CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Bible: A Book Without Peer

Dec 20, 2009

When a politician today talks about the importance of the Bible, you can expect there to be a swift and stern reaction. Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott made such a remark recently and all the usual suspects started lining up to condemn him for making such a suggestion.

Of course it does not help matters much when media headlines distort what was in fact said. One headline and byline implied that Abbott was demanding compulsory Bible reading in our schools. What he in fact said was a bit different:

“I think everyone should have some familiarity with the great texts that are at the core of our civilisation. That includes, most importantly, the Bible. I think it would be impossible to have a good general education without at least some serious familiarity with the Bible and with the teachings of Christianity. That doesn’t mean that people have to be believers.”

Only angry secularists and crusading misotheists would have a problem with that suggestion. Of course our school children should have an awareness of the great books of history, including the Bible, and have a basic understanding of Christianity.

Western civilization as we know would not exist if it were not for Christianity and the Bible. As William Lyon Phelps, former Professor of English Literature at Yale University once put it, “Our civilization is founded upon the Bible. More of our ideas, our wisdom, our philosophy, our literature, our art, and our ideals come from the Bible than from all other books combined.”

History is replete with glowing testimonials about this amazing book. Consider just a few:

Napoleon said, “The Bible is no mere book, but a living Power that conquers all that oppose it.”

Philosopher Immanuel Kant declared, “The existence of the bible as a book for the people, is the greatest benefit which the human race has ever experienced. Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against humanity.”

Psychologist William James said, “The Bible contains more true sublimity, more exquisite beauty, more pure morality, more important history, and finer strains of poetry and eloquence than can be collected from all other books, in whatever age or language they may have been written.”

US President Theodore Roosevelt stated: “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education. . . . Every thinking man, when he thinks, realizes that the teachings of the Bible is so interwoven with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally impossible for us to figure what life would be like if those teachings were removed. We would lose almost all the standards by which we now judge both public and private morals; all the standards to which we, with more or less resolution, strive to raise ourselves.”

Scientist Isaac Newton exclaimed, “If all the great books of the world were brought together in convention, the moment the Bible entered all the other books would fall on their faces as the gods of Philistia fell when the ark of God was brought into their presence in the temple of Dagon.”

Noah Webster taught, “Education is useless without the Bible. . . . The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws…all the miseries and evils which men suffer from – crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war – proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”

American President Abraham Lincoln said, “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given to man. All the good Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this Book. But for it, we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.”

In 1998 James Kennedy and Jerry Newcome wrote a book entitled What if the Bible Had Never Been Written? In it there is ample documentation of the profound influence and impact this book has had in every area of life. The authors show how morality, society, law, politics, literature, and other areas have been powerfully impacted by this book.

Consider just one area: science. The authors demonstrate how the very foundations of modern science have been established by Bible-believing Christians. They discuss the great pioneer scientists who laid the foundations of modern physics, astronomy, calculus, oceanography, anesthesiology, and other branches of science, such as Johannes Kepler, Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Carl von Linnaeus, Charles Babbage, Blaise Pascal, Samuel Morse, Matthew Fontaine Maury, James Simpson, George Washington Carver, and so on.

The Bible is unique

The Bible is really a collection of books, yet just one book. In all there are 66 different books written by perhaps 40 authors over 1500 years (1400 BC to 100 AD). The Bible was written in three continents: Africa, Europe and Asia.

It was written in three languages: the Old Testament mostly Hebrew, with a bit of Aramaic, and New Testament in Greek. And it was written by a wide range of people: shepherds (David), kings (Solomon), fishermen (Peter), doctors (Luke), tax collectors (Matthew), etc.

Yet with all of this diversity, the Bible displays an amazing unity. As Norman Geisler remarks, “These sixty-six books unfold one continuous drama of redemption, paradise lost to paradise regained, creation to the consummation of all things. There is one central theme, the person of Jesus Christ, even by implication in the Old Testament.”

The Bible claims to be God’s record of his saving involvement with mankind. It is a book rooted in history. Other sacred books do not make such claims. The Koran is basically a collection of commands and orders by Mohammed about how we should live. The Buddhist scriptures make theoretical and ethical injunctions on how to live. The Hindu scriptures are more attuned to mythology than history.

The Bible is simply unique. And as noted, it is unique in its influence. As the Gideons have stated, “During the British Coronation ceremony a Bible is presented to the monarch with the words, ‘We present you with this Book, the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is wisdom. This is the Royal Law. These are the lively oracles of God.’ These words are true and deeply significant.

“This Book has the power not only to inform, but to reform and to transform lives. Through its influence countless people have been given a new strength, an unerring purpose and a sure hope in life. To the dying it has brought peace and assurance to eternal life. It has brought blessings to millions in every land and age.

“It is supernatural in origin, eternal in duration, divine in authorship, infallible in authority, inexhaustible in meaning, universal in readership, unique in revelation, personal in application and powerful in effect.”

The Bible has been read by more people and published in more languages than any other book. Given the overwhelming importance of the Bible, Tony Abbott was absolutely right to suggest that we all need to become familiar with the most remarkable of books.

www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/all-kids-must-read-the-bible-federal-opposition-leader-tony-abbott-says/story-e6frf7l6-1225811885777

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29 Responses to The Bible: A Book Without Peer

  • Bill

    There is an outstanding article in the Autumn 2009 ed. of The Salisbury Review by Grant Havers called “Hegel from the Right”.

    Havers points out that Hegel has long been seen as a champion of the left but should be appreciated by those on the right.

    “Hegel taught that there would indeed be progress in history if bourgeois ideals like the rule of law and the sanctity of the Christian family were allowed to take root. Where these ideals did not triumph, no progress occurred. His most central lesson on modern history is that bourgeois Christianity is the indispensable foundation for the survival and growth of viable political regimes. As he argued in his The Philosophy of History, only Christianity in its most Protestant form ended slavery, the emergence of freedom to worship, and the rise of democracy itself. Without modern Christianity, these ideals cannot flourish. Ancient Greek democracy failed utterly to recognize the equality of all human beings and showed Hegel the necessity of western Christendom to forge moral governments.”

    Drove home to me how central Christianity is for our modern cushy way of life.

    Damien Spillane

  • It’s incredible to see the trail of transformation whereever the Bible and it’s divine revelation were applied – be it nations, cities, communities or the individual’s life. It is applicable in every sphere of society. Truth does not change into an untruth because it is 2000 years old. What is unbelievable is that there are still people who deny the validity and authority of this book after seeing the West prosper as a result of it’s use. What is also disturbing is the fact that people are moving away from what we built our society on. The reason it worked in the past is because it was built on a solid foundation, ie the Bible. Why reinvent the wheel?
    Jeanie de Beer

  • Thanks Jeannie

    Yes it is tragic when so many people simply ignore or reject the Bible. Yet it is even more tragic when Christians do the same thing! We claim to be people of the Book, but are we? Most Western Christians own heaps of Bibles, but are they reading them regularly, prayerfully and expectantly? Many people in the developing world would give anything to possess a whole Bible in their own language. We Western Christians need to be much more grateful and responsible for this terrific gift.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • G’day Bill,

    And though most people think that the phrase ‘Government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ is about democracy (and Abraham Lincoln) actually it comes from the Prologue of the first English Translation of the Bible. 1384 by John Wycliffe.

    ‘This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Wycliffe

    Andrew Campbell

  • Thanks Bill!!!!!

    “It is supernatural in origin, eternal in duration, divine in authorship, infallible in authority, inexhaustible in meaning, universal in readership, unique in revelation, personal in application and powerful in effect.”

    Amen!!!!

    In Isaiah 40:8, the prophet says, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”

    Donna Opie

  • The Bible is wonderful! I am shaken when some leaders tell us that we shouldn’t focus on doctrine – “it divides” – but rather outwardly, evangelistically (a worthy aim, yes): all the while demanding that their doctrine be agreed upon.
    But I guess there is always that tension between core doctrines that must be agreed upon and those periphery ones that have been debated back and forth for millenia.
    Nathan Keen

  • Thanks Bill for this info.
    I truly agree with Tony Abott and most of the US great Presidents who embraced the bible and even in the history of England’s great Kings.
    I was brought up from a non christian backgroud and when I decided to become a Christian, I never knew that it was so easy and that God is so real and alive. As time goes by I became very interested in the Bible and wanted to find out more about God and Jesus Christ wow! it slowly and clearly revealed to me how so special God is and that He is so powerful,
    It is no wonder in the books of Proverbs in the bible where it says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom & knowldege.
    I pray and hope all the leaders of the nations particularly the Western nations will bring back the bible as the no. One & compulsory subject to all children in all Christian schools so that the children will know how to live a life pleasing to God and the community and within the families.
    No offense, if all the Muslims school can allow and embrace their children with reading the Koran which is so important in their schools why not in all the English secular and private schools in Western world do that?
    I think it is one of the the best knowldege one can ever receive before other degrees!!!!!
    Molly Lim

  • “The authors demonstrate how the very foundations of modern science have been established by Bible-believing Christians. They discuss the great pioneer scientists who laid the foundations of modern physics, astronomy, calculus, oceanography, anesthesiology, and other branches of science, such as Johannes Kepler, Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Karl van Linnius, Charles Babbage, Blaise Pascal, Samuel Morse, Matthew Fonteine Maury, James Simpson, George Washington Carver, and so on”

    Are you saying these advances were made because the scientists were Christian, as if there is a causal link between belief in the Bible and the rise of empirical science? You would have to account for the fact that for well over a millenium Christianity produced little or no empirical science. If I were writing a history of Christianity and European science I would emphasize the Christian creation and cultivation of universities which of course inevitably attracted open, inquiring minds. I would argue that in that respect and in the long run the religion got more than it bargained for, for example Darwin and Freud, and a small army of philosophers who could be relied on to question just about anything regardless of adverse consequences.

    As for testimonials from eminent politicians, the trouble with that argument is that you can find them giving testimonials to almost anything. One would have to weigh their reasons which may well be good. Or maybe not.

    John Snowden

  • Thanks John

    But you don’t have to take my word for it. Far greater experts than I have made the connection between Christianity and modern science – men such as Alfred North Whitehead and Robert Oppenheimer – neither of them Christian. Also, try reading Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God (Princeton University Press, 2003), for starters.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I agree, Molly
    Bill, I have a number of muslim friends, but none of them actually understands what the Arabic means. My understanding is that most ? muslims are like that. I guess that those educated in the Arabic language do understand what it says. It is so hard to even appreciate what the Quran actually says: there are so many supplementary writings and interpretations by so many different people!!!!!
    Brian Kay

  • Bill,
    Somewhere between 1974 & 1982 I was teaching Scripture at Blakehurst High. On one such occassion, I stood outside a Y8 English class and heard a lesson on an Old Testament character. When the lesson finished I enquired of the teacher what she was doing she relied that the school discovered that they needed to teach the content of th Bible because students did not know the content because they no longer were Sunday School trained. She said they needed to know the content to study English literature. Some thirty years later I was visiting a secondary teacher in New York state who told me that in Public Schools they could no longer teach English literature from before the 1800’s because a knowledge of the Bible is needed for that.
    Mr Abbott is spot on.
    Greg Brien

  • John

    Even if it took Christendom 1000 years (which I suspect makes the faulty assumption that the so-called Dark Ages produced nothing of scientific or technological worth which is completely false) it still begs the question as to why other cultures that did not produce anything anywhere near as advanced in many more thousands of years. I am thinking of the Hindu and Chinese cultures in comparison.

    Damien Spillane

  • Thanks Brian

    Yes, just as many Christians do not read their Bible, many Muslims do not read their Koran, and even fewer in the original Arabic.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill,

    As usual your articles are clear and concise but contain useful depth and great quotes.
    As a Christian, I am not threatened by the words of the Koran or the teachings of Buddha and so on. I am always a bit surprised by what seems to be such an ‘over-reaction’ to people saying the Bible is worth reading (at a minimum from a historical/cultural point of view). I reckon that the ‘proof’ of the pudding is always in the ‘personal tasting’. What I have read of these other famous historical writings has been interesting and helped me better understand other faiths. However, from my own personal experience, I can say that the Bible has impacted me in a different way and has ‘confirmed’ to me it’s very special category of literature.

    Why rely on second hand info? Many of my friends who are not followers of Jesus “bag out” the Bible. However, when I ask them what parts they don’t like/agree with and why, they often speak in generalities that they are basically repeating from others… because they have not actually stopped to read the book for themselves! It seems to be somewhat irrational, even foolish to me to have strong opinions on things I haven’t studied.

    Hey, if you consider yourself a serious atheist, I challenge you to take a few hours and invest some time reading this best-ever-selller in the history of humanity – like Mr Abbott says, you don’t have to believe it… but it seems foolish to me to not check it out a bit for yourself to better understand human history, culture, ethics and so on. If you don’t want to read the whole thing just read about the Jesus guy it’s ultimately all about – something like gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John at the beginning of the “New Testament” section will give you a good idea of who he was and what he taught. Even if it doesn’t ‘float your personal boat’ or ‘win you over’… at least reading this book will help you debate with your Christian friends more effectively. Gosh, what have you got to lose? And you never know, there could be a huge ‘upside’!

    Cheers,
    Kerryn Zwag, Wantirna

  • Bill/Damien,

    Damien quoted Havers quoting Hegel as saying “… only Christianity in its most Protestant form ended slavery …”, yet I am sometimes uneasy with biblical “at-easeness” with slavery. I do think that “modern”, i.e. the Euro-American slave trade, was different in its nature to biblical slavery, but I am interested in your thoughts.

    Graeme Cumming

  • Thanks Graeme

    Yes it is quite true that more recent forms of slavery were quite different from earlier forms, which can often be more properly called ‘indentured servitude’. Many differences, including the ability to purchase one’s freedom, could be noted. I have tried to cover this in more detail elsewhere, eg., https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/07/25/the-bible-slavery-and-morality/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Ghandi read the Bible. Though a Hindu, he treasured the teachings of the Bible. He knew the Bible so well he could discuss Scripture with church leaders who supported his strategy for India’s independence. Study his biography; watch the movie “Ghandi”, and you cant help but notice how closely he followed Christ’s teachings of love, peaceful means rather than force, self-sacrifice, humility and suffering to bring freedom for India. Ghandi learned the powerful lesson of the Power of Powerlessness from Christ – a lesson that too many Christians dont even notice after spending a lifetime reading the Bible.

    Tony Abbott isn’t going to have an easy run. And I urge the people of God to stand behind him, to pray and to encourage him – just as the people of India stood behind Ghandi even when he was in jail.

    Ghandi died a Hindu – killed by an assassin’s bullets. But his mission was accomplished. He never believed, but he was wise enough to treasure – and put into practice – the wisdom of the Bible.

    Swines will never be able to appreciate pearls. But as Ghandi said, “let us not go down to their level, but love them even as they beat us”.

    Eddie Sim

  • As Damien Spillane says, the so-called “dark ages” saw immense advances in agriculture, water and wind power, architecture, and the inventions of the stirrup and spectacles. 14th-century logician John Buridan’s development of the concept of impetus and thoughts about relative motion were forerunners to Galileo’s notion of inertia and earth rotation. (James Hannam, God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science, 2007; Dr Hannam recently earned a Ph.D. on the History of Science from the University of Cambridge, UK).

    After the Reformation, science made great advantages when they applied their objective and straightforward understandings of Scripture to nature. (Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism and the rise of natural science, Cambridge University Press, 2001).

    Furthermore, scientists were highly motivated by a literal understanding of Adam’s Fall, regarding science as way to approach Adam’s superior unfallen knowledge. (Peter Harrison, The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science, Cambridge University Press, 2007)

    See my article The biblical roots of modern science: A Christian world view, and in particular a plain understanding of Scripture and Adam’s Fall, was essential for the rise of modern science.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • I have just been watching an interview on TV of Richard Dawkins by Andrew Denton. It was both sad and almost comic at the same time. Sad because of the deception Richard has allowed himself to believe, and comic in the way his answers seemed to lack integrity and contradict themselves. When asked to define wisdom he side stepped the issue saying there was a perfectly good definition in the dictionary and he refused to try to improve on it.

    We know there is a much better definition found in a book that far too many (including myself) read far too little. Molly pointed this out from proverbs that.. the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

    Let us all take the opportunity to read God’s word while we have it available, lest we see in our time the prophecy of Amos fullfilled “The days are coming” declared the Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” Amos 8:11. Perhaps we are seeing this in some churches already!

    God has promised …As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yeilds seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so it is with my word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11. Does this mean that every time we read His word, the Bible, that some transaction occurs achieving more of Gods purpose? What a privelege! No time reading the Bible is wasted.

    Richard Jardine

  • Thanks Bill,

    This is wonderful to gain the revelation of how important the Bible really is, its truth, its God’s spoken word. I believe it is greatly important to place into schools, just like Abbott was saying they don’t have to become believers, because ultimately that is their choice, but if they look at, read it, and take it in, we will see better citizens in society. I sometimes wonder if people have any idea why western judeo-christian nations are doing better then other nations, its because we are based upon truth, upon the Bible… if you take that away… it would be chaos, like we are seeing in nations that aren’t built upon a Godly foundation.

    Thanks for this post of information, I hope and I will pray that more people become aware and have a heart to seek out the truth.

    Sara Freeman

  • Bill,

    Tony Abbot is not the first person to call for compulsory Bible Classes in our state schools, I have heard atheists like Philip Adams do the same. You simply cannot understand pre-World War II literature or even politics within Western societies without a thorough understanding of the Bible. My only problem with these calls comes from a cheap remainder book I picked up once. The book is Gregory Baum The Church for Others: Protestant Theology in Communist East Germany (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996). East Germany was the only protestant dominated society among the communist occupied countries after World War II. In the 45 years until there absorption by the then West Germany, they had centre Christian education in the Churches. West Germany had it centred in the schools. The East German Protestants fought and lost this move from the Churches to the schools. The power of the gospel was then lost.

    If you look at our own country, look what has happen to the majority of students who attended ‘Christian schools’ over the past century. Most enter the churches for hatches, matches and dispatches only! We need to find ways to improve Biblical literacy to promote greater adherence to Christ. Given the past failures, is school based Bible classes the best option? However, don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that we need to restore the fourth “R” to the curriculum: reading, writing, arithmetic and religion.

    Michael Boswell

  • As an illustration of Labor’s (and Rudd’s) real feelings on all this, consider this press release put out yesterday by Senator Kate Lundy: “ABBOTT MUST RULE OUT INCLUDING BIBLE STUDIES IN NATIONAL CURRICULUM”.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    Awesome article, I just love it when we talk about the greatness of God’s Word. Believers and non-believers need to know just how carefully crafted the Word is.

    If you haven’t seen this already, check out this site by a guy called Chris Harrison.

    http://www.chrisharrison.net/projects/bibleviz/index.html

    He has produced a stunning piece of art that faithfully illustrates that the Bible could ONLY be divinely inspired.

    Kevin Moffat

  • Whilst every word said by Bill is true and several comments are to be commended, the fact is that the chruch in general ignores the bible when it come to how it should express itself. Over the years traditions have been built and now claim superiority over what the bible says. In my own denomination at the moment, they have made it quite clear that they do not appreciate fidelity to the word of God if it contradicts their traditions.
    Roger Marks

  • Hi, Bill

    You mentioned in your article above that the Hindu scriptures are based more on mythology than history. As you know, I’m new to studying the Bible, and I’ve been reading the commentary on Genesis from the NIVAC series. In the introduction the author discusses mythology in his chapter on “Comparative Studies” in the context of understanding the cultural background of the book of Genesis.

    I am not a student of ancient history, and as a consequence the parallels the author illustrated between Genesis topics and ancient writings and beliefs from Israelite and Egyptian cultures caused me some concern. They are extraordinarily similar, at least on the surface. If you’d like specifics, I’m happy to expound.

    I realise this is a whole other can of worms and as such is not something you may wish to get into here. It may not even be your area. Is it apologetics? What I’m hoping you can do is point me to further reading, or some resource (even if it’s another person/genre of Christianity/website), which will help alleviate my concerns about the similarities. I’m sure there would be many writings on this subject. I’m hoping there is something suitable for a beginner/layperson-student.

    Bill feel free to remove this query from the thread, if it adds nothing to the discussion, or repost it elsewhere, as the case may be.

    Appreciatively
    Deb

  • Thanks Deb. Yes this is an apologetics type of issue in which we have critics on the one hand and defenders of the faith on the other. There need not be any major problems here, although atheists and those who dislike the faith and want to “debunk” it will try to pull a fast one here, claiming the biblical authors simply borrowed or pinched their stuff from other myths, etc. As usual, the truth is more nuanced and less sensational than that.

    We know that ancient writers (and not so ancient writers) could draw upon a common set of shared information and knowledge. Thus if there was a major flood back then for example, then we would expect not only the biblical writers referring to it, but other non-biblical authors as well. An issue can arise as to who first ran with something, and who is doing the borrowing, and whether it is in fact “stealing” or something far less sinister, etc. Questions also arise as to just how similar various accounts of something can be, or how divergent the accounts are. Usually there are far more differences than similarities in these cases – far more than the sceptics want to admit. (I do have some lecture notes on this that I use when teaching this stuff, but I need to turn it all into a proper article!)

    The debate can be lengthy, and it depends on which historical event or thing in question is being discussed. We find the same issue in the NT, with skeptics claiming that the concept of the resurrection for example was just borrowed from earlier pagan myths, etc.

    Plenty of books and articles can be mentioned here, but let me just link to a few articles if you want to take it a bit further: As to Genesis and the ANE see here:

    https://answersingenesis.org/creationism/creation-myths/is-genesis-1-11-a-derivation-from-ancient-myths/

    http://www.evidenceunseen.com/bible-difficulties-2/ot-difficulties/genesis-deuteronomy/gen-11-did-the-jews-steal-their-creation-story-from-the-babylonian-enuma-elish/

    http://ap.lanexdev.com/APContent.aspx?category=13&article=4538

    http://www.midwestapologetics.org/articles/creation/genesisenumaelis.htm

    As to the NT and myths, see here:

    http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/is-jesus-simply-a-retelling-of-the-osiris-mythology/

    https://carm.org/was-resurrection-story-borrowed

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/jesus-and-pagan-mythology

    Thanks for being such a keen student!

  • Thanks, Bill

    I’ll check them out.

    You said, “I do have some lecture notes on this that I use when teaching this stuff, but I need to turn it all into a proper article!” Please do… in time.

    Thanks for helping me weed out the chaff!

    Always appreciative
    Deb

  • Wow! You sure do have an efficient team there, Bill 😉 (or you just really know your “stuff” and are super organised)

    Cheers and I have enough info here and research materials to last me a lifetime… welcome to Chrisitanity… lol 😉

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