a biblical basis for reason
11/01/2006 12:01:00 PM
Back in the early nineties and late eighties, there was a series of anti-drug commercial that all had the catch phrase, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Each commercial would show examples on how drugs ruin lives because drugs impede the mind. A similar context is given in Hebrews chapter 5 where the writers of Hebrews says that the readers of the letters were simple minded, and he admonishes them to move beyond basic theology because it leads to a fuller understanding of Christ. The writer of Hebrews prior to this admonition has just spent five chapters trying explain some complex theology, but it seems as if he stops dead in his tracks and says that he wants to explain more. He can not because the recipients are slow to learn.

Verse 13 points out that believers should be capable of understanding more complex things. It is not that they can not learn, it is that they are either lazy or complacent. He says that they ought to be teachers, and by implications that means they must have been believers for quite some time and have had good discipleship.

Teachers in the New Testament had the duty of guarding the flock against false teachers. These were the ones who understood doctrine and helped correct doctrine when something came up that was not inline with orthodox teaching. The Greek word for "teacher" is didáskalos. Paul referred to himself as a teacher, and the word is generally applied to Jesus. There were at least two other types of teachers in the New Testament that were used to refer to those who imparted doctrine, but in the negative since. They were pseudodidáskaloi, which means "false teacher" and heterodidaskaléo which means "different doctrine".

The writer of Hebrews uses the contrast of milk and solid food to illustrate the point. Milk is for children, or those who are immature and solid food for adults, or those who are more mature. In verse fifteen, it is in reference to their spiritual maturity, which correlates directly with their abilities to understand the "oracles of God". The purpose of being raised up into maturity is so that they will be able to discern (diákrisis) between what is evil and what is good. The writers of Hebrews does not really qualify what is meant by evil and good, but one could infer from the context that the writer is talking about evil and good action as well as evil and good teachings.

Colossians 2 picks up where Hebrews leaves off. Colossians 2 gives more flesh as to why believers should not be afraid to increase understanding. Paul asserts here that having knowledge of Christ will help a believer defeat deceptive arguments. He starts in verses 1-3 saying that wrapped up in Christ there is full knowledge and understanding. The way Paul constructs the sentence in Greek implies that understanding (súnesis) will lead to full knowledge (epígnosis). The Greek work epígnosis is different from the Greek word gnosis, which Paul uses later. It carries the weight of life changing knowledge while gnosis seems to imply general knowledge, or something more like common sense. Epígnosis can understand the mystery of God, which is Jesus who brings salvation.

In verse 4, Paul says that it is in Jesus that one can find wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom (sophia) was generally used to refer to the wisdom sought by Greco-Roman philosophers and knowledge (gnosis) refers to things like general information and common sense. As mentioned before, it does not carry the same punch as epignosis.

Paul encourages the believers at Colosse to find their knowledge in Christ so they will not be lead away by false wisdom and teaching. Paul then begins to address a few of the worldly philosophy (philosophia) and deception (apáte) that they had encountered. Paul is not down-playing the use of ones mental capacities when he is down-playing philosophy. He was referring to the philosophies of the Greeks, and he deals with the Stoics and Hedonists in particular. Deceptions (apáte) are just plain lies. The church at Colosse was established in a pluralistic society. Philosophies and religions sprang up daily, and people could almost make their own religion al-la-carte.

The particular philosophies that Paul addressed were two extremes. In Greek thinking, the flesh was something that was evil and the spiritual things were that which was good. The Stoics were those who denied their flesh, so they would not taste or touch things that might have brought pleasure. The other extreme was Hedonism, which allowed for fleshly indulgence because the body was something that was to be discarded anyways.

Additionally, Paul addresses the traditions of men in the passage as well. Paul was probably addressing the Judaizers here. Verses 11-13 talk about circumcision and verses 16-17 talk about Sabbath regulations. The traditions given to Moses had been added to and modified particularly by the Pharisee, so much so that they probably had lost their meaning and had become tradition for the sake of tradition.

While Paul and the writer of Hebrews encourage believers to grow up in their understanding, believers can never have an exhaustive knowledge of God. Job in the Old Testament was a person who questioned God. After God presents Job with a series of questions, Job realizes his limitations. He replies, "Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." Job then repents of his lack of understanding. The readers of Job fortunately get a bird's-eye-view of whole thing. Job in all his suffering never understood why he suffered, but he does realize that he cannot fully understand God.

To illustrate this, think of a tree. A person does not need to have exhaustive knowledge about a tree to know it is a tree. But in order to distinguish it from other trees, he might want to know the species, it's location, how many leaves it has, or any other number of properties about a particular tree. This is similar to God. The more understanding a believer has about God, the better a person will be able to discern between what is good and evil and what is true and false teaching, but nobody can have exhaustive knowledge of God.

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