Is There Only One Holy Book?

My online friend Epignosis (who I’ll call Epi), a Jehovah’s Witness, quickly discovered that when he asked questions or made assertions about my beliefs, I felt perfectly comfortable going to the Bible — especially the words of Christ — for the answers. 

It was understandable that he wanted to define the nature and role of scripture as the foundation of belief. Having seen that the Holy Books of “other” religions included what we commonly call the Golden Rule and spoke of One Supreme Spirit or Absolute that had generated the contingent world, Epi said:

“There is one Bible. There are no quotes from other writings and God warned us about adding or taking way, from it.”

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Epi saw the scriptures of other Faiths as being added spuriously to the real scripture and pointed me to a passage in the Book of Revelation that he felt made his point: 

I am bearing witness to everyone that hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone makes an addition to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this scroll; and if anyone takes anything away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take his portion away from the trees of life and out of the holy city, things which are written about in this scroll.

I replied: Whether there are quotes from other writings depends, I suppose, on what you consider “other.” There are Sumerian stories in Genesis; in the Book of Isaiah, the prophet refers to the Zoroastrian king Cyrus as “God’s anointed” (in Latin Christos). In fact, in Isaiah, we have God speaking to the Jews, then captive in Babylon, through the Zoroastrian kings. Does this indicate that perhaps God doesn’t consider the Sumerians or Zoroastrians “other?”

I added: Three times in the passage you quote, John emphasizes that he’s talking about “the scroll of this prophecy” — that is, the Revelation of St. John itself, so his warning makes sense. We know he wasn’t talking about “the Bible” because the Bible as we know it did not exist in his time.

The scriptures John knew were the Jewish scriptures — the Tanakh (composed of the Torah (Law), Nevi’im (books of prophecy) and Ketuvim (writings of Jewish sages). Not even one of the Gospels existed as books when John wrote this passage. It would be 300 years until the Nicene Council codified the collection of books most Protestant denominations call the Bible. Their list did not agree with other Councils, which is why most Protestant Bibles have 66 books, the Catholic Bible has 73, the Orthodox 81, and the Coptic Bible has 84. 

Who added and who subtracted?

The Pharisees saw Jesus Christ as someone trying to “add to scripture” and rejected the idea that he had the God-given authority to do so. Since none of the Gospels had been composed yet, John’s prophetic scroll was also adding to scripture as it existed at the time. 

Do you see the paradox? 

I went on by saying: I know you’ll agree that the Gospels and Epistles are necessary to the understanding of God’s purpose for humanity, but the Jewish scholars at the time made the exact same argument you’re making about adding or subtracting. Hence, they rejected Christ’s teachings.

You and I are in full agreement that the purpose of God was for Christ’s message to become part of the scriptural record. Where we differ is in extending that understanding into the thousands of years before and after Christ’s earthly ministry and to prophets sent to other peoples. I see the message as being continually renewed in age after age, with new elements arising as we need them and are capable of understanding them. This is the Baha’i principle of progressive revelation and the reason why Baha’is believe in one Creator and one successive set of divine messengers, all of whom taught the same essential truths.

The Bible, itself, eloquently illustrates the way God reveals Himself progressively according to our capacity to comprehend. As you note, He sent Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. And Jesus speaks to this exact point when He explains to the Pharisees why He gives a different law of divorce from what was revealed in the Torah. In Matthew, Christ tells the Pharisees: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

God didn’t change in His attitude toward divorce; we changed enough that at least some of us could follow the new commandment. While you and I agree that Christ had the God-given authority to interpret or even change divine law, the Pharisees didn’t. They viewed Jesus as a false prophet trying to add to or subtract from Holy Scripture. 

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The bottom line for both of us is that Christ DID have that authority, and his words — which were the Word of God — were appropriately added to what we consider scripture. Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah also has the authority to reveal the Word of God. Baha’u’llah wrote

Know thou of a certainty that the Unseen can in no wise incarnate His Essence and reveal it unto men. He is, and hath ever been, immensely exalted beyond all that can either be recounted or perceived. From His retreat of glory His voice is ever proclaiming: “Verily, I am God; there is none other God besides Me, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. I have manifested Myself unto men, and have sent down Him Who is the Day Spring of the signs of My Revelation. Through Him I have caused all creation to testify that there is none other God except Him, the Incomparable, the All-Informed, the All-Wise.” He Who is everlastingly hidden from the eyes of men can never be known except through His Manifestation, and His Manifestation can adduce no greater proof of the truth of His Mission than the proof of His own Person.

As a Baha’i, I believe in Baha’u’llah for the same reasons I believe in Christ — his words, his deeds, the testimony of scripture, and the application of reason and faith.

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