Home > history, inerrancy, knowledge, truth > >What did Jesus know? Part 2

>What did Jesus know? Part 2

>In my previous post I posited 4 categories which we can reasonably split the concept of knowledge into (there are others such as mathematical/ logical but this is unnecessary for our purposes here):

  • History
  • Future events
  • General facts
  • Personal thoughts

Of these, men usually only have access to 2 categories: history, if it has been documented; and general facts, if they have been discovered.

Men in general do not know the other 2 categories. Future events can only be known by God and those whom he chooses to reveal them to. Personal thoughts are only known to the man who has them and those to whom he reveals his thoughts; as well as God and those whom God chooses to reveal them.

Therefore discussion about whether Jesus knows facts concerning Joe Future is irrelevant to whether he knows historical events and whether he believes them. Now I happen to think that Jesus did not know every future event during his sojourn on earth. He knew a lot because the Father revealed it to him. Further, he could easily have known about Michael, Chris and James in the same way he knew about the way Peter was to die—revelation. But being human limited his ability to know everything in the universe at that time. And even if he did not give thought to every person he redeemed as he died on the cross, he certainly did in heaven before the incarnation and does so now.

Jesus’ opinion about Genesis is not so much a question of knowledge in general but the knowledge of historical events and general facts (though predominantly history). Did Jesus concede to the worldview of the day and the documents of the past? If he was taught false belief the Father was able to correct him, whether the Father did so a further question. We need to deal with history versus myth and fact versus pseudofacts.

Dealing with factual knowledge first: I am not certain that many of the beliefs of the ancients were incorrect. What needs to be remembered is incomplete knowledge is not false knowledge. Further, an alternative classification scheme is neither incomplete nor false, it is just different. Examples of these:

  • Thinking we need to breathe air to survive is incomplete knowledge, thinking that oxygen is the component of air required for respiration is more complete knowledge.
  • Categorising animals based on locomotion or habitat is correct knowledge even though moderns prefer to use a more complete body plan for classification. (This is type of knowledge is always true because it involves making definitions).
  • Thinking maggots spontaneously generate from the essence of rotten food is incorrect knowledge.

Not knowing something and deferring an opinion till more information is available is not incorrect knowledge.

It is my suspicion that much of the ancients’ factual knowledge was correct, even if, at times, it was incomplete. One could find several ancient ideas that were incorrect, however I suspect they would predominantly be amongst the speculations of the philosophers of the age. The reason for this is that most factual knowledge is merely observation, and the ancients were perfectly able to do as such. Errors are more likely to creep in where the gaps in knowledge were unobservable and speculation was made. Of course men are free to refrain from speculation and acknowledge ignorance. I do not see evidence in Scripture that Jesus held to false views of the world.

When considering history it matters if the history recorded is indeed accurate; and if not, is it inappropriately accepted, or dismissed for suspicion of error. That Jesus held to the truth of Scripture is easily provable. Whenever Jesus references Scriptures that record historical events he clearly believes they accurately describe reality.

Evidence that Jesus thought the biblical narrative reflected reality is seen in 2 ways in which Jesus interacted with it.

Firstly, Jesus’ claims are based on the truth of the historical record. That Jesus’ contemporaries will be judged harshly is based on the fact that Jonah was a real prophet and the Ninevites really repented. Examples could be extended to other historical personages such as Abel, Abraham and Zechariah. The form of Jesus’ argument is based on the activities of these people really happening.

Secondly, Jesus affirms the truth of Scripture. Claims like,

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,… (Joh 5)

presuppose that Scripture is a reliable witness. More striking is how Jesus states that Scripture itself can prove men are in error:

Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? (Mar 12)

When we suggest that Jesus falsely believed the historical nature of the Bible because of cultural considerations we both invalidate the premises on which Jesus corrects error, and deny his claim that Scripture is the arbiter of truth. If we destroy the premises our options become:

  • Jesus’ comments were based on the incorrect views of the day therefore we can disregard them, or
  • we believe Jesus conclusions even though they were based on faulty logic

That the Father revealed the heart of Nathanael to Jesus yet did not inform him that parts of the Bible were untrue, or that passages that Jesus assumed were literal for his argument were in fact metaphorical, seems to stretch credibility.

Categories: history, inerrancy, knowledge, truth
  1. 2008 April 19 at 16:55

    I read the tone of these two notes of yours as having a more helpful direction and sensitivity than some of the comments on Chris’s post. I am not an expert in theories of knowledge, but it seems to me that your subdivisions are a good start but insufficient.
    You write: The form of Jesus’ argument is based on the activities of these people really happening.
    I know what ‘really happening’ is today – and my interpretations of it change over time even if it really happened. I also know stories and myths and can use them as if they represent and explain what really happens, but they themselves did not have any literal of real happening.
    That Jesus reasoned from these myths does not invalidate their application in the present nor does it imply that he really believed that they really happened. (Because I can know what he really believed only by revelation and I have to say I think what he really believed has not been told me by others – or written in so many words in a confession or even in the Bible.) I think my usage is moving in a direction similar to the exegetical and figurative use of every letter of fire in the TNK that history tells of in Jewish and Christian tradition. Why I do this is not out of a theoretical desire for some complete system of knowledge but out of my own limited knowledge and its interpretation in my own life and the lives I see of others.
    This is necessarily incomplete that the sufficiency might not be in my thoughts as stated or perceived but in that one who in love created and redeemed us in real happenings.

  2. Mark Call
    2008 April 19 at 17:35

    The story of His disciples who were unable to cast out a certain demon, and eventually came to Him for help, has always fascinated me.
    He demonstrated a depth of knowledge which dwarfs “modern psychology”. After remarking on their unbelief, he added that THIS kind only can be cast out “by prayer and fasting.
    (I wonder, in the context of this man who judges the ignorance of the King of Kings, whether a modern witch doctor, asked the same question about someone HE failed to heal, would be honest enough to say “I don’t know”.)
    I have often wondered how He would have responded to the question, “WHY are we made so that pigs are unsuitable as food for our bodies?”

  3. 2008 April 20 at 05:13

    Hi Bob MacDonald. I wasn’t trying to set up a theory of epistemology, the categories I have labelled came from the post I was responding to. It could possibly be more systematic and is probably greater than 1 dimensional. It did suffice to show that whether Jesus knew about Michael, Chris or James in the 21st century has minor impact on the issue yet it was what Chris used to defend his theory.
    I admit that my defence of Jesus views was somewhat brief. Part of my intention was to show the incorrect analogy. The link to my previous post gives an example of the high regard in which Jesus held Scripture.
    I know what ‘really happening’ is today – and my interpretations of it change over time even if it really happened. I also know stories and myths and can use them as if they represent and explain what really happens, but they themselves did not have any literal of real happening.
    While your interpretations may change, Jesus was using the events as the basis of his argument: This is the truth based on this event in the past happening.
    This is not the same as analogy which you are getting at. And Jesus used analogy frequently in his parables to teach truths.

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