Friday, June 14, 2019

The Bible and Other Scriptures

Over the past few months, I have been making an effort to include some simple visual content in between my primary posts. A recent one included a quote from Charles Ryrie in which he said,

The Bible is the greatest of all books; to study it is the noblest of all pursuits; to understand it, the highest of all goals.

I think this is a marvelous comment on its own, but even better, it led to a question for Quest Forums. Someone saw it and asked,

“What would you say about other religious books?”

In some ways, this question is the foundation of Quest Forums. To ask my opinion about other religious books is essentially to ask me, why have I devoted my life to this one? Why have I started a ministry that centers around teaching it? Why do I so strongly encourage questions about it? Why do I think it is, in Ryrie’s phrase, “The greatest of all books?”

Comparing Textual Traditions

Of course, it is also a question of comparative religion. Most religious faiths throughout history have not had a written scripture, which is to say, a book definitively laying out its core doctrines. This has either been because their cultures have been preliterate or do not place an emphasis on literacy, or because the oracles of their gods have not been worth recording. Oral traditions, mostly allegorical, tend to be the primary method of transmission.

That said, there are plenty of religions that do depend heavily on a document. Christianity is obviously a prime example of this, so much so that one of the names used for Christians by Muslims is “people of the book.” Muslims, of course, have their own central religious text, the Quran. Judaism has the Tanakh, which Christians know as the Old Testament. Taoism has the Tao Te Ching, Confucianism the “Five Classics,” Hinduism the Bhagavad Gita, Buddhism the Buddhavacana (which is really more of a catchall term for a number of collections disputed among Buddhist schools), and Mormons the Book of Mormon.

I don’t mean this to be a complete list and I am certain I have missed a number of others. The point is to say that Christianity is not unique in claiming to have a message from the divine. What distinguishes and defines them? Are they all of equal worth? Or is one superior to the others?

Relativism vs. Similarity

I would say that the differences far outweigh the similarities, which is a scandalous position in our relativistic age. Many people claim that the various beliefs presented in these texts are equally valid, that they are all “different paths up the same mountain.” That position is not fair to any of them. They make contradictory claims, and claims to exclusivity. To try to reduce them to their similarities is dishonest, and is actually an attempt to argue for the exclusivity of relativism (which is self-contradictory).

Though these texts and the traditions they represent cannot be reduced to their similarities, there certainly are a number of shared points. The most important is the method of salvation. Each faith, in its unique way, presents a moral code with blessings for obeying it and consequences for disobeying it. Again, what exactly that means is very different in each case. But they all share the basic belief that your actions determine your outcome. You must work in order to satisfy the divine and earn your glory. Except in the Bible.

The Biblical Path

Some people might be incredulous to hear that, given the moral strictures for which Christians are so often known. But this is actually the central truth of Christianity, even though many of us have failed to grasp it ourselves. The Bible presents a moral code, but not as a way to gain God’s favor. Rather, it exists to show the purity of God and the depravity of mankind. It is impossible for us to live up to the standard. The standard, therefore, exists to show the futility of our attempts to justify ourselves in the sight of God (Rom. 3:19–20; 7:7–13; Gal. 3:21–23; 4:1–3; Heb. 9:6–10). According to the Bible, earning salvation and glorification is impossible.

If that were all it said, though, then no one would have anything to do with it. The commands of Scripture bring us to hopelessness so that from there we can discover hope in God. What we cannot do, He has done for us by providing a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He died as a sacrifice for sins, and in His resurrection He proved His divine authority to offer forgiveness and reconciliation to all those who trust in His work on our behalf (Rom. 3:21–26; 8:1–5; Gal. 3:24–27; 4:4–7; Heb. 9:11–15).

This is part of the reason why the Bible is the greatest of all books. It is the authoritative record of what God has done for the world. But it is also the greatest of all books because it is true. All other religious texts have truths. They teach the value of virtue, which is a good thing. Though I do not believe we can completely live up to it, morality is still a good to be pursued. As I said, though, the Bible does not merely teach morality. It teaches history.

The Bible's Validity

Its message depends upon a moment in time. If Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, then the teachings of the Bible are ultimately meaningless (1 Cor. 15:14–19). But Jesus did rise. There is no good reason to suggest Jesus escaped crucifixion or somehow survived the process. There were too many witnesses to His death for that. And there is also no good reason to doubt that He was seen alive again. Hundreds of people claimed to have done so, in various places, across the span of 40 days, many of them after having been skeptical after hearing from others who claimed to have seen Him, and all of these people preferred persecution and death over denying what they had seen. That is not the behavior of liars and madmen. It is the behavior of true witnesses, and the Bible was only written as a result of their faithfulness. This dependence on a particular event also makes the Bible unique from other religious texts, and makes it uniquely reliable once the evidence is impartially examined.

The message about Jesus Christ, and the credibility of it, are why the Bible must be placed above all other scriptures. Again, that is not to say all other traditions are worthless. They teach people that there is more to life than what we find in the physical world, and they tell people it is better to live morally than selfishly. There is wisdom in that. Unfortunately, they do fall short of what we need most: the recognition of the weaknesses we cannot conquer and the hope available through the God who conquers them for us. The Bible alone does so. That is why it is, indeed, the greatest of all books.

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