When In Rome (part1): Euangelion

ColosseumNight2More has been written about the book of Romans than possibly any book of the Bible—with the possible exception of Revelation. From Augustine to Luther the book has been credited with the turning around of lives.  And early one St. Paul makes known one of the main themes of the epistle: the gospel. The Greek word he uses is euangelion, which simply translates as good news. Paul makes it known that he was set apart for the Gospel, the Good news, the euangelion, of God. Over the years the gospel –especially in the modern western church, the euangelion, has been watered down to simply believe in Jesus and go to be with God when you die, a sort of fire insurance. And while that might be a part of its message, is that the good news, the euangelion, that Paul was proclaiming to the church in Rome?

            In 1st century usage, the euangelion meant something different than its modern usage. The good news was a proclamation. It was a proclamation that something had happened, and because that something had happened something else would happen. It could be the accession or birthday of a ruler or emperor.[1] When Nero ascended there would have been a proclamation of this good news—this euangelion. And the good news, the euangelion, that St. Paul is proclaiming to the church in Rome is that we have a new King—his name is Jesus. N. T. Wright asserts, “Jesus saw himself as a prophet announcing and inaugurating the kingdom of YHWH; he believed himself to be Israel’s true Messiah; he believed that the kingdom would be brought about by means of his own death at the hands of the pagans. He believed, that is, that the message of the Isaianic herald was coming true at last: Israel’s god was becoming king, ‘Babylon’ was being defeated, and the exile was over at last.”[2] While Israel was back from physical exile, they were still under the Roman rule. Now, the true King had returned and Israel was at last returned from exile. Jesus the Christ was King of Heaven and earth.

            For the Gentiles—the church in Rome was made of both Jews and Gentiles, they can now be grafted into the covenant with the Jews (Romans 11). As well it allows the Gentiles to return from exile: their exile from God due to sin. But, now the good news, the euangelion, that Paul proclaims to the church in Rome is that there is a new King, an eternal King, of Heaven and earth. And because there is a new King has returned Heaven and earth have come together. Both Jew and Gentile are welcomed into the covenant. The Jew has returned from exile as the King has returned for the Gentile their exile from sin is possible. The age to come has been inaugurated. Our exile is over. When we celebrate the Eucharist we taste the new world and of which we are a part.

            Paul was not ashamed, or as Krister Stendahl writes afraid[3], to proclaim the new King to the people who shouted we have no king but Caesar and to those in the town where the Caesar resided. Why then do we hesitate so often to so do?

 

Until next time may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You: All Y’all!

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[1] N. T. Wright, Romans (Nashville: Abingdon Press: 2002), 415. 

[2] N. T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God V2: Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), Kindle Location 12380-12394.

 

[3] Krister Stendahl, Final Account: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) Kindle Location 309.

The Final Frontier: Life After Life After Death

 

crossThe biggest mystery of life is death. It is often joked about by saying it is one of the only two certainties of life; the other being taxes. When one dies the questions abound: “What happens when we die?” “Where do we go when we die?” “Will our departed love one return?” And while the questions can be many, there are likewise multiple answers: “God needed him more than we do.” “He’s gone to live with Jesus in Heaven.” “She’s an angel in Heaven now.” The answers all too often offer comfort, albeit hollow comfort, to the questions. As well, the bereaved, again, all too often, settle for the hollow comfort and in so doing the biblical concept of death and the life after is often never explored and more often simply lost.  The list of both questions and answers could go on, but this is enough to show that the questions as well as the answers are varied.

            A walk through any cemetery can also show the same variedness of ideas whereas death and the afterlife are concerned: “A star on earth a star in Heaven.” “An angel on earth an angel in Heaven.” “Death is only a shadow on the pathway to Heaven.”  Though quoted by Christians, the comforting quotes offer little that can be backed up by the biblical record.

Death, the dark mystery of life, often seems to be explained as many different ways as the number of people by whom it is being explained. And, with most explanations, Heaven seems to be the end goal and citizenship in it is obtained at death. While Heaven is great, it has to be remembered that from a biblical stand point of what happens at death, it is not the end of the story.

All too often when discussing death and the afterlife, the historical and cultural worldview of the original author and audience are not taken into account. For a right understanding of the biblical concept of what exactly life after death is the historical and cultural context of the writing has to be examined.[1] This includes the cultural understanding at the time of the writing and the meaning the author was trying to convey to the original audience. “Since God spoke his message in specific, historical situations (i.e., to people living in particular places, speaking particular languages, adopting a particular way of life), we should take the ancient historical-cultural situation seriously.”[2]

The explanations of what happens after death vary from religion to religion and at times even vary between people in the same religious party, though the same Holy Scriptures are used by each group. The Bible, while not speaking volumes on the after death situation, is a repository of information on the after death experience from Genesis to Revelation. The biblical record is replete with those who have died, those who have left life on earth without ever having tasted death (Genesis 5:24), those who have died and yet been raised to life again (2 Kings 4:18-37; John 11). And, the Bible gives a record of what will happen to man at the end of his earthly life.

Biblically, at death man’s journey is not over. Death and the afterlife that begins at that time is not the final realm.  Man’s final after life experience is resurrection. Full bodily resurrection is the final part of a two-part afterlife experience: At death, after a period of rest and being in Paradise (Luke 23:39-43)—Heaven or Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:19-31)—the physical body will be fully resurrected, not to a disembodied life floating around miles in outer space in some place called Heaven.

Historical and Cultural Context

  1. Clement Stone said, “Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you.”[3] Before turning to the biblical literature dealing with death and the hereafter, or any subject for that matter, it needs to be set in its proper context. As near as possible, biblical literature should be read through the lens of its original author with respect to the message he was trying to convey to the original audience. A common fallacy is to interpret the Bible through the post Reformation lens of Luther. Sadly, Luther interpreted the Bible through a lens of his personal disgust with a corrupt Catholic Church. Stendahl, who has asserted that 1st century, Second Temple Jewish documents should not be interpreted through a modern western lens, writes, “Both the historian and the theologian, both the psychologist and the average reader of the Bible, are well advised to assess how this hypothesis of contemporaneity affects their thinking, and their interpretation of ancient writings.”[4] Artinian notes, and rightly so, “As Luther agonized under the crushing weight of a tormented conscience and desperately sought

an answer to the medieval question, ‘How can I find a gracious God?’ he naturally, perhaps unconsciously, but nonetheless wrongly, read his own tormented conscience into Paul. As a consequence, he mistakenly took Paul’s repeated declaration, ‘not by the works of the Law, but by faith,’ as an answer to the medieval question of the tormented conscience and of the way to a gracious God.”[5]

Luther read his own circumstance, his own worldview, into Paul’s writings. Thus, the gates have been wide open since the Reformation to read Paul, as well as all 1st century Second Temple Jewish writings through a modern lens.

For his part, Sanders took Stendahl’s hypothesis and basically asserted that the gist of Paul’s writings had in fact been misinterpreted. The Jews, according to Sanders,[6] were not the works salvation people of which they had long been believed. For Sanders, the Jews were saved by being God’s chosen people; they did the Law to remain in that saved relationship. The law was never for entrance into the covenant; it kept them under the covenant. All this is simply to point out that Luther missed it in his interpretation of Paul by reading through his (Luther’s) own sitz im leben.

Keener suggests that God did not say, “Because I am God I will speak directly to everybody in all times and cultures.”[7]  Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard rightly assert that scripture was “God’s Word to other people before it became God’s Word to us.”[8]  Duvall and Hays sum it up nicely writing, “Since God spoke his message in specific, historical situations (i.e., to people living in particular places, speaking particular languages, adopting a particular way of life), we should take the ancient historical situation seriously.”[9] The point of all this is to not suggest, but to strongly assert that passages regarding the afterlife have to be interpreted through a 1st century, Second Temple Judaism lens. Modern ideas such as those by LaHaye and others have to be put aside to allow the original intent of the author to ring true. The shapings of modern western thought have to be set aside and allow the Second Temple Judaism worldview to take over in the interpretation of New Testament literature.

What is Life After Death?

From the first inauguration into Christianity, it becomes a given that there will be life after death. Yet, just what that life after death is can at times be something of mystery. Scripture asserts that “He has also set eternity in [man’s] heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NASB[10]). But it begs the question of what is this eternity and what form will it take? The answers to these questions are best seen by looking first at examples in the New Testament which address the afterlife.

One of the first examples of the afterlife, and one that so many fall back on as a reference, is the story of the Thief on the Cross found in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 23, verses 32-43. In essence, and for brevity’s sake, the story is simply that Messiah was hung on the cross between two thieves. While on thief hurled insults at the Savior, the other saw the Christ for He was and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Here is seen a first glimpse into an afterlife. The afterlife was something known to all as the repentant thief was asking for favor at that time. Yet, and this will be looked at more in depth in the next section, when this afterlife existence would start is not quite clear from the thief’s statement.

From the thief’s statement though, Jesus is prompted to reply, and his reply does shed light the when the afterlife will take place and where it will be spent: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). It appears then from the passage that the afterlife will begin at death and will be spent in some place called Paradise. Yet, while the term paradise is used in the New Testament to refer to the future dwelling place of God’s people (see 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7), Black points out that, “The reader should not become so concerned with the question of the intermediate state that the point is missed. Luke is reminding his readers of that which he has told them often. God forgives penitent sinners, while the impenitent (the rulers, the soldiers, and the other criminal) are excluded from the blessing”[11] Here, however, it has to be examined on count of its immediate sate.

Putting the discussion of the thief on hold, on hold at the word paradise, another story of life after death has to be laid beside it. The story—some might suggest parable, but in either case the same teaching should emerge—of the Rich Man and Lazarus has to be examined in the same way as was the thief on the cross. In chapter 16, Luke gives a story of a rich man who had no compassion for the poor man, Lazarus. Both men die. The rich man goes to Hades, while Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s Side (Luke 16:22). The thing most apparent in this story is that in both places the men have a consciousness of what is going on, not only where they are but other places as well. The question then is, what and where is Abraham’s Side?

Black comments, “The phrase “Abraham’s side” is nowhere else used, but it is a beautiful way of saying that God’s people will be in the presence of Abraham, the father of the faithful.”[12] Yet, Black does not make a connection between Abraham’s Side and Paradise. Bock on the other hand asserts that “in Judaism, [Paradise] referred to the abode of the righteous dead,”[13] while Arndt equates paradise with Abraham’s Bosom.[14] Bock notes that Abraham’s Bosom is not a synonym for Paradise, but the verse notes that Abraham is there suggesting the place is a place for the righteous.[15]

Black suggests, “The fact that he looked up and saw Abraham does not mean that heaven and hell will be within seeing distance of each other” (emphasis in original).[16] While that might be true—though a better argument would be that Heaven is simply the place where God is as opposed to hell, the place where God is not—for purposes here it is enough to simply show that during this after life experience—which takes place immediately at bodily death— there is a conscious awareness.

While not the immediate scope of this paper, it should be mentioned that while Hades can simply be the grave, in this passage it seems to refer to a place of the unrighteous dead. This would seem to go along with Jewish thought of the time after death preceding the judgment. First Enoch 22:11 backs up this thought, “Here their spirits shall be set apart in this great pain, till the great day of judgment, scourgings [sic], and torments of the accursed forever, so that [there may be] retribution for their spirits.”

For both the righteous dead and the unrighteous dead there is a state of disembodied consciousness after death. But, the question that arises is this the final state of the dead? Is this the eternity that is put in man’s heart? Is resurrection simply dying and going to live in some disembodied state in some far off place called Heaven?

For Dunn the final form of life is preciously this. Dunn write, “the resurrection body will be other, no longer flesh and blood, beyond the reach of corruption and atrophy, and vivified by the life-giving Spirit” (emphasis added).[17] Sanders concurs suggesting that before the crucifixion the thought was of a “renewed world situation” but after it shifted to “in the air.”[18] Wright disagrees with both Sanders and Dunn in their belief that the final state will be a disembodied “in the air” type of existence.[19] For Wright, the resurrected body will not be a body made of spiritual substance but the “entire body energized and animated by the divine Spirit.”[20] While in the cases of the Rich Man and Lazarus and the Thief on the Cross there seems to be an “in the air” element, post resurrection writings seems to not make a case for a shift; the biblical record after the resurrection points to a bodily resurrection. What has been seen up to this point is life after death. The Bible, however, cause for something more. The biblical record is for a life after life after death.

Life After Life After Death—The Resurrection

As was stated earlier, to understand what the Bible teaches every effort should be made to place its record into the worldview of its original audience. While many hold to a view that at death man’s spirit goes off to live some disembodied existence—falling back on Abraham’s Bosom and Paradise as the final home—First Century, Second Temple Judaism did not hold these places as the end, but only the first stop of life after death. They taught and understood life after life after death—resurrection—on a renewed earth.

First Enoch again asserts of Abraham’s Bosom, Paradise, and Hades that “These places, in which they dwell, shall they occupy until the day of judgment, and until their appointed period. Their appointed period will be long, even until the great judgment” (22:4-5). For the writer of 1 Enoch these places were temporary abodes for the dead. The Wisdom of Solomon backs up this thought, “But the souls of the just are in God’s hand, and torment shall not touch them” (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1, New English Bible with Apocrypha 1970). In 1ST Century Jewish thought, and it has to be remembered this was the worldview with which Jesus lived and Paul wrote, at death, there was a temporary place of rest in the protection of God.

The writer of 2 Maccabees picks up the thought, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life’ (2 Maccabees 7:14, NRSV). The Maccabees verse presupposes a resurrection of the physical body—as well it presupposes the judgment. The Wisdom of Solomon also adds to the discussion of Second Temple thought as to resurrection. The writer of WoS writes, “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality” (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-14).

Wright asserts that “it has long been customary among scholars to declare that this book simply teaches the immortality of the soul rather than the resurrection.”[21] Yet, as the WoS passage continues— In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them for ever (3:7-8)—Wright is quick to point out, “These righteous Jews who have been martyred at the hands of the pagans are for the present at peace, safe with God, but the immortality of their souls is only the prelude to their rising again and being set in authority over the kingdoms of the earth, within the one kingdom of God.”[22] The righteous dead are in God’s care, and after a period of rest are resurrected. Daniel 12:2 echoes this thought, “Daniel 12:2— “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” The Second Temple understanding of afterlife was understood as a two-part experience: a disembodied period of rest with God—Paradise or Abraham’s Bosom—followed by resurrection of the body.

Two Baruch brings this bodily resurrection out in a much fuller way:

2 Baruch 49:2 “In which shape will the living live in Your day? Or, how will remain their splendor after that?”

How will they live in the period after the resurrection is the question.

2 Baruch 50:2 “For the earth will surely give back the dead at that time; it receives them now in order to keep them, not changing anything in their form. But as it has received them so it will give them back. And as I have delivered them to it so it will raise them.

The resurrection in Second Temple understanding would be a resurrection of the physical body, a body of flesh that as Wright asserts will be animated by spirit, and not just any spirit, the Divine Holy Spirit!

Wright suggests, “[eschatology] refers to the strongly held belief of most first-century Jews, and virtually all early Christians, that history was going somewhere under the guidance of God and that where it was going was toward God’s new world of justice, healing, and hope. The transition from the present world to the new one would be a matter not of the destruction of the present space-time universe but of its radical healing.”[23] Johnson writes, “the dead will be raised with a πνευματικόν body, which for all its discontinuity and newness, will have a definite material continuity with the ψυχικόν body that is buried.”[24] The newness that Johnson writes about is the animating Holy Spirit.

Bodily resurrection at the end of time was concept readily accepted in Second Temple theology, but as Endsjo points out, “it was the resurrection of Jesus, not the general resurrection of the dead, which the Jews considered ‘a controversial matter.’”[25] The resurrection of Jesus was not the general resurrection at the end of time; Jesus’s resurrection came in the middle of history. With the resurrection of Jesus the living model of what Second Temple theology believed had been realized: At death, after a period of rest—in the case of Messiah 3 days—with the Father—Paradise or Abraham’s Bosom—there was a full bodily resurrection—continuity with the past yet animated by the Holy Spirit.

Wright writes, “Kings and emperors, from Alexander to the Julio-Claudians and beyond, were regularly deified, using various legitimating devices, mostly to do with witnessing the departed person’s soul ascending to heaven, perhaps in the form of a comet, as with Julius Caesar,” continuing the thought suggesting, “The Jewish hope burst the bounds of ancient paganism altogether by speaking of resurrection.”[26] A stumbling block to the Jews—a resurrection breaking in the middle of history and not at the end of time—and foolishness to the Gentiles—they did not believe in a bodily resurrection.

Conclusion

Most Christians hold to some belief in the afterlife. Yet, for most the belief is in a disembodied spirit existence in Heaven for eternity. While the biblical record speaks to a time of rest after death in Paradise, or Abraham’s Bosom, the biblical record does not stop at this point. The biblical record, and Second Temple theology held the position of bodily resurrection. After a period of rest with the Father in Paradise the body will be resurrected—at the end of time—with continuity to its past, yet with discontinuity in the that it will be animated by God’s Divine Spirit.

Wright suggests, “When you’re dealing with worldviews, every community and every person must make their choices in the dark, even if there is a persistent rumour of light around the next corner.”[27] The worldview of the author and the original audience should never be filtered out of the interpretation of literature. Nor, should the Jewishness of Jesus, Paul, and other biblical and extra-biblical writers be filtered out.  The Second Temple worldview, the worldview of Paul and Jesus, was one of a two-part afterlife experience. The first stage was disembodied spiritual existence to be followed at the end of time by full bodily resurrection. The final frontier for man is not life after death but life after life after death.

Until Next Time May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You, All Y’all!

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References

Arndt, W. F. The Gospel According to Luke. St. Louis: Concordia, 1956.

Artinian, Robert G. “Luther after the Stendahl/Sanders revolution: a responsive evaluation of Luther’s view of first-century Judaism in his 1535 commentary on Galatians.”.” Trinity Journal 27, no. 1 (2006): 77-99.

Black, Mark C. Luke. Joplin: College Press, 1998.

Bundy, David. “In Abraham’s bosom: Christianity without the New Testament.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 62, no. 1 (2000): 123-124.

Dunn, James D. G. “How are the dead raised? with what body do they come?: reflections on 1 Corinthians 15.” Southwestern Journal Of Theology 45, no. 1 (September 2002): 4-18.

Duvall, J. Scott, and J. Daniel Hays. Grasping God’s Word. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Endsjø, Dag Øistein. “Immortal bodies, before Christ: bodily continuity in ancient Greece and 1 Corinthians.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 4 (2008): 417-436.

Johnson, Clinton Andrew “Andy” Jr. “On removing a trump card: flesh and blood and the reign of God.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 13, no. 2 (2003): 175-190.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Sanders, E.P. Jesus and Judaism. Philidelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

Shepard, Gelnn. How To Be the Employee Your Company Can’t Live Without: 18 Ways to Become Indespensible. Hoboken: Wiley Publishers, 2006.

Stendahl, Krister. “The apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.” Harvard Theological Review 56, no. 3 (July 1963): 199-215.

Ware, James P. “Paul’s understanding of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:36-54.” Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 4 (2014): 809-835.

William , Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard. Biblical Interpretation. Nasville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.

Wright, N. T. “Christian Origens and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Hostorical Problem.” Sewanne Theological Review 41, no. 2 (1998).

Wright, N. T. “Jesus’ Resurrection and Christian Origins.” Stimulus 16, no. 1 (2008): 41-50.

—. Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.

—. The Resurrection of the Son of God. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003.

[1] cf.  Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” Harvard Theological Review 56, no. 3 (July 1963): 199-215.

[2] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 99.

[3] W. Clement Stone quoted in Glenn Shepard, How to Be the Employee Your Company Can’t Live Without : 18 Ways to Become Indispensable (Hoboken: Wiley Publishers, 2006).

[4] Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” Harvard Theological Review 56, no. 3 (July 1963): 199.

[5] Robert G. Artinian, “Luther after the Stendahl/Sanders revolution: a responsive evaluation of

Luther’s view of first century Judaism in his 1535 commentary on Galatians,” Trinity Journal 27, no. 1 (2006): 81.

[6] cf. E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1977).

[7] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993), 24.

[8] William Klein, Craig Blomberg and Robert Hubbard, Interpreting Biblical Literature (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 172.

[9] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 99.

[10] All verse Holy Bible English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[11] Mark C. Black, Luke (Joplin: College Press, 1998), 381.

[12] Black, 282.

[13] Darrell C. Bock, Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 1857.

[14] W.F. Arndt, The Gospel According to Luke (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956), 471.

[15] Bock, 1368.

[16] Black, 282.

[17] James D. G. Dunn, “How Will The Dead Be Raised? With What Body Do They Come? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 45, no. 1 (2002): 18.

[18] E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), Kindle location 3439.

[19] Cf. N.T. Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God (London: Society for Promoting Christian Literature, 2003).

[20] Wright, ROSG, Kindle location 6780.

[21] N.T. Wright, “Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem,” Sewanee Theological Review 41, no.2 (1998). Retrieved from http:ntwrightpage.org

[22] N.T. Wright, “Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem,” Sewanee Theological Review 41, no.2 (1998). Retrieved from http:ntwrightpage.org

[23] N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope (New York: Harper Collins,2008), 122.

[24] Andrew Johnson Jr., “On removing a trump card: flesh and blood and the reign of God.,” Bulletin For Biblical Research 13, no. 2 (2003 2003): 178.

[25]Dag Øistein Endsjø, “Immortal bodies, before Christ: bodily continuity in ancient Greece and 1 Corinthians,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 30, no. 4 (2008): 432.

[26] N. T. Wright, “Jesus’ Resurrection and Christian Origins,” Stimulus 16, no.1 (2008): 42.

[27] Wright, Stimulus, 49.