26 February 2013

The Uniqueness of the Bible


The Bible is Indeed the "Book of Books"

The Bible is unique, possessing
characteristics and attributes that cannot be
found in any other books.

THE BIBLE IS the “book of books.” Even though there are many “sacred books” used by different religions, the Bible is above all these “sacred books.” The Bible is unique, possessing characteristics and attributes that cannot be found in any books of different religions. What is the uniqueness of the Bible that makes it different from other religious books?

The Bible is Unique in Writing

The 66 books of the Bible were written at different times and under various circumstances. The Bible is unique in writing because it is the only book that was:

1. Written in the span of 1500 years:

·        The Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, was written c.1447-1407 BC, and the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, was written approximately c.90-100 AD. Thus, the Bible was written in a span from 1447 BC to 100 AD.

2. Written in three languages:

·        Hebrew. Most of the Old Testament books were written in Hebrew.
·        Aramaic. Small fractions of the Old Testament (like fractions of Daniel and Ezra) were written in Aramaic.
·        Greek. The whole New Testament was generally written in Koine Greek, or common Greek.

3. Written by more than forty authors from different walks of life, including:

·        A “son of the daughter of Pharaoh,” and a political leader, judge, and trained in the civilization of Egypt (Moses);
·        A military leader (Joshua);
·        A king, poet, musician, shepherd and warrior (David);
·        A herdsman (Amos);
·        A prime minister (Daniel);
·        A king and philosopher (Solomon);
·        A priest and scribe (Ezra).
·        A cupbearer to a pagan king (Nehemiah);
·        A physician and historian (Luke);
·        A fisherman (Peter);
·        A Pharisee (Paul);

4.     Written in different times:

·        In the time of the Exodus (the writngs of Moses)
·        In times of war and conquest (the writings of Joshua)
·        During the establishment and expansion of the kingdom (the writings of David)
·        In times of peace and prosperity (the writings od Solomon)
·        During the Babylonian captivity (the writings of Daniel)
·        During the Roman period (the New Testament books)

5.     Written in different places:

·        In the wilderness (the Torah);
·        In a dungeon (Jeremiah);
·        On a hillside and in a palace (Daniel);
·        Inside prison walls (Epistles of Paul);
·        While traveling (Acts);
·        While in exile on the island of Patmos (Revelation).

6.     Written in a wide variety of literary style:

·        Historical narrative;
·        Biography;
·        Autobiography;
·        Poetry;
·        Song;
·        Didactic treatise;
·        Memoirs;
·        Personal correspondence;
·        Satire;
·        Law;
·        Prophecy;
·        Parable; and
·        Allegory.

No other book religious or secular was written in the span of 1,500 years, by forty men from every walks of life, in different places and times, and in a wide variety of literary style. These make the Bible unique from any other book.

The Bible is Unique in Transmission

The Bible is unique even in terms of its transmission. How unique is the Bible in terms of transmission? Since time immemorial, the Bible was copied, first by priests or temple scribes, then by professional scribes – the Sopherim, the Talmudists, and the Masoretes. The Bible is the only book having tens of thousands of manuscripts or copies by hand.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament has about 12,000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments, including the Geniza manuscripts and the Dead Sea Scroll:

“Even though the Old Testament does not boast of the same quantity of manuscripts (MSS) as the New Testament, the number of manuscripts available today is quite remarkable. Several reasons have been suggested for  the scarcity of early Hebrew manuscripts. The first and most obvious reason is a combination of antiquity and destructibility; two – to three thousand years is a long time to expect ancient documents to last. Nonetheless, several lines of evidence support the conclusion that their quality is very good. First, it is important to establish the quantity of manuscripts available. There are several important collections of Hebrew manuscripts today. The first collection of Hebrew manuscripts, made by Benjamin Kennicott (1776-1780) and published by Oxford, listed 615 manuscripts of the Old Testament. Later, Giovanni de Rossi (1784-1788) published a list of 731 manuscripts. The most important manuscript discoveries in modern times are those of the Cairo Geniza (1890s) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947 and following years). In the Cairo synagogue attic, a geniza, or storehouse, for old manuscripts was discovered. Two hundred thousand manuscripts and fragments (Kahle, CG, 13 and Wurthwein, TOT, 25), some ten thousand of which are biblical (Goshen-Gottstein, BMUS, 35), were found.”1

The New Testament

The New Testament has about 25,000 manuscripts:
“There are now more than 5,686 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other versions (MSS), and we have close to, if not more than, 25,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today. No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestations. In comparison, Homer’s Iliad is second, with only 643 manuscripts that still survive.”2

As compared to other Greek documents of antiquity, the New Testament has about 5,686 Greek manuscripts, while second to it is Homer’s Iliad, with only 643 manuscripts.

The earliest preserved text of the New Testament (almost the whole New Testament) dated c.250 AD, only 150 years away from the New Testament (written c. 50-100 AD). The earliest fragments of the New Testament (the Gospel according to John) dated 120 AD, only 20 years away from the writing of the said book (John was written about 90-100 AD), while the earliest copies of Homer’s Iliad are dated 400 BC, a 400 year gap from the writing of Iliad (800 BC).

Thus, no other document of antiquity can equal the existing quantity of the manuscripts (MSS) of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments). This also makes the Bible unique from not only any religious books, but even from any documents of antiquity.

The Bible is Unique in Translation

The Old Testament was first translated into the Greek language around 250 BC, and was given the name Septuagint. Throughout history, since the time when the Bible was translated into Greek, it was translated to different languages. How unique is the Bible regarding its translation into different languages? The Bible is the only book that has been translated into more than 2,200 languages. No other book can equal the Bible in terms of the number of languages in which it was translated. However, does the uniqueness of the Bible stops here?

“Since then translator have actively rendered the Scriptures – both Old Testament and New – into languages that either have or are without a written alphabet. Wycliffe Bible Translators alone has over six thousand people working with more than 850 different languages in fifty countries to produce new or revised versions of the Bible. (Barnes, OCB, 823) Of these, 468 languages are being translated for the first time. According to Ted Bergman at the Summer Institute of Linguistics, at this rate the Bible should be available to almost all language groups between the years 2007 and 2022. This means that we are less than a generation away from witnessing the world’s first universally translated text!”3

The Bible would be available to almost all language groups by about 2022, thus “we are less than a generation away from witnessing the world’s first universally translated text.” No other book can come close to the Bible in its translation activity.

The Bible is Unique in Circulation

The Bible is the best seller of all time. It is rare to come across books that circulated a million copies, and much rare to find books that circulated ten million copies. However, the Bible, from the time when printing was invented, had circulated billions of copies.

“It staggers the mind, then, to discover that the number of Bibles sold reaches into billions. That’s right billions! More copies have been produced of its entirety as well as selected portions than any other book in history. Some will argue that in a designated month or year more of a certain book was sold. However, no other book even begins to compare to the Scriptures in terms of its total circulation.
“According to the United Bible Societies’ 1998 Scripture Distribution Report, in that year alone member organizations were responsible for distributing 20.8 million complete Bibles and another 20.1 million testaments. When portions of Scripture (i.e., complete books of the Bible) and selections (short extracts on particular themes) are also included, the total distribution of copies of the Bible or portions thereof in 1998 reaches a staggering 585 million – and these numbers only include Bibles distributed by the United Bible Societies!”4

No one doubts or contends this fact. No other book in history comes close to the Bible in terms of circulation. No other book in history can come close to the Bible in the number of copies printed and circulated – already about billions of copies.

The Bible is Unique in 
Continuity and Unity

The books of the Bible were not written by a single man, neither by forty men contemporaries of each other, but by forty men separated from each other by hundreds of years and hundred of miles, and belonging to various walks of life.

“The writers themselves were a heterogeneous number of people, not only separated from each other by hundreds of years and hundred of miles, but belonging to the most diverse walks of life.“5

In spite of the writers’ diversity (separated by hundreds of years, hundred of miles, and from different walks of life and backgrounds, the Bible presents a single unfolding story: “God’s standing policy of election.” The story within the Bible is continuous:

“The ‘Paradise Lost’ of Genesis becomes the ‘Paradise Regained’ of Revelation. Whereas the gate to the tree of life is closed in Genesis, it is opened forevermore in Revelation.”6

The Bible although consisting of 66 books written by forty men, in the span of 1,500 years, and in different settings and places, still shows in its continuity that it is also one book.

“Any part of the human body can only be properly explained in reference to the whole body. And any part of the Bible can only be properly explained in reference to the whole Bible. We have mentioned genealogies of the Bible in the previous chapter. The first nine chapters of I Chronicles, for example, are full of genealogies and similar lists. Take these chapters by themselves, out of their context in the continuous history of salvation, and what have we? Little more than genealogies and similar lists – the sort of thing that can be paralleled from any secular record-office. We shall not understand why these chapters are in the Bible if we look at them in isolation. But as part of the whole Bible they have a definite and valuable function. They may not make us wise unto salvation in the way that Isaiah 53 can; but it would be a strange body all of whose members discharged the same functions. The genealogies if I Chronicles, as has already been indicated, are part of the story which leads up to Christ, part of the context in which the divine revelation is given; Christ is their goal as he is the goal of all Old Testament. “7

The Bible consists of 66 books. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, was written c.1447-1407 BC, and the last book, Revelation, was written c.90-100 AD. However, reading the sacred book, we can clearly see that each book is like a chapter in the one book we call the Bible.

 “For all that, the Bible is not simply an anthology; there is a unity which binds the whole together. An anthology is compiled by an anthologist, but no anthologist compiled the Bible.”8

There is unity that binds together all the books of the Bible. What proves the unity of all the books of the Bible? The Law is the foundation for Christ; the Historical books are preparation for Christ; the Poetical books manifest the aspiration for Christ; the Prophetical books manifest the expectation for Christ; the Gospels are the manifestation of Christ; Acts the preaching of Christ; the Epistles are the explanation and application of Christ; and Revelation is the consummation of Christ.

The Bible as Compared with 
The Works of Men

Comparing the Bible with works of men, an author, Josh McDowell attests:

“Contrast the books of the Bible with the compilation of Western classics called the Great Books of the Western World. The Great Books contain selections from more than 450 works by those to 100 authors spanning a period of about twenty-five centuries: Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, Hobbes, Spinoza, Calvin, Rousseau, Shakespeare, Hume, Kant, Darwin, Tolstoy, Whitehead, and Joyce, to name but a handful. While these individuals are all part of the Western tradition of ideas, they often display an incredible diversity of views on just about every subject. And while their views share some commonalities, they also display numerous conflicting and contradictory positions and perspectives. In fact, they frequently go out of their way to critique and refute key ideas proposed by their predecessors.
“A representative of the Great Books of the Western World came to my house one day, attempting to recruit salesmen for the series…I challenged this representative to take just ten of the authors from the Great Books series, all from one walk of life, one generation, one place, one mood, one continent, one language, and all addressing one controversial subject. I then asked him, ‘Would the authors agree with one another?’
“He paused and then replied, ‘No.’
“’What would you have, then?’ I retorted, immediately he  answered, ‘A conglomeration.’”9

Thus, no other book can equal the continuity and unity of the Bible. The Bible is indeed unique and it is the “book of books.”

Other Proofs of Uniqueness

Aside from its uniqueness in writing, transmission, translation and circulation, the Bible is further unique in still many ways:

Unique in Doctrine

The doctrines of the Bible are not influenced by the superstitions of the pagans that dominated every culture and city during the time of its writing. Its doctrines are unique.

Unique in Accuracy

Accuracy of the Bible cannot be taken for granted. Before the discoveries in archeology and science, the Bible was criticized as historical and even scientifically inaccurate. However, in view of modern discoveries, the Bible is no longer view of as inaccurate, but many are convinced of the accuracy of the Bible in terms of geography, topography, history and even in science.

Unique in its influence on Literature

“The Bible has permeated the literature of the Western world to a degree that cannot easily be measured. More than any other single body of writing, ancient or modern, it has provided writers from the Middle Ages on with a store of symbols, ideas, and ways of perceiving reality. This influence can be traced not only in texts that deal directly with biblical characters or topics, but also in a vast number of poems, plays, and other writings that are not overtly biblical in theme but that testify to a biblical view of humankind and the world.”10

Unique in its influence on civilization

“The Bible is one of the most important documents in the history of civilization, not only because of its status as holy inspired Scripture, but also because of its pervasive influence on Western thought. As the predominant world view for at least fourteen centuries, Christianity and its great central text played a major role in the formation of Western culture.”11

Unique in Its Survival through Criticism

From the beginning, the Bible had always gone through severe criticism, but as time passed and discoveries were made, the Bible still stands as the “Sacred Scripture,” while criticisms come and go.

Unique in form

The Bible tells the truth, focusing on reality, not fantasy or myth. Unlike ancient documents or records, “The Bible deals very frankly with the sins of its characters, even when those sins reflect badly on God’s chosen people, leaders, and the biblical writers themselves.”12)

The Bible is Inspired by God

But, above all these, what makes the Bible unique from any other religious books? The Bible is inspired by God:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Tim. 3:16-17, NKJV)

This is what makes the Bible far beyond and above all other books written by men.

Truly, the Bible is the “book of books.”

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Copyright Statement:
Copyright © 2014 by THE IGLESIA NI CRISTO

No part of this publication may be produced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission from the publisher.


SOURCE: Lopez, E. M. The Bible: Our Sacred Scripture, A General Introduction To The Bible. Quezon City, Philippines: 2010.

End Notes:

1       McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999. p. 72
2       Ibid., p. 38
3       Ibid., p. 9
4       Ibid., p. 8
5       Bruce, F.F. The Books and the Parchment. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1984. p. 79
6       Geisler, Norman, and Nix, William E. A General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1986. p. 28.
7       Bruce, p. 80)
8       Ibid., p. 79)
9       McDowell, p. 7)
10    Fisch, Harold. “The Bible and Western Literature,” The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Ed. By Paul J. Actemeier, San Francisco: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1996. p. 136
11    Gallanger, Susan V., and Roger Lundin. Literature Through the Eyes of Faith. San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1989. p. 120
12    McDowell, p. 13

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