Monday, January 2, 2017

Biblical Epistemology: The Search for Truth

Biblical Epistemology:
The Search for Truth

Faith is an integral part of any person’s understanding of existence, reality, and Truth.  Without faith, no one can grasp that there is a spiritual dimension of existence that cannot be comprehended with the human senses.  The existence of this spiritual dimension can only be known and understood through the instrumentality of faith.  Simply because we cannot see, touch, hear, or feel the spiritual dimension of existence in no way diminishes the reality of that existence.  What we do know about the spiritual dimension of existence, we know by faith in the revelations of God through His Inspired Words.  This is what Hebrews 11:1-3 tells us. 

1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Anchor2 For by it the elders obtained a good report. Anchor3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:1–3).

Faith allows people to understand that our little world is but a tiny part of an existence far beyond our senses.  Faith gives us a perspective of life that cannot be had without it.  Hebrews chapter eleven continues the emphasis of Hebrews chapter ten regarding continuation in New Covenant practices.  However, the emphasis takes a little different direction in the emphasis of positive examples of individuals throughout history who have continued living “by faith.”  In other words, real faith gives the believer another perspective through which he sees the world and lives a different life than those without the vision of faith. 
Practicing our beliefs, regarding living in the eternal promises for which we yet hope, is the way we practically testify to the reality of those yet unrealized promises. 

Hebrews chapter eleven encompasses the record of history regarding God’s definition of a true and living faith and how believers have historically manifested the reality of their faith.  Men have halls of fame.  Here is God’s Hall of Faith.  God’s Hall of Faith signifies what it is in His eyes that makes men and women great before Him.  The list of Hebrews chapter eleven includes several people who lived in ways that manifested a reality that they knew only by faith, yet they lived according to that unseen reality.

“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (Hebrews 11:4a).  Abel understood the universal law of Redemption; “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).  Abel knew this universal Law by faith.  In other words, Adam told him what God had done when Adam and Eve realized they were naked; “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).  Abel was told that God clothed his naked parents with the skins of animals.  He was not born yet, so Abel did not see this happen.  Therefore, the only source of his knowledge was faith in what Adam and Eve told him.  Thus, “by faith” Abel became “a keeper of sheep” (Genesis 4:2). 

Why would Abel keep and raise sheep when God forbade them eating meat (Genesis 1:29)?  God did not give permission to kill animals and eat meat until after the flood (Genesis 9:3).  Therefore, we must conclude that Abel kept sheep to offer the blood.  “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).  The offering of the blood of the slain animal pictured their understanding “by faith” of the death of the coming One of Genesis 3:15 as an offering for sin.  They would use the skins of the sacrificed animals to cloth themselves, picturing their understanding of the imputation of righteousness through faith (the putting on by faith of God-kind righteousness) in the coming One.  In other words, the faith descendants of Adam and Eve would continue “by faith” what God had revealed to Adam and Eve.  Cain rejected this “by faith” continuum as did the vast majority of the world that then was (II Peter 3:6).  Abel’s testimony of faith continues to live and speak to us even now, although Abel is now long dead (Hebrews 11:4).  Abel never saw the birth of the Promised One, yet he continued to offer the appropriate sacrifice that manifested his faith in God’s promise. 

The people listed in God’s Hall of Faith are not great believers because they never failed or were never disobedient.  The fact is, almost every one of the people listed had very significant failures in their histories.  These people are listed in God’s Hall of Faith because the recognized their faith failures, acknowledged those failures before God, repented, and began again to live within the reality of their faith vision of existence.  Every believer of great renown in history was at one point in time brought to a situation of life where he/she had to risk everything in this life to be faithful to the reality of God’s existence.  Real faith will always choose God’s ordained pathway of obedience regardless of personal sacrifices. 

Real faith lives within the reality in which redemption rests. 

This is the substance of the exhortation of Hebrews 10:19-27.  The text deals with one of the central purposes of attending the local church assembly and the necessary encouragement from other believers for each of us to be consistent in living within the reality in which our redemption rests.  God ordained the assembly of believers for the purposes of edification, exhortation, rebuke, reproof because we are weak and frail beings who are constantly tempted to being drawn back into the sight world, where we are but fallen sinners, rather than live in the faith world where we are priests before our heavenly Father.  Hebrews 10:19 addresses the bold access the believer-priest has before God’s throne of grace. 

Living within the corruptions of this world naturally draws believers out of the reality of living faith within the reality in which redemption rests.  God’s solution to this problem is the continual reassurance and reaffirmation of the truths we know only by faith.  Faith truths will constantly be challenged.  The corrupted world will constantly whittle away, chip away, and erode faith truths taking from us smalls bits that eventually become big pieces.  This erosion weakens our faith resolve and each small part of the erosion needs to be constantly and continually restored. 

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews10:19-27).

The summarizing statement of God about those included in the Hall of Faith is found in Hebrews 11:13; “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” 

Continuation is the testimony of genuine faith.  Continually pursuing the reality in which faith rests is the ultimate test of the reality of one’s profession of faith. 

Hebrews chapter eleven is the only real definitive explanation of faith in the Bible.  The “faith” described in Hebrews 11:1 sees certainty in the promises of God for which we hope.  We know of these promises only through knowing and believing the Word of God.  The “faith” described in Hebrews 11:1 is the faith that accepts God’s promises.  This is the faith that accepts those promises because of certainty in knowing that God cannot lie or deceive.  If we believe in the God of the Bible, and that what He says about Himself is true, true faith accepts these inspired Truths as absolute facts (“substance” – reality) producing a surety of hope

          Faith grows only through accepting as fact the revelations that come through God’s inspired Words.  Romans chapter ten connects faith in the inspiration of the Words of God to the faithful proclamation of the Word of God by the professing believer.  Connecting faith to faithfulness is a constant throughout the Word of God.  Real faith always seeks to be faithful to the reality in which it rests. 

A major aspect of that faithfulness is learning the Word of God in order to proclaim and explain the Word of God to others.  This reality of faithfulness cannot be separated from practically defining genuine faith.  Failure to faithfully proclaim the faith by which one lived was considered the great failure of the children of Israel.  They proclaimed their faith in God with the words of their mouths, but failed to live the Words of God from their hearts thereby creating contradicting hypocrisy. 

12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:12-17).

Hope, in its relationship to other people, always carries with it a certain amount of doubt.  However, hope in its relationship to God, always sees what we hope for as a future reality. 

13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, 14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. 17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: 19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; 20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 6:13-20).

Genuine faith sees certainties in the promises of God (Hebrews 11:1) and faith rests in the hope of those certainties. 

Therefore, the first element of genuine faith is its substance of certainty.  The unbelieving world lives as if there is no spiritual and eternal dimension of existence.  They do not even consider the possibility of having to answer to God for the decisions of their lives.  They live by the Humanistic model – “eat, drink, and party for tomorrow we die.”  Faith sees the reality of the eternal God-existence as the ultimate destiny of every soul that believes and trusts in the finished work of redemption in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Faith also sees the reality of the eternal separation from the God-existence for all those that refuse to believe, or never hear, of the redemption offered through Jesus Christ.  In the latter case, faith in the eternality of Hell motivates the believer to both evangelism of the lost and their discipleship to make them followers of Jesus.  Evangelism of the lost and their discipleship is always a reality within the scope of real belief in a real Hell.

The second element is that faith becomes evidence or proof of the reality of things that do not appear as real in this world.  How does this element of faith manifest itself?  Faith sees things as so real that it begins to act upon what it believes, it rests upon what it believes as fact, and is uplifted by what it believes.  This is true even in a world that seems to contradict everything that a believer believes.  Faith perceives as fact what cannot be proven by the senses.  Then faith moves the believer to act.

6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:9-16).

Humanity is blind to the mysterious things of an invisible God and His unfolding New Genesis “in Christ,” but the Holy Spirit takes us by the hand of faith, leads us about, and teaches us about the things of the spiritual world of God.  By faith we see it and by faith we accept it.  By faith it becomes reality and by faith man knows the unknowable.

Faith is like the experience of a blind person as you take his hand and guide it over your face explaining everything he touches; these are my eyes, this is my nose, this is my mouth and, these are my ears.  He understands these things as he accepts by faith what you say.  This is how faith and the Word of God come together to know God.  Faith is the hand, the Word of God is the explanation, and the Spirit of God gives the understanding.  In this process, what was once unknown becomes known.  Faith takes the place of empirical knowledge and becomes the reality (“substance”) of that knowledge (evidence or proof).  

The word used to describe this process of discovery of Truth is the word Epistemology.  Epistemology is basically defined as the study of how we discover knowledge or truth.  There are three basic avenues of how we determine something to be truth.  As believers, the FIRST source of Truth is ALWAYS the inspired Words of God – THE BIBLE!

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16-17).

          The believer automatically accepts the Bible as inerrant and infallible if he believes that every Word is breathed out from God.  The believer looks for the answers to all the questions of life and existence in the inspired Words of God.  This fact is foundational to a faith epistemology.  A faith epistemology for an unbeliever begins with an invitation to the unbeliever to make a choice to believe the Bible. 

Most people in the world are searching for truth through other pathways using other methods.  If the believer wants to help such a person, the believer must bring faith in the Word of God into the process of the unbeliever’s epistemology.  This is evangelism and discipleship.  However, “born again” Christians should not presume that others, even other professing Christians, share their belief in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture.  There are many false views of inspiration.  Believers should not presume that all people, even other professing believers, believe the Bible to be inerrant and infallible.  Most professing Christians have been convinced by liberals that the Bible is full of errors and is merely a book written by men.  Many others have been convinced that the Bible is just one of many religious books all of which are equal sources to find the truth.  Patiently helping people wade through these slime pits of confusion is often the pathway the evangelist must take.  Such a process is often slow and tedious requiring a great deal of patience with those that often “oppose themselves” (II Timothy 2:25).  Contending for the faith without being contentious can be one of the most difficult aspects of the adventure of bringing a soul to a biblical/faith epistemology. 

23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. 24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (II Timothy 2:23-26).

When helping someone come to understand biblical/faith truth, it is important to understand other epistemologies being used in the world.  There are three basic epistemologies that every believer should understand , recognize, and help people. 

1. There is Epistemology derived from what is known as the Scientific Method, which is always empirical.  Empirical means truth can only be determined by observing through the human senses, forming logical theories, and then testing to observe the data to determine if the theory can be proven true.  Once something is proven true, it moves from theory to law, which is another word for truth.  In this Epistemology, if something cannot be observed, it cannot be proven to be true and therefore cannot be considered truth.  In this type of Epistemology, issues resolved by faith are almost always excluded and often are even ridiculed. 
2. There is the Epistemology derived from what is known as the Philosophical Method, which is birthed in logic and reason as developed by ancient philosophers throughout ancient times intermingling numerous religious mythological and traditional beliefs about the gods as sources of truth.  Philosophy first asks a question and then seeks to answer that question with logical and apologetical reason often providing numerous sides of the argument whereby it is said, Philosophy is an argument with one’s self.  Although truth is often presented as absolute by the answers offered by the strawman arguments of the philosopher, the degree to which any truth can be said to be absolute is solely based upon the strength of the arguments.  Truth by this method is always axiomatic.  “An axiom is a principle widely accepted on the basis of its intrinsic merit or one regarded as self-evidently true. A statement that is axiomatic therefore, is one against which few people would argue.” [1]

From these first two methods of Epistemology evolve hundreds of intermingled variations.  Religious Pluralism for instance accepts ALL religious paths, or faiths, as equally valid and equally acceptable even when the truths or values of varying faiths are completely contradictory to one another.  This philosophy leads to Relativism, which simply means no absolute truth exists (which of course is an oxymoron in that the statement is presented as an absolute). 

The third method of Epistemology is the destination to where the evangelist tries to guide the seeker of Truth.  Whenever the seeker drifts off onto one of the other pathways of Epistemology, the Bible believer patiently tries to bring him back to the Bible. 

3. There is the Epistemology derived from what is known as the Revelatory Method which accepts by faith the religious writings/traditions of whatever faith you accept as true.  Orthodox Jews and fundamental Christians believe by faith that the Bible is given to us by verbal and plenary inspiration of God and is preserved inerrant in the original languages of inspiration.  This belief is a choice and defines where faith begins. 
[1] Merriam Webster Online Dictionary,, 12/20/2016.

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Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist. 
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

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