Thursday, November 8, 2012

Apocalypse Explained vs. Apocalypse Revealed

A few months ago I published the entirety of Swedenborg's published works in the multi-volume work, The Divine Revelation of the New Jerusalem.  It is given this title as his works contain revelations concerning the New Jerusalem described in the book of Revelation, concerning a New Christian Church that would be established.  It is an e-book, but every single reference is hyperlinked for ease of study.  I had chosen an edition that I felt had a consistent translation, which included all of his published works.  I did, however, end up correcting or modernizing some of the English.  I did not include any of the unpublished works, as I felt they were drafts of the published works.

I am currently working on an edition of Apocalypse Explained, which will include all six volumes in one work as an e-book, and again have the advantages of hyperlinked references.  I originally thought Apocalypse Explained was a draft of the published work, Apocalypse Revealed, and that the latter was a more condensed version.  But another scholar pointed out to me that is not the case: they are two completely different works.  Swedenborg started all over with Apocalypse Revealed.  Here is some background history between these two works, taken from the biography Emanuel Swedenborg: His Life and Writings, by William White:
In the account of the Last Judgment, issued in 1758, it is written-
"Within two years an explication of the Apocalypse from beginning to end will be published."
In pursuance of this promise, the Apocalypse Explained was written as far as Chapter xix., v. 10, and the title-page, with Londini, 1759, prepared, when for some unknown reason the work was set aside.
The Apocalypse Revealed made its appearance in 1766 six years after due. Whether in reference to it, or the Apocalypse Explained, we read-
"I heard a voice from Heaven, 'Enter into your chamber and shut the door and apply to the work begun on the Apocalypse, and finish it within two years.'" [see Angelic Wisdom Concerning Marriage Love, n. 522]
The second work is much inferior to the first: it is less diffuse, but is dry as a dictionary. The Apocalypse Explained abounds in extraordinary digressions, illustrative and miscellaneous, through which it is almost impossible to preserve the thread of, apocalyptic exposition unbroken: but in these digressions are to be found some of the wisest and most happily expressed of Swedenborg's opinions. Unless the cost of publication hindered, I can scarcely imagine how he had the heart to replace it with the bony Apocalypse Revealed. The Apocalypse Revealed is not an abridgment of the Explained, but a new work. The drift of both is the same, but when we compare particular interpretation with particular interpretation, we discover not only variations, but differences irreconcileable. If, as he says, "the Lord alone taught and illuminated me," [see Angelic Wisdom Concerning the One God, Divine Providence, n. 135] it would be worth knowing how the differing interpretations are to be accounted for. People with Divine pretensions should never be surprised in undress. A more astute practitioner would have put the Apocalypse Explained in the fire when the Revealed was sent to press.
A bit of a harsh assessment there, but I would agree: Apocalypse Explained is much more richer in discourse than Apocalypse Revealed.  Swedenborg meanders about, explaining multiple verses of scripture that is found nowhere else.  Conservative Swedenborgians wish to distinguish between Swedenborg's published works and his unpublished works, as the latter were works in progress.  But Apocalypse Explained falls into a gray area - it was never published, but unlike the other manuscripts it was meticulously prepared for the printer.  It was not intended to be a draft.

There is an interesting article called Which of Swedenborg's works are Divine inspiration? which notes that "The unpublished works have long been a source of incorrect teaching".  It also contains a reference to an interesting article entitled, Are there imperfections in Swedenborg's Scripture Interpretation?, where John F. Potts refutes these allegations, and notes that most are found in the unpublished work of Apocalypse Explained, and do not affect the interpretation.  But, in my view, the writings of Swedenborg are not Divinely Inspired in the way scripture is.  They were Divinely influenced.  For a better explanation of what I mean, see my previous blog, What books are Divinely Inspired?

So, I see no need to defend or explain away the minor mistakes that Swedenborg makes. Overall, he was quite meticulous and much more accurate and careful than other writers. Errors of factual knowledge, which we receive from the outer world through our senses, is different from spiritual revelations received from above.  In the case of scripture, the words were dictated word by word.  Not so in the case of Swedenborg, although at times he did hear "the living Voice".  As I was preparing Heavenly Arcana for publication, I noted that certain footnotes would explain differences between the original Hebrew text and the Latin translation by Schmidius of scripture that was used by Swedenborg. And it was revealed to Swedenborg that the Masoretic Hebrew text was highly accurate.  These things, in my view, are minor.  What is important here is the overall method that Swedenborg used to explain the spiritual sense of scripture, and the revealed symbolism.  Swedenborg solves a major problem for all of Christianity: he has proven how certain books of the Bible are Divinely inspired.  That is major, that is what people should pay attention to.  It has immediate impact on application to one's life.

So, for Apocalypse Explained, the edition I am working on is for the most part complete, but the hyperlinking of the footnotes is taking some time.  But the passage from William White interested me: what differences are there between Apocalypse Explained and Apocalypse Revealed?  I took a quick glance, actually quite a few.  Let me take an example.  Apocalypse (or Revelation) 2:19 states the following:
I know thy works, and charity, and ministry, and faith, and thy endurance, and thy works, and the last more than the first.
In Apocalypse Revealed, the verse is stated correctly, but later when Swedenborg interprets it, he accidentally dropped the second phrase of "thy works".  It sounds minor, but it is not.  It has a major consequence in the interpretation of this verse and those that follow it.  In the case of Apocalypse Explained, he does not drop the words, and comes out in my view with probably the correct interpretation. So in this case, it would seem a minor slip of the pen may have affected the interpretation.  So what?  Well, I am not sure if I just want to publish this edition of Apocalypse Explained as is.  I think what is required here is a more critical edition, where there are critical footnotes explaining the differences between Apocalypse Explained and Apocalypse Revealed.  And I am suspecting I may find more cases where the unpublished work may have a better interpretation than the published one.  Probably, overall, they complement each other.  Its a bit hard to switch between the two works, but the e-book I am now planning for Apocalypse Explained will make it easier.  The result of this is the fine line that some like to make between his published and unpublished works just got a little grayer.

So what does this mean?  The work that Swedenborg started is unfinished.  It is up to others, those who decide to belong to the New Church, to finish it.


  1. I am still working on an e-book for Apocalypse Explained by Swedenborg, where all six volumes will be in one book. I started to do a comparison between this work and Apocalypse Revealed, but it was hard to jump around the different passages and compare them.

    So - I have decided to hyperlink the paragraph numbers in Apocalypse Explained with the paragraph numbers in Apocalypse Revealed. In this way, it will be easier to compare the passages. In most cases, Apocalypse Explained has greater breadth and depth in interpreting numerous passages of scripture, and it is unfortunate (and somewhat mysterious) why Swedenborg decided to not publish this version. Moreover, sometimes one book will correct the view of the other. I will put up a blog post when this project is done.

  2. Hi Doug,

    A few comments:

    The 1867 biography of Swedenborg by William White, titled Emanuel Swedenborg: His Life and Writings, is considered by Swedenborg scholars to be a hostile biography. It was written and published after White had had a falling out with his former employer, the Swedenborg Society in London. A decade earlier White had published a shorter, sympathetic biography of Swedenborg, so this was quite a turn-around!

    For more on White and his about-face on Swedenborg, see Swedenborg Explorer's Guidebook: A Research Manual, by William Ross Woofenden, second edition, revised (2008), p 279; and for an extensive account of William White and the two biographies, R. L. Tafel, Documents Concerning Swedenborg Vol. 2, Part II, pages 1284-1332.

  3. Now about Apocalypse Explained, it was a common practice of Swedenborg throughout his scientific and theological periods to write whole volumes and sets of volumes that he never published, then write the version that he did publish. In fact, most of his published works have drafts or precursors that he never published; or if not, they are revised extracts or reworks of material he had earlier published.

    The fact that he left Apocalypse Explained unpublished is not remarkable at all, but is quite typical of his modus operandi.

    As for its "authority," I believe that is an issue only for Swedenborgians who think that Swedenborg's writings are about "authority." This is a common fundamentalist view in interpreting the scriptures of all religions, including Christianity and the "New Church."

    There will always be people whose religion is based on obedience to authority (which is the "natural" or "earthly" level of spiritual development) rather than inspiration of the rational intellect (the "spiritual" level) or heavenly and divine love in the will (the "celestial" or "heavenly" level).

    People whose religion is on the natural level of obedience to authority are the fundamentalists of all religions. They are generally good people, but limited in their view of the depths of spirit that lies within the "literal sense" of whatever scriptures they adhere to. For traditional Christians, those scriptures are the Bible. For Swedenborgians of the conservative and fundamentalist stripe, Swedenborg's writings become the "authoritative" scripture, which is to be read and adhered to literally.

    For those who have moved beyond a literalist, authority-based reading of Swedenborg's writings, the issue of the unpublished writings and their "authority" is a non-issue. While it is very interesting and enlightening to compare the unpublished to the published writings, the main idea is to gain enlightenment and inspiration from the whole body of Swedenborg's writings and his interpretation of the Bible.

    To make a long story short with regard to Apocalypse Explained, because of its long digressions on particular words and phrases that occur in the book of Revelation, explaining the same words and phrases elsewhere in the Bible, it is a gold mine of material on passages throughout the Prophets the Gospels, and other books of the Bible whose spiritual meaning is explained nowhere else. To throw away Apocalypse Explained because Swedenborg never published it would be to cripple our ability to correspondentially interpret vast swaths of the Bible.

  4. Finally (for now), though in some instances Apocalypse Revealed and Apocalypse Explained do differ in their explanations of Bible verses, this is only a problem if the reader assumes that there is one and only one "correct" spiritual interpretation of the Bible.

    My understanding of the Word of God is that it has not one single deeper meaning that can be understood if we read what Swedenborg said about it, but that it has infinite divine meaning that we finite humans are able to understand parts and variations of according to our own spiritual state and spiritual needs.

    In fact, I have come to believe that the whole vast body of Swedenborg's scriptural interpretations contained especially in Arcana Coelestia, Apocalypse Revealed, and Apocalypse Explained is not intended primarily to tell us what the spiritual meaning is (though it does do that as well), but to demonstrate its existence and to give us the tools we need to read the Bible and understand its spiritual meanings for ourselves.

    One subtle indication of this is that in many places throughout Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg concludes a particularly poignant interpretation of a passage by saying something along the lines of, "This shows that there is a spiritual meaning hidden within the literal meaning of the Word." These statements salted throughout that massive work convey that Swedenborg was intent on piling up so much "evidence" for a spiritual meaning by showing its existence in every little detail of the Bible text that any open-minded and semi-enlightened reader could be assured that there is, indeed, a spiritual meaning accessible to humans on earth.

    I do not believe that Swedenborg, in the enlightened state of having open access to the spiritual world, was primarily intent upon making sure we humans on earth have the correct interpretation of particular passages. Rather I believe he was intent that we in some measure might have our minds opened to the spiritual level of meaning within the Word of God so that we could read it for ourselves and find that spiritual meaning there as it applies to our own spiritual life and to the spiritual life of the society in which we live.

    With that in mind, I believe that the variations in meaning given for particular verses in Swedenborg's unpublished (Apocalypse Explained) and published (Apocalypse Revealed) commentaries on the book of Revelation serve, not primarily as fodder for skeptics who want to use their free will in rejecting Swedenborg's writings (as is maintained in one of the outside articles you link to), but rather to suggest to careful readers of Swedenborg that the spiritual meaning of the Bible is far more complex, nuanced, and adaptable to various human states than could be gathered from a single, consistent interpretation of its spiritual meaning.

    1. Lee, I love your comments here. I too believe that the Lord influences us on a collective as well as a personal level to enlighten and lift our lives. This becomes a very subtle and loving approach by the Lord to enable us to return to His presence. The Lord does not seem to give commandments to mankind unless we have the capacity to obey them. This makes perfect sense or God, by giving us commandments we cannot obey, would "automatically" damn us. The challenge becomes for each of us to have the ability to ascertain when something is true or false. However, Swedenborg conveys that love trumps truth. I take that to mean we may have a few false doctrines that are "sacred cows" to us and as such, those falsities will not be of benefit to us; but as long as we are in love to the Lord and our neighbors, we can be molded by the Lord into what we need to be to dwell with the Lord.

    2. For those of you interested, a combined edition entitled "Apocalypse Revealed and Explained" was published a while ago on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, which allows one to easily swap between the 2 works for each passage: see The Apocalypse Revealed and Explained.

      The teaching that God gave commandments we cannot obey comes from a false interpretation of Paul by the Protestants, and they still teach this. However there is a promising shift in view within the Protestant churches on this - see A New Perspective on Paul and the New Church Perspective on Paul.

  5. I was unaware of that view in White's biography of Swedenborg. I have not read it, but was trying to find just about anything that actually compared Apocalypse Explained with Apocalypse Revealed. I think in AE he stopped at chapter 19, because he was a bit surprised at the interpretation of the white horse and decided to right one small work to focus on that. I think he was personally affected when he read certain passages from scripture.

    I would wish, instead of speculating on the authority of writings outside of scripture, that interpretations of books of the Bible that Swedenborg did not interpret in detail be developed further. I have seen some attempts at this, but they were poorly executed. That should be the focus - when one tries it for themself then one appreciates even more what insights Swedenborg had in exposing the spiritual meaning of scripture.

  6. Hi Doug,

    For more on Apocalypse Explained, Apocalypse Revealed, and Swedenborg's writing sequence in general, see:

    "A Rationale for Swedenborg's Writing Sequence," by George F. Dole, in Emanuel Swedenborg: A Continuing Vision (Swedenborg Foundation, 1988) pp. 293-297.


    "Swedenborg's Long Sunrise: an analytic look at his theological years - 2," in Studia Swedenborgiana, vol. 9, no. 3, October 1995.

    In the first century after Swedenborg's death, a number of books were published covering the spiritual meaning many, if not most of the remaining books of the Bible that Swedenborg himself did not interpret sequentially. Some of them (especially for the Gospels) were simple compilations of passages from Swedenborg's writings commenting on each verse or on similar subjects elsewhere in the Bible. Others were sequential interpretations of the Bible text by the author based on Swedenborg's correspondential style of interpretation. My own collection of such works, which is good but not complete, takes up over three and a half feet of shelf space.

  7. I saw on some website a list of some of those works that attempted to delve into the other works of the Bible - I selected one, but it just did not possess the same kind of insight in Swedenborg's writings. His exegesis is very methodical. I would have to hunt around to find it.

    That last link really dove into why he never published Apocalypse Explained, almost a bit too much. Here is a good quote:

    "Meanwhile, Apocalypse Explained ran into trouble and was left unfinished. There have been some attempts to explain why, but definitive answers have been very elusive, and we can only try to clarify and theorize a little further. After a promising start, the work became very unwieldy, finally alternating one paragraph of exegesis with several pages of philosophical and doctrinal discussion. It stopped short at chapter 19, verse 10, very close to the end of the book of Revelation at chapter 22."

    Some of those philosophical discussions at the end seem out of place, and my impression there is he began to depend on his own prior scientific knowledge rather than following spiritual enlightenment. That, plus fewer people could afford the lengthy volumes, so he shortened it to get the message out.


Comments, questions, corrections and opinions welcome...