The Unique Character of the Bible
It is already years ago that the great tragedy of September 11 occurred. We were all wondering at that time what the future would hold, whether there would be still more attacks upon the country, and how we would deal with such attacks. Clearly we were faced with something we had not faced before in our comparatively short history. Our enemy was not simply another nation or group of nations, but adherents of a militaristic religion, Islam, with its many millions of excitable adherents around the world.
The First Attacks
This war of religion (or “jihad” in Arabic) has been going on for a long, long time. As a matter of fact, it has been going on for fourteen centuries! Islam was founded in the first quarter of the seventh century as a militaristic faith. Mohammed himself went out with armies conquering other people, subduing them, and forcing them to accept his newly invented religion.
Hardly had he died in 632 A.D. than the armies of Islam began to go forth to conquer the world. They had remarkable success. The whole Middle East and the Persian Empire (what we now call Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) fell into their hands like ripened fruit from a tree. Then Egypt and North Africa, right across to the Atlantic Ocean were conquered. Where formerly there had been hundreds and thousands of Christian churches, where Athanasius of Alexandria had set forth the truths of the personality of our Lord Jesus Christ and the nature of God as Triune (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), and where Augustine had worked and ministered in Hippo in the present country of Tunisia, there was hardly a Christian Church left in existence, and all that within just about one hundred years.
Then in 711 A.D. the North African Moors, having become Muslims, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar into Spain. In the space of one year they overthrew the Visigoth Kingdom that had existed in Spain for 350 years, and conquered the whole Iberian Peninsula apart from a very little strip along the Bay of Biscay in the northern part of the country. They poured across the Pyrenees into modern France, and were only stopped in 732 A.D. by the Franks under Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charles the Great whom we know as Charlemagne. They were thrown back from France across the Pyrenees.
In 722 A.D. a Christian resistance began in Spain to reconquer their land from the Muslims. Do you know how long it took? Seven hundred and seventy years! Only in 1492, with the conquest of Granada in the south of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, was the last Muslim kingdom in Western Europe destroyed.
In the meantime, the rest of Europe began to be alarmed. Eventually in the 11th and 12th centuries of the Christian era, they sent their forces into the Near East. The Moors had ceased to be the leaders of Islam. The Turks had taken over and they were another vicious and militaristic group of people. They had cut off the routes to the holy places in Palestine to which many Europeans delighted to go on pilgrimages to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the City of Jerusalem. The great Crusades began. They are much maligned by modern teachers who have no appreciation whatsoever for what was attempted, namely to deliver at least a portion of Christendom from the yoke of Islam which had been laid upon them. They were not ultimately successful. For a while the Near East was free once again, but eventually the vices of the Crusaders themselves undid their success. They were driven out of the Near East, but it wasn’t long before the Muslims were on the attack once again. Throughout this history, and in almost every case, it was the Muslims that sought to overcome and stamp out Christianity if they could.
In 1453, only a few years before the recovery of Southern Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella, they conquered and took Constantinople, the Christian capital of the East. The great church called Hagia Sophia, the Holy Wisdom, after the Lord Jesus Christ “who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30), was turned into a mosque. From there, they conquered all of the Balkans and most of the Kingdom of Hungary. In 1683 under Suleiman the Magnificent they camped before the City of Vienna itself, and they would have taken it had not all of Europe combined to throw them back.
1683 is not so long ago. The Dutch Reformed Church in the City of New York was already 55 years old in 1683. This gives you an idea how the time line progressed. From 1683 until 1919 the Muslim forces were driven back step by step until there was left to them nothing but the City of Constantinople itself and its suburbs on the European continent. But they have never given up. It is their religion to conquer the world.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ sent us out to preach the Gospel to every creature. He promised to be with us to the end of the world. Mohammed sent his forces out to conquer the world by fire and sword and to compel all people to accept the crescent.
The Major Issue
We must begin to face this issue. There is a choice to be made between Islam and Christianity. People may not realize that. In fact, many of our leading opinion makers today cannot imagine that there could be conflict on such a thing as religion. Many of them are agnostic. They cannot imagine that anyone could be that committed to something that doesn’t concern them at all. They are like the people of whom Zephaniah spoke (Zephaniah 1:12) “The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil.” In other words, He is irrelevant to the issues of our lives today. I remind you that He is not.
Islam claims that its book, the Koran, is the very word of God. Christians (at least those who are committed to the historic understanding of our faith) insist upon the proposition made in II Peter 1:21, “that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost”, in the book we call the Bible. Is it possible to discern between them? Or is it as many people today think: a tossup? One book of cunningly devised fables over another book of cunningly devised fables? Is there truth in all of this? Is there a choice to be made? This article seeks to convince you that there is only one choice to be made: the Bible!
The Bible is absolutely unique. There is not another book like it in all the world, and surely not the Koran. There are three ways in which I would suggest this to you.
First of all, I want to point out to you the unique origin of the Bible over against that of every other holy book and especially over against the Koran.
Secondly, I want to remind you of the unique contents of the Bible, so different from anything else that claims to be the Word of God.
Finally, I want to address the unique function of the Bible over against every possible substitute.
The Unique Origin
We look first at the unique origin of the Bible. The name itself is very, very significant. “Ta Biblia” in Greek means “the books.” Dr. Philip Schaff in his “Christian Catechism” of 1863 asks:
“What is the Bible?” His answer is this: “The Bible is the Book of Books, the best and most important of all books.”
That’s a very fitting answer, isn’t it? The Bible consists of 66 books, 39 written before Christ and foretelling His coming, and 27 written after His coming and revealing His Gospel.
The Bible’s only real rival is the Koran. Hindu scriptures, Buddhist scriptures are totally unlike the Bible or the Koran. They are the remnants of ancient philosophical and liturgical writings, of songs and other material. They are not the truth of God, given for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, as Paul writes in II Timothy 3:16. The choice ultimately comes down to the Bible or the Koran.
It is claimed, of course, that the Koran comes directly from God. The story is plainly told and widely believed by Muslims all over the world. Mohammed, in about 622 A.D., received it directly from God. Muslims insist that Mohammed was really an illiterate man. It’s very possible that he was. They want to insist upon it in order to make the point that he didn’t write the Koran, God wrote it. Or at least, God dictated it, in exactly the form in which it now exists, from heaven above.
Mohammed, during most of the time that the Koran was written, was out of the body. He was in a trance. He lay on the ground. He rolled about. He foamed at the mouth and he spoke strange things. Those who heard him wrote down what he said. Lo and behold, it came out in perfectly literary and grammatical Arabic! Believe that, if you will, but at least that’s the story they tell. They believe that every single word and phrase and verse of this book is the literal Word of God.
Many Muslims themselves will tell you it is a rather confusing book, but they virtually worship it. Beautifully printed, finely bound, placed in the mihrab of the mosque, that is in the prayer corner facing Mecca to which all the faithful turn and bow their heads at the appropriate time. It is the sacred book.
Most Muslims cannot read the Koran. You would think they would consult it as we consult the Bible. The Koran, however, may not be translated by pious Muslims. It has been translated by foreigners. That is why you can find copies now and then in English and in other modern languages, but Muslims may not translate the Koran or read it in any other language but Arabic.
How many of them speak Arabic? Well, the Arabs do, the people of the Near East do, the people of North Africa do, but in such a dialectical form that the ancient classical Arabic is almost like a foreign language to them. The majority of Muslims do not speak Arabic at all! They may write with Arabic characters, but it’s not in the Arabic language that they write. The Turks and all of the people of Central Asia, in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, etc., all the way into western China speak Turkish languages. They have no relationship to Arabic whatsoever. The Iranians, the Afghanis, the Pakistanis, speak Indo-European languages which are more closely related to our own then they are to Arabic. Of course, the whole Muslim community of Malaysia and Indonesia speak Malayan languages which are yet another whole family of languages. They cannot understand the Koran. They are totally dependent on their Imams and Mullahs and others who claim to know what it’s all about, to tell them what it says.
Listen by contrast to the origin of the Bible. It is summed up in these few words: “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” God is its origin, needless to say. “Holy men” were the human authors. Mohammed was not holy. He was a visionary, a soldier, and polygamist. Holy guided, moved by the Spirit of God, to teach us about Himself and His will. In origin, there is simply no comparison between the Bible as God’s Word and the Koran as the word of men.
The Unique Contents
As to the contents, both the Bible and the Koran presuppose a single God. The Koran uses the same word for God as the Hebrew Bible. There is an obvious relationship between “Allah” and “Elohim”, the Hebrew word for “God”, except for the ending, but there the similarity ceases.
The God of the Koran is a despot. That is, he has all power and he uses it as an irresponsible sovereign. He cares nothing for the people he has made. He makes no covenant with them. He never binds Himself to any way of life for salvation. He makes no promises to them. He offers no salvation or help to them at all. They struggle as best they can. Their salvation is ultimately summed up in their constant expression “inshallah” (“if God wills”). They do not know. They cannot know until the last day, when they rise from the dead before the judgment seat of God, who then decides who will and who will not be saved.
Unless they are met with the favor of God, if he likes their looks, or something about them, they have no hope. That is why many Muslims become so fanatical, because they have the idea in their mind that if they sacrifice themselves in behalf of Allah they may get to the head of the line. God will notice them and ultimately reward them with eternal life. But common folk, like you and me, what does Allah care for us? What has he ever cared for us? Prayer? There is no such thing. It is all rote. Five times a day, to be sure. The Muslim seems very devoted when he bows his head before Allah and proclaims himself the slave of Allah. That’s what “Muslim” means.
What does the Bible say about its contents? Jesus put it plainly and beautifully in the eighth chapter of John “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” You are free from the yoke of bondage, free from the yoke of error, free from the uncertainty of God’s attitude towards you. You may know that for the sake of Jesus Christ His Son, God is your Father in heaven, who loves you with an everlasting love; who while we were yet sinners, sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to die for our sins in order that we might have everlasting life through Him. Is there a choice between these two? Would any rational man say “I would rather serve Allah” than the living God?
The Unique Function
The Koran has one function and that is to lay a yoke of life-long bondage upon those who hear it and believe it. If you think the law of the Old Testament as interpreted by the Pharisees was a yoke of bondage, as the apostles clearly bear witness, think of this: at least the God whom the Pharisees preached is a God of grace as well as a God of laws.
I am the Lord Thy God which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Grace, first, and then law.
You do not find any grace at all in Allah. He simply says “Do this because I say so.” He has no moral law. The Ten Commandments do not exist in Islam. The Sermon on the Mount is unknown in Islam. He has no morality. Four wives are permitted to every man at a time, and he can divorce any one or two or three of them and take others in their place as he pleases. Six hundred years after Christ clearly abolished the institution of plural marriage! “In the beginning it was not so”, he said, and that was the end of it.
Violence? Slavery? The two nations that continue to practice slavery under their own laws today are both Islamic nations, the Sudan, and the so called Islamic Republic of Mauritania. We are told that slavery has recently reappeared in Nigeria. How can the black Muslims here in this country, for example, say that Islam is the answer to their needs when Islam has always been the primary defender of slavery in the world and still is? What does the book of the Mohammedans do except put mankind in a bondage from which they cannot escape?
The Bible, on the other hand from the beginning to the end, promises salvation. It sets forth Jesus Christ who is Himself our Savior, who loved us with almighty love, who died for us on Calvary’s cross, who says to us,
Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
My dear friends, this is not a tossup. It is not “the Bible is good”, “the Koran is good”, whatever you want to follow is “good”, as long as you do it sincerely, as long as you think you are getting a blessing or a profit out of it or anything of that sort. It is not the idea that is so popular among us and that is constantly being hammered home in the public schools and through the media that religion doesn’t matter. We need to wake up before it is too late. I don’t believe it’s too late for us, but I do believe the old saying of II Chronicles 7:14,
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will heal their land.
There is only one hope for us. Do not think that what we saw on September 11, 2001 is necessarily the end. It is possible that greater evils than this can come upon us, but the other alternative is possible, too. It is possible that the two billion people in the world who have a Christian heritage will wake up and will say “This is our God”, and “This is the gospel of redemption He has given us, and this is the loyalty that we need to have. This is what we need.”
This is what Islam needs as well, for Islam is poor, and naked and blind. Not simply in physical things, but spiritually. Hundreds of thousands of them have already recognized this, but they hardly dare to say it for fear of their co-religionists. Both Christian and Muslims need the Bible, God’s unique Word, offering pardon and peace to all through the only Savior, Jesus Christ.