Friday, May 20, 2011

Biblical Epistemology

Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the LORD. Jer. 22:15-16

"Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Matt. 11:3-5

'Awareness of vocation' is by no means the same thing as Jesus having the sort of 'supernatural' awareness of himself, of Israel's god, and of the relation between the two of them, such as is often envisaged by those who, concerned to maintain a 'high' christology, place it within an eighteenth-century context of implicit Deism where one can maintain Jesus' 'divinity' only by holding some form of docetism. Jesus did not, in other words, 'know that he was God' in the same way that one knows one is male or female, hungry or thirsty, or that one ate an orange an hour ago. His 'knowledge' was of a more risky, but perhaps more significant, sort: like knowing one is loved. One cannot 'prove' it except by living it. Wright, JVG

A central Christian conviction is that Jesus is the revelation of God. Our knowledge of God is intimately tied up with this Jewish prophet from Nazareth. But what about Jesus's knowledge of God? Within what epistemological framework was Jesus working from birth to death to birth from the dead?

Wright rejects the notion that Jesus possessed a Chalcedonian christology, a supernatural awareness of his unique, infinite relationship with God. Judging by Jesus's answer to John the Baptist quoted above, this seems to be a right rejection. When asked if he is "the one to come", Jesus does not point John to his divine credentials, his membership within the trinity, his knowledge of God that goes back before the dawn of time. Instead, he informs John that justice is taking place for the poor and the needy. What is the significance of this?

To take up Wright's point, perhaps it is through this doing of justice that Jesus knew God and knew his own relation to this God. The passage in Jeremiah 22 speaks of what it means to be a king, and the conclusion is that it entails doing justice and righteousness. Without such doing, being the "king" (or "the one who is to come") was an empty title, and knowledge of God was absent.

The extent to which Jesus participated in God's bringing of justice to the world through teaching, preaching and healing was the extent to which he knew God and knew his own unique relation to this God. I think this gets to the heart of what it means for us to know God. It is not about us merely knowing the kind of person Jesus is. It is not about having a "high" christology. It is about being "in Christ", being in the one who has already come and will return once more, which means participatung in his kind of life - a life of justice, peace and joy in the spirit. The extent to which we participate in God's mission to bring justice to earth -- a mission motivated by perhaps nothing more or less than God's love for justice -- is the extent to which we know the God revealed in Jesus. This is the uncomfortable epistemology of the Bible.

"One cannot 'prove' it except by living it."

I can only end by concluding that I know very little of God, so you probably shouldn't believe a word of what I say.

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