The Bible: Literal Inerrancy vs. Divine Depths of Meaning

Here is a comment that a reader named Ben made on my article, “Can We Really Believe the Bible?”:

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.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Ben!

I am aware that interpreting the Bible symbolically or correspondentially rather than literally is troubling for many people. There is a desire to be faithful to the Bible, and this is seen as requiring adherence to the literal inerrancy of all of its statements. While I applaud the desire to be faithful, this way of being faithful misses the greatest spiritual and divine treasures of the Bible, and limits its adherents to the more superficial aspects of the Word of God.

Inerrancy reduces the Bible to human status

The doctrine of the literal inerrancy of the Bible never arose in Christianity until several centuries after the Protestant Reformation. The movement toward this particular error of Bible interpretation began with Protestant theologians who formed much of their distinctive doctrine in reaction to the errors and excesses of the medieval Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church had long used crude allegorical interpretations of the Bible to support the authority of its ecclesiastical hierarchy, and to anathematize all who did not follow its doctrine and obey its dictates. It also reserved for itself—for the Pope as advised by the Cardinals—the right to dictate doctrine and promulgate the “correct” interpretation of Scripture. In order to combat these Catholic practices, the Protestant reformers asserted the primacy of the text of the Bible in a doctrine called in Latin Sola Scriptura—“by Scripture alone.” According to this doctrine, the Bible itself contains everything required for Christian belief and for salvation.

Even under Sola Scriptura, symbolic interpretation of the Bible was allowed for when the context clearly called for it. And since this doctrine originated in a pre-scientific age, it did not necessarily mean that everything in the Bible had to be read as scientifically and historically accurate. That idea didn’t arise until the early to mid 1800s. The idea of the Bible as inerrant was, in fact, a reaction to the scientific revolution, which threatened the beliefs of a certain segment of Christianity. In other words, the fundamentalist doctrine of literal inerrancy is a Johnny-come-lately in the history of Christian Bible interpretation.

The correspondential interpretation of the Bible presented and demonstrated by Emanuel Swedenborg goes far beyond traditional allegorical interpretations of the Bible. There is nothing “mere” about it. Rather, it takes universal principles of the relationship between God and spirit, and between spirit and nature, and applies them to the Bible. The deeper spiritual meanings in the Bible are not arbitrary and human-derived as in many traditional allegorical interpretations. They flow organically and systematically from the multi-leveled nature of reality and the laws of the universe as created and established by God.

Far from taking anything away from the Bible and its status as the Word of God, this method of interpreting the Bible spiritually establishes it as a book vastly greater than any merely human literature. In the process, it elevates the literal meaning of the Bible far above the status given to it by literal inerrantists, who commonly interpret large sections of the Bible as mere textbook material about science, history, and ancient culture rather than as delivering divine messages about God and spirit to humanity.

The Bible is about Jesus Christ, and about our new creation in Christ

Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and these are they which testify about me” (John 5:39). God did not give us the Bible to tell us about science, but to tell us about Jesus Christ and about our spiritual salvation. And just as Jesus said in John 5:39, at its deepest level of meaning the entire Bible tells the spiritual and divine story of what Jesus accomplished for us during his lifetime on earth.

This is one of the major subjects of Swedenborg’s correspondential interpretation of the books of Genesis and Exodus in his magnum opus, Secrets of Heaven, originally published in eight Latin volumes (London: 1749–1756) under the title Arcana Coelestia. The knowledge of Jesus’ deeper life—especially his “glorification,” or complete union with the Divine from which he came, and his spiritual battles on our behalf against the damning power of hell—is one of the greatest treasures we find when we open up the “chest” of the Bible.

Interpreting the Bible spiritually does not vitiate or invalidate the literal meaning. Rather, it elevates the literal meaning and gives it far more power and applicability to our spiritual life than a mere surface-level “inerrant” reading does. Even if we understand that the word “day” can also mean a longer span of time, covering thousands or millions of years, reading the Creation story as if it were merely about the creation of the physical universe trivializes the Word of God, and brings it down to the level of a human textbook. That way of reading the Bible misses the Creation story’s deeper divine message about our spiritual rebirth as “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) in the image and likeness of God in Jesus Christ.

Moving from spiritual infancy to maturity in Christ and the Bible

I applaud the loyalty to Christ of those Christians who feel they must exhibit their faithfulness by upholding the literal inerrancy of the Bible. If this method of reading the Bible supports and strengthens them in their walk with Christ, I have no desire to impugn their faith by arguing and debating it with them.

However, a literal reading of the Bible is characteristic of the “infants in Christ” that Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 3:1–3, who could be fed only “milk,” not “solid food.” Later on in the same letter, Paul goes on to say:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:11–12)

For children, the simple, literal stories of the Bible provide ample “milk” for spiritual growth at their tender age. For those ready to move beyond spiritual childhood and open their eyes to deeper things, far greater spiritual and divine treasures lie hidden within the depths of the Bible. This is the “solid food” of adulthood in Christ.

A literal interpretation of the Bible allows us to see God’s wonders in a mirror, dimly. A spiritual interpretation allows us to see the Lord God Jesus Christ face to face.

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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19 comments on “The Bible: Literal Inerrancy vs. Divine Depths of Meaning
  1. jambulee says:

    For a great treatment of Literalism see Christian Smith’s work “The Bible made impossible”. He too sees the only purpose of the Bible is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

    • Lee says:

      Hi jambuee,

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I spent some time reading reviews and discussions of Smith’s book. It seems to have sparked quite a healthy debate about the nature of the Bible and our interpretation of it. That’s a good thing!

      Having said that, the more I read of Protestant and Catholic perspectives on the Bible, theology, God, and salvation, the more I realize that my own Christian beliefs are outside both of these two major camps of Christianity in the West. For example, in traditional Christian books and articles I often read of going back to the early Christian creeds–Nicene, etc.–as bedrocks of Christian faith and belief. Yet those creeds make statements about the nature of God and salvation that I believe are in fundamental error–that in fact, are the bedrock of error on which the entire Christian world has stumbled. The most fundamental of those errors is the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God–which is a human invention taught nowhere in the Bible.

      Despite Martin Luther’s profession of “Sola Scriptura” (“Scripture alone”), the interpretations of Scripture engaged in by Protestant theologians and scholars still rest on the same fundamental theological errors made by those early creed-writers–who were, after all, fallible human beings.

      Swedenborg and his followers have often been loosely lumped into the Protestant camp–perhaps because Swedenborg himself grew up Lutheran, and because the followers of Swedenborg who organized into churches modeled their church polity, ritual, and architecture on the Anglican and Methodist churches from which most of their early leaders came.

      However, Swedenborg’s critique of Catholic and Protestant theology is “radical” in the sense that it lays the axe to the root of the traditional Christian tree of doctrine. Swedenborg denies doctrines that are seen as fundamental in Catholic and/or Protestant circles, such as a Trinity of Persons in God and salvation by faith alone, and establishes Christian doctrine on an entirely different Biblical and theological basis.

      Since I hold to Christian beliefs that differ fundamentally from those of Catholicism and Protestantism, although I find books such as Smith’s fascinating because they raise tough questions that traditional Christians must face, and I believe that such books should be widely read and pondered by traditional Christians, I also find myself not very interested in reading them myself.

      Why?

      Because in my mind most of the “tough questions” raised in those books have already been fully resolved by Swedenborg, and are no longer an issue. My mind travels in whole new fields of thought. It feels constricting and even depressing to have to go backwards and plow through the struggles that plague a type of Christianity that to me looks old and tired.

      This is not to say that there aren’t still tough issues to face once a person has understood and accepted the new Christianity. But most of those tough issues have to do with the daily struggles of life, not the tangles of Trinitarian theology and the chaos of conflicting literal interpretations of the Bible.

      One of the main hopes Annette and I have for “Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life” is that it will carry many ordinary Christians and spiritual seekers beyond the theological and Biblical quagmires of traditional Christianity to whole new fields of spiritual understanding and insight. We hope this new light on the Bible and on genuine Christianity will help others to face the daily struggles of life just as it helps the two of us every day of our lives.

      • jambulee says:

        Thanks for your reply Lee. You have opened a few issues I have been mulling over for quite some time. Follows is a rather lengthy reply.

        The recommendation of Smith’s book was mostly for Ben because of the difficulty of accepting an allegorical interpretation of scripture is a tough jump to make for someone like myself who was schooled in the Wesleyan Methodist tradition. If I remember correctly my theology teacher telling us that John Wesley rejected Swedenborg but he didn’t go into any depth on the issue. Many years later in one of the introductions of the New Century editions I read that originally Wesley accepted Swedenborg’s teachings but later rejected them and felt if he accepted Swedenborg’s writings he would have to reject the Bible. I have often wondered if the Wesley’s emphasis on holiness wasn’t because of the influence of Swedenborg. This is the same dilemma faced by literalists today. And may be a major hurdle for Swedenborgians attempting to get their message to fundamentalists.

        Our interpretations of scripture are actually informed by a priori assumptions that are many times unknown to even the most intelligent theologians—at least they don’t admit them to the general public. These unconscious assumptions begin with this: we have been taught to believe since we learned to read that a book is to be understood literally within the bounds of its genre. I was taught there was some allegory and some metaphor—I had one theology teacher tell me to get off the metaphor kick I was on—some poetry and history (the creation story) but on the whole I could count on the literal interpretation to tell me all I needed to know about God and how to live my life. In other words I should read the Bible as a regular book.

        During the Jesus Movement in the 70’s, in which I was active participant, and via which I was converted I saw no need to leave this a priori—at the time unconscious—position. This position was backed up by another assumption one concerning communication. When we try to communicate we are often frustrated by the difficulty of getting our idea across. I assumed that God being ALL wise would know precisely how to talk to his creation in clear unambiguous terms. And he would not hide from us anything we needed to know. No “Secrets of Heaven” even though a liberal reading of 1 Cor. 2:8-10 would suggest there is much more for us to know, but we were counseled, not just yet;
        However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen,
        what no ear has heard,
        and what no human mind has conceived”[a]—
        the things God has prepared for those who love him—10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
        We were taught to be patient and wait for the hear after. Not only were we taught that any revelations concerning the here after other than the literal meaning in scripture are highly suspect at best and of the devil at their worst. It was just best not to go there. To enforce this point we studied the “cults” many of which have one thing in common—extra biblical revelations, i.e., Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Science are three not mentioned were Catholics or Swedenborg.

        It has taken many years much soul searching and reading many books to get from the literalist interpretation and the idea of a closed canon to being able to accept that God is still speaking to us thru new revelations of his word. For me to accept Swedenborg’s writings as not just another theology but as a whole new revelation based on the Bible I find I have to get rid of the assumptions mentioned above as well as the belief of a closed canon and replace it with the belief in a severely truncated canon and add to it a belief in on going revelation and Swedenborg’s writings as authoritative. Not the authority of a another theological position but a much higher authority of a dictated Revelation from God himself as to the true meaning of scripture. I have even heard—haven’t read it yet in his writings—that his writings are the Second Coming ushering in a New Church. If it wasn’t for Swedenborg’s emphasis on free will coupled with his very liberal acceptance of all religions being included in heaven—a position radically opposed to most adherents of extra biblical revelations as well as all fundamentalist interpretations of scripture—I would have ignored his teachings as I do those cults just mentioned. The rejection of the coercive doctrines of eternal punishment and extinction for not believing a certain way has become a benchmark for my new theological perspective.

        Back to the literal verses the allegorical interpretations. I have discovered that the differences between denominations not only in Christianity but Hinduism and Buddhism as well, happen because of the decision the founders of these denominations made regarding which passages to take a literal and which ones to interpret metaphorically or allegorically. Even Swedenborg himself was not able to interpret all of the Bible in a totally allegorical manner.

        Since you mentioned the trinity I bring up Colassons 2.9

        9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, [NASB]

        What the literalist hear when they read this verse:

        9-10 Yet it is in him that God gives a full and complete expression of himself (within the physical limits that he set himself in Christ). Moreover, your own completeness is only realised in him, who is the authority over all authorities, and the supreme power over all powers. [Phillips]

        As I pointed out in my last blog post http://wp.me/p2LkFf-184 much of our interpretation of scripture hinges on the application of the word ALL. Swedenborg sees this all in verse nine as meaning the totality of the godhead in all His aspects: Father ,Son and Holy Spirit—a very literal interpretation. So when Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane to his Father he is really prying to himself. This may be the case, you see I never understood the three person trinity any more than Swedenborg’s position that there is not three person trinity. All I know for sure is that there is one God.

        This is opposed to orthodoxies’ belief that the all in this verse is conditioned/constrained by the physical body in other words a limited revelation of deity, but nevertheless enough is there to demonstrate what God is like.

        Another example which I read yesterday: From Secrets of Heaven vol. 1, 576:4 Deut. 10:4, remnants are meant; and the fact [italics mine] that they were written by the hand of Jehovah means that such remnants are the Lord’s alone. Their presence in the internal man was represented by the tablets. [Elliott]

        In the New Century edition “facts” are used as literal, i.e., God literally wrote the Decalogue in stone and the “fact” of the stone becomes a metaphor for our internal self.

        There are many others instances of which I’m sure you are well aware.

        Once the doctrine of a closed canon is rejected [originally instituted to protect the church from new and novel scriptures now called apocrypha] and the acceptance that God is still revealing himself to us in ways we should accept with the authority we once gave to the canon a whole new playing field is opened to the human race. Why should we stop with Swedenborg’s revelations? His own openness to other faith traditions suggest God is and has spoken to them as well. How about some of the newer revelations like those of David R. Hawkins and A Course in Miracles. Both of which have helped me immensely. Swedenborg’s work throws light on them as well as the other way around.

        Well Lee thank you for reading.

        I’m looking forward to more of your insight filled posts.

      • Lee says:

        Hi jambulee,

        Thanks for your further comments, which I find most interesting. Truth be told, I think I could continue to write blog posts for a thousand years, and still not run out of topics to explore. Enough different concepts and issues are being raised in this discussion alone to keep me busy for months, were I to take them all up one by one. I very much look forward to acquiring in the next life the angels’ ability to “express in a single word what we cannot express in a thousand words” (Heaven and Hell #269).

        But, here we are, still living in the physical world, so I’ll attempt to squeeze some thoughts and reactions into somewhat less than a thousand words! 😉

        Understood about your book recommendation. It does look like a very useful book for its intended audience.

        I do not know a lot about Wesley’s thoughts on Swedenborg. I do know that Wesley very much wanted to meet and talk with Swedenborg, but the meeting never took place because Swedenborg died before it could be arranged.

        And yes, I do understand that it is very difficult for traditional Christians who have been steeped in a tradition of literal reading of the Bible, from Wesley on down to ordinary rank-and-file Christians, to expand their minds beyond literalism to a multi-layered literal and spiritual interpretation of the Bible. Wesley was not the only prominent Christian thinker of his day who would have liked to accept Swedenborg’s teachings, but who simply could not accept the idea that the Bible has a spiritual meaning, thinking that this would invalidate the divine authority of the Bible.

        Also, you are quite right that Swedenborg takes many statements in the Bible as being literally true. In fact, he had no issue with the use of the literal meaning of the Bible as the primary basis of doctrine. He wrote in True Christian Religion #229 that “doctrine is to be drawn from the literal sense of the Word, and confirmed by it.” In the same section he goes on to say, “The Word in [its literal] sense is like a person clothed, but whose face and hands are uncovered. Everything in the Word pertaining to our faith and life, and thus to his salvation, is there unveiled. The rest is veiled.”

        In other words, Swedenborg in no way denies the power of the literal meaning of the Word, insisting that this is where we must find the bedrock truths on which our faith is founded. The difference from the usual literalist Bible interpretations is that while some statements in the Bible can and should be read as literally true, the entire inspired Word of God contains deeper meanings that speak about our spiritual rebirth and about the nature of God, especially as expressed in Jesus Christ.

      • Lee says:

        Now about Swedenborg’s writings:

        As you may or may not be aware, this is an issue over which readers and followers of Swedenborg’s teachings have themselves divided. Some do believe that Swedenborg’s writings are a direct, authoritative revelation from God. However, as with Biblical literalists who insist that the Bible must be read literally when the Bible itself makes no such claim or assertion, those who insist on the authority of Swedenborg’s writings do so without any statement to that effect from Swedenborg himself.

        The sections you are looking for with regard to Swedenborg’s role in the Second Coming are found in True Christian Religion (or True Christianity) #779-780. Though a thorough consideration of Swedenborg’s statements in those sections is beyond the scope of this blog, I would caution that these sections must be read very carefully. They can easily be misread by those not conversant with Swedenborg’s entire body of thought. In fact, I believe that even many long-time readers and scholars of Swedenborg have missed key aspects of his statements in those sections, and have come to faulty conclusions about the nature of Swedenborg’s writings.

        Here is a brief version of my perspective on what Swedenborg writes there:

        In #779 Swedenborg states that the Lord is going to accomplish the Second Coming “through the agency of a human being who can not only accept these teachings intellectually but also publish them in printed form.”

        Swedenborg is, of course, speaking of himself. However, he is not saying that he himself is the Second Coming, as many self-proclaimed “Messiahs” have claimed about themselves. Nor is he stating that his books are the Second Coming, as some conservative Swedenborgians have claimed. Rather, he is saying that new teachings that will be for the New Jerusalem, and that will be key in the Lord accomplishing his Second Coming, are being given to the world through the agency of a human being, and that the Lord chose and prepared Swedenborg for that task.

        I know this view may not be intellectually satisfying to those who want a black-and-white picture, and absolute certainty about the nature of Swedenborg’s writings. But I think it is important not to make the same mistake that the Biblical literalists make by insisting on “doctrinal statements” about Swedenborg’s writings that Swedenborg himself never made.

        A careful reading of these sections from True Christianity reveals that what Swedenborg wrote is not a direct dictation from God, but was delivered indirectly through Swedenborg’s mind.

        As Swedenborg describes the process, truth (or light) from God was revealed to Swedenborg, who “received intellectually” what was revealed to him, and published it in print. Swedenborg does not claim to be writing words that come direct from God. Rather, he says that God enlightened his mind, and that he, Swedenborg, wrote and published what he heard from God according to his understanding of it, and according to his study of the Bible as guided by enlightenment from God.

        In other words, Swedenborg does not claim that his writings are additions to the Word of God, as some conservative Swedenborgians have maintained. Rather, he describes a process in which a revelation from God was mediated through a human intellect (Swedenborg’s), which then expressed that revelation in the clearest and best way that that particular human being was capable of doing.

        Why am I emphasizing this human agency?

        Because I think it is important for readers of Swedenborg to avoid falling into the same trap that he continuously warned about in reading the Bible: the trap of thinking that every word in Swedenborg’s writings must be taken as the literally true, direct, authoritative words of God.

        Further, Swedenborg himself continually pointed his readers back to the Bible as the true Word of God, and the primary written means by which we humans on earth can form a direct relationship with God. Swedenborg had no intention of adding more books to the Bible. His intention was to elevate and deepen our understanding of the Bible as it already existed, and thus elevate and deepen our relationship with the Lord God Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible.

        Besides, Swedenborg’s writings are of an entirely different character than the books that form the Word of God. Swedenborg’s books are doctrinal and intellectual; their meaning is largely on the surface. The Word of God is largely non-doctrinal, and it contains correspondential and symbolic depths of meaning that go far beyond what is contained in Swedenborg’s writings or in any other human literature.

        Incidentally, Swedenborg believed that there was an “ancient Word,” now lost, that was of similar correspondential character to the Word we now possess. So he did not teach the exclusivity of our Bible as the Word of God. But for all practical purposes, Christians of today can look to the inspired books of the Bible that we now have as a complete and sufficient expression of the Word of God in written form.

        I do definitely plan to write more blog posts in the future on the nature of the written Word of God, which is a topic of endless fascination and power.

  2. Ben says:

    Lee,

    I appreciate you addressing a comment of mine through an entire post. You seem to be a very educated guy, and I was looking forward to exchanging a few comments on the subject at hand. I was working on a somewhat lengthy response and was nearly finished, but then I read your above reply to Jambulee, and it stopped me cold. Perhaps it is my fault for not looking deeper into Swedenborg even though you mention him constantly. I realize now that we are talking about two different religions. By denying the Trinity and attempting to refute the Nicene Creed, you are describing a belief that is too far removed from what I understand to be Christianity for us to have a productive discussion about the Bible in this format.

    However, since I already spent a decent amount of time writing a response to your post, I think I may as well continue…

    When I use the term “inerrancy” I basically mean the same as dictionary.com: “free from error; infallible”. Since the Bible is the Word of God, we know that it is free from error, and will be preserved by Him. I would not attempt to defend the use throughout history of the word “inerrant”. I would also be careful using the word “literal” in describing the entire Bible. As I stated in my comment, there is no denying that careful interpretation and context are important.

    I happily agree that the most important message of the Bible is Christ.

    Why would God not give us insight into what actually happened during the Creation, if He wished to share it? I for one find it exciting to see how science enhances our understanding of the Bible.

    You seem to cover your bases well, but I am still left with the distinct impression that your idea of proper biblical interpretation and maturity come from a trust in Swedenborg, and you gauge others according to that criteria. Lately I have been questioning many aspects of Protestantism, etc., but I would never dream of accepting a reinvention of Christianity. I have discovered the writings of the early Church Fathers, and have been examining the origins of the faith. Authentic, orthodox Christianity is exciting, and worth preserving and defending. I thank you for your respectful treatment of discussions on your blog, and I leave you and your readers with a link to a G.K. Chesterton quote that I recently posted on my blog:

    http://frontierruminations.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/the-adventure-of-orthodox-christianity/

    -Ben

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks again for stopping by and taking the time to comment. If our blog and our form of Christianity are not for you, that’s fine. There is a reason that people of similar faith group together and share their common faith, and that people of differing faiths naturally sort themselves out from one another spiritually even if they interact every day socially and in the world of business and commerce.

      However, there is also a virtue in contact and conversation among people of differing faiths. By comparing and contrasting our own faith with that of others, we see our own faith from different perspectives. Although my particular faith and belief has been a constant for me all of my life, I find it deepened and enriched not only by contact with people of differing Christian faiths, but also by contact with people of other faiths entirely.

      For example, in general I find Jewish commentaries on the Torah to be more detailed and more socially and spiritually incisive than most of the traditional Christian commentary I’ve read on those books of the Bible. Just as Christian ministers study the New Testament intensively as part of their training, Jewish rabbis study the Torah intensively as part of their training–and that study comes out in their commentaries on those books. When I am writing an article about a story in the Old Testament, I will sometimes seek out Jewish commentary on it. When I do, I almost always find that it deepens my understanding of the text, and brings out nuances of the characters and the story that had not occurred to me before.

      I believe that every faith is a vehicle for God to reach out to the people of that faith and culture, and for the people of that faith and culture to reach out to God. Seeing how God reaches out to people of different nationalities, races, and cultures broadens and deepens my understanding of God.

      If you do not find such a conversation with me to be useful and enriching to your faith, then I bid you farewell and Godspeed. If you choose to continue the conversation, I will be happy to address any further questions or concerns you may have.

      Meanwhile, though I hope and plan to write future blog posts on several of the issues you raise in this most recent comment, for now I’ll attempt to briefly reply to some of the main issues you raise, in separate comments.

    • Lee says:

      I do believe that a reinvention of Christianity is necessary if Christianity is going to continue as a major spiritual force and influence in human society.

      Christianity was once the major influence on the spiritual and philosophical thinking of the Western world–and it held that position for about 1,500 years. That is no longer the case. Though Christianity still has its influence, its central role in society has been taken over by science and reason. Many of the most influential thinkers in our world today make little or no reference to Christianity, or to religion in general, in their thinking and their writing.

      Orthodox Christianity as it has existed up to this point has had its run. But it is on the wane. We are entering a new era of scientific and rational enlightenment. The Christianity that carried people through the previous era can no longer provide the type of spiritual superstructure required for the people of today’s more advanced civilizations.

      Yes, I speak much of Emanuel Swedenborg. That’s because Swedenborg was the first to present to the world a truly comprehensive reinvention of Christianity appropriate to the Age of Enlightenment.

      As I survey the exciting world of ideas in today’s new and more open intellectual climate, it does look like the “man behind madly rushing horses” of G.K. Chesterton’s metaphor in your linked quote. (Thanks for that!) However, those horses are now madly rushing away from orthodox Christianity into whole new fields of physical and spiritual understanding of creation. Everywhere I look, I see the fundamental doctrinal errors (as I see them) of orthodox Christianity being left behind in a mad rush. At the same time, I see the spiritual principles that Swedenborg offered to the world gaining ground throughout Western society, and throughout the world.

      Yes, of course, traditional Christians have been fighting a rearguard battle against the new scientific and spiritual era that has been dawning on humanity for the last several centuries, attempting to maintain the same old largely human-derived teachings and Bible interpretations in a radically changing world. But it is a losing battle. Almost everywhere orthodox Christianity has squared off against scientific rationalism on some long-held belief, such as the creation of the world in six days, it has lost the battle. Thoughtful Christians have been forced to change their beliefs in the face of the scientific and rational onslaught, whereas science and reason have continued “rushing madly” on their course, scarcely affected by anything traditional Christians have thrown at them.

      Christianity will survive, and I believe it will once again become the major philosophical and spiritual force in the world of ideas. But it will not be the Christianity of Nicaea and Athanasius that survives. It will be a Christianity that is both new and old, in that it skips over human creeds altogether, and goes all the way back to the Bible itself from a completely fresh perspective, appropriate to the new and more enlightened era in which we are now living.

      That’s precisely what Swedenborg did in his spiritual writings.

    • Lee says:

      Now about “inerrancy”:

      I think you know as well as I do that as commonly used among Christians, the term “inerrant” means literally infallible.

      Yes, those who bandy about the term sometimes get technical and dance on the heads of a lot of pins in an attempt to defend the idea in the face of the obvious symbolic and parabolic meaning of many passages in the Bible. But practically speaking, the term “inerrant” has no meaning without the implied “literally.” Those who use the term “inerrant” are almost always defending the literal accuracy and truth of the Bible.

      I admit to being amused in conversations with various Biblical literalists when I bring up a passage that can’t possibly be interpreted literally, such as the Parable of the Trees in Judges 9:7-15, and they say, “Well, yes, that has to be interpreted symbolically.” But then they quickly snap back to their position that the Bible must be interpreted literally, not spiritually.

      Such is their insistence on this principle that it would be necessary to argue every single passage of the Bible in order to get them to admit that there is any deeper meaning in it at all, even though hundreds of passages in the Bible are obviously referring to deeper meanings through the literal story, and other parts of the Bible invest vast swaths of the Bible with deeper meanings–as, for example, the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament does in regard to the Jewish Temple and sacrificial law as they appear in the Torah, or “Law” of the Old Testament (the first five books of the Bible).

      I believe that “inerrancy” is a red herring that diverts attention away from the manifestly symbolic and metaphoric language used pervasively in the Bible.

      Besides, the Bible never says that it is “inerrant.” How do these non-Biblical teachings gain such a hold on the minds of such large numbers of Christians?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      Okay, I admit it: that wasn’t brief! But it was as brief as I could be and still do justice to the issues you raise.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comments, and for your respectful approach to the conversation.

    • Lee says:

      Now about the Nicene Creed, and creeds in general:

      Creeds are human tradition. They are not the Word of God.

      And yet, the creeds have taken on such force in traditional Christianity that they trump the Word of God itself in determining orthodox Christian belief.

      I have been told by traditional Christians that I am not a Christian because I do not believe in a Trinity of Persons in God.

      And yet, the Bible nowhere uses the word “Trinity,” and nowhere applies the word “person” to the Father or to the Son or to the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus tells us, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), and, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

      The Trinity of Persons was invented by human beings who were attempting to make sense of the various statements in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, about God–on which they were mightily confused.

      A Trinity of Persons is taught nowhere in the Bible.

      And yet, orthodox Christians hold to it so strongly, because it is in the early Christian creeds, that they interpret the entire Bible through its lens.

      How does a belief not taught in the Bible, but invented by human beings, become the foundation stone of Christianity, and a litmus test to determine who is and is not a Christian?

      I have been told by traditional Christians that I am not a Christian because I do not believe in salvation by faith alone.

      And yet, in the entire Bible, the term “faith alone” is used only once (James 2:24), and in that one place the Bible repudiates it. Paul never uses the term “faith alone.” And his teaching that “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law” (Romans 3:28) has been badly misunderstood by Protestant theologians. In this and related passages, Paul was not saying that faith alone saves. He was saying that it is not necessary to follow Jewish ritual law as prescribed in the Torah (“the Law”) in order to be saved. This was a highly contentious issue among the original group of Jewish-derived Christians as they sought to spread Christianity into the pagan world–which, of course, did not observe the ritual and behavioral strictures of the Torah.

      Still, because the early Protestant theologians invented the idea of salvation by faith alone in order to make a decisive doctrinal break from the corrupted Catholic Church of the time, and enthroned faith alone in their newly formed creeds and doctrinal statements, it has become the lens through which Protestants interpret the entire Bible.

      How does a belief that is specifically denied by the Bible become a second foundation stone of Christianity, and a litmus test to determine who is and is not a Christian?

      Now, if a large group of Christians wants to believe in a Trinity of Persons or in salvation by faith alone, that’s their prerogative. I’m not going to argue with them, because it’s a waste of time and breath. If they’re happy with their beliefs, more power to ’em!

      But to claim that these human-generated beliefs are fundamental to Christianity, and that those who do not believe them are not Christians, makes those who say such things guilty of the same charge that Jesus brought against the corrupted Jewish leadership of his time: “Forsaking the commandment of God, you hold to human tradition” (Mark 7:8), and, “You make void the Word of God through your tradition which you delivered” (Mark 7:13).

      So I say once again: Creeds are human traditions, not the Word of God.

      The theologians who wrote the early creeds made a fundamental error when they invented the non-Biblical idea of a Trinity of Persons in God–an error that has confused and vitiated Christianity ever since.

      Don’t forget that it was a political power, the Emperor Constantine, who oversaw the writing of the Nicene Creed. By the time the Nicene Creed was written, Christianity was fast becoming corrupted by a lust for worldly power. The “Christian” doctrine that resulted was also corrupted. And throughout the many centuries when this “Christian” doctrine held sway, Europe was a violent place in which “Christians” lorded it over other “Christians,” and slaughtered one another with abandon, in flagrant violation of the teachings of Christ in the Gospels.

      It is time to clean the house of Christianity from the errors that crept into it not long after Jesus and his original Apostles died. It is time to skip over human creeds, and return to the Bible itself.

      That’s precisely what Emanuel Swedenborg did when he delivered to the world a new, yet old form of Christianity founded on the Bible itself, without reference to human creeds.

  3. Ben says:

    Lee, I have spent time reading through your comments. Although the breadth of the subject matter seems far too massive at this point to address productively, I will be curious to read future posts on your blog. Take care, and God bless.
    -Ben

  4. jambulee says:

    Thanks Lee. Yes inspiration is a very broad and deep well one I hope to cover as in the future. There is much to sort out with out the wisdom of a guide a friend a teacher. Since leaving Orthodoxy I’ve had to trust my inner guide and since reading Swedenborg I now know they are my angels pulling me along. And occasional by his grace they even speak to me and each time my life changes for the better. Most of the time I’m left to my own devices especially since Carla is no longer in Mexico and there is no Swedenborgian church here. Just today as I was walking my dogs I talked to a neighbor and he was mentioning how we all are looking for a guide to show us the way–he is an Iranian American.

    Oh and thanks for liking my post “Time to jump into the conversation”

    • Lee says:

      Hi jambulee,

      It is my pleasure. In fact, I enjoy this so much that I do have to limit myself to make sure that I get other things done! 😉

      It is a great pity that so many in this world are, as the Scriptures say, “sheep without a shepherd.” I do hope this blog is of help to you in that regard. And if there are questions you are particularly struggling with along the way, feel free to submit a “spiritual condundrum” here. I’ll respond as I am able.

      And of course, if you think any of the people you speak with on your daily rounds might be helped by the ideas expressed here, please do send them our way. Thanks!

  5. jambulee says:

    Thanks for the clarification. there is so much there it is overwhelming.

  6. Tony says:

    hi lee
    people have said second coming what is the second coming supposed to be?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Most Christians interpret the various Bible prophecies about the End Times and the Second Coming fairly literally. They think the heaven and earth are literally going to be destroyed, and a new heaven and earth created, that Christ is going to physically come to earth again, and so on.

      I happen to think that these literal interpretations of the Bible prophecies related to the Second Coming are very much mistaken. For more on this, please see the article, “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?

  7. Ice Cube says:

    Yes indeed sir. Literalists are often hypocrites to me. They say everything has to be taken literally (specifically Genesis), but when anyone brings up all the scientific errors, they say it’s metaphorical. Eg. The “4 corners” verse. They say that’s supposed to be North, East, West, and south. So thanks for this article, man.

  8. Ice Cube says:

    Or when the bible says God is a bloody rock and a eagle. “OH! ITS METAPHORICAL NOW!”

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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