1 Timothy 1:8-9: responding to “The Law is not made for a righteous man.”

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POSTED 27 OCTOBER, 2017

Pastor: 1 Timothy 1:8-9: The Law is not made for a righteous man.

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers.”

reproduced from The New Testament Validates Torah MAXIMUM EDITION

1:8 Although Paul has just told Timothy that there are some foolish individuals out there, presuming that they have the right to call themselves “Torah teachers” (1 Timothy 1:6-7), he does not at all want to give the impression to those in Ephesus who will encounter his letter the impression that he is anti-Torah.[1] 1 Timothy 1:8 in the NASU preserves a wordplay that is seen in the Greek: Oidamen de hoti kalos ho nomos, ean tis autō nomimōs chrētai. Obviously, though, the usage of nomimōs is intended to convey a little more than just “lawfully,” as the term more fully means, “pert. to being in accordance with normal procedure, in accordance with rule(s)/law” (BDAG).[2] Other translations of 1 Timothy 1:8 try to capture the varied dynamics of what this represents:

  • “the law is good if one uses it properly” (NIV).
  • “we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately” (NRSV).
  • “We know that the Torah is good, provided one uses it in the way the Torah itself intends” (CJB/CJSB).

A proper usage of the Torah is summarized by Paul in Romans 7:7-12, in describing how the righteous statutes of God’s Law reveal the sin in one’s heart, and cause spiritual death and exile from Him:

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COVET’ [Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21]. But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”[3]

In finding oneself condemned and effectively executed by one’s violation of the Torah, the only answer is to turn in repentance toward God and receive the salvation provided by Yeshua the Messiah.

The description of the Torah’s proper usage as nomimōs essentially would communicate to the Ephesians how there was indeed an appropriate way to apply its instructions—which would be quite contrary to the worthless speculations of the false teachers. In his further communication to Timothy, nomimōs is used to describe how an athlete “is not crowned unless he competes lawfully [nomimōs]” (2 Timothy 2:5, LITV) or “according to the rules” (NASU). A. Duane Litfin, a dispensationalist, correctly comments, “Paul wanted to be sure that he was not misunderstood. He was not disparaging the Law…There is an inappropriate, legalistic use of the Law which Paul disavowed; but there is also a proper use of the Law that Paul embraced.”[4]

1:9a The opening of what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:9 sometimes catches many of today’s Messianic Believers off guard, as the NASU renders it with “law is not made for a righteous person…” Some of the thoughts of commentators and interpreters do not exactly help with us trying to understand this assertion, and are compounded by some poor translations like “law does not exist for the righteous” (Witherington).[5]

One reading of 1 Timothy 1:9 would view it as Paul saying that the Torah is only “made” or intended for those who break it. But if the Torah is only intended for Law-breakers, would it then mean that those who do not violate it are not to know what it says? If people are in right standing with God via the salvation available in His Son, should they remain willfully ignorant of the Torah’s instructions, commandments, and historical accounts? It is commonly thought that the Torah is, in fact, not needed or applicable for righteous people who have been saved, who are to live according to different principles.[6] Some readers encounter 1 Timothy 1:9 and see “it is designed not for good citizens” (REB) or “the law was not intended for people who do what is right” (NLT), and so there are various (immature) Believers who think that God’s Torah has no relevance for them. A very bad application of this passage results in some of today’s Christians being abysmally ignorant of the Old Testament; they don’t think the Torah was “made” for them, so they don’t bother to read it.

It should be recognized immediately how many of today’s theologians who think that the Torah was only for a previous era are not at all immoral, God-less people. For the most part, they absolutely believe that the moral statutes in the Law are to be followed by Christians, because Jesus reemphasizes them in His teachings. Yet, any reading of 1 Timothy 1:9 has to be held in concert with how the Torah and Tanach Scriptures are “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and Paul’s previous writing, “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good…[and] I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (Romans 7:12, 16). Let us first evaluate a selection of opinions on 1 Timothy 1:9a, as we do witness interpreters who recognize that God’s Torah does play a role for redeemed people—but perhaps not the role discussed in 1 Timothy 1:9-10:

THE ROLE OF THE TORAH FOR PEOPLE

EXCLUSIVELY IDENTIFIES SIN, AND DOES NOT REALLY PERFORM A FUNCTION BEYOND THIS

IDENTIFIES SIN, BUT DOES PERFORM A FUNCTION FOR REDEEMED PEOPLE AS WELL

The Law is intended for those who remain unconvinced of their sin.[7]
A. Duane Litfin
The fault lies with the false teachers, who do not use the law as God intended it to be used, i.e. to restrain and convict evil-doers. It is not intended as material for fanciful interpretation and profitless speculation on the part of the righteous or justified man.[8]
A.M. Stibbs
The thought is that true Christians do not need the law—they stand above it—but the law holds evil men in check.[9]
Eric Lane Titus
The law must be restricted to its primary purpose—the restraint of evil-doing…The apostle is far from decrying the noble precepts of the Mosaic law, but is emphatically opposing the futilities of much Pentateuchal speculation.[10]
Donald Guthrie
[T]hose who have the Spirit and bear its fruit have entered a sphere of existence in which the Law no longer forms its legal functions…[11]
Gordon D. Fee
The condemnation of those who wished to be teachers of the law ([nomodidaskaloi]) could be regarded as implying criticism of the law itself ([nomos]). The writer, therefore, proceeds to comment that, however much the law is misunderstood by his opponents, it is basically good, provided that it is properly understood and used as a means of bringing into the open whatever is evil in human conduct.[12]
I. Howard Marshall & Philip H. Towner
The apostle indicates that the purpose of law is not to police good men but bad men. In other words, we need law for the punishment of criminals and the protection of society.[13]
Ralph Earle
To use the law lawfully is to recognize its necessary limitations. The law is only for sins and sinners who stand opposed to the healthy teaching of the gospel that reveals the glory of God, the gospel that God gave Paul to proclaim.[14]
William D. Mounce

Sitting somewhere in between these categories is Gary W. Demarest. While he has a generally positive outlook on the Torah’s ethical code, coming from a conservative Presbyterian background, his remarks have elements of accuracy and inaccuracy to them. He states, “‘the law is not made for a righteous person,’ is another way of saying that righteous people need no law. Translated into the context of the gospel, this means that since God declares and makes us righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, we behave according to the law, not out of the fear of being caught or punished, but out of love for God and one another.”[15] Demarest is correct in recognizing that Believers who have been washed clean of their sins need not live in paranoia—as they have been cleared for their transgressions—and likewise in how Believers are to behave according to the righteous principles in the Torah. At the same time, though, Demarest should have better stated his remark that people who have been declared righteous do not need the Law.

Looking through the thoughts of various commentators, especially those who think that the Torah is somehow not for Believers—how many have overlooked the critical fact that the Torah originates from God every bit as much as the gospel? If the Torah originates from the Creator, and as Deuteronomy 28:9 says, “The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways”—then justified or redeemed people are to consider the perspective of Yeshua the Messiah who explicitly came to fulfill the Torah, and who bid His followers to keep it (Matthew 5:17-19). Surely for the unredeemed, the Torah pronounces condemnation and penalties upon them if they fail to receive salvation in the Messiah. But, the Torah does play a role far beyond only identifying and condemning sin, as it includes the foundational narratives of Biblical history and is to instruct God’s people about where they have been—so they can know where they are going in the future! God’s Teaching in the Pentateuch is something to be studied and consulted as born again Believers earnestly strive to know Him and His ways, just the same as any other part of Scripture.

While Torah-keeping is not intended to merit salvation, and a major purpose of the Torah as seen in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 is the identification of sin—is there something that many readers might overlook? Too many read 1 Timothy 1:8-10 from the perspective that with the arrival of Yeshua, the Law has now been superseded and totally replaced with the gospel. A negative consequence of this can be that the Torah is often not considered in one’s regimen of Bible study, and there is a failure to grasp how much of the Torah is to instruct God’s people how to be blessed and prosperous in their lives on Earth. Proverbs 28:19 is keen to remind us, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.” How many of today’s Christians, in dismissing the relevance of God’s Torah, are really living the happy lives that He wants them to have? Even if they are redeemed from their sins, how many of them because of an ignorance of God’s Instruction are not being all of the things that He wants them to be?

The key to properly understanding what Paul asserts in 1 Timothy 1:9a will be found in one’s theological presuppositions. Does the Torah play any kind of role for born again Believers? An interpreter like Mounce thinks, it is not as though “the Christian and the law have nothing in common. It means that the Mosaic law is not the key to righteous living, and the commandments are summed up in the command to love God and one’s neighbor”[16] (cf. Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:14). It is true that loving God and neighbor are imperative, and that a Believer’s source of righteousness is what the Messiah has achieved and not what humans can do with the Law (cf. Philippians 3:9). Yet even Christian interpreters like this recognize that obedience to God involves far more than just some vague “love,” but is to be substantiated in performing positive acts. These include principles such as how we are to be honest in our business dealings (Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:13) or how we are to be courteous to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)—which all good Christians recognize as valid commandments that remain true for any generation. And for today’s Messianic community, we do very much believe that all of God’s people can derive benefits and blessings from things beyond just following the Torah’s instruction on humanitarian deeds, but also in them remembering the seventh-day Sabbath, appointed times, and eating kosher.

The RSV, NRSV, and ESV all clue in readers to what Paul is really trying to say: “the law is not laid down for the just [or, innocent, NRSV] but for the lawless and disobedient.” Among English Bibles, someone comparing a version like the NASU which uses “made,” against “laid down,” immediately should see what the point is—as it concurs with Romans 7:7-12 and how one of the main purposes of the Torah is to identify and condemn sin. The verb keimai means “To lie upon,” which although can imply some kind of establishment, can also imply some kind of negative usage. AMG details how “In Matt. 3:10 and Luke 3:9, in regard to the ax that lies at the root of the trees, it does not simply mean that it is lying there, but also implies the necessity of its being taken up and used.”[17] It is quite obvious that those who have been redeemed via the sacrifice of Yeshua, are not going to have the Torah “laid down” upon them—condemning and crashing down on them as sinners worthy of being cast into eternal punishment. Rendering 1 Timothy 1:9 with “The law doth not lie against a righteous man,” John Wesley concluded that this meant “Doth not strike or condemn him,” and all he had to do was refer to the common human disobedience to the First, Second, and Third Commandments—the guilt of which people are to be released from in the gospel.[18]

It is, however, important that we recognize how not all interpreters of 1 Timothy 1:9a agree with this assessment; they really do think that hoti dikaiō nomos ou keitai means that the Torah is probably not intended for redeemed people. Commentators who feel that “made” is a proper rendering of keimai point out how this verb is an ancient legal term akin to “being given.”[19] In Philip H. Towner’s estimation, “Gk. [keimai], here with ‘law,’ means ‘to enact’ or ‘establish,’” and he finds support for this rendering in how “It forms a wordplay with [antikeimai] in v. [10] that serves to heighten the contrast and force the issue of the law’s real intention.”[20] Ben Witherington III also argues from this position: “There is further rhetorical wordplay in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 with the contrast between keimai and antikeimai, the latter clearly meaning ‘standing against.’”[21] So, it might be said that God is thought to make (or establish) His Law to regulate the activity of sinners, and yet they try to un-make (or un-establish) it by doing things completely opposed to it.

The problem with the view of keimai being rendered as “made”—versus being rendered as “laid down”—is in how the Torah plays a positive role for redeemed, Law-abiding persons, and not just unredeemed Law-breakers. Paul observes in Romans 8:4 how Yeshua was sacrificed “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” The specific issue in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 is how the Torah relates to sinners and Law-breakers. Paul details in Romans 5:20a that with the formal giving of the Torah, “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase.” With Moses being given the Torah at Sinai, given natural human proclivities, people would then break it—even in spite of knowing that there was capital punishment associated with its high sins. 1 Timothy 1:9-10, in describing how the Torah’s condemnation is “laid down” (RSV/NRSV/ESV) on sinners—also indicates the sad reality that many human beings, even when confronted with the severity of God’s Law, do all they can to oppose and overturn it. As strong and direct as the Torah’s penalties may be for Law-breakers, Law-breakers have a tendency to fight back and rebel with the same fierce resolve.

With this in mind, it is appropriate for us to be aware how some who argue in favor of keimai being rendered as “made” in 1 Timothy 1:9a, do think that the Torah’s condemnation upon sinners is principally what is in view here. It is acknowledged how “law is not made for a righteous person” need not at all mean the errant extrapolation, “The Law has no relevance for a righteous person…” I. Howard Marshall & Philip H. Towner confirm, “When the writer states that the law is not for the righteous person, he means that it does not condemn believers who live godly lives and was not laid down to bind them.”[22]

Also to be considered is what 1 Timothy 1:9a means in conjunction with how the false teachers promote myths and strange genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4), an original context that need not elude us. George W. Knight III suggests that the Torah being “given” (his view of keimai) implies that it relates as a contrast to any of the myths that Timothy had to confront in Ephesus. He rightly observes, “Paul is saying that the law is not given to apply in some mystical way to people who are already ‘righteous,’ i.e., those already seeking to conform to the law. It is, rather, given to deal with people who are specifically violating its sanctions and to warn them against its specific sins.”[23] He goes on to state, “So concerned is Paul to make this ethical point that he does not even mention the law’s soteriological use here.”[24]

With keimai better translated as “laid down,” one can more easily recognize that Paul is not saying that the Torah is irrelevant for Believers; the issue is what the Torah means for those who violate it (cf. the uses of keimai in Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9 with the axe that cuts down a tree). This is why Marshall & Towner can conclude, “For the righteous person…is the person who keeps the law and does not need to be told what to do…They keep God’s law from the heart…”[25] From this vantage point the Torah is specifically “for those who oppose the gospel.”[26] Yet, their unfortunate conclusion is, “the vices [of vs. 9-10] are so far removed from the readers’ way of life” that it “demonstrate[s] the irrelevance of the law for them.”[27] Marshall & Towner are right to state how many in 1 Timothy’s audience are not committing the sins of 1 Timothy 1:9-10, but their comments would have more force here if they favored the “laid down” rendering of keimai, in how those who do not violate God’s Torah are spared from its condemnation.[28]

Men and women, who have acknowledged Yeshua as Savior, have been redeemed from sin, and are filled with the Holy Spirit—should naturally have impressed upon their conscience a repulsion of the sins detailed in 1 Timothy 1:9b-10 via the power of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Born again Believers who have been forgiven do not have the Torah’s condemnation “laid down” upon them (even though they may err at times, having spiritual issues to work through with the Lord); the Torah is instead “laid down” upon anomois de kai anupotaktois. These people are “those who are lawless and rebellious.” Anomos immediately hits as a term that means “without law,” but more notably might be anupotaktos: “pert. to refusing submission to authority” (BDAG).[29] Those who disregard God’s Torah and refuse to submit to Him as a Higher Authority will pay a heavy price for their insolence—if they remain unrepentant.

1:9b Paul does not want to communicate that the smallest mistake, easily rectified by asking for forgiveness in prayer, will merit a person the full brunt of God’s wrath. The kinds of sins which undoubtedly merit the Torah being “laid down” upon Law-breakers are fairly obvious. 1 Timothy 1:9b-10 weave in various principles derived from the Ten Commandments, which would have been definitely known to most Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in the First Century:

1 TIMOTHY 1:9B-10 AND THE TEN COMMANDMENTS[30]

1 TIMOTHY 9B-10

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

…those who kill their fathers or mothers… Honor your father and your mother… (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16).
…murderers… You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17).
…for fornicators, for sodomites… (NKJV). You shall not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18).
…kidnappers… You shall not steal (Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19).
…liars and perjurers… You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20).

Far be it from Paul to list some rather obscure regulations in the Torah—to counter the false teachers’ likely speculation on obscure individuals mentioned only once or twice in the Torah in genealogies (cf. 1 Timothy 1:4)—Paul lists obvious categories of sin taken from the Decalogue. Of the sins he targets as meriting the Torah’s condemnation being “laid down,” kidnapping (cf. Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7) is probably more related to slave traders (Grk. andrapodistēs).[31] Yet, as Philo recognizes, kidnapping is also akin to thievery of human persons: “A kidnapper also is a thief; but he is, moreover, a thief who steals the very most excellent thing that exists upon the earth” (Special Laws 4.13).[32]

While the high sins of 1 Timothy 1:9b-10 are widely known aspects of the Torah’s Instruction, standing against the myths of the false teachers—it has definitely been probed as to what degree the false teachers could have been associated with these sins. Did the false teachers Timothy had to confront actually practice any of the high sins of the Torah detailed here? These people might have been experts when it came to babbling off random speculations, but when it came to the high matters of importance in the Torah—did they find themselves not only ignorant, but significantly guilty sinners? Towner is reserved in his conclusion, “It may be that Paul implies that misuse, misunderstanding, and false teaching of the law are precisely what gives rise to such sinful behavior—that he thus accuses the false teachers of heading inevitably in this direction.”[33] So, perhaps the false teachers were not guilty of practicing these sins themselves, but their speculations certainly did not deter or stop potential sinners, and they were on a probable path toward these sins themselves. Witherington, however, thinks that “the very ones touting the law are breaking its most essential commandments and encouraging others to do so as well.”[34] To this end, Philo offers ancient thoughts that could very well summarize the motives of the false teachers:

“And, nevertheless, they never cease showing by their conduct that their real opinion is the reverse of their language. But, when they extol prudence and temperance and justice and piety, they then show that they are, above all measure, foolish, and intemperate, and unjust, and impious; in short, that they are throwing into confusion and overturning all divine and human regulations and principles” (The Worse Attacks the Better 73).[35]

I would urge some caution in concluding that the false teachers were active participants in the sins that Paul lists. However, the false teachers were by no means equipped in expositing on the significant ethical or moral matters of the Torah—and when it came right down to it their rantings were utterly worthless when it came to preventing these sins. If not rectified, they would be on a course toward becoming major practitioners of these contemptuous activities.


NOTES

[1] This entry has been adapted from the commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic.

[2] BDAG, 676.

[3] If Paul is using the rhetorical device of prosopopeia here in Romans 7:7-12—Paul speaking as an imaginary “I”—the sentiments of the Torah being of value are still very much Paul’s personal feelings.

[4] A. Duane Litfin, “1 Timothy; 2 Timothy; Titus,” in John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 732.

Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 634 lists some invalid usages of the Torah such as “mere possession…guarantees personal salvation” or “humanly determined traditions as…more authoritative than God’s Word itself.” But, his remarks are largely not aimed at the situation in Ephesus that Paul is writing Timothy about, and the vain speculations loosely based on the Torah promoted by the false teachers (1 Timothy 1:7).

[5] Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 191.

[6] William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Vol. 46 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 30.

[7] Litfin, in BKCNT, 732.

[8] A.M. Stibbs, “The Pastoral Epistles,” in D. Guthrie and J.A. Motyer, eds., The New Bible Commentary Revised (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 1169.

[9] Eric Lane Titus, “The First Letter of Paul to Timothy,” in Charles M. Laymon, ed., The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1971), 885.

[10] Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Pastoral Epistles (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990), 70.

[11] Gordon D. Fee, New International Bible Commentary: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988), 45.

[12] I. Howard Marshall, with Philip H. Towner, International Critical Commentary: The Pastoral Epistles (London: T&T Clark, 2004), 373.

[13] Ralph Earle, “1 Timothy,” in EXP, 11:352.

[14] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 44.

[15] Gary W. Demarest, The Preacher’s Commentary: 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, Vol 32 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984), 163.

[16] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 34.

[17] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1993), 855.

“The axe is already laid [keimai] at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).

“Indeed the axe is already laid [keimai] at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9).

[18] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, reprint (Peterborough, UK: Epworth Press, 2000), 772.

[19] George W. Knight III, New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992)., 82; Marshall & Towner, 377 fn#45; Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 35.

[20] Philip H. Towner, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 124 fn#7.

[21] Witherington, Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 196 fn#84.

[22] Marshall & Towner, 373.

[23] Knight, 83.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Marshall & Towner, 377.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., 378.

[28] It is important to be aware of the NASU rendering of Nehemiah 9:14, which actually is completely unrelated to the translation issues of 1 Timothy 1:9:

“So You made known to them Your holy sabbath, and laid down for them commandments, statutes and law, through Your servant Moses.”

Here, the verb rendered “laid down” is tzavah, appearing in the Piel stem (intensive action, active voice) and meaning “lay charge (upon), give charge (to), charge, command, order” (BDB, 845), also translated as “command” (RSV) or “ordained” (NJPS). Tzavah was translated with entellomai in the Septuagint, a verb simply meaning “to command.”

[29] BDAG, 91.

[30] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 30.

[31] Defined as “a slave-dealer, kidnapper” (LS, 65).

[32] Philo Judaeus: The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, trans. C.D. Yonge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 617.

[33] Towner, 125.

[34] Witherington, Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 196.

[35] The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, 120.


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