Lesson 1: The Bible’s UniquenessRelated Media
The law of the LORD is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the LORD are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced. The LORD’s precepts are fair and make one joyful. The LORD’s commands are pure and give insight for life.
Psalm 19:7-8 (NET)
Hypothetically, what would you think if you heard God was publishing a book? What characteristics would you suspect to be true about it? You might think:
- It would be the most purchased book ever.
- It would be the most translated book ever.
- It would be the best historically preserved book of all time.
- It would be completely accurate and without error.
- It would be the self-revelation of God—disclosing knowledge about him.
- It would be the most impactful book ever—affecting not just a nation, but the entire globe.
- You might even think it would be dangerous for people to not read it.
All these things are true about the Bible. There is no other book like it, including other religious texts. In this study, we will consider the uniqueness of the Bible, especially in comparison to other books.
The Bible has two authors: the first is God and the second is humans. In fact, God himself began writing the Bible. God wrote the Ten Commandments with his own hand. Exodus 31:18 says, “He gave Moses two tablets of testimony when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, tablets of stone written by the finger of God.”
Not only did he write the Ten Commandments, but the Bible teaches that every word of Scripture is “inspired by God,” even though human authors were used to record his words. Second Timothy 3:16 says: “Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” “Inspired by God” can also be translated “God-breathed.”
How is it possible that Scripture has two authors—both God and humans? Second Peter 1:20-21 gives us a hint. It says:
Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
What does it mean to be “carried along by the Holy Spirit”? In Acts 27:15, its writer, Luke, uses the same phrase to describe a ship being carried by a storm. He said: “When the ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.” In the same way the sailors gave way to the power of the storm and were “driven” by it, so the authors of the Bible were “carried” by the Holy Spirit in the writing of Scripture. The Holy Spirit drove them along both in the writing of the content and in keeping them from error. The writers were present, they were thinking and writing, but they were being moved by the Spirit.
Consider some specific instances where we see the Bible being written by men. Deuteronomy 31:24–27 says,
When Moses finished writing on a scroll the words of this law in their entirety, he commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the Lord’s covenant, “Take this scroll of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. It will remain there as a witness against you, for I know about your rebellion and stubbornness. Indeed, even while I have been living among you to this very day, you have rebelled against the Lord; you will be even more rebellious after my death!”
Moses wrote God’s words down in a scroll; then it was placed beside the ark of the covenant. After Moses wrote the Book of the Law, Joshua continued the writing, sharing the events of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Joshua 24:26 says, “Joshua wrote these words in the Law Scroll of God. He then took a large stone and set it up there under the oak tree near the Lord’s shrine.”
Similarly, the prophet Jeremiah received a call from God to write. Jeremiah 30:2 says, “The Lord God of Israel says, ‘Write everything that I am about to tell you in a scroll.” Throughout the Old Testament, God commissioned people to write Scripture so it would be preserved for future generations.
Likewise, the New Testament was written by people who were guided by the Holy Spirit. In John 14:26, Jesus said to his disciples, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.” Later, in John 16:12-13, Christ said:
I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come.
God sent the Holy Spirit to inspire the disciples and bring to their remembrance all of Christ’s words. The Holy Spirit would not only bring things to their remembrance, but also would give the disciples further revelation. In the following texts, Paul talks about his receiving further revelation:
When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ. Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ.
This is how the New Testament and the Old Testament were written: the Holy Spirit moved upon specific individuals to write the actual words of God, so God could reveal himself to people.
In what ways did the Holy Spirit inspire these men to write Scripture? The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture through different methods. Hebrews 1:1 says, “After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets.” These various ways include:
1. Some parts of Scripture were written by dictation: the author wrote down exactly what God said. This is especially true in the Old Testament, as indicated by the prophets’ phrase, “Thus says the Lord!” When this happened, the audience knew the prophet was speaking verbatim from God.
2. Some parts of Scripture were written by the Holy Spirit inspiring the author’s words, yet embodying the author’s personality, education, writing style, and experiences. Most Scripture is written in this manner.
3. Some parts of Scripture were written using a historical method, including personal testimony and documented stories of eyewitnesses. For example, consider the introductions to 1 John and Luke:
This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life—
1 John 1:1
Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. So it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.
John shared what he had personally seen and experienced, while Luke investigated and shared eyewitness accounts.
4. Some parts of Scripture were written using other unique methods, such as dreams, visions, theophanies. Wayne Grudem’s insights on this method are helpful:
In between these two extremes of dictation pure and simple on the one hand, and ordinary historical research on the other hand, we have many indications of various ways by which God communicated with the human authors of Scripture. In some cases Scripture gives us hints of these various processes: it speaks of dreams, of visions, of hearing the Lord’s voice or standing in the council of the Lord; it also speaks of men who were with Jesus and observed his life and listened to his teaching, men whose memory of these words and deeds was made completely accurate by the working of the Holy Spirit as he brought things to their remembrance (John 14:26). Yet in many other cases the manner used by God to bring about the result that the words of Scripture were his words is simply not disclosed to us. Apparently, many different methods were used, but it is not important that we discover precisely what these were in each case.
In cases where the ordinary human personality and writing style of the author were prominently involved, as seems the case with the major part of Scripture, all that we are able to say is that God’s providential oversight and direction of the life of each author was such that their personalities, their backgrounds and training, their abilities to evaluate events in the world around them, their access to historical data, their judgment with regard to the accuracy of information, and their individual circumstances when they wrote, were all exactly what God wanted them to be, so that when they actually came to the point of putting pen to paper, the words were fully their own words but also fully the words that God wanted them to write, words that God would also claim as his own.1
One might think that the primary authors were ancient scholars and theologians; however, those are not the people God typically used. He often chose regular lay people, many lacking formal religious education. In Acts 4:13, Luke shared how the Pharisees were “amazed” at the courage of the apostles, as they could discern that “they [the apostles] were uneducated, ordinary men.” Scripture was written by farmers, fishermen, shepherds, tax collectors, and criminals. With that said, God also chose to use kings, government officials, and rabbis to author his Word. God used around forty authors from various backgrounds to write Scripture.
Why did God often use common, lay people to write Scripture? First Corinthians 1:27-29 may provide some insight into this. It says:
But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence.
It seems that God chose regular people to write the Bible to guard against the temptation of boasting in humanity (as we tend to do with authors, musicians, athletes, and political leaders), thus assuring that God would receive the glory.
Many famous writers will write approximately one page a day to complete a new book every year. In contrast, the Bible took around 1500 years to complete. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (with a few portions in Aramaic) between 1400 and 430 BC. The New Testament was written in common Greek between 45 and 90 AD.2 The Bible was written during seasons of war, peace, famine, and prosperity. No other book, including religious texts, took such a long time to complete.
Though the authors lived and wrote during different time periods, the books are not random nor fragmented. They teach a unified story, sometimes referred to as redemptive history. They show how the world fell into sin and came under a curse, and how God chose to save the world through a messiah. The messiah came from the Jews, was rejected, crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. Then, the authors detail how the gospel (the message of God saving people through their faith in the resurrected messiah) spread throughout the world, and how one day Christ will return to judge and bring forth the eternal state.
The unified story of these forty authors in sixty-six books, written over a 1,500-year time frame, is remarkable. It would be virtually impossible to find forty authors during the same time period (much less various time periods), who wrote on one subject from different angles without contradicting one another. Yet, the Bible does this over a 1,500-year period. There is no book like it.
How were the original manuscripts of the Bible continually and accurately copied so that we now have it in its original meaning, intent, and entirety today? Initially, it was written on various materials: on papyrus (a material woven from plants), on different types of animal skins, and occasionally on stone. The Old Testament, specifically, was copied over and over again by writers known as scribes.
Scribes followed stringent protocols. Before beginning to copy any text, they had to be freshly bathed and fully dressed. They had to write with meticulous accuracy at all times. Each manuscript had to be exactly the same; a piece of string had to be able to fit between every letter, and there had to be the space of a letter between each word.3 If they were writing God’s name, they could not use a newly dipped pen, lest they botch it. If a king entered the room or addressed them, they had to finish writing God’s name first. They maintained strict discipline in counting paragraphs, words, and letters to make sure that each page was the same and that they hadn’t made a mistake.4
Because of their painstaking diligence, thousands of Old Testament manuscripts, copied with tremendous accuracy, have been preserved over time. Likewise, Christian scribes meticulously copied the New Testament as well, striving to guard it from error. We have more ancient New Testament manuscripts than Old Testament manuscripts. The Bible is unique in its preservation.
Throughout the ages, great criticism has always been directed towards the Bible, declaring its inaccuracy historically, scientifically, and doctrinally. However, new evidences, including archaeological findings, continue to support the accuracy of Scripture.
For example, though many in the scientific community have declared the impossibility of the Genesis flood, historical findings show that almost all ancient people groups record world-wide flood stories which include corresponding elements such as a warning of the flood, a large boat, the inclusion of animals in the boat, a family, and sending out birds to see if the flood had subsided.5 Dr. Richard Andree, a German scholar, collected eighty-eight ancient flood stories.6 Dr. Duane Gish, in his book Dinosaurs by Design, says there are more than 270 flood stories.7 Forty-six are from Central and South America, fifty-nine from North America, thirty-one from Europe, seventeen from the Middle East, twenty-three from Asia, and thirty-seven from the South Sea Islands, New Zealand and Australia, among others.8 In addition, where many previously scoffed at the possibility of all languages originating from one language, as taught in the Tower of Babel story, many experts now believe all languages can be traced to a common origin.
Similarly, others criticize Scripture by contending that its many inconsistencies and contradictions are actually errors. However, many of these “contradictions” are simply the results of people reporting the same event or doctrine from different angles. Other purported contradictions can be explained by understanding the relevant historical background and by comparing Scripture with Scripture.
In comparing Scripture with Scripture, for example, Matthew 27:5 says Judas hung himself, and Acts 1:18 says he bought a field, fell to the ground, and his guts spilled out. Many declare, “Look, there is another error!” However, upon further scrutiny, these two portions of Scripture appear to be the same event told from two distinct perspectives. Most likely, Judas hung himself, the rope broke, and because gas had built up in his stomach, that, combined with the impact of the fall, caused his abdomen to burst and his intestines to spill out. There is no error in the differing accounts of Matthew and Acts, merely different perspectives of the same event.
Jonah 2:6 describes how Jonah, after being thrown off the boat, sank down to the “roots of the mountains.” In past generations, people mocked that story: “What mountains? There are no mountains in the ocean!” they declared. However, today, because of technological advances, we know that some of the biggest mountains are in the ocean—something previous generations were not aware of.
A final example, Revelation 11:7-10 describes how, in the end times, two prophets will be murdered, and people from all around the world will look at them, celebrate their death, and send gifts to one another. People used to declare, “How can people from all over the world look at two people in Jerusalem?” In the 1950s, nations started sending satellites to space, and today locations across the world can be seen live simply by clicking on a computer or other electronic devices. What seemed impossible 100 years ago, makes perfect sense now.
Specifically, considering the historical criticism Scripture has received, Scholar William F. Albright said this:
The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and 19th centuries, certain phases which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.9
In addition, Nelson Glueck, the renowned Jewish archaeologist, wrote that, “It maybe stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.”10
The Bible is unique in its survival of criticism. It continues to prove itself true scientifically, historically, doctrinally, and in many other ways, thwarting even the harshest attacks.
Not only has the Bible been historically criticized, it has also been persecuted. For example, in AD 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian issued an edict to destroy Christians and their sacred book.11 The letter ordered that churches and Bibles be burned and that those who persisted in confessing Christianity would be deprived of their civil rights. Such persecution has been active throughout the Bible’s history. In modern times (as of 2019), news reports shared how China was burning Bibles and churches in many provinces to ensure loyalty to the government.12 Bibles could no longer be purchased online, and the government was rewriting parts of Scripture to better fit communist ideology.13 Likewise, in North Korea, a person can be executed for simply possessing a Bible.14 These countries are not alone in their attacks. Currently, the Bible is banned or restricted in around fifty-two countries world-wide. Most of these are communist or Islamic nations. However, even with the great antagonism which has existed against the Bible since its inception, the Bible is still the most published and translated book in the world.
- In the reading, what aspect of the Bible’s uniqueness stood out most to you and why?
- What are some of the methods that the various authors used to write the Bible?
- Why do you think God used such a varied range of people to write the Bible?
- What types of criticisms have you heard against the Bible? How do you deal with such criticisms or even your own personal doubts?
- What other questions or applications do you have from the reading?
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
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Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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1 Grudem, W. A. (1994). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine (81). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.
2 Plummer, Robert L. 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible (40 Questions & Answers Series) (Kindle Locations 1076-1077). Kregel Publications - A. Kindle Edition.
3 Accessed 8/2/19 from https://www.josh.org/faithful-transmit-old-testament/=
6 Accessed 8/29/19 from http://www.noahsarksearch.com/The_Explorers_Of_Ararat_1960-1968_George_Vandeman.pdf
7 Accessed 8/29/19 from https://answersingenesis.org/the-flood/flood-legends/flood-legends/
8 Schaefer, Richard. Creation: “Behold it was very good.” pg. 133.
9 William, Albright. The Archaeology of Palestine and the Bible. New York: Revell, 1935. (pg. 137-138).
10 Dr. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert, (New York: Farrar, Strous and Cudahy, 1959), 136.
11 McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict (p. 14). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.