Saturday, February 22, 2014

Spiritual Miracles of Egypt, the Arab Spring, and Repentance

If an angel should come down and reveal itself before us, would it make a difference? Would people believe?  Indeed, it has already happened: there have not only been angelic appearances in Egypt in modern times before thousands of people, it has been caught on photographs and video.  The angelic apparitions I have come across have been seen on top of Coptic Orthodox churches at Zeitoun (1968), Edfu (1982), Assiut (2000), and most recently at Warraq (2009) - see Angel Appears before thousands on top of a Coptic Church and Marian Apparitions of Egypt, the Orthodox Church and Emanuel Swedenborg. I had stumbled across these when researching how Emanuel Swedenborg's visions revealing how Jesus saved humanity explained the Orthodox view of the atonement: Jehovah saved humanity by making the sinful human he had been born into Divine. Hell was conquered because it fought directly against Jehovah through the human to tempt Jesus to sin. Hell and a host of evil spirits were defeated, heaven was reordered, and the spiritual balance between heaven and hell was restored. Not only that, but God's Holy Spirit through his Divine Human is now available to us to resist and overcome sin.

So why Egypt?  Egypt plays a large role in scripture - miracles were manifested in ancient times when God delivered Israel out of Egypt during the Exodus, and had manifested Himself as a pillar of light.  The Exodus took place during the Passover, and the Jewish Passover is a symbolic representation of how Jehovah would eventually become incarnate, be crucified, and descend into hell to release souls from spiritual bondage and take them to the promised land of heaven. Again, much later, an angel told Joseph and Mary to take their newborn baby Jesus and flee from Israel to Egypt. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy: Out of Egypt have I called my Son.  I was reminded of these events while translating Psalms 78, which recounts the events of the miracles of the Exodus.  And the purpose of the miracles? The Psalm states:
That they might set their hope in God,
And not forget the acts of God, but observe His commandments:
And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation;
A generation that made not their heart firm, and whose spirit was not faithful with God. (Psalms 78:7-8)
The danger in rejecting or ignoring miracles can lead to immediate punishment: so the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years due to their rebellion even after seeing the miracles God performed, and King Herod died an excruciating death for the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem - some medical experts have diagnosed it as kidney failure accompanied by gangrene. Even when Jesus performed miracles, many cities turned their backs and ignored them. And what did Jesus have to say about that? He said this:
Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.
And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." (Matt. 11:20-24)
A manifestation of a miracle is a declaration of God's presence, and the way we should react to it is to examine our lives and repent. We all know the wrong things we do: our conscience tells us. In modern times, an angel has appeared multiple times in Egypt on top of a Coptic Church, focusing our attention on the cross of Jesus, how we should bow down and pray to Him. That is very significant, especially in the Muslim world: it shows that Jesus was not just a prophet. He was born as a prophet, but internally his soul was Divine, and when he rose from the dead he was in a glorified human body, free from sin - a Divine God Man.  So after the miracles that took place recently in Egypt, what happened?  We had the Arab Spring. And, we have a map for that:


One after another, a government has toppled or changed like a domino affect: but in Egypt twice. There are various theories into the causes, but everything that occurs in our material world has a spiritual cause. We are only seeing the effects.

THE IMPORTANCE OF REPENTENCE

The essential message of Christianity begins with repentance: when one repents, and resists the evils and sins, that person prepares themselves to enter the spiritual church.  Swedenborg spoke about this at length:
The communion called the church consists of all those in whom the church is; and the church with man enters him while regenerating, and every one is regenerated by abstaining from the evils of sin, and shunning them as one avoids infernal hordes, who sees them with torches in hand making ready to spring upon him and cast him upon a burning pile. There are many things which prepare one for the church, as he advances in the first stages, and which introduce him into it; but acts of repentance are what make the church to be in the man. Acts of repentance are all such as cause one not to will and hence not to do evils which are sins against God; for before this is done, the man stands outside of regeneration; and then, if a thought respecting eternal salvation creeps in, he turns toward it, but presently turns from it; for it enters into the man no further than the ideas of his thought, and it goes forth thence into the words of his speech, and also, it may be, into some gestures appropriate to the speech. But when such thought enters the will, it is then in the man; for the will is the man himself, because his love has its dwelling there, while thought is outside of the man, unless it proceeds from his will; if this is done, then will and thought act as one, and together make the man. From this it follows that, for repentance to be repentance and to be effective in man, it is necessary for it to be of the will and hence of the thought, and not of the thought alone, consequently for it to be actual and not of the lips merely. That repentance is the first of the church is very manifest from the Word. John the Baptist, who was sent before to prepare men for the church which the Lord was about to establish, when he baptized, at the same time preached repentance; therefore his baptism was called the baptism of repentance, because by baptism is signified spiritual washing, which is a cleansing from sins. John did this in the Jordan, because the Jordan signified introduction to the church, for it was the first boundary of the land of Canaan where the church was. The Lord Himself also preached repentance for the remission of sins; whereby He taught that repentance is the first of the church, that so far as man repents sins are removed with him, and that so far as they are removed they are remitted. And furthermore, the Lord commanded the twelve apostles, and also the seventy whom He sent forth, to preach repentance. From which it is plain that, repentance is the first of the church. (True Christian Religion, n. 501).
In other words, mere lip confessions one is a sinner is not enough. We have to acknowledge the specific sins we commit and turn away from them. When we do that, it moves out of the thought and into the will. Whether an act is sinful or not depends not only on our knowledge, but our intent and purpose in each act:
...they who by repentance have removed some evils that are sins come into the purpose of believing in the Lord and loving the neighbor; these latter are kept by the Lord in the purpose to abstain from other evils; therefore, if they commit sin from ignorance or some overpowering lust, this is not imputed to them, because they did not intend it, nor do they confirm it in themselves. This may be confirmed by what follows: In the spiritual world I have met with many who in the natural world lived like others, dressing finely, feasting delicately, having money like others from trading, witnessing plays, joking about lovers as if from licentiousness, and doing other such things; and yet the angels charged some with these things as evils of sin, and others they did not charge with them as evils, declaring the latter innocent, but the former guilty. To the question, "Why is this, when they all did alike?" they replied that they view all from their purpose, intention, and end, and distinguish accordingly; and that therefore they excuse or condemn those whom the end excuses or condemns, since good is the end with all in heaven, and evil is the end with all in hell. (True Christian Religion, n. 523).
And for those who acknowledge their sins, and repent, the external sign of that is baptism, the rite of the Christian Church. Baptism in itself does nothing: it is merely an external ritual that symbolizes the washing away of sins through repentance. Repentance is also not just a one time affair, it is a life long process: periodically we should review our lives and assess it, take a different view, and see where our faults lie. We can divide the steps of repentance as follows:
1. Knowledge of sin and examination of sin in one's self. This begins repentance.
2. Examination of one's self, acknowledging one's fault, and imploring the Lord's help.
3. Beginning a new life by turning away from the former acts, and correcting one's behavior.
And examining the acts is not just examining the outcome: self examination is to examine one's intent or purpose in such an act. Was it done selfishly? Was it done for self credit?  Did I ignore the needs of others? If the selfish ego is at the center of the act, one knows the nature of the act. There are three loves that act in opposition to God and his commandments:
1. Love of self
2. Love of the world, or materialism
3. Love of pleasure
Which for many, is everything. But these are false loves, and they are the loves that the world and the media encourages, including so many so-called "self-help" programs. When these loves are removed, we prepare ourselves to receive an inner true spiritual love: the love of what is good, the love of what is useful, the love of God we see inside others. But he have to first submit ourselves in humility to God's will, and obey the commandments. That is the essence of Christianity. It is very simple to understand, yet for many, so very hard to do.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Marian Apparitions of Egypt, the Orthodox Church and Emanuel Swedenborg

In the blog post Angel Appears before thousands on top of a Coptic Church I described what seems to be an angelic apparition of the virgin Mary on top of a Coptic Church which was caught on video in the morning hours of December 11, 2009, and was seen by about 3,000 people. Now that took me by surprise, but what is even more surprising is this is not the first time this has happened. The first widely reported apparition of the virgin Mary in Egypt took place in Zeitoun Egypt on April 2, 1968 and lasted for over a period of three years, and was seen by at least HALF A MILLION Egyptians - including the former leader of Egypt, President Nasser. There seems to be a parallel between that sighting of 1968 and the one in Warraq in 2009. Again the angelic manifestation appeared on top of a Coptic church, which people thought was a young woman about to commit suicide. The form of the angel seems to have been more clearly visible, who then bowed down and prayed before one of the crosses on the rooftop. Like the sighting of 2009, a man was cured of blindness, and the apparition was seen with doves. Again, skeptics, and the scientists who only observe things in the visible light spectrum in this age of materialism, will tend to deny these things and come up with natural explanations. What do they say on this? Its a "mass hallucination" or tectonic plates producing an electro-magnetic light on top of the church. Here is a short documentary on the sighting, which includes witnesses who saw Mary turn and smile at them:



There is no video, but several photographs of the apparition were taken in black and white. I can show those, but as it turns out, an apparition of the angel Mary appeared later in Edfu Egypt in 1982, again approved by the Coptic Church:


So why the Marian apparition of 1968? One theory is that the day before, some Muslims had marked the houses of Coptic Christians with a cross of blood, marking the house as one that should be attacked. This is the exact sign that was placed on the doors of the Jews to protect them from the angel of death the night of the Passover.

As I was researching this blog, just found another apparition of Mary in Assiut, Egypt, which took place in the year 2000. AGAIN, on top of a Coptic Church. AGAIN, with the appearance of a dove. According to newspaper reports, during mass, pictures showing Mary with a dove above her that were hung on the wall inside the altar began to glow, after which the light from the dove in the pictures started to flow down. Later, the lights appeared above the church as well. It is an approved apparition by the Coptic Church. Here is a video of a light descending on the cross on top of the church:



Here is another shot where an angelic form appears in a tower, you can again hear the crowds cheer when it appears:



I can easily show more Marian apparitions, but for now I have only mentioned ones that have strong support from multiple witnesses and have been approved by the Coptic Church. The only thing that compares with this were the Fatima sightings in Portugal. So why does Mary appear with a dove? It is said that when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, he saw it manifested in the form of a dove. Mary had conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. While externally he was like any other man, his inner soul was Divinity itself. And that is why the apparition Mary was seen in one case as bowing and praying before the cross.

EMMANUEL SWEDENBORG, ANGELS, AND THE HEAVENLY REALMS

If you want to know anything and everything about angels, and why they appear in such a bright light, you can obtain information on them from Emanuel Swedenborg's visions which he recorded in Heavenly Arcana (aka Arcana Coelestia) and in summary form in Heaven and Hell. There is too much to cover in one single blog post, since his visionary experiences lasted for a period of over 25 years and he wrote volumes about it. Unlike other religious writings I cannot find any logical error in them. All of the above sightings are brief instances, with no communication: Swedenborg's encounters are much more detailed. Most of Swedenborg's visions of angels in their heavenly realm took place in his internal sight, with no visible manifestation. But in one case at least, Swedenborg does mention a bright light that manifested before his very eyes:
That I might know the nature of the light, I have many times been conducted into the abodes where good spirits and angelic spirits dwell, and have there seen not only the spirits but also the things that were there. There have also been seen infants and mothers in light of so great brightness and resplendence that there could not possibly be anything brighter.
An intense flamy light, which I was not expecting, poured down before my eyes, dazzling them greatly — not merely the sight of the eye, but the interior sight also. Presently there appeared a sort of obscurity, like a thick, cloud, in which there was as it were something earthy. And when I was wondering, it was given me to know that such is the light with the angels in heaven, in comparison with the light in the world of spirits; and that although the spirits live in light, yet still there is such a difference; and that, as does the light, so also do the intelligence and the wisdom of the angels exceed the intelligence and the wisdom of spirits; and not their intelligence and wisdom only, but also all the things that belong to intelligence and wisdom, as their speech, thought, joys, and felicities; for these correspond to the light. From this it was also evident to me, how great and of what kind are the perfections of angels as compared with men, who are in obscurity more than spirits. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 1523-24).
In his visions - a state in which Swedenborg was in in full wakefulness, he describes the light of heaven as so bright that there could not be possibly anything brighter in this world. It is a realm where there is no time and space, and while angels are unseen and for the most part not allowed to communicate directly with people, they influence us in general ways through our thoughts and emotions. There is a constant conjunction between the spiritual and material world, without which nothing living could live. Swedenborg observed a more direct link between himself and heavenly realms occurred when he was reading scripture, which also occurs to anyone who reads scripture with an open heart, even though they are unaware of it. With all of his angelic encounters, Swedenborg did not draw one single teaching or doctrine from an angel, but rather from the Lord himself while reading scripture.

EMANUEL SWEDENBORG AND THE VIRGIN MARY

So over the years of many visionary experiences, did Swedenborg ever encounter the virgin Mary? Yes, in one brief instance:
It is otherwise with the so called saints in heaven. They know nothing at all of their being so called on earth; nor have I spoken with them, lest some idea of this should enter into them. Only once Mary, the mother of the Lord, passed by, and was seen over head in white raiment; and then, stopping a little, she said that she had been the mother of the Lord and that He was indeed born of her, but that as He became God He put off all the human from her, and that therefore she now adores Him as her God, and is not willing that any one should recognize Him as her son, because in Him all is Divine. (The Final Judgment, n. 66).
Some observations here: for Mary to appear higher than Swedenborg can mean she exists in a higher realm than he was allowed to visit. The other point is, since of all the so-called saints he was only allowed to visit Mary, that could conversely mean that Mary is one of the few who is allowed to have a visible manifestation to appear before people here on earth. This does not mean that all apparitions are indicate the presence of the virgin Mary herself, it could very well be any female angel was sent to represent her and/or the church itself, to bring focus on the worship of Jesus. In the spiritual world, identities can get mixed somewhat: angels are allowed to represent other identities, as well as become symbolic manifestations. While Catholics are in error in praying to Mary, God acts in such a way where these manifestations are used to bend people back towards the true faith: it is better to bend, not break, the religion one grew up with as a child.

Another statement that Swedenborg makes, which may be puzzling to many Christians, is that she declared she is no longer the mother of the Lord. This is because Jesus gradually put off the human he received from Mary and replaced it with a Divine Human that originated from his own being. When he rose from the dead, he was completely Divine. There are two doctrines which have obscured this in the history of Christianity: the Nicene Creed, which invented a "son born from eternity", and the Chalcedonian Creed, which permanent divided Jesus into two natures, which created endless theological distinctions and debates which I will not get into here. Jesus BEGAN as both human and Divine, but in the end, the Divine absorbed and transformed the human into a Divine Human - a body that was under direct control by Jehovah, which could no longer be tempted to sin, where he could interact directly at our level without having an intermediate angel. For Catholics, this is obscured even more by the false doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary. This is VERY CLEAR in the revelations that Swedenborg received concerning Mary, and his explanations also make clear why Islam is a "partially" true (not complete) revelation:
The interiors with Him were Divine, from Jehovah His Father; the exteriors were human, from Mary His mother. Hence it may be evident that with the Lord, equally as with other men, there was in His external man, in boyhood, a want of knowledge. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 1460)
From knowledge of boyhood, Jesus later proceeded to make his rational human self Divine:
The Lord, as said before, was born as another man and was as another man as to the things which He derived from the mother Mary; and as the rational is formed by means of the knowledges, external and internal, which enter through things of the external senses, or those of the external man, therefore His first rational was born as with any other man; but as He by His own power was to make all the things that were human in Himself Divine, so also was it with the rational. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 1893.2)
...the Lord wholly exterminated His first rational, so that nothing of it remained; for what is merely human cannot be together with the Divine. Hence He was no longer the son of Mary, but Jehovah as to each Essence. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2657.7)
That He was born of the virgin Mary is known, yet as another man; but when He was born again, or became Divine, it was from Jehovah who was in Him, and Who was Himself as to the very Being of life. The unition of the Divine and the Human Essence was effected mutually and reciprocally, so that He united the Divine Essence to the Human and the Human to the Divine. Hence it may be evident that the Lord made the Human in Himself Divine by His own power, and thus became Justice. The merit of justice was what was adjoined to the Divine rational when He underwent inmost temptations, from which He then fought, and against which the evil genii fought, until He glorified that also. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2798.2)
The progession of His human to Divinity continued to the end of his life. And this explains why Jesus is called Lord in the New Testament, but not Jehovah, for during his ministry he had not yet made his human Divine:
Among the hidden causes of their calling Jehovah the Lord, were the following: if at that time it had been said that the Lord was the Jehovah so often named in the Old Testament, men would not have accepted it, for they would not have believed it; and further, because the Lord did not become Jehovah as to the Human also, until He had in every way united the Divine Essence to the Human Essence, and the Human to the Divine. The full unition was accomplished after the last temptation, which was that of the cross; and for this reason after the resurrection the disciples always called Him Lord. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2921.6)
In a similar manner, today, Muslims believe Jesus to just be a prophet.

The doctrine of immaculate conception of Mary is false: for Jesus received hereditary evil in his human form from Mary, by which he could be tempted and battle against hell:
That this was hereditary evil from the mother, against which the Lord combated, may be evident from what has been shown respecting that hereditary (n. 1414, 1444, 1573); and from His expelling it, so that at length He was not the son of Mary (Heavenly Arcana, n. 4563).
Thus those who subscribe to the immaculate conception, that Mary was born without sin, are not going to properly understand how Jesus saved humanity. The doctrine is late and was added by the Catholic Church: the Orthodox Church does not accept this doctrine.

That his human was Divine, was shown in the transfiguration:
The Lord was indeed born as another man, and had an infirm human from the mother; but this human the Lord entirely cast out, so that He was no longer the son of Mary, and made the Human in Himself Divine, which is meant by His being glorified; and He also showed to Peter, James, and John, when He was transfigured, that He was a Divine Man. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 4692.5)
Repeatedly it is said that the human from Mary was expelled and replaced with a Divine nature:
...with the Lord the prior forms, which were from the maternal, were altogether destroyed and extirpated, and Divine forms received in their place. For the Divine love does not agree with any but a Divine form; all other forms it absolutely casts out; hence it is that the Lord when glorified was no longer the son of Mary. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 6872.4)
He expelled all the human which was from the mother, until at length He was not the son of Mary (Heavenly Arcana, n. 9315.5)
With the Lord however there was not removal, but casting out of those which He derived from the mother, thus full liberation from them, even so that He was no longer the son of Mary (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10057.6)
When the Lord fully glorified His Human, then He put off the human from the mother and put on the Human from the Father. Wherefore then He was no longer the son of Mary, but the Son of God, from Whom He came forth. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10830)
What about the title of "Son of Man" - why does Jesus call himself that? It is a symbolic appelation, as "man" is a symbol of truth and "woman" is a symbolic form of love:
...the Son of Man, as the Lord called Himself, is not the son of Mary, but the Divine truth (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10053).
What about the Trinity? Here is one brief statement:
That there is a trine in the Lord, namely, the Divine Itself, the Divine Human, and the Divine proceeding, is an arcanum from heaven and for those who shall be in the holy Jerusalem. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10831)
So NO, there is no such thing as a "second person" of the Trinity. The Son of God is the human that was born to the virgin Mary, and was made Divine by Jehovah. Which is why the apostle John stated it was important to acknowledge that Jesus was indeed born in the flesh.
...the Human of the Lord, conceived of Jehovah the Father, and born of the Virgin Mary, is the Son of God (Doctrine of the Lord, n. 19)
The Father and Son are one in the sense that the soul and body of Jesus are one, and cannot be separated:
From this it follows, that the Divine cannot be separated from the Human, and that the Human cannot be separated from the Divine; for to separate them would be like separating soul and body. That it is so, every one will also acknowledge who reads what is cited above (n. 19 and 21) from two of the Evangelists (Luke i. 26-35, and Matt. 18-25), concerning the Lord's birth; from which it is plain that Jesus was conceived of Jehovah God, and born of the Virgin Mary: so that the Divine was in Him, and it was His Soul. Now, as His Soul was the Divine itself of the Father, it follows that His Body or Human was also made Divine; for where the one is, the other must be also. Thus and not otherwise are the Father and the Son one; the Father in the Son, and the Son in the Father. (Doctrines of the Lord, n. 29)
And it is true, that the Divine could not intermix or commingle with the human:
The Lord successively put off the human taken from the mother, and put on the Human from the Divine in Himself, which is the Divine Human and the Son of God. That the Lord had a Divine and a human, — the Divine from Jehovah the Father, and a human from the Virgin Mary, — is known. Thence it is that He was God and Man; and thus He had a Divine essence and a human nature, — the Divine essence from the Father, and the human nature from the mother; and thence He was equal to the Father as to the Divine, and less than the Father as to the human: also (as the doctrine of faith which is called the Athanasian Creed teaches) that He did not transmute this human nature from the mother into the Divine essence, nor commix it with it; for the human nature cannot be transmuted into the Divine essence, nor can it be commixed with it. And yet from the same creed is our doctrine, that the Divine took on the Human, that is, united itself to it, as the soul unites itself to its body, until they were not two, but one person. (Doctrine of the Lord, n. 35).

SWEDENBORG AND THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

When one understands this, one can understand how Jesus saved humanity by conquering hell through his human body, which is the view espoused by the Orthodox Church against the later doctrine of the vicarious atonement of the Catholic and Protestant churches. Unfortunately the Orthodox Church is highly traditional, and is not likely to reject the Nicene Creed as that is treated as a foundational creed by all three branches of Christianity. But at least they reject vicarious atonement, they reject the doctrine of faith alone by the Protestants, and they reject many other beliefs added onto Christianity by the Catholic Church. From a New Church point of view, these manifestations of the virgin Mary in Egypt are highly significant. Why so? Swedenborg foresaw that while the revelations given to him would be rejected by western Christianity, a similar independent revelation would be established by visions in the continent of Africa, which he described in his final work, True Christian Religion.

Here is the song Ya umm Allah dedicated to Mary by Fairouz, a Lebanese singer of the Syriac Orthodox Church:






Monday, February 10, 2014

Angel Appears before thousands on top of a Coptic Church [+VIDEO]

Miracles rarely happen, and when they do, we should take note.  I just saw this, and it blows me away - a human figure of light appeared before thousands on top of an Orthodox Coptic Church in Warraq Egypt on December 11, 2009, which was caught by many on video cameras. I had previously blogged about a rare appearance of what appears to be an angelic light in The Light of an Angel caught on Video Tape, which healed a young girl who was dying on her hospital bed.  That was just a brief flash.  Compare it with this one, where it lasts for 3-4 hours, and is seen by thousands. Here is the first video, where the figure of light appears on top of the church among three crosses that are somehow glowing with golden light:



Part 2, the figure of light is now on top of the center cross. Note the cross of light suspended above the glowing figure in mid-air.



Part 3, this looks like a different part of the church:



Part 4, back on top of roof with the 3 crosses, towards the end you see it disappear in a pinpoint of light. Note the top of glowing figure has a golden hue, whereas below it there is a bluish hue:


Here is another one: a globe of light flying in the air above the crosses, which some witnesses had identified with a luminous dove:





This was reported in the news, and I have seen some pathetic explanations by skeptics that this was just a light of a tower behind the church.  That is clearly not the case here.  It moved between the domes on the roof. In the last video it is a figure of light on the church, that disappears into a pinpoint of light.  Thousands of people would not gather between 1 and 4am in the morning because of a light in a tower. Although a vague human form can only be seen in these videos, the first witness saw it coalesce into a human female form, which was identified with the virgin Mary:
The first person who saw the alleged apparition of Mary was reportedly a Muslim neighbour. He was said to be sitting at his local coffee shop when he apparently saw a strong light coming from the Coptic Orthodox place of worship. He and others are said to have observed the light condense into a female form. Mary allegedly appeared in luminous robes, in a pure white dress and a royal blue belt, with a crown on her head.
The Coptic Orthodox church regards it as a valid apparition.  From Apparitions of the Blessed Holy Virgin Mary at El-Warraq Coptic Orthodox Church, Greater Cairo, Egypt (which has more videos in Arabic as well):
The Bishopric of Giza announces that the Holy Virgin has appeared in a transfiguration at the Church named after her in Warraq al-Hadar, Giza, in the early hours of Friday 11 December 2009 at 1:00am. The Holy Virgin appeared in her full height in luminous robes, above the middle dome of the church, in pure white dress and a royal blue belt. She had a crown on her head, above which appeared the cross on top of the dome. The crosses on top of the church’s domes and towers glowed brightly with light. The Holy Virgin moved between the domes and on to the top of the church gate between its two twin towers. The local residents all saw her.
The apparition lasted from 1:00am till 4:00am on Friday, and was registered by cameras and cell phones. Some 3,000 people from the neighbourhood, surrounding areas, and passers-by gathered in the street in front of the church to see the apparition.
Looking at the last video one can see a bluish hue towards the bottom, and gold around where the head would be. What is the significance of this?  The Orthodox Coptic Church is very ancient, older than the Roman Catholic Church and was founded by the Apostle Mark.  I first started to study the Orthodox church when I discovered that their theology of how Jesus saved humanity is very similar to the New Church theology described to Emanuel Swedenborg in visions in the 18th century.  I described the Orthodox church a little bit in The Older Forgotten Branch of Christianity. They do not believe in the theology of "vicarious atonement" as Catholics and Protestants do - this I described a bit in The Error of Vicarious Atonement and Christus Victor, Pauline Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I recently found a Coptic Church near where I live, and talked to a deacon of that church.  Rather than stressing an immediate "conversion" or just faith, they stress a life long process where we should all try to imitate the image and life of Jesus Christ. After repentance, God's grace is given that begins to fill our heart with love.  This spiritual process is very similar to what I described in The Three Steps of Spiritual Development. After talking with that deacon, I just happened to stumble upon these videos.

And why does the angel appear as a female with a crown? It may not necessarily be the virgin Mary, but an angel who represents the church itself, from the vision of John in the Apocalypse:
Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.
Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. (Rev. 12:1-6)
The vision is symbolic: it refers to the future dawn of the New Church, where one God is worshiped, where the Lord's humanity is regarded as Divine: the God Man, or Divine Human, which is the reason for the ritual of the communion. The revelation is opposed by the dragon, which represents those who divide God into three persons and stress salvation by faith alone. This is described in more detail by Swedenborg in Apocalypse Revealed and Apocalypse Explained.

COMPARISON WITH BIBLICAL MIRACLES

There are a number of miracles mentioned in the Bible which can be compared to this one.  Skeptical scholars always try to explain them away as embellishments, or mistaking natural phenomenon.  And they still do - despite the evidence for the angelic apparition, they just try and try to explain them away. This is because skeptics are in a state of denial of everything, despite the evidence sitting in front of them. I should mention here, that it is better to have a spiritual faith drawn from the truths of scripture, than from miracles: it is more stable and longer lasting:
Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord." So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace to you!" Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing." And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:24-29)
So here are some Biblical manifestations that can be compared to the angelic form that appeared in Egypt in 2009. Notice they are always forms of bright light:

The  Burning Bush of Moses

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn." (Ex. 3:1-3)

A Pillar of Fire by Day, a Pillar of Cloud by Night

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people. (Ex. 13:21-22)

The Glory of God's Presence on Mt. Sinai

The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel. (Ex. 24:17)

Appearance of an Angel to Daniel

Now on the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was by the side of the great river, that is, the Tigris,
I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude. (Dan. 10:4-6)

The Transfiguration of Jesus

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" (Matt. 17:1-5)

Appearance of an Angel at the Tomb of Jesus

And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Matt. 28:2-6)

A SONG TO CELEBRATE

I am just going to say it: THIS IS AWESOME.  To say that this puts thing in a "positive light" is an understatement. Who can say now Christianity does not have the truth in it? I was trying to find a song to celebrate, and all I could think of was the song "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons.  This is not exactly the kind of song you would hear in church, and it is probably not what the band Imagine Dragons was thinking, and probably an angel would not want to be called "radioactive", but I think its perfect:




I'm waking up to ash and dust
I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust
I'm breathing in the chemicals

I'm breaking in, shaping up, then checking out on the prison bus
This is it, the apocalypse
Whoa

I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I'm radioactive, radioactive
Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I'm radioactive, radioactive

I raise my flags, don my clothes
It's a revolution, I suppose
We'll paint it red to fit right in
Whoa

I'm breaking in, shaping up, then checking out on the prison bus
This is it, the apocalypse
Whoa

I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I'm radioactive, radioactive
Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I'm radioactive, radioactive

All systems go, the sun hasn't died
Deep in my bones, straight from inside

I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I'm radioactive, radioactive
Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I'm radioactive, radioactive



Thursday, February 6, 2014

Christus Victor, Pauline Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls

In Catholic and Protestant circles, it is generally assumed that the way Jesus saved humanity was by "standing in their place" and taking the punishment for sin.  This is actually a theological theory known as "vicarious atonement" or the "satisfaction" theory. Surprisingly, this was not always the case. In the early Church, the incarnation of God was for the purpose of redeeming humanity by conquering evil and the power of the devil.  This model of salvation is known as "Christus Victor", based on the book Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement by Gustaf Aulén, a Swedish bishop and theologian who died in 1977. His book was published in 1930 and has been in print ever since.


Wikipedia has this entry concerning the Christus Victor theory:
The term Christus Victor refers to a Christian understanding of the atonement which views Christ's death as the means by which the powers of evil, which held humankind under their dominion, were defeated. It is a model of the atonement that is dated to the Church Fathers, and it, or the related ransom theory, was the dominant theory of the atonement for a thousand years, until it was removed in the West by the eleventh-century Archbishop of CanterburyAnselm, and replaced with his "satisfaction" model.
Here is another summary:
Its central theme is the idea of the Atonement as a Divine conflict and victory; Christ - Christus Victor - fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the 'tyrants' under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to Himself.
And a review from Amazon:
This book provides an historically-faithful alternative to the substitutionary and exemplary models of the atonement. Its strength lies in its presentation of a vivid and robust picture of the work of Christ. Its (the book, not the model) weakness is its simplistic reductions of other theologians' thoughts.
Overview:The Christus Victor model presents the work of Christ as a triumph over the devil, powers (demons), bondage of sin, and the "law." Accordingly, given its Eastern overtones, the atonement and the Incarnation are inseperable. Christ united humanity to his nature to redeem it. He redeemed it (still united to his nature) on the cross.
This is to be contrasted with the Latin views of the atonement, which are narrowly penal. The Latin views incorporate merit and penance in the atonment model. For Aulen, this move removes the work of God from the work of Christ in redemption.
In other words, it was the dominant view of Christianity for the first 1,000 years of its history. In the 11th century, this view shifted under the influence of Anselm.  However, the Orthodox church still follows this more ancient view concerning how Jesus saved humanity. Aulen documents how this was the view espoused by ancient church fathers, including Irenaeus, Origen of Alexandria, and Augustine of Hippo.

Another assessment of Christus Victor is given in A Better Atonement: Christus Victor:
At this point, CV may sound like the penal substitution model that many of us grew up with. But that’s where Aulén said we’re wrong. The early church did not understand the death of Christ as paying a penalty in some transactional sense that only God’s son could pay. The crucifixion is not, in that sense, cosmically necessary to reconcile God and humanity.
Instead, Christ’s death is God’s victory over sin and death. God conquers death by fully entering into it. God conquers Satan by using the very means employed by the Evil One.
Thus, the crucifixion is not a necessary transaction to appease a wrathful and justice-demanding deity, but an act of divine love.
God entered fully into the bondage of death, turned it inside out by making it a moment of victory, and thereby liberates humanity to live lives of love without the fear of death.
So how did Jesus obtain victory over hell and death?  From what I have read, the theory of Christus Victor is still not exactly clear.  But reading Emanuel Swedenborg - who described this in much more detail in the 18th century - it becomes perfectly clear. Jehovah himself descended and assumed a human form. This human form had inherited evil tendencies from the human mother, Mary. While the soul of Jesus was Divine and could not sin, his human body was another matter - all of hell could bring forth temptations, of a very grievous sort, to tempt Jesus to sin, and this is not described so well in the gospels. Jesus successfully overcame them, until ultimately, he descended into hell, brought into order, and when he rose from the dead, had made his human Divine.  All of hell was conquered. This is spelled out in his books True Christian Religion and Doctrine of the Lord, part of the Doctrines of the New Jerusalem (see to the left).

So how did this save humanity? Human free will, in fact, is spiritual in origin. We are spiritual beings, and we stand between heaven and hell. Periodically the balance between heaven and hell has to be restored through spiritual judgments. In the case of Jesus, this was done by making his human Divine, a descent into hell and reordering of the heavens, and now his spirit can flow into us as we ourselves repent and resist temptation. Human responsibility for our actions is retained. We will all be judged according to our works. We are responsible for what we do, and what we choose not to do.

OPPOSITION FROM A PROTESTANT VIEW

I was curious to see the viewpoint on "Christus Victor" from those who held to the substitution or satisfaction theory of how Jesus saved humanity.  I found opposition to Christus Victor from none other than Christianity Today in The Problem with Christus Victor. Apparently the idea is gaining in popularity among ministers, thus the author's concern. He sums up the idea as follows:
The idea is this: Christ is victor. Christ in his death and resurrection overcame over the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection, those powers variously understood as the devil, sin, the law, and death. ...The main human problem is that we are trapped and we need to be rescued: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15). ...This model also highlights big picture atonement: Christ's death isn't merely about me and my salvation. It's about the redemption of the cosmos: "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him" (Col. 2:15).
With some insight, the author - Mark Galli - recognizes not only the inherent problem of substitutionary atonement but begins to touch on the problem of dividing God into three distinct persons or beings (for this see The False Belief of a Trinity of three beings: TRITHEISM) -
..."neurotic substitutionary atonement" needs to be abandoned. The picture of a wrathful Father having his anger appeased by the death of his Son is wrong on many fronts. Here's one:  It separates the work of the Father from the Son, as if they have competing concerns—the Father with righteousness, the son with compassion. It sounds like the Son saves us from the Father! This is manifestly unbiblical, for Paul clearly says that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:19).
However Mark Galli, taught as he has been taught - has some apprehension to it:
I'm concerned at the rising popularity of Christus Victor when it comes at the expense of substitution.
As I stated before in The Error of Vicarious Atonement - no one can take the punishment of another's sin. We all bear responsibility for our actions.  It is not only irrational, it goes against what God himself repeatedly states in scripture. It is simple: he will reward the good, and punish the evil. Take this for example:
You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Mal. 2:17)
So why is Mark Galli opposed to the idea of Christus Victor?  From one source: the apostle Paul:
First, note how Scripture, even when it momentarily uses Christus Victor language, grounds it in substitution. For example, in the classic Christus Victor passage quoted above—"He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him"—note how Paul sets the context of that victory with substitution: "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (vv. 13-14).
Or note again what is said immediately after that passage quoted above —" … through death [Christ] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." A verse later we read: "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:14-17).
Add to this the extensive discussion of substitutionary atonement in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews—and no extensive discussions of Christus Victor anywhere in the New Testament—and one begins to wonder how much stock we should put in Christus Victor. In short, should we be so quick to marginalize substitutionary atonement?
So, problem here. Yes, scripture often uses language to make things easy to understand. Everyone understands the concept of ransom or redemption. But how exactly were sins nailed to the cross?  How exactly did Jesus become propititation for our sins?  And the characterization that the idea of Christus Victor is not "anywhere in the New Testament" is false. Just take a look at passages where Jesus casts out demons, where he says the prince of the world is now judged, or he sees Satan falling out of heaven, or that he must go first bind the strong man in order to deliver prisoners - all of this points to the model of Christus Victor. So how do we explain the apostle Paul?

WHY THE APOSTLE PAUL CANNOT BE COMPLETELY TRUSTED

This is where scholars on Christianity mention "Paulinist Christianity" - the idea that Paul slightly changed the message of Jesus. He was an outsider, who never met Jesus, and even opposed the young Christian movement.  He converted, but even after he did so, we find that he had a conflict with the original church in Jerusalem. Reading Paul, one would believe this was over converting the Gentiles.  But reading the letters of the apostles, they opposed him for other reasons. After Jesus ascended, leadership of the church passed on to his half-brother James (not Peter as the Catholic Church would have us believe). Paul's letters interchange the works of the rituals of the Mosaic law with ordinary works of righteousness to the point of confusion.  So much confusion, that James wrote an entire letter - the letter of James in the New Testament - opposing the main points of Paul's theology! James saw within Paul the teaching of belief alone. Luther at one time considered removing the letter of James from the NT for this very reason, believe it or not. What about Peter, what did he think of Paul?  We have this statement:
...and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation --- as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. (2 Pet. 3:15-16)
In other words, Paul wrote in such a way that Peter does not quite "understand". Because of this statement I have heard some call Peter as a little less than "enlightened."  How were the letters of Paul distorted? Well Paul himself says how so:
And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"? --- as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just. (Rom. 3:8)
In other words, people back then even took Paul's sayings to mean it does not matter what we do - good or evil - I just have to "believe" and the sins are taken away. But this is not really their fault. Paul is at times ambiguous when he uses the word "works" for different things - sometimes the works of the Jewish rituals, and at other times, works of righteousness and love.  And Paul even admits he does not always tell the truth:
For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? (Rom. 3:7)
Paul knew very well what he was doing. By saying that it does not matter what you do, that you will be saved by just believing, he was making the message "popular." Did Paul know what he was doing? Sure he did. He explains his method quite well:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law (1 Cor. 9:19-21)
This teaching, and the way he turns it to fit everyone, earned Paul the epithet of a "liar."  The liar epithet became so popular against Paul he feels the need to defend himself against it:
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not (Rom. 9:1)
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knows that I lie not. (2 Cor. 11:31)
Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. (Gal. 1:20)
I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not (1 Tim. 2:7)
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. (2 Cor. 11:31)
Ok, ok Paul, we get it, you are not a liar. But that's not enough. Since he has the message of God, he feels the need to defend God himself as not being a liar:
In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie (Tit. 1:2)
That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18)
No one is going to defend oneself like this without being called a liar. So who is calling Paul a liar?
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. (James 3:13-14)
Who is James talking about? James, head of the church in Jerusalem, had a conflict with Paul, which is recorded in the book of Acts.  Yes, James, the half brother of Jesus, is calling Paul a liar. That is the entire purpose of the letter of James: it opposes the teachings of Paul. But that's not all:
He who says, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 1:4)
But the anointing which ye have received of him abides in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie (1 John 2:27)
Who is the teacher who can be interpreted that one does not have to follow God's commandments? Paul.  Yes, the apostle John is calling Paul a liar. It would seem only Peter joined in with Paul, and according to church tradition, Peter and Paul would eventually die together in Rome - Paul being beheaded, and Peter being crucified upside down. Peter's death was actually foretold by Jesus at the end of the gospel of John:
Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish." This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. (John 21:18-19)
Not only does the above statement predict the apostle Peter's death in Rome, but it is said he will be carried away to a place where he does not wish to go.  Who "carried" Peter away? The apostle Paul.  Paul not only led Peter with him to Rome, but began to mislead him with his teachings.  Everything in scripture is symbolic: it is said that Peter did not want to be compared to the Lord, so had himself crucified upside down. Peter is symbolic of the church itself, misled by the teachings of Paul, and this characterizes many of the churches of the present day. A false understanding from the writings of Paul leads to a false understanding of the work of Jesus up to the time he was crucified - our understanding becomes turned upside down. So Peter is crucified upside down.  How is the crucifixion turned upside down? The theory of vicarious atonement, which was put forth by Paul. And, it makes no sense.  And even Paul admits it makes no rational sense, to the point where he himself calls his gospel "foolishness":
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18)
...it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Cor. 1:23)
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; (1 Cor. 1:25)
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27)
In the New Church, Christianity is not foolish. It is rational. And if something does not make rational sense, it probably is not true.  According to Paul, not only is his gospel foolish, don't even attempt to understand it. Why? Because it is a mystery:
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery (Rom. 16:25)
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery (1 Cor. 2:7)
Plus other passages. Back then there were other mystery religions, and here Paul does not seek after any rational understanding of what he is saying. And note he says "my gospel." - which he mentions in 2 other occasions in his letters. He also says this:
But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. (Gal. 1:11)
Why should Paul say this? Because others were saying what he was teaching was incorrect. Which indicates his gospel may not have been the original one.

ARE THE LETTERS OF PAUL DIVINELY INSPIRED?

But people will protest, I thought the epistles of Paul were scripture! Yes, they are there, and are included for a reason. But they are not to be completely trusted as God's word. How do we know? PAUL HIMSELF SAYS SO:
I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little. What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. (2 Cor. 11:16-17)
Scripture, must be the word of God.  This is not the word of God speaking. This is Paul speaking, who often boasts of himself in his own letters. He himself says we must judge whether or not what he says is correct:
I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. (1 Cor. 10:15)
Indeed, Paul was sent as an apostle, but again he makes clear he is not giving commandments from God:
Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. (1 Cor. 7:25)
For those who are new to Christianity, it is wise to follow much of what Paul says:
If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. (1 Cor. 14:37)
So, a certain level of discernment is required when reading the letters of Paul. Yes, there is a lot of good spiritual advice and doctrine. But not everything Paul is saying is absolutely correct. The fact that the letters of Paul are included in the Bible was actually foretold in scripture.  How so?  In Biblical prophecy, it is well known that King David represents the Lord.  If King David represents the Lord, then who does King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin represent? Is this a coincidence:
For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. (Rom. 11:1)
And Paul's original name was Saul. We have Saul of Benjamin of the New Testament, and we have Saul of Benjamin of the Old Testament. Why does scripture devote so much time to Saul of Benjamin? For a further discussion of Saul and Paul, see The Prophecy of Pauline Christianity.

THE MYSTERY OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS

We now turn to the mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a set of ancient texts found in Qumran in 1947, and date to just the time that Christianity was forming.  Despite its discovery, the organizations in charge of them tried to keep them secret for over 50 years. Why? There is a lot of controversy around that. And another problem: the Dead Sea scrolls talk about two particular historical figures: the "Teacher of Righteousness" and "the Liar."  From Who Is the Teacher of Righteousness?:
The Dead Sea Scrolls frequently refer to a mysterious figure called the “Teacher of Righteousness” (Moreh ha-Tsedek in Hebrew). According to the most widely held view, the Teacher of Righteousness founded the Dead Sea Scroll sect (the sect is usually identified with the Essenes). In this common view, the Teacher of Righteousness organized the Community (theYahad) and composed many of its most important works.
The nemesis of the Teacher of Righteousness is another shadowy figure called the Wicked Priest (ha-Kohen ha-Rasha). He is also known by a number of other epithets, including the Lion of Wrath, the Liar, the Spreader of Lies and the Man of Scoffing.
Still following the standard interpretation, the Wicked Priest and the Teacher of Righteousness are thought to be historical figures. But that is where the consensus ends. There is no agreement over who they were.
Here is a sample entry concerning the Teacher of Righteousness and the Liar:
[God] raised for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart. . .This is the time concerning which it has been written: “As a backsliding heifer so did Israel slide back [Hosea 4:16],” when there arose the Man of Scoffing who dropped on Israel waters of deceitfulness and caused them to wander in the wilderness where there is no path, to bring down the everlasting heights, to turn away from the ways of righteousness and to remove the boundary that the forefathers have set for their inheritance.
While most theories regarding the Teacher of Righteousness and the Liar place them in the time of the Maccabees, there is one or two theories which state these two are related to the founding of Christianity:
More radical ideas are espoused by Robert Eisenman and Barbara Thiering, each of whom, in different ways, connects these figures with the founders of nascent Christianity. Eisenman believes the Teacher of Righteousness was James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul was the Liar (a figure that Eisenman distinguishes from the Wicked Priest); Thiering puts forth John the Baptist as the Teacher and Jesus as the Wicked Priest! 
Each theory has its problems. But I find the theory of Eisenman interesting. The problem is, the Dead Sea Scrolls divorce the events from their historical setting - they never mention any dates or personal names.  This was the practice of the age, for by writing about thing abstracted, they are applicable to whatever time the reader happens to read the writings. But I find it curious, just as in the Dead Sea Scrolls we have the Liar who betrayed the Qumran community, we have evidence that the original Christian community in Jerusalem also regarded Paul as a Liar.  Supporting Eisenman's theory, there is an interesting book known as The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception by Michael Baigent. From THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND THE THREE PERSONALITIES:

"From the Acts of the Apostles, from Josephus and from early Christian historians, there emerges a coherent, if still incomplete, portrait of James,’ the Lord’s brother’. He appears as an exemplar of  ‘righteousness’ – so much so that ‘the Just’, or ‘the Righteous’, is appended as a sobriquet to his name. He is the acknowledged leader of a ‘sectarian’ religious community whose members are ‘zealous for the Law’. He must contend with two quite separate and distinct adversaries. One of these is Paul, an outsider who, having first persecuted the community, then converts and is admitted into it, only to turn renegade, prevaricate and quarrel with his superiors, hijack the image of Jesus and begin preaching his own doctrine – a doctrine which draws on that of the community, but distorts it. James’s second adversary is from outside the community – the high priest Ananas, head of the Sadducee priesthood. Ananas is a notoriously corrupt and widely hated man. He has also betrayed both the God and the people of Israel by collaborating with the Roman administration and their Herodian puppet-kings. James publicly challenges Ananas and eventually meets his death at the hands of Ananas’ minions; but Ananas will shortly be assassinated in turn.

And concerning the personalities of the Dead Sea Scrolls:

One of these was dubbed the ‘Liar’ an outsider who was admitted to the community, then turned renegade, quarrelled with the ‘Teacher’ and hijacked part of the community’s doctrine and membership. According to the ‘Habakkuk Commentary’, the ‘Liar’ ‘did not listen to the word received by the Teacher of the Righteousness from the mouth of God’. Instead, he appealed to ‘the unfaithful of the New Covenant in that they have not believed in the Covenant of God and have profaned His holy name’.  The text states explicitly that ‘the Liar . . . flouted the Law in the midst of their whole congregation’.  He ‘led many astray’ and raised ‘a congregation on deceit’.  He himself is said to be ‘pregnant with [works] of deceit’.  These, of course, are precisely the transgressions of which Paul is accused in Acts – transgressions which lead, at the end of Acts, to the attempt on his life.

SWEDENBORG'S VISIONS CONCERNING THE APOSTLE PAUL

So, an interesting theory concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls. Is it true? I previously blogged about some of the visions of Emanuel Swedenborg, in The Confirmed Clairvoyance of Emanuel Swedenborg.  Why do you not hear about Swedenborg?  It is because most ministers blindly read the letters of Paul and accept everything he is saying, and are controlled by the idea of justification by faith alone. How one reads scripture is controlled by one's own bias, how they were raised as a child. They get particularly upset when they discover that Swedenborg had visions concerning the apostle Paul which put him in a very bad light.
Paul is among the worst of the apostles, as has been made known to me by much experience. The love of self, by which he had been ensnared prior to his preaching of the Gospel, remained with him even afterwards, and because he was then almost in the same state, he was prompted by that love and by his nature to want to be in crowds, doing everything with the motive of being the greatest in heaven, and judging the tribes of Israel. ...The fact that he wrote the epistles does not prove his good character, for even the impious can preach well, and write letters. It is one thing to be, and it is another to speak and write, as was also said to him. Moreover, in his epistles he did not mention the least word about the Lord, or what He taught, nor does he mention a single parable of His, so he received nothing from the life and preaching of the Lord - which was also said to him, whereas in the Evangelists is the very Gospel itself. (Spiritual Experiences, n. 4412)
And what about the epistles of Paul? Are they Divinely Inspired? God's inerrant word?  Why are they in the Bible?  Yes, they are included in the Bible, and they need to remain in the Bible. But it is not for the reason most people think:
That the Epistles of Paul have not an internal sense is known in the other life; but it is permitted that they may be in the Church, lest those who are of the Church should work evil to the Word of the Lord, in which is the internal sense. For if man lives ill, and yet believes in the holy Word, then he works evil to heaven; therefore the Epistles of Paul are permitted, and therefore Paul was not permitted to take one parable, not even a doctrine, from the Lord, and to expound and unfold it; but he took all things from himself. The Church, indeed, explains the Word of the Lord, but by means of the Epistles of Paul; for which reason also it everywhere departs from the good of charity, and accepts the truth of faith; which, however, the Lord has taught, but in such wise that the good of charity should be the all. (Spiritual Experiences, n. 4824)
And that is the lost message of Christianity. It is not about how you believe. It is not about "converting" others to think as you do. It is how you live, repentance from sin, how you love, how you are of service to others, in whatever ability is given to you. But isn't it odd, we have these visions concerning Paul from the 18th century, only to be confirmed later in the 20th century in a historical theory concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls?