Ephesians 1:4: How Calvinistic Exegesis is Logically Impossible

By Johnny Sakr

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June 17, 2017

In another article found on FreeThinkingMinistries.com, Tim Stratton has argued why “Calvinism is Impossible.” By “impossible” Stratton means logically impossible when held alongside other essential Christian doctrines. I would like to continue in that line of thought and examine a common Calvinistic proof text. Consider Ephesians 1:4 (KJV):

According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love

It has been stressed by Calvinists that Ephesians 1:4 demonstrates that God either:

(1) Appointed the eternal destiny of some to salvation by grace, while leaving the remainder to receive eternal damnation for all their sins, even their original sin. (Election/Predestination)[1]

As per R. C. Sproul:

What predestination means, in its most elementary form, is that our final destination, heaven or hell, is decided by God . . . He chose some individuals to be saved unto everlasting blessedness in heaven and others He chose to pass over, to allow them to follow the consequences of their sins into eternal torment in hell[2]

or, (2) God chooses some people for damnation and others for salvation (Double Predestination)[3]

Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 AD) states:

These we call…the two cities, or two communities of men, of which the one is predestined to reign eternally with God, and the other [predestined] to suffer eternal punishment with the devil[4]

When the intelligent creation, both angelic and human, sinned, doing not His will but their own, He used the very will of the creature which was working in opposition to the Creator’s will as an instrument for carrying out His will, the supremely Good thus turning to good account even what is evil, to the condemnation of those whom in His justice He has predestined to punishment, and to the salvation of those whom in His mercy He has predestined to grace.[5]

Commenting on Ephesians 1:4, John Calvin states:

According as he hath chosen us. The foundation and first cause, both of our calling and of all the benefits which we receive from God, is here declared to be his eternal election. If the reason is asked, why God has called us to enjoy the gospel, why he daily bestows upon us so many blessings, why he opens to us the gate of heaven, — the answer will be constantly found in this principle, that he hath chosen us before the foundation of the world … [6]

[Note: Calvin’s misquotation of Ephesians 1:4 by disregarding the phrase ‘in Him Christ’, which is crucial to understanding this verse; is of no surprise. In fact, Calvin makes this mistake numerous times.] [7]

Many Calvinists to whom I have spoken to may read the phrase “in Him” however, they in fact understand this passage as Calvin has demonstrated that is, “God has chosen us before the foundation of the world” as opposed to what the text actually says, “God has chosen us [in Him] before the foundation of the world”.]

Whether the election in view is individual or corporate is beside the point of this article, but rather – both theological perspectives agree that God’s election is based upon His love. As per Calvinist Steven J. Cole, “…His choosing us stems from His special love for His elect”.[8]

God’s motivation for election is demonstrated in the final two words of Ephesians 1:4 – ἐν ἀγάπῃ [in love].

With this in mind, I have constructed the following argument:

The Argument

(1) Since God is “Love [P]” (1 John 4:8); Holy [1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Peter 1:16] and Just [Isaiah 30:18; Job 34:12; Deuteronomy 32:4] God cannot [~ P] {‘substances/entities/agents that are logically possible for God to P’} [S] [This is logically impossible]

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*Definition of Love by Dr Jerry Walls

If God truly loves all persons, then he does all he can properly do to secure their true flourishing.[9] The true flourishing of all persons is only secured in a right relationship with God, in which their nature as free beings is respected and they freely accept his love and are saved.[10]

[Note: Even if one was to assert that love does not necessitate freedom {contra-causal freedom}; at the very least – true flourishing necessitates an eternal relationship with God.]
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(2) If Calvinism is true, God chose some ‘individuals (X)’ [within a soteriological context] before the foundation of the world

(3) As per Calvinism, God chose X based upon P [Ephesians 1:4 – ‘ἐν ἀγάπῃ’] because X was Elect

(4) If God chose [some] X based upon P He therefore did not choose [~ some] X because He did [~ P] (Thus, passing over them or choosing them for damnation)

(5) Since God cannot [~ P] [S] and X is S; He therefore must choose [all] X (that is, X is logically possible to P thus God must P [all] X as per His Nature [1 John 4:8]).

(6) If God chooses all of X then Universalism is true

(7) Thus, if Calvinistic exegesis of Ephesians 1:4 is true [re: That God chooses individuals based upon His love for them; to be saved before the foundation of the world] then Universalism is true

(8) Since God cannot choose [some] X (as this entails God did not choose X because He did ~ P X) then the Calvinistic understanding of Ephesians 1:4 is false.

(9) Since God cannot [~ P] [S] and God must [~ P] to not choose X for the Calvinistic understanding of Ephesians 1:4 to be true; it is logically impossible for God to choose [some] X before the foundation of the world thus rendering the Calvinistic understanding of Ephesians 1:4 false.

Elaboration:

(1) Since God is Love (1 John 4:8); Holy [1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Peter 1:16] and Just [Isaiah 30:18; Job 34:12; Deuteronomy 32:4] God cannot “not love” any {‘substances/entities/agents (X) that are logically possible for God to Love”. Why?

For if it is logically possible for God to Love X, He must Love X for if God does not love X He would be performing an action than is contradictory to His Nature (since God is Love (1 John 4:8). God cannot act in opposition to His nature, this is logically impossible.

(2) If Calvinism is true, God chose some individuals (the elect) to be saved before the foundation of the world

(3) According to Calvinism, God chose the Elect because He Loved them (or had a special love for them) as per [Ephesians 1:4 – ‘ἐν ἀγάπῃ’]. God loved them because they were His Elect.

(4) If God chose some individuals based upon His Love for them in order that they are saved, then He therefore did not choose the remaining (non-Elect) because He did not love them. Thus, passing over them or choosing them to be damned.

(5) Since God cannot “not Love” ‘substances/entities/agents’ that are logically possible to be the object of His Love. God therefore, must choose all individuals for salvation since all individuals are logically possible of being the object of God’s love.

(6) If God chooses all (each and every) individuals for salvation then this entails Universalism.

(7) Thus, if Calvinistic exegesis of Ephesians 1:4 is true [re: That God chooses individuals based upon His love for them; to be saved before the foundation of the world] then Universalism is true

(8) Since God cannot choose only [some] Individuals for salvation [because this would mean that God did not choose the other individuals since He did not Love them]; then the Calvinistic understanding of Ephesians 1:4 is false.

(9) Since God cannot “not Love” ‘substances/entities/agents’ that are logically possible to be the object of His Love and Individuals are logically possible to love therefore, God must love each and every individual.

It follows that the Calvinistic understanding of Ephesians 1:4 cannot be true because this would entail that God must “not Love” some individuals in order that they are not selected for salvation. Therefore, they are either left for their damnation or chosen to be damned.

Since God is Love (1 John 4:8), God cannot “not love” individuals since this is a logical possible fete and performing actions that are contrary to God nature is impossible. God’s justice is also impeded upon as God would choose to “not love” individuals merely upon His discriminative choice and thus, by not loving them either actively or passively damns them for eternally. God justice is distorted.

It is logically impossible for God to choose [some] individuals individuals to be saved solely based upon His Love for them. For God must love all individuals thus if God does choose individual for salvation before the foundation of the world, then Universalism logical entails. However, Calvinism ensues that God selects those to whom He loves thereby rendering His lack of love for the rest, since this is logically impossible it thus, renders the Calvinistic understanding of Ephesians 1:4 false.

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Potential Rebuttal: God’s Salvific Love is Selective

One may argue that it is not that God “does not love” those to whom He either (a) chooses to pass over the non-Elect or (b) chooses the non-Elect damnation; but rather – God loves discriminately since He is Sovereign.

There are two views in this matter. Firstly, God loves everyone:

“We agree that God loves everyone and desires to save everyone, but we differ as to why only some are ultimately saved.”[11]

Or secondly, as Arthur W. Pink has written in contention to the notion that God loves everyone:[12]

When we say that God is sovereign in the exercise of His love, we mean that He loves whom he chooses. God does not love everybody

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NOTE: Not one time in The Institutes does Calvin ever quote “God is love” (1 John 4:8)[13]
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The issue with the first view [that God loves everyone] is also echoed by Dr Jerry Walls. Dr Wall’s examination of the Calvinist position that holds that God loves everyone has the consequence of Universalism. That is, if God determined the eternal state of everyone to whom He loved; God ought to determine everyone to be saved in order to manifest ‘true’ love.

Dr Jerry Walls writes:

1. God truly loves all persons.
2. Truly to love someone is to desire their well being and to promote their flourishing as much as you can.
3. The well being and true flourishing of all persons is to be found in a right relationship with God, a saving relationship in which we love and obey him.
4. God could determine all persons freely to accept a right relationship with himself and be saved.
5. Therefore, all will be saved.[14]

Dr Walls gives a great defense of this argument in his work, Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever be a Compatibilist.[15]

The issue with contention that God can choose to whom He has salvific love is that it then redefines love to be simply meaningless. That is, can one really say God loves someone despite willingly not choosing them to be saved? This argument is evident in premises (2) – (3) of Dr Walls’ argument [above].

So whilst Calvinist may affirm that God does love everyone, they seek to smuggle in an account of love that is profoundly at odds with the conviction that God desires the true flourishing of all persons that is, God is able to love someone and yet not desire to have an eternal relationship with Him.[16]

For the author [of John], God as light and God as love become the theological grounds for ethics for the Christian community; the two are deeply connected. Walking in the light for the Christian requires not only living a life that is truthful and pure but also to love one’s brother or sister, seeking the good and best for the other. The reasoning for why believers are to do this is found in God’s demonstration of love toward us by sending his own Son who died for the sins of the world. Further, failure to love is a failure to be in the light of God himself. The logic for the writer of 1 John [referring to 1 John 4:8] is twofold. On the one hand, God cannot do other than what His nature allows, yet, on the other, God does not require of us, with respect to moral goodness and love, what is not true of himself. God’s moral goodness (light) grounds God’s love and God’s love requires that one love one’s brothers and sisters, seeking out their best; failure to love means that one is not walking in the light

Moreover, to love is to seek what is best for the other, as is exemplified in the heart of the interpenetrating relationship of the divine Trinity. Thus in his aseity and sovereignty, while not depending on or needing anything for his own existence or being—-a belief we might derive from the cosmological argument—-God, nevertheless, out of love, seeks out the best for his creatures. What is best for God’s human creatures is for them to be in union (fellowship) with their creator and with other humans, living a pure and sinless life, while loving God and others. Grace motivated by perfect love does not fail to be grace—-amazing grace.[17]

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Other issues arise if in fact God can “choose” to “love salvificly” certain individuals.

(1) Human beings are capable of demonstrating greater love than God.

I don’t believe there would be a person on the face of the earth that would not choose their child to be saved. Even, in some cases – a parent would rather spend eternity in Hell in order to seek eternal salvation for their child. Paul the Apostle exhibits this characteristic as per Romans 9:1-3 (KJV):

1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,
2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

If God by definition is a “maximally great being”. That is, [a] being than which it is not possible that there be a greater'[18] and human beings are able to demonstrate love that is greater than God’s demonstration, then God is not a “maximally great being”.

Therefore, the conundrum is self evident.
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Limited Atonement: The Fatal Flaw

John 15:13 (ESV)

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Romans 5:8 (ESV)

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for [on behalf of][19] us.

(1) The Greatest demonstration of love is where one lays down his life for his friends [John 15:13]
(2) Person A lays down his life for Person B
(3) Person B is non-Elect
(4) If Limited Atonement is true; then Christ did not died for [Romans 5:8] Person B
(5) However, Person A laid down their life for Person B
(6) If John 15:13 is true and Person A laid down his life for Person B and Christ did not then Person A demonstrated greater love than Christ
(7) Christ is God [John 1:1; John 20:28; Romans 9:5; Phil.2:5-7; John 8:56; John 10:30; 1 Cor. 8:6; Colossians 1:13-16]
(8) Therefore, Person A demonstrated greater love than God.

God demonstrated His love for us by sending down His only Begotten Son as per John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

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(2) God is Hypocritical

God gives an imperative to believers to which He Himself does not abide by.

God commands believers to “love your enemies”[20] and yet, not only does God not truly love His enemies; He does not truly love those who have yet to be His enemy. Remember, according to Calvinism, God does not predestine individuals based upon foreseen faith (or actions) but rather, the intimate relationship He has with them.[21]

God also demands us to demonstrate the perfect love the Father exhibits. Matthew 5:48:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

This passage is not an imperative for believers to be ‘perfect’ in the manner of sinless perfection.[22] But rather, the Father’s characteristic of universal benevolence.[23]

Could one really declare that God demonstrates perfect love when He either (a) chooses to pass over the non-Elect or (b) chooses the non-Elect damnation?

One may argue that this implies that an Omnibenevolent God cannot send someone to Hell however; the reason why an Omnibenevolent God can do so is because He too must be Just. His love does not outweigh his Justice, they are in perfect harmony.

As for the Calvinistic claim, God does not exhibit Omnibenevolence at its “greatest” since it is prejudicially given on the part of God. Baring in mind those who are not salvificly loved by God is not based upon what they will do but rather, His sovereign choice.

(3) God is a Respecter of Persons

The Bible states in Romans 2:11:

For there is no respect of persons with God

The word ‘no’ in the Greek is οὐ and Adverb indicating ‘not’.

The phrase, ‘respect of persons’ – προσωπολημψία; in the Greek carries the meaning of favouritism or partiality.[24]

Thus, God does not exhibit favouritism or partiality.

However, if God does choose individuals to be saved before the foundation of the world based upon His salvific love for them; He does exhibit favouritism. Although Romans 2 is a declaration of Gods judgement on sin, the theme applies to His favouritism on the Elect. God’s justice is still taken into consideration when identifying those to whom God loved salvifically. The non-elect will be judged for their sin [which is only just – if God does not determine their sinful actions]. However, they too will be judged for rejecting the only means of salvation and acquittal of condemnation and that is to believe on Jesus Christ to whom the Father has sent. As per Mark 16:16:

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:36:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

Romans 8:1

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

1 John 5:12:

He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

John 8:24

I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.

These scriptures declare that if one rejects Christ, they too reject all means of judicial pardon.

However, by God either passing over the non-elect or choosing them for damnation; there is no possibility for them to receive Christ (John 1:9-12). Therefore, God has determined the non-elect to reject Christ. If God determines the non-elect to reject Christ and, on the basis of His love for the elect, has determined them [the elect] to irresistibly receive Christ. God has therefore demonstrated favoritism for the elect as opposed to the non-elect. Thereby, contradicting Romans 2:11.


Notes

I would like to give a big thank you to Ricardo Martinez and Shannon Eugene Byrd for providing me with feedback on my initial draft in order that I may finely tweak it. Your help was much appreciated!

*Consider Ephesians 1:4-5 through a middle knowledge lens (click here).

[1] Jill Oliphant, ‎Matthew Taylor and ‎Jon Mayled, OCR Philosophy of Religion for AS and A2 (Routledge, 2015) 268. See also; Frank A. James, Peter Martyr Vermigli and Predestination: The Augustinian Inheritance of an Italian Reformer (Clarendon Press, 1998) 74 and Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine (Christian Liberty Press, 2007) 33.

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer: “If God from all eternity purposed to save one portion of the human race and not another, the purpose of the cross would be to redeem these chosen ones to himself. We can know whether we belong to that number.”

[Erwin W. Lutzer, The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians (Kregel Publications, 1998) 187.]

Calvinist, James White, writes: “In the final analysis, I have peace with God because God in eternity past chose this undeserving sinner and placed His grace and love upon me. There can be no other consistent, biblical, and God-glorifying answer. This is sovereign freedom, divine grace, and it leads inexorably to the truth of unconditional election.

[Dave Hunt and ‎James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Crown Publishing Group, 2009) 95]

Calvinist, William MacDonald; comments: “The apostle was assured that these saints had been chosen by God before the foundation of the world. But how did he know? Did he have some supernatural insight? No, he knew they were among the elect by the way they had received the gospel.”

[William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989) 2024]

Calvinist, Ron Rhodes, writes: “Election is a sovereign act in which God chooses certain individuals to salvation before the foundation of the world.”

[Ron Rhodes, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses: Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages (Harvest House Publishers, 2008) 269

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul Jr., writes: “Calvinists, for good or for bad, have a reputation for being smart. We are the ones ever so adept at crossing our theological ‘t’s,’ and dotting our soteriological ‘i’s.’”

[James White and R.C. Sproul Jr, The Potter’s Freedom (Calvary Press, 2000) 14.

[2] R. C. Sproul, Chosen By God (Tyndale House Publisher Inc., 2011) 22. See also; Jan Rohls, Theologie reformierter Bekenntnisschriften (Westminster John Knox, 1987) 152 – 153.

[3] Matthew Levering, Predestination: Biblical and Theological Paths (Oxford University Press, 2011) 102.

[4] Augustine, “City of God” in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers ed. Philip Schaff (Eerdmans, 1997) vol. 2, Book 15, Ch. 1, 284.

[5] Augustine, “Enchiridion” in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers ed. Philip Schaff (Eerdmans, 1997) vol. 3, Ch. 100, 269.

[6] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (T. Clark, 1841) 178.

[7] This omission is evident in numerous commentaries. Please see:

Jean Calvin, ‎William B. Johnston and ‎David Wishart Torrance, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second epistles of St. Peter (Oliver and Boyd, 1963) 364; John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke (Eerdmans, 1980) vol 3 270 and John Calvin,Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (James Clarke & Co., 1982) 134.

[8] Steven J. Cole, Lesson 3: He Chose Us (Ephesians 1:4) <https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-3-he-chose-us-ephesians-14>. Other Calvinists who agree are as follows:

James White: Dave Hunt and ‎James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Crown Publishing Group, 2009) 95.

Brian Schwertley: Brian Schwertley, An Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism – Part II:  Unconditional Election <https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/schwerley_election.html>.

[9] The “properly” qualification is needed in case one faced a situation where one could promote the flourishing of a person P only by harming person Q, or diminishing her flourishing, or by losing some other good of equal or greater value. In that case, one might love P but not promote her flourishing as much as one could. While this sort of limitation might hold for those with limited means or creativity, I doubt that it applies to God, at least in the long run.

[10] Dr Jerry Walls, ‘Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist’ (2011) 13(1) Philosophia Christi 95.

[11] Scroggins, “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension.” <http://www.centerviewbaptistchurch.com/what-we-believe/calvinism-and-non-calvinism>.

[12] A.W.Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Gideon House Books, 2016) 17.

[13] Dr Jerry Walls, Does God Love Everyone?: The Heart of What’s Wrong with Calvinism (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016) 5.

[14] Dr Jerry Walls, Evangel University Guest Lecture Series: Dr. Jerry Walls – What’s Wrong With Calvinism (2013)  <http://www.evangel.edu/videos/jerry-walls-whats-wrong-with-calvinism/>.

[15] Dr Jerry Walls, ‘Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist’ (2011) 13(1) Philosophia Christi 75 – 104.

[16] Dr Jerry Walls, ‘Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist’ (2011) 13(1) Philosophia Christi 98.

[17] David Baggett and Ronnie Campbell, ‘Omnibenevolence, Moral Apologetics, and Doubly Ramified Natural Theology ‘ (2013) 15(2) Philosophia Christi 351.

[18] Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (Oxford University Press, 1978) 209.

[19] The English word for here is the Greek word ὑπὲρ – which is a preposition meaning ‘in behalf of’. That is, Christ died in[on] our behalf.              

[20] Matthew 5:44

[21] John Hendryx, Does God Elect Persons Based on Their Foreseen Faith?<https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/foreseenfaith.html>. See also; Duane Edward Spencer, TULIP: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture (Baker Books, 2nd ed., 2002) 11 – 12 and Darryl L. Barksdale, Does the Bible Teach Predestination?: An Exegetical Debate – Predestination vs. Foreordination in the Pre-Existence [Dr. James White vs Darryl Barksdale] <http://vintage.aomin.org/JWDB2.html#6>.

[22] R. T. Kendall, The Sermon on the Mount (Chosen Books, 2011) Matthew 5:48. See also; Ron Rhodes,Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses: Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages (Harvest House Publishers, 2008) 131; Richard H. Allen, At the Cross (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) vol 2 150 and Gordon J. Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1992) 502.

[23] David L. Turner, ‎Darrell L. Bock and ‎Philip W. Comfort, Matthew – Mark (Tyndale House, 2015) Matthew 5:48. See also; John Stott, A Deeper Look at the Sermon on the Mount: Living Out the Way of Jesus (InterVarsity Press, 2013) 96; John Lawson, Introduction to Christian Doctrine(Zondervan, 1999) 232 and Donald Senior, The Gospel of Matthew: Interpreting Biblical Texts Series (Abingdon Press, 2011) 106.

[24] Strong’s Concordance, 4382. prosópolémpsia <http://biblehub.com/greek/4382.htm>. See also; Christopher L. Flanders, About Face: Rethinking Face for 21st Century Mission (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011) 269; Paul Foster, Colossians BNTC (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) 394; Ingeborg Mongstad-Kvammen, Toward a Postcolonial Reading of the Epistle of James: James 2:1-13 in its Roman Imperial Context (BRILL, 2013) 111 and Richard N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2016) 259.

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By Johnny Sakr