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In the New Church there is a stricter canon for the New Testament, where the Gospels and the book of Revelation or Divinely inspired in such a way where every word is spiritual, and the epistles of the apostles are of lesser authority, and included to give simple instruction to the church. Swedenborg does state that Paul was Divinely influenced in what to say (Spiritual Diary, n. 6202), but what he wrote was not inspired word for word as the Gospels or the book of Revelation which includes the direct sayings of Jesus.
So, given this premise, did Paul make any errors? Paul admits even in his epistles that at times he gives his own opinion which is not from the Lord (1 Cor. 7). The apostle Peter noted that his writings could be distorted to the point of "lawlessness." Some have recognized that the epistle of James was written directly against the apostle Paul, which is due to the fact that Paul was not exactly clear that in most cases when mentioning the word "works" he was talking about the Jewish rituals of the Mosaic law and not works of charity (see Christus Victor, Pauline Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls). However giving priority to the teachings of Jesus, lets re-examine Paul's writings with the critical eye of reason.
IS IT TRUE: NONE CAN DO ANY GOOD?
Throughout his writings, Paul emphasizes faith over that of the commandments. Paul misquotes from Psalm 14:3 in such a way to give the impression that not just all are sinful, but none can do any good:
"We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3:9-10)All humans are indeed sinful, and evil originates from the love of our ego. Many take this to mean that none has the ability to do any good, and Paul also misinterprets this to mean the entire world (Rom. 3:19). But this quote is taken out of context: Psalm 14 is not talking about all humanity, it speaks of those who deny God:
The fool has said in his heart, There is no God (Ps. 14:1)There can be no good done apart from God, for God is good itself. Some may say they can commit a good act without a belief in God, but the external action is judged by its intent. If one does good for the sake of return, or for credit to one's self, it is not good. It has to be done out of love for others, and love is not possible without God for God is love.
There are many passages that need to be ignored in order to support the false theology that none can do any good (e.g., God regarded Noah as righteous - Gen. 7:1). One has look at scripture as a whole, and not just be focused on the writings of Paul.
IS NO MAN JUSTIFIED BEFORE GOD?From Paul's misquote of Psalm 14, he jumps to the following conclusion:
"Therefore by the works of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (Rom. 3:20)Paul is repeating what he said in Gal. 3:11. By "works of the law" Paul is referencing the rituals of the Mosaic law. The word "justified" is a word that is more properly translated as "righteous." The word "justify" has unfortunately taken on a false meaning in a false theology that the evil will be justified no matter what they do. That God does look upon those who are righteous can be seen in this passage:
The eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous (Ps. 34:15)That no one is righteous (or justified) in God's sight is taken from the Psalms:
And enter not into judgment with Your servant,And this has nothing to do with the external rituals of the Mosaic law, the subject of Paul's epistle. Rather man, of himself, cannot justify himself apart from God who is good (Job 9:2, 20, 15:14). But in doing good with acknowledgment of God as the source of good man can indeed be righteous:
For no one living shall be justified before You (Ps. 143:2)
In Jehovah shall all the seed of Israel be justified (Isa. 45:25)Israel here is not the Jews but the spiritual church, or those who live by the truth, the word "seed" signifies the truth of faith implanted in the mind to bring forth works of charity.
The reason why there can be no righteousness apart from God is because God is righteousness itself, and the source of evil is from the selfish ego. On the surface, Ps. 143:2 contradicts Isa. 45:25. But one has to look deeper into the meaning - without true doctrine, it is easy to take one scripture out of context to develop a false theology.
IS THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW JUST TO TELL US WE ARE SINFUL?From Paul's misquote of Psalm 14, he also jumps to the following conclusion:
"for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20)This is unfortunately taken by many that the entire law was given just so that we could fail at following it, and Paul repeats that the purpose of the law was just to reveal our sinful nature again in Rom. 5:20 and Rom. 7:7-9. But this is incorrect - the commandments of the law are the external forms of what is internal, for even the Old Testament states that God will write the commandments not on tablets of stone, but on our heart (Eze. 11:19, 36:26, Jer. 31:33) and Paul repeats this in Heb. 8:10. As an example, Jesus declared that anyone who internally hates his brother is guilty of the sixth commandment, Thou shall not murder (Matt. 5:21-22). Jesus also said that one must follow the commandments (Matt. 5:19, John 14:15). Whereas Jesus strengthens the law, Paul in his writings sidelines it. Only the external rituals of the law were abrogated. The commandments remain in force, for they are based on the love of God and love of the neighbor which are necessary for eternal life (Matt. 22:36-40) and this is later admitted by Paul towards the end of Romans (Rom. 13:8-10).
Paul elsewhere acknowledges that the Mosaic rituals were shadows of things to come (Heb. 10:1), and more so than any other person Swedenborg explains there are deep spiritual truths hidden within the Mosaic rituals which is explained in his massive work, Heavenly Arcana. It is because of Paul's influence that many in the Christian church decide to largely ignore the Old Testament.
IS EVERYONE WHO FOLLOWS THE LAW UNDER A CURSE?Paul further sidelines the law of Moses in the following statement:
"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”" (Gal. 3:10)This is a quote of Deut. 27:26, ending a series of curses. In this case, Paul is misusing this scripture to state that everyone who tries to follow the law is under a curse, which is false. The series of curses is referencing those who disobey God's commandments, and it has nothing to do with the Jewish rituals of the Mosaic law. Those who do good will go to heaven, those who do evil will go to hell - and this blessing and curse is still valid today. That this is the correct interpretation can be found earlier in the book of Deuteronomy:
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today (Deut. 11:26-28)What would be more accurate to say is this: the man's sin became a curse, causing a separation between mankind and heaven, threatening eternal damnation for all mankind. God removed this curse by becoming incarnate and making His human Divine, so that we could receive the Holy Spirit directly from Him and no longer be dependent on the angels as intermediaries.
WHAT IS THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE LAW OF MOSES AND THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST?
This passage from Paul is not necessarily an error, but it can easily be twisted and misinterpreted:
"For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.
But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)
“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." (Rom. 10:3-7)
When Paul says "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" many interpret this as what just has to believe in Jesus Christ and it does not matter what one does. But this is a false and distorted theology. Paul is quoting from this passage:
You shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am Jehovah. (Lev. 18:5)
The word "statutes" specifically refers to the external rituals of the Mosaic law, and "judgments" to the civil law. The Jewish nation was representative of the spiritual church, and these external rituals, and some of the civil laws, were symbolic and representative in nature. With knowledge of their spiritual meaning, it is no longer necessary to follow them in the Christian church. They were intended only for the Jews. Paul was dealing with the problem of Jews trying to convert Christians to the Judaic religion. Unfortunately Paul quotes this out of context, and people miss the fact that this passage was referencing the statutes and judgments, not the commandments.
Christ's descent into hell and ascension to heaven was necessary in order to restore the spiritual connection between heaven and mankind, for without that connection no man would have been capable to do any righteousness (see Jesus the Shaman - Descent into the Underworld and The True Spiritual Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection: Christus Victor). Up until that time the spiritual connection was maintained between heaven and man through the angels, but sin had separated mankind from heaven where it became necessary for God to descend in human form and make His human Divine, restoring the spiritual connection by conquering the hells that had dominion over humanity.
WILL THE SAINTS JUDGE THE WORLD?Paul believed saints would judge the world:
"Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Cor. 6:2)
This belief probably originated from the following saying of Jesus:
You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28)This is a case where Paul took a statement of Jesus in its most literal fashion. Only God will judge others, not man. This saying of Jesus can only be truly understood in a spiritual manner, which is explained by Swedenborg as follows:
"This does not mean that the twelve disciples were to sit upon twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel, but it means that the Lord is to judge all according to truths from good, which are from Him, for "the twelve disciples" signify all who are of the church, and in an abstract sense all things of the church, which are truths from good." (Apocalypse Explained, n. 851)
WILL THE SAINTS JUDGE ANGELS?This one is strange. Paul not only believed that the saints would not just judge the world, but also angels:
"Do you not know that we are to judge angels?" (1 Cor. 6:3)
From the revelations given to Swedenborg, we now know that angelic beings were previously men who have already been judged and are now dwelling in heaven. This statement of Paul is just plain false. So where did this come from? It is nowhere mentioned in scripture. The only explanation I have for this statement from Paul is from the apocryphal book of Enoch, which describes so-called "angels" who committed a sin by mating with women, who are kept bound in a lower prison until judgment day. Paul may be making an indirect reference to this when he mentions that women should cover their heads, because of the angels (1 Cor. 11:10). My opinion on that is this apocryphal work is actually one of the earliest records mentioning an ancient extraterrestrial contact, which I discussed earlier in Ancient Astronomy and Extraterrestrial Contact in the Bible. That the book of Enoch was regarded as scripture by some of the apostles is shown by a direct quote of the work in the epistle of Jude.
SHOULD WOMEN KEEP SILENT IN CHURCH?This one is just obviously wrong, a product of Paul's cultural background:
"the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission" (1 Cor. 14:34)This is just plain bad advice, and in practice most churches do ignore this one. When discussing marriage, Paul admits earlier in the epistle of the Corinthians that he at times gives his own advice, which is from himself and not from God (e.g., 1 Cor. 7). Thus from Paul's own admission, we should not take everything he says as "gospel truth." He at times expressed his own opinion, and that opinion was sometimes wrong as it was in this case.
This passage from Paul is a big turn off for women. If more people understand that the epistles of Paul are not inspired in the same way as the Gospel and book of Revelation, this problem goes away and I believe more women will find Christianity to be more acceptable, and take positions of teaching within the church.
I have not covered all the writings of Paul, I just selected here what I see to be the most blatant of errors which are also seen by some as a roadblock to understanding true Christianity. Other than what I selected, the majority of Paul's epistles are essentially correct in matters of doctrine. In addition to arguing against just blind following the external rituals of the Jewish law, the main point was that salvation must be driven by an inner transformation of the heart before it manifests in external good works. The major errors can be seen in Paul's false reasoning and misquotes in Romans and Galatians, and unfortunately from that many have created a false theology of "lawlessness" as the apostle Peter described. If priority is given to the teachings of Jesus, and if one understood the historical context of Paul - that the early Christians were having problems with Judaizers - then his epistles can be understood in a better manner.
With this distinction, we now can have a true living faith guided by the true teachings of Jesus, and not a blind faith that ignores reason.