Monday, May 16

The Uniqueness of Scripture

The Bible is an extraordinary book. For some, it is merely another "great book" which sits on their shelf with other books, or with other religious texts. For others, it is recommended reading, while yet others scoff at the very idea of ever reading the Bible, let alone owning a copy. What makes the Bible unique? What makes the Bible stand out among others? What is so special about this book? In this entry, we will not be attempting to prove the Bible's divine inspiration, but to explore the uniqueness of the Bible. (Photo credit: 1 -ICR, 2 - ICR)

It was written between ca.1445 BC-90 AD, a period of approximately 1500-1600 years, by over forty authors. These forty authors were from many walks of life: kings, farmers, fishermen, philosophers, statesmen, tax collectors, scholars, poets, historians, peasants, priests, military generals, cupbearers, doctors, herdsmen, the like. Having been written over sixty generations, the Bible covers a wide range of history. The Bible was also written in different locations. For example, Moses wrote in the wilderness, Daniel wrote in a palace and on a hillside, Jeremiah wrote in a dungeon, Paul wrote inside prison, Luke wrote on his travels, John wrote on the island of Patmos, and many other situational locations.

The Bible was also written at different times: times of peace and times of war, as well as different moods, as in sorrow and despair to joy and happiness. It was written on three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe. As for its language, the Bible was written in three different languages: Aramaic, which was the language of the Near East until the time of Alexander the Great (6th-4th century BC)[1], Hebrew, and Greek, which was the language the New Testament was written in. By the time of Jesus, Greek was the international language.

Credit: Institute for Creation Research
Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are about one central being: Jesus Christ, the Messiah, God Himself. He appears throughout the Hebrew Bible in various forms, often as the angel (meaning messenger) of God, as He did to Moses in the burning bush, or the Commander of the Lord's army to Joshua before the march around Jericho, even appearing in the flames with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to save them. Jesus is clearly seen in prophecies concerning his Incarnation all throughout the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 53, for example), and metaphors directed toward the Messiah were used all throughout as well.

The New Testament shows the fulfillment of these things: prophetic fulfillment, end of the Old Covenant and initiating of the New Covenant, as well as the meaning - and consequences - of the coming of Jesus, and a look into the future, when Jesus will return. The Bible is His story. The Bible explores many controversial subjects, one which should create opposing views and opinions among its forty authors. However, all forty or so authors spoke in harmony and unity, from the very beginning (Genesis) to the very end (Revelation). The central theme is that of the redemption of man through God.

F.F. Bruce, in "Archaeological Confirmation of the Bible," notes, "The Bible, at first sight, appears to be a collection of literature - mainly Jewish. If we enquire into the circumstances under which the various Biblical documents were written, we find that they were written at intervals over a space of nearly 1400 years. [Closer to 1500-1600] The writers wrote in various lands, from Italy in the west to Mesopotamia and possibly Persia in the east. The writers themselves were a heterogeneous number of people, not only separated from each other by hundreds of years of and hundreds of miles, but belonging to the most diverse walks of life. In their ranks we have kings, herdsmen, soldiers, legislators, fishermen, statesmen, courtiers, priests and prophets, a tentmaking Rabbi and a Gentile physician, not to speak of others of whom we know nothing apart from the writings they have left us."[2]

Bruce concludes, "The writings themselves belong to a great variety of literary types. They include history, law (civil, criminal, ethical, ritual, sanitary), religious poetry, didactic treatises, lyric poetry, parable and allegory, biography, personal correspondence, personal memoirs and diaries, in addition to the distinctively Biblical types of prophecy and apocalyptic."[3] The Bible itself is not merely an anthology, there is, as aforementioned, a unity and harmony which runs all throughout. It is clearly the most influential book in all of history. It is the most read, the most sold, the most loved, but at the same time, the most hated by skeptics and critics, generally because of its implications.

Though its composition ended nearly 2000 years ago, it is still read regularly read, one that is relevant to every period and people in history, one that is read by people from all walks of life and age group, the most quoted, it is published in more languages than any other book (over 2287 as of 2002),[4] and more copies have been produced of its entirety as well as sections and portions than any other book in human history. About 60-70 years ago, Hy Pickering of the British and Foreign Bible Society stated that to meet demands, the Society had to publish "one copy every three seconds day and night; 22 copies every minute day and night; 1369 copies every hour; 32,876 copies every day in the year. And it is deeply interesting to know that this amazing number of Bibles were dispatched to various parts of the world in 4583 cases weighing 490 tons."[5]

Now, again, none of this proves that the Bible is God's Word, but it does prove that the Bible is unique. It can be argued that every book is unique in its own way, however, no book is more unique in so many ways as aforementioned than the Bible itself, regardless of language and translation. In terms of translation, the Bible was actually one of the first books to be translated, ca.250 BC, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint. The Bible was also the first book printed on Gutenberg's press, in the form of the Latin Vulgate. The longest telegram ever sent was the Revised Version New Testament sent from New York to Chicago, another impressive curiosity.[6]

The Bible has more manuscript evidence to validate the veracity and accuracy, as well as its authenticity. In consideration of the New Testament alone, there are around 24,000 copies According to the Institute for Creation Research, "Caesar’s Gallic Wars was written in the first century B.C. There are only 10 manuscripts in existence. The earliest textual evidence we have was copied 1,000 years after the original.Aristotle’s Poetics was written in the fourth century B.C. There are only 5 manuscripts in existence. The earliest textual evidence we have was copied 1,400 years after the original. There are many more writings of the Church Fathers quoting sections of Scripture; we could reconstruct the entire New Testament from their writings alone."[7]

ICR concludes, "There were millions of man-hours spent in cross-checking the manuscripts. There remains only 1 percent of all New Testament words about which questions still exist; no questionable passage contradicts any Bible teaching. The Hebrew Bible has been more accurately transmitted to us than any other ancient writing of comparable age. The textual evidence is greater for both the Old and New Testaments than any other historically reliable ancient document. The ancient scribes were very meticulous."[8] The Bible has survived through centuries of persecution and skepticism, as well as criticism. 

The Bible was originally written on perishable material (papyrus, parchment, vellum, etc), and had to be copied by hand for several centuries before printing was finally invented, however, as history, archaeology, and the Biblical text clearly shows, the Bible was meticulously copied, both by the priests and by the Greeks, and it has not changed one bit, nor has it suffered under the constraints of time. No other book has been subjected to so many attempted bans, burnings, outlaws, as the Bible has, because of its content, its message, and its implications, namely that if it is all true, it implies that there is a Creator God we are accountable to, and many do not wish to accept that as a fact.

According to Arthur Brisbane, who is a non-Christian, the Bible contains various types - and brilliant examples - of great literature in many forms: lyric poetry in the Psalms, dramatic poetry in Job; historic narrative art in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles; rural idyll in Ruth; patriotism in Esther and Daniel; practical wisdom found in Proverbs; philosophy in Ecclesiastes; moving depth in Isaiah; short stories in the Gospels; letters in the various Epistles of the New Testament; and thrilling mysticism in the book of Revelation.[9]

1st Samuel through 2nd Chronicles spans about five centuries worth of history concerning Israel. Wilbur Smith, citing Professor Albright, in his essay, The Biblical Period, states succinctly, "Hebrews national tradition excels all others in its clear picture of tribal and family origins. In Egypt and Babylonia, in Assyria and Phoenicia, in Greece and Rome, we look in vain for anything comparable. There is nothing like it in the tradition of the Germanic peoples. Neither India nor China can produce anything similar, since their earliest historical memories are literary deposits of distorted dynastic tradition, with no trace of the herdsman or peasant behind the demigod or king with whom their records begin. Neither in the oldest Indic historical writings (the Puranas) nor in the earliest Greek historians is there any hint of the fact that both Indo-Aryans and Hellenes were once nomads who immigrated into their later abodes from the north. The Assyrians, to be sure, remembered vaguely that their earliest rulers, whose names they recalled without any details about their deed, were tent dwellers, but whence they came had long been forgotten."[10]

Credit: Institute for Creation Research
Even if all copies of the Bible were destroyed, you could still piece it all back together by the many quotes. Historical evidence, archaeological evidence and textual evidence all give credence to the fact that the Bible we have today is accurate and authentic. Prophecy helps accomplish this means as well as providing us with a good evidence for the truth of the Bible. In their latest issue, Answers in Genesis Magazine points out, "...despite this marvelous array of topics and goals, the Bible displays a flawless internal consistency. It never contradicts itself or its common theme. From Genesis to Revelation, we see man's repeated rebellion against his holy Creator... Both the Bible and history weave together in seamless harmony, as though the Creator ordained this plan and recorded it in Scripture even before it unfolded in history. And that's exactly what the Bible claims took place! God says that He alone can declare the future (Isaiah 42:9), and hundreds of His prophetic predictions have been fulfilled with absolute precision, while others await fulfillment."[11]

Philip Schaff, a historian, in The Person of Christ, illustrates the uniqueness of the Bible's central figure, "This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, He set more pens into motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men and women of ancient and modern times."[12]

The Bible is certainly unique. More books have been written on it, more time has been spent studying it, more time has been spent trying to prove and disprove it, than with any other book in history. The Bible is unique in its composition, in its preservation, in its unity and harmony, and in many other ways. 

Troy Hillman

Sources:
[1] McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands A Verdict. 1st ed. Arrowhead Springs, California: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972. 18. Print.
[2] Bruce, F.F. "Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament." Revelation and the Bible. Edited by Carl Henry. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969. Print.
[3] Ibid.
[4] "Why Is The Bible Unique?." The Way to God. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2011. .
[5] Ibid, [1].
[6] Ramm, Bernard. Protestant Christian Evidences. Chicago: Moody Press, 1957. Print.
[7] "The Manuscripts ." Institute for Creation Research. Institute for Creation Research, n.d. Web. April 2011. .
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid, [4].
[10] Smith, Wilbur M. The Incomparable Book. Minneapolis: Beacon Publications, 1961. Print.
[11] Chaffey, Tim. "Can We Prove the Bible is True? (3 - Unity of the Bible)." Answers in Genesis Magazine. March 2011: 58-59. Print.
[12] Schaff, Philip. The Person of Christ. American Tract Society, 1913. Print.

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