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 If the information is outdated or inaccurate, that textbook must be replaced!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:

About

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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55 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.

    -Ben

  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.
    Dwight

  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.

  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!

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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