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How Do You Know? 10 Bible Verses on Knowledge

“Well, of course you can speak your truth. Anyone can, and we all should. But no one can speak the truth, because no one has the truth.”

It was a good summary of where our culture is at on the question of truth, and for a few moments the campus minister was silent. Then, a light came on, and he asked the student, “You said, ‘No one has the truth.’ Is that your truth, or is that the truth?”

The student tilted his head, looking down toward the carpet as he thought. Then, he started to smile. He looked up again, and they both laughed.

We are created by God in His image, and part of that image is our ability and desire to know. Knowledge and truth go together; the essence of knowledge is accurate understanding of truth. Truth, as a quality of a statement, is correspondence with reality. Sometimes people settle for a belief that is “true for me” or that “works for me,” but a statement that is truly true is one that reflects the way things really are.

Truth, as a quality of a person, is correspondence with righteousness. This is why, for example, we might describe a man of integrity as “a true man,” or a virtuous person as “a true friend.” It is much more than coincidental that we might also describe this individual as beautiful in character, or as “a beautiful soul,” because truth, goodness, and beauty are inseparably grounded in the nature/character of God.

“Truth, as a quality of a person, is correspondence with righteousness.”

Knowledge is truth acquired by the mind through perception and reason. We are able to know both concrete facts (e.g., rocks are hard) and abstract ideas (e.g., love is patient). When what is in my mind accurately reflects its object in reality, I know truth about that object. This is true even when, as is always the case, I do not know everything about it.

It is true that our questions about life would be more conveniently answered if the Bible were written as a textbook, but the Lord knows what He is doing. The answers to questions such as “How do you know?” are there, but they are embedded in real-life narratives, poetry, and letters, and deep calls unto deep (Ps. 42:7).

Here are ten Bible verses about knowledge.

1. John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[1]

We know from verse 14 that John is using the term “Word,” which he wrote as the Greek term logos, to refer to Jesus. In an intentional parallel to Genesis 1:1, John puts Jesus “in the beginning” with the eternal God. But why does John call Jesus “the Logos“?

He does so because philosophers throughout the Mediterranean world had been talking and writing about this idea of a logos (pronounced with short o’s) for over five centuries, trying to explain exactly what it is, why it is, and what it does. The term meant more to them than its basic sense of “word”; they used logos to mean a well-composed statement, a thorough study (an -ology), or the intrinsic order of something—even the profound, logical orderedness of the cosmos itself.

Most of the philosophers agreed that there is a basic logos (structure, order, logic) in the world and in life, but they could not fully answer the question of where this logos comes from. Plato came close; about 400 years before John wrote his Gospel, Plato taught that the world’s logos comes from another world, a world of unchanging, timeless, universal Ideas. He held that of all these Ideas, the first were the Ideas of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Plato even went so far as to say that these three Ideas were actually one, and this one was the source of all the other Ideas, and of everything that is true and right in this world.

“They used logos to mean a well-composed statement, a thorough study (an -ology), or the intrinsic order of something.”

John’s answer to the philosophers (and the rest of us) is that the Logos that governs the natural order and the moral order is not just a cosmic principle or condition, but is a Person who is intelligent, purposive, and transcendent over the cosmos. In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God (as a separate Person), and the Logos was God (in His nature). The Logos, this profound concept so vital to the questions of what is true, good, and beautiful, is God the Logos, the One who gives creation its natural order and life its moral order. Thus John begins his Gospel by introducing Jesus as eternal, as God in His nature, and as the One through whom all created things have their existence, nature, and purpose in the logos of creation. As does Hebrews 1:3, Paul confirms this in Colossians 1:17: “And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Jesus is not only my Savior; Jesus is my Creator, and He sustains my very existence, moment by moment.

2. Psalm 36:9

“For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”

In the Bible, the words that pertain to light are sometimes used as metaphors (word-pictures) for truth, purity, and holiness. In Psalm 36, David describes the profound lovingkindness of God, who provides for and protects those who trust in Him. In verse 9, “In Your light” may be understood as “Through Your perfect wisdom,” and “we see light” may be understood as “we are able to discern truth.” This statement poetically grounds human ability to know in our Creator’s intelligence: God has granted to us, as creatures made in His image, a rationality that reflects in a very limited way the qualities of His own mind.

3. John 1:9

“That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”

John wrote verse 9 in a way that allows “coming into the world” to refer either to Jesus or to “every man.” John 1:9 is usually understood by evangelicals to mean that Jesus, by His coming into the world, brought the light of salvation to humanity. Yet in 1:1, John calls Jesus the Logos, and does so for the purpose of presenting Jesus as the transcendent Architect of the cosmos. John opens his biography of Jesus with a definite philosophical purpose.

Philosophy as a discipline seeks to understand what we all in various ways long for—the things that give fullness to life: reality (transcendence), truth, goodness, and beauty. John sets forth Jesus as the answer to these quests and our longings in 1:1, 1:9, 1:29, and 1:14. John 1:9 is setting forth Jesus, not just as Savior, but as the One who enables us to know. In the beginning was Jesus, God the Logos, who gives light, the light of rational intelligence, to everyone who comes into the world.

“In the beginning was Jesus, God the Logos, who gives light, the light of rational intelligence, to everyone who comes into the world.”

4. Romans 1:20

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”

After setting forth in 1:16-17 the righteousness of God as the theme of Romans 1-11, Paul notes in 1:18-21 the unrighteousness of those who suppress the knowledge of God they have through creation itself. Romans 1:20 is clearer if we understand “seen” to mean perceived, “by” to mean through, and “Godhead” to mean divine nature. Paul’s point is that the qualities of creation point decisively to the qualities of the Creator, and humans are able, therefore responsible, to infer (think our way to the conclusion) that God does exist and (1:21) that He deserves our thankful worship.

But how are we able to reach this conclusion? How do we observe the beautiful logos of creation and know there is a logos-Giver, a Logos? By the logos in our minds, the foundational principles of reason that correspond to the logos of creation. To put it in simple terms, the same God who made the world and gave it its order also made us, and gave our minds the same basic order. Therefore the way our minds work fits the way the world is ordered, and we are able to know truth about the world, ourselves, and God.

“The way our minds work fits the way the world is ordered, and we are able to know truth about the world, ourselves, and God.”

Another way to ask the question is, what has to be true in order for Romans 1:20 to be true? What are the basic operating principles that give order to creation and our minds, that would enable us to observe creation and infer a Creator worthy of our grateful worship? These seven principles are being, identity, abstraction, causation, spatiality, temporality, and morality. These principles are in effect throughout creation, and, prior to any specific information we have or decisions we make, they are in our minds, as part of God’s image, and are the foundation of all our perception and reason.

  1. Being: In creation, being separates what is real (a horse) from what is non-existent (a gorkelsnoof); in reason, it is the principle that enables us to distinguish truth from error.
  2. Identity: In creation, the principle of identity, with its corollaries, separates each thing (a dog) from every other thing (another dog); in reason, it is the basis of the validity of logic.
  3. Abstraction: In creation, the principle of abstraction is the reality of categories of and relations between things (cats and dogs are animals); in reason, it is the basis of our ability to recognize common qualities of things and to use numbers and words to convey meaning.
  4. Causation: In creation, the principle of causation is the dynamic of all change (plants grow in sunlight); in reason, it is our ability to recognize cause-effect relationships.
  5. Spatiality: In creation, spatiality is the three-dimensional order of the physical universe; in reason, it is the basis of our capacity to perceive and reason according to spatial relationships (as in geometry).
  6. Temporality: In creation, temporality is the reality of time, the linear succession of present moments; in reason, it is the basis of our perception of past, present, and future.
  7. Morality: In creation, morality is the real difference between good and evil and between right and wrong; in reason, it is our conscience, our ability to recognize this difference and its implications.

5. 2 Corinthians 4:6

“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul points to the integrity and unselfishness that characterize his ministry, and grounds these virtues in the glory of God as transcendent Creator and incarnate Redeemer. God rules over the natural order; His initial creative command brought physical energy (prior to matter) into existence. God rules over the moral order; His grace brings the light of truth to our hearts, and His command of resurrection will bring transformation and eternal glory to us. In the interim, we serve in the knowledge of His glory in Christ, and Paul refers to this knowledge as light.

6. 2 Corinthians 10:5

“…casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

In 2 Corinthians 10 Paul affirms his intent to answer both the criticisms made against his character and conduct, and the arguments raised in opposition to the gospel. He will use evidence and reason to demonstrate the errors of those criticisms and arguments. An argument consists of terms, set in propositions that are supported by warrants and that stand in logical relation to one another. When an argument is in error, it is because one or more of the terms are poorly defined or are used inconsistently, one or more of the propositions are inaccurate, one or more of the warrants are inadequate, and/or one or more of the logical relations within the argument is invalid.

Paul is confident that his knowledge of God and of the gospel are accurate. The Christian faith is much more than a worldview, but as a worldview it is superior to its rivals. The more accurate a worldview is, the more it is coherent (the beliefs hold together), consistent (the beliefs correspond to all available information), comprehensive (the beliefs best explain every area of human experience), and viable (the beliefs work well in real life). Yet Paul reminds us this is a spiritual endeavor; we seek to align the mind and will to obedience to Christ.

“We seek to align the mind and will to obedience to Christ.”

7. Colossians 2:8

“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”

Philosophy is the quest for wisdom, not only in one’s understanding, but in one’s heart and life as well. Paul’s warning to the Colossians does not presume or imply that philosophy per se is evil or misleading. The false philosophy that threatened the Colossian believers was a danger because it was not “according to” Christ, who is by right the foundation and culmination of a mature worldview. The Colossian heresy involved a refusal to acknowledge Christ as Creator, Ruler, and Redeemer, and Paul’s term for its “basic principles” may well be a reference to the demonic origins of this empty deceit. Our God is the God of truth, and all truth is God’s truth. All truth is ultimately from God, stands together in Him, and ultimately points to Him.

8. John 8:32

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Jesus believes there is truth and that we can know it. This promise, though, should not be separated from what He said in verse 31: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” The context indicates that “the truth” we can know is that Jesus is the Christ, and His promise of freedom pertained especially to the warning He then gave concerning the enslavement of sin (8:34). But this precious promise stands in direct line with Proverbs 2:6: “For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

So a broader application is appropriate, and stands against the relativism and skepticism that cloud our hearts and trouble our culture. Relativism, the idea that there is no absolute truth, therefore one belief is as good as another, is self-defeating. Skepticism, the idea that there is no objective knowledge, therefore we cannot really know anything, is also self-defeating. Many people affirm or practice relativism and/or skepticism (when it serves their interests to do so), and avoid nihilism simply by being inconsistent, and thus lacking integrity, concerning truth and knowledge. Jesus, in contrast, is neither a relativist nor a skeptic, and He offers a better path: we are able to know the truth, and the way of truth is the way to freedom.

“We are able to know the truth, and the way of truth is the way to freedom.”

9. John 14:6

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Thomas is often criticized as “the doubter,” but the label is unfair. Thomas was a man who wanted to be very sure of something before he committed to it. Once he did commit, though, his commitment was total (John 11:7-8, 16). Thomas’s question to Jesus at the last supper was the resolve of a man who wanted to be sure he had the directions right, and Jesus’ answer was in fact very straightforward: follow Me, and you will find Heaven. Yet Jesus, as He often does, gives more in His answer than was asked in the question. Jesus is the Way we can follow, the Truth we can know, and the Life we can find.

When Jesus called John to follow Him, He called both a fisherman and a philosopher. Classical philosophy had distilled the deep questions of life to the pursuit of transcendence, truth, goodness, and beauty. Jesus showed Thomas, and shows us, how to find them. Jesus is “I am,” the Eternal One who has the words of eternal life. Jesus is the Way of goodness, the foundation and fulfillment of the moral order. Jesus is the True One, the ground of all truth and the true Man. Jesus is the Life, the Beauty we are created to long for and the fullness of life we find as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Him.

“Jesus is the Life, the Beauty we are created to long for and the fullness of life we find as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Him.”

10. Colossians 2:3

“…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Paul notes in verses 1-2 the intensity of his endeavors for believers, in order that they would have all the riches of “the full assurance of understanding” of God’s mystery, His long hidden strategy, of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). What Paul writes next is so vast, so deep, it is like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. In Jesus are hidden all the riches of understanding, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. To know Jesus is to know the Architect of the logos of all creation and all intelligence. To know Jesus is to know the Author of all knowledge, all wisdom, all truth, all goodness, all beauty. As Coffin translated from the ancient Latin hymn, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,

And order all things, far and nigh;

To us the path of knowledge show,

And cause us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

[1] All Bible verses are from the New King James Version.

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