In Heaven Will We Recognize and Be With Those We Love?

Question:  My big sister just passed away a month ago. I know she is with Jesus, but I wanted to know if I will see her again in heaven.  Everyone says I will , but I don’t believe.  Is there any Bible verse that I can use to support this.

Answer: Consider Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 where he is comparing spiritual gifts and love as to their completeness and lasting nature.  He says that when the perfect (or mature) comes then the partial will be done away with.  Then, he says, we will know fully even as we are fully known.  This marks a change in our level of knowledge that is so incomplete at present, and others’ knowledge of us is incomplete as well.  But then it will be complete.  We will not lose our individuality and identity, but will be even more completely identifiable.

We see this when, for example, Saul consults a medium to talk to Samuel (1 Samuel 28) and the medium recognizes him.  When Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus and his three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17) they are recognized.  When John has a vision of heaven (Revelation 4,5) he recognizes identifiable groups of people, the “elders,” for example.  We will never lose our identity and so we will be recognized and known in heaven.  Heaven is to be that place where all the perfection we have longed for will come true.  Our relationships will be at the level we always dreamed relationships could be.  Our selfishness will be eradicated.  We will love unconditionally.  Your relationship with your sister will be even more wonderful than it was in this life.

For further reading:

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Who are the sons of God in Genesis 6 and Job 1?

Question:  In Genesis 6:2 and now in Job it refers to the sons of God and I’m sure  in other places.  We’re just beginning so I need to understand who the verses are speaking about.

Answer:  In Job the “sons of God” definitely are angels who appear before God along with Satan.  This has led many to suggest that this is the correct identity for those in Genesis 6:2.  On this view, angelic beings, particularly rebellious angelic beings, those who followed Satan, took wives from human women.  Their offspring were called the Nephilim.  Some have suggested that when their offspring died the spirits of these half-men, half-angels, became what we refer to now as demons, desiring to be in human bodies again and therefore eager to possess humans.

The problem with this view is that it assumes it is possible for two completely different “species” to mate and produce offspring.  This is especially difficult to believe of angels since they do not have bodies (they are “spirits” according to Psalm 104:4 and spirits do not have flesh and blood, Luke 24:39).  Angels seem to be able to adopt a physical form to appear to us, since we cannot see spirits normally with our physical eyes.  But does this enable them to also send sperm compatible with human female ova in order to produce offspring?  Seems very doubtful.

Another view is that the “sons of God” are men of accomplishment, rulers among men.  There is evidence that this is a way the Hebrew for this phrase could be used.  This might also help explain how new Nephilim came to be after the flood, when presumably fallen angels were no longer allowed to sire children by human women.  In Numbers 13:32,33 the spies sent by Moses to explore the promised land report Nephilim in the land.  This makes sense only if this is a general term for large and unusual people.  It cannot refer merely to offspring of angels.  Typical of such men is that they want more than the God-given allotment of one wife and they feel they have the power and influence to accomplish this.

A third view is the the “sons of God” refer to godly believers who contradicted God’s desire to marry only other believing women and instead married the “daughters of men,” meaning unbelievers. This resulted in a dilution of the faith in the subsequent families that were raised and resulted also in the sheer number of ungodly persons living at the time of the flood.  Only Noah and his family remained believers worthy of saving.

It is hard for me to decide between the last two views, but I see a lot of problems with the first view.  It can’t be ruled out but it is highly unlikely in my view.

Randall Johnson

Is John Shelby Spong right that the Bible is unreliable?

Question:  I read an article by John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopal bishop, who seemed to question the historicity of the Bible and its authority over our lives in areas of morality.  Can you help me with his views?  Here is a link to the full article: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/29/my-take-the-3-biggest-biblical-misconceptions/?hpt=hp_c2.

Answer:  Reverend Spong sees three misconceptions people have about the Bible.

Misconception One

Spong’s  initial statement is,

To me, three misconceptions stand out and serve to make the Bible hard to comprehend.  First, people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it.

Let me fill you in on a little secret.  When someone says that “every” biblical scholar or pastor or parent or politician or whoever says or believes the same thing, you can know for a certainty that this is an overstatement that is hiding contrary views.  And believe me, there are contrary views among biblical scholars on Spong’s position.

There have been many books written by reputable scholars for both the Old and New Testaments that support the historicity of the Bible.  But let’s deal with some of the examples Spong uses.

Spong notes,

Abraham, the biblically acknowledged founding father of the Jewish people, whose story forms the earliest content of the Bible, died about 900 years before the first story of Abraham was written in the Old Testament.

From this disputed fact (disputed because there are reputable scholars who believe Moses wrote the account of Abraham 400 years after his life) Spong draws the conclusion that too much legend has grown up over that amount of time to give a realistic picture of a hero in Israelite history.  He makes the same argument about Moses and Jesus and the accuracy of their life stories.  Because the account of Jesus includes miracles this must surely be, in Spong’s mind, a padding of the account to make Jesus look more powerful than he was.

But oddly, when we read the account of Moses on the life of Abraham we do not find a glorified Abraham.  We see a very “warty” Abraham who lied about his wife being his sister, who married his wife’s servant at Sarah’s suggestion in order to circumvent what God told him would happen, and who expressed fear despite God’s promises to him that he would have a son through Sarah and that God would make a mighty nation from him.  Rather than glorifying Abraham we see him in his fallen human nature struggling to believe God.  By Spong’s account we ought to see him performing miracles and walking on water after so many years of legendary addition to his life story.

But this is not the way Bible history is written.  It defies the tendency Spong fears and gives us real people.  The other assumption Spong is making about the Bible is that God did not or could not guide the transmission of Abraham’s story, or Moses’ story or Jesus’ story, for that matter, accurately, protecting it from inaccurate accretion.  Spong’s naturalistic perspective, ruling out God’s purpose and power, taints all of his alleged concerns about the Bible.

Still dealing with the historicity of the Bible, Spong then asserts,

Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion, and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.

First of all, there is no reason to believe that Jesus did not speak or write in Greek, but even if he didn’t, how does that make an account of his life written in Greek therefore and of necessity inaccurate?  The logic is baffling!

It is of utmost importance, in fact, to recognize that such accounts of the life of an important person written only 40-70 years after his life and contained in thousands of existing manuscripts (there are over 5,000 existing New Testament manuscripts alone)  is unheard of for other famous individuals in history.  And it is likely that the accounts of the New Testament were written in some cases only 20-30 years after Jesus’ death.  This means there were people still alive who could refute or exonerate the accounts.  This is why Paul mentions that there were over 500 people who saw Jesus alive, or why the Gospels mention Simon of Cyrene who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross, or other individuals who could be asked about these facts.

Spong’s last historical jab is this,

Perhaps the most telling witness against the claim of accurate history for the Bible comes when we read the earliest narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark’s gospel and discover that it is not based on eyewitness testimony at all.

Spong is here assuming a view of Mark’s Gospel that sees it as a deliberate attempt to conform the life of Jesus to Old Testament prophecies.  He assumes what he wishes to prove.  But there is ample tradition and indications within Mark’s Gospel itself that it is based on eyewitness account.

Misconception Two

The second misconception Spong mentions is “the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense ‘the word of God.’ Only someone who has never read the Bible could make such a claim.”  Well, of course, there are many who have read the Bible and claim exactly that.  But Spong’s evidence is that God endorses the violent judgment of unbelievers and this could certainly not be attributed to the God “everyone” knows is the true God.  And because people have misused these passages they cannot be from God.  Huh?  Again, the logic escapes me.  Has anyone misused Spong’s words?  Then they cannot be true.

Misconception Three

“The third major misconception,” according to Spong, “is that biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging.”  And there is something to what Spong is saying here.  There is a progression through the Bible of understanding and perspective, but it does not seem accurate to portray this as changing truth.  Because God deals with Israel in a way He does not deal with the church does not mean He is changing truth.  We deal with our children one way when they are minors and another as they mature into adults.

Spong’s final statement is,

The ultimate meaning of the Bible escapes human limits and calls us to a recognition that every life is holy, every life is loved, and every life is called to be all that that life is capable of being. The Bible is, thus, not about religion at all but about becoming deeply and fully human. It issues the invitation to live fully, to love wastefully and to have the courage to be our most complete selves.

But this only seems another way of saying that Spong has decided what being fully human is apart from Scripture, keeping the parts that fit with his perspective and explaining away those that don’t.  This kind of subjective handling of Scripture leaves one feeling that it would be best for him to simply say what he thinks is right and holy without appeal to the Bible at all.

For other articles exposing the poor logic and facts of John Shelby Spong see:

What’s Wrong with Bishop Spong?
William Lane Craig vs. John Shelby Spong on the resurrection of Jesus

John Shelby Spong’s Liberating the Gospels: A Critique

Randall Johnson

Is zoophilia okay?

Question:  While searching on google the auto complete feature has lead me to a topic that I find odd.  The word was zoophilia, which is mutual relationships between animals and humans.  This made me wonder if this is a sin because this is different than bestiality, due to the fact that both of them are willing?
Answer:  The dictionary definition of zoophilia is “an erotic fixation on animals that may result in sexual excitement through real or fancied contact.”  You seem to be assuming that bestiality, sex with animals, is something that is forced on animals, while zoophilia is a mutual sexual excitement between animals and humans.  I don’t think that is actually a part of the definition or difference between these two terms.  However, it is clear from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 that God’s establishment of proper sexual relationships is found modeled in the Garden of Eden.

Given that model, any form of sexuality other than between a married man and woman is off limits.  God designed men and women for mutual sexuality, no one else.  Men are not to have a sexual relationship with men, nor women with women.  Each is to reproduce after its kind and, presumably, have sexual relationships only with each one’s kind.

This fits with subsequent regulations in the law of Moses against bestiality/zoophilia and homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22,23), laws that are endorsed in the New Testament, as well (Romans 1:24-27).  When we go against the obvious permitted/designed relationships for sex we are choosing to reject God’s revelation and are doing harm to ourselves.  God made us the way we are to function best and no other sexual relationship besides that between married men and women will be healthy for our souls or our bodies.

Randall Johnson

Who Is the Destroying Angel in Numbers 16?

Question:  Who exactly is the “destroyer” referenced in 1 Cor 10:10, when interpreted in light of the wording of Exo 11:4, 12:23, and 12:29 in the NKJV translation?

Answer:  The incident referred to in 1 Corinthians 10:10 actually refers to an event that occurred in Numbers 16 when several Levites were challenging Moses’ authority as leader.  The leaders of the rebellion, Korah, Dathan and Abiram, were standing at their tents and God told Moses He was going to destroy all the assembly who was supporting them.  Moses asked Him to only deal with the leaders.  God opened the earth and swallowed them and their families alive.  Several of their followers who were offering incense on the altar were killed by fire.  When the next day the assembly came again to Moses and accused him of killing these leaders, God began to kill them with a plague.  Moses and Aaron offered a sacrifice on their behalf so that more did not die.

In Exodus 12 Moses told the Israelites that Yahweh would go “through the land to strike down the Egyptians” but that if they applied the blood of the lamb to their doorposts God would “not permit the destroyer to enter” their houses (verse 23).  Though it does not say a “destroying angel” did this in Numbers, Paul is undoubtedly assuming the Jewish tradition that the same angelic activity that occurred in Exodus with the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt (see Psalm 78:49) was repeated in Korah’s rebellion.  Whether the angel from God opened the earth, sent the fire that killed those offering illicit fire on the altar and sent the plague, or whether the angel was commissioned for just some of that action, we do not know.

It is possible that the destroying angel was the angel of Yahweh.  The angel of Yahweh (this means, the messenger of Yahweh) is a separate person from God but at times is identified as Yahweh (compare Genesis 16:7-11 with Exodus 3:1-6).  It seems best to understand this by positing that Jesus, the Son, is the angel of Yahweh.  We can understand this because we know that Jesus, the Son, is both equal with God and yet a separate personality from God the Father.  This helps make sense in this passage of Yahweh taking responsibility for opening the earth, sending the fire and the plague.  Yahweh did, but it was Yahweh the Son, not Yahweh the Father.

We see this stand out in stark relief in Genesis 19:24 when the text says that in judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Yahweh rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from Yahweh out of the heavens” (when you see LORD in all caps this is the English representation of the divine name, Yahweh).  The Son was bringing down judgment from the Father in heaven.

Interestingly, in 1 Corinthians 11 we read that some of the Corinthians were sick and some had died because they were violating another sacred symbol of God, the Lord’s supper, by their inappropriate behaviors.  God still does not tolerate wanton abuse of His holy symbols and leaders.  And that is the intent of Paul in this passage, also, to warn the Corinthians against offending God’s holy ordinances.

Randall Johnson

Submitting to Parents When You Are an Adult

Question:  How long should I submit to my parents? 

Answer:  As long as you are dependent upon them and living under their roof and are not capable of assuming an adult role in life.  Once you are able to do that you should not be in submission to your parents’ authority but respect it.  This means that you will honor them and their opinions and views on things, but make your own decisions as the head of a new household.  Moses called this “leaving father and mother” (Genesis 2:24).

Even if you are not starting a new household (i.e., getting married), you need to learn to live on your own and face the multiple decisions that come your way.  It is best, of course, to face them in light of God’s will for your life and with His wisdom.

Why does the Bible seem to endorse slavery?

The Old Plantation, ca. 1790-1800. Watercolor ...

Image via Wikipedia

Question: Leviticus 25:44 says “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.” I’m thinking after reading the entire chapter that slaves were only permitted at that time because they were paying off debts and in the year of jubilee they were to be freed. In this case, even though they are called “slaves”, they are simply working off their debt as in Proverbs 22:7. Am I on the right track? Is there anywhere else in the Bible that God speaks of having slaves as okay?

Answer: I would answer that there are no places in the Bible where God endorses slavery. What we do see in the Bible is legislation and teaching regarding something that was already a reality in most cultures during which the Bible was written. It was common to make slaves of those you defeated in battle, probably with an eye to getting the spoils of war, but also as a practical response to what you were going to do with the survivors on the losing side to keep them from getting back at you. If you keep them enslaved and oppressed they can’t get strong enough to defeat you. This was the attitude of Pharaoh toward Israel in Exodus 1.

What the Bible does that is counter-cultural, however, is to legislate fairness in the treatment of slaves and to regulate the way to freedom for slaves from among brother and sister Israelites. Mistreatment of slaves was punishable (for example, Exodus 21:26,27). Liberation of Israelite slaves was required in the year of Jubilee legislation (Leviticus 25:8-55). Fellow Israelites could not be forced into slavery but could only voluntarily sell themselves to an Israelite to pay off debt and they were to be treated as hired hands (Leviticus 25:39-46).

Paul picks up in the New Testament where Moses leaves off. By writing what he does to Philemon about his slave Onesimus, who has become a believer, it becomes apparent that in Christ there really isn’t room for believers to allow slavery among themselves. And by extension, it is not right to allow slavery period. That is the direction the Bible is leading us, even if it doesn’t come right out and state it.

Randall Johnson