Category Archives: Bible

If Christians believe in heaven, why do we still fear death?

Christians believe that when we die we will be resurrected with new bodies. But just like other people, we try to avoid it.

Change can be unnerving, and death is the ultimate unknown. We spend our entire lives investing ourselves in this world, assuming that our investment is meaningful. Death challenges that investment. It seems to deny the ultimate value of careers, possessions, friends, and families. Christians have to face this harsh reality just as much as unbelievers, and while faith in resurrection offers comfort, it isn’t easy to imagine how a future life can offer continuity with our investment in this one.

As human beings, resistance to death is physically and instinctively ingrained in us. Recently our family made the difficult decision to euthanize a pet terrier dying painfully of cancer. As I cuddled her in my arms, the veterinarian gave her an injection of anesthesia to relax her and put her to sleep in preparation for the fatal dose of barbiturate that would follow. She was afraid. She fought the drug’s relaxing effect, looking at me and making heart-rending sounds.

Deeply bonded with our little dog, I rocked her like a child until she gave in to the medication and fell asleep. It wasn’t easy. Knowing that life was departing from a little creature that was a cherished part of our family for nearly twenty years brought deep feelings of sadness and loss. Yet losing our little terrier, Effie, didn’t compare to the loss of parents and other human relatives we had experienced in recent years.

Humans easily overlook how much of our experience isn’t under rational control. Our emotional life (including our affection, joy, anger, and fear) is as influenced by instinct and hormones as by imagination and reason. The life within us, like that in our little terrier, reflexively seeks to avoid death. Our hopes and beliefs transcend death, but as physical creatures, we resist it.

Death reduces living bodies to physical objects—soon to become decaying corpses. It mocks relationships, personhood, and hopes (John 11:38–39). Facing the ugly physical and emotional reality of a close friend’s death, Jesus wept (John 11:32–25). The apostle Paul viewed death with such seriousness that he referred to it as the “last enemy” that the kingdom of Christ will overcome (1 Corinthians 15:25–26). Even when Christians approach death with faith and hope that has been reinforced by God’s faithfulness through a lifetime of experiences, facing such a hideous enemy is never just a dispassionate decision. It is a time for courage.

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Do those who reject the gospel understand what they are rejecting?

Rejection of the gospel isn’t necessarily conscious rejection of Christ. Some people reject the gospel because they misunderstand it or because it has been misrepresented to them. This is partly why Jesus, Paul, Peter, and other biblical authors warned so strongly against hypocrisy and causing a truth-seeker to despair (Matthew 18:6; 1 Corinthians 8:9).

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:9)

Scripture implies that rejection of the good news of Jesus Christ is often the result of ignorance and misunderstanding rather than conscious evil intent. Jesus doesn’t refer to unbelievers as “snakes,” “dogs,” “jackals,” or “scorpions,” but as “sheep” (Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:4; Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:25). We can assume that the image of “sheep” (known for harmlessness and herd instinct) was chosen for a reason. Scripture also refers to unbelievers as “ignorant” and “wayward people” (Hebrews 5:1–2), “poor,” “oppressed,” “blind,” and “captives” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18).

Even when the gospel hasn’t been misrepresented, a world marked by disease, competition, and violence makes the gospel sound improbable to many people (1 Corinthians 1:18–25). Harsh life experiences make us wonder how a loving God can be in charge. Even Hebrew believers who lived in the time before God “made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:10), had an ambivalent view. They believed their departed loved ones were at peace with God in some sense, but considered them unable to join in the joyous worship of the Lord’s people in the same way as when they were living (Psalm 88:10; 115:17; Isaiah 38:18; Ecclesiastes 9:3–6).

Jesus knew the obstacles to faith and understood His role in revealing God’s love to us. We should pattern our response to the lost on His compassion.

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. (1 Timothy 1:13 NIV).

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Do the Sabbath requirements of Old Testament Law carry over to Sunday?

In an effort to obey the Bible’s teachings about worship and rest, some Christians have transferred many of the Old Testament Sabbath[1] requirements to Sunday. For those of us who are wondering whether such a practice is necessary or even advisable, it might help to think about the historical differences between Israel and the Church.

The Sabbath was given to Israel as a symbol of their special relationship with God[2]. When the Christian church came into existence, Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians had no weekly day of rest or worship. Because of work and societal demands, most early Christians couldn’t set Sunday aside as a “day of rest” or substitute Sabbath. Further, the New Testament offered no support for transferring Sabbath practices or regulations to Sunday. It simply declared Sunday as the day the followers of Christ meet in honor of His resurrection.[3]

Consequently, Christians in the Roman Empire carried on their normal occupations even while setting time aside for worship and fellowship on Sunday. These circumstances continued until the beginning of the 4th century when Constantine, the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, made Sunday a special day of rest and worship.

Even though Sabbath restrictions together with the broader Law of Moses were not passed on to the Church (Galatians 3:24–25), some principles of dedicated times of rest and worship may still apply. Many followers of Christ believe that setting aside the day that the apostles gathered for worship—Sunday—as a special day for spiritual refreshment is a God-honoring practice.[4]

[1] To this day Jewish people worship on the 7th day of the week—Saturday. Exodus 20:8 says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (niv)

[2] Exodus 31:13–17

[3] Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and other church fathers attribute Sunday worship to the fact that Christ was resurrected on the first day of the week. This isn’t surprising, not only because of the symbolism involved with the day of our Lord’s resurrection, but because the Lord himself emphasized Sunday rather than the Sabbath by choosing it as the day in which he met with his disciples in his post-resurrection appearances (John 20:19–29; Luke 24; Mark 16). Further, Sunday was the day the Holy Spirit manifested himself and the Church was born (Acts 2).

[4] In The Lost World of Genesis One, Old Testament Professor John H. Walton describes how after 6 days of setting creation in order, God took up residence in His cosmic temple on the 7th day. God is now “resting,” enthroned in His rightful place (Psalm 132:7-8,13-14) as the active Lord and governor of the universe.

“If we have to be reminded or coerced to observe it, it ceases to serve its function. Sabbath isn’t the sort of thing that should have to be regulated by rules. It is the way that we acknowledge that God is on the throne, that this world is his world, that our time is his gift to us. It is ‘big picture’ time. And the big picture is not me, my family, my country, my world, or even the history of my world. The big picture is God. If the Sabbath has its total focus in recognition of God, it would detract considerably if he had to tell us what to do. Be creative! Do whatever will reflect your love, appreciation, respect and awe of the God of all the cosmos. (This is the thrust of Isaiah 58:13-14.)”  The Lost World of Genesis One, p. 146.


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Can the Gospels be trusted since they are based on oral recollections?

Skeptics have long questioned the trustworthiness of the Gospels. They contend that the Gospels cannot be reliable since they are based on oral recollections of the events surrounding the life and teaching of Jesus. As political satirist Bill Maher quipped, the Judaism of his mother and the Christianity of his father are based on “a long, 2,000-year-old game of telephone.”[1]

Nearly all scholars agree that the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry were passed along by word of mouth for at least 20 to 60 years before being written in what we commonly call the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).[2] But does this fact mean that they are filled with half-truths, misrepresentation, and fabrications?

More than a century has passed since popular and highly publicized scholars first began to wonder if the gospels were fairy stories based on faulty memories and exaggerations that are part and parcel with oral transmission. Today, however, studies confirm that complicated and nuanced narratives can be faithfully passed along orally. Folklorists have found examples in cultures all over the world where long oral narratives were accurately passed down over many generations. These narratives typically contain a longer plot line together with various smaller units that compose the bulk of the story. In fact, when the subject matter is highly meaningful to a community, everyone in that community—not just the storyteller—is concerned with accurately and faithfully preserving it.[3]

Additionally, memory studies tell us that people are much more likely to accurately remember events when they are unique, consequential, and image-rich—just the kinds of experiences shared by the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry.

There are two final points to consider. The first is that the Scriptures themselves tell us that the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry were codified and established before the first four books of the New Testament were penned (Luke 1:1–2). Second, the historical distance between the original events and actual text is so short compared to other ancient texts—less than 100 years—that it seems to render this point moot.[4]

[1] In an NPR interview in 2008

[2] The oldest existing biblical text fragment is dated to the 2nd century AD with places it within 100 years of the original events it describes.

[3] See The Jesus Legend (252-254) and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (305-306).

[4] The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts;

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Did Jesus’ Mother, Mary, Give Birth to Other Children?


At first glance, this question seems to fall into the “simple to answer” category: “Did you shut the garage door?” or “Is the earth round?” But when we really look into the history behind it, we find that it’s not quite that simple. In fact, Christians of different stripes have disagreed for hundreds of years about how best to answer it.

Historically, Christians in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions have thought “no” while Christians in the Protestant tradition have thought “yes.”

Catholic and Orthodox Christians (and some Protestants) teach that Mary remained a virgin all her life and gave birth only to Jesus.[1] This view was almost universally accepted by the Church from approximately the 3rd to the 17th centuries AD [2] and follows four basic lines of thought:

  1. Ezekiel 44:1-3 is a prophecy about the virgin birth of Christ.[3] According to this interpretation, Mary is the gate through which Jesus and only Jesus entered the world.
  2. If Mary had other biological children, Jesus would not have entrusted her into the care of John as he was being crucified.[4]
  3. The Greek words translated “brothers” and “sisters” have a wider range of meaning than the English and can mean “cousin” or “near relative.”[5]
  4. For both Catholic and Orthodox Christians, the Church’s long-standing tradition regarding Mary’s perpetual virginity validates this belief.

Protestants who don’t accept the perpetual virginity of Mary base their belief on three primary points of evidence:

  1. The teaching that Mary and Joseph never consummated their marriage is not expressly taught in the Scriptures.
  2. The belief that Mary was “ever-virgin” is not clearly found in two of the earliest Christian theologians: Irenaeus of Lyons or Tertullian.[6]
  3. Protestants believe that the simplest and clearest reading of biblical passages like Matthew 12:46-50, Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Luke 8:19-20, John 2:12, John 7:3-10, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, and Galatians 1:19 lead us to believe that Jesus did have half-siblings.[7]

So, did Mary give birth to other children?  While we cannot know with absolute certainly whether she did or didn’t, what seems clear is that a person’s salvation and love for Christ does not depend on how they answer this question. Christians of all perspectives agree that Mary the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ occupies a unique and honored place. God chose her to carry and give birth to His Son who would save the world from its sins.


[1] This belief is commonly called the perpetual virginity of Mary. Some Catholic and Orthodox Christians also use the term “ever-virgin” when talking about Mary.

[2] Catholic and Orthodox believers point out that prominent Reformed theologians like Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Jean Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Wesley believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. See Council of Trent 1545 ad.

[3] This interpretation was common among the early church fathers. St. Augustine clearly taught that Ezekiel 44:1-3 was prophetically speaking about Mary. “The Lord said to me, ‘This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it.’ ”

[4] John 19:25-27.

[5] There are three widely held opinions within Christianity regarding who these siblings/relatives were:

  1. Catholics believe that the adelphos/adelpha (brothers/sisters) were cousins or near relatives, not brothers and sisters.
  2. Orthodox believers say that they were older, non-biological half-siblings through Joseph from a previous marriage.[5]
  3. Most Protestants believe that they were younger half-siblings from the union of Mary and Joseph.

[6] In addition to the clear absence of a defense in Irenaeus and Tertullian, Helvidius wrote against the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary prior to 383 ad.

[7] Protestant theologians also point to two additional passages as support for their position: Matthew 1:25 and Luke 2:7.

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