The Bible is the most popular, and controversial, book in human history. There are those who love and live by it, those who revile and attack it, and those who ignore it. Great leaders in the past have honored it:
“The New Testament is the very best book that ever was or ever will be written in the world.” Charles Dickens
“The Bible is no mere book, but a Living Creature, with a power that conquers all that oppose it.” Napoleon Bonaparte
“The secret of my success? It is simple. It is found in the Bible, ‘In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.’” George Washington Carver
“That Book accounts for the supremacy of England.” Queen Victoria
“In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given to man. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book. But for this Book we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable to man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.” Abraham Lincoln
Well known skeptics today have disparaged it. Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, said “Whether Bible stories are the ‘gospel truth’ is a matter of faith, not literal history (1),” Richard Dawkins is a professor of zoology at Oxford University who describes himself as “a fairly militant atheist, with a fair degree of active hostility toward religion” (Bass, p. 86). According to him “religion is very largely an enemy of truth (2).” At a meeting of Parliament on the topic of “God’s Law or Chaos”, one journalist responded “If the choice is between God’s Law and Chaos, I’d rather have chaos! (3)” A frequent rejoinder against the authority of the Bible is “Who are you to say that Islam (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) is not just ‘another path to God’? Are you able to judge these people’s hearts? And please don’t simply say ‘Because it says so in the Bible’. It is time to stop hiding behind a book and to start living among your Fellow Man. As difficult as this may be to accept, you are not God…(4)”
Reading the Bible
While there are many who love and live the Bible and many who revile and reject it, most people in the world, even some who call themselves Christians, ignore it. They do so at their peril, because the Bible is the revealed Word of God, the instructions from the Creator of the Universe about the state of His universe, the future of His universe, and how to live in His universe. The Bible also reveals the titanic spiritual struggle which we fight. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places… Take the helmet of salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”
Bible reading during a typical week drops as age drops: 53% of Elders (Builders and Seniors); 47% of Boomers; and 39% of Busters and 33% of Mosaics read the Bible in a typical week (2005). Biblical ignorance is widespread. Three-quarters of Americans (75%) believe that the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves (2000) (5). It was not always so. Of 15,000 documents reviewed, 94% of the quotations of America’s Founding Fathers come from the Bible.
Many who ignore the Bible do so because they expect to find nothing of value in it. Christians who ignore the Bible often do so because they fail to understand that they are at war and the Bible is their only weapon. It is easy to read books about the Bible written by faithful Christian leaders, hoping to gain useful tips for living. Though this is helpful, it does not produce the deep spiritual insights and facility with God’s Word that is necessary to handle life’s biggest challenges and defeat the forces of evil in the world. Charles Swindoll noted “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture…No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified (6).” Billy Graham opined “I am convinced that one of the greatest things we can do is to memorize Scripture (7).”
The Historicity of the Bible
Christians believe that the Bible is the word of God to man. When challenged about why, however, they reply “Because the Bible says so.” As convincing as that may be to someone who already accepts it, skeptics chaff at this clear case of circular reasoning. To begin believing the Bible, however, it is not necessary to believe that it is the word of God to man. It is only necessary to believe that the Bible is a valid historical document. On this argument the evidence in favor of the Bible is compelling for any honest reader.
The Bible is the history of groups of real people living in real places at real times (the Jews, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Christians, etc.). It is the best supported book in antiquity by literary and archaeological standards. In fact, there is more archaeological and documentary evidence for Jehu and Hezekiah than there is for many widely accepted characters in antiquity.
Considering manuscripts (MS) available, the text of the Bible is more certain than the text of Shakespeare. Though no original manuscripts or fragments exist, as far as we know, those we have are old and reliable. The most famous MS we use are Sinaiticus (early 4th Century), Vaticanus (later 4th Century), and Alexandrian (5th Century). There are 24970 known MS of all or part of the New Testament (NT), dated from the 2nd to 15th Centuries. Thus the oldest NT MS date from less than 100 years after the books were written, and the books were written less than 50 years after the events they describe. No other text in history has such a record.
Compare this, for example, with Homer’s Iliad. Though Homer lived and wrote his famous work around 850 BC, the earliest of the 643 MS available is from the 13th Century AD. Julius Caesar fought his campaign in Gaul from 58 to 51 BC and ten MS of his work Gallic Wars exists today; of which the earliest is from the 9th Century AD. The Roman historian Livy wrote his History of Rome between 64 BC and 197 AD, and of the 20 MS that currently exist, the oldest dates from the 4th Century AD.
Nelson Glueck, a Jewish archaeologist, once stated that “It may be stated categorically that no archeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” Skeptics used to use the Gospels of Luke and John, the Pool of Bethesda, the “Pavement” where Christ was tried, a crucifixion victim, Pontus Pilate, and NT coins to argue against the veracity of the NT. All of these have been supported by archeology. Thousands of examples exist for the OT as well, such as the walls of Ancient Jericho.
The Uniqueness of the Bible
The Bible is not only a valid historical document; it is also unique, standing alone among all of the books in the world. It is a collection of 66 books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament) written over 1,500 years, 40 generations and 3 continents (Asia, Africa and Europe). The Bible was written by over 40 authors from many different occupations and races, and was written in three languages; Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. It has many styles, including poetry, history, song, romance, didactic treatise, personal letter, memoirs, satire, biography, law, prophecy, autobiography, allegory, and parable
The Bible is also unique in its penetrance and endurance. Over 432 million Bibles and portions were printed in 2003 by the United Bible Societies. It has been translated into at least 2400 languages. The Bible is the number one bestseller of all books in history. It is unique in its survival despite the passage of time, the criticism of its skeptics, and the persecution of believers. The Bible has survived more attempts to destroy it than any book in history. Roman Emperors (Diocletian, Nero), European Skeptics (Voltaire), Fascist States (Germany), and Communist States (Soviet Union, China) have tried to eliminate the Bible, and failed.
The Bible is unique in its teachings. No other book that claims divine inspiration has predictive prophecy like the Bible. Unlike most heroic stories, the Bible is honest about its characters, including their sins. Its influence on literature and on civilization is unsurpassed.
How we got the Bible
The word “Canon” is Latin and is derived from the Greek for cane or standard of measure. In this context, “canon” refers to which books are considered Holy Scripture and which are not. For the Old Testament – Early Christians simply adopted the canon used by the Jews of the day. This included three sections – the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Writings). The books included, the 39 found in the modern Old Testament, were recognized by Jewish scholars between 400 and 150 BC. They were recognized by Jesus in the Gospels – “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (Luke 11:51). They were also recognized by extra-biblical writers such as Josephus.
The New Testament (NT) writers intended their works to be read in churches and shared between churches, but persecution, early technology and distance prevented the rapid dissemination of books. As a result, different churches probably had slightly different “Scriptures” in the early days of Christianity, and spurious and heretical books soon arose. Church leaders recognized the need to recognize the standard “Canon” of Scriptures. Many such leaders met in the Council of Corinth (397 AD) and recognized (ratified) the same books as are in the modern NT. They used the following criteria to accept a book as Holy Scripture:
1. Was the book written by a prophet of God? Preference was given to apostles (Matthew, John, Paul), and those writing with apostolic direction (Mark, Luke)
2. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?
3. Did the message tell the truth about God? Is the book consistent with other Scriptures?
4. Does it come with the power of God?
5. Was it accepted by the people of God?
Early Church fathers quoted often from apostolic writings, and many used the same canon as Protestants use today. Eusebius (264-340) was commissioned by Constantine to prepare 50 Bibles for the church and he used the same books as in our NT
What Does the Bible Say About the Bible?
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16, 17
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” Psalms 139:105
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” Joshua 1:9
“But know first of all that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” 2 Peter 1:20-21
In summary, then, the Bible is a book that must be addressed; it cannot be ignored. People should read the Bible because it contains the word of God the Creator to all of mankind. But even if they do not, the Bible’s influence is pervasive and irresistible in the world It is a reliable historical document, a source of genuine knowledge about ancient Near Eastern civilizations, and it is unique among all books in history. Unlike most other books, the Bible addresses all of the most critical issues in this, and every, age. The Bible is the indispensable foundation of the Christian life. Those who reject or ignore it are not harming the Bible, but only destroying themselves.
1. Tenney, et al. Ed. “Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible”, Zondervan, 1976
2. McDowell, J. “Evidence That Demands a Verdict”, Here’s Life Publishers, 1979
3. Theissen, H. “Lectures in Systematic Theology”, Eerdmans, 1979
4. Halley’s Bible Handbook 1965
1. Simon, Howard. http://www.aclu.org/ReligiousLiberty/ReligiousLiberty.cfm?ID=9406&c=29
2. Dawkins, Richard. http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/288
4. Biola Connections, Spring 05, p 6
6. Swindoll, Charles. Seasons of Life” p 53.
7. Graham, Billy. Personal Thoughts of a Public Man p. 88