Why did Jesus choose only men as his twelve apostles?

Q. Why did Jesus choose only men as his twelve apostles?

I think that the number twelve is the key to the answer. I believe that Jesus named twelve apostles to be the leaders of the movement of his followers because he wanted to show symbolically that this movement would constitute a new community of God’s people. And so just as there were twelve tribal patriarchs for ancient Israel, the new community would have twelve “patriarchs” of its own.

The Bible gives us several indications of this continuity between the tribal patriarchs and the apostles. Jesus told the apostles at the Last Supper that they would “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” As John describes his vision of the new Jerusalem in the book of Revelation, he says, “On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel,” and then he adds, “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” And also in the book of Revelation, when John lists the tribes, as I argue in this post, “The names are presented in such a way as to show that the community of Jesus’ followers is the continuation of the people of God flowing out of the community of ancient Israel.”

So the selection of twelve men is, simply stated, symbolic. One implication of this is that I do not believe that the selection of only men as apostles means that women cannot have leadership roles in the community of Jesus’ followers. For my thoughts about that in greater detail, see the series of posts that begins here: Does the Bible say that women can’t teach or have authority over men? (Part 1). Indeed, Jesus chose not just twelve men, but specifically twelve Jewish men. But we do not conclude from that that non-Jewish people cannot have leadership roles in the community of his followers.

Are these books missing from the Bible?

Q. I have a book listing the “missing books from the Bible.” The following were named in the book. I have never seen or heard of them before, so could you tell me, are they really missing books of the Bible and if so, where would they go in the order of all the books, and are they okay to read?

Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Psalms 151, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Azariah, Jubilees, Enoch, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Mary

You have a list of various works that come from the same communities that produced the canonical Scriptural books, but which are not accepted as the inspired word of God by Christians throughout the world. Some of them are considered to be inspired Scripture by some Christian groups, however, and that is perhaps why your list calls them “missing books from the Bible.” Several of them are found in some Bibles, but not in others, depending on the beliefs of particular groups.

I would say in general that you could read these books to get a perspective on what various people have believed at different times and in different places, but unless you belong to a Christian community that accepts them as Scripture, you should not read them in the same way that you would read the Bible. Here are some further details.

For one thing, some of these books were included in the Septuagint, a popular and influential ancient translation of the Old Testament into Greek, and as a result, various Christian communities have accepted them as canonical. The Prayer of Azariah, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon are three additions to the book of Daniel—written in Greek, however, not in Hebrew or Aramaic like the rest of that book—that Catholic and Orthodox Christians accept as canonical. 1 Esdras and Psalm 151 are other works found in the Septuagint, and Orthodox Christians accept them, although Catholics and Protestants do not.

The Prayer of Manasseh is included in some manuscripts of the Septuagint, and Orthodox Christians consider it to be deuterocanonical, meaning that it can be read during services of worship, but it is not as authoritative as the other books in the Bible. (Please see this post for a fuller explanation of what that means.)

The books of Enoch and Jubilees are ancient Jewish works that most Jews and Christians do not consider to be Scripture, although the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Ethiopian Jews do accept them. Jubilees is essentially a re-telling of the events of Genesis, while Enoch deals with angels and demons and events at the beginning and end of world history.

Finally, there are some books on the list that come from the first few centuries after Christ, and no Christian communities accept them as canonical. Those include 2 Esdras, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Mary.

If you do want to read these books, I would start with the ones that are most widely accepted, and I would stay away from the ones that no Christian communities accept. However, personally I would want to make sure that I had first read all of the books that all Christians accept as Scripture before devoting any time to ones that there is much doubt about.

Do believers in Jesus still have a sinful nature?

Q. What kind of sinful nature do you think we have that needs to be changed?

From indications that accompanied the submission of this question, I understand the word “we” to apply to followers of Jesus. Here is what I say about the subject of the “sinful nature” in my study guide to Paul’s Journey Letters. (You can read the guide online or download it at this link.) As you will see, I do not believe that followers of Jesus still have two natures, one sinful and one redeemed. Rather, they have one redeemed nature, but they must still learn to live as people who have been transferred out of one realm into another.

Let me quote first from p. 100, where I discuss Paul’s comments about the “sinful nature” in the book of Galatians.

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To explain how people who aren’t governed by the law can still live as God intends, Paul uses the Greek term sarx (“flesh”) in a specialized sense, to refer the characteristic patterns of this “present evil age.” (The NIV
formerly translated sarx as “sinful nature” when Paul uses it in this sense. But in the 2011 update to the NIV, this was changed to “flesh” in most places.) We’ve seen Paul use the term this way earlier: In 2 Corinthians he writes, “we regard no one from a worldly point of view” and that he doesn’t “live by the standards of this world ” (in both cases, “according to sarx”).

Here in Galatians, Paul uses the term to reframe the problem he’s been addressing. All the behaviors the agitators want to control through law-keeping are actually evidence that people are still living “according to sarx,” that is, in the way characteristic of this “present evil age.” Paul says that those who commit the “acts of the flesh [sarx] . . . will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

He means that these acts aren’t characteristic of those who will inherit the kingdom of God and are already experiencing its realities. The law can’t help people overcome these behaviors, because it can’t take them out of this age. The law itself belongs to this age. The true question isn’t whether a person is depending on faith or law; it’s whether they’re living in this age or the next.

When a person trusts in Jesus, this makes them part of the coming age. Paul says at the beginning of Galatians that Jesus “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from [take us out of ] the present evil age.” However, believers won’t automatically follow the characteristic pattern of the coming age. Paul explains that the two ways of life “are in conflict with each other,” and that believers are living in the crossfire, “so . . . you are not to do whatever you want.” Paul doesn’t want the Galatians to misunderstand the way the Corinthians did and think that because they’re “spiritual,” they “have the right to do anything.” Instead, they must depend on the Spirit to guide them into the way of life characteristic of the coming age that they’re already a part of.

As we’ve seen, Paul considers the Spirit a “down payment” on everything believers will receive and experience when the coming age fully arrives. As the advance agent of that age, the Spirit can show them how to live according to its patterns. When believers do that, taking on the character qualities that Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit,” they’ll also truly fulfill the law, because “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

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And here is what I say similarly about the “sinful nature” on p. 120, as I am discussing Paul’s main argument in the book of Romans.

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Paul now steps back from his argument again, to address more anticipated objections. If people aren’t expected to keep the law, but are simply told they’re forgiven because of what Jesus has done, doesn’t this give them an incentive to sin? The more sin, the more forgiveness, right?

Paul addresses this concern from several different angles, correcting four potential misunderstandings of his message. Essentially he explains that people who put their faith in Jesus aren’t simply forgiven; they’re transferred entirely out of one realm, where they sinned by compulsion, into a new realm, where it’s natural for them to obey God.

Paul describes the difference between these realms in several ways. He portrays those under the control of sin as living in this present age and those who’ve been freed from sin as experiencing the coming age, “living a new life” and serving “in the new way of the Spirit.” He also describes the difference between these realms by contrasting life according to sarx (this is often translated as “the sinful nature”) with life in the Spirit, as he did in Galatians. He contrasts the “mind” or “inner being” that “delights in God’s law” with the “body of death” that’s a “prisoner of sin.” More generally, he speaks of being brought from “death” to “life,” or from “slavery to sin” to “slavery to righteousness.”

But no matter which image he uses, Paul’s point is the same: Believers in Jesus have been taken out of one realm and placed in another. They don’t have any more incentive to sin, and they also shouldn’t have any desire or compulsion to sin, because they’re new kinds of people, dead to the past, alive to the future, animated by the power of God’s Spirit.

All of this leads Paul to the conclusion of this first part of his main argument in Romans. His language reaches heights of eloquence as he marvels at the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer and at the love of God, which has called us and saved us and from which nothing in all creation can ever separate us.

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Thank you for your question. I hope these reflections are helpful to you.

Can a Catholic lay person extend or give “grace” to others?

Q. My question is about “grace.” Can we, as lay people in the Catholic faith, extend or give “grace” to others?

In the interests of full disclosure, I should acknowledge first that I am Protestant. But let me then say that as I understand the Catholic expression of our shared Christian faith, while only a priest may do things such as administer the sacraments and absolve people after confession, every believer may be a channel of grace to others in many ways. Some of these are described in the Bible.

For example, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Let no harmful word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for building others up according to the need, so that it gives grace to those who hear it.” As another version of the Bible translates this, “When you talk, don’t say anything bad. Say the good things that people need—whatever will help them grow stronger. Then what you say will be a blessing to those who hear you.” So simply in the way we speak, in the things we say and the things we realize we shouldn’t say, we can be a channel of God’s grace to other people.

For his part, Peter wrote in his first epistle, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” In other words, God has given each person part of his grace to take care of, for the sake of others, in the form of a gift that we can use to serve them. When we do that, we similarly become a channel of God’s grace to them. As another version of the Bible expresses this, “Each of you has been blessed with one of God’s many wonderful gifts to be used in the service of others. So use your gift well.”

These are just two of the ways in which we can all extend God’s grace to other people. Basically, anything we do as faithful followers of Jesus that enables another person to realize more of God’s love for them makes us a channel of grace. There is probably no limit to the number of things that might involve.

Can a deceased spouse hear and see when we cry and speak?

Q. Can a deceased spouse hear and see when we cry and speak?

If you are asking out of your own personal experience, please accept my sincere sympathies for your loss. I would say that the answer to your question is yes. I share some thoughts about a question that is closely related to yours in this post:

Where does the Bible say we can ask departed loved ones to pray for us?

Who was Jesus’ biological father? How did His mother Mary die? When? Where?

Q. Who was Jesus’ biological father? How did His mother Mary die? When? Where?

Christians believe that Jesus had no biological father. Rather, his mother Mary conceived him while she was still a virgin. This was a miracle, and so it is unclear how it actually happened. Even the angel who spoke to Mary about it described it in a figurative poetic parallel: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” So this is a mystery of the faith that Christians believe and accept by faith.

As for the later life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, please see this post.

 

Can a pastor whose wife does not support his calling divorce her and remarry?

Q. Is it right for a pastor to leave his unsupportive wife for another woman?

I do not see anything in Scripture that would endorse a pastor divorcing his wife because she did not support his calling.

If a man feels a calling to become a pastor and his wife does not support that, then he needs to wait until the two of them agree before he becomes a pastor. He can pray and talk things out with her, and hope and trust that if his calling is genuine, God will lead his wife to support it. God may very well be using the wife’s concerns to get the man to address important and necessary issues in his life. Once those issues are addressed, his wife may come to support his calling enthusiastically.

If a man has already become a pastor, and his wife does not support that, God may be using her concerns similarly to get him to address issues in his life or in his ministry. Pastors need to listen to all the ways in which God may be speaking to them.

Even if a pastor’s wife did not support him because she had turned away from the Lord, then as a good shepherd, he should leave the 99 sheep and go after the one that had gone astray. That is, he should set aside his pastoral duties for a time and give all of his attention to his wife’s spiritual condition. If she chooses definitively to leave his ministry and their marriage, then Scripture would say that he is “not bound in such circumstances.” He can let her leave, and conceivably he could remarry. But this should only happen after he has made every genuine effort to win her back to the Lord and to himself and their ministry.

But unfortunately, as you say, all too often pastors fail to hear how God is speaking to them, and they fail to give attention to the most important sheep in their flock. A wife may be unsupportive of a pastor’s ministry because he is not properly balancing work and family life. He may be neglecting his responsibilities and obligations to his family. In that case, the wife is not the problem. The pastor needs to hear what God is saying to him through her protests.

May God lead all married pastors to honor their marriages as the foundations of their ministries.

Are there still prophets today, and if so, do true prophets have to be correct?

Q. I just read an article on Politico.com about contemporary prophets who are predicting that Donald Trump will become president again by the spring of this year, 2021, several years before he could actually be re-elected. 1. I know that Paul speaks of prophecy as a gift, but I don’t understand the need for prophets since the death of Christ. Wasn’t “the Word made flesh” so that we don’t need prophets? Didn’t God reveal all that we need to know? 2. I know that Old Testament prophets sometimes made prophetic statements about rulers but I thought that, for the most part, their prophecies focused on God’s people and their relationship with Him. It seems somewhat ungodly to think that God would be prophetically involved in micro-politics in our country. 3. Are there any instances in the OT of prophets being incorrect? If not, is it possible that Scripture only records their hits and omits their strikeouts? If not, then should we conclude that any modern-day prophet who strikes out is not really a prophet? If so, is there any modern-day prophet who is batting 1.000? (Or, to continue the metaphor, do you get a couple of swings and misses – and maybe foul balls – but aren’t out until you reach a certain number of misses?)

Let me respond to your first, third, and second questions in that order.

As for your first question, I personally believe that the gift of prophecy remains active in the church today. I do not believe that any prophecies since the New Testament was completed have added anything to the revelation in Scripture, but I do believe that God still speaks through spiritually gifted and sensitive people to bring inspired messages to groups of believers that need guidance, challenge, and encouragement. So in one sense, yes, through the incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus, and the completion of the written word of God in the Scriptures, God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. In another sense, there is still a need for groups of believers to hear what God is saying to them about specific situations they are facing, and it is the ongoing role of prophets to speak that word.

But this immediately raises the question of how we can know whether such contemporary prophets are truly speaking from God, instead of from themselves, likely under various influences. This relates to your third question. Wouldn’t a genuine prophet get things right, at least a credible amount of the time? And prophets generally hold themselves to this standard. The article you cited quoted one person who had predicted that Donald Trump would win the 2020 presidential election as saying, on the day that Joe Biden was declared the winner, “I take full responsibility for being wrong. There was no excuse for it. I think it doesn’t make me a false prophet, but it does actually create a credibility gap.” Others quoted in the article go further. One self-described prophet said, of those who are still insisting in February 2021 that Trump will soon return as president, “This has opened the door to outright delusion. … I’ll say we’ve earned the world’s mockery for our foolishness.” So yes, we should expect that any genuine prophet would have a strong track record for accuracy and truth. The Bible itself specifies this same standard: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously.” I think we could still have much respect, however, for a prophet who got something wrong but then admitted that promptly and humbly.

Finally, to respond to your second question, I would say that the prophecies that are recorded in the Scriptures, if we may take them as a model, give just as much attention to social and political concerns as to God’s people and their relationship with Him. Prophecy is both “fore-telling” and “forth-telling.” That is, it not only announces what God is going to do, it also speaks truth to power. Some biblical scholars have estimated that there is actually much more forth-telling than fore-telling within biblical prophecy. But there needs to be a standard for that as well. If prophets are to address current social and political realities, as well as situations within the believing community, then they must do so in keeping with the principles that God reveals in the Scriptures. The truth that is spoken to power must be God’s truth. And this was perhaps an even greater concern in the article you cited than the issue of incorrect prophecies that Trump would be re-elected. The article quotes a theologian and pastor who monitors present-day self-described prophets as saying that in return for favorable prophecies about him, “They had direct access to him and ability to influence decisions Trump was making. The real story was in the power, influence and access.” The article quotes others who see the positive prophecies as having been an “attempt to curry favor with a powerful political figure and movement.” If that is actually the case, then they would not have been speaking truth to power. They would have been telling power what it wanted to hear.

If Jesus died on a Friday and rose on a Sunday, how was that the “third day”?

Q. Jesus said, referring to himself, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” But Jesus died on a Friday and rose on a Sunday. How was that the “third day”?

The answer has to do with how people in the biblical culture reckoned time. Today was considered the first day, tomorrow the second day, and the day after tomorrow the third day. The day before yesterday was considered the third day going in the other direction. There is a Hebrew idiom that means “it was not like that in the past” that says literally, “It was not like that yesterday, three days,” meaning, “It was not like that yesterday or the day before yesterday.”

We get one clear indication of this usage in the reply Jesus gave when he was told that Herod wanted to kill him. He said, “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day.” This shows clearly that the “third day” is the day after tomorrow.

So the way people reckoned time, Friday would have been the first day, Saturday the second day, and Sunday the third day.