By Karin Childs
Anyone who reads Swedenborg’s books will soon see that he quotes the Bible extensively. Over and over, he offers new ways to understand Bible text. For someone familiar with the Bible, this might trigger an alarm. Isn’t the Bible text enough? Why would anyone need to read Swedenborg’s explanations of Bible passages?
Think of the process of human learning. As children, we have to start out with concepts in simple ways—simple math, simple words, simple stories, simple science. If it didn’t start out simply, we couldn’t grasp any of it. But with every passing year, our minds grow. We’re ready for more. That “new” information had been there all along. It’s just that we come to a point that we’re ready to take in more of the story, adding a bit more of the already-existing information into the picture. This goes on and on, no matter how old we get. There is always more to learn about everyone and everything.
Consider that this could apply to our understanding of the Bible, too. We can understand it in a simple way when we first read it; but with each passing year of our growth and development, it offers us more and more to understand. And it could have more to offer humanity, too, with each passing year of our collective growth and development. Anyone who believes that the Bible is a holy document from God, as Swedenborg did, can appreciate that such a thing would have great power and depth. Such a document would by its very nature offer ever-increasing meaning to humanity as it grew closer to God.
Over the centuries, there have been many people who have offered new interpretations of the Bible with the goal of helping people to understand or relate to it better. (In fact, you could even argue that that’s what Jesus was doing—giving a new and expanded meaning to the scriptures that he and the people who heard him teach had grown up with.)
One famous example of biblical interpretation is Martin Luther (1483–1546). He was one of the key figures in the Protestant Reformation, a time when religious leaders were questioning the prevailing Catholic doctrine and developing a new vision for what it meant to be Christian. And even though Luther first advanced the idea that we don’t need anything but scripture, he wrote a large body of work explaining what scripture means.
Swedenborg’s books offer information about deeper meanings in the Bible verses. He is not Jesus; but he claims to be guided by him, working as his humble servant. And of course, readers have to feel in their own hearts whether to believe that or not.
In John 16:12, Jesus said: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” And in John 3:12, he said, “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” It sure seems that there was a lot more that Jesus wanted to tell people, but he recognized that most people were not yet ready.
Could it be that the time has come? As God did many times before, choosing people to write down the text that became the Holy Bible, could God now be revealing new ways of understanding sacred truth that people couldn’t have imagined two thousand years ago? Are we ready for the next level? What do you think?
For more about Swedenborg’s interpretation of the Bible, see our Inner Meaning of the Bible page; or, for a more in-depth look, you can watch the “What the Bible Is” episode of our weekly webcast Swedenborg and Life.
You can also get a taste of Swedenborg’s interpretation from his multivolume work Secrets of Heaven, or get an overview of how he sees the Word from his short work Sacred Scripture. Both of these titles are available for free download from this site.