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06 September 2018

The bible is a way different book.

How the uniqueness of the bible… really doesn’t prove anything.

Christian apologists—especially when they kinda lean towards biblolatry—make a great big deal about how unique the bible is. To them, it’s a powerful argument why people ought not dismiss it as just another ancient book by dead white brown guys. The bible’s a distinctly, profoundly different book. It’s very unique. Only the most ignorant of skeptics would claim otherwise.

And then they go listing all the ways it’s totally unique. I’ll list a few in this article. But the big pile of ways the bible’s different, is meant to really impress someone that the bible is important and valid.

Which is a basic logical flaw: Unique doesn’t automatically mean important and valid.

Fr’instance let’s say a space alien came to earth, and presented us with his book of the best recipes for blergsperken. What’s blergsperken? I dunno. And none of the ingredients match anything we know about; what on earth is “raw sperkburf?” For all we know, the alien could be its planet‘s very worst cook. But his cookbook is definitely unique.

So the bible’s uniqueness doesn’t make it valid. Doesn’t make it invalid either! Uniqueness just happens to be one of the bible’s characteristics.

Popular apologist Josh McDowell confessed as much in the conclusion of Evidence That Demands a Verdict’s chapter on the bible’s uniqueness. Maybe as a disclaimer, or maybe because somebody pointed out the logical inconsistency—but he didn’t wanna throw out an entire heavily-sourced chapter.

The above does not prove the Bible is the Word of God, but to me it proves that it is unique (“different from all others; having no like or equal”). McDowell 1.24

And then McDowell went right back to dropping interesting trivia about the bible’s uniqueness.

Anyway I wanted to begin with this disclaimer, ’cause I want it clear the bible’s uniqueness only proves the bible is unique. Doesn’t prove anything more. But because Christian apologists insist it totally does imply something, you oughta be aware that’s just their biases talking: They love the bible, and isn’t it just the best book in the world? It must be inspired!

Well anyway. Let’s get into the ways the bible is different.

Differently constructed.

First the bible’s not properly a book; it’s an anthology. Multiple books, songs, and letters. Most ancient writings are the product of only one or two people, but the bible consists of more than 40 authors, from all walks of life, over a 1400-year span, in three different languages. It contains many genres of literature—legal codes, history, poetry, philosophy, ethics, parables, oracles, gospels, manifestos, and apocalypses.

The books were selected for their consistent worldview about God: He loves us, he wants a relationship with us, sin got in the way, salvation comes through his grace. Certain apologists are gonna claim it’s the other way round: All these books were put together, but they just happen to share a worldview, ’cause it’s true and miraculous and inspired and all that. Historians are gonna correctly point out the people who put the bible together left out all the books they didn’t think appropriate. We know ’cause those books are still around, and skeptical historians love to bring them up as “alternative history” to the bible. Like secular histories. Pagan histories. Gnostic gospels. Christian and Jewish fanfiction, supposedly written by the folks in the bible, which historians call pseudepigrapha, Latin for “fake writings.” And of course many Protestants leave the Apocrypha out of their bibles. There were lots of ancient books about God. But the bible’s compilers only kept the books they considered legit. So it stands to reason they largely jibe with one another.

Another thing Christian apologists like to claim is the bible, despite being written by all these different people with different lifestyles and histories, has no contradictions in it whatsoever. Now, every bible scholar knows better. It’d be more accurate to say the bible’s unique because so many people struggle to hide all its contradictions. But then again, Muslims likewise try to hide all the Quran’s contradictions, and Mormons do it with their scriptures too. So it’s hardly that unique. Fact is, the bible does indeed have discrepancies, or as Christians prefer to call ’em, “difficulties.” But regardless, the bible is still consistent in the way it describes God, his relationship with us, and how he wants to save us.

McDowell compared the bible’s consistency to the Great Books of the Western World, another anthology of ancient literature. McDowell 17 Thing is, the Great Books series was put together with no thought as to whether the books have a consistent worldview. So when you compare the bible’s common themes to the Great Books’ variety, of course there’s a huge difference. (Looking even more different because the Great Books were translated into English by all sorts of scholars, whereas your average bible was translated by the same team—or guy.) Comparing the bible with the Great Books does make it clear how the books of the bible jibe, but this would be true of any anthology with a really good editor. As we have in the bible.

Differently preserved.

We have more ancient, accurate copies of the bible, than any other piece of ancient literature.

Fr’instance are maybe 50 copies, all dating from the 1100s or later, of the works of Aristotle of Athens. He’s an important guy, right? But most of his writings are utterly lost to history, simply because nobody bothered to keep and make copies of him.

In comparison there are preserved copies of the bible (namely the Dead Sea Scrolls), or of Christian writers who quoted the bible, dating back to the first century of our era. There are more than 15,000 copies of the bible dating from ancient times. And of course there are thousands of copies of those Christian writers, who quoted the bible so much we could piece together most of the bible solely from their works. Ancient Christians went out of their way to make copies of everything, but mainly the bible. That’s why we have all those ancient bibles.

Both Jews and Christians dedicated themselves to making sure the bible got passed down to future generations, and translating it so anybody on the planet could hear and read it. Hence the bible is the most widely printed, widely distributed, and best-selling, book of all time. It’s translated into more languages than every other. In fact linguists go to other countries specifically to learn their language, create a written form of that language, translate the bible into that language, and get the natives a bible. It was the very first book Johannes Gutenberg published, and the King James Version was one of the first books posted on the internet.

It’s survived many attempts to ban it or be rid of it. And survived a lot of attempts to dismiss or debunk it—though to be fair, if people are dead-set against believing the bible, you’re not gonna change their minds. But archaeologists still use the text of the bible to help ’em discover ancient sites, or help ’em interpret their discoveries. Historians still base their knowledge of ancient Israel—and for that matter ancient Sumer, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and the Roman Empire—on it. Other ancient documents, and archeologists’ digs, confirm the bible regularly. (Not prove; that’s the wrong word. Confirm.) Historians may disagree with the bible’s interpretations of history, but not many of them quibble with the data.

Differently written.

The bible doesn’t cover up the sins of the people in it. Abraham screws up, Moses screws up, Samson definitely screws up. David murders and adulters, Solomon worships idols, the apostles misunderstand Jesus or say really stupid things.

Christian apologists are quick to claim nobody in ancient literature was so honest about the foibles of their great founders. Of course this only goes to show how little these apologists know about ancient literature. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the writings of Homer, Herodotus, Plutarch, the playwrights—most ancient authors had no trouble exposing their “heroes” as short-tempred fools and idiots. Even their gods behaved deplorably.

The practice of hagiography, of writing a biography which hides all the subject’s flaws and makes him out to be a perfect saint, has always been around. (Certain kings and dictators demanded it.) Fanboys are eager to write such things, and children’s authors are regularly encouraged to hide historical figures’ flaws lest kids have no more heroes. But people know nobody’s that perfect, and we want to hear everything, warts and all, about the people we admire. So the bible, like any good history, like many an ancient history, includes warts and all. Rightly so, for a book which is trying to communicate truth.

But the bible is unique in its extensive prophecies.

Ancient literature had prophets and prophecy too. But pagan prophecy is vague. Deliberately so; their prophets were guessing, and worded their predictions so they could be interpreted every which way. Whereas God’s prophets got downright specific. Unless they were presenting apocalypses, which aren’t meant to be fully interpreted, God didn’t do vague.

In pagan prophecy (with the exception of the Sibylline oracles, which were arguably trying to mimic the bible), we don’t see their gods address or declare things to other nations about their internal matters. We don’t see pronouncements of the near future. We see some End Times scenarios, but very little to the degree we find in the bible.

Lastly what we see in the bible, and don’t see elsewhere, is a combination of religious ritual and religious ethics. In the bible, the LORD gets worship not just because he’s almighty, but because he’s good. In other ancient religions, their gods were only worshiped because you wanted to get stuff out of them—and if they didn’t come through, you tried another god who might be mightier. The LORD considered such behavior disloyalty and adultery, because he is mighty enough—but he’s good, so he won’t do just anything you request.

Hence time and again, the prophets pointed out mere religious ritual isn’t enough for God. He wants people to stop sinning, stop exploiting one another, stop selfishly and harmfully worshiping other gods. When the ancient Hebrews didn’t, he rejected their ritual practices. Is 1 Other ancient gods cared somewhat about the morals of their followers, but nowhere to the depth of the LORD, his prophets, and his Christ.

I suppose we can briefly discuss how the bible influenced the rest of human literature, but that stands to reason: Such a widespread book would have an influence on the way people write, or provide us imagery and quotes to borrow. And of course bible translations had a big impact on the languages the scriptures were translated into: Latin remained pretty consistent with the Latin of St. Jerome’s day when he first translated the bible. English, though it was evolving like crazy before the Geneva Bible was published, hasn’t evolved as fast since; both it and the KJV are still possible to understand. The Cyrillic alphabet was created by Sts. Cyril and Methodius so the Slavs could read the bible, and Russians and many other cultures still use it. Christians promote literacy in every country, the main reason being that a literate people can read the bible.

So what’s the point of this article?

Well I already gave that answer away at the beginning: Christian apologists like to highlight how the bible’s a unique book with a fascinating history. Only the most ignorant of skeptics will disagree—and then, usually ’cause they’re trying to bait Christians into a fight. But the bible’s uniqueness doesn’t prove anything.

Christians don’t necessarily recognize this proves nothing, and try to insist it does so prove something. Like how the bible’s inspired by the Holy Spirit and protected by God himself. Even that it has special powers ’cause it’s the word of God, and living and active and all that. He 4.12 (Which is a case of confusing Jesus, the living word of God, Jn 1.1 with the bible—and the fastest way to slide into bibliolatry.) Because we Christians think highly of the bible, sometimes we’re blind to the fact “The bible’s unique and that must mean something” is not a logical argument. It’s connect-the-dots thinking.

If you wanna convince doubters and pagans the bible is important or relevant or points to God, y’know what works way better than arguing? Following Jesus. Read your bible, learn what Jesus expects us to do, do that, and when people wanna know why our lives are so unique, point to Jesus. Oh, and the bible is full of books about Jesus.

’Cause much of the real reason the bible’s so unique, is because it points to Jesus too. And until people are searching for Jesus, and want to follow him, they’re not gonna figure the bible’s all that important or relevant. It’s just another book to them. Uplifting it is gonna fall on deaf ears, in exactly the same way an encyclopedia salesman’s pitch isn’t gonna work on somebody who never intends to use that encyclopedia. Let’s introduce people to Jesus first. Then they’ll care to learn about the bible.