Questions about Scripture

Does heaven exist?

IN THE past few months I have been asked by a number of people about the reality of heaven. How much do we know about it? Does it really exist? To the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus, Our Lord said, “Today you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Did that promise have any substance? Uneasiness among many people is partly caused by the fact that preachers seem much less confident than they used to be, when speaking about heaven. Formerly we took the biblical images of heaven at their face value. Now we have come to realise that they are only images, not exact descriptions, and this makes heaven seem less real. Read more…

Should we take everything on face value?

I HEARD recently that Jesus taught reincarnation. Proof? He called King Herod “that fox”, which proves undeniably that Herod was a fox in a previous life! The truth is that we can make Scripture say almost anything we like, if we do not read it properly. Even the devil can quote God’s word. What we always have to remember is that we must distinguish between what Scripture wants to teach, and the illustration it uses. The illustrations often reflect contemporary beliefs that are not part of the inspired message. Read more…

How does Scripture avoid using God’s name?

ONE of the ten commandments concerns God’s name. It says: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Deuteronomy 5:11). In Old Testament times magical power was ascribed to the name of a god and the Jews were forbidden to use God’s name for any “vain” purpose – superstition, commercial bargaining, imposing curses or swearing light-hearted oaths. All such practices implied great disrespect for God himself. In Jesus’ time most Jews had begun an even more vigorous interpretation of the commandment. They avoided pronouncing the name of God at all times.ONE of the ten commandments concerns God’s name. It says: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Deuteronomy 5:11). In Old Testament times magical power was ascribed to the name of a god and the Jews were forbidden to use God’s name for any “vain” purpose – superstition, commercial bargaining, imposing curses or swearing light-hearted oaths. All such practices implied great disrespect for God himself. In Jesus’ time most Jews had begun an even more vigorous interpretation of the commandment. They avoided pronouncing the name of God at all times.Read more…

Why do we find contradictions in Scripture?

I often think about Telugu proverbs when people ask me about factual contradictions in the Gospels. People can understand how two texts may seem to conflict because each stresses a different aspect of a truth, but they are worried about the facts of one passage contradicting the facts in another. For example, in Matthew we are told that Jesus cured two blind men when Jesus left Jericho (Matt. 20:29). Luke tells us Jesus cured one blind man when he entered Jericho (Luke 18:35). There seems to be a clear contradiction here. Read more…

What can we learn from Jesus’ ancestors?

FINDING out about one’s family tree is quite popular nowadays. People want to know where their grandparents and great grandparents came from. There are firms that help in this search. For a fee they will check out names in birth and marriage registers and so trace your ancestors. Genealogies were even more important for the contemporaries of Jesus. Families who had returned from Persia after the Exile wanted to prove that they derived from original Jewish stock. Read more…

Did the devil really speak to Jesus?

THE temptations of Jesus rank among the most puzzling and inspiring stories of the Gospel. What do they mean? Did the Devil literally appear to Jesus and talk to him? Did he physically lift Jesus up onto the outside wall of the Temple and transport him later to the top of a high mountain? See Matthew 3:1-11; Luke 4:1-13. To understand the story, we have to know that it is a “narrative reflection” – a form of instruction the Jews called midrash. Read more…

Can we meet Jesus ‘personally’?

A FRIEND of mine, who went through a stormy patch of life, said to me: “I wish I would get an answer when I am talking to Jesus. Like knowing he is there! Did he mean it when he said, ‘I will reveal myself to you’?” The amazing answer I could give her was that Jesus really meant it. Direct knowledge of Jesus is not reserved to saints alone. All of us can have the experience. We can be in immediate spiritual contact with him. He promised it to us. Yes, he said “I will reveal myself” (John 14:21). Read more…

Did Jesus hang naked on the cross?

AFTER the Good Friday liturgy I was asked confidentially whether the crucifix we used was true to Scripture. The enquirer had learned in school that Jesus died naked on the cross. Actually, it is not easy to establish with certainty what happened at the crucifixion of Jesus in this regard. The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus states that Jesus wore a loincloth (Nicod 1:10). This Gospel, however, was written centuries after the event. It is not reliable. It takes its description of the crucifixion from a pious but legendary source, the so-called Acts of Pilate, which was composed towards the end of the second century. Read more…

Can we express God’s reality in human language?

HAVE you ever tried seeing yourself through your dog’s eyes? As your best friend it can share your moods and a measure of your life. But there is much it will never grasp. How will it understand your preference for Labour or the Tories? Or the meaning of your child’s baptism? Or why you enjoy watching Coronation Street on the telly? Dogs think in categories such as meat, territory, playing, who-is-boss? and going for a walk. I do not want to scandalise you, but we are somewhat in the same boat when trying to understand God. Read more…

Did Jesus know everything?

SOME time ago, at a recollection day for youngsters, I was asked how many languages Jesus spoke. “Aramaic was his own language,” I said, “and he probably managed a smattering of Greek, as most Jews did in his time. But he would definitely not have understood English.” Julian, a fine Goan lad, was visibly upset by this. “Jesus was God,” he protested. “He was omniscient. He knew everything. He must have known English. In fact, it would probably have taken him no more than five minutes to fill in The Times crossword puzzle. It was all there in his mind!” Was Julian right? Read more…

Does God’s Word endorse slavery?

THINGS are not always what they seem. Scripture is God’s Word. It was inspired to heal, to teach, to lift us up. But sometimes words of Scripture seem to achieve just the opposite. They confuse us and retard progress. Simply because they are misunderstood. Take the example of slavery. No one in his right mind would dare to maintain today that owning another person as a slave is allowed. Or even, that it is a natural thing, willed by God. But many Christians in past centuries did precisely that. They contended that God’s Word endorsed the practice of slavery. Read more…

Why do we need to read Scripture with intelligence?

THE WHOLE of Sacred Scripture has but one purpose: to reveal God’s love to us. “God is love”, we read in John’s letters. “Whoever knows love, knows God. Who does not know love does not know who God is” (1 John 4:7). This we have to keep in mind whatever part of Scripture we are reading. God is not human, but we are. That is why, when God speaks to us, he speaks through human authors, who think and talk like us. The inspired words have to be understood as a divine message couched in human language. It is useful to look at some of the implications of this. Read more…

How can too literal translations confuse us?

Jesus does not always seem consistent . Often he urges us to love even our enemies. But then he says “Unless you hate your father , mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Hate your own family? What on earth does he mean? Before we tackle the word “hatred” itself, we should realise a curious lack in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. It had no specific words to express “more” or “less”, no comparative form in adjectives, no superlative. To say “Cindy is taller than Delia”, one had to say “Cindy is tall than Delia” or “Cindy is the tall”, meaning she is the tallest. Read more…

Does science make nonsense of the Inspired Word?

NOT LONG ago the press reported that the Pope had abandoned the traditional six-day creationist understanding of Genesis. It was represented as a sudden and dramatic switch in the Church’s understanding of the creation account. The Pope’s statement was significant, not because it introduced a new understanding of Genesis chapter 1 (which it did not) but because he clearly took sides in the “creationist” dispute in the USA. Fundamentalist Christians there claim that the Bible’s six-day creation account is incompatible with the theory of evolution. The Pope declared that it definitely is not. God’s Word does not reject evolution. Read more…

Did Jesus bring trouble and conflict?

MORE than once I have been asked to comment on Jesus’ cryptic statement, ‘Don’t think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I’ve not come to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a wife against her mother-in-law. A person’s enemies will be the members of his or her own family’ (Matthew 10:34-36). Read more…

Will there be cuddling in heaven?

WHENEVER we recite the Creed we solemnly reaf­firm our belief in ‘the res­urrection of the body’. But what does that mean? How much of a body will we have in heaven? One elderly gentleman once asked me with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Will I be able to cuddle my wife again when I’m on the other side?’ Read more…

Is God a dictator?

MANY people see God as a Super Parent who knows what is best for us and who has laid down from A to Z what we should and should not do. Small won­der that some people feel uneasy in God’s company. But good parents do not dictate – they guide their children, and help them think and decide for themselves. Good parents glory in the independence and maturity of their children, wanting them to grow up. God treats us as adults and wants our full adult cooperation.
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