By Frank Giudici
Unity considers the Bible to be its basic textbook for the teaching of Truth and a manual for the unfoldment of the human soul.
While Unity encourages readers of the Bible to study it as a historical document, our main approach to biblical study is metaphysical. In other words, we look for the spiritual meaning underlying everything. In doing so, we see the people, places, and events mentioned in the Bible as representative of an idea or a state of consciousness.
When interpreting the Bible, we believe it is very important to understand that there is no one interpretation which can be considered universal-or applicable in all cases. We interpret the Bible according to our present understanding of Truth, and as long as we stay tuned to our own indwelling guidance, the interpretation that is right for us under our present circumstances will be revealed to us.
Another important thing to remember when we are interpreting the Bible is that whatever we need to know for our spiritual growth is already prepared for us in Spirit. By being open and receptive to the Bible as a metaphysical instrument of God’s guidance, we can avail ourselves of those truths that will fulfill our needs and bless us and all that concerns us.
To better understand Unity’s method of Bible interpretation, let us look at a few people from whose stories we can gain some helpful metaphysical insights.
Old Testament Insights
In the Hebrew Bible, commonly called the Old Testament, the book of Genesis is a fertile field for interpretation. One of the principal characters of Genesis is Abraham.
Traditionally, Abraham is interpreted as representative of the spiritual quality of “faith.” We know that having faith is important to living successfully. Therefore, by studying the story of Abraham, we can learn much about the practice of faith or the lack of it.
Abraham was called by God to leave his homeland and journey to a land that God had given him and his descendants.. Acting on his faith in God, Abraham complied with God’s directive and, taking his wife, his nephew, and all their possessions, departed immediately. At this point, Abraham is a strong, positive example of faith, but let’s see what happened next.
When Abraham and his family arrived in Canaan, they found that there was a “famine” in the land, which can be interpreted either literally or metaphysically – the metaphysical interpretation being that the word famine is used to represent “some kind of trouble.” How did Abraham meet this situation? He disregarded God’s initial instruction and journeyed into Egypt, where he encountered more trouble. Abraham exhibited his lack of faith by taking matters into his own hands.
Does this sound familiar? When we are divinely guided to take a certain action, do we, like Abraham, act upon it immediately or do we hesitate or even refuse? Then, when we have responded positively to God’s guidance and are faced with a challenge, do we meet it with faith in God or do we, like Abraham, take matters into our own hands and seek another way to our good?
As Abraham’s story continues, he sometimes exhibited his faith in God, and at other times, his lack of faith. In the end, however, he remained true to God and returned to the land that God had prepared for him.
The message of the Abraham story, metaphysically, appears to be that by holding on to our faith in God, we, like Abraham, will ultimately be led to the good which is ours by divine right. When we work with God, no matter how difficult the task, our success is assured. This is highly encouraging news!
Moses and David
This same process of interpretation can be applied to other characters. Once we begin to identify with their stories, we find that ideas begin to percolate in our minds and we learn lessons which aid us in our spiritual journey.
We can identify with Moses as he leads the Hebrew people through the wilderness to the Promised Land, because we often have to guide our positive thoughts through a “wilderness” of negative ones while being pursued by “Pharaoh’s army,” thoughts of fear, anxiety, resentment, and anger persistently trying to take control.
Or we can identify with David, who generally represents the spiritual quality of “love.” While he was able to unite the twelve tribes of Israel into a single nation, David was later unable to unite his own family. Sometimes it seems we can do better in establishing harmonious and peaceful relations with others than with some of our own family members.
New Testament Insights
We can also relate to Peter, who is the New Testament representative of “faith.” Peter’s faith was strong at times and weak at other times, just like ours. In the end, he turned out to be one of the pillars of the early church. As we did with Abraham, we can learn much about the practice of faith by allowing ourselves to identify with Peter in his successes and failures.
For many people, the greatest spiritual guide of the Bible is Jesus Christ. No matter how one might regard Jesus historically, His life and teachings as presented in The Gospels are the source of great metaphysical insights. Through His presentation of precepts, parables, miracles, and actions, Jesus opened the door to a vast reservoir of spiritual truth.
Unity sees the name Jesus as representative of the “human” aspect of being and the term Christ as representative of the “divine” aspect of being. Therefore, when Jesus speaks in The Gospels, we believe that He is actually speaking from two levels of consciousness.
For example, when Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10), we think of Him as speaking from the human level of consciousness as our Teacher and WayShower, encouraging us to follow His teachings, which will lead us to an abundant life.
This statement can also be understood as being spoken from the “Christ” or “divine” level of consciousness. In this way, Jesus is telling us that if we take time to listen to the voice of our own indwelling Christ, we will intuitively sense the same message: “I, your own Christ self, have come into your awareness so that you may follow My guidance and be led to a life of abundance.”
We all need at times to be inspired by the words of a fellow human being and to be assured by hearing the Truth spoken by the spirit of Truth within us. Therefore, it is often helpful to interpret the words of Jesus as being spoken from one or both of these levels of consciousness.
Jesus and the Parables
Jesus sometimes spoke in parables, all of which dealt in some way with the kingdom of God. Parables draw a mental picture that is easier for the mind to work with, and perhaps Jesus used them so that once His listeners finally discerned the message of the parable, it would be more firmly fixed in their minds. However, it is true that some of the pictures drawn by Jesus’ parables are somewhat unclear and not very easy to figure out.
A familiar parable is the story of the prodigal son. A young man left his home, squandered his inheritance, and then “came to himself” and realized the error of his ways. When he returned home, his father welcomed him, not asking a single question about his absence or uttering a critical remark.
The reason this story is so familiar is that we can identify with the prodigal son. We-sons and daughters-have done things that we think have alienated us from God. We need forgiveness, or so we think. But here in this story, Jesus seems to be saying that no matter how short of the mark we think we have fallen, God still loves us.
In truth, there is nothing so terrible we could ever do that would cause God to love us any less than God loves us already. Also, there is nothing so wonderful we could ever do that would cause God to love us more than God loves us now. God’s love for us is unconditional and constant, no matter what we do or fail to do. Divine forgiveness does not enter the picture, because with God, the universal Presence and Power of love, there is never criticism or condemnation.
Other Biblical Elements: Places, Objects and Events
Other elements of the Bible are also open to metaphysical interpretation. Places can have special meaning. The Garden of Eden, for instance, can represent that “ideal consciousness” in which we long (and were meant by God) to live.
Adam and Eve first lived in Eden under divine guidance and protection. The implication is that they were initially obedient to God’s divine will. When they disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, their lives in Eden became anything but Edenic.
Our lesson? When we follow God’s guidance, we enter a heavenly, blissful, contented state of mind that produces positive results in our outer world. When we fail to follow God’s guidance, we create a living hell for ourselves. It is not a matter of God punishing us, but a natural consequence of the use or misuse we have made of our God-given free will.
Objects, such as dwelling places, also provide us with spiritual insight. “Houses,” which can be viewed as permanent in nature, represent states of consciousness in which our “thought-people” live. To check on our spiritual status at any given moment, we can ask ourselves: “Whom am I allowing to live in my ‘house’ of consciousness? Am I harboring positive thoughts or negative thoughts?”
Tents also house people but are of a transitory nature. Here we might ask ourselves: “Do I have a shifting consciousness, constantly changing from one frame of mind to another? Or am I able to stand for what I believe in when it is appropriate for me to do so?”
Churches contain congregations. Metaphysically, a “congregation” represents “an aggregation of spiritual ideas.” Jesus told Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18). Metaphysically, this verse is speaking of the spiritual church-the aggregation of ideas that comprises the spiritual consciousness we build within ourselves on the basis of faith. In other words, through our faith in God, we build spiritual consciousness, which manifest themselves as the ideal world we all want to live in.
The Temple in Jerusalem plays an important part in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. It was the place of worship for the Jewish people and the early Christians. Metaphysically, there is a “temple” within each of us where “services” are being conducted at all times. It is the temple of our consciousness. Realizing this, we can ask ourselves: “What kind of services are going on within me? What thoughts am I worshipping? Are they constructive or destructive?” Thinking about the temple within can draw our attention to important changes we need to make regarding our inner worship.
Finally, biblical events can also be meaningful. Perhaps the most important event in the Hebrew Bible is the Exodus, the deliverance by God of the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt. This event became for them a spiritual experience a rebirth that gave meaning and purpose to their lives.
We can see a lesson in the Exodus for ourselves. While most of us would probably say that our lives began with our physical birth, it is really our spiritual birth or rebirth that is important. As we grow physically, life seems to be pretty much a mystery. We go through all sorts of experiences and wonder why a particular thing happens to us while other things don’t. It is not until we are reborn spiritually that life seems to have meaning. It is then that we may review our life in the light of our spiritual birth and gain insight into ourselves.
Our spiritual birth, which has changed how we look at our world and ourselves, gives us hope for a brighter future. We know more deeply that we can achieve happiness, peace of mind, and success in all areas of living as long as we stay tuned to the guidance of our own indwelling Lord. Like the Hebrew people, we find meaning and purpose in life as the result of our spiritual experience.
Two other events in which we can find meaning are the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. We all experience “crucifixions” in life, in that we daily go through negative experiences, some of which may feel as severe to us as the actual crucifixion Jesus went through. But just as there was a crucifixion in Jesus’ life, there was also a Resurrection.
Just as Jesus brought His body back to life through the resurrecting power of God in Him, we, too, can use that same power to lift ourselves out of the mental “tombs” of despair, worry, fear, and negative experience into the light of happy, peaceful, and productive lives.