The most unique and the most published book in history.
OBSERVE AND CONSIDER
The Bible is the most quoted, most translated, most published book in human history, completely unique in its creation, content, and accuracy.1 And while the uniqueness of the Bible does not irrefutably prove that it is the revelation of God, when one truly considers the nature of this book, it takes more faith to believe that it was simply written and compiled by humans than to believe that it is a work of God. Let’s think about this.
The Bible is unique in its diversity and harmony.
Written over a span of 40 generations and about 1,600 years, by more than 40 authors from varying walks of life, on three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) and in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek), the Bible is unlike any other book in the world. It includes history, poetry, prophecy, law, parables and preaching, and covers a broad range of subject matter (including hundreds of controversial topics) from the nature of God to the origin of man.2
Considering the diversity of its writers and subject matter, one might expect at least some conflict or inconsistency in the content and themes presented in the Bible, and yet…
- The Bible is one complete epic story centered around one extraordinary character.
- The Bible addresses numerous topics and themes throughout the text with incredible harmony and resolution. (For instance, the paradise lost of the first book of the Bible becomes the paradise regained of the last book of the Bible. The access to the Tree of Life, which was closed in the first book of the Bible, is opened forevermore in the last book of the Bible.)
Like the instruments in a symphony, each writer of the Bible is quite different from the others. When you hear an orchestra playing with flawless harmony, you naturally assume that it is being directed by an accomplished conductor. Why should we think any differently in regard to the Bible, which is far more complex in content and scope than any symphonic score?
The Bible is unique in its textual reliability.
Because original manuscripts rarely (if ever) exist for the world’s most important ancient literary works, the question must be asked of any ancient book, “Do the earliest copies in existence accurately convey the content of the original document?” In other words, has the original document changed over time? Scholars consider several factors when determining what is known as textual reliability. These include:
- The method by which copies were made
- The time between the earliest known copy and the original manuscript
- The number of early copies in existence
- The comparative consistency of the earliest copies
Measured by these standards, there is no other book in the world that even comes close to the textual reliability of the New Testament of the Bible.3 Note in Table 1 at the end of this lesson,4 that those who made the earliest copies of the New Testament were either contemporaries of, or only a few generations removed from, the original writers. Notice also the number of copies that were made within that period of time. The difference between the New Testament of the Bible and other ancient works is astounding.
Unlike the New Testament, there is not an abundance of early copies of the Old Testament of the Bible. So, when one considers the textual reliability of the Old Testament, it is important to understand the method by which these ancient manuscripts were copied.
The copying process,5 itself was reserved for a special group of people in Jewish culture known as scribes. Scribes were professional penmen who copied manuscripts using a strict systematic process to achieve the highest accuracy possible. For example:
- The scribes were not allowed to copy sentence–for–sentence or even word–for–word. They copied letter–for–letter.
- A scribe had to copy the original page so that the exact number of words on the page remained unchanged. If an original page had 296 words, then the page being copied must contain the same 296 words.
- Each line on a new page had to be the exact length as the line on the old page. If the first line on the original page had nine words, the first line on the copy page had to have nine words.
- After each page was copied and checked by another, still a third person would check to verify that the middle letter on the copied page was the same as the middle letter on the original.
- If a single mistake was made, the copy was destroyed.
These steps ensured that copies of Old Testament manuscripts accurately conveyed the content of their originals. As is the case with the New Testament, no other ancient manuscript in the world surpasses the textual reliability of the Old Testament.
Ask & Reflect
• Does the information you have studied today change the way you view the Bible?
• If so, how? If not, why not?
• What would it take for you to look at the Bible in a different way, or perhaps to see something you’ve not yet seen? (This question is for those who are already familiar with the Bible as well as those who are not.)
Decide & Do
Today’s lesson was a little longer than most of the lessons in this study. If you didn’t feel that you were able to digest all of the information here, set aside some time to come back to it.
For Further Study
• Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson, HERE’S LIFE PUBLISHERS, San Bernardino, Ca, 1972.
1All–Time Best Selling Books and Authors. (Internet Public Library, © 1995–2006 The Regents of the University of Michigan).
(http://www.ipl.org/div/farq/bestsellerFARQ.html). Retrieved November 13, 2006.
2Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, Revised Edition.
(© Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972, 1979. Published by Here’s Life Publishers, San Bernardino, CA, 1972, Chapter 1, pp. 15–24).
4Ibid, pp. 42.