Tuesday, February 21, 2006

to know

There is a discipline called Epistemology. That is the study of knowledge. It studies the ability or inability of how a person knows what s/he knows. Most Christians would argue that we can know truth in part, but never in an exhaustive way. Many Deconstructionists might argue that knowledge is not at all truly possible, but my use of a blog suggests that I am not a deconstructionist. In the past few days I have sought out to understand biblical epistemology. Does the bible address humanity's ability or inability to know . . . to really know truth?
In just a short bout of thought and reading, I am reminded that the majority of words in Hebrew and Greeek that relate to "knowing" are experiential words first, and in regards to reason secondary. In fact in Hebrew, to "know someone" was oftened used to refer to the act of sexual intercourse (a very real experience). Very rarely is mere mental assent a biblical idea of knowing. We are called to know Christ John 17:3 in order to truly experience eternal life. That Greek word (view the previous link to check up on my thoughts) is Ginosko and means to be acquainted, feel, to understand, etc. It is a deep understanding, well beyond the standard forms of catechism that just involve simple "I believe . . . " statements. Paul expressed a desire to know (ginosko) Christ in Philippians chapter 3 through suffering, death and ultimately resurrection. In John 7:27-29 "Jesus cried out in the temple, teaching and saying, " You both know Me and know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. 29 " I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me." NASU The Greek word in these numerous words translated "know" is oraw . Jesus is saying that he knows God the Father in a very discerning way. This form of knowing refers to seeing, discoving, visiting, etc. Its deep, way beyond a mental assent. The final word (episteme) is also used, but not has often in scripture. It refers to facts, ability to do things, a cold understanding. Ah, "Yeah, I know (episteme) know that" kind of understanding. Jude slightly rebukes such trust in knowledge in the 10th verse of his epistle.
The reason I keep using this idea of "mental assent" is that the school of thought known as rationalism has believed for a long time that reason and knowledge are independent of experience. And also that all doctrines of knowledge can be expressed in self-evident propositions. The bible seems to definitely oppose the simplicity of knowledge in rationalism, as well, the rejection of knowledge in deconstructionsim. Though a Calvinist by theology, I have great love for John Wesley. One of his ideas seems to stand out in regards to discoveing truth, more specifically to make theological conclusions. I encourage you to look at his 4 prongs known as The Wesleyan Quadrilateral I personally believe these 4, with Scripture the starting and finishing point, can guide us very well.
  • Scripture - the Holy Bible
  • Tradition - the two millennia history of the Church
  • Reason - rational thinking
  • Experience - one's personal journey in Christ
These are ramblings of a crazy man, but I'm only a few days into this search for biblical epistemology. I'd be interested in your thoughts


Tim said...

I appreciate your efforts in such a study, Matt. As always, I'm impressed.

I'm much too simple and the following thoughts are much too hasty. But... it's fun to blab.

In general, all you say makes sense. I think evangelicals have often lost sight of the experiential aspects of knowing - and where that leads.

Even if knowledge, in Hebrew especially, is primarily experiential, that doesn't negate or discount the reason. And even in experience, we have to use reason to understand it. Experiencing a miracle of God (or a special touch of His love) will always still be pondered by the mind and will help form a larger picture of God.

For deconstructionists to argue that knowledge is not really possible - well - how do the KNOW that? That's too obvious. But even more, why don't they walk in front of moving semis? Why don't they force themselves on women? Why don't they... It seems similar to the Both/And method of "rationale" deicsion making - and the problems inherent in it.

Good news - Ravi Zacharias is going to address this issue - and that should finish it (at least for me).

Questions I think are important to ask. Did God know what He really meant and what was really true when he said or did things? Did the writer understand what God meant? Did the audience understand? The answers seem simple enough. And even when the people didn't fully understand, they still knew that God did - and that He meant what He said. Covenants lose their impact if we can't know.

I am a simpleton (but at least I KNOW that I am - or I think I know that)

Dan said...


N.T. Wright has some good words concerning the Weslyan Quadrilateral in his new book on Biblical authority, "The Last Word." It's really good (of course). I'll post on it eventually, but you may want to read it yourself. I think it would help your understanding.

If you want a more extensive treatment on epistimology, check our Wright's "The New Testament and the People of God." (ISU's library has a copy.)