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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Knowledge

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The distinctive sense in which the apostles speak of knowledge has reference to the knowledge of God, and especially to the knowledge of God and the world through Jesus Christ.

1. The organ of knowledge.-St. Paul teaches clearly (Romans 1:18-23) that, apart from any special revelation, God has exhibited so plainly His attributes of eternal power and divinity in creation that there is given to man an instinctive knowledge of God. There is a certain intelligence in mankind which, apart from the power of the senses, makes God known by the heart when He is not understood by the reason. Indeed, men became darkened in their understandings when they began to indulge in reasoning, and in trying to be wise they became fools. Thus St. Paul places the intuitive moral consciousness as the central organ of the true knowledge of God. When the Apostle speaks of the means by which the Christian knowledge of God is acquired, he develops this principle. It is true that St. Paul admits that for the knowledge of the facts of Christ’s life he and others are indebted to the testimony of witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3), and that for bringing faith and knowledge the preaching of the word of truth is invaluable, but he insists pre-eminently that in all true knowledge of God in Christ the spirit of man is directly acted upon by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-6, Ephesians 3:5).

St. Paul, who excelled in logic and speculation, cannot be regarded as unnecessarily decrying the logical faculty or the speculative gift, and yet he speaks of reasonings (λογισμούς) and of vaunting speculations (‘every high thing,’ πᾶν ὕψωμα) as possible strengths of the enemy that required to be cast down, and of the need of bringing every thought into the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Perhaps this attitude may have been accentuated for the Apostle by the fact that in his own experience so much of his knowledge should have come directly in visions, as in the vision of Jesus, the Exalted Christ (Acts 9:3), in the vision of the man of Macedonia (Acts 16:10), and in the vision of the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1).

St. John declares that all men have the organ of spiritual vision by which God, who is light, is revealed to them. Many refuse to exercise this organ, and prefer to dwell in darkness, and thus lose the power of knowing, while spiritual vision becomes clearer and stronger by a purer and better moral life. Those who keep the commandments of God come to a growing knowledge (1 John 2:3), and only those in whom love is abiding really possess this Divine knowledge (1 John 4:7). Whoever persists in sinning does not know God (1 John 3:6). The organ of knowledge is spiritual and ethical, not merely logical or speculative.

Thus both these apostles are alike in their insistence that the organ of Divine knowledge is to be found in this deep faculty of the soul. The apostles would agree in the saying: ‘Pectus facit Christianum,’ if not: ‘Pectus facit theologum.’

2. The object of knowledge.-Much of the earliest teaching of the apostles was to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ of God (Acts 2:36), and the object of all their knowledge and preaching might be summed up in the phrase of St. Paul; ‘to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). This illumination (φωτισμός) came first to the apostles with the purpose of being conveyed by them to others who were in ignorance. Thus the object that is made known to all Christians is the glory of God as revealed in the person, character, and work of Jesus Christ, so that what was only dimly discerned before is now clearly seen. This is the open secret that believers in Christ have discovered and delight to make known. This is the μυστήριον that was hidden for long ages but is now revealed, so that the Divine plan of redemption is no longer a secret but is heralded forth in Jesus Christ (Romans 16:25, 1 Corinthians 2:7). Thus St. Paul conceives of the glory of God as having been long concealed by the clouds of earth, but at last having shone forth in undimmed splendour; and those who believe that Jesus is the Lord receive a vision of God’s glory that illuminates all life, history, and experience.

To St. John also Jesus Christ is the source of light on all the great matters of life. Through Him we know God (1 John 2:3), and this provides the key to all knowledge.

The other apostles agree in the central place in their teaching being given to the knowledge of God in Christ, and the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 8:11), in announcing that under the New Covenant there has come a universal knowledge of God, not only embodies the hopes of the OT prophets but also declares the faith of the NT teachers.

3. Implications of knowledge.-This Christian knowledge sheds its light on all the facts and aims of life. Thus individuals learn the outstanding features of their own characters (James 1:23), the sanctity of their lives as being the temples of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), the value of their bodies as members of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15), and the consecration of all the powers of body and mind as an acceptable service to God (Romans 12:1). Christian knowledge leads to a better understanding of all the experiences of life, and to a conviction that in and through every event God is making all things to work together for good to them that love Him (Romans 8:28), and especially to a conviction that the trials of life do not come without Divine planning but are appointed by the will of God (1 Thessalonians 3:3). Through Christ there comes likewise a better knowledge of social duties, e.g. in the relation of masters and servants. Servants are expected to render a whole-hearted service because they know that their real master is Jesus Christ, by whom they are to be recompensed. Masters are required to carry out all their duties with justice and fairness, for they know that they have to account to their Unseen Master, the Lord in heaven (Colossians 3:22 ff.). Even minor social problems like those of eating and drinking have new light cast upon them (Romans 14:14), for the light of Jesus Christ has illuminated all life and brought knowledge where formerly there was doubt or ignorance.

In the Epistles of St. John this Christian gnosis has a predominant place, and it is interesting to note how wide and vital this knowledge becomes according to the Apostle. The knowledge of God is at the centre, and it radiates forth in every direction to a wide circumference, for it includes the knowledge of truth (1 John 2:21), of righteousness (1 John 2:29), of love (1 John 3:16), of spiritual life and inspiration (1 John 3:24, 1 John 4:2), and of the state of those beyond the grave (1 John 3:2). In the light of God Christians possess a light that brings enlightenment to them on many problems of experience, perplexities of the present time, and mysteries of the future life.

4. Complements of knowledge.-The apostles uniformly recognize that knowledge of itself is imperfect and must be always associated with other Christian gifts. To reach its fullness it must be accompanied by abnegation (Philippians 3:6), by fellowship with God and with brethren (1 John 1:3), by obedience to God’s commands (1 John 2:3), by attention to apostolic teaching (1 John 4:6), and by faith, virtue, temperance, patience, godliness, love of the brethren, and love (2 Peter 1:6).

Special notice should be taken of the connexion of knowledge and faith, and of knowledge and love. The apostles do not recognize any essential antagonism between faith and knowledge. Faith does not arise from ignorance but from knowledge (Romans 10:17), and knowledge does not supersede faith but includes it (2 Peter 1:6). The knowledge of God in Christ is synonymous with faith in Him, and in their essence the two are closely inter-related. In knowledge there is the recognition of the Divine by our spiritual nature, in faith there is the action of the will in virtue of this insight, so that the highest knowledge and the humblest faith go together. There is a kind of knowledge, however, that puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1), and so far from its leading to faith it begets a self-sufficiency and pride that strike at the very foundations of all Christian faith.

At their best there is also no antagonism between knowledge and love. To know God is to love Him, and to reach the highest knowledge love is necessary. ‘Every one that loveth is begotten of God and knoweth him’ (1 John 4:7). Christian knowledge is not a matter of the intellect but of the deeper moral and spiritual faculties that find their true expression in love. Still knowledge and love may come into conflict, and in the solution of many practical problems love is even more necessary than knowledge. St. Paul deals with this relation especially in his discussion of the attitude to be adopted to things sacrificed to idols. For his generation the difficulty was intense, as some Christians dreaded the slightest approval being given to idol-worship, while others were so convinced that idolatry was false that they considered it a negligible quantity. Among the latter were many Corinthian Christians, who had announced to the Apostle their conviction that the whole system of idolatry seemed so false that they could eat any food irrespective of its being associated with idol-worship. But St. Paul in his reply (1 Corinthians 8:1 ff.) argues that a mere intellectual conviction is not the only or the best guide in such a matter. In theory the Corinthians might be right, but in practice they must not be guided by knowledge alone. ‘Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth,’ and in matters that are intimately concerned with the feelings and prejudices of others love is the safer guide. To a Christian even more than to a philosopher the saying of Aristotle must apply: τὸ τέλος ἐστὶν οὐ γνῶσις ἀλλὰ πρᾶξις (Nic. Eth. i. iii. 6).

5. Philosophy and theosophy.-The relation of Christian knowledge to philosophy and theosophy is discussed by St. Paul. The Apostle expounds the gospel as being not only ‘power’ but also ‘wisdom,’ yet he refuses to establish this wisdom by any of the current arguments or by the conclusions of Greek philosophy (1 Corinthians 2:1 ff.). He is proclaiming a gospel that is folly in the eyes of many, and yet it is the true wisdom to those who understand it. This higher philosophy has been hidden from the sight of men, otherwise they would not have crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. It comes through the indwelling of the Spirit of God, who alone can reveal it. Just as the spirit of man alone can understand the things of a man, so the Spirit of God in man alone can understand the Divine philosophy. ‘The merely intellectual man’ rejects this philosophy, as he does not possess the spiritual insight to discern its Divine wisdom. Even Christian people may be mere children in this respect, not able to understand this teaching; and among other indications of this childish mind was the party spirit by which so many were impelled. Thus St. Paul argues that the initiated Christians find in Christ a philosophy as well as a gospel.

Christian knowledge came into conflict with the theosophical tendencies that were so prevalent in many ancient schools of thought. In this connexion St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians is of chief importance. The Apostle deals in this Epistle with claims that had been made by certain Christians to a higher Christian life through means that involved ascetic and ritual practices, and from arguments that rested on speculative and theosophic principles. It is unnecessary for the present purpose to decide whether these heresies arose from a latent Gnosticism or from certain features of Judaism; but, if Judaism was the source, it was a Judaism influenced by the thought and spirit of the Diaspora. This may be judged by the kind of speculations in which they indulge, especially in the cosmical dualism that they shadow forth and in the belief in an endless series of angelic beings as mediators between God and men. St. Paul does not denounce all speculative knowledge, but opposes it by a higher knowledge of Jesus Christ. He develops the teaching about Christ so that He is presented not only as a full and perfect Saviour for men, but also as the Lord of the Universe, in whom all things, even angels, were created, and as the fullness of all things, by whom both men and angels were made at one with God. This insistence on the cosmical value of Christ carries with it the best refutation of all extra-Christian theosophical teaching.

Literature.-H. J. Holtzmann, NT Theologie, 1896, i. 476-486; A. E. Garvie, in Mansfield College Essays, 1909, p. 161; J. Y. Simpson, The Spiritual Interpretation of Nature, 1912, p. 11; J. R. Illingworth, Reason and Revelation, 1902, p. 44; A. Chandler, Faith and Experience, 1911; W. P. DuBose, The Reason of Life, 1911, p. 198; J. Denney, The Way Everlasting, 1911, p. 26; W. M. Macgregor, Jesus Christ the Son of God, 1907, p. 175; W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, 1901, p. 1; articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) (J. Denney), Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible (J. H. Maude), and Catholic Encyclopedia (A. J. Maas); see also article Ignorance.

D. Macrae Tod.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Knowledge'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/k/knowledge.html. 1906-1918.

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