What makes the Bible different from other religious books?
My grandfather was born before the turn of the 20th century. In his lifetime he saw the advent of the automobile, commercial airplanes, and the computer. But he never met a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or a Mormon. Our question never occurred to him.
Today it’s a common issue: Why do we believe the Bible is right and other religious books are wrong? Other religions are just as sincere in their commitment to their sacred writings as Christians are to ours. Is it not the height of bigotry and hypocrisy to claim that our book is right and theirs are not? In our post-9-11 world, there has been an explosion of interest in Islam and an accompanying cry for tolerance. When we claim that our holy book is true and theirs is not, aren’t we just as intolerant as those who attacked our nation?
Different paths, different mountains
Conventional wisdom these days dictates that the various religions are just different roads up the same mountain. It doesn’t matter which God you trust, because they are all the same. Allah is Jehovah; Buddhists and Hindus seek the same God we worship. Different holy books are simply religious diaries. Who’s to say that your diary is right and mine is wrong?
Such an approach to world religions and their writings feels tolerant and hopeful. But is it true? Do other religions agree with this characterization of their faith commitments? In a word, no.
Buddha taught that there is no “god,” despite the fact that some of his followers now worship him. He instructed his disciples to avoid all material desires, that they might cease their sufferings. The Four Noble Truths and Eight-fold Noble Path are the key to enlightenment. The Tripitika is the oldest compilation of the rules, sermons, and doctrines of this approach to life.
Hindus believe in thousands of territorial deities but no “Lord” of the universe; Brahman is the divine force which sustains the universe, not a personal God to be worshiped. The Rigveda, their earliest scriptures, refer to Brahman as the power which is present in religious sacrifices and actions. Their Upanishads glorify the concept of Brahman over other inferior forms of personal deities.
Muslims believe that Allah (the Arabic word for God) is the one supreme ruler of the universe; that Jesus was a prophet but not the divine Son of God; and that “salvation” comes through obedience to the Koran. This book is Allah’s self-revelation through his prophet Mohammed. All other holy books are inferior to it, for its pages alone contain the very word of God.
Jews believe that Yahweh revealed himself through the Law and Prophets of their Scriptures, that Jesus was not the Messiah, and that the New Testament is not the word of God. They base their hope of heaven on the mercy of God in response to their lives of obedience and morality.
Mormons believe that God revealed himself in the Bible, but also in their Book of Mormon, a history of the early peoples of the Western hemisphere. Joseph Smith translated the book from golden plates which he claimed to have received from the angel Moroni. Doctrine and Covenants contain further revelations received by Smith from God. The Pearl of Great Price contains more writings of Smith. They picture God as an eternal being of flesh and bone who had physical relations with Mary to produce Jesus. Salvation and heavenly rewards come through obedience to these revelations.
If any one of these religions is right, the others by definition are wrong. None believes that other religions are equally correct or divinely inspired. The scriptures which the various world religions trust do not describe different paths up the same mountain, but very different mountains.
Examine the evidence
So far we have demonstrated the fact that the world’s great religious books cannot all be right. In fact, if any of them is correct in its teachings regarding the supernatural and eternal, the others are by definition wrong. So, how do we decide which documents to trust?
Examine the evidence for their truth claims. Hindu documents, for instance, posit an afterlife filled with reincarnations. Is there any historical support or objective evidence for such a position? Does objective, independent evidence exist to document the Buddha’s enlightenment, or Mohammad’s experiences with Allah? A number of cities, inscriptions, and places are described only in the Book of Mormon; to date, none have been found by archaeologists.
Conversely, independent evidence for the existence and deity of Jesus Christ is remarkable. Manuscript evidence documenting the trustworthy nature of the biblical materials is overwhelming. There are excellent reasons to believe the Bible is what it claims to be: the word of God.
What makes the Bible different from other holy books? In a word, Jesus. He taught that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). The Bible was written to help us believe in him and find life in his love (John 20:31).
The sacred writings of the various world religions each tell a different story about the divine, the afterlife, and the purpose of life today. Different roads lead to different destinations. The road you choose determines where your trip will end. Choose wisely.