Have a scriptural question? Write to Ben Witherington III at columnists@staff.Beliefnet.com.

In this column, Ben Witherington answers questions about the Bible and:

The Hail Mary
Mental illness

Does the Bible prohibit drug use? I've read the passage that says that all animals and plants were created for our use.

Much depends on your definition of drugs. There are, in fact, various places in the Bible where the drinking of wine (clearly an alcoholic beverage in that era; see Proverbs 20:1) is actually encouraged (for example, in Isaiah 55:1). Though wine would often be watered down in antiquity, it was nonetheless clearly potent, and is used in several places as a contrast with the powerful effect the Holy Spirit has on someone (see Acts 2:12-16, with its reference to new wine that can make one drunk contrasted with the effect of the Spirit. See also Ephesians 5:18).

In John 2:1-12, Jesus provides the wine for a wedding. It is clear from the toastmaster's comment ("you've saved the best wine for last") that we are dealing with an alcoholic beverage. The normal procedure in a feast would be to provide the best and most potent wine first, and then the more watered down and less flavorful later as the palate became less discriminating.

There is, however, no endorsement in the Bible to use drugs that have the potential to seriously damage the mind or body. This is why church leaders are to be those not given to too much wine (1 Timothy 3:3,8--not a drunkard, not given to too much wine). There is then condemnation of overindulgence, but not of drinking in moderation.

There is not however any encouragement or endorsement of using drugs which do not constitute food or beverage in any age of human history. In fact, there may well be a prohibition of a particular kind of drug, one which produces abortions: In Galatians 5:20, there is a reference to pharmakeia (from which we get the word pharmacy). This term may, however, refer to the use of drugs in pagan worship ceremonies.

Do you have any idea where the Hail Mary prayer is in the Bible? Someone told me it's in Luke somewhere but I don't know where, so if you know you'd help out a lot.

The beginning of the passage where Mary is greeted with this phrase is found in Luke 1:28ff. It was not originally a prayer, but rather a greeting from an angel to Mary. Praying to Mary using this phrase is a later Roman Catholic practice that finds no endorsement in this text. That practice reflects the later veneration of Mary as a heavenly intercessor for pray-ers who did not feel they could address their prayers to Jesus directly. This practice is in part based on a misunderstanding of Revelation 12, which refers to mother Zion (the people of God in a corporate female image) and also perhaps the mother of the Messiah, using a cosmic apocalyptic symbol.

My mentally ill older brother has schizophrenia and it's only getting worse for now more than 20 years. He has nightmares of demons wanting him to die and sometimes he hears them loud and clear. I know Jesus Christ was able to remove demons from people but obviously, it will not happen in this lifetime. Will my brother be free when he dies? Will the demons leave his body when he dies? Will he ever find peace when it is all over? --Marie-Claire

Actually, if the source of your brother's illness is demonic, it can be removed in this lifetime. If the problem is mental illness, as you suggest, the healing may require both medication and prayer. Demonic possession and mental illness are two very different things, with different symptoms. But in regard to his state beyond death, we are assured that for those who believe in Christ, there will be no more suffering, sorrow, persecution, or the like in the afterlife.

What happens when a person commits suicide? I lost a brother and a son and they both believed in God and I know one of them had once been saved. But where in the Bible do we look for answers? --Hihillracing

There is no teaching in the Bible that condemns people to outer darkness for having taken their own life in despair. The case of Judas is sometimes thought to suggest otherwise, but he was condemned for other reasons, namely the betrayal of Jesus.

The Bible certainly does not encourage anyone to take their life in their own hands, for life is a gift from God. It is not a possession, or the mere property of the individual child of God. None of us are free to do with our lives as we please; we are called to live as God pleases.

Even during points of deep depression and despair, we are called to leave matters in God's hands. In 1 Kings 19:4-6, a despondent Elijah prayed for God to take away his life, but he did not lay violent hands on himself. We too should leave matters in God's hands; this includes leaving the fate of those who commit suicide in the gracious and merciful hands of the Lord.

How are Christians suppose to accept homosexuals who say they are believers in Christ Jesus and in all of what God's Word in the BIble says about their lifestyle, but do not accept the idea that God in whatever person (Father, Son and/or Holy Spirit), if only asked, can change their sexuality?

In the first place you are right that homosexual and lesbian sexual behavior are indeed condemned in the scriptures (see, for instance, Romans 1:26-27). But then so is adultery, theft, and a host of other sins. The Bible does not encourage us to treat homosexual persons with less respect, or as worse sinners, than any other kind of sinner. The old distinction between loving the sinner but not loving the sin is a good one and applies.

We are not called to accept anyone's sinful lifestyle, be they heterosexual or homosexual. In regard to welcoming people into the church, everyone is welcome to come as they are. But no one is welcome to stay as they are.

Jesus calls all of us--all sinners--to change. The church is supposed to be a hospital for sick sinners, not a museum for saints. The New Testament clearly teaches that whatever one's sinful inclinations, God's grace is sufficient to help anyone get beyond temptation and resist sin (see 1 Cor. 10:12-13).

The issue here is not one's inclinations or temptations but one's behavior. The New Testament teaches that one's behavior can be modified with the help of God's grace. Is God's grace powerful enough even to change human nature and its fallen orientations? Yes indeed, and there are numerous authentic testimonies of former gay and lesbian persons as well as former liars, thieves, heterosexual sinners, etc. who make this evident.

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