A Spiritual Sense of the Bible

After a lengthy career in the secular world, engaged in scientific study, mechanical invention, and civic service to his country, Swedenborg turned mid-life to the study of spiritual matters, beginning with ten years dedicated solely to discerning the spiritual sense of the Bible. It is no coincidence that his scientific career ended with an investigation into the location of soul in the body and his theological career began with an investigation into the soul of the Bible.

The “doctrine of correspondences” he developed in describing the soul-body connection was applied to the relationship between the biblical text and its own inner life.  The opening paragraphs of his multi-volume biblical commentary Arcana Coelestia compare the letter of the Bible by itself to “a body without a soul.” And while the concept of the Bible’s many layers of hidden meaning has deep roots in traditional Christian and Jewish exegesis, Swedenborg’s hermeneutic stands out for its reliance on organic models found in anatomy, physics, geometry, and astronomy. The Bible, according to Arcana Coelestia, participates in and perfectly reflects the interconnected quality of the universe, mapping a world where spirit and matter respond and correspond at every point. The inner, spiritual life of the individual person also reflects this quality, and the reader of the Bible accesses wisdom regarding her own spiritual path of regeneration, which in turn is also interconnected to body and world.


Swedenborg’s use of the doctrine of correspondences came in an age whose top scholars put increasing value on the investigation of the literal sense of scripture. The success of his methods, despite this trend, is borne out in the rich heritage he inspired–in for example, the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, the paintings of William Blake, and the psychology of William James and Carl Jung. These key representatives of creative expression each draw on a particular understanding of the relationship between the outer natural world and the inner world of spirit, which is found in Swedenborgian exegesis. For Swedenborg, the Bible is the ontological focal point of this relationship, and uniquely draws together heaven and earth, mind and body.

Recommended reading

George F. Dole. A Book about Us: The Bible and Stages of Our Lives. West Chester, PA: Chrysalis Books, 2007.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff. Swedenborg, Oetinger, and Kant: Three Perspectives on the Secrets of Heaven. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2007.

Rix RW. Emanuel Swedenborg, Transpersonal Psychology and the Literary Text. PsyArt Journal. 2014 Feb 16 [last modified: 2016 Feb 16]. Edition 1.