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Q&A on May Readings

Note: The questions alone (with a link to their answers) are listed above the line in the opposite order that they were received, which means the most recent questions are at the top of the page. Below the line, questions and answers are given in the readings' order of the verses that prompted the question.

Q: Genesis says that God rested on the Sabbath, but, after a Sabbath healing, Jesus in John 5:17 says He and the Father are working to that very day. I suppose we can believe that God is doing “necessary” work, like keeping us all breathing and the like? Answer

Q: Regarding the Tower of Siloam that fell (and something else at the same time) Jesus said that it was not for sin that the people were killed, but the man is told in John 5:14, “Sin no more.” Somehow I don’t think he was lame from a DUI accident, so how are these statements reconciled? Answer

Q: In the May 8, 2007 Biblog post introducing 1 Peter, you made mention of St. Peter’s wife and referred to the apostles’ claims of sacrifice and Jesus’s response to their claim in Matthew 19:25-30, Mark 10:26-31, and Luke 18:26-30. What do we do with the differences between those accounts and their translations as to whether or not the wives are mentioned? Answer

Q: I think James 1:5-8, regarding double-minded people not expecting to get anything they ask in prayer, is a tough passage every time I read or hear it. Who doesn’t waver in faith sometimes or at least feel like it’s shaking? Should I feel comforted because the oil and the flour are holding out nicely? Answer

Q: I’m wondering if you can explain a little more about Paul’s and Barnabas’ practice of establishing local leaders for the new congregations. Since Acts 14:21-23 says they ordained leaders on the way back, so does that mean they didn’t establish leaders among the believers on their first visit? Is that related to Paul’s telling Timothy not to give responsibility to new converts (1 Timothy 3:6) or perhaps to see who would stick with their new convictions? Also, in the May 31, 2006 Biblog post you said, “the people in the congregation do not normally select or make their pastors without representatives of the Church itself.” Who is “the Church” if not the congregation of believers? Paul didn’t have a “bureaucracy”, did he? Although, he did have to explain himself in Jerusalem at one point. What do you mean by “normally”? Answer

Q: Regarding John 3:26 and John 4:1-2 you commented in the Biblog that, “Jesus probably was not personally conducting Baptisms”; any thoughts on why this might have been? Answer

Q: Do we know what miracles Jesus was performing in Jerusalem at the Passover (John 2:23)? Answer

Q: Why is John 2:13-25 titled “First Passover - Cleansing the Temple”? This wasn’t the first Passover. Was the Passover in John 6:4 different from the one mentioned in John 2? Answer

Q: Is there any Scriptural basis for your quotation marks around the word “brother” referring to Jude in the May 13, 2006 Biblog post and your comment in the sermon on May 14th? Or, are they based on the tradition of Mary’s perpetual virginity? What of Mary’s closed uterus, to which you referred in Bible class on Sunday, May 14th? What of Mary and Joseph’s relationship and Christ’s fulfilling the law, especially as it pertains to the sacrifice made for Jesus “opening the womb” (Luke 2:23)? Answer

Q: Regarding the traveling evangelists in 2 John (for example, 10-11) and 3 John (for example, 7-10), is the Apostle warning against receiving them “in general” or directing the churches to be careful that the visitor is speaking sound doctrine? That someone could take over a church to the point of driving out those who speak the truth is sad. I think the Apostle’s words are both a warning and a comfort to us: a warning because it’s a very contemporary problem and a comfort because the church grew in spite of such setbacks! Answer

Q: Your final comment on 1 John 4-5: “The only sin that leads to eternal death is unbelief, and neither the prayers of a believer for such an unbeliever nor a ‘prayer’ offered by an unbeliever can do anything about that sin.” Are you referring to after the unbeliever has died? If so, then I understand and agree. Once an unbeliever has died, there is no “saving” them. But if not, then I would have to disagree and say that our prayers for unbelievers that are still alive are not useless, which is I’m sure what you were getting at. Correct? Answer

Q: We have spoken before about how LCMS believes that the Pope is the antichrist. However, in the readings in 1 John, there are numerous references to the antichrist that wouldn’t really fit if they were applied to the Pope. For example: 1 John 2:22 and 1 John 4:2-3. Your comments? Answer


Q: I think James 1:5-8, regarding double-minded people not expecting to get anything they ask in prayer, is a tough passage every time I read or hear it. Who doesn’t waver in faith sometimes or at least feel like it’s shaking? Should I feel comforted because the oil and the flour are holding out nicely?
A: I commented in the April 21, 2007 Biblog post on Psalm 119:113 that the double-minded person seems to be more someone who goes back and forth between two different gods than someone who just has greater or lesser degrees of faith as circumstances arise. I think the reference to the double-minded being blown and tossed by the wind also reinforces the understanding of different faiths in contrast to degrees of faith (James 1:6 with Ephesians 4:14). This matter of certainty in prayer for me always comes back to praying in accord with God’s will and to understanding the difference between prayers for material and physical things in contrast to prayers for spiritual blessings. We have no revelation from God as to what kind of material things He will provide beyond our basic needs or as to specific physical blessings, so, for example, we can’t pray with much certainty about His will for us to get a new car or recover from a certain illness. We do have revelation from God as to what kind of spiritual things He will provide, so we can pray with a great deal of certainty about His will for us to persevere in the faith, to find peace in the face of suffering, or even to have greater faith. “Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 KJV). When we pray according to God’s will or that His will be done, in material or physical or spiritual matters, we can have full assurance that His will will be done. As for your reference to the widow at Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:7-24, first don’t read God’s providing you with what you need as a reflection of the strength of your faith instead of as a reflection of God’s love and mercy, for the rain falls on the believers and the unbelievers (Matthew 5:45). Second, I don’t think you should expect modern men of God to provide any miraculous bottomless jars and jugs or resurrections from the dead, but you can be comforted that God provides through them the miraculous signs He has appointed for them to provide—namely, water that kills and makes alive, words that forgive sins, and bread and wine that are the food of immortality. Back to Top

Q: In the May 8, 2007 Biblog post introducing 1 Peter, you made mention of St. Peter’s wife and referred to the apostles’ claims of sacrifice and Jesus’s response to their claim in Matthew 19:25-30, Mark 10:26-31, and Luke 18:26-30. What do we do with the differences between those accounts and their translations as to whether or not the wives are mentioned?
A: There are really two main parts to your question, and I will deal with the part pertaining to the translations first. Some Greek manuscripts of Matthew 19:29 and Mark 10:29 do indeed mention the wives, but the scribes making those witnesses to the text of Matthew and Mark appear to be influenced by Luke 18:29 (perhaps wanting to avoid any appearance of difficulty or contradiction), and so we conclude that the original copies of Matthew and Mark most likely omitted the wives. (Conversely, some scribes changed their manuscripts of Luke, apparently to make them more closely conform to Matthew and Mark.) Translations of Matthew and Mark that include the wives are simply following Greek manuscripts that mention the wives, where translations of Matthew and Mark that do not include the wives are simply following Greek manuscripts that do not mention the wives. What may be the more interesting part of your question deals with the differences between the accounts themselves. A usual explanation—and remember that only one plausible explanation is necessary—is that Jesus may have given this teaching on more than one occasion and varied precisely what He said. That St. Luke’s account includes the wives but not the wealth of the other accounts may reflect his Divinely-inspired emphasis on community. As for my original comment, some of the apostles may not have traveled with their wives as St. Peter apparently did. Finally, remember that despite occasional differences in the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and their translations, no central point of the faith is at stake. The Holy Spirit has ensured that what we need to know in order to be saved has been clearly passed down to us. Back to Top

Q: We have spoken before about how LCMS believes that the Pope is the antichrist. However, in the readings in 1 John, there are numerous references to the antichrist that wouldn’t really fit if they were applied to the Pope. For example: 1 John 2:22 and 1 John 4:2-3. Your comments?
A: The Lutheran Church faithful to The Book of Concord does believe, teach, and confess that identifying marks of the Antichrist coincide with identifying marks of the office of the pope (Tr 39), although the Confessions do not limit the antichrist to the papacy, allowing also that Islam and others are the company of the Antichrist. Although neither 1 John 2:22, which refers to the antichrist as a denier of Jesus being the Christ, nor 1 John 4:2-3, which refers to the antichrist as denier of Christ coming in the flesh, is specifically cited in The Book of Concord, the two passages are not inconsistent with the confessional statements about the Antichrist. In the case of 1 John 2:22, the papacy and others do in effect deny Christ to the extent that the papacy and others, for example, invent their own service of God (Ap XV:18, Ap XXVI:98), forbid the marriage of priests (SA III:xi:1), and encourage the invocation of the saints (SA II:iii:25). In the case of 1 John 4:2-3, I could imagine ways in which one could argue the papacy denies Christ’s coming in the flesh, or we could simply say this particular identifying mark of the Antichrist does not coincide with the papacy but with others in his company, such as the Gnostic Cerinthus, who was St. John’s primary target originally. However, the bottom line is that neither of St. John’s statements are to be read in a simplistic or minimalistic way—that is, any fact or teaching about Christ is taken up and is a part of confessing or denying Jesus being the Christ, coming in the flesh, being a sufficient sacrifice for sins, being present in bread and wine, etc. The teaching about Christ is one teaching, and removing or altering any one part is never unimportant. Back to Top

Q: Your final comment on 1 John 4-5: “The only sin that leads to eternal death is unbelief, and neither the prayers of a believer for such an unbeliever nor a ‘prayer’ offered by an unbeliever can do anything about that sin.” Are you referring to after the unbeliever has died? If so, then I understand and agree. Once an unbeliever has died, there is no “saving” them. But if not, then I would have to disagree and say that our prayers for unbelievers that are still alive are not useless, which is I’m sure what you were getting at. Correct?
A: What I was getting at in the May 12, 2006 Biblog post was that aside from the unbeliever coming to faith there is nothing that can be done to save him or her from eternal death, damnation in hell. Only the faith of the individual determines whether he or she is saved; we can pray for someone who does not believe to be saved, but unless that person comes to believe our prayers will not be granted. Prayers for the spiritual life of those, believers or unbelievers, who are long physically dead are definitely too late. To be sure, believers can and do pray for living unbelievers to come to faith (as we do in the General Prayers in the Divine Service), although St. John in 5:16 can be understood to be saying that in certain cases prayers for the conversion of some unbelievers may no longer be according to God’s will. Though St. John does not give an example, we might think of Pharaoh and how at some point his turning in repentance was no longer expected but his hardness was used to God’s glory. Back to Top

Q: Regarding the traveling evangelists in 2 John (for example, 10-11) and 3 John (for example, 7-10), is the Apostle warning against receiving them “in general” or directing the churches to be careful that the visitor is speaking sound doctrine? That someone could take over a church to the point of driving out those who speak the truth is sad. I think the Apostle’s words are both a warning and a comfort to us: a warning because it’s a very contemporary problem and a comfort because the church grew in spite of such setbacks!
A: The Biblog post for May 13, 2006 apparently could have been clearer that St. John’s Divinely-inspired warning is primarily against teachers of false doctrine. There is also an aspect of sending that is important in this case. John would not have sent his hearers a false teacher, and it might be said that a true teacher would not go without being sent. The sheep in a congregation that do not listen for the voice of the Shepherd will stray, and in that way you are right we need this warning even today. At the same time, Scripture tells us that the Lord rules the world for the benefit of the Church, and thus all things work together for the good of those who love Him. Back to Top

Q: Is there any Scriptural basis for your quotation marks around the word “brother” referring to Jude in the May 13, 2006 Biblog post and your comment in the sermon on May 14th? Or, are they based on the tradition of Mary’s perpetual virginity? What of Mary’s closed uterus, to which you referred in Bible class on Sunday, May 14th? What of Mary and Joseph’s relationship and Christ’s fulfilling the law, especially as it pertains to the sacrifice made for Jesus “opening the womb” (Luke 2:23)?
A: Jude is surely a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, which is how he describes himself in Jude 1. In the Biblog post that introduced the letter of James, I referred to James as a “kinsman of the Lord,” and “kinsman” is a legitimate translation of the Greek word adelphos used in such places as Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3, where James and Jude (there, Judas) are listed as “brethren” (KJV, ASV) of Jesus by the people of Nazareth. The point of view in that verse is important: the people of Nazareth think they are “brothers” (NIV, NASB), perhaps just like Joseph is in that same verse said to be Jesus’ father (see, for example, Luke 3:23), and I don’t think you are going to challenge the usual teaching about that on the basis of those Matthew and Mark passages. Even in places such as Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, and Luke 8:19-21 (where the emphasis is on new kinship ties) adelphos allows Jesus to say He is related to those mentioned, possibly by way of someone further up the family tree than Joseph and Mary (Mark 3:21 notably uses an article and a preposition and not a noun to refer to these same people, more literally “the alongside of Him ones”). Notice, however, that no names of the “brothers” are used in those verses. Of course, even if James and Jude were sons of Mary’s at best they would be half-brothers of Jesus, by our modern understanding. The church father Epiphanius (c.315-403) said these men were sons of Joseph by a previous marriage, and Jerome (c.345-420) said they were our Lord’s cousins. Although Helvidius (4th century) said they were sons of Joseph and Mary and along with Jovinian (who died about 405) denied the perpetual virginity of Mary, both were condemned as heretics by Jerome and Augustine (354-430). While Holy Scripture may not provide a literal proof text for the perpetual virginity or the closed uterus, there is nothing in the Bible that clearly teaches otherwise. The Lutheran Confessions seem to take seriously both the perpetual virginity (Latin “semper virgo”, as in Smalcald Articles I) and closed uterus, to which I referred in full consistency with The Book of Concord (for example, Solid Declaration [SD] VII:100, where the “people” who believe it include the confessors as indicated in SD VIII:24). I do not have the problem some have imagining Mary and Joseph as husband and wife without usual sexual relationships. Nor do I think it is necessary for the perpetual virginity or closed uterus to mean that Mary did not deliver our Lord with pains of labor. As for Luke 2:23, whether Jesus technically opened Mary’s womb or not, He was still her first born, which is to what the expression dianoigon metran (literally “opening the matrix” or “womb”) figuratively refers. (The quote is from Exodus 13:12, where the Hebrew word bakowr “first born” and “opening the matrix” are equated [and see vv.2, 15], but the second expression is used of the mother’s line.) Various stages of Mary’s virginity can be identified, such as before Jesus’ conception, after His conception but before He was born, after His birth, etc. Various stages are denied for various reasons, usually due to some ulterior motive, such as protecting marriage or denying Christ’s ability to exercise divine powers through His human nature. We do not question the orthodoxy of anyone who denies the perpetual virginity of Mary, provided he or she has everything else right. Often, however, deniers of the perpetual virginity do not have everything else right. (See more here.) Back to Top

Q: Why is John 2:13-25 titled “First Passover - Cleansing the Temple”? This wasn’t the first Passover. Was the Passover in John 6:4 different from the one mentioned in John 2?
A: The section title in your Bible is, of course, something the editors of that edition have added. You are right that the very first Passover was held hundreds of years earlier, but the Passover of John 2 is the first Passover mentioned in St. John’s Gospel account; Passover is also mentioned, as you pointed out, in John 6:4, and it is also mentioned in John 11:55. In each case the mention of Passover is relevant to the narrative that follows. The usual understanding is that the three references to Passover in St. John’s account are to three different Passovers and that those three Passovers help indicate the three-year length of Jesus’ public ministry. Although the Divinely-inspired St. John takes more of a topical approach than chronological, that topical approach does not mean he completely loses sight of the original, factual chronology. Back to Top

Q: Do we know what miracles Jesus was performing in Jerusalem at the Passover (John 2:23)?
A: John 2:23 comes in a three-verse transition of sorts from the narrative of the cleansing of the Temple to the narrative of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. The Divinely-inspired St. John does not tell us about these miracles; John narrates only certain miracles, those that most directly serve his and the Holy Spirit’s purpose (see 20:30-31; 21:25). Regardless of the specific details, Jesus’ teaching and signs produced faith in those willing to believe then, as His Word and Sacraments do today. Back to Top

Q: Regarding John 3:26 and John 4:1-2 you commented in the Biblog that, “Jesus probably was not personally conducting Baptisms”; any thoughts on why this might have been?
A: I didn’t mention it in the original post, but the usual explanation is that Jesus most likely did not want anyone to claim that a Baptism done by him was in some way better than a Baptism done by John the Baptizer or any of the disciples. (See Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 regarding who he baptized and didn’t baptize and why he was glad that was the case.) Of course, Christ was baptizing in every Baptism then, as He baptizes in every Baptism now. The specific person who acts on Christ’s behalf is in some ways irrelevant. Under normal circumstances, the most appropriate person to conduct the Baptism is the pastor of the congregation of which the person is going to be a member. Back to Top

Q: Regarding the Tower of Siloam that fell (and something else at the same time) Jesus said that it was not for sin that the people were killed, but the man is told in John 5:14, “Sin no more.” Somehow I don’t think he was lame from a DUI accident, so how are these statements reconciled?
A: Jesus’s comments in Luke 13:1-5, about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices and those on whom the tower in Siloam fell, have to do with death in general as the consequence for sin; Jesus is rejecting the popular idea that such calamities would only befall those who were particularly sinful, and Jesus is calling all to repentance (Luke 13:5). Jesus’s statement in John 5:14 to the man who had been an invalid for 38 years is not at all contradictory, for He is not telling the man that a specific or heinous sin caused his disability, but Jesus is speaking to what the man’s life should be like now that he had come to faith. Jesus directed the man—and directs us today—to try to resist temptation, but Jesus also knew that the man was—and knows that we today will be—unable to completely stop sinning, and so Jesus offered him and offers us forgiveness for the sins that we continue to commit after coming to faith. A common theme of both the accounts to which you refer is repentance. For, if the people to whom Jesus spoke in Luke’s account, and the man of John’s account, and we today sin and do not live in repentance, then the eternal consequences are truly far worse than any physical ailment or even heinous circumstances of temporal death. Back to Top

Q: Genesis says that God rested on the Sabbath, but, after a Sabbath healing, Jesus in John 5:17 says He and the Father are working to that very day. I suppose we can believe that God is doing “necessary” work, like keeping us all breathing and the like?
A: To the extent that God actively preserves all the things that He has created, yes, as you say, God is at least doing necessary work. However, I don’t think we have to go that far for an explanation. Genesis 2:2 certainly can be taken to say that God rested on the seventh day from all of the work of creating that He had been doing. The Pharisees missed the point of the Sabbath commandment, shunning compassion for an empty legalism (Matthew 23:23). Jesus made the day holy for Himself by what He did, in this case showing compassion with an act of what could be called re-creation. Similarly, we sanctify the holy day not by refraining from all work but by occupying ourselves with God’s Word and exercising ourselves in it. In these ways, Dr. Luther writes, every day can be holy to us. More to the point of what Jesus is saying in the context of St. John’s account, and something that the Jews of His day did not miss, is that in His statement He made Himself equal with the Father and suggested that in accusing Him the Jews were also accusing the Father. Back to Top

Q: I’m wondering if you can explain a little more about Paul’s and Barnabas’ practice of establishing local leaders for the new congregations. Since Acts 14:21-23 says they ordained leaders on the way back, so does that mean they didn’t establish leaders among the believers on their first visit? Is that related to Paul’s telling Timothy not to give responsibility to new converts (1 Timothy 3:6) or perhaps to see who would stick with their new convictions? Also, in the May 31, 2006 Biblog post you said, “the people in the congregation do not normally select or make their pastors without representatives of the Church itself.” Who is “the Church” if not the congregation of believers? Paul didn’t have a “bureaucracy”, did he? Although, he did have to explain himself in Jerusalem at one point. What do you mean by “normally”?
A: You ask some good questions! I am with you on potentially reading vv.21-23 as meaning that Paul and Barnabas did not establish leaders on their first visit, although they may have made temporary arrangements (maybe leaving one from their group there), or they may have ordained an elder initially and ordained more on the way back. Concern about recent converts may have been a reason for not ordaining leaders initially, but one could raise the same concern even on the trip back. (Concern about new converts might be both over them not having enough depth or experience in the faith and over them not sticking with their convictions.) But, commentator F. F. Bruce says, “Paul and Barnabas were more conscious of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the Christian communities.” Perhaps Bruce is right. And, perhaps I could have been clearer in my statement about the normal procedure for selecting pastors. In the case of Acts 14:23, the Greek does not rule out that the people had a say in selecting the elders, though one commentary says Paul and Barnabas may have selected the elders, as well as ordaining them and investing the office to them. A properly constituted church or congregation consists of pastor and lay people together; lay people without a pastor are not normally regarded as “church”. So, I was trying to make clear that normally believers select and make their pastors consulting with representatives of the church-at-large who generally do the ordaining and investing. Augsburg Confession XIV, for example, says that no one should teach or preach or administer the sacraments on behalf of the Church without being called, which call included instruction, examination, and ordination—for all of which the church-at-large was essentially needed. There can be unusual circumstances, such as at the time of the Reformation when Martin Luther told the Bohemians to ordain their own pastors if the bishops would not do so, but it is hard to imagine circumstances today where a representative of the church-at-large would not be able participate. Back to Top

 


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