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How Did We Get the Bible?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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September 17, 2022 12:01 am

How Did We Get the Bible?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 17, 2022 12:01 am

Why does the New Testament contain four Gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--but not the so-called gospel of Thomas? Today, Michael Kruger explains how we know that all the right books--and only the right books--made it into the Bible.

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There are 27 books in the New Testament, but there's a misconception about how they came together. The 27 books we have in our New Testament were the arbitrary choice of those in power. And the whole narrative is that, well, Constantine basically picked the books himself and forced them on the church and then banished all others.

That all sounds really interesting and good. The problem is it just doesn't fit with the facts of history. So what are the facts? How can we know if all the right books and only the right books made it into the New and Old Testaments? Today on Renewing Your Mind, we're bringing you a seminar from the 2022 Ligonier National Conference. Our host, Barry Cooper, asked Dr. Michael Krueger to address the question, how did we get the Bible? Dr. Krueger, you will know, is a world-class scholar on this question that we want to talk about, which is, how did we get our Bible? He's also President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. And something I didn't know about you until recently was that you studied under Bart Ehrman as an undergraduate.

Now, for those people who don't know that name and are unfamiliar, maybe could you explain a little bit about who he is and maybe how you got to be so interested in this subject? Well, that's a great opening question. Let me just say welcome to everybody. Glad you're here. Just so you know, as a humorous side note, I didn't know there was going to even be a crowd at this interview, so I thought it was in a studio.

And so it's great to see all these live faces here. Yeah, it was mentioned that when I was an undergrad at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, I had Bart Ehrman as a professor. I was a freshman. I had shown up to my college years as a committed believer, and there I was in a classroom. And at the time, Bart Ehrman wasn't even famous, but he proceeded to attack the New Testament, tell me why it was filled with fabricated stories and pseudonymous authors and how it wasn't transmitted reliably. And it was tough. It was a bombardment for me as a young believer.

For those of you who don't know who Bart Ehrman is, he's still at UNC Chapel Hill. Now he's written over 30 books, many of them New York Times bestsellers and maybe one of the loudest critics of biblical Christianity out there today. And so what was it that got you so fascinated in this particular subject? I mean, what is the importance of it?

What was the importance of it to you then, and what is the continuing importance of it now? Yeah, well in Ehrman's class, he knows that if you can undermine the authority of scripture, then everything else is going to collapse in the Christian system. And so his way of undermining scripture, by the way, there's lots of ways to attack the scriptures, right? And there's lots of new ways today people are doing it.

But Ehrman realized that one way is dealing with which books belong and which books don't, and whether those books have been reliably transmitted. So issues of what we call text and canon. And so I found it to be very troubling what he was saying, but I also found it at the same time very fascinating. I think it's a whole new world.

I was what, 18 or 19 years old. I was like, this is a whole world I never knew anything about. My pastor had never said anything about these things.

My youth pastor had never said anything about these things. And so I thought, well, this is intriguing. I think I want to learn more about this. So as I tried to find answers to Ehrman's objections, that led me into this new field where I realized, oh, this is very interesting and fascinating. And the authority of the Bible hangs on these issues, which is what led me down that path.

And I guess that could go either way for college age kids, right? And I know you've written recently your book on, is it Theology 101? Yeah, Surviving Religion 101. Surviving Religion 101. So exactly to that question that, you know, you go to college and suddenly you're getting bombarded by these people who are clearly extremely intelligent, telling you why the Bible is complete nonsense and you can't trust it.

But you came through that unscathed. And I know that you have, do you have college age kids? Would that be right? I do.

Yeah. So for those of you who don't know, I just published last year this book called Surviving Religion 101, which is subtitled Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College. And it's actually letters to my daughter, Emma. So if you read the introduction to the book, you realize it's not a fake college student I'm writing to.

It's actually my own daughter, Emma, who, believe it or not, is at UNC Chapel Hill, right where I was. And so as she started to head off to college, I said, you know what? I've been thinking about this book for years. This really needs to be written. I wish I'd had this book when I was an undergraduate. So I wrote it to her.

And I've been very encouraged to see the response to it. Emma's friends at UNC still send me photos every now and then with them holding the book up and pictures of it and so forth. And so, and then my daughter gets stopped by people at Carolina from time to time. And they're like, are you Emma Krueger?

She's like, yeah. Are you the girl in the book? And so that's been kind of a funny phenomenon. But here's the reality is I wrote that book because when people get their faith challenged in college, they can go a lot of different directions. And Lord was good to me to preserve me, but I saw people fall away from the faith because of what was in that class. I see people just troubled, even if they don't fall away from the faith, they just start doubting and questioning everything. And so it's a really important topic.

Yeah. Why do you think there's been such an uptick in the interest in the not so-called gnostic gospels? There seems to be this real fascination, gospel of Thomas and so on and so forth.

What do you put that down to? I mean, it seems weird to me that a little bit like we had with COVID where suddenly that happened, and then you realize that your Aunt May on Facebook has suddenly become apparently an expert epidemiologist and you're like, wow, you know, how come you... And it's like with suddenly everybody wants to talk about the gnostic gospels. Now, you know, where's that coming from, do you think? Yeah, this is interesting. I've written about this and given numerous lectures about this, this cultural fascination with lost gospels. And by the way, there is real fascination with it, whether it's the gospel of Thomas or others, people seem to be obsessed with learning more. You talk about the canonical gospels with people and they're rather bored.

But if you mentioned the gospel of Thomas or the gospel of Peter, then suddenly they're interested. And I think it goes back to a number of things. I think actually it goes back to one of the core claims of postmodernity. So what do postmodern people believe?

Not just that there's multiple different views out there, postmodern people believe that because there's multiple different views out there, no one view can be right. And that is what I think is behind the lost gospel phenomenon. If they can show in their mind, this is the non-Christian thinking, if they can show in their mind that there's a bunch of different opinions about Jesus out there, a bunch of different gospels about Jesus, and they can conclude, well, then no one gospel must be right. No one gospel could be right. It has to be that truth is relative and gospels are relative. So I think driving the fascination with apocryphal gospels is our cultural moment, which is if I can just show that no one agrees about who Jesus is, then therefore I don't have to follow the evidence. I can just sort of chalk it all up to everybody gets to make up their own ideas. And I think that's a real problem.

That's interesting. So there's almost a sort of a disingenuousness about the question almost that it's almost as if it's not so much I'm genuinely interested as a historian about these texts. It's more of a moral issue, you would say, where people are sort of saying, do you know what? I know what it means if the four gospels in the New Testament proved to be true and what Jesus says there is true, then that makes huge claims on my life, which I am not interested in subjecting myself to.

Yeah. So I think people are interested in apocryphal gospels for many different reasons. I think there probably are some people who genuinely have questions about the historical facts. They just don't know how these things were written and who wrote them and what the date is. And so we want to address those issues with people. But I also think there's a number of people who don't really want to know the facts.

They would rather just get the general idea in their head that multiple gospels must mean no one Jesus can be right. And then they can kind of sweep it all away and say, okay, I can go live the life I want to live. And I think a lot of people are like that. I often get in conversations with people in random places about this. Like one of the classic places I get in conversations with people is on airplanes.

Maybe that happens. Every time I get on an airplane, you sit down with someone on an airplane, what's the first thing they ask you is, what do you do? And I'm like, oh no, here we go. So I'm like, as soon as I tell them I'm a biblical scholar or I'm a New Testament professor, then right into all the questions. And time and time again, I hear this exact thing, right?

Which is that, well, aren't there multiple views of Jesus and how can one be right? So let's just dig down on that hypothetical scenario a little bit. You're about to, you're getting on a plane later on tonight. Let's say we get sat next to that person. And they say to you, and maybe you, you know, you're nodding off, you want to sleep. You think, okay, I've got 60 seconds to sort of basically head off this question. And they ask you a question about, say, let's say the Gospel of Thomas. Could you give us a bit of a handle on, I know it's clearly, it's going to be just an absolute beginning of an answer, but what might you say to that person?

Let's say if you've got 60 seconds. And they say, well, of course, you know, the Gospel of Thomas is a wonderful gospel, ought to be included. And I don't know why it isn't. It just shows it was just all ruled by a load of, you know, elites and all this. What do you say?

Well, I just pretend to be asleep at that point, I think. No, the Gospel of Thomas is probably the most famous apocryphal gospel out there. And I get that question a lot. You know, what's wrong with the Gospel of Thomas? I would have several responses to a person who said that. First of all, I would ask, have you ever read the Gospel of Thomas? Chances are they haven't, or even read the whole thing. If they have, they'll realize if they're so in love with the Gospel of Thomas, they know what the last line in the Gospel of Thomas is. Loggion 114 in the Gospel of Thomas says, every woman that makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Wow. That's something the culture would love to hear. The culture is not going for that. And yet people seem enamored with this gospel. I'm like, have you read it?

That'd be the first question. Secondly, do you know the consensus on the date of the Gospel of Thomas? Across the board, modern scholars, even non-believing scholars, almost all agree that the Gospel of Thomas was written in the second century, probably the late second century. In other words, it could not have been written by Thomas. It's not connected to an apostle.

It's late after the fact, written by somebody we don't know who was not connected to the original 12. Wouldn't you, if you're picking a gospel, want a gospel that at least has a chance to be written by one of Jesus's actual followers? If so, the Gospel of Thomas is not it. Now, people ask me all the time, well, if Thomas didn't write the Gospel of Thomas, then why is it called the Gospel of Thomas? Well, I say, well, look, if you're trying to get a hearing for your new gospel in the second century, you got to give it a name that people want to listen to. You wouldn't call it, you know, Bob's gospel or something, right? So you're going to call it, well, how about you stick an apostolic name on it? And that was very common in that time period.

It's very interesting. And what about if that same person said, all right, okay, fair enough, good answer on the Gospel of Thomas, but what about, you know, how we got the canon as a whole? How come we've got this, this particular, you know, you've got these 27 books in the New Testament, you know, what's, what's that all about?

How did that happen? Because surely if, you know, if there was a different set of people in the early church, they would have just decided on a different set of books. So why would you trust these ones? Yeah, that's a common misconception out there, which is that the 27 books we have in our New Testaments were the arbitrary choice of those in power, usually in the fourth century, usually linked to Constantine, and the whole narrative is that, well, Constantine basically picked the books himself and forced them on the church and then banished all others, sort of Da Vinci Code-esque narrative, okay?

That all sounds really interesting and good. The problem is it just doesn't fit with the facts of history. If someone thinks the canon was arbitrarily chosen by some committee in the fourth century, they just don't understand the history of the canon because we have those books received much, much earlier than that.

By the middle of the second century, we have a core group of books, say 22 out of 27 books, already functioning as scripture in the early church. In other words, they weren't picked by a committee. They weren't picked by some, you know, smoke-filled room discussion.

They were there sort of organically growing up from the beginning. So one of the things in your head that you might have is this idea that, that people chose books in the early church, and I think that's a misunderstanding of what happened. If you would have gone up to a Christian in the second century and said, hey, you know, why did you choose Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as your gospels?

They'd be like, choose? We didn't choose Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They were handed down to us from the apostles. And I think you see a very different narrative there. And so I want to, I always encourage people to get away from the sort of, you know, top-down version of the canon and look at the bottom-up version of the canon. It grew naturally and organically in the early Christian movement.

Yeah, that's very helpful. I mean, I've heard you talking about this approach of not so much talking about, this is what the church chose, but this is the canon that God gave us. So taking that, could you talk a little bit about that, getting that perspective of God giving that to us? Yeah, so here's one of the ideas out there that people have is that books become canon.

Okay, so imagine, this is what most people think happens in the canon. They think that Paul wrote some letters in the first century. They were just occasional documents given his friendly advice. And then it wasn't until the second or third century that Christians said, wow, have you read these letters? These are really great. In fact, they're so great. I think we should make these scripture.

What do you think? Okay, all in favor, say aye. And there's a vote and they'd sort of make them scripture. Okay, that whole narrative is very common, but what does it suggest? It suggests that books are written for one purpose and then sort of hijacked later by the church for another purpose and infused with authority. But what if the authority was there from the beginning? What if it's not so much that the church made them authoritative, but simply recognized them as authoritative? And so one of the things that you said there that I think is so important that I've said repeatedly, which is that we have to remember books aren't just simply recognized by the church or chosen by the church, they're given by God. And if they're given by God through divine inspiration, that means these books are authoritative the moment they're given. And they're authoritative and canonical the moment they're given before they're ever recognized by a single person. Even when the ink was still dry on the letter to the Romans, it was canonical in God's mind. And yes, it took time for the church to recognize that, but the authority is not from the church. The authority is from God.

And that's a very important distinction. Should we read apocryphal books, do you think? I do think we should read apocryphal books. One of the things I do when I go lecture places, I'll actually use the audience to find out what books they've read. So I have an audience here.

How about I ask you guys? Okay, here's a question for you. How many of you have not just heard of, but actually read the Gospel of Peter?

Okay, maybe four hands. See, this is a good sign. This is a very godly audience apparently here. Only reading, you're not doing your devotionals in the Gospel of Peter, right? Is the Gospel of Peter the really strange one where the cross is in the tomb?

Yes, exactly. All right, so when people say, should I read apocryphal gospels? I'm like, I think it would be very interesting for people to read apocryphal gospels because if they did, they would realize how different they are than the canonical ones. The narrative that all gospels are the same only works if you've never read them. And by the way, many people haven't even read the canonical gospels. It's one thing if you haven't read the Gospel of Peter. Have you read the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Have you really read them? Like from front to back, really read them?

And when you do, you realize there's a qualitative difference. So to the Gospel of Peter as an example, one of the things you may not know is that the Gospel of Peter actually shows you the resurrection happening. Jesus comes out of the tomb.

If you ever wonder what it looks like Jesus walking out of the tomb, something the canonical gospels don't tell you, the Gospel of Peter tells you that. It shows you Jesus coming out of the tomb. You think, well, that's pretty cool until you realize this gets really weird fast because when Jesus comes out of the tomb, he's not the Jesus you remembered, his head touches the clouds. He's like 60-foot Jesus, right?

He's like, I tell my students, he's like Godzilla Jesus coming out of the tomb. And then it gets weirder because the cross follows him out of the tomb. And you're like, well, how did it get in the tomb? Usually Romans don't send crosses home with the people they crucify, but okay. So there's a cross in the tomb and how does it follow Jesus out? Is it floating?

Is it walking? And then it gets weirder. The cross starts to talk in the Gospel of Peter. So you have a giant Godzilla Jesus with a floating talking cross and you realize this is not like the canonical gospels. And so, yes, I think people should read them because when they read them, they're going to realize, wow, there's a big difference here.

I'm certainly going to be reading that later on. It's like somebody's had a bit too much cheese or something. Yeah. It does look like someone's drugged up when they wrote the Gospel of Peter.

Yeah, the sort of Pink Floyd gospel. Excellent. I like that.

Let me just read you this. That's probably never been said in any Ligonier session ever, just for the record. No one's ever said those two words. They might've said Pink, they might've said Floyd.

They might've said Floyd, but they're never saying them together. Exactly. Never together.

Never. Yeah. We said this, we didn't know where this interview was going. Apparently we... That's right.

And if they did go to a Pink Floyd concert, they certainly didn't. Inhale. Yes. Now, let me just read you this quote. This is from your old friend Bart Ehrman. And see what your response to this is. He said, I did my very best to hold onto my faith that the Bible was the inspired word of God with no mistakes.

And that lasted for about two years. I realized that at the time we had over 5,000 manuscripts of the New Testament and no two of them are exactly alike. The scribes were changing them sometimes in big ways, but lots of times in little ways. And it finally occurred to me that if I really thought that God had inspired this text, if he went to the trouble of inspiring the text, why didn't he go to the trouble of preserving the text? Why did he allow scribes to change it? What would you say to that critic?

Yeah. So I heard this argument as a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill, as thousands of freshmen have heard ever since, because Ehrman's been saying this for years. This is his argument from textual criticism, which is a field of study about variations within the New Testament manuscripts. And he says, because of their scribal variations in the New Testament manuscripts, you can't trust them.

They're unreliable. And apparently that was one of the things that led him to abandon his faith. Well, a few things to know about that. First of all, there are scribal variations. We do know that scribes when they copied sometimes made errors, just like anytime you copied a book would make errors.

But we have so many copies of the New Testament across the board that have been preserved that we have a lot of confidence in what was originally written. And Ehrman takes the posture here of like super skeptic. If there's any variance at all, therefore the whole thing is shot.

It's kind of like an all or nothing deal. And in his mind, the reason it's shot is because, well, if God gave the Bibles inspired, then he would have made sure it was preserved in an infallible way. But notice that shifts Ehrman imposing his own private definition of inspiration.

It's almost like Ehrman saying, well, if I had my druthers, I would have it done this way. But just because it wasn't done the way you would like to do it doesn't mean it's not true or isn't valid. God obviously inspired the original authors, but are we really to believe that God promises that no scribe ever at any point in all of human history, whenever someone writes down a passage of scripture, they always get it exactly right. I mean, is that really our view? I mean, that would be really kind of insane and ridiculous to think that God would just, you know, take every scribe that ever decided to write the words down and never let him make a mistake ever.

No. God delivered his word through normal historical channels and normal historical channels do have variance, yes, but he preserved so many manuscripts that we can know what it said in the end. And that's the strange thing, isn't it? I mean, to say, why didn't he go to the trouble of preserving the text? You're talking about the text. Yes, he did preserve the text.

There is a recognized text, that's the thing, otherwise he wouldn't be able to say anything. Well, let's talk a little bit more about that textual variance, because we, you know, because we know how to party at Ligonier, let's talk about textual variance. Reading through John's Gospel, you reach John chapter 753, your very famous passage to 811, where you read about the woman caught in adultery. People are about to stone her and Jesus says, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. And you'll know that in our English Bibles, there's a little, usually a little superscript there, which says something like the earliest manuscripts do not have this section. We have a similar thing, of course, at the end of Mark's Gospel. Now, as a preacher, do you preach those passages with the same degree of surety and assurance and weight, you know, believing it to be just as authoritative?

And if so, why the slightly scary sort of message in the New Testament there? Yeah, so everybody's run across these passages and you see those little brackets that say the earliest manuscripts do not contain these. Just as a side note, I actually wrote an entire article for Tabletalk magazine on exactly this issue.

So I don't remember what year it was, you can dig up my article in the archives. But here's the short version. We have manuscript variations, most of them are very small. There's only two manuscript variations of any significant size. There's what called the long ending of Mark, which is 16, 9 through 20, and the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman. The earliest manuscripts do not have either of those stories. And most scholars, most evangelical scholars, and I would count myself in this mix, think those were not original to either John or Mark.

And I wrote that in the Tabletalk article. People panic when they hear that, they think, oh no, that means our Bibles aren't reliable. No, if you would have had a copy of John in the second century, that the story wouldn't have been there. And this is the good news, is that we can reconstruct what John looked like by the plethora of manuscripts we have. In fact, I take my students through one of the earliest copies of John we have called P66, where I show them how you can read right from 751 and it goes right to 813.

There is no story of the adulterous woman there. So what do you do in a sermon? Well, I mean, every pastor has to do his own due diligence on whether he thinks the text is original. I don't think it's original. If I don't think it's original, then obviously I wouldn't preach something I didn't think was an inspired Word of God in there from the beginning. But it's a complicated thing, and this is why most English Bibles still retain it in brackets, because they realize there's always a minority report out there of people who think it's original, but most scholars think it's not. It's actually reassuring, isn't it, that it is front and center, that information is given to you in the Bible, I think is good to see.

Let me come at this from a slightly different angle, because I know time is running a little short. Here's a quote. When you see the sun, you know it's bright. When you taste honey, you know it's sweet. When you see Jesus Christ in Scripture, you know he is Lord. And when you put God's Word into practice, you know it's for real. Do you ever say to people, listen, I know you've got issues with Scripture, and I hear the questions, they're all valid questions, but have you ever tried putting it into practice? Have you ever tried actually taking Jesus at his word, trying to live this out, obeying what he's saying?

Because there is a sense, isn't there, in which ultimately Scripture is self-authenticating, would you say? Do you think that's a valid thing to say to maybe the right sort of person? Oh, absolutely. Yeah. What was the quote?

Who said that? That was me. That was me. Was that Pink Floyd? Yeah. Yes. No, that was you? That was me, yes. Oh, very nice. Well, I didn't want to bring it up, but a few years ago I published a small book called Can I Really Trust the Bible? But it's a bit like, you know, it's like sort of a little sort of junior boxer talking to Mike Tyson or something.

It's a bit embarrassing, so I didn't bring it up. Anyway. Well, I think your quote's spot on. Self-authentication is a word that we need to recover more in the church. I've written effectively a whole book on this called Canon Revisited, which is a whole book on why the Bible is self-authenticating.

Now, that's a big word. What do we mean by self-authenticating? What it means is that the real way you know that God's word is God's word is because God demonstrates the validity of his word through his word. In other words, the word bears God's own divine attributes and qualities. So I don't need to know the Bible is the word of God just from historical evidences, although that's fine. I know the Bible is the word of God from the word of God.

It exhibits God's own qualities and characteristics. By the way, that's true of any author. How would you know that an author wrote a book? Well, you would say, well, when I read this book, I can see the personality of the author, the characteristics of the author coming through.

That's how I know the author is the author. It's like that with God. So what are the characteristics that mark God's word as God's word?

Well, I cover this in my book Canon Revisited, but one of those characteristics is the amazing unity and harmony of these books, how they all fit together so remarkably. But another is what we would call the power and efficacy of these books, and that gets to your point, which is people need to realize that the word of God is powerful. And if you use it, you read it, you expose yourself to it, you'll soon realize that you're not reading God's word. God's word is reading you. It's not so much that you're doing something to God's word.

God's word is doing something to you. In other words, it's not a dead book. It's a living book. What kind of book could be a living book? Only a book given by God. And that's how we know it's God's word.

Yeah, that's really, really helpful. So Canon Revisited, do get hold of that. One last question then. Book of Hebrews. Who wrote the Book of Hebrews? You just couldn't end it without that, could you? I couldn't help it.

I'm sorry. Yeah, so I just lectured on this at RTS just not long ago. As everybody knows, the Book of Hebrews is in our Bibles, but the Book of Hebrews is anonymous. We don't know the author.

It's not in the text anywhere. And so the early church was divided over this. Some thought Paul may have still been the author, and then a lot of other people said Paul is probably not the author. My answer is Origen's answer.

Origen, who was a third century church father, his answer is, only God knows. So I think I'm going to stick with that answer. I think it's a pretty good one. Now, that doesn't mean we can't hypothesize. There's something Luke wrote it.

I think there's some merit to that. But at the end of the day, we don't know. Does that challenge its canonicity? No, because the Book of Hebrews is situated and the author situates himself as a immediate disciple of the apostles, that he got his information from the apostles. And that's what makes a book part of the canon. It's not so much who held the pen, but whether the material in it is apostolic material.

And in Hebrews' case, we have good reasons to think that it is. The Bible and the truth it contains are under assault today, so we're grateful for Dr. Michael Krueger and his expertise on what we call the canon of Scripture. Thanks for joining us for Renewing Your Mind on this Saturday.

I'm Lee Webb. After hearing today's message, I'm reminded yet again how important it is for us to be knowledgeable Christians. We need to know what we believe, why we believe it, how to live it, and how to share it.

With that in mind, let me recommend a book to you. Our founder, Dr. R.C. Sproul, believed that everyone's a theologian.

That's because any time we think about a teaching of the Bible and strive to understand it, we're engaging in theology. In his book, Everyone's a Theologian, Dr. Sproul surveys the basic truths of the Christian faith. And we'd like to send you a copy when you contact us today with a donation of any amount. Or if you've never contacted us before, we'd be happy to send you a copy for free. Just call us at 800-435-4343, or find us online at Over the next several weeks, we are pleased to feature sessions from the 2022 Ligonier National Conference, and I hope you'll join us next Saturday for a panel discussion on suffering, assurance, and the sovereignty of God. This is Renewing Your Mind, the listener-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-24 19:56:14 / 2023-02-24 20:09:36 / 13

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