Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Ghettoization of American Evangelicalism

Just adding collapsible post functionality and a pull quote. No new content. First line is a pull quote.
We've identified the gospel with a political and social perspective that few people can identify with who haven't been raised in it. Scot McKnight passes on a letter he's received in his most recent Letters to Emerging Christians segment. The complaint of the letter-writer essentially involves the fact that being an "evangelical" has become too identified with a particular brand of conservative American politics. A few quotes:
  • Conservative Christians [frequently] conflate Christianity with American patriotism and/or the Republican party. One commentator says Jim Wallis can’t call himself an Evangelical because he’s a “left- leaning socialist” who made a speech on the Democrats’ weekly radio address!
  • Dobson & company, attacking a member of the NAE for daring to suggest that global warming might actually be a problem.
  • I read the quote from D. James Kennedy, a pastor and seminary leader in Florida: “The publication and promulgation of the 1599 Geneva Bible will help restore America’s rich Christian heritage and reclaim the culture for Christ.” What!? A 1599 Bible which, incidentally, comes with a middle-English glossary to help you understand what the heck they were saying, is the answer that will reclaim the culture for Christ???
Now, I've long been conservative in terms of my politics, although I am beginning to wonder... But regardless of one's political stripe, it should be deeply troubling that the Christian faith is so identified with a particular political position, especially on issues regarding which the Bible either doesn't speak or quite arguably speaks in the opposite direction. It should be disturbing that the mandate of the Church seems not to be to make disciples of all nations, but rather to "restore America’s rich Christian heritage."

And then I read Dan Kimball's excellent post, "Hope, depression, hope." He cites a sociologist and student of church growth and leadership:
He shared that the reason church statistics regarding attendance may be staying around the same level is because those in the churches are living longer. There are now a ton of old churches with elderly folks living longer which keeps that statistic up. He also shared how the already Christians in churches who have babies also keeps the percentage leveled out.

What isn't happening however, is the growth of the church from people outside the church coming in. We aren't keeping up on the population growth at large. I was reading that the church has leveled out in attendance over the past 15 years but at the same time our national population has grown by around 50 million people. So we can celebrate that churches are remaining relatively the same attendance-wise, but now there are more than 50 million people who aren't part of the church.
I don't think it's a great leap of logic to see these two issues as being related. We've identified the gospel with a political and social perspective that few people can identify with who haven't been raised in it. We've essentially said, "You can't join our club unless you're willing to subscribe to all twenty-six points of our worldview." And then we wonder why our churches stagnate, growing, if at all, through transfers from other churches. We are relevant only to one another. Welcome to the Christian ghetto.

Can't we see the wisdom of the Apostle Paul, who "resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2)? Paul wasn't a "culture warrior" in the modern sense. His aim was not to "take a stand" and then have his already-convinced buddies pat him on the back for not backing down. His aim was to reach as many people as possible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Period.

The tension between the standards of the already-converted and the imperative of reaching the larger culture is nothing new. Jesus was accused of being "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners'" (Luke 7:34; cf. Matt. 11:19). Peter became the first to take the gospel to a Gentile audience. What was the response from the Christian community? "So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, 'You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them'" (Acts 11:2-3). Peter himself compromised his own principles and broke off fellowship with Gentile believers in order to satisfy "the circumcision group"; he had to be publicly rebuked by Paul because his "hypocrisy" had infected even Barnabas (Gal. 2:12-13). The pressure to conform to so-called "higher standards"--even at the cost of ostracizing some for whom Christ died--is intense.

Kimball continues with words that should be of particular interest to some who regularly read this blog, "It will be horribly sad if in 30 years or 40 years the church of America is a tiny thing, and we are still fighting each other about whether one is a Calvinist or Arminian or whether you preach verse by verse or preach topically etc." Obviously, I think divine election is a worthwhile thing to discuss, but it must be kept in its proper place. There's a lost and dying world out there. We have answers, but we're fading into irrelevance. We're squabbling with one another instead of trying to reach that world. We're telling people that they must oppose abortion and homosexuality, that they must support Israel and capitalism and lower taxes, that we must win the War on Terror and support our president, oppose the environmentalist wackos, and stand up for God and Country. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that these are all noble and worthy goals. I just have one question.

Where did the gospel go?

If you like this post, you may be interested in my book, What's Wrong with Outreach?

What's Wrong with Outreach?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Brian LePort on Pentecostalism as a Middle Way

Brian LePort offers a nice summary of arguments against both cessationism and Word-Faith theology. His arguments are cogent and sound, although I would offer a bit of a different view of "that which is perfect," along the lines of those that Rich Tatum suggests in his comment on the post. I also think the question, "Why don't we see miracles like those that happened in Biblical times?" is a loaded question. The miracles that people experienced were written down precisely because they were unusual. Most people who lived at that time had never seen one. Hence the popular interest in Jesus. Check out Brian's article. Good stuff.

HT: my cup of coffee

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Dangerous Thoughts on Holy Saturday

I can't even imagine what Jesus' disciples were feeling the day after his crucifixion. Their greatest hopes had died with him the day before, and the new hope beyond all their dreams was yet to be realized. They must have felt completely desperate. So it's not such a bad day to indulge some dangerous ideas.

It's in that mood that I came across John Frye's "The People Formerly Known as 'The Pastor'." It's more strongly worded than I would ever dare, but seriously, it reflects a lot of how I sometimes feel as a refugee from formal ministry. It's a response to another piece by Bill Kinnon, called "The People Formerly Known as the Congregation," which seems to me more strident and more typical in its complaints against the established church. This one is more the view from a disillusioned insider. But another piece, "Underlying Issues," kind of unpacks it and deals with the issues raised in more measured tones.

And they're issues that need to be dealt with. There may be much inchoate anger in some of the emerging movement; there may be youthful idealism and unrealistic expectations; there may be too much throwing out of the baby with the bathwater. But there are reasons--real, justified, even biblical reasons--why people engaging in the emerging conversation are rejecting the institutionalized church. We need to listen to these voices. We need to ask if what we are doing is what Jesus intended, what he wants from us now. We need to fight the perennial temptation to substitute the traditions of men for the glories of the life God wants to give us.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

On the Theory of a Wednesday Crucifixion: 4. Final Considerations and Conclusion

This is the last in a series on the theory of a Wednesday crucifixion. We've listed the relevant scriptures, dealt with some logical considerations, and interpreted the relevant texts. Here we deal with some final considerations and wrap it up.

Further Considerations

The foregoing analysis has been restricted to the comparison of various scriptures indicating the time period between Jesus' crucifixion and his resurrection. A few notes may be made on the internal difficulties of a Wednesday crucifixion as well.

A. The Hypotheses of Calendrical Disputes

The supposition of a Wednesday crucifixion is usually related to the argument that Jesus used a sectarian calendar of some sort, and thus ate Passover (i.e., the Last Supper) earlier than most of Jerusalem. There is in fact no evidence that Jesus used such a sectarian calendar, and the contemporary evidence we have of the use of such calendars is late and thin. Moreover, eating the Passover required eating a lamb properly sacrificed, and it is impossible that within Jerusalem the temple priests would accommodate a sectarian calendar (Carson, Matthew, 529-30; John, 457; Foster, 599).

B. "Preparation Day"

Several verses, relating to the Last Supper and to Jesus' trial before Pilate and crucifixion, refer to that day as παρασκευήν (Preparation [Day]"), i.e., Matthew 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, and John 19:14, 31, and 42. As Carson argues, this term seems to have become a term synonymous with "Friday," and it is not used in first century literature for the day before any other festival, even though that festival may be observed as a "Sabbath." Moreover, reconciling the various references to Preparation Day with one another seems to require it to be used of Friday within Passover Week, as opposed to the day before Passover itself (Matthew, 531-32; John, 603-04, 622; Foster, 599); if this is true, then it follows that Scripture flatly indicates that Jesus died on Friday.


While the theory of a Wednesday crucifixion is an honest attempt to accept literally Jesus' passion prediction in Matthew 12:40, it would seem to be precluded by all of the other statements in the New Testament that have bearing on the time period between the crucifixion and the resurrection, both before and after the Passion. Understood in its cultural context, "three days and three nights" could refer to any portion of three days and nights; thus it is unnecessary to insist on a 72-hour entombment. Matthew and Luke give us the correct understanding of Mark's phrase, "after three days," and the weight of the evidence seems to rest on the understanding of the resurrection "on the third day." Most fatal to the theory is the statement by the disciples on the road to Emmaus that "this is the third day since all this took place" (Luke 24:21); clearly spoken on a Sunday, it requires that Jesus died on a Friday.


Works Cited

The Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984. (All scripture references unless otherwise noted.)

------. New American Standard Bible. La Habra, CA: Collins-World, 1973.

Carson, D.A. "Matthew." The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 8. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Regency-Zondervan, 1984. 1-599.

------. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

Foster, Lewis A. "The Chronology of the New Testament." The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 1. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Regency-Zondervan, 1984. 593-607.

Stein, Robert H. The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

On the Theory of a Wednesday Crucifixion: 3. Interpretation

This is the third in a series on the theory of a Wednesday crucifixion. We've reviewed the relevant scriptures and some logical considerations. Here we come to the interpretation of the scriptures dealt with in the first part.

A. μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας, "after three days."
Aside from the reference to the "sign of Jonah" in Matthew 12:40, there are only three scriptures that seem clearly to imply a literal three days in the tomb. These "after three days" passages are all in the Gospel of Mark, and reflect the "three major passion predictions" found in all three Synoptic Gospels. What is notable about each of these passages in Mark is that they all find parallels in Matthew and Luke, and in these parallel passages the expressions found in Matthew and Luke never retain the meaning "after three days." In all five cases where the time factor is mentioned (Luke omits the temporal reference entirely from the third prediction), the expression is uniformly, "on the third day" (Matt. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Luke 9:22, 18:32-33).

On the theory of the priority of Mark (Stein, 45-88; Carson, Matthew, 11-17) Matthew and Luke each "cleaned up" Mark's rather erratic Greek, and this would account for the misleading "after three days" to be altered to "on the third day." On the theory of Matthean priority, Mark altered Matthew's expression while Luke chose to retain it. In any case, the evangelists themselves evidently saw "after three days" and "on the third day" as equivalent expressions. Since Jewish reckoning was inclusive, something happening "on the third day" after something else (the day after the day after the original event) would have been counted as three days later, or "after three days" (Foster, 599; Carson, Matthew, 296).

B. Ambiguous or oblique references
1. Jesus' prediction to raise the temple "in three days"
John 2:19 records Jesus' prediction that he would raise the temple "in three days." Verse 21 goes on to explain that "the temple he had spoken of was his body." The phrase "in three days" would seem to be ambiguous, potentially referring either to the "temple" being raised on the third day after it was destroyed, or after three full days; again, Jewish inclusive reckoning would seem to favor the first understanding. But in light of the potential ambiguity, it would be unwise to base a decision on this verse, and still more unwise to base it on the verses which report hostile witnesses repeating Jesus' words (v. 20; Mk. 14:58; Matt. 26:61; 27:40).
2. The guarding of the tomb
One particular case of such "hostile repetition" merits additional note: in Matthew 27:62-64, the chief priests and Pharisees ask for "the tomb to be made secure until the third day," because they remember his claim that "after three days I will rise again." Although we have here a fourth example, and in a different Gospel, of the formulation "after three days," it occurs immediately in context with the formulation "until the third day"; i.e., we seem to have here an explicit equating of the two expressions, "after three days" and "until the third day," which would reconfirm the idea that according to Jewish inclusive reckoning, "after three days" would mean "until the third day," and not "until the fourth day," as it would naturally mean in modern English.

It is possible to argue that "until the third day" would mean the third day from the time they were speaking--i.e., the day "after Preparation," or after the crucifixion. Granted a Wednesday crucifixion and Jewish inclusive reckoning, they would only be asking for a guard until Saturday; one would further have to postulate that by "until the third day," they meant for the guard to remain at the tomb throughout Saturday night (technically, the beginning of Sunday). It would be much more natural to suppose that "after three days" and "until the third day" are intended to be synonymous expressions (as the Matthew-Mark parallels make clear that they are), so that "until the third day" contextually refers to the third day from the crucifixion, not the third day from their conversation. Again, it would be unwise to base a teaching on an ambiguous reference, and especially one that comes from the mouths of Jesus' enemies.
3. Jesus' response to Herod's threats
The ambiguity of the final reference is largely due to the fact that the passage itself is a veiled reference to Christ's passion, and some could argue that it is not a reference at all. In Luke 13:32, included in a response to a threat from Herod, Jesus refers to "today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal." Although there is no explicit mention of the passion, Jesus refers to his death in the following verse, after mentioning again "today and tomorrow and the next day." If anything, this passage would tend to support a Friday crucifixion, but again, no dogmatic conclusions should be drawn.
C. τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ, "on the third day."
If the above analyses are correct, only one scripture seems clearly to indicate a full three-day entombment: the "sign of the prophet Jonah" in Matthew 12:40. Against this lone verse must be weighed the preponderance of scriptures that unambiguously indicate that Jesus rose "on the third day." These include at least ten separate scriptures, representing the pens of Matthew and Luke (writing both in Luke and in Acts) and Paul.

Five of the ten--parallels with Mark's passion predictions--have already been discussed. Their value lies in calling into question the implication that could be drawn from Mark that Jesus lay entombed for three full days. Two other references--Acts 10:40 and 1 Corinthians 15:4--also clearly state that Jesus rose on the third day. It is important to note that in every one of these predictions and recollections (except, arguably, 1 Corinthians 15:4), Jesus is represented as rising on the third day after his crucifixion and death, not after his burial. The Thursday-to-Saturday scheme mentioned in section II, even if plausible on its face, would only account for Jesus rising on the third day from his burial, not from his crucifixion and death. Moreover, the three remaining references, all from Luke's post-resurrection account, make it clearly impossible that the Crucifixion occurred on Wednesday.

Luke 24:6-7 and 24:46 assert (from the mouths of an angel and from the resurrected Christ, respectively), that Jesus would rise on the third day. In itself, this is no greater proof than the pre-resurrection predictions. But Luke 24:21 records the disciples on the road to Emmaus telling Jesus (whom they do not yet recognize), "This is the third day [τρίτην ταύτην ἡμέραν] since all this took place." This conversation is clearly located after the morning visits to the empty tomb (vv. 22-24), which undisputedly took place "on the first day of the week" (v. 1). Since "all this" cannot refer to Jesus' entombment, but rather refers to his sentencing to death and crucifixion (v. 20), it is impossible to suppose, on the theory of a Wednesday crucifixion, that Sunday is the "third day since all this took place"; by Jewish reckoning, it would in fact be the fifth. It is simply impossible to construe events clearly taking place on Sunday--the conversation of the disciples with Jesus on the road to Emmaus--as being on "the third day" from events--Jesus being sentenced to death and being crucified--supposed to have occurred on a Wednesday.

D. "Three days and three nights"
In light of the preponderance of scriptures indicating that Jesus rose on the third day, it would seem more reasonable to search for an alternative interpretation of the sole verse that states that Jesus was in the tomb for "three days and three nights" than it would be to insist on literalism for this verse at the expense of having to reinterpret all the others.

In fact, the context of Matthew 12:40 rather clearly indicates the possibility that the time period is not to be taken strictly literally. Jesus is responding to the religious leaders' unbelieving demand for a "sign" by referring to Jonah as a type of his own passion. Quoting Jonah 1:17, Jesus draws the analogy by applying the "three days and three nights" terminology to his own passion, knowing that "in rabbinical thought a day and a night make an õnâh, and a part of an õnâh is as the whole" (Carson, Matthew, 296); i.e., his audience (the Jews) would not have been confused; and we may suppose that Matthew's audience was more familiar with this time reckoning than was Luke's, which may be why Luke chooses another rendering in the parallel passage of Luke 11:29-32. The Old Testament records examples of such reckoning, notably in 2 Chronicles 10:5, 12:
And he said to them, "Return to me again in three days." So the people departed. . . . So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day as the king had directed, saying, "Return to me on the third day." (NASB; similarly RSV KJV NKJV)

Here, not only do Jeroboam and all the people understand Rehoboam to intend for them to return on the third day, when he had said, "in three days," but they even repeat his words back to him, paraphrased as "on the third day." Other similar examples include 1 Sam. 30:12-13 and Esther 4:16, 5:1.

In light of the precedent of such language, it is reasonable to suppose that Jesus' resurrection "on the third day" was close enough for those familiar with Jewish time reckoning to be regarded as a fulfillment of the Jonah typology.

The final installment of this series will deal with a few ancillary issues and wrap it up with a final conclusion.


Works Cited

The Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984. (All scripture references unless otherwise noted.)

------. New American Standard Bible. La Habra, CA: Collins-World, 1973.

Carson, D.A. "Matthew." The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 8. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Regency-Zondervan, 1984. 1-599.

------. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

Foster, Lewis A. "The Chronology of the New Testament." The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 1. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Regency-Zondervan, 1984. 593-607.

Stein, Robert H. The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987.

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On the Theory of a Wednesday Crucifixion: 2. Logical Considerations

This is the second in a series of posts discussing the theory that Jesus died on a Wednesday, instead of Friday, as has traditionally been held. The first post simply catalogued the various scriptures that have a bearing on the question.

The four expressions used in Scripture to refer to the time period between Jesus' death and his resurrection are "on the third day," "after three days," "in three days," and "three days and three nights." (There are a few more Greek constructions, but they boil down to these four meanings.) It seems clear that (at least on the surface) there is a conflict between these four expressions. If indeed Jesus rose from the dead "on the third day" after his crucifixion, it is impossible that he spent "three days and three nights" in the tomb; conversely, if he did spend "three days and three nights" in the tomb, it would seem necessary that he rose on the fourth day, not the third. While "in three days" could be reasonably accommodated to either scheme, "after three days" would seem to support the idea of three full days and nights in the tomb.

As all parties in this debate are committed to the infallibility of the Word of God,1 all see the need to reconcile these disparate expressions with one another. The theory of a Wednesday crucifixion is an attempt to deal seriously with the expression, "Three days and three nights" in Matthew 12:40. Those who hold to that theory would tend to take the observance of "Good Friday" as a piece of church tradition that does not adequately reflect the Gospel record, and would generally tend to take defenses of a Friday crucifixion as resulting primarily from a desire to retain that tradition.

The weakness of a Wednesday crucifixion theory would be those scriptures that indicate that Jesus rose "on the third day." It may be argued that Jesus wasn't actually in the tomb until sundown Wednesday--i.e., Thursday, according to Jewish reckoning--and that he could have risen at any point Saturday night, so that from Thursday, Saturday is the "third day." However, this reconstruction involves using two separate calendars--a Jewish one for Wednesday evening, so Jesus can be regarded as being entombed on "Thursday," and a Roman/modern one for Saturday night, so he can be regarded as rising on "Saturday." Without further exegetical proof, this reconstruction is highly suspect on its face: time periods should be measured consistently. Moreover, such a reconstruction, even if tenable, wouldn't allow for the resurrection to be on the third day from Jesus' crucifixion, but rather from his burial; similarly, a "Saturday night" resurrection might be conceivable as on the third day from the burial, but later events on Easter Sunday would inescapably be on the fourth day, no matter how the time periods were reconstructed.

Those who hold to a Friday crucifixion must find some way to reconcile the expressions "after three days" and "three days and three nights" with their conviction that Jesus died on Friday and rose Sunday morning; such a scheme does not allow for a literal "three days and three nights" entombment of Jesus. The strong point in their argument is that a Friday crucifixion seems to make the best sense of the statement that Jesus rose "on the third day."



1 For those who do not hold to the verbal, plenary inspiration of scripture, there is no point to harmonizing disparate accounts. They would probably say that different streams of tradition held to different crucifixion dates, or that the originators of those traditions had no interest in the question, and thus were not careful to keep their writings consistent. Therefore, the question only rises to importance for those who do believe in inerrancy (at least on this point).

Next up: Interpretation of the various passages discussed in part 1.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

On the Theory of a Wednesday Crucifixion: 1. Relevant Scriptures

Just adding a hyperlink to the next post. No new content.

I'm going to begin a series on the theory that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday, rather than on a Friday. We'll start out surveying the various scriptures that refer in various ways to "three days" or "the third day."

A. One passage that stipulates Jesus' entombment as "Three days and three nights"

Matthew 12:40 "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
B. Passages that state that Jesus will rise μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας, "after three days."

Mark 8:31 "He then began to teach them that the Son of Man . . . must be killed and after three days rise again."
Mark 9:31 "The Son of man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise."
Mark 10:34 "[The Gentiles] will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise."
C. Ambiguous or oblique references

John 2:19 "Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.'" (Cf. v. 20; Mk. 14:58; Matt. 26:61; 27:40; all repetitions from hostile witnesses of Jesus' words; a few various Greek constructions, but all meaning "in three days.")
Matthew 27:62-64 "The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 'Sir,' they said, 'We remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day."
Luke13:32-33 "He replied, 'Go tell that fox [Herod], "I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal." In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day--for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!'"
D. Passages that state that Jesus will rise τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ, "on the third day."

Matthew 16:21 "From that time on, Jesus began to explain to his disciples . . . that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
Luke 9:22 "And he said, 'The Son of Man . . . must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
Matthew 17:23 "[Men] will kill [the Son of Man], and on the third day he will be raised to life."
Luke 18:32-33 "[The Gentiles] will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day [τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ] he will rise again."
Matthew 20:19 "On the third day he will be raised to life."
Luke 24:6-7 "He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'"
Luke 24:21 "This is the third day [τρίτην ταύτην ἡμέραν] since all this took place."
Luke 24:46 "He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day . . . .'"
Acts 10:40 "God raised him from the dead on the third day . . . ."
1 Corinthians 15:4 " . . . he was raised on the third day [τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ] according to the scriptures."

Next up: the logical issues involved in interpreting these scriptures.

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