Q: Why did God command the Israelites to kill so many people in the Old Testament?
A: Those of us familiar with the Old Testament know that much bloodshed occurred on behalf of the chosen people in the settling and defense of the Holy Land. As many of us have read, the ancient era in which the Old Testament stories happened were uncivilized and even vicious times. Uncivilized cultures were capable of uncivilized practices. Many stories are so sad that they cannot even be printed for public consumption. We know that God is a loving and patient God, but we also are aware that God has a plan and it involves the “bigger picture.”
Perhaps so much bloodshed occurred during the establishment of the Holy Land in order that even greater atrocities may be avoided? This ancient era contained many a war, of which several were between nations for sheer survival. As history instructs, we need to evaluate each era in its own context. Just think of how patient and tolerant God had to be with these ancient cultures. Unfortunately, the only language some cultures or ancient peoples Israel encountered was one of war and violence against all of humanity.
From the Book of Genesis through the Book of Revelation, we take note that God is full of mercy and love. It is our calling as fellow Christians not to test God’s mercy and love, but to embrace it. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the promises that were made by God to Israel in the Old Testament. Jesus himself teaches that we are his. We are meant to embrace and to imitate the divine mercy and love God shares with us each day.
Together let us pray for peace in our world, confident that the true and lasting peace only happens when we follow unreservedly the Prince of Peace.
Q: Did the Wise Men think Jesus was one of the many gods (were they polytheists)?
A: Good question, for there are many understandings of who the Magi were who visited the baby Jesus 2,000 years ago. While there is much speculation, it seems there are a few items that we can understand from our reading of the Bible and our appreciation of ancient history, especially in the area of Persia.
In the time of King Nebuchadnezzar (you may look him up in the Book of Daniel), the Magi were part of his royal court and they interpreted dreams as well as were specialists in astrology. Here we have the understanding of the Magi following the star, which we get from the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 2. The Magi would have been curious about this star and probably would have searched for its direct location over the Holy Land.
The ancient Persians were polytheists; in other words they believed in many gods, so we may surmise that so were the Magi.
Having the Magi visit Jesus demonstrates to us that Jesus Christ’s arrival into this world was not simply for the Chosen People, namely the Jewish people, but for all of humanity. The Magi were ambassadors of a sort for peoples that would eventually learn of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Q: The Bible tells of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, but Catholics believe that Mary had one child, Jesus. How can this be explained?
A: This is a very good question. It is important that we need understand that languages, which were used by people 2,000 years ago, did not exactly match the modern languages we use today. For instance, the words used to describe brothers and sisters in ancient Israel extended beyond one’s own immediate brothers and sisters, but also to one’s cousins. Our English language is much more specific in that our words do not embrace such a broad group of people as other ancient terms do.
Moreover, we also understand the truth that Mary, the Mother of God, had only one child; namely, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. The next children to which Mary was entrusted with were us, as Jesus spoke to his mother, Mary, and John the Apostle, as he hung on the cross. Remember how Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son”? Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” This moment is pivotal in that Jesus entrusts the Catholic Church to Mary, who is our mother.
It is through Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his foster father, Joseph, that Jesus would have had extended family, not unlike us. This further underscores the fact that while Jesus is God, he also shares fully in the attributes of humanity, especially having family.
Q: Why doesn’t the Bible explain Jesus’ life between the ages of 12 and 30?
A: The Bible is God’s revealed word. The Gospel stories underline the fact that Jesus is our salvation history and in these stories we travel with Jesus throughout his life.
We are familiar with significant moments in Jesus’ life, such as his conception in Mary’s womb and then being born, which we have the Nativity stories of Jesus in Bethlehem. We even have further stories of Jesus being presented in the Temple and then later being found in the Temple at the age of 12. At this point, we “fast forward” to Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist.
The Gospel stories of Jesus are pivotal moments, as described by the four evangelists (the Gospel writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit) that the story they are telling is our salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.
While this explanation may not satisfy your curiosity, trust that Jesus, who is fully God, is also fully human. We confidently know that Jesus did become a teenager as well as that he was in his 20s, just like any one of us who have reached our 30s. Perhaps you and I can find further comfort in the fact that Jesus, who became a man, one of us, fully understands the joys and the challenges that you and I are confronted with in daily life. It does not matter whether or not we are 5 years old, 12 years old, 20 years old or 90 years old. Jesus understands.
Q: Why is the Catholic Bible so different from any other Bible?
A: This is a very good question, for we are quite aware either by visiting a bookstore or “surfing the Net” that there are many translations of Sacred Scripture in the market, not to mention there are many English translations of the Bible. We must remember, first of all, that the Catholic Church has had the Bible and all of its books and letters ever since the beginning when God revealed his Word to the various writers who penned his words.
In the beginning a number of the books and letters were in Hebrew and Greek. Fortunately, a great translator in St. Jerome provided us with the first Bible in having all of the books and letters in the same language; namely, Latin. We call this Bible the Vulgate. Following this translation, however, we know, over the course of the centuries that eventually other translations were rendered of the Bible, especially in the common tongue of various cultures and nations. This is where the problem arises.
One of the principal roles of the bishops, namely, the successors of the Apostles is to guard the true translation of Sacred Scripture in all its meaning. This is what we call protecting the Deposit of Faith. In doing so, we bishops entrust others in assisting us in painstakingly translating the Bible into the common tongue of the peoples we serve in the respective countries and dioceses. In other words, the competency of the faithful translation of the Inspired Word of God, that is, the Bible, falls under the authority of the successors of the Apostles. Jesus, through his very words, provided us with that mandate when he said to St. Peter, “How he governs on earth will also apply to heaven.”
We know that there are a number of English bibles out there that differ partially, if not greatly, to the Catholic translation. Oftentimes, the question may be a translation of a certain word in Greek or Latin into English, but other times it may be that the organization or community that wishes to have a different translation permits the culture in which they live to determine the translation, thus rendering the meaning of the Scripture passages either diluted or meaningless.
When it comes to the English translation of our Bible, we as fellow Christians must remember that our society lacks the competency to alter the translation of the Bible, for it is the Bible itself, the Inspired Word of God, which is meant to change society.
Q:Why is the dove a symbol of the Holy Spirit?
A: The Bible is very instructive regarding the various symbols of our faith. For one, we are familiar with the descent of the dove upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River. God the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, bears witness to Jesus’ divinity as does God the Father in his reply that in Jesus, the Son of God, the Father is well pleased. You may wish to read all four of the Gospels, especially Chapter Three in Matthew and Chapter One in Mark.
While the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are represented by flames, the dove usually accompanies them. For example, the Sacrament of Confirmation is represented by the dove with seven flames. The dove also symbolizes peace, a peace which is perfectly exemplified in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
How blessed we are as our Catholic faith is full of symbolism which points directly to Jesus Christ and his love for us. Jesus’ love for us will never go out of style nor will the symbols which accompany that love.
Q: Why did men have more wives than one back when Jacob in the Old Testament was alive?
A: This is a very good question as well for the Bible is quite descriptive on the holy men of old who were married to a number of women, all at the same time! Unlike our time as Christians where Jesus tells us that, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh” (Mt 19: 5); namely, marriage is between one man and one woman. Back in ancient times this was not so clear for a number of reasons.
The one reason we should address is that the understanding of marriage was different back then in those uncivilized times. Communities or families were most concerned about having as many children as possible as quickly as possible for the sake of the family. Also, many children did not make it through childhood for they did not have proper health care that we enjoy in 2014. In Jacob’s era (Jacob eventually became the person Israel), it was the norm for men to have multiple wives.
Thank goodness, over time and with the specific instruction of Jesus we have seen marriage go from a domestic necessity to a sacrament which reflects Jesus the bridegroom married to his bride, the Church.
Q: Why did God make Moses and the Israelites wander for 40 long years?
A: This is a very good question, for if you look at the map of the Holy Land, the shortest distance from Egypt to the Promised Land of Israel should not take 40 years, even by camel. However, there are at least a couple of reasons why the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 long years.
Despite the number of times that God saved the people – from the time they left Egypt through the challenges en route to the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, the people continued to be, as the Bible says, “stiffed-necked people” in which they were not just ungrateful to God, but also even failed to follow him at times. Therefore, God would not allow most of their generation to enter the Promised Land, but instead for their children and grandchildren to inherit the land. Psalm 95 does a pretty good job in explaining that.
Secondly, had the Israelites gone straight from Egypt to the Promised Land, they would have given themselves credit for inheriting the land instead of giving the credit where it was due, and that is God.
Also, by traveling there they may have been afraid of the armies they would have had to engage on the way to the Promised Land and could be discouraged and thus decide not to travel to the land promised Abraham (yes, I know, I have just provided you with a third reason).
The lesson we must learn regarding the 40 years in the desert is that God will never leave us and we must always permit him to lead us on our way, for all our faith and trust must be in him.