Saturday, October 22, 2005

What's Orthodoxy?

"I'm a Christian. I go to church every Sunday, and I tithe (mint and cumin!). I teach Sunday School, and... I'm a heretic."

Today kinda the standard wisdom is, "As long as you really believe in your heart, you're a Christian." Believe what?

There is a danger in writing the kind of thing I'm writing. And that danger is this: thinking that your work of belief is what saves you. No, what really happens in the believer is that God gives you the strength, wisdom, etc. to believe. And what does a Christian believe?

Well, that is a question that has been long debated. But I think the following is what most people would say lies within the realm of orthodoxy. There may well be other things that I am forgetting.

1. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. God is one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the Trinity.

2. Jesus Christ is God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. He is fully God and fully man.

3. In the fullness of time, Jesus became man, was born of the virgin Mary, died on the cross to save His people from their sins, and rose again on the third day. These were real, historic events.

4. To be a Christian means that you accept Jesus Christ's atoning work on the cross for your sins. But if Jesus Christ is your Savior, then He is also your Lord. You are not your own, you have been bought with a price; you are now slaves to God, and you must do what He commands.

Now the implications of these four bullets are rather far-reaching. But the main implication I'd like to focus on is the Christian's view of the Scripture. There are many, quite varying, views on what the Bible is, and what we can take from it. First of all, I would ask the following question: how did you come to a knowledge and belief of those four items listed above? I'll wager it wasn't by lying down on a hill and watching the clouds roll by. Instead, I'd be willing to bet that someone explained some part of the Bible to you. Isn't that right? And then something clicked, and you understood what the Gospel was all about.

What did Jesus say about the Bible? Well, one thing He said was the following, in John 10:3-5: "To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." Again, in the same chapter, verse 16, "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice."

I ask you this: what is the voice of Jesus? How does Jesus speak to us? Or even, how did Jesus speak? Well, again in John, we have in chapter 12, verse 50: "And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me." So apparently, Jesus said precisely what the Father told him to say. And what was that? What did the Father give to the Son for the Son to say? Well, apparently, the Holy Spirit can't be left out of this, either. The Holy Spirit will say the same thing as the Son, and the same thing as the Father. This we get from John 14:16-7, which says, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."

So whatever Jesus is saying, the entire Trinity is saying. All Persons of the Trinity are saying the same thing. But you the reader are getting impatient by now, wanting to know precisely what it is that the whole Trinity is really saying. Well, in John 14:24, Jesus says, "Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me." So Jesus is validating the words of the Father. So at this point, if you really believe what Jesus said, you are now logically forced to believe what God the Father said. And what did God the Father say? The entire Old Testament and New Testament. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competant, equipped for every good work." This verse implies the sufficiency of Scripture for the Christian life. It also implies that God "breathed it out". In other words, God spoke all these words. And since it doesn't matter which person of the Trinity we're talking about (they all say the same thing), we can just say it's the whole Trinity if we like. Finally, we have in 2 Peter 1:21 that "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." This phrase "carried along" is what we mean by the "inspiration of the Holy Spirit". So apparently, prophecy is inspired by the Holy Spirit. But what exactly is prophecy? Well, there are two kinds. One is called foretelling. This is the future we're talking about here. The other kind of prophecy is forthtelling. That means telling it like it is. Telling us what the earth and heavens are really like. Telling us who God is. I would argue that the entire Bible is composed of sections of prophecy of one of these two kinds.

This means that as a Christian, you must logically accept the Bible as the Word of God. This is the voice of Jesus speaking to you, and if you truly are one of His sheep, you will recognize His voice and follow Him.

In Christ.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

It all comes down to your view of God and your view of man.

The title of this post is something I heard quite a few times when I was at Grove City College, taking Civilization and the Speculative Mind. Naturally, all students abbreviate the names of courses. This one was called Spec Mind. This led to the quip, "So, this is the course where we worry about the speck in our brother's mind without worrying about the plank in our own mind."

My teacher for this course was James T. Thrasher, and he was tough as all get-out. I worked harder for this course than I did for Quantum Mechanics! He it was who gave us that quote above, "It all comes down to your view of God and your view of man."

What are the options? Well, strictly speaking, I suppose there are four; they are 1. high view of God and high view of man, 2. high view of God and low view of man, 3. low view of God and high view of man, and 4. low view of God and low view of man. Number 4 is suicidal, and probably an aberration. Though I do not say it is unimportant, I will not deal with it here. The first three are much more important, because they are more widespread. But before I go on, I need to mention something a Christian would point out. God does not change, and thus a low or high view of God is not complicated. But men change. God saves some men, and thus we should clarify whether we are talking about regenerate men or unregenerate men. I will do so from now on. It is also important to discuss this word "view". Whose view are we talking about? Are we attempting to view men and God from God's perspective or from man's? That also I will clarify.

Number 3 is the secular humanist. Men who take this position probably assume that there is no fundamental change such as salvation, and thus the position of men is not complicated. Man is man, according to this view. In addition, the view is all from men. In other words, men, men, men. Man the measure, as some of the Greeks would say.

Numbers 1 and 2, in sort of a blend, represents the biblical view. The biblical view states first that it is God's view that matters more than man's view. I shouldn't care so much about what other people think of me, whereas I should care very much about what God thinks of me. So from a God's-eye perspective, the unregenerate man is viewed with wrath, and the regenerate man is viewed with love. See Romans 9 for a discussion of the fact that God loved Jacob and hated Esau. As John Murray pointed out, the word "hated" there cannot be reduced to "loved less." The contrast implies the greater meaning.

So we really have two options, when we come down to it. One is the secular humanist position. The view is from man, and man takes a high view of himself, and a low view of God, if he even believes there is a God. The other option is the biblical position. The view is from God, and God views unregenerate men as objects of His wrath, and regenerate men as objects of His love. *plays tune from Jeopardy* Which one to take?

Some of you have perhaps heard of Pascal's wager. This wager has very much to do with this topic. You should see this for an atheist's take on Pascal's wager. He has what I would consider a decent explanation of the wager himself. And then he has a number of objections. I will assume, therefore, that at this time you have read that link, and the "flaws" he points out. I will now address his arguments, at least some of them.

Flaw Number 1. How do you know which God to believe in? It is true that many religions make exclusive claims: believe this religion or you will go to hell. But Christianity makes one claim that no other religion on earth makes. The claim is that man cannot save himself; he needs a Savior. If God is God: absolute, infinite, holy, etc., and man is finite, then how could man possibly save himself? Even if he could, how could he possibly know whether he has really done it or not? This is what tormented Martin Luther, and what the book of Romans taught him. Since Jesus saves, and we do not save ourselves, we can have assurance, unlike every other religion in existence. Ultimately, however, I do not believe you can prove the existence of God. Many have tried, and failed. The only thing that will really convince you of the truth of Christianity is if God the Holy Spirit comes into your heart and regenerates you.

Flaw Number 2. Of course God is not stupid, and yes we are trying, in one sense, to get a free ride into heaven. But if Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then guess what? A free ride is the only ride! Now I am not arguing here that once you are saved, you can do whatever you want. Far from it. But our ultimate salvation is utterly free. You ask how can I believe in a God simply out of convenience? Well, the short answer is I don't. There are many reasons people become Christians, and yet there are many more reasons people stay Christians.

Flaw Number 3. If you have spent considerable time trying to obey the Scriptures, then I think there would be no waste of time. If people only obeyed the latter six of the Ten Commandments, wouldn't the world be a much better place? Naturally, if they obeyed the first four in addition, the world would be perfect. :-) But I cannot call it a waste if people treat each other well, which is really what the latter six commandments are all about. See also Jesus' explanation of how the Ten Commandments are really internal also, and not just external. So keeping the Ten Commandments is not what it may seem to the superficial eye.

Flaw Number 4. I'm not sure how this is a flaw. What he says seems to be true, on the face of it. The real question is, is this concept a real flaw, or is it simply a fact?

Flaw Number 5. He's absolutely correct here. For evidence of a God, I would simply point to creation. Naturally, the atheist would say it's not creation, but that view doesn't hold water. If I pointed out a watch on the ground, no one would even begin to say that that watch was a random collection of molecules. He would admit that there was a design. Now look at a tree. Would you say that this infinitely more complicated tree was not designed? The Intelligent Design people have some really great stuff on this. See Michael Behe's book Darwin's Black Box for a start.

Flaw Number 6. Well, yeah, it's insulting... if you think man is basically good. If man is not basically good (and this is an assumption some atheists make: examine it, atheists!), then such a threat should be expected. It could hardly be an insult then!

Flaw Number 7. Ah, but Christians do not believe that God will judge based on our actions. If He did, we'd all be dead. No, God ultimately judges us, lets us into heaven or consigns us to hell, on the basis of whether or not Christ's works and righteousness are ours. This is not to say that our works are unimportant; far from it. But insofar as heaven is concerned, our works help us not a whit. The one situation that will never occur is that someone (besides Jesus!) gets into heaven on the basis of his own good works. Our own righteousness is as filthy rags (the Bible actually uses the term menstrual cloths, so think used tampons here!). Think that will get you into heaven?

The only thing remaining is to comment on his Atheist's Wager. I believe God exists. Therefore, if you don't believe in God, his Atheist's Wager states that you will go to heaven because you're a good person. This is precisely what will not happen. You can have Christ's righteousness, or no righteousness. There is no other righteousness on the basis of which we can get into heaven.

So, by and large, I think Pascal's Wager has fewer holes than Mr. Adrian Barnett thinks. My namesake needs to do better.

Accept Christ as your personal Savior now. There's no use in waiting!

In Christ.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My Research

Before I launch into this, I need to warn you that this post will be both less technical than some might expect, and more technical than others might expect.

I'm studying mathematical physics. What is that? It is the intersection of math and physics. This means two things. One is that I'm much more concerned about physical reality than some mathematicians are, and I'm also much more concerned about proofs than most physicists are. So nobody likes me! (That's a joke...)

Suppose you take a fiber optic cable. This is a piece of glass finely drawn into a wire; not a very flexible wire, I might add. The big deal about fiber optic cables is that you can send an enormous amount of information down one. You can send a lot more information down one of those things than you can down an electrical wire. So you've got a fiber optic cable. Suppose you send one single light wave down the cable. Such a wave is called a soliton. The great thing about solitons is that their shape is self-correcting. With an electrical wire, you have to have what's called a repeater to send information down it, because the signal loses its shape over distance and becomes meaningless to the recipient. It's just like the game of gossip, where by the time the message reaches the end of the line, it has changed considerably. A repeater takes the old signal, and re-transmits that signal down the wire so the recipient gets a better signal. With fiber optic cables, you don't need a repeater for miles of cable. This has distinct advantages.

Fiber optic cables have to be very small. Why, might you ask? Because there are fundamental limitations on the size of the cable if you want to send solitons down the cable.

If you send a soliton down a fiber optic cable, that soliton's behavior will be governed by a differential equation, what's called the non-linear Schrodinger equation. We do have exact solutions to this equation, but as it turns out, we can get more information about the soliton if we perform what's called the inverse scattering transform. This is somewhat like a Laplace Transform, only more complicated. The result of applying this transform is a multi-dimensional linear system of differential equations, which is much nicer for analysis. Now this whole process can either take birefringence into account, or not. Birefringence is the phenomenon of differently polarized light waves propagating down the cable at different velocities. If you do not take birefringence into account, then the result of the inverse scattering transform is a two-dimensional system, called the Zacharov-Shabat system. If you do take birefringence into account, then you get a three-dimensional system, called the Manakov system. Right now, I'm working on analyzing the Manakov system.

So there's my research. Any questions? :-)

In Christ.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Screwtape Letter

I'm in a study group studying the Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis. In our last study we came across a very puzzling statement. It goes like this, from the eleventh letter:

Fun is closely related to Joy - a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us. It can sometimes be used, of course, to divert humans from something else which the Enemy would like them to be feeling or doing: but in itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.

For those of you not familiar with the premise of Screwtape Letters, they are a series of letters written by a senior tempter (Screwtape) to his nephew, Wormwood. Hence the "undesirable tendencies: charity..."

I was puzzled by this passage. Why should fun produce charity (which is the word Lewis uses for agape love), and courage? I had certainly never thought of it that way.

I saw, however, that fun could produce contentment. Why is that? Because fun is focused on the now, the present. It is not focused on the future, which is where coveting lies. Coveting does lie in the future, does it not? I want what I do not have now, but would like in the future.

And then, in a flash, I saw how the other two fall out of that. Consider: of the Ten Commandments, the Tenth is a keystone commandment. It is a linchpin. Why? Because coveting leads to breaking all the other commandments, including the first four, I might add. What is the opposite of coveting? Contentment. So the Tenth Commandment commands us to be content. Now if we are content, we are much more likely to keep the rest of the commandments. But that is just obeying God. Loving God and obeying God are precisely the same thing. I've explained this on other blog entries, so I won't repeat myself here. So there's your charity! Fun produces charity, just like Lewis said.

So what about courage? Well, we could get that from 1 Cor. 13, where it says that perfect love casts out fear. So whammo! Fun, whatever Lewis is thinking of here, produces contentment, which in turn produces charity, which in turn produces courage.

Naturally, this truth must not be taken too far. As Screwtape says, fun can distract us from more important things. So we are not to pursue fun all the time because there's a good chance it might produce good qualities; some might argue that doing so would destroy the fun! Well, at least I hope this entry persuades you that fun is not inherently evil.

In Christ.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Mathematics and Mathematicians

Stories abound when it comes to mathematicians. One famous mathematician, Norbert Wiener, was your stereotypical absent - minded professor. Here are some anecdotes about him.

John Challifour told this story in April 2005 to his complex analysis class: Knowing of his absent-mindedness quite well, Norbert Wiener's wife knew it would be necessary to remind him that they were moving house the morning of the last day in their old place. She told him, "Norbert, remember that when you come home from work today, you must go to the new house, because this house won't be ours anymore." "Yes, dear," Professor Wiener condescended to her, in the way academics often do to their better halves. Nevertheless, just as his wife predicted, at the end of the day Norbert did go back to his old house, and he was confused to see that his supper was not ready, and indeed that there were no recognizable objects in the house. After a glance inside, he looked out again and saw a young girl swinging on the door of the fence that enclosed the house. "Little girl," Professor Wiener asked, "who lives in this house?" The girl responded, "It's OK, Daddy. Mommy told me you'd forget to come to the new house." (Here is the reference.)

There are no limits, apparently, to what a mathematician can forget. Another Wiener anecdote:

A student happened upon Wiener pacing up and down in the post office, apparently deep in thought. Struck with the opportunity of meeting the great mathematician, the student was yet hesitant to approach the man. The student thought that interrupting the man might cause him to lose some great result. But the student finally mustered the courage to go and talk with him. "Good morning, Professor Wiener." He stopped his pacing, struck his forehead and exclaimed, "That's it! Wiener!"

Morris Kline, an eminent mathematician and educator, wrote a book entitled Why the Professor Can't Teach. In that book, he makes the comment that mathematicians are, after all, only human, and as regards ego, a rather disagreeable cross-section of humanity.

And there are, of course, plenty of jokes on mathematicians. Mathematicians are known for coming up with elegant, if useless, solutions to problems. An example: a farmer asked an engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician to fence off a maximum area with a fixed length of fence. The engineer makes the fence into a circle, and claims he has found the maximum area. The physicist puts the fence in a straight line, and then says, "We can assume the fence goes off into infinity. Thus, I have fenced off half the earth." The mathematician just laughes at them. He builds a tiny fence around himself and says, "I declare myself to be on the outside."

Here's a mathematical curiosity. Where does this series of equations fail?

1 = 1 * 1 = sqrt(1) * sqrt(1) = sqrt(1 * 1) = sqrt(-1 * -1) = sqrt(-1) * sqrt(-1) = i * i = -1.

The answer is not exactly obvious, I warn you.

Here's another curiosity. Pick out the pattern here. (For those of you to whom I have shown this already, you're not allowed to let the cat out of the bag!)

8, 5, 4, 9, 1, 7, 6, 3, 2, 0.

It's a finite sequence, so your task is simply to explain why the numbers are in this order, and not in some other order. This answer is quite different from the previous mathematical curiosity.

Calculus is responsible for the modern technological age. Here's what historian Arnold Toynbee wrote about it:

[begin quote]
... at about the age of sixteen, I was offered a choice which, in retrospect, I can see that I was not mature enough, at the time, to make wisely. This choice was between starting on the calculus and, alternatively, giving up mathematics altogether and spending the time saved from it on reading Latin and Greek literature more widely. I chose to give up mathematics, and I have lived to regret this keenly after it has become too late to repair my mistake. The calculus, even a taste of it, would have given me an important and illuminating additional outlook on the Universe, whereas, by the time at which the choice was presented to me, I had already got far enough in Latin and Greek to have been able to go farther with them unaided. So the choice that I made was the wrong one, yet it was natural that I should choose as I did. I was not good at mathematics; I did not like the stuff; ...

... Looking back, I feel sure that I ought not to have been offered the choice; the rudiments, at least, of the calculus ought to have been compulsory for me. One ought, after all, to be initiated into the life of the world in which one is going to have to live. I was going to have to live in the Western World ...; and the calculus, like the full-rigged sailing ship, is one of the characteristic expressions of the modern Western genius.

I would hasten to add that Latin and Greek are of exceptionally high value. I think Toynbee would not disagree. He's only saying that calculus was of much more value than he originally thought. I agree with these sentiments, to the point of concluding that no one ought to be allowed to hold a bachelor's degree unless he has seen and at least partially understood the Fundamental Theorem of the Calculus in all its glory. This theorem is easily the most important theorem in all of mathematics. Without it, technology as we know it could not possibly exist.

I would make one more very important comment. God gives us mathematics. It is not somehow independent of Him. If Christ is not Lord of all, then 2 + 2 = 5, or whatever you want it to be. There would be complete chaos. God gave us mathematics to help us in the Dominion mandate, which was to multiply (interesting choice of words there!), fill the earth, and subdue it.

In Christ.

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Nuclear Power

I've heard of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. I've also heard of the Thresher. All of which does not convince me in the slightest that there is any solution to the energy problem other than nuclear power.

First of all, Chernobyl simply cannot happen in an American reactor. American reactors are designed quite differently from Russian reactors. In the Russian reactors, components are almost built to fail. For example, at Chernobyl, one wall was designed to fall down easily so that it could be raised back up easily! Another example is the fail-safe design for the damping rods. Damping rods are what control the rate of reaction. If you draw the damping rods out of the pile, the reaction speeds up. If you put them back in, the reaction slows down. If you put the rods all the way in, then you have "scrammed" the reactor, and it will shut down completely (this is usually undesirable during normal operation, because the build-up of a certain noble gas (argon, maybe?) makes it difficult to restart the reactor: you have to wait 72 hours or something like that). In Russian reactors, the damping rods often come into the pile from below. So gravity will tend to push the rods down and out of the pile, creating a dangerous runaway reaction. In most American reactors, the rods come down in from the top as a fail-safe mechanism. If something happens to the control mechanism, the rods will drop down into the pile and scram the reactor.

Three-Mile Island was extremely mild as reactor accidents go. No one died, and few if any were injured.

The Navy went down and investigated the Thresher's reactor hull when it went down, and discovered it intact. Therefore, whatever caused it to go down, it was not a nuclear accident.

I claim nuclear power is safer than coal power by a long shot. The main argument for this is simple: mining. Coal mining is the most dangerous occupation in the world. That is because it is a deep-shaft sort of mining: you have to dig deep for coal. Uranium is mined in an open pit, which is considerably safer.

There are two common misconceptions about nuclear power. One is that a nuclear reactor can blow up like an atomic bomb. This is nonsense. No nuclear reactor in existence can blow up like a bomb. The reason? You have to use a much higher grade of uranium (or plutonium) for a bomb. In other words, it has to be much purer in order to explode like a bomb. Reactors don't need, and don't use such high-grade uranium. They use "lower octane", so to speak. So no fears on that score.

Another misconception about nuclear reactors is that living near one will cause you to have an abnormally high exposure to radiation. This is simply not true. It is a fact that, all other things being equal, a man will get more radiation exposure on one plane trip than he would get by working in a nuclear power plant for a year. Surprised? It is actually pilots that get more radiation than people who work in nuclear power plants; they get the solar radiation. In fact, your local nuclear power plant worker does not get measurably more radiation than the average Joe Blow on the street.

Finally, I would dispel one more myth. Microwave ovens have been accused of giving people radiation. This is simply ludicrous. While I'd be wary of the really old ovens that work with the door open, such an opinion just shows an ignorance of physics. Microwave ovens work by exciting water molecules, which in turn heat up the surrounding molecules. There is no radioactive decay going on at all. The most danger you are in, even if you have an old oven, is getting a little "excited" yourself. Interesting little story: microwaves, thought of as a mechanism for cooking things, were discovered by a man who had a raw egg in his pocket (don't ask me why), and was working, I think, near some transformer or radio station. Whichever station it was gave off some microwaves, and the man found that the egg in his pocket was cooking. The man suffered no harm by this discovery.

In Christ.

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Adultery in General.

Here's a post of my brother's that I thought was fantastic. I especially enjoyed the idea that the seventh Commandment forbids all the "lesser" things, and also commands all the lesser positive things. It was very interesting.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

In Christ.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Contradiction, or Paradox?

I have a booklet a Muslim friend gave me which puts forth supposed "errors" in the Bible. So I find myself unable to explain all of these. I may have an idea on one or two of them. I would invite scholars to explain these. I should mention that none of these shake my belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures in the slightest.

1. II Sam. 8:4 vs. I Chron. 18:4.

7 hundred or 7 thousand?

2. II Sam. 8:9-10 vs. I Chron. 18:9-10.

Toi or Tou, Joram or Hadoram, Hadadezer or Hadarezer?

3. II Sam. 10:18 vs. I Chron. 19:18.

7 hundred chariots or 7 thousand men? 40,000 horsemen or footmen? Shobach or Shophach?

4. II Kings 8:26 vs. II Chron. 22:2.

22 or 42 years old?

5. II Kings 24:8 vs. II Chron. 36:9.

18 or 8 years old? 3 months or 3 months and 10 days?

6. II Sam. 23:8 vs. I Chron. 11:11.

Tachmonite or Hachmonite? 800 or 300?

7. II Sam. 24:1 vs. I Chron. 21:1.

Is the Lord of David then Satan? God forbid!

8. II Sam. 6:23 vs. II Sam. 21:8.

Did Michal have children or not?

9. Gen. 6:3 vs. Noah's age when he dies.

10. Gen. 1:26 vs. Is. 40:18 and 25, Ps. 89:6, and Jer. 10:6,7.

Is there something (man) made in the image of God or not?

11. John 5:37 vs. John 14:9.

12. John 5:31 vs. John 8:14.

13. Matt. 15:24 vs. Mark 16:15 and Matt. 28:18-20.

14. Inclusion or exclusion of Mark 16:9-20.

I'm sure there are more, but these are a start. Thanks for your help, in advance!

In Christ.

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