Volume 20, Number 3
The Nonpareil Book: A Volume Like No Other
Director, Public Campus Ministries
Michigan Conference of SDA
Michigan Conference of SDA
Without this book there would be no sacred music, oratorios, beloved hymns, and Negro spirituals.
The composer of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” George Frideric Handel, was not a religious man. Yet, even this world-famous composer was moved and inspired by words from this nonpareil book.
After several years of failure in opera, Handel was plunged into poverty and despair. At the age of sixty he was bitter, depressed, and defeated. When asked to write the music for a sacred oratorio, he glanced through the pages of the manuscript with little enthusiasm for the task. But something happened when his eyes suddenly caught the words, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people . . . For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . He shall lead His flock like a shepherd . . . Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden.”
The April 1948 Reader’s Digest reports that as Handel kept reading, the text began to quicken his pulses, warm his heart, and inspire wonderful melodies. The glorious words, “He shall reign forever and ever . . . King of kings, and Lord of lords . . . Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” fired his creative genius.
Grasping a pen, Handel jotted down in feverish haste the wonderful notes that raced through his mind. For twenty-four days and nights he worked tirelessly, as if transported to another world, paying little attention to the meals that were brought to him and hardly stopping to rest. His faithful servant became greatly worried; he had never known the master to act like this. Indeed, he appeared to be mad—writing, writing, writing, then striding about the room with tears coursing down his cheeks, singing “Hallelujah” at the top of his voice.
Messiah, the greatest oratorio ever written, was born of an experience induced by the power of a book. Handel said of the occasion, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” No wonder King George II was so moved when the oratorio was first presented in London that he rose spontaneously to his feet at the beginning of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” and all of the throng with him! No wonder audiences still rise today every time the “Hallelujah Chorus” is sung.
A Nameless Book. But what is this book that inspired Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”? What is this book that has power to warm hearts, inspire hope, and transport even non-religious people to behold God in His majesty?
Strangely, this nonpareil book is also nameless! It is simply called the Book.
Though many know the book by the title “the Bible,” the word is derived through Latin from the Greek to biblion, which means “the book.” Since the Bible is the supreme book in all the world, it does not need a name; it is enough to simply say, “The Book”—i.e., “The Bible.”
A Respected Book. Indeed, many of the world’s most renowned people have testified to the value and inestimable importance of the Bible.
Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientists of all time, once said: “We account the Scriptures of God to be the most sublime philosophy. I find more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history whatsoever”
George Washington Carver, the African-American genius of Tuskegee Institute, has been called the world’s greatest biochemist. He is best known for his discovery of hundreds of valuable uses for the peanut and sweet potato. In 1921 Dr. Carver was invited to testify before the United States Senate Ways and Means Committee on the possibilities of the peanut. Though initially given ten minutes to speak, he so captivated the committee that the chairman said, “Go ahead, Brother. Your time is unlimited.” Carver spoke for one hour and forty-five minutes.
At the conclusion of his presentation the chairman asked, “Dr. Carver, how did you learn all of these things?”
Carver replied, “From an old Book.”
“What book?” the Senator queried.
The famed scientist replied, “The Bible.”
“Does the Bible tell about peanuts?” the surprised Senator inquired.
“No, Sir,” Dr. Carver replied, “but it tells about the God Who made the peanut. I asked Him to show me what to do with the peanut, and He did.”
Thomas Jefferson also speaks about this Book: “I have said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands. . . . The Bible makes the best people in the world.”
Similarly, Daniel Webster, a foremost American statesman, author, lexicographer, and orator testifies: “I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the will and Word of God.”
A Timeless Book. Unlike other books that come and go because their ideas no longer fit the thoughts of different ages or meet the needs of human hearts, the Bible is a timeless Book.
Onetime professor of English at Princeton University, author and diplomat Henry Van Dyke, has accurately remarked:
|Born in the East and clothed in Oriental form and imagery, the Bible walks the ways of all the world with familiar feet and enters land after land to find its own everywhere. It has learned to speak in hundreds of languages to the heart of man. It comes into the palace to tell the monarch that he is a servant of the Most High, and into the cottage to assure the peasant that he is a son of God. Children listen to its stories with wonder and delight, and the wise men ponder them as parables of life. It has a word of peace for the time of peril, and word of comfort for the day of calamity, a word of light for the hour of darkness. Its oracles are repeated in the assembly of the people, and its counsels whispered in the ear of the lonely. The wicked and the proud tremble at its warning, but to the wounded and the penitent it has a mother’s voice. The wilderness and the solitary place have been made glad by it, and the fire on the hearth has lit the reading of its well-worn page. It has woven itself into our deepest affections and colored our dearest dreams; so that love and friendship, sympathy and devotion, memory and hope, put on the beautiful garments of its treasured speech, breathing frankincense and myrrh. . .|
|No man is poor or desolate who has this treasure for his own. When the landscape darkens and the trembling pilgrim comes to the valley named “of the shadow,” he is not afraid to enter: he takes the rod and staff of Scripture in his hand; he says to friend and comrade, “Good-by; we shall meet again;” and comforted by that support, he goes toward the lonely pass as one who walks through darkness into light.|
Truly, this Book is like no other book.
A Unique Book. The Bible was written by some 40 different authors on three different continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe), in countries hundreds of miles apart, over a period of about 1,500 years. It deals with matters of universal interest: history, philosophy, science, health, architecture, religion, prophecies, etc. It speaks to the needs of every generation, offers solutions to life’s perplexities, and even reveals the origin and future of our world. It has brought peace to troubled consciences, comfort to the sorrowful, hope to the despairing, courage to the despondent, and the assurance of reunion to the bereaved.
Originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the Bible has been published in more languages than any other book in history, and yet it has not lost its original emphasis.
This unique Book appeals to the young as well as the old, rich as well as poor, simple as well as wise. It advocates the rights of every individual, including the cause of the poor and defenseless, and it demonstrates a mysterious power to transform lives.
A careful reading of this unique Book reveals that it was written by men from every level of political and social life—from the king upon his throne down to the herdsmen, shepherds, fishermen, and petty politicians.
Onetime President of the Southern Baptist Convention, W. A. Criswell, has written this about the Bible: “Here are words written by princes, by poets, by philosophers, by fishermen, by statesmen, by prophets, by priests, by publicans, by physicians, by men learned in the wisdom of Egypt, by men educated in the school of Babylon, by men trained at the feet of rabbis like Gamaliel. Men of every grade and class are represented in this miraculous Volume. The circumstances under which the Book was written were sometimes most difficult and always most varying. Parts of it were written in tents, deserts, cities, palaces, and dungeons. Some of it was written in times of imminent danger and other parts in times of ecstatic joy.”
But the remarkable thing about the Bible is that, despite the circumstances that gave birth to the 66 different books comprising this Book, the contents of the Bible show a unique harmony. Observes H.L. Hastings: “It contains all kinds of writing; but what a jumble it would be if sixty-six books were written in this way by ordinary men. Suppose, for instance, that we get sixty-six medical books written by thirty or forty different doctors of various schools, . . . bind them all together, and then undertake to doctor a man according to that book! . . . Or suppose you get thirty-five ministers writing books on theology, and then see if you can find any leather strong enough to hold the books together.”
A Well-preserved Book. But there is more: the Bible has been preserved remarkably during the process of transmission. Despite the fact that it was written on perishable material and was copied and recopied for hundreds of years before the invention of the printing press or computers, the Bible’s two sections—the Old and New Testaments—when compared to all other ancient manuscripts, have displayed an unusual correctness in transmission.
With reference to the Old Testament, the section of the Bible written in Hebrew and Aramaic, the remarkable accuracy with which the scribes wrote down the text is due to strict rules that they followed. For example, no word or letter could be written from memory. The words or letters of each section were counted, and if these did not tally with the newly made copies, the new copy was discarded altogether and the task begun again. Who ever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?
On the other hand, the New Testament was written in Koine Greek—the common language of people in apostolic times. Though there are no original copies of the earliest writings of the apostles, we have the later handwritten copies that have survived. These are called manuscripts—from the Latin words manu scriptum, meaning “written by hand.”
Generally speaking, the New Testament manuscripts are much more recent to us than the Old Testament. But unlike the well trained Old Testament copyists who were extremely careful in copying every word of the ancient documents, factors such as the great demand for copies of the New Testament to instruct new believers and the frequent interruptions in the copying process due to hostilities and persecutions led to hasty and sometimes careless copying of the original New Testament manuscripts. Fortunately for us, because of the many New Testament manuscripts that have been preserved, we can always cross-check any section whenever there is any doubt.
Because of the unique preservation of the original text of the Bible, Christians can be absolutely certain of its essential accuracy. The late Sir Frederic Kenyon, onetime director of the British Museum and an authority on Bible manuscripts put it this way: “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”
An Enduring Book. Still, of all the books ever produced, the Bible has suffered the most vicious attack. Yet it has survived the persecution of critics and enemies. It is like an anvil that has worn out the hammers of criticism. The hammers of the agnostics, atheists, and higher critics have been pecking away at this book for ages, but the hammers are worn out, and the anvil still endures. If the Book had not been the Book of God, human beings would have destroyed it long ago. Emperors and popes, kings and priests, princes and rulers, Communists and revolutionaries have all tried their hand at it; they die and the book still lives.
The Book has come down to us floating upon a sea of blood—every page stained with the blood of martyrs.
Bernard Ramm, a Christian scientist and theologian once asked rhetorically whether, beside the Bible, there has ever been a book on philosophy, religion, psychology, or any other subject that has been so “chopped, knifed, sifted, scrutinized, and vilified . . . with such venom and skepticism? with such thoroughness and erudition? upon every chapter, line, and tenet?” He concluded: “A thousand times over, the death knell of the Bible has been sounded, the funeral procession formed, the inscription cut on the tombstone, and the committal read. But somehow the corpse never stays put. . . . Considering the thorough learning of the critics and the ferocity and precision of the attacks, we would expect the Bible to have been permanently entombed in some Christian genizah [a storage room for worn-out Scripture manuscripts]. But such is hardly the case. The Bible is still loved by millions, read by millions, and studied by millions.”
Jesus said it best almost 2,000 years ago: “Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
How do we account for the remarkable power, universal appeal, unity, and survival of this ancient Book?
A Revealed Book. Though written by human penmen, the Bible makes a bold claim to its divine origin. The apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The word “inspiration”
[theopneustos in the Greek], literally means “God-breathed,” that is to say, all the books of the Bible have a divine origin.
Charles Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, argued that “the Bible must be the invention of either good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God.” He reasons:
- It could not be the invention of good men or angels, for they neither would nor could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” when it was their own invention.
- It could not be the invention of bad men or devils, for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to Hell to all eternity.
- Therefore, I draw this conclusion, that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration.
An Inspired Book. Probably the most mysterious thing about the Bible is the manner in which God, the principal Author of the Book, was able to employ fallible human beings as His instruments to write down His message in a trustworthy manner. The unique cooperation between God and the Bible’s human writers is known technically as “inspiration.”
The apostle Peter describes it this way: “Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). The Greek word used here, phero, means “to bear” or “to carry along.” It was a term used by sailors for a sailing ship being carried along by the wind. As Peter was himself a fisherman, his use of this word is significant. It implies that the human writers of the Bible were gently led by the Spirit in communicating the message that God had given them by revelation. Because the Bible is the product of this cooperative effort between the human and the Divine, its message is “sure.” The apostle Peter again asserts:
|For we did not follow cleverly devised myths [Greek, mythos, a story, whatever its significance, that has no factual basis] when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. . . . And we have the prophetic Word made more sure [Greek, bebaioteron, which has the force of “standing firm on the feet,” “steadfast,” “reliable,” “valid”]. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16-19, RSV)|
In his letter to the Christians of Thessalonica, the apostle Paul summed up: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
In other words, the fact that the Scriptures are inspired implies that the Bible is truly the Word of God.
A Trustworthy Book. One unmistakable piece of evidence that the Bible has a divine imprint is the impartial manner in which its human writers recorded biographical accounts of its heroes and heroines.
Noah, the survivor of the Flood, got drunk and exposed his nakedness; Abraham, the friend of God, lied and doubted God; Lot, the hero of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, got drunk and had an incestuous relationship with his daughters; Miriam, the beautiful singer and prophetess of Israel, had a racial and jealousy problem and was struck with leprosy; Rahab, the woman of faith and the ancestor of Jesus Christ, was a prostitute; David, a man after God’s Own heart, was guilty of adultery and murder; Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, lived the life of a fool; Judas, one of the most influential among the twelve disciples of Christ, was a thief and a traitor; Peter, a leading apostle of Christ, denied his Master with curses and swearing; John, the apostle of love, called for fire to destroy his enemies; and Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, persecuted the followers of Christ.
If the biographical accounts in the Scriptures were simply human efforts to enhance the moral standing of some prominent men and women, the writers would have covered up, judiciously omitted, or reconstructed the negative and embarrassing aspects of those lives.
|This is the way men write history; but when the Lord undertakes to tell His story of a sinful man, He does not select a poor, miserable beggar, and show him up; He does not give even the name of the thief on the cross, nor of the guilty woman to whom He said, “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more”; but He takes King David from the throne, and sets him down in sackcloth and ashes, and wrings from his heart the cry, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” And then when he is pardoned, forgiven, cleansed, and made whiter than snow, the pen of inspiration writes down the whole dark, damning record of his crimes, and the king on his throne has not power, nor wealth, nor influence enough to blot the page. . . .|
And a book which tells the faults of those who wrote it, and which tells you that “there is none righteous, no, not one,” bears in it the marks of a true book; for we all know that men have faults, and failings, and sins; and among all the men whose lives are recorded in that book, each man has some defect, some blot, except one, and that is “the Man Christ Jesus” (H.L. Hastings, Will the Old Book Stand?
[Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1923, pp. 17, 18]).
A Spiritual Book. Robert H. Pierson, onetime president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, wrote: “The Bible is more than a good or true book. . . . Man may write a good book, a true book, even a wonderful book, but man has never produced a volume that compares with the Holy Scriptures. The Bible lives! Through its sacred pages God moves and speaks to human hearts. It is a Book of divine origin destined from the beginning to fill a unique need among the human family. No other volume has successfully challenged it.”
This living Book points out to sinners a way of pardon, of peace, and of redemption. It tells us how human beings subject to like passions as we are, may yet be men of mighty faith, having fellowship with God, and prevailing in effectual and fervent prayer. It tells us how we who have sinned against the Most High may be cleansed from bloodguiltiness, washed and made whiter than snow, and find life and peace in Christ the Lord. It tells us how we, redeemed through God’s mercy, may stand stainless as angels in the presence of the eternal King.
A Neglected Book. Though there are unmistakable evidences of the Book’s power to transform lives, though it remains the world’s bestselling book, and though copies of it can be found in many homes, hotel rooms, and libraries, the surprising thing is that the Bible is the most neglected book!
The famous English preacher George Whitefield said, “God has condescended to become an author, and yet people will not read His writings. There are very few that ever gave this Book of God, the grand charter of salvation, one fair reading through.”
One of the most acclaimed Christian writers, Ellen G. White, wrote: “If we will let it speak to us, the Bible will teach us what nothing else can teach. But alas! everything else is dwelt upon except the Word of God. Worthless literature, fictitious stories, are greedily devoured, while the Bible, with all its treasures of sacred truth, lies neglected upon our tables. The Sacred Word, if made the rule of life, will refine, elevate, and sanctify. It is the voice of God to man. Will we heed it?” (Messages to Young People, p. 257).
A Life-changing Book. H. L. Hastings has perceptively observed:
|There are men who study philosophy, astronomy, geology, geography, and mathematics; but did you ever hear a man say, “I was an outcast, a wretched inebriate, a disgrace to my race, and a nuisance in the world, until I began to study mathematics, and learned the multiplication table, and then turned my attention to geology, got me a little hammer, and knocked off the corners of the rocks and then studied the formation of the earth, and since that time I have been happy as the day is long; I feel like singing all the time; my soul is full of triumph and peace; and health and blessing have come to my desolate home once more”? Did you ever hear a man ascribe his redemption and salvation from intemperance and sin and vice to the multiplication table, or the science of mathematics or geology?|
|But I can bring you, not one man, or two, or ten, but men by the thousand who will tell you, “I was wretched; I was lost; I broke my poor old mother’s heart; I beggared my family; my wife was heart-stricken and dejected; my children fled from the sound of their father’s footsteps; I was ruined, reckless, helpless, homeless, hopeless, until I heard the words of that Book”!|
|And he will tell you the very word which fastened on his soul. Maybe it was, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”; perhaps it was, “Behold the Lamb of God Which taketh away the sin of the world”; it may have been, “God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He can tell you the very word that saved his soul. And since that word entered his heart, he will tell you that hope has dawned upon his vision, that joy has inspired his heart, and that his mouth is filled with grateful song. He will tell you that the blush of health has come back to his poor wife’s faded cheek; that the old hats have vanished from the windows of his desolate home; that his rags have been exchanged for good clothes; that his children run to meet him when he comes; that there is bread on his table, fire on his hearth, and comfort in his dwelling. He will tell you all that, and he will tell you that this Book has wrought the change.|
Yes, there is power in the Book, a power that can change your life and your circumstances. Its power rests on the fact that “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 perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
A Book Like No Other Book. When was the last time you read the Book? How much time do you spend daily with the Bible? Don’t you think it is about time to begin reading God’s inspired Word“—the Book that is like no other book?
On July 28, 1917, Woodrow Wilson wrote these pertinent words:
|The Bible is the Word of life. I beg that you will read it and find this out for yourselves—read, not little snatches here and there, but long passages that will really be the road to the heart of it. You will find it not only full of real men and women, but also of the things you have wondered about and been troubled about all your life, as men have been always; and the more you read, the more will it become plain to you the things that are worthwhile and what are not, what things make men happy—loyalty, right dealing, speaking the truth, readiness to give everything for what they think their duty, and, most of all, the wish that they may have the approval of the Christ, Who gave everything for them—and the things that are guaranteed to make men unhappy—selfishness, cowardice, greed, and everything that is low and mean.|
|When you have read the Bible you will know that it is the Word of God, because you will have found it the key to your own heart, your own happiness, and your own duty.|
The promise God gave to Joshua can be ours if we heed His counsel: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:8).
This promised blessing will bring peace to our troubled consciences, comfort to our broken hearts, light to our perplexed minds, and strength to our discouraged souls.