The Unity of the Bible

While studying this week for my sermon I was once again moved by the unity of the message of the Bible. How could Isaiah and Hosea’s understanding of idolatry be identical to the Apostle Paul’s? Considering the uniqueness of their contexts and the distance from one another, there should be little chance their theological worldviews would match. However, their assessments and warnings sound like they’ve been reading each other’s mail.

This got me to thinking about the Bible’s unity. And reconsidering the Bible’s unity reminded me of a section from W.A. Criswell’s book, Why I Preach the Bible is Literally True. I read it again and thought it is worth passing along. I trust it will bolster confidence in Scripture and fuel worship for our God who has left us a Book. Here is the quote from Criswell:

The Bible was written on two continents, in countries hundreds of miles apart. One man wrote one part of the Bible in Syria; another man wrote another part in Arabia; a third man wrote another portion in Italy and in Greece. They wrote in the desert of Sinai, in the wilderness of Judea, in the cave of Adullam, in the public prison of Rome, on the Isle of Patmos, in the palaces of Mount Zion and Shushan, by the rivers of Babylon and on the banks of the Chebar. Such a variety of places and circumstances were the various bits of this strange mosaic created! No literary phenomenon in the world can be compared with it.

The Bible was written in three different languages: namely, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Some writers wrote hundreds of years after or before the others. The first part was written about fifteen hundred years before the man who wrote the last part was born. The authorship of the books of the Bible extends through the slow progress of nearly 16 centuries. When we think that the nation of America is not 200 years old, it is almost unbelievable that the authorship of the Bible covered nearly 16 centuries.

The Bible was written by men upon every level of political and social life, from the king upon his throne, down to the herdsmen, shepherds, fishermen, and petty politicians. 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 portions of it were written in seasons of ecstatic joy.

Not only in background and in circumstances do the authors differ who wrote the word of God, but they also display in their writings every form of literary structure. In the Bible we will find all kinds of poetry such as epic poetry, lyric poetry, didactic poetry, elegiac and rhapsodic poetry. Also we find every kind of prose. There is historic prose, didactic prose, and theological prose. The Bible will be partly in the form of letters, in the form of proverbs, in the form of parable, in the form of allegory, in the form of oration. Every kind of style and type of literature we will find the Word of God.

Is it thinkable that any book written in different places, languages, and literary genre by authors out of varying cultural levels and circumstances could ever come to be one volume, an organic whole: What would we naturally expect from such a background? We would expect whole areas of discord and all of it utterly lacking any basic or organic unity. In point of fact, what do we find? We find the most heavenly and marvelous unity of any book on the earth. Every part of the Bible fits every other part of the Bible. There is one ever-increasing, ever-growing-ever-developing plan pervading the whole (pp. 93-95).

3 Comments on “The Unity of the Bible

  1. How could Isaiah and Hosea’s understanding of idolatry be identical to the Apostle Paul’s”…”…their assessments and warnings sound like they’ve been reading each other’s mail.
    Wouldn’t Paul have read Isaiah and Hosea and had his own perspective shaped by them? He was reading their mail!

    “We would expect whole areas of discord and all of it utterly lacking any basic or organic unity.”

    I don’t think so for two reasons:

    1 – The bible has been revised, and redacted, and books have been removed in its canonization. These have worked to harmonize and provide unity to the message over time. So it is one thing to say the NT displays unity, but a wholly different thing to say this unity could only be divinely coordinated. Not that the unity could not be perceived as divinely inspired either way. Though certainly one process would have more a naturalistic appearance than the other.

    2 – Critiques of the unity shown — is it really apparent? Gleason Archer’s “Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties” demonstrates how difficult it can be to see unity in the bible. Yes, there are logical possibilities for these difficulties, but their existence belies a clear sense of unity in the bible.And regardless of what you think about the unity, most Christians will admit to a high level of tension created in some of its teachings.

    I don’t mean to imply that a divinely inspired message could not have tensions, or apparent difficulties. I just don’t see the unity of the bible as a strong apologetic for its having a divine origin.

  2. Jay: “I just don’t see the unity of the bible as a strong apologetic for its having a divine origin”

    Only someone who has never seriously studied the Bible–or someone who looks at it with a jaded eye–could make a statement like that.

    Whence but from heaven could men unskilled in arts,
    In several ages born, in several parts,
    Weave such agreeing truths? Or how, or why
    Should all conspire to cheat us with a lie?
    Unasked their pains, ungrateful their advice,
    Starving their gain, and martyrdom their price.

    –John Dryden, Religio Laici

  3. Must be a jaded eye then in my case. Or else you just have a blinded eye to believe what you believe. Though I think either statement is a baseless assertion. :^)

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