Over the past three+ months I posted approximately forty articles with the following common title: “Is the Doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration the Road to Hell?” These articles covered a universe of topics relevant to the existence (or absence) of Scriptural support for the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. According to the gotquestions.org website (See the link https://www.gotquestions.org/baptismal-regeneration.html), the term “baptismal regeneration” means:
Baptismal regeneration is the belief that baptism is necessary for salvation, or, more precisely, that regeneration does not occur until a person is water baptized. Baptismal regeneration is a tenet of numerous Christian denominations, but is most strenuously promoted by churches in the Restoration Movement, specifically the Church of Christ and the International Church of Christ.
In other words, the message baptismal regenerationists advocate is that salvation is through faith (in part) in Christ and faith (in part) in one’s water baptism. Cutting through all the words games, one can define baptismal regeneration by the formula:
Salvation = faith (in part) in Christ + faith (in part) in water baptism
The above articles report the results of my exegetical work to ascertain if there is any Scriptural support for the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Using hermeneutical principles consistent with those set forth in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (link: The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics – DocsLib), and especially those in ARTICLES VII, XIII, XV, XVII, and XXII, I analyzed the passages cited by Dr. Jack Cottrell in his book Baptism – Biblical Study ,College Press Publishing, Joplin, MO (1989) [7th printing in 2006], in support of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. These passages comprised Matthew 29:19-20 (Posts 17-18); Mark 16:15-16 (Post 19); John 3:3-5 (Posts 20-21); Acts 2:38-39 (Posts 22A, 22B, 23, 24, 25A, 25B, 26); Acts 22:16 (Posts 27-28); Romans 6:3-4 (Posts 29-30); 1 Corinthians 12:13 (Posts 31-32); Galatians 3:26-27 (Posts 33-34); Ephesians 5:25-27 (Posts 35-36); Colossians 2:11-13 (Posts 37-38); Titus 3:5 (Posts 11-12); and 1 Peter 3:21 (Posts 39-40).
The “bottom line” of my exegetical work is that none of these passages support the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. There is no biblical passage, as properly interpreted, that supports baptismal regeneration.
The absence of Scriptural support for the doctrine of baptismal regeneration brings into consideration Galatians 1:6-9. This article (Post 41A) is the first of four articles (Post 41A-41D) that expand on my earlier post on Galatians 1:6-9 (Does an Absolute Requirement of Water Baptism Negate the Salvific Efficacy of an Otherwise Saving Gospel? | Steve Belsheim), as well as my article “Some Basic Takeaways from Reading Galatians 1” (link: SOME BASIC TAKEAWAYS FROM READING GALATIANS 1 | Steve Belsheim).
Posts 41A through 41D present the results of my exegesis of Galatians 1:6-9, which comprised the following four basic tasks.
First, in Post 41A, which is somewhat lengthy, I factored in the following pre-observation considerations: (1) any textual issues; (2) the relevant historical and cultural contexts including the Judaizer’s message, the South Galatia position about the formation of the churches in Galatia, and the gospel preached by Paul during his first missionary journey which included the evangelization of the churches in South Galatia; (3) the relevant literary contexts in the epistle to the Galatians; and (4) relevant literary contexts in other epistles written by Paul prior to the time he wrote Galatians.
Second, Post 41B reports the results of my careful observation of Galatians 1:6-9 that included extensive word studies of key words in the passage.
Third, based upon the results of the first two tasks, Post 41C sets out my interpretation of Galatians 1:6-9. In Post 41C I articulate the single, definite and fixed meaning Paul intended to convey to his audience by writing Galatians 1:6-9. There were three points Paul wanted to convey to his audience.
First, he intended to tell his audience that faith, which inherently includes repentance, alone in Jesus Christ was the only true, saving gospel message. This was the message preached by Paul.
Second, he intended to convey to his audience that there was only one true gospel, so any message that required faith in Jesus Christ, and circumcision for salvation was “different” from the true gospel message and not “another” saving message. Anyone who trusted, even in part, in their circumcision for their salvation was lost.
Third, he intended to convey to his audience that anyone who proclaimed a message different from the message of faith alone in Jesus Christ should be condemned to hell.
The Judaizer’s message of salvation required circumcision, at a minimum, along with faith in Christ. If faith alone in Christ is the only saving gospel, then logic dictates that faith + something else, no matter what it is, is NOT a saving message. The Judaizer’s message, which Paul vigorously opposed at the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, did not satisfy the definition of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ per the teaching of Galatians 1:6-9.
Fourth, Post 41D appliesd the single, definite and fixed meaning of Galatians 1:6-9 to the issue of whether the doctrine of baptismal regeneration negates the salvific efficacy of an otherwise saving gospel. The only proper interpretation of Galatians 1:6-9 is that there is only one saving gospel, which is salvation is through faith alone in Christ. The formula of the one saving gospel is:
Salvation = faith alone in Christ
If faith alone in Christ is the only saving gospel, then logic dictates that faith + something else, no matter what it is, is NOT a saving message. No matter how sincere a person’s faith, it is the road to hell for a person to place their faith in a message that is not the one saving gospel. That is why a message of faith (in part) in Christ + faith (in part) in water baptism, which is a work (ergon), is not saving, and hence, is the road to hell.
This is not to say that all people who attend a religious body that teaches baptismal regeneration (e.g., Churches of Christ, United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI), etc.) are lost. After all, an attendee may not believe in baptismal regeneration. In other words, such a person may not believe that water baptism is necessary for their salvation. Yet, it seems fair to presume that a person who attends such a religious body does not possess eternal life.
My exegesis of Galatians 1:6-9 is set forth below.
EXEGESIS OF GALATIANS 1:6-9
The Text (NASB95 & NA28th) of Galatians 1:6-9
The base English translation is the New American Standard Bible (1995 update) wherein Galatians 1:6–9 (NASB95) reads:
6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
As my first step, I identified any textual variants of Galatians 1:6-9 that could impact my analysis. For this purpose I consulted the Lexham Textual Notes on the Bible (Brannan, R., & Loken, I. (2014). The Lexham Textual Notes on the Bible (Ga 1:6). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press) which reveals two variants in Galatians 1:6-9.
First, using the NASB95,the phrase “the grace of Christ” in 1:6 has five variants: absence of the phrase “of Christ”; “of Christ”; of “Christ Jesus”; of “Jesus Christ”; and of “God”. USB Committee chose “of Christ”, but in brackets because absence in certain witnesses. My comment is that each variant includes the word “grace” so that the recipients were called by grace. There must be the implication that grace is “of Christ”, etc.
Second, the expression “should preach to you” in 1:8 has a variant that does not include the “to you” after “should preach”. My comment is that the “to you,” which is the object of “should preach,” is either express or implied because of the later clause “we have preached to you”.
Neither one of these variants substantively impacts this analysis.
The Relevant Historical and Cultural Contexts
In this step, I examined the relevant historical and cultural contexts. The basic issue Paul addressed in his epistle to the Galatians was his opposition to the message of the Judaizers. George (George, T. (1994). Galatians (Vol. 30, pp. 50–51). Broadman & Holman Publishers) introduces the dominant issue this way [emphasis added]:
Still, perhaps no one in the New Testament was more belligerent in his denunciation of opponents than the apostle Paul. And nowhere was he more “bad tempered” than in Galatians. We will have to take up this theme again in the commentary proper, but it is well to note from the outset that from the standpoint of Pauline theology, polemics cannot be divorced from dogmatics. What was at stake was not merely the outbursts of an ill-tempered preacher but rather the truth of the gospel itself.
Who were the opponents against whom Paul defended himself and his gospel in Galatia? The traditional answer to this question has been the Judaizers, those teachers who sought to add certain strictures of the Jewish law, notably circumcision, as a requirement for inclusion in the Christian church. In the early church Marius Victorinus, who produced the first Latin commentary on Galatians, summed up this received interpretation in the following way:
The Galatians are going astray because they are adding Judaism to the gospel of faith in Christ, observing in a material sense the sabbath and circumcision, together with the other works which they received in accordance with the law. Disturbed by these tendencies Paul writes this letter, wishing to put them right and call them back from Judaism, in order that they may preserve faith in Christ alone, and receive from Christ the hope of salvation and of his promises, because no one is saved by the works of the law.
In addition, I also examined the Scriptural details about Paul’s first missionary journey described in Acts 13-14, and especially the substance of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ preached by Paul.
The Judaizer’s Message
Let’s look at the Judaizers’ message. Acts 15:1 (ESV) succinctly defines the Judaizers’ message:
1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
The Study Note (SN) from the NET Bible [New English Translation, Full Notes Edition (2019) Thomas Nelson Publishing] at page 2113 with respect to the term “unless you are circumcised” contained in Acts 15:1 expands on the issue [emphasis added]:
These teachers from Judea were teaching that Gentiles could not be saved unless they kept the law of Moses in regard to circumcision. Thus according to them a Gentile had to first become a proselyte to Judaism, including circumcision, before one could become a Christian. This party is sometimes known (collectively) as Judaizers. They did not question that Gentiles could come into the community, but disagreed with Paul and Barnabus on what basis they could do so.
Along this same line, one encyclopedia [Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Judaizers. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1236). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. Boldfacing added] presents the question that the 1st Century church faced:
The growing number of gentile converts to Christianity forced Jewish Christians to face a very difficult problem: Must a Gentile first become a Jew in order to be a Christian? Some Jewish Christians gave a positive answer to this question, and these became known as the circumcision party (Acts 11:2; Gal 2:12). Others, such as Peter and Barnabas, and especially Paul, vigorously disagreed.
The South Galatia Position
For the purpose of this analysis, I accept the South Galatia position about Paul’s audience. George, supra at pp. 42–43, describes the South Galatia position:.
The two scholars who have done more than anyone else to establish the South Galatia hypothesis as the preferred option are W. M. Ramsay and F. F. Bruce, the one an expert in historical geography and the other well trained in classical literature. Their careful research and consideration of all angles of the question are not likely to be superseded in the near future.
The great advantage of the South Galatia hypothesis is that it provides a precise identification of “the churches of Galatia” to whom Paul’s letter was addressed: they are the congregations at Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch, which he founded on his first missionary journey. Acts 13–14 records the missionary activity of Paul and Barnabas in these South Galatia cities, all of which were located some one hundred miles inland from the Mediterranean coast where the two evangelists had landed following their preaching mission on Cyprus.
The Gospel Message Preached by Paul During His First Missionary Journey
Acts 13-14 describes Paul’s first missionary journey by which he and Barnabus evangelized cities in South Galatia. Acts 13-14 helps define the gospel message Paul preached to and which was received by the Galatians.
At Salamis they began, “to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.” Acts 13:5a. Acts 13:11b–12 (NASB95) records what happened at Paphos:
11b And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed [pisteuō] when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.
At Pisidian Antioch, Paul preached in the synagogue a chronology that begun with God choosing His people and ended with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. See Acts 13:16-37. Acts 13:38-39, 43 (NASB95) records Paul’s presentation of the saving gospel message:
38 “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and through Him everyone who believes [pisteuō] is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. … 43 Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.
The Logos 9 sense of pisteuō is to trust in Jesus as contained in the content of the gospel.
The next Sabbath Paul and Barnabus faced opposition from the Jews which prompted him to rebuke the Jews. They turned their evangelistic efforts to the Gentiles (Acts 13:44-47). Acts 13:48-49 (NASB95) records the fruit of their evangelistic efforts towards the Gentiles:
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed [pisteuō]. 49 And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.
Paul and Barnabus faced persecution and were driven out of the region to Iconium. Acts 14:1-3 (NASB95) records what happened:
1 In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed [pisteuō], both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren. 3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.
Upon realizing they might be stoned, Acts 14:6-7 (NASB95) reads:
6 they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.
In Lystra, Jews from Antioch and Iconium incited the crowds to stone Paul and he was left for dead (Acts 14:19). Afterwards, he rose and went to Derbe where, according to Acts 14:21a, Paul “preached the gospel” and “made many disciples.” After their evangelism efforts in Derbe, “they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch” to encourage the believers in those cities to “continue in the faith.” See Acts 14:21b-22. Acts 14:23 (NASB95) reports their parting actions:
23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed [pisteuō].
Acts 14:24–26 (NASB95) describes the final legs of Paul’s first missionary journey:
24 They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. 25 When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished.
Acts 14:27 (NASB95) described Paul’s report to the church at Antioch:
27 When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
The biblical description in Acts 13-14 of Paul’s first missionary journey, which included his evangelizing the churches in southern Galatia, describes the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in the following terms: the word of God (Acts 13:5a), through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you (Acts 13;38), through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things (Acts 13:39), the grace of God (Acts 13:43), the word of the Lord (Acts 13:48), the word of His grace (Acts 14:3), the gospel (Acts 14:7), and made many disciples (Acts 14:21a). Acts 13:38-39 (NASB95) presents an expansive description:
through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, through Him everyone who believes [pisteuō] is freed from all things
Nowhere does the biblical description of the substantive essential content of Paul’s message of salvation mention circumcision in any form or fashion or any work (ergon). While silence is not always a strong determinative argument, one would think that if circumcision or some other work (ergon) was necessary for salvation, it would have been taught as a necessary component of the gospel message. It would seem that Luke in writing Acts and Paul in his preaching would have been remiss not to identify circumcision or some other work (ergon) as an essential component of the gospel message. But, of course, they did not because circumcision or some other work (ergon) was not a component of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
Literary Context – Galatians
I considered the relevant passages in the letter to the churches in Galatia. These passages provide insight into the gospel message Paul preached to and which was received by the Galatians. Paul preached that man was not justified by works of the Law, but by faith per Galatians 2:15–16 (NASB95) [emphasis added]:
15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
Dr. Wayne Grudem defines justification to mean: “An instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.” See Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 1246). Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.
In Galatians 3:2-5 (NASB95), Paul made the distinction between salvation through faith as opposed to works of the Law [emphasis added]:
2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
Paul emphasized that the Galatians received the Holy Spirit through the means of hearing the gospel message with understanding and acting in accordance therewith by exercising faith (pistis) in Jesus Christ to save them.
Through a passage (Galatians 3:6-8 (NASB95)) that quotes Genesis 15:6, Paul made clear that justification by faith is the message of Galatians:
6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.”
Galatians 3:24–26 (NASB95) teaches justification by faith [emphasis added]:
24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 5:5–6 (NASB95) teaches that faith and not circumcision (or uncircumcision) saves [emphasis added]:
5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
These passages from Galatians establish that the saving gospel message comprises faith in Jesus Christ, and that is all. In no way, shape or form is physical circumcision, or any other work, a requirement for salvation.
Conclusion of Post 41A
This concludes Post 41A. This article shows the following:
(1) the two textual variants of Galatians 1:6-9 do not impact this analysis;
(2) the dominant issue addressed in Galatians was the Judaizer’s message that circumcision was an essential element for salvation;
(3) Paul’s audience of Galatians was the churches in South Galatia;
(4) during his first missionary journey, which included evangelizing churches in South Galatia, Paul preached that salvation was by faith alone in Jesus Christ; and
(5) the literary context shows that Paul’s gospel message in Galatians was salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ.
What follows is Post 41B that reports the results of my careful observation of Galatians 1:6-9.
VERY IMPORTANT IF YOU BELIEVE IN BAPTISMAL REGENERATION
Finally, let me quote gotquestions.org (link: https://www.gotquestions.org/baptism-Mark-16-16.html ):
If you believe in baptismal regeneration, you would do well to prayerfully consider whom or what you are really putting your trust in. Is your faith in a physical act (being baptized) or in the finished work of Christ on the cross? Whom or what are you trusting for salvation? Is it the shadow (baptism) or the substance (Jesus Christ)? Our faith must rest in Christ alone. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Please read and take to heart what I write in the section entitled “IF YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN.”
IF YOU ARE UNSURE ABOUT YOUR SALVATION
If you are unsure about your salvation, you need to check out my book The Salvation Meter: Biblical Self-Diagnostic Tests to Examine Your Salvation and Spiritual Growth (book link at Xulon Press: https://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781662828638 ). At Amazon the book link is https://www.amazon.com/Salavation-Meter-Biblical-Self-Diagnostic-Spiritual/dp/1662828632 . I also have a website in which I am updating the content in the book. The link to my website for the book is https://thesalvationmeter.com .
IF YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN
… please (1) read through “God’s Plan of Salvation” so you can understand what God did for you through His only unique Son, Jesus Christ, and (2), from the bottom of your heart, pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” meaning every word. If you do, you will be reconciled to God – saved – through Jesus Christ.
God’s Plan of Salvation
In the beginning, God, who is holy, created the entire universe. As a part of His creative actions, He made humans in His image to know Him. For a while, everything was right between God and our ancestors, Adam and Eve. But Adam sinned, and his sin was passed down to all of humankind whereby we became separated from God. Nothing we could do on our own could bridge that separation so that without God’s intervention, hell would be our eternal destination.
Fortunately for us, in His great love and mercy God provided humankind with the only means of salvation, which is through Jesus Christ who is God’s only unique Son. While retaining His deity, God the Son became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law Himself and taking on Himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever repent and trust in Him for their salvation. Jesus rose from the dead, showing that God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us has been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust alone in what Christ did to save us.
If we repent of our sins and completely trust in Christ alone that He died for our sins and rose to life from the dead, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.
Scripture References: Genesis 1:1, 27, 31; Habakkuk 1:13; Genesis 2:7, 18, 21-25; Genesis 3:1-7, 23-24; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:19-20, 23; 5:17-19; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 John 4:10; John 3:16-18; Mark 1:15; Romans 1:4; 4:25; John 3:5-8; 1 Peter 1:3.
Lord, Jesus Christ, the only unique Son of God, thank You for Your free gift of eternal life. I know I’m a sinner who cannot save myself no matter what I do, and I deserve to spend eternity in hell. But, I know that because You loved me so much, You voluntarily died on the cross for me taking my sins upon Yourself, and You physically bodily rose from the grave showing that Your sacrificial death was sufficient payment to give me eternal life in Heaven. I now repent of my sins and trust alone in what You did for my eternal salvation. Please take control of my life as I now receive You as my Lord and Savior. Thank You so much for saving me. I am now Yours forever! (Scripture references: John 1:1-4, 11-14; John 3:16; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:21-26; Isaiah 53:4-6; Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10, 13; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; John 10:27-29).
Upon your salvation, you must find a spiritually solid Bible-believing church that (1) teaches that the sixty-six books of the Bible are the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, (2) believes in the doctrine of the Trinity, which means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and each Person is fully God, and (3) teaches that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works (e.g., water baptism by immersion).
ONE CAUTIONARY POINT. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that once you become a Christian, your life will become easy. Most likely, it will become more difficult. God’s blessing of salvation and life’s difficulties are not mutually exclusive. Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” John 15:18 (NLT). Always keep in mind that you have an eternal home in heaven waiting for you per John 14:2–4 (NLT):
2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”
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