Thursday, February 6, 2014

Christus Victor, Pauline Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls

In Catholic and Protestant circles, it is generally assumed that the way Jesus saved humanity was by "standing in their place" and taking the punishment for sin.  This is actually a theological theory known as "vicarious atonement" or the "satisfaction" theory. Surprisingly, this was not always the case. In the early Church, the incarnation of God was for the purpose of redeeming humanity by conquering evil and the power of the devil.  This model of salvation is known as "Christus Victor", based on the book Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement by Gustaf Aulén, a Swedish bishop and theologian who died in 1977. His book was published in 1930 and has been in print ever since.

Wikipedia has this entry concerning the Christus Victor theory:
The term Christus Victor refers to a Christian understanding of the atonement which views Christ's death as the means by which the powers of evil, which held humankind under their dominion, were defeated. It is a model of the atonement that is dated to the Church Fathers, and it, or the related ransom theory, was the dominant theory of the atonement for a thousand years, until it was removed in the West by the eleventh-century Archbishop of CanterburyAnselm, and replaced with his "satisfaction" model.
Here is another summary:
Its central theme is the idea of the Atonement as a Divine conflict and victory; Christ - Christus Victor - fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the 'tyrants' under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to Himself.
And a review from Amazon:
This book provides an historically-faithful alternative to the substitutionary and exemplary models of the atonement. Its strength lies in its presentation of a vivid and robust picture of the work of Christ. Its (the book, not the model) weakness is its simplistic reductions of other theologians' thoughts.
Overview:The Christus Victor model presents the work of Christ as a triumph over the devil, powers (demons), bondage of sin, and the "law." Accordingly, given its Eastern overtones, the atonement and the Incarnation are inseperable. Christ united humanity to his nature to redeem it. He redeemed it (still united to his nature) on the cross.
This is to be contrasted with the Latin views of the atonement, which are narrowly penal. The Latin views incorporate merit and penance in the atonment model. For Aulen, this move removes the work of God from the work of Christ in redemption.
In other words, it was the dominant view of Christianity for the first 1,000 years of its history. In the 11th century, this view shifted under the influence of Anselm.  However, the Orthodox church still follows this more ancient view concerning how Jesus saved humanity. Aulen documents how this was the view espoused by ancient church fathers, including Irenaeus, Origen of Alexandria, and Augustine of Hippo.

Another assessment of Christus Victor is given in A Better Atonement: Christus Victor:
At this point, CV may sound like the penal substitution model that many of us grew up with. But that’s where Aulén said we’re wrong. The early church did not understand the death of Christ as paying a penalty in some transactional sense that only God’s son could pay. The crucifixion is not, in that sense, cosmically necessary to reconcile God and humanity.
Instead, Christ’s death is God’s victory over sin and death. God conquers death by fully entering into it. God conquers Satan by using the very means employed by the Evil One.
Thus, the crucifixion is not a necessary transaction to appease a wrathful and justice-demanding deity, but an act of divine love.
God entered fully into the bondage of death, turned it inside out by making it a moment of victory, and thereby liberates humanity to live lives of love without the fear of death.
So how did Jesus obtain victory over hell and death?  From what I have read, the theory of Christus Victor is still not exactly clear.  But reading Emanuel Swedenborg - who described this in much more detail in the 18th century - it becomes perfectly clear. Jehovah himself descended and assumed a human form. This human form had inherited evil tendencies from the human mother, Mary. While the soul of Jesus was Divine and could not sin, his human body was another matter - all of hell could bring forth temptations, of a very grievous sort, to tempt Jesus to sin, and this is not described so well in the gospels. Jesus successfully overcame them, until ultimately, he descended into hell, brought into order, and when he rose from the dead, had made his human Divine.  All of hell was conquered. This is spelled out in his books True Christian Religion and Doctrine of the Lord, part of the Doctrines of the New Jerusalem (see to the left).

So how did this save humanity? Human free will, in fact, is spiritual in origin. We are spiritual beings, and we stand between heaven and hell. Periodically the balance between heaven and hell has to be restored through spiritual judgments. In the case of Jesus, this was done by making his human Divine, a descent into hell and reordering of the heavens, and now his spirit can flow into us as we ourselves repent and resist temptation. Human responsibility for our actions is retained. We will all be judged according to our works. We are responsible for what we do, and what we choose not to do.


I was curious to see the viewpoint on "Christus Victor" from those who held to the substitution or satisfaction theory of how Jesus saved humanity.  I found opposition to Christus Victor from none other than Christianity Today in The Problem with Christus Victor. Apparently the idea is gaining in popularity among ministers, thus the author's concern. He sums up the idea as follows:
The idea is this: Christ is victor. Christ in his death and resurrection overcame over the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection, those powers variously understood as the devil, sin, the law, and death. ...The main human problem is that we are trapped and we need to be rescued: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15). ...This model also highlights big picture atonement: Christ's death isn't merely about me and my salvation. It's about the redemption of the cosmos: "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him" (Col. 2:15).
With some insight, the author - Mark Galli - recognizes not only the inherent problem of substitutionary atonement but begins to touch on the problem of dividing God into three distinct persons or beings (for this see The False Belief of a Trinity of three beings: TRITHEISM) -
..."neurotic substitutionary atonement" needs to be abandoned. The picture of a wrathful Father having his anger appeased by the death of his Son is wrong on many fronts. Here's one:  It separates the work of the Father from the Son, as if they have competing concerns—the Father with righteousness, the son with compassion. It sounds like the Son saves us from the Father! This is manifestly unbiblical, for Paul clearly says that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:19).
However Mark Galli, taught as he has been taught - has some apprehension to it:
I'm concerned at the rising popularity of Christus Victor when it comes at the expense of substitution.
As I stated before in The Error of Vicarious Atonement - no one can take the punishment of another's sin. We all bear responsibility for our actions.  It is not only irrational, it goes against what God himself repeatedly states in scripture. It is simple: he will reward the good, and punish the evil. Take this for example:
You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Mal. 2:17)
So why is Mark Galli opposed to the idea of Christus Victor?  From one source: the apostle Paul:
First, note how Scripture, even when it momentarily uses Christus Victor language, grounds it in substitution. For example, in the classic Christus Victor passage quoted above—"He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him"—note how Paul sets the context of that victory with substitution: "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (vv. 13-14).
Or note again what is said immediately after that passage quoted above —" … through death [Christ] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." A verse later we read: "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:14-17).
Add to this the extensive discussion of substitutionary atonement in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews—and no extensive discussions of Christus Victor anywhere in the New Testament—and one begins to wonder how much stock we should put in Christus Victor. In short, should we be so quick to marginalize substitutionary atonement?
So, problem here. Yes, scripture often uses language to make things easy to understand. Everyone understands the concept of ransom or redemption. But how exactly were sins nailed to the cross?  How exactly did Jesus become propititation for our sins?  And the characterization that the idea of Christus Victor is not "anywhere in the New Testament" is false. Just take a look at passages where Jesus casts out demons, where he says the prince of the world is now judged, or he sees Satan falling out of heaven, or that he must go first bind the strong man in order to deliver prisoners - all of this points to the model of Christus Victor. So how do we explain the apostle Paul?


This is where scholars on Christianity mention "Paulinist Christianity" - the idea that Paul slightly changed the message of Jesus. He was an outsider, who never met Jesus, and even opposed the young Christian movement.  He converted, but even after he did so, we find that he had a conflict with the original church in Jerusalem. Reading Paul, one would believe this was over converting the Gentiles.  But reading the letters of the apostles, they opposed him for other reasons. After Jesus ascended, leadership of the church passed on to his half-brother James (not Peter as the Catholic Church would have us believe). Paul's letters interchange the works of the rituals of the Mosaic law with ordinary works of righteousness to the point of confusion.  So much confusion, that James wrote an entire letter - the letter of James in the New Testament - opposing the main points of Paul's theology! James saw within Paul the teaching of belief alone. Luther at one time considered removing the letter of James from the NT for this very reason, believe it or not. What about Peter, what did he think of Paul?  We have this statement:
...and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation --- as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. (2 Pet. 3:15-16)
In other words, Paul wrote in such a way that Peter does not quite "understand". Because of this statement I have heard some call Peter as a little less than "enlightened."  How were the letters of Paul distorted? Well Paul himself says how so:
And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"? --- as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just. (Rom. 3:8)
In other words, people back then even took Paul's sayings to mean it does not matter what we do - good or evil - I just have to "believe" and the sins are taken away. But this is not really their fault. Paul is at times ambiguous when he uses the word "works" for different things - sometimes the works of the Jewish rituals, and at other times, works of righteousness and love.  And Paul even admits he does not always tell the truth:
For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? (Rom. 3:7)
Paul knew very well what he was doing. By saying that it does not matter what you do, that you will be saved by just believing, he was making the message "popular." Did Paul know what he was doing? Sure he did. He explains his method quite well:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law (1 Cor. 9:19-21)
This teaching, and the way he turns it to fit everyone, earned Paul the epithet of a "liar."  The liar epithet became so popular against Paul he feels the need to defend himself against it:
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not (Rom. 9:1)
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knows that I lie not. (2 Cor. 11:31)
Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. (Gal. 1:20)
I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not (1 Tim. 2:7)
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. (2 Cor. 11:31)
Ok, ok Paul, we get it, you are not a liar. But that's not enough. Since he has the message of God, he feels the need to defend God himself as not being a liar:
In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie (Tit. 1:2)
That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18)
No one is going to defend oneself like this without being called a liar. So who is calling Paul a liar?
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. (James 3:13-14)
Who is James talking about? James, head of the church in Jerusalem, had a conflict with Paul, which is recorded in the book of Acts.  Yes, James, the half brother of Jesus, is calling Paul a liar. That is the entire purpose of the letter of James: it opposes the teachings of Paul. But that's not all:
He who says, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 1:4)
But the anointing which ye have received of him abides in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie (1 John 2:27)
Who is the teacher who can be interpreted that one does not have to follow God's commandments? Paul.  Yes, the apostle John is calling Paul a liar. It would seem only Peter joined in with Paul, and according to church tradition, Peter and Paul would eventually die together in Rome - Paul being beheaded, and Peter being crucified upside down. Peter's death was actually foretold by Jesus at the end of the gospel of John:
Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish." This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. (John 21:18-19)
Not only does the above statement predict the apostle Peter's death in Rome, but it is said he will be carried away to a place where he does not wish to go.  Who "carried" Peter away? The apostle Paul.  Paul not only led Peter with him to Rome, but began to mislead him with his teachings.  Everything in scripture is symbolic: it is said that Peter did not want to be compared to the Lord, so had himself crucified upside down. Peter is symbolic of the church itself, misled by the teachings of Paul, and this characterizes many of the churches of the present day. A false understanding from the writings of Paul leads to a false understanding of the work of Jesus up to the time he was crucified - our understanding becomes turned upside down. So Peter is crucified upside down.  How is the crucifixion turned upside down? The theory of vicarious atonement, which was put forth by Paul. And, it makes no sense.  And even Paul admits it makes no rational sense, to the point where he himself calls his gospel "foolishness":
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18) pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Cor. 1:23)
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; (1 Cor. 1:25)
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27)
In the New Church, Christianity is not foolish. It is rational. And if something does not make rational sense, it probably is not true.  According to Paul, not only is his gospel foolish, don't even attempt to understand it. Why? Because it is a mystery:
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery (Rom. 16:25)
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery (1 Cor. 2:7)
Plus other passages. Back then there were other mystery religions, and here Paul does not seek after any rational understanding of what he is saying. And note he says "my gospel." - which he mentions in 2 other occasions in his letters. He also says this:
But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. (Gal. 1:11)
Why should Paul say this? Because others were saying what he was teaching was incorrect. Which indicates his gospel may not have been the original one.


But people will protest, I thought the epistles of Paul were scripture! Yes, they are there, and are included for a reason. But they are not to be completely trusted as God's word. How do we know? PAUL HIMSELF SAYS SO:
I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little. What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. (2 Cor. 11:16-17)
Scripture, must be the word of God.  This is not the word of God speaking. This is Paul speaking, who often boasts of himself in his own letters. He himself says we must judge whether or not what he says is correct:
I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. (1 Cor. 10:15)
Indeed, Paul was sent as an apostle, but again he makes clear he is not giving commandments from God:
Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. (1 Cor. 7:25)
For those who are new to Christianity, it is wise to follow much of what Paul says:
If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. (1 Cor. 14:37)
So, a certain level of discernment is required when reading the letters of Paul. Yes, there is a lot of good spiritual advice and doctrine. But not everything Paul is saying is absolutely correct. The fact that the letters of Paul are included in the Bible was actually foretold in scripture.  How so?  In Biblical prophecy, it is well known that King David represents the Lord.  If King David represents the Lord, then who does King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin represent? Is this a coincidence:
For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. (Rom. 11:1)
And Paul's original name was Saul. We have Saul of Benjamin of the New Testament, and we have Saul of Benjamin of the Old Testament. Why does scripture devote so much time to Saul of Benjamin? For a further discussion of Saul and Paul, see The Prophecy of Pauline Christianity.


We now turn to the mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a set of ancient texts found in Qumran in 1947, and date to just the time that Christianity was forming.  Despite its discovery, the organizations in charge of them tried to keep them secret for over 50 years. Why? There is a lot of controversy around that. And another problem: the Dead Sea scrolls talk about two particular historical figures: the "Teacher of Righteousness" and "the Liar."  From Who Is the Teacher of Righteousness?:
The Dead Sea Scrolls frequently refer to a mysterious figure called the “Teacher of Righteousness” (Moreh ha-Tsedek in Hebrew). According to the most widely held view, the Teacher of Righteousness founded the Dead Sea Scroll sect (the sect is usually identified with the Essenes). In this common view, the Teacher of Righteousness organized the Community (theYahad) and composed many of its most important works.
The nemesis of the Teacher of Righteousness is another shadowy figure called the Wicked Priest (ha-Kohen ha-Rasha). He is also known by a number of other epithets, including the Lion of Wrath, the Liar, the Spreader of Lies and the Man of Scoffing.
Still following the standard interpretation, the Wicked Priest and the Teacher of Righteousness are thought to be historical figures. But that is where the consensus ends. There is no agreement over who they were.
Here is a sample entry concerning the Teacher of Righteousness and the Liar:
[God] raised for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart. . .This is the time concerning which it has been written: “As a backsliding heifer so did Israel slide back [Hosea 4:16],” when there arose the Man of Scoffing who dropped on Israel waters of deceitfulness and caused them to wander in the wilderness where there is no path, to bring down the everlasting heights, to turn away from the ways of righteousness and to remove the boundary that the forefathers have set for their inheritance.
While most theories regarding the Teacher of Righteousness and the Liar place them in the time of the Maccabees, there is one or two theories which state these two are related to the founding of Christianity:
More radical ideas are espoused by Robert Eisenman and Barbara Thiering, each of whom, in different ways, connects these figures with the founders of nascent Christianity. Eisenman believes the Teacher of Righteousness was James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul was the Liar (a figure that Eisenman distinguishes from the Wicked Priest); Thiering puts forth John the Baptist as the Teacher and Jesus as the Wicked Priest! 
Each theory has its problems. But I find the theory of Eisenman interesting. The problem is, the Dead Sea Scrolls divorce the events from their historical setting - they never mention any dates or personal names.  This was the practice of the age, for by writing about thing abstracted, they are applicable to whatever time the reader happens to read the writings. But I find it curious, just as in the Dead Sea Scrolls we have the Liar who betrayed the Qumran community, we have evidence that the original Christian community in Jerusalem also regarded Paul as a Liar.  Supporting Eisenman's theory, there is an interesting book known as The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception by Michael Baigent. From THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND THE THREE PERSONALITIES:

"From the Acts of the Apostles, from Josephus and from early Christian historians, there emerges a coherent, if still incomplete, portrait of James,’ the Lord’s brother’. He appears as an exemplar of  ‘righteousness’ – so much so that ‘the Just’, or ‘the Righteous’, is appended as a sobriquet to his name. He is the acknowledged leader of a ‘sectarian’ religious community whose members are ‘zealous for the Law’. He must contend with two quite separate and distinct adversaries. One of these is Paul, an outsider who, having first persecuted the community, then converts and is admitted into it, only to turn renegade, prevaricate and quarrel with his superiors, hijack the image of Jesus and begin preaching his own doctrine – a doctrine which draws on that of the community, but distorts it. James’s second adversary is from outside the community – the high priest Ananas, head of the Sadducee priesthood. Ananas is a notoriously corrupt and widely hated man. He has also betrayed both the God and the people of Israel by collaborating with the Roman administration and their Herodian puppet-kings. James publicly challenges Ananas and eventually meets his death at the hands of Ananas’ minions; but Ananas will shortly be assassinated in turn.

And concerning the personalities of the Dead Sea Scrolls:

One of these was dubbed the ‘Liar’ an outsider who was admitted to the community, then turned renegade, quarrelled with the ‘Teacher’ and hijacked part of the community’s doctrine and membership. According to the ‘Habakkuk Commentary’, the ‘Liar’ ‘did not listen to the word received by the Teacher of the Righteousness from the mouth of God’. Instead, he appealed to ‘the unfaithful of the New Covenant in that they have not believed in the Covenant of God and have profaned His holy name’.  The text states explicitly that ‘the Liar . . . flouted the Law in the midst of their whole congregation’.  He ‘led many astray’ and raised ‘a congregation on deceit’.  He himself is said to be ‘pregnant with [works] of deceit’.  These, of course, are precisely the transgressions of which Paul is accused in Acts – transgressions which lead, at the end of Acts, to the attempt on his life.


So, an interesting theory concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls. Is it true? I previously blogged about some of the visions of Emanuel Swedenborg, in The Confirmed Clairvoyance of Emanuel Swedenborg.  Why do you not hear about Swedenborg?  It is because most ministers blindly read the letters of Paul and accept everything he is saying, and are controlled by the idea of justification by faith alone. How one reads scripture is controlled by one's own bias, how they were raised as a child. They get particularly upset when they discover that Swedenborg had visions concerning the apostle Paul which put him in a very bad light.
Paul is among the worst of the apostles, as has been made known to me by much experience. The love of self, by which he had been ensnared prior to his preaching of the Gospel, remained with him even afterwards, and because he was then almost in the same state, he was prompted by that love and by his nature to want to be in crowds, doing everything with the motive of being the greatest in heaven, and judging the tribes of Israel. ...The fact that he wrote the epistles does not prove his good character, for even the impious can preach well, and write letters. It is one thing to be, and it is another to speak and write, as was also said to him. Moreover, in his epistles he did not mention the least word about the Lord, or what He taught, nor does he mention a single parable of His, so he received nothing from the life and preaching of the Lord - which was also said to him, whereas in the Evangelists is the very Gospel itself. (Spiritual Experiences, n. 4412)
And what about the epistles of Paul? Are they Divinely Inspired? God's inerrant word?  Why are they in the Bible?  Yes, they are included in the Bible, and they need to remain in the Bible. But it is not for the reason most people think:
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 Experiences, n. 4824)
And that is the lost message of Christianity. It is not about how you believe. It is not about "converting" others to think as you do. It is how you live, repentance from sin, how you love, how you are of service to others, in whatever ability is given to you. But isn't it odd, we have these visions concerning Paul from the 18th century, only to be confirmed later in the 20th century in a historical theory concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls?


  1. There is a book "Saul of Tarsus, or, Paul and Swedenborg" at Google Books. Someone with a different view from you has reviewed it at Amazon.

    1. Thanks Ian. I was not aware of that book. I found an online version of that book on the internet archive at - it was written in 1877, and this was before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It probably would have been better for that author to first explain how the New Church is focused on the Lord, and how love comes first, which from the comment, he probably didn't. Who can argue against that? Paul is still useful to read for doctrine, but probably when regular church goers see something like this its like having the rug taken up from under their feet. But this is where scholarship on Christianity is going as well.

    2. Hi Ian,

      I found a copy of this book (the original, not the facsimile) some years ago. I never did read it through, but might just dust it off. From the quick once-over I gave it, it seemed to present a very harsh and negative view of Paul. I do not find such a view very useful for presenting Swedenborg to a wider audience of Christians and ex-Christians.

      Swedenborg himself was careful not to criticize Paul in his published writings. All of the really negative stuff about Paul is in Swedenborg's unpublished writings--mostly the Spiritual Diary. In his published writings and in his letters, he takes a fairly neutral stance toward Paul, and includes Paul's letters in the category of "good books for the church."

      I can't say I really blame that traditional Christian reviewer for his negative review of the book on Amazon. However, if I do get to reading the book, I might post a review of my own just to balance the one that's there.

      For my part, though I sometimes nick Paul for his heavy emphasis on faith and for some of his more annoying statements, far more often I point out that Paul simply didn't teach faith alone, the Vicarious Atonement, or most of the other false "Christian" teachings attributed to him. I'm continually pointing out that by "the works of the Law" Paul does not mean good works in general, but the "works" of the Jewish ritual law of sacrifice, circumcision, ritual cleansings, and so on, as found in the Law, or Torah.

      Just recently in an email interchange with a traditional Christian who took exception to a recent article on my blog pointing out that the Bible never says that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, I challenged the reader to point out to me one single passage in the entire Bible that says this. As it turns out, this person was somewhat more amenable to actually "searching the scriptures" than most, and actually did admit that it wasn't there. Not even Paul says this, though it is commonly attributed to him.

      Though Paul does "everywhere veer toward faith," to use Swedenborg's words, he does not teach many of the false doctrines attributed to him. I don't think it is necessary to reject Paul in order to support genuine Christian doctrine. Unfortunately, most Swedenborg readers simply haven't read Paul, and they wrongly assume that he actually does teach the things Protestants (especially) attribute to him.

      A great antidote to this idea (besides actually reading Paul) is the writings of the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley, especially the collection of six of his lectures under the title "Great Truths on Great Subjects." It's available in facsimile reprint in various editions. I also posted all six lectures at my old website:

      (Don't know how to create custom links on Blogger blogs)

      Bayley brilliantly supports New Church doctrine based on the entire Protestant Bible, including the letters of Paul.

    3. I had started to read it, the book is too harsh and negative, and does not provide a balanced view of the book of Acts. Paul had a very many good things to say, unfortunately, he may have been deliberately ambiguous at times which has led to confusion. Whether or not he supported vicarious atonement or not is debatable. But he definitely would not support the Protestant definition of justification by faith alone.

      In the above article, for example, I found a possible mistranslation of Paul by the Protestants. For example Christianity Today had quoted Colossians 2:14 as follows:

      "by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross"

      I checked on this, it looks like a deliberate mistranslation. The KJV has this:

      "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross"

      This is COMPLETELY different. Which means in this case Paul understood the Jewish rituals are the ones that were fulfilled by Jesus. But in other cases, I find Paul to be incorrect. For example:

      But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? (Rom 3:5)

      The way he writes is that the law was given to demonstrate our failure to keep it. But in the OT, God says his laws are not burdensome. Just many of the laws were symbolic and prophetic and were fulfilled, thus no longer necessary to keep those. While Paul is distinct in some cases, in most of his letters he becomes ambiguous when he mentions "works" or "law", and some of this ambiguity was intentional on his part. Thus James had to write an entire letter opposing the letters of Paul. So while in most cases one can say Paul does not disagree with the truth, there are some statements where that becomes debatable. Such as this one:

      But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Tim. 3:4-7)

      So again, what does Paul mean by "works of righteousness"? Don't know. The works of the Jewish rituals? Not likely. Self-meritorious acts? Maybe. But one can take it to mean, one does not have to do any good work, which is not what Jesus said: faith is grounded in doing, in obedience. The way he writes, it is easy to distort the meaning. In this case, the intent of this passage is Jesus came to save those who were lost.

    4. Hi Doug,

      When I wrote my previous comment, I hadn't yet read your post. I was only responding about "Saul of Tarsus."

      Having read the article itself now, I would say that it's important not to cede Paul to the Protestants and Catholics. Many of the things they say he said he simply didn't say.

      I agree that Paul's letters are not part of the Word of God or divinely inspired in the way that the Word of God is divinely inspired. But I do think that divine providence was operational in the composition and publication of Paul's letters as part of the Catholic and Protestant Bibles. And I do not think there is anything in the letters of Paul that can't be understood in a way that agrees with, or at least is not contradictory to, what Swedenborg taught as true Christianity.

      For example, Paul absolutely did not teach the Vicarious Atonement. In a nutshell, the Vicarious Atonement is the idea that Christ paid the penalty for our sins, so that we would no longer have to bear the penalty even though we are sinners. Paul simply doesn't say this.

      Though I think the "ransom" idea has also been misunderstood, it's important to understand that even in the ordinary understanding of "ransom," ransoming sinners is not the same as vicariously atoning for sinners.

      Ransoming means paying a ransom for. Someone is held hostage, the hostage taker demands a ransom, and the ransomer pays it, thus freeing the hostage.

      This is not what the Vicarious Atonement is about.

      The Vicarious Atonement is the doctrine that a penalty, or punishment was necessary to atone for the sins of humankind, but humans, being finite and fallible, could not satisfy the perfect justice, or assuage the infinite wrath, of God the Father. Only the death of an infinite and perfectly sinless being could pay that penalty. So Christ died on the cross, paying the penalty that we humans deserved due to our sin.

      This is simply not the same as paying a ransom, even in the ordinary sense of paying a ransom.

      The Vicarious Atonement is like an innocent person going to jail to serve out the sentence of a guilty person. One is substituted for the other. In a ransom situation, the ransomer pays the ransom, and the hostage is set free. No one is taken hostage instead of the original hostage.

      I agree that Paul can be confusing, and is also often full of himself and self-justificatory. But although he veers toward faith and away from charity, he does not deny charity. And his letters, though problematic in places, can be used much more effectively to support New Church doctrine than they can to oppose it. That's because he simply doesn't say many of the things attributed to him by Protestant and Catholic theologians.

    5. You might be right on that. Not only is Paul somewhat confusing now, he was confusing back then. Many of the things he says is up to interpretation, and he does not explain the rationale behind it. Having been introduced to Christianity through the letters of Paul, I still enjoy reading his letters. But the lack of rationale, or the contradiction perhaps put on Paul by the Protestant viewpoint, led to somewhat of a "crisis of faith." I ultimately rejected vicarious atonement, and viewed salvation as through the means of providing the Holy Spirit, which could not be done unless he had become incarnate in human form. Maybe I did not present many of the positive aspects of the letters of Paul, which is not the way to go, but all too many times I have seen the letters of Paul misused, to the point where the entire Old Testament is ignored. And that Swedenborg does criticize when interpreting Matthew 24. If Eisenmann is correct - not sure about that - the rejection of Paul by the church of Jerusalem (or Qumran community) was very absolute and downright negative. When I read it I think he makes a strong case. Its something we never hear about as this view has been erased from the textbooks of history.

      So is Paul good or bad? I take the prophetic view of King Saul of Benjamin. Originally beginning with good intentions, Saul gradually departs from following the Lord. He is then overtaken by the Philistines - who represent faith separate from charity - and commits suicide. Like Paul, Saul is beheaded. In one sense it represents Paul of Tarsus, but in a wider sense, the Protestants. Some of the events concerning the Philistines seem to reflect some historical events which have happened to America, a primarily Protestant nation. All too many times I have seen Protestant churches, relegated to belief alone, begin to fall apart as the hidden sins, and the sinful way of life, takes its toll on the families of the congregation that fail to address their way of living.

    6. About Paul and his place in Christian history, I've developed a rather different narrative than what you present above and in your referenced article about Pauline Christianity. Here's the short version:

      James, the half brother of Jesus, was a leader among the early Jerusalem Christians. These were mostly converted Jews, who were still cultural Jews and in many ways even religious Jews, but who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. They were a dedicated, earnest group, and were essential to the beginnings of the Christian Church.

      However, they were not ever going to be the focal point of the vast growth of Christianity. They were too Jewish . . . and the vast world outside of Palestine was pagan. The Jerusalem Christians were, practically speaking, a sect of Judaism. At least, that's how they would be seen by the wider world. They still followed most Jewish ritual and cultural practices, but they accepted Jesus as the Messiah.

      Peter, and then Paul, were two of the earliest leaders who, although they also came from Jewish roots, realized that Christianity was not to be a further development of Judaism, but rather was to be an entirely new religion. They reached well outside of the Jewish community from which the original Christian converts had come, and planted the seeds for the later huge growth of Christianity and its eventual ascendancy in Europe.

      Paul's letters, to be understood, must be read through the lens of Christianity's break from ancient Judaism and its establishment of itself as a world religion in its own right. When Paul spoke of a person being "justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law" (Romans 3:28), it was all about Christianity breaking from Judaism, and leaving behind Jewish religious and cultural practices. It was all about making Christianity a religion not just for Jews, but for the much broader pagan world to embrace.

      For Christians today, that's such old news that we tend to read Paul in a way that is divorced from the situation he was dealing with and the goals he was trying to accomplish. He was struggling with the Jerusalem Christians, not so much because he was selfish and wanted power (although that might also be true--who can read the human heart?), but because he realized that if Christianity followed the path on which the Jerusalem Christians, led by James, were taking it, it would never be more than a small, dissenting sect of Judaism. Paul was bent on smashing that view of Christianity, and establishing an alternate view and practice of Christianity that would fly in the pagan world, where he correctly realized Christianity would have its great growth.

      It's true that Christianity got corrupted along the way. But I don't think that's Paul's fault. As Swedenborg points out, churches go through their life cycles. They become corrupt over time, so that new churches must arise and take their place. Christianity was going to become corrupt no matter what Paul wrote. But he at least, together with Peter, planted the seeds for Christianity to become a world religion--something that never would have happened if James had won the battle.

      The Jerusalem Christians faded away along with the rest of the Jewish community centered in Jerusalem that was smashed by the Romans when they sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD, destroyed the Temple, and sent the bulk of the Jews packing from Jerusalem and Palestine, beginning the great diaspora that continues to this day. Today, Judaism itself is more like Christianity than it is like pre-70-AD Judaism.

      Paul saw what was coming. Though he played fast and loose with some of the facts, and did put too heavy an emphasis on faith, I have come to believe that what he did, and the battle he fought with the Jerusalem Christians, was necessary for Christianity to survive the destruction Jerusalem and of Judaism as it had been practiced up to that time.

  2. Hi Doug,

    This is a bit off-topic here, but I just read your piece over at New Church Perspective, and left a comment there that I'll repeat here in case you don't check over there:

    Nice to read your account of finding Swedenborg. As a cradle Swedenborgian myself, I vicariously enjoy the stories of those who found Swedenborg in adult life.

    One of the earliest and best of these stories is that of the Rev. John Clowes, who was, I believe, the second New Church minister ever, serving as pastor of an Anglican church in Manchester, England all his adult life. You can find it in the book "A memoir of the late Rev. John Clowes," which is available at Google books. His account of discovering and embracing Swedenborg starts on page 25. Well worth the read--as is the entire memoir.

    1. Thanks Lee, didnt realize comments could be posted there. Just saw another comment there on True Christian Religion as well ( I will check out that memoir.


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