Updated: Oct 27, 2019
We live in a world where knowledge and wisdom are considered to be crucially important virtues. In ancient times the Stoic philosophers considered wisdom to be one of the main virtues of a respected and well-educated individual. What does the Bible say about knowledge and wisdom? To answer this important question we will have to examine the philosophical theory of epistemology.
Blackburn (2008: 118) defines epistemology as follows:
The theory of knowledge. Its central questions include the origin of knowledge; the place of experience in generating knowledge, and the place of reason in doing so; the relationship between knowledge and certainty, and between knowledge and the impossibility of error; the possibility of scepticism; [sic] and the changing forms of knowledge that arise from new conceptualisations of the world.
Regarding Blackburn’s definition of epistemology we can safely assume that knowledge and the process of contemplation with regards to the theoretical value of knowledge, is a complex process that may lead to many rhetorical questions.
In Job 12: 12 in the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible the following rhetorical question is stated:
Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?
In the King James Version (KJV) the same verse is not stated as a question, but rather a statement that indicates the epistemological character of wisdom and knowledge as a deliberate process:
With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.
The NIV states the verse as an open-ended question that indicates a strong element of suspense. It is possible that the suspense factor suggests an existential characteristic. On the contrary the KJV states the verse as a fact; an epistemological truth regarding the transient aspect concerning man’s relative short life on earth. It is very important to note that the epistemological truth in this regard not only suggests a transient aspect, but also permanence. Permanence as the other inherent factor of this truth-statement subtly confirms God as the everlasting and absolute Truth of the universe.
The Holy Trinity – God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – is the one true God from whom the objective determinism of absolute epistemological values flow forth. Thus, epistemology, among other aspects, is an intrinsic value of God. Psalm 19: 1 (KJV) states:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
These words of Ps 19: 1 suggest that epistemology is indeed an intrinsic value of God, especially since God’s creation declares his glory. The complex and mysterious characteristics of stars, planets, comets and the various anomalies (black holes, pulsars etc.) are evident of the enormous complexity of the creation.
God is the origin of knowledge. Without God we would have no ultimate foundation on which to base our understanding of knowledge and wisdom, let alone logic. Regarding experience and reason, it is important to emphasise the fact that the believer’s experience of God’s ontological being as well as the immanent characteristics thereof cannot be understood in its fullness. God is objective and man is subjective. God as objective deterministic Being is the most complex form of Being that exists. If we could understand the fullness of His Being, His trait as the almighty Creator of heaven and earth would be negated in the sense that His objectivity would be subjected to the rationality of man. If we could understand God in His fullness He would not be God.
God revealed some part of his ontological being in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ illustrated perfect logic as well as perfect love and humility. The mere fact that He washed the feet of His disciples indicates that He had a perfect understanding of humility. Of course his disciples had some difficulty understanding this, because we as human beings easily fail to correlate the idea of a servant washing peoples’ feet with the idea of a King (Jesus). Thus, this experience of Jesus adopting the figure of a servant or slave was something that was beyond the reason of his disciples. In our experience of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour He constantly negates our own human understanding of something.
When people expected Jesus to be some rebellious figure that would come to deliver people from the oppression of the Roman Empire, He negated this human idea of vigilantism and preached love, humility and respect. This is just one example of the way Jesus negated human rationality in order to illustrate a form of rationality that has objective determination as its foundation.
When it comes to knowledge in the form of certainty, it is very important to pay close attention to the Greek word pístis.
The Bible Hub (biblehub.com, 2011) states the following with regard to pístis:
Faith is always a gift from God, and never something that can be produced by people. In short, pistis ("faith") for the believer is "God's divine persuasion" – and therefore distinct from human belief (confidence), yet involving it. The Lord continuously births faith in the yielded believer [sic] so they can know what He prefers, i.e. the persuasion of His will (1 Jn 5:4).
The greatest gift of all was the fact that God sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, get resurrected and ascend to heaven. God also gave us the gift of faith. We human beings have a fallen nature due to the fall of Adam. If God didn’t give us the gift of faith, we would be lost for all eternity. Indeed, through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit faith is in us and the Holy Spirit helps us to develop the faith to such an extent that it is not mere faith, but steadfast knowledge in the fact that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour.
As far as skepticism goes we have no right to be skeptic about God Almighty and His Word. We should at all times live in complete surrender to Him, because without Him we are nothing. Our faith in God Almighty gives us a changing form of knowledge in the sense that we don’t reason from a mere secular human perspective, but from a pistic perspective that is grounded within the objective determination of the Being of God Almighty. In this way our conceptualisation of the world is radically changed from a secular human perspective to a perspective that is enriched with pístis.
Finally, to reiterate the Being of Jesus Christ in terms of epistemology we should pay close attention to the seven I am statements Jesus made:
1. I am the Bread of Life. (John 6:35-48)
2. I am the Light of the world. (John 8:12 & 9:5 )
3. I am the Gate. (John 10:7 )
4. I am the Good Shepherd. (John 10:11-14)
5. I am the Resurrection and the Life. (John 11:25 )
6. I am the Way, Truth and the Life. (John 14:6 )
7. I am the true Vine. (John 15:1-5 )
Jesus emphasises the fact that He brings so much more than mere wisdom and knowledge. He brings true wisdom and knowledge in the form of pístis. What a wonderful gift from God!
Biblehub.com. 2011. Strong’s Concordance: 4102. pístis. [Online]. Available at: https://biblehub.com/greek/4102.htm [Accessed: 25 October 2019].
Blackburn, S. 2008. Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.