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Spiritual & Biblical Interpretations of Life
 

The History and Nature of the Bible (The Word)

What distinguishes the Word (the Holy Scripture in the Bible) from all other written material is that it contains an internal sense. The words of Holy scripture have a real connection with heaven through correspondence. No other written word has or will ever have this internal sense. The Bible possesses this because it is divine truth from the will of God in heaven. Men wrote it with their hands, but it was given to them by divine inspiration or dictation from the Lord. The Bible is divine truth accommodated down to humanity on the earthy level.

There are three levels of heaven in the Lord’s kingdom: the celestial kingdom is the highest, the spiritual kingdom is in the middle, and the natural heaven is below. In a general way, the celestial kingdom consists of those who most immediately operate from the will and heart; the spiritual kingdom consists of those who operate from the intellect and the heart; and the natural heaven consists of those with a simple faith. Divine truth from God passes down through these levels to Earth. All the words of Holy Scripture possess a sense for each of these levels, which, when melded, compose the internal sense. Thus, the Bible is a treasure trove of divine wisdom and knowledge for the spiritual life and salvation of humanity. It is the essential means of conjoining heaven with humanity through the power of correspondence.

Swedenborg describes how for most of human history the Word has been the means of conjunction between heaven and mankind, and by the same token the means of providing knowledge of heaven and wisdom to earth. Since the time of the fall, a written Word has existed on earth for the purpose of providing communication between heaven and earth (Doctrine of the Sacred scripture: 102-103). Before the time of Noah, there was the most ancient church, which Swedenborg relates to the time of Adam and Eve. At this time, there was not a Word because humans received direct reception and communication from God. But after the fall of the most ancient church, the Word became the necessary means of conjunction for humanity. Without it, humanity would have no knowledge of conjuction with heaven and would perish in darkness at the hands of evil.

Swedenborg observes that there was an ancient Word before the Old Testament that served as the means of conjunction between heaven and earth. He writes “Religion was transplanted throughout the whole globe from the ancient Word, and afterwards from the Israelitish Word. Unless there had been a Word no one could have known of God, of heaven and hell, of life after death and still less of the Lord” (D.P. 254). This ancient Word was lost and forgotten. There are a few references to it in the Bibe, but this is a story for another time. The Word must exist in at least one, or a few Churches on earth, and be understood by people in these churches for conjunction between the Lord and humankind to continue (Doctrine of the Holy Scripture: 104).

This presents a question. How can a few churches on earth create conjunction with the whole globe when people are separated by thousands of miles? The Word extends through those who love it in their hearts to all humanity in a spiritual way. One of the secrets of heaven that Swedenborg reveals is that the entire universe, including all heaven and earth, if looked at as a whole, is in the form of a human, called the grand or universal man. This is a real sense in which people are ‘in the body of God.’. Those who are engaged in direct devotion to the Word occupy the heart and lungs of the body; So, just as the heart and lungs distribute blood and oxygen to the rest of the body, so the church in devotion to the Word disseminates spiritual conjunction to the whole body of humanity (Doctrine of the Holy Scripture: 105). At the same time, the scripture of the Word is also spread around the globe by providence, as can be seen, for example, by the spread of Christianity and Mehometism in Europe and the East. It is worth adding that Swedenborg writes that the Word will providentially always exist for all eternity in heaven and earth. These prefacing statements will be very helpful in understanding how the Jews functioned as the representative people for all of the planet.

The most important early religious and technological activities on earth centered around the Mediterranean, and, even though the Jewish church was primary to the purpose of maintaining conjunction, the state of all people and churches around the world remain of direct relevance in assessing the state of religion on the whole planet. So, I will sketch a brief characterization of this subject.

Swedenborg characterizes the decline of the church before the advent of the Lord in this way:

All the churches before the coming of the Lord were representative churches, which could only see divine truths as in shade; but after the Lord’s coming into the world a church was established by him which saw divine truths, or rather had a capacity to see them, in a full and clear light. The difference was like that between evening and morning; and indeed the state of the church before the coming of the Lord is in the Word called evening…. (reference)

 

In The Ancient World and Christianity, Protestant religious leader E. de Pressensé, writes a passage which expresses a very similar conclusion:

 

Undoubtedly all religions assume in some way the task of relieving and raising humanity. But if we compare the way in which they have fulfilled this function, with that which Christianity has given to the world, we shall see in all their tentative efforts to save an unhappy race, only another expression of the human yearnings that Christ alone can satisfy. Hence all the analogies pointed out between the Gospel teaching and the religious and philosophical conceptions of the ancient world, do not detract at all from its originality. However lofty the ideal of the old teachers of religion, it is still nothing more than an ideal, and there still remains the same interval between it and the Gospel, as between an idea and its full realization. The deeper the yearning of the ancient world, the greater the need for the response which Christianity alone can give. (Pressense, page #)

 

The decline in the spiritual state of humanity had been taking place for centuries. As seen in the Old Testament, the Jews rejected God over and over, digressing into a tragically external state of worship. It was not only the Jews, the rest of the world digressed on a similar timeline. It is one of the main purposes of Pressensé’s book to demonstrate the decline of world religions, and thus the dire need for the coming of Christ and Christianity. He covers the Chaldeo-assyrian religion, the religion of Egypt, Phoenicia, the Primitive Aryans, the religion of Zoroaster, the Vedas, and Buddha. He analyzes the religions of Greece and Greek philosophy, showing how, in most of the world, naturism evolves into paganism, or sometimes a monastic naturalism. Paganism, he believes, develops a higher consciousness in humans, but usually involves into a polytheism that degenerates the soul of man. He believes monastic naturalism develops into dualism, and that paganism develops into humanism, and that both of these, as they become extreme, lead to severe moral decay and emptiness in the soul. He elaborates on the severe degeneracy of the Roman society before the time of Christ. He believes naturism and paganism have great value for developing man’s consciousness and a yearning for God, but he argues that it is a yearning that remains empty and unfulfilled. He also cites certain pockets of monotheism where there are people and places of greater enlightenment, but these are the exception, serving as a sort of remains or faint heart beat to preserve humanity. Swedenborg indicates similar pockets of the enlightened, especially in the East. For instance, just before the time of Christ, he says that in the East the three wise men were part of those who retained knowledge of correspondences. Nevertheless, both Pressensé and Swedenborg overwhelmingly indicate that there was a decline in the churches around the world until the time of Christ.

Swedenborg writes that idle worship was prevalent in most parts of the world, and that idle worship was the offspring of the science of correspondences. At first, people put up images and objects to remind them of the items of correspondence. But, as generations passed, the knowledge of correspondences dissipated, and the worship of the image as a deity replaced it. Swedenborg writes that idolatry and magic had filled most of the nations of the world in the centurie preceding the incarnation. In True Christian Religion he writes:

 

The reason why…idols ought not to be worshiped, was, because, before the time of the giving of the law and after it, even to the coming of the Lord, the worship of idols prevailed in most of the kingdoms of Asia; which churches originated in this circumstance, that all the churches before the Lord’s coming were representative and typical,… that divine things were exhibited under various figures and sculptures, which the vulgar, losing sight of their significations, began to worship as god. Though shalt have no gods before Me, also signifies that no man, whether dead or alive, ought to be worshiped as a god, which was a practice very common in Asia and the neighboring countries. Hence came many of the gods of the Gentiles, as Baal, Ashtaroth, Chemosh, Milkom, Beelzebub; and amongst the Greeks and Romans, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto, Apollo, Pallas, etc. Some of these they first worshiped as saints, afterwards as subordinate deities (numina), and lastly as gods. That they also worshiped living men as gods, is evident from the decree of Darius the Mede, that no one, but for the space of thirty days, should offer any petition to God, but to the king alone, on pain of being cast into the den of lions (Dan 6: 7) (TCR: 291-292).

 

The ancient Word and the Old Testament were representative churches. Before the Lord’s advent, religion was representative, but after the Lord’s life, representation was no more. A representative church means that the things, people, and activities of that church serve to correspond to the structure of heaven and to sustain humanity’s connection to heaven by correspondences. The representative church was absolutely necessary for the sustenance of humanity; it served as the foundation for heaven. Without a foundation the whole cannot long continue. Eventually, humanity would have perished entirely.

A representative church is a step away from the Lord. In other words, it is not in direct light. In a representative church, there is not an immediate relationship with the Lord as there is now, but only mediate or indirect influx from heaven. The general law of this church is that the meaning of significant objects, such as the altar, priests, the temple, etc. does not depend on the quality of the person or thing represented, but upon the office or use being represented. For instance, kings in either Israel or Egypt could represent the Lord for heaven because the regal function of the king’s use represents the Lord, regardless of the character of the earthly King. So Pharaoh, even though he was evil, could represent the Lord. It is the same with priests and everything else in the church (AC: 1361). This is why all the people, places, and happenings in the Hebrew nation are so important and are recorded so diligently in the Bible. For instance, in the book of Numbers, all the tribes, the families that compose them, and their function to the whole are carefully recorded – all of these particular things are representative, and are the means of conjunction by correspondence between earth and heaven (before the time of Christ).

The Jewish nation was the representative people and church for many centuries before the coming of Jesus. Their role in this capacity gradually evolved into a strange and unique situation, which will be the subject of much of what follows. They were the ‘chosen’ people in the sense they served as the representative people, but this doesn’t mean they were enlightened or favored above others. (How this worked will be explained in detail below). They were used for this purpose because, in their character, they possessed a talent for worship and holiness. But the Israelites gradually declined into a completely external form of worship that caused the Lord to have to make creative accommodations for them to remain the representative people.

It is a pattern of cosmic history that all the churches begin in inspiration and then decline as evil accumulates. This results in a dire separation between God and Man and in a cosmic loss of equilibrium between heaven and hell. The last time this happened before the coming of Christ was in the time of Noah. The Bible describes how the ancient church had declined and the whole earth had become dominated by evil, which is why Noah was given his mission. The Gospel of Matthew compares the situation at the time of Noah with the time of Jesus:

 

For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man (Mat 24:38-44).

 

The reason the time of Noah is compared to Jesus is that both are times of transition from one universal church to another. More specifically, they are both times of terrible accumulation of evil to the point humanity would have been destroyed. The darkness on the land caused an imbalance in the equilibrium between heaven and hell.

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