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  1. #1
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    Symbols and Reality in Revelation

    In our conversation concerning the Rapture, Joel and I ran into the question of what is "literal" or "real" versus what is "symbolic" in the Book of Revelation. Here is his post that prompted:

    If you would be so inclined to itemize sections to the Revelation, and specify as to "real" vs. "symbolic", I would surely participate. For example, I see the seven churches as 7 literal churches that will exist at a future time. From a symbolic viewpoint, the 7 churches may represent 7 different church "ages" which I do not hold as representative.
    The first thing to clear up is the confusion between "real" vs. "symbolic". I think we need to use the words "literal" vs. "symbolic" since otherwise we will be saying that the realities God signifies in symbol are somehow "less real" than the realities He signifies in literal descriptive language. For example, John 11:11-14

    11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. 14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
    So the Bible teaches that one the same reality can be referenced with either literal or symbolic language. Neither is more "real" than the other.

    Thus, I will try to give a broad overview of what I think is "literal" vs. "Symbolic" in Revelation.

    1) The seven churches to whom John wrote were literal churches that existed in the first century. The churches he named actually received his letter which we now know as the "Book of Revelation."

    2) The Blessing we receive reading or hearing revelation is a literal blessing.

    3) The Sword coming from His mouth is a symbol of His Word, the Word of God.

    4) The Seven Candlesticks are symbols of the seven literal Churches, as stated in the text.

    5) The Slain Lamb is a symbol of Jesus Christ who literally died for us.

    6) The number 666 is a symbol of those who belong to Satan. It marks those who server him with their actions (hand) and minds (forehead).

    7) The "name of my father written on their foreheads" is a symbol for those sealed by God, whose Minds (forehead) are "stayed on Him".

    8) The great Red Dragon (Rev 17) is a symbol of Rome.

    9) The 144,000 is a symbol of the Elect. Note that this coheres with the astounding gematria of The Elect = 144 = 12 x 12! The amazing thing here is that the correlation of the Elect with the Number 12 originated in the OT 12 tribes, but is here manifest and compounded as 12 x 12 in the NT Greek gematria. Truly astounding evidence that God designed both the Greek and Hebrew languages. It also coheres with the symbolic interpretation of the 144,000.

    I think almost everything from Rev 4 onward is symbolic.

    Here is my general take on the book: Given that Revelation is primarily a symbolic book, we should be extremely careful not to misread God's symbols as literal descriptive prose unless He has given a clear indication that such was His intent.

    Looking forward to working with you all on this most important topic!

    Richard

  2. #2
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    Revelation

    Hi Folks!

    Looks like we're going to have some fun with this thread. I've got a few things to contribute in relation to chapter 4 and chapter 21, but I will leave that for another time.

    I think we need to be cautious in this enterprise. When it comes to literal versus symbolic, I believe it is a mistake to see everything as either / or. Who knows how much of the Revelation is supposed to be taken as both / and. For instance, the seven churches are certainly literal churches that received the words of the Revelation ca. 100 A.D. However, I believe it is folly to restrict the interpretation to this literal level in this instance. As with much of Scripture, the text contains levels beyond the literal reading, at the same time as also having a literal fulfillment.

    When it comes to the seven churches, we in fact have no way of knowing for sure that the seven literal churches spoken of had spiritual conditions matching those that John describes in chapters 2 and 3. For example, was the Laodicean church of 100 A.D. as materialistic as it is portrayed? We can never know for sure, in which case the possibility is left open that the description given of it is as much symbolic as it is literal. This possibility becomes more of a likelihood when we look at the etymology of the church names. For example, why is it that the church named Philadelphia just happens to have a character that matches the meaning of the word Philadelphia? Or why does the church named Smyrna have tribulations which are implicit in the meaning of the word Smyrna? And why is the church named Laodicea in a state that mirrors the meaning of the word Laodicea? Why couldn't it have been the other way around? These questions tend toward a symbolic reading, without denying a literal reading.

    This is a most ambitious project, but one in which we should all learn a thing or two. The Revelation is a tough book to decipher because of its thick use of symbols and its intertextuality with the rest of Scripture. May God bless our efforts as we seek His understanding!

    Stephen

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen View Post
    Hi Folks!

    Looks like we're going to have some fun with this thread. I've got a few things to contribute in relation to chapter 4 and chapter 21, but I will leave that for another time.
    Hi Stephen!

    I agree. I think we will find it both fun and profitable!

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen View Post
    I think we need to be cautious in this enterprise. When it comes to literal versus symbolic, I believe it is a mistake to see everything as either / or. Who knows how much of the Revelation is supposed to be taken as both / and. For instance, the seven churches are certainly literal churches that received the words of the Revelation ca. 100 A.D. However, I believe it is folly to restrict the interpretation to this literal level in this instance. As with much of Scripture, the text contains levels beyond the literal reading, at the same time as also having a literal fulfillment.
    I think thats a very wise caution. I know I may have sounded rather dogmatically biased towards the symbolic interpretation, but I think that's largely because I haven't fully expressed my ideas yet, and often find myself reacting to what I perceive as an excessive emphasis on the "literalist" view.

    I have frequently expressed my understanding that Revelation contains both literal and symbolic elements. But I do believe that the lion's share of material in chapters 4 - 22 is symbolic. But that doesn't mean it is not symbolic of events that will literally happen! See ... that's the problem with this whole discussion. People are confused about the meaning of literal and symbolic.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen View Post
    When it comes to the seven churches, we in fact have no way of knowing for sure that the seven literal churches spoken of had spiritual conditions matching those that John describes in chapters 2 and 3. For example, was the Laodicean church of 100 A.D. as materialistic as it is portrayed? We can never know for sure, in which case the possibility is left open that the description given of it is as much symbolic as it is literal. This possibility becomes more of a likelihood when we look at the etymology of the church names. For example, why is it that the church named Philadelphia just happens to have a character that matches the meaning of the word Philadelphia? Or why does the church named Smyrna have tribulations which are implicit in the meaning of the word Smyrna? And why is the church named Laodicea in a state that mirrors the meaning of the word Laodicea? Why couldn't it have been the other way around? These questions tend toward a symbolic reading, without denying a literal reading.
    I agree, the correlation between the seven churches, their names, and the sequence of church history is strong, and would make an excellent thread all on its own.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen View Post
    This is a most ambitious project, but one in which we should all learn a thing or two. The Revelation is a tough book to decipher because of its thick use of symbols and its intertextuality with the rest of Scripture. May God bless our efforts as we seek His understanding!

    Stephen
    Yes! I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him as we study His most excellent Word!

    I hope we can come to a general consensus. If not, that we will be able to clearly articulate the various points of view.

    Richard

  4. #4
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    Hi RAM and Stephen

    It looks like this thread is getting off to a good start, with excellent posts from both of you

    I know in order to even begin to plumb the depths of Revelation, we must have a good knowledge of the rest of the Bible....for from it Revelation draws its context.

    What God was showing John in visions, were things John must have been familiar with, in order for him to understand and write it down. We know that John was well grounded in Scripture and thus the symbols and types he saw were meaningful to him.

    I agree that the interpretation of Revelation has many different levels beyond the plain text. Like what was mentioned about the 7 churches, the first application was to the actual literal churches that existed in the first century A.D.. Those were the fledgling churches, which if they had succumbed to their many weakness and faults, Christianity would not have survived. So it was of utmost importance that they be supported and warned.

    Revelation has a message for all peoples at all times in history, it is the Capstone book of the Bible, containing within it pages the culmination of God's plan of the ages!

    Let me close with Rev. 1:3 "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near."

    Rose

  5. #5
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    Lightbulb Revelation 4

    Good afternoon, All!

    Rose makes an excellent point regarding John's knowledge of Scripture. It is highly likely that the things he heard and saw would have had meaning for him, although at times it clearly overwhelmed him. The angels had to help him refocus from time to time! Small wonder, with such a sustained heavenly vision.

    I'd like to kick things off by making a few points concerning Revelation 4:3. As a prelude, I believe John was translated into another realm, this being my interpretation of the "door [which] was opened in heaven" (verse 1). This is the position I take in reference to what is to follow.

    "And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald" (verse 3).

    I am going to decode the three stones mentioned in this verse, and show their structurality as well as their content at various levels of signification. I will do so using bullet-points.

    * The three stones are jasper, sardius and emerald; their Greek equivalents being iaspis, sardios and smaragdos.
    * All three are breastplate stones from Exodus 28. Jasper is the 12th stone, sardius is the 1st stone, and emerald is the 3rd stone (do not use the KJV in this instance!).
    * The Hebrew name of the 12th stone is yashepheh, which transliterates to the Greek iaspis. They are one and the same stone.
    * The Hebrew name of the 1st stone is odem. This word means 'red', and is a cognate for both Adam and Edom. Because of this, this stone also means 'man'. The Greek sardios is red. These are one and the same stone.
    * The Hebrew name of the 3rd stone is bareqeth. This word indicates a 'thunderbolt', or a 'flashing [sword]'. To the Hebrews, the colour green is associated with light - an interesting concept, in light of the function of chlorophyll in plants during the process of photosynthesis. The Greek smaragdos is descended directly from the Hebrew through the etymological chain: bareqeth - marakata - maragdos - smaragdos. These are one and the same stone.
    * Sardius - odem and sardios - is the stone of Reuben, the first of Israel's 12 sons. Reuben's name, as is not uncommon in Hebrew, has a double etymology. Its primary meaning is 'Behold, a son!'. Its secondary meaning is 'provided for my affliction'. Reuben's tribal symbol was that of a man (pouring water). Reuben was, strictly speaking, a son of the flesh, or of works.
    * Jasper - yashepheh and iaspis - is the stone of Benjamin, the 12th - and last - of Israel's 12 sons. Benjamin's name means 'son of the right hand'. Benjamin was the only one of Israel's 12 sons to be named by their father. Originally, Rachel named him Ben-oni, meaning 'son of my sorrow', but his father changed his name. Benjamin was very much a son of promise, or faith, as implied in the earlier naming of Joseph by Rachel (Genesis 30:24).
    * Through the names of these two sons of Israel, which were written upon these two stones in the breastplate - the sardius and the jasper - we learn that John is describing the saviour of all Israel, from beginning to end. He is the first and the last. He is the son of Man and the Son of God. He is both exalted and laid low.
    * This united testimony of Jesus Christ was seen by Stephen in the last moments of his life (Acts 7:55,6).
    * Emerald - bareqeth and smaragdos - is the stone of Levi, the 3rd of Israel's 12 sons. Levi's name means 'united; joined'. It has a secondary meaning of 'crown'.
    * Emerald is associated with the rainbow, which itself is a symbol of the covenant between heaven and earth (Genesis 9:12,3).
    * The tribe of Levi was the intermediary of the covenant between God and the children of Israel, in this respect being reflective of the theme contained in the symbol of the rainbow.
    * Levi represents a third term, which is the joining of the divine with the terrestrial. This is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who is the union of the binarisms implicit in this verse: Heaven / Earth; God / Man; First / Last; Beginning / End; Faith / Works; Exaltation / Abasement.
    * The stones, through their breastplate associations, make it absolutely clear who it is that is seated on the throne in heaven.
    * Reuben was associated with the Mazzaroth (zodiac) sign of Aquarius, in Hebrew deli, the man pouring water (Genesis 49:3,4; Numbers 24:7; and, in the NT, Luke 22:10, where the theme also has a secondary signification relating to the Age of Aquarius).
    * Benjamin was associated with the Mazzaroth sign of Gemini, in Hebrew taomim, the twins (Genesis 49:27, 'morning and night'; Genesis 35:18, the double naming; and, in the NT, Acts 28:11, Paul the Benjamite travelling in a ship whose sign was the twins of Gemini).
    * Levi was associated with the Mazzaroth sign of Libra, in Hebrew mozanaim, the balances. Originally, Libra was depicted as other than a pair of scales. The ancient name for the sign was the Akkadian tul-ku, meaning 'sacred mound', or 'holy altar', above which burned the eternal flame. This motif recurs in Scripture. Alluding to the symbol of the scales, the tribe of Levi were set over the treasury (1 Chronicles 26).
    * The Mazzaroth signs of Aquarius, Gemini and Libra form a triangle in the heavens. For want of a better term, they form the three air signs of the zodiac.
    * The triangle is a sign of divinity. Along with the symbol of the circle implicit in the "rainbow round about the throne", we have both conditions necessary for describing a spiral, which is an interaction of triangle and circle.
    * In the triangle and the circle, another binarism is implied: Heaven / Earth. Again, Jesus Christ is the union - and resolution - of the terms.

    There's a lot in there, I know, but I have tried to keep it to the bare bones. The reader will have to flesh out the rest for self-edification. Most will not be familiar with Mazzaroth, and its relationship to the 12 tribes of Israel. This is yet another of those wonderful levels at which Scripture signifies, and is another thread that will have to be started at some other time. I'm almost wondering if each chapter of the Revelation will itself need its own thread. I'm thinking that this is going to eventually prove to be the case.

    Hope the readers enjoy digging through this post. I've given you all the spade, and have indicated where the treasure is. And this is just one verse!

    Stephen
    Last edited by Stephen; 07-16-2007 at 10:33 PM.

  6. #6
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    Chapter 1
    1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John;
    2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things he saw.
    3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand.


    Some initial thoughts;

    The revelation is an "unveiling", a disclosure. It is meant to reveal things about Jesus. That is the central purpose of the book.

    At first glance, the phrase...."things which must shortly come to pass" may be taken to mean...."things which ensue soon after the book was written".
    But, the word "shortly" may be more properly shown as "swiftly". The Greek word "tachos" is more in line with the speed or swiftness of events occuring once they have begun.
    So, I don't readily accept that the events foretold in Revelation began to immediately occur after John wrote of them, and, that the events came to conclusion.

    The other reference to "time" falls at the end of verse three;
    "for the time is at hand". The word for "time" is "kairos" which can be interpreted as a "season".

    For example, in II Corinthians 6:2, Paul says that ..."now (is) the accepted time, behold, now (is) the say of salvation." It is a range of time extending as would a "season".

    1 Peter 4:17......there is a "season" when judgment is to begin with the house of God.

    The word "kairos" appears in three places in Revelation; 1:3, 11:18, and 22:10
    It is interesting that the first is in the very beginning, the second is in the middle, and the final is at very close of the book.

    Joel

  7. #7
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    Jesus is coming soon! [in the distant future]

    Quote Originally Posted by joel View Post
    Chapter 1
    1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John;
    2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things he saw.
    3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand.


    Some initial thoughts;

    The revelation is an "unveiling", a disclosure. It is meant to reveal things about Jesus. That is the central purpose of the book.
    Indeed, it is the revelation or unveiling of Jesus Christ. I contrast that with the popular idea that it really is a screen-play for global conflict in the 21st century with secret symbols representing advanced technological bio-chips, CNN, and nuclear bombs. The true and full meaning of Revelation has been available to the Church since God first inspired the book in the first century. I think we err if we look outside the Bible to understand it.

    I also think we would do well to put a special emphasis on the words signified which means to communicate symbolically or with signs.

    Quote Originally Posted by joel View Post
    At first glance, the phrase...."things which must shortly come to pass" may be taken to mean...."things which ensue soon after the book was written".
    But, the word "shortly" may be more properly shown as "swiftly". The Greek word "tachos" is more in line with the speed or swiftness of events occuring once they have begun.
    So, I don't readily accept that the events foretold in Revelation began to immediately occur after John wrote of them, and, that the events came to conclusion.
    Actually, I think the same meaning remains after the second, third, fourth, and fifth glances! I am surprised you put forth the idea that "tachos" could be interpreted as "these things will happen quickly after they start to happening in the distant future." I can only imagine how the Apostle John would have reacted if someone in his first century audience had suggested that interpretation, but I don't think it would be pretty. I think this shows why the first principle to understand Revelation is to ask ourselves "What would it have meant to the first century Christians?"

    I do not believe your suggested interpretation of tachos will hold up under scrutiny. First, do you know of any verse where it is used that way? I don't. Second, Jesus used the same word when He warned the churches. Lets try out your definition for fun:
    • Revelation 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly [in the distant future], and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
    • Revelation 2:16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly [in the distant future], and will fight against them [the Nicolaitans who have been dead for 2000 years] with the sword of my mouth.
    • Revelation 3:11 Behold, I come quickly [in the distant future]: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown [and be sure not to die while waiting 2000 years!].
    So what I would like to know, is what is it in the TEXT that tells you it should be interpreted as referring to events in the distant future. That would be very helpful.

    Yet further proof of the correct meaning of tachos is found in the seemingly excessively repetitive temporal language that practically screams I AM COMING SOON in Revelation 22:
    1. Revelation 22:6-21 And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. 7 Behold, I come quickly:
    2. Revelation 22:10 And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. ...
    3. Revelation 22:12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
    4. Revelation 22:20 20 ¶ He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
    Hey buddy, I know a practical solution that should settle this question. Just loan me a thousand dollars on the sworn and legally ratified promise that I will repay it quickly. For indeed, the time is at hand for me to receive my inheritance, so I will pay you quickly, I swear its true! The money will come quickly, so you have no need to worry about anything.

    If I took your money on those conditions, and I didn't fulfill my promise to pay you quickly, but put it off into the distant unknown future, what kind of person would that make me?

    So anyway, it looks like I'm the "literalist" on the time markers of Revelation. Agreed?

    Richard

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen View Post
    I am going to decode the three stones mentioned in this verse, and show their structurality as well as their content at various levels of signification. I will do so using bullet-points.

    * The three stones are jasper, sardius and emerald; their Greek equivalents being iaspis, sardios and smaragdos.
    * All three are breastplate stones from Exodus 28. Jasper is the 12th stone, sardius is the 1st stone, and emerald is the 3rd stone (do not use the KJV in this instance!).
    * The Hebrew name of the 12th stone is yashepheh, which transliterates to the Greek iaspis. They are one and the same stone.

    <snip>

    * The Mazzaroth signs of Aquarius, Gemini and Libra form a triangle in the heavens. For want of a better term, they form the three air signs of the zodiac.
    * The triangle is a sign of divinity. Along with the symbol of the circle implicit in the "rainbow round about the throne", we have both conditions necessary for describing a spiral, which is an interaction of triangle and circle.
    * In the triangle and the circle, another binarism is implied: Heaven / Earth. Again, Jesus Christ is the union - and resolution - of the terms.

    There's a lot in there, I know, but I have tried to keep it to the bare bones. The reader will have to flesh out the rest for self-edification. Most will not be familiar with Mazzaroth, and its relationship to the 12 tribes of Israel. This is yet another of those wonderful levels at which Scripture signifies, and is another thread that will have to be started at some other time. I'm almost wondering if each chapter of the Revelation will itself need its own thread. I'm thinking that this is going to eventually prove to be the case.

    Hope the readers enjoy digging through this post. I've given you all the spade, and have indicated where the treasure is. And this is just one verse!

    Stephen
    Hi Stephen!

    I appreciate your insights, and I am certain that there is much more to learn from them. But I think you may have missed the purpose of this thread. I began this thread with the idea that we would clarify what is literal and what is symbolic in Revelation, since there is much confusion on that point. The fact that you could begin with nothing more than three stones used to describe the colors of the rainbow, which could (though not necessarily) have been nothing more than common method of such description, and through a rather free process of associative thinking arrive at Astrology and the Age of Aquarius elegantly displays that there is no limit to where a person can take symbols, no matter how meager the initial offering, or whether they were intended that way or not by the Author of the text.

    And that is exactly what drives people into the extreme "literalist" camp. They want to know the real rock-solid truth of what God Almighty is saying in Revelation, but they don't think God would have done it in symbols, since anyone can do anything they want with symbols. That's why I started this thread, to show that God has indeed revealed His real rock-solid truth using symbols in the Book of Revelation.

    Now please don't mistake my intent, my friend - I am not judging your comments or saying they are right or wrong. But I am saying that they are much to distant from the plain meaning of the text to help us in our current efforts in this thread. We need to establish the foundation of this house before we start decorating the eves with extraordinary extrapolations from the colors of the rainbow.

    I really hope you understand the spirit of this post! It would be most helpful if you worked with us on the question of what is literal versus symbolic in Revelation.

    Richard

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    No worries

    Hi Richard!

    No worries! I take your point with grace. The reason I posted was that nothing was happening for a day or two, so I put something to promote discussion. I see that discussion has now begun in the way that the thread was intended, which is all good. By the way, I fully agree with you concerning the opening verses of the Revelation. I can't see where Joel is coming from, querying the literal intent of the verses. If something is 'at hand', I take it to mean it is here now. I certainly wouldn't use that language to signify something that will happen 2000 years from now! That is anything but 'at hand'. The explication of the word 'kairos' is irrelevant here.

    Stephen
    Last edited by Stephen; 07-18-2007 at 04:51 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen View Post
    Hi Richard!

    No worries! I take your point with grace.
    And that's why I love talking with you, whether we agree or not, you are my Christian brother!

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen View Post
    The reason I posted was that nothing was happening for a day or two, so I put something to promote discussion. I see that discussion has now begun in the way that the thread was intended, which is all good. By the way, I fully agree with you concerning the opening verses of the Revelation. I can't see where Joel is coming from, querying the literal intent of the verses. If something is 'at hand', I take it to mean it is here now. I certainly wouldn't use that language to signify something that will happen 2000 years from now! That is anything but 'at hand'. The explication of the word 'kairos' is irrelevant here.

    Stephen
    Yeah, its pretty ironic when the "literalist" position has to stretch the meanings of words that far beyond their ordinary, literal usage. And the truly ironic fact is that the "soon" passages are in the most "literal" parts of Revelation, when John (and Jesus through John) are directly addressing their first century audience.

    I am very interested to discuss with Joel his answer concerning how the literalist + futurist interpretation is derived from the text without introducing extra-biblical concepts. It certainly is not evident anywhere in the first five chapters as far as I can see.

    Richard

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