Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK
FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE
There would appear to be a tension between faith and knowledge. On the one hand, we believe that the tenets of our faith are based on biblical evidence, so improving our biblical knowledge is the way to progress in our faith. On the other hand, the Book of Hebrews defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Therefore, some may feel that deep study of the Scriptures is a futile and academic endeavor, producing knowledge that stimulates the mind rather than strengthening faith.
Of course, placing faith and knowledge at opposite ends of a spectrum is an oversimplification. If this is an inadequate description, then how should we define the relationship between faith and knowledge?
The Role of Evidence
As mentioned, we have accepted this Christian faith because we believe in the biblical evidence upon which it is based. We think it is reasonable to accept certain biblical passages as proof for a belief or doctrine. Most believers—as rational people who understand what “evidence” looks like—have decided that these texts prove the truth of our beliefs “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
However, if the evidence is so strong that the conclusion is indisputable, then what part does faith play? In fact, there are many aspects of doctrine that cannot be validated by irrefutable evidence. Statements such as “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16) or “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5) involve belief in the existence of life after death, final judgment, as well as heaven and hell. Such spiritual matters are intangible and cannot possibly be presented in a worldly courtroom.
The lack of physical evidence does not necessarily mean something is untrue. Scientists tell us that we are merely the activity of carbon and proteins as science does not recognize or measure the spiritual dimension of life. The existence of our souls—the “I” who exists, feels, and lives—can neither be demonstrated nor proven; yet, it is inseparable from the concept of life beyond death and our beliefs. Often people cannot explain what they know to be true, but this does not diminish the truth of their claims. To Paul, God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen through His creation (Rom 1:18–20). We do not know the essence of God—His proportions are not evident to us. But these can be demonstrated by things we can observe, namely, by His effects. However, for non-believers, no reason has yet been given to prove God’s existence is self-evident.
Evidence or proof—subsumed in the term “knowledge”—is no substitute for faith. Nevertheless, our belief cannot exist in a vacuum. Without basis or substance, our faith would be blind faith or superstition. When we say we believe in God or Jesus, we must be able to substantiate our belief. When we repent and are baptized, we must know why we need repentance and baptism. Peter declares that the end result of our faith is the salvation of our souls (1 Pet 1:9); Paul says that salvation and full knowledge of the truth go hand in hand (1 Tim 2:4).
With this in mind, how should we pursue knowledge to support our faith? Is it necessary to know a lot before believing? What constitutes the full knowledge of the truth?
KNOWLEDGE AS THEORY
The faith of God’s chosen people is rooted in history—in what God has done for them. Paul summarized God’s grace to them succinctly in one verse—“the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises” (Rom 9:4). Knowing God’s historical dealings with the chosen people is the basis of our faith. In the same vein, our precious faith is obtained through the righteousness of God (2 Pet 1:1) and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Pet 1:3).
However, while knowledge of God’s grace and Jesus’ words and works is integral to faith, knowing may not lead to belief. Titus Flavius Josephus, the first-century Romano-Jewish historian, described Jesus as “a wise man.” He wrote that Jesus “appeared to those who love him on the third day” and that the “tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared” (Antiquities of the Jews 18.63). Josephus (born 37 C.E.) knew of Jesus, His message, the account of His death and resurrection, and the preaching of His followers. Yet his contemporaneous knowledge did not give rise to belief. We cannot go back in time to personally witness every historical event. Only a few hundred people witnessed Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor 15:3–6), and our belief is based on their testimonies. Thus, there will always be a gap between what the world considers as proof and what people of faith require. In the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of the wise, the message of the cross was considered foolish; only the people of faith considered it God’s power (1 Cor 1:18–21) and were saved through their belief.
As such, some have come to view knowledge negatively and, in turn, those who profess to have superior knowledge, whether secular or spiritual (Col 2:8; 1 Cor 8:1). These “knowledge-sceptics” view all academic study of the Bible as bad, believing that only spiritual knowledge gained through Bible reading, listening to sermons, or via theological training in the church is good. Undeniably, modern theological studies seem to be increasingly devoid of piety towards God’s word and belief. For example, some scholars assume that miracles did not happen and prophecies were vaticinium ex eventu (written after the authors already had information about the events being foretold.)  These theologians maintain that predictions made by Jesus—such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.—were actually added to the gospels by the early church to make the message credible. In fact, there appears to be an innate assumption that supernatural events or predictions cannot be true and are, therefore, inauthentic. Clearly, such a stance would not be conducive to faith in God.
However, such a simplistic dichotomy between worldly and spiritual knowledge also carries its own danger.
Man cannot find God by his own wisdom or effort. God took the initiative through the ages to reveal Himself at various stages of human development. He appeared to Abram and invited him to leave his own home and travel to the promised land. The knowledge of the mystery of Christ was hidden for centuries, only to be revealed to the apostles and prophets by the Spirit at the time of His choosing (Eph 3:4–5; Rom 1:17; 1 Pet 1:20). The apocalypse, revelation, or unveiling of something covered is the way God conveys His purpose to humankind. Many had seen Jesus’ work and heard His testimony, yet many did not believe in Him. The Pharisees knew the Scriptures well and searched them fervently, yet they did not come to believe in Jesus (Jn 5:39-40). Many of the Jews saw what Jesus had done and believed in Him, such as after Lazarus’ resurrection (Jn 11:45). But the chief priest and Pharisees refused to accept (Jn 11:47). Those who shut their hearts and minds could not see, and God only opens the heart of those who seek after Him (Act 16:14).
As Christians, we can acquire knowledge by learning the basic doctrines, studying the Bible, meditating on His word, participating in group discussions, or listening to sermons. The teachings of Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets form the foundation of our faith. However, revelation becomes information once revealed, written down, taught, and learned. The disciples witnessed Jesus’ miracles of feeding five thousand and four thousand, but all they could remember was mere information; they failed to see the significance behind the miracles (Mk 8:19–21). We do not want to be mere archivists of information, adept at stringing together Bible verses and regurgitating the doctrines without progressing in knowledge. What more do we need to progress? Are we merely possessing information without reaping its benefits?
KNOWLEDGE AS EXPRESSION AND EMPOWERMENT OF FAITH
Growth in faith and knowledge are interrelated, not mutually exclusive. Knowledge does not supplant faith, and faith does not discount knowledge. Knowledge is more than theoretical conceptualization or the acquisition of information. People know God, but not all accept His lordship (Rom 1:21). Faith intertwines with knowledge—it actualizes and is augmented by it.
In Johannine terminology, “to believe” precedes “to know” (Jn 6:69; 8:31–32). “To know” gives “to believe” new power (Jn 16:30; 17:7–8). Jesus’ followers saw the relationship between the Father and the Son gradually unfold. The initial encounter leads to belief, and further insight leads to the augmentation of faith. The disciples saw the first sign in Cana, and they believed in Him (Jn 2:11). They reaffirmed their belief by acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of God (Jn 6:69), yet their understanding was only partial (Jn 14:8–9). Knowing the significance of the relationship between the Father and Son reinforced their belief (Jn 17:7–8).
Faith and knowledge develop through experience. Paul did not know God would deliver him in Asia (2 Cor 1:8–11). After his experience of God’s deliverance, he was in a position to comfort others (2 Cor 1:3–6). Knowledge thus consists of first and secondhand experience. The latter is acquired through learning, the former through experiencing. The former reinforces the latter, leading to a deeper understanding of God.
KNOWLEDGE AS A PRACTICE
Orthodoxy (correct doctrine) is vital, but it needs to be supplemented with orthopraxis (correct behavior.) The Christian view of knowledge is determined by an obedient and grateful acknowledgment of the deeds and demands of God.
The Hebrew yada (“to know”) denotes not only knowledge but also obedience towards God’s word. God’s chosen people did not know God (Isa 1:2–3), not because of their neglect of sacrifices, Sabbaths, or prayers (Isa 1:11–15). God loathed their offerings to Him because of injustice and oppression within the community. Therefore, living a Christ-like life is the true manifestation of orthodoxy, not the mere holding of a form of religion—boasting of our divine calling (Rom 2:17) and personal achievement in divine ministry (Mt 7:21–23).
To know God does not merely mean the knowledge gained from investigation, observation, or speculation. Religion is not a science but a devotion. God’s love for the world is actualized in the sending of the Son (Jn 3:16), and Jesus’ love, in obedience to the Father and service to the world. Since the knowledge of Jesus or of God expresses itself in love, observing the commandments might also be called a criterion of “knowing” Christ (1 Jn 2:3–6). Merely saying we know God without having the behavior God desires will not lead us to salvation. Even Satan knows God very well but can only wait in fear for his judgment (Jas 2:19).
Heresies are nothing new in the church. Peter warned the believers that false prophets would arise among the people and bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them (2 Pet 2:1). There was much speculation about Jesus, angels, and demons during the apostolic and post-apostolic times, which continues today. However, the most insidious heresy in Christendom is denying the Lord. Of course, no Christian would deny Jesus outright. However, denying His power, promises, and demands is equivalent to denying Him. Peter was not writing about some far-fetched doctrinal speculation but about mundane deviance in the form of indulgence, pleasure, carousing (2 Pet 2:13), lusts of the flesh (2 Pet 2:14, 18; 3:3; Jude 18), liberty (from the constraint of Christian norms) (2 Pet 2:19), and denying the second coming and, thus, the return of Jesus and the final judgment (2 Pet 3:4). Same-sex marriage, re-marriage, denial of the second coming, of resurrection, of heaven or hell, final judgment and eternal condemnation are common attitudes and practices that are advocated openly in non-True Jesus Church (TJC) denominations. What is unknown is the number of TJC members who secretly sympathize with some of these ideas or ideals or even practice them. False knowledge comes not only from academic theological research without true reverence towards God; it also encompasses knowing God’s words without truly coming to Christ.
The knowledge is of God and of Jesus, but this knowledge should manifest in the form of godliness and virtue (2 Pet 1:2–3). These two words appear sixteen and four times in the New Testament; but in 2 Peter alone, “godliness” appears four times, and “virtue” three times. This being Peter’s final encouragement to the believers, we can deduce how much weight he gave to pursuing godliness and virtue as vital steps in our journey of faith. We, the partakers of the divine nature, should not stagnate at mere theoretical knowledge of Jesus. The ladder of faith starts with faith, followed by virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Pet 1:5–8). If we do not climb this ladder, the knowledge we possess will be useless. We remain barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus (2 Pet 1:8). Without any progression in faith, our salvation is less than assured, and we may only barely scrape through to the kingdom of God (2 Pet 1:10–11; Phil 2:12). There are many pitfalls and temptations in life that may lead us to forsake the right way and go astray. We may become entangled in and overcome by the pollutions of the world, turn from the holy commandment, and be led away with the error of the wicked (2 Pet 2:15, 20, 21; 3:17). Paul warns us against the alluring fallacy of thinking we should sin more so that grace may abound (Rom 6:1). There are many who claim that since God is love, eternal damnation would contradict His nature. Restoration (apokathistémi) of the kingdom of Israel (Act 1:6) could easily be leading to apocatastasis—restoration of all things—the final restoration of all sinful beings to God and to the state of blessedness. However, Paul’s answer was an unequivocal: “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom 6:2).
Man comes to the knowledge of the truth not by exercising his reasoning powers but by accepting or being given the faith that enables him to use his reason correctly. Reason does not precede faith, as rationalism supposes, but faith precedes reason. The Septuagint Text of Isaiah 7:9 is translated as, “If you will not believe, you shall not understand” (Isa 7:9, LXX). We should first believe, then we will come to understand the thing which we believe. Reason itself must be justified by faith, by believing something that is not self-evident or demonstrable to all men. It is a fallacy to suppose that faith can be selected as the result of a purely rational and objective examination of facts; two people can arrive at opposing interpretations of the facts and even disagree about what are and are not facts. This is the power of the human mind to pervert the truth, tempting men to believe that they are rational and that they alone can achieve salvation (Jer 17:9).
The unaided power of fallen reason, limited by the gaps in our empirical knowledge, fails to arrive at objective judgments of truth, especially in existential matters. Rational men will ask for rational evidence that goes beyond the limits of natural reason. Nevertheless, faith in the apostolic testimony is not a “blind” act of believing apart from any evidence; it is a characteristic of faith that it carries its own evidence. It is not a gift of knowledge, but a gift of seeing, by which knowledge comes. Faith is not a substitute for understanding but a condition of it; God resolves differences in opinion by revealing to those who are spiritually mature (Phil 3:15).
The danger in these last days is false pretenses in religion, holding a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Tim 3:5). The word of God does not benefit us when we are devoid of faith (Heb 4:2) and practice or action. Faith, love, and hope are intangible values, but they can be manifested in the form of work, labor, and patience (1 Thess 1:3).
Cognitive understanding of God’s word, wholehearted belief in Him, obedience to His will, and practicing His word constitute true knowledge of Him. God’s word must be mixed with faith (Heb 4:2). If we lack understanding of what we believe in and how that is translated into action, we will become entrenched in complacency. We must grow and come to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son, resisting every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:11–16). Paul states that he prays for wisdom, knowledge, and understanding on behalf of the believers so that they may be patient (faithfully observing the word), bear fruit (right behavior), and grow in the knowledge of God (having their understanding reinforced and enhanced) (Col 1:9–10). If we possess these three elements of knowledge, we shall be able to stand firm against every wind of adverse influence that besieges us on our heavenly pilgrimage.
 In the court of law, the “standard of proof refers to the duty of the person responsible for proving the case. There are different standards of proof in different circumstances.” Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof, used in criminal law cases where a defendant’s life or liberty is at stake, so the jury must be convinced that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Source: “Different Standards of Proof,” HG.org, accessed March 25, 2022, https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/different-standards-of-proof-6363.
 “Statements in which Jesus speaks of the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of Man. This group of sayings is also not authentic, for in them Jesus predicts his passion and resurrection in a way that displays such detailed knowledge of what is to happen that the sayings simply must have originated as vaticinia ex eventu, as “prophecies” after the events had occurred or were believed to have occurred.” Rudolf Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, trans. John Marsh (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 153.
 GA Wells, Did Jesus Exist? (London: Pemberton Publishing Co, 1986), 124.
 Augustine, De Utilitate Credendi, 22-5: “Therefore seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.” Augustine, On the Profit of Believing (United States of America: Beloved Publishing, 2014), 37–49.
 Εάν μη πιστεύσητε ουδε μη συνήτε: “If you should not trust, neither should you perceive.” The NKJV is based on the Masoretic Text: “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established.”