by Rev. Ian Arnold
It is possible that you are familiar with what Swedenborg wrote in “True Christian Religion” (“True Christianity”) about a “Letter” being read out in the spiritual world, “written by Paul at the time of his travels in the world, but not published so that any knew it was Paul’s.” (See paragraph 701:4). The fact that Paul wrote many more “Letters” (or, “Epistles”) than what we have in our Bibles is borne out in both 1 and 2 Corinthians. In Chapter 5 of 1 Corinthians Paul refers to an earlier epistle (verse 9) and in 2 Corinthians, in Chapter 2 from verse 3, Paul cites a previous epistle (clearly not 1 Corinthians) which he had written “out of much affliction and anguish of heart.”
Clearly, Paul was sending out “missives” (Letters or Epistles) all the time and all over the place. And, relatively, we only have a few of these. He faced an unenviable task. The great and indefatigable missionary that he was, he was dealing with new converts more or less all of whom brought with them muddled thinking, attachments to old and pagan rituals, challenges to his authority and claimed apostleship, questions about the “Church” as to whether it was to be an entity distinct from Judaism, early “sectarianism” within the infant Christian Church, issues about behaviour and matters of discipline and untamed egos. Some may dispute him being called “self-confident”. All the evidence suggests that he was, in spades. But, in fairness, his self-confidence arose from his unswerving sense of call and road to Damascus conversion.
This too might be disputed but I see Paul and his Epistles not in terms of “source” material, but rather in terms of his often hurried and fallible application of what he believed to be the life and work of our Lord and of the Gospel. Paul was a man restless and urgent to have the Lord and the Good News of the Gospel known and accepted throughout the world. He worked under pressure and in addition to preaching, teaching and even participation in public meetings and debates he was bombarded with questions from all quarters about doctrine and behaviour, also being asked to settle disputes, rebuke recalcitrants and encourage believers. He would rattle off letters as the need arose, someone else writing them down, inconsistencies not always reconciled. Scholars and academics readily acknowledge “the development of Paul’s thought”. (F. F. Bruce). Some of his thinking could be said to come from the top of his head and not to have been quietly and thoroughly thought through.
Hold on to this because it helps explain why in the Writings of the New Church Paul’s Epistles are not designated as being the Word of God, containing an internal, spiritual meaning, and bringing about a conjunction of earth with heaven via correspondences. Still, and as is the teaching in the Writings, “they are useful books for the Church.” (See Apocalypse Explained 815:2) I take this to mean there is much that is good and useful in them.
This is interesting that Paul had lived in Corinth for some 18 months, A.D. 50 to 51. 1 Corinthians was written in and sent from Ephesus in A.D. 54. Between A.D 51 and 54 clearly there arose Christian groups there differently following one or another charismatic leader. And such strife as this gave rise to is covered in the first our Chapters. Interesting, yes, but all historical.
Moving on into Chapter 5 and beyond Paul starts answering questions that have been raised with him, about sexual immorality (verses 1 to 13), taking a brother to court (Chapter 6, Verses 1 to 11), the duties of partners in a marriage (Chapter 7, Verses 1 to 6), about eating meat offered to idols (Chapter 8), Paul’s own apostleship (Chapter 9) on into Chapter 11, and conduct and decorum at worship (women to have their heads covered), also at the Lord’s Supper. Then in Chapter 12, Paul’s masterful handling of unity from diversity and being all members of the body of Christ.
Probably the highlight of this Epistle, and best known section, is in Chapter 13, where Paul speaks so eloquently and beautifully about love (“Though I speak with the tongue of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” etc.) You might usefully commit it to memory where to find this outstanding teaching in Paul’s Epistles.
And, should you be interested, in Chapter 14 Paul takes up the subject of speaking in tongues and in Chapter 15, of special interest, is what Paul had to say about how the dead are raised up. “There is” he insisted, “a natural body and a spiritual body.” (Verse 44) Check it out! At least in part it comes close to what we are familiar with from the teaching in the Writings, especially the book, “Heaven and Hell”.
Just with regard to all being members of the body of Christ, as mentioned just above: readers of the Writings respond warmly to what Paul wrote in this regard, having real echoes, as it does, of the teaching about the “Grand Man” of heaven.
We read, “All who are governed by love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbour. And who from their hearts do good to him in the measure that good is present in him, and who have a conscience of what is just and fair, are within the Grand Man, for they abide in the Lord and are consequently in heaven.” (See “Arcana Caelestia” 4225). Here again, “In respect of the Grand Man, everyone is a very small particle.” (See “Spiritual Experiences 3939).
This teaching of the Writings about the Grand Man is not exactly the same as what Paul wrote. Paul was focussed on people, as such, with all their diverse gifts, whereas in the Writings the focus – and key – is the use for which we were born and to which we are called. The Grand Man is, essentially and above all, countless uses called together and complementing each other.