The Bible’s Thematic Unity as Evidence of Its Divine Origin
In his book, What Shall We Do with the Bible, Rubel Shelly sets forth a basic argument for the inspiration of the Bible formulated by the late Dr. Thomas B. Warren. The total argument may be stated as follows:
1. If it is the case that the Bible contains predictive prophecies which were clearly made in advance of their unquestioned fulfillment, is characterized by a humanly impossible unity, treats matters of science in a way which transcends human invention in the days when its various parts were written, has a view of reality otherwise unknown in human thought, has been confirmed by all the accepted means of historical research (e.g. archaeology), and is free from demonstrable error (as well as possessing other features which are beyond mere human wisdom or invention), then the Bible is the Word of God.
2. The Bible contains predictive prophecies which were clearly made in advance of their unquestioned fulfillment, is characterized by a humanly impossible unity, treats matters of science in a way which transcends human invention in the days when its various parts were written, has a view of reality otherwise unknown in human thought, has been confirmed by all the accepted means of historical research (e.g. archaeology), and is free from demonstrable error (as well as possessing other features which are beyond mere human wisdom or invention).
3. Therefore, the Bible is the Word of God. (ix-x)
One of those elements in the argument for the inspiration of the Bible is its humanly impossible unity. Shelly expressed this particular argument this way:
1. If it is the case that the Bible demonstrates a unity of teaching and structure which could not be achieved by unaided human effort, then its origin must be traced to a single supernatural source (i.e. God).
2. It is the case that the Bible demonstrates a unity of teaching and structure which could not be achieved by unaided human effort.
3. Therefore, the Bible’s origin must be traced to a single supernatural source (i.e. God). (31)
While there are many aspects of the unity of the Bible that could be examined, our purpose in this article is to examine the thematic unity of the Bible as evidence of its divine origin.
The Bible is a library of sixty-six books, written over a period of some 1500-1600 years by about 40 different authors of various backgrounds and degrees of education, many of whom did not even know each other. Yet, when it comes to an overall prevailing theme, there is a unity in all these sixty-six books.
James Orr wrote,
But the impartial mind cannot ignore the fact that in the writings which constitute our Bible there is a unity and progression, a guiding purpose, culminating in Jesus Christ and His redemption, a fullness and power of religious truth, which place them in a category, and compel the acknowledgment, of a unique origin answering to their unique character. (12)
Wayne Jackson also wrote:
The redemptive thread that runs through the Scriptures is wonderfully illustrated by a comparison between Genesis and Revelation, the first and last books of the holy canon. In Genesis the origin of the heavens and earth are revealed (1:1), while in Revelation the consummation of earthly affairs is effected, and the old order is replaced by a ‘new heaven and earth’ (i.e. heaven itself), spiritual in nature. . . . Man, who was originally perfect, but fell into sin (Genesis 3:6), is, by virtue of his obedience, granted the opportunity to become perfect again (Revelation 7:14; 22:14). All of this is made possible, of course, by the seed of woman (Genesis 3:15), the offspring of David (Revelation 22:16), who, as a consequence of his sacrifice (Genesis 4:9), became an enthroned Lamb (Revelation 21:14). Thus, the sorrow of Eden (Genesis 3:16) will be transformed into the joy of heaven (Revelation 21:4), and that tree of life from which our early parents were separated (Genesis 3:22-24) will be our glad possession once more (Revelation 22:14). (1)
To summarize, the theme of the Bible is the redemption of mankind by the grace of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God.
The story of this great theme begins in Genesis with what has been called the protevangelium or the first gospel. After the fall of man into sin, the Lord God in Genesis 3:15 says, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” [All Scripture references are taken from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.]
Of this prophecy, Burton Coffman wrote: “He shall bruise thy head . . . is a promise of ultimate and complete victory over evil by the Lord Jesus Christ. This, of course, took place on Calvary where Christ slew him ‘that had power of death’ (Hebrews 2:14). . . . Thou shalt bruise his heel . . . is undoubtedly a reference to the crucifixion . . .” (68).
Kyle Butt, writing in Reason and Revelation, wrote:
Here, then, is the seminal prophecy made to pave the way for all others that would deal with the coming of the great Deliverer of mankind. Several qualities of this coming Deliverer are readily apparent. First, He will come in human form as the seed of woman. Second, He will defeat the effects of sin brought about by the fall of man and entrance of sin into the world. Third, He will be hindered in His redemptive activity by the serpent, Satan, who will inflict upon Him a minor wound. Fourth, He will ultimately overcome the wound of Satan and finally triumph. In the first prediction of the Messiah we catch an underlying theme of a suffering, victorious redeemer–a theme that will be fleshed out in the remaining pages of the Old Testament. (1)
The next major prophecy concerning the Messiah-Redeemer to come is found in Genesis 12:1-3. Here we see the great promises made to Abraham. According to the last part of verse three, “And in you all the families of the earth would be blessed.” J. A. Huffman commented on this passage, “It was to Abraham, the son of Jacob, a descendant of Shem, that God gave a peculiar promise, one which could not be omitted in any serious effort to trace the Messianic hope” (41).
Further prophecies and promises made to Isaac and Jacob make it clear that the Messiah would come through one of the sons of Jacob, namely Judah. In particular, Genesis 49:10 says, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” Alfred Edersheim writes, “. . . the Targum Onkelos, Pseudo-Jonathan, and the Jerusalem Targum, as well as Sanh. 98 b, the Midrash on the passage, and that on Prov. xix. 21, and on Lam. i. 16 . . . refer the expression to the Messiah” (712).
A further development in this theme is found in the writings of Samuel and David. In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, there is a reference to the fact that a descendant of David would be established on a throne forever. This cannot refer to Solomon, as he died. In the book of Psalms, there are several Messianic references concerning this descendant of David. In Psalm 16:8-10, there is a passage that Peter quotes on the day of Pentecost and refers it to the Messiah, whose soul was not left in Hades and flesh did not see corruption (Acts 2:27). Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” Peter, in Acts 2, quotes this passage and refers it to the Messiah.
Not only was the Messiah to be a king, but He also was predicted to suffer. Nowhere is this more apparent than the great 53rd chapter of Isaiah. It was from Isaiah 53:7-8 that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading when Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading (Acts 8:30). Philip began at that passage and preached Jesus unto him. This is not strange because Jesus applied this chapter, especially Isaiah 53:12, to Himself in Luke 22:37 when He said, “For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.”
Of this chapter, Homer Hailey wrote:
The five glorious stanzas of Isaiah’s final servant song consider various features of the servant’s character, life and mission: (1) His exaltation; (2) His acquaintance with grief; (3) His ill treatment and vicarious sufferings; (4) His total submission to Jehovah’s will; and (5) His victory and reward. On these hang the whole of the New Testament preaching and the salvation of all mankind. (443-44)
Other prophecies about the Messiah include Isaiah 7:14, which predicts the Messiah would be born of a virgin. This prophecy, according to Matthew 1:22-23, was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus to Mary. Luke 1:31-35 records the visit of the angel to Mary and tells her that she will give birth to the Son of God when the Holy Spirit shall come upon her. Micah 5:2 identifies the birth place of the Messiah as Bethlehem of Judea, a prophecy which the chief priests and scribes in Herod’s time knew about and attributed that prophecy to the birth place of the Christ (Matthew 2:5-6).
Was Jesus aware of the prophecies made concerning Him while here on Earth? Was He aware of the fact that He was the Messiah-Redeemer-King? What was His take on the Old Testament prophecies related to Him?
Jesus said to the Jews, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). There is no question that the Scriptures mentioned here are the Old Testament Scriptures. Guy N. Woods wrote: “These Scriptures testified of Jesus by detailing the manner of His birth, the kind of life He would live, and the death He would die (Isaiah 53:1ff; Daniel 9:26-27; Deuteronomy 18:18; Genesis 3:15)” (111). [Note: Further discussion of a number of the above cited passages may be found in the article by Charles J. Aebi in this issue, pages 98-102. Gen. Ed.]
On another occasion recorded in Matthew 22:41-45, Jesus asked the Pharisees a question about the Christ as to whose Son He was. When they responded, “David”, Jesus said, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” Jesus understood this reference in Psalm 110:1 to refer to Himself. He was both David’s Lord and David’s Son.
Finally, in Luke 24, while on the road to Emmaus, Jesus was talking to two disciples who did not recognize Him. In the course of the conversation about the events of the past few days, Jesus finally said to them, “’O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27). A little later on in the same chapter it is recorded that He said to the disciples, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).
The Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah-Redeemer-King are found in the writings of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms. The writers of the New Testament were aware of these prophecies and wrote concerning their fulfillment. Jesus Himself acknowledged, as we have shown, that these prophecies were concerning Him. The thematic unity of the Bible concerning the redemption of fallen man through Jesus Christ bears witness of the Bible’s divine origin.
Glenn E. Hawkins
Glenn E. Hawkins received the M.A. in Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion from Harding Graduate School of Religion, studying under Dr. Thomas B. Warren. He has studied, taught, and written in Christian apologetics for over 40 years. He serves as Editorial Consultant for Sufficient Evidence and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Butt, Kyle. “The Predicted Messiah.” Reason & Revelation. January 2006 (1): 1-7.
Coffman, Burton. Genesis. Abilene: ACU P, 1985.
Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947. 2 vols.
Hailey, Homer. A Commentary on Isaiah. Bowling Green: Religious Supply, 1992.
Huffman, J. A. The Messianic Hope in Both Testaments. Butler: Higley, 1956.
Jackson, Wayne. “Bible Unity–An Argument for Inspiration.” Reason & Revelation. 11:1. (Jan. 1991): 1-3.
Orr, James. Revelation and Inspiration. Chicago: Moody, 1969.
Shelly, Rubel. What Shall We Do With the Bible? Jonesboro: National Christian, 1975.
Woods, Guy N. New Testament Commentary–John. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1989.