AJBT. 1 Peter 1:13-22. Standing for What is Right

From: "Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <editor@biblicaltheology.com>
Subject: AJBT. 1 Peter 1:13-22. Standing for What is Right
Date: October 5th 2016

1 Peter 3:13-22.
Standing for What is Right

Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV

We face choices every day, choices that expose our true nature, and choices that have consequences that impact our lives and the lives of others.  As Peter writes to the early church, he is writing to a fellowship of believers that found their faithful world view to be in sharp, and sometimes violent contrast with that of their lost culture, a godless and hedonistic society that considered the piety and self-control of the faithful to be ignorant, foolish, and unenlightened.  Though many Christians of our earlier contemporary generations may find this contrast a little strange to clearly grasp, the 21st century has brought a return to ancient Greek thought to modern western culture.  The fulfillment of personal base desires has overwhelmed the piety of self-control and sacrifice, with all manner of ungodly lifestyle choices becoming the accepted societal norm.  With this has come a return of the derision and ridicule of the faithful.  This derision takes form anywhere from direct and deadly persecution in some predominantly Muslim nations to ridicule and disrespect in western societies.

The pressure on the faithful to allow compromise is tremendous.  It is easier to hide one’s faith than it is to maintain a bold witness in the face of such ridicule and injustice.  It is easier to remain quiet when witnessing injustice than it is to take a stand to defend those who are without defense.  As Peter writes into a similar circumstance, he does so to encourage the faithful as they face the same choices. encouraging them to maintain a bold and ever-strengthening faith and to take a clear and uncompromised stand for the gospel so that through their testimony the world can see a testimony to the truth. 

1 Peter 3:13.  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?

The Beatitude of Persecution

Though this verse starts a new direction in the letter, it is tied to Peter’s last statement that the LORD rewards those who do good, and withholds much reward those who do evil.  The contrast continues as Peter observes the interaction between the two.  It may seem odd that Peter would ask the question, “who is going to harm you,” when it is obvious that great harm was being experienced by the early Christians as is still the case today.  The Greek word that is rendered harm refers to ultimate injury or destruction rather than persecution or suffering.  Peter’s statement is more eschatological in nature than may first appear.  There is no ultimate harm that can be done to a faithful believer since God’s reward for faithfulness is sure and eternal.  They may take your life, but they cannot take your reward.  God has also “set his face against” those who do evil, so the faithful find a defender against such injustice in God Himself.

The word eager is also translated zealous, or full of zeal and energy.  In the first century a zealot was an intense patriot.  One would never expect a zealot to compromise their beliefs in order to avoid personal harm.  The testimony of the Christian should be an intense, uncompromised, patriotism towards the kingdom of God, a patriotism that is characterized by a bold testimony and an active engagement in doing those things that are good.  The goodness to which Peter refers is an uncompromised righteousness. Peter’s words are a positive appeal for Christians to take a bold stand for what is right.

1 Peter 3:14   But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened."

The word translated but can also be translated indeed, making this statement a complement to the previous statement rather than a replacement.  Peter’s statement is similar to Jesus' eighth beatitude:

 Matthew 5:10.  Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What are some of the sources of suffering in this life?  We suffer from illness.  We suffer from the consequences of our sin and the sin of others.  Note that those who are blessed for their suffering are suffering for righteousness sake only.  Suffering for other reasons does not guarantee any form of blessing.  Some individuals bring suffering upon themselves for suffering's sake only in order to demonstrate their piety, pay some debt of penance, or to seek a blessing.  These motives are in error.  Suffering for righteousness’ sake occurs spontaneously in response to the conflict that arises when one demonstrates true faithfulness in an unfaithful world.  Those who experience suffering for their faith will find a real and tangible blessing that comes from the LORD who defends them in times of persecution.

Literally, "fear not their fear" or “fear not their intimidation” is an alliteration implying that Christians should not fear the threats of the unfaithful.  Peter did not want his Christian friends to be troubled or disturbed by the taunts, jeers, and acts of reprisal that they were facing.  There is no need for Christians to fear what non-believers can do to them.  Likewise, today’s faithful should not be frightened by this evil world culture in any way. The faithful can draw upon the wisdom of God and find a spirit of confidence and security that is found only in Him.  Being frightened is an indication of a lack confidence in God and His promises.  One resource to draw from is indicated in the next verse.

1 Peter 3:15.   But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect,

The first part of verse 15 is a response to verse 14.  Our confidence and strength can come from God when He is the supreme authority in our lives and His Lordship over us is the only power and defense we have in the conflict.  Peter points to the necessity of our holding the position of Lordship for Christ in our hearts without compromise.  If we represent Him to the world, the capacity of the world to intimidate and overpower us is significantly diminished, if not defeated altogether.  The faithful find no such defense when their own lifestyle is seen as compromised and worldly.

Furthermore, Peter is literally telling the community of the faithful to be prepared to give an apologetic for their faith.  Here, the word apologetic means to give a reasoned, accurate, positive, and convincing response to the criticism that Christians receive.  It does not mean to apologize for being wrong, it means to accurately and in reason defend what one knows as the truth.

Note that the faithful should be able to provide an answer for anyone who asks.   The implication here is that one’s faithfulness is open and evident all of the time to all who one encounters.  Furthermore, their faithfulness is open and evident enough to encourage questions from others.  The person of faith can be confident that when someone asks a question, the Holy Spirit will lead them with the answers, first through their knowledge and understanding of the gospel, and second through the promised work of the Spirit in the heart and mind of the believer.

The Christian life is one that should be characterized by a true and abiding peace, hope, and joy.  All three of these are sought by, but never found by those who do evil.  Peace, hope, and joy in the life of the faithful is a most powerful testimony to this wicked world.  How do we express these?  One expresses peace in a genuine serenity in times of conflict, a serenity that comes from a confidence in God.  Hope is expressed when we are not overcome by circumstances, but rather by maintaining a confidence in God’s purpose in our future.  Joy is expressed by a deep happiness and confidence in God that transcends circumstances.

However, note that Peter’s imperative does not give the faithful a testimony of silence.  Christians are to look for opportunities to give a reason for that peace, joy, and hope.  That testimony is to be one that is consistent with the faithful nature, one that is bathed in love and respect for those to whom a testimony is shared.

The work of the kingdom of God can be grievously damaged by a zealous response that lacks gentleness, or does not show sincere love and respect for the one hearing the testimony.  This is one criticism for the way many media evangelists (or stump shouters) often present the gospel.  We sometimes may refer to theirs as a “hell and brimstone” presentation.  Their presentation is often condemning and harsh, or elitist and soapy.  Rarely does a media evangelist seem to present the gospel in a gentle manner, showing care and respect for the audience.   Jesus and the Apostles always presented the gospel in a gentle and respectful manner, allowing the recipient to make the decision upon hearing the truth.

Our Best Defense:  Genuine Christian Conduct.

1 Peter 3:16.   keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

As a third qualifying condition, Peter urged the faithful to back up the verbal defense of their faith with an exemplary Christian lifestyle that is beyond reproach.  What happens when your verbal witness and your non-verbal witness are inconsistent?  This inconsistency is the very definition of hypocrisy, a charge that is appropriately leveled against Christians by the lost world on a regular basis.  Because of our bent to sin, the maintenance of a godly lifestyle requires deliberate and continual decision, a vigilance towards the negative impact that compromise has on our lives, the lives of those who we care for, and for our testimony.  Peter describes the result of a godly lifestyle is one of clear conscience.

A clear conscience is found in one of two ways.  First, one can use any manner of rationalizations and defenses to cover those sins that one foolishly considers “secret.”  This choice to cover sins in itself is a choice to allow sin, a sin that is fully known by the LORD and may well be evident to others in all other areas of life.  A clear conscience in the life of one with un-repented sin is a delusion.  A true clear conscience is found in a retrospective analysis of one’s life that reveals a sincere and uncompromised desire for godliness that is evident in spiritual fruit in many areas of life.  It is found in a repentance from those secret sins that one thinks nobody knows about, and certainly a repentance of those that are not so secret.  A clear conscience is found in a confidence in God’s promise of forgiveness.

If one has built a good Christian reputation, how long does it take to destroy that reputation?  The confidence that people have in you and your Christian testimony can be destroyed in a single act.  If you do not have a good Christian reputation, how long does it take to gain one?  People are generally slow to forgive, remembering acts of hypocrisy, making it difficult to regain other’s trust and confidence.  The most compelling defense of your faith is a true and uncompromisingly Christian lifestyle that is characterized by integrity in all areas.

How can you maintain a Christian lifestyle on a continual basis?  Peter states that you cannot be rightfully attacked when your lifestyle is unblemished by an ungodly character.  Peter’s imperative is in agreement with both the Prophet Isaiah and the Apostle Paul who held that a lifestyle of uncompromised integrity serves as a “breastplate of righteousness” that serves to deflect the attacks of the evil one.  However, if there are blemishes in our lifestyle, these are chinks or cracks in the armor that God has made available to us, and we are susceptible to attacks from which we have no reasonable defense, and the suffering we experience is our own doing, a suffering that is not blessed by God.

1 Peter 3:17.  It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

Peter then gives a third reason for bearing unjust wrong: “Such an experience may lie in the will of God for His child. In proof thereof, the writer has referred to the Cross where God's beloved Son died. What follows in the remainder of the chapter, after verse 18, is not understood easily. Ten orderly steps, however, may be traced through verses 19 to 22.

(1)  The Spirit of Christ offered some the gift of salvation ("By which also he went and preached") ;

(2)  It was proffered to spirits now in prison ("unto the spirits in prison") ;

(3)  But they refused the effort of common grace ("Which sometime were disobedient") ;

(4)  They despised the riches of divine goodness and forbearance and longsuffer-ing ("when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah") ;

(5)  But in contrast to their unbelief was the faith of Noah as he prepared for the threatened destruction ("while the ark was a preparing") ;

(6)  Only eight souls chose to enter the ark and escape the predicted judgment ("wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water") ;

(7)  Baptism is the antitype of Noah's deliverance, consequently baptism has nothing to do with human reformation ("The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh)") ;

(8)  Salvation depends today upon the work of a good conscience, i.e. faith ("but the answer of a good conscience toward God") ;

(9)  Saving faith is directed toward Jesus Christ and Him raised from the dead ("by the resurrection of Jesus Christ") ;

(10)      Faith will embrace both the resurrection and glorification of Christ.”

If we understand verse 16, the ethics represented in this verse are simply common sense.  It is better to suffer for doing right, then it is to suffer for doing wrong?  Peter already repeated Jesus’ beatitude that those who suffer for righteousness’ sake are blessed.  Those who suffer from the consequences of their unrighteousness receive no such blessing, but only experiencing the curse of the consequences of their acts. 

Is it God's will that we suffer?  We might argue that, since God ultimately wants what is good and best for us, that suffering should not be a part of our lives.  However, the first chapter of James reminds us that the conflict of suffering is a necessary part of our growth and is therefore permitted by God so that it can do its perfect (complete) work in our lives.

We might find a metaphor in the example of parenting.  Does a parent want their children to experience hurt and suffering?  Of course not, but when children disobey or demonstrate behavior that is worthy of discipline some measure must be properly taken, a measure that a child might interpret as a form of suffering.  When children step outside the boundaries of reasonable conduct, they must be corrected and brought back.  The same is true for Children of God.  When a child must be corrected that form of correction comes only from a willful transgression and the child is ultimately responsible for the price they must pay. 

Consequently, there is a clear difference between the suffering that is blessed by God and the suffering that is not.  The blessing is found when one suffers at the hands of others in response for doing that which is in obedience to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  Peter reminds us that the faithful should not be discouraged from doing good because of the threats or intimidation of the evil one, but rather to remember the ultimate blessing that obedience to God brings.

Christ is our example of suffering.

1 Peter 3:18.   For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,

The supreme example of one who suffered and did no wrong is Christ. “Peter assures the readers that suffering for righteousness brings them into close identity with the experience of their Savior and Lord.”

The word for "died" in many of the older manuscripts is the identical word that is also rendered "suffered unto death."  There is only one letter difference between "died" and "suffered" in the Greek lexicon.  The quote clearly identifies that the death of Christ was a death that came with great suffering.  The New Testament writers declared that Jesus’ suffering was the one final sacrifice that provides the full atonement for the sins of all those who truly place their faith and trust in God.  Jesus did not die for His own sins, but for the sins of all others who would place their faith and trust in Him.  “The suffering Christian must always remember that he has a suffering Christ. Christ's attitudes and actions during His unjust persecution reveal the proper response to suffering that His followers are to maintain during stressful situations.”

Christ's death on the cross is not an event to be repeated: the work of grace is done.  Christ's death on the cross was once for all time.  His sacrifice also was once for all sin and once for all people, giving all the opportunity to find forgiveness by trusting in God.  We may be reminded of the contents of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews where the writer states, “By faith Abraham XE "Abraham" , “ and goes on to list many others who placed their faith and trust in God prior to the coming of Jesus, Christ, clearly denoting the voracity of their salvation through the work of the Cross.  Jesus died to provide forgiveness of sin for all who place their faith and trust in God.  All means everyone, without regard to how they came to faith in God, but that they came to faith in God.

The next phrase literally means, "the just for the unjust"  This refers to the vicarious nature of Christ's death on the cross.  He took our place, suffering on our behalf, though He did nothing to deserve that suffering.  We should never forget that we all have an unjust nature, and all of us deserve God’s wrath for our continued sin.

The word rendered "bring you to" refers to bringing someone to the throne of one in great authority.  Only Aaron and his sons were allowed to come to the door of the tent; only “righteous” Jewish men were allowed to enter the inner court of the Temple.  Only Jews could go past the Temple court of the Gentiles.  Each of these rules serve as a metaphor of one’s worthiness to access the throne of God.  Jewish traditions stratified access to God.  Jesus' death did away with all of that stratification, even though modern religions have sought to recreate it.

Jesus died.  He did not go into a coma or faint, but was alive in the spirit immediately upon his physical death. 

Christ's Preaching to Imprisoned Spirits. 

1 Peter 3:19   through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison

This is probably the most difficult passage in the letter, and it is numbered among the most controversial passages in the entire New Testament.  “The meaning of every word or phrase in 1 Peter 3:19 has been and is disputed. No one interpretation has gained dominance. So it is unlikely that "another" interpretation will succeed in commanding the field.”  Martin Luther XE "Luther, Martin"  admitted that he did not understand what Peter meant in these verses.  These verses have been used to defend the Catholic tradition of purgatory.  Here is a summary of the primary modern viewpoints:

·        Jesus went to the realm of the dead, Sheol or Hades, between his death and resurrection.  This was part of his suffering for the sins of his people.

·        Jesus demonstrated, through His death, the truth of the gospel to all those who are under the bondage of sin, including those who had already died.

·        Jesus made this journey to proclaim his Lordship over the dead.  His goal was to obtain release for the righteous people who had died prior to the cross. “This "harrowing of hell," as it is sometimes referred to, is described at some length by the spurious Gospel of Nicodemus. It includes a description of the descent itself, a deception of Satan, a bursting of the gates, a preaching to the spirits, their release, and the resurrection of the saints.”

·        Jesus went to the realm of the dead to validate what God had been saying throughout history:  God's redemptive work now had been accomplished in Christ's death on the cross.  The damnation of those who had refused to respond to the truth was confirmed.

·        Jesus went to preach repentance and salvation, providing all the dead with another chance to be saved.

·        Jesus became eternally present at the actual time of His death.  It was that eternal spirit that called people to repentance.

·        These verses refer to the apocryphal book of Enoch, which is not part of Christian doctrine.

Our separation from the meaning of the original text by several layers of language translation and 2000 years of cultural changes can sometimes serve to make the exact determination of an author’s intent difficult to ascertain.  However, the specific meaning of these verses may elude us, but the basic message is still very clear:

1 Peter 3:20.   who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,

Jesus' death was not myth or make-believe.  If we ascribe to Jesus' descending into the realm of the dead, this scripture clearly states that he descended into Hades.  Jewish tradition held that the realm of the dead was divided into two sections:  Hades was a waiting place for the righteous, often referred to as "Abraham XE "Abraham" 's Bosom."  The second section was Gehenna, or hell, which was reserved for the wicked.  Its name was based on the name of the Valley of Hinnom, just outside the walls of Jerusalem where the city's refuse was burned.

The New Testament does not specifically state that Jesus descended into Hell.  However, the implication here is strong that Jesus descended into Hades, where he would have met Abraham XE "Abraham" , Moses, Elijah, etc.  We may recall the mount of transfiguration, where Jesus met with the patriarchs, clearly demonstrating their state as a living being.  The Jews would have held that the patriarchs ascended from Hades for this event, whereas many hold that they stepped back into created, physical time from their home in eternity as the Messiah, the Christ had done. 

The Gospel of Matthew, gives witness to the dead rising during the period between Jesus’ death and His resurrection, lending credence to the timeless efficacy of His saving grace.  Whether these who were raised ascended from Hades or descended from Heaven’s eternity, Christ's triumph over all times and places is universal.  God's message of grace in Christ reaches out to touch all mankind so that no person is excluded from the scope of God's love and concern. 

In Noah's time, the ark was the instrument of salvation for the righteous.  The water lifted the boat and held it safe during the destruction of the wicked.  In the same manner, Jesus lifts up all those of genuine faith, saving them from ultimate destruction.  “The author of 1 Peter aims to foster Christian endurance by helping his readers to connect their sense of being heirs of an ancient great escape to their reception of God’s redemptive activity in Jesus.”  Peter is laying the groundwork for his statement concerning Christian baptism.

Christian Baptism:  Symbol of the Resurrection.

1 Peter 3:21.   and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

The Greek word, antitupon, antitupon, rendered as the word symbolizes, is also used in Hebrews 9:24, and refers to that which is represented by the type of another, and is grammatically linked to the word translated, “saved.”  This verse does not mean, as it may literally appear, that salvation is obtained through water baptism, but rather, that water baptism is a symbol or archetype of that salvation. 

The grammatical constructs in the original Greek language are complex and open to various interpretations based upon where one places the punctuation and how verbs are organized to pair with subjects.  How does “baptism save,” when we know that salvation is by faith and faith alone?  “It spares one from the unfavorable circumstance of judgment.  It does so because it is the declaration of the individual's appropriate conscious awareness in reference to God. He can have this appropriate awareness because of the resurrection of Christ. Baptism saves in that it is the moment when the individual testifies to the fact that he shares something in common with God. He makes known that he has the right attitude and relationship toward God. He willingly responds with his declaration to anyone who interrogates him. He has become a "co-knower" with God and other Christians that in the resurrection of Christ there is salvation. The baptized is saved because he recognizes the authenticity and divine origin of the message that in Christ God has offered man the ultimate revelation of His grace.”

Those who hold to the literal interpretation that water baptism is necessary for salvation can find through the actual Greek grammar a context that is in agreement with the basic doctrine of salvation by grace through faith.  Peter uses Noah's deliverance by the floodwaters as an architype of the Christian believer's deliverance which is symbolized in water baptism.  “The flood that destroyed all mankind was, in a certain sense, responsible for Noah's being spared judgment. It floated his ark instead of overwhelming the craft. Similarly the water of baptism, although it speaks symbolically of death in union with Christ, will at the same time witness to co-resurrection with the Savior.”

Furthermore, the verse continues to state that salvation is by the "pledge of good conscience."  This is far more consistent with our understanding that God looks to our heart, and not to our outward actions.  However, a misunderstanding of this verse can lead one to believe that baptism alone saves.  Infant baptism was a tradition started in the third century due to a misunderstanding about baptism and a subsequent thought that since it is the act of baptism that saves, then one should be baptized upon birth to assure ones security against an early death.  This mistaken interpretation has become a stalwart tradition that has greatly contributed to the persecution of the church.  Many Anabaptists (re-baptizers) were tortured and killed during the next twelve centuries in the name of doctrinal correction by the Catholic and Anglican churches.  There is no religious ritual or rite that can provide a means of salvation.  There is no single work, or set of works, which can make one righteous.  This verse states that the power of salvation is found only through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, His work, and His authority.

1 Peter 3:22.   who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Peter has identified that baptism is not a bath that cleanses one of dirt, but a symbolic act that is an archetype of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  In being baptized, the new Christian is making an open pledge, or vow, of consecration to God, declaring repentance from sin, and allegiance to the LORD, Jesus.  This public proclamation indicates that the believer has heard the truth, and has turned to God for salvation through Christ's resurrection.  Being buried in the water symbolizes Christ's being buried in the tomb.  Rising out of the water symbolizes that new life that one now, upon their previous profession of faith, will experience.

In baptism we identify ourselves publicly with Christ in the same manner that Jesus’ Baptist by John (the Baptist) served as a public profession of His submission to and approval of John’s message.  We state unashamedly that we have died to the old life and arise to a new life in Christ.  Second and third century Christians illustrated this quite graphically.  They removed their old clothes prior to baptism, were baptized, then they put on new clothes.  Since baptism is a testimony of repentance, it is not appropriate that one intentionally carry an un-repented sin through the waters of baptism.  Likewise it is not appropriate that one baptize another when there is evidence of deliberate and rebellious un-repented sin in their lives.

Verse 22 also affirms the ascension of Christ and his eternal status as the reining Lord.  Christ holds the position of ultimate authority over all creation.  If angels, authorities and powers are in submission to Him, our very first step in understanding what Jesus is done, is to accept his complete authority over us.  Jesus is not a symbol or icon to be worshiped, He is the Lord to be loved and obeyed.  Only when we accept the position of Jesus as our personal LORD, can we experience the salvation He died to give us.  It is from that perspective we then seek to obey Him, and show evidence of His lordship in our lives.

c.f. Ephesians 6.

Isaiah 50:9.

Schreiner, p. 170.

Isaiah 59:17; Ephesians 6:12.

Bennetch, John Henry.  Exegetical studies in 1 Peter.  Bibliotheca sacra, 101 no 402 Apr - Jun 1944, p 193..

James 1:14,17.

Hiebert, D Edmond.  Selected studies from 1 Peter: pt 2, The suffering and triumphant Christ: an exposition of 1 Peter 3:18-22.  Bibliotheca sacra, 139 no 554 Apr - Jun 1982, p 147.

1 Corinthians 15:3, Galatians 1:3-4, 1 John 2:2, Hebrews 5:1-3, 7-10.

Kirk, Gordon E.  Endurance in suffering in 1 Peter.  Bibliotheca sacra, 138 no 549 Jan - Mar 1981, p 55.

Hebrews 9:26-27.

Exodus 29:4.

Bandstra, Andrew J.  'Making proclamation to the spirits in prison': another look at 1 Peter 3:19.  Calvin Theological Journal, 38 no 1 Apr 2003, p 120.

Scharlemann, Martin Henry.  'He descended into hell': an interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20.  Concordia Journal, 15 no 3 Jul 1989, p 312.

Matthew 17:1-9.

Matthew 27:52.

Collins, C John. Noah, Deucalion, and the New Testament.  Biblica, 93 no 3 2012, p 403-425.

Ibid.  Hiebert,  p 154.

Brooks, Oscar S.  1 Peter 3:21: the clue to the literary structure of the epistle.  Novum testamentum, 16 no 4 Oct 1974, p 290-305.

Bennetch, John Henry.  Exegetical studies in 1 Peter.  Bibliotheca sacra, 101 no 403 Jul - Sep 1944, p 305.


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Written each week by our publisher and editor, John W. (Jack) Carter, these are original, researched, commentaries that may be used for individual study or small-group discussion.
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