How the Course Views the Bible

by Allen Watson

This article is Chapter 2 from Allen Watson's book, Seeing the Bible Differently.

My general approach to our topic is to discover how the Course itself approaches the Bible. Let us, then, begin by examining an extended passage in the Text in which the Course specifically addresses, and reinterprets, four passages from the Bible. The passage is found in Chapter 5, Section VI, "Time and Eternity," beginning with the fifth paragraph. From this section, I will attempt to derive some principles that can serve as guidelines for us, as students of the Course, in our reading and study of the Bible.

Four Sample Passages

The author has just pointed out, in the fourth paragraph of Section VI, how the ego uses Scripture for its purpose, and always interprets it fearfully. He then says:

There are many examples of how the ego's interpretations are misleading, but a few will suffice to show how the Holy Spirit can reinterpret them in His Own Light (T-5.VI.5:1).

In other words, these passages are being examined for the very reason that interests us now: To show how the Bible has been misunderstood, and how the Holy Spirit can reinterpret it in a way that is more in line with truth. From these passages, we should be able to derive some principles about how the Course relates to the Bible in general, principles that we can then use to apply to the "many examples" of the ego's interpretations we may find in the Bible.

1. Sowing and Reaping

"As ye sow, so shall ye reap." This is not a direct quote from the Bible, but the idea is found in at least two places:

They that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same (Job 4:8, kjv).

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Gal. 6:7, kjv).

The fearful way the ego interprets this saying is fairly obvious: If you do bad things, you will be punished for it. More specifically, God will punish you for it. The common saying, "God will get you for that!" reflects this thinking.

The Course tells us that the Holy Spirit interprets these words quite differently:

He reinterprets [these words] to mean what you consider worth cultivating you will cultivate in yourself. Your judgment of what is worthy makes it worthy for you (T-5.VI.6:1-2).

The general idea is still there, that what you sow (or plant) you will reap (or harvest). However, rather than a threat of divine retribution, the words become a simple statement of a neutral principle. The image of a vengeful God, just waiting to catch us misbehaving so that He can punish us, is entirely gone in the Holy Spirit's new interpretation. The "sowing" is something we do in our minds, rather than in our behavior; we "consider" something worthy, and we make a "judgment" about it. Ernest Holmes, the author of The Science of Mind, once stated the difference very clearly: "There is no sin but a mistake, and no punishment but an inevitable consequence" (The Science of Mind, p. 110f).

In the eyes of the Holy Spirit, the words, "as ye sow, so shall ye reap," become a statement of the oft-repeated law of perception in the Course:

This is in accord with perception's fundamental law: You see what you believe is there, and you believe it there because you want it there. Perception has no other law than this (T-25.III.1:3-4).

Thus, if we judge attack to be what we want to see, we will see it; but if we want only love, we will see nothing else (T-12.VII.8:1).

For our purposes of trying to see how the Course approaches the Bible, what can we derive from this one example? First, we can see that the Course refuses to see anything that pictures God as vengeful. As we shall see, this is probably the single principle that most strongly governs the Course's interpretation of the Bible.

Second, we can see that the Course demonstrates, in this one example, four different types of relationship with the Bible. First, there is a similarity of meaning; the general theme of sowing and reaping stated in the Bible is carried over into the Course. Second, there is a clear difference; the Course's interpretation eliminates all trace of punishment from the idea. Third, there is a continuity; the Course is assuming the validity of the biblical statement, but is adjusting our understanding of it. Fourth, there is a qualified supersession; the Course presents its interpretation as higher, more correct, and one which is meant to take the place of the older understanding. We will see, in the remaining examples, that the Course consistently puts itself in relationship with the Bible in these same four ways.

2. Vengeance

"Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord" (T-5.VI.7:1). Again, the Course is summarizing or abbreviating the biblical quote. The full quotation is:

Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord (Rom. 12:19, kjv).

This line is, in its turn, a rewording of the original, given in the books of Moses in the Old Testament:

To me [belongeth] vengeance, and recompense (De. 32:35, kjv).

What is notable about the Course's version, first of all, is that it omits the words, "I will repay," which are attributed to God in the Bible. They carry the very clear idea that vengeance is not something for man's hands, but rather that God will repay, or adjudicate the recompense; in simpler words, God will take care of punishing evil, so leave it to Him. Once again we can see that the Course is deliberately removing any idea of a vengeful God.

The reinterpretation given by the Course makes use of one of its principle concepts: "that ideas increase only by being shared" (T-5.VI.7:1). The meaning of the primary thought, "Vengeance is mine," becomes, in this light, that "vengeance cannot be shared" (T-5.VI.7:2). We should, therefore, "Give itáto the Holy Spirit, Who will undo it in you because it does not belong in your mind, which is part of God" (T-5.VI.7:3). Instead of giving vengeance into God's hands so that He can carry it out, we give it to the Holy Spirit to be undone! In fact, the reason that vengeance does not belong in our minds is that our minds are part of God which obviously implies that vengeance has no place in God's Mind, either.

Notice that this can hardly be said to be the meaning that was in the mind of the Apostle Paul when he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. Although he is clearly teaching Christians not to avenge themselves (see Rom. 12:18), he continues after the verse quoted above:

If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head (Rom. 12:20, kjv).

His thought seems to be that if you return good for evil, you will be in effect calling down God's wrath on the person who offended you, symbolized by coals of fire pouring onto his head!

In this passage we once again see the four ways the Course relates to the Bible. Similarity: do not avenge yourself, but give vengeance to God. Difference: we give the vengeance to God, not to be carried out more effectively by Him, but to have it removed from our minds entirely. Continuity: the Course does not reject the teaching, but gives it a new meaning. Qualified supersession: the Course presents its teaching in place of that of the Bible, but still somehow in line with it.

3. Inherited Sin

The Bible seems to teach that sin is so terrible that punishment for it falls not only on the person who did it, but lives on as a kind of curse upon succeeding generations: "I will visit the sins of the fathers unto the third and fourth generation" (T-5.VI.8:1). Again, this is an abbreviation of the original quote, which can be found in Exodus 20:5 and 34:7. The Course sees this understanding as "merely an attempt to guarantee the ego's own survival" (T-5.VI.8:2). This is in line with the Course's teaching elsewhere (T-13.IV.4:4-5) that the whole idea of paying for the past in the future is the ego's way of avoiding the present, which is the only time in which healing can occur.

The ego's interpretation of these words "is particularly vicious" (T-5.VI.8:1), says the Course. Such a teaching portrays a mad god, one who punishes children for their father's mistakes, which seems manifestly unfair and spiteful even to our less-than-divine minds. The Course simply cannot tolerate such an image of God. It gives the Holy Spirit's radically different understanding:

To the Holy Spirit, the statement means that in later generations He can still reinterpret what former generations had misunderstood, and thus release the thoughts from the ability to produce fear (T-5.VI.8:3).

Instead of meaning that punishment is carried out down through the generations a horrible concept! it now means that in later generations, God's mercy can still reach out and heal the thoughts of those former, mistaken, generations. The present generation, rather than having the sins of their fathers visited on them, is released in the present from the fear those "sins" have produced.

Once again, let me point out that the authors who penned the Old Testament did not in any way share this merciful understanding! No one familiar with the early books of the Bible, with their descriptions of the plagues and curses that would fall on those who disobey God, could have the slightest doubt that those authors really believed that God would punish sin down through the generations. (If you want a gruesome example, read Deuteronomy 28:15š68; fifty-four verses detailing the curses God will visit on unbelievers, including pestilence, draught, death in battle with your carcass becoming food for the birds, boils, hemorrhoids, madness, blindness, having your wife raped, and slavery.) After a long list of curses, the Bible adds, "And they shall become a sign and a wonder on you and your descendants forever" (De. 28:46, nasb), making it clear just what the Old Testament authors believed about God visiting the sins of the fathers upon their children.

When the Holy Spirit says, "Its real meaning is this," He cannot be referring to what was actually in the thoughts of those who penned the words. He must be referring to what the original thought was, in God's Mind, which was distorted almost beyond recognition by those who heard it before it was recorded in the Bible. This concept, that the "true meaning" is not necessarily what was in the authors' minds, but refers to God's original revelation, is a key to understanding how the Course treats the Bible.

It also clearly demonstrates the principle of qualified supersession I have referred to with the earlier passages; the Course claims the authority to tell us what God's original intent was behind the garbled understanding of the biblical authors. It acknowledges that, behind those words, revelation was at work. Yet it perceives that the revelation was distorted, and that the Bible's rendition of it needs to be purged of its fearful elements and restated more clearly for our benefit.

The other three ways the Course relates to the Bible are also present in this passage: similarity, in the idea of something being carried down the generations; difference, in that what is carried is not vengeance carried forward, but mercy carried backward in time; and continuity, in that it is the same revelation being discussed, but given an entirely new meaning.

4. The Wicked Perishing

The last Bible statement treated in this section is, "The wicked shall perish" (Ps. 37:20, kjv). The old meaning should be obvious, referring to wicked souls receiving death and punishment in hell. The Course interprets it to mean, "Every loveless [or, wicked] thought must be undone" (T-5.VI.9:2). The transfer of meaning from persons, or souls, to thoughts, is something that may be a familiar interpretation device to those who have approached the Bible from a New Thought background (Religious Science and The Unity School of Christianity, for instance). The Course uses it again in reinterpreting the meaning of the Last Judgment, in Chapter 2, Section VIII of the Text, where it is portrayed as a final evaluation of our thoughts in which we retain only what is creative and good, rather than a time when good and bad souls are separated into Heaven and hell. The Bible's constant pronouncements of judgment on evildoers can actually become meaningful discourse about correcting our thinking through use of this interpretive device, just as the Course does here.

The same elements of interpretation are present in this fourth example: similarity, in that something "wicked" must be brought to an end; difference, in that what are ended are loveless thoughts rather than loveless people; continuity, in that the older expression of truth is not nullified but uplifted; and qualified supersession, in that the Course's interpretation is given in place of the old, yet is based upon the same general idea.

Overall, as in the earlier examples, the central idea that the Course attempts to eradicate from our understanding seems to be the idea of a God of wrath, Who punishes us for our evil deeds. That theme is so central to understanding how the Course views the Bible that it deserves a more thorough discussion.

"Judgment Is Not an Attribute of God."

The Text tells us flatly that, "Judgment is not an attribute of God" (T-2.VIII.2:4). It speaks of " your delusion of an angry god, whose fearful image you believe you see at work in all the evils of the world" (W-pI.153.7:3). It tells us that illness results from the ego's attempt to punish itself in order to avert God's punishment:

The ego believes that by punishing itself it will mitigate the punishment of God. Yet even in this it is arrogant. It attributes to God a punishing intent, and then takes this intent as its own prerogative (T-5.V.5:6-8).

Nestled in there is the clear statement that the very idea of a punishing God is something attributed to God by the ego, and not something that has any basis in truth. To the Course, the idea that punishment is a form of correction is insane (T-19.II.1:6). It is one of the laws of chaos (T-23.II.4) upon which the entire ego thought system is built.

In discussing the idea that justice and vengeance are not synonymous, the Course tells us: "Vengeance is alien to God's Mind because He knows of justice" (T-25.VIII.5:5). To our ego minds, justice means that we are punished for our sins. To the Course, justice means not punishing us because we have not sinned.

The Bible's theology is based upon a two-faced concept of God, in which He is both loving and vengeful at the same time. In the Bible's eyes, although God loves us all, somehow He is forced, by His concept of justice, to punish us for our sins. The Course sees God with a single eye: He is Love, and Love without any opposite. That foundational idea seems to govern every instance in which the Course reinterprets the Bible, as we shall see in the remainder of this booklet.

Conclusions

We have seen how the Course relates to the Bible in four different ways. There are similarities, differences, continuity, and qualified supersession. We can even see these four relationships in the concept of God we have just discussed. The similarity is that both the Bible and the Course present God as a loving God; the difference is that the Bible also presents God as wrathful and punative; the continuity is that A Course in Miracles sees itself as standing in the same line of revelation about this God; and the qualified supersession lies in the way the Course sees its teaching about this God as more authoritative than the Bible's. The next four chapters will deal with each of these relationships in expanded form. And through them all, we will see the concept of a God of pure Love, to Whose Mind vengeance is an alien thought, applied again and again to the ways we have misunderstood His message to us.

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