How is the Holy Bible different from other religious books? Do Christians need additional writings to augment their spiritual growth?
As a church pastor who regularly volunteers to serve on the staff at a teen summer camp, I often field questions from young people wanting to know more about the Bible. One evening a teen asked, “How do we know the Bible is the right book for us to be reading? What about other religious books, such as the Koran?”
This multipart question was sincere, honest and reflective of someone trying to sort through the feel-good, don’t-take-sides and validate-all-opinions philosophy that permeates much of society today. At the heart of the issue is the concern of whether Christians can trust the book upon which their faith is built. After all, it is this work that reveals who God is and what He is doing. It provides guidance for our lives and hope for the future.
From the outset, we should acknowledge that anyone who doesn’t want to believe in the Bible can find plenty of seemingly good reasons for not doing so. Skeptics of the Bible have a host of arguments that at first glance seem credible. These range from claiming the Bible is full of contradictions to the belief it is unscientific to the perception that the God of the Bible shows favoritism and incites violence against others.
But when you actually study the Bible and dig a little deeper into its pages, you find that it does not contradict itself, that good science and accurate biblical interpretation agree, and that God loves humanity. (For further study, see “God and Science” and “Science and the Bible.”)
For people of any age trying to sort through competing claims, the best question may be: Are there things about the Bible that give us valid reasons for trusting it as the Word of God and the foundation for our lives?
I believe the resounding answer is Yes. I believe there are multiple reasons for us to trust this amazing book.
Let’s consider some of the evidence that shows that the Bible is unique among all religious writings and worthy of our study and respect.
In terms of its organization, length of time in writing, number of human authors, consistency of its message, and the number of copies printed, the Bible has no equal. It is by far the best-selling and most popular book of all time. It is estimated that more than 6 billion copies have been printed in hundreds of languages. The second best-selling book is one containing the sayings of Mao Zedong, and by comparison, there are only approximately 900 million copies of this book in print.
Authorship of the Bible
The reason for the Bible’s consistency is the fact that God Himself is its primary Author.Although about 40 people are credited with writing the Bible’s 66 books over approximately 1,500 years, there is unprecedented consistency in its teachings. The reason for the Bible’s consistency is the fact that God Himself is its primary Author.
Explaining this point to Timothy, Paul wrote: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). This is reflected in the fact that “more than 3,800 times words are introduced by such formulae as ‘The Lord spoke,’ ‘Thus says the Lord’ and ‘The word of the Lord came’” (Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, 1973, p. 33). Although each human author wrote in his own style, all recorded what God revealed to them either directly or via the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:10-12).
In the New Testament Jesus affirmed that God’s “word is truth” and that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 17:17; 10:35). Affirming the same, Paul twice referred to the “Holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:15, emphasis added throughout). This is why modern Bibles, now including the New Testament, are titled the Holy Bible.
Organization of the Bible
As one would expect because of its overall Author, the Bible is well organized (1 Corinthians 14:33). The Old Testament has three sections—the Law, the Prophets and the Writings—and the New Testament has four sections—the Gospels and Acts, the Epistles of Paul, the General Epistles and Revelation.
Comparing the Bible to other religious writings, the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (general editor Frank E. Gaebelein) says that the Koran’s “considerable borrowing from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures is indisputable. The Koran [approximately one-tenth the length of the Bible] is really the product of one man, Muhammad, whose fragmented writings were gathered after his death into a single book exasperatingly lacking in arrangement. …
“The so-called sacred books of other religions, including the Book of Mormon, assume much less the character of a unified book than does the Bible, and their mythological features, questionable historical particulars, and inconsistencies of religious perspective should put us on guard against speaking of ‘the Bibles of mankind’” (vol. 1, article “The Authority and Inspiration of the Bible”).
For additional study on the organization of the Bible, see “Fascinating Bible Facts.”
Preservation of the Bible
One of the most fascinating indications of the Bible’s authenticity is the story of its preservation. Its history begins with Moses’ writing the earliest portion of the Bible. He delivered it to the priests with the command that it be read to all Israel every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:9-11).
Even though the Jews were given the task of preserving “the oracles” of God (Romans 3:2), they didn’t always take this responsibility as seriously as they should have. Amazingly, God didn’t let these inspired writings disappear.
During the reign of King Josiah, who instituted a return to the worship of God, “the Book of the Law [was found] in the house of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:8). From this time forward, it seems that the Jews were more careful about preserving God’s Word.
When Ezra the priest returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity, King Artaxerxes noted that Ezra was being sent “to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, with regard to the Law of your God which is in your hand” (Ezra 7:14). After the Jews began rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, Nehemiah the governor, Ezra, and the Levites taught the people from “the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel” during the annual holy days of the seventh month (Nehemiah 8:1-8).
In the third century B.C. work began on the Septuagint—a translation of the Bible into Greek for Jews living in Alexandria, Egypt. The name Septuagint means 70 and was derived from the number of translators involved in the project. (One legend holds that there were actually 72 translators, six men from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.) Although its original purpose was to aid the Jews in Alexandria, whose use of Hebrew was waning, it also served as additional protection of the Bible from those who might attempt to destroy it.
Subsequently, there appeared a Seleucid ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.), who tried to exterminate the Jewish religion and have the Jews become Greeks. He forbade the Jews’ traditional worship and lifestyle and destroyed all copies of Scripture that he could find.
But such attempts did not succeed. In fact, the Bible has been carefully protected and preserved. The Dead Sea Scrolls, dated from around 200 B.C. to A.D. 68, were discovered in 1947. These discoveries confirm that we have the same Old Testament today as existed back then.
Jesus clearly stated, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35).Space does not permit a detailed overview of the preservation of the New Testament, but one point is especially worthy of consideration. While giving a discourse on end-time events, Jesus clearly stated, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible have been accurately preserved for us today.
For further study, see “Dead Sea Scrolls.”
Need for additional writings?
Some, who realize that no other works come close to the distinctive magnitude of the Bible, have suggested that other writings are simply additions to the Bible that offer greater insight or understanding. Interestingly, the Bible addresses this supposition.
Paul wrote Timothy that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God … that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In other words, all the instruction we need for how to live is found in the Bible. The Bible is not incomplete. For further study on what “Scripture” included, see the sidebar “Did the Apostles Consider Their Writings Part of the Bible?” below.
Concluding the book of Revelation, John wrote: “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
While this instruction not to add anything clearly applied to the book of Revelation, it may also be a concluding reminder. The command not to add to God’s words is not exclusive to Revelation—it can also be found in Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; and Proverbs 30:5-6.
Revelation describes the fulfillment of the end-time prophecies previously given throughout the Bible, serving as a fitting conclusion for the book God has preserved for us today.
There is no book like the Bible, for it is indeed the Word of God!
For further study on the veracity of the Bible, see the booklet Is the Bible True?
Sidebar: Did the Apostles Consider Their Writings Part of the Bible?
When we read that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16), the question arises, what did Paul mean by Scripture? While the Old Testament was clearly considered Scripture (the Old Testament is often quoted by Christ and the writers of the New Testament), did Paul and the apostles believe that their writings were also divinely inspired and that they were thus to be included as part of the Bible?
Paul and John specifically stated that their teaching was divinely inspired by God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 John 4:6). This meant that their writings, which documented their teaching, were also from God.
Peter, who wrote 2 Peter around the same time as Paul wrote 2 Timothy, referred to Paul’s writings as part of the “Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Peter also reminded his readers to “be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:2).
Paul also makes a direct statement about the New Testament being Scripture. In writing to Timothy, Paul says, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18).
The latter quote “does not occur in so many words in the Old Testament, and yet the apostle adduces it evidently as a quotation from the Scriptures. … It would seem probable, therefore, that he had seen the Gospel by Matthew or by Luke, and that he quoted this as a part of Scripture, and regarded the Book from which he made the quotation as of the same authority as the Old Testament” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible).
These passages indicate that the apostles considered their writings to be Scripture.