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To Understand the Scriptures
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 22, 2012
Isaiah 41:14-20 Luke 24:36-53 Psalm 4
Luke says something that is very important for our denomination and the teachings we believe. And we find it said twice in Luke. In our reading this morning, Jesus says, “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Then Luke says those all important words, as he explains what Jesus means. Luke writes, “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (24:45). So Luke tells us that Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures. This means that what is written in the law and the prophets and the psalms are about Jesus. By the law and the prophets and the psalms, Luke means the whole Bible. So in other words, the whole Bible is about Jesus. Earlier, Luke tells us the same thing in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In that story, Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself” (24:27). Luke doesn’t say that Jesus opened their minds to only those scriptures that concern Jesus. He says that every scripture is about Jesus (en pasais tais graphais ta peri eautou).
I say that these verses are important for our denomination because we believe that there is an internal level to all the scriptures. As Luke says, we believe that all the scriptures treat the Lord, who He is, and His development on earth. This is the highest level of the internal meaning of scriptures. We also believe that the scriptures treat the course of the church’s progress through the ages. This level of scriptures begins with the earliest humans and progresses to the present day. This is the next level of inner meaning to the scriptures. Finally, the scriptures treat the processes of spiritual growth and development that we as individuals go through. This is the lowest level of inner meaning. So there are three levels of inner meaning to the scriptures. The highest treats the Lord. The second describes the church. And the third treats the individual. Luke tells us only about the highest level. That is, Luke tells us that all the scriptures concern the Lord.
Our church is not alone in claiming that there are deeper levels to the scriptures. Philo of Alexandria in the first century BC explained the Old Testament by means of a symbolic system. (From comparisons with Swedenborg, I believe that Swedenborg not only read Philo, but was influenced by him.) Then in the second century AD, the church Father Origen described an internal sense of scriptures by interpreting them symbolically also. Then in the fourth century, Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa came up with symbolic systems of Bible interpretation. In fact, Augustine wrote a book that tells us when and how to interpret the Bible symbolically, and when to take it on face value.
When Swedenborg talks about the highest level of inner meaning, he describes mostly the process by which Jesus united His Human Nature with His Divine Origins. On Easter we celebrate the final union of God and Man when Jesus rises from the grave and is one with the Father. This miracle of God and Man becoming one is celebrated in all the resurrection stories. And it is in our Luke story. Jesus appears to the disciples apparently out of thin air. Startled, the disciples think they are seeing a ghost. But Jesus reassures them. He shows them that He is still the material, physical Jesus they knew before the crucifixion. He says, “See my hands and feet; for a ghost has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” To further prove His humanity, Jesus eats a broiled fish. But it is also clear that Jesus is more than just flesh and bones. He appears before the disciples from nowhere. He is both spirit and flesh even as He is both God and Man.
Isaiah prophesied Jesus’ coming. In our reading this morning, Isaiah talks about a time when God will come to humanity and bless us with miraculous gifts. For the poor and needy who seek water, God will “open rivers on the bare heights,” He will “make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water” (Isaiah 41:18). When the poor and needy seek God, “the Lord will answer them.” He promises, “I the God of Israel will not forsake them” (17).
If all the prophets are about Jesus, as Luke says, then this passage from Isaiah is about Jesus, too. I think that it does sound like Jesus’ ministry. He cared about the poor and needy. He answered those who sought Him, nor did He forsake them. And when Isaiah speaks about God giving water to those who are parched with thirst, the Gospel of John speaks about Jesus telling the woman of Samaria that He will give her living water. By Looking at Isaiah in this way, it does appear that he is talking about Jesus.
There is one problem, though. Isaiah is talking about Jehovah God doing these things. If Jehovah God is supposed to be doing these things, but we see Jesus doing them we have a contradiction. But this is only a contradiction is Jesus and Jehovah God are two different deities. This contradiction is resolved if Jehovah God is Jesus are the same Being. This contradiction is resolved if Jesus is Jehovah God in the flesh.
This brings up the issue of the Trinity. For throughout the New Testament, we hear about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This makes God sound like three persons. But Deuteronomy 6:5 says what we all intuitively know, “The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” There is only one God. To reconcile these two ideas, the Nicene Creed speaks of a trinity of persons who have one essence. This means that there are three persons but one essence. Some may profess to understand how three persons can have one essence. I cannot.
This Sunday I will begin a discussion on the unity of God and the Biblical language that suggests the trinity. I have mentioned these concepts in other sermons, but I haven’t given them the thorough discussion they require. In the next few sermons, I hope to clarify this profound and difficult problem. I hope I won’t only make it all murkier.
In the New Testament, we hear Jesus Himself addressing the Father as if the Father were a different person. In beginning our discussion on the trinity, it makes sense to start at the beginning. That is, with the birth of Jesus. For with birth we have the primary relationship between Father and Son.
I am going to speculate a great deal in considering the birth of Jesus. For we don’t have theology to tell us exactly what happened. Nor do we have science to tell us, either. Since we believe that Jehovah God was Jesus’ soul, we need to begin by considering the relationship between soul and body. Swedenborg tells us that our soul comes the father and our body from the mother. Today, science tells us that our bodily traits come from both parents. But science doesn’t tell us anything about the soul. I think that Swedenborg’s system is plausible as we know that it is the father’s sperm that swims up the birth canal to the egg. We know also that the life process starts to happen when the sperm pierces the egg’s membrane and the two DNA strands of father and mother unite. This looks as if the sperm has life in it.
Now back to the issue of the soul. Swedenborg claims that the sperm has the soul in it. And the sperm comes from the father. But clearly, the soul in the sperm is not the same as the father’s soul. The son or daughter’s soul is different from the father’s soul. When children become adults, father and son are two different adult persons who have their own individual souls. Son and daughter grow up to become different persons from their father. In the case of us humans, father and son are indeed two separate persons. My father is not me and I am not my father.
Things are very different when we speculate about the relationship between Father and Son in the case of Jesus. Science can tell us nothing about how Mary’s egg became fertilized. All we know are the enigmatic words of Luke:
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (1:35).
I take this to mean that God gave life to Mary’s egg by uniting His own soul with Mary’s finite egg. In this way of thinking, there was no sperm and egg. There was God’s power uniting directly with Mary’s egg, giving it life. Somehow, God caused Mary’s DNA to live and to produce a baby. So the soul of Jesus was the power of God, or Life Itself, or God Himself.
So when we talk about the relationship of Father and Son in the case of Jesus, we are always dealing with a metaphor. Everyone has a father and mother. In the case of Jesus we know that His mother was Mary. That’s simple enough. The other parent is God, who in ordinary language would be the Father. But Father in the case of Jesus is very different from human fathers and sons. Our soul is different from our father’s. So in our case, father and son are two persons. But Jesus’ soul is His Father. Father and Son are not two different persons. Jesus’ Human body came from Mary. But His soul was God Himself. Father and Son are one Person, one Essence, one Body.
So when Jesus talks about His Father, He is always using figurative language. God is a sort of Father in that He is the origin of Jesus’ life. But the connection between soul and body in Jesus is an intimate union of God and human. God is only Father sort of, not as our fathers are. His relationship to His Father is not the same as humanity’s relationship to our fathers. He did have a humanity as we do, but His soul was divine. I don’t know exactly how God caused Mary’s DNA to live and conceive a child. I don’t know if we ever can. But we do know that a Divine Human was born 2,000 years ago. We do know that that child grew up as humans grow up. We do know that that child served in a ministry to all Palestine. We do know that that child died on the cross. But we also know that that child rose from the grave as no ordinary human can. With the resurrection, God and Man were fully united. And in that One Holy Person, matter and spirit are united in the Divine Humanity of the risen and Glorified Jesus Christ.
This is a difficult doctrine to accept. Indeed, Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not scandalized by me” (Matthew 11:6). And Paul says,
the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18, 25).
A Divine Human is hard even for ministers in this denomination to accept. But as the Doobie Brothers, a great rock band from the 70′s say, “I don’t care what they may say; I don’t care what they may do; I don’t care what they may say, Jesus is just alright with me, O yeah.” And on a more sublime note, there is a beautiful 14th century hymn that Mozart set to music that seems to sum up all I’ve been talking about,
Ave verum corpus, natum de Maria virgine
Hail true body, born of Virgin Mary
All this speculation I have done about the biology of the incarnation may indeed be foolishness. But I wanted to establish some kind of groundwork to talk about Jesus’ language in the Gospels, when He addresses God as if another person. And I wanted to provide some speculation on how to preserve the unity of God to contrast the doctrine of the trinity. If I have failed to convince, or if my speculation seems forced, is it really any weirder than the doctrine that says there are three persons with one essence?