Posts Tagged ‘New Testament Canon’

The Canon of the New Testament in Church History: The Science of Paleography, Lesson 4

Lesson 5  I have titled this section, The Collection of the Canoncial NT WritingsThis section includes an analysis of the influences that lead up the collection of the NT writings.  The collection of the NT writings began at very early date.  As a result, we must survey the list of influences that lead to the motivation.[1]

A.  The Existence of the OT Canon and the LXX (Septuagint).

1) That Canon was a result of a long process and gradual process which was completed at the beginning of the Christian era.  The formation of the OT Canon influenced many Christians.  The OT was accepted as God’s word by the early Christians.  Much of the preaching and teaching was done from the OT.  Because the OT was recognized as God’s word, it supplied a model in which Christians could hardly fail to follow.  Because of the new revelations received through Christ and His followers, disciples of Christ understood the importance of supplementing the OT with the new revelations.[2]

2)  Moreover the process was not too difficult because it was rendered easily by the fact that there was the existence and widespread use of the in Greek (LXX), not Hebrew.  The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures.  This has not been adopted by the Jews of the Dispersion, but it was adopted by a large number of Jews within the confines of Palestine.  Since Greek was a widespread language in the Roman Empire and since the language barrier of the OT had already been removed, it was then another motivation to go ahead to include a Greek NT as a complement to the Greek OT that was already in use.[3]

B.  The Strong Influence of the NT Writings.

1)  The contents and character of the New Testament writings had a strong influence that lead to the collection of the New Testament writings.

 2)  Besides the authority of the OT writings, there was another strong authority, and that were the words of Jesus.  His words were handed down in the current oral tradition of the time.  Apostle Paul demonstrates that authority:

Acts 20:35 “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
1Thessalonians 4:15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we, who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 7:10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband
1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
John 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him

3)  These words are significant because they were attributed to Jesus Himself.

4)  The oral reports of the apostles were also authoritative.  Towards the middle of the second century, Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis is found declaring the authenticity of the apostles’ oral reports.  For example, he found declaring in the Preface to the five books which he devoted to the interpretation of logia kuriaka.  This means that for his knowledge of these he preferred to rely on the oral reports of what Andrew, Peter, or the other disciples of the Lord had said. Papias says, “I did not think that what I could derive from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.”  There is a tantamount of evidence that the apostles were seen as authoritative because they were appointed by Jesus Christ; and they were the official spokesmen after His ascension to heaven–including the day of Pentecost.[4]

5)  When the apostles died, the church saw the necessity to write down their words to ensure the perpetuation of them.  As a result, the permanent records were established.  Christians were now more reliant upon the documents recorded rather than oral reports.[5]

6)  Here are some quotes from early church fathers that saw the words of God and the apostles as the main authority.  Therefore, we must understand that Scripture is the rule of faith.  We let Sola Scriptura rule us.[6]

7) According to Professor Nathan Busenitz, Sola Scriptura,

’By Scripture alone’– teaches that the Bible, as the inspired Word of God, is our final and solely infallible authority for faith and practice. It moreover asserts the perspicuity of Scripture – that the central message of the Bible is clear, and that church tradition is not necessary for determining the right interpretation.”[7]

8) Here are some quotes from some early church fathers concerning Scripture alone:

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – 215) He, who has spurned the ecclesiastical tradition, and darted off to the opinion of heretical men, has ceased to be a man of God and to remain faithful to the Lord. But he who has returned from this deception, on hearing the Scriptures, and turned his life to the truth, is, as it were, from being a man made a god…. He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things. (The Stromata, 16)
Tertullian (c. 160–235) The Scriptures . . . indeed furnish us with our Rule of faith. (Against Praxeas, 11)
Origen (c. 185 – 254): In proof of all words which we advance in matters of doctrine, we ought to set forth the sense of the Scripture as confirming the meaning which we are proposing. . . . Therefore we should not take our own ideas for the confirmation of doctrine, unless someone shows that they are holy because they are contained in the divine Scriptures (Homily 25 on Matthew).
Cyril of Jerusalem (315–386) Do no then believe me because I tell these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures. (The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril 4.17)
Chrysostom (344 – 407) These then are the reasons; but it is necessary to establish them all from the Scriptures, and to show with exactness that all that has been said on this subject is not an invention of human reasoning, but the very sentence of the Scriptures. (Homilies on the Statues 1.14)
Augustine (354 – 430) Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought. (De Bono Viduitatis, 2)
Augustine (again) Let those things be removed from our midst which we quote against each other not from divine canonical books but from elsewhere. . . . I do not want the holy church proved by human documents but by divine oracles. (The Unity of the Church, 3)
Athanasius (295 – 375) For the true and pious faith in the Lord has become manifest to all, being both ‘known and read’ from the Divine Scriptures. (Letter, 60.6)
Tertullian (155 – 240) The Scriptures . . . indeed furnish us with our Rule of faith
Hippolytus (d. 235) There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source
Origen (c. 185 – 254) In the two testaments every word that pertaineth unto God may be sought and discussed, and out of them all knowledge of things may be understood. And if anything remains which Holy Scripture does not determine, no other third scripture ought to be received to authorize any knowledge . . . .
Athanasius (295 – 375) In the Holy Scriptures alone is the instruction of religion announced—to which let no man add, from which let no man detract—which are sufficient in themselves for the enunciation of the truth.
Chrysostom (344 – 407) When there is a question of Divine things, would it not be a folly rashly and blindly to receive the opinions of others, when we have a rule by which we can examine everything? I mean the Divine law. It is for this reason that I conjure you all, without resting in the slightest degree on the judgment of others, to consult the Scriptures.
Augustine (354–430) In those things, which are plainly laid down in Scripture, all things are found, which embrace faith and morals.
Augustine (354 – 430) What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought.
Theodoret of Cyrus (393–457) Bring me not human reasonings and syllogisms, for I rely on the divine Scripture alone.

C.  The Use of Christian Documents in Public Services of the Church.

1) This has had an important influence upon their future history.  For example, the reading of the law has always been part of the Jewish synagogue services.  The central part of the Jewish synagogue was the reading of God’s word.

2) The Old Testament was already read along with the New Testament in Christian worship.  They both were respected and seen as authoritative.  Both were assembled for the purpose of worship.  They both possessed the same canonical status.

3) There are a couple of verses in the New Testament that indicates the importance of public reading: [8]

a) 1 Timothy 4:13, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”

4)  There are probably some other reasons why the apostle wanted the Scriptures to be read:

It was read aloud–maybe due to the fact that the reading had not yet been officially established, but that it would be sufficiently explained by the importance of the Apostle himself being attached to its contents because of apostolic authority.

It was read aloud because there was a concern that someone might make a wrong use of the Apostle’s name (2 Thess. 2:2; 3:17).

It was read aloud so that churches may be aware that it addresses them all (Col. 4:16).[9]

D.  The Widespread Use of Various Books Being Held as Canonical like the New Testament.

1) Some of the earliest references to them as Scripture comes not from within but comes outside the orthodox line or church.

2) For example, Basilides of Alexandria, the founder of a Gnostic sect in the beginning of the second century, is credited to being the first to quote the New Testament writers.  For example, he would use such formulas such as, “The Scripture saith” and “As it is written.”  Other heretics later started to follow. [10]

E.  The Canon of Marcion.

1) This is what Bruce M. Metzger, who is a well-known Greek scholor has to say about Marcion,

At the end of July, A.D. 144, a hearing took place before the clergy of the Christian congregations in Rome.  Marcion, a wealthy Christian ship-owner who had come from Sinope, a sea-port of Pontus along the Black Sea, stood before the presbyters to expound his teachings in order to win others to his point of view.  For some years he had been a member of one of the Roman churches, and had proved the sincerity of his faith by making relatively large contributions.  No doubt he was a respected member of the Christian community.

But what he now expounded to the presbyters was so monstrous that they were utterly shocked!  The hearing ended in a harsh rejection of Marcion’s views; he was formally excommunicated and his largesse of money was returned.  From this time forward Marcion went his own way, energetically propagating a strange kind of Christianity that quickly took root throughout large sections of the Roman Empire and by the end of the second century had become a serious threat to the mainstream Christian Church.”[11]

2)  So what were dangerous teachings that Marcion taught?

a)  His main points were the rejection of the Old Testament.  He held on to a distinction between the supreme god of goodness and an inferior god of justice, who was the creator god of the Jews.  He also regarded Jesus Christ as the messenger of the supreme god.  According to Marcion, the Old and New Testaments cannot be reconciled to each other because he said that there were contradictions.[12]

b) Here are his perceived contradictions:

i)  “The code of conduct advocated by Moses was “an eye for an eye,” but Christ set this precept aside.”

ii)  “Elisha had children eaten by bears; Christ said, ‘Let the children come to Me.’”

iii)  In the Old Testament divorce was permitted and so was polygamy, but in the New Testament this was prohibited by God and the apostles.

iv)  God commanded the Israelites not to work on the Sabbath but there were times where the Israelites did work when he told them to walk around Jericho seven times on the Sabbath.

v)  He even said that the God of the Old Testament was not omniscient, because if He was, He would not have asked, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).

c)  Marcion rejected the entire Old Testament.  He even said that the twelve apostles misunderstood the teaching of Christ when they understood Him of being the Messiah of the Jewish God.  He was against this since he was against the Old Testament.  One of his arguments for this is when he explained the corruption of the gospels on the basis of the Epistle of Galatians, when Paul emphasizes that there is only one true gospel (Gal. 1:8-10) and when Paul states that false believers are attempting to turn believers from the gospel (Gal. 1:6-9; 2:11).  As a result of these statements, Marcion was convinced that among the early apostolic leaders, Paul was the most credible because he understood the significance of Jesus as the messenger of the supreme god.  Therefore, he accepted as authoritative the nine Epistles sent by Paul to seven churches as well as the one sent to Philemon.  These ten epistles became the rule of source and the true doctrine for him.[13]

d)  Also he trusted only the Gospel according to Luke.  There is not enough evidence to say why he preferred Luke, but probably because Luke was a disciple of Paul.  Marcion saw things differently.  He removed the passages that had anything to do with the virgin birth in the book of Luke because he believed that if Jesus had only the appearance of being human, he could not have been born of a woman.  He even removed some parts of Paul’s writings.  For example, Gal. 3:16-4:6 was deleted because it had to do with Abraham and his descendants; and he removed 2 Thess. 1:6-8 because he felt that God can not be concern with fire, wrath, and punishment upon humans.[14]

F.  Gnosticism

In the second century, the early church was also plagued by another form of heresy which was called Gnosticism.  Many of gnostic writings took place during this time. Because some in the Christian community were getting pulled into the esoteric teachings of Gnosticism, some believed that the formation of the canon became a calculated effort to oppose the heresy of Gnosticism.[15]

1)  Because of the danger of Gnosticism that plagued the Church in the second to third century, we must understand the teachings. Here is a detailed analysis from Bryan Liftin’s book, Getting to Know the Church Fathers:

[p. 38] – The term “Gnostic” is derived from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. Gnosticism was not a coherent or uniform set of beliefs. Rather, it was an array of movements that shared many common tendencies and features. Central to Gnosticism is the belief that the sect’s sacred texts and teachers could provide access to secret “knowledge” about how the universe really operates.  . . . [O]ne aspect of Gnosticism [was] its teaching known as “docetism”. Docetism is the belief (held by virtually all Gnostics) that Jesus did not really come to us in the flesh, but only seemed to come in a physical body. His flesh was actually a ghostly apparition.[p. 85] – What exactly did the Gnostics believe? Their myths seem so ridiculous to us today that we can scarcely believe anyone would ever have embrace them. But we must acknowledge that for many ancient people, Gnosticism offered an attractive alternative to orthodox Christianity. Spiritual seekers were drawn to its seeming intellectualism and mysterious insights into the cosmos. [For example,] the Valentinian Gnostics believed there was a heavenly “Fullness” which consisted of thirty angelic beings called Aeons. The Aeons always came in male-female pairs. . . . These conjugal pairs emitted lower Aeons, and the last of these emissions was Sophia (Wisdom). But Sophia became passionate, and wickedly longed fro the highest Father apart from her own consort. Though she was eventually healed from her grievous action, her evil “Thought,” which had given rise to her sin, was cast out of the Fullness like an aborted fetus. This shapeless Thought took on a personified form named Mother Achamoth. She was in a hopeless state until the “Christ” came to her and enabled achamoth to bring forth substances from within herself. One of the beings she brought forth was the Demiurge. He was the ignorant creator of the entire physical world in which we live. In many Gnostic accounts, the Demiurge was equated with Yahweh, the Jewish God of the Old Testament, who foolishly thought he was the one true God. Only the enlightened Gnostics “knew” he was actually a corrupted being, far inferior to the goddess Sophia. . . .In order to give secret wisdom to the spiritual Gnostics, the Demiurge (Yahweh) is said to have given birth to a son who was filled with the spiritual seed of Mother Achamoth. This son was the “Christ” who passed through Mary without taking a body from her. He was just like water flowing through a tube. The Gnostics often said the “Christ” inhabited the body of the man Jesus of Nazareth, but his body was not made of real flesh. . . . The docetic Christ who possessed the illusion of a body came into the world to teach spiritual precepts that only the enlightened Gnostics would be able to comprehend. Through the purging action of his revealed knowledge, the Gnostics would eventually make their way up into the Fullness as purified spirits.

2) You also have modern day Gnosticism that exist today:

Momonism – Modern-Day Gnosticism?* * * * * *Harold Bloom, The American Religion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 99, 123: The God of Joseph Smith is a daring revival of the God of some of the Kabbalists and Gnostics, prophetic sages who, like Smith himself, asserted that they had returned to the true religion. . . . Mormonism is a purely American Gnosis, for which Joseph Smith was and is a far more crucial figure than Jesus could be. Smith is not just ‘a’ prophet, another prophet, but he is the essential prophet of these latter days, leading into the end time, whenever it comes.  Lance S. Owens, “Joseph Smith: America’s Hermetic Prophet,” (online article, http://www.gnosis.org/ahp.htm):Harold Bloom’s coupling of Joseph Smith to the Gnostic tradition has aroused animated disagreement among students of Mormonism and Gnosticism alike.  . . . Nonetheless, Smith did apparently espouse themes familiar to Gnosticism–prominent among them being his affirmation of the reality and necessity of continuing, individual revelation as the source of salvific knowledge. Joseph Smith and his religion eschewed theology in favor of the dynamic process of revelation. The result was best summarized in what Bloom remarked to be “one of the truly remarkable sermons ever preached in America”, a discourse delivered by the Prophet on April 7, 1844. Known as the King Follett Discourse, it was Joseph’s last major address to his church, presented just ten weeks before his death at age 38.”There are but very few beings in the world who understand rightly the character of God,” he began. “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend their own character.” Within humankind there is an immortal spark of intelligence, taught the Prophet, a seed of divine intellect or light which is “as immortal as, and coequal with, God Himself.” God is not, however, to be understood as one and singular. Turning to Hebrew and an oddly Kabbalistic exegesis of the first three words of Genesis (an exegesis probably taken directly from the Zohar), Smith pronounced there are a multitude of Gods emanated from the First God, existing one above the other without end. He who humankind calls God was Himself once a man; and man, by advancing in intelligence, knowledge–consciousness–may be exalted with God, become as God.

3) Besides the issue of Gnosticism, here is a list of other dangerous teachings that the church encountered:

Name Century Primary Error Historical Proponents Nature/ Character Modern Traces
Judaizers 1st Attacked justification; added works to grace as necessary for salvation legalistic former-Jews in the early church legalistic; blended OT Judaism with Christianity 7th-Day Adventists; Roman Catholics
Gnostics 2nd Attacked the humanity of Christ; denied that Jesus really came in the flesh various early heretics; gnostic gospels mystical; blended paganism with Christianity most New-Age religions; Mormonism
Arians 4th Attacked the deity of Christ; denied the doctrine of the Trinity Arius and his followers anti-Trinitarian; denied the full deity of Christ Jehovah’s Witnesses
Pelagians 5th Attacked the primacy and sufficiency of God’s grace in salvation Pelagius, Coelestius, and their followers man-centered; denied depravity; elevated free will above divine sovereignty Charles Finney and his followers
Socinians 16th Attacked both the doctrine of salvation and the doctrine of Christ Lelius and Faustus Sozzini rationalistic; a combination of the worst of all heresies Theological Liberals; Open Theists; Unitarians
*Chart is taken from class lecture notes 5, History of Heresy

[1] Dr. Thomas, Class Lecture, pp. 6.

[2] Milligan, pg. 206.

[3] Milligan, pp. 206-207.

[4] Milligan, pp. 209; Dr. Thomas, pp. 6.

[5] Dr. Thomas, pp. 6.

[6] Nathan Busenitz, Class Lecture 7, Faith of Our Fathers.

[7] Nathan Busenitz, Class  Lecture 7, Faith of Our Fathers.

[8] Milligan, pp. 210-214; Dr. Thomas, pp. 7.

[9] Milligan, pp. 210-214; Dr. Thomas, pp. 7.

[10] Milligan, pp. 214-215; Dr. Thomas, pp. 7.

[11] Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, pp.90-91.

[12] Bruce M. Metzger, pp. 92.

[13] Bruce M. Metzger, pp. 92.

[14] Bruce M. Metzger, pp. 92.

[15] Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon, pp.62-63.

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It has been a while since I last posted.  Please forgive me for my long delay.  There have been many responsibilities that I had to take care of the last couple of months.  At any rate, right now, I would like to continue my series on the “The Canon of the New Testament in Church History.”  The last post I did on this series can be found in this link: https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/the-canon-of-the-new-testament-in-church-history-lesson-2/.

Lesson 3:  I have titled this section, The Early Circulation of the Writings.  This lesson will focus on the encyclical characters of the autographs.  Details of how the autographs circulated from church to church will be discussed during a time where the NT took some time for recognition to sink into the churches.

The Circulation of Writings at the Early Years:

When studying the early circulation of the writings, one must understand that we are studying the formation of the canon.  The completion or consummation of the canon did not depend on the church receiving the NT books.  The truth is that the canon was already completed when the last book was completed, Revelation.  This is important to note for the student because the canon had all the authority even before the church recognized the authority of the NT books.  For the church, recognition took time.[1]

When the autographs arrived at its particular destination and was received by the recipient or recipients, it probably remained there for a long time.  After being publicly read, it would be preserved in the archives of the communities in which they were addressed.  They were also read repeatedly, but went no further.  However, there was an exception to this rule.  The exception to this rule included those books, which were encyclical (letter intended for a wide or general circulation) in character.  Because of the encyclical character of so many of the epistles, increased demand created a need to have a multiplication of copies so that the churches in the address may have its own copy.  Besides the epistles, books like Revelation, Galatians, and 2 Corinthians were also encyclical in nature.  Ephesians was probably also a circular letter to all of the churches in the Roman province of Asia:[2][3]  It is important to note also that the local churches would have copies of only a few apostolic epistles, and perhaps one or two gospels.  These collections were gradually formed over time.  Other books held by the local church besides the gospels and epistles were the Acts of the Apostles and the Revelation of John.  See Acts 1:1 and Revelation 1:3.[4]

Eph. 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Col 4:16 When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.

There are more details that need to be discussed regarding the circular letters.  When the Churches had become possessors of the epistles or gospels, the word would get out to the addressee’s possession of the writing.  Because of this, requests would be made so that there would be copies of these authoritative texts utilized in other localities.  Even private persons were permitted to probably make copies or extracts for their own use of those parts that interested them.  The requests were honored and the copies became widespread over a period of time. And gradually they were made into sets of books.  It is also important to keep in mind that the evidence for such collections of the inspired writings comes from a very early time, a time even before the 27 books were composed or placed together.[1][2]

I also mentioned earlier that the autographs were written on papyrus sheets which were then joined together in a roll-form.  From an early date, the NT writings were circulated in the form of papyrus codices.  In a codex (singular), the sheets of paper would be placed on top upon another, which is similar to how modern books are constructed.  Then the sheets were folded down the middle and connected either by sewing or gluing.  Upon discovery, some of the codices were quite large.  One of the largest is the p45 which is one of the Chester Beatty series that contained 59 sheets or 118 leaves.  When it comes to codex format, there are advantages.[7]

Portions of Luke’s Gospel in P45 Chester Beatty Papyrus. The earliest papyrus to contain portions of all four gospels and Acts dated c.250 AD. [8]

Definition of codex from Milligan

Here is how Milligan defined the codex:

The original meaning of the word codex was the trunk of a tree (caudex), and hence it came to be applied to the pile of wooden tablets (pugillares) smeared over the wax, which were commonly used both by the Greeks and Romans for ordinary writing purposes, as when a ledger was called codex accepti et expensi.  And from this again the word was extended to denote any collection of papyrus or parchment sheets, in which the sheets were not rolled within one another, but laid over one another, as in a modern book.”[9] 

One advantage of the codex is that the writer is able to write on both sides, which conserves space.  The second advantage —it makes referencing easier when going through the pages.

The third format was the “parchment codex.”  The adoption of the parchment for literary purposes may be dated back to the reign of Eumenes II at Pergamum, B.C. 197-158.  It was said by Varro, that Eumenes had a desire to have a library of his own which would rival the library of Alexandria.  But when Ptolemy of Epiphanes found out what he was doing, he prevented Eumenes from exporting the papyrus from Egypt to Pergamum.  As a result, Eumenes had to fall back on the use of skins which had to be specially prepared first.  The new material came to be known pergamhnh,, (pergamena) which is where we get the word parchment from.  Another name that is synonymous to this material is vellum (vitulinum), which was manufactured from the skins of very young calves.[10]

There were advantages of the parchment literary usage.  For one thing, it was able to be manufactured in any country and was not in a limited area like the papyrus.  Secondly, its advantage was seen in its flexibility and durability, and it presented itself to a more convenient codex form.  It was also resistant to the dry climate of Egypt.  Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are some examples of the parchment-codex form.[11]

In A.D. 331, Constantine ordered fifty copies of the Scriptures for his new capital.  He gave special orders and instructions that the copies of the Scriptures be written in a legible manner on prepared skins. The Codex Sinaiticus, according to Tischendorf believed that one of the fifty Bibles was written on fairly thin parchment, which was made according to the same authority—from antelope skins.[12]

[1] Dr. Thomas, Class Lectures, pg. 4.

[2] Milligan, pp. 173-174.

[3] Dr. Thomas, pp. 4.

[4] Bruce Manning Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, pp.6.

[5] Milligan, pp. 173-174.

[6] Dr. Thomas, pp. 4.

[7] Dr. Thomas, pp. 4.

[8] http://wordofgodorwordsofmen.com/variantreadings.aspx

[9] Milligan, pp. 188.

[10] Milligan, pp. 192.

[11] Milligan, pp. 193; Dr. Thomas, pp. 5.

[12] Milligan, pp. 193.

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