The Bible

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A still life painting by Vincent van Gogh of an open Bible on a table

The Bible… what do make of it? Clearly, it’s been a huge influence on world culture for two thousand years, and on culture in the Middle East for many hundreds of years before that. How should we read it, and use it, today?

It makes sense that a loving God would try to communicate true ideas to us, so that we could consider them in our rational minds, and decide what to do with them. With early people, before the development of written language, there’s plenty of evidence from their art, and from oral traditions, that they felt a communication with God. Later, as writing developed, we find written works – notably the Old Testament of the Bible – that demonstrate God’s drive to reveal truths to us.

The Bible, as it has come down to us, is a revelation of God’s mind, his plan, his truth, and his love for us. It’s a guidebook that we can use to live good lives. It’s ancient, but still fresh and relevant. Its inner meaning has been the subject of many explorations.

The Bible is divided into two testaments, Old and New. Each testament is divided into “books”, each of which has a name, e.g. Genesis, Exodus, etc. Each book is divided into chapters, and each chapter into verses. The Bible has been translated into many languages, by many translators, some from long ago, and many working still today. By and large, the divisions into books, chapters and verses are fairly standard. There’s some variation, partly because the original texts come from scrolls that differ amongst themselves, but overall it’s a surprisingly consistent, well-preserved set of work.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Its earliest stories, starting with the creation story, and Adam and Eve, are very ancient. At the time of Moses, perhaps 1300-1500 years before Christ, those early stories were written down and preserved, but they were already part of a much older oral tradition.

The New Testament, written shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was written in Greek. The four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Book of Revelation, form the core of it, and they are supplemented by letters – epistles – written by early church leaders: Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude.

Should we call this work the Bible, or the Word?

In New Christian theology, we tend to use the term “The Word”. Why? In his many volumes of theology, Emanuel Swedenborg uses the term “The Bible” only a handful of times, and most of those instances are in reference to ancient writing styles. On the other hand, the term “The Word” appears more than 15,000 times, and it is crucially important to the doctrinal system Swedenborg illustrates.

What’s the difference?

In Swedenborg’s works, “The Word” in its deepest sense means divine truth in its fullness, the infinite expression of the Lord’s infinite love, shining on us the way light shines from the sun. In fact, since the Lord’s essence is love itself and love cannot exist without taking form, Swedenborg’s works say that The Word actually is the Lord, and that the Lord actually is the Word (think about John 1:1: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God”).

Divine truth is, to be sure, an expansive thing: It is the agent and force of creation, and is reflected in all aspects of humanity and of the natural world. If we understood enough we could gaze on fields and trees and see the nature of the Lord’s love and the spiritual world. But that is a fluid expression; we can cut down a tree and change it. The ultimate expression of the Lord’s love is permanent and safeguarded, hidden away within the stories and prophecies of the Bible where only those who love the Lord can begin to understand. Understood at the most internal, symbolic level, those stories and prophecies are completely about the Lord Himself, unveiling His love in its infinite forms, and by reading it we open ourselves to Him and let Him flow into our hearts and minds.

In a sense, then, the Bible is a container for the Word, a compilation of natural language that is divinely ordered so that it can hold and express spiritual ideas. That’s one reason churches based on Swedenborg’s works have traditionally called even the physical book itself “The Word” instead of “The Bible.” They want to be open to the love the book contains, not just the external meanings of the text.

The other reason is more controversial. Swedenborg says that only 34 of the Bible’s books are written with a complete and continuous internal sense, and thus only those 34 are truly part of the Word. The 34 are the five books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, the two books of Samuel, the two books of Kings, Psalms, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the four Gospels and Revelation. This leaves out some treasured books of the Old Testament: Ruth, Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and others.

But the exact contents of the Old Testament have been debated for millennia and there are already variations in the Jewish, Catholic and Protestant Bibles. What most people find harder to accept is the idea that the works of the early Christian Church — Acts and the various epistles of Christian leaders – are not filled with the divine.

But consider the difference between how the Gospels were written and how the Epistles were written. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were simply trying to record the words and deeds of Jesus, telling what they new of these things in their most outward form. The Lord was able to guide that outward form so that inwardly it could be filled with spiritual correspondences. The epistles, on the other hand, were really the first human attempts to interpret Jesus’s teachings and develop them into a consistent doctrine. The fact that the writers were already trying to find deeper meanings meant that their work could not be used to contain deeper meanings. It doesn’t mean their doctrinal conclusions are wrong – they had vast insight – but they are not divine.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1403, 1405; Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 26, 31, 56, 77, 97, 110, 111; Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 23 [1]; Heaven and Hell 241; The White Horse 16)

Who is saved?

by Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

In the predominately Catholic neighborhood where I grew up, most of my friends went to St. Matthew’s Catholic School while the rest of us went to public school. But religious differences did not separate us. In fact, we never argued about, and hardly ever discussed, religion. What was most important to us was whether or not we could get enough kids together to have a baseball game in the summer or a football game in the fall. In the winter we wondered whether or not the ice at Roger Williams Park was thick enough for a hockey game. On Elmwood Avenue, in Providence Rhode Island, in the 1950s the world of sports was far more important to us than religion!

But I do remember one summer evening, under the street lights, when my friends and I were hanging out on the corner. We were probably around thirteen or fourteen years old, and someone said, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t go to heaven.” This was not spoken in an accusatory manner. It was a mere, offhand statement that someone had simply heard and was now repeating.

“If you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t go to heaven.”

While it was no more than a casual utterance, that statement caught my attention. It just didn’t sound right to me. It did not ring true.

Looking back, I can vividly recall that moment in time. There we were, about six or seven of us, gathered together near John’s Market. Some of us were sitting on wooden steps, and some of us were standing. It was around eight in the evening, and the street lights had already come on. I don’t know why, but suddenly I found myself saying,

“If you are a good person you can go to heaven.”

No one argued with me. And that was the end of the discussion. We were on to other subjects…the Yankees…the Red Sox…the batting averages of Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams…. My words had already drifted off into the summer evening, like fading light, but the conviction behind them remains to this day as a firm belief.

Many years later I discovered the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, and to my great delight I found out that you could indeed “go to heaven” if you were a “good person.”

But what did it mean to be a “good person”?

According to Swedenborg one becomes a “good person” through a process called “regeneration”—a process through which we gradually become less selfish and more loving. This process is not mystical, mysterious, or instantaneous. Rather, it is, as Helen Keller says, “a change that comes over us as we hope and aspire and persevere in the way of the Divine Commandments.” Swedenborg puts it succinctly: “All can be saved, and those are saved who acknowledge God and live good lives” (Divine Providence 325).

It was clear, then, that good people could be saved.

But what about believing in Jesus? After all, my friend had said, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t go to heaven.” Are Christians the only ones who get into heaven? Is everybody else condemned? In her book Light in My Darkness, which is a tribute to the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, Helen Keller deals with this question eloquently:

I had been told by narrow people that all who were not Christians would be punished, and naturally my soul revolted, since I knew of wonderful men who had lived and died for truth as they saw it in the pagan lands. But in Heaven and Hell number 74 [by Emanuel Swedenborg] I found that ‘Jesus’ stands for Divine Good, Good wrought into deeds, and ‘Christ’ Divine Truth, sending forth new thought, new life and joy into the minds of men; therefore no one who believes in God and lives right is ever condemned (emphasis added).

These words capture the essence of what I was trying to tell my friends on that street corner in Providence on that summer evening so many years ago. And this is why the New Church, with its profound belief in Jesus Christ, and with its loving acknowledgement that all who strive to keep the commandments will be saved, has become my religion. As Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father” (Matthew 7:21).

If I were back on the street corner today with my friends I would tell them that they are right — no one comes into heaven if they do not believe in Love, which is what “Jesus” (the principle) represents and what Jesus (the Divine Human) came into the world to give.

I would also add that we do not get into heaven by merely confessing that we believe in “Love,” or that we believe in “Jesus.” We must prove this by living what Christ teaches — practicing loving-kindness, offering mercy, demonstrating courage, giving understanding, manifesting patience, dedicating ourselves to useful service and, in the process, being filled with every benevolent emotion and noble thought that we associate with a loving and wise God.

In 1957, when I was thirteen years old, I could not possibly have said all these things, nor would I or my friends have been able to understand them. So maybe it was best that the Lord led me to say, quite simply, “If you are a good person you can go to heaven!” And I still believe that this is true!

Truth by Religious Tradition & Authority vs. Spiritual Truth

Who or what is the source of truth? Recently it has become apparent that some basic teachings are in order here. The revelations of the New Church are very comprehensive and wide ranging, and can be easily applied to one’s spiritual life and allow one to reach a higher understanding.


In Christianity, it should be acknowledged that all source of truth is from the Lord, and that all truth and doctrine should be drawn from scripture.  There are three levels of truth:

  1. Knowledges of the truth.
  2. Rational truth, which are teachings confirmed by reason when one has come of age.
  3. Spiritual or intellectual truth, an inward perception of what is truth.
Swedenborg describes these levels of truth as follows:

“Truth learned is one thing, rational truth is another thing, and intellectual truth is another; and these succeed one another. Truth learned belongs to knowledge; rational truth is truth learned, confirmed by reason; intellectual truth is conjoined with internal perception that a thing is so.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 1496)

Truth learned, or rational truth, only becomes a spiritual truth when one starts to live by them. This is so, because the source of all truth is the Divine good, and all truth leads to this:

“With those who are first learning [the truths of faith] they are only knowledges. Afterward if they are held in holy veneration, they reach further and become truths of the church. But when such are affected by them and live according to them, then they become spiritual truths; for good of love and of charity, which is solely from the spiritual world, then imbues them and causes them to be living, since to be affected by them and to live according to them is from that good.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 5951)

These three levels of truth correspond to the higher and lower parts of the mind. Although we are first introduced to a subject through knowledge, knowledge is the lowest level of truth. The highest level of truth is in the intellectual mind, and it is here where there is Divine influx into each soul:

“Intellectual truth is distinguished from rational truth, and this from truth of knowledge, as the internal, the intermediate, and the external. Intellectual truth is internal, rational truth is intermediate, truth of knowledge is external. These are most distinct from each other, because one is more internal than another. With any man whatever, intellectual truth, which is internal, or in his inmost, is not the man’s, but is the Lord’s in the man. From this the Lord flows into the rational, where truth first appears as man’s; and through the rational into the faculty of knowing; from which it is evident that a man can by no means think from intellectual truth as of himself, but from rational truth and truth of knowledge, because these appear as his.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 1904.3)


Although one may be first introduced to Christian truths by religious authorities, or by ritual or tradition, or by one’s parents, truth learned by authority is only an introduction. Any religious tradition, any religious authority, any person which serves to introduce knowledges of truth is an instrument or means, but is not a source of truth in itself:

“It is known that a man learns many things in infancy and childhood for the sole use that by them as means he may learn those that are more useful, and successively by these such as are still more useful, till at length he learns those of eternal life; and when he learns these, the former are nearly obliterated. In like manner when a man is being born anew by the Lord, he is led by various affections for good and truth, which are not affections for genuine good and truth, but only useful for apprehending them, and then for being imbued with them; and when he is imbued with these, the former are then given to oblivion and left behind, because they had served only as means.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3982.2)

There is no such thing as a truth that become a truth because a religious authority says so. This is a fallacy known as argument of authority. It is only but a means of introduction. Most people will only go as far as learning from an authority, and go no further. But this is just the beginning. For whatever one has learned, one should question and determine if it is true or not:

“First the doctrinals of the church are to be learned, and then exploration to be made from the Word whether they are true; for they are not true because the heads of the church have said so and their followers confirm it, inasmuch as thus the doctrinals of all churches and religions would have to be called true, merely according to country and birth. Thus not only the doctrinals of the Papists and likewise of the Quakers would be true, but also those of the Jews and even of the Mohammedans, because their leaders have said so and their followers confirm it. From this it is plain that the Word is to be searched and it is to be seen there whether they are true. When this is done from affection for truth, then man is enlightened by the Lord so as to apperceive, without knowing whence, what is true, and he is confirmed in it according to the good in which he is. If these truths disagree with the doctrinals, let him take heed not to disturb the church.
“Afterward when he is confirmed and thus in an affirmative mind from the Word that they are truths of faith, it is then allowable for him to confirm them by all the knowledges that he possesses, of whatsoever name and nature; for then, because affirmation reigns universally, he accepts the knowledges which are in agreement, and rejects those which by reason of the fallacies that they contain are in disagreement. By means of knowledges faith is corroborated. Wherefore it is denied to no one to search the Scriptures from a desire for knowing whether the doctrinals of the church within which he was born, are true, for otherwise he can in no way be enlightened. Neither is it to be denied to him afterward to strengthen himself by means of knowledges, but he may not do it before. This is the way and the only way of conjoining the truths of faith with knowledges — not only with the knowledges of the church, but also with any knowledges whatever. Yet very few at this day proceed in this way; for most persons who read the Word do not read it from an affection for truth, but from an affection for confirming therefrom the doctrinals of the church within which they were born, whatsoever they be.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 6047.2-3)

I emphasize the last point, because most who read scripture do so to confirm the doctrine they already believe in. Very few are open to questioning what they believe is true or not, and to search the scripture for the truth. One should do so after achieving a certain sense of affirmation to become spiritual. Those who do not entertain doubts, but these doubts are admitted and mere excuses because doubts originate from the evils of life (Heavenly Arcana, n.2689.3-4).


There are many things in religion which are known as “adaptive” truths, or “apparent” truths. They are not exactly true and yet serve a purpose in order to adapt the truth to one’s understanding. There are even apparent truths in the sense of the letter of scripture:

“With those who remain in the sense of the letter of the Word, and think that it is the Lord who leads into temptation and who then troubles man’s conscience, and who think that because He permits evil He is the cause of evil, and that He casts the evil down into hell, with other similar things — these are apparent truths, but are not truths; and because they are not truths in themselves, there is not a parallelism and correspondence. Still the Lord leaves them intact in man, and miraculously adapts them by charity so that they can serve celestial things for vessels. So, too, with the worship, the religious teachings and morals, and even with the idols, of the well-disposed Gentiles: these likewise the Lord leaves intact, and still adapts them by charity so that they also serve as vessels. The case was the same in regard to the very many rites in the Ancient Church, and afterwards in the Jewish Church; which in themselves were nothing but rituals in which there was not truth, but which were tolerated and permitted, and indeed commanded, because they were held as sacred by parents, and so were implanted in the minds of children, and impressed upon them from infancy as truths.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 1832.3)

When one understands truth is adapted to one’s understanding, one can understand others more who follow different religious traditions or practices. It leads to more toleration and understanding. Adaptive or mediate truths are necessary, because the Divine truth itself is so high above us it cannot be comprehended:

“If Divine truths themselves were to be opened, they would not be received by those who are in the doctrinals of faith, because they exceed all their rational apprehension, thus all their belief, and consequently nothing of good from the Lord could flow in. For good from the Lord, or Divine good, cannot flow in except into truths, since truths are the vessels of good, as has been often shown.
“Truths or appearances of truth are given man to this intent, that Divine good may be able to form his intellect, and thus the man himself. For truths are to the end that good may flow in, inasmuch as good without vessels or receptacles does not find place, because it does not find a state corresponding to itself; wherefore where there are not truths, or where they are not received, there is not rational or human good, consequently the man has not any spiritual life. Therefore that man may still have truths, and thence have spiritual life, there are appearances of truth given, and this to every one according to his apprehension; which appearances are acknowledged as truths, because they are such that Divine things may be in them.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3387.1-2)

Divine good flows from heaven into these lower level truths. Even Jehovah become incarnate in order to reach mankind who had become merely natural:

“The Divine good, which is here called celestial good, is united as by marriage to the Divine truth, which is here called spiritual truth (n. 2508); and although the Divine good is united in this manner to the Divine truth alone, it still flows into lower truths, and conjoins itself with them, but not as by marriage; for it flows into rational truths which are only appearances of truth, and conjoins itself with them; and indeed into truths of sense and of outward knowledge which are scarce other than fallacies, and conjoins itself with them. Unless this were so, no man could by any means have been saved (see Part First, n. 1831, 1832). That the Divine good might be conjoined with truths of reason and of outward knowledge, and that man might thus be saved, was the purpose of the Lord’s coming into the world; for without the Lord’s Human made Divine there can in no way be any conjunction, but through Him there is conjunction.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2554.1)

This unknown Divine which is beyond all human comprehension, is known in scripture as the Father. The image of the Divine by which He made Himself known is the Son. Even Paul said that the Lord is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:14). It is a falsehood to declare them as two distinct persons, they are different aspects of One Divine Being.

The Lord is the Word made flesh, and in the spiritual sense, the Word or Logos is the Divine truth. The Lord said I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). All truth is from the Lord alone, and no man can claim what belongs only to the Lord. All good and truth belong to the Lord alone, and any good and truth that one has is not one’s own but was given to them by the Lord. To acknowledge that good and truth is from the Lord is to glorify Him.

Swedenborg saw in the spiritual world how all truth proceeds from the Lord alone:

“The Lord was the Divine truth itself when He was in the world, and afterward when He was glorified became Divine good, and thenceforth all Divine truth proceeds from Him. This Divine truth is light to the angels, which light also is that which illuminates our internal sight, which is of the understanding.
“This sight, since it does not see natural, but spiritual things, has for objects in the spiritual understanding truths which are called truths of faith, but in the natural understanding it has for objects truths of civil order which relate to what is just, and also truths of moral order which relate to what is reputable, and lastly natural truths which are conclusions from the objects of the external senses, especially of the sight. From this it may be seen in what order truths follow, and that all and each have their origin from truths Divine, which are the internal beginnings of all things. Moreover the forms in which they are have taken their origin therefrom, for these were created to receive and contain. Hence it may be evident what is meant in John by all things being created by the Word (i. 1-3); for truth Divine is the veriest essential and is the only substantial, by which all things are.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 8861.1-2)

As the Lord is Divine truth, and the source of truth, the Word of scripture should be sought to determine what is truth, and one should ask the Lord for enlightenment when reading scripture. There are three principles (True Christian Religion, n. 225):

  1. Without doctrine the Word is not understood.
  2. Doctrine is to be drawn from the sense of the letter of the Word and to be confirmed by it.
  3. But the Divine truth which is of doctrine appears to none but those who are in enlightenment from the Lord.
In the New Church doctrines have been given from heavenly revelations received by Swedenborg in the 18th century. With other churches, they will use the Bible to confirm doctrines which may or may not be true. The third point is important, as most use scripture to confirm their own bias. Jesus said, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened (Matt. vii. 7, 8; xxi. 21, 22).
Without acknowledgment of the Lord for enlightenment, the Bible is a closed book, even to theologians and scholars.
The truths of faith are those which treat of love, and it is only the truths that one chooses to live by which become a part of one’s spiritual life:

“It shall be briefly told what are truths of faith from love. Truths of faith from love are truths which love dictates, and thus which derive their being from love; these truths are living, because the things which spring from love are living. Therefore truths of faith from love are those which deal with love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbor, for these are the truths which love dictates. The whole Word is the teaching of such truths; for the Word in its spiritual sense treats solely of things that regard the Lord and the neighbor, and thus of such as are of love to the Lord and toward the neighbor; whence also the Word is living. This is meant by the Law and the Prophets hanging on those two precepts (Matt. xxii. 34-40), the Law and the Prophets being the Word in its whole complex. But truths of faith from love are not bare knowledges of such things with man in the memory and thence in the understanding, but they are affections of life with him; for the things which a man loves and therefore does, become of his life.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 9841.4)

Good is in truth, which determines what man favors:

“That good is within truth, and makes it to be truth, may also be evident from the goods and truths in even worldly things. When man seizes upon and acknowledges anything in these as good, then whatever favors this good he calls truth; but whatever does not favor it, he rejects and calls falsity. He may indeed say that that is true which does not favor that good; but he then dissembles, and thinks otherwise. So likewise in spiritual things.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2434)

One only has faith only inasmuch as one is in charity:

“A man has only so much of faith as he has of charity; and that when a man is being regenerated, charity presents itself to faith, or what is the same, good presents itself to truth, and insinuates itself into it and adapts itself to it in every particular, causing faith to be faith; and thus that charity is the very firstborn of the church, although to man it appears otherwise” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2435.2)


Earlier I described the three levels of truth.  The lowest form of truth is truth from authority, religious tradition, and truth that remain as only mere knowledges of the memory.  But in most Christian churches, this is where people remain. They do not question, they do not ask.  They merely follow authority and tradition. This is partly because church authorities wish to keep people this way – in a form of blind faith, not faith opened up reason and understanding, where truths can be seen in their full light. To merely believe as one has been told to believe is not spiritual faith, it is blind obedience, where the spiritual understanding has been closed off.

Churches that do not go to the Lord or the Word of scripture for enlightenment are not a church, for it is the Lord alone who makes the church. Churches that use scripture to confirm a false doctrine are a falsified church. If the primary interest of a church is their own religious authority, they cease to become a church, for the desire to rule from religious authority is diametrically opposed to love of the Lord. Swedenborg has several visions where the heavenly view of the current state of the Christian church was shown, and it was not good.

The main aspect that makes the New Church unique, is that revelations have been made where the spiritual sense of the Word has been opened. This is the Second Coming, which is described in more detail in Is the Second Coming a Physical Event or Spiritual Event? The New Church is the rebirth of Christianity, for the truth has been falsified in the older Christian churches:

Now as the dogmas of the present Christian churches were not composed from the Word, but from men’s own intelligence and thus from falsities, and as they were also confirmed by some things from the Word, the Word by the Lord’s Divine Providence was taken from the laity among the Roman Catholics, and was opened but still was closed among the Protestants by their common declaration that the understanding must be kept under obedience to faith. [a blind faith]
But the contrary is the case in the New Church; in this church it is allowable to enter with the understanding and penetrate into all its secrets, and also to confirm them by the Word. This is because, its doctrines are continuous truths, laid open by the Lord through the Word; and confirmations of those truths by means of rationals cause the understanding to be opened above more and more, and thus to be raised into the light in which are the angels of heaven; and that light in its essence is truth, and in this light the acknowledgment of the Lord as the God of heaven and earth shines in its glory.” (True Christian Religion, n. 508)

So for any who ask, for any who seek, heaven’s door now stands open.

Friday, April 7, 2017