In Tom Gilson’s review of John N. Oswalt’s The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?, he lists some of the key differences between the God of the Bible and the gods of the myths:
I have asked in the past how the ancient Hebrews could have been so far ahead of their time. The Bible Among the Myths extends the question: how could they have been so utterly different from every other culture in history? For the contrasts are great. Oswalt identifies these common (if not universal) features of myth, contrasted with the Genesis view:
- Cyclical time: there is a lack of definite beginning and no clear direction to reality (with no one to give it direction). The Bible speaks of history with a beginning, with progress, and with a destination.
- Nature symbolizing the divine. The Bible specifically rejects this.
- The significance of magic, specifically the use of ritual and/or manipulations of matter to cause predictable results in the realm of deity. This, too, is nowhere to be found in biblical religion.
- Obsession with fertility and potency, often expressed in religious (temple-based, even) prostitution of every base description. God is not sexual, nor is the religion he revealed.
- Polytheism: obviously not the case for biblical theism.
- The use of images in worship: expressly forbidden in the Ten Commandments.
- Eternity of chaotic matter: see above; not so in the Bible.
- Low view of the gods, who are more powerful than humans but no better ethically; the Bible depicts God as perfectly holy, just, loving, and righteous.
There is considerably more….
The God of the Bible is “serenely supreme,” unable to be manipulated, and perfectly moral. It’s not hard to see why cultures wouldn’t make up a God like this. A being who is before all and knows all, and who can’t be swayed from His righteousness and justice, is a frightening one. Frightening, that is, without grace.
I think the most amazingly unique thing about the true God is the way He solved the justice/grace problem—that is, without compromising His perfect justice, without lowering His standards, without denying one ounce of the evil of our sin, “because of His great love with which He loved us,” He executed His perfect justice and secured for us the benefits of His self-giving grace in one action on the cross.
On his own, no man ever came up with the brilliant, game-changing truth that God is both just and the justifier.