Over the last two thousand years, millions of people have turned to the Bible for guidance, for wisdom, for hope, and for answers. Even today, millions look to it as God’s holy Word. But there are an even greater number who see it and have questions: “Is the Bible still relevant?” “If this is God’s holy Word, why does it contain so many stories involving violence and conflict?” "Why does it conflict with what science tells us (in the creation story, for example)?" “How am I supposed to understand such a confusing book?”
Look First for the Simple Answers
Some parts of the Bible are straightforward and easy to grasp quickly. For instance, when Jesus says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12), it’s quite clear what we are supposed to do. Other parts are more complicated, especially when we start to compare them with one another. For example, sometimes it talks about Jesus and Jehovah as if they are the same person: “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). At other times, though, it seems as if they are two different people: “I am going to My Father, for My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
Sometimes it can be hard to get more than even a general idea of what is being described, as in some of the more confusing prophecies and in some of the stranger visions. There are also the parts that are not hard to understand, but which seem incompatible with our modern ideas of science and history.
So, what are we to do?
The New Church teaches that the Bible has multiple layers of meaning. The more significant meanings are the deeper ones. These deep, previously-hidden meanings are now unlocked for anyone to see, in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Does this mean that we should ignore the more plain “surface” meaning of the text of the Bible? No way! In fact, the book True Christian Religion says that there are places in the Bible where the deeper meaning rises to the surface of the plain text, where anyone can see it:
“…The Word in that sense resembles a person wearing clothes, but whose face and hands are bare. Everything needed for a person’s faith and life, and so everything needed for his salvation, is there uncovered, though the remainder is clothed. In many passages where it is clothed it still shows through, like a woman’s features through a thin silk veil over her face. Moreover, since the truths of the Word increase in number as they are loved and this love gives them shape, so they show through and become visible more and more clearly” (True Christian Religion 229).
In other words, the most critical, soul-saving, life-giving teachings in the Bible are the ones that are easiest to understand: for example, the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), the two great commandments (Mark 12:29-31), the new commandment (John 13:34-35), and the Lord’s prayer (Mathew 6:9-13). What’s more, there are places where the deeper meaning is only thinly veiled; once you know to look for it, it isn’t very hard to find. But what’s perhaps most exciting is the final implication of the above paragraph: once you realize that the Bible has this deeper truth in it, you become more and more attuned to it the more you read!
So, with the help of the explanations in the Writings of the New Church, along with prayer to the Lord for enlightenment along the way, you will find the deeper meaning of the Bible becomes gradually less and less hidden the more you read. And what you will find is that underneath the plain text of the Bible are new living, spiritual ways of understanding the Lord’s Word. Every story in the Bible contains within it deeper truths that relate to God, the church, and your own personal spiritual journey.
Remember, the most basic and the most important ideas in the Bible are the clearest and most obviously relevant ones. So don’t worry that the more complicated parts of the Bible may take time to decipher. God loves you and is merciful to you, and so He has already given you enough to live by, in the parts that don’t need further interpretation.
Now, once you start to really get this idea of there being deeper layers of meaning within the stories of the Bible, you can begin to find answers to other questions. For instance, there are parts of the Bible which seem no longer relevant because modern science has proven them “wrong.”
What about the Creation Story?
One example is the story of the creation of the world in seven days as told in Genesis. But in the first volume of the book Secrets of Heaven we discover that the literal statements in this story are vessels for deeper ideas. The inner truth of this story is all about the series of internal steps God takes people through as they develop spiritually. The Bible and science become compatible once we realize that the Bible is not really concerned with scientific facts, but instead uses ideas suited to illustrate important truths about humanity’s inner, spiritual reality. God’s primary focus is not to teach us science. What God wants to do is use the Bible to tell us about deep, eternal, unchanging truths that will have a much greater impact on us than our mere understanding of the physical world.
What about the Violence in the Bible?
Likewise, this explains why so many of the stories in the Bible are full of violence and brutality. The deeper truth of the Bible is all about the inner life we each face, with all of the temptation, suffering and striving that we inevitably face. Our spiritual lives are full of conflicts between our lower, selfish natures and the higher, loving selves that God created us to be. If the Lord is going to talk to us about how to face spiritual battles, then it makes sense that he uses stories of natural conflict as the foundation and container for these lessons. But don’t take our word for it; investigate this for yourself. Start reading the Bible, and when you have questions, look for the deeper truth behind the plain text of the story. To aid you in your search for meaning, turn to the Writings of Swedenborg, and reach out to someone in the New Church. There are many New Church members and ministers who would love to help you find your way as you begin this new journey of exploration. Email us at email@example.com , and we will be happy to put you in touch with someone to answer your questions.
As is taught in Corinthians: “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” Go to God’s Word and seek out the spirit, and you will find that it gives the Bible new life and new meaning.