Is the Bible Simply a Product of Human Wisdom?
TO MANY, the Bible is just a book written by wise men of old. Yet that is not what the Bible itself says. It claims to be a book inspired by God. (2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20, 21) If that claim is true, we should be able to find convincing evidence within its pages to show that it could not have been simply the product of wise men of that time.
Do we find such evidence? Is the fund of knowledge contained in the Bible superior as compared with what may be found on the same subjects in other ancient sources? Is it free from mistaken views prevailing at the time its various parts were written? How does the Bible hold up when examined in the light of present knowledge?
KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE EARTH
Today we know for a fact that the earth rests on no physical supports. But this is not what people generally believed while older parts of the Bible were being written. One common view then held was that four elephants standing on a large sea turtle supported the earth, which was described as a circular plate.
Was the Bible influenced by such ideas? No. At Job 26:7 we read: “[God] is stretching out the north over the empty place, hanging the earth upon nothing.” This accurate statement has long impressed Bible scholars. One of such, F. C. Cook, wrote in the nineteenth century: “It presents a singularly strong protest against superstitions prevalent among all heathens . . . Job knows nothing of solid foundations on which the broad expanse of earth is supported. How Job knew the truth, demonstrated by astronomy, that the earth hangs self-poised in empty space, is a question not easily solved by those who deny the inspiration of Holy Scripture.”
This information in the Bible about the earth is only incidental to the overall message. The Bible’s main objective is to provide sound guidance for living in harmony with the will of God. Logically, therefore, what it says should be far superior to what imperfect men not following it have recommended and continue to recommend as a guide.
Take as an example the Law given through Moses to the nation of Israel some three and a half millenniums ago. One of its objectives was to safeguard the health and welfare of the people. Obedience to it carried with it the promise that the Israelites would fare well from a health standpoint. (Compare Exodus 15:26; Leviticus 26:14-16.) Was that a promise without basis? Or, did the measures in the Mosaic law definitely contribute to this?
Even after the Law was given to the Israelites, the great civilizations were not very advanced as to medical concepts. French physician and scholar Georges Roux writes: “The diagnosis and prognosis of Mesopotamian physicians were a mixture of superstition and accurate observation.” Regarding Egypt’s physicians and their remedies, we read: “From the ancient medical papyri which have been preserved, the largest of which is the Papyrus Ebers, we know that the medical knowledge of these physicians was purely empirical, largely magical and wholly unscientific. In spite of their ample opportunities they knew next to nothing of human anatomy.”—The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. IV, p. 2393.
Not only were most of the prescriptions contained in the Papyrus Ebers of no value, but many were quite hazardous. This was especially true of remedies involving the use of human or animal excrement. To treat the lesions remaining after scabs had fallen off, excrement from a human, a scribe, mixed thoroughly with fresh milk, was to be applied as a poultice. One remedy for drawing out splinters reads: “Worms’ blood, cook and crush in Oil; Mole, kill, cook, and drain in Oil; Ass’s dung, mix in Fresh Milk. Apply to the opening.” The use of dung in this way, rather than bringing relief, could result in a variety of serious infections, including tetanus or lockjaw.
The regulations of the Mosaic law were not influenced by the wrong concepts found in Papyrus Ebers. For example, according to that Law, human excrement was designated as something unclean, to be buried out of sight. The regulation governing a military camp specifically stated: “You shall have a sign outside the camp showing where you can withdraw. With your equipment you will have a trowel, and when you squat outside, you shall scrape a hole with it and then turn and cover your excrement.” (Deut. 23:12, 13, New English Bible) The contrast between the Mosaic law and Egyptian practice is really amazing when we consider that Moses, the one through whom God gave that law to the Israelites, was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.”—Acts 7:22.
If the superior wisdom behind certain provisions in the Mosaic law had been recognized in more recent centuries, many deaths could have been prevented. Just a century ago, because the medical profession of Europe had no sound sanitary standard, mortality rates were frightful. In many maternity wards about one out of every four women died of childbed fever. Why? Medical students, after handling the dead in the dissecting room, would go directly into the maternity ward and conduct examinations without even as much as washing their hands. Infection was carried from the dead to the living. One who noted this, Doctor Semmelweis, at the obstetric clinic in Vienna, Austria, directed that students performing examinations wash their hands in a solution of chlorinated lime. Deaths in the maternity ward dropped sharply. Instead of about one out of every four dying, the ratio came to be about one death for every eighty women.
Later, Semmelweis labored in the country of his birth, Hungary, and his methods gained governmental acceptance. As a whole, however, the medical profession of Europe opposed the washing of hands. The editor of Vienna’s medical journal went so far as to state that the time had come to ‘stop this nonsense about the chlorine hand wash.’ In 1861 Semmelweis published a record of his findings and methods, thereafter sending this to prominent obstetricians and medical societies. The medical world responded unfavorably. At a conference of German physicians and natural scientists, most of the speakers rejected the sound medical opinion of Semmelweis.
The physicians and scientists of nineteenth-century Europe considered themselves to be learned men. But they, doubtless unknown to themselves, were rejecting the superior wisdom revealed thousands of years earlier in the sanitary provisions of the Mosaic law. That Law decreed that anyone touching a dead person became unclean and had to undergo a cleansing procedure that included bathing, and washing his garments. The period of uncleanness was set at seven days, during which time the unclean person was to avoid physical contact with others. Anyone whom he might happen to touch would be made unclean until the evening of that particular day. These measures served as a safeguard against carrying deadly infection from the dead to the living and from one person to another.—Num. 19:11-22.
Think of the many lives that could have been saved if the medical profession of the past century had viewed the Mosaic law as having come from God! This would surely have resulted in their exercising far greater care when handling the living and the dead.
In certain areas the wisdom behind what the Bible says has been recognized only recently. A case in point is the injunction about circumcision given to Abraham and, later, restated in the Mosaic law. It commanded that circumcision not be performed until the eighth day after the birth of a boy. (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:2, 3) But why the eighth day?
It is now known that there are sound physical reasons making the eighth day ideal. Not until the fifth to the seventh day after birth is a normal amount of the blood-clotting element known as “vitamin K” in the baby’s system. Another essential clotting element, prothrombin, seems to be higher on the eighth day than at any other time during a child’s life. Based on this evidence, college physician S. I. McMillen concludes: “The perfect day to perform a circumcision is the eighth day.”—None of These Diseases, pp. 22, 23.
Was it just by chance that the perfect day was picked? It is noteworthy that, though other peoples have long practiced circumcision, only those influenced by the Bible are definitely known to circumcise their baby boys on the eighth day. So, then, is it not reasonable to accept the Bible’s explanation that man’s Creator prescribed that this be the day? Is this not what we should expect from the One who indicated that obedience to his law would contribute toward preserving the people’s health?
That the Bible does contain statements of outstanding wisdom cannot be denied. There definitely are clear indications that the Bible could not have been simply the product of human wisdom. It contains statements revealing wisdom not shared by the world’s wise men at the time it was recorded. Yet there is an even stronger factor that identifies the Bible as a book from God. What is this factor?
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Centuries before men saw the earth from outer space, the Bible stated that the ‘earth hangs upon nothing’
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Had the medical profession believed the Bible, the lives of many mothers could have been spared