There are great books throughout history. Plato’s “Republic,” Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Homer’s “Odyssey,” Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” would be among them. There are many lists of the greatest books of all time. It would depend upon what you like in a book; whether you like fiction or nonfiction, history or mystery, drama or biography. On a different level, there are books that have been written that various religions consider inspired at some level. The Bible, the Quran, the Sutras, the Vedas and the Book of Mormon would be some of the most notable. Again, the greatest would likely depend upon a person’s bias or upbringing.
Definitely the Bible stands above all others in numbers sold (3.9 billion), languages in which it has been translated (more than 2,000), numbers of people who have read it or can quote parts of it, numbers of societies, cultures and governments that have been formed or significantly influenced by it (more than 2,300), and versions of it in English (about 120). Those numbers alone make a person pause in awe, especially since most of the sacred writings of other religions were written by one author at one time and place from one perspective and without corroborating testimony. But those are just numbers. Why has it been so influential? What is it about the Bible that makes it unique?
Entire books have been written to answer these questions. I will not attempt to give extensive answers. I will merely note some of the reasons the Bible stands above all other books. It was written over more than 1,000 years detailing events and people on three continents written by about 40 people in at least three languages with another few languages used in small portions. Beyond the sheer complexity noted by the numbers above, the writers from different eras, places and languages speak in remarkable harmony about the core elements in the world. They give a unified message about God, humanity, creation, meaning, sin, salvation, life after death, eternity, and final rewards and punishments. The threads bear uniqueness of authors and cultures from which they wrote. But the overall unity of the Bible is remarkable given the diversity from which it was written.
Beyond all of that has been the core reason why the Bible stands alone. It has its own unique authority. Prophecies were written that were fulfilled many years and sometimes generations after they were uttered. The real, historic nature of it has served as a historic reference to archeologists, linguists, scientists and geographers. It is not merely a book of philosophy, but of accurate truth telling and mysteriously authentic revelation. It spares no detail in telling us about the character of God, His interaction with humanity, humanity’s repeated failed attempts to correct course and God’s solution to our abysmal failure. It is a comprehensive book that speaks objectively in history and subjectively to the heart of every human being.
It has answers. It answers the core questions we all have and gives us a window into better understanding God. It answers the question, “How do I get where I am supposed to go and do what I am supposed to do?” It answers the essential questions on how we should live.
Perhaps that is why the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, said that even though he was a prolific writer and devoured books from antiquity, the Bible was the one book that held the highest honor over all others. He said, “I have thought I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God; just hovering over the great gulf, till a few moments hence I am no more seen. I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven — how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri” [a man of one book].
We who are Methodists more than 200 years after Wesley’s death join him with that same sentiment. The bishops of the Free Methodist Church are “homo unius libri” and invite you to join us. We devote time to God by reading the Bible. We daily seek ways to be obedient to God by reading the Bible. We receive our greatest counsel by reading and meditating on the words found in the Bible. We learn how to pray, relate with one another and deal with difficulties by reading the Bible.
This year we are dedicating some time to remind, renew and re-educate ourselves on why and how the Bible should play a significant part in our spiritual development. Let the articles that follow help you dig deeper, appreciate more and live more fruitfully as you grow to understand God and the world through this unique, authoritative and unparalleled book.
Bishop Matthew Thomas has been an active part of the Free Methodist Church since 1979. His ministry roles have included serving as a pastor, church planter, missionary and superintendent.