Well, to start with, we wouldn't necessarily predict that God would communicate via the written word. This is especially true of ancient times, when reproductions were done by scribes who made mistakes and inserted their own biases into the text. Books are also relatively easy to forge: we do have methods for detecting forgeries (and the Bible has quite a few), but in principle all you have to do to avoid being caught is put the right words in the right order.
I've noted in the past that while reliable methods of truth-finding like science tend to converge on an answer, religion tends to diverge into countless opposing dogmas. But it doesn't have to be this way: God could avoid most of the religious schisms and bloodshed by producing a book of maximal clarity. A benevolent God would communicate his message using unambiguous, easily understandable language—especially the parts of his message that are most important. For example, given the stakes involved in eternal salvation, we might expect God to devote a section of the book to describing, with pinpoint precision, exactly what he wants from us. If we don't start with the Bible, we would never predict the tangle of vague, scattered instructions that it provides.
|An artist's depiction of Genesis.|
If God expects us to accept a book as his divine word, it would need to stand out as something unlikely to have a human origin. One way to do this would be to offer predictions of the future or scientific insights that couldn't have been known at the time. Describing heliocentrism, evolution, germ theory or relativity many centuries before their discovery would go a long way toward getting the skeptics to sit up and take notice—and would greatly benefit humanity to boot. Describing specific future wars or natural disasters would have the same effect. Although apologist claim that the Bible does meet these expectations, the examples they use are dubious at best.
If God is absolutely perfect, it would be natural to assume his communication with us to be flawless as well. There are no benefits to allowing errors into the text, and multiple drawbacks: Every internal or external contradiction is not only another possible cause for confusion, but also another reason for skeptics to believe the book is not of divine origin. Of course, we see so many such conflicts in the Bible that we have websites dedicated to documenting them all.
So what can we say about the book we would expect God to hand down to humanity? Insofar as we would expect a book from him at all, we would expect that book to be...
- Universally distributed
- Easily authenticated
- Optimally translated
- Maximally clear
- Thorough in tackling important issues
- Applicable to all cultures
- Prophetic and scientifically insightful
- Perfectly moral
- Internally and externally consistent
- Thematically unified