Knowledge in 1 John and the Postmodern Epistemological Crisis

This semester I am taking my Greek exegesis class through 1 John. This time through the epistle one of the things that has struck me is the emphasis that John places on knowledge. The two verbs meaning “to know” (oida and ginosko) appear a combined total of 39x. Even more striking is the variety of direct objects used with these verbs. They can be broken up into two categories. The first is peronal objects (whether pronouns or proper nouns) that refer to God, sometimes to specific persons of the Trinity (2:3, 4, 13, 14; 3:6; 4:2). The second group consists of abstract concepts such as truth (2:20) or God’s commands (2:4). Related to this second category are examples where a verb of knowing is followed by a phrase that expresses the content of what a believer knows (2:3, 5, 29; 3:2, 5, 14, 15, 19, 24; 5:2, 13, 15, 18, 20).

Two reflections suggest themselves from this data:

1. Central to the Christian life is the “experiential” knowing of God, something not reducible to mere intellectual assent to a set of propositions.

2. Central to the Christian life is the cognitive knowing of certain propositional truths about God.

To be biblical, we must embrace both the experiential and cognitive aspects of knowledge. Losing sight of either of these realities results in a distorted view of Christian knowledge. This is important today especially in light of those who, enamored with postmodern critiques of intellectual hubris, wrongly claim that propositional knowledge must be jettisoned as a relic of modernity. Furthermore, not the confidence and certainty that John claims Christians have about the reality/truth of these claims. There is no hint of the false humility of postmodern culture that abandons certainty in the guise of humility. This of course does not mean that Christians have absolute or exhaustive knowledge of such matters, but it does mean that Christians can have sufficient knowledge for certainty on fundamental aspects of the Christian faith. At the same time, these observations also serve to correct those who in their pursuit of propositional truth lose sight of the experiential aspect of knowledge, thus reducing Christianity to a set of beliefs devoid of personal, experiential knowledge of God.

3 thoughts on “Knowledge in 1 John and the Postmodern Epistemological Crisis”

  1. I like your term, ‘the false humility of postmodern culture’, that is my ‘experiential’ knowledge of a lot (not all) of pomo literature – especially in Christian circles.

  2. It is interesting to do a biblical/canonical study of the concept “to know” in Scripture. The first appearance is in Genesis when Adam “knew” Eve. What is even more interesting is that the same sexual concept of knowing appears in Hosea 2 with the subject being Israel and the object being God. That gives a weightiness to the experiential knowledge of God.

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