Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Luca:
Paul’s letters have a central role in Christian doctrine, yet Swedenborg does not mention them. Why? Thanks.
Thanks for the good question, Luca.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) does quote from Paul’s letters in his later theological writings, especially in his final great work of systematic theology, True Christianity. However, in his first published theological work and his greatest work of Bible interpretation, Secrets of Heaven, traditionally known by its Latin title Arcana Coelestia, he does not. Here is his own explanation, in answer to one of his early followers:
In respect to the writings of the apostles and of Paul, I have not quoted them in the Arcana Coelestia, because they are doctrinal writings, and consequently are not written in the style of the Word, like those of the prophets, of David, of the Evangelists, and the Book of Revelation. The style of the Word consists altogether of correspondences, wherefore it is effective of immediate communication with heaven; but in doctrinal writings there is a different style, which has indeed communication with heaven, but mediately. They were written thus by the apostles, that the new Christian Church might be commenced through them; wherefore matters of doctrine could not be written in the style of the Word, but they had to be expressed in such a manner as to be understood more clearly and intimately. The writings of the apostles are, nevertheless, good books of the church, insisting upon the doctrine of charity and its faith as strongly as the Lord himself has done in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation; as may be seen and found evident by everyone who in reading them directs his attention to these points. That Paul’s expression in Romans 3:28, concerning Justification by Faith, has been quite misunderstood, is proved in the Apocalypsis Revelata no. 417, to which you may refer; wherefore the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, which constitutes the theology of the Reformed churches at the present day, is built on an entirely false foundation. (From an April 15, 1766, letter to Dr. Gabriel Beyer published in English translation in R.L. Tafel’s Documents concerning Swedenborg, Document 224, link added)
We’ll dig into all of this further along in the article. But first, we need to take a look at the “canon” of the Bible, or which books are included in the Bible, and why. As it turns out, it’s a much more complicated question than most Christians realize.
The biblical canon
Most Christians don’t think too much about where the Bible came from. They just hold a book in their hands, maybe read it, and believe that this book was given by God.
However, what’s in the book in their hands will depend greatly upon which branch of Christianity they belong to. For example:
- The Bible that Protestants hold in their hands will have 66 books in it.
- The Bible that Roman Catholics hold in their hands will have 73 books in it.
- The Bible that Orthodox Christians hold in their hands will have about 79 books in it.
- The Bible that Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo hold in their hands will have 81 books in it.
And if Martin Luther had been successful in his attempt to remove four New Testament books, the Protestant Bible would have had only 62 books, not 66.
You see, there was no pronouncement from God as to which books should be in the Bible. Rather, the “canon” of the Bible was decided over many centuries, starting in pre-Christian Judaism, and then by various Christian theologians and councils over the centuries of the Christian era. And the church councils of the different branches of Christianity didn’t agree with one another about which books should be included in the Bible.
It was a very long and complicated process. Much too long and complicated to cover here. For the short version, plus charts of various biblical canons used in different branches of Christianity, see the Wikipedia article on “Biblical canon.”
Many Christians would be surprised to learn that the final decisions about which books are included in the Bible that they hold in their hands were made at church councils held only four or five centuries ago—over 1,400 years after the last of the books of the New Testament were originally written.
Now, we could argue till the cows come home about which of the various Christian canons is correct. And the theologians of the various branches of Christianity have done just that. But for our purposes, the main point is that it was not God, but human beings who decided which books should and shouldn’t be in the Bible—and they didn’t all agree with one another. That’s why there are almost as many “Bibles” as there are branches of the Christian Church.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Swedenborg, who had quite a different view of the Bible than did the various Christian churches of his day, should have settled upon yet a different canon of the Bible.
Without further ado, here are the books of the Old and New Testaments that Swedenborg included in his canon of the Bible:
- 1 Samuel
- 2 Samuel
- 1 Kings
- 2 Kings
Swedenborg’s canon of the Bible consists of 34 books: 29 in the Old Testament and 5 in the New Testament. This is smaller than any of the canons used by the various branches of traditional Christianity. It does not add any books that are not included in those canons, however.
In the Old Testament, Swedenborg’s canon includes all of the books in the Law (Torah) and Prophets (Nevi’im), plus Psalms, Lamentations, and Daniel from the Ketuvim, or “Writings.” (These are the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, used in Judaism.) The rest of the books of the Ketuvim, plus the deuterocanonical books included in Catholic and Orthodox canons of the Old Testament, are not included in Swedenborg’s canon.
In the New Testament, Swedenborg’s canon includes the books in which the life and teachings of Jesus Christ himself are given (the four Gospels) and “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (see Revelation 1:1). It does not include the book of Acts or the Epistles.
Swedenborg’s listing and explanation of his canon
Swedenborg listed the books that he considers to be part of the Word of God in three places in his theological writings: Secrets of Heaven #10325, New Jerusalem #266, and White Horse #16.
Here is the listing from Secrets of Heaven #10325:
The books of the Word are all those that have an internal sense; books that do not have it are not the Word. The books of the Word in the Old Testament are: The five Books of Moses; the Book of Joshua; the Book of Judges; the two Books of Samuel; the two Books of Kings; the Psalms of David; and the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. And in the New Testament they are: The four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; and the Book of Revelation.
The other two listings are copied from this listing in Secrets of Heaven, with only minor variations in wording. The books listed are the same in all three places. “The five Books of Moses” are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which together are called “the Law” or “Moses” in the Gospels.
Perhaps even more interesting than the particular books listed is the reason he includes these books in his canon of the Word of God: “The books of the Word are all those that have an internal sense,” he says; “books that do not have it are not the Word.”
Swedenborg’s reason for including a book in his canon of the Bible is very different from the usual reasons of authority, reliability, church tradition, and so on that are given for the various traditional Christian canons of the Bible. His criteria for inclusion is that a book have “an internal sense,” by which he means a deeper, spiritual and divine meaning that runs continuously from one word, verse, book, and chapter to the next throughout the entire Bible. For more on this spiritual meaning in the Bible, please see, “Can We Really Believe the Bible?”
He says that some of the books that he does not include, such as Job and the Song of Solomon, do have spiritual meanings in them, but not in the continuous and connected way that it is present in the books that he includes in the Word of God. Other books, he says (in the quote from his letter to Dr. Beyer given at the beginning of this article), are “doctrinal writings,” meant to explain the teachings of the newly forming Christian church more clearly and directly than could be done in the books that have an inner meaning. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Swedenborg’s use of the Protestant Bible
In other words, Swedenborg doesn’t reject the books of the other Christian canons that he doesn’t include as part of the Word of God. For example, he calls the Epistles “good books of the church.” He simply doesn’t see them as having the deeper divine inspiration of a spiritual meaning that, in his theology, makes a book part of God’s Word.
Even in Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg quotes from various books of the Old Testament of the Protestant Bible that are not part of his own biblical canon, referring to them as “the Word” in traditional Protestant fashion. In his later works, he quotes more and more often from the Acts and the Epistles, including Paul’s letters, also sometimes referring to them as “the Word” in traditional Protestant fashion, and using them to support the doctrines he is teaching.
Though Swedenborg himself left Protestantism, rejecting all of its major doctrines, he was raised in the Lutheran tradition, and his theological writings were aimed primarily at a Protestant audience.
In other words, for the purposes of establishing his doctrinal principles, Swedenborg used the entire Protestant Bible very similarly to the way Protestant theologians do. Practically speaking, he didn’t take away anything from the Protestant Bible that Protestants themselves attribute to it. He even said that the writings of the apostles have a certain level of inspiration from the Holy Spirit.
What he did, rather, was to ascribe far greater depths of divine meaning to the books that he included in his canon of scripture—something that traditional Christians commonly did in the first millennium of Christianity, but that had been largely lost sight of by the time of the Protestant Reformation.
- Swedenborg didn’t take anything away from the books of the Protestant Bible not included in his own canon.
- Instead, Swedenborg gave far greater depth to the books of the Bible that he did include in his canon.
That is why here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life we quote from the entire Protestant canon of the Bible in support of the teachings of true Christianity. The Protestant Bible contains the minimum canon of books accepted as authoritative in all of the branches of traditional Christianity.
The Acts and the Epistles in particular, when read accurately and with an understanding of their original religious, cultural, and historical context, fully support the Christian doctrines in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. They do not support the main doctrinal tenets of traditional Christianity, especially in its Catholic and Protestant branches. For more on this, please these two pages, and the articles linked from them:
The Epistles are “doctrinal writings”
Now let’s take a closer look at what Swedenborg wrote to Dr. Beyer about the Epistles, including the letters of Paul. Here, once again, is the first half of the section quoted above from his letter to Dr. Beyer on that subject:
In respect to the writings of the apostles and of Paul, I have not quoted them in the Arcana Coelestia, because they are doctrinal writings, and consequently are not written in the style of the Word, like those of the prophets, of David, of the Evangelists, and the Book of Revelation. The style of the Word consists altogether of correspondences, wherefore it is effective of immediate communication with heaven; but in doctrinal writings there is a different style, which has indeed communication with heaven, but mediately. They were written thus by the apostles, that the new Christian Church might be commenced through them; wherefore matters of doctrine could not be written in the style of the Word, but they had to be expressed in such a manner as to be understood more clearly and intimately.
By the “correspondences” of which the style of the Word (as Swedenborg understands it) consists, Swedenborg means a living and very detailed relationship between deeper spiritual and divine realities and the literal stories, prophecies, poetry, and parables of the Bible. For more on this deeper meaning of the Bible, once again, please see the article, “Can We Really Believe the Bible?”
In today’s terminology, Swedenborg viewed the Word of God as having a metaphorical or symbolic meaning throughout.
Paul and the other apostles made use of metaphor in their writings as well. See, for example, the passage about “the whole armor of God” in Ephesians 6:10–17. However, for the most part the apostles wrote more plainly and directly, explaining various Christian teachings and beliefs, and instructing their readers on how to live a good life according to Jesus’ commandments. In most parts of the Epistles there is no need to look for deeper meanings. The message is right there in the plain meaning of the words.
Compare this to Jesus’ method of teaching, which was almost entirely in “parables”: metaphorical language that has deeper meanings hidden within it. For example, if we try to read the Parable of the Sower literally, we reduce it to a rather simplistic manual on farming. Obviously, that’s not what Jesus was talking about. He was using people’s common experience to point to deeper spiritual truths. That’s how all of the books that Swedenborg includes in his canon of the Word of God are written: with continuous deeper meanings that tell us about our own spiritual rebirth process, and about Jesus Christ’s victorious battles on our behalf against the powers of darkness that were holding us in abject slavery.
This is the distinction Swedenborg is making between the books of the inspired Word of God, all of which have an internal meaning, and the writings of Paul and the other apostles, which are “doctrinal writings” that “had to be expressed in such a manner as to be understood more clearly and intimately” for the sake of the founding and establishing of the nascent Christian Church.
“Good books of the church”
And here, once again, is the second part of the section quoted above from Swedenborg’s letter to Beyer:
The writings of the apostles are, nevertheless, good books of the church, insisting upon the doctrine of charity and its faith as strongly as the Lord himself has done in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation; as may be seen and found evident by everyone who in reading them directs his attention to these points. That Paul’s expression in Romans 3:28, concerning Justification by Faith, has been quite misunderstood, is proved in the Apocalypsis Revelata no. 417, to which you may refer; wherefore the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, which constitutes the theology of the Reformed churches at the present day, is built on an entirely false foundation.
Protestants commonly believe that Paul’s writings are all about establishing faith alone as the key doctrine of Christianity. But the simple fact of the matter is Paul never even used the term “faith alone,” let alone taught it. In addition to the highly informative (and rather entertaining) story from the spiritual world told in Apocalypse Revealed #417, linked in the above quotation from Swedenborg’s letter to Beyer, here are two articles that cover this in more detail:
- Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does
- Faith Alone Is Not Faith
And there are plenty more where these came from!
If Paul’s letters are read properly, without the blinders of the doctrine of justification by faith alone that Martin Luther invented to distinguish his church from the Roman Catholic Church that he was breaking away from, neither Paul nor any of the other apostles teaches salvation or justification by faith alone.
Instead, as Swedenborg says here, the Epistles “insist upon the doctrine of charity and its faith as strongly as the Lord himself has done in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation; as may be seen and found evident by everyone who in reading them directs his attention to these points.” In other words, they teach both “charity,” or the doing of good works for our fellow human beings, and “faith,” which is not only believing in Jesus Christ, but being faithful to the teachings and commandments of Jesus Christ, as explained in the article, “Faith Alone Is Not Faith,” linked just above.
Unfortunately, Protestants don’t see this, because they do not “direct their attention to these points” in reading Paul’s letters. Instead, they continually “direct their attention” to confirming their pre-existing belief in Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. That is therefore all they see in the letters of Paul—and indeed, in the entire Bible.
But they are greatly mistaken in their reading and understanding of Paul, as the above-linked articles and many others here demonstrate in detail. Anyone whose eyes are not blinded by Luther’s doctrine can see very clearly in reading the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John that they teach the necessity both of believing in Jesus Christ and of doing good works for our fellow human beings as an integral part of our salvation and our spiritual rebirth.
That’s why it is a pity that many Swedenborgians don’t read the Epistles. If they did, they would find that these books of the Protestant Bible simply don’t say what Protestants say they do. Instead, they give the same teachings of faith and good works together that Swedenborg gave in his theological writings. And more importantly, they base their teaching on the two Great Commandments of loving God above all and loving our neighbor as ourselves, just as Jesus taught us to do in the Gospels.
However, to see this clearly, you need to understand the religious and cultural context in which Paul and the rest of the apostles wrote their letters. For this, I recommend that you read the two articles linked above, and the others linked at the end of each article.
Why did God allow these books to be in the Bible?
A common question asked of Swedenborgians is, “If the Acts and the Epistles aren’t part of the Word of God, why did God allow them to be included in the Christian Bible?”
There are two basic reasons for this.
The first one we’ve already covered. Since so much of the Gospels and the Book of Revelation are written in symbolic and metaphorical language, it was necessary to have books that explained the teachings of the Christian religion more clearly and directly. The Acts covers the early formation and development of the Christian community and its beliefs and practices. The Epistles provide much practical instruction on Christian faith and practice. Without them, it is doubtful that the Christian Church ever would have gotten off the ground. And if these books were not included in the common Christian Bible, most Christians today would pay no attention to them at all, or even know that they exist.
The second reason, according to Swedenborg, that God allowed the Epistles to be included in the Bible was to protect the books that are a part of the Word of God from being corrupted, or to use Swedenborg’s word, “profaned.”
You see, God knew that the Christian Church would fairly quickly fall away from its original love and zeal, and would descend into internal conflict, error, and corruption. This is predicted metaphorically right in the Gospels themselves, and in the Book of Revelation. For us, looking back on the history of Christianity over the last two thousand years, it is simply a matter of history. See: “Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!” Or just read the sordid history of the bloody massacres and battles that “Christians” have waged throughout much of “Christian” history.
However, the Word of God is precious. It is the primary means by which God speaks to people of the Christian nations with the words of eternal life. The Gospels, especially, are the heart of God’s Word. That is where the Lord Jesus Christ himself gives us those words of eternal life. And these precious divine books had to be protected from the dirty and corrupt hands of the “Christian” theologians who would tear the church apart as it descended into error, conflict, and schism.
That is what the Epistles, especially the letters of Paul, have done for the Gospels.
If you read traditional Christian doctrinal tracts, especially evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant ones, you will find that almost all of the Bible quotes and references in them are from the letters of Paul. Very few of them are from the Gospels or from any of the other books of the Bible.
The teachings in those tracts are utterly false. But in promulgating their false teachings, the authors, and the “Christian” theologians that they look to, have largely confined themselves to distorting and destroying the meaning of Paul’s letters. They have mostly left intact the teachings of Jesus Christ himself in the Gospels. Jesus’ teachings, being more metaphorical, do not lend themselves to the type of doctrinal distortion that is so much easier to perpetrate on the more doctrinal writings of the apostles.
This is just one of the ways that the Lord’s teaching is far more powerful than that of the apostles. The words of Jesus Christ are the Word of God. And the Word of God is capable of cutting through all of the distortions that false “Christians” have heaped upon the Bible for so many centuries. No matter what the spiritually blind pastors and theologians say, the words of Jesus Christ are capable of reaching people of good heart and simple faith with the true light of Christian faith and life.
Ordinary Christian laypeople who want to live according to the teachings of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can still read the Gospels and get the words of truth from the lips of Jesus Christ himself, without having them distorted and destroyed by centuries of false “Christian” doctrinal argumentation that has focused almost entirely upon a complete misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the letters of Paul.
The rehabilitation of Paul
Those old, false doctrines that distort the letters of Paul and obscure their true meaning are still rampant in today’s “Christianity,” especially in its Protestant branch. However, they are losing their hold on the population of the Christian parts of the world. More and more people, especially young people, are abandoning those old, harsh, corrupt doctrines. Unfortunately, many of them are so disgusted by the horrible, bloodthirsty god portrayed by traditional Christianity that they have abandoned Christianity altogether. (But see: “What about Violent Religions? Is God Really Bloodthirsty and Vengeful?”)
Now we can finally begin to rehabilitate the letters of Paul. Now we can rescue them from the hands of those “Christian” theologians who have twisted and distorted them for so long. Now we can begin to understand that Paul’s main argument when he was asserting that we are saved or justified by faith without the works of the Law was that Christians no longer need to be observant Jews in order to be saved by their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Read Acts 15 for the whole story. And read some of the articles linked from this one to gain a fuller understanding.
Paul simply didn’t teach what many traditional Christians say he did. And if the Lord gives me enough years on this earth, I hope to pull together much of the material in the articles and discussions here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life into a commentary on Paul’s letters in order to rescue them from the hands of those who have twisted and destroyed them for so long.
Without the work of Paul, it is unlikely that the Christian Church would have survived and thrived as it did. Together with Peter, Barnabas, and other apostles who evangelized in Gentile areas, Paul was largely responsible for breaking Christianity out of the old Jewish model so that it could reach the masses of Gentiles (non-Jews, most of whom were pagan polytheists) who were seeking new spiritual life. And it was among the Gentiles that Christianity had its great growth and expansion.
Unfortunately, the broad-minded, expansive message of Paul has been progressively hemmed in until Paul is now seen by many ex-Christians as a narrow-minded bigot. That is a pity. It’s high time Paul was rescued from those “Christian” brigands who have kidnapped Paul and kept him locked up in their narrow doctrinal prison for so long.
The core books of scripture
Now let’s take one more look at Swedenborg’s canon. And since we’ve already covered his New Testament canon fairly heavily, we’ll focus more on his Old Testament canon.
In the Gospels, Jesus continually refers to “the Law and the Prophets,” or “Moses and the Prophets.” These are not just arbitrary words. They refer to two of the three divisions that are now recognized as forming the Hebrew Bible within Judaism: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.
The books now recognized as part of the Ketuvim, or “Writings,” are Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and the two books of Chronicles. However, the books of the Ketuvim had not yet been fully gathered together and canonized within Judaism at the time of Jesus.
But by Jesus’ time the Law and the Prophets—which are the rest of the books in the Old Testament of the Protestant Bible, were fully settled as canon within Judaism. Generally speaking, these are the books of the Old Testament that Jesus refers to and quotes from as Scripture.
Jesus also refers to Daniel as a prophet, thus including Daniel among the Prophets for Christians. And he quotes from the Psalms, establishing them also as “law” or scripture for Christians. Swedenborg followed Jesus’ lead in including these books as part of the Law and the Prophets. And he included Lamentations also, as an extension of the book of the prophet Jeremiah.
In other words, Swedenborg’s canon of the Old Testament contains the core books of the Hebrew Bible that Jesus himself referred to as scripture. After his resurrection, Jesus referred to these books as the ones that speak about him, and that he fulfilled during his lifetime on earth:
Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. . . . Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:27, 44)
And indeed, Swedenborg teaches that these books, which he includes in his canon of the Old Testament, do contain at their deepest level of meaning the full story of Jesus’ life and work here on earth, especially his battles against all the powers of evil in order to save us from their power, and the glorification of his humanity so that he could be “God with us.” (See: “What Does it Mean that Jesus was ‘Glorified’?”)
It is true that in a few places Jesus alludes to other books not in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, such as the book of Chronicles. But these are passing references, not ones he uses to establish his teachings on the firm foundation of the Word of God in the Hebrew Bible.
Swedenborg, then, was following the lead of the Lord Jesus Christ himself in his formation of the canon of the Old Testament as those books that Jesus said were about himself, and that he fulfilled.
And in the New Testament, as I said earlier, he included the Gospels, where the life and teachings of the Lord are given, and the book of Revelation, which is where we encounter the powerful presence of the risen and glorified Lord God Jesus Christ. Swedenborg saw these books as the “Law and Prophets” of the New Testament, the Gospels being the new and more spiritual “law” given by Jesus Christ, and Revelation being the prophetic section of the New Testament.
The rest of the books of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Bibles provide historical background and doctrinal support and protection, like a matrix in which is the shining jewel of the inspired Word of God.
This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.
For further reading:
Good answer and explanation. Thanks.
Thanks, Les. Glad you liked it.
Forgive me if this has been addressed already, but I believe through my research of the New Church I have heard two different perspectives of the writings of Swedenborg.
First perspective: Swedenborg was given visions, dreams, and more that help explain Christianity as it should be understood. He gives amazing insights on how to better understand God and the Divine and the afterlife and more. However, Every single thing He says may not be infallible in every single detail.
2 perspective: Swedenborg wrote the Third testament through direct revelation and his writings are on par with sacred scripture.
I believe I saw this perspective from an actual New Church website related to the Church or the New Jerusalem or something like that.
What is correct? What must one believe? For myself, I love Swedenborg and his writings help me live a more Christian life and make a lot of sense to me, however, I’m not sure I’m comfortable putting him on par with the Bible.
Hi Learned Theology,
It is a good and legitimate question.
Perspective two that you mention is probably from the newchurch.org website. That is the website of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which formed in 1890 as a schism from the main body of the New Church (Swedenborgian) in the United States. The primary doctrinal issue on which the General Church split from the General Convention of the New Jerusalem (are you confused yet?) was this very issue of the nature of Swedenborg’s writings. The founders of the General Church insisted that Swedenborg’s writings are the Third Testament of the Word of God, and as such are authoritative in all matters that they speak about. This view has never been accepted by the historical main body of the New Church throughout the world.
For a brief history and overview of the branches of the New Church, aka the Swedenborgian Church, please see:
Who is Emanuel Swedenborg? Did He Start a New Church?
However, perspective one, though commonly held to even among some Swedenborgians, is also not quite right. It is true that Swedenborg had dreams and visions, but according to him, that’s not what was going on for him during the last almost three decades of his life. Rather, his spiritual senses were fully opened, so that he could be fully conscious in the spiritual world, as if he were living there, even while still living in his physical body in the material world. This goes far beyond dreams and visions.
Yet even that is not where he got his theology and Bible interpretation, according to Swedenborg. Rather, his ability to visit and travel in the spiritual world was to help him understand what the Lord would personally open Swedenborg’s mind to see based on the Bible. Here is what Swedenborg wrote about this:
In short, Swedenborg specifically denied that he got any of the church doctrines that he taught from angels, still less from spirits, but said instead that they came to him from the Lord while reading the Bible. Of course very few non-Swedenborgians will accept this. But it is important to understand that this is Swedenborg’s own testimony about where the doctrines he taught came from. And indeed, in his writings he heavily supports his doctrines through extensive quotations from the Bible. He never asks or suggests that anyone should accept what he wrote based on his own authority. Still less did he ever say that his writings are the Word of God.
For a layperson’s introduction to the more mainstream New Church view of Swedenborg and his writings, please see:
Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?
Short version: We do not view Swedenborg’s writings as the Word, nor do we view them as infallible. In fact, on a number of points, mostly scientific, but in a few other areas as well, we now know with certainty that Swedenborg was mistaken. Some examples are given in the above article. What we do believe is that Swedenborg’s writings are a revelation that help us to understand the Bible and the genuine Christian faith as taught in the Bible.
I hope this, and the linked articles, answer your question. Feel free to continue the conversation either here or in the comments sections on those articles if you have further thoughts or questions.
I saw your title and my thought was “Because Marcion didn’t catch on??” LOL!
I’m posting in a couple of days about Paul and the mangling of Galatians and the mysterious missing verse of Acts 15 (tongue in cheek; Christians are blind to verse 21). The short answer there is that the whole debate was never the role of the Torah. Galatians is about the status of the gentile believers–with believing Jews thinking they must be circumcised to participate or continue as second-class citizens sort of. Paul took it to Jerusalem ultimately to get from the horse’s mouth, so to say, that the law was never about salvation, but it is about how one behaves as a believer. Paul consistently upheld the Torah–but some choose not to employ a bit of reading comprehension to see it.
Thanks for this post. I learned a few things, particularly around Ketuvim.
Thanks for your comment. Glad you found the post helpful.
Galatians and Paul’s other epistles are not about the Torah as a whole, but about the ritual law of circumcision, sacrifice, ritual cleansings, diet, and so on, which Paul shortens to “circumcision.” These laws are no longer in effect for Christians. But it took some argument and debate to establish that. The Jewish-born Christians in Jerusalem initially thought it was still necessary to follow the Jewish ritual law.
Meanwhile, the Ten Commandments are still in force, as affirmed by both Paul and Jesus. And various other laws given in the Torah are still in force, such as loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Beyond that, whatever law still is in force is in force on a different basis: on the basis faith, meaning an understanding of and assent to the truth because it is true, and on the still deeper basis of love for God and the neighbor. Christian are not to follow the Lord’s commandments out of mere obedience, as was the case in the old Jewish dispensation. Christians are to follow the Lord’s commandments out of understanding and love, meaning on an internal basis and from internal motivation rather than on an external basis of blind authority-based obedience. Jesus said:
Nobody was ever supposed to simply robotically follow the commandments. This is why the rich young ruler didn’t obtain faith and didn’t get to know Messiah from his keeping of them. He used them as checkboxes and then didn’t know who stood in front of him.
It really isn’t different today than the day it was given (apart from the added sacrificial system having been satisfied by Yahshua’s sacrifice.)
No, not robotically. They were human beings with free will just as we are. However, their choice primarily took the form of, “Do I obey the Lord’s commandments, or do I disobey the Lord’s commandments.” It wasn’t necessary to understand why those commandments were in place. Only to obey them (or not).
The “faith” part was being faithful to the Lord by willingly obeying the Lord’s commandments. And yes, the rich young man was still in that paradigm. He thought that if he simply obeyed all of the commandments, he would be given eternal life. But he felt that something was missing, or he wouldn’t have asked Jesus the question that he did. Jesus was therefore calling him to a greater and deeper commitment, of acting not just from obedience to law, but from love and concern for his fellow human beings. “Sell all you have, and give it to the poor.”
Well, the entire purpose for the Torah is to recognize the character of Messiah. And then this poor sap didn’t know it when he was right in front of him or he would have obeyed that “commandment”, as well. Hebrews 4 tells us that the good news was preached to them also; meaning the good news of the New Testament was not different–except in that Israel was faithless and sold out to every Molech, Tammuz, and sun-god that came down the pike.
I agree that the Torah, not to mention the rest of the Bible, is all about the Messiah, Jesus Christ—though that is not always obvious on the surface of the text. That is the beauty of the letter to the Hebrews: it points us to the reality that the entire Hebrew Bible, read spiritually, tells the story of Jesus Christ.
And yes, by the time of Jesus, Judaism had been greatly corrupted from the early relatively strong faith and obedience of the children of the Israelites who were freed from the Egyptian slavery—the children who, when they grew up, made the initial conquest of the Holy Land and began to settle into their inheritance from God. But over the centuries they fell away from that early faith and obedience, and went “whoring after other gods.” By the time the Messiah came, there was not much left of that early Judaism.
And four decades after the Messiah ascended to heaven, that old form of Judaism came to its final end when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Today’s rabbinic Judaism, which developed in the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple, is an entirely different religion than ancient Judaism, whose practice focused on sacrifice and Temple worship. Today’s rabbinic Judaism is more like traditional Christianity than it is like ancient Judaism—except, of course, that it does not accept Jesus as the Messiah.
It’s a good thing the Paul epistles are _not_ part of the Word. Paul says it’s better to be single, that women shouldn’t speak in church, and that rebelling against authority (no matter how draconian or evil) is rebelling against God — something European monarchs really liked, using it to support “Divine Right.”
Yes. And that is part of what being “doctrinal writings” means. Paul was teaching people how to be Christians. Doctrine = teaching. And it had to be adapted to the culture and people of the time. For the times, he was very “progressive.” But we’ve progressed much farther as a society since then. Just as we no longer obey many commandments given in the Old Testament that were adapted to the culture of the time, so even traditional Christians no longer follow everything Paul said. In other words, even if Paul’s writings were the Word of God, they would still have been adapted to the times, and many things he said would still no longer apply literally.
But as I say in the above article, Swedenborg’s criteria for being the Word of God is not about authority, and certainly not about literal authority. Yes, there are still many commandments in the Bible that we are meant to literally obey, such as the commandments not to kill, commit adultery, steal, and bear false witness. But the real reason it is the Word of God is that it connects us directly to God and heaven through the deeper spiritual and divine meanings contained within the literal meaning. It’s not an authority-based view of the Bible, but an inspiration- and relationship-based view of the Bible.
Lee, Swedenborg stated that another reason why the epistles of Paul were included in the canon of the Bible was to prevent profanation of the Word, and this is mentioned in the Spiritual Diary:
“That the Epistles of Paul have not an internal sense is known in the other life; but it is permitted that they may be in the Church, lest those who are of the Church should work evil to the Word of the Lord, in which is the internal sense. For if man lives ill, and yet believes in the holy Word, then he works evil to heaven; therefore the Epistles of Paul are permitted” (SD, n. 4824).
Also, and this is unknown to most within the Swedenborg church, Swedenborg does state that Paul did indeed write from Divine inspiration, its just that his writings did not have any symbolic correspondence:
“Paul indeed spoke from inspiration, but not in the same way as the prophets, to whom every single word was dictated but that his inspiration was that he received an influx, according to those things which were with him, which is quite a different inspiration, and has no conjunction with heaven by correspondences.” (Spiritual Diary, n. 6062)
So the canon Swedenborg mentioned is the strict canon where every word has a spiritual correspondence. Then the epistles are doctrinal writings, which I would say are indeed Divinely “influenced.” So if we do not follow the strict standard of symbolic correspondence, we can still say the letters of Paul are Divinely influenced and thus belong to the wider “canon” of the Christian Bible.
Also, in other passages Swedenborg states that the books of Job, Proverbs and Song of Solomon do contain individual sayings that have correspondence but are not written in a sequential manner. I think we need to have different sets of classifications for the different types of writings included in the ultimate canon.
Thanks for your thoughts.
The above article does cover the point about the Epistles protecting the Word from profanation, without actually quoting the passages where Swedenborg says this. See the second point under the heading, “Why did God allow these books to be in the Bible?”
And though the article doesn’t go into any detail on the nature of the inspiration of the writings of the Apostles, it does allude to it under the heading, “Swedenborg’s use of the Protestant Bible,” where it says, “He [Swedenborg] even said that the writings of the apostles have a certain level of inspiration from the Holy Spirit.”
It even briefly covers your point about non-sequential correspondences in some of the non-canonical Old Testament books, toward the end of the section under the heading “Swedenborg’s listing and explanation of his canon,” where it says, “He [Swedenborg] says that some of the books that he does not include, such as Job and the Song of Solomon, do have spiritual meanings in them, but not in the continuous and connected way that it is present in the books that he includes in the Word of God.”
However, I do thank you for providing some of the passages in which Swedenborg says these things. There’s only so much that can be covered in an article intended for a general audience without making it too long and tedious.
My view (gleaned from some of the authors of the classical period of New Church literature) is that aside from eschewing the biblical literalism that has gripped much of Christianity in the past few centuries, compared to the view of traditional Christianity Swedenborg takes nothing away from the books of the Bible that are in the Protestant canon but not in Swedenborg’s canon; what he does, rather, is to elevate the books in his canon to a much higher level than traditional Christianity has done for many centuries, through recognizing the divinely inspired continuous spiritual and heavenly sense within those books.
As for the rest of the books, I agree that having a clear understanding of their nature, as moral or poetic or historical or doctrinal writings, is necessary for a clear understanding of what these books convey to us, and how they serve, illuminate, and protect the books that constitute God’s Holy Word.
So….Swedenborg decided he didn’t agree with books in the Bible entirely on his own theological doctrine and that’s good enough? No criteria for authentic readings, liturgical use, or(for the OT) quotations by Jesus? Basically just his opinion of some mysterious “inner sense.” And saying the canons were set in the 1400s is highly misleading since the full 27 book canon of the NT has been basically universally accepted since Athanius’ festal letter in the 4th century with only the 4 questioned by Luther being variously denied, and all of the books of the Hebrew OT were quoted from by Jesus in some fashion in the gospels. There’s room to debate canon but it sounds like Swedenborg pulled a Marcion-level gutting of the canon with even less grounds to do so.
There are as many different biblical canons as there are major branches of Christianity. Swedenborg’s canon happens to be the smallest that I’m aware of, but the fact that he had a different canon than other churches is not at all surprising, especially considering that his theology is unique in Christendom.
Jesus quoted most heavily from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, which were the books he said were about him (see Luke 24:27, 44). The rest of the books of the Jewish Ketuvim, or Writings, he quoted from or alluded to very lightly, if at all. The other major exception is the book of Daniel, which Jesus treated as one of the Prophets. The parts of the Hebrew Bible that Jesus relied upon most heavily are the parts that Swedenborg includes in his canon.
As for the rest of what you say, most of it is dealt with in the above article. You are, of course, welcome to your opinion, even if I happen to think you are mistaken and wrong.
I know you’re busy and don’t want to take up too much of your time but who are the deceiving angels of light Paul talks about? I’m sure he meant anyone who uses truth to manipulate and create evil but it is a sort of red flag when reading Swedenborg. I really want to believe him, I’m just afraid its almost too good to be true, because it means there is literally nothing to be afraid of. And I still just struggle as to why we aren’t just born with this knowledge, unless we really are and we turn away from it, gradually.
I presume you are talking about these verses:
The whole passage is about false apostles who would preach a different Gospel than Paul did, and lead his flock astray. The part about Satan disguising himself as an angel of light is in that context. And according to Swedenborg, Satan and the Devil are simply collective names for hell, or on a smaller scale, for gangs of evil spirits. And these, he says, are all the spirits of people who had lived on earth, and had chosen evil over good. Saying that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light is the spiritual equivalent of corrupt and hypocritical people here on earth pretending to be highly religious and spiritual in order to lead people astray and take advantage of them. For more on Satan and the Devil, please see:
Is there Really a Devil? Why??
And yes, it is talking about people, or evil spirits, who use the truth—or at least, what they claim is the truth—to manipulate other people for selfish and evil purposes.
Even so, there are still things to be afraid of. The greatest of them is our own self-centeredness and greed, which is the Devil’s presence in us. But if we put our trust in the Lord, do the work of beating back our wrong and selfish desires, and focus our life on serving other people and doing what is good and right, then we won’t have to fear that, either. As the Psalm says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).
As for all of this being too good to be true, what, I may ask, is too good to be true if indeed God is a God of infinite love and wisdom? I believe that God has even greater things than these in store for us!
What are your thoughts on the multiverse theory?
I don’t have strong opinions about it one way or another. It is highly speculative, and probably not subject to any kind of scientific investigation or experimentation. It’s not really a scientific theory.
That’s why it is so ironic that it is sometimes used as a prop for a belief in materialism, to overcome the stupendous odds against our universe being fine-tuned to precisely the right parameters to allow for galaxies, stars, planets, and life. The idea is that if there are an indefinite or even infinite number of universes, it is highly likely that there will be at least one that is suitable for life, and naturally we would exist in that one. I find it fascinating that some of the same materialists who attack religion for being “unscientific” will turn to an entirely speculative theory that cannot be investigated by science in order to support their rejection of a Creator.
But . . . did you have any particular thoughts about the multiverse theory?
Does Swedenborg not consider any of Paul’s letters canon?
No. For a full explanation, please read the above article.
Also, I’ve heard it suggested that Esther be removed from the Biblical canon, because Esther is mentioned nowhere in the New Testament. Apparently, Swedenborg’s canon agrees as you mention in this post. However, Esther is almost unanimously considered canon by Jews.
The Jewish canon has grown over the years. The Law (the first five books of the Bible) is still the core of the Jewish canon, followed closely by the Prophets. Esther is part of the Writings, which was still being gathered and canonized in Jesus’ time. Other bodies of sacred literature, such as the Targums, the Mishna, and the Talmud, have taken on their own status as something like scripture for Rabbinic Jews.
I once asked a question in a Jewish forum, and specified that I wanted an answer from the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible). This was met with annoyance at my clear lack of understanding, as a Christian, of how Jewish sacred literature and religious scholarship works.
As explained in the above article, Swedenborg’s canon consists of all of the books in the Jewish Law and Prophets (which Jesus referred to in the New Testament), plus three books from the Jewish Writings that Swedenborg included among the Prophets, but the Jews don’t for various reasons.
How do you respond when someone says “Don’t trust Swedenborg!”?
Usually when people say such things, it’s not worth engaging with them. Their mind is already made up. It would be a waste of words.
But if it is more of a question than a statement, as in, “Why should I trust Swedenborg?” then I will say to them some the things in this article, which I invite you to read:
Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?
As to that link, I’d say not. Is the Bible not the ultimate authority of the church? I’ll have to look at the link.
That was a short version of the question that a reader asked. Please do read the article.
In an effort to keep the comment sections somewhere near on-topic for the posts, I’ll respond here to your reply about Paul on another post.
As I said in my earlier comment, to which you were replying, Paul has been a polarizing figure right from the beginning. He was attacked during his lifetime. He has probably been attacked by various thinkers in every century since then. Swedenborg himself considered Paul to be “among the worst of the Apostles” (Spiritual Experiences #4412) in character, driven by love of self both before and after his conversion.
However, in the same section in Spiritual Experiences Swedenborg says of Paul:
In other words, Paul being a person of bad character (as Swedenborg believed) does not mean that his writings are bad. Selfish people can still put on a persona of goodness and preach and write what is true. It’s just that they will do it for personal reputation and gain rather than for the good of the people they are preaching or writing for.
I tend to agree with Swedenborg that Paul was very wrapped up in himself and his own glory. As I said before, in his letters Paul is always talking about himself. This is in contrast to the epistles written by the other Apostles, who rarely talk about themselves.
But I also agree with Swedenborg that this doesn’t mean Paul’s letters are invalid or wrong. If the personal character of a religious leader caused everything that religious leader said to be false, this would be terrible for every congregation that happens to have an Pastor whose personal character is not good. What’s necessary is for the Pastor to maintain a good public persona, not violating the law and social norms. As long as that is maintained, even a bad person can be a good Pastor. Of course, it’s much better for Pastors to be good people, and they can be even better Pastors if they are. But God is able to accomplish good even through evil people.
Most of the major figures in the Bible were not good people. Jacob was a consummate liar and cheat. Yet God used him to father the Israelite nation. If we examine with a critical eye the character of every figure in the Bible other than Jesus himself, none of them could stand scrutiny. But God used all these deeply flawed people to deliver God’s messages and accomplish God’s purposes.
This is my view of Paul. I do not believe Paul was a good man. But I believe that God used him to deliver a message to the early Christian Church that was essential for its great growth and spread into Gentile lands.
No, that message wasn’t original to Paul. As you say, Peter had arrived at the same conclusion before Paul did. The roots of it are found in the Gospels themselves. But Peter, like the Jerusalem Christians, still had one foot in Judaism. He did not take a thoroughgoing stance on this, as Paul’s rebuke of him in Galatians 2:11–19 shows. Even when this matter was taken up at the “Council of Jerusalem” recounted in Acts 15:1–35, the Jewish Christian leaders in Jerusalem could not entirely break free from imposing some of the rules of the Law of Moses on Gentile converts:
Of course every person of faith should abstain from sexual immorality. Even abstaining from food offered to idols was probably a good practical injunction for Gentiles, who were leaving behind pagan idol-worship for faith in Jesus Christ. Allowing them to eat meat sacrificed to idols would likely draw many of them back into their old pagan rituals as still practiced by their previous religious companions, and by their own unconverted family members.
But why couldn’t they eat the meat of strangled animals? And why must they “abstain from blood”?
Because killing animals by strangulation was contrary to the slaughtering practices prescribed in the Torah, in which the blood was to be drained from a slaughtered animal. Practically speaking, this meant slicing the neck of the animal to sever the carotid arteries, and draining out the blood through them. Killing an animal by strangulation leaves the blood in the animal.
And because eating the blood of animals was explicitly forbidden to the ancient Hebrews in the Law of Moses. See Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:14.
Notice also the reason given by James for not imposing the entire Law of Moses on Gentile converts:
This was pragmatic reasoning, not principled reasoning.
James saw that requiring Gentiles to keep the whole Law of Moses as Jews do would be a barrier to Gentiles accepting Christ. He was halfway to recognizing that it was not necessary for believers in Christ to observe the Law of Moses. But he wasn’t all the way there. He still imposed some of that ritual law on the Gentile converts. In his speech he even invokes the Law of Moses and how it “has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21). Clearly, even though James had become a Christian, he not entirely broken away from the ritual Law of Moses.
Paul was the one who put this over the top. Before his conversion Paul himself had been a Pharisee, meaning he had been a scrupulous observer of the Law of Moses. After his conversion he repudiated his former scrupulous obedience to the ritual Law of Moses because he saw that this was part of the old covenant, which was now supplanted by the new covenant that Jesus had instituted.
If it had been left to the Jewish Christian leaders in Jerusalem, I doubt that the nascent Christian Church would have made the full leap into leaving the ritual Law of Moses beind. Paul was the one who made the detailed, principled arguments as to why the ritual Law circumcision, sacrifice, and so on had been superseded for Christians by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This will be the subject of a future two-part article here on the meaning of sacrifice in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
So yes, regardless of my personal dislike of Paul’s character, I believe he was sent by the Lord to preach a message that was necessary to establish the meaning and practice of what Christ had accomplished as distinct from Judaism, and to allow the Christian Church to expand into Gentile lands, where it would have its great growth.
That is the sense in which Paul was an Apostle. Not in the sense of one of the twelve representative Apostles who had accompanied Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. Paul had not done that. (Though oddly, in one of Swedenborg’s stories from the spiritual world, Paul becomes a character who is listed as being among the Twelve Apostles. See Marriage Love #6.) Rather, Paul was an Apostle in the sense that he was sent (the meaning of the Greek word “apostle”) by Christ to do Christ’s work in the world, primarily in the form of preaching a Gospel message that had to be preached for the Christian Church to break away from Judaism and become its own distinct religion.
As for Jeremy Bentham and other critics of Paul finding inconsistencies and contradictions in his writings, the same could be said for the Gospels themselves. The two stories of Jesus’ birth given in Matthew and Luke are commonly melded together by Christians into a single story. But they’re really two distinct stories, and they don’t agree with each other about how it happened. There are other inconsistencies between the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. How many times did the cock crow? How many angels were at Jesus’ tomb? And what about the Gospel of John? Its story of Jesus’ ministry is very different from the general storyline in the Synoptic Gospels. And to cite just one example outside of the Gospels, there are two distinct Creation stories at the beginning of Genesis, and they conflict with one another in ways that cannot be reconciled if we take these stories literally.
Go to any skeptical and atheist website, and you’ll be treated to great big lists and disquisitions about how the Gospel story can’t possibly be true because of all the inconsistencies and contradictions within the four Gospels themselves. And about how the Bible as a whole must be rejected for the same reason.
In short, this is not a good argument as to why Christians should not listen to Paul. If we reject Paul because of inconsistencies in the narrative of Paul in the Acts and the Epistles, then we must reject Jesus, the Gospels, and the entire Bible on the same basis.
The Bible was never meant to an accurate historical document. It is a cultural, moral, and spiritual book. Literal accuracy and consistency are not important to its purpose.
Perhaps I was a bit generous in saying that the Jewish Christian leaders in Jerusalem “sent emissaries with Paul to establish his credibility and authorization to preach in Jesus’ name.” But it’s not hard to draw that conclusion by reading between the lines of what the Acts 15 account does say. Here are some selected verses from that chapter:
In the remaining verses, the four of them proceed to carry out those instructions. Even if it doesn’t literally say that the Christian leaders in Jerusalem set their emissaries to establish the bonafides of Paul (and Barnabas), that’s how the people out in the field would have understood it. I don’t think what I said is much of a reach.
At least in the written text, Paul is treated by the original Apostles and by the other earlier followers of Jesus as an accepted fellow-laborer in the vineyards of Christ. Another example of this is Peter referring to Paul as “our beloved brother Paul” (2 Peter 3:15).
As for whether the Ananias story is a fiction, in order to maintain this we’d have to question the credibility of the author of Acts, and of Acts as a whole. This is the story that was delivered to us, not by Paul, but (traditionally) by the author of the Gospel of Luke. Questioning its credibility brings into question the credibility of most of the New Testament. I don’t think Christian believers will really want to go there.
Does this mean that everything Paul wrote was literally true and perfectly consistent throughout? Not at all. Once again, that’s not the purpose of his writings, or of the biblical writings in general. We must judge the writings of Paul by the same standards we judge the rest of the Protestant Bible. We can’t pull a Luther and say, “I don’t like these books. Let’s kick them out of the Bible.”
And just to be clear, that’s not what Swedenborg did with the Acts and the Epistles. He called them good books. He quoted from them in his writings to establish the doctrines he was teaching. He simply saw the Epistles as “doctrinal works, not written in the style of the Word”–which style, according to Swedenborg, is a correspondential style that has a continuous, connected spiritual meaning throughout.
Once again, Swedenborg did not reject the books of the Protestant Bible that he didn’t include in his canon. In practice, he gave them just as much authority as Protestants do. What he did, rather, was elevate the books that he did include in his biblical canon to a much higher level.
Similarly, I don’t reject Paul. When Paul is rightly read and understood, he supports Swedenborg’s teachings of true Christianity just as much as the rest of the books of the New Testament, and of the Bible as a whole, do.
The problem is not that Paul is wrong. The problem is that Western Christianity is wrong about Paul.
Bentham lived well after the Protestant Reformation. He was probably taken in by the Catholic and Protestant misinterpretation of Paul just as almost everyone else is taken in by that misinterpretation right up to this day. I suspect that he thought Paul taught faith alone, and other erroneous doctrines attributed to him by the Protestants and by the Catholics. But Paul did not teach faith alone, or any of those other false doctrines.
However, I haven’t read Bentham’s “tedious book” about Paul (to use your words), so I can’t comment on his particular objections to Paul beyond what you’ve relayed to me. I will only say that when Paul is properly understood, in his own context, he does preach the gospel of Christ in his own distinctive way.
Incidentally, Swedenborg was a bit over-zealous when he said in Spiritual Experiences #4412 (linked above) that Paul “did not mention the least word about the Lord, or what He taught, nor does he mention a single parable of His, so he received nothing from the life and preaching of the Lord.” In fact, Paul quotes or alludes to a number of sayings of Jesus, including in his recounting of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26, in which he directly quotes Jesus’ own words.
What Swedenborg is talking about, I think, is that Paul was not one of the original Apostles who followed Jesus and heard his teaching directly. But Paul spent considerable time with other followers of Jesus, including meeting some of the original Apostles. He learned about Jesus’ life and teaching from them, and from some of the earliest circulating written accounts of Jesus.
And no, we can’t compare what happened in reality with what would have happened if Paul hadn’t existed. That’s precisely because Paul did exist, and the future that would have happened without Paul doesn’t exist. But we could probably trace the influence of Paul on the early Christian Church through the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, just as we can trace the later distortion of Paul in Catholicism and in Protestantism through the writings of their key theologians.
As for outside sources and corroboration of Paul’s story, we don’t have that for much of anything in the Bible. Outside of the four Gospels, there is almost nothing corroborating the story of Jesus. There are a few scattered references to him in contemporary sources that lead scholars to believe that he was an actual historical person. Everything else comes later, and is based almost entirely on the Gospels that are in our Bible. Much of the Old Testament narrative is not attested to anywhere outside the Hebrew Bible either. We have a few inscriptions and bas-reliefs that refer to the Hebrews, but very little that corroborates the bulk of the biblical narrative. Essentially, the Bible is our source for all of the stories it contains. It would not be fair to apply to Paul standards that the rest of the Bible cannot meet.
I think I’ve responded to the main points in your previous reply. If I’ve missed anything important, or you have further thoughts, feel free to continue the conversation here.
Thank you for all of the Swedenborg ideas about Paul. Very helpful.
I’ve come to a characterization of the Bible as a ‘holographic’ image of God, humanity, and how we should behave. Why ‘holographic’? Because if viewed ‘in total’ the image is sharp and clear, but the image is still accurate even in pieces although perhaps more or less fuzzy or out of focus. This view washes away all of the issues of which Books, which verses, and which translations you use until so little of the Bible remains as to provide only your chosen idea and not the ideas from God. This is why the inclusion of letters by Paul and derivative works isn’t a serious problem. The image of Jesus is still sharp and clear when viewed ‘in total’ … i.e. rightly. For me the question of Paul’s ‘conversion’ is still open, but since he included truths along with ideas that subsequent generations of biblical scholars could construe into falsities, his specific works and words are just works that need more care … not a lot worse than books like Revelations or even the parables of Jesus … which inherently demand care.
Three quick points:
1. Your point on including ‘ ritual Law of Moses” is different than what I understand which is the decision decided on Noahide law being applicable to Gentiles which applied to all people for all time vs just that law which applied to Hebrews
2. Your point about Paul being an Apostle in Marriage Love #6 is probably not the best reference since reading on makes it clear that the scene is a stage with actors to enlighten new arrivals in the spirit world of false notions they have from earth.
3. Your point: “But Paul spent considerable time with other followers of Jesus, including meeting some of the original Apostles. He learned about Jesus’ life and teaching from them, and from some of the earliest circulating written accounts of Jesus.” while true seems to be contradicted by Galatians 1:11-12 where Paul denies learning anything of ‘his gospel’ from men.
On your main point, it is important to read Paul in the light of the Gospels, and not the other way around. This reminds me of another article here on Paul that is also very relevant to this discussion:
Jesus Changed Paul’s World
On your quick points:
1. The Noahide Law is a Jewish thing, for liberal-minded Jews to use in thinking about Gentiles. It is indeed quite different from the paradigm shift that happened from Judaism to Christianity at the time of Christ. Some of the Noahide laws are still a bit Jewish in their prescriptions for behavior. They’re not all universal laws.
2. Right. But it illustrates the notion among ordinary people that placed Paul among the original Apostles. And that Swedenborg didn’t necessarily reject this idea. In general, he spoke of Paul as an Apostle.
3. Yes, that’s what Paul claimed. But given that he quoted words from the Gospel version of the Last Supper, it’s a little hard to maintain that he didn’t get anything from his association with the Apostles and the early Christian community. Did Jesus really give him those words in a revelation? The man doth protest too much, methinks. Probably due to the aforementioned Pauline Ego. “I didn’t learn anything from any of you! I swear!”
Am I ever blessed to have stumbled on this article! I was just introduced to Swedenborg in the past few days and your article and comments have really clarified some things that i was struggling with. I was brought up in a church that taught “faith alone” and it never sat right with me. In February of this year I came to the conclusion that Paul was a false apostle (like others, I’m sure). Now I can see what has happened here. You really put the pieces together for me. I knew that faith alone was incorrect but I blamed Paul for teaching it rather than the fact that the traditional Christian interpretation had been distorted. Nonetheless, many in the church will still point out those verses that “faith alone” and imputed righteousness”, “grace” are all we need.
Since I was a child I have been blessed with an “internal” sense of knowing the Father spiritually but in the past three years, God has been leading me to understanding. It’s been such a difficult journey of truth and error. When I came across Swedenborg, it “clicked” with me “internally”.
I understand that Christ has “returned” spiritually through his Holy Spirit – I had an experience 22 years ago that I could never grasp. I was raised in a (Baptist) church that did not believe in the Holy Spirit. I am not a charismatic or Pentecostal – I was alone in my bedroom when this happened. I didn’t even know to ask for what happened to me – it just did.
I’m sorry for the long message here. One thing that i am confused about is Christ’s “second coming” just in a spiritual sense or is it something that’s going to happen? I understand the book of Revelation to be a spiritually symbolic book – not literal but what are your thoughts on a physical return? How do we “get there” to the New Jerusalem/church?
Thanks for stopping by and telling your story. I’m glad to hear that Swedenborg is helping you on your spiritual path. When people who are searching find Swedenborg, they often say that it is what they have believed within themselves all along.
Also, it certainly is a blessing to have that internal sense of knowing. This is what Swedenborg calls “perception.” It was common among people in the earliest spiritual era represented by the Garden of Eden, but became scarce as people turned away from God and toward the physical world as their primary source of knowledge and understanding. In this New Jerusalem era, it seems to be making a comeback among a few people, at least.
About your questions, I hope you don’t mind if I refer you to some articles here. Once you’ve had a chance to read them, feel free to post any further comments and questions you may have.
About faith alone and the imputation of merit, the Bible, including Paul, just doesn’t say these things. These doctrines were originated by specific human beings at specific times in “Christian” history many centuries after the Bible was written. See:
And there are plenty more where those came from!
About the Second Coming, please see:
Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?
There are more articles linked at the end of these ones if you want to explore these questions further. And once again, after you’ve had a chance to read some of them, feel free to post any further questions you may have.
Thanks for your response. I asked the question, then I looked around your site further and found those articles. Thank you.
I can agree that Paul may not have taught those things, however, it doesn’t help that people believe them and pastors teach it. Someone can argue with you as to what actually is the gospel? Or what actually is salvation? and point to the many verses that appear in Paul’s (or epistles attributed to Paul) to say “nope – Paul says all I have to do is “believe in Jesus” and “Jesus paid it all on the Cross” to have eternal life”. Which is not salvation at all. Jesus taught to forsake all – get the heck out of this world, pick up your cross and follow me – no matter the cost (friends, family, reputation, wealth etc.). People would rather follow Paul’s teaching that perhaps seems to allow more “wiggle” room in having one foot in the world and the other in the Kingdom. This is absolute deception straight from Satan leading to the wide path of destruction. But the true children of God (you cannot deceive the elect) will “seek and find”. It has been put in their heart and spirit to seek until they find the truth.
Also with all due respect, your articles/opinion on masturbation are incorrect. God’s children are spirit, not flesh so they have been sanctified/cleansed of carnal, fleshy appetites. Unless of course they are married, I guess? I don’t know I’m single!
Good to hear from you again. I’m glad you’re finding the other articles here that will be helpful to you.
I have spent many years debating, off and on, mostly Protestants and some Catholics. They have said all the things you mention here, and many more. It is a flood of falsity seeking to swallow up the truth. There are many articles here that address these issues. Many more could be written.
What I would say to you is: Read Paul’s letters for yourself. Don’t read only the verses and sections that the Protestants preachers love to quote. Read the whole of each letter. You will see that Paul spends just as much time talking about how live a Christian life as he does talking about having faith in Jesus. Paul was very far from believing in salvation by faith alone. That’s why he never says we are saved or justified by faith alone.
About masturbation, of course, no mere human being can be right about everything. I am not an exception to that! Only God is omnniscient.
I would suggest, though, that the traditional Catholic and Protestant idea that once we accept Christ, we are instantly cleansed of all carnal and fleshly appetites is dangerous wishful thinking. Those churches are full of “holy men” who are “cleansed of fleshly appetites” but who are caught sexually abusing children, sleeping with prostitutes both female and male, and doing all manner of other carnal and ungodly things. It is better, I think, to face the realities of our carnal appetites as fallen human beings, and to do the hard work, day after day and year after year, of taming them as we gradually make our way, with fear and trembling, toward the beauty and perfection of Christ.
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to me. I hear you that we could debate Paul til the end of time – trust me, it’s been a back and forth in my mind for the past three straight years! Like you’ve said, you’ve heard it all (and more) so we will just leave it at that!
I hear what you are saying about the masturbation issue. Yes, I had to go back and remember that when I was still just a “believer” I did have fleshy desires. What changed for me was in October 2019, I really hit rock bottom in my life and had a crisis of faith. I literally laid on the floor in my living room and just fully surrendered my life to the Father’s will. I just completely let go of my life and said “I will do whatever you tell me”, I’m yours. Three things happened instantly 1) I have had such bad anxiety all of my life that my hands shook no matter what. They have not been shaky again ever. 2) He removed my carnal “lust”. I was abstinent anyway but thought masturbation was ok. I have never had the need or urge to do that since. 3) He instantly took away my dependence on alcohol. I never craved or wanted a drink again and still don’t.
Now I hear his voice as a true sheep. He has led and guided me to healing and health in the past three years b/c I have learned to follow the Good Shepherd’s voice:) That is why I connected with Swedenborg (at first) but upon further reading, I think that he spiritualizes too much away. Like most things, readings, books, even the Bible, there are little pieces and elements of truth in different places. You really have to be led by the Holy Spirit to put it together. It is a constant “testing” of error, truth, “almost” truth, if you know what I mean:)
The one thing that I will saw about Revelation is that when John eats the little scroll, to me that means that the truth/Kingdom of God must be experienced (eaten/digested) before you even have a hope to understand truth from error. You must experience being “born from above” by the Spirit of Christ. Then it turns sour in your stomach because you must suffer, just as Christ did. People love to talk about meeting God/Jesus all the time but my true test is have you met Satan? Cause once you’ve gone a few rounds with him to overcome him, you know what the Kingdom of God is. You can’t spiritualize that away, it’s very real.
Sorry for going on and on! I really do appreciate you thoughtful response and the articles on your website. I have learned and incorporated some new learnings/way to think about Scripture. Thank you! No need to respond to my rambly message:)
May God Bless you Lee!
Thanks for your further thoughts. The Lord has done wonderful things for you! In that, I rejoice with you.
Of course, if you have no need to masturbate, that is all to the good. In one of the articles on the subject I say as much. Most people, however—including most Christians—do not lose their sex drive. For such people, if they are not married or at least in a faithful and monogamous relationship, masturbation is better than the alternatives of promiscuity or using the services of prostitutes.
Even for you, you may not always be in the state you are in now. I pray that you will be! But life and circumstances have a way of changing over the years. Though the ideal is best, it is always good to have a fall-back position if it should ever be needed. Many Christians have fallen because they believe that once they have taken the slightest step away from the perfection of Christ, all is lost, and they give up in despair. I would not want that ever to happen to you when the battles of life are engulfing you—as they will.
About Swedenborg, I would say that rather than “spiritualizing things away,” he adds the spiritual dimension to the entire Bible, and to all of life, that has been missing from so much of Christianity for so long. That was one of the primary tasks to which the Lord called him.
However, Swedenborg was also intensely practical. He taught that spiritual understanding means nothing if it is not practiced in our life. And the primary way to practice it, he said, is to engage in practical acts of love and service to our fellow human beings day in and day out throughout our entire life. Without that, “spirituality” means nothing.
Swedenborg also had direct, personal experience both of the Lord and of Satan. He met Jesus face to face. He also traveled through hell on many occasions. On those occasions, he knew in his bones that if the Lord were not protecting him every second, he would be destroyed instantly by the horrific evil there. He fought the deadly battles within his own soul, and knowing that on his own he was weak and defenseless, he put all of his trust in the Lord to save him from the Devil and Satan.
All of this may not be apparent from his published writings, but in his unpublished (by him) journals and diaries it becomes clear just how intense was his experience of both the Lord and the Devil.
We’ve not spoken before, but since I’ve dialoged with Lee on a number of his pages including this one, I get your and his comments. On your comment ” he spiritualizes too much away” about Swedenborg, I would suggest you read some of Wilson Van Dusen books and papers, but especially his “The Presence of Spirits in Madness” which you can access online here: