The New Church has a distinct belief about the Bible. Like other Christian Churches it sees the Bible as a revelation to mankind from God that was recorded during ancient times and which has been passed on to us. Yet in the New Church we believe it is much more than just a literal statement of historical fact.
Supremely, it is a work which describes the spiritual path each person travels from the beginning of life and on through to eternity, or from times of inner darkness to times of inner light. It is the definitive book about an evolution of the human soul that happens in each individual.
We can certainly relate to the Bible as it reads literally. It tells us about such things as God, creation, people and history, and the life of Jesus Christ. It is also full of truth and wisdom that serves us very well indeed.
Think of the words of Jesus, for example, about our need to “treat others just as we would want them to treat us.” It is wonderfully helpful advice to follow. We can also read the stories of people like Joseph and Daniel and be impressed by their faithfulness to God during times of adversity and danger, and be moved by God’s great and faithful care for them. So on the literal level, the Bible is powerful and true for us.
But it also shows on the surface some disturbing contradictions. The God of the Old Testament, who is supposed to be a loving deity, is frequently portrayed as vengeful, even damning, towards people. Even the more agreeable picture of Jesus Christ, showing perfect love and wonderful gentleness as it does, gives us hard words which on the surface seem unfair or exclusive. When Jesus says, “No-one comes to the Father but through Me” it seems that Jesus is limiting salvation only to those who believe in him.
So there are many incidents and statements in the Bible which can’t simply be taken at face value unless we accept them in blind faith. The New Church sees the Bible as an extended parable, as a detailed and expressive description of states through which we pass during spiritual development. While it is certainly historical, it is also highly symbolic. Each event, each person, and any particular thing mentioned in it is a picture or image of the things that make up our mental and emotional attitudes in life. Think of the many references, in the Bible to “mountains” for example, and those like Moses who scaled them to meet God, or as with Jesus and the “Sermon on the Mount” ascended them to proclaim the highest truths. Since to stand on the top of a mountain is to be elevated and to have a broader view of the world, it isn’t hard to see that “mountain” describes a raised mental state, a higher and closer sense of God, and of course a much wider and clearer view of life as a result of being and seeing from “up there”.
Similarly, we can find links in any number of Biblical stories. Think of the many battles in the Old Testament and compare them to the numerous battles within our mind as we struggle to make choices between good and evil, right and wrong. Or think about water and its life-giving qualities. Think of the form it takes as rain, rivers and streams, and see its connection with true insights which cleanse, wash and refresh the countryside of our mind and heart, so making spiritual life possible.
Please take a moment to read through the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, in which the story of creation is described. Religion and science argue whether or not this account of the world being created in six days is accurate and true. But that is altogether to miss the point. The chapter is outlining a deeper process – that of personal recreation on our spiritual level – where each successive “day” can be seen as a stage in a wonderful description of the way our higher mind and soul are activated and brought to life by the Lord God until, at the sixth stage or “day” we are created in the image of God and so become truly human. We are then no longer ruled by our lower desires and meaner thoughts.
This approach to the Bible, as God’s Word, does not “read” things into the words of Scripture, nor is it a way of making it mean whatever we want. Far from that, it brings out the life within the Bible into full view in the most practical and relevant way imaginable. It does all this whilst fully acknowledging the Bible’s historical origins and traditions. But above all, it serves to communicate the full power and beauty of the Bible’s deep, timeless truths.