I recently read of a study done back in 2012 seeking to determine the highest-selling books in the world over the previous 50 years. The top-selling three books were:
Bible: 3.9 billion copies
Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung: 820 million copies
Harry Potter Series: 400 million copies
When compared with the holy books of other world religions, we find, for example, that the Bible stands apart from the Koran, which was written in a very limited time span and by one man. The Bhagavad-Gita, which is Hindu, was also written by one man in a limited time span. The Book of Mormon, also written by one man. And, finally, Buddhists don’t have a “sacred text,” since they don’t even believe in God; they keep adding to it and then brushing it aside like sand at the doorstep. They add and take away, they don’t have a single source.
The Bible, however, is not just a single book. It is actually a collection of sixty-six books, all of which together is called the canon of scriptures. These sixty-six books contain a variety of genres—history, poetry, prophecy, wisdom literature, letters, apocalyptic, just to name a few.
Second, these sixty-six books, are written by forty different authors. These authors came from a variety of different backgrounds: shepherds, fisherman, doctors, kings, prophets, and others. And most of these authors never knew one another personally.
Third, these sixty-six books were written over a period of fifteen hundred years. Yet again, this is another reminder that many of these authors never knew or collaborated with one another while writing these books.
Fourth, the sixty-six books of the Bible were written in three different languages. In the Bible, we have books that were written in the ancient languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic—a reflection of the historical and cultural circumstances in which each of these books was written.
And finally, these sixty-six books were written on three different continents, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Once again, this is a testament to the varied historical and cultural circumstances of God’s people.
Think about the above realities. Sixty-six books written by forty different authors over fifteen hundred years in three different languages on three different continents. What’s more, this collection of books shares a common story line. The creation, the fall, and the redemption of God’s people.
Philip Yancey has some interesting words on this unique feature of the Bible.
I find it remarkable that this diverse collection of manuscripts written over a period of a millennium by several dozen authors possesses as much unity as it does. To appreciate this feat, imagine a book begun five hundred years before Columbus and now just completed. The Bible’s striking unity is one strong sign that God directed its composition. By using a variety of authors and cultural situations, God developed a complete record of what he wants us to know. Amazingly, the parts fit together in such a way that a single story does emerge.
For centuries, Christians have held the belief that the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments) is God’s chief means of communicating his thoughts to mankind. It is the primary way he has made himself known. Jesus confirms this when he continually quotes the Old Testament by first saying, “It is written,” and then following with the verses quoted from the text. The Bible is considered a book of revelation in that it reveals to mankind spiritual truths that we would otherwise never know. This is why the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky said,
My faith is not built on arguments of logic or reason, it is built on one thing—revelation.
Within the Old and New Testaments, what do we find? We find poetry; we find divine laws and principles for living; we find a detailed and well preserved record of Jewish history—the lives of the prophets, the Psalms, the life of Jesus, and the life of the early Church. And it’s clear that this written revelation exists to be taught and passed on to every succeeding generation.
And today, by far, it remains the best-selling book in the world.