—hence the confusion of languages by God, scuttling the project.


    Pentecost, in Acts 2, can be seen as the Tower of Babel in reverse. Instead of reaching up to God, God sends his spirit down to earth, which enables the first disciples to speak in foreign languages so that people can hear the good news of Jesus.

    Can you tell me what happened to the references of St. Matthew, St. Luke, St. James, St. Mark, etc. in Bibles today? All I see now are Matthew, Mark, Luke, etc. Why no "Saint"?

    The superscripts that say "The Gospel According to…" did not originally have "Saint" in any of the titles. We can thank the King James Version and others for the addition of "Saint."

    In any case, no part of those superscripts are part of the original Greek text. The actual text of each gospel begins with the first verse. 

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