The Bible and Wisdom
From shorthand report unrevised by the lecturer. English translation first printed by Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company, 1941. Second printing Steiner Book Centre, 1986.
The original German text of this lecture can he found in the collected edition of Rudolf Steiner's works under the title: “Der Kreislauf des Menschen innerhalb des Sinnes —, Seelen — und Geisteswelt”, No. 68 in the Bibliographical Survey, 1961. This English edition is presented by permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.
Hamburg, December 5, 1908
It cannot he doubted that the influence of the Bible on Western Culture has been greater than that of any other document. It may truly be said that as a result of the influence of the Bible, the human soul has for thousands of years maintained a hold on the most inward being of man, — a hold which has extended to the life of feeling and also to the life of will. The influence in these two spheres of man's being has been stronger than in his thinking and conceptional life, although it may be said that all spiritual life, be it in the region of religion or of exact science, bears traces of the influence of the Bible. And it is evident to those who look more deeply into things, that the very arguments of men who to-day feel bound to attack the Bible — taking up in some cases the radical standpoint of downright denial — themselves show traces of its influence. There has never been any general recognition, and to-day there is practically none, of the extent of the influence of this document; but it exists nevertheless in actual fact to those who have an unbiased outlook. The attitude adopted towards the Bible by modern thought, feeling and perception, has for some time past changed very considerably from what it used formerly to be. The value of the Bible, the attitude adopted towards it by men who to-day take it seriously has altered essentially in the course of the 19th Century. We must not of course undervalue in any sense the standpoint of many modern thinking men who feel themselves bound to take a firm stand on the ground of Science. There are others who hold fast to the Bible, who derive all their deepest convictions from this most significant record, and who prefer to pay no attention when the value of the Bible is under discussion. The attitude of such people is: ‘Others may think as they like; we find in the teachings of the Bible all that our souls need and we are quite satisfied.’ Such a point of view, however justifiable it may be in individual cases, is, in a certain sense entirely egoistical and by no means without danger for spiritual evolution.
That which in a given epoch has become an universal blessing to men — or, let us say, an universal belief and conviction, has always originated with the few; and it may well be that an ever increasing stream of conviction may flow out to become universal in no very distant future from the few who to-day feel themselves compelled to attack the Bible because of their desire to build up their world-conception conformably with their Science. For this reason to ignore such spiritual and mental currents and to refuse to listen because one is oneself satisfied is not without an element of danger. Anyone who really takes the evolution of mankind seriously ought rather to regard it as a duty to take notice of the objections brought by sincere seekers for Truth, and to see what relation these objections have to the Bible.
I have said that the attitude adopted by men, and especially by leaders of intellectual and spiritual life has changed. To-day we shall do no more than point to this change. Were we to look back into the past we should find civilisations where men, especially when they stood at the summit of their spiritual life, doubted not at all that the very highest wisdom flowed from the Bible; and that those with whom it originated were not just average men who were responsible for human errors in it, but were under lofty inspiration and infused it with wisdom. This was a feeling of reverent recognition among those who stood on the heights of spiritual life. In modern times this has changed.
In the 18th Century there was a French investigator who came to the conclusion that certain contradictions exist in the Old Testament. He noticed that the two Creation stories at the very beginning of the Bible contradict one another, that one story describes the work of the six or seven days including the creation of man, and that then there is a further account with a different beginning, which ascribes quite a different origin to man. This investigator was specially disconcerted by the fact that at the beginning of the Bible two names of the God-head occur, the name of the ‘Elohim’ in the narrative of the six days' creation, and then later the name of Jehova. There is an echo of this in the German Bible. In the German Bible the name of the God-head is translated ‘Lord,’ ‘God,’ and then Jehova is translated by ‘God the Lord’ or in some such way; at all events the difference is apparent. Upon noticing this the investigator suspected that something had given rise to the untenable statement that the Bible was written by a single individual, whether Moses or someone else, and that different accounts must have been welded together. And after much deliberation he came to the conclusion that all the existing accounts corresponding to the different traditions were simply welded together; one account being amalgamated with another and all the contradictions allowed to stand.
After, and as a result of this, there appeared the kind of investigation which might well be called a mutilation of the Bible. To-day there are Bibles in which the various points of detail are traced back to different traditions. In the so-called Rainbow Bible it is stated for instance, how some portion or other that has come to be inserted into the collective statement has its origin in quite a different legendary tradition — hence it is said that the Bible must have been welded together from shreds of tradition. It became more and more general for investigators to proceed along this line in regard to the Old Testament, and then the same thing happened in the case of the New Testament. How could the fact be hidden that when the four Gospels are submitted to literal comparison they do not agree with each other? It is easy to discover contradictions in the Matthew, Luke and John Gospels. And so the investigators said: How can the single Evangelists have written their respective Gospels under lofty inspiration, when the accounts do not agree? The Gospel of St. John — that most profound writing of Christendom — was divested of all worth as an historical document in the minds of some investigators of the 19th Century. Men came more and more to be convinced of the fact that it was nothing but a kind of hymn, written down by someone on the basis of his faith and not an historical tradition at all. They said that what he had written down could in no way lay claim to being a true description of what had actually taken place in Palestine at the beginning of our era. And so the New Testament was torn into shreds. The Old and New Testaments were treated just like any other historical document; it was said that bias and error had crept into them, and that before all things it was necessary to show by purely historical investigation, how the fragments had been gradually pieced together. This is the standpoint which more and more came to be adopted by historical, theological investigation.
On the other side let us turn to those who felt compelled to stand firmly on the ground of the facts of Natural Science, — who said, quite sincerely and honestly as a result of their knowledge: ‘What we are taught by Geology, Biology and the different branches of Natural Science, flatly contradicts what the Bible relates. The Bible story of the development of the earth and living beings through the six days of creation, is of the nature of a legend or a myth of primitive peoples, whereby they tried, in their childlike fashion to make the origin of the earth intelligible to themselves.’ And such men alienated themselves from the New Testament in the same degree as from the Old Testament. Men who feel compelled to hold fast to the facts of Natural Science will have nothing to do with all the wonderful acts performed by the Christ, with the way in which this unique Personality arises at the critical point of our history, and they radically oppose the very principle on which the Bible is based. Thus we see on the one hand the Bible torn to pieces by historical-theological investigation, and on the other hand put aside, discredited by scientific research.
That may serve briefly to characterise the outlook of to-day; but if nobody troubled about this, and simply persisted in the attitude: ‘I believe what is in the Bible’ — that would be Egoism. Such men would only be thinking of themselves and it would not occur to them that future generations might hold as an universal conviction that which to-day is only the conviction of a few.
We may now ask: is there perhaps yet a further standpoint other than the two we have indicated? Indeed there is, and it is just this that we want to consider to-day. It is the standpoint of Spiritual Science, or Anthroposophy. We can in the first instance understand this best by means of comparison. The Anthroposophical standpoint with regard to the Bible offers to our modern age something similar to that which was accomplished three or four centuries ago by the mighty achievements of scientific research; Anthroposophy seeks to form a connecting link with what was achieved by such men as Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo.
To-day we build upon the foundations of what was achieved by such personalities as these. When we look back to the relation which in former days existed between men and nature, we find that in the old Schools or Academics, certain books carried just as much weight as the Bible does with many people to-day. Aristotle, the ancient Greek scholar, whose achievements were by no means confined to the sphere of Natural Science, was looked upon by the widest circles both in the early and later Middle Ages as a far-reaching Authority. Wherever men were taught about nature the books of Aristotle were taken as the basis. His writings were fundamental and authoritative not only in spheres where men pursued the study of Nature in a more limited, philosophical sense, but also in spheres of definitely scientific thought. It was not customary in those days to look out at Nature with one's own eyes, and it was not a question of instruments, apparatus and other things of that kind. In the time of Galileo a highly symptomatic incident occurred, and it has been handed down as a kind of anecdote. It was pointed out by a colleague to a man who was a convinced follower of Aristotle, that many of the master's utterances were not correct; for instance that the nerves proceeded from the heart, this being contrary to the real facts. A corpse was placed in front of the man and it was demonstrated to him that this utterance of Aristotle did not agree with the facts. He said: ‘Yes, when I look at that myself it seems a contradiction, but even if Nature does show it to me I still believe Aristotle.’ And there were many such men, — men who had more faith in the teachings and the authority of Aristotle than in their own eyes. To-day men's point of view about Nature and also about Aristotle has changed. In our time it would be considered ridiculous to derive from ancient books the knowledge of nature which men ought to possess. To-day the scientist confronts nature with his instruments and tries to explore her secrets in order that they may become a common good for all men. But circumstances were such that in the time of Galileo, those who were imbued with the teachings of Aristotle to the same degree as this above mentioned follower, did not understand the Greek Master in the very least, Aristotle meant something different, something very much more spiritual, than what we understand to-day by the nerves. And because of this we cannot do real justice to Aristotle — whose vision was in accordance with the age in which he lived — until we look into nature with free and impartial eyes.
That was the great change that took place three or four centuries ago — and we are experiencing such another now in reference to the Spiritual Science and those spiritual facts and processes which are the spiritual foundations of existence.
For centuries the Bible was taken by a very large number of men to be the only book able to give information about all that transcended the tangible, physical world. The Bible was the Authority so far as the spiritual world was concerned, just as Aristotle in the Middle Ages was the authority for the physical world.
How has it come about that to-day we are in a position to do greater justice to Aristotle? It is because we face the physical world from a position of greater independence. And what Anthroposophy has to give to man of modern times, is the possibility of acquiring direct cognition of the invisible world, just as centuries ago the new age began to acquire direct knowledge of the visible world. Spiritual Science states that it is possible for man to look into and perceive the spiritual world; that he need not be dependent upon tradition, but can see for himself. This is what true Spiritual Science has to achieve for modern humanity — it has to convince man that slumbering powers and faculties exist within him; that there are certain great moments in life when these spiritual faculties awaken just as when a blind man is operated upon and is able to see colour and light. To use Goethe's phrase: the spiritual ears and eyes awaken, and then the soul of man can perceive in its environment what is otherwise concealed. The awakening of the faculties slumbering in the soul is possible; it is possible for man to acquire an instrument whereby he call look into spiritual causes, just as with his physical instruments he looks into the physical world. We have all kinds of instruments for the perception of the physical world — and for perception of the spiritual world there is also an instrument — namely, man himself, transformed. From the standpoint of spiritual science the most important thing of all is that the word ‘Evolution’ should be taken in all seriousness, — ‘Evolution,’ which is a kind of magic word on many lips. It is not difficult to-day to perceive how the imperfect continually develops and evolves, and this evolution is carefully followed up in external Natural Science. To this conception Anthroposophy would not set up the slightest opposition where it remains in the region of scientific facts. But Anthroposophy takes the word ‘Evolution’ in its full meaning, — and so seriously that it points to those faculties which lie in the soul of man by means of which he can become aware of the Spiritual world. Spiritual beings are the foundation and basis of the physical world, and man only needs organs to be able to perceive them. I must here again lay stress upon the fact that today only a few men are in a position to transform their souls in this way. It requires a highly developed soul whose spiritual eyes are open before investigation of the spiritual world can be undertaken and information as to the events and beings there obtained. But if facts about the higher worlds are made manifest, then all that is necessary for the understanding of what is told by the spiritual investigator is healthy discernment, free from all bias pertaining to the intellect or to human logic. There is no justification for criticising the use of spiritual investigation, because we cannot see for ourselves. How many men are able to form a clear conception of Ernst Haeckel's researches and follow them up? It is exactly the same in regard to research in the region of senselife, where what is illuminated by the understanding passes over into the consciousness, as it is in regard to what the spiritual investigator has to say about the information he has gained in the super-sensible world. That which is known as the super-sensible world through direct perception and human powers of cognition must pass over into the universal consciousness of mankind as a result of the Anthroposophical conception of the world.
On the one hand then, we have the ancient Bible bringing before us in its own way the secrets of the super-sensible worlds and their connection with the sensible worlds, and on the other we have, in Spiritual Science, the direct experiences of the investigator in regard to the super-sensible world. This is surely a point of view similar to that which one finds at the dawn of modern Natural Science.
The question now arises: ‘What has Spiritual Science to say that is able to help us to understand the biblical truths?’ We must here enter into details. We must above all point out that when as a result of the methods laid down by Spiritual Science, man awakens his soul faculties, he sees into the spiritual world and develops what in comparison to objective cognition is an Imaginative Knowledge. What is this Imaginative Knowledge? It has nothing in common with those vague fantasies readily associated with the word ‘Imagination’ nor has it anything whatever to do with somnambulism and things of that nature, but fundamental to it is a strict discipline by means of which a man has to awaken these faculties. Let us proceed from external knowledge in order to make more intelligible what is really meant by ‘Imaginative Knowledge.’ What is characteristic of external objective cognition? There is for example, the perception of a ‘table’; when the table is no longer before us there remains an idea, a concept of it, as a kind of echo. First there is the object, and then the image. Certain systems of philosophy affirm that everything is only image, conception. This is incorrect. Let us take, for example, the conception of red hot steel or iron. The conception will not burn, but when we are faced by the reality the experience is different. The characteristic of objective cognition is that first the object is there and then the image is formed within us. Exactly the opposite process must take place in a man who wishes to penetrate into the higher world. He must first be able to transform his conceptual world in such a way that the conception may precede the perception. This faculty is developed by Meditation and Concentration, that is to say by sinking the soul into the content of certain conceptions which do not correspond to any external reality. Just consider for a moment how much of what lives in the soul is dependent upon the fact of your having been born in a particular town on a particular day. Suppose that you had not been born on that day, and try to imagine what other experiences would then live within your soul, and stream through it from morning to evening. In other words, make it clear to yourself how much of the content of the soul is dependent on your environment, and then let all that has stimulated you from outside, pass away. Then try to think how much would still remain in the soul. All conceptions of the external world which flow into the soul must, day by day, be expelled from it and in their place there must live for a time the content of a conception that has not in any way been stimulated from without and that does not portray any external fact or event.
Spiritual Science — if our search is sincere — gives many such conceptions and I will mention one as an example. I want to show you how the soul may gradually be led up into the higher worlds through certain definite conceptions. Such conceptions may be considered to be like letters of the alphabet. But in Spiritual Science there are not only twenty-two to twenty-seven letters, but many hundreds, by means of which the soul learns to read in the spiritual world. Here is a simple example: suppose we take the well known Rose Cross and in its simplest form, the black cross adorned with seven red roses. Very definite effects are produced if for a quarter of an hour each day the soul gives itself wholly up to the conception of this Rose Cross, excluding everything that acts as an external stimulus. In order to be able to understand what comes to pass in the soul as a result of this, let us consider intellectually the meaning of the Rose Cross. This is not the most important element, but we shall do it to show that it is possible to explain the meaning. I shall give it in the form of an instruction given by teacher to pupil.
The teacher says to the pupil: — ‘Look at the plant standing with its root in the ground and growing upwards to the blossom. Compare the greater perfection of man standing before you, organised as he is, with the lesser perfection of the plant. Man has self-consciousness, has within him what we call an Ego, an ‘ I ’. But because he has this higher principle within him he has had to accept in addition all that constitutes his lower nature, the passion of sense. The plant has no self-consciousness; it has no Ego, hence it is not yet burdened with desires, passions or instincts. Its green beauty is there, chaste and pure. Look at the circulation of the chlorophyl fluid in the plant and then in man at the pulsation of the blood. That which, in man constitutes his life of passions and instincts, comes to expression, in the plant, as the blossom. In exchange for this man has won his self-consciousness. Now consider not only present day man, but look in a spiritual sense at a man of the far distant future. He will develop, he will over come, cleanse and purify his desires and passions and will obtain a higher self-consciousness. Thus, spiritually, you can see a man who has once more attained to the purity of the plant-nature. But it is because he has reached a higher stage that his self-consciousness exists in this state of purity. His blood is as pure and chaste as the plant fluids. Take the red roses to be a prototype of what the blood will be at some future time, and in this way you have before you the prototype of higher man. In the Rose Cross you have a most beautiful paraphrase of Goethe's saying: — “The man who is without this dying and becoming is a sad stranger on this dark earth”! Dying and becoming, — what does this mean? It means that in man there exists the possibility of growing out of and beyond himself. That which dies and is overcome is represented by the black cross which is the expression of his desires of senses. The blossoms in their purity are symbolical of the blood. The red roses and the black cross together represent the inner call to grow beyond oneself.’
As I said, this intellectual explanation is not the most important element and it is only given in order that we may be able better to understand these things. In a Meditation of this kind the point is that we shall sink ourselves into the symbol, that it shall stand as a picture before us. And if it is said that a Rose Cross corresponds to nothing real, our answer must be that the whole significance lies not in the experience of something pertaining to the external world through the Rose Cross, but that the effect of this Rose Cross upon the soul and its slumbering faculties is very real. No image pertaining to the external world could have the same effect as this image in all its varied aspects and in its non-reality. If the soul allows this image to work upon it, it makes greater and greater progress, and is finally able to live in a world of conceptions that is at first really illusory; but when it has lived sufficiently long in this conceptual world with patience and energy, it has a significantly true experience. Spiritual realities, spiritual beings which otherwise are invisible emerge from the spiritual environment. And then the soul is able quite clearly to distinguish what is merely conception, illusion, from true and genuine reality.
Of course one must not be a visionary, for that is very dangerous; it is absolutely necessary to maintain reason and a sure foundation for one's experience. If a man dreams in a kind of phantasy, then it is not well with him, when the spiritual world breaks in upon his consciousness. But if he maintains a sense of absolute certainty in his perception of reality, then he knows how the spiritual events will be made manifest, and he ascends into the spiritual world.
You will perhaps have surmised from what I have said, that cognition of the spiritual world is quite different from that of the sense world. The spiritual world cannot be brought into the range of direct perception by means of conceptions having but one meaning, and anyone who thinks it possible to describe what he finds in the spiritual world in the same way as he would describe what he finds in the sense world — simply has no knowledge of the nature of the spiritual world. The spiritual world can only be represented in pictures, and in imagery, which must be regarded merely as such. When the spiritual investigator looks into the spiritual world he sees the spiritual causes behind the physical phenomena, and he sees not only what underlies the present but what underlay the past. One thing above all else is manifest to him; namely, that man as he stands before us to-day as a physical being, was not always a physical being. External Natural Science can only lead us back by way of physical phenomena to what man as a physical being once was, and the spiritual investigator has no objection to that. But what surrounds us physically, has a spiritual origin. Man existed as a spiritual being before he became physical.
When the earth was not yet physical, man existed in the bosom of divine beings. As ice condenses from water, so did physical man condense from spiritual man. Spiritual Science shows that the physical is in perpetual contact with the spiritual. But what underlies the physical can only be expressed in pictures, if one wants to approximate to physical ideas.
What happens when a man has re-attained the spiritual stage of evolution, — what comes before him? In a certain sense the spiritual investigator re-discovers the Bible imagery, as given in the six or seven days of Creation. The pictures as given there actually appear before him. These pictures are not, of course, a description of physical occurrences, but the investigator who looks into the spiritual world, sees in clairvoyant consciousness, in how wonderful a way the writer of Genesis has portrayed in these pictures the formation of man from out of the Spirit. And it is marvelous how, point by point, agreement is established between what is so perceived by the spiritual investigator and the Bible imagery. The spiritual investigator can follow in just as unbiased a way as the Natural Scientist approaches the physical world. He does not derive his wisdom directly from the Bible, but he finds emphatic agreement with Bible imagery.
I will only mention one such point of agreement. When we go back to ancient times, it is seen that behind the evolution of man stand certain spiritual beings who are different from the beings who are there from a definite and later point of time onwards. Many of you will know that man as he is to-day is a fourfold being, consisting of physical body, etheric body, astral body (the vehicle of joy, passions and so forth), and the Ego, the bearer of human self-consciousness. The three lower members, physical body, etheric body and astral body, were in existence long before the Ego, which was incorporated into man last of all. Spiritual beings who are designated in the Bible as the Elohim worked on these three earlier principles. And when the Ego began to be incorporated into this three-fold nature, another being from the spiritual world co-operated in the work of the Elohim. If we penetrate more deeply into the Bible we shall find that this Spiritual Being is given the name of Jehova, and rightly so. And in accordance with the inner principles of evolution itself we see that at a certain point in the narrative a new name is introduced in place of the old name of the God-head. We see too, the circumstances surrounding the origin of man which is described in a two-fold way in the Bible. For in point of fact man as a threefold being was dissolved into the universe: as a three-fold being he came into existence afresh, and then from out of the transformed three-fold man, the Ego developed. So that the cleft that would seem to lie between the first and second chapter of Genesis, and that has been the subject of so many false interpretations, is explained by spiritual investigation. It is only a question of rightly understanding the Bible and that is not very easy to-day. Spiritual Science shows that in the beginning higher Spiritual Beings were present; the descendants of these Beings are men, man has emerged from the bosom of Divine Spiritual Beings. We may speak of man as the descendant of the Gods in the same sense as we speak of the child being the descendant of his parents. From the standpoint of Spiritual Science we must look upon the human being standing before us as an Earth-man, the descendant of divine-spiritual beings.
Does the Bible tell us anything about this? Indeed it does, but we first must learn how to read it. The fourth sentence of the Second Chapter of Genesis runs: ‘These are the generations of the heavens’ ... and so on. This sentence is misleading, for it does not give what is really to be found at this place in the Bible. The text ought really to stand as follows: ‘What follow here and will now be described are the descendants of the Heavens and the Earth as they were brought forth by the divine power.’ And by the words ‘the Heavens and the Earth,’ divine spiritual beings are meant, divine spiritual beings whose descendant is man. The Bible describes exactly what the spiritual investigator rediscovers independently. Many of those who fight against the Bible to-day are directing their attacks against something of which they have no real knowledge. They are tilting against straws. The Anthroposophical view is exactly expressed in this fourth sentence. We might show verse by verse through the Old and New Testaments how man, when he ascends into the spiritual world through his own faculties, rediscovers the results of his investigation in the Bible. It would lead us too far now if we tried to describe the New Testament in a similar way. In my book Christianity as Mystical Fact the Lazarus miracle among others is given in its real form. The manner of treating such subjects to-day makes it impossible for us to get at their real meaning, for modern commentators of the Bible are naturally only able to find what accords with their own personal knowledge. Their knowledge does not transcend sense-cognition, hence the many contradictory interpretations and expositions of the individual Biblical ‘Authorities.’ The only qualified expositor of the Bible is a man who, independently of the Bible, is able to reach the same truths as are there contained. Let us take for sake of example an old book — Euclid's Geometry. Anyone who understands something of Geometry to-day will understand this book. But one would of course only place reliance on someone who had really studied Geometry to-day. When such a man comes to Euclid he will recognise his teachings to be true. In the same sense a man who approaches the Bible with philological knowledge only can never be a real ‘Authority.’ Only a man who is able to create the wisdom from out of his own being can be a real Authority on the Bible.
It may be said then, that the Bible is intelligible to a man who can penetrate into the spiritual world, who can receive its influences into himself. The Bible induces in such a man an absolute certainty that it is written by Initiates and inspired souls; a man who can to-day penetrate into the spiritual world, understands the great Scribes of the Bible. He knows them to have been true Initiates, ‘awakened souls’ who have written down their experiences from the levels of the spiritual worlds; if he knows this, he also knows what is hidden within their words.
I would like here to mention an experience of my own in reference to another matter. When I was engaged on special work in the Goethe Archives in Weimar, I tried to prove something quite externally. You all know Goethe's beautiful prose Hymn to Nature ‘Oh Nature we are encircled and embraced by thee,’ and so on. This hymn depicts in beautiful words that everything given to us by Nature is given in Love, that Love is the crown of Nature. This composition was lost sight of for a time by Goethe himself, and when he was an old man and what remained of his literary work was given over to the Duchess Amelia, it was found. Goethe was questioned about it, and said ‘Yes, I recognise the idea that came to me then.’ The composition was accepted as having been written by Goethe until certain hair-splitters refused to admit that he was the author and attributed it to someone else. My purpose was to investigate the truth about this composition. It had come to my knowledge that at an early period of his life Goethe had with him a young man called Tobler, who had an exceedingly good memory. During their walks together Goethe had elaborated his idea, Tobler had thoroughly assimilated it, and because of his marvelous memory had been able afterwards to write it down very nearly word for word. I tried to show that a great deal of what is to be found in Goethe's conceptions later on is intelligible in the light of this composition. The point is that someone other than Goethe had penned it on paper, but the idea itself in its phrasing and articulation was Goethe's — and that is what I tried to make clear. Later on, when my work was published, a celebrated Goethean scholar came to me and said: ‘We owe you a debt of gratitude for throwing light upon the subject, for now we know that this composition is by Tobler.’ You may well imagine how amused I was! This is how things present themselves to the minds of people who are at pains to prove that in the course of time some particular portion of the Bible was written by one man or another. Some people consider the most important thing to be who finally did the writing, and not which Spirit was the origin and source. But with us the essential thing is to understand how the Bible was able to come into being from the Spirits of those who looked into the Spiritual World and experienced it.
And now let us examine whether there is in the Bible itself, anything that explains this way of looking at things.
The Old Testament lends itself to a great deal of controversy, for the events there have grown dim. But it will be clear to anyone who does not want to wrangle, that the Old Testament faithfully describes the significant process of the penetration of the Ego into the entire nature and being of man. Anyone who from the point of view of Spiritual Science, reads of the call to Moses at the Burning Bush will understand that in reality Moses was then raised into the Spiritual world. When God appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush, Moses asked: ‘Who shall I say to the people hath sent me?’ God said: ‘Tell them that One Who can say “I am” hath sent thee.’ And if we follow up the whole process of the incorporation of the Ego, step by step, then the Bible illuminates what is found in Spiritual Science independently.
But something else is evident as well, namely, that from a Christian point of view the Bible should not be considered from the same point of view as other historical documents. If we consider the figure of Paul we can learn a great deal that can lead us to this realisation. When we study the earliest form in which Christianity was promulgated, from which all its later forms are derived, we shall find that none of the Gospel narratives are given by Paul at all, but that he speaks of something quite different. What gave the impulse to Paul? How did this unique Apostle acquire his understanding of the Christ? Simply and solely as a consequence of the event of Damascus, that is, not as a result of physical but of super-sensible truths. Now what is at the basis of the teaching of Paul? It is the knowledge that the Christ — although he was crucified — lives; the event of Damascus reveals Christ as a Living Being who can appear to men who ascend to him; — it reveals, moreover that there is in very truth a spiritual world. And Paul makes a parallel between Christ's appearance to him and His appearance to others. He says: ‘First He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, then to five hundred Brethren at once, to James and then all the Apostles, and last of all to me also as to one born out of due time.’ This reference by Paul to ‘one born out of due time’ is strange. But this very expression is evidence to experienced Initiates that Paul speaks with perfect knowledge of Spiritual Science. He says that he is ‘born out of due time.’ and from this we realise that his illumination is to be traced back to a certain fact. I will just hint at the meaning. He means to explain in these words that because he has been born out of due time he is less entangled in material existence. He traces back his illumination to his knowledge: the Christ lives and is here. He shows that he bases his Christianity upon this super-sensible truth and that it is conviction acquired as the result of direct perception.
The earliest form of Christianity as it spread abroad is based upon super-sensible facts. We could show that what is contained in the John Gospel is based upon super-sensible impressions which the writer of that Gospel gives as his own experience, and realising that originally it was possible for Christianity to win belief on the basis of super-sensible experiences of men who were able to look into the spiritual worlds, we can no longer imagine that it is right to apply to the Bible the same standard as we apply to other external documents.
Anyone who examines the Gospels with the same methods as he employs in the case of other documents, is confronted by something whose inner contents he can never fathom. But a man who penetrates into the experiences of the writers of the Gospels will be led into the spiritual world and to those personalities who have built up their knowledge and their wisdom from out of the spiritual world and have given them to us.
We should realise that those from whom the Gospels proceeded were Initiates, awakened souls, taking into consideration as well that there may be different stages of awakening. Just imagine that different people are describing a landscape from a mountain; one stands at the bottom, another in the middle and another at the summit. Each of these men will describe the landscape differently, according to his point of view. This is how the spiritual investigator looks at the four Gospels. The writers of the four Gospels were Initiates of different degrees. It is understandable that there may be external contradictions, just as there would be in the description of a landscape from a mountain. The deepest of all is the Gospel of John. The writer of the John Gospel was the most deeply initiated into the mysteries of what took place in Palestine at the beginning of our era because he wrote from the summit of the mountain.
Spiritual Science is able to elucidate the Gospels fully, and to prove that the various contradictions in Genesis at the beginning of the Old Testament disappear. Direct perception, then, of the spiritual worlds brings us again to an understanding of the Bible which is a most wonderful document. A man who engages in spiritual investigation will find that there are four standpoints to be distinguished among men who approach the study of the Bible. The first is the standpoint of the naive believer, who has faith in the Bible as it stands and pays no attention to any other consideration; the second is that of ‘clever’ people who stand neither on the ground of historical research, nor of Bible analysis, nor of Natural Science. They say: ‘We cannot recognise the Bible to be an uniform document.’ And when such men realise that Natural Science contradicts the Bible they become ‘Free Thinkers,’ so-called ‘Free Spirits.’ They are in most cases honest, sincere seekers after truth. But then we come to something that transcends the standpoint of the ‘clever’ people. Many Free Thinkers have held the point of view that the Bible is only suitable for a childlike stage of human evolution, and cannot hold its own against Science. But after a time it strikes them that much of what is given in the Bible has a figurative sense; that it is a garment woven around experiences. This is the third standpoint — that of the Symbolist. Here a pure arbitrariness reigns, and the view that the Bible is to be understood symbolically.
The fourth standpoint is that of Spiritual Science. Here there is no longer ambiguity, but in a certain sense literal interpretation of what is said in the Bible. We are brought back again to the Bible in order to understand it in a real sense. An important task of Spiritual Science is to restore the Bible to its real position. It will be a happy day when we hear in modern words what really is to be found in the Bible, different, indeed, from all that is said to-day.
We may pass from sentence to sentence and we shall see that the Bible everywhere contains a message to Initiates from Initiates; awakened souls speak to awakened souls. Spiritual investigation does not in any way alienate us from the Bible. A man who approaches the Bible by spiritual investigation experiences the fact that details become clear to him about which he formally had doubts because he could not understand them. It becomes evident that it was his fault when he was not able to understand. Now, however, he understands what once escaped him, and he gradually works through to a point of view where he says: ‘Now I understand certain things and see their deep content: others, again appear to be incredible. But just as formerly I did not understand what is now clear to me, so later I shall discover that it has a deep import.’ And then such a man will with gratitude accept what hashes up in him, leaving to the future what he cannot yet explain.
The Bible in all its depth will be revealed only in the future, when spiritual investigation, independently of any kind of tradition, penetrates into the spiritual facts, and is able to show mankind what this document really contains. Then it will no longer seem unintelligible, for we shall feel united with what streamed into spiritual culture through those who wrote it down. In our age it is possible for us, through Initiation, again to investigate the spiritual world. Looking back to the past we feel ourselves united with those who have gone before us, for we can show how step by step they communicated what they had received in the spiritual world. We can promise that the Bible will prove itself to be the most profound document of humanity, the deepest source of our civilization. Spiritual Science will be able to restore this knowledge. And, however much bigoted people may say: ‘The Bible does not need such a complicated explanation — it is the very simplicity that is right’ — it will be realised some day that the Bible, even when it is not fully understood works upon every heart by virtue of its intrinsic mysteries. It will be realised too that not only is its simplicity within our grasp, but that no wisdom is really adequate for a full understanding of it. The Bible is a most profound document not only for simple folk, but also for the wisest of the wise. Wisdom, therefore, investigated spiritually and independently, will lead back to the Bible. And Spiritual Science, apart from everything else that it has to bring to humanity, will be the means of accomplishing a re-conquest of the Bible.