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Last time we made the claim that knowledge of God and salvation by God go hand in hand.  Only those who have been saved by God know God.  At the same time, coming to know God is another way of describing being saved by God.

Therefore all those truths we hold so dear about salvation are equally true for knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God is by God's grace alone.  It is received by faith alone.  And it is given to us in Christ alone (the Christ of Scripture alone!).  We must receive the freely given truth about God by faith - that truth is in Jesus.  Christ alone reveals to us the true and living God.

Now at this point people generally have a few objections.

Objections

People will often say: "Hang on. Don't people know lots of things about God? Aren't there billions of people who may not trust Jesus, but they have plenty to say about God?"

Well of course that is true. People have lots of things to say about some kind of higher being - and many of them may even use the word "God". But using the same name does not at all mean that they know the same person (or Persons)!

I share a name with my father which is very confusing for people who think they know Glen Scrivener. People may know my father very well indeed and be able to tell you all kinds of personal things about Glen Scrivener, some of them may even be true of me! But they are NOT describing me when they use those words. Any actual correspondence between their words about my father and my own situation would be utterly co-incidental. They do not know me at all.

The same is true of statements about "God". A non-Christian may have plenty to say about "God", yet however similar their descriptions may sound , they have no knowledge of the True God whatsoever.

Over the next few posts we'll look at four areas where people have attempted to by-pass revelation in Jesus and come up with a knowledge of God:-

  • Reason
  • Other religions
  • Biblical religion
  • Creation

Reason

Perhaps we can use reason and logic to build up for ourselves a true picture of God. Certainly we won't be able to get the whole picture - but basic truths about God as Creator, God as Intelligent, God as Powerful - surely these can be deduced without the need for revelation.

Descartes is a good example of someone who believed this. From the 'unshakeable' foundation of "I think therefore I am", Descartes set out to build a picture of reality. This picture was based not on external revelation - he doubted all external sensory experience - but trusted instead the powers of his own mind to bring him truth. He used an age-old philosophical argument for God's existence - the ontological argument - and came up with a definition of something he called "god". At heart, this "god" was a being of infinite perfections (whatever they are).

What do we make of all this? Is that the God we worship? Well Matthew 11 has made us pretty dubious about a wise and learned approach to God! Those famous verses from Proverbs 3 are an age-old warning:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding... Do not be wise in your own eyes. (Proverbs 3:5-7)

Combine this with three verses from Paul's epistles and we see that the human mind and its powers are not to be trusted:

Romans 8:7: the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.

2 Corinthians 4:4: The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Colossians 1:21: Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.

Our rebellion against God alienates us from God. This, we know. Yet Paul says, strikingly, that the focus of this rebellion is in our minds. Our minds are not dispassionate observers, collating data and building logical pictures from assured foundations. Our minds are weapons used against God. Reason will never come up with the truth about God, it will only yield idolatry. Descartes' so-called god is a philosophical idol constructed in opposition to the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In Colossians 2:8, Paul warns us very sternly about the dangers of philosophy:

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

All our thinking must be based on Christ - built from His sure foundation. The people who say they can get part of the way through reason are utterly wrong. You can't even get off the ground without the foundation of Christ. We never reason our way towards Jesus, we must start with Him.

As the 4th century theologian Athanasius said:

"The only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit, is the one in which He is the starting point."

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I've just realised I've never really posted on why my blog's called Christ the Truth.  That's a bit of an oversight.  So let me now begin a series on how Christ is the starting point for all true theology.  It's taken from this paper on my website.

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Christians believe in revelation.

We know God, not through our efforts and ingenuity, but by the gracious gift of His self-revelation. The question of how God reveals Himself will, therefore, affect every aspect of our theology. If we get this issue wrong - everything else will go awry.

With this in mind let's turn to Matthew 11:25-30 and hear Jesus set us straight on the fundamentals of revelation.

At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

From this, a number of things can be said:

Firstly, revelation is a fact. It is not a possibility. Revelation of the things of God has happened. We must not waste any time wondering about the "possibility of revelation". We know that the infinite can communicate with the finite precisely because it has happened!

How has it happened? Well at first glance we may get the impression that God's revelation is grudging, indistinct or enigmatic. Verse 26 says the Father takes pleasure in hiding the truth from the wise and learned. Verse 27 seems to present an impenetrable union between Father and Son. The Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father. The question is, how can we break into this intimate family secret? Is there a way into a knowledge of God?

Yes there is! The Son chooses to reveal the Father. In verse 27 we see the hiding place which the Father has chosen for all the things of God - all things are hidden in Jesus.

This must be a truth we live by as Christians. God the Father has chosen to mediate all His revelation through Jesus, God the Son. "No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him." To know God - we must come to Jesus. Jesus is the One to Whom the wise and learned refuse to come. Yet He is the One to whom all the little children can come in dependence and love. And when people come to Him to learn the truth - Jesus liberally reveals the very deepest things of God.

In verse 28, Jesus calls all people to come to Him, the great Revealer, and He presents this coming in terms of entering rest. The implication is clear - to come to true revelation is to come to true salvation. Both are offered freely in the Son.

Jesus makes the link between revelation and salvation even more explicitly in John 17:3. There He says: "This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Coming to know God through Jesus is salvation. Revelation and salvation go together.

The Bible gives us both sides of this truth again and again:

Fallen humanity does not know God

1 Samuel 3:7; Psalm 14; Matthew 7:24-27; 11:25-26; John 1:5; 1:18; 5:37-38; 7:28-29; 8:19; 14:17; 15:21; 17:25-26; Romans 1:18; 3:10-18; 8:7; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 2:11-14; 3:18, 19; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 4:17-19; Colossians 1:21; 2:6-8

To know God is to be saved by Him

Proverbs 1:7; Matthew 11:25-30; John 1:10-13, 18; 14:6-9; 17:3; Rom 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; Eph 4:17-21; 1 Tim 2:3-4

All that we know about God, we must learn from Jesus. Jesus is the point of contact between God and humanity. God can only be known in the place of His choosing. God chooses this place by committing all things into the hands of Jesus. We must come to Him or we remain without hope and without God in the world.

All Christian truth, all true statements about God, must be built upon, defined by and shaped after Jesus, the Word of the Father, for we have no other presentation of God.

The Apostles John and Paul agree:

John 1:18: No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made Him known.

Colossians 1:15: He [Christ] is the Image of the invisible God

Jesus is not an optional extra in our theology - He is the foundation. He is the pole star that guides all our theological enquiries. Anything we want to know about God the Father or indeed God the Trinity, we must arrive at by thinking through 'who is Jesus?' The Father has chosen Jesus as the point of contact between Himself and us, we must always go to Jesus.

This post begins a series on theological method.  The other posts are here...

How not to know God - reason

How not to know God - religion

How not to know God - creation

Christ the Truth

Don't believe me?  Check out this article which seeks to explain the fine-tuning of the observable universe.  (source: MetaCatholic).

Here's a representative quotation:

Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi­verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life...

It boils down to this:

“If there is only one universe,” [Physicist Bernard] Carr says, “you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”

So, we're told, it's a choice - either we posit some kind of god or we posit an unobserved and unobservable reality, a multiverse. 

To be honest I don't think that is the choice.  And I don't think the Christian position is to deduce from the data 'some kind of god.'  It's not as though we're the brave defenders of 'The Cosmic Finetuner'!  More on that in the next post.  But first let's have some fun thinking about the multiverse as a faith commitment

Because above all else, that's what the multiverse is.  It is not a conclusion suggested by the data.  It is a theory that comes to the rescue of a scientist determined not to accept the alternative.  Don't let any naturalistic scientist tell you they deal in the realm of objective fact while the Christian runs off to the realm of 'blind faith.'  Not only have scientists not observed direct evidence of the multiverse, there can be no direct observation of alternate universes - they lie beyond the reach of experimental science.  There's nothing more 'intellectually honest' about postulating a multiverse as opposed to faith in intelligent design.  That's the minimal point I'm making at the moment.  I don't actually think the real choice is between fine-tuning and multiple universes (more in the next post) but if the scientific establishment think that those are the options, then both positions should own up to being faith-based.

And that's ok.  True enquiry is necessarily faith seeking understanding.  This was Anselm's description of theology, but, as these considerations show, it holds also for science.  Everyone has beliefs about the nature of reality that shape how they enquire into that reality.  On top of this methodological issue, those beliefs further shape how the data is understood.  No-one simply deals with 'the facts'.  What we believe affects every level of our enquiry.  This is not a lamentable state of affairs, it's just the way things are.  And it means that all endeavours, science included, are believing endeavours.  This is inescapable.  (Go here for a post on the Large Hadron Collider as a prime example of faith seeking understanding).

All scientists are believers.

Next post we'll consider this supposed crossroads - either multiverse or Cosmic Fine-tuner.  We'll see that in spite of what the scientific community thinks (including the Intelligent Design proponents!) we do not follow their methods, forced to choose between absurdity and deism!  We tread a different path.  

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Meditating on Mark 4 has made me think about genuine Christian growth.  Gospel transformation is not like manufacture.  It's agriculture.  It's the word planted deep - fragile but potent, internal but outgoing, gradual but multiplying beyond all expectation.   

Anyway I wrote this kids song on the theme.  Fake Plastic Trees (Country Hoedown) (again, recorded on handheld voice recorder with Yamaha keyboard late at night trying to keep it down!  Anyway, you get the idea.) 

(The underlined word is the first beat of the bar):

Years ago my daddy said
"You my son was born and bred
To grow the greatest fruit seen in the state."
He left me seeds and plenty land
Fertiliser, by the bag
But that just takes too long, and I can't wait (no sir)

Well - a short cut must be found
I aint diggin' in the ground
Maybe fruit trees I can make
Don't really matter if they're fake

I'm stapling fruit upon the tree
Apple, mango and kiwi
Folks are laughing but I don't know why
I'm glueing grapes onto the vine
Nailing up a clementine
While people laugh and holler, point and sigh.

Well - my fruit trees look okay
If you're standing half a mile away
But - it makes it hard to chew
When your fruit is dipped in superglue

Once I thought to "grow" a plum
Stuck it on a pole with some chewing gum
My daddy saw me and he shook his head
"Son you've gone and lost your mind
You're an apple short of a crumble pie
Your tryin to create life from what is dead."

Well - he looked me in the eye
He said "Son, I'll give it one more try
Here's my best advice to you
This is what you need to do"

Fruit takes time, leave it on the vine
Plant it deep, it grows up high
The life within will sprout, you can be sure
The seed has power, let it flower
Through the sun and through the shower
What you sow you'll reap and so much more

Well my Pa is kinda wise
So I heeded his advice
I took my time and planted all his seed
Six months on it grew up slow
A hundred fold of what I sowed
More than all the fruit I'd ever need

Well - success I'd never had
When I listened to my dad
These the words that made a hit
Learn them well and don't forgit

Fruit takes time, leave it on the vine
Plant it deep, it grows up high
The life within will sprout, you can be sure
The seed has power, let it flower
Through the sun and through the shower
What you sow you'll reap and so much more

Well Jesus spoke about His word
It's like a seed and when it's heard
It goes down deep, get's planted in our heart
Later on it sprouts up new
In joy and peace and goodness too
So listen to His word to play your part

Fruit so tender and so choice
When you listen to His voice
Learn the lesson from the seed
These the words that you should heed:

Fruit takes time, stay in the Vine
Plant it deep, it grows up high
The Life within will sprout, you can be sure
The Word has power, let it flower
Through the sun and through the shower
What you sow you'll reap and so much more

Fruit takes time, stay in the Vine
Plant it deep, it grows up high
The Life within will sprout, you can be sure
The Word has power, let it flower
Through the sun and through the shower
What you sow you'll reap and so much more

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Do you believe these words from Jesus:

Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, welcome it, and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.  (Mark 4:20)

Christ's promise for Christian fruitfulness is out of this world.  3000%, 6000% or 10 000% is an incredible yield.

Do I dare believe in this kind of growth?  To put it another way, Will I hear and welcome this word?

We would believe Jesus if He said "five times what was sown!"  We marvel at 300% yield.  We settle for two-fold growth.  But Jesus promises something so supernaturally grand we must ask, If I believed Jesus' words about Jesus' words how would I treat Jesus' words? 

Well Mark 4:20 means I'd hear them and welcome them. 

Mark 4:10-12 means I'd hear them with Jesus at the centre - allowing them to draw me to Him.

Mark 4:15 means I'll hear them prayerfully, recognizing the spiritual battle undertaken every time they're heard.

Mark 4:16-17 means I'll cling to them when trouble comes - allowing the trouble to drive me deeper into Christ in His word.

and

Mark 4:18 means I'll be vigilant against wealth, worry and wanting as powers competing in my heart for attention.

But Jesus promises -- PROMISES -- that hearing and welcoming His word in this way will produce a transformation in our lives beyond belief.

How will the word produce transformation?  The way a seed produces growth.

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It will be:

Weak Looking but Powerful

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Internal but Outgoing

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Gradual but Multiplying

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First, Weak Looking but Powerful

Tim Keller tells the story of a man from the middle ages who was so terrified of meeting Jesus at the judgement that he commanded a giant marble slab to be put over his grave.  Apparently he did this so that, when everyone else was resurrected, he would stay down.  Well before the burial was complete and the slab was laid, an acorn fell into the grave. Over the years, a great tree grew, split the slab in two and moved it off the grave.

You might have thought, What chance does a little acorn have against a giant marble slab?  No contest, the acorn wins.  It looks so weak but it is more powerful than a team of horses.  Weak but powerful. 

Just like the Word.  You say a few words about Jesus, you speak truth into another person's life and it looks pathetic.  And yet eternities are changed and lives are transformed. 

Second, Internal but Outgoing

Last week a friend of mine told me of the worst pain he'd ever felt in his life.  In the midst of it the words came to him: "My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12:9)  It enabled him to handle that pain with an astonishing peace.  Where did that word come from?  It had been planted there.  And it grew up later with an amazing power to comfort.  The word goes in and it comes out organically.  

This is not the parable of the Brick Supplier who drops off masonry to four different builders.  That would be a story about externals and effort and easily measurable growth.  But no, the word goes in like a seed and later, organically, it comes out.

Third, Gradual but Muliplying

Think of this: within a single acorn lies all the genetic information required to produce not only an oak, but from that oak will come scores of new acorns.  And from them more trees with hundreds of acorns and so on.  Given enough time a single acorn could cover the whole earth in wood.

Luther knew this gradual but multiplying power.  When explaining how he opposed the whole Roman church he said this:

I simply taught, preached, and wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.

 That's the power of the word. 

So do we believe Jesus when He says, Thirty, Sixty, a Hundred-fold?

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This is from a sermon I preached on Mark 4:1-34:

Listen here

Read here

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These are a few scattered thoughts prompted by my recent mini-series on parables.

We all know Jesus' rebuke regarding Old Testament understanding - John 5:39ff.  Yet I'm sure a rebuke remains for our appreciation of the New:

You diligently study the New Testament thinking that now you're breathing the free air of apostolic Christianity and therefore, definitionally, have life.  But the point of these Scriptures (as with all Scripture) is witness to me.  Yet you neglect to come to Me for life.

New Testament does not mean 'gospel'.  It doesn't mean 'gospel' any more than Old Testament means 'gospel'.  Rather, both are witnesses to Christ. 

You see it's not the New Testament that fulfils the Old

 No.  Jesus fulfils the OT, not the NT.  There's a difference.  It's He that stands above both Scriptures.

 

There's nothing inherent in the Greek Scriptures that the Hebrew Scriptures lack.  The point of both - Christ Himself - stands ever above both Old and New Testament.  Life does not exist in the Old Testament.  But life does not exist in the New Testament either. 

This is one of the problems with the saying: 'The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed.'  It easily lends itself to the thought that the New Testament itself is the fulfilment of the Old.  But no, Christ is the fulfilment of the Old.  And He's the fulfilment of the New.  The Old is in need of fulfilment in Christ yes.  But so is the New.  To understand Old or New demands that we read them as witness to Jesus. 

We've been taught to pick a Christ-less Old Testament sermon from a mile off.  Yet we put up with Christ-less New Testament study much more readily.  How can that be unless we secretly believe life really does exist in the Scriptures - we just happen to prefer the Greek ones?

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In response to my Christ in the OT posts, Pete Myers posted this.  We then interacted here and here.

I then posted these ten propositions on Trinity, revelation and the Old Testament:

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1.  Revelation in Christ is revelation in the distinct Person of the Divine Mediator

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2. Our doctrine of God goes awry if we begin without a conscious acknowledgement of the triune interplay.  God’s attributes are a spin-off of the triune life, not the identical CV of each Person. 

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3. There is no such thing as pre-supposition-less exegesis. 

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4. The trinity is not a proposition to be revealed about the living God.  Trinity is not one more truth among other divine truths.  Trinity is who He is and the dynamic by which all revelation occurs.

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5. In its own context and on its own terms the OT must be understood as a dynamic multi-Personal revelation.  OT saints who failed to see this did not ‘partially understand’ the revelation - they misunderstood it.

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6. The Angel of the LORD is the pre-incarnate Christ.  His identity as God from God is as clear in the OT as His incarnate identity is in the New.

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7.  Psalm 45 is a good example of a Scripture that assumes a multi-Personal doctrine of God even in its own context.

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8. The administration of Gentile inclusion is not a ‘model’ of progressive revelation.  The administration of Gentile inclusion is the new thing.

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9.  Calvin and Owen believed in divine simplicity.  (I have serious reservations about the doctrine - see here But they managed to avoid the more dangerous aspects of it because they insisted upon Christ-mediated revelation. 

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10. The One is not more ultimate than the Three.  Neither is the immanent something different to what we see in the economic. 

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You may know that I (sporadically but vigourously!) bang the drum for Christ the eternal Mediator being the deliberately revealed, consciously known object of faith in the Old Testament.  Here are some posts on the issue.

Pete Myers read it and posted this.  And our further discussions are here and here.

By way of some kind of response, here are ten propositions that circle around some of the issues. (Fabricius eat your heart out). 

For those yawning right now, hold on for some grand hilarity next week - I'm on holidays and will post only frivolity.  For those fixing to flex their theological muscles, remember to play nice.

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1.  Revelation in Christ is revelation in the distinct Person of the Divine Mediator

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...continue reading "Trinity, revelation and OT – 1"

You may know that I (sporadically but vigourously!) bang the drum for Christ the eternal Mediator being the deliberately revealed, consciously known object of faith in the Old Testament.  Here are some posts on the issue.

Pete Myers read it and posted this.  And our further discussions are here and here.

By way of some kind of response, here are ten propositions that circle around some of the issues. (Fabricius eat your heart out). 

For those yawning right now, hold on for some grand hilarity next week - I'm on holidays and will post only frivolity.  For those fixing to flex their theological muscles, remember to play nice.

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2. Our doctrine of God goes awry if we begin without a conscious acknowledgement of the triune interplay.  God's attributes are a spin-off of the triune life, not the identical CV of each Person. 

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...continue reading "Trinity, revelation and OT – 2"

You may know that I (sporadically but vigourously!) bang the drum for Christ the eternal Mediator being the deliberately revealed, consciously known object of faith in the Old Testament.  Here are some posts on the issue.

Pete Myers read it and posted this.  And our further discussions are here and here.

By way of some kind of response, here are ten propositions that circle around some of the issues. (Fabricius eat your heart out). 

For those yawning right now, hold on for some grand hilarity next week - I'm on holidays and will post only frivolity.  For those fixing to flex their theological muscles, remember to play nice.

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3. There is no such thing as pre-supposition-less exegesis. 

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...continue reading "Trinity, revelation and OT – 3"

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