Did Swedenborg See Himself as a Prophet?

A recent question on Christianity StackExchange asked:

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)

Emanuel Swedenborg

The Wikipedia article on Emanuel Swedenborg mentions his revelations, but doesn’t use the term “prophet” even once. Did Swedenborg not see himself as a prophet? What is a prophet, according to Swedenborg, other than someone receiving divine revelation and preaching it?

What follows just below is a slightly edited version of my response.

I should mention first that biblical scholarship over the past couple of centuries has made sense of many passages in the prophetical books of the Bible that were considered incomprehensible in Swedenborg’s day. My own view is that the biblical prophets were more aware of the meaning of their message for their own times than Swedenborg gave them credit for.

What remains true, I believe, is that their messages also had deeper “correspondential” meanings that they themselves were unaware of. Swedenborg explains many of these spiritual meanings in his theological writings. See: “Can We Really Believe the Bible?

Meanwhile, since the question asked whether Swedenborg saw himself as a prophet, Swedenborg’s own view of the prophets of the Bible is the most relevant one in answering the question. That’s why I have quoted heavily from Swedenborg’s own writings in answering the question.


Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) did not refer to himself as a prophet, nor did he see himself as a prophet. Indeed, he saw a clear distinction between himself and the biblical prophets, based on at least three significant factors:

  1. Manner of inspiration
  2. Style of writing
  3. Purpose of the message

In general, Swedenborg saw prophets as biblical figures. He did not recognize prophets outside the narrative of the Bible.

1. Manner of inspiration

Swedenborg saw the biblical prophets as being inspired by God right down to the very words they spoke. He wrote:

The prophets through whom the Word was written . . . wrote exactly as the spirit from the Divine dictated, for the actual words which they were to write were uttered in their ears. (Arcana Coelestia #7055:3)

When the prophets were engaged in various representative actions, according to Swedenborg these were inspired into them through spirits sent by the Lord who possessed their bodies during the time they were engaged in this type of prophesying. Swedenborg stated that he himself was given an experience of what it was like for the prophets when they were being possessed by spirits in this way:

It is well known from the Word that the prophets received influx from the world of spirits and from heaven. It came to them partly through dreams, partly through visions, and partly through utterances. With some prophets it also entered into their own speech and gestures, thus things of the body; and when this happened neither their utterances nor their actions were their own but were those of the spirits who occupied their bodies at the time. Some behaved as though they were insane, as when Saul lay down naked [1 Samuel 19:18–24], some inflicted wounds on themselves, and others wore horns; and there are many other examples of the same thing.

Having the desire to know how spirits led them to do those things, I was shown through actual experience. So that I might know, I was possessed for a whole night by spirits who occupied my bodily powers so fully that I could not feel it was my own body except in a very vague way. . . .

This state which lasted through the night until morning taught me the way the prophets through whom spirits spoke and acted were possessed. The spirits occupied the prophets’ bodies so thoroughly that the prophets were left with hardly anything more than an awareness of their existence. There were particular spirits assigned to this function who had no wish to obsess people, only to enter a person’s bodily affections, and having entered them they entered all things of his body. The spirits normally present with me said that I had not been with them while I remained in that state. (Arcana Coelestia #6212)

Swedenborg’s experience of inspiration was very different. Though, as here, he was occasionally given experiences of what dreams, visions, and prophecies were like for the biblical prophets, this was not his regular ongoing experience. Rather, he remained fully in possession of his own mind and body. Further, though the prophets sometimes did not understand the meaning of the words they were speaking or writing under divine inspiration, Swedenborg’s inspiration was into his thinking mind. He wrote:

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

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

For our current purposes, we will set aside Swedenborg’s concept of the Second Coming. (On that, please see: “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?“) Suffice it to say that he did not believe himself to be the Second Coming of Christ. Only a means by which the Lord accomplished that Second Coming, which Swedenborg saw as a spiritual coming, not another physical one.

The key point here is that unlike the prophets, who were possessed by spirits and heard words spoken to them that they were to pass on to the people, Swedenborg was not possessed by spirits, but fully conscious and aware of his own mind. His mode of inspiration, as described briefly here, was that the Lord inspired his mind to see and understand the truth while he was reading the Bible.

In short, Swedenborg’s mode of inspiration was entirely different from the mode of inspiration of the biblical prophets.

2. Style of writing

Swedenborg saw the style of writing of the biblical prophets as entirely symbolic—or “correspondential,” to use his term. Everything they wrote had a deeper spiritual significance, even where the literal meaning of their words is obscure to present-day readers. In Arcana Coelestia #66, he describes four different styles of writing in the Bible:

  1. The mode of people of the earliest church
  2. The narrative mode
  3. The prophetic mode
  4. David’s psalms (i.e., the style of the Book of Psalms)

The prophetic mode draws on the mode of the earliest church, which Swedenborg describes in this way:

The mode of [the people in] the earliest church. Their method of expressing themselves involved thought of the spiritual and heavenly things represented by the earthly, mundane objects they mentioned. Not only did they express themselves in words representing higher things, they also spun those words into a kind of narrative thread to lend them greater life. This practice gave the earliest people the fullest pleasure possible. (Arcana Coelestia #66)

Based on this, here is how he describes the prophetic style:

The prophetic mode. The inspiration for this was the mode used by the earliest church, a manner of writing [the authors] revered. But the prophetic mode lacks the cohesiveness and semi-historical quality of the earliest church’s mode. It is choppy, and almost completely unintelligible except on the inner level, which holds profound secrets forming a well-connected chain of ideas. They deal with our outer and inner beings, the many stages of the church, heaven itself, and—at the very core—the Lord. (Arcana Coelestia #66)

In other words, the prophetic style of writing is one of embedding spiritual symbolism within the words in a continuous sequence. Not that the prophets themselves realized or understood that their words had deeper meanings. As covered above, their words were given to them by God. It is God who placed those deeper meanings into the utterances of the Prophets.

Meanwhile, Swedenborg himself used three main styles of writing in his theological works:

  1. Exegetical
  2. Doctrinal
  3. Narrative

Swedenborg’s exegetical style is one of explaining the spiritual meaning of the Bible, often verse-by-verse, as in his exegesis of the books of Genesis and Exodus in the eight Latin volumes of Arcana Coelestia, and in his exegesis of the book of Revelation in his book Apocalypse Revealed.

His doctrinal style is one of orderly, point-by-point explanation of Christian doctrine, most notably in his final work, True Christianity, in which he provides an extensive presentation of his Christian theology in the format of a traditional Lutheran catechism or summa theologica.

His narrative style is one of telling stories of his experiences in the spiritual world. Though some of these do have extensive symbolic elements, this style is generally one of simple story-telling of events that he said he had experienced first-hand.

Unlike the symbolic style of the biblical prophets, none of these styles is intended to be symbolic or correspondential in nature. They are meant to provide explanation and understanding of the Bible, Christian doctrine, and the nature of the spiritual world.

Another way of saying this is that Swedenborg’s style is generally meant to be read literally, such that the meaning is in the plain words he wrote, whereas the style of the biblical prophets is meant to be read spiritually, for its deeper metaphorical meanings.

3. Purpose of the message

More briefly on this point:

In the Bible, though prophets do sometimes predict the future, and this has become the popular understanding of the meaning of “prophecy,” the primary purpose of the prophets’ message was to call God’s people to repentance, and to re-committing themselves to living according to God’s commandments.

Swedenborg’s theological writings, by contrast, contain few direct calls to repentance, worship, and so on. They are focused on explaining the meaning of the Bible, genuine Christian theology, and the nature of the afterlife. It is left to the reader to use this information as the reader sees fit.

In Swedenborg’s writings there is no ringing prophetic call to repentance and a changed life. Swedenborg instead explains how to repent, and how our spiritual rebirth happens. His writings are not prophetical, but informational.


Swedenborg saw his own mission as very different from that of the biblical prophets—so different that he did not think of himself as a prophet, nor did he refer to himself as a prophet. The reasons for this can be seen in the above explanation of the differences between the prophets and Swedenborg in their very different manners of inspiration, their different writing styles, and the different purposes of their respective messages.

(Note: This post is an edited version of an answer I originally wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

For further reading:


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

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9 comments on “Did Swedenborg See Himself as a Prophet?
  1. Ted W Dillingham says:

    Lee, I’m currently in the process of reading a book by Leon James that says:

    “I noticed that some of these appear in the literal meaning of the Writings, but many are underlying or hidden, and need to be extracted scientifically through the method of correspondences as outlined in the Writings which gives detail rules on how to extract knowledge from the Letter or literal meaning of the Threefold Word. The laws of spiritual-natural correspondences can be discovered from the Writings, and confirmed from the Bible, from children stories and fables, from our everyday linguistic expressions, and from inventive creations which we are inspired to do, notice, or perform.

    But applying the correspondences mechanically does not yield spiritual meaning – try it and you’ll be convinced. We also need to be enlightened by the Lord synchronously to applying the knowledge of correspondences.”

    James, Leon. Moses, Paul, and Swedenborg Volume 1 and 2: Stages of Growth in Rational Spirituality

    where James seems to be asserting that Swedenborg’s writings themselves have a deeper meaning. Can you comment on that and perhaps where this idea comes from?


    • Lee says:

      Hi Ted,

      Unfortunately, Swedenborgians are not immune from the proclivity common among religious folk around the world of coming up with their own peculiar dogmas not found in the sacred writings and traditions of their religion, and setting up these newly minted, human-originated ideas as the fundamental distinguishing doctrines of their newly minted schismatic bodies. Protestants are famous or infamous for forming thousands of distinct churches, each with its own human-created doctrine that distinguishes it from all other Protestant sects. Each one thinks that its distinguishing belief is the be-all and end-all of Christian faith. The common denominator of all of them is that none of them are taught in the Bible, still less by Jesus Christ.

      A group within the organized New Church fell prey to this tendency when the General Church of the New Jerusalem broke off from the main body of the New Church (Swedenborgian) in the U.S. in 1890, proclaiming that Swedenborg’s writings are the Third Testament of the Word of God, and as such are “authoritative”—by which they meant something very similar to fundamentalist Christians’ common view of the Bible as “inerrant.” I.e., if it is stated in Swedenborg’s writings, then it must be believed to be true exactly as written.

      Of course, Swedenborg himself said nothing of the sort. In fact, this whole concept of the Word of God runs entirely contrary to Swedenborg’s own teachings about what makes the Word of God to be the Word of God. This, he said, is based on its having an internal sense—something he never said his own writings have. Swedenborg also rejected the common practice of accepting beliefs based on external authority, stating instead that one should accept something as true only if one sees and understands the truth of it for oneself.

      The General Church’s view of Swedenborg’s writings as the Word is, in fact, based on a traditional non-New-Church Christian concept of what makes the Bible to be the Word of God: that it is literally “authoritative,” such that everything in it must be taken literally and absolutely believed. This is causing the General Church much trouble now that, for example, we know that none of the other planets and moons in our solar system is now or ever was inhabited by advanced human life forms, as Swedenborg said they were. There are a number of other things Swedenborg said that subsequent advancements in scientific and historical knowledge have shown not to be true. This is something that most people in the General Church don’t like to talk about because it calls into question the fundamental doctrine upon which their church was originally founded. However, eventually the falsity of false doctrines comes to light in ways that are hard even for its own adherents to entirely avoid.

      Having steeped its people in this fundamental error about the nature of Swedenborg’s writings and of the Word of God, a group within the General Church came up with its own peculiar doctrine, broke off from the General Church when its new dogma was not accepted there, and formed its own schismatic body in 1937, which it called “The Lord’s New Church which is Nova Hierosolyma.” This group reasoned that if (as they believed, being a part of the General Church) Swedenborg’s writings are the Word of God, and Swedenborg said that the Word has an internal sense, then Swedenborg’s writings must also have an internal sense. Once again, Swedenborg never said any such thing about his own writings.

      Thus they piled one error on top of another.

      Leon James is apparently either a member of, or influenced, by this schism of a schism of the organized New Church.

      I have read some of the “explanations of the spiritual sense” of Swedenborg’s writings written by some of the early leaders of the Lord’s New Church. To me, it reads like regurgitated and not very inspired repeats of things Swedenborg himself said much better and more cogently in his theological writings. By now, the Lord’s New Church has mostly given up on trying to “interpret” Swedenborg according to its “spiritual sense.” In fact, way back in the late 1970s one of its ministers said to me, “We used to put a lot of effort into interpreting the spiritual meaning of the Writings [a common in-house term for Swedenborg’s writings], but now we mostly focus on their literal meaning.” Riiiiight. Which is what you should have been doing all along, because that’s where the meaning of Swedenborg’s writings is.

      One distinctive characteristic of such schismatic bodies, Swedenborgian, Protestant, or otherwise, is that they think theirs is the true faith, whereas everyone who doesn’t hold to the distinguishing dogma of their sect falls short of true faith and true understanding. This is true of the General Church, and it is also true of the Lord’s New Church. Speak to them, and they will assure you that theirs is the truest and most enlightened form of the New Church, and that all the other bodies are not really New Church because they don’t believe the particular dogma that distinguishes their own sect from the others.

      In the case of the General Church, that dogma is that Swedenborg’s writings are the Third Testament of the Word of God, and as such are “authoritative.” In the case of the Lord’s New Church, that dogma is that as the Third Testament, Swedenborg’s writings have an internal sense. The people in these New Church sects who hold to these human-created dogmas think that they are the truest and most enlightened New Church people, even though the peculiar doctrines on which they base this rather hubristic belief are never taught anywhere in Swedenborg’s writings, let alone in the Bible.

      It reminds me very much of Protestants believing that justification by faith alone is the central and most important doctrine of Christianity and the Bible, even though it is never taught anywhere in the Bible, and in fact is specifically and emphatically rejected there. No Christian believed in justification by faith alone for the first 1,500 years of Christianity, until Martin Luther originated that doctrine as part of his schism from the Roman Catholic Church, and set it up as the foundation of his new “Protestant” church.

      And it reminds me of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christian alike believing that the Trinity of Persons is the essential Christian belief about God, even though it, too, is taught nowhere in the Bible, but was originated by human theologians and councils a few centuries after the last books of the Bible were written.

      This belief among schismatic bodies of Swedenborgians that Swedenborg’s writings are the Word of God, and that as such they have an internal sense, is just another example of this common phenomenon among traditional Christians—and presumably in other religions around the world as well—of coming up with new doctrines not taught in their sacred literature and traditions, and setting them up as the central feature of their new sects.

      The history of these schisms within the organized New Church is also told briefly in this article:

      Who is Emanuel Swedenborg? Did He Start a New Church?

      Leon James is a very earnest and dedicated man. Unfortunately, he has fallen prey to an error piled on top of another error that formed as part of two successive schisms within the organized New Church.

      • Ted W Dillingham says:


        Thank you for another very comprehensive response. It’s similar to what I suspected, but much more comprehensive.

        There is one part you didn’t address, the last little bit: “But applying the correspondences mechanically does not yield spiritual meaning – try it and you’ll be convinced. We also need to be enlightened by the Lord synchronously to applying the knowledge of correspondences.”

        I’ve also been slowly reading “The Science of Correspondences Elucidated” (https://archive.org/details/scienceofcorresp00made/page/85/mode/1up?view=theater). I’m trying to understand if Swedenborg’s correspondences are capable of being verified from the Bible as some of his examples imply or if there is some additional revelation required that isn’t in the Bible as Leon James implies above. Has this question been answered by Swedenborg or by those who follow him?


        • Lee says:

          Hi Ted,

          Yes, people need to be enlightened by the Lord to see and understand the spiritual meaning of the Bible. But this is not some arcane process of “secret study.” It is more a matter of people having their heart in the right place, and reading the Bible, and Swedenborg’s writings, in order to gain help and understanding in leaving their own selfishness and pride behind, and living a more kind, thoughtful, and loving life toward their fellow human beings.

          During my two years in the late 1970s of attending college in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, the episcopal seat of both the General Church and the Lord’s New Church, there were an awful lot of people walking around who thought they were awfully enlightened. Some of them were very smart people. But to my eyes, it all looked like “brain faith.” It caused such people to walk around with a sense of pride in their own great enlightenment and regeneration. Some of them were not very pleasant to be around. They made it very clear that they thought they were much smarter and more enlightened than you or anyone else. It was a whole lot of pride walking around.

          I believe this is what was behind the fallacies that both the General Church and the Lord’s New Church set up as their key distinguishing doctrines. Yes, there are some good and humble people in those churches, both clergy and lay. But an awful lot of the written materials of their great scholars strikes me as more about intellectual pretensions than about a true desire to humbly serve the Lord’s people. Sometimes this leads them to say things that are far from what Swedenborg taught in his writings. Even when they are directly quoting Swedenborg, they sometimes get it wrong, and the old fallacious “Christian” dogmas creep in.

          Being enlightened by the Lord is not about great intellectual study and acumen. That can certainly help to fill in the details of faith. But enlightenment comes, not to people who have great intellect alone, but to people who have a humble heart and read the Word of God with a desire to be led by the Lord toward a more kind, loving, thoughtful, and useful life.

          The ones who have great intellect and a sense of their own rightness tend to write a lot of hifalutin’ stuff that seems to them to be the essence of spiritual enlightenment, but that to other people reads as very abstract, opaque, and hard to understand. The intellectual types who write these things think of themselves as having understanding and insight far beyond the common person. But I think they are just caught up in a sense of their own superior intellect and understanding, such that they cannot even see that what they are writing doesn’t make much sense to anyone but themselves.

          When I read this sort of thing, and just keep scratching my head and trying to figure out what in the world this person is talking about, I generally just put it down as not useful or helpful. I don’t think people who write stuff like that are enlightened at all.

          My model is Jesus Christ himself, who most commonly spoke in very plain words and imagery, such that even simple ordinary people can gain powerful lessons from his words, even as deeper thinkers find great metaphorical and spiritual wisdom from those same words. Yes, there are some very philosophical passages in the Gospel of John, opening up to us something of the deeper mind of Jesus. But even these philosophical passages are not an unending stream of abstractions. They are personal and heart-filled in a way that few of today’s intellectual leaders can touch or attain to.

          So yes, study the correspondences. They are the key to opening up the spiritual meaning of the Bible. But don’t think that if you study them thoroughly enough, and get them all into your brain perfectly sorted and ordered, the Lord will enlighten you and show you all the secret meanings in the Bible. That’s not how it works.

          Rather, as you study and learn the correspondences, when you read the Bible with a humble heart, seeking to be lead by the Lord out of your own particular evils and sins, and into a life of love, truth, and kindness toward your neighbors, then you will begin to see things in the Lord’s words in the Bible that touch your heart and your life, and give you what you need to walk the path in front of you.

  2. Paul says:

    Hi Lee, thanks for another good article. I’m still reading, but paused to ask you a question.

    I’ve been thinking about how Swedenborg saw the second coming as spiritual and not physical.

    I’m wondering how he interpreted Acts 1

    9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
    10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

    It sounds to me like they are seeing something physical happening in these passages. Do you know how Swedenborg thought about these passages?

    Thank you,

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      Glad you’re enjoying the article.

      Swedenborg does comment on and explain Acts 1:9–11. As you might imagine, he interprets it spiritually, not literally. In particular, he interprets the “cloud” into which the Lord was taken as representing the literal meaning of the Bible, and says that this is where Jesus will appear when he makes his Second Coming. You can read his main commentary on these verses in Apocalypse Revealed #642 and #820.

      You might also want to follow some of the links to the sections where he explains that “clouds” signify the literal meaning of the Word. This may seem a bit farfetched at first, but once you’re able to wrap your head around it, it makes perfect sense.

      Of course, for people who think materialistically, Acts 1:9–11 is a slam dunk. Jesus will literally, physically return in the clouds of the sky just as his followers saw him taken up into the clouds of the sky. It is useless to argue with such people. Their minds are incapable of rising up to a spiritual level and reading these words metaphorically rather than literally. For them, the hope and assurance of a literal, physical return of Christ is the only thing that keeps them on the strait and narrow path. Best to leave them to their beliefs.

      But consider what his followers actually saw, and how they saw it.

      Did they literally see Jesus taken up into the physical sky, and hidden by a cloud there? If so, where did he go from there?

      Back in those days, it was common for people to think in simplicity that God and the angels lived up above the clouds in the literal sky. This type of language occurs both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. However, in the past century we’ve been up above the clouds, and there is no one up there. There is only the empty near-vacuum of space, in which no physical being can live without being surrounded by a rocket or space station complete with a complex life-support system. The idea that Jesus and the angels are literally up in the sky above the clouds is no longer possible for any thinking, knowledgeable person to believe. We now know that this would be impossible.

      So what did his followers actually see on that day, and with which set of eyes did they see it? If we think that they saw it with their physical eyes, as just covered, it makes no sense at all.

      Consider also that the original Greek word οὐρανός (ouranos) is sometimes translated “sky” and sometimes “heaven,” but it is the same word in the original language. So were Jesus’ followers literally looking up into the physical sky with their physical eyes, or were they looking up into heaven, or the spiritual world, with their spiritual eyes?

      Given what we now know about what’s above the clouds, it makes much more sense that they saw Jesus’ ascension, not with their physical eyes, but with their spiritual eyes, and that Jesus did not literally get hidden by a physical cloud in the physical sky, but rather entered into a spiritual cloud in the spiritual sky. And as Swedenborg tells us, everything in the spiritual world is symbolic and correspondential of deeper spiritual things.

      If, as seems clear to me, Jesus was taken up, not into the literal sky and a physical cloud, but into the spiritual clouds of heaven, then his coming back in the same way will also be a spiritual coming, in the spiritual clouds—which, as Swedenborg tells us, means coming in the literal sense of the Word.

      And in fact, according to Swedenborg, everything he taught us about genuine Christian faith came “from the Lord alone while I was reading the Word” (True Christianity #779). Further, he says in Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture #50 and True Christianity #225 that “The church’s body of teaching has to be drawn from the Word’s literal meaning and supported by it.”

      In other words, the Second Coming of the Lord did happen in the spiritual clouds of heaven. In the Second Coming, which is happening today for anyone whose eyes are open to see it, the Lord appears to our spiritual eyes through a spiritual understanding of the literal meaning of the Bible. These spiritual clouds—and not the literal clouds of the material-world sky—are the clouds into which Jesus’ followers saw him rise and disappear, and in which he has come again just as they saw him leave with their spiritual eyes.

      In short, as with so much of what the Lord teaches us in the Bible, we are meant to read these words, not literally, but spiritually.

      • Paul says:

        Thank you for your response Lee. I’m learning. If I can ask a follow up question: Are there great advantages for information to be conveyed symbolically as opposed to literally? I understand that Literature utilizes metaphor to create interest and color. Symbolism can be fun. But does it cause confusion for important information, if people are coming up with too many interpretations of what exactly the correspondence is? Is symbolism used in scripture for purposes of clarity or color? I like color in language, but clarity is nice too? Do you think literal language offers greater clarity than symbolic language? If so, why do you think God would value color more than clarity, by having his Word so full of symbolism?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Paul,

          These are all good questions. I can give only some general answers here, but at the end I’ll link you to a few more posts that go into more detail on some of these questions.

          First, the most important information for our salvation is stated plainly in the literal meaning of the Bible. There are the Ten Commandments, repeated calls to repentance from sin, the two Great Commandments to love the Lord our God above all and our neighbor as ourselves, and so on. Everything required for us to walk the path toward heaven is stated plainly in the Bible, without the need for any interpretation. All that’s required is basic reading comprehension. If people don’t “get it,” it’s because they don’t want to get it because they’re not interested in becoming a good person and living a good life.

          All the rest, the deeper aspects of Christian faith and life, is put into metaphorical language both to protect it from people who would misuse that deeper knowledge, and to put spiritual things into memorable physical imagery so that they will be stored away in a prominent part of our memory to be drawn upon when we are ready for it, at whatever level we are on spiritually.

          Here is a very beautiful passage from Swedenborg’s writings about the nature of the Bible:

          A body of teaching has to be drawn from the Word’s literal meaning and supported by it. The reason for this is that the Lord is present, teaching and enlightening, in the Word’s literal meaning. The Lord never works in an incomplete or partial way, and the literal meaning is where the Word is complete, as I have shown before. As a result, a body of teaching has to be drawn from the Word’s literal meaning.

          You can draw a complete body of genuinely true teaching from the Word’s literal meaning. In that meaning the Word is like a clothed person whose face, forearms, and hands are exposed. All the teachings that relate to our faith and life and therefore our salvation are exposed there. The other teachings are clothed. Even then, in many passages where the teachings are clothed they are still visible, as a woman with a thin piece of silk over her face can still see objects in front of her. In fact, as the truths in the Word are multiplied and organized by our love for them, they shine out and become more and more clearly evident. (True Christianity #229)

          As Swedenborg says here, everything required for the teachings of the Christian church can be found in and supported by the plain literal meaning of the Bible. Everything else is “clothed” in correspondences, but even in these parts the meaning often shines through, especially for people who love to learn the truth so that they can put it into practice in their life.

          We are all aware of corrupt religious leaders, both in the established churches and in the various sects and cults, that use their spiritual knowledge and understanding for corrupt purposes. Priests who inveigle parishioners, both adults and children, into illicit sexual liaisons using specious religious-sounding arguments are one example. Cult leaders who have some spiritual knowledge, and therefore look wise to their followers, but who use that position of respect to pile up wealth and power for themselves, not to mention sleeping with any of their followers that they find attractive, are another example.

          This sort of thing cannot be completely prevented, unfortunately. But by clothing most of the deeper spiritual teachings in the Bible in symbolic and metaphorical language, God has made it harder for people who are not well-intentioned to gain access to deeper knowledge that they would only misuse for nefarious purposes.

          Meanwhile, even most good people are not so good at thinking abstractly and remembering abstract concepts. So God has clothed most of the lessons of the Bible in parables: memorable stories of human and natural events that stick in our minds precisely because they are not abstract, but are expressed in concrete imagery based on the people, animals, and scenery of the world in which we live. In this way God ensures that these lessons will stick in our mind from childhood onward. Children can gain simple lessons from these stories, such as the Parable of the Sower, whereas adults can gain deeper meaning from them.

          In this way, the Bible is able to serve, teach, and lead people of all intellectual, emotional, and spiritual levels, from the simplest to the wisest, all based on the same text. If all the spiritual ideas were expressed in direct, abstract language, most people would not pay any attention to it at all, nor would they understand it if they did. God put most of the Bible into vivid symbols and metaphors so that everyone can gain something from it, each at his or her own level.

          I hope this much helps. Here are a few more articles that cover some of your questions in more detail:

        • Paul says:

          Helps a lot! Thank you very much, Lee.

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