The Romans Case for a Covenant Theology

I wrote this for a NT Theology class and decided I’d share it on here. Most of the information on the different approaches come from class notes, except for the argument I made using Romans 11.

Comparison of Approaches to the Covenants of the OT and NT

Dispensational Theology (DT)– DT emphasizes strong discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. It is a relatively recent movement arising in the 1800s, and though this was not always the case, it is now the majority view among Baptists. This is also the movement typically associated with the notion of a Rapture, also arising in the 1800s. The major motivating ideas of DT are a Literal Hermeneutic in interpretation, according to which the Old Testament promise of full restoration from exile and an earthly kingdom for Israel will be literally fulfilled (great emphasis on authorial intent and though there is metaphor in the Bible, those are also pointing to a literal reality), and strong separation between the Church and Israel. On this view, God’s overall plan for salvation primarily operates through distinct dispensations (different periods of intervention where God has given us particular ways to relate to Himself).


New Covenant Theology (NCT)– NCT emphasizes both discontinuity and continuity. Though it focuses on grace in each stage of progressive revelation, it also takes care to note differences between the Church and Israel. Unlike Covenant Theology (below), it rejects the idea of an overarching covenant and takes the Old Covenant to have been temporary. So, God’s plan for human salvation is through related covenants ultimately culminating in the New Covenant that eliminates the others because they are all fully realized in Christ. Since NCT takes emphasis from both sides, it often takes positions shared by one or the other. For instance, like CT, it affirms that though some Old Testament prophecies are for the nation Israel others are for the spiritual Israel. On the other hand, it agrees with DT in that Old Testament Laws are no longer in effect unless they are reaffirmed in the New Testament.


Covenant Theology (CT)– CT emphasizes strong continuity. Though it has strong roots in Catholic and Orthodox theology, this has become associated with Reformed protestants. It argues there is only one people of God, perhaps reframed in the NT but still the same people or entity. You might say the Church is like an updated Israel. It claims the first covenant, with Adam, was a Covenant of Works (which failed), while the second covenant, in the rest of the Bible, is a Covenant of Grace. Because of the continuity between the Old and New Covenants, aspects of the former are transposed onto the latter. For example, the sign of the Old Covenant is circumcision, which included infants (Gen. 17:12), and so similarly the sign of the New Covenant, baptism, should be allowed for infants. God’s overall plan to save us is primarily through related covenants, with those covenants all derived from the eternal covenant between the Trinity made from before creation.

Favoring a Covenant Theology

Romans 11 in light of Romans 2:28-29

There are two kinds of Jews: an outward, merely ethical Jew, and an inward, legitimate Jew (who may also happen to be an ethical Jew). To say the former is a kind of Jew may be a bit misleading, as he is not really a Jew, that is, a member of God’s elect. Romans 2:28-29 explains, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (ESV)”

With this distinction, we should be able to read Romans 11 and it’s account of the outward Jews, who have not obtained salvation because “they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (Rom. 9:32), and be able to tell where they stand relative to the believing gentiles (spiritual Jews), as well as to the believing ethical Jews (spiritual and ethical, like Paul).

To start the chapter, Paul is considering the question of whether God has rejected Israel, to which he answers, “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew (11:1-2).” He also points out, “at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace (11:5)”, and this remnant is the current (at Paul’s time) believing Jews such as himself. So, at this point, God has saved those Jews he “foreknew” would believe and preserved them as His “elect”, the true Israel. As he writes of the ethical Jews, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened (11:7)…”

In verses 11-14, Paul explains “ through their trespass Salvation has come to the Gentiles (11:11)” and he hopes that through this some of his fellow Jews (ethical) will become jealous “and thus save some of them (11:14)”. It is here that Paul spring boards into the manner in which the gentiles have been saved, and it is here the crux of my argument lies, in verses 17-24.

He addresses the gentiles, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree…” So we see, in the context of the chapter, the broken off branches are the unbelieving Jews (ethical) being replaced by the grafting in of a “wild olive shoot”, the gentiles (spiritual Jews). Moreover they are grafted in among the “others”, the Jews who believed (ethical and spiritual), so as to share in the “nourishing root”, which is salvation, of the “olive tree”, that is, the Kingdom of God (members of the New Covenant).

Just as Covenant Theology teaches there is one true (spiritual) Israel and one overall Covenant of Grace (11:5&6) into which those who believe are grafted in. This is the shift we saw in the New Testament, as the unbelieving Jews were replaced by believing Gentiles. There was no destruction or replacement of Israel as God’s people. The believers are Israel. Those who doubt are grafted out, and one’s place in the covenant only persists as their faith does, as Paul warns, “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off (11:22).”

So Romans 11, read with the Paul’s own distinctions, indicates that the Church is Israel (that is, the Israel of the inward Jews). The unbelieving outward Jews were grafted out, and the believing gentile inward Jews were grafted in with the prior believing ethical Jews who kept their place by faith, and this constitutes the Church.

Hence, God’s work to save the faithful is not a matter of one failed attempt replaced by a successful one. Rather, God’s work throughout history (Heilsgeschichte) is a unified whole with the goal of a new and redeemed world it’s shared ultimate end. We are all part of one grand scale salvation scheme articulated prior to creation, in which God’s elect, those He foreknew would believe, are saved as members grafted into His covenant and His kingdom. In light of this, we must hold to a Covenant Theology (whether or not that implies all the teachings typically associated with the approach), as New Covenant theology is not quite enough and Dispensational Theology is…well…more than a bit off track.


A Molinistic View of Biblical Authority

For those, like myself, who find Molinism compelling I would like to offer the basics of a Molinistic perspective for biblical authority. I suspect this type of thinking will have implications for other matters. For example, I’ve argued in a previous post the Mormons should be Molinists. I also think this model carries serious apologetic value, even if the model is not true. I am inclined to think something very much like it is truebut even if I am wrong the model is not devoid of usefulness.

Before I explain the perspective, here are some preliminary considerations of two contrary perspectives of biblical authority, as well as a brief explanation of Molinism.

A General Liberal View

I certainly can’t account for all views that might come under this category, but the following description seems adequate enough to me to get the gist of it across (same with the conservative account). This view sees the Bible as a collection of writings throughout history by fallible men working with influence from their own culture and background in an attempt to record what God had revealed or done, if He had revealed or done anything at all, and they are not simply mistaken.

On this view then, the Bible is the human record of God’s revelation, instead of being itself the revelation from God.


  1. This view seems to fit more appropriately with the way the different books of the Bible were written. The freedom of the biblical authors is obvious in their writings because of their contrary stylistic choices and writing tendencies.
  2. Contradictions and apparent historical errors in scripture are not problematic because these are the errors of men rather than God.
  3. Seemingly immoral acts and commands on God’s part can be explained as man mistakenly believing they had God’s support and erroneously recording accordingly (or some explanation like that).

A General Conservative View

The more conservative view is going to usually be along the line of thought that God is ultimately the author of Scripture, and because He is perfect and truthful, then Scripture too is completely perfect and true. The human authors were either inspired to write what they did or some may have been given direct words from God.

On this view, the Bible is primarily God’s work for man, rather than man’s work for man with God as its subject or original influence.


  1. We can use the Bible as an ultimate source for determining and testing doctrine in a stronger way than the liberal view.
  2. It makes sense of how the Bible seemed to be understood by the early church and Christ.

It is important to realize though that on this view, errors, contradictions, and seemingly poor teachings in scripture have to be defended and explained. This can be difficult in some cases and a tedious matter in conversation with those who would disagree.


In Molinism, God has (when He creates and from His omniscience) His logically primary knowledge called “Natural Knowledge”.


And N is- God’s knowledge of how all things could be. In terms of possible worlds, it is His knowledge of all the possible worlds He could, so to speak, choose to create.

God also has what we can call His “Free Knowledge”.


And F is- God’s knowledge of what will be. He knows which possible world is actual and He knows the future.

Then in addition to N and F, God will also have His “Middle Knowledge”.


And M is- God’s knowledge of how every free creature would act in every way things could be. In terms of possible worlds, God knows for any possible world he might create, how the free creatures will freely choose to act in each of those possible worlds.

On this view, the logical (not chronological) order in which God creates from His  is,

N -> M -> F 

(The “->” in this case stand for “then”.)

In between M and F is God’s divine decree (D) of which possible world to create. F is contingent in that God’s knowledge of what will happen depends on which possible world He chooses to create.


N -> M -> |D| -> F

It is important to remember that God will only create one of the possible worlds that meet certain criteria. For example, it is likely that God would only create a possible world in which the greatest number of people possible are freely saved.

A Molinistic Perspective on Biblical Authority

If we take Molinism to be true, then what we can say is;

God chose to create the possible world in which the biblical authors freely choose to write that which best conveyed to us what He intended to be His message/word for us and in the way closest to how He wanted it to be conveyed.

  1. What this means for inerrancy­, apparent errors in Scripture, and seemingly immoral acts of God–  On this view, if we were to find overwhelming evidence that the Bible contained some contradiction or historical error, we would be able to acknowledge it while still saying the Bible is the word of God. It would simply mean there was no possible world which God could have actualized, that was consistent with all His prior criteria, in which none of the Biblical authors made a mistake or taught something that was not true.
  2. What this means for the Bible as a source for testing doctrine– On this view, since the works of the Biblical authors is what God intended to be His word for us, then  we should presume that beliefs or teachings contrary to its teachings are false and that it is  useful for learning truth. However, if we find that an argument against a particular teaching is overwhelmingly strong, such that it would be irrational to hold on to the Biblical teaching, we still have the option of explaining it in the way above.
  3. What this means for inspiration– God could still have inspired or directed some of the authors in a more direct way if He so chose. For example, if we read “The Lord says,” from a prophet this may be indicative that God gave more direct guidance than usual. God’s knowledge of how He would further freely act in the world is within F, because it is only after D that He knew how He would act in the world. He could only know this after D, because a person endowed with M does not have knowledge of how they would themselves freely act in any possible world. Since the true propositions regarding M are counterfactuals, if He had M of Himself the truth of such counterfactuals would be outside His control, in the same way His N and M (with regard to others) are outside His control, and this would destroy His freedom.

This Molinistic perspective is an attractive one because it allows us to take the strengths of both the general types of views I mentioned without their relative weaknesses. It also has very serious apologetic value. We need no longer tirelessly go through every possible error in scripture the skeptic coughs up. We can simply say such errors are not incompatible with biblical authority and move on. Even if you don’t find this approach convincing (perhaps you aren’t a Molinist), it is still a valuable tool in your arsenal. It at least shows that biblical authority and errors in scripture are not logically incompatible. So long as the model remains a logical possibility, an authoritative Bible with an infallible God are logically compatible with potential biblical errors.

A Pointless Article

Absolutely wonderful!

School of Christian Thought

“When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.”

So wrote Winston Churchill, explaining the elaborate courtesy with which, on behalf of the British Government, he declared war on Japan in 1941.

Intellectual combat, like actual warfare, benefits from politeness. And in this respect, C.S. Lewis provides us with a notable example.

In his ripe, late work, An Experiment in Criticism (1961), Lewis guns down one of his Cambridge colleagues. But you will not learn the name of Lewis’s target from the pages of his book; he never mentions it. Why make your opponent’s fate worse by brandishing his identity before the public? Play the ball, not the man.

In An Experiment in Criticism Lewis sets out to discover what makes a book good. (We may usefully apply his findings to films and plays as well as books.) He concludes that what makes a book good…

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Revisiting the Arguments from Change and Reason

The best way to further develop and clarify an argument is to subject it to criticism. Forcing an argument through purgatorial fires will either destroy it or make it stronger. So to revisit two previous arguments, a Thomistic Argument and an Argument from Reason, my friend Stephen was kind enough to review these posts and offer his thoughts. If you have not read the above posts I highly recommend you do so before proceeding at the risk of confusion or otherwise raising objections I’ve already responded to. He addressed each argument in turn so I will first restate the premises of the arguments and their conclusions and then provide Stephen’s criticisms. Thanks again Stephen!

A Thomistic Argument

  1. No impersonal thing can be in a state of change without some outside factor to induce and sustain its change (CP).

  2. The universe is an impersonal thing in a state of change.

  3. Therefore, there is a factor outside the universe to induce and sustain its change.

  • The factor outside the universe must be space-less, timeless, immaterial, extremely powerful, and personal.

On the Thomistic cosmological argument: I don’t see the reason for the use of the word sustain in the first premise. Why does the change have to be sustained? Personally I would tackle your last premise from a theological noncognitivist’s perspective. That premise is basically saying God is made of nothing and he exists nowhere never which sounds a great deal like nonexistence. Also the personal thing is a bit of a stretch from the rest of the argument. I really don’t see how you draw that attribute from the other premises you postulated.

For clarity I’ll divide his comments into three distinct parts-

On the Thomistic cosmological argument: I don’t see the reason for the use of the word sustain in the first premise. Why does the change have to be sustained? 

While I do want to maintain that change requires preservation, Stephen has helped me to see that I’ve unnecessarily merged two similar but distinct arguments. One is an argument on the inducing of change and the other on the sustenance of change. We can divide the first premise like this:

1. No impersonal thing can be in a state of change without some independent factor to induce its change.

1.* No impersonal thing can remain in a state of change without some independent factor to sustain its change.

The second premise would remain the same and our conclusions would inevitably result with the same conceptual analysis of a factor outside our universe. Revised premises 1. and 1.* are both plausible and defensible. Considering 1., any entity lacking will cannot enter arbitrarily into a state of change; it is static. No one is worried about books randomly flying off their shelves for no causal reason at all (except maybe in ghost stories, but even then you have the ghost as a causal explanation!). Personal entities, on the other hand, possess the potential to induce change by their will alone. Even if I had no body, I could at least still choose to change whatever it is I’m thinking about as a pure act of will.

As for 1.*, it seems clear to me that when states of change lack the appropriate outside factors they cannot be sustained. Often these are the factors required to initially induce a things change (perhaps this is why I originally combined the claims). Sunlight and soil, for instance, are both necessary to induce change in a seed as well as to sustain it. Even if we were to imagine a perpetual motion machine, say some sort of clock that never stopped ticking, you would still need numerous factors to preserve the clock from eventual decay and at the very least you would still need the factors of space and time. For the scientific mind, both 1. and 1.* have been consistently verified and there are no counter examples offering falsification. I think we can rightly say these claims are at least more likely true than their negations and have valid logic, which as William Lane Craig has consistently argued, is all you need for a good argument.

Personally I would tackle your last premise from a theological noncognitivist’s perspective. That premise is basically saying God is made of nothing and he exists nowhere never which sounds a great deal like nonexistence.

I have three responses to this. First, it should be pointed out that the conclusion is simply what follows from the premises, it is not itself a premise. If 1. (or 1.*) and 2. is true, then the conclusion follows logically and necessarily. So in one sense, this is an argument against theological noncognitivism. If the argument is sound, then there must be some sort of transcendant factor independent of the universe that is still something. We might continue to argue about what this factor might be, but then we are dealing with issues regarding the conceptual analysis.

Moreover, what I ended up with was a transcendent and powerful person who induced (or sustains) change in the universe. Clearly that is not just another description of nothing! Besides, several philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists (believers and unbelievers) believe in and defend the existence of things like numbers, sets, possible worlds, and other abstract entities which would likewise be nonspatiotemporal. Are we to say all these discussions have simply been meaningless or about “nothing”?

Finally, if I understand theological noncognitivism correctly it must depend on some sort of verificationist or empiricist epistemology (theory of knowledge). The problem is that such an epistemology is inevitably plagued with self-referential defeat. For instance, the position might say “a claim is only meaningful if it is an empirically verifiable claim about the physical world”, but then this claim itself is neither empirically verifiable nor is it about the physical world! It fails to meet its own standard.

Also the personal thing is a bit of a stretch from the rest of the argument. I really don’t see how you draw that attribute from the other premises you postulated.

I’m grateful Stephen raised this issue because it allows me to further clarify the significance of the conclusion. If you’ll recall the original post, I wrote, “following Dr. William Craig’s style of arguments for details concerning a cause of the universe, I think we can determine a number of significant details about this factor through a conceptual analysis of what it means to be a factor outside the universe”, and remember that this is a factor independent of the universe that is inducing change. So Stephen is quite right when he points out the personhood of the factor does not follow from the arguments premises. That’s because it is a result of our conceptual analysis and comes from independent arguments for the personhood of such an entity.

In the original post I gave the following three arguments (except the first which I’ve replaced)-

1. Recall that I mentioned many defend the existence of numbers, sets, possible worlds, and other abstract entities. Some sort of abstract entity like this is the only thing we know of that could possibly be such a transcendent factor other than a person (a mind). The problem with it being some sort of abstract entity is that they have no power to induce change or do anything. That’s part of what it means to be an abstract entity. This leaves us with a personal factor. One might retort, “well that’s all you can think of right now, but maybe later we will come up with something else”. That’s certainly possible, but it remains the case that at the moment the best option we have is a transcendent person, and we should always reason from what we do know, not from what we don’t. If someone thinks up another possibility (though I have no idea for the life of me what it could be) we will consider it then. Until that happens, the best information we have suggests a personal factor.

2. How do we get a timeless factor to induce a temporal change? Any entity outside time should be static, and without being able to enter into a state of change itself how can it do anything to induce change? The factor must be a personal agent endowed with will who can, from a timeless state, freely choose to perform a temporal act and induce change in the universe.

3. Finally, consider the notion that there are two basic kinds of explanations. There are personal and scientific explanations. If you wake up one morning and your mom puts a plate of warm pop-tarts in front of you and you ask, “Why are these here?”, she can give you two different explanations. She could either describe scientifically the manufacturing process of the poptart and the heat transfer from the toaster, or she could explain she thought you would be hungry and decided to make you breakfast. Both are equally legitimate and not mutually exclusive explanations. Remember our factor outside the universe is transcendent. Science is limited to the natural world so the factor outside the natural world cannot be a scientific explanation, leaving it to be personal.

An Argument from Reason

  1. If a god does not exist, then our reason is not reliably aimed at truth.

    1. Rationality is only a property of minds.

    2. If rationality is only a property of minds, then non-rationality is a property of the non-mental.

    3. If the origin of our reason is not mental, then it is non-mental.

    4. The origin of our reason is not mental (on atheism).

      1. The atheist cannot affirm the existence of any god, and so cannot accept the origin of our reason being mental (i.e. from a mind), for such a source is that which may be considered a god.

    5. If the origin of our reason is non-rational, then our reason is not reliably aimed at truth.

      1. Remember, non-rational will mean devoid of ability to reliably reason to truth and our reason will refer to our mental tools by which we draw conclusions. So, this is to say that if the mental tools by which we draw conclusions are produced from that which is devoid of the ability to reliably reason to truth, then the mental tools as well are not capable of reliably giving us true conclusions. Understanding that, this should be an obvious truth.

    6. (from 1 & 2) Non-rationality is a property of the non-mental.

    7. (from 3 & 4) The origin of our reason is non-mental.

    8. (from 6 & 7) The origin of our reason is non-rational.

    9. (from 5 & 8) Our reason is not reliably aimed at truth.

  2. Our reason is reliably aimed at truth.

    1. This premise is a given and is unobjectionable. Any argument against it would require the use of reason and thus assume the truth of the premise.

  3. Therefore, a god does exist.

On the argument from reason: non-rationality is really just another word for irrationality and I don’t see how you can argue that irrationality is not a property of the mind. Also on this argument you can’t actually say that our reason is true because it is all contingent on whether or not the mind that our reason originates from intentionally gave us faulty reason.

I’ll divide the comments for this one as well-

On the argument from reason: non-rationality is really just another word for irrationality and I don’t see how you can argue that irrationality is not a property of the mind.

Once again Stephen has raised just the challenge I needed to clarify the argument! When I was first thinking through this argument I had used the term “irrationality” instead of “nonrationality”. So why did I change it? It goes back to the Lewis vs. Anscombe debate. When C.S. Lewis originally made this kind of argument he spoke in terms of everything being “fully explained as the result of irrational causes” on naturalism. This prompted a Roman Catholic philosopher, Elizabeth Anscombe, to challenge his argument in such a way that Lewis had to revise it.

In the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology Victor Reppert explains Anscombe insisted on a distinction, namely, “Irrational beliefs…are beliefs that are formed in ways that conflict with reason: wishful thinking, for example, or with fallacious arguments. On the other hand, when we speak of a thought having a nonrational cause, we need not be thinking that there is any conflict with reason. (Pg. 353 in the Companion)”.  So while believing in a blue sky simply because blue is your favorite color might be irrational (and so Stephen is right to say this is attributable to the mental not the non-mental), it would be nonrational if your belief had just been determined by some prior physical events. There is no thought involved. As Lewis says, “it does not even rise to the dignity of error”. In the original post, I took rationality to be “the ability to reliably reason to truth” and so non-rationality was “devoid of the ability to reliably reason to truth”.

Also on this argument you can’t actually say that our reason is true because it is all contingent on whether or not the mind that our reason originates from intentionally gave us faulty reason.

As Stephen states it, this appears to be an objection to premise 2. The problem with the objection is that it is far more obvious that our reason is reliable than it is that we have been intentionally given faulty reason. In fact, how could you object? Any argument is going to use reason and thus presuppose it’s reliability! The problem for the atheist is that, as I have argued, reliable reason is ultimately incompatible with a worldview in which the origin of out reason is at root non-mental. In other words, atheism is ultimately committed to a scenario with unreliable reason while theism is not.

Since 2. is unobjectionable, and since 1. is supported, the conclusion follows that a god does exist. The objection actually gives us insight into what kind of god we must have concluded to in order to have the reliable ability to reason we do have, namely, a perfectly rational mind that has developed us with (or given us) the ability to reliably reason to truth.

Concluding Remarks

A huge thanks to Stephen for helping me to further develop and clarify these arguments with his critical yet generous review! His comments provide a fine example for how believers and unbelievers should be interacting with each others arguments. They were concise, substantive, and most importantly respectful to both the arguments and myself. There was no exaggerated incredulity or scoffing which often characterize these sort of critiques. I hope others will look to his fine example!

Reality Check: The “Jesus’ Wife” Coptic Fragment

Dan Wallace reviews the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment.

Daniel B. Wallace

21 September 2012

There has been an unbelievable torrent of hoopla over a newly discovered—or rather, recently announced—Coptic fragment that speaks of Jesus as being married. The news of this small, business-card-sized fragment has gone mainstream, so much so that even David Letterman got into the act. On Thursday evening (20 September), just a couple of days after the story broke in the New York Times, he had a telephone interview with the most important guest he’s ever had: Jesus Christ. This ‘Jesus’ was married and his wife was nagging him in the background. Anything for a laugh, it seems.

But when the circus leaves town, what have we got? Below are some facts, some probabilities, and some possibilities.

The Facts:
1. Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School presented a paper at the International Association of Coptic Studies in Rome on Tuesday, September 18, making public a…

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Noah – a Christian Philosopher Review

An excellent review for what I’m sure is an excellent film!

School of Christian Thought

noah I just watched Aronofsky’s Noah . It was a powerful, disturbing film. I don’t know if it was calculated to please a religious audience, but I think that Christians ought to be pleased by it. What follows is my take on the film, and there are a few spoilers – so be warned.

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In my last post I had illustrated the matter of God’s presence in Hell. Dr. Jerry Walls from HBU has recently shared his thoughts on the matter.

School of Christian Thought

hell One of the most frequently invoked descriptions of the essence of hell is that it is separation from God.  It is the eternal misery that inevitably results when a person made in the image of God is cut off the very source of joy, the eternal fountain of truth, beauty and goodness.

But is this an accurate account of hell?  The answer, I think, is both yes and no.  To see why, let us reflect on the fact that Revelation 14:9-11 pictures the suffering of the damned as taking place “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (14:10).  What does this mean?  And how should we understand this portrayal in relation to the idea that hell is isolation from the presence of God?

In short, the question is how the suffering of hell can take place in the presence of Christ if the…

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