I gave this discussion that title because the software I use to post to the web requires one and because I couldn’t think of a good title. The lesson is only sort of about Epistemology, its really a totally disorganized mish mash of several ideas that I hope will become coherent the more I write and as we discuss our text.
Our text is the same as last Sunday, but whereas our discussion was previously organized around the topic of “Glory”, this week I’d like to organize our discussion of John 17 around the topic of Knowledge. So why the big word?
Epistemology is that branch of philosophy (ugh) that concerns itself with knowledge. How do we know what we know? What are the limits of knowledge? Does it exist at all? What is real and how do we know it? Is anything real?
In his High Priestly Prayer, as the section of scripture we are discussing is called, Jesus talks a lot about knowledge and about knowing. Here are some references:
17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you..
17:6 I have revealed you…
17:7 Now they know…
17:8 For I gave them the words you gave me…
17:8 Now they knew…
17:14 I have given them your word…
17:22 Then the world will know…
17:25 …though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
17:26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known…
There are other references to believing that imply knowledge but these examples of knowledge either held or imparted should be sufficient to establish the emphasis Jesus puts on knowledge in his prayer. His first reference to knowledge in 17:3 where he says that knowledge of God and Himself is eternal life establishes the importance of knowledge.
So strong are the references to knowledge that this passage seems almost Gnostic. On commentary on the passage has this to say:
While some of the language and thought of this Gospel is similar to Gnosticism in its various forms, the fact that this knowledge comes through the historical deeds of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, that it is grounded in faith, that it is available already now within history and that it is not concerned with self-knowledge and cosmic speculation sets it off from Gnosticism itself. Any revealed religion will be gnostic–the issue is whether the knowledge claimed is true or false.
So since the knowledge of God has been revealed to us ultimately through His Son Jesus Christ, we are, in that sense, Gnostics. Our salvation is based on knowledge, or is knowledge, directly from God.
But what kind of knowledge and about what? What is this knowledge that is eternal life?
Epistemology breaks knowledge down into three kinds: knowledge that, knowledge how and acquaintance knowledge. You can have knowledge that 2 x 2 =4 but that’s different from the knowledge of how to perform multiplication (knowledge how). And acquaintance knowledge is good, old fashioned “I been knowin’…” for those from Corsicana.
So, of those three, which kind of knowledge of himself is God offering us? Remember the example Jesus used of the shared life of the Vine and its branches. Consider the references he makes to unity in him in this chapter. Consider especially verse 26: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” It is the kind of knowledge that makes God be in you.
One commentary says:
For John, this knowledge is closely associated with faith (which enables the appropriation of eternal life; 6:47; 20:31) and includes correct intellectual understanding, moral alignment through obedience and the intimacy of union. That is, it refers to shared life, and because it is the life of God that is shared it is eternal life.
What sort of knowledge arises through sharing life together? You got it, it’s the “I been knowin’” kind. Jesus wants to share His life with us, all of it, the righteousness, the glory, the love, the suffering, all of it. We know Jesus, know God, by sharing our lives with Him.
While part of this is an intellectual knowledge, most of it is not. It is not about understanding either. For example, we share our lives with our spouses, but do we really understand them?
I am convinced that this side of heaven we will not understand God. Our attempts at understanding are not necessarily wasted. Because he makes himself known to us and because he loves us and we love him, it seems natural that, as an act of devotion, we would wish to understand something about him. This only becomes bad when we state categorically and with finality that we have understood him. Saying that we have understood something he has said is one thing, he speaks for us to understand. To say we understand him is quite another. But I digress.
If we are to know God by means of sharing our lives with him, how does a life shared with God look? What is the practical effect on us of sharing our lives with God? It seems to always come down to this: knowing what we know, how then are we to live?