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A BahaiTeachings reader asked us: “Why do you use so many Baha’i quotes? Don’t your writers have their own opinions?”
O.K., that’s really two questions, so allow me to enthusiastically answer the last one first: Yes! The contributors who write essays for BahaiTeachings.org definitely have their own opinions. Do they ever! That’s one of the reasons we insert a general disclaimer at the end of each article: The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.
You see, dear reader, the Baha’is—maybe the most diverse group of people on Earth—have a very diverse array of opinions, too. As you might imagine, a Navajo Baha’i, for example, would naturally have a completely different set of life experiences, suppositions and opinions than an Namibian Baha’i, or a New Zealander Baha’i, or a Norwegian Baha’i. The divergence in their cultures alone would inevitably lead to healthy differences of opinion, right?
But here’s the thing: Baha’is, while they may differ in their personal opinions, all agree that the ultimate source of expertise and authority in the Baha’i Faith comes directly from the Baha’i writings themselves. That’s the real answer to the first question our reader asked—“Why so many Baha’i quotes?” At BahaiTeachings, we try to include at least one Baha’i quote in each article, because Baha’is see their Faith’s writings as a powerful wellspring of wisdom, insight, spiritual truth and divine guidance. Baha’is turn to the Baha’i writings every day to discover, meditate on and take in that wisdom, insight and truth.
That’s one of the unique, salient qualities of this religion—its original writings. Often called “the Word of God” in the Baha’i lexicon, they hold the key to the human heart:
The Word of God is the king of words and its pervasive influence is incalculable. It hath ever dominated and will continue to dominate the realm of being. The Great Being saith: The Word is the master key for the whole world, inasmuch as through its potency the doors of the hearts of men, which in reality are the doors of heaven, are unlocked … It is an ocean inexhaustible in riches, comprehending all things. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 173.
This raises a big and very interesting question: scriptural authority. Whether you call it the Word of God or holy scripture or divine revelation or simply the Baha’i writings, how does it happen that one person speaks and writes, and millions of people follow those utterances? What is it about the Word of God that dominates the realm of being and unlocks the doors of the hearts?
In this series of essays on the power and authority of the Word of God, we’ll see if we can find the answers to those very important questions.
Let’s start at the beginning, by trying to understand how scripture has worked in the past. In previous global Faiths, prior to the Baha’i revelation, we’ve only had access to the reported writings and sayings of the messengers who started those Faiths—not their actual writings. Krishna and the Hindu prophets lived in pre-literate times, and we have none of their substantiated original writings left from so long ago. Buddha taught his followers orally, and literate monks passed on and then wrote down what he said in the Tipitaka, sometimes much later. Moses and Abraham did not leave any verifiable writings themselves—instead, their teachings were transmitted by word of mouth until the 120 men of the Great Assembly (also known as the Great Synagogue) wrote the 24 books of the Tanakh. Jesus Christ didn’t write anything down firsthand in the Bible directly, either, as far as we know. If he did, those words are lost to us now. Muhammad did not write the Qur’an—others transcribed it from his teachings and sayings.
Most of the holy books of past revelations, then, don’t actually contain the authentic, original words of their founders.
This does not make those holy books any less inspiring or true, of course. The transformative sayings, teachings, laws and spiritual verities contained in those books have inspired people for thousands of years, changed millions of lives and built entire civilizations. The Torah, the Bible, the Qur’an, the Tipitaka and the Upanishads all launched new cultures, new civilizations and new ways of seeing the world.
But in the Baha’i revelation, the unquestionable authenticity of scriptural texts in a worldwide Faith has finally been established.
Baha’u’llah wrote, in his own hand and also by oral dictation to assistants, more than 15,000 individual tablets and letters, as well as many entire books like The Hidden Words, The Seven Valleys, The Book of Certitude and many others. The Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel has the original manuscripts of those works. Baha’u’llah’s son Abdu’l-Baha also wrote at least 27,000 letters and tablets, gave a huge volume of transcribed talks across three continents, dictated one important book called Some Answered Questions to an American Baha’i, and penned several books: The Secret of Divine Civilization, Memorials of the Faithful and A Traveler’s Narrative among them. Shoghi Effendi, Abdu’l-Baha’s grandson and the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, also wrote and published extensively, with thousands of letters, several monographs such as The World Order of Baha’u’llah and The Advent of Divine Justice, and a book of Babi and Baha’i history called God Passes By to his credit.
The Baha’i writings have been translated into more than 800 of the world’s languages.
Baha’is believe these books, tablets and letters all have tremendous spiritual power and authority—especially those of the prophet himself, Baha’u’llah. The holy words in these writings, the Baha’i teachings say, offer us a spiritual energy and resonance capable of changing the human heart. That means the Baha’i Faith, which has no clergy and administers its global community entirely through democratically-elected leadership, is essentially a Faith that springs directly from the Word of God.