All posts by Dennis Moles

About Dennis Moles

Dennis Moles is a pastor/theologian who loves Amy, good coffee, chicken wings, and West Virginia University sport. He spends his free time cheering for his three kids as they compete at various football fields and aquatic centers around the mid-west. And above all else, he enjoys highlighting the good news of Jesus where ever he finds it.

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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Can we prove God exists?

That depends on what we mean when we say prove. If we mean “is it possible to present solid, compelling, and logical reasons to believe in the existence of God,” then the answer is yes. But if we mean “can God’s existence be demonstrated beyond all possible doubt,” then the answer is no.

A “no” answer should not cause those who believe in God to panic. Those who deny God’s existence cannot prove their position, either.

Some things are just beyond our ability to prove, and yet we accept them as true. I cannot prove that my wife loves me, but I’m pretty sure she does. I can’t prove that a breathtaking sunset is beautiful, but I know that it is. I can’t prove that torturing and murdering another human being is evil, but it is.

All of us deeply believe in things that can neither be proven or disproven, including the existence of God. And yet we find ourselves as certain about them as we are about the wind that blows in our faces.

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Are doubts a sign of a weak faith?

I’m a believer—a Christian. I’m a “lifer” and an insider. I was born into a Christian home. I have Christian parents. I’ve gone to church all my life.

I’m also a doubter.

Over the years I’ve had many troubling questions: How do I know God exists? Can I be sure Christianity is right? How can there be an all-loving and all-powerful God when there is so much evil in the world? Can I really trust that the Bible is true?

For most of my life I’ve walked in a place of doubt-plagued faith. And while I’ve never stopped believing, I have stopped pretending that I have all the answers. I’ve come to believe that not all doubt is an enemy of faith. Sincere doubts can be an indispensable part of each person’s faith journey.

If we never doubt, we never question. If we never question, we never change. And if we never change, we never grow.

Just before I graduated from seminary, I had a conversation with my 80-year-old grandfather that changed how I think about doubt.

Poppaw had called to congratulate me on my upcoming graduation. He asked about the kids. I asked if he had been fishing. He talked about getting the old boat in the river. And then the conversation took an unexpected turn.

“Son [my grandfather called me son], I need to ask you a question.” He paused. “Can I trust the Bible? I mean, does the Bible I read in English say the same thing as the original Bible says?”

Up until this point I thought my doubts were a sign that my faith was weak. Frankly, that was part of my reason for going to seminary in the first place. I thought if I could just accumulate enough information, then all my doubts would be crushed under the weight of overwhelming information. But at the end of his faith journey here was Poppaw—one of the most faithful Christ-followers I have ever known—struggling to believe despite his doubt.

That day I began to wonder if I had misdiagnosed the problem. Maybe my doubts weren’t the problem. Maybe they were part of the solution.

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Does the Bible say that the gift of speaking in tongues will cease?

Yes. The Bible says that the spiritual gift of tongues (or languages) will cease. What is not so clear from the Scriptures is when this particular gift did or will stop.

Many Christians believe that this gift was given to authenticate the gospel and that the gift of tongues stopped after the apostles’ death and the completion of the New Testament documents. People who hold this belief are called cessationists because they teach that the miraculous gifts including tongues have ceased. On the other side of the debate are the continuationists who believe that the miraculous gifts have continued and are at least theoretically possible today.

The passage each side struggles with is 1 Corinthians 13:8.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages [in tongues] and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.[1]

The primary question interpreters fight to answer is what the “perfect time” is that Paul is talking about. While the vast majority of pastors and theologians agree that the gift of tongues will pass away “when the time of perfection comes,” they don’t always agree on what inaugurates this time of perfection.

Those who believe that miraculous gifts stopped in the first century generally argue that the time of perfection began when the New Testament documents were completed. When the canon was closed, there was no longer any need for the miraculous gift of tongues.

On the other hand, those who believe that the miraculous gifts continued after the first century generally understand the time of perfection as Christ’s second coming. They teach that when Christ finally and fully reigns as king of the new heaven and new earth, all need for spiritual gifts like tongues, prophecy, and special knowledge will pass away. But until that time, God the Holy Spirit will use the gift of tongues as He sees fit.

[1] Tyndale House Publishers. (2007). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (3rd ed.) (1 Co 13:8–10). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

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What does the Bible say about speaking in tongues?

The Scriptures only mention the miraculous gift of tongues-speaking in a handful of places — six, to be exact. But from these six passages, three in the book of Acts and three in the book of 1 Corinthians, it seems clear that tongues-speaking was a regular and important practice in the life of the early church.

In the first century, speaking in tongues often accompanied the initial giving of the Holy Spirit to a particular people group. We see this in Acts 2, where people from all over the world had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. This diverse and multilingual group was amazed when the apostles, all uneducated men from Galilee, began preaching the good news of Jesus. Instead of hearing the message in Aramaic (the common trade language of the day), each listener heard the gospel in their native language. The gift of tongues is also seen as confirmation that the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers in Caesarea[1] and the disciples of John the baptizer in Ephesus[2] had received the Holy Spirit.

In addition to these descriptive passages in Acts, we also know that the church in Corinth practiced speaking in tongues well into the last half of the first century.[3]

The passages in Acts are descriptive. They tell us what happened. The passages in 1 Corinthians are prescriptive — telling us how the gift should be practiced.

Here are just a few of the instructions the apostle Paul gives to the church at Corinth about the gift of tongues and its use:

  • The gift of tongues is one gift among many and not everyone will receive it.[4]
  • If the gift of tongues, or any other spiritual gift, is practiced apart from love it is worthless.[5]
  • It, along with the gifts of prophecy and knowledge, will eventually pass away.[6]
  • Possessing the gift of tongues should be a cause for humility, not pride.[7]
  • It should not be forbidden, but practiced in a way that draws the hearers toward Christ.[8]
  • There must be an interpreter present if the gift is used publicly; if not, then the speaker should remain quiet and speak to themselves and God.[9]
  • It must be practiced in an orderly and decent manner.[10]

Many things are unclear regarding the spiritual gift of tongues, and there is a great deal of disagreement among Christians regarding it as a legitimate practice for our day. But what seems abundantly clear from the Scriptures is that when God gave this good gift on the day of Pentecost, he gave it for a good purpose—to expand the gospel. It demonstrated his power to restore what was confused at Babel[11] and foreshadow the final restoration of all things.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”[12] (emphasis added)

[1] Acts 10:46

[2] Acts 19:1–6

[3] 1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28 & 30

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:1 & 8; 14:1

[6] 1 Corinthians 13:8

[7] 1 Corinthians 14:1–5

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:6–25 & 39

[9] 1 Corinthians 14:26–28

[10] 1 Corinthians 14:40

[11] Genesis 11:1–9

[12] Revelation 7:9–10

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