Here is the link to the audio of the second Bible Question & Answer session held by me last Sunday night at the church of Christ in Duncan, SC. You can read each question and the points from the Bible used to answer each of them below. These are great questions, and I really appreciate the brethren at Duncan for submitting them.
How can we be more positive in our relationships with the brethren?
This is one of the most important questions that have been submitted. In a nutshell, practice two steps:
1. Make the conscious choice to penitently apply every aspect of God’s definition of love to all brethren at all times (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Put all of your attention on YOU (not them, but YOU) being patient, kind, not envious or boasting, not arrogant or rude, not self-centered, not irritable or resentful, and not rejoicing in wrongdoing but rejoicing in the truth. Focus on YOU (not them, but YOU) making sure that you bear all things with them, believe all things with them (i.e., give them the benefit of the doubt first), hope all things with them, and endure all things with them. Basically, focus on loving them. Do that, and you’ll be a lot more positive in your relationships with them.
2. When they fail to do likewise, remind yourself that you are still saved by God’s grace from an eternal hell. You’re still heaven-bound. That alone is enough reason to stay positive (2 Cor. 12:9).
Is heaven a physical place with physical dimensions? A physical river and trees with physical fruit?
Heaven is where God dwells (Ps. 11:4). God is spirit (John 4:24), and a spirit does not have physical dimensions or features (Luke 24:39). Thus, we conclude heaven is a spiritual place with spiritual dimensions.
The river of the water of life and the tree of life are said to be in the holy city, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from God (Rev. 22:1-2; cf. 21:2). The new Jerusalem is not heaven primarily, but in reality primarily symbolizes the church (Heb. 12:22-23). While much of what is said in Revelation 21-22 could correctly apply to our experience in heaven, primarily it symbolizes how God wants the church of Christ to be.
With this in mind, the river of the water of life symbolizes the gospel (John 4:14; Zech. 14:8; cf. Acts 2). The tree of life represents Christ (John 14:6), and its leaves which provide healing symbolize the spiritual healing of forgiveness of sins received when we obey Christ (Rev. 22:2; Ezek. 47:12; Mark 2:10). Just as Adam and Eve could physically live forever by eating of the physical tree of life in Eden (Gen. 3:22), we live forever spiritually when we follow Christ the Word.
Lazarus and the rich man could remember and feel while in Hades. So if we can experience those same senses, won’t we be sorrowful for our loved ones who we can see in Hades? Love is the greatest commandment. If we love like God says we will feel great sorrow for our loved ones we will see in Hades.
I take this question to basically mean, “Will those of us in heaven feel sorrow for our loved ones who are in hell?” We simply do not have the ability to comprehend many things about the afterlife and eternity. For example, how will God “wipe away every tear” from our eyes (Rev. 21:4)? Could that in part refer to broken hearts over loved ones who are lost in sin? We must have faith that in heaven all of the terrible consequences of sin will vanish.
Remember also that if sorrow over lost loved ones will destroy heaven’s joy, there would be no heaven for any of the redeemed because all Christians have had loved ones who have died in a lost state (Matt. 10:34-39).
Additionally, God is supreme love (1 John 4:8). God is also happy (1 Tim. 1:11)…even though most of the humanity whom he loves rejects him and will be condemned to hell. If God is supreme love and yet is happy in spite of most of those whom he loves will be condemned, surely we human beings who have a lesser capacity for love than the Almighty can also be happy in eternity even though some of our loved ones will be in hell. Even in this life we know that some of our loved ones have died in a lost state, and yet we still find joy in the Christian life (Phil. 4:4). Surely this will be doubly true in eternity!
The most important thing for us to remember is that in this life we have an inferior, incomplete view of the heinousness of sin. God sees sin completely for what it is, which is why he speaks of terrible, wrathful punishment for the unrepentant (Luke 19:27; Rev. 14:9-11). Some of us read those passages and cannot relate them to a God of love. We do that because we have not yet fully grasped how terrible sin is. Is it possible that we will have a much clearer awareness of the heinousness of sin once we have left the limitations of this human existence? And when we do, is it possible it will cause us to look those who have rejected God in an entirely different light…even though in this life we were very close to them?
When is war okay? Does God sanctify it?
God does not tempt man to sin (James 1:13). He helps us escape being overcome by temptation (1 Cor. 10:13) and does not put stumbling blocks to sin in our path (Matt. 18:7-9).
Keeping this in mind, the Old Testament records numerous times when God commands his chosen people to go to war (cf. 1 Sam. 15). If war was inherently sinful, God would not have commanded his chosen people to sin by going to war.
In the New Testament, soldiers asked a prophet of God, “What shall we do?” Notice that the prophet did not tell them to repent of being soldiers (Luke 3:14). When the gospel was preached to the Roman centurion Cornelius, there is no record of the apostle telling him to repent of being a soldier (Acts 10-11). Another apostle went out of his way to request soldiers for protection against assassination attempts (Acts 23:12-31). If war was inherently sinful, these men of God would have acted differently.
Another question needs to be asked. Why is the war being fought?
Is it being fought in order to punish evil-doers? If so, God sanctifies it (Rom. 13:1-4; cf. 1 Sam. 15).
Is it being fought in order to conquer and steal from those who are weaker? If so, God does not sanctify it (Matt. 7:12). Yet, his wisdom and power is so great that he can use even these types of wars to accomplish his larger purposes (cf. Habbakuk).
What was the plan of salvation for Gentiles living during Old Testament times?
From Eden to Sinai, God gave his laws to man by speaking to the patriarchs of each family (Gen. 2-Ex. 20). At Sinai, he gave a specific covenant to the nation of Israel only (Ex. 20; Deut. 5:2-3). From Sinai to the cross Israel was obligated to follow the law of Moses. At the cross the law of Moses was taken out of the way and replaced with the law of Christ (Eph. 2:14-18).
Gentiles such as Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2) and the citizens of Nineveh (Jonah 3-4) would not be obligated to obey the law of Moses during the time between Sinai and the cross (unless they proselytized to Judaism – Matt. 23:15; Acts 2:10-11). Thus, the only other law revealed in Scripture would be the patriarchal system described in Genesis. Paul alludes to this when he told Jews that all who sinned outside the law of Moses would also perish outside the law of Moses’ jurisdiction (Rom. 2:12-16). He spoke of how Gentiles do not have Moses’ law, but when they still by nature do what Moses’ law requires (such as obeying its moral and ethical commandments), they are a law unto themselves in spite of not having the law of Moses. In a sense, Paul says, they show that the works of the law of Moses are written on their hearts and have trained their consciences.
When Jesus died on the cross, he made Jew and Gentile into one and broke down the dividing wall of hostility (the law of Moses) by abolishing its commandments, thus making Jew and Gentile both obligated to obey Christ’s laws (Eph. 2:14-18). The gospel was first preached to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles starting with Cornelius. From that time forward, Gentiles would be obligated to obey the gospel.
Can a person who is a Christian work at a place where alcoholic drinks are sold and have the responsibility of taking these to customers?
Christians must put obeying God’s will as the highest priority in our lives (Matt. 6:33; 22:37; John 14:15). The laws of God command Christians to be sober (1 Thess. 5:6-8), which in the original Greek means to abstain from wine and be free from the influence of intoxicants. The only exception to this is the allowance of small amounts of alcohol ingested specifically for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). Thus, social drinking of alcoholic beverages is sinful. Christians are not to place stumbling blocks to sin in other’s paths (Matt. 18:7-9), and are to expose works of darkness rather than participate in them (Eph. 5:11). Therefore, how can a Christian work in an establishment which sells alcoholic beverages and where he or she is given the specific responsibility of taking these beverages to customers, knowing that they will consume them and get drunk?
That said, we must also judge righteously rather than according to appearance (John 7:24). A Christian working at a bar is more likely to personally bring alcohol to others than would a Christian who works at Wal-Mart, a grocery store, or a restaurant, so we must not assume that a Christian who works at just any establishment which sells liquor is personally involved in such things. We must also remember that God wants Christians to provide for their families and work (1 Tim. 5:8; 2 Thess. 3:10). A Christian who has repented (literally, changed his mind) about selling or serving alcohol to folks needs time to find a new job. We must be patient, forbearing, and encouraging (Col. 3:12-13; Heb. 10:24). We must pray that God opens a door for him to get a better job, and must also offer him employment in order to help him along if we have the means to do so.
Should a Christian use only certain translations of the Bible? If so, which ones?
The Bible contains no specific command concerning which Bible translation to use. In order to avoid adding to God’s Word, we must not legislate on something God has not legislated (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19). That said, these same passages would instruct Bible teachers and translators to do their absolute best to translate as close to the original inspired Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek writings in order to give us the actual will of God. The scriptural principle to make the laws of God understandable would also guide Bible teachers and translators in their work to make the translations of the Bible (Neh. 8:8, 12).
Most Bible translations over the years have generally accomplished both scriptural goals of accuracy and understandability. The differences between translations are miniscule in most cases. For example, compare the different translations of 1 Peter 3:21 as rendered by the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and NASB. God wants this passage to inform us that baptism saves us, that it corresponds to (meaning it is a figure or type of) the flood which saved Noah as talked about in the previous verses, that its purpose is not to make your physical body clean but to answer or appeal to God for a good conscience, and that it does all of this through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each of the four versions of the Bible cited above says exactly that (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 3:6; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19), and they say them using language that was commonly used by the average reader at the time each of them were made (cf. Neh. 8:8, 12).
Therefore, the decision as to which Bible version to use is a matter of personal opinion for several reasons. First, there is no version of the Bible that has completely and undoubtedly translated every iota of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek correctly. Every English translation has varying degrees of translation error, usually ranging from .5% to 3% of its entirety. Thus, one who demands that others shouldn’t use a particular Bible version due to it translating a particular verse wrong must be consistent and condemn themselves for using their own Bible translation for the same reason (Rom. 2:1).
Second, a distinct minority of these translation error relates to doctrinal matters which one needs to accurately know in order to obtain and keep salvation. Whenever I encounter a translation that has an error in a verse which teaches doctrine relating to God or salvation, I choose to correct the error in my own personal studies and also in the class or sermon I’m presenting and then move on rather than condemn the entire translation. I’ve read that some scholars (such as Alfred Edersheim in his work The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah) have found a few errors in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament which the apostles used in their inspired writings. Most scholars call the Septuagint “a reasonably faithful translation,” but even so I’ve found none that say it’s 100% perfect. If the inspired writers of the New Testament could use a less than perfect translation, then why can’t we?
Third, God wants his Word to be understood by those who read it (Neh. 8:8, 12), and each version’s understandability is different for each individual reader. One might find the King James Version easy to understand, while another might not and thus prefer the New King James or the English Standard Version…thus making it a matter of personal opinion and judgment, something on which we have no biblical right to legislate or judge each other (Rom. 14:1-12).
Brethren who argue or even condemn each other over Bible translations fall into the condemnation of 1 Timothy 6:4-5, which warn of people who “are puffed up with conceit and understand nothing” because they have “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth.”
I remember as a small girl that the women always wore hats to church services. I am curious to know for sure if I am sinning by not wearing a hat now. I don’t remember the verse but am thinking of the words, “Let your heads be covered.”
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is the passage which discusses this. Contextually, it falls at the end of Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians to give up personal liberties such as eating meat which had been set aside for idolatry in order to avoid being a stumbling block to weaker brethren whose consciences would be violated (1 Cor. 8-10). The culture of Paul’s day required all respectable women to wear a veil over their head in public as a sign of subjection to male authority, a practice still observed in most Middle Eastern cultures today. During Paul’s day, the only women known to go about with their heads uncovered were prostitutes, who were also known to go so far as to have their heads shaved.
Paul commended the Corinthians for keeping the inspired apostolic traditions he had given them, but they still needed to understand God’s arrangements concerning authority in the home and in the church (11:2-3). In the culture of their day, a man who wore a veil in public would appear effeminate, showing disrespect for his gender and its divinely appointed role, and thus showing disrespect to God (11:2, 7). In like manner, a woman in that culture who chose not to wear a veil would disrespect her gender and its divinely appointed role, and thus show disrespect to God; additionally, it would be as bad as if she had completely shaved her head and thus caused people to think of her as a prostitute, thus bringing shame upon the church and the gospel message proclaimed by her angelos, angels or literally “messengers”, i.e., human messengers, preachers (11:5-10; cf. Rev. 2-3). “In the Lord,” meaning in the church, men and women depend on each other and God as well as having their respective gender roles (11:8, 11-12).
Basically, men and women must not ignore their gender roles as defined by both nature and culture (11:13-16). God’s design in nature was that man should not have long hair, while woman’s long hair was given to her as a covering for her glory. God did not give this command of women wearing a veil in public worship to the universal church for all time, thus showing it was nothing more than a custom of the time (11:16). However, the overall passage teaches that men and women must not ignore the customs of their culture, even if God had not specifically commanded that they observe them, if it would harm the influence of the church and place needless stumbling blocks in the paths of others.
Thus, a Christian woman who chooses not to cover her head while worshiping is not sinning. It is a matter of personal judgment (11:13), a matter of conscience which must be respected by all and not judged by anyone (Rom. 14). More importantly, Christians should recognize that while God has not commanded us to observe non-sinful customs of our culture, ignoring them will likely harm our influence for Christ and bring shame upon ourselves and the church. In such cases, God wants us to give up our personal freedoms and observe that custom anyway in order to avoid being a stumbling block to others.
Please explain the proper interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 33-34.
Some at Corinth were not observing the Lord’s Supper properly, resulting in division in the church. They were selfishly not saving any of the Lord’s Supper for brethren who might come in later, and were treating communion as if it were a regular meal at home (11:21-22). After explaining how to properly observe the Supper (11:23-32), Paul then told them to “wait for one another” and “if anyone is hungry” for a regular meal, “let him eat at home” (11:33-34).
Some take this passage out of context to promote the error that it’s sinful to eat a meal in the church building. Applied consistently, this would result in the ridiculous notion that God commands us to go only to our own house and eat at home if we’re hungry, thus making it sinful to eat out at restaurants and putting the homeless in a dilemma since they have no house to call their home and thus would not even be able to eat on the side of the road or in a soup kitchen. Additionally, those who promote this false doctrine ignore how the church met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila (1 Cor. 16:19); where would they eat?
This is why we must always study the immediate and overall context of a verse before coming to a conclusion about what it is teaching.
Please define “adultery.” Does it only mean to cheat on your spouse? I’ve heard that it also means to break the marriage covenant in general and that it’s actually talking about divorce. Is this true?
The word “adultery” in the original Greek literally means “to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife, to commit adultery with” (Thayer); it “denotes one ‘who has unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another'” (Vine). After perusing seven different Greek-English lexicons, I see that all of them define “adultery” as a sexual sin.
Only one English translation translates the Greek word for “adultery” as something other than a sexual sin. The Tyndale Bible translation of Matthew 5:32 translates the word as “to break matrimony” and “breaketh wedlock,” yet stops short of actually translating the word as “divorce.” Meanwhile, the Greek word in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 is translated “adultery” by the KJV, NIV, NKJV, RSV, TLB, ASV, NBV, NASV, and ESV. That is significant.
Throughout the Bible, “adultery” is used in a sexual sense (cf. Lev. 20:10-11; Jer. 29:23; John 8:1-4; Heb. 13:4). Even when “adultery” is used figuratively to illustrate how God’s people apostatized through idolatry, the term still carries sexual overtones (cf. Ezek. 16:25, 32). In fact, in one such case Jeremiah compares God and Israel to a husband and wife and figuratively says that Israel committed adultery against God through her idolatry, resulting in God figuratively divorcing her (Jer. 3:6-10). If adultery IS divorce, how could God divorce Israel AFTER Israel had already divorced him via her adultery?
We must reject the notion that divorce = adultery or that adultery is covenant breaking in general rather than the specific type of covenant breaking which is sexual relations with someone other than one’s spouse. It’s directly opposed to biblical teaching, and opens the door to compromise with sin and fellowship with those with whom God has no fellowship (Eph. 5:11; 1 John 1:7).
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God. What if a person lived in a homosexual relationship, but was a Christian and died? Would they go to heaven? Also, could they have asked God to forgive them right before they died? Would they go to heaven?
Being tempted to engage in homosexual sin is not sin itself (Heb. 4:15; James 1:14-15). The one who continually resists that temptation and the one who had given into it but then repented is to be commended and encouraged (1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 7:9-11). However, the person who “lives in a homosexual relationship” by definition has given into the temptation and has not repented of it. Such a person would not be a true Christian if he had not repented of this sin while initially hearing the gospel (1 Cor. 6:9-11), or would be an unfaithful, rebellious Christian if he had started this unrepentant, sinful lifestyle after obeying the gospel (2 Cor. 7:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
We do not know when death will come, which is why we sin if we know the right thing to do and yet fail to do it (James 4:13-17). By purposefully waiting until the last minute of our lives to repent, we test God (Matt. 4:7). That said, God is the judge of a Christian who makes a truly heart-felt “deathbed confession,” and his judgments will be just (Heb. 4:13; Gen. 18:25).
If you have loved ones who were not members of the Lord’s church, but lived a Christian life and went to another church and have passed away, would they be in Paradise and go to heaven?
Only Christ is the judge of anyone’s eternal destiny (Acts 17:31), and his Word is what determines our eternal fate (John 12:48; Rev. 20:12). His Word determines if one is a Christian, and so it is to his Word we must go to answer this question.
We are to glorify God using the name “Christian” rather than the name of any man or church (1 Pet. 4:16). A Christian is someone who is saved by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8) because they are in Christ’s church, of which he is the Savior (Eph. 5:23). One becomes a Christian and is saved from hell by obeying the gospel (2 Thess. 1:7-9), which happens when one confesses their heart-felt faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:35-38), repents of their sins (Acts 3:19), and is baptized into Christ, specifically into the church which is his body, for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23). God’s Word says there is only one body, and thus only one church (Eph. 4:4; cf. 1:22-23).
Can one “live a Christian life” (i.e., be a Christian) if they are part of a church which is different from the one church talked about in God’s Word? The answer is plain to those with open, honest hearts (Luke 8:15). The concern felt in the afterlife by the rich man for his loved ones still alive tells us that all of our deceased loved ones, regardless of whether they were a Christian, want nothing but for us to heed God’s Word and become a Christian through the divine plan revealed in its inspired pages.
Will we follow God’s Word…or will we follow ourselves?