Some people seem to think that to become a Christian you have to throw your mind into neutral. Nothing could be further from the truth! Christianity is a rational faith. Jesus himself once said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I believe that a thorough study of the historical evidence will lead a reasonable, open-minded person to conclude that Christianity is true, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and that Jesus Christ is the unique Son of God who died for our sins and was resurrected three days later. In this article I want to highlight the uniqueness of the Bible when compared to other works of literature.
I was talking to someone recently at a social function and the topic of the Bible came up. They clearly had reservations about its authority. They asked,
“Why should we believe the Bible over any other religious writings? There are contradictions throughout it, and it has been interpreted so many times, surely it’s lost something.”
Two important questions are raised here:
1. Is the Bible truly a unique book when compared to other religious writings like say the Koran or the Hindu Scriptures? Why should I believe what it says, over the others?
2. Is the Bible trustworthy? Is it internally consistent? Can I have confidence that the Bible I hold in my hands today faithfully represents the original manuscripts from which it came?
In this article I am going to establish the Bible’s uniqueness when compared to any other book ever written, whether sacred or secular. In an upcoming article we will consider its trustworthiness.
I. When compared to other works of literature, the Bible is unique.
No matter how you look at it, when compared to any other book that has ever been written, the Bible is inimitable. Nothing compares with it.
A. Unique in its continuity
First of all, the Bible is unique in its continuity. The Bible was written over a span of about 1500 years by some 35 different authors who came from every walk of life. For example:
Moses: a political leader and judge trained in the universities of Egypt.
David: a king, poet, musician, shepherd and warrior
Amos: a herdsman
Joshua: a military general
Nehemiah: a cupbearer to a pagan king
Daniel: a prime minister
Solomon: a king and philosopher
Luke: a physician and historian
Peter: a fisherman
Matthew: a tax collector
Paul: a rabbi
Mark: Peter’s secretary
You may not realize this, but the Bible was written on three different continents: Africa, Europe and Asia. It was written in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. It was written in a variety of literary styles.
In the Bible you will find something for everyone. There is poetry, historical narrative, song, romance, didactic treatise, personal correspondence, memoirs, satire, biography, law, prophecy, parable, and allegory. From a literary perspective alone, it is an amazing book.
But what is truly amazing about the Bible is how it addresses hundreds of controversial subjects, subjects about which there is a great diversity of opinion, with an amazing degree of harmony. It is incredible when you think about it. It addresses subjects like: the nature of God and the nature of man. It addresses controversial topics like marriage, divorce, homosexuality, parenting, and character development.
Suppose a book of family medical advice was composed by 40 doctors over a period of 1500 years in different languages, on hundreds of medical topics. What kind of unity would it have? It would be a mishmash of opinions! It would hardly be considered a definitive handbook covering the causes and cures of disease.
Yet the Bible, with greater diversity, is still sought by millions for its solutions to spiritual maladies. I submit that only the superintending hand of God can account for its unity in the midst of such diverse human authorship.
Let me offer further proof of the Bible’s unity. The Bible is composed of 66 individual books, and yet together it presents a single unfolding story: the story of God’s redemption of human beings. Dr. Norman Geisler and William Nix put it this way:
“The Paradise Lost of Genesis becomes the Paradise regained of Revelation. Whereas the gate to the tree of life is closed in Genesis, it is opened forevermore in Revelation (Geisler/Nix, GIB’86, 28-29).
And not only is there a single, unfolding story running through the Bible, there is also a central character. Of all the characters mentioned in the Bible, the leading personality throughout is the one true living God made known through Jesus Christ. The Bible is very much a Christ-centered book.
Consider first the Old Testament… The first five books of the Bible, sometimes referred to as the Law, provide the “foundation” for Christ; the historical books show the “preparation” for Christ; the poetical books “aspire” to Christ, and the prophetic books display an “expectation” of Christ.
In the New Testament, the gospels record the historical “manifestation” of Christ, the book of Acts relates the “propagation” of Christ, the Epistles give the “interpretation” of Christ, and in the book of Revelation is found the “consummation” of all things in Christ.
So although the Bible contains many books, by many authors, it shows in its continuity, that it is truly one book!
B. Unique in its circulation
Not only is the Bible unique in its continuity, it is also unique in its circulation. According to the Guinness book of world records, the Bible is by far the best selling and most widely distributed book in the world, with an estimated 2.5 billion copies sold. Folks, that is a lot of Bibles!
C. Unique in its translation
The Bible is also unique in its translation. Most books are never translated into a second language. Of those that are, most are translated into only two or three languages, but not the Bible. According to the United Bible Societies, the Bible has been translated into more than 2,200 languages! Worldwide, no other book in history has been translated, retranslated and paraphrased more than the Bible.
D. Unique in its survival
The Bible is also unique in its survival. Although it was first written on perishable materials, and had to be copied and recopied for hundreds of years before the invention of the printing press, the Scriptures have never diminished in style or correctness, nor have they ever faced extinction. As we will see in an upcoming article, compared with other ancient writings, the Bible has more manuscript evidence to support its accuracy than any ten pieces of classical literature combined!
Not only has the Bible survived through time, it has also survived through persecution. Over the years many have tried to burn it, ban it and otherwise outlaw it. But the Bible has survived through it all. Let me give you a couple of examples.
In 303 A.D., the Roman emperor Diocletian issued an edict to stop Christians from worshipping, and to destroy their scriptures. Only 25 years later the Roman emperor Constantine called for 50 copies of the Bible to be prepared at the expense of the government!
Voltaire, the French atheist who died in 1778, predicted that Christianity would be swept from existence and pass into history within 100 years of his time. 50 years after his death, the Geneva Bible Society used his printing press and house to produce stacks of Bibles! Ironic, isn’t it?
How true is the following Biblical statement:
“All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the Word of the LORD endures forever.”
1 Peter 1:24-25
The Bible has also survived through great criticism. I quote Dr. Bernard Ramm. He writes,
“No other book has been so chopped, knifed, sifted, scrutinized, and vilified. What book on philosophy or religion or psychology…has been subject to such a mass attack as the Bible? With such venom and skepticism? With such thoroughness and erudition? Upon every chapter, line and tenet? And yet, the Bible is still loved by millions, read by millions, and studied by millions.”
(Ramm, PCE ’53, 232-233
So far we have said that the Bible is unique in its continuity, its circulation, its translation, and in its survival. It is also unique in its teaching.
E. Unique in its teaching
This is especially apparent when you consider its prophetic content. Dr. Wilbur Smith, Professor of English Bible at Moody Bible Institute, who himself compiled a personal library of some twenty-five thousand volumes concluded that…
Whatever one may think of the authority of and the message presented in the book we call the Bible, there is world-wide agreement that in more ways than one it is the most remarkable volume that has ever been produced in these some five thousand years of writing on the part of the human race.
It is the only volume ever produced by man, or a group of men, in which is to be found a large body of prophecies relating to individual nations, to Israel, to all the peoples of the earth, to certain cities, and to the coming of one who was to be the Messiah.
Mohammedanism cannot point to any prophecies of the coming of Mohammed uttered hundreds of years before his birth. Neither can the founders of any cult in this country rightly identify any ancient text specifically foretelling their appearance. (Smith IB, 9-10).
In his comprehensive catalogue of prophecies, recorded in his book, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecies, J. Barton Payne, lists 1,817 predictions in the Bible, 1,239 in the Old Testament and 578 in the new. The vast majority of these have already been fulfilled.
One of the most amazing predictions of Christ comes to us from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53, verses 2-12. In this one section, Isaiah predicts 12 aspects of Jesus’ passion. It is rather long, but let me read this section of Isaiah to you.
2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.
These verses, written some 700 years before Jesus lived, make 12 predictions about the coming Messiah. They predict his…
2. He would be a man of sorrows
3. Live a life of suffering
4. Be despised by others
5. He would carry our sorrow
6. He would be smitten and afflicted by God
7. He would be pierced for our transgressions
8. He would be wounded for our sins
9. He would suffer like a sacrificial lamb
10. He would die with the wicked
11. He would be sinless
12. He would pray for others
All you need to do to see that these predictions were all literally fulfilled in Jesus’ passion is read the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament. I could list many other prophecies, in fact, there are over 300 references in the Old Testament to the coming Messiah. If you are interested, Josh McDowell, in his book, “Evidence That Demands a Verdict, details 61 very specific prophecies which were given in the Old Testament which Jesus literally fulfilled! That is amazing when you think about it.
Dr. Peter Stoner, in his book Science Speaks, calculated that the probability of one man fulfilling just eight of these 61 prophecies to be 1 in 10 17. That is a 10 with 17 zeros after it! That is a big number!
My point is this. The Bible is a unique book, especially when you consider its prophetic content.
But there are still other ways in which the Bible is unique. Let’s quickly look at two more. Consider its influence on literature.
F. Unique in its influence on literature
Dr. Harold Fisch, professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, made these comments on the Bible’s influence on literature.
“The Bible has permeated the literature of the Western world to a degree that cannot easily be measured. More than any other single body of writing, ancient or modern, it has provided writers from the Middle Ages on with a store of symbols, ideas, and ways of perceiving reality.
This influence can be traced not only in texts that deal directly with biblical characters or topics, but also in a vast number of poems, plays and other writings that are not overtly biblical in theme, but that testify to a biblical view of humankind and of the world. (Fisch, HCBD, 136)
And finally, consider the Bible’s influence on civilization.
G. Unique in its influence on civilization
Dr. Norman Geisler writes,
Civilization has been influenced more by the Judeo-Christian Scriptures than by any other book or series of books in the world. Indeed, no great moral or religious work in the world exceeds the depth and morality in the principle of Christian love, and none has a more lofty spiritual concept than the Biblical view of God. The Bible presents the highest ideals known to man, ideals that have molded civilization. (Geisler, GIB’ 86, 196-197)
Kenneth Woodward, in the March 29th, 1999 edition of Newsweek magazine points out that after “two thousand years…the centuries themselves are measured from the birth of Jesus of Nazereth. At the end of this year, calendars in India and China , like those in Europe, America, and the Middle East, will register the dawn of the third millennium.”
II. Because of the Bible’s uniqueness, you should consider its claim to be the inspired Word of God.
Now I realize that none of this proves that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but it does prove that it is unique. And because of its uniqueness, I believe an open-minded person should strongly consider its claim to be the inspired Word of God.
I mean, if the Bible is, as it claims to be, the Word of God, you would expect that it would stand unique among the world’s literature. I have presented evidence today that it does just that.
Professor Montiero-Williams, former Boden professor of Sanscrit, held just this perspective. After spending forty-two years studying Eastern books, he compared them with the Bible and said,
Pile them, if you will, on the left side of your study table; but place your own Holy Bible on the right side—all alone—and with a wide gap between them. For there is a gulf between it and so-called sacred books of the East which severs the one from the other utterly, hopelessly, and forever…a veritable gulf which cannot be bridged by any science of religious thought.” (Collett, AAB, 314, 315)
Dear reader, the Bible is unique; there is no other book like it. But is it really the Word of God, as Christians claim? And if it is the Word of God, are the copies we have today trustworthy? To find out, stay tuned for an upcoming article.