Yearly Archives: 2013

Thomas a Kempis in Dei Verbum?

One of the famous phrases of the Second Vatican Council that has always stuck in my mind is from Dei Verbum, which teaches that “Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written” (section 12). That is the translation from the Vatican website. The Latin reads, “Sacra Scriptura eodem Spiritu quo scripta est etiam legenda et interpretanda sit.” Notably, the phrase “eodem Spiritu” means “same Spirit” not “sacred Spirit.” The old Walter Abbot translation gets this right and so does the Catechism (section 111). But the point is, where does this principle come from?

Well, if you take a look at the footnote to the line, you’ll see this:

EDIT 1/6/2014 (deleted text struck out and added text maroon):

9. cf. Pius XII, encyclical “Humani Generis,” Aug. 12, 1950: A.A.S. 42 (1950) pp. 568-69: Denzinger 2314 (3886).

9. cf. Benedict XV, encyclical “Spiritus Paraclitus” Sept. 15, 1920:EB 469. St. Jerome, “In Galatians’ 5, 19-20: PL 26, 417 A.

Great, so we have to go back and look at Humani Generis for this idea. The Denzinger reference 3886 equates to the 21st paragraph of the encyclical which talks about the value of biblical exegesis, that it renews theological inquiry, giving it a constant freshness. The paragraph does refer to Pius IX’s letter Inter gravissimas from 1870, but the funny thing is that the phrase about the “same Spirit in which it was written” does not appear anywhere in the encyclical.

I made a mistake in this original post by associating a footnote belonging to Article 11 to Article 12, as was pointed out to me by a friendly reader. The correct footnote points to Benedict XV and St. Jerome. The relevant text from Benedict XV’s encyclical is this:

35. But in a brief space Jerome became so enamored of the “folly of the Cross” that he himself serves as a proof of the extent to which a humble and devout frame of mind is conducive to the understanding of Holy Scripture. He realized that “in expounding Scripture we need God’s Holy Spirit”;[55] he saw that one cannot otherwise read or understand it “than the Holy Spirit by Whom it was written demands.”[56] Consequently, he was ever humbly praying for God’s assistance and for the light of the Holy Spirit, and asking his friends to do the same for him. We find him commending to the Divine assistance and to his brethren’s prayers his Commentaries on various books as he began them, and then rendering God due thanks when completed.

I have bolded the most important text, which is really a couple citations from St. Jerome. The two references are: “55. Id., In Mich., 1:10-15” and “56. Id., In Gal., 5:19-21.” The drafters of Dei Verbum point us to the second citation, from Jerome’s commentary on Galatians, the phrase there reads in Latin, “Quicumque igitur aliter Scripturam intelligit, quam sensus Spiritus sancti flagitat, quo conscripta est…” (Source: p. 417)This can be rendered in English, “Whoever, therefore, understands Scripture in any other way than the sense of the Holy Spirit by whom they were written…” This phrase seems to be underlying Dei Verbum‘s statement, but the wording is actually closer in yet another text.

So, here’s where Thomas a Kempis comes in. In his famous book, The Imitation of Christ, he talks about reading Scripture in Book I, chapter 5 and says that “it should be read in the same spirit with which it was made” (Harold Gardiner translation, 1955). So, is Vatican II quoting Thomas a Kempis without attribution? It’s hard to say. You can read the original Latin text online from this 1486 publication of the Imitation of Christ. Here’s an image for you:

Kempis_Chap5For those of you without a magnifying glass, the underlined text reads “Omnis Scriptura Sacra eo Spu debet legi quo facta est.” (“Spu” here is an abbreviated form of “Spiritu.”) My translation is then: “All of Sacred Scripture ought to be read in the same Spirit in which it was made.” However, a translation from 1938 that was republished in 1959 reads quite freely, “Each part of the Scripture is to be read in the same spirit in which it was written.”  I’m not suggesting that the Council Fathers were reading this translation and then formulating their Latin text, but that Thomas a Kempis was on their minds when penning this line. I would be interested to see if there is further evidence for this in some of the background documents of the Council. I just stumbled across it, and thought you would like it if I’d share it with you.

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“Feeling” in Biblical Times

The Catechism offers guidance on how to interpret the Bible, explaining that we must take into account the “modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current” (CCC 110). This idea of “feeling” struck me as kind of strange since the other verbs have to do with expressing ideas, not one’s inner emotions. And besides, don’t all writing professors get upset when students write, “I feel…”? So, I thought this might be a translation issue. In fact, it is.

This Catechism paragraph is based on Dei Verbum 12, which in the Latin uses the phrase, “sentiendi, dicendi, narrandive modos” to indicate the teaching. Well, the idea of “sentiendi” is translated in the Abbot translation of Dei Verbum as “perceiving,” which is much preferable to “feeling” in my opinion. The verb underlying this participle is “sentio” which can mean “feel, think, perceive, sense, judge, observe.” The Council fathers seem to be getting at the way that the ancients apprehended ideas and expressed them, not at the way they “felt” in terms of their emotions. We’re after how they thought, not how they “felt.” Notably, the official Latin version of the Catechism agrees with Dei Verbum: “modorum sentiendi.”

Is it a mis-translation? No, not really, but I think that one of the other translation choices for the Latin sentio, would be preferable. We want to think hard about how the ancient biblical authors understood and explained ideas, not in how they felt emotionally.

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What Did Ezra Read?

Today, the mass reading comes from Nehemiah, which reports the event of the priest-scribe Ezra reading the law of God to the Jews who have returned from the exile to the land. Here’s the report:

And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. (Neh 8:3 ESV)

So the question is what exactly is he reading? Scholars have put in a lot of sweat equity trying to figure out what exactly the “Book of the Law” was–Deuteronomy? The P material? Some early form of the Pentateuch? But of course, being scholars, they resort to bookish ideas to try to solve this problem of the book. I thought I’d lend a hand by introducing modern technology. :) (That would be a rather Catholic Bible Student kind of thing to do anyway.)

So…here’s where mp3 files come in. Back in the 60’s a mellifluous rabbi recorded himself reading the entire Tanak aloud and a very kind webmaster, has turned these recordings into mp3’s for all of us to enjoy for free. If we can grant Ezra about 6 hours from sun-up to noon to read, then how long would it take to read the Pentateuch in its present Hebrew form?

Using the Mechon-Mamre recordings as our baseline:

  • Genesis – 4:31:59 (4 hours, 31 minutes, 59 seconds)
  • Exodus – 3:14:39
  • Leviticus – 2:07:22
  • Numbers – 2:55:12
  • Deuteronomy – 2:43:28

So, if he read the whole Pentateuch, it would take 15 hours, 32 minutes and 40 seconds, with no breaks! So…he didn’t have time to read the whole Torah. But he could have read all of Deuteronomy and all of Numbers. Or he could have read all of Deuteronomy slowly with breaks and stops for moments of explanation. 

How much of the Pentateuch can you read from sunrise to noon?

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Translating Jeremiah 1:17

In the Old Testament reading for Mass yesterday for the feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, the Lectionary (NAB) translates Jeremiah 1:17 as follows:

But do you gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; 

But if you take a look at most other Bible translations, you’ll see something different. Here I’ll use the ESV as an example:

But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.

The second line in the NAB sounds kind of nice–that God is encouraging Jeremiah positively and assuring him of his divine benevolence: “I wouldn’t leave you crushed! So don’t be discouraged.” is the message. However, the ESV (along with most other translations) reads the opposite. Here God is saying to the prophet: “Don’t let them discourage you! If you do, then I’ll personally discourage you.” It reads more as a stick than a carrot. God is basically threatening the prophet to do his duty courageously or there will be consequences. So…this brings us to the revised NAB or the NABRE, which was put out in 2011. It reads:

But you, prepare yourself; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Do not be terrified on account of them, or I will terrify you before them;

Here the NABRE reverts to a traditional translation and even emphasizes the severity of the threatened divine action: “I will terrify you.” This is a dramatic turnaround from the previous NAB translation which softened the message. Here the NABRE translators get it right. The message is that God doesn’t want his prophet to be spooked by the powerful people who will oppose his divine message and that if he cowers down and lets them intimidate him into silence, then God himself will step in and “terrify” the prophet in front of his opponents. It’s a kind of encouragement, a tough kind that we don’t like to give or receive, but a kind that is sometimes necessary to get us headed in the right direction.

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Editing Encyclicals

In John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, was originally published with this sentence addressed to women who have had abortions:

You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. (Section 99; hosted at EWTN)

But if you check out the edition on the Vatican website it says:

To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. (Section 99; hosted at Vatican.va)

The official Latin text, which agrees with the edition on Vatican.va, says:

Infantem autem vestrum potestis Eidem Patri Eiusque misericordiae cum spe committere. (vatican.va)

It’s not the end of the world, but it’s interesting to see papal self-editing in action. The big issue here is the fate of aborted babies (and others) who die without baptism and therefore in a state of original sin. The International Theological Commission recently did a study on this question so I won’t try to solve it here. The point is that JPII seems to have originally over-stated his case by teaching that all aborted babies were in Heaven and then edited out this statement so that it would not pre-empt the doctrinal development that is on-going. I am very curious as to how this question will eventually be resolved or if it will be.

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The Dish-Washing Saint Bonaventure

I love the Franciscans. Poverty, simplicity, humility and joy are a few things that we need a heck of a lot more of in our time. St. Bonaventure, one of my inspirations, was considered the “second founder” of the Franciscan order. He’s a doctor of the Church, referred to as the “Seraphic Doctor.” And interestingly, he and St. Thomas Aquinas got their degrees at the same ceremony.

saint_bonaventure

Thanks to the MyHopeBox blog for putting this photo online

Late in life, St. Bonaventure was appointed to be a cardinal by the pope. In those days, the message didn’t come in a phone call. Rather the pope would send out a delegation of Vatican officials to bring the red hat to the appointee. (The red hat, the galero, which back then looked more like a sombrero, was the most important symbol of the cardinal’s office. Since 1965, the galero is no longer in use.)

Anyway, when the delegation showed up at St. Bonaventure’s friary, they found him washing the dishes. He actually sent them outside to wait for him to finish the dishes. Legend has it, he asked them to leave the red hat on a tree outside. So the saint finished washing the dishes and then came to greet the papal delegation.

Doing dishes often feels more like an annoying necessity than the substance of holiness. I think most of us would be tempted to put the dishes down gratefully for someone else to do if a papal messenger were knocking on the door. But St. Bonaventure’s commitment to his task in the life of his community, even in the face of honors from the pope, shows something very simple and yet very deep: The path to sainthood does not lie in showy ostentation, in external honors and achievements, but in the mundane, humdrum tasks of daily living. It’s the way we do these things, the level of commitment to our personal missions, that changes us. No amount of external recognition can bring about that kind of holiness. St. Bonaventure was not disrespecting the papal messengers, but deeply respecting the calling God had placed on his life at that moment: Wash the dishes!

Maybe you could think of the Seraphic Doctor next time you wash the dishes and realize that doing the dishes can be your path to holiness!

(Oh, by the way, today, July 15, is St. Bonaventure’s feast day.)

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Nine Biblical Metaphors for Sin

This topic has received magisterial treatment (in the scholarly sense) in Gary Anderson’s book, Sin: A History, but I wanted to offer a brief post on the biblical metaphors for sin. I find them fascinating and life-changing in terms of the way we conceive of ourselves and our moral mis-steps.

1. A Burden

Burdens

Anderson insists that the concept of sin as a burden in the OT is the most important, foundational metaphor. For example, we find “a people laden with iniquity” (Isa 1:4), the idea of “bearing sin” (Lev 20:20, 22:9, 24:15; Num 9:13, 18:22, 32), and iniquities “like a heavy burden” (Ps 38:4). But also Jesus says “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).  So sin is a burden to be borne.

2. A Stain

Anderson emphasizes this idea, which shows up in Jer 2:22 as “the stain of your guilt,” but also in Isaiah 1:18 “though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” There’s also the possibility of a “spot” clinging to Job’s hands (Job 31:7). The idea shows up elsewhere too (Sir 11:33, 44:19; 1 Tim 6:14). Sin is like a stain that is really hard to wash out. So redemption then is a “cleansing” or a “washing” (Ps 51:4; Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5).

3. A Debt

Sin is mentioned as a “record of debt” that was nailed to the cross by St. Paul (Col 2:14). Jesus uses the idea of debt to explain the forgiveness of sins in parables (Matt 18:21-35; Luke 7:41-50). It’s important to note that sometimes in the ancient world people would literally “sell themselves” into slavery in order to pay back debts, so these two metaphors for sin are connected. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “Master Card.”

4. A Lion

Lion

One of the first mentions of sin is in Genesis 4:7 where it is “crouching at the door” hoping to devour Cain. The posture of crouching is specifically linked with lions in the OT (Gen 49:9; Num 24:9; Deut 33:20; Job 38:40; Ezek 19:2). This idea re-appears in 1 Pet 5:8 as the devil “prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” So sin is a lion: Look out!

5. Leprosy

Leprosy, a skin disease, made a person ritually unclean and unable to enter the Temple and in fact, had to live in exile separated from other people (see Lev 13-14). The connection between sin and leprosy is not as explicit in the Bible, but both of them make a person “unclean” and therefore unfit for God’s presence. Two famous lepers appear in the OT: Naaman the Syrian (2 Kgs 5:1), and King Azariah/Uzziah (2 Kgs 15:5; 2 Chr 26:21-23). Notably, one is delivered by God from leprosy and the other is afflicted by God with the disease. When Jesus cleanses lepers (Mark 1:41 || Matt 8:3, Luke 17:14, Matt 11:5 || Luke 7:22), he is not only healing them physically, but symbolically pointing to his power to forgive sins. Notably, the ten lepers cry out for him to “have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13). He does. So sin is like a debilitating skin disease which makes a person unclean, unable to enter the presence of the Lord.

6. Slavery

Slavery links sin to the Israelites’ plight in Egypt. This particular situation of slavery is the controlling one for biblical metaphor here (just search “house of slavery” in the OT), but slavery in general is linked to sin. This concept is mentioned in Heb 2:15, which mentions the “lifelong slavery” of sin by which we were enslaved to the devil. St. Paul mentions the “spirit of slavery” (Rom 8:15) and the “yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1; see also Gal 2:4). In Galatians, he’s more specifically talking about slavery to the ceremonial precepts of the Mosaic law, but the main idea is that Christ has freed us from slavery to sin and some would have us go back into slavery.

7. Slavemaster

St. Paul tells us that it is possible to be “enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6), portraying Sin as a slavemaster. I like to think of this very similar to the way drug addiction works–one can become enslaved to drugs or alcohol. Sin has the same allure, but induces a person into subservience, sacrificing their free will to feed their destructive desires.

8. KingNorweigen Crown

According to St. Paul, sin used to “reign through death” (Rom 5:21) and he urges us not to allow sin to “reign in your mortal body” (Rom 6:12). Also, much earlier, God urges Cain to “rule over” sin which “desires” him (Gen 4:7). Sin can be a king or we can be king over it.

9. Military Conscriptor

St. Paul talks about how one who succumbs to sin makes his body parts “weapons for unrighteousness” (Rom 6:13). Also, he describes how the “wages”–the Greek word ὀψώνια originally referred to a soldier’s pay–“of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). So, the army-pay of sin is death and the one who pays it is Sin, who makes our bodies into “weapons” for his evil designs.

There you have it. Sin, fundamentally a choice against God, an act of disobedience, is pictured many different ways throughout the Bible. The Bible portrays sin as a burden, a stain, a debt, a lion, leprosy, slavery, a slavemaster, a king and a military conscriptor. If you find any more metaphors for sin in the Bible, leave a comment.

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Introductions to Books of the Bible, eCatholicHub.net and Roman Martyrology

I want to tie up some loose ends in this post.

Bible Book Introductions

From 2006-2008, I was writing for a website called eCatholicHub.net. I wrote introductions to the books of the Bible and Lectio Divina meditations on the Sunday readings. I also produced a database of saints based on the Roman Martyrology for the site. In 2009, eCatholicHub closed up shop and all the content I had produced was transferred to Catholic News Agency. Their Bible page still houses my introductions to biblical books.

Roman Martyrology

Old Book

CNA already had a saint database, so I’m not sure exactly how (or if) they used the Roman Martyrology data that I provided. I should explain that I did not translate the whole 2004 Martyrology. Rather, I used the Martyrology to piece together the most complete possible list of saints and blesseds. I referred to the Martyrology project in a few previous posts: here, and here, also here. A few years have passed, so quite a few new saints and blesseds would need to be added to a new edition. As far as I know, there is no current English translation of the Martyrology.

On that note, I also wanted to straighten out exactly what editions exist. The most important one is the 2004 editio typica (official) in Latin:

  • Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Martyrologium Romanum. Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2004. ISBN: 978-88-2097-210-3. 844 pp.

The Latin uses some very obscure abbreviations that took me a lot of toil to figure out. Some of that is took place in an interchange with Fr. Z and his readers.

The previous editio typica came out in 2001, but was quickly superseded by the 2004 edition. For the sake of completeness:

  • Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Martyrologium Romanum. Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001. 773 pp.

English translations of older editions:

  • O’Connell, J. B. The Roman Martyrology, in which are to be found the eulogies of the saints and blessed approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites up to 1961. An English translation from the 4th ed. after the typical edition (1956) approved by Pope Benedict XV (1922). Westminster, MD: Newman, 1962. LCCN: 62-21497. 412 pp.
  • Collins, Raphael J. The Roman Martyrology: The 3d Turin ed., according to the original, complete with the proper eulogies of recent saints and offices. Westminster, MD: Newman, 1946. LCCN: 46-6139. 352 pp.
  • The Roman Martyrology, in accordance with the reforms of Pope Pius X; in which are to be found the eulogies of the saints and blessed approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites up to the present time, with supplements for the Carmelite, Franciscan and Servite orders, and for the Society of Jesus. London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1923. 516 pp.
  • The Roman Martyrology published by order of Gregory XIII, revised by the authority of Urban VIII, and Clement X. Afterwards, in the year 1749, augmented and corrected by Benedict XIV. Baltimore: John Murphy, 1916. (Based on the 1914 Latin text.) Online at archive.org.

While not everyone reads the Roman Martyrology on a regular basis, it seems like it might be time for a complete English translation. I’d be happy to help, but I’m sure I’d need to consult some serious Latin experts to bring it to completion.

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Who is Melchizedek?

Melchizedek, a figure so heavily emphasized in the letter to the Hebrews, is shrouded in mystery. Who is this character and why is he so important?

Melchizedek

In the Bible
Melchizedek shows up only three times in the Bible. At first, he is a priest to whom Abraham pays a tithe (Gen 14:20). Melchizedek is here called a “priest of God Most High”; he offers bread and wine and blesses Abraham (Gen 14:18-19). Second, he shows up in a royal coronation psalm, written to celebrate the Davidic king, wherein the Lord “swears” an oath that the king “is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). Lastly, he shows up in Hebrews, which mentions him 8 times and emphasizes that Christ is a high priest in the line of Melchizedek, applying the line from Ps 110 to him (Heb 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17).

In the Dead Sea Scrolls
Melchizedek appears in a document discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls called 11QMelchizedek or 11Q13. In this text, Melchizedek returns to inaugurate the jubilee year, the “year of Melchizedek’s favor”* according to the text of 11Q13, instead of the “year of the Lord’s favor” in Isa 61:2. The text describes Melchizedek as a “godlike being”* who judges and executes God’s vengence. It cites Ps 82:1 and Ps 7:7-8 to describe him.

In Apocryphal Literature
Melchizedek is mentioned in 2 Enoch 68-73 (“the Exaltation of Melchizedek”) as being conceived without a father, being born from his mother’s dead body as a 3-year-old and continuing the line of priests from Enoch and Seth. The Nag Hammadi text “Tractate Melchizedek” in Codex IX, identifies Melchizedek as Jesus Christ.

Philo
Philo explains Melchizedek as a just king and relates him to reason (logos). See Legum Allegoriarum 3.79-82.

In Early Jewish Literature
Some early Jewish writers equate Melchizedek with the archangel Michael, leader of the heavenly armies. Other early Jewish authorities identify Melchizedek with Shem, the son of Noah (Targumim Pseudo-Jonathan, Neofiti, V, P).

In Early Christianity
There was actually a group of Christian heretics called “Melchizedekians”, referred to by Epiphanius of Salamis in his Panarion, Book II, chapter 55 (Greek, English excerpts). They regarded Melchizedek as actually greater than Jesus. There is also an early Christian work called Historia de Melchizedek (PG 28:525) attributed to pseudo-Athanasius.

Conclusions
So what to make of all these different identities? Clearly, early Jewish and Christian writers were very interested in Melchizedek’s identity and often sought to explain him in a way that pulled together other concepts–priesthood, redemption, eschatology. The best source, of course, is the Bible. Melchizedek should mainly be seen as an Old Testament priest who serves as a “type” of Christ. He foreshadows Christ’s universal priesthood through which we can be redeemed. The letter to the Hebrews provides the definitive interpretation of Melchizedek–a man, yes, but a man who points to the God-man.

I am indebted to Harold Attridge’s commentary on Hebrews (Hermeneia series, [Fortress Press, 1989]192-95) for pointing me to the right sources. You can find an online reproduction of his essay here.

*See Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 456.

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Missing Bible Verses

P46You might be surprised when you’re reading the New Testament and a verse disappears into thin air. For example, if you are reading Acts 8:36, you would expect Acts 8:37 to follow, but oddly, 8:38 is the next verse. What happened to Acts 8:37?

Or try to look up Romans 16:24. Or Matthew 17:21.

In fact, there’s a whole list of Bible verses that have been, er, excised from modern editions. Why?

The versification system that we use in English is based on the King James Bible (and some precursors) that relied on the Greek “Textus Receptus” (relying for the NT mainly on Erasmus’ edition) while modern translations are based on more recent text-critical work. The Textus Receptus  represents a Byzantine text type, but the newer critical editions are based on an Alexandrian text type. The Alexandrian text is now generally regarded as more accurate.

So our versification system is based on the King James, which is based on the Byzantine text, but our translations are based on the Alexandrian text. This means we’re using a verse system that does not line up with our text and it creates, well, holes. Even the Nova Vulgata, the Catholic Church’s official edition omits the verses.

Then are these omitted verses Scripture? Well, not exactly, but they were regarded as Scripture by many Christians for ages. Fortunately, most of them are not crucial verses.

Just a little piece of Bible-reader knowledge that will prevent you from calling the publisher in outrage when you find that a verse is missing from your Bible!

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