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Mormon vs. Orthodox Christianity's view of Hell

Written by: White, James    Posted on: 04/29/2003

Category: Cults / Sects / Non Christian Religions and Topics

Source: CCN

Ä Area: Mormon ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ   Msg#: 11                                          Date: 08 Jun 93  14:17:45   From: James White                                      To: All                                            Subj: Article Review #1 ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ                 A Reply to Elden Watson's Review of

  "Hugh Nibley, the Universal Apostasy, and the Gates of Hades"

            as it appeared in the Spring, 1993 issue of

                          Pros Apologian

        It seems some people take things personally, especially when one's heros or idols are under discussion.  Right now in Phoenix, for example, on the eve of the beginning of the NBA Finals, it would not be good to speak out against Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, or the Phoenix Suns in general.  Even folks in my own tradition, the Reformed, sometimes lose their cool when someone attacks, normally out of ignorance, John Calvin, or Jonathan Edwards.  Such is the human nature.

        We can see this quite clearly in the review of my article refuting Dr. Hugh Nibley's comments on Matthew 16.19 that was posted on the National Mormon Echo by Elden Watson.  It seems Mr. Watson has an inordinately high regard for the redoubtable Dr. Nibley, and his review of my article seems based more upon indignation that anyone would dare disagree with Nibley as it is upon any factual evidence.  Mr. Watson's normally clear thinking has been severely muddled by this emotional attachment to Dr. Nibley, as we shall see.

        Before getting to the review itself, I feel it is *vitally* important to remind the reader of what the original article was about.  It was not about the LDS doctrine that there was a *universal* apostasy in the Christian Church, though it mentions that as part of its background.  It was not about the subject of the priesthood, though again, it mentions this in providing background for the reader.  It was about one thing: Hugh Nibley's comments on Matthew 16.19, specifically regarding the genitive "autes" that functions as the direct object of the Greek verb "katischuo," i.e., "the gates of hades will not overcome (katischuo) it (autes)."  That is what the article was about.  That was its thrust.  I alleged that Dr. Nibley was simply in error to syntax the genitive autes as a partitive genitive, and demonstrated that the proper syntactical identification would be the genitive of direct object.  I supported this from scholarly sources.  For Mr. Watson's review to be relevant, it would have to provide argumentation against the main point of the article.  As anyone can see by reading the review, it utterly fails to do that very thing, preferring instead to attack anything and everything *around* the central thesis, while leaving the true error of Dr. Nibley unrefuted.

        Mr. Watson seemingly felt it was necessary to "take the gloves off" so to speak in his review.  He was none to kind in many of his remarks, preferring, it seems, the ad hominem method of argumentation to a scholarly one.  It is possible, of course, that since Mr. Watson has no graduate training in Greek (to my knowledge), he had to resort to this argumentation, as he is unequipped to engage the finer points of the argument.  Sadly, this inability shows up often in his review, normally couched in an attack upon *my* abilities at things that he himself has not studied.

        One final thing before we begin.  There are many ways of defending a lost position.  Our current political administration in Washington is very good at this very thing.  One means is to fill pages and pages with written text, citations, etc., none of which is actually relevant to the question at hand.  Indeed, Dr. Salmon put it quite well in his book, _The Infallibility of the Church_:

        It is a common rhetorical artifice with a man who has to         commend a false conclusion deduced from a syllogism of which         one premiss is true, and the other false, to spend an         immensity of time in proving the premise which nobody denies.         If he devotes a sufficient amount of argument and declamation         to this topic, the chances are that his hearers will never         ask for the proof of the other premiss (p. 63).

Such a mechanism is, I honestly feel, responsible for the immense amount of writing that has issued from Hugh Nibley's pen regarding the Book of Abraham, that still leaves the reader, if he survived the labyrinth of rabbit-trails created by Nibley's books, to ask, "But, did Joseph translate the papyri correctly?"  It is sufficient for many to simply know that "Dr. Nibley addressed that in a book...I didn't understand it at all...but as long as he wrote on it, there must be an answer to the question."  Such use of scholarship is certainly not limited to the LDS Church, but it is offensive wherever it might be found.  Mr. Watson, I feel, has learned well at the feet of Dr. Nibley, and has filled his review with a great deal of fluff, but tremendously little substance.  Having made such a statement, I will proceed, unlike Mr. Watson, to demonstrate my point.

        Half of Mr. Watson's review is taken up with issues *other than* the point of my article.  I hesitated even to reply to these sections, as I have found that normally the side-issues end up obscuring the main point to such an extent as to accomplish that which the reviewer wishes.  However, I knew that if I did not reply to those sections, I would be accused of ducking substantive criticisms, so I shall do that very thing.  However, rather than replying to Mr. Watson's posts in consecutive order, I will instead bring the main issues back to the fore, and reply to them first, and then "wrap up" the later accusations and charges.  In fact, I wish to begin with a very pleasant surprise, that being Dr. Nibley's short note to Mr. Watson.



Ä Area: Mormon ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ   Msg#: 12                                          Date: 08 Jun 93  15:18:45   From: James White                                      To: All                                            Subj: Article Review #2 ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ                       The Letter from Dr. Nibley

EW> When this topic first arose, I wrote to Dr. Nibley and asked EW> whether he felt the translation of autes in Mt 16:18 as "hers" in the EW> partative genitive was a viable interpretation, or whether he could EW> have made an error.  I received the following reply:

I am very thankful that Mr. Watson wrote to Dr. Nibley, as I do not have any idea if I would have been able to get as quick a response, and I certainly doubt it would have been as revealing!  Here is the text of the letter:

    Dear Brother Watson,     When ministers start making Greek the argument, it is time to     adjourn.  I have always found their training to be extremely     superficial, usually applying to one book only in the most massive     of ancient literatures, and read with a translation and dictionary     at the student's elbow.  There is no scarcity of instances in     which the genitive is used in the same sense given in Matthew     16:18.  _Katechousi_, used with gates cannot possibly mean     anything but "hold back."  Hold back what?  Again the object     cannot possibly be anything but an accusative.  Yet for some     strange reason here in all manuscripts, it is in the genitive or     possessive.  Why?  Smythe's Grammar, Sects. 1341, 1345, 1352 gives     a number of examples in which a genitive is so used as an object     to indicate things belonging to a larger category or body.     Is there anything more fantastic than pinning one's salvation     on pedantic interpretations of an ancient language which has     always given rise to endless hair-splitting and controversy?     Yours truly,

    (Signed)  Hugh Nibley

Anyone who has read much of Dr. Nibley's books surely recognizes the inimitable style found here as well.  Dr. Nibley surely views himself highly, that is for certain, and his superiority comes across clearly in the words he writes.  Let's look closely at what he says:

    When ministers start making Greek the argument, it is time to     adjourn.  I have always found their training to be extremely     superficial, usually applying to one book only in the most massive     of ancient literatures, and read with a translation and dictionary     at the student's elbow.

One is very tempted to comment upon why Dr. Nibley would have such a pedantic view of Christian ministers, but such topics are not for our present review.  Suffice it to say that obviously Mr. Watson provided Dr. Nibley with more than just a question, but also the background of the question as well (how else would he have known a "minister" had provided the challenge?).  We recognize that Dr. Nibley does not feel that anyone outside of Zion is nearly as capable as himself (surely that is what the above suggests to me), but I would like to suggest that it would be far better to let the facts speak for themselves. If it is found that Dr. Nibley can defend his position, that will speak well for his scholarship.  If we find him avoiding the duty of defending his position, we can decide that his comments are without merit.

    There is no scarcity of instances in which the genitive is used in     the same sense given in Matthew 16:18.

As I pointed out, when faced with a difficulty, affirm that about which there is no doubt.  The issue is not "can the genitive be used in a partitive sense?"  No one has denied such a statement.  The question is, "Is `autes' at Matthew 16.19 functioning as a partitive?"

    _Katechousi_, used with gates cannot possibly mean anything     but "hold back."

I believe it is VERY important to note this statement on Nibley's part.  Unlike Mr. Watson's far less strident statements in his review, Nibley is straightforward in asserting that "katechousi" "cannot possibly mean anything but `hold back.'"  Even Mr. Watson noted that when the term is used intransitively it means "be strong, powerful, gain the ascendancy," and that "when used with the object in the genitive, the meaning shifts slightly to "win a victory over." Mr. Watson was commenting on the definition in Bauer.  Yet, here Dr. Nibley states that it CANNOT POSSIBLY MEAN ANYTHING BUT HOLD BACK. Yet, this is obviously untrue, as all lexical sources show.  Thayer's (p. 341) does not support Nibley, nor does Bauer.  Moulton gives "prevail, gain mastery over" (p. 338).  Abbott-Smith gives "to overpower, prevail against, prevail" (p. 241).  The new Louw-Nida lexicon says:

        to prevail over something or some person so as to be able to         defeat, with the implication that the successful participant         has greater strength -- `to defeat, to prevail over'...`on         this rock I will build my church and not even death will be         able to defeat it' Mt 16.18 (p. 501).



Ä Area: Mormon ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ   Msg#: 13                                          Date: 08 Jun 93  15:18:53   From: James White                                      To: All                                            Subj: Article Review #3 ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ

Why does Nibley assert that it MUST mean "hold back"?  Because his entire interpretation is based upon it, that's why.  He is ignoring, for theological, not linguistic or textual reasons, the fact that "gates of hades" is not referring to a particular place, or even the entrance and exit of hades itself.  Mr. Watson also ignores a large part of the scholarly material on this subject as well, despite the fact that he has often cited from Kittel's TDNT, and yet it is the TDNT that does such a good job summarizing the information on this very topic!  But I am getting ahead of myself, as I shall demonstrate this fully when replying to Mr. Watson's specific charges.

    Hold back what?  Again the object cannot possibly be anything but     an accusative.  Yet for some strange reason here in all manuscripts,     it is in the genitive or possessive.  Why?

We here again see how much error can be created by producing an interpretation, and then forcing that interpretation upon the text! First he begins by insisting that the term must mean "hold back," when the lexical sources indicate that it means to "overcome" or "prevail against."  And why does it mean this?  Because of the use of the genitive direct object!  Rather than being taught by the text, Dr. Nibley has a goal, and is now working through the text backwards to arrive at his goal!  By ignoring the use of the genitive with "katischuo," and insisting upon another meaning for the word, he now goes back to ask why "autes" is in the genitive.  And his answer?

    Smythe's Grammar, Sects. 1341, 1345, 1352 gives     a number of examples in which a genitive is so used as an object     to indicate things belonging to a larger category or body.

Yes, so?  Again, by providing a statement that no one has denied, Dr. Nibley thinks to have answered the question.  Yet, it is transparently obvious that he has not answered anything at all!  Of course the genitive can be used as an object to indicate things belonging to a larger category or body.  That is not the issue!  Does Smythe's Grammar list Matthew 16.19 as an example of this?  Does it address the use of "katischuo" with the genitive of direct object? Dr. Nibley does not say.

I honestly feel that Dr. Nibley's response is a tacit admission of his own unwillingness to admit error.  Nowhere in this material does he provide a single piece of information that is supportive of his thesis!  He does not address the fact that "katischuo" can take its object in the genitive, and in fact regularly does.  He does not support his unwarranted assertion that the term MUST mean "hold back" rather than "overcome" as the sources indicate when used with the genitive.  He does not support his identification of "autes" as a partitive by merely mentioning that partitives exist--everyone knows that.  Such argumentation is indicative of a person who is not able to substantiate a long leap in exegesis, which is exactly what we have in his comments on Matthew 16.19.

    Is there anything more fantastic than pinning one's salvation     on pedantic interpretations of an ancient language which has     always given rise to endless hair-splitting and controversy?

Such a question is more properly addressed to he who pins his salvation upon the truthfulness of one Joseph Smith Jr., and *his* "pedantic interpretations."

With Dr. Nibley's remarks clear in our thinking, let us go to Mr. Watson's actual comments on Matthew 16.19 and my refutation of Nibley's error.

EW> As I see it, and as I believe Dr. Nibley intended, the proper EW> interpretation of Matthew 16:18 is that the trailing "it" would be EW> more properly translated "hers," and refers to a portion of the members EW> of the church of Christ.  They are hers, because as members of the EW> church, they belong to her (the church).  Those referenced here EW> constitute only a portion of the members of the church of Christ EW> because not all of the members of the church of Christ are in Hades.

As we shall see later, NONE of the Church of Christ is in hades, nor is that the point of the discussion at all.  But Mr. Watson's interpretation of Nibley is correct, and is in fact what I myself had indicated in my article.

EW> In order to properly understand the connotation, it must be realized EW> that gates are not an offensive weapon.  A fierce warrior does not ride EW> out on a white horse brandishing a gate and proceed to hit someone over EW> the head with it.

And just here enters the problem, both for Nibley as well as Watson. By taking "gates of hades" as literally referring to gates, he misses the entire point, a point made in one of his own favorite sources, the TDNT:

        With this concept "pulai hadou" is a pars-pro-toto term...for         the ungodly powers of the underworld which assail the rock.         This interpretation is supported by the linguistic         consideration that "katischuein" when followed by a genitive         is always active ("to vanquish") in Jewish Greek.  Hence the         "pulai hadou" are the agressors.

The gates of hades, then, refer to the powers of death itself.  This is very consistent with Biblical usage.  Note Isaiah 38:10:

Is 38.10 I said, "In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death (pulais hadou) and be robbed of the rest of my years?"



Ä Area: Mormon ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ   Msg#: 14                                          Date: 08 Jun 93  15:20:02   From: James White                                      To: All                                            Subj: Article Review #4 ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ

Extra-Biblical Jewish sources use the term in the same way, as Jeremias noted in TDNT above.  Calvin correctly said:

        The pronoun it (autes) may refer either to faith or to the         Church; but the latter meaning is more appropriate.  Against         all the power of Satan the firmness of the Church will prove         to be invincible, because the truth of God, on which the         faith of the Church rests, will ever remain unshaken.  And         to this statement corrsponds that saying of John, "This is         the victory which overcometh the world, your faith" (1 John         v.4).  It is a promise which eminently deserves our         observation, that all who are united to Christ, and         acknowledge him to be Christ and Mediator, will remain to the         end safe from all danger; for what is said of the body of the         Church belongs to each of its members, since they are one in         Christ.  Yet this passage also instructs us, that so long as         the Church shall continue to be a pilgrim on the earth, she         will never enjoy rest, but will be exposed to many attacks;         for, when it is declared that Satan will not conquer, this         implies that he will be her constant enemy.  While,         therefore, we rely on this promise of Christ, feel ourselves         at liberty to boast against Satan, and already triumph by         faith over all his forces; let us learn, on the other hand,         that this promise is, as it were, the sound of a trumpet,         calling us to be always ready and prepared for battle.  By         the word gates ("pulai") is unquestionably meant every kind         of power and of weapons of war.

D.A. Carson noted:

        But "gates of Hades" or very similar expressions are found in         canonical Jewish literature...and pagan literature..., and         seem to refer to death and dying.  Hence RSV: "The powers of         death shall not prevail against it."  Because the church is         the assembly of people Jesus Messiah is building, it cannot         die.

The position taken by Nibley and Watson falls upon the simple fact of the meaning of katischuo when taking its object in the genitive.  It does not simply mean "hold back" as Nibley declares, and the "gates of hades" are in fact the aggressors, for they represent the very powers of death itself, which shall not overcome the Church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ, Hugh Nibly, Joseph Smith, or Elden Watson, not withstanding.

EW> Gates are a defensive weapon, and are utilized solely EW> to either keep someone or something in a place, or to keep someone or EW> something out of a place.  Since the place to which we are referring is EW> Hades, I shall presume at this point that the someone or something is EW> inside of Hades, wanting to get out.  (It seems irresponsible to EW> consider the case in which someone or something is outside of Hades EW> wanting to get in.)  In Dr. Nibley's interpretation of Mt 16:18 then, EW> some of the members of the church of Christ are in Hades, and want to EW> get out, but the gates of Hades oppose them and try to keep them in. EW> Christ declares that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against hers, EW> and hence those individuals shall be freed from Hades.  In the original EW> context, Dr. Nibley is relating this to those who become members of the EW> church while they are in Hades, by vicarious baptism.

That is indeed Nibley's position.  It is a position fraught with problems, as we have seen.

EW> One additional point deserves consideration in preparation for what EW> follows.  As we have seen above, something is in Hades and wants to EW> get out.

Please note that Mr. Watson says, "As we have seen above."  Actually, all we saw "above" was his assertion, "I shall presume at this point that the someone or something is inside of Hades, wanting to get out."  Mr. Watson takes an unsupported presumption, and then uses this as the basis of his following comments.

EW> If the gates of Hades were to prevail, then that something EW> would not be able to pass by the gates, and would be consigned to EW> remain in Hades.  Christ has decreed that the gates of hades will not EW> prevail, but that whatever it is that is in Hades will be able to EW> prevail against the gates and extricate itself.

We note again that there is nothing in the text whatsoever that speaks of people in Hades, wishes or desires to go in or out, or extrications thereof.  This is pure eisogesis, based upon presumption, depending upon rejection of clear grammatical and lexical information.

EW> The something that is EW> in Hades wanting to get out is the "it" of Matthew 16:18.  According to EW> Mr. White's interpretation, it is the church itself that is in Hades EW> and wants to get out.

< chuckle >  It will be instructive to read Mr. Watson accusing *me* of misrepresenting others, when he can come up with such a fanciful statement as this!  The Church is not in Hades, and I have certainly never given the slightest indication that this was my position.



Ä Area: Mormon ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ   Msg#: 15                                          Date: 08 Jun 93  15:28:08   From: James White                                      To: All                                            Subj: Article Review #5 ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ

EW> In Dr. Nibley's interpretation, it is some of EW> the members of the church who are in Hades and want to get out.  Of the EW> two interpretations, I prefer that of Dr. Nibley, and would ask Mr. EW> White how it is that the church finds itself in Hades in the first EW> place.

Since the passage is not discussing where anyone is, but is instead asserting that the gates of hades will not *overcome* the Church, that is, defeat the Church, Mr. Watson's question is irrelevant, and his confusion, based upon his seeming unquestioning following of Dr. Nibley, is understandable.  That Mr. Watson is clearly unfamiliar with the interpretive history of this passage, and, it seems, has not availed himself of the ready information on this topic, can be seen from reading the following section from my article, and Mr. Watson's reply:

>      It must first be noted that Nibley's interpretation of the >  passage is not to be found in any stream of scholarly >  interpretation, whether Protestant, or Catholic.  We are not aware >  of a single scholar who attempts to say that the final phrase of >  Matthew 16:18 is referring to anything other than the Church; that >  is, that the "it" found in the phrase does not refer back to the >  term "church" mentioned immediately before.  If Nibley is correct, >  it is amazing that exegetes over the centuries have missed what >  only he has discovered. >      Mormons are, by and large, in awe of Hugh Nibley's linguistic >  abilities.  When Dr. Nibley says that the term "it" in Matthew >  16:18 is "in the partitive genitive," that _must_ be the case. >  Yet, is it?  And why would literally thousands of scholars of the >  Greek language have missed such a simple thing, leaving Dr. Nibley >  to discover it?  And what of all those translations of the Bible >  that do not catch this, seemingly, basic thing?

EW> It is indeed a little surprising that commentators have not EW> recognized that the standard interpretation actually requires that the EW> church of Christ be in hell.

I must conclude, then, that Mr. Watson is fully unaware of what the "standard interpretation" is, for him to make such a statement!  Did it not occur to him that maybe Christians over the years *have* given serious consideration to this passage, and hence that it is rather unlikely that one man in Utah, whose expertise seems to be historical, rather than linguistic, would come up with a new and startling viewpoint, unthought of before, to answer such an obvious problem as the Church being in hades?

Now, Mr. Watson then attempts to create a problem that does not exist.  In reviewing Nibley's statements, I noted that he himself said,

>      Moreover, the thing which is held back, is not >      the church, for the object is not in the accusative but in >      the partitive genitive: it is "hers," part of her, that >      which belongs to her, that the gates will not be able to >      contain.

Mr. Watson replied:

EW> First, Dr. Nibley nowhere says that the word "it" cannot refer to EW> the church.  It is Mr. White who makes the unwarranted claim that Dr. EW> Nibley has said that "it" *cannot* be referring to the church.  Dr. EW> Nibley only asserts that it does not.

I must honestly say that this is double-talk.  Nibley is not sitting down in an ecumenical meeting with others and saying "this MIGHT be a way to understand it."  Indeed, his letter to Mr. Watson made it plain that there was NO WAY to understand katischuo as meaning anything other than "hold back," and hence it is hardly "Niblian" to be simply *suggesting* an "alternative" understanding.  He says that that which is held back is not the church "for the object is not in the accusative but in the partitive genitive."  I think saying what I did is perfectly understandable, and proper, in the context of Nibley's own statements.

EW> The genitive is the case of EW> possession, or description.  There are a lot of ways in which things EW> can be described, and hence there are a lot of reasons for which the EW> genitive may be used. Understanding the reason for the use of the EW> genitive case in particular situations can strongly influence specifics EW> of a translation.  Scholars frequently discuss different possible EW> meanings of a passage depending upon why the gen

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Watchman Fellowship's Guide to Marking Your Bible   in Cults / Sects / Non Christian Religions and Topics

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