How do we know what we know? How is information transferred from one person to another? How do we interpret (make sense) of what is being communicated to us? How can we be sure that we understand what we are reading or hearing? How can we know everything the author is seeking to convey to us?
The basic question involved in this examination is how does God communicate himself and his message to man and how can we be sure we understand what he is revealing. These questions are matters that fall within the field of study known as “epistemology.”
Epistemology (from Greek (epistēmē), meaning “knowledge, understanding”, and (logos), meaning “study of”) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge. It questions what knowledge is, how it is acquired, and to what extent it is possible for a given subject or entity to be known.
Consider the state of man when God began to reveal himself after the fall. Think of the state of learning as it existed in the early days of the Bible. Great advances in learning were taking place in the days of Nimrod’s empire. The invention of writing (cuneiform) took place in Sumer, the location of Nimrod’s earlier cities and was of inestimable value in the communication of ideas between people. In Egypt there was parallel development in the development of hieroglyphics. Other early societies developed pictographic writing as well.
Cuneiform script is one of the earliest known forms of written expression. Emerging in Sumer around the 30th century BC, with predecessors reaching into the late 4th millennium (the Uruk IV period), cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. In the third millennium the script spanned, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract as the number of characters in use also grew …
Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combined logographic and alphabetic elements. A logogram is a representation of ideas in pictographic or symbolic form (as in Chinese characters) instead of a combination of alphabetic characters which combined into words to represent ideas.
Cuneiform, hieroglyphic and Chinese writing are pictographic, i.e., “picture writing.” It is not coincidental that these three form represent the earliest written communication.
From earliest age, a child learns through visualization. The parents of small infants hang brightly colored mobiles, (maybe made up of animals figures, etc.) over their crib. A little later they begin to use objects or cards to teach them. They hold up an apple or point to a dog and ask “What is this?” “This is an apple.” “This is a doggie.” “The apple is red.” Then, using flash cards another step is added, “A” is for apple, “D” is for dog.”
When we are struggling to convey an idea to a listener and find it difficult to get our meaning across to them we ask in desperation, “Do I have to draw you a picture?” and when our friend gets it, he exclaims, “Now I get the picture!”As children advance one does not hand them a textbook on nuclear physics or Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” but simple readers from which the pupil, through pictures and mental visualization of the actions, settings or characters evoked by the words of the story are able to “get into the story.”
Story is the means by which primitive peoples have kept alive their tribal identity and traditions and by which have learned their history.
In 1976, [Alex]Haley published Roots: The Saga of an American Family, a novel based on his family’s history [which was made into a hit TV miniseries, mr], starting with the story of Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped in The Gambia …to be sold as a slave. Haley’s work on the novel involved ten years of research, intercontinental travel and writing. He went to the village of Juffure, where Kunta Kinte grew up and which is still in existence, and listened to a tribal historian tell the story of Kinte’s capture. (Wikipedia).
It has been largely through story that the Jewish people have maintained their separate identity for millenia. Their common story holds them together and teaches them how to function in their society. Their feasts (or festivals) are times when their story or stories are told and retold. The Seder is a ritual performed by a community or by multiple generations of a family, involving a retelling of the story (during the Passover meal) of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. They do this because of what God commanded in (Exodus 13:8). They were to “put themselves in the story” as indicated by the words …
“You shall tell your child on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:8).
Just so, God gives us his story – which is our story because we are his creation – through which we come to know him and know what he expects of us. But how does that story work? How are we to read it to make sense of what God is telling us – all of us for all time? How were people in pre-scientific ages supposed to read and understand God’s message for themselves? How are common people, untrained in logic and the scientific method to understand the Bible today?
The answer for those who believe that the scientific method is the only way we are to understand what God wants of us today is to teach the method over and over again to assure that people can know(?) how to read and understand God’s revelation to us. The method is taught to the point that people believe it is equal to the Bible and base their standing before God on the conclusions reached by application of the scientific method. They believe they will be lost unless they live by the conclusions they have reached through its use. That is why they get so upset when the method is called in question. To question the method is to question all the conclusions they have drawn using it.
But the ordinary person doesn’t understand it and couldn’t use it if their life depended on it. They have to trust that the “adepts” in its use are telling them the truth. Their trust has to be not only in the people who teach it and use it but in their accuracy in their application of the method and the conclusions they reach. What is this but our own priesthood in which only certain men can speak for God on high? On this basis, how can they fault the Roman pope for his claim to infallibility when speaking “ex cathedra?” If one thinks they do not believe in their infallibility, just observe what happens when someone questions their conclusions!
This gives those who “understand” how to apply this trusty (legalistic) method great power over those whom they teach. That power operates in the form of fear – fear that if they do what God has not authorized (as established by CENI) hell fire awaits them. The lords of legalism caution people about association with those who disagree, forbid the reading of any dissenting literature from “liberals/antis” or attending worship at any congregation on the other side of the disagreement. This virtual imprisonment of people behind an “iron curtain” of rules and regulations stifles independent thinking or questioning of the conclusions held as having been divinely given. It does not permit people to obey the greatest law of all – to love God by obeying his command to love others as themselves. People must judge others on the basis of their “stand” on the “issues” and not on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and their character as children of God who are being transformed into the image of our Creator.
There has to be a better way!