The Tree of Life, by Louis G. Hoeck – A Swedenborgian Commentary on the Bible

I am pleased to bring back into print a classic Swedenborgian Bible commentary by the Rev. Louis G. Hoeck, originally published in four saddle-stitched volumes in 1940. Though the text is freely available online at various websites, this is the first time it has been in print in book form for several decades. It is also available for the first time in Kindle format.

The Tree of Life, Volume 1: The Law of Moses, by Louis G. Hoeck - front cover image

The Tree of Life is the only commentary ever published that covers the entire Swedenborgian canon of the Bible, consisting of every book of the Bible that has a continuous, connected spiritual meaning (see Arcana Coelestia #10325). It provides a chapter-by-chapter overview of the Bible’s spiritual meaning, with many fine, practical-life observations along the way.

Of course, since it was written and published the better part of a century ago, the language and feel of the material is a bit old-fashioned. However, the approach to the text of the Bible as a living account of our own spiritual life and development remains fresh and new today.

For more on The Tree of Life, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Books and Literature, The Bible Re-Viewed

How did Swedenborg interpret 1 John 2:2: “He is the propitiation for our sins”?

(Note: This answer, imported from Christianity StackExchange, is more technical and scholarly in style than most of my posts here. However, the subject is worthwhile and informative for people who wish to gain a better understanding of atonement as presented in the Bible, in contrast to faulty and unbiblical traditional Christian understandings of atonement.)

Preface: 1 John 2:2 in Swedenborg’s writings

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) does not comment directly on 1 John 2:2 anywhere in his published or unpublished theological writings.

He does quote 1 John 2:2 in one of his unpublished notebooks, traditionally titled Scripture Confirmations, which served as a specialized Bible concordance for the composition of his final comprehensive work of systematic theology, True Christianity. In that single quotation of the passage, he translates the Greek word ἱλασμός (hilasmos) into the Latin word propitiatio, which is the standard Latin word for “propitiation.” You can see his original Latin here (it occurs in the fourth line of text), and an English translation here.

Introduction: Swedenborg’s general approach to “propitiation”

Although Swedenborg does not comment directly on 1 John 2:2 anywhere in his theological writings, he does discuss the concept of the propitiation for sins, mostly in his explanation of the meaning of the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant in the ancient Jewish tabernacle, and also in explaining the meaning of various Old Testament sacrifices and rituals of atonement.

The Ark and the Mercy Seat

The Ark and the Mercy Seat

Swedenborg largely skips over the traditional Christian theology that had grown up over the centuries around the concept of Jesus as the propitiation for sins. Instead, he draws his explanation of the meaning of this concept directly from the biblical text. And rather than relying upon later Greek- and Roman-derived philosophical concepts of “propitiation,” he seems to assume that the use of the Greek word ἱλασμός and its related forms in the New Testament draw their meaning primarily from the terms in the Hebrew Bible that are commonly translated in the Septuagint using various forms of ἱλασμός—and that this Old Testament usage is the primary referent of the term ἱλασμός as used in the New Testament. The writers of the (Greek) New Testament drew heavily on the Septuagint, which was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures produced two or three centuries before the birth of Christ.

To understand Swedenborg’s interpretation of Jesus as “the propitiation for our sins” as used in 1 John 2:2, then, it will be necessary to delve into the Hebrew word כָּפַר (kaphar) and its derivatives, which are the words most commonly translated in the Septuagint as ἱλασμός and its derivatives, and which therefore provide the primary meaning of ἱλασμός as used in the New Testament.

This we will do below. But first we must cover Swedenborg’s view of the traditional Christian understanding of Christ as a propitiation for our sins.

For more on Swedenborg and propitiation, click here to read on.

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Posted in The Bible Re-Viewed

Spiritual Insights Volume 2: The Bible and its Stories, by Lee Woofenden

Sure the Web is great, but books are . . . great too!

Introducing Volume 2 of articles reprinted from Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life:

(Yes, I started with Volume 2, not Volume 1, of a planned five volume set. Sue me! 😛 )

This 450 page book offers a selection of 51 articles organized into six parts:

  • Part 1: Understanding the Bible
  • Part 2: Human Beginnings
  • Part 3: The Narrative of Israel
  • Part 4: Prophecy and Controversy
  • Part 5: The Lord’s First Coming
  • Part 6: The Lord’s Second Coming

To preview or purchase the paperback edition on Amazon, click here.

To preview or purchase the Kindle edition on Amazon, click here.

Enjoy!

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Posted in Books and Literature, The Bible Re-Viewed

Cast Adrift, by T. S. Arthur

And now for something completely different!

Here is a potboiler of a novel written by T. S. Arthur and first published in 1872.

Cast Adrift was T.S. Arthur’s most fervent cry against the moral, social, and physical degradation in which many children and adults lived in the cities of nineteenth century America. Though it is cast in the form of a novel, it presents a catalog of societal evils. Its intent was to rouse comfortable middle and upper class Americans to action in righting the human wrongs that existed right in their midst.

This edition is based on fresh scans of the 1872 first edition of Cast Adrift. It has been carefully edited to faithfully follow the original text, and re-typeset to convey the flavor of the original. Unlike other available reprints, it also reproduces the original illustrations.

For more on Cast Adrift and T.S. Arthur, click here to read on.

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Posted in Books and Literature

Where is the Garden of Eden?

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by the Rev. Fats Montsho:

Does Swedenborg in any of his books geographically describe Eden in detail?

Thanks for the interesting question, Rev. Montsho!

The River of Life c.1805 by William Blake 1757-1827

The River of Life, by William Blake

When we hear “Eden” we usually think of the garden of Eden. However, the Bible says that God planted a garden in Eden (Genesis 2:8). This suggests that Eden was a wider area, and the garden was an area within it.

Still, the second Creation story in Genesis chapters 2 and 3 focuses on the garden of Eden, not on the wider area. So we will also focus on the location and meaning of the garden of Eden, while not forgetting that the garden was most likely a specific area within the land of Eden.

In terms of physical geography, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) associates the garden of Eden with the land of Canaan. This is unusual. The garden of Eden has most often been placed in ancient Babylonia just north of the Persian Gulf, in the area where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet.

However, Swedenborg did not think of the garden of Eden as a literal garden where two literal human beings were placed. Rather, he said that the Creation stories in Genesis represent an early culture of human beings who were the first to become aware of God and spirit. He therefore spends most of his time explaining the spiritual symbolism of the garden of Eden. Because of this, he gives us only a few hints about the physical location and geography of Eden. And yet, what he does provide ties in beautifully with its spiritual symbolism.

Finally, in a story in his book Marriage Love Swedenborg describes a beautiful spiral garden in heaven. This garden has a fabulous tree at its center that some of the angels who live in the area call the tree of life. This heavenly paradise garden offers a picture of the garden of Eden that is both physical and spiritual.

Let us look at all of this more closely.

For more on the garden of Eden, please click here to read on.

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Posted in The Bible Re-Viewed

War, Military Service, Violence, and Self-Defense: What’s a Christian to Do?

The Bible sends mixed messages about war. The Lord is presented as the Prince of Peace; the Lord is also presented as a warrior, commanding the people in battle. How can a Christian decide about war, military service, violence, and self-defense?

There are many wars in the Bible, and God often serves as the Commander in Chief. But from a spiritual perspective, the real wars we face are the inner wars of good against evil: of love for God against lust for power, of love for others against greed and self-indulgence.

As long as we have selfish and materialistic desires in our hearts, we will come into conflict with others. It is the desire for power that drives our efforts to control others and conquer their lands. It is the desire for wealth beyond any usefulness that drives our efforts to acquire others’ possessions for ourselves through fair means or foul.

Even if we ourselves have no desire to rule others and gain their wealth by force, we may find ourselves up against others who wish to do so. How can we decide when, if ever, violence and war is justified? Why are there so many wars in the Bible? Why does God allow war in the first place?

For more insight on these difficult issues, please read on.

For more on violence and war, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Pain and Suffering, The Bible Re-Viewed

Jesus Changed Paul’s World

(Note: This post is an edited version of one of my responses in an ongoing conversation with a reader. Click here to see the original version within its thread.)

Hi Ben,

Thanks for sticking with the conversation.

Halftone Mona LisaI wish I could run a cable from my brain to yours and upload not just the answers to your specific questions, but the grand picture in which those answers become clear. Without that big picture, the details make no sense. It’s like examining a newspaper photo with a magnifying glass. All you see are isolated blotches of light and dark. But when you pull back, a coherent picture emerges. All those little dots suddenly make sense, even while receding from specific notice.

Alas, technology has not yet achieved brain dump functionality, and I lack Spock’s mind melding capabilities. I therefore must stick with these awkward and time-consuming words in communicating these things to you.

In this conversation you have presented many grainy details of specific verses where Paul says this and that. And while not avoiding the graininess of particularity (hence the wordiness of my previous replies), I have also attempted to pull back and show you the picture as a whole, so that those dots of Scripture resolve into a coherent picture. That picture is not the one contemporary Christianity sees, because contemporary Christianity is still using a magnifying glass and missing the big picture.

In this reply I’ll pan out from the graininess to look at the big picture, without which the details of what I have said to you about particular Bible verses will make no sense.
For more on Jesus, Paul, and the changed world, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Science Philosophy and History, The Bible Re-Viewed

Is Christianity an Abusive Relationship with God?

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Gonzo:

Hi.

I love reading your posts and do find them both comforting and inspiring in my personal life.

As one who’s coming to Christ as of recently, I want your insight on the notion, that I often feel holds some truth, of Christianity being an “abusive relationship” with God, or an abusive relationship with those who speak for God with the absence of a physical God here on Earth. The article below outlines this, and although it’s clear the guy writing it seems to be pushing a different religious agenda, his points do still stand for me:

Christians, Are You in an Abusive Relationship with God? by Dr. Bo Bennett

Much thanks.

Thanks for your kind words, Gonzo, and for your good question and the related link.

As he says on his website Positive Humanism, Dr. Bennett is a secular humanist. He rejects God and religion altogether, believing in human philosophy, reason, and science instead. It is not surprising, then, that he takes a dim view of Christianity. In the introduction to the linked article he writes:

Michelangelo, Creation of the Sun and Moon, face detailThankfully, many organizations exist to help both men and women who find themselves in abusive relationships and people, in general, are becoming more aware of the signs of abuse—at least when it comes to abuse by mortals. But what about the Christian God, or at least the idea of the Christian God? Without question, some interpretations of Christianity and God are more benign than others, but it is those “others” that we need to worry about. I will argue that Christianity is, at its core, a system that promotes this abusive relationship where God is the abuser and his flock is the abused.

I share Dr. Bennett’s thankfulness about our growing understanding of abusive relationships, and about the many organizations that are now helping people to break free from them. For one such organization, see the website of The National Domestic Violence Hotline (USA).

But does Dr. Bennett have a point about Christianity?

Yes and no.

For more on Christianity and abusive relationships, please click here to read on.

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Posted in All About God, Sex Marriage Relationships, The Bible Re-Viewed

What if my Family Doesn’t Approve of the Person I Want to Marry?

Here is a recent comment (slightly edited) that a reader named Alyssa left in response to the article, “What if My Partner and I Have Different Religious Beliefs? Can Interfaith Marriage Work?”:

True love

(stock photo)

I really enjoyed reading your article. I am a Christian and was raised in a strong Christian/conservative family. My boyfriend of three years is spiritual but does not identify as a Christian. My family does not accept him at all. I have felt many times like I must choose between him and my family. Moreover, I am (was) very close to my family. My grandmother told me that she would not come to our wedding if we got married. As engagement gets closer (I think he is going to propose soon) I am becoming increasingly worried about the rift with my family only getting bigger. My grandmother is the most important person to me and it is going to break my heart if she does not come to the wedding. Additionally, my mom has only talked to my boyfriend a few times in the three years we have been dating and has not allowed him to come over or accepted his invitations to get to know him better. Is this going to ruin our marriage? It has already taken a toll on our relationship at times. However, we have talked in detail about where our religions align and where they differ. We have talked about raising children, and come to a common consensus every time. But I am worried that this issue with my family is going to tear us apart. Thoughts?

Here is my response, again slightly edited, and with headings added:


Hi Alyssa,

Thanks for stopping by and telling your story. Unfortunately, this situation is quite common, and there isn’t an easy answer. It looks likely that you will indeed have to choose between your boyfriend and your family—at least, as far as where your primary relationship and loyalty will lie.

Here are two principles I would suggest in navigating this very difficult issue and decision:

  1. If your family objects to your marrying someone, it is a good idea to listen to them and consider whether they have valid concerns.
  2. Once you make up your mind to marry someone, that relationship must replace your relationship with your family as your primary relationship.

For more on family vs. marriage, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Sex Marriage Relationships

Answering the Lord’s Invitation

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. (Matthew 25:1)

Please click here to read on

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Posted in Spiritual Growth, The Bible Re-Viewed
Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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