Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Divine Inspiration of the Epistles of Paul, and a Lost Epistle of Paul

In the early Christian church, the definition of the Biblical canon was largely defined by the authorship of the work - if it was written by an apostle of Jesus, it was included in the canon of the New Testament.  By the 4th century A.D. the canon of the New Testament was largely defined, which was largely based on authorship of the work.  But which works are Divinely inspired?  For most people, all the works are Divinely inspired based on what books are currently in the Bible.  But the New Testament itself gives a more narrow definition - only the words that come directly from God, through revelation and vision, are Divinely inspired:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16)
If it contains the words of God, received through revelation, then the scripture is Divinely inspired.  As Jesus is the Word of God incarnate (see John 1), everything that Jesus said can be considered as directly Divinely inspired.  If we restrict ourselves to the words of Jesus, then in the New Testament the works that contain the most Divine Inspiration would be the four Gospels and the book of Revelation.  Among the other works, there are very short quotes of Jesus in the book of Acts, and one direct quote of Jesus in the epistles of Paul (2 Cor. 12:9).


In the revelation of the New Church, the canon of scripture is not based on authorship, nor on tradition, nor on the basis of church authority.  Divine inspiration of any work is based on the content of the revelation itself.  Typical means of inspiration was through direct vision, through dreams, or direct auditory experience of the spoken Word.  What was revealed to Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century is that when God reveals Himself, the very words are Divinely inspired in such a manner that they follow a particular pattern.  This pattern is symbolic, and the symbolism can be recognized through a system of correspondences.  This is described in detail in a multi-volume work Heavenly Arcana (aka Arcana Coelestia).  Using this system of correspondences, one can often recognize whether a work is Divinely inspired or not through its content, and not merely trusting tradition or authority.

Using this system of correspondences, revealed in waking vision, it was shown to Swedenborg that the Law (Torah - the first five books of Moses), the Prophets (Nevi'im) and the Psalms were indeed Divinely inspired.  They all have different authors, but follow a common pattern.  Jesus confirmed that these are Divinely inspired in the gospel of Luke:
These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me. (see Luke 24:44).
Outside of this canon, the Jews had a separate set of books known as the "writings."  Among these, Swedenborg was shown that Daniel and Lamentations were Divinely inspired.  Works that are "semi-inspired" are Job, Proverbs and Song of Songs, but these works are not written where subsequent statements follow each other in a coherent series.

When Swedenborg arrived at the New Testament, to the surprise of many he discovered that only the four gospels of the book of Revelation were Divinely inspired.  And by Divine inspiration, Swedenborg is talking about Divine inspiration in a very strict sense, where the words themselves are written in a series of correspondences, where hidden behind the literal sense of scripture there is a spiritual sense.  That there is a hidden spiritual sense in scripture is confirmed by Jesus Himself:
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?  He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. (Matt. 13:10-11)
And here is this interesting passage, where Jesus confirms He is not only speaking in parables and figures of speech, but also in the future will reveal things more plainly:
I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. (John 16:25)
And this, unknown to most, has been fulfilled in the revelations received by Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century, who was directed by Jesus Himself to reveal the internal spiritual sense of scripture, which is explained in a massive multi-volume work, Heavenly Arcana (aka Arcana Coelestia).  It is the best proof that explains why and how scripture is Divinely inspired.  Traditional Christianity, when questioned on the Divine inspiration of the Bible, cannot offer a comprehensive proof.  The doctrines of the New Church can, if one take the time to examine them.


The one main reason major Christian denominations do not reference Swedenborg, and may be a bit wary of him, is that he did not include the epistles of Paul as among the Divinely inspired works of the Bible.  Most sermons are based on the writings of Paul, and Protestant churches in particular are dependent on Paul for their theology and doctrine of faith.  Thus they falsely assume Swedenborg rejected the epistles of Paul since he disagreed with them.  But this is not true - Swedenborg did not reject the teachings of Paul.  In fact, he confirmed the teachings, and in many ways anticipated modern theological thought on the epistles of Paul (for an in depth analysis, see A New Perspective on Paul and the New Church Perspective on Paul).

However, there is one matter here that is not so well known even within the New Church itself.  Although Swedenborg was shown that the letters of Paul were not Divinely inspired, he confirms - in his unpublished diary - that the letters of Paul were indeed Divinely influenced:
"...the Lord spoke from Divine Wisdom Itself, by correspondences, exactly as He also spoke by the prophets, consequently from His own Divine; and that Paul indeed spoke from inspiration, but not in the same way as the prophets, to whom every single word was dictated but that his inspiration was that he received an influx, according to those things which were with him, which is quite a different inspiration, and has no conjunction with heaven by correspondences." (Spiritual Diary, n. 6062)
In other words, one can say that the letters of Paul are inspired to a lesser degree - they are Divinely influenced in their overall thoughts, but not down to the very words themselves.  Thus the New Church should make a distinction: works that are Divinely inspired and works that are Divinely influenced.  There are thus degrees or levels of inspiration, according to the content of the work itself.  Divine inspiration is strictly any content that was received by revelation, and is written in a form of symbolic correspondences.  Divinely influenced works are those that are more doctrinal in nature, offering explanation for Divinely inspired scripture.


Most have a simple view of Divine inspiration of scripture: it is or it isn't.  But if one recognizes different degrees of inspiration, and keeps a distinction between Divinely inspired works and those that are Divinely influenced, one can reach a greater understanding of the truth.  One can distinguish Divine truth, and keep it separate from the teachings and traditions of men.

The reason why the epistles of Paul are included in scripture, and should remain in scripture, is for a very good reason, explained in the following passage from Swedenborg's diary:
That the Epistles of Paul have not an internal sense is known in the other life; but it is permitted that they may be in the Church, lest those who are of the Church should work evil to the Word of the Lord, in which is the internal sense. For if man lives ill, and yet believes in the holy Word, then he works evil to heaven; therefore the Epistles of Paul are permitted, and therefore Paul was not permitted to take one parable, not even a doctrine, from the Lord, and to expound and unfold it; but he took all things from himself. The Church, indeed, explains the Word of the Lord, but by means of the Epistles of Paul; for which reason also it everywhere departs from the good of charity, and accepts the truth of faith; which, however, the Lord has taught, but in such wise that the good of charity should be the all. (Spiritual Diary, n. 4824)
In a private letter, Swedenborg also explains that these letters were included as doctrinal matters needed to be simplified for the public:
"With reference to the writings of the Apostles and Paul I have not included these in ARCANA COELESTIA, and this for the reason that they are doctrinal writings, and so are not written in the style of the Word as are the Prophets, David, the Gospels, and the Revelation. The style of the Word wholly consists of correspondences, on which account it effects an immediate communication with heaven. In the doctrinal writings, however, there is another style which indeed communicates with heaven, but mediately. That they were so written by the Apostles was in order that the new Christian Church might commence through these, on which account doctrinal matters could not be written in the very style of the Word, but in a manner that might be more clearly and more directly understood. Nonetheless, the writings of the Apostles are good books for the Church, maintaining the doctrine of charity and its faith as strongly as ever did the Lord Himself in the Gospels and in the Revelation, as can be clearly seen and observed if one attends to the matter while reading those writings." (Letter, Harley)
With actual scripture, when one reads it with an open heart, direct communication is opened with heaven and the angels, even though a person may be unaware of it at the time.  With Divinely influenced writings, which tend to be more doctrinal in nature, communication is indirect or mediate.

If one understands this approach to the letters of Paul, and the letters of the apostles, one can have a better understanding of other works that may contain a degree of Divine influence but are not Divinely inspired.  In this, I would classify the works of Swedenborg himself as "Divinely influenced."  But according to Swedenborg's own definition, his works are definitely not Divinely inspired in the same way scripture is. Scripture must follow the Divine pattern of symbolic correspondences, as declared in the Doctrine of Sacred Scripture. Swedenborg even spells it out by giving the list of books that are Divinely inspired.

What other works are Divinely influenced, but not Divinely inspired?  The Quran, Swedenborg says, does contain a partial heavenly revelation, but it is only there in an obscure manner.  The reason for that was to introduce those who originate from polygamous cultures to Jesus, without revealing His true nature so that polygamy would not be mixed with the more internal holy revelation.  It was also written in such a way to offer opposition to the false doctrine of a trinity of three persons. Thus the Quran (or Koran) can be classified as Divinely influenced, but not Divinely inspired in the same way the Bible is.  Interestingly, the Quran affirms that the gospels of the New Testament should still be followed, and does not mention the epistles of Paul.


There are certain works that are quoted in the Bible, that are Divinely inspired, but are now lost to us.  Or may be lost.  One, which was used to compose portions of the Old Testament, is the book of Jasher (see The Lost Book of Jasher, the Exodus, and Emanuel Swedenborg).  However, since most among Christian churches are focused on the epistles of Paul to the exclusion of everything else, I thought I would offer something interesting here.  Swedenborg, in his visions, was shown that there is indeed a lost epistle of Paul that did not make it into the Biblical canon:
The difference between a holiness that is merely attributed and a holiness which is seen, may be illustrated by this example seen and heard in the spiritual world: An epistle was read written by Paul while he dwelt in the world, but not published, without any one's knowing that it was by Paul. The hearers first regarded it as of little moment; but when it was discovered to be one of Paul's epistles, it was received with joy, and one and all the things therein were adored. It was manifest from this, that merely attributing holiness to the Word and the sacraments, when made by the primates of the clerical order, does indeed give the stamp of holiness; but it is otherwise when the holiness itself is disclosed and presented so as to be seen before the eyes, which is done by a revelation of the spiritual sense; by this means external holiness becomes internal, and attribution of holiness becomes acknowledgment of it. (True Christian Religion, n. 701)
As with the book of Jasher, it is my belief that this lost epistle of Paul was still intact in some written form when Swedenborg wrote this in the 18th century.  And indeed, there is an interesting case to be made for a lost epistle of the apostle Paul that did not make it into the Biblical canon: it is known to scholars as the Epistle to the Laodiceans.  Most consider it a forgery, that it was written since it was possibly mentioned in another epistle of Paul:
And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. (Col. 4:16)
Despite the opinion of scholars, there are several ancient witnesses that state there was once an Epistle to Laodiceans.  In the Muratonian fragment of the 2nd century A.D., it mentions that the heretic Marcion included the Epistle to the Laodiceans in his canon.  Marcion's canon contained only the gospel of Luke and the epistles of Paul to the exclusion of everything else.  Somehow a version of an Epistle to the Laodiceans made it into Western Latin Bibles, but no copy of it has been found in Greek or Syriac texts.  In the fourth century A.D. Jerome knew of it and stated it was "rejected by everyone."  The earliest text of it survives in a Latin Bible from 546 A.D., and it can be found in over 100 different ancient Latin versions of the Bible.  It is short, and contains statements found in his other epistles.  Here is one translation, which is taken from The Wesley Center Online: Epistle To The Laodiceans:
1 Paul, an apostle not of men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ, unto the brethren that are at Laodicea.
2 Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I give thanks unto Christ in all my prayers, that ye continue in him and persevere in his works, looking for the promise at the day of judgement.
4 Neither do the vain talkings of some overset you, which creep in, that they may turn you away from the truth of the Gospel which is preached by me.
5 And now shall God cause that they that are of me shall continue ministering unto the increase of the truth of the Gospel and accomplishing goodness, and the work of salvation, even eternal life.
5 And now are my bonds seen of all men, which I suffer in Christ, wherein I rejoice and am glad.
7 And unto me this is for everlasting salvation, which also is brought about by your prayers, and the ministry of the Holy Ghost, whether by life or by death.
8 For verily to me life is in Christ, and to die is joy.
9 And unto him (or And also) shall he work his mercy in you that ye may have the same love, and be of one mind.
10 Therefore, dearly beloved, as ye have heard in my presence so hold fast and work in the fear of God, and it shall be unto you for life eternal.
11 For it is God that worketh in you.
12 And do ye without afterthought whatsoever ye do.
13 And for the rest, dearly beloved, rejoice in Christ, and beware of them that are filthy in lucre.
14 Let all your petitions be made openly before God, and be ye steadfast in the mind of Christ.
15 And what things are sound and true and sober and just and to be loved, do ye.
16 And what ye have heard and received, keep fast in your heart.
17 And peace shall be unto you.
18 The saints salute you.
19 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with your spirit.
20 And cause this epistle to be read unto them of Colossae, and the epistle of the Colossians to be read unto you.
Is it genuine or not?  It did find its way into the earliest canon of the Bible, as well as western Latin Bibles.  Is it the one seen by Swedenborg in his vision?  We do not know, but everything about this curious epistle fits Swedenborg's vision - the lost epistle of Paul was still intact, not published (not in the Biblical canon), and considered not to be the epistle of Paul.  Only the Epistle to the Laodiceans fits all the criteria of Swedenborg's vision.  And perhaps this entire epistle is symbolic of the church of Laodicea itself in the book of Revelation, which is ultimately rejected out of God's mouth:
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouthFor you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Rev. 3:15-18)
The ancient city of Laodicea, now in ruins


  1. Doug,

    Tell me if I understand this in a New Church way? Concerning the Islamic faith. They understand there is but one God, but they don't understand that Jesus is that God. We understand there is one God and that Jesus was God in the flesh and made His flesh divine through combats with all hell. The old Christian Church (Protestants, Catholics and their derivitive Churches) believes there are two and even three gods.

    Could you also write one paragraph that would clearly differentiate between Paul's writting under divine influence and the Book of Revelation under Divine Inspiration? Gal 1:11,12 Paul was taught by revelation of Jesus Christ but there is no further explanation of the process or completeness. Would you say based on Swedenborg that Paul was given doctrine or taught about the Word already existant or what exactly? Tia

    1. Hello David,
      Islam, yes, understands Jesus as only a prophet, they do not know Him as God incarnate. Swedenborg states they were given a lesser revelation, on account of polygamy which cannot be mixed with what is more holy. Swedenborg was shown that Muhammed was given some revelation in order to destroy idolatry among many nations. It was also given to speak against a trinity of three persons. Any revelation of that sort within the Church would have been suppressed by Catholic authorities. But there is enough in the Quran to lead one towards the Gospels, as the Quran states it supports the Gospels. It is a lesser revelation, comparable to the earlier Mosaic revelation in which not all things were revealed to the Jews. There is this blog post on the topic: The Hidden Christian Truth of Islam and Muhammed, which at first seems like an oxymoron, yet it is true if one looks deeply.

      As for your question on Paul's writing, here are some interesting quotes from Paul, where he admits he is giving his own opinion, not the Lord:

      "To the rest I say (I, not the Lord)" (1 Cor. 7:12)

      "(I speak as a man)" (Rom. 3:5)

      "I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh" (Rom. 6:19)

      "That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting." (2 Cor. 11:17)

      "(I speak foolishly,)" (2 Cor. 11:21)

      "(I speak as a fool)" (2 Cor. 11:23)

      "Brethren, I speak after the manner of men" (Gal. 3:15)

      So according to Paul himself, he sometimes speaks from himself, sometimes from the Lord. This is what I mean by "Divinely influenced." Divinely inspired is different, where one only writes what one is commanded to write. The book of Revelation one can see is heavily controlled, and highly symbolic, and John never speaks from himself (e.g., Rev. 1:3, 1:11, 1:19). Also from the style of the writing, it is written in a pattern, which Swedenborg explains in 3 volumes of Apocalypse Revealed, and 6 volumes of Apocalypse Explained.

    2. Great answer. Thank you for your efforts.


Comments, questions, corrections and opinions welcome...