Who Was Emanuel Swedenborg?

Did He Really Receive A "New Revelation From God"?

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)

E manuel Swedberg (later, Swedenborg) was born on January 29, 1688 in Stockholm, Sweden of devout Christian parents (his father was a Lutheran minister). His life, however, would follow a very surprising course and one which his father would hardly have approved.

Emanuel was the third among the nine children of Jesper and Sarah Swedberg. At the age of only 8, he lost both his mother and elder brother, Albert, in an epidemic. Subsequently his father remarried, to a wealthy widow by the name of Sarah Bergia. After this lady's death, in 1720, Swedberg inherited half of her estate, amounting to what has been described as "a modest fortune."

Without question, the young Emanuel turned out to be a very bright and inquisitive child and these traits were to remain with him throughout his life.

As he grew into youthhood, Emanuel became particularly interested in science and religion. It has been said that even from the age of eleven, he studied mechanics, geography, astronomy, and mathematics, soon gaining a place at the University of Uppsala. After completing his university course, he took the 'Grand Tour,' so popular at the time, visiting The Netherlands, France, Germany and England. In London, he stayed for about four years, studying physics, mechanics and philosophy. He also became very interested in the use of language and in poetry. In various letters, particularly to his brother-in-law Eric Benzelius, Emanuel claimed to have invented various things (including a proto-submarine and a flying machine!).
He became recognized as an expert in geology, but he also studied astronomy, cosmology, and physics. Eventually he became recognised as one of the leading scientific thinkers within Swedish society.

It is believed that in 1744, at the age of 56, Emanuel was stricken with a severe delirium which seems to have affected his mind for the rest of his life. Overwork has been blamed as the cause of this, but others are less charitable, believing that while overwork did not help, he often became influenced by demons from this period onwards. Certainly he was apparently affected by trances and 'visions' from this time and sometimes these were frequent.

In 1745, Swedenborg had one particular vision in which loathsome creatures seemed to crawl on the walls of his room. Then a man appeared to him who claimed to be 'God.' This vision or apparition told Emanuel that he was to be the one who would communicate the teachings of the spiritual realm to the people of the world. A new divine revelation was required and he would be the means by which 'God' would further reveal Himself to the world. These 'heavenly visions' affected him, to one degree or another, over a period of at least twenty-five years.

His biblical study and 'visions' led him to believe that the Lord would establish a "New Church" following the Church of traditional Christianity; the 'new church' would worship God in just one person, Jesus Christ. The 'New Church' doctrine, or what later became known as 'Swedenborgianism,' taught that each person must actively cooperate in repentance, reformation and regeneration of one's life. Emanuel Swedenborg finally died in 1772, but he had said and written enough to provide a fertile ground for the birth of a new religion.

The movement which took his name was founded on the belief that God explained the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures to Swedenborg as a means of revealing the truth of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and other important teachings which the world needed to be made aware of. Followers now mostly believe that Swedenborg witnessed the Last Judgment in the spiritual world, along with the inauguration of this 'New Church.'


Firstly, just a little detective work will reveal that there are several Swedenborgian-type groupings with just a little doctrinal variation between them. One spokesman for them even told me, "[there are] at least three Swedenborgian denominations here in the States, and there are many, many different denominations of Swedenborgians around the world, each with their own take on Swedenborg's writings..." However, I think that this comment was too ambiguous (purposely so?) and one can be a little clearer than that. So the following comments really do appear to sum up what the majority of these people are taught and what they believe.

Obedience to the Ten Commandments is seen as necessary for salvation, then, Swedenborgianism denies the necessity of Christ's atonement (a fundamental concept within virtually all of established Christianity) as the only means by which human salvation may be attained. The typical belief (there is some evidence of variation) is that Christ did not have to die upon the cross, indeed, that sacrifice, whilst certainly inspirational, finally saves no one. In this way, most of Swedenborgianism takes the emphasis off Christ's work upon the cross (as in established Christianity) placing that emphasis on one's individual good works! The Trinity is also rejected, as is the deity of the Holy Spirit. Regarding the Trinity, one Swedenborg pastor is reputed to have stated, "The Christian trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are aspects of God just as soul, body, and activities are aspects of each one of us." Their official North American website states, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all aspects of God just as body, mind, and soul are all aspects of one person," without question, this is to teach Modalism, long noted as a Christian heresy. (Source: http://www.swedenborg.org/Beliefs.aspx?panel=0#Accordion1). This group mostly now considers that only Christ now needs to be worshipped as divine.

Swedenborgianism clearly denies the canon of Holy Scripture for the usual teaching (variations might be found) encourages rejection of not only The Book of Acts, but all of the Pauline epistles, seeing these books as being clearly outside of correct, inspired biblical teaching! Having said that, many Swedenborgians believe that there are lessons to be learned within Paul's writings, but these writings should not be regarded as of equal value to the Gospels and Revelation.
Ken Turley, a Swedenborgian minister, summed up the general approach to me in this manner:

"... accepting that the four Gospels are the accounts of Jesus Christ, his direct teachings to his disciples, and his sacrifice and resurrection, as Christian disciples what Christ does and says is more important [to us] than what Paul says about it. It is also the case that at least most Swedenborgians find a deeper meaning within the verses of the Gospels not to be found in the writings of Paul, so yes, most Swedenborgians would find the four gospels along with the Book of Revelation, to be the most important part of the New Testament. Be it noted however, that many Swedenborgians read and benefit from the writings of Paul on a regular basis."

This, of course, is to break up the New Testament into two sections with only the Gospels and Revelation to be seen as truly essential.

Regarding world religion, in general, most Swedenborgians see most religions as - eventually at least - leading to God, though not all are thought equally enlightened. One of it's (Swedenborgianism's) goals is seen as to bring the world together under a new religious understanding. In common with such movements as restorationism, there is thought to be a need for Christianity to undergo a rebirth, but this must be only according to the Swedenborgian interpretation. Regarding the Bible, it remains (with the aforementioned exceptions) mostly the inspired word of God, but with two levels: the historical, and the deeper spiritual one.

In common with Christadelphianism, Swedenborgianism rejects the concept of a personal devil. Rather, the devil is the personification of human evil. 'Hell' becomes a description of corrupt human society. The Scriptures are best interpreted through the writings of Swedenborg. Angels go through cycles of purity of character where they are sometimes closer and at other it times further from God. Swedenborg stated that the Acts and Epistles were not inspired as are the four Gospels and the Book of Revelation. There is no physical resurrection. After death, a person becomes an angel or an evil spirit. Angels are not supernatural creations of God, they are what the deceased become upon their death. Position in the afterlife is based on "the kind of life we have chosen while here on earth."

The Scientific Swedenborg

In a meeting with King Charles XII of Sweden, Swedberg proposed the idea of an observatory in northern Sweden, although this was rejected. However, he was later appointed as an assessor-extraordinary on the Swedish Board of Mines (Bergskollegium), in Stockholm.

In the next two years of his life (1716-1718), Emanuel published a scientific periodical titled 'Daedalus Hyperboreus'. The periodical held record of mechanical and mathematical inventions and discoveries. In this journal, he also mentioned about a flying machine, which he had earlier referred to in his letter to Eric. Around this time, Emanuel was also enobled, along with his siblings, by Queen Ulrika Eleonora and their surname changed to Swedenborg. Emanuel's scientific inventions include a dry dock of new design, a machine for working salt springs and a system for moving large boats overland.

In the field of biology, Swedenborg stressed on the importance of cerebral cortex. Apart from these, he drew feasible sketches of futuristic machines, including an airplane, a submarine, a steam engine, an air gun and a slow-combustion stove. Emanuel Swedenborg was offered the position of a professor in mathematics at Uppsala University, in 1724. However, he declined the offer, because he dealt with geometry, chemistry and metallurgy mainly, not maths.

At a person’s death, his mind falls asleep for three days in a place called 'the world of the spirits.' Afterwards, he awakens and encounters 'spirits' who have previously died and who help him adjust to the afterlife. All of this shows the great influence of eastern mysticism. Most Swedenborgians also believe that there is marriage in heaven.

"The New Church" is seen by members as something which the Lord is establishing with all those who believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the One God of Heaven and Earth, and who believe that obeying his commandments is necessary for salvation. Therefore, it is thought that any Christian holding these beliefs is part of this New Church movement - whether they realise it, or accept it, or not! All who do good from the truth of their religion will be accepted by the Lord into heaven, as God is goodness itself, and doing good works and deeds will automatically cause one to be joined to God. Adherents believe that the doctrine of the 'New Church' provides the benefit of further enlightenment concerning the truth, and this leads to less doubt, a recognition of personal faults, and thus a more directed and happier life. Members of this group now often deny that Emanuel Swedenborg was the author of their religion, but they will usually admit that it draws much of its primary theology from his writings.

Present world-wide membership of this group (around the year 2011) is usually estimated at somewhere between 25,000 and 60,000 people.


Without question this group's legalism, the rejection of the vicarious atonement of Christ (as being the only way that mankind could ever be reconciled to God), its rejection of the devil as a real being, its rejection of the Holy Trinity and its demotion - if not outright rejection - of all the writings of Paul, plus the Book of Acts, make the Swedenborgians a very dangeous and subversive cult. In common with numerous other cults and sects, Justification by Faith Alone is denied and it is 'justification by works' which is very clearly taught as the path to salvation. If this teaching should be correct (and it is not), one might even ask why Christ had to intervene in human history in order to die upon a cross! This group have set their own agenda, an agenda which denies several biblical teachings which are most vital.

Just as with the other founders of religions, such as Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, Mary Baker Eddy and others too, Swedenborg claimed a whole series of 'divine visions' to justify his teachings; Swedenborgianism now upholds these claims. Of course, "divine visions" cannot be challenged - since nobody else was there at the time! - but, in common with other claimed "visions" or "new revelations" this one attempts to overturn the teachings of Scripture, a teaching which, substantially, has been accepted by all the great Christian writers and theologians and many thousands of Christian believers for several hundreds of years. Here we find a new 'Christ,' Paul the Apostle gets 'dropped from the team' (conveniently, since his writings conclusively show their own teachings to be wrong). Moreover, since Luke's 'The Acts of the Apostles' reveals that the early church did not uphold their teachings, that book too is usually rejected as being in any sense meaningful for members of this group. Do we even need to say more? As with all such groups, many sincere people will be found to be adherents, but we cannot allow such considerations to sway us. This is very clearly a cult which should be avoided.
Robin A. Brace. February 20th, 2011.

It might also be helpful to read:

Where We May Agree to Differ, and Where We Should Defend the Truth