Content

Unique & Diverse, Yet Unified

The Bible is a collection of 66 books/letters written over many centuries, by numerous authors, in varied geographic settings, and under a range of circumstances.  It was written by men under the inspiration of God.  God revealed his teachings and will to them in various ways including speaking to them directly, in dreams, in visions, and via miracles.1 While these men were required to carefully record God’s messages without adding to or taking away from them,2 they also wrote in a way that reflected their individual personalities, cultural & historical settings, emotions, and literary styles.  In this sense it is, in fact, a very human book.

The Bible is a truly unique and diverse book, unlike any other.  Try to name one other book that was:

  • Written over the course of 1,500 years.
  • Written by 40 authors from wide-ranging walks of life.  For example, Moses was a prince of Egypt, then an outcast shepherd, and finally the leader of Israel; Solomon and David were kings; Isaiah was a prophet; Daniel was an senior advisor to the ruler of Babylon; Amos was a shepherd and farmer; Matthew was a tax collector; Peter was a fisherman; Luke was a doctor; Paul was a rabbi; etc.
  • Written on three continents in various settings (e.g., prison, in the wilderness, in palaces, during military campaigns, etc.).
  • Written in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek).
  • Written in various tones (e.g., despair, joy, admonition, instruction, etc.).

The Bible also addresses hundreds of controversial subjects (e.g., adultery, how you should view/handle money, etc.) which elicit a broad range of reactions from people.  Yet despite the fact that such a diverse/distributed group of writers handles these subjects, its core message and teachings are unified and consistent throughout.  (Of course, you have to actually read it to know this.)

It’s also worth noting that the Bible, to quote Russell Ash, is “by far the bestselling book of all time.”3  In his book The Top Ten of Everything he notes, “The Bible Society’s attempt to calculate the number [of Bibles] printed between 1816 and 1975 produced the figure of 2.458 billion.  A more recent survey for the years up to 1992 put it closer to 6 billion in more than 2,000 languages and dialects.”4  The Gideons International organization alone gave away 88 million Bibles in 2014, and has given away 2 billion Bibles and New Testaments since 1908.5  One could say the Bible is unique in its circulation as well.

Common Themes & Consistency

As mentioned above, the Bible’s core message and teachings are unified and consistent throughout.  While there are certainly apparent discrepancies between some verses and accounts in its many pages, the fundamental story/message of the unfolding drama of redemption revealed in its pages is uniform throughout.  From Genesis through Revelation, the Bible describes God’s desire to have a relationship with man; how we have rejected him; how he has offered reconciliation; and how if we choose to love him (rather than being forced to do so) we will be welcomed into his arms and given a wonderful, eternal future.  Creation, fall, redemption and restoration.  Sound familiar?  It should, because it’s a common theme in much of man’s writings, movies, TV shows, etc.   Boy meets girl, they fight, he comes after her, they live happily ever after.  We all want things to turn out like this.  This is inherent in us because it mirrors the relationship between God and man.  Once again, this cohesive story is told by numerous authors, from different walks of life – many who lived in different ages and in different parts of the world.

Wisdom

While there are a number of books that contain a good deal of wisdom, I have yet to see anything that rivals that which is contained in the Bible.  Furthermore, counter to the argument I often hear, its wisdom is just as relevant today – in some cases more so – as when written.  There are countless examples of this.  The book of Proverbs alone is rife with them.  What’s amazing is how often the Bible’s wisdom is repackaged by people who sell it as something new and revolutionary.  One example (that I don’t mean to pick on because I think so highly of it) is the popular book How To Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.  I read this book years ago and quickly realized that most of what he writes can be found in the scriptures.  Let’s look at four basic principles from the book.

Handling people, Principle 1: Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.  Sounds like:

  • Psalms 34:14 – Work hard at living in peace with others.
  • Luke 6:37 – Stop judging others, and you will not be judged.  Stop criticizing others, or it will all come back on you.  If you forgive others, you will be forgiven.
  • Philippians 2:14 – In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing.
  • Philippians 4:11 – …be content whatever the circumstances…

Handling people, Principle 2: Give honest and sincere appreciation.  Sounds like:

  • Proverbs 11:25 – …he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.
  • Proverbs 12:25 – …a kind word cheers [a man] up.
  • Proverbs 16:24 – Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
  • Ephesians 4:26 – Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

Ways to make people like you, Principal 1: Become genuinely interested in other people.  Sounds like:

  • Romans 12:9-10 – Don’t just pretend that you love others.  Really love them…  Love each other with genuine affection.
  • Philippians 2:4 – Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing.

Ways to make people like you, Principal 4: Be a good listener.  Sounds like:

  • James 1:19,26 – …be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

I could go on, but you get the point.  The Bible is a treasure trove of wisdom waiting to be uncovered.

Influence

According to Philip Yancey,6 the historian H.G. Wells (a non-Christian) once said “The historian’s test of an individual’s greatness is ‘What did he leave to grow?’  Did he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him?  By this test Jesus stands first.”  Of course, almost all of the information we have about Jesus comes from the Bible, so its influence is profound.  Consider the words of historian Philip Schaff as quoted by Josh McDowell:

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 in 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 of ancient and modern times.”7

Typology

Typology (in the theological sense) is the interpretation of characters and stories in the Old Testament as allegories or foreshadowings of New Testament events.  The New Testament is seen in the Old.  An examination of the scriptures reveals numerous examples like: The selection of a lamb without blemish for sacrifice at Passover, a foreshadowing of Christ’s perfect sacrifice; Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the whale, which foreshadowed Christ spending three days and nights in the grave; the innermost room of the tabernacle representing heaven, whose curtain was torn apart when Jesus died symbolizing our direct access to God; a seed needing to die before being reborn as a new plant, and all of us needing to die to sin in order to be born again in Christ; and Joseph sold into slavery for the going rate in silver, and Jesus later betrayed for a similar amount of silver.

Old Testament books were written many centuries before the events recorded in New Testament times.  I’ve heard it said that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.  A close examination of the scriptures reveals how true this is.

Survival

The Bible is unique in its survival over the centuries.  Consider the following text from the book I’m Glad You Asked:

The scriptures have survived through time, persecution and criticism.  There have been numerous attempts to burn, ban, and systematically eliminate the Bible, but all have failed.  The Bible has been subjected to more abuse, perversion, destructive criticism, and pure hate than any other book.  Yet it continues to stand the test of time while its critics are refuted or forgotten.”8

One example is the Roman emperor Diocletian’s 303 A.D. edict that Christians cease in their worship and that their scriptures be destroyed.  Merely ten years later, Constantine (the subsequent emperor) issued the edict of Milan bestowing, for the first time, “imperial favor on Christianity in the empire.”9

The greatest example is Christianity’s survival through the 300 year period following Jesus Christ’s death.  During this time, Christians endured periods of intense persecution for no worldly reward, but rather because of their faith in an eternal future.

Summary

From a content perspective alone, it’s clear that the Bible is a book without peer.

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  1. For some examples, see Exodus 3; Genesis 37:1-11; and Daniel 7.
  2. For some examples, see Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18-19.
  3. Russell Ash, The Top 10 of Everything, 1997 , DK Publishing, 1996, pages 112-113.  (Cited at http://www.ipl.org/div/farq/bestsellerFARQ.html)
  4. Ibid.
  5. http://www.gideons.org/AboutUs/WorldwideImpact.aspx
  6. Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, page 17.
  7. Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Volume 1.  San Bernardino, CA: Here’s life Publishers, Inc., 1979, Pages 19-22.
  8. Boa & Larry Moody, I’m Glad You Asked.  Colorado Springs, Co.: Victor Books/SP Publications, Inc., 1994, page 100.
  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_I