Category Archives: Christianity

Does the Bible Permit Divorced Persons to Serve as Church Leaders?


I recall a man in a church who was known and respected by everyone. He volunteered to help when people were in need and provided wise counsel when people were struggling. At a congregational meeting, his name was put forward as candidate for elder. But an objection was raised: 20 years earlier he had been divorced after his wife left him for another man. Even though he’d been faithfully married to his current spouse for many years, some in the congregation wondered if his election as a church leader would violate the standard set by 1 Timothy 3:2 and 1 Timothy 3:12:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach. (niv)

A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. (niv)

In Greek, the expression translated in most English Bible versions as “husband of one wife” actually reads “one-woman man.”

Some believe this passage implies that anyone who has ever been divorced and remarried is not permitted to serve as an elder or deacon. But this assumes that being a “one-woman man” means never being divorced. And that isn’t always the case.[1]

A number of other considerations must be taken into account in the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy and other New Testament passages. The “one-woman man” standard doesn’t stand alone; it is part of a larger group. First Timothy 3:2-7 seems to teach that a person’s suitability to serve as a church leader rests not only on one qualification, but many. An elder must be:


         blameless

         temperate

         self-controlled

         respectable

         hospitable

         an apt teacher (teachable)

         not given to drunkenness

         gentle

         not quarrelsome

         not greedy or covetous

         a good manager of his household and children

         a seasoned believer

         of good reputation with outsiders


A couple of additional thoughts:

First, the criteria for church leadership doesn’t seem to involve sins committed prior to conversion. The apostle Paul, for example, persecuted the church and participated in the murders of Christians prior to his conversion, yet he became one of the most influential church leaders of all time.

Second, a fair evaluation of an individual should take all circumstances into account. Are those who have struggled to preserve their marriage after being abandoned by an unfaithful spouse really in violation of the “one-woman man” principle?[2] Not likely.[3]

[1] Many scholars believe that this phrase is talking about current character rather than past performance. According to this line of thinking, a twice-divorced person who has been faithful to their spouse for 15 years may be more suitable to serve than a never-divorced person who habitually fosters inappropriate relationships with persons other than their spouse.

[2] Jesus himself acknowledged that sexual sin was legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11).

[3] If a person’s suitability on the basis of one qualification comes into question, his evaluation should continue based on all of the rest. If a local congregation knows that a man’s divorce had truly biblical grounds or occurred prior to his conversion so that he can be considered “blameless” (1 Timothy 3:2) and well-qualified upon the basis of all the other criteria, he can be considered a “one-woman man.”

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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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Is it likely that Jesus’ body was not buried?

In recent years, a few New Testament scholars[1] have suggested that after Jesus was crucified his body may not have been buried as described in the Gospels. They conjecture that his body was likely buried in an unmarked grave or simply thrown on the ground to be devoured by scavengers. While it is true that the bodies of some crucified people were thrown into mass graves, the evidence surrounding Jesus’ death does not support the speculation that his body would have been discarded in this manner. Along with the testimony of first-hand witnesses preserved in the Gospel accounts, there are many other significant reasons to assume Jesus’ body would have been buried.

After Jesus was crucified, Jewish leaders were bound by their own customs and religious law to provide a proper burial for him. Regardless of their personal hostility towards Jesus, they couldn’t ignore issues of ritual purity without damaging their own credibility and authority as guardians and defenders of Jewish tradition. Josephus, the most important Jewish historian of the period, wrote: “The Jews are so careful about funeral rites that even malefactors (criminals) who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset.”[2] The Temple Scroll from that time period discovered at Qumran[3] specifically calls for the burial of crucified Jews.

John 19:31-34 confirms these ritual purity concerns by noting that the Jews asked the Romans to facilitate the deaths of the crucified so that they wouldn’t be hanging on the cross on the Sabbath.[4]All four Gospels confirm that Joseph of Arimathea took custody of Jesus’ body and provided an honorable burial.[5]

Pilate had already experienced sufficient conflict with the Jews and would have been hesitant to unnecessarily offend them. The heightened nationalism and explosive political climate of early first century Palestine would have made it extremely unlikely that any Roman governor would violate Jewish sensitivities by leaving the body of a crucified Jew on a cross on the eve of the Passover. The same concern with Jewish opinion that made Pilate willing to execute Jesus in spite of personal reservations,[6] would have made him unlikely to leave Jesus’ body on the cross on a holy day at the symbolic center of Jewish society.

[1] Two well-known scholars are Jesus Seminar member and former Catholic priest John Dominic Crossan and University of North Carolina professor and author Dr. Bart Ehrman.

[2] Also see Against Apion 2.211

[3] The region in southern Israel where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

[4] Archaeological evidence confirms the precedent of crucified Jews receiving proper burial: “We actually possess archaeological evidence from the time of Jesus that confirms the claims we find in Phil, Josephus, the New Testament, and early rabbinic literature, to the effect that executed persons, including victims of crucifixion, were probably buried.

“The discovery in 1968 of an ossuary (ossuary no. 4 in Tomb1, at Giv’at ha-mMivtar) of a Jewish man named Yehohanan, who had obviously been crucified, provides archeological evidence and insight into how Jesus himself may have been crucified. The ossuary and its contents date to the late 20s CE, that is during the administration of Pilate, the very Roman governor who condemned Jesus to the cross. The remains of an iron spike (11.5 cm in length) are plainly seen still encrusted in the right heel bone. Those who took down the body of Yehohanan apparently were unable to remove the spike, with the result that a piece of wood (from an oak tree) remained affixed to the spike. Later, the skeletal remains of the body—spike, fragment of wood, and all—were placed in the ossuary.” (p. 54, How God Became Jesus)

[5] Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51; John 19:38

[6] Matthew 27:11-26

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How Powerful is the Devil?

Even though the Scriptures tell us little about Satan’s origin, they do inform us that he is a fallen angel of considerable power. The New Testament describes him as a “great enemy” who “prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”[1] Jesus Himself said that Satan is such a force to be reckoned with that He is the only one strong enough to conquer him.[2]

Jesus would go on to refer to Satan as the “ruler of this world.”[3] Paul called him the “god of this age.”[4] He also portrayed him as the head of a great, highly organized “army” of evil spirit beings.[5] He is a cunning liar, capable of seducing Adam and Eve by disguising himself as an “angel of light.”[6] The book of Revelation says that his powers of deception are so potent that he is able to lead the whole world astray.[7]

While Satan is portrayed in the Bible as powerful, dangerous, and an adversary to be taken seriously, he shouldn’t be considered in any way equal to God. He is a creature with creaturely limitations. His power is nothing in comparison with that of the Creator of heaven and earth. And according to James 4:7, because of the power God gives to His children, if we submit to Him and resist the devil, Satan will flee from us. Although subtle and cunning, the devil is an already defeated foe who will continue to resist God furiously until the time that he will be sealed in hell forever.

[1] 1 Peter 5:8

[2] Mark 3:27

[3] John 12:31

[4] 2 Corinthians 4:4

[5] Ephesians 6:12

[6] 2 Corinthians 11:14

[7] Revelation 12:9

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Did Jesus Claim He was God?

Perhaps at first glance, a modern person wouldn’t think that Jesus claimed to be God. Jesus didn’t use later, more familiar, Christian terminology. He didn’t refer to Himself as the “Second Person of the Trinity,” but He did identify Himself with God in a thoroughly Jewish way, in accordance with the language and expectations of His contemporaries.[1]

When He declared, “I have come,” He indicated that He had a supernatural origin.[2] When He forgave sins, He claimed divine authority.[3] His enemies recognized the implications of such a claim.[4]

Jesus applied the title “Son of Man” to Himself in a unique way that clearly implied to contemporaries He was claiming equality with God. He consciously acted in ways that corresponded to God’s actions in the Old Testament [5] and claimed (divine) power to choose people to carry out his purposes.[6]

Jesus’ miracles also confirmed that God was personally and supernaturally acting through Him in history. In the Gospels Jesus demonstrated divine power by calming the stormy seas, healing sickness, restoring deformed body parts, and raising the dead to life.[7]

Jesus accepted reverence and worship that Paul, as a mere man, rightfully rejected, and Jesus even claimed authority over the angels of heaven.[8]

His enemies may not have been aware of all of these things and their implications, but they were certainly aware of enough of them to realize Jesus identified Himself with God. In fact, it was a key part of the case they made for His judgment and execution.[9]

[1] “To get a genuinely biblical ‘high Christology’—a strong identification between Jesus himself and the God of Israel—you don’t need the kind of explicit statements you find in John (“I and the father are one,” 10:30). What you need is, for instance, what Mark gives you in his opening chapter, where prophecies about the coming of God are applied directly to the coming of Jesus.” Wright, How God Became King, p. 90 and following

[2] “When one examines these sayings of Jesus, the closest matches with them in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition are statements that angels make about their earthly missions (within the Old Testament, see, e.g., Dan 9:22–23; 10:14;11:2). I found twenty-four examples in the Old Testament and Jewish traditions of angels saying, “I have come in order to…” as a way of summing up their earthly missions. A prophet or a messiah in the Old Testament or Jewish tradition never sums up his life’s work this way.” How God Became Jesus p. 97

[3] Matthew 5:17; Mark 10:45; Luke 12:49; 19:10; Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5-11; Luke 5:20; 7:47-50

[4]Mark 2:7; see also “When one examines these sayings of Jesus, the closest matches with them in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition are statements that angels make about their earthly missions (within the Old Testament, see, e.g., Dan 9:22–23; 10:14;11:2). I found twenty-four examples in the Old Testament and Jewish traditions of angels saying, “I have come in order to…” as a way of summing up their earthly missions. A prophet or a messiah in the Old Testament or Jewish tradition never sums up his life’s work this way.” How God Became Jesus p. 97

[5] For example, he chose 12 disciples as the foundation of a new Israel that would carry out God’s plans in the world.

[6] Matthew 11:27

[7] Mark 4:39; 5:21-24; 6:30-44; 45-52; 9:25; Luke 4:39; 5:1-11; Matthew 12:9-14; 17:24-27

[8] Luke 24:52, Acts 10:25-26, Matthew 13:41; 25:31

[9] Mark 2:7; Mark 14:63-64

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