Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lesser Known Text of the Week

How do we know what we know? This is the quesion of epistemology, which seeks to investigate our bases of knowledge.

The root of knowledge for science is observation: that which you can measure by sight, smell, taste, touch, or sound. Another root of knowledge for the religion/philosophy of Buddhism is intuition: that which is realized in one's everyday walk of life and, perhaps more importantly, that which is learned via meditation.

The root of Christian knowledge, however, is not achieved 1st hand. It is an external form of knowledge: revelation. Paul talks about it in Ephesians 3:2-5:

2Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.

Not that other roots of knowledge are unimportant. There is a sense in which we can know about God through those other ways of learning. Ecclesiastes 3:11b seems to indicate that there is an intuitive way that we can know about God. Romans 1 and Psalms 19 teach us that there is also an observational sense in which we may learn about God. But none of these are as important as that which we can gain by revelation.

Paul is very clear in this passage about how revelation works. It is, first & foremost, a gift from God ("the administration of God's grace ..."). It is to be shared rather than hoarded ("... that was given to me for you."). Contrary to popular belief in some circles of historical-critical philosophy, we can understand what God revealed by reading and comprehending what Paul & other inspired writers have recorded ("In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight ..."). And God revealed his message to a select few individuals by the Spirit.

I believe that it is imperative that we very carefully & deliberately consider what it is that we rely on as our base of knowledge. What do we draw upon for wisdom? I hope that it isn't merely intuition & observation. While those are good, we have a source of knowledge that transcends those. Let us not ignore it, nor be ignorant of it.

I've heard other people say this before, and I am finding it to be true myself. The older I get, the more respect I have for the Word of God.


Ty said...

True; I'd rather not leave it unremarked upon, though, that much of the revealed knowledge from scripture is a result of the observed knowledge of witnesses.

As John writes: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have contemplated, and our hands have handled, concerning the living Word--(for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and declare to you that life which is eternal, which was with the Father, and was manifested to us;) that which we have seen and heard, we declare to you . . . " This indicates that it is the revelation of Jesus to the witnesses in scripture, a revelation that is also experiential, that forms the foundation for faith.

I believe that that is an accurate characterization of most of scripture; it is the revelation of experience in relation to the divine.

III said...

Very good. Point taken.

However, I would argue that not all of revelation is observation. Even as the DUH-sciples were hanging around Jesus, not all of them knew he was The Annointed One. When Jesus asks the question in Matthew 16, and Peter answers "The Christ," Jesus says, "Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven."

That is one of my biggest beef's with the historical-critical philosophy -- it's that it seems to make us feel shame, or dumb, for believing that anything in Scripture can be supernatural or miraculous. And if there is a viable natural explanation for a given event, that HAS to be the solution! Atheistic non-sense -- looking at Scripture with unbelieving eyes.

However, I also don't want to minimize your good point, Ty. Observation/experience is a good & valid way to learn about Jesus. And for Matthew & John (and possibly Mark, if you buy that his source was Simon Peter), that was at the very least a secondary way, if not a primary way, in which they learned about Jesus. Also, I believe that one should be able to learn a lot about our Lord today by observing his "2nd incarnation": the church.

I might quivel with you as to how much Scripture is "supernatural revelation" versus "observational revelation," but I imagine that might be a superfluous argument. So to that I say, "Whatever!"

Matt said...

Randy Harris wouldn't be too proud of your use of "Whatever"! :)

III said...

That's ok. You can have Randy. I'll take Paul.

1st Tim. 6:20
2nd Tim. 2:16