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Source: (consider it) Thread: All scripture is given by inspiration of God.
Martin60
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(Ass juss me pruhhtendin' ter be fick like, yer know, realisin' after the event, like, that you're implyin' summin', like. Yer know.)

[ 20. January 2018, 21:46: Message edited by: Martin60 ]

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Steve Langton
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by Gamaliel

quote:
My interpretation isn't flawed because I can self-evidently interpret the Bible better than you can.
For me, more a case of my interpretation may be flawed but at least I'm allowing you to challenge it rather than hiding behind a questionable claim to insitutional authority to be right just because of my position in the institution. And hey, if you've got a better argument you do have a serious chance to change my position - it does happen.

[ 20. January 2018, 22:53: Message edited by: Steve Langton ]

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Gee D
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quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
(Ass juss me pruhhtendin' ter be fick like, yer know, realisin' after the event, like, that you're implyin' summin', like. Yer know.)

Is there an English translation please?

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Jamat
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@ Steve Langton. Nice post Steve. The point you make about the preeminence of text over interpreter rather than vice versa, raises the question of where the ‘authority’ is ultimately vested. People talk about the necessity of tradition as a safeguarding factor against ‘private’ interpretation so there is a spectre raised. Interesting that that did not greatly trouble the reformers.
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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by Jamat:
People talk about the necessity of tradition as a safeguarding factor against ‘private’ interpretation so there is a spectre raised. Interesting that that did not greatly trouble the reformers.

Calvin, of course, condemned private interpretation of Scripture just as he did Rome's claims to exclusive interpretation. I believe Luther did as well, but someone else might know better as to him.

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mousethief

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quote:
Originally posted by Jamat:
People talk about the necessity of tradition as a safeguarding factor against ‘private’ interpretation so there is a spectre raised. Interesting that that did not greatly trouble the reformers.

Yes. And look where that led.

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L'organist
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Ah, but surely it did trouble some reformers?

You have only to look at the actions taken against, for example, Levellers by Parliament after the execution of Charles I in England. And even before the king's execution, especially after the Putney debates, various factions were marginalised and moved against on religious grounds.

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Eutychus
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quote:
Originally posted by Jamat:
The point you make about the preeminence of text over interpreter rather than vice versa, raises the question of where the ‘authority’ is ultimately vested.

Firstly, what is meant by "preeminence of text over interpreter"? You need a text to interpret, but as far as I can see the interpreting is just as important as the text itself in terms of outcomes; it's not difficult to find biblical examples of this.

Secondly, "where authority is ultimately vested"; by whom?

Thirdly, it seems to me that the really important thing is neither preeminence nor authority but accountability: my personal responsibility before God to give an account of myself. Trying to bludgeon people with Scripture as though it was intrinsically authoritative rather than owning one's interpretation didn't go down too well for the devil.

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ThunderBunk

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From my perspective, this whole debate is so suffused with irony it's hard to know where to start. The position according to which the biblical text is the only witness to God and is entirely self-interpreting only works for those who hold it because it is entirely worked into their own personal identity and the form of their faith. That faith is so formed around certain axioms about and interpretations of those texts that those who hold it cannot tell the difference between it and God because, for them, there is no difference.

This is why I cannot help seeing it as idolatrous, because it is so monolithic, so self-consistent, and so utterly impenetrable by anyone and anything, including God.

To be clear: the biblical text does not give unmediated access to God because it does not and cannot give unmediated access to itself. We construct our readings out of our identities, and we construct our identities by interpreting the world around us. We are interpretative animals, from our first breath. Any attempt to give coherence to the vastly varied and disconnected sensory information with which we are bombarded even while within the womb is necessarily an act of interpretation, and once we've started, we don't stop because we can't.

We are made in the image and likeness of God, and we interpret because we are co-creators. The biblical text is a witness to this truth, but it is not either its source or its final truth. The Creator is its source, and relationship with that creator is the proof.

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Currently mostly furious, and occasionally foolish. Normal service may resume eventually. Or it may not. And remember children, "feiern ist wichtig".

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Gamaliel
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We'll put, Thunderbunk.

I'm still sufficiently squeamish not to lay the idolatry / Bibliolatry charge against the extreme conservative fundagelicals but some of them ain't far off that for sure.

Meanwhile, I think I understood Martin60's attempt at phonetic demotic accented English more than some of his other posts, but there we go ...

As for Jamat's comment about the Reformers, it only goes to show how much ignorance there is out there on the popular conservative evangelical level as to what the Reformers actually taught about these matters or not what many of them assume.

To borrow a phrase, 'I agree with Nick ...'

Mind you, look where that led ...

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Jamat
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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
Originally posted by Jamat:
People talk about the necessity of tradition as a safeguarding factor against ‘private’ interpretation so there is a spectre raised. Interesting that that did not greatly trouble the reformers.

Calvin, of course, condemned private interpretation of Scripture just as he did Rome's claims to exclusive interpretation. I believe Luther did as well, but someone else might know better as to him.
Were most of the reformers not former catholic priests who rejected the authority of the church? Luther, in particular, claimed that scriptural authority was paramount right?
No one, certainly not me suggests they believed in ‘private interpretation’ but that is what he was accused of, certainly.

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by Jamat:
Were most of the reformers not former catholic priests who rejected the authority of the church? Luther, in particular, claimed that scriptural authority was paramount right?
No one, certainly not me suggests they believed in ‘private interpretation’ but that is what he was accused of, certainly.

The Reformers insisted that Scripture could only be properly interpreted by the church—the Body of Christ, the community of believers. They asserted that Rome had usurped this authority from the church as a whole and had adopted interpretations that were at odds with Scripture itself..

Luther was a monk, though I’m not sure he was a priest. Zwingli, Knox and Simons were priests. Calvin was a lawyer, and Melancthon an academic.

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Steve Langton
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by Nick Tamen
quote:
The Reformers insisted that Scripture could only be properly interpreted by the church—the Body of Christ, the community of believers. They asserted that Rome had usurped this authority from the church as a whole and had adopted interpretations that were at odds with Scripture itself..
That, AIUI, would be pretty much the Anabaptist position too. Purely 'private' interpretation has obvious problems; though it can also be a safeguard that everybody has the right to question 'authorities' and say, in effect, "But it doesn't say that...."

It is of course true that "the church of the living God (is)the pillar and support of the truth"; but this is 'church' as in 'ekklesia', a congregation or assembly - the bottom-up organisation, the people, rather than the institution seen later. And yes, Bible interpretation should be done mostly by the church,

Indeed this is in a way outside the church as well - as in the case of the Bereans checking what Paul told them by the Scriptures,for example, and again Paul is said a good few times to have 'reasoned' with hearers, in Acts 17; 2 specifically reasoned with them from the Scriptures - the word used is the root of our word 'dialogue', discussing rather than a 'laying down the law' preaching. I personally take the attitude that when I'm using the Bible with non-Christians I can't just go "the Bible says..." or offer my interpretation as unquestionable - I need to say "Check it for yourself", and if that applies with outsiders it pretty much has to be case inside the church too.

So yes, I do interpretation in and with the church I go to locally; and face-to-face in some other groups as well. I also do interpretation, in what admittedly can't be a two-way dialogue, with the aid of a wide range of Christians via books and these days other media as well - interpretation with the wider church, and not just with those I totally agree with. Not 'private' in any absolute purely personal sense.

I'll let you think about that one for a bit; for now I'm being a bit distracted by other stuff.

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Gamaliel
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Not a great deal there to think about, Steve Langton, that the rest of us, of whatever tradition or Tradition don't already do ourselves.

Whichever branch of Christianity we come from we are all party to some extent to an ongoing dialogue with scripture and tradition / Tradition.

I was at a conference last summer when a debate started between the Orthodox and the RC participants about divorce and remarriage with the Anglicans and evangelicals weighing in on one side or the other.

Both sides were citing scripture of course.

How would we resolve an issue like that?

Well, they didn't resolve it, of course but agreed to disagree.

The same thing happens here aboard Ship, of course.

Ultimately, however we cut it, we go with interpretations that fit with the context and framework of our particular tradition or Tradition - that applies to all of us, Anabaptist, Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, RC, Orthodox or whatever else.

It's just that some traditions /Traditions are better at acknowledging that this is what they are doing rather than imagining that they are somehow interpreting the scriptures outwith some kind of interpretive framework that they inhabit.

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Steve Langton
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Part of the question here is whether 'Scripture' needs some special interpretation method that we don't apply to other writings. Tyndale and other Reformers clearly thought they don't. In the passage from Tyndale that I've frequently quoted he is saying, in effect, read the Bible like other books; not with a narrow 'dumb wooden' literalism, but with full allowance for figures of speech, genre, and other literary devices. And specifically that we are not dependent, in interpreting Scripture, on some external person such as the Pope who effectively gets to tell us what the interpretation is without the need of proper 'reasoning/dialogue' but just a claim that "I have this authority, so there!".
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Gamaliel
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No it isn't, part of the question here is about how we read the scriptures in community and in the context of whatever Christian tradition we belong to or which has influenced us the most.

That applies whether we go in for a Papal Magisterium, the Orthodox conciliar/collegial approach or the Reformed approach, radical reformed approach or whatever else ...

I'm not talking about the Pope nor Tyndale necessarily, I'm simply making an observation that some conservative evangelicals and fundagelicals seem reluctant to accept or concede, even if they understand the concept in the first place - which is that the scriptures come to us in the context of a faith community.

They don't come to us in glorious isolation. But we've had this discussion before with Lamb Chopped's story of imbibing an understanding of the faith sitting on the john with an open Bible.

Well, yes, but I'm simply suggesting that it ain't quite as straightforward as that.

I'm all for Tyndale's ploughman with his Bible but he, like the rest of us, will have received that Bible in community and interpreted that Bible in the context of a faith community.

Even if we go along with your thing about a bottom-up ekklesia rather than a top-down Magisterium, that still applies.

There is no getting around it.

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Let us with a gladsome mind
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Gamaliel
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Also, whilst it's true that the Pope or Magisterium has the casting vote I think you'll find that the level of debate in RC - and other 'High Church' circles - tends to be way, way, way more sophisticated than, 'I'm the Pope, so there ...'

Heck, I've been in a meeting where a leading Dominican scholar accused the current Pope of being a heretic ...

[Eek!]

It wasn't as if he wasn't exercising his reasoning or critical faculties or simply toeing a party-line.

I sometimes wonder where some conservative evangelicals get their ideas from. 'Janet & John join the Reformation'?

'The Reformation Painting-by-Numbers Colouring Book'?

If they spent more time outside their little holy huddles and conventicles and actually having proper, informed dialogue with people of other traditions both small t and Big T they'd soon realise that life and faith is a lot more complicated that a Chick Tract, Banner of Truth tub-thumping tome or Countdown to Armaggedon Numpty-Dumpty Eschatology By Numbers book.

[Biased] [Razz]

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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Steve Langton
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I think you do know I'm not that simplistic....

Thing is, Mark, say, writes his gospel, which he's probably been making notes for over a few decades of mission work alongside Paul, Peter, etc., perhaps particularly Peter. Surely he is expecting that his book will simply be READ (or occasionally listened to) by individuals as well as groups and he intends that what he writes will be pretty straightforwardly understood by those readers/hearers. He's not setting a crossword puzzle that needs special techniques of understanding, and most of his hearers/readers are going to be ordinary guys and he'll be expecting they will basically understand without some special help.

OK, some will need it translated to another language; and some will need help with cultural details of things different from their own culture - but this is just the ordinary help implicit in any kind of reading. And yes, reading in community will help. But again Mark is not writing to be deliberately obscure; he is trying to give a plain account to plain readers.

The big problem is when people are making a claim to special interpretative authority over and above ordinary 'reasoning from the Scriptures' with that 'check it out for yourself' factor. And when they try to make their interpretation binding forever.

Peter, John, Paul etc do have obvious 'authority' as eyewitnesses and/or specially appointed by Jesus to represent him; and those trained by the apostles can make a similar claim, and those who they train in turn. But a few generations of that, including cases where even if appointed by, say, Peter, there wasn't a long period of apprenticeship, and you'll be dealing with a good deal of both 'Chinese whispers' effect and just that the person concerned is doing his best to apply what he knows to new situations and so on. And essentially you either have to recognise the limitations of that or resort to a claim that somehow that one 'successor of Peter' or whatever is 'magically' guaranteed to get it right. And then, mind you, even his words are going to need interpreting...!

My point, and I think the Reformers' as well, is that the nearer you can get to 'im-mediate' reading of Scripture with ordinary ways of understanding the better. And any claim of authority that is in effect 'magical' and so hard to ever meaningfully 'check out for yourself' is creating a possibility of improper exploitation (not to mention a very dubious version of 'personal private interpretation'!) and is to be resisted.

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Steve Langton:
Part of the question here is whether 'Scripture' needs some special interpretation method that we don't apply to other writings. Tyndale and other Reformers clearly thought they don't. In the passage from Tyndale that I've frequently quoted he is saying, in effect, read the Bible like other books; not with a narrow 'dumb wooden' literalism, but with full allowance for figures of speech, genre, and other literary devices.

I came across a couple of interesting blog posts about a month ago. The first was an analysis of the two different narratives about the birth of Jesus in the two Gospels that give us an account of the event. The second was the writer's reaction to the comments he received trying to reconcile or dispel the obvious contradictory points in the two accounts.

quote:
There is nothing ‘wrong’ with confessional goals in interpreting biblical texts, if it is clear that it is done in the service of Christians, for Christian Bible-reading. But on the other hand, if your goal is critical exegesis, it is insufficient to simply raise “possible” interpretations, without critically assessing which of these interpretations are also probable or at least plausible interpretations of the text. Yet that’s what I’ve seen here in response to James’ and my posts: the raising of a “possibility” in order to preserve a harmonizing, and so confessionally acceptable, interpretation. That’s fine for church, but not for the academy.

That’s why I wasn’t interested in narrowing interpretation of the two Jesus birth stories down to a single “problem” verse, such as Luke 2.39, and discussing “possible” ways to avoid a clear contradiction. That is a game for inerrantists, infallibalists, etc, including their more sophistic academic counterparts. No – if you are interested in establishing the meaning of the text (as opposed to harmonizing the most “problematic” bits), you have to respect the whole context of the narratives before you.

Italics from the original. Bolding added by me.

In short, an impulse to maintain some predetermined theological point or to "harmonize" disagreeing texts seems to be one of the most common way scripture is held to require "some special interpretation method that we don't apply to other writings".

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Steve Langton
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Point taken, Croesos.

But one point which doesn't seem to have been raised in the blogs you quote does at least make for a different and more plausible/less obviously contradictory account.

In some ways the biggest 'difficulty' in the narratives is the reading of Luke 2; 7 as there being "... no room at the inn", as if the bureaucrats involved in the census would be so stupid as to send Joseph to register at a town where he had only ancestral ties and as a non-resident would have to stay in an 'inn' while he registered.

The Greek word rendered 'inn' is actually a 'guestchamber' (and its other biblical occurrence is a reference to the 'upper room' of the Last Supper in - traditionally - the family home of Mark the evangelist). The implication of this would be that Joseph was actually basically resident in Bethlehem though working in the Galilee where at the time there was profitable work available in his trade as a 'tekton/builder'; specifically work in the then booming city of Sepphoris later destroyed after a revolt against the Romans. In effect the family would have two homes and travel between them until the Magi made it impractical for them to continue in Bethlehem.

I accept that this is in your terms a 'possibility' rather than the nailed-down certainty desired by academics. But it certainly makes the Matthew and Luke stories a great deal more potentially compatible, and does so on the basis of a more likely rendering of a key word.

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Steve Langton:
Point taken, Croesos.

But one point which doesn't seem to have been raised in the blogs you quote does at least make for a different and more plausible/less obviously contradictory account.

In some ways the biggest 'difficulty' in the narratives is the reading of Luke 2; 7 as there being "... no room at the inn", as if the bureaucrats involved in the census would be so stupid as to send Joseph to register at a town where he had only ancestral ties and as a non-resident would have to stay in an 'inn' while he registered.

The Greek word rendered 'inn' is actually a 'guestchamber' (and its other biblical occurrence is a reference to the 'upper room' of the Last Supper in - traditionally - the family home of Mark the evangelist). The implication of this would be that Joseph was actually basically resident in Bethlehem though working in the Galilee where at the time there was profitable work available in his trade as a 'tekton/builder'; specifically work in the then booming city of Sepphoris later destroyed after a revolt against the Romans. In effect the family would have two homes and travel between them until the Magi made it impractical for them to continue in Bethlehem.

I accept that this is in your terms a 'possibility' rather than the nailed-down certainty desired by academics. But it certainly makes the Matthew and Luke stories a great deal more potentially compatible, and does so on the basis of a more likely rendering of a key word.

Yeah, I think that's a good illustration of what you call "some special interpretation method that we don't apply to other writings". We don't usually bend over backwards to harmonize books by different authors by imagining implausible but still possible explanations completely unsupported by the text. To take an example, we can accept that there are differences between the account of the battle of Salamis we find in Herodotus and the one from The Persians by Æschylus. We typically find ways to explain such differences (Æschylus may have been a participant at Salamis, whereas Herodotus was compiling accounts from multiple witnesses after the fact; each was trying to convey different narratives; one is a drama whereas the other is history; etc.) What we usually don't do is come up with implausible explanations why Æschylus and Herodotus are really saying the same thing, despite the apparent differences in their accounts. That's a "special interpretation method" that only gets applied to scripture.

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Jamat
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# 11621

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quote:
Steve Langton: it certainly makes the Matthew and Luke stories a great deal more potentially compatible
The two stories are perfectly compatible. Really, the issue is whether the same basic facts give or take a few omissions and additions narrated from differing viewpoints, would be credible if they harmonised too closely. It all comes down to defining a contradiction. If you have an agenda to find some you will. The Prima facie narrative that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem as he had been born there, to register for the census seems quite reasonable and, of course, providential guidance. If, for instance, the angel had told Mary, “you are having a son, and by the way, you must somehow get to Bethlehem to have him”, that would be a big red flag.
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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Jamat:
The Prima facie narrative that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem as he had been born there, to register for the census seems quite reasonable and, of course, providential guidance.

Well, the narrative in Luke goes like that (Nazareth -> Bethlehem -> Jerusalem -> Nazareth). The narrative in Matthew is different (Bethlehem -> Egypt -> Nazareth). The details are at the link provided previously and aren't really amenable to a plea of details omitted from one account or the other.

This seems to be a case of people reading what "everyone knows" is in the text rather than what is actually in the text.

[ 22. January 2018, 19:37: Message edited by: Crœsos ]

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Jamat
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quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
quote:
Originally posted by Jamat:
The Prima facie narrative that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem as he had been born there, to register for the census seems quite reasonable and, of course, providential guidance.

Well, the narrative in Luke goes like that (Nazareth -> Bethlehem -> Jerusalem -> Nazareth). The narrative in Matthew is different (Bethlehem -> Egypt -> Nazareth). The details are at the link provided previously and aren't really amenable to a plea of details omitted from one account or the other

This seems to be a case of people reading what "everyone knows" is in the text rather than what is actually in the text.

As I said, give or take a few additions and omissions. Given a variation of viewpoints it would be less credible if they harmonised exactly. Matthew mentions no angel, Luke doesn’t mention Joseph’s dreams or Egypt but anyone on the same holiday and writing about it later would do the same thing. It is no king hit to the credibility of the narratives that they select different details to include. It probably would be if they did.
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All of which reinforces the point Croesos was making.

Steve Langton's the same.

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Jamat
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quote:
Originally posted by Gamaliel:
All of which reinforces the point Croesos was making.

Steve Langton's the same.

My impression was that his point was that the accounts were contradictory. What was yours?
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Gamaliel
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That many attempts to reconcile apparent contradictions are misguided and raise more issues than they actually resolve.

We don't have to fit all the contradictions together and force them to slot together like a jig-saw puzzle in order to defend scriptural inspiration or a high view of scripture.

One wag said, 'The Bible is full of contradictions, and I believe them all.'

I'm comfortable with contradictions. I can live with them. I'm comfortable with Mystery. I can live with it.

That's my point. That we don't have to sign up to a woodenly literal framework of inerrancy and infallibility in the way conservative evangelical and fundagelical models would have us do.

There's no need to. It doesn't help and it doesn't get us very far.

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Steve Langton
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by Croesos;
quote:
We don't usually bend over backwards to harmonize books by different authors by imagining implausible but still possible explanations completely unsupported by the text.
Excuse me but I thought in this case I was not 'imagining implausible but still possible explanations completely unsupported by the text'. In this case the 'implausible' explanation is the idea that Joseph was sent by bureaucrats to register at a place with which he had so little connection that he had to go to an inn. And I was making the point that this idea is in fact 'unsupported by the text'; the text, using a word which means 'guestchamber' rather than 'inn' actually supports a more plausible account of a Joseph not just born in Bethlehem but still basically living there even if work (and no doubt the residence of his fiancee!) regularly took him to another area. The idea of an 'inn' seems to have arisen at the point of early translations from Greek to Latin and therefore is not the original text.

I'm not 'bending over backwards' to imagine this - just correcting a misunderstanding/mistranslation.

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quote:
Originally posted by Steve Langton:
by Croesos;
quote:
We don't usually bend over backwards to harmonize books by different authors by imagining implausible but still possible explanations completely unsupported by the text.
Excuse me but I thought in this case I was not 'imagining implausible but still possible explanations completely unsupported by the text'. In this case the 'implausible' explanation is the idea that Joseph was sent by bureaucrats to register at a place with which he had so little connection that he had to go to an inn. And I was making the point that this idea is in fact 'unsupported by the text'; the text, using a word which means 'guestchamber' rather than 'inn' actually supports a more plausible account of a Joseph not just born in Bethlehem but still basically living there even if work (and no doubt the residence of his fiancee!) regularly took him to another area. The idea of an 'inn' seems to have arisen at the point of early translations from Greek to Latin and therefore is not the original text.

I'm not 'bending over backwards' to imagine this - just correcting a misunderstanding/mistranslation.

Unnecessarily so.

What possible difference does it make if it was an 'inn' or some kind of digs he was living in while he was working?

I really don't understand why you feel the need to 'correct' apparent 'misunderstandings' that are either neither here nor there or which make absolutely no difference whatsoever to our understanding of the Christian faith, conduct or practice.

We rightly roll our eyes at the medieval tendency to calculate how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

Now, it seems, certain Protestant Christians engage in useless speculation over minor details that don't make a blind bit of difference.

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by Gamaliel;
quote:
What possible difference does it make if it was an 'inn' or some kind of digs he was living in while he was working?
Please re-read and get the sequence right....

On the view implied by the 'guestchamber' rendering, Joseph's family home, as descendants of David, is in Bethlehem on a part of the ancestral lands of the family of Jesse.

He works up in the Galilee where Sepphoris and other such of the Herodian era supplied a good income, and possibly stays in all kinds of temporary 'digs/bothies', including sometimes with his fiancee's family. For census purposes he would not register up there, but return to the family home in Bethlehem.

This makes a considerable difference compared to the rather ridiculous idea (which I once saw Stephen Fry well and truly mocking on Qi) that bureaucrats would be sending Joseph to register in a town where he had only long past ancestral connections and had to stay in an inn.

A period in which the Joseph/Mary/Jesus family effectively had two homes and occasionally travelled between them could have gone on for a while before the Magi (who didn't necessarily turn up on 'Christmas night' itself) drew Herod's attention and made continued residence in Bethlehem impossible.

And the point is that this view is supported by the text, with its wording of 'guestchamber', ie the 'spare room' in Joseph's family house, which for some reason wasn't available on the day of Jesus' birth. Whereas the inn and the totally implausible story that implies is not in the text at all. Surely it is a useful difference to scrap a clear misunderstanding and as a result have a basically plausible story....

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Gamaliel
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If Stephen Fry wasn't mocking that story he'd find something else to find fault with.

After all, a virgin birth, angels appearing to shepherds, Magi being guided by a star are hardly the stuff of 'plausibility' either ...

My old mum-in-law used to make a big deal about it being 'incorrect' for the Magi to appear on Christmas cards as they didn't appear to have arrived until around 18 months/2 years after Christ's birth.

As if that was a big deal and as if it would form the basis of people's disbelief.

Whether your alternative account of the census 'corrects' misunderstandings is beside the point in the overall scheme of things. In and of itself it's not going to persuade or convince anyone of the veracity of the Gospel accounts.

That's the point I'm making.

It's not just Protestants who go in for this sort of thing. I've heard Orthodox speculate about how extra-biblical stories about the childhood of the Virgin Mary and the life of Joachim and Anna might have been passed on and transmitted by eyewitnesses and people who knew them.

Whether we accept that or dismiss it as pious legend it's likely to be no more convincing in and of itself as a piece of 'evidence' than your attempts to square apparent contradictions or anomalies in the Gospels.

It might be an interesting exercise or parlour game but inferences about Joseph and the census aren't going to get us very far one way or the other.

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Steve Langton:
by Croesos;
quote:
We don't usually bend over backwards to harmonize books by different authors by imagining implausible but still possible explanations completely unsupported by the text.
Excuse me but I thought in this case I was not 'imagining implausible but still possible explanations completely unsupported by the text'. In this case the 'implausible' explanation is the idea that Joseph was sent by bureaucrats to register at a place with which he had so little connection that he had to go to an inn.
Implausible or not, that's the text we have to work with. Luke portrays Joseph as having to go to Bethlehem for the Quirinius census and that he has no fixed abode there and requires a guest room. (I picked the NIV translation since it has your preferred translation.)

It's not just that the two accounts include different details, it's the fact that each includes details that make something depicted in the other one impossible. Let's start with Luke's account.

quote:
Joseph has to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to comply with the Quirinius census (2:1-5). While there Mary gives birth and places the child in a manger "because there was no guest room available for them" (2:6-7). There are signs and wonders and a visit from some shepherds (2:8-20). Jesus get circumcised (2:21) and the family then travels to Jerusalem to consecrate their firstborn and to perform the necessary post-childbirth purification sacrifices (2:22-24). Somewhat tellingly they make the offering allowed for the poor (two turtledoves) rather than the standard sacrifice (a sheep). After taking care of all the ceremonial necessities they all "returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth" (2:39).
It's a pretty straightforward narrative, with the family starting in Nazareth, going to Bethlehem, stopping off in Jerusalem, and coming returning to "their own town of Nazareth". As you point out it may not make sense bureaucratically for a census to be conducted that way, but that's what the story says. If we read it "like other books" the narrative speaks for itself without the need for the unsupported parenthetical insertions you provide.

So what does Matthew tell us?

quote:
Jesus is born in Bethlehem during the reign of "King Herod" (2:1), presumably Herod the Great. Magi/wise men show up at Herod's court and ask after the new king of the Jews (2:2-8). The magi/wise men find Jesus at "the house", not a guest room or any place that would require using a manger as a makeshift cradle (2:11). Joseph then has a dream telling him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt, which he does (2:13-15). Contrary to Luke, Joseph and Mary do not go to Jerusalem (Herod's capital) and hang around the Temple for forty days undergoing ritual post-childbirth purification at a time when Herod's troops are on the lookout for newborn boys. Instead they go to Egypt until Herod dies (2:15). After that Joseph gets another dream telling him it's safe to return, but he's scared to go back to Judea (where his former Bethlehem house would be) and instead relocates to Nazareth (which is in Galilee, not Judea) (2:19-23). Interestingly the language of Matthew 2:23 seems to deliberately echo the language used when Old Testament patriarchs would settle in a new place, translated alternatively as "making his home" there or "came and dwelt" or other similar locution.
So the two narratives are almost completely different. They've got different starting points, locations visited, and ending points. One takes place when Israel is a new Roman province having its first census (so Herod would already be dead when Jesus was born), while the other is set while Israel is still a nominally independent Roman client state (which would not be subject to a Roman census. In fact there are only two points of agreement between the two narratives: that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that Jesus and his family lived in Nazareth afterwards. Everything else is different, and in some cases contradictory. (e.g. if the magi/wise men visit Jesus, Mary, and Joseph at their house - oikia, which typically means a family dwelling - in Bethlehem, there would not seem to be the need for a guest room - katalymati - or need to resort to a manger-cradle.)

If we were to read these two stories "like any other book" we would say they disagree with each other, most likely because the authors are trying to communicate different messages. Typically when we read books in which different authors deal with what is ostensibly the same material (e.g. the previously mentioned battle of Salamis) we accept that they may disagree with each other regarding factual matters. But for some reason there seems to be a strong urge to claim that "'Scripture' needs some special interpretation method that we don't apply to other writings".

[ 23. January 2018, 15:36: Message edited by: Crœsos ]

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Gamaliel
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The reason for the 'strong urge'?

Fear I think. The scriptures have to be shown to be completely consistent in every respect otherwise they can't possibly be inspired and can't possibly be the word of God.

That's how the reasoning runs.

It is an odd idea. It's rather like suspecting that the Battle of Salamis didn't take place because there are different accounts of the same event, as you've observed very helpfully upthread.

It can get silly, like the speculations about where Cain and Abel's wives came from ...

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Gamaliel:
The reason for the 'strong urge'?

Fear I think. The scriptures have to be shown to be completely consistent in every respect otherwise they can't possibly be inspired and can't possibly be the word of God.

That's how the reasoning runs.

It is an odd idea. It's rather like suspecting that the Battle of Salamis didn't take place because there are different accounts of the same event, as you've observed very helpfully upthread.

There's that, and the fact that we're pattern-recognizing organisms. We'll look for pattern and consistency even in situations where it doesn't exist or is coincidental.

An interesting example of this tendency comes from The Man With the Twisted Lip, one of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries. In it Dr. Watson's wife Mary addresses him as "James", despite his name being established as "John" throughout the series. This was particularly egregious because of the authorial conceit that the Sherlock Holmes cases are "really" recorded by Dr. Watson.

The most straightforward explanation would be something along the lines of "Arthur Conan Doyle screwed up and accidentally replaced one common name starting with J with another", but a craving for consistency (which is a close cousin to the suspension of disbelief necessary for drama) led to a more creative interpretation. Dorothy Sayers speculated that Watson's middle name, which elsewhere was established as beginning with H, was "Hamish", a variant of "James" and was his wife's pet name for him. This is unsupported by the text, but rather cleverly does not contradict it either and takes advantage of earlier, unrelated information, in this case Watson's middle initial.

Of course Dr. John H. Watson is a fictional character so everything about him is an invention. As such we don't risk anything by adding additional fictions. The popularity of Holmes-based pastiches attests to that. We feel freer to add speculative details to his life than we would to the life of, say, Queen Victoria. In that sense we do actually use different interpretive methods to different writings. We interpret fiction in a different way than we interpret non-fiction. What's interesting is that attempts to 'harmonize' scripture through the addition of non-canonical [Big Grin] details seems a lot closer to the way we interpret fiction than non-fiction.

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Gamaliel
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Well yes, and I'm the one who gets told off by Jamat on these boards by suggesting that there's such a genre as 'apocalyptic literature' (much of Daniel, the Book of Revelation, passages in Ezekiel ...) that should be handled differently to other forms of narrative ...

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Gamaliel:
Well yes, and I'm the one who gets told off by Jamat on these boards by suggesting that there's such a genre as 'apocalyptic literature' (much of Daniel, the Book of Revelation, passages in Ezekiel ...) that should be handled differently to other forms of narrative ...

Well, apocalyptic literature isn't a genre any more, which I guess is somewhat problematic for modern readers who are expected to easily interpret an extinct literary genre.

A take on the Bible and genre from Fred Clark:

quote:
But if you didn’t know that the books of the Bible were the books of the Bible, the Dewey Decimal system would have you running all over the library trying to figure out how to classify this odd pile of texts. Some of them, I suppose, should get shelved at 892 (“Afro-Asiatic literatures: Semitic”) while others should find a home in section 933 (“History of ancient world: Palestine”) but in several cases you’d be hard pressed to figure out which was which.

Quite a few of these smaller volumes could be shelved as 886 (“Classical Greek letters”). But then a handful should probably just be shelved as 880 (“Hellenic literatures; Classical Greek”) since they contain such a mix of elements that you could make a case for classifying them as 883, 885, 887 or 933. And if we don’t count the very special place the Dewey Decimal system provides for John’s Apocalypse (228), then it would be hard to know what to do with such a book, since apocalypses — a genre unto itself — don’t really have a home in Dewey’s system.

The good news is that this is only a hypothetical exercise and you won’t ever really have to go off into the stacks with a cart of 66 books, some of which defy easy classification.

The bad news is that if you want to read those 66 books, then you’ll still need to figure all that out. You need to figure out what kind of books these are because unless you know what kind of book you’re reading, you won’t know how to read it.

Generally, this is something we do almost unconsciously. We understand that there are different genres and different kinds of texts, and we’re usually pretty good at allowing the kind of text to provide the context for what we’re reading.

It goes on from there and is well worth a read in full.

[ 23. January 2018, 20:23: Message edited by: Crœsos ]

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Gamaliel
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Interesting.

Thanks Croesos.

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Jamat
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quote:
So the two narratives are almost completely different.
Of course, and each adds essential elements.

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Steve Langton
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As I pointed out,

quote:
with its wording of 'guestchamber', ie the 'spare room' in Joseph's family house, which for some reason wasn't available on the day of Jesus' birth.
Joseph goes to Bethlehem because that's his family home. It's not that he needs a guestchamber to be in Bethlehem at all, it's simply that on the day of Jesus' birth the obvious 'spare room' wasn't available for some reason (another relative visiting?) so they cleared out the stable (the animal area which was a common feature of houses in those days, somewhat akin to a later North English 'bastle house'), and used the manger as a cradle.

A lot of what you all have said above has clearly not grasped this point.... I thought I'd stated it clearly enough, but if not I apologise.

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Steve Langton
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by Croesos
quote:
One takes place when Israel is a new Roman province having its first census (so Herod would already be dead when Jesus was born), while the other is set while Israel is still a nominally independent Roman client state (which would not be subject to a Roman census.
Such a census would essentially be for tax purposes; in the situation of that time it seems a reasonable proposition that client kingdoms would be expected to make tribute as well and would do the necessary by their internal rules. Gentile Luke from outside Palestine doesn't give the full details of the situation.

And note BTW that it specifically says

quote:
They all went to be registered, each to his own city, and Joseph too went up from Galilee...
confirming in effect that Joseph was in fact a Bethlehem resident with an oikia there even though obviously spending time in Nazareth at the period in question.

As I said, if you thoroughly rid yourself of the idea of an 'inn', the story does make good sense.

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Stejjie
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quote:
Originally posted by Steve Langton:
And note BTW that it specifically says

quote:
They all went to be registered, each to his own city, and Joseph too went up from Galilee...
confirming in effect that Joseph was in fact a Bethlehem resident with an oikia there even though obviously spending time in Nazareth at the period in question.
[/QB]

But as Croesos points out 9and at the risk of getting too Kerygmania-y), v39 specifically says that they returned to "their own town of Nazareth" - which surely casts doubt on the idea that Joseph was a resident of Bethlehem: why would Nazareth then be his own town, as well as Mary's, which is what the text seems to indicate? Surely it's better to understand "their own towns" in v3 as either their ancestral home (which fits for Joseph as a descendant of David), or "hometown" in the sense of place of birth, or place where you grew up (for example, I live in Urmston near Manchester, but Sheffield is where I grew up and I'd class that as my hometown).

On the wider point, the more time I spend with the Bible, especially as a preacher, the less important I find it to try and reconcile apparent contradictions. It's either impossible, or makes you get into sorts of contortions in order to make them "fit". But more than that, it disrespects the idea that these stories weren't written to be harmonised with other accounts, but were written with a particular purpose and point that the author wants to make. Eg Luke tells his story of the nativity for a particular purpose (I would guess, to show Jesus as a king in the line of David), and Matthew for a different purpose, which is why there are such differences. To try and harmonise them and resolve the apparent contradictions runs the risk of overlooking why those differences are there, why one writer tells the story in this way and another writer tells it in that way, and what point they're trying to make through the way they tell them.

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Gamaliel
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More 'sense' than angelic appearances to shepherds, a miraculous virgin birth ...?

Yes, I believe in those things, but not because you consider yourself able to reconcile apparent discrepancies about the census accounts and whether the holy family stayed in a B&B, a Travel Lodge, an inn or a caravan ...

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Gamaliel
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I cross-posted with Stejjie, but yes, even though I don't preach or teach, I concur 100% with what he says.

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Steve Langton
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Stejjie, no great problem with what you're saying. As I see it, the 'problem' here is generated by a situation in which Joseph and Mary were in effect living in two homes at once before and after the birth of Jesus. Joseph was legally a citizen of Bethlehem and would need to register there; but he had also become virtually resident in Nazareth because of his work.

But for the intervention of the Magi drawing hostile attention from Herod (possibly some time after Jesus' birth) this might have carried on for some time. The biblical account as I see it reflects this ambiguity.

But please can we all at least agree on getting rid of the idea of an 'inn' which does make the events look a bit silly!!

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by Steve Langton:
But please can we all at least agree on getting rid of the idea of an 'inn' which does make the events look a bit silly!!

As far as I can tell, Steve, no one has been caught up on the “inn idea” except you. No one has said Luke meant an “inn.” What Crœsos is saying is that even if the better translation of “guest room” is used, Matthew’s versions and Luke’s version contain contradictions—contradictions that have nothing to do with whether it was an inn or a guest room, and that are not resolved if it’s a guest room instead of an inn.

I can relate to the Bethlehem-Nazareth conundrum. In my neck of the woods, the question “Where are you from?” means “Where is your family from? Where did you grow up?” Ask someone where they’re from, and you very well may get, “Well, I’ve lived in Charlotte for 50 years, but I’m from Raleigh.”

Maybe Mary and Joseph (and Luke) were actually Southerners. It would explain a lot.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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Gamaliel
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Jesus weren't no Southerner ...

[Biased] [Razz]

Mind you, a Welsh preacher I used to know told me that his mother used to talk about Jesus as if he was Welsh ...

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Martin60
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# 368

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@Crœsos, why would Herod's troops be looking for new born males at the temple? The magi hadn't been yet.

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Love wins

Posts: 17586 | From: Never Dobunni after all. Corieltauvi after all. Just moved to the capital. | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged
Martin60
Shipmate
# 368

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quote:
Originally posted by Gamaliel:
Jesus weren't no Southerner ...

[Biased] [Razz]

Mind you, a Welsh preacher I used to know told me that his mother used to talk about Jesus as if he was Welsh ...

'e were from Tan Hill, at the tripoint o' Cumbria, Yorkshire and Northumbria.

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Love wins

Posts: 17586 | From: Never Dobunni after all. Corieltauvi after all. Just moved to the capital. | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged
Martin60
Shipmate
# 368

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Bugger, Durham.

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Love wins

Posts: 17586 | From: Never Dobunni after all. Corieltauvi after all. Just moved to the capital. | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged
Gamaliel
Shipmate
# 812

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Ee, I know it well, tha knoars ...

(Or should I say, 'I ken ah, Martin ...')

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

Posts: 15997 | From: Cheshire, UK | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged



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