Can We Really Believe the Bible?

Some Thoughts for Those who Wish they Could

Our best modern science tells us that:

  • The universe is almost fourteen billion years old.
  • Our solar system formed gradually about four and a half billion years ago.
  • Life first appeared on earth nearly four billion years ago.
  • Humans evolved from lower animals about two and a half million years ago.

But the Bible says that:

  • The universe is about six thousand years old.
  • The sun, moon, stars, and earth were created instantaneously.
  • All life on earth, including humans, was created in less than six days.

So how can we believe the Bible?

If we read the Bible as a textbook of science and history, we must choose whether to believe the Bible or science. But if we read the Bible as a book about God and spiritual life, we can believe both science and the Bible. A rational person can believe the Bible, not as a schoolroom textbook, but as a guidebook to spiritual life.

That’s because the Bible’s literal meaning contains a spiritual meaning, like a locked chest that contains precious jewels. The key to unlocking the chest is understanding “correspondences”: the living relationship between heaven and earth.

How can we possibly believe the Bible?

Let’s face it: the Bible is just plain old. Even the most recent parts of it were written almost two thousand years ago. Back then they didn’t have all the scientific knowledge we have today—and you can certainly tell! The world created in six days? All the people on earth descended from Adam and Eve? A flood that covered the whole earth? How can a rational, scientific person possibly believe the Bible when it contains so many things that can’t possibly be true?

Is God a good author?

Christianity can be its own worst enemy. In the past few hundred years, many Christian ministers have preached the notion that every word in the Bible must be literally true.

Do we apply the same standard to human literature?

If we’re reading a textbook of chemistry or biology, then of course we hope that what’s in it is literally true. Those textbooks are supposed to be informing us about the physical world around us. If the information is outdated or inaccurate, that textbook must be replaced!

But what about the great literature of humankind? What about A Tale of Two Cities and The Lord of the Rings? What about “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost? What about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet? What about Star Wars and Titanic? These are some of the most widely circulated stories of all time, yet most of what is in them never happened! And if any of it actually did happen, it makes very little difference to the story.

Is God capable of writing only textbooks? We humans can produce great literature, plays, poetry, and movies that tell powerful truths about the human spirit through characters that are products of the human imagination. We limit God if we think that God can write only in a literal historical and scientific style. God is a far greater author than the greatest of human authors. God’s book, the Bible, has all the features of the greatest human literature . . . and so much more!

The Bible is a book inspired by God, yet written by the hand of many human authors. It draws on time-bound human history and events, arranging and narrating them in such a way that the narrative conveys a timeless spiritual message from God to humankind.

What is the Bible about, anyway?

When authors sit down to write a book, they pick a style that will best convey the message they want to deliver. Those writing about science, mathematics, or history will pick a direct, literal, informative style. Those wanting to convey something about the human spirit will more likely pick a narrative, fictional style. One kind of author will produce a textbook; the other, a novel.

If God were to write a book for humans, what would it be about? And what style would God pick to convey that subject to us?

Some Christians assume that the Bible is a textbook of science and history. But does God really need to tell us about these things? God has given us physical senses and thinking minds so that we are capable of investigating and figuring these things out for ourselves. No, God produced a book for humans about things we couldn’t figure out for ourselves.

Jesus asked the question, “What good would it be for you to gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The Bible is not a textbook of science or history telling us how to gain the whole world. It is a divine story telling us how to gain our own soul.

Where is the Bible’s meaning?

In “The Road Not Taken,” poet Robert Frost paints a picture of two roads diverging in the woods, with many vivid details about the fresh leaves and grass, and how the paths turn in the surrounding undergrowth. It ends in these famous lines:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

For many years I have used this poem as an example to introduce the Bible’s deeper meaning to both teenagers and adults. After reading it to them I ask, “What is this poem about?” Not once has anyone answered, “It’s about walking in the woods.” There have been a variety of answers relating to decisions, regrets, pathways taken in life, and standing out from the crowd. Everyone reading this poem recognizes that its meaning transcends strolling in a forest and turning left instead of right at a fork.

Isn’t that a little surprising? The entire poem is describing a physical setting and a physical activity in great detail! But neither the author nor the reader is focusing on physical things. The meaning of the poem is conveyed by the physical details, but the meaning itself is not physical. It is psychological and spiritual.

This is precisely where the primary meaning of the Bible lies as well. The meaning is conveyed by the physical objects, people, and events described in the Bible. And yes, some parts of it are intended to be followed literally. But the entire Bible is a great divine parable containing deeper meanings that relate not only to the human spirit, but also to who God is and how we humans can have a relationship with God.

Think of the literal meaning of the Bible as a chest that opens up to reveal great spiritual and divine treasures. Or think of it as a beautiful, clear crystal that flashes as the sun shines through it. The beauty and meaning of the Bible is not the chest itself, but the treasure it contains. It is not the crystal itself, but the light of divine truth shining through the crystal.

Focusing only on the literal story of the Bible is like studying the ornamentation on the outside of the chest without ever opening it up to see what’s inside. It is like describing the scientific properties of the crystal in meticulous detail, but never holding it up to the sunlight.

Wouldn’t you rather have the gold and silver, rubies and diamonds that are contained in the chest? Wouldn’t you rather have beautiful rainbows shining all through your house?

Will we ever find the key to the chest?

For many centuries Christians knew that the Bible contained deeper meanings. In the Gospels Jesus is continually speaking to the crowds in parables, and sometimes he explains to his disciples what they mean (see Matthew 13:34–35; Mark 4:33–34). Psalm 78 opens with these lines: “Give ear, my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old” (Psalm 78:1–2). The “parable” that follows is a poetic narrative of the history of ancient Israel.

These and many other passages and prophecies in the Bible have suggested to Christians throughout the centuries that the Bible is a divine parable containing deeper messages. And many Christians did find precious insights hidden in the Bible. Yet no one was able to offer a clear and consistent method of seeing the deeper meanings shining through the literal stories, poetry, and prophecies.

Perhaps it was out of frustration at never finding the key to unlock the chest of the Bible and lay open its spiritual meaning that for the past five hundred years, many Christian leaders have focused entirely on the literal meaning.

However, interest in the spiritual meanings in the Bible and in nature has made a comeback in recent centuries, thanks largely to the work of scientist, philosopher, and spiritual pioneer Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). In volume after volume of his spiritual writings, Swedenborg detailed a method of interpreting the deeper meanings of the Bible based on a mechanism he called “correspondences.”

You can think of correspondences as the way spiritual things express themselves on the physical level. The idea is that every person, place, object, animal, and action in nature and in the Bible is an expression of something spiritual. And of course, everything is also an expression of something about God, who created it all. Just as a painting, sculpture, novel, or movie expresses something of the mind of the artist who created it, so God’s creations, both in nature and in the Bible, express the mind of God.

What the heck are “correspondences”?

The fact is, we talk in correspondences all the time. We say “I see” when we mean “I understand.” We talk about our friends and family “warming our hearts” when we mean they fill us with love. We talk about people being “hard-headed” when we mean they are stubborn. We talk about people being “spineless” when we mean they lack courage. We instinctively realize that every physical thing has a deeper psychological and spiritual meaning. It’s built right into the universe, and right into the human mind.

The same principle applies to the deeper meanings of the Bible. To give you an idea of how correspondences work in the Bible, here’s a quick sketch of the spiritual meaning contained in the famous (or infamous) story of the world being created in six days. That story is not really about the creation of the physical universe. It is the story of our own spiritual creation and rebirth.

  • Day One: God’s creation of light and darkness, day and night corresponds to our first realization that there is a higher truth and meaning (represented by light) to our often dark and meaningless life here on earth.
  • Day Two: God’s creation of the sky, and the waters above and below corresponds to learning more clearly the difference between spiritual and material-level truth (which is also represented by water).
  • Day Three: God’s creation of the land and seas, the plants and trees corresponds to a more “grounded” spiritual life and the gradual development of our understanding of spiritual reality, represented by the growing plants.
  • Day Four: God’s creation of the sun, moon, and stars corresponds to when we start putting God (represented by the sun) at the center of our life, and start being guided by our faith (the moon as reflected light from the sun, or God) and by various spiritual insights (the stars).
  • Day Five: God’s creation of fish and birds corresponds to a new and more living faith that comes from our new focus on following God’s will in our lives.
  • Day Six: God’s creation of land animals and humans corresponds to our growing into a warm-blooded love and faith that is expressed in a joyful life of service to God and to our fellow human beings.

When we have gone through all these stages of spiritual development, we reach the seventh day when God rests from all the work of creating us as angels of love and light. We can then enjoy the fullness of human life as it was originally intended for us by God.

So can a rational person really believe the Bible?

Obviously, we can only scratch the surface here. But this may give you a sense of the great treasures that lie hidden in God’s Word. It can also provide assurance that it is perfectly possible for a rational, scientific person to believe in the Bible. Good science and true spiritual knowledge do not conflict with each other. Both material and spiritual reality operate according to universal laws that come from God.

The key is understanding that the Bible is not intended to teach us about science and history. It is intended to teach us about our spiritual life and our relationship with God.

This article is © 2012 by Lee Woofenden

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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111 comments on “Can We Really Believe the Bible?
  1. chicagoja says:

    You’re right, but who is going to believe you except a few old souls like myself.

  2. Ben says:

    We can definitely believe the Bible. There is no denying that careful interpretation and context are important, but there is no reason to ever assume that the Bible and science contradict. Take a look at the Hebrew word that we translate as “day” in Genesis 1. Biblical Hebrew did not have a huge amount of words and therefore many words were versatile. The Hebrew word “yom” or yowm” can be translated as day or something more like “age” depending on the context. In other words, the creation days were probably very long. Once people step away from the 24-hour day assumption for Genesis 1 it is amazing how much they can calm down. This does not mean that English Bibles are wrong, as we often use phrases like “back in my day” that are not taken to mean a literal 24-hour day. It also does not necessarily mean that evolution is what God used if He took His time creating the earth and its creatures, but I have no problem with the thought of God using the “big bang” to kick-start the universe. Scientific discovery does not put biblical inerrancy in any kind of troublesome spot.

    You make many good points in this post, Lee, but your implication that Genesis 1 is merely allegory has me somewhat troubled.


  3. Ben Williams says:

    Great article which reflects what many thinking Christians regard as the reality, but are often afraid to express. I think that there is a good case for differentiating sections of the Bible: the Old testament; the Gospels; the letters; and revelations, and putting each into context. The Old Testament should not be viewed literally since there are many questions about its origins etc. The gospels should be viewed exactly as they are…accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus written within a few decades of his death. The letters – good advice from a great Christian. Revelations-did they have LSD in those days?

    As I explain in my book “Aware of Aware”, all of these are the writings of men, none are technically the word of God. If you believe the Gospels are relatively accurate, and you believe the claim of Jesus, that he was God in the flesh, then the true words of God are the words he says.

    It is a huge mistake of the modern church to insist that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, and articles like yours help to shed light on how this incredible book should be viewed.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      I do see the Bible as the Word of God, but not as “inerrant”–something the Bible never claims for itself. The idea that the Bible is literally true and inerrant throughout is a relatively modern invention of Christian theologians who missed the great depth and variety of the various books of the Bible.

      As I say in the article above, God is a better author than even the best human authors. God is able to convey more depths of meaning through the words on the page than any human author ever has or ever will do. This does not require that we take everything literally. In fact, taking everything literally causes us to miss much of God’s message in the Bible. Many passages–such as the entire book of Revelation–are clearly meant to be taken symbolically, not literally. Others, such as the Creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, may seem to be about literal events, but were never meant to be taken literally; they use physical imagery to tell about spiritual realities.

      I do tend to agree with you that the Gospels are generally accurate representations of what Jesus actually said and did. However, the differences between the various accounts in the four Gospels should warn us against getting too literal even about them. They can be thought of as four variations on how Jesus’ words and actions reached and touched his followers. And they, too, contain great depths of divine meaning throughout.

      Some books made it into the Protestant Bible that, while they are good books for the church, are not, I think, part of the Word of God proper. The Acts and the Epistles, for example, were written by various early apostles and followers of Jesus. However, they are about human events that took place after and in response to the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. Unlike the Gospels and Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ does not speak in them, except very briefly in the Acts 1:1-11–which serves as an introduction to the book, tying it in with the account of Jesus’ life found in the Gospel of Luke. As such, the Acts and Epistles are human books rather than divine ones.

      Still, the Acts and the Epistles are immensely valuable for Christians. Though they do not have the same kind of continuous deeper meanings as do the books in the Word of God proper, they contain many good teachings that were and are necessary to clarify and establish Christianity.

      In general, the Word of God has both a divine component and a human component. The divine component is the divine truth within, which comes from God. The human component is the outward expression, adapted to the understanding and culture of human beings here on earth. Without a human component, we could not understand it. Without a divine component, it would not be the Word of God, but mere human literature.

      The human component does come from human ideas and changing cultural realities, and cannot be supported as literally true and inerrant throughout. But regardless of the literal truth of any particular statement or section of the Word of God, all of it serves as a conduit for deeper, divine truth that flows through the literal words like sunlight through the facets of a cut diamond or ruby.

  4. This is so beautifully written, especially this bit: “Focusing only on the literal story of the Bible is like studying the ornamentation on the outside of the chest without ever opening it up to see what’s inside. It is like describing the scientific properties of the crystal in meticulous detail, but never holding it up to the sunlight.”

    When you only have space for material fact and illusion, you lose the ability to believe that anything could be inside the chest because you can’t see inside it while it’s closed.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Michelle,

      Thank you! I do find the idea that there is a precious and beautiful “inside” of the Bible to be very helpful and satisfying.

  5. chicagoja says:

    The problem with science is, as Einstein noted, that man cannot possibly grasp the universe. In part, that’s because science can’t observe beyond space and time.

    • Lee says:

      Hi chicagoja,

      Thanks for your comment. FYI, I initially approved the comment you’re responding to. But when I realized that the commenter had “skipped the line” and responded to the first comment, which just happened to be yours, even though the “response” actually had nothing to do with your comment, I deleted it. Hate it when people do that! :-/

      Anyway, good to hear from you again. I hope all is well with you and yours.

      And yes, science has its field of study, which is the physical universe. As good and useful as it may be for that purpose, science can’t say anything definite about the spiritual universe, still less about God. And these are the realities that ultimately matter the most.

  6. Adam says:

    Nice article, I really enjoyed your take on this. My question is, if the Bible was written, as you maintain here, to best speak to us on a “spiritual” level rather than a strictly historical/scientific one—especially for those living during and relatively after the NT was completed—then how might you explain why God never allowed room to or inspired us to modify the Bible to better suit humanity as it is now? Sure, the idea of an “annual update” to the Bible might be an absurd concept, but 2000 years through a rapidly-advancing age of humanity seems like an unreasonably long time to hold it unrevised, and then to expect us humans to abide by it unquestionably in the same exact way. I mean, if I’m correct in assuming that God, as an omniscient Being, knew *when and how* our civilization/sciences/social orders would eventually modernize—that is, relatively quickly, on the good baseis of evidence, reason, logic, utilitarianism, and in several starkly contradictory ways to important topics throughout the Bible (e.g., astronomy, evolution, women’s rights, homosexuality, slavery, physics)—then what good reason might God have for declaring, through His word, that the Bible should be forever unamendable? Or by “staying silent” and/or “remaining hidden” from Man’s eye since the Jesus’ time? In other words, what *else* might God have expected from humans other than a growing number of (rationally-thinking) non-believers? What do you suppose will happen to—and more importantly, what should be fairly expected from—our offspring 2000 years from now when the future of our civilization has reached a point where biology, archaeology, psychology, and society is so far removed from such a large number of outdated Biblical notions that it as a standalone document is no longer able to be credibly able to preserve the Faith? Another way to look at it is this: do you suppose that the devoted followers of Jesus during his time, would have come to believe in Christ as the son of God if they, rather than bearing witness to Jesus firsthand, were simply handed a lengthy, enigmatic book to read and interpret, passed down from thousands of years before *their* time, perhaps by earlier humans in the dawn of the Bronze Age? If not, then does it make sense that God should hold us humans today to such a faith-based belief in order to enter Heaven, when Jesus’ own disciples might not have qualified to enter Heaven had they not been convinced by Jesus’ miracles and teachings with their own eyes and ears?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your long and thoughtful comment. There are many very good questions here. I hope you don’t mind if, in the interest of time and efficiency, I refer you along the way to some other articles that go into many of your questions in more depth.

      To take your last and most critical question first, it is a fundamental error of traditional Christianity in general, and of Protestant Christianity in particular, to think that entering heaven is a matter of “faith-based belief” in Jesus Christ—especially if that is seen as the only way into heaven. In plain language, getting into heaven is not about believing in Jesus if that means intellectually accepting that Jesus died for our sins, or paid the penalty for our sins, or satisfied the wrath of the Father, or any such thing. Faith, as that word is used in the Bible, is more like our English word “faithfulness.” It involves not just believing, but living according to what we believe. For more on this, please see these articles:

      There is no danger of people not getting into heaven because they haven’t had the idea of Jesus as the Son of God and Savior presented to them in a contemporary and understandable way. In fact, people of all religions, and even of no religion at all, are saved if they believe in God as they have been taught about God, or if they at least believe in some principle or ideal of goodness higher than themselves and their own benefit, and if according to that belief they live a good life of love and service to their fellow human beings. For more on this, please see:

      I know that’s already a lot of articles. But if you want real, substantial answers to these very big questions, you’ll need to put in some serious time getting those answers.

      Now on to your questions about the Bible, which are also excellent questions.

      In one sense, the Word of God could have been written in any era, through any culture on the face of the earth. There are even indications in the Bible itself that there were earlier books and writings containing the Word of God that no longer survive. And of course, various non-Christian cultures have their own sacred books that they look to as inspired revelation from God just as Christians look to the Bible. Some of those books were written many centuries after the Bible. So in one sense, the Bible has been updated for various human eras and cultures.

      As to why the Bible as Christians believe in it was written when it was, I think there are two basic reasons:

      1. Once written language was developed and became the primary storehouse of human knowledge, it would have been uncharacteristic (and rather stingy) of God not to provide humanity with a written revelation.
      2. Since much of the Bible was written during an era when humanity was at a very low, unspiritual and materialistic ebb, this gave a directness and concreteness to the Bible that enables it to reach even people who are in the lowest, most unspiritual states of mind and life.

      On the first point, it is God’s will to reach out to humanity and provide us with the knowledge and inspiration we need to be saved and live eternally in heaven rather than in hell.

      Scholars believe that written language first developed about 5,200 years ago (see History of Writing). And writing on religious subjects goes back to the very beginning of the development of writing. Once oral history gave way to writing as the primary means of keeping records, preserving human knowledge, and engaging in widespread communication, it would be unlike God not to begin inspiring texts on spiritual and religious subjects in order to convey to as many humans on earth as possible these eternally vital types of information.

      So the simplest reason the Bible was written over the time period it was (and some of the stories in the earliest chapters of Genesis probably go back to pre-literate times, and were originally passed down orally) is that these were the times when written language first came onto the scene and became sufficiently developed for God to be able to communicate with humankind through this new written medium. It would have been uncharacteristic and rather stingy of God not to provide a written revelation, or Word of God, as early as possible in the history of humanity.

      On the second point:

      It might seem to people in our more intellectually advanced cultures of today that it would have been better for God to write the Bible when our knowledge of science, psychology, and so on were more advanced, so that there wouldn’t be so many errors and inconsistencies in the Bible about scientific and cultural things. Wouldn’t it at least have been better to write the Bible in the Age of Enlightenment rather than in the Bronze Age? (Of course, to people living 2,000 years from now our age will probably look something like the Bronze Age in terms of its intellectual development.)

      But the very fact that most of the Bible was written when humanity was at a very low and materialistic ebb gives it a concreteness and immediacy that is lacking in much religious and spiritual writing of our day and age. Biblical Hebrew, in particular, is a very concrete and direct language. And much of the Old Testament deals with basic human needs: food, water, fertility, safety from enemies, and so on. It’s really not very “spiritual” at all.

      However, this means that it is able to reach ordinary people even today, many of whom have the very same concerns about the basic necessities of life. If the Bible had been written today, in our more “sophisticated” age, much of it would likely have gone right over the heads of the vast bulk of humanity. The New Testament does add a more spiritual and philosophical view of things. But in the main, the Bible is a very pragmatic book, speaking of basic human issues that any ordinary person can understand quite well regardless of his or her level of education.

      Along these lines, you might be interested in this article: “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.”

      But there is also a deeper reason why, under God’s providence, the Bible was written when it was, in the largely very concrete style it was. As stated in the above article, the Bible is not primarily a book of history, science, or culture. Rather, as the Word of God, it is a book containing deeper meanings that are all about God and about the spiritual life and development of human beings, both individually and collectively. And in order to provide a good written foundation for that deeper meaning, the Bible needed to be written in largely concrete language and stories.

      Food, drink, drought, famine, fertility of crops and herds, wives, children, war, kings, temples, animal sacrifices . . . all of these things provide easily remembered and very evocative symbols pointing to deeper spiritual realities and experiences, and toward the nature of God. If the Bible had been a philosophical or scientific treatise, not only would it have gone over the heads of most people even in today’s world, but it would be nowhere near as colorful and memorable, and would serve nowhere near as well as a bearer of deeper metaphorical and spiritual meaning.

      That is also why it is not necessary for God to provide periodic updates to the Bible. The Bible as it now exists is a complete story, from the first Creation narrative in Genesis 1 to the final descent of the Holy City, New Jerusalem, out of heaven from God in the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation. In between it covers the whole sweep of human spiritual history in metaphorical language, and covers the whole gamut of human spiritual states from highest to lowest. (And I would add that the basics about salvation are right there in the plain, literal words of the Bible, without any need for interpretation.)

      What’s needed is not a new Bible, but a new and deeper understanding of the Bible. And that’s what Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) set out to do—commissioned for that task, as he believed, by the Lord Jesus Christ—over two centuries ago. Much of the spiritual insight offered on this blog is based on the new (yet ancient) understanding of God, Christianity, salvation, the Bible, and the afterlife that is contained in Swedenborg’s theological writings. Swedenborg did not provide a new Bible. But his writings do provide a new and deeper understanding of the Bible appropriate to our post-Enlightenment world. For more on this, please see: “Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

      I hope these thoughts and the linked articles give you at least the start of some good, solid answers to your excellent questions. Please feel free to continue the conversation as you read, and as further thoughts and questions come to mind.

  7. rothpoetry says:

    I believe those who take a literal approach to the Bible lose the perspective and purpose for which they were written. Metaphorical truth goes much deeper than literal details which may or may not be as literal as some would like to believe. The mysteries Paul talks about can only be understood from the metaphorical perspective. I think we tend to do with the Bible what the news media does with politics. We way over think it, pick and choose what suits our story, then put it out as the gospel truth! The gospel is very simple and easy to understand.

  8. Eve says:

    I’ve found that a main problem people have with Christianity lies in the Old Testament. They quote how it says it’s okay to beat your wife or your slave and stuff like that, and use it as ammunition to claim the faith is corrupt. What do you think?

    Asking from the point of view of a pop-culture conscious teenager.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eve,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Just for the record, the Bible never says that it’s okay to beat your wife. But it does talk about beating slaves, and not just in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament as well.

      The problem comes from attempting to read the Bible literally, and also from not reading it within its own historical and cultural context. Slavery, and beating slaves, was just ordinary life 2,000+ years ago. The Bible talks about it because that’s how life was back then. It doesn’t mean it’s ultimately a good thing to own slaves, or to beat them.

      I do understand, though, why many people in today’s culture who read the Bible are repulsed by what they read there.

      It’s a huge issue, and a big topic. Here’s another article that may shed some more light on the subject for you:

      How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads

  9. Annie Howell says:

    i just want to say that your blog means so much to me. whenever i question my faith i come here and you give me faith to carry on with my spiritual beliefs. one thing i still question though is i get we can’t rely on literal biblical representations but what about those passages in the bible that just seem cruel. i would like to know how do you get over certain quotes like this – Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) i want to be a genuine christian and while jesus was inclusive there are parts of the bible that i cant agree with. i get that homosexuality used to be illegal but there are a lot of christians who treat gays like it still is. i’m not gay but i have friends who are and if you dismiss parts of the bible as wrong it just feels like you are picking and choosing what bits to read. to be a genuine christian i don’t think you can refuse bits of the bible but as a genuine christian i can’t read bits of it without feeling like parts are sick and cruel.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Annie,

      Good to hear from you again. I’m glad our website helps to keep you steady in your faith.

      Your question is a good one. For people who take the Bible very literally, there isn’t a very good answer. There certainly are many very cruel passages in the Bible. For example, what do we do with this passage from the Psalms:

      Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
          happy is the one who repays you
          according to what you have done to us.
      Happy is the one who seizes your infants
          and dashes them against the rocks.
                                 (Psalm 137:8-9)

      Does God really want us to take revenge on our enemies and murder their babies? I don’t think so. But if we take everything in the Bible literally, it’s hard to avoid thinking that under certain circumstances, God smiles down upon revenge and infanticide.

      But if we’re willing to recognize that not everything in the Bible is meant to be taken literally, and that many things in it are written according to the particular cultures in which the stories and events took place, then we can begin to pay attention to the spirit behind what is being said literally. Here are a couple more articles about reading the Bible spiritually rather than literally:

      About homosexuality in particular, I have written an extensive article on that subject, which I invite you to read:
      Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity

      For a quick summary to get the general idea, please see:
      Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity: A Summary

      The full version goes into detail about the various passages in the Bible relating to homosexual sex, including 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. I won’t attempt to repeat it all here. However I will say that “those who practice homosexuality” is a very loose and not very accurate translation. As covered in the article, it would be better translated as “men who have sex with men.” The reasons this was condemned in ancient Hebrew society, and by Paul in the New Testament (Jesus never said anything about homosexual sex), are covered in the full article.

      Short version: In the ancient world, sex was universally viewed as a dominant and socially superior partner penetrating a submissive and socially inferior partner. In heterosexual sex, the man was considered dominant and socially superior, and the woman was considered submissive and socially inferior.

      Because of this view of sex, two men engaging in sex with each other clashed with the ancient Hebrew view—which was also held by the early Jewish Christians who wrote the books of the New Testament—that all men are equal under the law and in the eyes of God. For one man to penetrate another was to reduce the penetrated man to the social status of a woman. That is why a man having sex with another man was pronounced “ritually unclean” in two passages in the book of Leviticus. (There is no mention of women having sex with women.) Paul had similar views, and he was especially condemning homosexual sex as practiced in the surrounding Roman and Greek societies of the time, in which an older, higher status man penetrated a younger, lower status man or teenage boy.

      Today we are finally dropping the idea that women are inferior to men socially, legally, and in the eyes of God. And though some low-level parts of society still think of sexual intercourse as an act of dominance and submission, that is no longer how sex is viewed in the more civilized parts of society. Today marital and sexual relations are increasingly seen as a relationship between two equal partners. So the concern of the ancient Hebrews, and of Paul, that men having sex with other men disrespected and demeaned the penetrated partner no longer applies in today’s very different social environment.

      Many laws and teachings given in the Bible must be read in the context of the culture in which they were given. They were given to accomplish a specific purpose in that society. That purpose is the spirit behind the literal law or teaching. Today, our job is to look to the spirit of those laws, and not get stuck in the literal, culturally-specific law. As Paul himself expressed it:

      Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5–6)

      No Christian today practices animal sacrifice, nor do we stone wayward sons to death, nor do we consider it sinful to wear clothing made of two different kinds of fibers, nor do we condone slavery (as Paul did). Conservative Christians who insist that homosexuality is evil and sinful, but who say that many other laws and teachings given in the Bible no longer apply to Christians, are being inconsistent and hypocritical in their reading of the Bible.

      For the full version on homosexuality please do read the main article linked above. You may also be interested in this article, which deals with the common conservative Christian fallacy that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because their men were homosexuals (which they were not):
      What is the Sin of Sodom?

      • Annie Howell says:

        thankyou for your reply. your posts and answers to my questions really does help me and your a god send to me and i’m sure a lot of other people who have found your posts.

      • What do you do with Psalm 137:8-9??

        How about you start by reading it correctly and not taking it out of context?

        “Does God really want us to take revenge on our enemies and murder their babies? I don’t think so. But if we take everything in the Bible literally, it’s hard to avoid thinking that under certain circumstances, God smiles down upon revenge and infanticide.”

        If you read verses 1-9, which is the correct way to read the Bible, it becomes clear that God isn’t commanding anyone to smash babies against rocks.

        • Lee says:

          Hi godisreal2017,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments and questions.

          Reading the entirety of Psalm 137 doesn’t help much. It is a lament by captive Israelites who have been deported to Babylon after Jerusalem has been captured and destroyed. It ends with the sentiment that those who take the little children of the Babylonians and smash them against the rocks will be happy, or in other translations, blessed. This comes after an appeal to the Lord in verse 7.

          Given that this Psalm is included in the Bible without any commentary or remonstrance against this expressed wish for revenge in the form of infanticide against children of Israel’s enemies, the natural conclusion would be that such sentiments were approved of by the God of Israel.

          Such sentiments may be shocking to us today, but it won’t do to read today’s culture and sensibilities back into the Bible. We must read what the Bible itself says, in its own words. That is the only foundation for a proper interpretation of the Bible.

          And as I said in the comment you were responding to, if we attempt to take everything in the Bible literally, there is no way to avoid the fact that there are many cruel and barbaric passages in the Bible, some of which are not only approved by God, but specifically commanded by God. For example:

          Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Samuel 15:1–3)

          The simple fact of the matter is that in the Bible, the God of Israel does command his people to kill women, children, infants, and even the livestock of especially hated enemies.

      • “No Christian today practices animal sacrifice, nor do we stone wayward sons to death, nor do we consider it sinful to wear clothing made of two different kinds of fibers, nor do we condone slavery (as Paul did). Conservative Christians who insist that homosexuality is evil and sinful, but who say that many other laws and teachings given in the Bible no longer apply to Christians, are being inconsistent and hypocritical in their reading of the Bible.”

        We say that they don’t apply anymore because THEY DON’T APPLY.

        You need to educate yourself on the different types of laws that are clearly shown in the OT.

        The Bible doesn’t say that it is “sinful” to wear different kind of fabrics.

        Paul did not condone Slavery!!

        The Ceremonial and Mosaic laws don’t apply anymore. The moral laws do apply.

        Once again, educate yourself on the different types of laws in the Bible, Lee. Please.

        • Lee says:

          Hi godisreal2017,

          I am familiar with the arguments presented in the articles you linked. Those arguments are not very convincing.

          The first article relies on a conjecture that the ephod of the High Priest was woven of both linen and wool threads. But the Bible itself doesn’t say that. It mentions linen, but it doesn’t mention wool. To base the article’s whole argument on the conjecture that “The dyed thread would have been made of wool,” when the Bible doesn’t say that, is to build an entire argument on human interpretation rather than on the words of the Bible itself.

          The article frankly admits that it doesn’t know why these commandments against mixing of various kinds were given to the Israelites. And yet, it wants us to accept its conclusions. Sorry. That doesn’t fly with me.

          The second article gets into all sorts of contortionist wording to try to avoid the obvious fact that Paul commanded slaves to obey their masters. If this is not condoning slavery, I don’t know what is.

          Paul did not speak out against slavery. There is no indication that he thought slavery was wrong, despite the article’s insinuation that he didn’t preach against it for pragmatic reasons.

          Most likely, Paul didn’t see anything wrong with slavery, because as the article says, slavery was universally practiced in ancient societies. In fact, it was not abolished anywhere in the world until two centuries ago, when the British outlawed it in their empire, and set about to stamp out the Atlantic slave trade at great cost in British lives and treasure.

          It’s all well and good to use fancy rhetoric to try to avoid the obvious fact that Paul endorsed slavery in the form of commanding slaves to obey their masters. But it is better to simply accept what Paul himself says, as representative of what he believed. Once again, it is not a good or sound practice to read present-day ethics and sensibilities back into the Bible. This leads only to contortionism of the sort engaged in by the second article you linked.

          Once again, we must read what the Bible itself says, in its own words, before engaging in any kind of interpretation. And the Bible simply doesn’t say what either one of these articles is trying to make it say.

        • How am I supposed to respond to your comment when there is no “reply” option underneath your comments?

        • Nevermind. I understand now.

        • Lee says:

          Hi godisreal2017,

          I have limited comment nesting to four levels to avoid having the text columns get skinnier and skinnier until they’re practically unreadable. It’s a bit of a nuisance, I know, but no matter how many levels of nesting I allow, there will still be the same problem. The WordPress reader can reply to any comment anyway. Some other readers might be able to do that as well.

        • Just because the author of this appeals to God in the verse that you originally left out, v.7, or just because what he says is in the Bible doesn’t mean that God automatically approves of what’s being said. Even if this specific request of having done to the Babylonians what has been done to him ends up taking place, it doesn’t mean that God approves of everything that is in the Bible. Such a sweeping statement is ridiculous. Will the Babylonians eventually pay for their treatment of God’s chosen people? Yes. And the correct takeaway from that should be for man not to do things that God doesn’t approve of, but you have even a greater problem. What are you judging any of this with? First of all, can God do what He wants with His Creation? Of course!! It’s His Creation. So for you to judge such actions as a mere mortal begs the question again “what are you judging Him with”? For example, you say “cruel and barbaric”. According to what? What Objective Standard do you have to say what is “cruel and barbaric”?

        • Lee says:

          Hi godisreal2017,

          Avoiding the issue won’t make it go away.

          As I said in my previous reply to you, in 1 Samuel 15:1–3, God specifically commands the Israelites to do what today would be called committing genocide. Specifically, God commands the Israelites to kill every man, woman, child, and infant of the Amalekites, plus their livestock.

          If God absolutely commanded this, and then in 1 Samuel 15:10—23 rejected Saul because he did not fully obey that order, on what basis can you argue that God would not condone the killing of the Babylonians’ children and infants? Babylon was also an implacable enemy of the Israelites—even worse than the Amalekites.

          Now, if you don’t think that killing women, children, and infants is cruel and barbaric, then . . . what can I say?

          Once again, if you try to take everything in the Bible literally, you will get yourself into all sorts of problems.

  10. Annie Howell says:

    A christian friend told me recently that its a christian fact that the husband has to look after the wife because the husband is head of the house. i thought that was sexist and very outdated but it is clearly stated in the bible. for me i believe in equal partnership and i find it hard to accept/believe in parts of the bible as a young woman. – Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. i was really surprised to be told by a christian pastor Women think more with emotions while men think more with logics. Man is the head of the family by nature and its god who said man rules over woman. And it also says “your desire shall be for your husband, and he will rule over you. i’ve also known people say if people are turned off of Christianity because of something that is directly from the scriptures, then the problem is not with God’s word. The problem is with that person needing to conform to the truth. trying to believe parts of the bible can be very hard but denying it makes me wonder can i still be a christian. i love god and believe in jesus and the higher power but cant accept parts that people say you have to accept

    • Lee says:

      Hi Annie,

      People read the statements in the Bible about men and women from the perspective of particular cultural gender roles and expectations. They therefore tend to make the Bible say things it doesn’t actually say.

      For example, Paul didn’t say man should be the head of woman, but that man is the head of woman. In other words, he was referencing a social reality of his time, not making a prescription for how things ought to be. If you read his words in the context of his culture, he wasn’t saying what conservative Christians today think he was saying. For more on that, please see:

      “Wives, submit to your husbands.”

      At the end of this article there are links to several other articles about gender roles and the Bible. The first two articles linked there also take up the issue of God saying in Genesis 3 that man will rule over women. If you read it in context, this is not how God originally intended the relationship between man and woman to work, but a description of what happens when we humans depart radically from God’s plan.

      I hope you will find these articles helpful. I stand by them, and they are also modern-career-wife-approved. 😀

  11. AJ749 says:

    Hi lee dont know if you can help me, as ive mentioned before your blog and swedenborgs writings have massively helped me with previous anxiety i had (from new age info) and made sense of things that didnt before.

    As part of my spiritual quest im looking at other spiritual literature / occult books like theosophy , channeled material and so on to see how much it agrees with swedenborg. I must say its intriguing that alot of these people end up turning to Christians.

    When i read these things though part of me thinks what if what these people say are true and that brings the anxiety back not as badly but enough that i know its there.

    Ive prayed to god to help show me the truth but i dont know if im saying it correctly as so far not much has happened .

    I know swedenborg says to keep us in equality we have two angels and two devils with us ,

    could it be the devils influencing myself?

    because whenever i read of peoples experience of swedenborg or swedenborg blogs the anxiety fades away

    Do you have any advice on what to do ?

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      If reading occult books and channeled material brings on anxiety, whereas reading Swedenborgian material causes the anxiety to fade away, here’s my rather simple suggestion: Stop reading occult books and channeled material, and read Swedenborgian material instead.

      Personally, I mostly avoid reading books of traditional Christian theology because when I do read them, I get angry at the terrible twisting of the beautiful teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible into a false and morally bankrupt “Christianity” that misleads billions of people and gives God a bad name, causing millions of people to become atheists. See: “The Extreme Weakness of Faith Alone and Penal Substitution.” Why subject myself to the torture of reading all that falsity?

      By now you know what the occult, theosophical, and channeled material is all about. And you know what effects it has on your mental and emotional state. Why subject yourself to more of that torture? It isn’t doing you any good. If you were an alcoholic, my advice would be to avoid alcohol, and places where it is served. Same deal with occult material. Leave it behind. Immerse yourself instead in the beliefs and ideas that bring you understanding and peace of mind. Your mind will grow clearer, and your life will get better.

      • AJ749 says:

        Many thanks for that lee

        Much apreeciated

      • AJ749 says:

        Hi lee 2 questions.

        Could it also be that when reading false stuff like occult the anxiety is brought about by evil spirits ?

        Also last night i had a nightmare granted it was very short in which my family was stabbed and it freaked me out, could that of been brought about by spirits or do you think it was more my mind playing tricks ?

        • Lee says:

          Hi AJ749,

          According to Swedenborg, all of our thoughts and feelings, and everything that goes on in our mind, has spirits, either good or evil or both, associated with it. So yes, the anxiety is brought about by evil spirits, and yes, there were spirits involved in your nightmare. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the evil spirits are purposely placing these thoughts, feelings, dreams, and so on in your mind. They are usually just as unaware of their association with your thoughts and feelings as you are. They simply live in the spiritual world, which is the world of the mind, so they are associated with all of your thoughts and feelings, and your thoughts and feelings come from them.

          The danger in seeking spirit contact, for those who are not people of faith, is that then the spirits become aware that they are with you, which isn’t normally the case, and then the evil spirits can intentionally lie to you and mislead you into thinking and believing things that aren’t true.

  12. Annie Howell says:

    Hi Lee

    I’ve been reading romans in the new testament and whilst there are beautiful quotes in there ” be devoted to one another in love” for example, God is presented in parts as a dictator to fear. “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden”, “who are you a human being to talk back to God”. My belief in the God of love has no room for fear that the bible here talks about ” the sternness of God but kindness to you provided that you continue in his kindness”. To be honest God is spoken about as someone threatening, who could turn on you any second. However Paul also says ” Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” which suggests that your actions don’t matter whilst kind people without belief in Jesus are doomed. I call myself a christian as I love the God I feel around and I love everything that Jesus stands for I struggle to come to piece with certain biblical quotes, which makes me wonder if I can still be a christian and deny certain aspects of the bible. Is there a way in your opinion to interpret quotes that don’t come across with the compassion I believe Jesus tried to teach?

    Kind regards
    Annie Howell

    • Lee says:

      Hi Annie,

      It’s an excellent question.

      God’s problem in writing the Bible was that it had to be able to reach people in all different states and stages of spiritual development, including very low and undeveloped states of life. For some people, that means having to believe that God will be angry at them if they don’t shape up. Fear of punishment is a powerful motivator for many people at the low end of the spiritual spectrum. That’s why God is often portrayed as angry, punishing, and so on in the Bible. For more on this, please see:

      What is the Wrath of God? Why was the Old Testament God so Angry, yet Jesus was so Peaceful?

      About Paul’s statements that make it sound like all we have to do is believe in Jesus, it’s helpful to understand that people in those days didn’t separate beliefs from actions the way we often do in our intellectual age today. It was simply assumed that, for example, if you believed in Jesus, you would follow Jesus’ commandments, or that if you called on Jesus, you would listen to what Jesus told you to do. The idea of simply believing intellectually while not living by what you believed would be seen as not really believing, as the apostle James explains in James 2:14–26. For more on this, please see:

      Faith Alone Is Not Faith

      Back to the original question, while it can be annoying at times to read so many things in the Bible that speak to people in such low and backward spiritual states, that is part of the mercy of God, who does not leave anyone without direction and inspiration, but speaks even to the lowest of the low in language that they can understand. Meanwhile, as explained in the first article linked above, what is really behind the “wrath” of God, and is its spiritual meaning, is God’s love for all people.

      For thinking people today, knowing about the deeper spiritual meanings in the Bible is necessary in order to see the depth, beauty, and power of the Bible underneath it’s often rather rough exterior. Here’s one more article that may help:

      How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads

      • Annie Howell says:

        Thanks lee
        I love reading your beliefs in your articles. So many people who reject Christianity because of passages in the bible would be so uplifted to read your articles and feel able to still call themselves Christians through a kinder interpretation.
        It can be hard to know what parts to take literally and what parts to see as interpretation or a sign of the times. A lot of it does seem to contradict itself.
        As a feminist I naturally want to see “the head of the woman is man and the head of every man is christ” as a sign of the times. Some of it is shocking “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church”. Made me wonder what your interpretation of that will be and if you can reject thoughts from the bible and still be a christian?
        Whilst there are and have been christian women who are submissive to their husbands, I’ve always seen wearing burka’s to be a muslim belief but in 1 Corinthians it states ” For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off…..A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man”. Whilst this belief has no place in modern western society and is offensive to me, I’ve never heard of christian women ever covering up before, so was wondering if historians have ever known if they ever were and why literal interpreters don’t follow this rule but follow a lot of the others.

        With sexist opinions still being debated in christian churches and individuals suggesting if Jesus wanted gender equality, he would of hired female disciples seeing as he wasn’t afraid to go against the laws of his day, Do you believe that Jesus would see me, a 21st century women who will speak up for her rights, as less than a man. I find it hard to reconcile my spiritual worship to God and Jesus with outdated teachings of the bible. Not that they should have ever had a place in the world but I do wonder if now, does God support feminism, LBGT pride, despite what is written in the bible and the sexist/homophobic views of many christians.

        I am sorry If i am burdening you with my questions or if you worry about sending me tons of your articles but I really want to find out as much as I can from someone who believes in Christianity without going straight to fearful, hell bashing. If you reject parts of the bible you struggle to interpret, can you still call yourself a christian?

        Kind regards

        Annie – if it wasn’t for you, I know I probably would have lost my faith by now as you opened me up to a kinder christian viewpoint. I can’t say thankyou enough for your responses of information.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Annie,

          Thanks for your further thoughts and questions. Reaching people with a “kinder Christian viewpoint” so that they do not have to reject Jesus and Christianity altogether is one of the main reasons Annette and I run this blog. There are many people who have become atheists today precisely because of the harsh, false, and unbiblical teachings that pass as Christianity today. Swedenborg predicted over two centuries ago that this would happen. And now it’s happening.

          I tend to think that it will be necessary for that entire edifice of false “Christianity” to be rejected and come to an end, and a period of atheism and secularism to clear the air, before true Christianity can once again exist on this earth in any widespread way. People’s view of Christianity has been so poisoned by the horrible travesty of “Christianity” that has existed for many centuries now that it may be necessary for a generation or two to pass before any true Christianity can exist again.

          Lest you think you’re the only one feeling the way you do about Paul’s writings, Annette felt the same way as a young woman, having had a conservative Christian upbringing in the Bible Belt. As a woman in today’s society, she did not feel that she could continue to accept Christianity and the Bible. But she was able to remain a Christian because she encountered the Swedenborgian Church in her mid-twenties.

          One thing that certainly helped her in this was when she learned that Swedenborg’s canon of the Bible does not include Paul’s writings, or those of the other Apostles. It’s not that Swedenborg “rejected” the Epistles, but that he thought of them more as writings by Jesus’ early followers intended to guide and build up the early Christian church. You can read all about it in this article:

          Why Isn’t Paul in Swedenborg’s Canon?

          Be aware, though, that the article focuses more on the false idea in Protestant Christianity that Paul taught salvation by faith alone (which he did not) than on his statements about women. On that, here is one article that I have probably referred you to already:

          “Wives, submit to your husbands.”

          Even Christians who believe that Paul’s writings are the Word of God commonly don’t abide by everything Paul says in his writings about women. There is an increasing recognition that they were influenced by the culture of his day. Christian women actually used to wear stylized “veils” in church, which were hats with a diaphanous fabric covering over the upper part of a woman’s face. I remember some of the old women wearing them in church when I was a teenager. Today you’d be hard-pressed to find any Christian church—even evangelical ones—in which the women wear veils. In some conservative churches women still do wear hats to church, but even that is beginning to fade now. And of course, more and more churches, including evangelical ones, are ordaining women. The old idea that everything Paul said about women must still be strictly and literally followed is breaking down fast even in traditional Christianity.

          The reality is that no church follows all of the rules given in the Bible. Even the ones that claim to follow everything the Bible says, in practice actually pick and choose which rules they will follow and which they will not. For example, no Christian church today practices animal sacrifice, even though one entire book of the Bible (Leviticus) is devoted to exactly how to offer sacrifices. The idea that in order to be a “real Christian,” we must literally follow every commandment in the Bible is completely unrealistic. Churches that think they are following every commandment of the Bible are deceiving themselves.

          As I began to say in my previous reply to you, the real depth and power of the Bible is in its spiritual meaning. The literal meaning is like a matrix that delivers that deeper meaning. Of course, we are indeed supposed to follow some parts of the Bible literally, such as the parts about not killing, committing adultery, stealing, and bearing false witness. Even Paul does have some good thoughts and advice about living with one another in Christian love and kindness. But for people who are aware of the deeper meanings in the Bible, it is not necessary to reject any books of the Bible, no matter which biblical canon a person may accept. Rather, it is necessary to recognize that the literal teachings and stories in the Bible were adapted to and addressed to the cultures in which they were written, and must be adjusted in order to be applicable to today’s society.

          For one example of this, see my analysis of the statements in the Bible prohibiting men from having sex with men in this article:

          Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity

          In the cultures of both Old Testament and New Testament times, the homosexual sex that took place was almost always unequal and exploitative in nature. That is what the Bible was condemning, because that was what existed in those cultures. But the deeper meaning is that we are not to engage in unequal, exploitative sex. This is covered in much more detail in the above article, especially under the subheading titled, “Paul’s writings were adapted to the culture of his day.”

          My own views on these issues have changed and evolved over the years. When I was in my teens and twenties, I was much more traditional in my views on gender and relationship issues. But the older I get, the more I realize that much of what the Bible says in its literal meaning is not universal truth for all time, but truth adapted to the particular culture in which it was written. So I’ve changed my views about gender issues. I now believe that God originally created man and women to live in fully equal partnership with one another. I still believe that men and women are distinctly different from one another. But I no longer believe that man is primary and woman is secondary as I did rather unreflectively when I was young. This is covered especially in this article:

          Man, Woman, and the Two Creation Stories of Genesis

          And for the practical version of how this relates to actual marriage relationships (with a bit of satire at the beginning), please see:

          What Do Women Really Want?

          And though I still don’t really understand where non-heterosexual orientations came from, Annette and I believe that God loves LGBTQ+ people as much as anyone else, and that God rejoices in non-straight relationships based on genuine mutual love just as much as God rejoices in straight relationships. This is covered toward the end of the article on homosexuality linked above.

          Yes, I’m linking you to a lot of articles, some of which you’ve probably already read. But these articles are where I express my current thinking on all of these issues. And now this is getting long, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Please let me know if I’ve missed responding to anything important in your comment.

  13. Eric Rosenfeld says:

    Did Swedenborg choose to enter the spiritual world whenever he wanted to? I am just wondering what process he would go through in order to travel to the other realm every time. I watched an old documentary on the Swedenborg Foundation YouTube channel. It mentioned how he would slow his breathing and eventually be in the spiritual world and remain in this one at the same time. Then he would read the Bible and…would spirits or angels tell him how to interpret every single passage?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eric,

      Yes, some biographies and documentaries on Swedenborg like to push the “yogic breathing techniques” angle. But Swedenborg had been practicing a controlled breathing technique for many years before he ever entered the spiritual world, as part of his mental discipline in focusing intensely on whatever subject of scientific and philosophical study and investigation he was currently involved in. There is no reason to believe that Swedenborg practiced special breathing techniques and Presto! his spiritual eyes opened and he could travel around in the spiritual world at will. Nor does Swedenborg himself ever say any such thing.

      Rather, Swedenborg says that the Lord opened his spiritual senses and showed him the spiritual world. He is not highly descriptive of exactly how that happened. However, it doesn’t seem to be something that happened at Swedenborg’s will, but something that happened regularly at the Lord’s will, and Swedenborg went along for the ride. He does say that when he was engaged in worldly activities such as taking care of financial or governmental affairs and duties, this caused him not to enter into the spiritual world. So he at least had to be in a receptive state, meaning in a state of focusing on spiritual things rather than on worldly things, in order to go into the spiritual world.

      The idea that Swedenborg by his own will penetrated into the spiritual dimension is a narrative commonly put forward by people who don’t reject Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences altogether, but who want an alternative angle on them to the one Swedenborg himself gives: that his entering into the spiritual world was at the Lord’s will and the Lord’s call for the purpose of carrying out a special commission given him by the Lord. It is, in my view, unfortunate that the idea that Swedenborg got into the spiritual world by his own efforts and initiative made it into some old Swedenborg Foundation videos and materials. However, if it gets people curious about Swedenborg and his spiritual experiences, it’s not all bad.

      To answer your other question, though Swedenborg had many conversations with angels and spirits, he viewed those experiences as illustrative rather than as teaching him about doctrine or the spiritual meaning of the Bible. He said that he needed to learn what the spiritual world was like in order to be able to understand the spiritual meaning of the Bible. However, he specifically denies that his doctrines and his interpretations of the Bible came from angels and spirits. For example:

      The Lord cannot manifest himself to everyone in person, as has been shown just above [776–778], and yet he foretold that he would come and build a new church, which is the New Jerusalem. Therefore it follows that he is going to accomplish this through the agency of a human being who can not only accept these teachings intellectually but also publish them in printed form.

      I testify in truth that the Lord manifested himself to me, his servant, and assigned me to this task; after doing so, he opened the sight of my spirit and brought me into the spiritual world; and he has allowed me to see the heavens and the hells and to have conversations with angels and spirits on a continual basis for many years now. I also testify that ever since the first day of this calling, I have accepted nothing regarding the teachings of this church from any angel; what I have received has come from the Lord alone while I was reading the Word. (True Christianity #779, italics added)

      Once again, people who can’t accept Swedenborg’s testimony that his teachings and Bible interpretations came from the Lord often talk about angels and spirits teaching Swedenborg the spiritual meaning of the Bible and the doctrines that he explained in his theological writings. But Swedenborg himself flatly contradicts this.

      For a related article, please see:

      Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

  14. Eric Rosenfeld says:

    Hey Lee, hope your day is going well.

    I was wondering how often you think we should read the Bible. Is it required for Christians every day? Here’s a verse from the book of Joshua that seems to indicate we should: This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.
    Joshua 1:8 NASB

    Further, is there an order of books that you’d recommend to a new Christian to read just starting off reading the Bible for the 1st time?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eric,

      There is no hard and fast rule for Christians. But I do recommend daily Bible reading. A chapter or two a day is plenty. It’s better to set up a program that you can stick with than to start out with grand plans that you then can’t keep up with.

      About Joshua 1:8, though it could be read literally as commanding us to read the Bible every day, the spirit of it is that we are to keep the stories and lessons of the Bible in our mind as we go about our day-to-day life, looking to them as guides for our words and actions.

      For Christians, the heart of the Bible is the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are a must-read. You’ll find John to be much more philosophical than the other three Gospels.

      The Acts and the Epistles are good too, but it is necessary first to rid one’s mind of the distortions of Protestant faith-alone doctrine. Otherwise Paul’s letters, especially, will only be confusing.

      The book of Revelation is full of fantastic visions and imagery. Just don’t make the traditional Christian mistake of thinking that it is all going to take place literally. See:
      Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?

      In the Old Testament, start at the beginning with Genesis 1, and read your way through the narrative books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, maybe skip Leviticus the first time around since it’s a tough slog, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings. That will keep you busy for a wile! But it will give you a living sense of the Bible story that the New Testament draws upon.

      The Psalms, of course, are wonderful for prayer and devotional reading.

      The Prophets are a deep well, and not for the faint of heart. Yes, there are the books of Daniel and Jonah, which have great and popular stories. But the rest can be quite daunting. Still, if you’re really dedicated, they’re worth reading. They are quoted fairly heavily in the New Testament.

      One way to go about it is to read one chapter from the Old Testament and one chapter from the New Testament each day.

      Though it will set you back a few bucks, I recommend ordering a set of the Bible Study Notes, by Anita S. Dole. (The link is to my review of them here.) This is a wonderful six-volume set of Swedenborgian Bible commentary originally written for use by Sunday School teachers. It has lessons for all ages, from young children through adult. It doesn’t cover all of the stories in the Bible, but it covers a good representative sample. The lessons are readable, understandable, and practical for living a good and spiritual life. Many adults appreciate starting with the simple lessons aimed at young children!

      If you do order a set of the “Dole Notes,” don’t slow down your regular Bible reading to read the commentary at the same time. Just keep reading in the Bible, and on your days off, as you have time, read one of the lessons in the Dole Notes. As you do, your regular daily Bible reading will take on more and more meaning.

      • Eric Rosenfeld says:

        Perfect, thanks again. Upon learning more about Swedenborg and correspondences, I was hesitant to take that passage completely literal.

        I’ve read several of your posts in regards to the faith-alone doctrine, Paul, and Revelations. In short, I agree with you.

        The Dole notes sound great!

  15. AJ749 says:

    Hiya, ive been reading theosophy by Madame Blavatsky which i know is channeled information,

    Swedenborg talks about an ancient truths being lost in tartary or something similar to that if im right ,

    Blatavsky says that swedenborg is actually talking about theosophy when he mentions this ancient knowledge and makes links between where swedenborg says this knowledge is lost and where blatavskys knowledge supposedly came from in the Himalayan mountains from supposed masters

    To me this dosent make sense because theosophy is very different to Swedenborg’s works and truths and the two views are almost opposite

    What are your views on this ?

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      As you say, Theosophy is very different from Swedenborg’s teachings. It is highly unlikely that the ancient Word that Swedenborg says might be somewhere in Great Tartary (we’re not sure exactly where that is) would contain Theosophical teachings.

      Swedenborg does say that the first chapters of Genesis—the ones that contain the early mythical stories about Creation, the Garden of Eden, and the Flood—originally came from the ancient Word. Though I doubt it was a word-for-word copy, this gives some sense of what that book might have been like. It would not have contained particular doctrinal teachings (such as reincarnation—an idea Swedenborg rejects), but would have been written in a symbolic and metaphorical style, like the ancient myths that have come down to us from many cultures of ancient times.

      • AJ749 says:

        Hi lee so what does swedenborg say about the ancient texts?, would they have come through symbolism like what people of the ancient church went through and thus the stories although physically impossible , symbollicaly paint a wonderful spiritual picture ?

        • Lee says:

          Hi AJ749,

          In general, yes, Swedenborg said that the ancient style of writing was a correspondential or symbolic one. In today’s language these are the ancient myths—meaning not that they are false, but that they are stories full of metaphor. However, it does depend on just how old the text is, who wrote it, which culture, and so on. Not every old text was written to be metaphorical. Also, not every text was divinely inspired. Many contain much metaphor, but they are still human productions, and do not have the level of inspiration and connected correspondences that the early chapters of Genesis do.

  16. Rod says:

    Hi Lee. I really enjoyed this article. I’ve been reading the Bible daily for years and the way Swedenborg explains its meaning is better than any commentary that I’ve ever found, and you write in a way that makes both Swedenborg and the Bible easier to understand, so thank you so much for all your work. I have a question that you might have answered before but I couldn’t find it here on the website and I haven’t read all the comments here in this article, so here it goes: I understand that there are correspondences and stuff, but why was the Bible written in a way that is so hard to understand for most people? What I mean by that is that sometimes the Bible seems to mean almost the opposite of what it says. For example, if the story of the creation of the universe is not really about the creation of the universe, why doesn’t the Bible itself explain the whole thing in a simple way? Almost everyone would think that it’s a story exactly about that: the creation of the universe.It took centuries for Swedenborg to be born and explain it to us in a way that makes sense and still most people have never heard of him. Isn’t it kinda unfair that most people (including most Christians) have a wrong understanding of the Bible exactly because of the way it was written?

    Which leads me to my second question: Should I feel guilty for sometimes wishing that the Bible was different? There are verses that I wish were not there, and some I wish were written in a different way. Just to give an example: When I was a child my parents divorced, and I always thought that Jesus’ words about divorced people who marry again sound too harsh and it’s so painful for me, specially coming from a Catholic background. People in church frowned upon my mom receiving Holy Communion just because she divorced. This is just an example and I know that there is a context for the words of Jesus, but for most Christians, when they read that passage they think “oh, okay, so according to Jesus people who remarry are adulterers. Period.” I don’t know, I just sometimes wish that things in the Bible were explained in a “for dummies” way.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      Glad to hear the articles here are helping you so much. I have only a few minutes, so just a quick response for now, in anticipation of a fuller one later.

      At the time it was written, much of the Bible was written in a “for dummies” way. It’s just that the culture has changed greatly since then. Many things in the Bible that originally made perfect sense in the cultures in which it was written no longer make such good sense, precisely because we are now living in a very different culture.

      Swedenborg’s explanations are easier not just because he gives deeper meanings, but because his culture was much closer to ours than the biblical cultures. Even so, some things in Swedenborg’s writings, yes, on scientific and historical matters, but also on gender relations and marriage, are now starting to show their cultural age, and must be updated.

      Meanwhile, when it comes to the basics of salvation, the Bible is very clear on what we must believe and do. Clear, that is, for anyone whose mind has not been hopelessly confused by false “Christian” doctrine that has nothing to do with the teachings of the Bible. We are not left with no guideposts at all. Anyone who reads the Gospels for himself or herself has the basics for salvation right there in plain language. Repent from our sins, stop doing evil deeds, believe in the Lord, love God above all, and our neighbor as ourselves, do good to all, even to our enemies, and so on. It’s all right there.

      Okay, that was a little more than “quick” 😀 But I’ll have to leave the divorce issue for later. Meanwhile, here’s another article about the Bible that I recommend on the question of why the Bible is written the way it is:

      How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      About almost everyone reading the Bible, such as the Creation story, literally:

      In fact, for the first millennium or so of Christianity it was commonly believed that the Bible had deeper meanings. Swedenborg was far from the first to explain various Bible stories, including the Creation story, metaphorically, as stories with deeper meanings about the human spiritual journey. See, for example, Wikipedia -> Allegorical interpretation of the Bible. Unfortunately, the article is rather brief and skeletal, which does not reflect the long and rich history of metaphorical interpretation of the Bible within Christianity, and of other religions’ metaphorical interpretations of their sacred texts as well.

      Unfortunately, as institutional Christianity became more and more materialistic, and more and more focused on money and power, and wandered farther and farther into error in its theology, the long history of understanding the Bible as having deeper meanings was gradually lost, to the point where it almost entirely disappeared in the second millennium of Christianity, especially after the Protestant Reformation, which tended more and more toward biblical literalism the longer it went on.

      Really, Swedenborg was not saying anything new in Christianity when he said that the Bible has deeper meanings. Rather, he was reviving the view of many, if not most, early Christian teachers and theologians, and raising it to a whole new level.

      If Christianity had actually remained Christian, and had held onto its early wisdom, Christians far and wide would know and believe that the Bible has deeper meanings, and it would be common for people to seek out those meanings. But since Christianity became corrupt, and wandered far from the path that Jesus Christ himself set, with his method of teaching based heavily on parable and metaphor, ordinary Christians are vastly ignorant of the real nature of the Bible and the infinite deeper spiritual and divine meanings that it carries within its literal meaning.

      Now we once again have access to the rich inner life within the Bible, thanks to God calling Swedenborg to deliver the knowledge of it to us here on earth.

      Having said that, as I said in my previous response, all the basics that we need to live a Christian life and be saved are right there in the plain, literal meaning of the Bible. And Swedenborg himself insisted that the “doctrine,” or teachings, of Christianity must be drawn from the literal meaning of the Bible, and supported by it. No one is left out in the cold just because they don’t know about the symbolism and correspondences within the Bible’s literal meaning. Anyone who reads the plain words of the Bible can learn what we need to believe and do to gain eternal life.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      About divorce:

      This is a very difficult and complex subject. I’m gradually working my way mentally toward writing and posting a major article about divorce here, since it is badly needed. However, that may not happen any time soon. It will not be an easy article to write.

      Meanwhile, one thing to understand about the Bible’s statements and rules on divorce is that in biblical times, marriage was not an inner union of minds and hearts as many people think of it and experience it today. It was an almost entirely external, social, legal, and biological arrangement, whose primary goal was reproduction—or in less biological terms, having children, especially sons, to carry on the family name and lineage.

      Nowhere in the Bible will you find any raptures about the inner connection and spiritual nature of the love between a man and a woman.

      The most focused treatment of “love” in the Bible is the Song of Solomon. And it is controversial precisely because it focuses almost entirely on the physical beauties and pleasures of sexual love. There is not a word in there about the deeper and inner beauties of a meeting of minds, which we today think of as “marriage love” or “romantic love.” Yes, it is common to think that the Song of Solomon is meant to be read metaphorically, as a book about the spiritual love of Christ for the Church. But nothing in the book itself says anything about that. It’s all about the physical beauties and enjoyment of the female body.

      The other panegyric to woman in the Bible is the “ode to a capable wife” in Proverbs 31:10–31. And once again, there is not a word in it about any inner connection of a wife with her husband. It’s all about how wise and capable a good wife (who is very hard to find) is in managing a household—and also in running a business, contrary to the common fundamentalist Christian stereotypes of the biblical woman as being a mere “housewife.”

      In short, what the Bible means by “love” is not the same thing as what we mean by “love” today. Marriage was an almost entirely external relationship; and “love” was really sexual love, or at best a business relationship between a man and a woman in which there was mutual appreciation and respect. It was not marriage love as we think of it today. It was not “soulmates” or an inner connection of minds and hearts.

      In that atmosphere, and in an atmosphere in which women were very much secondary to and dependent upon men, divorce laws had to be much stricter than they are in liberal countries today. There was no inner cord binding married people together. It was all social, financial, and legal. And given that men, in their relationships with women, were driven largely by sexual desire and by the desire for children and heirs, they would quite easily hop from one woman to another, throwing each one aside when she was no longer attractive to them, or was no longer producing sons, and leaving their divorced wives most likely to have to resort to prostitution to survive. It was precisely because there was no real marriage as we think of it today that divorce laws had to be strict in Bible times. In the absence of internal bonds of spiritual union between men and women, legal and social bonds had to be imposed on them, and especially upon men.

      Even so, polygamy was common, showing just how external people’s approach to marriage was. You can’t be soulmates with multiple people. Within a few centuries, Christianity came to forbid polygamy because Christianity was to be a spiritual religion, not a mere external religion based on external rituals such as animal sacrifice. Therefore Christians were forbidden to have more than one wife.

      Today, the situation is very different, as the idea and experience of “soulmates,” or marriage based on an inner connection, becomes more and more common in the world. Today, marriages are no longer held together primarily by external legal and social strictures. Rather, they are held together by the inner bonds of connections of mind and heart between married couples. And if those connections of mind and heart are absent, almost everyone except the church and the state recognizes that no real marriage exists in that “marriage.”

      That is a short (?) version of why divorce is allowed today, but was not allowed, or was very strictly limited, in Bible times. A fuller explanation will have to wait for that day when I finally sit down to write a real article about divorce.

      Unfortunately, most of traditional Christianity, especially including the Catholic Church, still thinks of marriage as a mere external, largely physical, social, and legal relationship that ends at death. Therefore traditional Christianity continues to attempt to enforce the rules on marriage and divorce that were necessary in Bible times because of the external nature of marriage in those times.

      For a little more on marriage in Bible times vs. marriage today, please see the series of three articles starting with this one:

      Didn’t Jesus Say There’s No Marriage in Heaven?

      I hope this helps.

  17. Rod says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a good answer. It is indeed very helpful. And thanks for the links, I haven’t read those articles yet. I always like to learn about the real meaning of the Bible.

  18. Rod says:

    Hello. What is Swedenborg’s view on the so called “Bible contradictions”? Those of us who read the Bible daily have certainly found things that seem to be slightly inconsistent. For example, in one of the Gospels Jesus curses the fig tree and it happens immediately, but in another Gospel it doesn’t wither right away, it takes some time. Or the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant: in one of the Gospels the centurion himself asks Jesus to do it, in another Gospel he sends someone to ask in his behalf. Any thoughts?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      From a Swedenborgian perspective, inconsistencies in the literal sense of the Bible are not a significant problem. That’s because we believe that the real power and inspiration of the Bible is in its spiritual meaning, and that the literal meaning serves to convey that deeper meaning.

      The Bible was never meant to be a textbook of science or history or even theology. Its primary purpose is to lead people to not engage in evil actions, but to instead live a good life of love and service to God and the neighbor, so that they can spend eternity in heaven rather than in hell. Compared to that, the fact that the cock doesn’t crow the same number of times in all of the Gospels is unimportant and insignificant.

  19. Rod says:

    Hi Lee. Well, the reports of Jesus’ ressurection (or at least their chronology) have always been a little bit confusing for me, but that doesn’t really bother me very much because I agree that those things are not the point. Traditional Christianity, of course, has whole books on apologetics explaining the “Bible contradictions” but I was curious about the Swedenborgian view. Anyway, thank you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      From a Swedenborgian point of view, there are only a few things in the Bible that it really matters whether they actually happened or not. The birth of Jesus Christ is one of them. His death and resurrection are on that list as well. Beyond that, though the Bible story probably does have some relationship with actual history, what’s most important is its moral and spiritual message. Whether the things described in it actually happened as described is not all that important.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        As you know, scholarly debates in Biblical controversies are vast, intricate, and seemingly unending. Everything from authorship, dates of authorship, textual transmission and textual integrity have been hotly taken up by faithful and skeptical scholars alike. For the faithful, the coherence of their entire faith can hinge on the answers to these questions. But is this really only an issue for believers of Biblical Inerrancy, or of a similar orthodox persuasion?

        The ultimate significance of these questions appears in my mind to rest with the basic attitude you take to the Bible, or perhaps religion in general. Orthodox Muslims, for instance, believe that the Qur’an is the perfectly preserved verbatim word of God as dictated to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. If you could conclusively prove that even one of those words was of human origin, well, that might serve to shake the faith of a great many Muslims. But if you believe that religions are their sacred texts are the products of the humans and their human minds as it intersects with divine guidance (though words written as correspondence are more than this?), then it seems as though thighs like inaccuracies and contradictions can be downplayed or sidestepped entirely.

        Still though, doesn’t it seem almost a little *too* convenient to quickly dispatch with something that’s ordinarily seen as so significant?

        • John says:

          The problem doesn’t go away, though, because true believers believe that the Bible was written by the hand of God. As you said, this issue disappears when everyone admits that the Bible was written by man. One of the reasons that doesn’t happen is because of moral authority. After all, who is going to believe a religion, indeed any religion, unless they say that their religion, and only their religion, is the one true Word of God?

        • Lee says:

          Hi John,

          But that is a false dichotomy. There are other choices besides the Bible being written 100% by God and the Bible being written 100% by human beings. The debates between these two all-or-nothing positions show a lack of understanding of how divine revelation takes place. One side claims that the Bible is divine revelation because every word in it is straight out of God’s mouth. The other side claims that the Bible is not divine revelation because it was written by human beings.

          The reality is that the Bible was written by God through the minds of human beings, or by human minds under inspiration from God. Not just through human hands, like court stenographer who simply transcribe what they hear, but through human minds who speak from their own thoughts, but in a process that is guided by God so that the resulting text embodies, within its human matrix, divine and spiritual truth in perfect sequence and order.

          This type of process is necessary because if God were to speak to us in God’s own language, directly from God’s own mind, we would not be able to understand it. As I said in another article, it would be like a class of kindergarteners attending a lecture on nuclear physics. God therefore clothes the divine truth in human language, ideas, culture, and customs, so that we humans on earth will be able to read it and understand it, and if we are so inclined, look beneath the surface to see the deeper divine truth within.

          In other words divine revelation must necessarily have both a divine side and a human side, or it could not function as revelation. It is a revelation from God to humans. It is God speaking to humans in human language, using the minds of human beings, whose content is derived from their own learning, experience, and culture, as a medium.

          So yes, skeptics and atheists can argue that the Bible is a merely human book because we know that it was originally written by human beings and has a long history of being edited and compiled into its current form. And literalist Christians can argue that the Bible has been preserved intact from when it was first written, and that every word in it was spoken by God into the ears of the human writers. Both of these arguments come from a lack of understanding of the true nature of the Bible as a relationship between God and humans. That relationship was not a one-time event, but involved many human writers and editors over the ages to get the Bible into the form that would serve God’s divine and eternal purposes.

        • John says:

          I agree, but unlike you many Christians believe that the Bible is the unerring Word of God because that was what they were taught. For that matter, why do different religions and even different denominations within the Christian faith teach that their way is the right way to express the divine?

        • Lee says:

          Hi John,

          You gave the answer to that question in your previous comment. Many people seem to need to believe that their religion is the one true religion of God, because otherwise they would not be able to believe in it, and would therefore not follow it. Not so many people can see that God gives different religions to serve the needs of different people in different cultures.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          We can indeed quickly quickly dispatch with many things that are ordinarily seen as significant. We can immediately dispatch with the extensive debate about whether the universe was created six thousand years ago or four billion years ago, whether God initially created two people named Adam and Eve who are the original parents of every human being in the world, whether there was a worldwide flood that covered all the mountaintops, and so on.

          These things, and many others like them, have been debated by Christians among themselves, and by skeptics and atheists with Christians, for many centuries. From a Swedenborgian perspective, all of those long and heated debates are an utter waste of time, because all of these issues are instantly resolved by recognizing that those early chapters of Genesis were never meant to be taken literally in the first place.

          So yes, we can quickly and easily dispatch with the debates about inconsistencies in the Bible. Such debates assume that the Bible is meant to be read as literal history. But it isn’t. And once we recognize that, it matters not at all that there are inconsistencies in the Bible.

          Getting stuck on the inconsistencies in the Bible is like reading different versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” and saying, “Clearly this story is a fabrication. In this version the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood and the Grandmother and they die. In that version the Woodsman comes in, chops open the wolf, and they come out alive—which isn’t even possible, because wolves don’t swallow their prey whole.” Everyone would see that this is a silly argument. But they don’t see it with similarly silly arguments about the Bible because they have the idea in their head that the Bible is intended to be a literally accurate recounting of historical events. It is only for people who have such ideas in their head that it matters whether the Bible is internally consistent and historically accurate.

  20. Rod says:

    Yes, I agree. Thanks!

  21. Moore says:

    Hey Lee, why do you think we aren’t just automatically BORN knowing how to understand the Bible and its correspondences and symbols?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Moore,

      It’s a good question. Perhaps if we lived in a perfect society, we would be born with access to spiritual knowledge, such as the spiritual meaning of the Bible. However, we live in a very imperfect society, which is a mix of good and evil. We therefore must learn, grow, and develop our knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in the face of falsity and evil that is all too common in our world.

      This is also part of our freedom to choose between good and evil. Given that we do live in a mixed society, we experience both good and evil, and we must make a choice between them for our own life and character. It is precisely as we face these choices that, if what we want is the good, we seek out the truth, learn it, and take it to heart. Otherwise we have no strong motivation to learn the truth and grow in understanding and wisdom.

      Another reason we are not born knowing what is good and spiritual, and especially not correspondences and the deeper meanings of the Bible is that this knowledge is very powerful, and can be twisted to do great harm by people whose hearts are set on evil rather than good.

      Consider, for example, a priest or minister who uses his aura of spiritual knowledge and enlightenment for his own selfish purposes rather than to help and guide people spiritually. Consider the unfortunately rather common situation in which a priest or minister uses his (and sometimes her) position to gain the trust of parishioners, and entice them into sexual liaisons. Or who uses his (and sometimes her) position to sexually victimize minor children. It would be better for such a person not to have that spiritual knowledge and aura at all, because it is being used to do great harm instead of great good.

      God therefore does not generally allow us access to spiritual knowledge unless God sees that we are able to use it for good for the rest of our lives. Of course, even if some individuals are capable of doing so, some ultimately choose not to, and the result is all of the terrible evil that has been done by some corrupt Christian clergy and laypeople in positions of leadership in the church.

      Because the bulk of people on this earth still do not put real effort into developing their spiritual life and building a strong spiritual character, they cannot be allowed to have deeper spiritual knowledge, or they would misuse it, and their spiritual state would be far worse than if they never gained that knowledge in the first place. This is the meaning of Jesus’ “Parable of the Return of the Unclean Spirit” in Matthew 12:43–45:

      When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.

      This is a picture of a person who has “cleaned up his act,” but then reverts back to his (or her) old ways. Any spiritual knowledge and understanding will then become corrupted and used for evil instead of good, resulting in far greater damnation for the person than if she or he had never repented and begun on a spiritual path in the first place.

    • Lee says:

      Hi WorldQuestioner,

      I don’t agree with most of the points made in these articles, nor do I think they are based on good science. But I’m really not interested in haggling over the minutiae of scientific theory vs. fundamentalist Christian theory. The Christian fundamentalists have badly missed the point of the Bible, which is spiritual, not scientific. All of their arguments attempting to show that evolution is wrong, that the world really was created in six literal days, and so on, are an utter waste of time. They are a massive distraction from the true message of the Bible, which is God’s salvation of the spirits of people who believe in God and follow God’s commandments.

  22. Chad says:

    Hi Lee. I have a question that’s been deeply troubling me for some time now. A common charge leveled against the authenticity of the Bible and by extension Christianity, not just by atheists but also by some muslim theologians and apologists, is the presence of contradictions. Not just matters of theological debate, but clear instances of “one passage presents things very differently than another”. Some examples include Jesus’ conflicting genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3:23-28, or the different stated ages of Ahaziah in 2 Kings 8:26 and 2 Chronicles 22:2. For fundamentalists and literalists, I can understand why these would be a thorny problem, since they insinuate that the infallible (in their view) Word of God contains at best print or copy errors, and at worst seemingly irreconcilable contradictions.

    The reason the presence of these contradictions concern me so much, even as a Swedenborgian, is that muslims point to these contradictions as evidence of the Bible being corrupted, altered, or otherwise unreliable as a holy book compared to the Quran. That then makes me wonder: what if muslims are right? It doesn’t necessarily bother me at all if muslims turn out to be right on matters of theology and belief, I promised God some time ago that I would follow whatever path He willed for my life and guided me on, but I still want to know how an educated theologian and pastor would address this matter. As a lay believer, the central argument made by some Muslims: “the Bible contains blatant contradictions, thus it is corrupted and cannot be the true Word of God” does give me pause. How would you respond to these theological charges? For me, the matter is not “do I believe in the Abrahamic God?” (without question, I do personally), but rather, “which Abrahamic religion is the right one for me to follow?”

    God Bless,


    • Lee says:

      Hi Chad,

      The funny thing is, if you talk to fundamentalist Christians, they will say the very same thing about the Qur’an in relation to the Bible.

      The fact of the matter is that read literally, both the Bible and the Qur’an contain many contradictions and inconsistencies. Fundamentalist Christians have developed arguments to reconcile the ones in the Bible, just as fundamentalist Muslims have developed arguments to reconcile the ones in the Qur’an. Google “contradictions in the Quran,” and you’ll see that the Qur’an has the same “problem” as the Bible.

      But really, it is a problem only for people who think materialistically and read the various scriptures of humanity literally. This is true whether those people are religious or atheistic. Most atheists are materialists, and read the Bible and the Qur’an in the same literalistic way that fundamentalist Christians and Muslims read them. Strange but true.

      Meanwhile, both Christianity and Islam have adherents who do not take their scriptures so literally. In Islam, Sufism is the best-known mystical movement. There are many Christian mystics and mystical movements as well. For the mystical segments of each religion, literal contradictions and inconsistencies in their scriptures are unimportant, because they see the message of their Scriptures as primarily spiritual. In their view, the scientific and historical accuracy or lack thereof in their scriptures is irrelevant to their spiritual message. Ditto inconsistencies and contradictions in the literal text of the scriptures.

      Muslims who argue that the Bible is imperfect because it has contradictions, while the Qur’an is perfect because it is perfectly consistent are just as wrong as Christians who argue the opposite. Both turn a blind eye to the problems in the literal sense of their own scriptures, while pointing a finger at the problems in the literal sense of the other religion’s scriptures. Both are stuck in a low-level materialistic and literalistic form of their religion.

      I would suggest that for you, the real question is whether you want to dwell in that low-level materialistic and literalistic form of religion, which gets all hung up in literal accuracy and consistency in the scriptures, or whether you want to rise to a higher level that focuses on spiritual issues and spiritual life, and looks to the scriptures for help and inspiration in becoming a good and loving spiritually reborn person.

      For some related articles here, please see:

      • Chad says:

        Thank you for your response, Lee. Though I’m usually confident in my spiritual beliefs, some arguments made by apologists of other religions make me stop and think “oh God, what if I’m wrong?”, and when your eternal life is the matter at stake, it’s hard for it to not weigh on you. I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis and explanation of these matters.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Chad,

          Challenges to our beliefs are good. They cause us to think more deeply about what we believe, and why. This can lead to a stronger and more well-founded faith.

        • shows results that refute contradictions claims. I recommend Bing and Yahoo! over Google though, so try those search engines and see what results come up with “contradictions in the Qur’an.” Also do it on other search engines like StartPage. I know, that’s another story. I will mention more search engines another time.

          Why don’t atheists make claims of contradictions in the Qur’an like they make claims of contradictions in the Bible?

          Another thing, if Adam and Eve symbolize not individuals, but a race… Then what about the flood?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Most of the well-known atheists come from Christian areas of the world. Therefore they tend to focus on the problems they see in Christianity and the Bible. But they have a similarly jaundiced view of Islam. It’s all based on a materialistic view of Christianity and the Bible, and other religions and their texts as well.

          The flood is also a metaphorical story, not a literal one. See:

          Noah’s Ark: A Sea Change in the Human Mind

          If There Was No Literal Flood, What does the Ark Mean?

        • What about Exodus 20:11? The Hebrew word for day, Yom, always means a literal, consecutive day when modified by a plural number. And Exodus 20:11 means “And all that is in them.” Can you respond before I give my thought?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Who sez yom always means a literal, consecutive day when modified by a plural number?

        • Walt Brown said that in his book “In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood” chapter “Is evolution compatible with the Bible?”. There was a table there comparing “theistic evolution” and “Biblical account.”

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Oh, so a guy who believes the Bible should always be taken literally thinks that the Hebrew word for “day” should always be taken literally? What a surprise!

        • My thoughts are, If “all that is in them” means every star and animal species on Earth, it would also mean every human being, but it doesn’t. If new human beings are born, and that doesn’t contradict Exodus 20:11 “all that is in them,” then new species evolving and new stars forming wouldn’t conflict with that verse. If “all that is in them” doesn’t mean all people living today, then it doesn’t mean all the stars that exist today or all the species living today.

          What if God said things in the six days, and what he said happened later over millions of years?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          The need to tie your brain in these sorts of Gordian knots disappears as soon as you realize that the first few chapters of Genesis were never meant to be taken literally, even by their original authors. For the first 1,000 years of Christianity, Christian theologians commonly believed that the Bible had a spiritual meaning. Many of them wrote commentaries attempting to explain it. It’s only been in the last 1,000 years, and especially in the last 500, since the Protestant Reformation, that the Church has become so physical-minded that it attempts to read everything in the Bible literally if there is any way at all to do so.

          I counsel you to free your mind of that literalism and fleshly thinking. Instead of focusing on the letter that kills, lift your mind up to the spirit that gives life. Then you won’t have to get your mind all tangled up in these fruitless and useless ratiocinations.

        • So, did Martin Luther get anything right? Should the Bible should be the sole authority of the church, not the pope? What are some things that Martin Luther did right in his reform? Reject the authority of the pope? Anything else?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          It’s hard to be 100% wrong. Luther did accurately see the corruption and decay in the Catholic Church. After all, he was a Catholic monk himself. He knew how the Catholic Church worked from the inside. And he did jettison much of that corruption when he founded Protestantism.

          However, doctrinally he made things worse by inventing the unbiblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, and setting it up as the cornerstone of Protestant theology. This was a further devolution of the already false and unbiblical Catholic doctrine of atonement by satisfaction.

          As a result of this further corruption of Christian faith, Luther set the stage for the final destruction of the existing Christian Church. What followed was many years of bloody battles between Catholics and Protestants, demonstrating the complete moral devastation of the church.

          This ultimate end to the spiritual life of the Christian Church is what is foretold symbolically in Matthew 24, Luke 21, and most of the book of Revelation.

          So no, Luther wasn’t completely wrong. He was right about how corrupt the Catholic Church was. But by inventing and setting up his doctrine of justification by faith alone, he set the stage for the end of Christianity as we know it. What’s left is mostly an empty shell of clerical hierarchies, old-fashioned buildings, and empty rituals, which more and more people are abandoning, just as they are advised to do in Revelation 18:4–5.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Yes, Luther was right to reject the authority of the Pope. The Pope is no more infallible than you or I. Many popes have articulated many completely false ideas, which they then required every Catholic to believe on pain of excommunication from the church.

          As for the Bible being the sole authority in the church, that’s not really workable. And in practice, Protestants ignore and reject the plainest and most commonly repeated teachings of the Bible, and substitute Luther’s doctrine for them. So although they speak of sola scriptura, they are far from following it.

        • I think the Bible should take precedence over everything else. Should it not?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          What do you mean by that? Should the Bible take precedence over God?

        • No, God should take precedence over the Bible, then the Bible over the everything else.

  23. What is the point of starting the bible with parables and not literal facts?

    I know that Jesus told parables. But Genesis seems different.

  24. K says:

    How much of the Bible literally happened?

    I’m guessing stuff about the Garden of Eden and any instance of the “wrath” of God never literally happened (so no literal flood or plagues of Egypt) in any case.

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      Good question—and not an easy one to answer with any cut-and-dried formula.

      For starters, the first eleven chapters of Genesis are purely symbolic, and never literally happened. Toward the end of chapter 11, it starts to shade into telling the story of individuals who probably actually existed. In particular, Abraham’s father Terah and his family were likely actual historical individuals.

      However, even after that, there is much of the story that is more mythological than historical. The Hebrew Bible is first and foremost the cultural and spiritual history of the Jewish people, not literal history as we know it today. Much of the storyline is in the nature of an origin story that gives a cultural and spiritual basis for the religion, culture, and practices of the Jewish people. Whether or not it all happened literally as told is secondary.

      About the specific examples you raise: There was never a literal Garden of Eden. There was never a literal flood that covered the entire earth. The plagues of Egypt could have happened, but most likely the story of the Exodus is a cultural origin story, not literal history. And about the wrath of God:

      What is the Wrath of God? Why was the Old Testament God so Angry, yet Jesus was so Peaceful?

      Once we get to the New Testament, the story is probably closer to what actually happened. However, even here, the Gospels don’t entirely agree with one another, and in some cases they tell a very different story from one another. For example, the two birth stories given in Matthew and Luke are quite different, and not entirely compatible with one another. And the Gospel of John tells a very different story of Jesus’ ministry than the three “synoptic Gospels” of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

      This should ward us away from getting too literalistic even about the New Testament. The point of the Gospels is not to give an accurate biography of Jesus’ life. It is to share the good news of the new covenant offered to all people by Jesus Christ. “Christians” who insist that everything in the Bible, and even everything in the Gospels, must be taken literally are missing the point of the Bible.

      The Bible ends as it begins, with a narrative that is entirely symbolic, and was never meant to be taken literally. I’m speaking of the book of Revelation. This is a prophetic book, “prophetic” here meaning that it is written in symbolic language that speaks of spiritual events, not material-world events. (Most of the prophetic books of the Old Testament are more symbolic than literal also.) See:

      Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?

      Here’s a functional rule about what parts of the Bible to take literally: If it helps you to act rightly from good motives, take it literally. Everything else can be interpreted spiritually. And even the commandments that we are to take literally also have deeper spiritual meanings. See, for example:

      The Ten Commandments: Our Spiritual Inventory List

      • Why doesn’t the Bible tell us that Genesis wasn’t to be taken literally? Why doesn’t the Bible just give the literal truth about the past that people evolved from other creatures and such?

        Why doesn’t the Bible tell us that the six days, the Garden of Eden, and the Flood were not to be taken literally?

        Why doesn’t the Bible say that death was always intended to be part of God’s creation?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Why should the Bible tell us these things? How would knowing them contribute to our eternal salvation?

          The Bible has one purpose: to move us toward salvation and eternal life. It doesn’t waste time telling us about relatively trivial earthly things such as exactly how and when the universe was created, and exactly how our physical bodies came into being. Knowing these material-world facts is fascinating! But it doesn’t contribute to the purpose of the Bible, which is spiritual, not material. That’s why the Bible doesn’t waste its time telling us these things.

        • Why should the Bible tell us those things? Then we wouldn’t have so many people taking things literally that were not meant to be taken literally.

          Too many people take Genesis literally.

          Did the early Church take Genesis literally? Did the ancient Jews/Hebrews take Genesis literally? Didn’t Moses do such?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Many people need to take things literally because they are not deep thinkers. If the Bible came right out and said, “Don’t take all of this literally,” it would leave such people out in the cold.

          Plus, there are some things in the Bible that we are meant to take literally, such as the commandments against killing, committing adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, and so on, and the two Great Commandments. If the Bible said, “Don’t take the Bible literally,” people would think they can ignore these commandments as well.

          The ancient Jews/Hebrews were largely materialistic, like the cultures around them. They took the Hebrew Bible mostly literally. But also, they didn’t have today’s science, so it wasn’t an issue for them.

          The early Christians were a mix of literalists and non-literalists. Origen is famous for interpreting the Bible spiritually, and he was certainly not the only one to do so. Other Christian leaders interpreted it mostly literally. Christianity does have a long tradition of spiritual interpretation of the Bible that remained strong for the first millennium of Christianity. Then it began to fade, and after the Protestant Reformation it became a largely unknown aspect of Christian faith.

        • What if it told us what to take literally and what not to take literally?

        • Lee says:

          Then it would be a very tedious book, and no one would read it.


          So Creation Science is invalid. Is Intelligent Design valid? Is specified complexity and irreducible complexity valid? Ever heard of Michael Behe? He was a Catholic.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          As is common in articles on GotQuestions, this one is a toxic mixture of truth and falsity. This is even worse than being entirely false. It attracts people by its true statements, and then poisons the truth in their minds with false statements. As the Lord says in Revelation 3:15–16, is better to be hot (entirely good and true) or cold (entirely evil and false) than to be lukewarm (a mixture of both), as GotQuestions is.

          The last few statements in the article are true (although misunderstood by the site’s authors), because they are taken directly from the Bible. But the second paragraph of the article contains two great falsities: total depravity, which is a depraved Calvinist belief, and the belief that “humans can do nothing of themselves to remedy their natural state,” which is a general Protestant fallacy. Both of these are flatly denied in the Bible. They are terribly damaging, destructive, and evil beliefs.

          GotQuestions has fallen into the worst form of Christianity, which is fundamentalist Calvinism. After Calvin completed the job of totally destroying biblical truth through his depraved doctrines of total depravity and double predestination, the Second Coming was only a matter of time. And it did happen during Swedenborg’s lifetime, but in the spiritual world, not in the physical world as physical-minded fundamentalists such as the GotQuestions authors believe.

          As for the rest of your questions, “Creation Science” is indeed invalid. It is not science. It is a fundamentalist religious belief based on a physical-minded, fleshly, and unspiritual reading of the Bible. The other theories, and Michael Behe’s advocacy of them, are also religious beliefs, not scientific ones. Religion is about our relationship with God, not about our understanding of the physical universe. All of these theories are based on a complete misunderstanding of what the Bible is meant to teach us.

          This is not to say that God didn’t intelligently design the universe, but the current theory of “Intelligent Design” is a specific theory that falls into the “God of the gaps” fallacy, and is therefore invalid.

          God created the universe to have the intrinsic ability to develop forms that are capable of life. There is no need for God to intervene and make things happen the correct way. If that were so, it would mean that God was anything but an intelligent designer. It would be like an automaker who designed a car that the owner has to constantly tinker with to keep it working. A well-designed car simply works, day after day, week after week, year after year, with a minimum of maintenance and repair.

          Life itself is spiritual, and inhabits biological organisms. But the development of those organisms happens according to physical and biological processes that work on their own level, without need for “direction” from the spiritual world. What the spiritual world does is invest them with life, and also keep them in existence from within—though it is really God doing that through the spiritual world.

          These are complex issues. It is not surprising that so many people, both theist and atheist, are confused and come up with fruitless theories. Swedenborg cuts through all the confusion, and provides a sound foundation for thinking about these things. It is necessary to continue to develop the principles he laid out to keep up with current knowledge. But that is a far easier task than laying out the fundamental principles of God and Creation in the first place. For one stab at keeping current with current knowledge on these complicated issues, please see:

          God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?

        • Why would God not create dinosaurs to coexist with people? Why can’t people see them alive for real? Doesn’t that seem meaningless? When dinosaurs around, it’s sounding like there are no humans to have dominion over them.

          You’re telling me not to rely on you to refute creationist arguments against evolution, but to rely on scientific textbooks.

          Some would claim that the Devil has deceived scientists into accepting evolution as a fact.

          I think it is possible for a false idea to be accepted as a fact by the scientific community. I’m not specifically referring to evolution, or to the Big Bang for that matter. Do you believe in the Big Bang? Evolution doesn’t try to explain the origin of life or the origin of the universe.

          Do the flood myths around the world show evidence of common descent from the Biblical flood? The Babylonian flodo myth is most similar to the Biblical flood. Are the Indian and Chinese flood myths not more similar to the biblical flood than the Native American flood myths? And what about Turkish and African and European flood myths? Are the differences not greater the further one gets from Babylon? Again, you’re asking my not to rely on you, but on scientific textbooks.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Why would God create dinosaurs to coexist with people? Personally, I would not want to live on a planet dominated by dinosaurs. Jurassic Park should be enough to explain why.

          What I’m saying is that the vast weight of scientific discovery simply doesn’t support creationist arguments. All you have to do is read actual (not creationist) scientific textbooks, and you will understand. If you want to reject the vast weight of scientific evidence and discovery in favor of a theory that the Devil has deceived scientists into accepting evolution as a fact, then that’s entirely up to you. People are going to believe what they’re going to believe regardless of all facts, evidence, logic, and experience to the contrary, and even regardless of anything they read in the Bible that doesn’t support what they want to believe.

          The Big Bang is not really something to “believe in.” It’s a scientific theory, and even the theory is changing and evolving. See “The Big Bang no longer means what it used to,” by astrophysicist Ethan Siegal. Rather than “believing in” the Big Bang, I watch with great fascination as scientists try to figure out the early physical origins of the universe. As for its spiritual origins, that will forever remain beyond the reach of science, because science is the study of material reality.

          And the flood myths are just that: myths. They were never intended to be taken literally. Yes, they reflect real floods that people in ancient times experienced. The experience of having one’s city wiped out by a giant torrent of water does imprint itself on the human mind. Ancient storytellers used that experience as the basis for mythical tales of world-destroying floods. But they were never really talking about literal floods. They were talking about spiritual floods, which are the floods of falsity that destroy everything in their path in the human mind and spirit.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          The GotQuestions article you linked on “Why Should I Believe the Bible” quotes a very interesting statement from the Epistles:

          Prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

          Unfortunately, the author of the article misunderstands what this means, as that site does with almost everything the Bible says. It does not mean that God literally dictated every word of the Bible, and the prophets simply wrote them down like court stenographers. That’s not how revelation works. Rather, it means that God spoke to the prophets from within, and the prophets heard what God said based on their own mind and experience, and wrote it down.

          Notice that 2 Peter 1:21 does not say, “God spoke through the prophets.” Its wording is very precise. It says, “prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Speaking from God is not at all the same as God speaking through the prophets. In one, the prophet is speaking, but is taking the inspiration for what he says from the Holy Spirit. In the other, the Holy Spirit is simply speaking through the prophet, using the prophet as a mouthpiece.

          It is critically important to understand the difference between these two. Without an understanding of the difference, we will have a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the Bible, and how God speaks to us in the Bible.

          Prophets speaking from God means that it is still the prophet speaking. The words and presentation are coming from the mind of the prophet. But the prophet is looking to God for inspiration about what to say. Another way of saying this is that God provides the message, but the prophet’s mind determines how to express the message in human words and concepts.

          Prophets are not court stenographers, as the GotQuestions authors seem to think, simply recording dictation that comes from God. They are more like ambassadors, who hear God speaking to them from within, then deliver that message to the intended recipients in their own words, engaging their mind in the process.

          The inspiration involved in this is far greater than the mechanical one that GotQuestions and other materialistic Christian organizations believe in. The Bible is a relationship between God and humankind. It has a divine side, which is the spiritual meaning, and a human side, which is the literal meaning. Without both of these, it could not communicate God’s message to ordinary people here on earth. See my comment here.

      • Why does the Bible call the things in Genesis an “account” and not a “story,” “legend,” or “myth”?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          If you’re thinking of Genesis 2:4, the original Hebrew word literally means “generations.” It comes from a word meaning “to bear, beget, bring forth.” It usually refers to a genealogy, or an “account” of a man and his descendants.

          In other words, it doesn’t really say “account.” It says “genealogical record.”

        • I forgot another term: “tale.”

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Once again, it means “genealogy,” not “account” or “story.” It is a genealogical account.

  25. K says:

    So I gather there’s still stuff after the first 11 chapters of Genesis and before Revelation that didn’t literally happen.

    Which is good, because otherwise there’d be a lot of scientific issues and supposed cruelty from God, like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      Yes. Scientists and scholars have studied the “historical” aspects of the Bible intensively. Though some of the general outlines of the story do have some support from archeological digs and old tablets and royal records, most of it can’t be verified. Considerable parts of it seem very unlikely to have ever happened.

      Even when the Bible was originally being written, its intent was not so much to write a history of the Jews as it was to provide a cultural origin story for the Israelite people. Strict present-day standards of historical accuracy were the exception rather than the rule back then. Most stories were meant to tell some sort of moral or spiritual lesson, not to accurately portray external historical events.

      So yes, it’s unlikely that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone raining down from heaven. Much more likely this was composed as a mythical tale to convey a moral and cultural lesson. The same is true of many other stories in the Old Testament. Yes, the Hebrews and Israelites and Jews did come from somewhere. There is some thread of history behind their culture and religion. But it probably happened quite differently than the narrative that became our Bible.

      If we take seriously the idea that the Bible is a revelation from God about spiritual things, not a human textbook of history and science, then none of this is problematic or disturbing—as much as it may be for fundamentalist and literalist Christians. The Word of God is the Word of God because of its spiritual message, and not for any other reason.

      • K says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        Something I also have heard is: why didn’t God use the Bible to teach people about the physical as well as the spiritual, or seek to abolish practices like slavery or animal sacrifice?

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          Why would God be interested in teaching us about science and history? These are things we can figure out for ourselves. And they concern primarily our physical life in this world, which is temporary. What we can’t figure out for ourselves is the nature of God and spirit, and the pathway to spiritual life, which is eternal. That’s what God is interested in teaching us about in the Bible and in other sacred books.

          On your second question, a poetic answer is in the prophecy, applied to Jesus in the New Testament, that:

          A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. (Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20)

          God does not break the currently existing “bruised reed” of humanity, nor “quench” the fires that are already burning in humanity. To do so would be to break our freedom and our humanity. God leads us, not through coercion, but in freedom. God therefore bends, but does not break, aspects of our character and society that are so deeply rooted that if God were to eradicate them, God would be eradicating us by eradicating our freedom, and our existence as human beings along with it.

          What we see in the Bible narrative is not God forcing people to live ideal lives according to God’s original plan for humanity, but God leading and bending people and society toward a better way of life as those people and those societies are willing and able to make those changes in themselves. We therefore see a gradual progression in the Bible from worse to better rather than instant, wholesale change in deeply rooted attitudes and practices.

          Sometimes gradual changes in attitudes do result in sudden earthquakes of change. But there has always been preparation ahead of time, symbolized by the need to send John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus “lest he strike the earth with a curse” (see Malachi 4:5–6, which is alluded to by Jesus in Matthew 11:13–14).

        • K says:

          Also I take it much of the laws in the Bible like rapists having to marry the victims or “no mixing fabrics”, or judicial corporal punishment were not from God, but made up by the Israelites. But they were allowed to be in the Old Testament because “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.”, and spiritual good could come out of them?

          Also would Mosaic laws still be practiced in any part of Heaven?

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          It’s not quite that those laws were “not from God.” They were from God, but they were filtered through the particular minds and culture into which they came. The laws in the Bible that to us today are outdated or seem cruel and arbitrary were enacted for a reason at the time, in order to accomplish necessary and worthwhile goals within that culture. Since then, however, the cultural conditions have changed, meaning that the same divine purposes require different laws to accomplish them. This is why human laws are always changing as the culture changes.

          For example, the much-maligned law “requiring rapists to marry their victims,” in its own cultural context, was enacted as a protection for women and their families. In those days, an unmarried woman who was not a virgin would be rejected by any potential husband, and often by her family as well. And in that culture, a woman who was not under the tutelage of a man such as her father or a husband had few options to survive other than prostitution. Under these cultural conditions, if a woman were raped, the most likely result for her would be that she would be forced into prostitution, whereas the man could just go on his merry way.

          To prevent this obviously unjust situation, any man who raped a woman was required to marry her and thereby give her a home and social standing in society. Today, of course, in most countries the role and status of women has greatly improved, and such a law is no longer necessary, nor would it be just. Our concept and ideal of marriage has also changed greatly, such that a woman being married to a man who had raped her would be intolerable for her. But in its own time and cultural context, this law was both necessary and just.

          The divine law behind such a human law was that a man could not rape a woman and face no consequences for his actions. Today, in countries that have reasonably just laws, we accomplish justice against rapists by incarcerating them. Meanwhile, in today’s society a woman can support herself and have status and respect within society without having to be attached to a man. The divine law is the same, but the way it filters through human minds and cultures differs based on those minds and cultures.

          This is why, when we read and interpret the Bible, we go seriously off-course if we read the Bible as if it were written in today’s times and cultures rather than in its own times and cultures. Though there are some universals, such as the laws in the second table of the Ten Commandments, when reading most passages in the Bible and seeking to interpret them, we must take into account the culture and mindset in which that passage was written. There has been and continues to be much bad Bible interpretation by so-called “Christians” and many attacks on the Bible by skeptics and atheists precisely because this principle has not been understood and followed.

          All of the Bible is divinely inspired. But all of it also had to be filtered and written through human minds and hands. The Bible is a relationship between God and humans. It has a divine element, which is the spiritual meaning, and a human element, which is the literal meaning. Sometimes the two are in full accord, such as in the commandments not to kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, and covet. Other times the literal meaning is a localized and culturally appropriate way of representing the spiritual meaning, which is the divine truth behind it. Here is an article that goes into some of this in more detail:

          How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads

          On your closing question, I presume that observant Jews will continue to practice the Mosaic Law in heaven, especially if they lived during the era in which those laws could be fully obeyed. Today, not even the strictest Jews follow every commandment in the Mosaic Law because they are prevented from observing many of them due to the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem that occurred in the year 70 AD. Would today’s Jews go back to engaging in animal sacrifice in heaven? Perhaps a few ultra-conservative and fundamentalist Jews would. But I suspect that most Jews of today would find engaging in animal sacrifice to be quite distasteful. I suspect that even though they could once again have a Jerusalem Temple in heaven, they will continue to practice Rabbinic Judaism in heaven just as they have been accustomed to do for many centuries now.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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