Spirit and Life Bible Study

About Spirit and Life Bible Study

Spirit and Life Bible Study began on July 28, 2010. Its purpose is to look at the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible through a Swedenborgian lens.

It is called "Spirit and Life" because Jesus says in John 6:63 that his words are spirit and they are life. The implication is that Jesus' words (and by extension, everything in the Bible) are truly spiritual rather than merely earthly, and have an inner life in them, rather than being dead or flat or devoid of broader relevance.

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), a Christian Swede who managed at once to be a scientist and a theologian, was led to a unique way of reading the Bible, using what he called "correspondences." His reading pays great attention to every detail of the literal meaning, including a dip now and then into the original languages, and yet posits that there are inner layers of meaning within the Bible, and that these deeper layers all use a common and consistent symbolic language, from Genesis to Revelation. The "moon," for example, means faith, and it has that same meaning across the various writers of the Bible.

The result is very unlike fundamentalist literalism; but neither is it a wild allegorical reading in which anything goes. It is a disciplined, systematic approach that brings teachings that are personally relevant and even transcendently beautiful out of any and all that the Bible teaches, whether it takes the form of genealogy, narrative, prophecy, or apocalyptic.

I love this approach because it helps explain so much that seems otherwise odd or irrelevant or even offensive in Scripture—for example, why light is said to have been created before the sun; or why Jesus' birth in one gospel occurs twelve years before his birth in another gospel; or why Goliath is said to have been killed twice; or why the clouds in the Bible behave so often in most uncloudlike ways; or, much more troublingly, why God commands his people not to kill anyone and then turns around and quite regularly orders them to kill men, women, and children (not to mention animals), and gets upset with them if they don't comply; and so on. Most importantly, this approach indicates what needs to change in our own hearts and minds, and how to go about facilitating that change in order to become closer to the Lord and to angels while we are still here on earth.

Formerly "Nunc Licet"

As you may see from the address of our ustream channel, in its earliest days this Bible study was called the "Nunc Licet Bible Study."

"Nunc Licet" (pronounced Noonk LEAK-et—the "oo" here being like the "oo" in book) is how Swedenborg expresses in Latin an inscription he saw over the door of a temple in the spiritual world built for a new dispensation to come. (Read his account of it in his work True Christianity, section 508.)

The Latin phrase means "Now it is allowed." Swedenborg explains the inscription as shorthand for the idea that now people are allowed to use their intellects to explore issues of faith in Scripture that were, for various reasons, formerly shrouded in impenetrable mystery. This Bible study was originally so named because it is a conscious attempt to accept that invitation.

Along the way, though, it became obvious that that name itself, cool though its origins were, struck most people as impenetrably mysterious. The irony was too much for us, so we came up with a new, more accessible name.

About the Graphic across the Top of These Pages

This elaborate image of a gardener digging in the garden is an engraved ornament that appears in Swedenborg's first published volume explaining the Bible: volume 1 of Secrets of Heaven (or in Latin, Arcana Coelestia), published in London in 1749. It is clear that Swedenborg selected this image for his publication, and quite possible that he designed and engraved it himself. To me it bespeaks the repentance and spiritual work required to better understand Scripture and also the cornucopia of meaning and benefit that results.