Why Does God Allow Suffering and Evil?

Why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? This is an age-old question. Either God is all-powerful but not all-good (and therefore doesn’t stop evil) or He is all-good but unable to stop evil (making Him not all-powerful). The general idea is to blame God for all evil and suffering and pass all responsibility to Him.

No Easy Answers:

Remember that God created Adam and Eve perfect, not evil. But they had the ability to obey or disobey God’s commands. Had they obeyed that one command (Genesis 2:16-17), they never would have had a problem. Since that time, the tendency toward sin has always been with us (Romans 5:12). We must remember that people are responsible for sin, not God.

So, why did God make us so that we could sin? Had this happened, we would no longer be human, but rather machines. Saying, “I love you” in person is so much more meaningful than hearing the same words from a hostage that I told to say it while I hold a gun to their head! We are not robots programmed to say the phrase, we have a choice.

Could God stamp out evil?

A time is coming when He will, because of His never-ending love (Lamentations 3:22). While the devil has his day, God is holding us by His grace and His unfailing love. If God would stamp out evil today, he would do a complete job. Stop war but stay away from us… lies, personal habits, lack of love. Who would still be standing if He were to do this tonight?

What God has done about the evil:

He has done the most drastic thing, the sacrifice of His Son. He was the only way to escape the inevitable judgment of sin and evil. To speculate the origin of evil is endless. No one has a full answer. Some things are classified as secret that only God knows (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Part of our problem is the limited definition of the word good. (See quote on p. 133)… justice dispensed according the severity of the infraction.

Exact-Reward concept:

Would God be good if He dealt with each person exactly according to his deeds? God’s goodness is not only displayed in His justice but in His love, mercy and kindness) Psalm 103:10-11). It is a faulty assumption that happiness is the greatest good, usually fleshed out in comfort. True happiness is not precluded by suffering. Some things can only be accomplished in our character brought about only by suffering (1 Peter 5:10.

Exact-reward is more on the lines of karma. Any attempt to alleviate pain or suffering would be interfering with the just ways of God. That is why Hindus do so little in helping the less fortunate. This idea does give us a clean rationale for suffering; it is all based on previous evil-doing. Christians at times have this same thought, “Why did I deserve this?” That cruel assumption is the argument of the friends of Job.

There are many instances where suffering is not related to one’s behavior; automatic assumption of guilt and needed punishment is not warranted. A man does reap what he sows (Galatians 6:7); the affliction of Miriam with leprosy (Numbers 12:10-11); the life of the baby made from David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:15); Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:10); a man born blind from birth (John 9:1-3); the Galileans more sinful? (Luke 13:1-3). If the punishment is for one’s deeds, there is never any doubt that it is happening due to the justice of God.

Judgment preceded by warning:

God is always warning about the consequences… turn from your wicked ways, why choose death (Ezekiel 33:11); you refused to allow me to gather you like chicks (Matthew 23:37); God is patient that you would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

How could a good God send anyone to hell? The point is that He doesn’t, we choose to send ourselves. Geisler says it this way, this world is the best way to the best of all possible worlds; one where we have free will yet there is no sin. Sometimes we are responsible for a weak building that collapses in a storm. Others die due to drunken driving. Cheating, lying and stealing are characteristic of our society and God cannot be blamed for it.

The presence of the enemy:

There is an enemy ready to pounce like a roaring lion (2 Peter 5:8). In the parable of the wheat and the tares, the enemy did this (Matthew 13:28). James 4:7 reminds us that he can also be resisted.

God feels our suffering:

He is not distant; He not only is aware of our suffering but He feels it (Isaiah 53:3, Hebrews 2:18, 4:15).

The risky gift of free will:

Evil is a necessary part of free will. He could stop evil but in doing so He would destroy us. The point of Christianity is to produce a willing consent to choose good rather than evil.

Much of evil can be traced back to the actions and evil choices of man and women: the bank robber kills, the embezzler ruins the company, refusing to heed a storm warning.

Some suffering is allowed by God as judgment; but the purpose is to restore or form one’s character.

God has a cruel enemy in Satan. He was defeated on the cross but is still around to wreak havoc on God’s people.

God is the greater sufferer when He sacrificed His only Son for our penalty.

Greatest test of faith:

Perhaps it is to believe that God is good in the midst of all this suffering. God never asks us to understand, but only to have faith and trust Him as a child does his earthly father. Peace comes when we realize that we do not have the full picture (Romans 8:28, Habakkuk 3:17-18).

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Do Science and Scripture Agree?

This is a pretty hot question through the ages. The issue could be how data is interpreted; often conflict comes from trying to make the Bible say things it was not meant to answer. Do scientists and some Christians disagree? Yes, like Galileo, the Scopes trial of 1925 or Wilburforce and Huxley.

Well meaning Christians:

Some try to make the Bible say what it does not say. For instance James Bishop Ussher (1581-1656) calculated the genealogy back to Adam and claimed the earth was created in 4004 BC. Ussher’s notes are not part of the original text so the Bible does not really say that the earth was created in 4004 BC. Statements can be philosophic interpretations of data which do not carry the same weight of authority as the data.

When a scientist speaks:

When a scientist speaks on any subject, he is likely to be believed. He may be speaking outside of his field but gets the same respect that should be given from within his field. Carl Sagan (professor of astronomy at Cornell) speaks on the subject of science and religion. Science is his field; religion is certainly not. He makes bold statements like the universe is all there ever was or ever will be. If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, would it not make sense to worship the sun or stars? But it makes no sense to worship the product of blind chance in a pointless process.

Honest differences:

If we stick to what the Bible actually says and what the scientific facts are, the area of controversy is much smaller. There are times of honest differences among Christians: like the meaning of the word “day” in Genesis 1. We cannot condemn someone with a differing view.

Faith is suspect:

Can something that cannot be verified scientifically be dismissed as invalid or unreal? If a statement cannot be proved in a lab or confirmed by science, it cannot be accepted as reliable. There are other ways to acquire knowledge, than just in a laboratory. Consider falling in love. It cannot be confirmed in a lab yet no one would say it is unreal. The scientific method is only reliable on topics whose realities are measured in physical terms.

Scientific methods:

Faith is no detriment to reality. Science itself rest on presuppositions which must be accepted by faith before the research is possible. The universe is orderly, operates on a pattern, and we can predict it’s behavior.

The scientific method we know of today began in the sixteenth century, among Christians. They broke from the Greek polytheistic concepts that looked at the universe as in chaos and irregular. The alternative was a universe of order and there must have been an intelligent designer behind the patterns. Another improvable presupposition that must be accepted by faith is the reliability of our sense perception. One must believe that our senses are trustworthy enough to get a true picture of the universe and enable us to understand its orderliness.

Science is the only way to truth:

A Christian exercises faith and sees no incompatibility in using reason or intelligence. A scientist who is a Christian sees himself following the steps of the founders of modern science.

Science is incapable of making value judgments about the things is measures. There is nothing inherent in science that guides them in the application of the discoveries they make. Science can tell us how something works but it cannot answer why it works; whether there is any purpose for it in the universe. The Bible often tells us how, but rarely tells us why!

Is God Necessary?

Some have thought God was necessary to explain some things that could not otherwise be explained. Scientist will say that given enough time they can explain anything in the universe.

God is not only creator but the sustainer of the universe (Colossians 1:17). The universe would fall apart if it were not for God. You still need God even if you understand everything. Knowing how the universe is sustained is not the same as things as sustaining it.

Consider DNA. Is God going to be thrown from the throne since DNA can be produced in a laboratory? These advances in science only emphasize that life did not come from blind chance, but from an intelligent mind! Science does not create ex nihilo!

Three views of evolution:

Evolutionism: that the universe has been evolving forever on the basis of a natural processes, mutation and natural selection.

Microevolution: describes a continued process or development within a species. A bear is still a bear, and dog is still a dog. A species is one of seven classifications (according to the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus) 1) Kingdom, 2) Phylum, 3) Class, 4) Order, 5) family, 6) Genus, and 7) species. Kingdom is the largest group and species is the smallest. Members of a species have a high degree of similarity and will generally interbreed only with themselves. Microevolution will allow for the creation of a new species but not the development of one species into a higher classification.

In Genesis 1:24-25, is kind the same as species? Likely not. It basically means that each kind produces offspring like itself.

Macroevolution: requires the transfer of genetic information from one species to a higher more complex classification. Factors along with chance cannot provide the information necessary to build legs on a fish. There are no missing links in paleontology; from whales to land mammals for instance.

Animal ancestors:

Christians hold to two non-negotiable facts: God supernaturally created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1), and God supernaturally created the first man and woman (Genesis 1:27). The Bible rules out the possibility of mankind evolving from a lower life form. The NT refers to Adam and Eve as historic figures (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45, 2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:13-14, 1 John 3:12, Jude 1:11). Genesis was not an allegory!

The age of the earth?

Was it 4004 BC or millions of years ago? Look at the Hebrew word for day. Can it mean a period or are rather than just a 24-hour period? The first humans were created on the sixth day (Genesis 2:7-22, 5:2) and he named the animals and had a wife all on a single 24-period? God’s use of the word day is not so confined (Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8). Other theologians state that God created a grown up universe, Adam at 20, trees with rings, a rock with the appearance of age, mountain ranges in place. It’s not an argument for the Christian to push since the Bible is silent on the matter. We should be agnostic as to the age of the earth.

Commentary: The same word day is used in the Ten Commandments, a 24-hour period (Exodus 20:11). Adam did not start out as an embryo. There was vegetation on day three, yet now sun until day four, so photosynthesis would not have worked if day three was more than 24 hours.

A constantly moving train:

We are always learning, yesterday’s generalization is tomorrow’s discarded hypothesis. What is to say that evolution is the last assault on our origin? If the Bible becomes embedded in today’s scientific theories, what happens when the theories change 20 years form now? In 1861 the French Academy of Science published 51 scientific facts that controverted the Word of God. Today, not one scientist would support one of these 51 facts.

Many scientists ignore these evolutionary assumptions and consider only the seventh.

  1. Non-living things gave rise to living material; spontaneous generation.
  2. Spontaneous generation happened only once.
  3. Viruses, bacteria, plants and animals are interrelated.
  4. Protozoa gave rise to metazoa.
  5. Various invertebrate phyla are interrelated.
  6. Invertebrates gave rise to vertebrates.
  7. Vertebrates and fish gave rise to amphibia, to reptiles, to birds and mammals.

Observation:

These assumptions by their nature are not capable of experimental verification. They assume a certain set of variables occurred in the past.

Does one assume there is a God or not? It either happened by chance or there is an intelligent design behind it all. If God, where does one stand on Christ?

Extremes to avoid:

That evolution has been proven and anyone with a brain should accept it.

That evolution is only a theory with little evidence for it.

The issue is interpretation of the facts; we choose to believe what we do based on our interpretation of the facts. The presuppositions one brings to the facts, rather than the facts themselves, determine one’s conclusion.

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Are Miracles Possible?

Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. Jesus feeding 5000 people with two fish and five loaves. Did these really happen? Are we to take this literally?

The whole concept of God:

The real problem is not with miracles or prophecy but with the whole concept of God. Once we assume that God actually exists, there is no problem with miracles, because by definition God is all-powerful.

God is not bound by natural laws:

The real question becomes, “Does an all-powerful God who created the universe, exist?” If He does then miracles are possible. A miracle transcends natural law which God is the author. Some people define miracle as a violation of natural law, but this definition practically deifies natural law, and God becomes a prisoner to that natural law, and in effect ceases to be God. It’s fine to believe in natural law, because we can see the usual cause and effect process at work year after year. God does not restrict His right to intervene because He is over and beyond natural law, not bound by it. Laws do not cause anything but are a description of what happens or is observed.

What is a miracle?

We generally use the term to describe anything out of the ordinary or something unexpected; however the term is used in the Bible in a different sense. Some events in the bible could have a natural explanation, like the parting of the Red Sea. High winds could have pushed the waters back, but the miraculous part was the timing. They just reached the shore, the Egyptians approaching, and all the Hebrews were able to cross on dry land.

One the other hand, there are some that do not have a natural explanation, like Lazarus being raised from the dead, or many of the physical healings (like leprosy or the man born blind). This is more than a psychosomatic situation.

Some believe that ancient people were gullible, ignorant and superstitious. Perhaps the disease they had could be explained by modern science, like demon possession could have been psychosis or epilepsy. A primitive person might see a modern jet and call it a silver bird god in the sky. But there is a problem with this perception, since many of the miracles do not fit in this category.

There is no natural explanation for the healing of a person born blind, then or today. How could anyone explain the resurrection of Jesus? One cannot get away with the supernatural aspects of the Bible.

Not in conflict with natural law:

Miracles are not in conflict with natural law! One definition of miracle is that they are unusual events caused by God; the laws of nature are generalizations about ordinary events caused by Him. Some people believe that miracles employ a higher natural law which is unknown to us. We must increase our knowledge we actually realize that the things we thought were miracles were actually higher laws of the universe, of which we were not aware at the time.

An act of creation:

On the other hand, we can view them as acts of creation. Biblical miracles are not scattered throughout the Bible randomly, but are associated with purpose. From the Exodus, through the prophets and into the time of Christ, miracles confirmed faith by authenticating the message or the messenger, or to demonstrate God’s love by relieving suffering.

Miracles are never performed for personal prestige, or to gain money or power. Jesus was tempted to do this in Matthew 4, and resisted, but He regularly used miracles to show evidence of His claims (John 14:11, John 10:25).

Why not now?

Many believe that if God would only do it today, then I would believe. But even in Jesus’ day, He dealt with this in Luke 16 in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The kicker verse is Luke 16:31. If people have ruled out the possibility of miracles, no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise. It’s like the talking animals in the movie, Babe (1996 – the dog spoke slowly and precisely to the sheep because it was a cold fact of nature that all sheep were stupid and no one could convince him otherwise).

We have reliable records:

We don’t need miracles today because we have reliable records that tell us these miracles really happened. If miracles are capable of sensory perception, then they can be matters of recorded testimony. If they are adequately testified to, then the recorded testimony has the same validity for evidence as the same experience of beholding the event. Every court operates on the basic of reliable testimony. If an eyewitness saw and recorded the event (like Lazarus’ raised from the dead), then this witness’ testimony is as good as being at the event.

Miracles were done in public: anyone could have seen and investigated the events. Even the chief opponents of Jesus never denied the fact He could do miracles! They either attributed the event to Satan or tried to suppress the witnesses.

Miracles were performed in front of unbelievers: Jesus was no cult member that deluded his private audience, it was before unbelievers, too.

Miracles were performed over a period of time and involved a great variety of powers: power over nature (John 2:1-11), power over disease (Mark 1:29-34), power over demons (Mark 1:21-27), power with supernatural knowledge (John 1:48), power over creation (Mark 6:30-44), power over death (Mark 5:35-43).

We have testimony of the cured: lie in the case of the man born blind (John 9:25) and Lazarus (John 12:10-11).

We cannot discount biblical miracles because of the extravagant claims of pagan miracles: many pagan believe in these miracles because they already believe in the pagan religion; the Bible uses miracles to help people discover the true religion (John 20:30-31).

Pagan miracles:

These do not display the same order, dignity and motive as those found in the Bible. They do not have solid authentication of the miracle. Same can be said of miracles in our time today, they do not stand to investigation. Just because some miracles are counterfeit, does not mean all miracles are counterfeit (like discovering a few counterfeit bills does not less the authentic bills).

The question is philosophical:

The question as to whether miracles are possible is not scientific but philosophical. Science says they do not occur in the normal course of nature or observation. Science cannot forbid them because natural laws do not cause not forbid miracles. They are merely description of what happened. The only question the scientist must ask is, “Are the records of miracles historically reliable?”

Miracles in the Bible are seen as God communicating with us. The whole matter depends on our belief in the existence of God; settle that question and miracles cease to be a problem.

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Does Archaeology Confirm Scripture?

At first the ancient cities were the targets of study, but soon there were found names and places that are in the OT. Persian governors spoke through their letters and Egyptian Pharaohs in gold-lined coffins can now be identified. Scholars found rich discoveries about the neighbors of the early Israelites. Reliability of the Bible has been affirmed in a number of important areas, substantiating the claims of the Bible.

Mostly the goal is to verify some specific biblical events that were doubted or ridiculed. Another is to help explain biblical culture and practices. When an apparent conflict exists, rather than conclude that the Bible is wrong, it is best to admit the problem exists and hold it open to further discoveries.

Sources for archaeologists:

There have been over 25,000 sites excavated in the Holy Land. Some sites the names have changed and others have remained the same for 3500 years, like Damascus.

How can these finds be dated?

Cities were rebuilt on top of the previous one. Fashions of pottery change. King’s had inscriptions on temple door hinges, and the names of the gods were written. Sumerian scribe had a catalogue system. A few miles from Ur there was found an inscription of a king with an unknown name, of the first dynasty of Ur, which the scribes speak as the third dynasty after the great flood. This is 3100 years before Jesus and 1000 years before Abraham.

Abraham’s time:

Places could not be identified until in 1933 a party of Arabs unearthed a stone statue that revealed a name of an elaborate palace called Mari (covering six acres and 260 rooms). 20,000 cuneiform tablets were found describing the culture. Another city, Nuzi, east of Mari on the Tigris River, discusses the customs that Abraham faced in Genesis 15:4 and Genesis 16:1-2, regarding Ishmael and Isaac. Hammurabi’s code required the slave’s child be kept, which was preempted by God’s command for Hagar to flee with Ishmael.

Writing in the patriarchal times:

The city of Ebla has the most extensive discovery unearthed in the New East, dating back to the third millennium BC. It was a modern city, a highly developed culture. There was a room that had been burned, discovered in 1975, with 20,000 clay tablets on the floor; 5000 years of history. We know that biblical history took place in a world where writing was common.

The biblical kings:

Solomon’s splendor had been questioned, the large navy with no suitable coastline for a harbor. An army of 1400 chariots, and 1200 horses. Huge building projects… confirmed by excavations.

Solomon’s gold – 1 Kings 10:21

The description is breathtaking – 1 Kings 6:21-22, 9:11. This is not a scribe’s exaggeration, but a reflection of ancient times.

A conflict described:

In 1868, the Moabite Stone was discovered and the local Arab men thought they could get better prices by selling more pieces, so they heated it and then poured on cold water to break it. The archaeologists had already made an impression of the stone so the story was not destroyed. Chemosh is confirmed – 1 Kings 11:33, 2 Kings 23:13, Jeremiah 48:3. The stone also mentioned the God Israel, YHWY.

Daniel and Belshazzar:

Daniel names Belshazzar as the last king of Babylon, while Nabonidus is named in ancient Babylonian documents. Later discoveries were that Nabonidus removed himself for a ten-year stint in Arabia, leaving his son Belshazzar in charge, for all purposes he was the king. Prior to the Babylonian chronicles, Daniel is the only one that named Belshazzar as the king.

New Testament accuracy:

This is not so much digging for ancient civilizations, but finding written documents, with public or private inscriptions: shopping lists, private notes, legends on coins. Turns out the NT Greek was very similar to the language of the common people.

Stone inscriptions:

Luke took history very seriously and was right on all accounts. He includes many lines of historical details – Luke 2:1, 3:1.

No pious forgery:

Paul’s timeline confirmed at Felix’s replacement by Festus (Acts 24:27) in Nero’s fifth year, before October AD 59. Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 and a new pagan city was built on the site in AD 130. Keith Schoville, “Archaeological excavations have produces ample evidence that the Bible is not a pious forgery.” Basically, he says the Bible has never been proven false.

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Are the Bible Documents Reliable?

You have probably read stories about all the supposed errors that are in the Bible. The theory is that mistakes were made through two thousand years of translations and what we have today is a pale reflection of the original writings. But Christianity is rooted in history, and history has not changed. If the historical references in the Bible are not true, we can then doubt the reliability of the rest of the book. We will also ask the question, “Why do we have these books and no others?”

Who wrote the words?

The work of the scribe was a highly professional and a carefully executed task. There are no complete copies of the Hebrew OT earlier than around AD 900 (Masoretic Text), but it is evident that it has been faithfully preserved since AD 100 or 200.

There are translations from Hebrew into Latin and Greek. All copies that came from the Masoretic Text are in remarkable agreement, which attests to the skill and detail of the Masoretes.

Dead Sea Scrolls:

Discovered in 1947, the greatest archaeological discovery of the century. Clay jars in Qumran, dated 150 BC to AD 70. They hid the scrolls in preparation for the Roman invasion, in cave on the west side of the Dead Sea. There is a complete book of Isaiah and another with Isaiah 38-66, the books of Samuel, and two chapters of Habakkuk.

By comparing the Dead Sea Scrolls with the Masoretic Text we see remarkable accuracy. For example, in Isaiah 53 only 17 letters differ from the Masoretic Text. Ten of these were merely spelling differences (like honor to honour) that produce no change of meaning at all. Four are minor like the presence of a conjunction (which is often a matter of style). The other three letters are the Hebrew word for “light” which is added after, “they shall see” in Isaiah 53:11. Of 166 words in the chapter, only one word is in question and it in no way changes the sense of the passage.

The Septuagint:

This is the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, referred to as LXX, for the 70 scholars taking 70 days to complete, in the third century BC. So in comparison to the Masoretic Text, it appears that nothing has changed since 200 BC! It seems to be a rather literal translation. There is also another text called the Samaritan Pentateuch, but this has a Samaritan leaning and emphasis.

Three families of texts:

The question is, “What is the original version of these three families of texts?” It is said that what we have since 225 BC is just about the same document that Ezra read before the people after the Babylonian captivity.

New Testament documents:

Evidence tells us that the same is true for the NT. Generally anything that differs from early manuscripts would be variations in grammar or spelling, not more than 1/1000 part of the whole NT. There are about 6000 manuscripts that have survived to our time. Papyrus was used early, and highly durable. Another material was called parchment, skins of sheep or goats, used up until the middle ages until paper replaced it.

The dates of the NT documents indicate that they were written during the lifetime of the contemporaries of Christ. People were still alive who could remember that events. Many Pauline letters predate the gospels. These early documents can be compared to other ancient documents that have been accepted without question to their authenticity. Nine or ten copies of Caesar’s Gallic War exist, and they were written about 900 years after Caesar’s time! The history of Thucydides (400 BC) with about 8 copies, dated to AD 900. These copies are 1300 years after the original. By contrast, two excellent copies of the NT date to the fourth century. Fragments date back to 100 or 200 years earlier. There is a papyrus codex of John 18:31-33, 37 that dates back to AD 130.

The question of canon:

How do we know these are the books that are supposed to be in the Bible? Protestants accept the same books that the Jews accept in the OT. Catholics at the Council of Trent in 1546 decided to add others, called the Apocrypha. OT books were authoritative based on the utterances of people inspired to declare God’s Word. It’s not clear why they were accepted but it is clear that they were accepted. Jesus even agreed with the Pharisees on the authority of the OT, just not the traditions holding the same authority. The council of Jamnia in AD 90 closed the OT canon. The discussion was on which books to include rather than on which books to exclude.

Apocryphal books:

These were never received into the Jewish canon. Jews and Christians had never accepted them, and they are no where quoted in the NT. Some books like 1 Maccabees is valuable in retelling history, but are not considered as inspired sacred writings. Although not included at first the LXX included them for ecclesiastical purposes only.

What about the New Testament?

These were included based on their inspiration rather than by majority vote. Many claimed apostolic authority (1 Peter 3:15-16). Jude 1:3 mentions 2 Peter 3:3 is a word from the apostles. Early church fathers like Polycarp, Ignatius and Clement mention a number of books of the NT as authoritative.

The second century brought on many heresies, so there needed to be a debate on which writings were authoritative. In the East, the final fixed canon for the NT dates back to AD 367 (a letter from Athanasius), which books were used as sole sources for religious instruction and which could be read for information. In the West, it was decided at the Council of Carthage in AD 397.

The criteria for selecting the canon: could it be attributed to an apostle? Was it used in the church? Was there conformity to standard church doctrine? Luke 21:33 is a solid conclusion on this topic of God’s written Word.

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