METAPHYSICAL BIBLE INTERPRETATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
This is a series of lectures given by Mr. Edward Rabel, member of the faculty of S.M.R.S.
Fall semester 1975 - 2nd. Yr. Class. Lecture given on September 8, 1975
Mark 12:24, pp. 1-10 of transcript. Topic: 1
Overview: What Gives Us the Right to Interpret Scripture?
I want to read to you an entire chapter of a brand new book by Glenn Mosely.
The book is Unity Methods of Self-Exploration, and it sounds like another do-it-yourself and get-rich-quick, but it’s not that at all. It’s a very scholarly collection of areas of research which Glenn has conducted very quietly and very thoroughly over what must be many, many years, and he’s come up with some very interesting and helpful information which we did not have at hand in so convenient a form up until now. You will be hearing more about this book as time goes on, but right now I’m going to read in its entirety Glenn’s answer to a question which comes up very, very often and which I have never been able to answer the way I would like, which is: “What gives you people (anytime anybody uses those two words at you, you people, it always means I’m your enemy—you people) the right, to think that you can interpret the Bible? How do you cook up (cook up is another phrase) these things that you claim to be Bible interpretations?” In fact, one of my fellow ministers once said to me, “Why bother to interpret? It means only what it says.” Well, listen to Glenn, he makes a lot of sense here.
“Among orthodox Christian views of the Bible, one discovers that the Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Anglican and Reformed churches are in similar, streams of thought. Each views the Bible as the clear, perfect, inspired, and authoritative word of God and guide of man. The fundamentalists, including the Baptist, Nazarenes., and Pentacostals hold views of the Bible similar to the group previously discussed; however, this second group, that is the fundamentalists, add the doctrinal insistence that the individual conscience must be the interpretator of the Bible. In practice this means that the individual conscience can be relied upon as the absolute interpretator of the Bible so long as the conscience proceeds in harmony with.the fundamentalist’s doctrinal prospective.” In other words, let your conscience be your guide if your conscience entirely agrees with our doctrine. Otherwise, you ain’t got a conscience; you’re a heretic, you see.
Most liberal churches do not believe that the Bible is infallible or that the books of the Bible are of equal value and importance, and I very strongly concur there. The Bible is not all of one piece; it is definitely a conglomeration, running the whole gamut of quality, not all of one piece. This free-spirited branch of Protestantism, particularly Unitarianism and Universalism, tends to place emphasis on those portions of scripture which appear to endorse social action and political reform. The New Thought branch of the Christian tree, the Unity movement in particular, considers the Bible an important book of inspiration and guidance; however, they teach that not all of the Bible can be accepted literally, and that it must be interpreted practically, and therefore, inspirationally. The method is, called, “metaphysical interpretation.” Always, Metaphysical, as I use it means that which is true concerning the inner life of every human being, regardless of time, place or circumstances. If it’s true for you here in Unity Village, to be metaphysical, it must also be true for the Eskimo living at the top of the North Pole, or for the ancient Atlantean who was incarnated many life waves ago. If it’s true, for a human being here, it has to be true for a human being everywhere. But has this to do with behaviourism or social contact? No. The inner life. In other words, was it ever not good to forgive, and will it ever be not good to forgive?. For whom is it good to forgive?—yourself“so, therefore, to forgive is metaphysical.
Charles Fillmore was an eclectic, that means one who gathers facts and information from all directions and from all sources. He studied the scriptures of varied cultures and doctrines of the ‘isms’ that grew in relationship to those-scriptures, but Mr. Fillmore was not set, or satisfied with studying what others said about the great prophets or teachers, particularly Jesus. (By the way, Glenn does something in his book that I don’t like. He refers to Charles Fillmore as ‘Fillmore.’ So, even if he doesn’t put it in there, I am going to put it in.) He closely studied the words of Jesus and not just the words written about him, a process which inspired him to conclude that All religious experience could be first-hand and personal, or metaphysical. This conclusion led Mr. Fillmore to teach that no person needs an intermediary between himself and his God, and this is the first time I’m going to bring up something which I will repeat many times in this course. Your God and my God is our current God-Thought, not pure God, God Almighty, but my current God-thought is my God; and your current God-thought is your God. Now, as you expand and improve in your conscious understanding, will your God-thought be likely to remain intact? It, too, will take on the character of your improvement and growth and expansion. So, when it comes to God, never make the mistake of thinking, “My current God-thought is all there is to God.” Because if you do, you will be stuck with it. You will stagnate, and you don’t want that to happen. We don’t need an intermediary between ourselves and our current God-thought. Glenn goes on.
“To aid his students in their search for meaning in Christian scriptures, Mr. Fillmore published a commentary of the International Sunday School Bible Lessons in the earliest Unity periodicals. Finally, in 1931, Mr. Fillmore completed the monumental task of compiling his commentaries and publishing the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary with considerable assistance from Theodosia DeWitt Schobert and with historical and etymological research by Paul M. Rigby. The dictionary is a scholarly work offering, first, the correct pronunciation and then the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek definitions of the name of the person, river, town, place, sea, or thing described.
In other words, all the proper nouns, definitely, and many other words which are obviously being used as symbols, meaning much more than, the literal thing itself. For instance, every Hebrew name in the Old Testament is a word which has a definable meaning, and some of them are very strange; like the word Jezebel means licentious, uncontrolled, adulterous. It’s not just the name of a woman; it’s a word in the Hebrew language. Now, I’m kind of puzzled. What kind of parents would name their little girl licentious, adulterous? She hasn’t even done her stuff yet! We have a mystery right here. Why are all these characters, named as they are named? When their names, which are Hebrew words, have dictionary, definable definitions? There is a mystery there, and a lot of mysteries in religion, folks, and a person who cannot put up with mysteries should not be in a religious work. He should be working for Heinz Food Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek definitions of the person or thing described, finally their esoteric meanings. Now here is where people, some people, challenge us the most. “Where did you come up with the esoteric meanings, even though they are derived from the noun definitions? Where do you get these esoteric implications? Who gave you the authority to do that?”
So Mr. Mosely goes on.
The dictionary preface explains that great care has been exercised in the compilation of word definitions, after consulting with numerous authorities and lexicons. Wherever the etymology has not become lost, the definitions have been traced back to their origins.
Max Dessoir called for this type of research in 1906, in his Aesthetics and Theory of Art. Quoting Mr. Dessoir,
“Only the very beginnings of a word’s life are like a glimpse of sunlight. Then the word is still fresh and vigorous, not faded or worn out, like the words “faith” and “will” has become. These words have become degenerated in popular usage; but if one can go back to their pure, original meanings, faith and will, they sparkle like diamonds. When the word is still fresh and vigorous, not faded or worn out; its whole meaning is grasped by everyone. From this insight poets have returned to the original meanings of words, to rough dialectical forms and natural metaphors.”
That “glimpse of sunlight” was one of Mr. Fillmore’s aims; he taught that understanding the meaning of the proper names in the Bible is as essential to a suitable interpretation of the Bible as, in the words of one of his students, “a knowledge of numerical values is necessary to solving mathematical problems.” The art or science of semantics is much more than we realize. Just as Jim Freeman said today, “No matter what your current view of the world is, it ain’t that. No matter how much value or importance you and I may place on the art and science of semantics, there is always more to it, always more, always greater. So, don’t discount the value and accuracy, of the lost art of semantics. It’s very important. Mr. Fillmore believed, that in reading the Bible, silently or aloud, and praying about its inner meaning, the student could successfully interpret Scripture; notice that word Scripture, with a capital 'S'. In my classes I do not use the words Scripture and Bible as synonyms. This is the Bible, and much of it, most of it, is not Scripture. Only a small percentage of this Bible is Scripture. All Scripture can be interpreted correctly metaphysically by anyone who is really interested, and who is sane. But the Bible cannot be interpreted in its entirety, because most of it was not written for that purpose. Most of it was written for other purposes than a metaphysical interpretation. Much of it was written to solidify certain laws; behaviorism laws, dietary, secular, marital laws, sociological customs. Most of it is a compilation of vital statistics; much of it is idealized Jewish history and anyone not a Jew immediately fades into the category of ‘the bad guys.’ Much of that is poetry or proverbs, and these writings do not lend themselves to metaphysical interpretation because that was not the writer’s purpose.
The parts that were obviously written as symbolism, as disguised allegorize Truth, those portions are called Scriptures, and I’m going to jump the gun a minute, and use Jesus to clarify what I’m saying. There is a scene in the gospels wherein Jesus is involved with the scribes and Pharisees who were one hundred percent authorized verbatim quoters of the Bible. They knew it line by line, word by word. They could catch any mistake in quoting it. Now, to these men, who were absolute experts at memorizing and quoting the Bible, Jesus says this, “Ye do greatly err, because ye know not the Scriptures” (Mark 12:24). He didn’t say, “Ye know not the Bible.” They knew the Bible, that was their whole business, that was their reason for living, to know and to quote and preserve intact the letter of the Bible. But he says to these people, “You’re in the wrong, and you don’t know it; you don’t know that you don’t know the Scriptures.” And in our course we’re only going to deal with Scripture, not Bible. We don’t care who cooks meat in one pot and milk in another and who only has sex with his wife after she’s bathed in palm oil. We don’t care about that; that was Jewish vital statistics and tribal law. What we’re interested in is the metaphysics of Scripture. What is the Bible saying, which is true of every human being, true of him in his inner life, regardless of whether Jew, Roman, Phoenician, or a 20th century American.
The man who succeeded Mr. Fillmore as minister of the Unity Society of Practical Christianity in 1933, Dr. Ernest Wilson, recently recalled:
“Charles Fillmore’s Bible classes were workshops where he sometimes worked out his interpretations which were later published. However, the usual order of presentation reversed; he would read a Scriptural lesson aloud and then read the handwritten, if not published, interpretation to the class—in order to launch discussion. Charles never claimed a divining revelation which was not available to all, but submitted his understanding of the Bible lessons to the class for their evaluation and judgement.”
And that’s what I’m going to follow, folks. I’m going to present to you, day after day, my highest comprehension and insight into certain Scriptural passages and ideas.
They are yours for the taking or rejecting. You will not be tested in this class; life will test you. You don’t need me to give you quizzes and tests. You will not be given written work to do; you will not be subjected to a lot of the academic procedures in this class because I consider this course, while the most important, yet it’s a take-it-or-leave-it thing. If you want to learn, you will learn — all that I know, because I’m going to tell all. If you’re not interested, if you’re skeptical, if you don’t think you need this or want this, if your talents do not lie in this particular direction, that’s okay. If you don’t want to specialize in metaphysical Bible interpretation, you don’t have to, and you can still be a darned good minister. But if you do want it, it’s yours. Take it—use it, and I think you’ll be glad you did, but it’s up to you. This is not the Marine Corps; this is Unity School of Christianity and this is a course in metaphysics within that framework.
Mr. Fillmore felt that the student’s experiences would help to determine the specifics of interpretation, thereby making their understanding both personal and practical, as well as metaphysical and universal. That’s the beauty of Unity’s approach to religion. We accept the most abstract universals, and we try to process it through our own particular degree of consciousness and understanding into something practical and personal.
But what comes first? The practical personal comes first?? The universal and metaphysical, the idealism, the mysticism, that comes first, please. That’s why our teachings are practical, is that we put that first. If we put practicality and personality first, our teachings would soon degenerate; but the Unity teachings have not degenerated over the years. They’ve grown and expanded and increased in power and in beneficial influence.
Let’s go on with Glenn, now. He says,
“Mr. Fillmore offers a definition in the dictionary preface: “By ‘metaphysical’ we refer to the inner or esoteric meaning of the name defined, as it applies to every unfolding individual”
— now, I got this book only last week, before I composed my definition of metaphysical, I really did. I cooked that up. But, imagine after cooking it up, and then I find it here in this book, which came to my desk, right from Unity Temple. And Glenn backs me up — “The esoteric or inner meaning as it applies to every unfolding individual and to his relation to God! Mr. Fillmore declared that he received an understanding of what the characters of Scripture represented (not etymological definitions of names, because that’s already in print, you see. Any Bible dictionary gives the same definitions that the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary does, etymologically, but a Bible dictionary does not go the second mile as does the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary. And by the way, as far as we know, Unity is the only organization that publishes a metaphysical dictionary.)
In a 1939 interview, he told Dana Gatlin:
“Meditating on the inner meaning of the life of Jesus Christ, we find and gradually realize that it is much, much more than a mere history. It is an account of unfoldment—a revelation of spiritual principles—that is being perpetually carried on and evidenced in all life everywhere. Gradually we perceive and understand and realize these eternal principles.”
Back to Mr. Mosely:
“A metaphysical or spiritual interpretation of Biblical literature regards its allegorical nature as of primary importance. Unity believes that if Scripture is intended for the enlightenment of man, and the development of his spiritual nature, the Scripture must have a special significance, of which historical narrative is only the obvious part; studying the Bible with this view in mind opens additional avenues of personal enrichment.”
In other words, a literalist would read the story of Jesus walking upon the water, and he’d say, “Oh, the meaning of this is, Jesus was walking upon the water, and Peter wanted to do it also.” You see where I would have missed the boat there?
That is not the meaning of that incident. That is the narrative of that incident. The meaning of it lies beyond the literal description. You all know the parable of the prodigal son. Now, in the Bible it says, “And then he said unto them this parable” It does not say, “And then he told them this story or incident.” The Bible itself calls the Prodigal Son story a parable. Now, you know what a parable is, it’s a narrative, that while it says something, it has a deeper meaning, to which the literal letter of it is only referring or symbolizing. Now, suppose I read to you the parable of the Prodigal Son, and I get through, and I say, “Who knows the metaphysical meaning of that?” You say, “I do — that means Jewish fathers are good to their kids.” What do you think of that as the meaning of that parable? Well, perhaps Jewish fathers are good to their kids, but that’s not the meaning of that parable. Or suppose I read you the parable of the Good Samaritan, which again, the Bible says, “This is a parable.” And after I read it you say, “It means you should always be kind to injured strangers.” Do you think that’s the metaphysical meaning of that? Not by a long shot. That is the narrative itself.
Back to Mr. Mosley:
“Many think that to say there are portions of the Bible which were not intended to be accepted literally is to blaspheme. Not all who read or listen to a reading of a Unity interpretation of Scripture are favorably impressed. On this account, Unity has many critics. A representative critic, Harold Berry, observes, “Because of Unity’s allegorical interpretations of the Bible, they have twisted these truths and made them teach something entirely different.” On the other hand, an important viewpoint which supports Mr. Fillmore’s right to and method of personal interpretation is expressed in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. He quotes from that encyclopedia: “It is not easy to give a quite satisfactory definition of metaphysics.” (it’s because he didn’t know me.) “The name throws no real light upon its nature, having referred, originally, merely to the order of some Aristotelian treatises. For the purpose of this sketch, it will be convenient to divide the treatment of it into three parts: first, the general nature of knowledge; two, the conception of reality, and its chief applications, etc.”
So Glenn goes on:
“Charles Fillmore’s method of interpretation is a form of intuition or of revelation, expressed in his own words, ‘a revelation of spiritual principles’. His insistence that all people can read the Scriptures aloud or silently, meditate upon them, and metaphysically interpret for themselves is another way of saying that moral ideals are attained as suggested above, through the individual choice of what is best.”
Again, Mr. Fillmore’s successor, Ernest Wilson, recently stated:
“I think Mr. Fillmore felt his ideas were inspired, but that they were gleaned from many sources — Toga, Christian Science, Spiritualism, Theosophy, etc. Very definitely. Mr. Fillmore’s deeper, more profoundly religious writings do have a close connection with the religious teachings of Madame Blavatsky. I have discovered this through a lot of fascinating research. There’s a definite connection there. Mr. Fillmore connects with Madame Blavatsky only in purely religious matters, however, not in many other fields. But I was very glad to discover this, ‘as well as from his own subconsciousness.’ He always reserved the right to change his mind about his teaching. Certainly there are tenable interpretations besides those be gave. He would be the first to admit this.”
Mr. Fillmore explained that the purpose of the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary is to equip the student of metaphysics with a condensed version of ‘hidden mysteries,’ to prompt him to further self-exploration and new personal discoveries for use amidst the inconsistencies of everyday life. He considered the Dictionary an epitome of the entire Unity viewpoint and teaching, concerned with the Bible not just as history, but with the inner interpretation of both Testaments. This metaphysical approach is akin to the intuitive concept of oral interpretation as applied by. (I don’t know who Hiram Corson is.) “Although Mr. Fillmore accepted the Bible’s worth as an historical document, he felt that needless debate centered around trying to prove its historical accuracy as well as to prove authorship.”
More hot air has been blown into the earth’s atmosphere through discussions about the historical accuracy of the Bible and who wrote it than possibly any other religious subject going, all of it totally unnecessary.
“Mr. Fillmore cherished the idea that what was really important was that the books of the bible contain a message for the ages. A brief yet complete example of a scriptural message is extracted from Charles Fillmore’s Mysteries of Genesis.”
Glenn gives this example out of the book:
“Gen. 3:21, And Jehovah God made for Adam and for his wife coats of skin and clothed them.” This is Mr. Fillmore’s commentary: “Man originally was connected with the warm currents were broken by thoughts of separation, he required protection from external invading thoughts, hence the ‘coats of skin.’ This need is evidenced by the actual skin covering the sensitive nerves of our body and the danger of infection when this covering is broken. When a spiritual thought becomes supreme in consciousness, the coats of skin gives way to the manifestation of the spiritual body spoken of by Paul. Corruptible flesh is the manifestation of corrupt ideas in mind, ‘be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’”
Now, remember folks, Paul did not talk about corrupted flesh, but corruptible flesh. A lot of people have misunderstood Paul. They have said that his statements concerning corruptible and incorruptible, and ‘must put on’ — means that the present state of the body is corrupt. Is it necessarily? It’s capable of being corrupted, not necessarily that it is corrupted. For I look at you right now; you don’t look very corrupted to me. But you’re all capable of being corrupted, if you don’t watch out. So, that’s what corruptible means; corruptible doesn’t mean having become corrupted. It means capable of being corrupted, if we don’t treat it right. Do you feel a little better about Paul’s evaluation of your flesh body now? I hope so.
“Mr. Fillmore taught that the Bible represents man’s spiritual evolution, not from beginning to end, but that in each story a particular phase of a familiar life is revealed. The Bible relates mankind’s progression for a while and then its retrogression, all evolving toward the highest mental, moral, and spiritual thinking, represented in the Scripture by Jesus. By the man Jesus.
Jesus, folks, is the only Bible character who fully symbolized spiritual awareness. Jesus does not symbolize the Christ. Nobody in the Bible symbolized the Christ. Christ is not symbolized in the Bible. If the Christ is being referred to in the Bible, then it will say so. There is no character used in the Bible to symbolize the Christ; the Christ is named as such. The same is true of God; nothing in the Bible symbolized God. When God is being spoken about, it says God. The writers don’t use a symbol for God, nor for Christ. So Jesus stands For Spiritual Awareness; now, if you go along with me, what does it mean, then, when the Bible names Jesus Christ? Spiritual awareness directly from the Christ Kind. Two become one. My Spiritual Awareness Is The Result Of The Christ Kind Within Me, but when the word Jesus is used, just separately, just Jesus, then it is spiritual awareness in man.
“Although Bible scholars have authenticated many Bible Stories as factual, a Bible story is not JUST an incident which occurred thousands of years ago; it is Symbolic Of An Occurrence That Takes Place Within Each Person Who Is Presently On The Path Of Spiritual Progress And Evolution. Hence every phase of religious experience appears in the Bible (but always under symbol, behind a symbol) so that each person sees a reflection of his own character in its varied expressions within the Bible.
Charles Rickert Fillmore, grandson of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore and current president of Unity School, has the following to say about the Bible as a record of everyday experience:
“Unity is an adventure because it makes our Holy Bible come vividly alive for us. The seemingly historical actions described in the Bible are going on in you and in me and in every other human being this very instant. Jesus Christ, the greatest character in the Bible, represents man’s greatest characteristic, (Now, Charles here says ‘his spiritual nature,’ but I prefer his spiritual awareness, not your entire spiritual nature, because that’s the Christ.) Every Place In The Bible Represents A State Of Mind, And Every Event Represents A Process Now In Operation In Each Of Us Here, Today.”
Now back to Glenn:
“Unity teaches that the Bible is not only more inspirational when its esoteric or metaphysical meaning is sought, but that its practical assistance—to the followers of the man Jesus is greatly increased. The ‘letter’ of the Bible, either as history or as an advocate of ritualism, does man little good. The Interpretation As It Pertains To Individual Unfoldment, Or ‘Spirit’ Of The Bible, Is The Vital Essence Of The Truth The Bible Teaches. As with many other Unity theories, it is suggested to the student that he study with an open mind, accept what he can use immediately and then set the balance aside for later evaluation.”
Transcribed by Bill Nelson on 01-12-2015