The Choice: Verbal Revelation Or Skepticism

Religion, Reason and Revelation, by Gordon H. Clark (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961, 241 pp., $3.75), is reviewed by Bernard Ramm, Professor of Systematic Theology, California Baptist Seminary.

In five clearly-written and incisively-argued chapters, Gordon H. Clark has given us his basic thinking about Christian apologetics whose function he conceives to be to give us a “rational worldview” (p. 111). Clark operates from two basic points of leverage. On the positive side he considers that only in special revelation do we have a religion capable of rational defense; on the negative side he uses the law of contradiction to show that all competing systems fall victim to the reductio ad absurdum.

There are several felicitous features to the book. The literary style is a model of English clarity. The logic of the book is beautiful! One had better have his logical house in order or Clark will make short work of him (and this makes reviewing his book difficult!). Time and again Clark uses the law of contradiction to decimate an opposing view. He challenges the logical positivists to state their philosophy in defiance of the logic of contradiction. In the past century there have been many theologians who have defended the notion of a finite God as a resolution to the problem of evil. Clark argues decisively (to this reviewer) that from the standpoint of logical form one can argue for a finite devil who finds too much good going on in the universe to suppress it all! The logical structures of the two arguments are isomorphic so we are left with no criterion to choose one over the other.

Furthermore a refreshing honesty pervades the entire book. Clark believes that all thinking starts from presuppositions. Therefore there is no real sense in trying to cover them up or introduce them covertly into the argument. Clark comes right out in broad daylight and forcefully announces his assumptions. For example, he affirms that he is out to defend Christianity, and Christianity in the form of Calvinism, and Calvinism as exhibited in the Westminster Confession of Faith (pp. 23 f.).

Clark’s basic procedure is to show first that alternatives to Christianity default at the point of consistency and fall victim to the reductio ad absurdum; and then to show that only in Christian revelation is there grounds for a rationally-consistent world-view. To accomplish this he discusses five different topics which are the chapter divisions of his book: religion, philosophy, language, ethics, and evil.

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In chapter one he shows that all attempts to define religion in a general way result in a logical mess. The only way out is to define religion as Christianity and that in turn as Calvinism. In chapter two he attempts to show that the history of modern philosophy results in ignorance or contradiction or skepticism. Only in Christian revelation can reason find its way to true rationality. This is to this reviewer the most rewarding chapter of the book. In chapter three Clark shows that attempts to define theological language as in some way logically odd or as complete symbolism fall to the ground for they only manage to say that religious language is meaningless or senseless. Only in literal religious language (coupled with revelation, verbal inspiration, and innate logic, cf. p. 150) is there a resolution to the problems of religious language. In the fourth chapter Clark finds the solution to the fundamental problem of ethics in the expressed will of God which is the right in itself purely because God so utters it. In the last chapter the resolution to the problem of evil is not to be found in the so-called doctrine of the freedom of the will (which is customary) but in the Sovereign God who is the cause of all things but not the author of all things.

One of the clear statements of his position is found on page 87: “Therefore I wish to suggest that we neither abandon reason nor use it unaided; but on pain of skepticism acknowledge a verbal, propositional revelation of fixed truth from God. Only by accepting rationally-comprehensible information on God’s authority can we hope to have a sound philosophy and a true religion.” He also calls his view a Christian intellectualism by which he means the primacy of the truth (p. 105). In the traditional language of apologetics his formula is the Augustinian-Anselmic one that we must believe in order to understand.

Clark does not fear a frontal attack on any who may in some manner confuse the strong position of the Westminster Confession. Accordingly he frequently takes on the fundamentalists for their pietism or obscurantism or anti-intellectualism. He also crosses swords with Hodge, Carnell, and Berkouwer for at some critical point each of these has waivered from the Westminster Confession.

Clark is strongest in philosophy where his meticulous knowledge of the history of philosophy is used to the best advantage. And he is best in philosophy when he is engaging in refutation. How refreshing is his logical clarity in a day when truth, proposition and consistency are reckoned as spiritual and theological penalties. If any student or pastor or professor is low on apologetic ammunition, here is plenty for replenishing the arsenal.

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Some of the points about which there could be further discussion and at which there is perhaps some difference of opinion between author and reviewer are: 1. It cuts down on the labor to define Christianity in terms of the Westminster Confession of Faith but this stipulation stands in need of considerable justification. 2. The Westminster Confession puts great emphasis upon the witness of the Spirit which is missing in Clark’s approach, which suggests not so much an oversight but an inability to see how this doctrine can possibly fit into his scheme of verification (Westminster Confession, I, v, vi.). 3. The equal ultimacy of reprobation and election (p. 238) seems to me to commit the Gospel to arbitrariness and not to the good news of love and redemption for sinners. 4. There is no development of the dynamic side of the Word of God as found in Isaiah 55 or Heb. 4:12–13 and as expressed in the Hebrew word, dabar. 5. With Clark’s basic theses about language I am in agreement. But I feel that his understanding of language is formed too exclusively under the shadow of logic and does not allow enough for what may be learned from literature and linguistics. In that he believes all metaphorical language can be reduced to propositions without remainder I suspect that his theory of aesthetics and mine are divergent. 6. His treatment of ethics sounds to me like an ethical nominalism. The right is solely, simply what God decrees. God is ex-lex and is therefore responsible only to himself. But what is this “himself?” Is God ex-love? ex-pity? ex-mercy? ex-righteousness? Can it really be that it is wrong to sacrifice Isaac on Monday, right on Tuesday, and wrong again on Wednesday? 7. Clark argues that the idea of God is innate. The Reformed tradition has been very cautious at this point. Warfield agrees that the idea of God is innate but says it is a doctrine to be treated with great care (Calvin and Augustine, p. 34, fn. 4) whereas Bavinck rejects the idea outright (Doctrine of God, pp. 48 f.). They (the Reformed theologians) did teach the sensus deitatis and the semen religionis but never in any traditional philosophical sense of an innate idea of God. It was rather a piece of general revelation speaking to God’s continuous witness within the creature but never as the creature’s “possession.” 8. The most difficult chapter is the last because it contains a number of precise, almost hair-splitting, definitions and distinctions as well as a very closely-reasoned argument which at times becomes very difficult to follow. It defends a traditional Calvinistic determinism (in contrast to a mechanical or Islamic determinism) in which God is the cause of all that happens but not the immediate author of all that happens. I do not think that this absolutizing of the sovereignty of God in theology really catches the heartbeat of Scripture. At this point I find more scriptural consistency in Christological Lutheranism.

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Madison Avenue Regnant

The New-Time Religion, by Claire Cox (Prentice-Hall, 1961, 248 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Floyd Doud Shafer, Pastor, Salem Presbyterian Church, Salem, Indiana.

That the world has joined the church, at the church’s friendly invitation and to the conversion of the church to the world’s ways, is no longer news: all that remains is to record the results. Miss Cox, United Press International religion writer, documents the victories of Madison Avenue, the men in grey flannels and the keen executives in the best of brisk, gay, crisp, statistics-studded and quotation-filled reportorial manners. In 17 chapters, Miss Cox describes the “new look” and the new folklore of snappy American religion. She discusses: why religion is so popular and so irrelevant, the new genre of soft-sell evangelists, the frustrating effect of the burst of religious activity on the pulpit and manse, architecture as a symbol of confusion, conflicts regarding hymns, Bible translations, biblical illiteracy, the ambiguous situation in the church school, the cult of togetherness, the new religion and social issues, and the kind of theology required to fit the atmosphere surrounding the busy church office, swimming pool and coffee hour. Through it all we see a clergy busy with everything but essentials, immensely popular yet strangely unwanted except in the more frivolous aspects of “successful” religion, and here we see a religion whose volubleness on every subject is equalled only by an attending inability to influence itself or its society toward righteousness. Most of the big names of the popular leaders are present with their appropriate quotes. Miss Cox makes small effort to criticize and an air of happy accord with the whole business pervades her writing. She does, however, make a meek plea for the return of The Old Rugged Cross to the hymnals, and she hopefully suggests that religion’s growth to bigness through merger will lead to a complete reunion of all Christendom. Roman and Jewish churches are included in her survey; however, the Jews are omitted from the final merger. Surely, Madison Avenue will find some way to include them, if Romans 11 won’t work.

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The serious omission of the work is the failure to take cognizance of the vast number of pastors and lay people to whom this new-time religion is not progress but apostasy, not theology but anthropology, and not soteriology but social acceptability. In sum, Miss Cox records the modern parallel to the popular religion of Jeroboam II; and, by a mere recitation of the successful facts, she unwittingly summons many Amoses to arise in the land. When we have all finished with these clever reports, the Amoses will come: will the official priests of the new-time religion have ready-to-mouth the rebuffs that greeted Amos?


Christ And The Modern

Christianity and Modern Man, by Albert T. Mollegen (Bobbs-Merrill, 1961, 160 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary.

This is a book with some obvious merits. It is short and lucid. It covers some of the great themes of the modern age in simple and understandable terms. The development of recent thought is clearly and adequately portrayed, and the weaknesses in modern systems, both philosophical and psychological, are exposed with acumen. Good use is made of modern literature, especially Auden, Eliot, and Koestler. The main themes of Christianity are presented with general fidelity, although in modern terminology and not without a measure of reinterpretation.

This leads us to some no less evident defects. The phrasing might have been amended to avoid certain colloquialisms in the original spoken form. Again, an index would have been useful considering the many references and the relatively high cost. More seriously, one wonders if the balance of the work is really satisfactory. Does not the positive statement require more space than is given? I further query whether the constructive statement is materially so good as the preceding analysis. The intellectual content of revelation is unnecessarily depreciated on page 102. Again, the element of general revelation is overemphasized on page 105. There is a distinct demythologizing trend on pages 114 ff., and justifiable impatience with historiographical pedantry is carried too far on pages 120 ff. Even such great doctrines as the Incarnation and the Atonement, though maintained, seem to have suffered from a process of generalizing and trivializing which is hardly in keeping with the New Testament.

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In short, we have here a work which is to be commended for its avoidance of jargon and its historical analyses, but which unfortunately falls short of the full and definite presentation of the Gospel which is primarily required.


Novelists And Religion

The Ark of God; Studies in Five Modern Novelists, by Douglas Stewart (Carey Kingsgate, 1961, 160 pp., 8/6), is reviewed by Arthur Pollard, Lecturer in the Department of English, Manchester University.

Mr. Stewart, who is Assistant Head of Religious Broadcasting for the BBC, considers his chosen novelists (from James Joyce to Joyce Cary) as representative of various religious allegiances. Within their limit, these 1960 Whitley lectures are a brave and quite successful attempt at a large subject. It is good to find a person so well aware of the literary presentation of contemporary religious problems.

Nevertheless, the chapter titles suggest some strange associations, Aldous Huxley and mysticism, for instance. Huxley can be classified as a mystic, but only in a very special sense. Similarly, Graham Greene’s is a particular kind of Catholicism. Mr. Stewart, be it said, pleads that we regard his linkages loosely; and he has made some effort to indicate the necessary qualifications. Again, Rose Macaulay’s Anglicanism (in The Towers of Trebizond) is only partial. Can there indeed be a comprehensive statement about a church itself so comprehensive? Certainly many Anglicans would prefer to be aligned with Joyce Cary’s Protestantism. And is Rose Macaulay important enough to be placed alongside the others? I should have preferred a fuller treatment of William Golding who gets a few paragraphs in a parenthesis, for he is certainly the most significant religious thinker among practising novelists.

Mr. Stewart intersperses in his chapters some theological comments, for example, on the ineffective, because antiquated, use of ecclesiastical and literary dogmatism (“the Church teaches,” “the Bible says”) in our day. But he has not quite recognized the essential relationship of a live dogma with the Pentecostal experience which he later eulogizes. There is also an enlightened comment on the Church of England’s obfuscated attitude towards divorce.

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The criticisms above should not be misinterpreted. They have been provoked by the stimulating quality of Mr. Stewart’s book.


God’S Son: Light Of Light

Light Against Darkness, by Bela Vassady (The Christian Education Press, 1961, 176 pp., $3), is reviewed by M. Eugene Osterhaven, Professor of Systematic Theology, Western Theological Seminary.

The author of this volume is representative of one of the oldest members of the Protestant family of churches, the Reformed Church of Hungary. Responding early to reform once the movement got under way, the five royal free cities in Hungary became Protestant in 1525, and the whole country embraced the new faith and became a bastion of evangelical religion in Eastern Europe. Centuries of oppression and persecution by Hapsburg, Jesuit, and Turk were not able to eliminate it from the life of the people, so 4 million Hungarian Protestants remain today in Europe. Dr. Vassady taught in three of the seminaries of the Reformed Church of Hungary before coming to America after World War II as the official representative of Magyar Protestantism. Presently he is professor of systematic theology at the seminary of the United Church of Christ in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

This volume, his second in English, represents the author’s “system” of theology. It is no closed system of thought but rather one in which all is seen in the light of God manifest in his revealed Word, the quintessence of which is Christ. The theme “light against darkness” runs from creation through the redemption promised in the Old Testament and declared in the New, to a chapter on the Christian’s walk and two additional chapters on the mission of the Church and the Christian. God’s command, “Let there be light,” marked the beginning of creation and is the reason that science is possible. Science needs religion; its two theories of the origin of the universe, evolution and the steady-state theory, are reminiscent of the Christian truths of creation and providence. Science is not sufficient to itself but must move out into metaphysics and theology (p. 22). Theology too is dependent on the physical world to express the inexpressible (p. 15 f.).

The fact that in the salvation of mankind light overcomes darkness shows that God is good and almighty (pp. 78 f., 164). In his light-bestowing goodness he binds his people into a partnership of repentance, gratitude, hope, love, and obedience so that they may discharge their light-bearing mission to the whole world (pp. 82 ff., 168).

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The book employs much Scripture in establishing its positions. It is a happy blend of scientific and devotional writing, as all good theology should be, and stylistically it makes for pleasant reading.


Titans Of The Church

Valiant For Truth, compiled and edited by David O. Fuller with biographical introductions by Henry W. Coray (McGraw-Hill, 1961, 460 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Earle E. Cairns, Chairman, Department of History and Political Science, Wheaton College (Illinois).

Few collections of documents cover the whole scope of church history. Hence, evangelicals will welcome David O. Fuller’s collections of letters, sermons, prayers, speeches, theological works, and autobiographical selections from the pens of godly men from Paul to Machen.

Not only do the selections reflect several types of Christian literature but the choices embody the main interest of each writer’s life. Carey’s otherwise not readily obtainable essay on Christian missionary obligation or selections from the diary of Brainerd demonstrate this. The hitherto unpublished “On the Trinity” by Jonathan Edwards adds interest. The inclusion of many fine specimens of expository preaching provide illustrations of that technique which is so much needed in the contemporary pulpit.

The selections are enhanced by accurate, relevant, and creative biographical sketches of each writer from the pen of Henry W. Coray. Biographer and compiler have co-operated fruitfully.

Ministers or laymen who feel at times that they alone are “valiant for the truth” or need encouragement to declare the “whole counsel of God” will receive encouragement and inspiration from the reading of these selections. The great Christians portrayed here valiantly upheld, even at the cost of life, such verities of the faith as the authority of the Bible, the Virgin Birth, and the atoning death and resurrection of Christ.


Tragedy Reconstructed

On the Trial of Jesus, by Paul Winter (Walter De Gruyter, 1961, 216 pp., 22 DM), is reviewed by Palmer D. Edmunds, Professor of Law, The John Marshall Law School, Chicago.

A reviewer of a recent book dealing with the life of Jesus asked the questions, “How many lives of Jesus, I wonder, have been published in the last century? Is there, after all, anything to be said about the four Gospels?” Whatever may be the answer, there would doubtless be general agreement that the way should be left freely open for attempts to throw new light upon the life and death of the One who, to the Christian, is the most important figure of human history.

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In his book, On the Trial of Jesus, Paul Winter undertakes a reconstruction of Jesus’ trial and execution. Manifesting, by copious annotations, familiarity with surviving pagan and Jewish records, the author recognizes these as being of supplementary value with reference to such matters as the character of Pilate and the workings of Jewish law and legal institutions. For his main source material, however, he goes direct to the Gospels and undertakes a historical analysis “of documents which were neither written for historical purposes nor by persons used to thinking in historical terms.” In the process, which involves frequent recurrence to the precise language of the original Greek texts, “editorial accretions” are separated from “traditional elements,” and distinction is drawn between “primary” and “secondary” traditions. The author admits frankly that some questions cannot be answered with certainty, but one following through his analysis becomes impressed with the reasonableness of the conclusions reached. The need of spreading the events described in the four Gospels over a period of several days is held to be obviated. Thus, instead of five descriptions of the mockery of Jesus, one emerges to correspond to the very earliest setting. Jesus is held to have been arrested by Roman military personnel for military reasons, and condemned on grounds of a political rather than a religious character. Concepts such as orthodoxy or heresy did not then exist. “Heresy in its modern sense is an achievement of Christian history.”

More readily meaningful to the one already well-grounded in biblical learning, the book is nevertheless readable by the layman who is interested in gaining for himself the greater insight into the Scriptures that comes from a workable understanding of their history and composition.


Creativity Enthroned

Intellectual Foundation of Faith, by Henry Nelson Wieman (Philosophical Library, 1961, 212 pp., $3.75), is reviewed by David Hugh Freeman, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Rhode Island.

Mr. Wieman asks the question: What can save man from his self-destructive propensities and most completely actualize the constructive potentialities of human existence? Wieman examines answers of Dewey, the Personalists, Tillich, Barth, the world community, education, and freedom in order to give his own answer in terms of “the faith of liberal religion.”

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Liberal religion, as Wieman conceives of it, rejects deliverance by way of an infinite, omnipotent and perfect being and seeks it in a creativity in human life which is not infinite, omnipotent, and perfect “but which operates in human life under knowable conditions, many of which man can provide.” When creativity generates insights, creativity may be called “God.” God is not a person any more than a square is a circle. “God is found in the divine creativity empirically transforming man as he cannot transform himself, thereby expanding the range of what he can know and control, can appreciate as good and distinguish as evil, can understand evaluatively in the unique individuality of his fellowmen and himself.”

While Wieman’s analysis of the position of others is informative, his rejection of historic biblical Christianity is frequently written in language that is utterly meaningless. Such an expression as “creativity creates ex nihilo” is similar to a “grin without a cat.” God, the Creator of heaven and earth, has vanished in Mr. Wieman’s world. What remains is creativity without a creator. It is most curious!


Need: Evangelical Toynbee

Prophecy for Today, by J. Dwight Pentecost (Zondervan, 1961, 191 pp., $2.95), is reviewed by Merrill C. Tenney, Dean of the Graduate School, Wheaton College (Illinois).

In the past 30 years there has been a noticeable decline in the preaching of prophecy due partially to a reaction against extreme positions that some of its advocates formerly held, and partially to the rise of other questions, such as the nature of revelation and the character of the church, which have shifted the focus of theological discussion in a different direction. Dr. Pentecost re-emphasizes the value of predictive prophecy for the modern church, while making allowance for the errors of the past. He attempts to restate its basic truths for the present situation.

In 17 short chapters, based on sermons delivered to an average church audience, he discusses such subjects as “The Next Event in the Prophetic Program,” “Israel’s Title Deed to Palestine,” “The Coming Great World Dictator,” “The Rise and Demise of Russia,” and others. He follows generally the premillennial scheme of predictive prophecy advocated by Seiss, Scofield, Gaebelein, and others—namely, the rapture of the church, a seven-year period of tribulation in which the world will be dominated by a revived Roman empire, the preaching of the Gospel by a small group of Jews who acknowledge Christ as their Messiah, the ultimate destruction of the Gentile forces by the armies of heaven, and the establishment of the millennial kingdom.

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The most novel feature of the book is the statement that Russia will become the means of awakening a reconstituted state of Israel to its need of God, and that the attack upon Israel by the “King of the North” will take place in the middle of the tribulation period.

Whether Dr. Pentecost is correct in all of his interpretations only time will tell. He has endeavored to deal with broad trends rather than with petty detail, and to retain the practical evangelistic note that should characterize all preaching of prophecy. He does not attempt to set dates, though he believes that the chain of events associated with the advent of Christ could begin at any time. He makes the rapture of the Church an integral part of the total process of consummation rather than the “trigger” of the end-time.

It seems to this reviewer that the Christian Church today needs an evangelical, premillennial Toynbee who can analyze the world process in the light of prophetic revelation, and who can interpret the totality of past, present, and future in terms of God’s purpose in Christ. Such a man should be both historian and prophet—“A Daniel come to judgment.” Perhaps Dr. Pentecost or some other scholar can develop more fully the process of thought which he has initiated in this book.


Pulpit Luminary Of Boston

Focus on Infinity, A Life of Phillips Brooks, by Raymond W. Albright (Macmillan, 1961, 464 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by T. Robert Ingram, Rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church and School, Houston, Tex.

Professor Albright has offered an entertaining diary-type record of the life of Phillips Brooks, the preaching star of both Boston and the Episcopal church of the post-Civil War era. It is 60 years, he writes, since the appearance of a similar but more lengthy work by Brooks’ close friend, Professor A. V. G. Allen, who like Dr. Albright, was at Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Brooks was closely associated. The passage of time, together with the fact that the 125th anniversary of Phillips Brooks’ birth was marked on December 13, 1960, warrants a new study, says the author.

However, one wonders whether anything except a new and time-tested evaluation of Brooks could be added to the data available in the earlier biography. Unquestionably Brooks was not only a preacher of great power, but he also personified a particular and partisan Christian expression which was controversial in its day and has left an important mark on both the Episcopal church and the nation. One looks in vain for any attempt to come to grips with the issues which are hinted at, such as Brooks’ whole-hearted endorsement and propagation of the theology of England’s F. D. Maurice.

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In view of the implications which time has effected in the development of Maurice’s views, as well as the current struggle over ecumenicity in which Brooks took a significant and interesting position, it might be hoped that a fuller analysis might be offered. Nonetheless, Professor Albright has portrayed Brooks much as he must have struck his contemporaries, with emphasis on a magnetic personality, the tweedy parson pleasantly dealing with the great issues of life while on a vigorous passage through the parlors of the great at home and abroad in the high style of the best of the nineteenth century.


Athens And Jerusalem

The Memoirs Called Gospels, by G. P. Gilmour (Judson, 1960, 299 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Robert Mounce, Associate Professor of Biblical Literature and Greek, Bethel College.

With the publication of The Memoirs Called Gospels, Dr. Gilmour, president of McMaster University, brings to the broader reading public the results of more than a quarter century of lecturing to university freshmen on the gospel story. Approximately one third of the text itself is devoted to establishing an intelligent approach to the interpretation of the gospel record as literature and history. The rather extended section for footnotes and recommended reading will be of great assistance to the layman who desires to dig more deeply into the various areas discussed in the text.

Early in the book the author distinguishes between two views of life which predominate in the Western world: the Greek with its rejection of the childish myths of a primitive cosmology, and the Palestinian with its preoccupation with the religious ordering of life. It would seem to me that Dr. Gilmour is essentially involved in building a bridge between the two. At every point where the two perspectives would point to differing conclusions (such as the Virgin Birth, demons, miracles, nature of the Atonement, Resurrection, etc.) the author reaches for the best insights of Greece while never completely dismissing the less sophisticated faith of Palestine.

Dr. Gilmour writes as a litterateur rather than a professional New Testament scholar; thus while it is eminently quotable, the book never delves at any depth into the basic problems of gospel criticism, nor is it free from that type of incidental error that recourse to primary sources would have prevented as, for example, “the word saint never appears in the singular in the New Testament” (p. 152)—(but cf. Phil. 4:21, panta hagion).


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