Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

QUESTION:  Is the Bible any more accurate than other religious texts?

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Though I’ve done some research on Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I have a basic understanding of other religions, I wouldn’t want to disrespect the people of these faiths by portraying their beliefs in shallow ways with my limited knowledge.  Since I’m constantly reading attacks on Christianity by people with strong opinions but poor understanding of my faith, I wouldn’t want to do the same.

That being said, let me point out some things I’ve found to be unique about Christianity and the New Testament (NT).  I’m not going to comment specifically about other faiths or their scriptures, but encourage you to research these things and compare and contrast them to other religions.  (Also, since I wrote on the reliability of the transmission of the NT record elsewhere, I won’t go into that again here, but click here to read it).

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1. Style

Many other religions’ scriptures are simply sayings or teachings said or written by their founder, but the NT is unique in that it’s made up of histories and letters.  The letters in the NT are written primarily to young churches to address certain issues or questions about their faith.  Of course, within these letters we’re given Christian theology and application, but it wasn’t the case that the writers of the letters, the apostles of Jesus, sat down and said, “OK, I think I’ll write some religious doctrine today.”

These men were chosen by Jesus to be his apostles and inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Word of God.  Though they were certainly aware of the authority given to them by God and their writings were recognized by the first Christians as divinely inspired, these letters have a much different feel than if someone decided to sit down and simply draw up a religion’s manifesto.

The first Christians had experienced something incredible and were trying to live according to what they experienced, and just like Christians today, sometimes more mature Christians need to give guidance and advice to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Furthermore, the narrative histories contain the words of Jesus, but they’re also deeply concerned with reporting not just what he said but what he did.  Jesus’ miracles – called “signs” in John’s Gospel and elsewhere in the Bible – are important because they confirm he’s of God.  Anyone can claim to be from God, but true miracles explicitly prove this.  Frankly, Jesus’ execution and resurrection were more important than anything he said.  Likewise, the book of Acts reports the apostles, empowered by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, also performed miracles to confirm the truth of their message.  As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

2. History

Moreover, the historical narratives of Jesus’ life and the apostles — the Gospels and Acts — are rooted in history.  The NT doesn’t have the “other-worldliness” of mythology.

C.S. Lewis, Oxford professor, expert of ancient mythology, and former atheist, wrote, “As a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are, they are not legends.  I have read a great deal of legend, and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing.”

Ancient historians Josephus (a non-Christian Jew, writing about 90-95 AD), Pliny (a Roman senator, writing about 111 AD), and Cornelius Tacitus (a Roman proconsul, writing in 115 AD) all confirm the existence of Jesus, his crucifixion, and the belief of his followers that Jesus had resurrected from the dead, and about 7 other ancient non-Christian sources confirm information about Jesus and early Christians.

Furthermore, 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts alone have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research, and in the Gospel of Luke, 11 historically proven leaders appear in the first 3 chapters alone, according to the authors of the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.  New archeological discoveries have continually supported the reliability of the biblical record, including the discovery of Jacob’s Well,  a building inscription of the name Pontius Pilate, and an ossuary containing the bones of Caiaphas, the high priest who helped orchestrate the crucifixion of Jesus.

Throughout the Gospels and Acts, supernatural events, such as miracles, are recorded in the same plain, unembellished language as the parts that record everyday details — the same straightforward language other ancient histories use.  According to the authors of the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 35 miracles appear side-by-side 84 proven facts in the book of Acts.

This lack of embellishment is not seen in later false “gospels,” written in the 2nd Century after the New Testament, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary.  The introduction of mythological elements is clearly seen in these later false, mostly gnostic, gospels.  For example, the Gospel of Peter reports the following about Jesus’ resurrection:

“…again they saw three men come forth from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them. And the heads of the two reached to heaven, but the head of him who was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, ‘You have preached to them that sleep.’ And a response was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’” [emphasis mine]

Yes, you read that right: a walking, talking cross.  Not to mention 3 guys with really big heads.

Moreover, all 4 Gospels and Acts show a firsthand understanding of 1st-Century Jewish culture, 1st-Century Judean events, and Judean geography, which are not found in later false gospels.

IDHEFTBAA_Book

Good introduction to Christian apologetics, including philosophical, historical, & scientific arguments.

3. Eyewitnesses

The Gospels, the histories of Jesus’ ministry, and Acts, the history of the apostles and the early church, mention the names of specific people, rulers, and places.  Not only were many of the writers of the NT eyewitnesses, but they constantly point the reader to other eyewitnesses to confirm what they are writing.  All of the NT was written within the lifetime of those who lived during the events reported.  The NT wasn’t written generations after the events when no one was around to refute any inaccuracies, legend, or mythology added into them.  The writers of the NT are essentially telling their readers, “Here are the facts – the people, the places.  Go look into it yourself.”

For example…

 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.   After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1Cor. 15:3-8)

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)

“King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus…  While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind!  Your great learning is driving you mad.’  But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.  For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.'” (Acts Ch.25-26)

Moreover, read Luke 3:1-3:

“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.  And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…”

Can you imagine how easily someone could refute the gospel of Luke at the time it was written if it weren’t accurate?

Christianity began in Jerusalem, as any historian will tell you.  If the first Christians invented stories about Jesus in the exact location and exact time period of the events recorded in the NT, what would skeptics do?  They would say, “Where are your witnesses?” and “I was here and didn’t see any of that happen!”  And, even more likely, they would’ve gotten Jesus’ dead body out of the tomb and dragged it into the street to prove he hadn’t been raised.

In 1993, the FBI killed David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians cult.  If the cult members claimed Koresh had risen from the dead three days later, the FBI would’ve produced the body for all to see.  On the other hand, if Koresh did, in fact, rise from the dead, I’m sure we’d be living next door to some Branch Davidians today.  Modern cults grow by isolating their members.  Yet, the Christian church grew shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion in Jerusalem, the exact location where the events occurred — and even within a hostile environment, where their beliefs were seen as blasphemy and even treason by the Romans and their fellow Jews.

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4. “Public-ness”

It’s important to understand that Christianity is a “very public” religion.  What I mean by this is that Jesus preached in public for all to hear, and his miracles were performed in public for all to see.  If God were to reveal his Word to the world, would he do so in secret?  If God were going to break into the world with a new revelation, would he only perform a miracle for one person to witness?  This “public-ness” is not the case with other religions.  With many, the founder of the religion was the only one to experience any encounter with God or witness any miracle from God.

Before we move on to the final unique feature of Christianity and the New Testament, I want to encourage you again to look into all that I’m writing here and then do the same for other faiths.

5. Salvation is Not Earned

Lastly, Christianity is the only faith that teaches that salvation is through God’s mercy alone.  In all other religions salvation must be earned.  Christianity is not a faith where favor with God is earned through “works.”  We all have sin, and sin separates us eternally from a perfectly good, holy God.  God became a man called Jesus of Nazareth, lived the perfect life that we cannot, and willingly died, taking the punishment we deserve, so we can benefit through a repaired relationship with him.  We can’t earn this; it’s a free gift from God that we can only accept.  Once we understand this gift and accept it, yes, it changes us, and we do “works.”  But the works are the result of salvation, not the means of salvation.  We love others out of obedience and love for the God who loved us first.  No other religion that I have come across teaches this.

***One of the reasons I started this blog is to address the questions of my friends, whether they be atheists, agnostics, Christians, or of other faiths.  I don’t propose to have all the answers, but by addressing these questions I hope it will benefit everyone involved, including myself and those who take the time to read this blog.***

  • This question was asked by my friend Ian J. Keeney, a former Satanist/atheist, and director of the documentary The Meaning.
  • Read my response to: Did God Make the Entire Universe for Humans?  here.
  • Read my interview with Ian & learn more about The Meaning: Part 1 & Part 2*

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Did God Make the Entire Universe for Humans?

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QUESTION:  The universe is unimaginably huge.  Do you think the whole thing was created for humans, even the part of the universe that is 13 billion light years away from Earth?  Why would God create all of that if humans on Earth were his main concern?

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Interesting question.  This is my quick answer:

Psalm 19:1 says,

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”

And here’s my longer answer:

God reveals himself through two means: natural revelation and special revelation Natural revelation is how we learn about God through the natural world.  This would include observing beauty and order in nature and through our innate sense of morals and worth.

Special revelation is God’s unique interventions in the world outside his normal providential care, which includes all the miraculous events recorded in the Bible as well as the Bible itself as God’s inspired scripture.  Someone who has never read the Bible can know there is a God and draw certain conclusions about God from natural revelation, but special revelation is needed to understand God more completely and for salvation.

Paul writes about natural revelation in his letter to the Romans:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (1:18-20)

 and

“For all who have sinned without the Law [of God] will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.  For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them…” (2:12-15)

If we look at the creation story recorded in Genesis (by special revelation), God creates the universe, and humans are the end product – the climax of God’s good creation.  If we look at the universe without the aid of scripture (through natural revelation) from the Big Bang until now, I’d argue that because of the fine-tuning of the universe for life to exist and the sheer improbably of human existence that we are not the product of random chance.

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In fact, the Big Bang itself points to God.  All energy, space, matter, and time came into existence from nothingness at that moment; atheist scientists attest to this.  As we know from every observation of the natural world, the thing that creates always transcends the thing that is created.  Thus, whatever created the Big Bang is matterless, spaceless, timeless, and self-sufficiently more powerful than all energy that has ever existed.  Interestingly, this exactly describes the God of the Bible – immaterial, eternal, and self-existing.  If creation is random, what are the chances that the Big Bang would led to us, humankind: a unique creation that can observe, study, appreciate, and contemplate the universe around us?

But it doesn’t end with us.  God’s creation then points us back to him.

Again, Psalm 19:1 says,

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”

Isaiah 40:25-26 says,

“’To whom then will you liken Me

That I would be his equal,’ says the Holy One.

 Lift up your eyes on high

And see who has created these stars,

The One who leads forth their host by number,

He calls them all by name;

Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,

Not one of them is missing.”

CaseforCreator

Good introduction to the idea that science points towards a Creator

In Lee Strobel’s book The Case for a Creator, he interviews scientists who see evidence for God in nature.  He interviews Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer, along with philosopher Dr. Jay Wesley Richards, who co-wrote a book with Dr. Gonzalez, The Privileged Planet.  In the interview, Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Richards speak of this idea that not only is life on Earth fine-tuned for life, but that the conditions on earth and the placement of Earth in the solar system give us on Earth a unique ability to observe the surrounding universe.  (I have heard this idea other places, but have yet to have time to read more about it.)

Here is some of what Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez and Dr. Jay Wesley Richards had to say:

“There’s a striking convergence of rare properties that allow people on Earth to witness perfect solar eclipses… There’s no law of physics that would necessitate this.  In fact, of the nine planets with their more than sixty-three moons in our solar system, the Earth’s surface is the best place where observers can witness a total solar eclipse…

“What’s really amazing is that total eclipses are possible because the sun is four hundred times larger than the moon, but it’s also four hundred times further away.  It’s that incredible coincidence that creates a perfect match.  Because of this configuration, and because the Earth is the innermost planet with a moon, observers on Earth can discern finer details in the sun’s chromosphere and corona than from any other planet, which makes these eclipses scientifically rich.

“What intrigued me was that the very time and place where perfect solar eclipses appear in our universe also corresponds to the one time and place where there are observers to see them… What’s more, perfect solar eclipses have resulted in important scientific discoveries that would have been difficult if not impossible elsewhere, where eclipses don’t happen.”

Later, Strobel summarizes by writing, “the extraordinary conditions that create a hospitable environment on Earth also happen to make our planet strangely well-suited for viewing, analyzing, and understanding the universe.”

In the middle ages, some in the church decided that humans were so important that the Earth was the center of the universe.  Scientists has proven that theory wrong.  Moreover, the Bible doesn’t support that theory either.  The verses they used to support their error say nothing about the location of the Earth in the universe and are mostly from the book of Psalms, a poetic book of the Bible that uses much figurative language.  Despite this, both natural revelation and special revelation tell us humankind is a special creation, and like all created things, both humankind and the universe reflect their Creator.

I, for one, cannot look at the enormity of the universe and not be in awe of the God who created it.

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*Side note: Since this question inevitably comes up:  I don’t think the discovery of life (intelligent or otherwise) elsewhere in the universe would change what I wrote above.  The Bible is about God’s relationship with humans and our redemption from sin.  The Bible writers didn’t write about dinosaurs, pyramids, or platypuses (or aliens) because even if they knew about them (through God’s special revelation or otherwise), they don’t fit into the scope of the biblical record.  Currently, there’s no evidence for life off our planet, so I’ll save any further thoughts on the subject for when and if they do.*

***One of the reasons I started this blog is to address the questions of my friends, whether they be atheists, agnostics, Christians, or of other faiths.  I don’t propose to have all the answers, but by addressing these questions I hope it will benefit everyone involved, including myself and those who take the time to read this blog.***

*This question was asked by my friend Ian J. Keeney, a former Satanist/atheist, and director of the documentary The Meaning.  Read my interview with Ian & learn more about The Meaning: Part 1 & Part 2*

*Read more about science and God here.*

Christianity + Science = Best Friends Forever

Considering the immense interest surrounding the Creation/Evolution debate between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Ken Ham (a Young Earth guy), I figured this would be a good time to publish something I wrote about science and Christianity…

**Is there harmony between Christianity & science?**

(Read the “Prequel” to Christianity + Science = BFF  here.)

(If this your first time on this blog, please read about the purpose of this blog.)

(For a video of the Nye/Ham debate click here.)

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Here are some misconceptions people mistakenly believe:

Science and religion can’t coexist.

If someone embraces science they can’t also embrace God.

If someone is Christian, they’re against science.

Religion and science are mutually exclusive ways of viewing the world.

If you “believe” in science, there’s no need for God.

Science disproves God.

Belief in God inhibits scientific progress.

As hard as many try to convince us that science and Christianity can’t coexist, this type of thinking is logically disjointed and a shortsighted misunderstanding of Christianity.

First, it’s massively over-simplifying to try to sum up the complexity of life into two mutually exclusive categories: either “science” or “religion.”  Science and religion are huge categories about a wide array of things.  Further, neither science nor religion address every aspect of life.

To be fair, when most speak about science, they’re speaking of empirical science.  Empirical science is used to study present, repeatable events.  These events can be replicated in studies and witnessed through our senses.  Many things fall outside of the realm of empirical science.  Can you prove with empirical science what you are thinking at this very moment?  Can historic events be proved by empirical science?  Can empirical science prove right and wrong or why you deserve rights as a human being?  In fact, can empirical science prove that empirical science (as some claim) is the only way to know truth?

Concerning Christianity, the Bible deals with what theologians call redemptive history, which covers our relationship to God, how sin has separated us from God, and what God has done to repair that relationship.  Dinosaurs, for example, don’t fall into the scope of the Bible because redemptive history doesn’t concern them.  I think we can all agree that the Bible was never meant to encompass comprehensive information about everything, whether it be history, science, or even, say, mathematics or psychology or art.

Furthermore, neither science nor religion is by nature essentially “good” or “bad.”  Not all science is equal nor is all religion.  There is good science, and there is bad science.  There is good religion and there is bad religion (and I don’t mean the punk band).  There are atheist scientists, and there are Christian scientists (and I don’t mean the cult).  And, finally, science and religion are not mutually exclusive.  Since I choose to be a Christian, I obviously believe not all religions are equal (since I chose one over others), and I believe “good” Christianity is perfectly compatible with “good” science.

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Christian scientists (not the cult) don’t see their studying of our world as separate from their faith.  If God created everything, studying creation is a way to learn about God and even to worship him.  In fact, before this large gap between “religious life” and “secular life” existed, this is how early  scientists saw their endeavors.

If God created everything, and we study the things God created, it doesn’t logically follow that the discovery of things like cells or gravity or photosynthesis disprove God.  Likewise, believing that God has performed miracles doesn’t mean science is null and void.  When I walk around the Natural History Museum in New York City – perhaps my favorite museum to visit – I don’t think, “Wow, look at all this stuff that disproves God!”  I think, “Wow, our planet is amazing!” and I grow in amazement of God and in appreciation of science, which helps us to understand this world God created.

Admittedly, yes, there is “bad” Christianity that leads to “bad” science.  Yes, a few hundred years ago some in the church mistakenly thought the earth was the center of the universe (though this is not in the Bible), but I think it’s about time to let that one go.  Or is it still too soon?  When an occasional numbskull politician makes absurd comments about how raped women can’t become pregnant, it’s plain to see that this is neither good science nor good Christianity.

True, evolution is currently the big battle going on between some science-advocates and some Christians, and since this is such a big issue, I’m not going to attempt to do it justice here.  Let me just say this: people on both sides of the Creationism vs. Evolution debate have considerable challenges concerning their beliefs that they must both address.  Also, Youth Earth Creationism (as Ken Ham believes) and atheistic, materialist evolution (as Bill Nye believes) aren’t the only 2 options.  Many evangelical Christians are Old Earth Creationists.  Even in evangelical circles, there are discussions that there may be more than 1 way to interpret Genesis 1.  But as I said, this is a BIG subject I’m not going to cover here.  (Further, as Albert Mohler writes in his essay about the Ham/Nye debate, how one interprets the evidence is dependent on the presuppositions of his worldview.)

This idea that someone who believes in God is totally ignorant of science is pure goofiness.  Can you imagine any Christian in the following conversation?

Professor:  How can we design a flying car?

Atheist: Use science – engineering, technology!

Christian: Pray!

Professor: And…

Christian:  That’s it.

Because my wife and I believe in God, it doesn’t mean we don’t water my wife’s garden and simply leave it all up to God whether anything grows or not.  Because I believe in God, it doesn’t mean I believe my car moves because it’s possessed by demons.

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Christians believe humans are God’s unique creation of body, mind, and spirit.  Humans are the only things in God’s creation that are both physical and spiritual.  Though there is a group that doesn’t believe in medicine called Christian Science that believes sickness is an illusion, this is a cult and their beliefs have no support from the Bible.  (Ironically, their beliefs are neither “science” nor “Christian” and are closer to the beliefs of types of Hinduism.)

Christians take medicine because good science is, well, good.  Because we are mind, body, and spirit, if a Christian is struggling with depression, we recognize it may be a physical condition (and take medication), a mental condition (and seek therapy), or a spiritual condition (and seek the guidance of God).  Though a Christian should implement prayer into all he or she does, this doesn’t mean Christians simply pray, hope for the best, and do nothing else.

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Recommended Reading

This inaccurate view of Christianity often has to do with a misunderstanding of the purpose of Christian prayer.  Yes, Christians do believe God listens to our prayers and, at times, answers them.  But someone with a good understanding of Christian theology knows that God is not our heavenly genie-in-a-bottle, and someone even with bad theology knows God doesn’t answer all our prayers.  (Can you imagine the chaos if God answered every prayer every person ever prayed?)  The main purpose for prayer is to build our relationship with God and to align ourselves with God’s will.

Likewise, along with prayer, some atheists point towards the belief in miracles as a reason why Christians are illogical, superstitious, and anti-science.  First, there are Christians who believe that miracles were unique to the times recorded about in the Bible and used to mark God’s unique, special revelation within history, but those times have passed.  Though there is truth behind this belief, most Christians still believe in miracles today (yet often throw around the word “miracle” too easily).  Secondly, if God created the world, then it’s not illogical to understand that he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, with his creation, as any creator can over his or her creation.

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Old Faithful at night

Think of a car engine.  I can create an engine, get it started, and as long as it has gas and oil, it can run on its own as a closed system.  But if I decide to step in and pull a hose off the engine, I’m able to do so.  I’m superior to the engine; I have power over it.

God created the world, but he can “step in” however and whenever he wants.  It’s similar to the relationship you would have to a computer program or a painting you created.  Say you painted a beautiful picture of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, but then you decided to add to the painting Homer Simpson shooting up out of the geyser.  Sure, that’s unusual, but it’s by no means impossible, and it’s within your power and your rights to do so.

The creation story in Genesis shows us that God is a God who created in a process with order, not disorder.  Because of this, modern science developed within a Christian culture.  Christian scientists (not the cult), past and present, have recognized that there is an order in nature that can be studied and understood because they believe in a God of order.  Within a culture influenced by this Christian view of the world, modern western science developed.  If you believe nature acts according to the unpredictable whim of how good or bad of a day Zeus is having, then what patterns are there to study, categorize, or observe?

(If you don’t think science and the Christian faith are compatible, take 17 minutes of your day to watch this video by Acts 17 Apologetics.)

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