Category Archives: The Flood (Noah)

1 Peter 3:19: Proclamation to spirits in prison

(image courtesy Himandus.net)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

1 Peter 3:18-20 reads:

18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water (ESV).

1.  Difficult to interpret

Martin Luther (AD 483 – 1546)[1] made a profound statement about his text in his commentary on 1 Peter:

This is a strange text, and a more obscure passage, perhaps, than any other in the New Testament, for I do not certainly know what St. Peter means. At first sight, the words import as though Christ had preached to the spirits — that is, the souls which were formerly unbelieving at the time Noah was building the ark; but that I cannot understand, I cannot even explain it. There has been no one hitherto who has explained it. Yet if any one is disposed to maintain that Christ, after that He had suffered on the Cross, descended to these souls and preached to them, I will not dispute it. It might bear such a rendering. But I am not confident that St. Peter would say this (Luther 2009, of 1 Peter 3:18-21, emphasis added).

These are among the most difficult verses in the New Testament to interpret. Commentator, D. Edmond Hiebert, observed, ‘Each of the nine words in the original has been differently understood’.[2] They are difficult because of these three questions that need answers:[3]

(a) About whom was Peter speaking when he wrote of the ‘spirits’ to whom Christ made this proclamation (v. 19)?

(b) When did this proclamation happen (v. 19)?

(c) What was the content of the proclamation? Was it a Gospel announcement or something else?

(d) When did these ‘spirits’ fall through disobedience?

Let’s examine some possibilities:

1.1 Christ preached to the dead

Those who interpret ‘the spirits in prison’ this way maintain that during the time between Christ’s death and resurrection he went to the realm of the dead and preached to Noah’s contemporaries:

This group is subdivided by various opinions on the nature of this proclamation. (1) Christ’s soul ministers an offer of salvation to the spirits. (2) He announces condemnation to the unbelievers of Noah’s time. (3) He announces good tidings [good news] to those who had already been saved (Blum 1981:241).

Briefly, let’s look at these 3 views. Firstly,

1.1.1 Christ offers salvation to those in the realm of the dead

This would possibly harmonise with that statement in the Apostles’ Creed:

… He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell….
[4]

In 1 Peter 3:19 it states that Christ ‘went and preached to the spirits in prison’. Does this refer to Jesus’ descent into hell, as in the Apostles’ Creed? Not at all. I haven’t found any biblical evidence for that conclusion. There is no biblical support for Christ between his death and resurrection or between his resurrection and ascension going down to Hades/hell.

Some suggest that Christ in his spirit preached to Noah’s contemporaries. Let’s wait to see what the biblical evidence demonstrates.

1.1.2 Pre-existent Christ and Noah’s generation

The second interpretation maintains that Christ, before he came in the flesh at the Incarnation, ‘preached in the time of Noah to Noah’s sinful generation’ (Blum 1981:241).

1.1.3 Christ proclaimed to the ‘disobedient spirits’

This third interpretation identifies the ‘spirits’ as the fallen angels to whom Christ proclaimed his victory on the cross. When did this proclamation take place? There are two options: (1) During the three days when Jesus descended into Hades, or (2) During his ascension.

This third position seems to be the option that Peter teaches in 1 Peter 3:18-4:6. ‘After Christ’s death, he made a victorious proclamation to the fallen angels’. This is defended and developed in this passage that goes through to 4:6 (Blum 1981:241).

Kistemaker agrees:

Recent commentators teach that the resurrected Christ, during his ascension to heaven, proclaimed to imprisoned spirits his victory over death. The exalted Christ passed through the realm where the fallen angels are kept and proclaimed his triumph over them (Eph 6:12; Col 2:15). This interpretation has met favorable response in Protestant and Roman Catholic circles and is in harmony with the teaching of the Petrine passage and the rest of Scripture (1986:147-148).

See also Barnes’ Notes on 1 Peter 3 for a detailed discussion of v. 19.

2. Take note of these facts

screneRed-small The main purpose of vv 18-22 is stated in v. 18? What is it? ‘For Christ also suffered’ (NIV). This is further emphasised by the preceding verses (vv. 13-17).

screneRed-small  This is the teaching in v. 18 that provides the reason for patient endurance (vv. 13-17).

screneRed-small According to v. 18, ‘to bring you to God’ was the reason for Christ’s death.

2.1 Problems with NIV translation[5]

The NIV translates v. 18 as, ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit’.

screneRed-small The NIV translates Spirit with a capital ‘S’. So, was Jesus’ body crucified and he was made alive ‘in the spirit’, small ‘s’? The ESV, Geneva Bible, LEB, NABRE, NASB, NRSV, and RSV translated as ‘spirit’ with a small ‘s’. Literally the Greek means, ‘Put to death in flesh, made alive in spirit’. Therefore, Blum (1981:242) gives this technical reason for rejecting the NIV translation

To translate one member of the antithesis [body vs spirit] as a dative of sphere or reference and the other as a dative of cause is inconsistent. It is best to take both as datives of reference (or “adverbial” or even “of sphere”) and to translate both “in the sphere of” (Blum (1981:242).

Thus the better translation of v. 18 would be one such as the NRSV, ‘He was put to death in [with reference to] the flesh, but made alive in [with reference to] the spirit’. Thus, grammatically, the small ‘s’ spirit is more consistent than capital ‘S’ Spirit.

3. When was the proclamation made?

Verse 18 says Jesus had been ‘made alive’, so this proclamation took place after his resurrection. I can’t find biblical evidence to support Christ’s ‘descent into hell’ between death and resurrection.

So Jesus must have gone to where these were located. We are not told where it was so we should not speculate. We can’t walk into a room of some confined space and discover these fallen, disembodied spirits.

The same verb, ‘went’, is used in verse 19 as verse 22.

4. What was the content of the proclamation?

Simon Kistemaker quoted Dalton:

What is meant by the word preached? The verb stands by itself, so that we are unable to determine the content of preaching. In brief, only the fact of preaching, not the message, is important. That is, we understand the verb preached to mean that Christ proclaimed victory over his adversaries. In his brevity, Peter refrains from telling us the context of Christ’s proclamation. We would be adding to the text if we should interpret the word preached to signify the preaching of the gospel. “Hence we may suppose with reason that it is the victory of Christ over His adversaries which is emphasized in 3:19, not the conversion or evangelization of the disobedient spirits.”[6]

4.1 The verb used tells something

The usual Greek word ‘to evangelise’ (euangelizw) is not used here but keryssw, which means ‘I proclaim/herald’. So the choice of the latter verb means that Christ came, not to preach the Gospel to spirits. What could that proclamation be?

There are no thoughts of salvation for lost angels in the NT (see Heb 2:16 and 1 Peter 1:12).

4.2 Who are the spirits (in prison)?

This is one of the easier parts to interpret. Verse 20 states ‘they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared’ (ESV). So at the time of Noah, these beings were disobedient and the Flood judgment came.

This judgment of the Flood is a warning to human beings that there is going to be a judgment of the disobedient, unrighteous world at Jesus’ second coming. This is stated in verses such as Matt 24:37-41 (ESV) and 2 Peter 3:3-7 (ESV). Noah’s ark that saved 8 people from the flood waters is a symbol of the salvation available in Christ right now.

First Peter 3:20 states who the ‘spirits’ are. They are those people who ‘formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water’ (ESV).

They were not angelic spirits but the spirits of the disobedient people who died at the time of Noah’s flood.

5. The nature of the prison

Eminent evangelical Lutheran scholar, R C H Lenski wrote of 1 Pet 3:19,

The Scriptures know of only one ‘prison,’ that confines ‘spirits,’ namely, hell, ‘hades,’ ‘the gehenna of the fire’ (Matt. 5:22; 18:9). To call this [prison] the realm of the dead; is to give a strange meaning to the word, ‘prison’ for all the dead are supposed to go into this fictitious place, the realm of the dead. Note 2 Pet. 2:9, 10, in fact all of 2 Pet 3:4-10 (Lenski 1966/2001:163).

(image courtesy Storming the Gates of Hell)

Another commentator wrote: ‘The prison confining the unbelieving spirits is not a reform school, but a penitentiary for life’ (Engelder 1945:381).

It is not clear whether Jesus did the preaching to spirits in prison at the time of Noah or at the time of his Incarnation.[7]

However, the prison refers to Hades and Gehenna/hell. See Prov 27:20; Matt 5:25; Luke 12:58 where ‘prison’ is a type for hell.

In hell, so this is taken, in Proverbs 27:20; compare with Matthew 5:25 Luke 12:58, where prison is mentioned as a type or representation of hell. There are similar expressions in 2 Peter 2:4-5; Jude 1:6.

6. Two main understandings

From the time of the early church fathers until the twenty-first century, there have been two main interpretations of 1 Peter 3:19:[8]

6.1 Firstly, Jesus preached to the departed spirits NOW in prison.

Our Lord, through Noah, preached repentance to the people of Noah’s time. There is no association with the doctrine of ‘descent into hell’ in this interpretation.

6.2 Secondly, what Jesus did when his body was in the grave.

This is the most popular interpretation from the Fathers to Luther and a large number of contemporary interpreters. It is claimed that ‘this is the most natural construction to put on the words “in which also” (i.e. in spirit)’. It is associated with Jesus’ being ‘quickened in spirit’.

So, he went from his death and the spirits were alive when Christ preached to them. His spirit, ‘disengaged from the body’, went to the place of other disembodied spirits and proclaimed certain news. The content of this proclamation was not stated but 1 Peter 4:6 (ESV) points to Gospel preaching:

For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

The prison is not ‘a place of safe keeping’ for both good and bad spirits. Although ‘prison’ is used 28 times in the NT, not once is it a place of protection but twice (Rev 18:2) it is used as ‘a cage’.

7. Conclusion

Verses 18-19 demonstrate that Jesus was put to death with reference to the body/flesh and was made alive with reference to his spirit, thus pointing to Christ’s death and resurrection.

The proclamation made is not of the Gospel because of the verb used kerussw (not euangelizw). It is an announcement – maybe of the victory by Jesus – to those unbelievers who did not obey with repentance in the time of Noah. However, the exact content of the proclamation is not stated in the text.

Congolese town crier

Jesus did not descend into Hades and make a Gospel proclamation to the fallen angels. However, he went to the ‘prison’ where deceased spirits were and made an announcement like a town crier would do in the first century.

‘The spirits in prison’ refers to the people who had died and were now in hell/Hades, awaiting judgment. The prison is a representation of hell. However, the people in the ‘prison’ are those who did not repent in Noah’s day and died. Their spirits went Hades.

8. Works consulted

Blum, E. A. 1981, ‘1 Peter’ in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 12), Frank E. Gaebelein (gen. ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Engelder, T 1945. The Hades Gospel, Part 2. Concordia Theological Monthly, June, 374-396. Available at: http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/EngelderHadesGospel2.pdf (Accessed 30 October 2019).

Hiebert, D E 1984. First Peter: An Expositional Commentary. Chicago: Moody.

Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude.[9] Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1966/2001. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (© 1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

Luther, 2009. The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude Preached and Explained (Tr. E H Gillett). The Project Gutenberg EBook (online). Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/29678/29678-h/29678-h.htm (Accessed 10 September 2019).

9.  Notes

[1] Dates from Encyclopaedia Britannica (2019. s.v. Martin Luther).

[2] Hiebert (1984:226) (in Kistemaker1986:141 n 54).

[3] The first 3 questions were suggested by Blum (1981:341).

[4] Christian Reformed Church 2019. Apostles’ Creed (online). Available at: https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/creeds/apostles-creed (Accessed 9 September 2019).

[5] These details are from Blum (1981:242).

[6] Dalton (1964:155) (in Kistemaker1986:142 n 59).

[7] A T Robertson. Available at: https://www.studylight.org/commentary/1-peter/3-19.html (Accessed 30 October 2019).

[8] These 2 points are based on Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. Available at: ibid.

[9] Note that this commentary does not present continuous numbering but reverts to new numbers with each Bible book. The numbers for Jude are continuous with 1 & 2 Peter.

Lazarus and the Rich Man (illumination from the Codex Aureus of Echternach).

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 31 October 2019.

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Rare marine fossil find but no Noah

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Platypterygius (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

There has been a rare fossil find in outback Queensland, Australia.[1]

In July 2014, the Wilson family from the state of Victoria went as tourists ‘to search the local free fossil hunting sites’ around Richmond, Queensland. It’s a long way to go for a holiday. Seven-year-old, Amber Wilson, found a fossil of ichthyosaur Platypterygius australis. Found what? It’s an extinct dolphin-like marine reptile and the fossil has a one metre long skull with teeth that are six metres long.

The fossil has been dug up and taken to Kronosaurus Korner, a palaeontological centre at Richmond. The interpretation manager and curator of the Korner, Dr Timothy Holland, considered that this is a ‘landmark’ find for the region. His comments were:

blue-satin-arrow-small ‘I have never seen tourists uncover such a beautifully preserved fossil before’.[2]

blue-satin-arrow-small  ‘It is easily the most complete ichthyosaur skull in our collection and one of the best from Australia’.[3]

blue-satin-arrow-small  ‘I was completely stunned. A professional palaeontologist might search their entire career to find a fossil of this quality. It only took the Wilson family a few hours’.[4]

The fossil has been temporarily called ‘Wilson’ after the people who found it.

Reason for ocean fossils in outback

How could a dolphin-like marine animal fossil be found 500 kilometres inland from the ocean (that’s the distance from Townsville – on the ocean – to Richmond). The Flinders Highway starts at Townsville on the Pacific Ocean coast. Here are the distances from Townsville.

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(image courtesy Wikipedia)

The reasons given in this article for the location of this fossil in the outback were:[5]

  • ‘100-million-year-old fossilised bones’;
  • ‘An extinct dolphin-like marine reptile that once swam through Australia’s ancient inland sea’;
  • ‘Platypterygius lived 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period; at a time when dinosaurs still ruled on land’.
  • ‘Kronosaurus Korner is Australia’s premier marine fossil museum, showcasing more than 1000 fossils of creatures that once inhabited Australia’s ancient inland sea’.

These kinds of statements tell us something about the reasons behind some of the following statements. There is a worldview that is being displayed and promoted. The explanation from a scientific palaeontological perspective is that these fossils were from a time when Australia had an inland sea in ancient times.

The Australian government also supports such a view with this kind of statement:

Why do scientists think this big sea animal existed?

Layers of rock from the Cretaceous Period in the Great Artesian Basin contain many fossils of marine (sea) dwelling animals, proving the area was once covered by the sea. These animals included some very large reptiles such as the plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and crocodiles. You may like to investigate these animal groups (Accessed 20 November 2014).

 

Kronosaurus queenslandicus (image courtesyWikipedia)

A piece of the puzzle is ignored

What piece is that?

The explanation for this extraordinary fossil find of an extinct, dolphin-like marine reptile 500 km from the ocean is that it once swam through Australia’s ancient inland sea. That may have been the case but how are we to know that piece of information? From some evolutionary text book that feeds us with that kind of worldview?

But there is a missing factor that palaeontologists don’t like or don’t want to discuss.

This is what happens when one’s worldview ignores other evidence. This explanation has been disregarded:

‘The waters completely inundated the earth so that even all the high mountains under the entire sky were covered’ (Genesis 7:19 NET).

A global flood is what happened to the earth in the time of Noah. Read about it in Genesis chapters 6-9 (NET Bible). This world-wide flood would have left lots of fossil evidence all over the world, in the outback and on mountains. To me, that reads like a more reasonable explanation of the origin of this dolphin-like animal fossil in the western Qld fossil find. This flood would have left a humungous amount of dead animals and people who would turn into fossils over time.

It is expected that evolutionary scientists who have been educated in and have imbibed a secular worldview will not want to understand or consider the impact of a global flood on the palaeontological remains of a marine creature in Australia’s outback.

Nevertheless, they need to be called to account in at least giving this explanation equal air-play. They don’t do that. For other examples of the impact of the universal Noahic flood, see:

Landscape with Noah’s thank offering (painting ca. 1803 by Joseph Anton Koch) [image courtesy Wikipedia]

It gets us talking

One great advantage of this kind of fossil find is that it gets interested people talking about the ‘how’ of fossil formation and the origins of the earth. This in turn may, but not necessarily, lead to discussion of Jesus’ view of the flood. You’ll find references to Jesus’ view on Noah’s flood in,

‘ For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 38 For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 39 And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man’ (NET Bible).

Here is where the information from Lita Cosner’s article (link above) is especially helpful. Jesus believed in Noah and the flood. Why don’t you take a read of her insightful article?

For some penetrating analyses of divergent world views, see James W. Sire 2010, The universe next door (IVP). This is James Sire’s definition of a world view: ‘A world view is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of our world’ (Sire 1988:17).

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(image courtesy Inter-Varsity Press)

Works consulted

Sire, J W 1988. The universe next door: A basic world view catalog, updated & expanded ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Sire, J W 2010. The universe next door: A basic worldview catalog, 5th ed. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Notes


[1] These details have been obtained from the Brisbane Times article, ‘Seven-year-old girl’s rare fossil find in outback Queensland’, available at: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/sevenyearold-girls-rare-fossil-find-in-outback-queensland-20141119-11pgpm.html#comments (accessed 20 November 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] From ibid.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

Did Genesis 6:3 get it wrong?

https://i0.wp.com/www.creationism.org/images/DoreBibleIllus/aGen0724Dore_TheWorldDestroyedByWater.jpg?resize=308%2C417

(image courtesy Gustave Dore)

By Spencer D Gear

This verse reads, ‘Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in[1] man for ever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years”’ (Gen 6:3 ESV).

These are the kinds of objections that sometimes come:

I was reading my bible earlier and finally finished Genesis.

Anyways there were a few bits in there that caught my eye; it`s to do with Jacob’s, and Joseph’s lifespan, and well I remember in the first few chapters of Genesis god said he would make man mortal and … found the quote: ‘Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years”’ (Gen 6:3 NLT).

And so then I found this quote: ‘Jacob replied, “I have traveled this earth for 130 hard years. But my life has been short compared to the lives of my ancestors”’ (Genesis 47:9 NLT).

And there`s, ‘Jehoiada lived to a very old age, finally dying at 130’ (2 Chron 24:15 NLT).

Also: ‘Job lived 140 years after that, living to see four generations of his children and grandchildren (Job 42:16 NLT).

There are probably more but I can`t be asked to look. Can a Christian please explain, why god said people won`t live more than 120 years, yet they’ve lived for 130+ years.

This to me makes the bible sound like one big story, I`m hoping someone can change my mind.

Please also can you quote from the bible or just say the passage that`s relevant.[2]

These were reasonable objections from Jahleel. On the surface, it does look like the Bible is contradicting itself.

How to deal with the apparent contradictions

H. C. Leupold Commentary Collection (7 vols.)

Courtesy Logos Bible Software

Hebrew exegete, H C Leupold (1942), in his commentary on Genesis translates Genesis 6:3 as,

And Yahweh said: My spirit shall not judge among mankind forever, because they also are flesh. Yet shall their days be one hundred and twenty years (1942:254).

He gives the Hebrew grammatical reasons for this translation and then his commentary states:

Entirely in harmony with our rendering is the concluding statement of the verse, which marks the setting of the time limit of divine grace. For these words, “yet shall their days be one hundred and twenty years,” are to be taken in the sense of the traditional interpretation: one last period of grace is fixed by God for the repentance of mankind. The previous word indicated (3a) that God might well have cut off all further opportunities of grace. This word (3b) shows that grace always does more than could be expected. Before disposing of the guilty ones a time of grace of no less than one hundred and twenty years is allowed for their repentance. This use of “days” (v3) is established by the use of the same word (v4) “those days.” Consequently, the modern interpretation that takes this word to mean that God here decreed that in the future the span of man’s life was not to exceed one hundred twenty years is quite unfounded. This view is proved untenable by the fact that quite a few after the Flood lived in excess of this limit: 11:11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25; 25:7; 35:28; 47:9. The evasions of the critics in meeting this argument need not be mentioned, being too palpable (Leupold 1942:256-257).

Hebrew exegetes, Keil & Delitzsch (n d, 1:136) also reach the same conclusion:

Therefore his days shall be 120 years:” this means, not that human life should in future never attain a greater age than 120 years, but that a respite of 120 years should still be granted to the human race. This sentence, as we may gather from the context, was made known to Noah in his 480th year, to be published by him as “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. ii.5) to the degenerate race.

Conclusion

We know from the following context of Genesis 6:5-8 that God is preparing for the judgment of the Flood. So the 120 years has nothing to do with the longevity of a person’s life after that time, but the time given to the people until the judgment by destruction in Noah’s Flood will come.

Isn’t it amazing how people can come to the wrong conclusions of Genesis 6:3 when they don’t know how to carefully exegete the Hebrew text? To overcome a wrong interpretation of Genesis, we need three tools:

  • Knowledge of the Hebrew language so we can engage in exegesis of the text;
  • If such knowledge is not available to a Bible reader (which is the case for me), a sound commentary, based on the Hebrew, is needed. What do I mean by ‘sound’? I am referring to commentaries that accept and promote biblical authority and are not written by theological liberals who want to denigrate or destroy the Bible.
  • All verses must be read in context to obtain the best interpretation. By the way, verses were not included in the original Hebrew of the OT or Greek of the NT (see ‘Who divided the Bible into chapters and verses?’)

A sound commentary, based on the Hebrew language, helped me to overcome these difficulties.

(Noah preaches to the people, image courtesy Ultimate Bible Picture Collection)

References

Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F n d. Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch, vol 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Leupold H C 1942. Exposition of Genesis. 1942. The Wartburg Press, also London: Evangelical Press. Also available online at CCEL at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/leupold/genesis.i.html (Accessed 19 October 2012).

Notes:


[1] Or My Spirit shall not contend with.

[2] Christian Forums, Christian Scriptures, ‘Can a Christian please explain this?’ Jahleel #1. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7695361/#post61587089 (Accessed 19 October 2012). Some grammatical and spelling corrections have been made to this quote.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 September 2015.

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