Why was it adultery when David had sexual relations with Bathsheba but it was not adultery when he had sexual relations with multiple wives?

Q. Why was it considered adultery when David had sexual relations with Bathsheba (and rightly so ! 7th commandment ……….) and yet not when he had sexual relations with his 7-8 wives and many concubines. In reality he was ‘living’ in adultery all the time….I have struggled with this for most of my Christian life and have never found a satisfying answer. It is totally illogical to me.

There is a difference between adultery and polygamy. If a man who is married has sexual relations with a woman who is not his wife, that is adultery, whether or not the woman is married. And if a man has sexual relations with a woman who is married to another man, that is adultery, whether or not the first man is married. This, as you noted, is explicitly forbidden by the seventh of the Ten Commandments.

However, if a man has more than one wife and has sexual relations with each of his wives, that is not adultery, since the man is not having sexual relations with a woman who is not his wife or a woman who is the wife of another man. It is polygamy. Please see the post below for a discussion of whether polygamy is sin, according to the Bible. I hope this post will help answer your question.

Is there a spiritual reason for disabilities that children suffer before birth?

Q. In John 9, there was a man born blind. I believe every child is created perfect and is a gift from above. My question is: For the many children born with disabilities, is it spiritual? Jesus said, when asked if sin was the reason for this man’s blindness: “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” What happened? If disabilities occur in the womb, is there a spiritual reason for it? Thanks for your anticipated response.

Jesus made the statement that you quote in response to a question from his disciples: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The disciples believed that illness and disability were punishments for sin. But they did not think it would be fair for God to punish a baby for his parents’ sins, and they did not see how the baby himself could have sinned before he was born. So they were confused and upset.

In response, Jesus changes the perspective. He does not address the reason why the man was born blind; he speaks of the potential result. It seems that Jesus is telling his disciples that there are some things whose reason we will simply never understand in this life, but nevertheless we can be looking for what God might want to do in those situations and how we can cooperate with him.

John says in his gospel that when Jesus healed this man who was born blind, this was one of the signs through which Jesus revealed his glory, that is, his identity as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And this was indeed a great sign: As the man himself said when the religious leaders asked him about it, “Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”

So whatever the reason for the man’s blindness from birth, the result that God brought from it was glory to the Savior. And we today can look for what God wants to do even through situations that we find troubling and perplexing. It may be that some people today will receive divine healing as this man did, and that will bring glory to God. Some may receive healing, or at least a much greater measure of health, through what we call “natural means,” doctors and medicines and therapies, but those too are really gifts from God, and we rejoice and thank God just as much when people are healed that way.

And I also believe that God is glorified when we take the perspective that you expressed: “I believe every child is created perfect and is a gift from above.” When we recognize that every person bears the image of God and so has inherent dignity and worth, and accordingly we become able to receive the many gifts that every person brings into this world, then God is glorified as we become more like the people he intends us to be—respectful, generous, loving.

So in every situation, even difficult and perplexing ones, God is at work. We can look, as Jesus always did, for how God is at work and how we can join him in that work. We may never understand the reasons for some things, but we can trust that God always wants to bring good results.

Should we expect that most reasonable people will believe in God?

Q. Apologist and philosopher Dr. Alvin Plantinga is of the opinion that the existence of a caring God is a “properly basic notion,” that is, a notion so basic that it is not dependent on other ideas or arguments, something, he claims, that is obvious to most intelligent people. The Rev. Timothy Keller seems to agree: “I think people in our culture know unavoidably that there is a God, but they are repressing what they know.”—Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton, 2008), page 146. Do you have an opinion on this matter?

I am inclined to agree with the view of Plantinga and Keller as you describe it. Personally I think that if God did not actually exist, people would not argue about whether God existed. The subject wouldn’t come up.

The Bible teaches that people form a notion of God from creation, from conscience, and from their sense that even though they are finite, they are meant to be connected with something infinite. Appealing to biblical teaching is different from saying that belief in God is a properly basic notion, but this is a blog about the Bible, so I think it is appropriate to mention that the view you are describing seems to have biblical support. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” “God has set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Along these lines, Hannah Whitall Smith appeals to the analogy of eagles born and raised in captivity. They have never seen flight, yet they feel a compelling urge to fly. We might say that flight is a properly basic notion for eagles, just as belief in God is a properly basic notion for people. She writes, “Like the captive-born eagle that feels within it the instinct of flight, and chafes and frets at its imprisonment, hardly knowing what it longs for, so do our souls chafe and fret, and cry for freedom. … The wings of the soul carry it up into a spiritual plane of life, into the ‘life hid with Christ in God,’ which is a life … that no cage can imprison and no shackles bind.”

What will life be like in the Millennium?

Q. I adhere to the teachings that Jesus will return at the end of a 7-year tribulation, put an end to this period of increased misery and judgement, reign for 1,000 years, and then, after the final judgement, He will create a new heavens and earth.

If this understanding is correct, what kind of life will those who live during the Millennium experience? Jesus is reigning in Jerusalem. He is living here on earth! Will country- & state-level governments still exist, with budgets & taxes, armies, police, health care, welfare and social security? Will there be businesses, stock markets, and the continued development of new technology? What will we do with our time? After all, He created us to work. Will there be a need for law enforcement, health care & surgery, and poverty alleviation organizations, either like the World Bank or World Vision? Will the drug trade, production of violent films, and sex trafficking finally come to a halt? 

We don’t really know what life will be like once the new heavens & earth are created. (Eye has not seen, nor ear has heard…. ). It is taught that we will come back and live on the new earth (and not stay in heaven). Since no one will die, and He is the Lord who reigns, it seems to me that after the millennium, in Eternity, there will be no more armies, police, health, or businesses centered around sin, either. 

What would an amillennialist say? What will life be like once Jesus returns during His earthly reign? Speaking as student of economics, it seems to be that there will be some massive shifts in the labor market!

Thank you for your excellent and thought-provoking question. Let me begin with the issue of terminology, since you spoke of an “amillennialist,” and not all readers may know what you mean by that.

Christians tend to have one of three understandings of the timing of the return of Jesus in relation to the Millennium, that is, the thousand-year reign of Christ that the Bible describes:

Premillennialists believe that Jesus will return before the Millennium. Implicit in their view is the idea that only the return of Jesus can bring about the changed set of earthly conditions that will characterize his thousand-year reign. So in this view, the Millennium comes over against history. Premillennialists accordingly tend to emphasize evangelism.

Postmillennialists believe that Jesus will return at the end of the Millennium, when, as one theologian put it, he will have something to reign over. Implicit in this view is that the influence of the gospel and the Holy Spirit in the world will bring about a changed set of earthly conditions within history. Postmillennialists accordingly tend to emphasize the socially transforming effects of the gospel.

Amillennialists believe that Jesus will return without a Millennium. They see the biblical description of a thousand-year reign as depicting Jesus’ spiritual reign in heaven or his reign in the hearts of believers. So they see the Millennium as something that happens apart from history. Amillennialists accordingly tend to emphasize worship and sacrament. However, they do believe that there will be a changed set of conditions in the new earth, that is, in the new creation, as you describe.

I actually did much of my doctoral research on this topic, and to state the matter briefly, I find that there is actually some truth in all of these views. Obviously there will either be a Millennium or there won’t, and if there is one, Jesus will come either before or after it. So the views can’t all be right in that sense. But in another sense, it is true that the reign of Christ will come and is coming both against history, within history, and apart from history. So I think that Christians of good will, whatever view they hold, could affirm the truth and the emphases of the other views, seeing themselves as working together with Christians of all persuasions on a comprehensive range of activities that all contribute to God’s ultimate purposes for the world.

And here is the bottom line: We express our faith in the coming reign of Jesus—however we understand the timing of that—by working in our own day towards the things that we believe will characterize his reign. I believe his reign will certainly be characterized by, as you describe, an end to the drug trade, the production of violent films, and sex trafficking. So we should lend our voices and our efforts now to oppose those things. I believe that the reign of Jesus will be a time of peace, health, and prosperity, and we can express our faith in his coming reign by working to end poverty, disease, and conflict. Even if we do not believe that such efforts on their own can bring about millennial conditions without the return of Jesus, we want our master to find us about his business when he returns.

I think the reign of Jesus will be an active time, as you also suggest. We won’t be sitting around doing nothing. There will be new discoveries, new inventions, new ways being worked out of living as a more just, fair, prosperous, and peaceful human community. I believe we will also have greater spiritual insights. (Jonathan Edwards, on whom I wrote my dissertation, wrote that during the Millennium, people from different groups all over the world would write excellent theological treatises imparting new insights to all believers.)

I think this perspective of the Millennium as an active time also has implications for us today. Jesus is going to want his people to be doing certain kinds of things during his reign—active, energetic, positive, productive things. And he is going to want to find us already doing those things when he returns. So, as another Puritan theologian, John Owen, put it, “Up and be doing, ye who are about the work of the Lord!”

So it’s a great question for all of us: What do you think things will be like during the Millennium? How can you express your faith in that today?

Can you document that Domitian’s coins were held in the right hand and worn in bands on the forehead?

Q. Hi, brother. Peace be upon you. I was reading one of your articles about Domitian’s coins being (likely) the mark of the beast. My question is: Where can I find the information showing that Domitian’s coins “would be held in the right hand for transactions” and sometimes they were “worn in a band on the forehead” ? I found this article great, but I’d love to have the sources that can lead me to this conclusion, so that I could prove that point. Could you do this for me, please? Best wishes. God bless you in Christ!

Regarding coins worn in a band on the forehead, please see this article. It includes this illustration:

Regarding coins held in the right hand for a transaction, that is a self-evident practice in any culture that uses coins as money, as the Romans did.

Should the Bible be read and studied in the order it was written?

Q. Should the Bible be read and studied in the order it was written? I’ve just gotten back into reading and studying. I’ve read Deuteronomy, then the first three gospels, then Genesis. Also use Zondervan study guide. Wondering what to read next?

One problem with trying to read the biblical books in the order in which they were written is that we aren’t exactly sure what that order was. For example, some interpreters believe that Joel was the earliest prophetic books, while other interpreters believe it was the last one written! We have a good idea of when the events described in the Bible took place, but we aren’t always sure when the books that relate those events were written.

As a whole, the Bible tells one continuous story, from the first creation to the new creation. If you read the books of the Bible in the order that has become customary since the advent of printing (most Bibles published these days present them in that order), you will read this story roughly in order from Genesis through Esther, hear about various parts of it again, at many points not in chronological order, from Job through Malachi, and then get the rest of the story in the New Testament.

However, many people find this approach difficult because the narrative of the story is frequently interrupted at length by other genres such as law and genealogy. The typical person who tries to read the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation gives up somewhere in Leviticus!

So I would not recommend reading the biblical books for the first time either in their customary order or in the order in which they were written, to the extent we can determine that. Rather, I would follow the principle, “Understand the whole from the parts, and then understand the parts in light of the whole,” beginning with the parts that can be understood most readily. I would encourage anyone who was reading the Bible for the first time to start with the gospel of John. Jesus is the center and the climax of the biblical story, and John’s gospel introduces him in a way intended to be accessible to people everywhere. From there you might read Luke and Acts, which together give an overview of most of the New Testament period. Then you could read some of the shorter letters, such as Philemon, James, Jude, 1 and 2 Peter, and 1, 2, and 3 John. After that you could take on some of the more challenging books, such as Revelation and Paul’s longer letters, picking up the other two gospels, Mark and Matthew, along the way.

You could then turn to the Old Testament. Since you have already read Genesis and Deuteronomy, I would suggest reading Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel, and 1–2 Kings. Those books are mostly narrative and they will fill in much of the story of the kingdom of Israel. You could read Psalms and Proverbs a little at a time while doing that. Once you have read the entire Old Testament, I’d recommend reading the New Testament again. You will understand much more about it when you know its background in the Old Testament.

You may also find it helpful to read the Bible in a format such as Immerse, a multi-volume edition of the New Living Translation that has no chapter or verse numbers in the text, presents the biblical books according to their natural literary divisions, and provides introductions to each book to orient the reader. I was a consulting editor for that edition, and I believe that it makes the Bible very accessible to readers. Often people read it in groups in a book-club format, and interestingly they read the New Testament first, then the rest of the Bible, then the New Testament again

I would also mention that you can download study guides to many of the biblical books for free from this blog. Here is the link. (Or just click on “Free Study Guides” at the top of this page.)

I hope these suggestions are helpful. May God bless your reading and study of his word!

Must women have children in order to be “redeemed” or “absolved from reproach”?

Q. Must women have children in order to be “redeemed” or “absolved from reproach”?

In some of my recent readings in the Bible, some of the women mention childbirth as a way to be saved from disgrace. For example, in Genesis 30:23, Rachel gives birth to a son and  says God has taken away her disgrace. Similarly in Luke 1:25, Elizabeth becomes pregnant and declares that God has taken away her reproach among people.

I had originally viewed these passages from a more cultural lens. Women were generally expected to have children, and having a child, particularly a male one, was a sort of insurance. If the husband died, a son could potentially care for his widowed mother.

However, in 1 Timothy 2:15, Paul writes that women are saved through childbearing. Now recently I’ve been considering committing to the advice in 1 Corinthians 7:8, which is to stay single and remain devoted to God. However, this advice appears to conflict with what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy. Is this a case where Paul, as a human, fell short of the mark and made a mistake? Does the advice in 1 Corinthians only apply to men, and women should marry and bear children for some sort of repentance for Eve’s transgression, as referenced in 1 Timothy 2:14? Or is there some other passage I’m missing with crucial information that can reconcile the two opposing ideas?

A. Thank you for your thoughtful question. It does not seem to me that Paul would be saying in the statement you cite that a woman needs to have children (presumably if possible—not all women are able to have children) in order to be saved. This would be contrary to Paul’s entire message of salvation by grace. Paul taught everywhere else that there is nothing we can do in order to be saved and that we do not need to add anything ourselves to what Christ has done for us on the cross. It is unlikely that he is saying differently here. So interpreters of the Bible tend to understand Paul to be saying something else than that women need to have children to be saved.

One possibility is that Paul is saying that women “will be kept safe through the process of childbirth,” as the NTE translation puts it. Other translations say  similar things. There is archaeological evidence from this time of the cult of a goddess whom women worshiped in the hopes of being preserved through childbirth. Paul could be saying that even if they abandoned the worship of this goddess—as they may have feared to do—they could trust God to protect them.

Another possibility is that Paul is saying that a role as wives and mothers can be a divine calling from God and that women do not need to forsake that role in order to live truly spiritual lives. We can see in Paul’s other epistles that some followers of Jesus at this time were so influenced by the Greek idea that matter was bad and spirit was good that they believed they should not get married. (This lies behind Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians, for example.) Note that there is a qualification on what Paul says in 1 Timothy: “Women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” This is similar to what Paul says later in 1 Timothy about younger widows. Apparently they could have been “enrolled” as part of a special guild committed to singleness and devoted to service in the church. But Paul knew that many of them might change their minds and break that commitment, so he wrote, “I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes, and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.” One way of life was not superior to another, in other words; both were spiritual callings.

While these are possibilities, 1 Timothy 2:15 remains a puzzling statement, and so I would apply the principle of trying to understand what is obscure in light of what is clear. I think that whatever Paul might mean, based on the rest of his writings, we can be very confident that he is not saying that bearing children is necessary for salvation. We should also apply the principle of comparing Scripture with Scripture in order to understand the whole counsel of God. While there are places where the Bible commends celibacy, for example, in 1 Corinthians as you mention, in other places the Bible praises marriage. For example, Proverbs says, “Whoever finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” God himself said at creation, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him.” (The word translated “helper” actually means “strong ally”!)

Given this balanced teaching in the Bible, I think your inclination to understand the passages about Rachel and Elizabeth (and similar passages) through a cultural lens was correct.

In the end, I think each person needs to discern how God is leading, whether towards marriage or whether towards singleness. According to the Bible, each situation in life offers opportunities to serve God in distinct ways. The Bible does not say that situation is better than the other. So this is a matter of individual discernment.

However, people often do not see it that way. They may simply assume that God wants them to get married, or, on the other hand, they may not want to get married and so not seek God’s guidance about that. I commend you for recognizing this to be a matter of discernment and for being willing to commit to singleness if that is God’s will for you. I trust that you are also willing to be married if that is God’s will. May you hear clearly from God as you continue to seek direction!

Why does the Bible prophecy that Jesus will be a Nazarene?

Q. Why does the Bible prophesy that Jesus will be a Nazarene?

The first thing I need to say in response to your question is that the Bible actually did not prophesy that Jesus would be a Nazarene. Not in so many words, at least.

Matthew tells us in his gospel that after Jesus and his parents returned from Egypt, they settled in Galilee. Matthew then notes, “There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazarene.'” However, there is no such statement anywhere in any of the prophetical books.

So what’s going on here? This is actually an indirect quotation, not a direct one. Many English translations show that by punctuating Matthew’s statement this way: “And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.”

It seems that Matthew, in his appeal to the prophets, is actually summarizing their many statements that the servant of God would be “despised and rejected.” It appears that the term “Nazarene” had become a geographic term of derision. We may compare it to the term “Okie” that people in the United States used during the Dust Bowl years. It described people from Oklahoma and nearby areas affected by prolonged drought who migrated West in search of work and food. The word ceased to mean “someone from Oklahoma” and came to mean something closer to “gypsy.” Similarly, “Nazarene” at the time of Jesus meant more than “someone from Nazareth.” It was a term of derision, as we see in Nathanael’s question upon hearing about Jesus, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?

So the Bible did prophesy, in general terms at least, that Jesus would be a “Nazarene” in the sense of someone people looked down on and called by a derisive name. Your question was why the Bible prophesied that, and this was one of many ways in which the prophets indicated that the Messiah would first suffer and only then enter into his glory. Jesus himself said that that was the message of all that the prophets had spoken.

Did Adam lie before sin entered the world?

Q. When Adam added to God’s command in the Garden of Eden and told Eve that God had said not to touch the tree, rather than just not to eat of its fruit, was that a lie? How did that happen before sin entered in the world?

I will address your specific question shortly, but I should note first that Adam did not necessarily add to God’s command.

As we read through the Genesis creation account, we see that God gave Adam the command about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil before he created Eve. God’s command was simply not to eat of the fruit of the tree, but Eve told the serpent, “God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, lest you die.'” One possible inference is that Adam told Eve that God had said this. However, there are some other possible explanations.

For one thing, Eve could have been using the word “touch” in a poetic sense to mean “have to do with.” In that case she would be repeating God’s statement for emphasis, and while she would not be quoting it literally, she would be conveying its meaning accurately: “You must not eat from it, indeed, you must have nothing to do with it, lest you die.”

Another possibility is that Adam and Eve agreed together that the best way to keep from eating the fruit of the tree was not even to touch it. Eve would then be mentioning not touching the tree as a natural outgrowth of the command not to eat from its fruit. Once again,she would not be quoting God literally, but she would be conveying the sense of the command as she and Adam had decided to obey it.

But it is admittedly possible that Adam himself added the stipulation not to touch the tree when he communicated God’s command to Eve, knowing that God had not said this, but leading Eve to believe that God had indeed said it. This would not have been, strictly speaking, a lie, since a lie is an intentional misrepresentation of the truth whose motive is to gain personal advantage or to harm another person. If Adam added to the commandment, it was with the best of motives.

Still, the end does not justify the means. Even with a good motive, it would have been wrong for Adam to tell Eve that God had said something when God had not actually said it. It would have been better for Adam to trust Eve and to trust God’s work in her heart and not think that Eve had to be deceived into obeying God. So if Adam actually deceived her knowingly, I think we would have to consider that a sin.

So how could Adam have committed such a sin before he and Eve ate the fruit of the tree and “sin entered the world through one man,” as Paul says in Romans?

We might just as easily ask how Adam and Eve could have disobeyed God and eaten from the fruit of the tree before sin entered the world, since that disobedience was itself sin. The answer is that Adam and Eve were not under the power of sin before they disobeyed God, but nevertheless they had complete moral freedom, which meant that they were able to obey and also able to disobey.

If we believe that Adam added to God’s command and therefore made it harder to obey, we should see that as part of an entire sequence of actions that ultimately constituted disobedience. When someone does something wrong, is rarely possible to look at the whole sequence of their actions and say, “There—that specific point is where the sin occurred.”

So if Adam did add intentionally to God’s command, then that was part of an exercise of moral freedom that unfortunately ended in him and Eve disobeying God and bringing all of their descendants under the power of sin.

How can believers in Jesus do even greater things than he did?

Q. If Jesus is God and is so powerful that he can even raise people from the dead, what does it mean when he says that people who believe in him will do “even greater” things than he does? (John 14:12, “Whoever believes in me will do … even greater things than these.”)

The works that believers in Jesus do are not greater in power than the works that Jesus did on earth, they are greater in glory. See the fuller context of the statement that Jesus made about this: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

While Jesus was on earth, his glory was veiled. It was possible to witness his miracles and claim, as some of the Pharisees did (absurdly, as Jesus pointed out), that he was doing them by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. And even those who recognized correctly that Jesus did his miracles by the power of God did not always understand who he was. Matthew tells us in his gospel, for example, that when Jesus healed a paralytic, “When the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.” They thought that Jesus was only a human being. (And it is true that Jesus did his miracles not as God omnipotent, but as someone who had emptied himself of such divine attributes when he became a human being. As such, he was completely dependent on God and yielded to God, and so a perfect channel for the Holy Spirit’s power.)

Nicodemus said to Jesus, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God was with him.” So Jesus’ miracles attested that God had sent him and was empowering him. But these miracles did not necessarily disclose that Jesus was the Son of God, come to earth as the Savior.

However, when Jesus’ followers starting doing works in his name after his resurrection, people were amazed that someone whom they knew had died was nevertheless still doing miracles when people called upon him. The apostle Peter, for example, said to a paralyzed man named Aeneas in the city of Lydda, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you,” and Aeneas got right up! So the miracles that Jesus’ followers did were greater in glory than the miracles Jesus did on earth because those later miracles attested to the fact that God had raised Jesus from the dead, beginning a new age in redemptive history, and that the resurrected Jesus was doing great works to confirm the message that his followers were proclaiming about him. So the miracles of Jesus’ followers glorified him in a way that Jesus’ own miracles on earth did not, and in that sense they were greater.

This is a challenge and an opportunity for all believers in Jesus to call upon him to do things in our lives today that will glorify him as the resurrected and exalted Son of God.