Thursday, April 02, 2020

1888 Message Study : The Uniqueness of the Bible




Our title this week is, "The Uniqueness of the Bible". Much of modern culture and "scholarship" would tell us that the Bible is far from unique. We are told that there are many roads to the truth, and that all religions and philosophies are equally valid means of attaining to truth and eternal salvation – albeit what "salvation" varies from religion to religion and philosophy to philosophy.

I have a large volume in my library called, "World Scripture:  A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts" by the International Religious Foundation. It's basically a collection of "verses" or excerpts from a multitude of religious texts and arranged under common headings, such as, "Divine Law, Truth, and Cosmic Principle", "The Purpose of Life", "The Human Condition", "Fall and Deviation", "Ultimate Reality", "Salvation, Liberation, and Enlightenment", "Worship", "Self-Denial and Renunciation", "Live for Others", "Eschatology and Messianic Hope", etc. All of these categories could fall under categories of truth that Christians (including SDAs) would find important, and that the Bible has something vital to speak to.

This volume in my library is nearly 1,000 pages. Virtually all of it verse after verse after verse of various "sacred" texts that relate to different topics.

Notice some of the following quotations and see if you believe they would fall under the rubric of Christian truth?


"He has created the heavens and the earth with truth."  Koran 16.3

"From the bosom of the sacred Word, He brought forth the world."  Atharva Veda 4.1.3

"Universal law embodies the spirit of sacrifice and service towards others."  Unification Church

"Liberation comes from living the holy Word."  Sikhism, Sri Raga Ashtpadi

"Truth is the way.  Truth is the goal of life."  Hinduism, Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.6

"Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself."  Islam

"A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated."  Jainism

"Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you."  Confucius


Although I haven't read this tome in totality, I've spent a fair number of hours reading it and considering what makes the Bible and Christianity unique. Clearly, a religion is made up of the totality of its "truths" and philosophy, and not merely a few pleasing aphorisms. So, even though we would probably all agree with all the quotes above, that doesn't imply that all "truths" of all religions are equally valid.

As I've read through other religious texts, what seems to be common to most (all?) religions is the call to a moral life. For example, all the religions in this volume of "World Scripture", include instructions or commandments to be faithful to your spouse, to help the poor and needy, to honor your parents, to worship "god", to be unselfish, to love others, to not covet, to observe sacred days and events, etc.

When it comes to our behavioral obligations to "God/god(s)", there is a tremendous amount of overlap in religious writings.

So, what is unique about the Bible and Christianity? As I've read this "World Scripture" book, at least two things have struck me. One, with exceedingly rare exceptions, none of the verses quoted in this "World Scripture" volume tell me much about the character of the Supreme Being (God). There is a lot about the power, magnificence, awesomeness and pervasiveness of God's/gods'/supreme being, but very little about His character.

In these "sacred" texts, there is nothing about a God/god(s) Who loves to the point of sacrificing Himself for lesser beings. There is no John 3:16 outside the Bible. The attributes of 1 Corinthians 13 in their totality would never be ascribed in totality to God/god(s). There is no, "the Father Himself loves you" (John 16:27) in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Unification church, Sikhism, African tribal religion, etc.

The call to right behavior is relatively similar in most religions, but the motivation to that right behavior being awakened as a responsive appreciation to the goodness of God (Romans 2:4) towards me is missing.

The message we have to give to the world is NOT, "we have a different or better set of behaviors to do than your current religion" – Sabbath, vegetarianism, tithe, modesty, etc. All of which are important. The message we have to give is to come join us in getting to know about a God Who loved us more than we can imagine.

This is why the Bible is made up, to a large degree, of stories and not primarily wise aphorisms and good rules – although that is present. The Bible is made up of actual, true stories from history, where we can see how God has acted in a variety of circumstances and over a long period of time – in order to LEARN ABOUT and ASSESS GOD'S CHARACTER.

The whole conflict between good and evil is, ultimately, not about your salvation and mine. The conflict is fundamentally about the trustworthiness and goodness of God, which have been brought into question. The response to the accusations of Satan cannot be either counter accusations, or mere statements from God about His power, glory, and majesty, or statements from God that Satan is lying.

Ultimately, the only way to refute Satan's accusations is in the realm of demonstration. How does God act in difficult circumstances, with problem children, when He's being betrayed, etc. How does God act when His very "self" is but at eternal risk.

The 1888 message was meant to be a paradigm shifting leap forward in our understanding and appreciation for the goodness of God. The understanding that He is the Savior of the whole world, not just the believer. The understanding that He will fulfill His promises to us, even when our promises to Him fail. The understanding that God's love and grace are so influential and persuasive that it actually makes it hard to be lost. The understanding that God's goodness does lead us to repentance that includes righteousness. Righteousness that comes by faith, not by knowing the list of requirements really well.

"This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world."  TM 91.2

The second and related unique aspect of Christianity, which is developed most fully in Seventh-day Adventist theology, is seeing the world and the Bible through the lens of the great controversy.

"The student should learn to view the Word as a whole, and to see the relation of its parts. He should gain a knowledge of its grand central theme, of God's original purpose for the world, of the rise of the great controversy, and of the work of redemption. He should understand the nature of the two principles that are contending for supremacy, and should learn to trace their working through the records of history and prophecy, to the great consummation. He should see how this controversy enters into every phase of human experience; how in every act of life he himself reveals the one or the other of the two antagonistic motives; and how, whether he will or not, he is even now deciding upon which side of the controversy he will be found." {Ed 190.2}

All religions have a controversy between god and evil. Almost all movies and books (novels) have a controversy between good and evil. Even atheists on some level articulate a conflict between good and evil (one of atheism's chief critiques to the existence of a good God is that evil exists). And although Christianity sees a conflict between God and Satan, the root and source of the conflict is never articulated as in Adventism.

The idea that the conflict between good and evil, God and Satan, is over whether God is good or not, is NOWHERE in religious thinking in our world. This is the unique perspective of the Bible and Seventh-day Adventism. As we study the Bible, and as we learn "how to interpret Scripture" this quarter, may we always discern the "grand central theme", and see the "two principles" in the Bible and in the world and in our own lives. When we, "view the Word as a whole", from this perspective, we will see the "uniqueness" of the Bible, and have a solid foundation for how to "interpret" the Bible.

May we have the wisdom and humility to see the Bible, and ourselves, and God Himself, as He sees.


~Bob Hunsaker