The Uniqueness of the Bible
Composed of 66 books, and written over 1,500 years on three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe) by more than forty authors, the Bible is unique. There is no other book, sacred or religious, like it. And no wonder. After all, it is the Word of God. There are more than 24,600 extant New Testament manuscripts from the first four centuries after Christ. Of Plato’s original manuscripts, there are seven, Herodotus eight, and Homer’s Iliad slightly more with 263 surviving copies. Hence, we have powerful confirming evidence of the integrity of the New Testament text.
The Bible was the first book known to be translated, the first book in the West published on the printing press, and the first book to be so widely distributed in so many languages that it can be read by 95 percent of the earth’s population today.
The Bible also is unique in its content and message, which focuses on God’s redemptive acts in history. That history is intertwined with prophecy, as it foretells the future of God’s plans and His eternal kingdom. It is the living Word of God, because the same Spirit of God through which Scripture was inspired (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) is promised to believers today to guide us into all truth as we study the Word (John 14:16, 17; John 15:26; John 16:13).
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 4.
The most important words spoken are often the last words a person utters. Moses, the writer of the first five foundational books of the Bible, sings a song to the people just before his death (Deut. 31:30– 32:43).
Among the last words of Moses is a strong exhortation. By setting their hearts on the words that God has spoken to them through him, Moses wanted to stress to the people that their focus should remain on God and His will for their lives. By teaching these words to their children, each generation would pass on God’s covenant plan of salvation. Notice that they were not to pick and choose which words, but were to observe or obey “all the words of this law” (Deut. 32:46).
At the end of earth’s history, God will have a people who remain faithful to all of Scripture, which means keeping the commandments of God and having the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12). These people will remain faithful to the teaching of the Bible, for it not only ensures a richer life on earth but an eternal destiny in the home Jesus prepares for us (John 14:1–3).
Jesus is the focus and aim of all Scripture. His coming in the flesh as the Messiah was a fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. Because He lived, died, and lives again, we have not only the Scriptures confirmed but, even better, the great promise of eternal life in a whole new existence.
The variety of authors, their locations, and their backgrounds provide a unique testimony that God works to communicate history and His message to people as culturally diverse as its intended audience.
The Bible was written by people from many different kinds of backgrounds and in various circumstances. Some were writing from palaces, others from prisons, some in exile, and still others during their missionary journeys to share the gospel. These men had different education and occupations. Some, like Moses, were destined to be kings or, like Daniel, to serve in high positions. Others were simple shepherds. Some were very young and others quite old. Despite these differences, they all had one thing in common: they were called by God and inspired by the Holy Spirit to write messages for His people, no matter when or where they lived.
Also, some of the writers were eyewitnesses to the events they recounted. Others made careful personal investigation of events or careful use of existing documents (Josh. 10:13, Luke 1:1–3). But all parts of the Bible are inspired (2 Tim. 3:16). This is the reason why Paul states that “whatever was written . . . was written for our instruction, so that through . . . the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4, NASB). The God who created human language enables chosen people to communicate inspired thought in a trustworthy and reliable manner in human words.
“God has been pleased to communicate His truth to the world by human agencies, and He Himself, by His Holy Spirit, qualified men and enabled them to do His work. He guided the mind in the selection of what to speak and what to write. The treasure was entrusted to earthen vessels, yet it is, none the less, from Heaven.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 26.
The Bible is unique among other known religious works because up to 30 percent of its content comprises of prophecies and prophetic literature. The integration of prophecy and its fulfillment in time is central to the biblical worldview, for the God who acts in history also knows the future and has revealed it to His prophets (Amos 3:7). The Bible is not only the living Word, or the historical Word—it is the prophetic Word.
There are at least 65 direct, Messianic predictions in the Old Testament, many more if we add typology, as well (typology is the study of how Old Testament rituals, such as the sacrifices, were mini-prophecies of Jesus). These prophecies relate to such specific details as “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah” (Gen. 49:10); that He would be born in Bethlehem in Judah (Mic. 5:2); that He would be “despised and rejected of men”; beaten, falsely accused, yet not open His mouth to defend Himself (Isa. 53:3–7); that His hands and feet would be pierced; and that they would divide His clothes among them (Ps. 22:12–18).
The fact that these prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled with such precision in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus testifies to their divine inspiration and revelation. It also indicates that Jesus was who He claimed and others claimed Him to be. Jesus followed the prophets of old in predicting His death and resurrection (Luke 9:21, 22; Matt. 17:22, 23), the fall of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:1, 2), and His second coming (John 14:1–3). Thus, the Incarnation, death, and Resurrection are predicted by the Bible, and their fulfillment ensures its reliability.
The Bible is unique when compared to other “holy” books because it is constituted in history. This means that the Bible is not merely the philosophical thoughts of a human being (like Confucius or Buddha), but it records God’s acts in history as they progress toward a specific goal. In the case of the Bible, those goals are (1) the promise of a Messiah and (2) the second coming of Jesus. This progression is unique to the Judeo-Christian faith, in contrast to the cyclical view of many other world religions from ancient Egypt to modern Eastern religions.
The testimony of the four Gospels and Paul is that Jesus died, was buried, bodily rose from the dead, and appeared to various human beings. This is corroborated by eyewitnesses who laid Him in the tomb and later saw it empty. Witnesses touched Jesus, and He ate with them. Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of Jesus), and other women saw Him as the resurrected Christ. The disciples spoke with Him on the road to Emmaus. Jesus appeared to them for the Great Commission. Paul writes that if the witness of Scripture is rejected, then our preaching and faith are in “vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Other translations say “null and void” (REB) or “useless” (NIV). The disciples state, “ ‘It is true! The Lord has risen’ ” (Luke 24:34, NIV). The Greek term ontos refers to something that actually took place. It is translated, “really,” “surely,” or “indeed.” The disciples testify that “ ‘the Lord is risen indeed’ ” (NKJV).
Christ also is represented as the “firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:20) of all those who died. The historical fact that Christ bodily rose from the dead and lives today is the guarantee that they, too, will be raised as He was raised. All the righteous “will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22, NRSV). The term here implies a future act of creation, when those “who belong to Christ,” or remain loyal to Him, will be raised “at His coming” (1 Cor. 15:23, NKJV) “at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52, NKJV).
In 621 b.c., when Josiah was about 25 years old, Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered “the book of the law,” which may have been the first five books of Moses or, specifically, the book of Deuteronomy. During the reign of his father Amon, and his most wicked grandfather Manasseh, this scroll had been lost in the midst of the worship of Baal, Asherah, and “all the host of heaven” (2 Kings 21:3–9). As Josiah hears the conditions of the covenant, he tears his clothes in utter distress, for he realizes how far he and his people have come from worshiping the true God. He immediately begins a reformation throughout the land, tearing down the high places and destroying images to foreign gods. When he is finished, there is only one place left to worship in Judah: the temple of God in Jerusalem. The discovery of the Word of God leads to conviction, repentance, and the power to change. This change begins with Josiah and eventually spreads to the rest of Judah.
One of the most powerful testimonies of the power of the Bible is the changed life of a person. It is the Word that cuts through human sin and depravity and reveals our true human nature and our need for a Savior.
Such a unique book as the Bible, constituted in history, imbued with prophecy, and with the power to transform the life, also must be interpreted in a unique way. It cannot be interpreted like any other book, for the living Word of God must be understood in the light of a living Christ who promised to send His Spirit to lead us “into all truth” (John 16:13). The Bible, then, as a revelation of God’s truth, must contain its own internal principles of interpretation. These principles can be found in studying how the writers of Scripture used Scripture and were guided by it as they allowed Scripture to interpret itself.
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The Scriptures a Safeguard,” pp. 593–602, in The Great Controversy; “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” pp. 662–680, in The Desire of Ages.
Many have died for upholding and remaining faithful to the Word of God. One such man was Dr. Rowland Taylor, an English Parish minister, who resisted the imposition of the Catholic mass during the reign of Bloody Mary in his Hadley, England parish. After being cast out of the church and derided for his adherence to Scripture, he appealed in person to the bishop of Winchester, the Lord Chancellor of England, but he had him cast into prison and eventually sent him to the stake. Just before his death in 1555, he spoke these words:
“ ‘Good people! I have taught you nothing but God’s holy Word, and those lessons that I have taken out of God’s blessed book, the holy Bible. I have come here this day to seal it with my blood.’ ”—John Foxe, The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, rewritten and updated by Harold J. Chadwick (North Brunswick, N.J.: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1997), p. 193. Dr. Taylor was heard repeating Psalm 51 just before the fire was lit, and he gave up his life.
The question we need to ask ourselves now is: Would we remain as faithful to upholding the truths in God’s Word? Sooner or later, in the final conflict, that test will come. The time to prepare for it, of course, is now.