Series - Epistemological Foundations

Epistemological Foundations for a Biblical Theology, Part 3

(The series so far.)

Four Pillars

Some years ago I published a paper, entitled “Presuppositional Dispensationalism,”1 in which I attempted to summarize the biblical epistemological model with the illustration of four pillars.

Pillar #1 is the existence of the biblical God. As the first principal, the God of the Bible exists, and not merely as one god among many, but as the One who has disclosed Himself in such a way that His exclusivity is unavoidable. Further, He is characterized above all else by holiness (Isa. 6:3, Rev 4:8), and all that He does is to be understood through that lens. The recognition of this first principle does not advocate faith as the sole or final source of understanding truth;2 rather it is an invitation to step into the biblical perspective, to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psa. 34:8).

Pillar #2 is the principle that God has divinely and authoritatively disclosed Himself for the purpose of His own glorification, through general revelation (creation, Rom. 1:18-20), special revelation (the Bible, 2 Tim 3:16-17), and personal revelation (Jesus Christ, John 1:1-18).

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Epistemological Foundations for a Biblical Theology, Part 2

Read the series so far.

A biblical epistemology

The first epistemological statement in the Bible is actually made by the serpent in the Garden: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Satan prescribes knowledge through contradicting God’s design for knowledge. The fact that Satan chose epistemology as an early battleground underscores the strategic significance of epistemology in God’s design.

In this context Satan challenges Eve to consider a different starting point than God had prescribed, and if she does, Satan promises, Eve will have a better outcome—that her knowledge will be more complete, even to the point of making her godlike. While the actions Satan prescribed did result in particular knowledge (Gen 3:22), it was a distortion of God’s design for knowledge and resulted in tragedy and not blessing. These events invite the reader to inquire as to God’s ideal for human knowledge, and the answer is provided especially in the writings of Solomon, to whom it was granted to be exceedingly wise (1 Kings 3:12).

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Epistemological Foundations for a Biblical Theology, Part 1

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It attempts to answer questions regarding the origin of human knowledge, and considers especially how we can know with certainty. Epistemological answers are basic and necessary building blocks of any philosophy, worldview, or belief system. In fact, of the four major components of philosophy and worldview (epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and socio-political thought), none can be adequately addressed until we answer the question of how we can know.

Regarding metaphysics, for example, we can’t make legitimate assertions about the character of God or the existence of the human soul until we first address how such assertions can be verified or falsified. Further, unless we have a means for validating ethical prescriptions as either worthy or unworthy, we have no warrant for choosing one prescription over another—especially when we encounter apparently competing or conflicting goods. And if we have no mechanism for authentication, then how can we even arrive at a definition of what is good in the first place? Finally, in socio-political thought, on what basis can we choose one system of government over another, or how can we determine whether a law is commendable? Without correct epistemological answers, there is no basis for our understanding or choosing one thing over another. In short, epistemology is really about authority, verifiability, truth, and certainty.

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