Over the years reading the Bible, I have come across some questions that are quite interesting, and for which I haven’t thought up or searched out the answers for yet – as these are not the usual ‘problems’ raised by polemics when they attack the veracity of the Bible.
Being a believer in the fundamental truth and correctness of the Bible and its teachings, I am confident that any such of these issues will eventually be resolved. Thus I can patiently wait and ponder over these questions with the quiet anticipation of finding a perfectly satisfactory answer one day.
Wrap your own mind around these conundrums, and if you have any ideas, feel free to share them with me.
1) Descendants of the Nephilim
In the early chapters of Genesis, we find a mention of the Nephilim:
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. – Genesis 6:4
This was just before the Great Flood, which follows immediately after the passage about the Nephilim (which may indicate that God viewed that as the last straw). In that flood, only Noah and his family were saved among all humans, a total of eight in all:
I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. – Genesis 6:17-18
Yet fast forward into the time of Moses, where the twelve spies/scouts sent by the Israelites to check out the land of Canaan report:
“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” – Numbers 13:33
But wait! Didn’t everyone but Noah’s family perish in the Flood? How then can the Anakites be descended from the Nephilim? For that matter, everyone on earth is descended from Noah’s family! Thus it makes no sense to claim descendence from any pre-Flood personality!
1) While the citation that the Anakites come from the Nephilim is in brackets and thus seems to be an editorial inclusion by the author of Numbers, the whole declaration is within the speech quotation marks of the reporting spy. While I don’t know how brackets and speech quotes are derived from the ancient Hebrew text, it can be concluded that the spy was explaining his own opinion/belief that the Anakites are descended from the Nephilim. This means that it is not necessarily true, but merely a rumour or a wild claim by the Anakites. (Not everything the Bible records is true – e.g. the serpent’s lies are recorded, and Job’s friends uttered a lot of nonsense that is also recorded.)
2) The Nephilim referred to in Numbers may not be the same people Genesis refers to. It could simply be a title for great heroes, or perhaps a tribe that named themselves such.
3) The Nephilim were not merely human, but possessed super-powers inherited from their angel parents (the sons of God mentioned). Thus, they escaped the flood and later returned to help repopulate the earth. After all, Genesis 6:4 contains the phrase ‘and also afterward’ – could that refer not only to the first era the Nephilim were present on Earth, but also post-Flood? …No, I don’t really put much weight on this one myself.
2) The faces of Ezekiel’s living creatures
Ezekiel 1 has the prophet Ezekiel narrate a vision he experienced while by the Kebar river, where he witnessed something he describes as ‘what looked like four living creatures’.
Let’s focus on their facial features:
Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. – Ezekiel 1:10-11
In Ezekiel 10, he again sees the same living creatures in later vision, and identifies them as cherubim:
Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. These were the living creatures I had seen beneath the God of Israel by the Kebar River, and I realized that they were cherubim. – Ezekiel 10: 14 & 20
If you read the two passages carefully, you’ll notice that while Ezekiel claims that the cherubim were the same living creatures he had seen earlier, in the second instance the face like an ox has been replaced by the face like a cherub.
What the??? Do cherubim actually look like cows, meaning that all our modern Christmas and Valentine card depictions of little baby-faced angels are wrong? Another instance of living creatures appears in Revelation 4 and are slightly different in overall appearance, but aren’t claimed to be the same ones to appear before Ezekiel in that case.
1) These being visions of otherworldly, nigh incomprehensible revelations of God’s power and glory, the human mind can only interpret what was witnessed in terms it is used to dealing with. Thus, what Ezekiel narrates cannot be taken literally (just as the Revelation of John probably doesn’t mean that Jesus will actually come wielding a flammable sword in his mouth like Roronoa Zoro, but rather speak judgment upon the nations).
2) While Ezekiel seems to say that the exact same individual living creatures appeared to him both times, he could actually be indicating that the same kind of beings were present the second time. Kind of like how, when you were once stung by a certain sub-species of bee in your childhood, you would point out just that type of bees and say “Those are the bees that stung me!” and no one would assume that the exact same individual bees have lived 20 years to meet you again for round 2. In short, Ezekiel was referring to the fact that both times, supernatural beings with closely similar overall features had appeared to him.
3) Cherubim actually do look like oxen.
3) Do resurrected people die twice?
The author of the letter to the Hebrews says:
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:27-28
Hear that? Humans die once, and then they are judged to determine whether they will inherit heaven or hell.
But in many instances in the Bible, people who have died are resurrected. To cite but a few: The widow’s son that Elijah resurrected, Lazarus whom Jesus resurrected, Jesus Himself, many holy people in one shot whose tombs broke open at the moment of Jesus’ death in Matthew 27:52.
So what happens to these people who have already died once, but instead of being taken to heaven or hell, were brought back to life? Can they die a mortal death now? Wouldn’t that be dying twice before facing judgment? While Jesus is exempt because He ascended to heaven afterward, how about all the others who are merely human?
For that matter, what about Enoch and Elijah who didn’t die, but were instead caught up directly into heaven… And all the Christians who will be Raptured around the End Times? They won’t die even once before being judged.
(Unless Enoch and Elijah will be the two witnesses who testify about God and are killed during the End Times, as has been suggested.)
1) Offered by my brother Jamie, the passage in Hebrews is a general reference to humanity, exclusive of individual special cases. A comparable example would be that of ‘seeing God’s face’ which will in general cause a mortal viewer to die (Exodus 33:18-20), but in particular cases God protected the viewer for His own purposes (Genesis 32:30, Judges 13:22, Isaiah 6:1-5 – note in each case, the viewer is aware that mortals who see God usually die). I find this explanation the most suitable and commonsense.
2) An idea of mine inspired by the Christ Clone trilogy where John the Evangelist didn’t die, but lived all these 2000 years: All the people ever resurrected are still alive today, and will remain so until either the Rapture or the last judgement! Yeah, not so commonsense.
4) What kind of love does Peter love Jesus more than these?
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love [agapao] me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love [phileo] you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love [agapao] me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [phileo] you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love [phileo] me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love [phileo] me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love [phileo] you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” – John 21:15-17
I’ve added in square brackets the original original Greek used for the word ‘love’ (compare the hotlinked Strong’s numbers here). In brief, the distinction is that agapao is the selfless and unconditional kind of love God shows humanity, whereas phileo is the ‘liking’ kind of love between friends. In the NIV passage above, the distinction is made in English by using ‘truly love’ and ‘love’.
Thus Jesus asks twice if Peter agapaos Him, but Peter (fresh full of guilt from his three times denying Jesus) only answers that he phileos Jesus.
The third time, Jesus instead asks Peter is he phileos Him, and Peter becomes upset and answers that he does.
This difference in the usage of terms for love gives a deeper insight into the interplay between Jesus and Peter. Rather than just being hurt that Jesus keeps prodding Peter on whether Peter loves Him three times (just as Peter denied Jesus three times), Peter could have been hurt because Jesus downgraded the kind of love asked of him from ‘selfless’ to ‘casual/convenient’ (which is significant as Peter denied Jesus out of self-protecting fear, and is foretold in John 21 that he will be killed for his faith in Jesus).
But that aside, here’s the thing – when Jesus was speaking to Peter at the moment itself, He would have used Aramaic, as that was the common man’s local language spoken at the time. Peter was an uneducated fisherman, and had to learn Greek from scratch in order to write 1st and 2nd Peter (and not very well at that, according to a pastor I know who dreaded reading Peter’s Greek).
So how did John know, or why did he choose to use, different Greek terms for love as I mentioned? Are there different words for the nuances of love in Aramaic too?
1) Waiting for an Aramaic scholar or speaker to fill me in on whether Aramaic has different terms for love too. Or, it could be as simple as the NIV English passage I quoted above – just add an adverb like ‘truly’ or ‘selflessly’.
2) Some are of the opinion that Jesus didn’t actually use two different words for love with Peter – agapao and phileo are actually more synonymous than popularly thought, and John just used the two words as a matter of style in writing his account. However, I find it odd that John would add in styling in the manner of agapao – agapao – phileo without intending the distinction between the kinds of love Jesus expected of Peter as I explained above.
5) The LORD said to my Lord?
Another question on languages used. Jesus used this citation of Scripture to challenge the Pharisees’ preconceived notions about the Messiah:
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “ The Son of David.”
He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: “The Lord said to my Lord,“ Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”?
If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. – Matthew 22:41-46
Now, if you know which passage of Scripture He was citing, you may realize that there is a subtle yet important difference in the quote versus the original.
The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” – Psalm 110:1
Now obviously, the NIV seems to be mistaken in this case – if Jesus was citing Psalm 110:1, wouldn’t it be easy enough to look back and compare and notice the difference?
This non-distinction between LORD and Lord in Matthew is not an issue in some translations:
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool – KJV
The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool” – NKJV
The LORD said to my Lord, Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies beneath your feet. – NLT
And is present in some others:
The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right side until I make your enemies into a footstool for you. – Contemporary English Version
The Lord said to My Lord, Sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet? – Amplified Bible
And is completely avoided in yet others, at the cost of the direct citation:
God said to my Master, “Sit here at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” – Matthew 24, The Message
The word of God to my Lord: “Sit alongside me here on my throne until I make your enemies a stool for your feet.” – Psalm 110, The Message
So what gives here?
For this conundrum, we shall turn to the Strong’s numbers:
The LORD [kurios] said unto my Lord [kurios] Sit thou on my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool – Matthew 22:44, KJV
The Greek word kurious in both cases is actually the same word, Strong’s number 2962 defined as lord, master or God.
So as it seems, the NIV is correct in using the same Lord twice.
Now let’s go back to Psalm 110 and look at the Strong’s numbers for the original Hebrew:
The LORD [Yhvh] said unto my Lord Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool – Psalm 110:1, KJV
Here we see that the Psalm in the original Hebrew does use two different words – Yhvh, the proper name of the God of Israel (Strong’s number 3068) that is rendered LORD in English; and adon, meaning lord (Strong’s number 113) and rendered Lord in English.
Thus while the original Scripture (Psalm 110) that Jesus quoted uses LORD and Lord, the actual text of Matthew’s Gospel uses Lord and Lord.
Now here’s the much belated question: Why did Matthew not differentiate between LORD and Lord in writing his account of Jesus’ citing Psalm 110?
When Jesus spoke to the masses He would have used Aramaic, the common tongue of the locals at the time. When He cited Psalm 110 to the Pharisees, however, He undoubtedly would have spoken the Hebrew it was written in. Matthew however wrote his Gospel in Koine Greek, the language used by the Roman occupiers at the time (and not Latin as Mel Gibson directed).
Now with all that language switching, Matthew might have gotten mixed up. But wouldn’t it have been easy enough to dig up the original citation in Hebrew to compare?
And note that the modern day English-speaker’s confusion between LORD and Lord is a non-issue in Hebrew, as the Hebrew words are vastly different.
Yhvh (which I usually render YHWH and some render Jehovah) is a sacred and most holy Name, referring specifically to only the God who rescued Israel and made her His people. It is comparable to a Proper Noun, an individual’s name. To delve into pop culture references, you could say it’s like the difference between a joker and The Joker. The NIV preface paragraph 16 states that they translate this to LORD (all capitals).
Whereas adon (which I usually render Adonai) was usually used by the Jews instead to refer to God due to the holiness of Yhvh (“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” – Exodus 20). The NIV preface paragraph 16 states that they translate this to Lord.
2. Matthew wrote his Gospel with the aim of convincing Jews that Jesus is their Messiah. Thus he assumed that his intended audience would recognize the citation of Psalm 110 and know the difference present in the original Hebrew text. According to Wikipedia, he also uses the phrase ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in preference of ‘Kingdom of God’ that the other Gospel writers use which further establishes his Jewish tilt (as Jewish believers try to avoid mentioning God directly as I explained above). However, there are reasons Matthew would do this.
Whereas the number one ranked on Google argues against that interpretation.
6) ‘The Twelve’ Apostles?
Everyone knows there were Twelve Apostles of Jesus. In fact, even after one of them (Judas Iscariot) betrayed Jesus and later committed suicide, the remaining Apostles cast lots to choose who would be added into their ranks to make them Twelve again.
(Note: They chose Matthias, who goes on to not be mentioned again, thus making an argument against casting lots for decision making – we should instead rely on the Holy Spirit, Who is only given in the next chapter of Acts.)
But then, who exactly was Paul referring to in 1st Corinthians 15?
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. – 1st Corinthians 15:3-8
If you read Acts 1 properly, you’ll note that Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot after Jesus ascended back to heaven. Thus, when Jesus was still on Earth after being resurrected and appearing to people, there were only eleven Apostles – not twelve!
So why doesn’t Paul say that Jesus ‘appeared to Peter and then the Eleven’?
1. A common sense one – Paul uses the term ‘The Twelve’ because that is what the Apostles were commonly called, even while they were missing one member. If he had said ‘The Eleven’ it probably wouldn’t have been understood by the listener, and ‘The Twelve Minus One Temporarily’ doesn’t quite have the ring to it. As comparison, The 300 (Spartans) are referred to as such even as their numbers dwindled to one – we don’t come out from the film talking about how cool the action in ‘1’ was.
2. Matthias also witnessed Jesus’ being alive after the Resurrection, and since he’s part of the Apostles when Paul speaks, therefore it is permissible to group him together with The Twelve who saw Jesus alive. However, this goes against the flow of the passage which is meant to give a progressive order of who Jesus appeared to alive. Unless Matthias was with the original Twelve (um, Eleven Minus One) when Jesus made His first appearance resurrected to them, then he would have seen Jesus alive as part of ‘all of the apostles’.
3. Jesus appeared to Judas Iscariot as well – since Judas was dead, and everyone will be judged by God after death. Therefore Paul meant to refer to the original ‘The Twelve’ but is still technically correct, as Eleven Alive + One Dead = Twelve. No, not a serious attempt to explain the passage.
7) The gifts of the Magi
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” … After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. – Matthew 2:1-2 & 9-11
So what ever happened to the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh?
Was it a very small amount (having had to be carried all the way from Persia or wherever), and therefore not very consequential to the financial situation of Joseph and Mary?