Does “Us” in Genesis 1:26, 3:22, and 11:7 Refer to the Trinity of Persons?

Then God said, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)

Then the Lord God said, “See, the humans have become like one of us, knowing good and evil, and now they might reach out their hands and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever” . . . . (Genesis 3:22)

Come, let us go down and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7)

And there’s one more, in the Prophets:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

Why the “us” in these verses?

Is this a leftover from the pagan polytheism out of which the Hebrew people originally came? Is it a surviving reference to multiple gods? So some have argued. But by the time the Hebrew Bible was put into its final form, its editors and authors were firmly monotheistic. They would not have allowed their most sacred text to espouse a belief in polytheism.

Is this a reference to a Trinity of Persons, as Nicene Christians strenuously argue? In a word: No. The idea of the Trinity of Persons did not exist when these passages were written. It didn’t come into being until the third and fourth centuries AD, hundreds or even thousands of years after these stories were originally composed. The writers of the Old and New Testament could not possibly have had a Trinity of Persons in mind in anything they wrote, because that idea hadn’t been developed yet.

Then why the “us”?

There are two basic explanations that can be supported from the text of the Bible itself:

  1. These are examples of a plural of majesty.
  2. These are references to God working in company with heavenly beings.

Let’s take a closer look.

For more on the majesty and company of God, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Bible Re-Viewed

Did Swedenborg See Himself as a Prophet?

A recent question on Christianity StackExchange asked:

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)

Emanuel Swedenborg

The Wikipedia article on Emanuel Swedenborg mentions his revelations, but doesn’t use the term “prophet” even once. Did Swedenborg not see himself as a prophet? What is a prophet, according to Swedenborg, other than someone receiving divine revelation and preaching it?

What follows just below is a slightly edited version of my response.

I should mention first that biblical scholarship over the past couple of centuries has made sense of many passages in the prophetical books of the Bible that were considered incomprehensible in Swedenborg’s day. My own view is that the biblical prophets were more aware of the meaning of their message for their own times than Swedenborg gave them credit for.

What remains true, I believe, is that their messages also had deeper “correspondential” meanings that they themselves were unaware of. Swedenborg explains many of these spiritual meanings in his theological writings. See: “Can We Really Believe the Bible?

Meanwhile, since the question asked whether Swedenborg saw himself as a prophet, Swedenborg’s own view of the prophets of the Bible is the most relevant one in answering the question. That’s why I have quoted heavily from Swedenborg’s own writings in answering the question.


Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) did not refer to himself as a prophet, nor did he see himself as a prophet. Indeed, he saw a clear distinction between himself and the biblical prophets, based on at least three significant factors:

  1. Manner of inspiration
  2. Style of writing
  3. Purpose of the message

In general, Swedenborg saw prophets as biblical figures. He did not recognize prophets outside the narrative of the Bible.

For more on Swedenborg and prophets, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Bible Re-Viewed

Desert Warfare

Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)

Among the various terrains in which wars can be fought, the desert is one of the most severe and unforgiving. Intense heat; choking dust; parching dryness; sand in which both humans and machines get bogged down; rocks and boulders strewn everywhere; it is a harsh, unforgiving landscape that gives none of the comforts of more hospitable environments. As the Germans discovered in their North African campaign in World War II, the desert is merciless to those who are unprepared for its rigors—and even those who are prepared must fight the onslaughts of the desert itself while fighting their human enemies.

Desert warfareThis harsh, arid desert environment is precisely where Jesus fought the first of his temptations recorded in the Gospel story. It was right after he was baptized in the cooling waters of the Jordan that the spirit led him into the desert. We read that he fasted forty days and forty nights—and the number forty, especially when it is mentioned together with fasting, corresponds to temptation. The Children of Israel wandered forty years in the desert before they could enter the Holy Land. And Moses twice fasted forty days and forty nights on Mt. Sinai when receiving the Ten Commandments and all the accompanying laws.
For more on desert warfare, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God, Spiritual Growth, The Bible Re-Viewed

Water and Spirit

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

As we follow both the Old Testament story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the New Testament story of Jesus as an infant, a young boy, and a man, we find that they are parallel stories. They are, in fact, telling the same story.

We know from the Lord’s conversation with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection that the entire Word of God as it is found in the Old Testament is speaking, at a deeper level, of the Lord. It says in Luke 24:27:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

And a little later in the same chapter, in Luke 24:44–45, we read:

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

Now, if there were no deeper meaning, there would be no need for the Lord to “open their minds.” But he did open their minds, and it was to see how the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms spoke of himself.

So here we are, along the road to Emmaus, in a new Christian era, having our minds opened to what is written in the Scriptures concerning the Lord.

For more on water and spirit, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Bible Re-Viewed

A Swedenborgian in Dialog with Black Consciousness and Black Liberation Theology

(Note: This post is an edited version of a paper written for an academic program at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. References for some quotations have been left in condensed academic format. For full publication information, see the bibliography at the end.)

David W. MookiAs the Africans surpass all others in interior judgment, I have talked with them on matters requiring rather deep consideration, and recently on God, on the Lord the Redeemer, and on the interior and exterior man; and since they derived great pleasure from that conversation, I will here mention what their perceptions were from their interior sight on these three subjects. (Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christian Religion §837)

On hearing these things the Africans, because they are superior in interior rationality, perceived them more fully than the others, and each assented to them according to his perception. (True Christian Religion §838)

The Africans were delighted with what was said, because from the interior vision in which they excel, they acknowledged its truth. (True Christian Religion §839)

These were some of the words that sealed the deal for the Rev. David W. Mooki.

For more on Swedenborg and Black Consciousness, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Science Philosophy and History

And Jesus Grew in Wisdom

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:46–47)

Jesus as a boy in the templeThe story of Jesus as a boy at the Temple in Luke 2:40–52 is the only biblical account we have of Jesus’ childhood. Even the story of his birth is told in only two of the four Gospels, Mark and Luke. And none of the other Gospels besides Luke have any stories of his childhood at all.

We do get a few hints of what he was doing as he grew up. In Mark 6:3 there is a reference to Jesus being a carpenter. In the parallel passage in Matthew 13:55 it is Joseph who is the carpenter. Apparently he learned his adoptive father’s trade—which would have been common for boys of that era. It appears that outwardly, Jesus was mostly just an ordinary craftsman, living like other boys and men of his time and culture.

If this were not so, more stories of Jesus’ childhood would have survived. It seems that what we have in the two birth stories and this one vignette of Jesus at the age of twelve are the only stories of the Lord’s young life that were noteworthy enough to have survived in people’s memories to be recorded later. The rest of our stories of Jesus all come from the few intense years of his public ministry, which began when he was about thirty years old (see Luke 3:23) and lasted only three years, until his death by crucifixion.
For more on the boy Jesus, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God, Spiritual Growth

A Child of Revelation

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. (Luke 2:34–35)

“The thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” I have been thinking lately that in this largely Christian culture, Jesus is a touchstone as to where people are spiritually. Not that we can judge where anyone else is spiritually. But we can surmise something of their inner state by their reaction to Jesus. The same goes for our own inner state.

There are many different opinions about who Jesus was. Do people accept Jesus? Do they accept him as their Lord and Savior? If so, that says something about their spiritual state. Do people accept him as a great prophet? That also says something. Do people reject Jesus? And if they do reject Jesus, why do they? Is it because they had a bad experience of Jesus growing up in Sunday School and church, and therefore they reject him? Or do they reject Jesus because they are unwilling to have their lives reformed by his influence?

Some people are too skeptical; they can’t accept anything that isn’t demonstrated by “hard evidence.” They therefore reject any possibility that Jesus could be divine. In their view, he was an ordinary human being. And some people are simply indifferent to Jesus. They really don’t care, and don’t pay any attention to Jesus at all. That also says something about their spiritual state.

Of course, for people from non-Christian cultures it is different. But in a Christian culture, our response to Jesus—who he was, how he affects us—says a lot about our spiritual state. So “the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” The thoughts of many hearts are revealed in our response to the Lord Jesus Christ—to the God of our religion.

For more on a child of revelation, please click here to read on.

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Is Free Will an Illusion? A Response to Sam Harris

In a recent comment, a reader named K asked me to respond to this article: “Why You Probably Don’t Have Free Will,” by Jack Maden. Here is the article’s opening synopsis: “Neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris argues that free will is an illusion. In his view, we are the mere conscious witnesses of decisions that deep in our brains have already been made.”

In particular, K wanted a response to this statement by Sam Harris, as quoted in the article:

Sam HarrisThese findings are difficult to reconcile with the sense that we are the conscious authors of our actions. One fact now seems indisputable: some moments before you are aware of what you will do next—a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please—your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this ‘decision’ and believe that you are in the process of making it.

Here is my brief response to this statement, edited from a reply to K that I posted here:

The basic error in this quote is the idea that we make decisions with our “brain,” meaning our thinking mind. The reality is that we make decisions in our “heart,” meaning our love/emotional self, and then our thinking mind confirms and supports the decision we have already made in our heart. That’s what’s really going on in the phenomenon that Sam Harris is describing.

However, Western intellectuals such as Harris generally can’t see or understand this because they are trained to think that human intellect is primary, when in reality love and emotion is primary, and intellect is secondary, following what love tells it to think and do. Their fundamental misunderstanding of how the human psyche works leads them into all sorts of errors, including the denial of human free will.

Ordinary people who make decisions every day understand human reality better that these so-called “rational” intellectuals.

The rest of this article is an edited and expanded version of a longer follow-up comment that I posted here, after reading the article itself.

For more on Sam Harris and free will, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Science Philosophy and History

The Infant Lord

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29–32)

Simeon blesses Jesus

Simeon blesses Jesus

These words, usually in a more traditional translation, have found their way into the closing section of many worship services. Yet though Simeon, who spoke them, was close to his departure from this world, he was speaking in celebration of a new beginning—in fact, of the most wonderful new beginning that has ever happened: the birth of the Lord Jesus into the world.

Luke 2:21–32 tells first of the naming of Jesus at his circumcision when he was a week old, and then of his presentation in the Temple at the completion of another thirty-three days, which was the prescribed period for ritual purification of a woman after the birth of a son. This means that at the time of his presentation in the temple, Jesus was forty days old.

When his parents brought him to the temple, a devout man named Simeon was also inwardly directed, by the spirit of the Lord, to come to the temple. There, he took the infant Jesus in his arms and praised the Lord, saying of the child, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” “Salvation” is the meaning of the name “Jesus,” which the child had been given according to the instruction of an angel, as we read in the Gospel of Matthew: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

“My eyes have seen your salvation.” How could Simeon say this of a baby less than two months old? How could this baby be the salvation not only of the Jews, but of the Gentiles as well—meaning the Savior of all people?

For more on the infant Lord, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God

The Divine Birth

For the day of vengeance was in my mind, and the year for my redeeming work had come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled that no one gave support. So my own arm worked salvation for me. (Isaiah 63:4–5)

The birth of JesusIn the previous post, I responded to the question “What child is this” by saying that this child Jesus was and is “God with us,” as the prophet and the Gospel say. With that as a preface, I would like to introduce a new series on the inner life of Jesus Christ—originally sermons delivered in 2004, during my decade as a pastor. While I may occasionally post articles on other topics as well, my current commitments as a Swedenborg scholar, seminary professor, and graduate student leave very little time to write new material for Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life.

I was inspired to this theme by the beautiful booklet A Life of Jesus Little Known, by the Rev. William L. Worcester, originally published in 1905, and unfortunately now out of print. In this series, we will follow the Lord’s (Jesus’) life as told in the Gospel stories, together with the deepest level of meaning in the Bible story as illuminated by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) in his great work Arcana Coelestia, or Secrets of Heaven.

For today’s introduction, I would like to delve a little further into the question of who Jesus was, where he came from, and why he came to earth. Without knowing these things, we cannot possibly understand what was going on in the Lord’s mind and heart during his lifetime here on earth.

For more on the divine birth, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God
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