God is unknowable

Some skeptics assume that there is simply no method to obtain absolute knowledge about God. These people are usually agnostics or atheists (if you’ve read this far, you are probl. in their company) and forget that their skeptic approach is self-contradictory to their very own convictions. For if God were unknowable, how could you come to the conclusion that a) he is unknowable or b) he does not exist. You couldn’t know this about God, if we couldn’t obtain absolute knowledge about him in the first place.

Other skeptics, even Christians among them, come to the same conclusion, because different interpretations of the Bible show contradictory results. As I have argued before, these differences are largely not due to the interpreted text itself, but due to the interpreters. Yet, apart from that, there may be indeed some conflicting interpretations, and thus they claim that people have no access to definitive knowledge of God. I have some objections to this view and after disclosing my disagreements, I will conclude this page with a solution to the methodological problem.

First of all, the Bible is not a requirement to know God. I believe that God is knowable to all people in any place and any time: God is evident in nature, in our consciousness, in our moral experience and in religious experience. Of course, it may be a lot easier, when you have the Bible, but it is not a prerequisite to knowledge of God. But, since you and I–I suppose–do have access to the Bible, we have no excuse of being “uninformed”.

So, secondly, for us, the Bible is important, esp. the most recent part: the New Testament. The New Testament is a collection of historical documents about the life, teachings, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the emergence of the early church. Historical research supplies us with reliable information about Jesus and the early church. We can read and analyse the historical biographies of Mark, Luke, Matthew and John, written by or on the basis of eyewitness in a clear historical context, to know more about the life of the historical Jesus. In the subsequent books of Acts and the epistles, we can read how his death and resurrection transformed the lives of the apostles. Now, wholly apart from doctrines, dogmas and interpretations, if God revealed himself decisively in Jesus Christ, as he claimed to be God (cf. John 20:28) and yet was raised from the dead, then we can have definitive knowledge about God from the Bible using the historical method through Jesus Christ. Whatever we’d know about God through Jesus would be enough.

Finally, wholly apart from the natural world and the life of Jesus Christ, is there any way to gain knowledge about God through the Bible? The skeptic claims: we can’t, it’s just our personal interpretation, theologians and Christians can interpret the Bible in any way they want. On top of that, all secondary literature doesn’t reveal any truth about God either, at least it provides us with more imagination. (Even though the written works of the ex-atheist C.S. Lewis, such as Mere Christianity, are based upon reason and logic and most of it can be backed up by the Bible, they still claim he made things up.) The summary of the skeptic’s view is: there are no objective interpretations of the Biblical revelation of God. There is no way to know whether one interpretation is more truthful than the other. But, hang on here, how does the skeptic know? Isn’t that just hisway of interpreting the Biblical account? How can one get to the objective knowledge of God that there is no objective knowledge of God? Whereas you, as an atheist, might interpret the Bible and conclude that God does not exist, I, as a Christian, interpret the Bible and conclude that he does exist. But, obviously, these two contradicting conclusions cannot both be true. Either of our interpretations must be right.

Well, then, how do we go about? There are some important principles in hermeneutics that any interpreter has to deal with: the language of the text, its cultural-historical context, its literary genre, basic communicative and conceptual principles of human-beings and the presuppositions of the reader (Howe 2003). Such a grammatical-historical approach of the text will help us understand the meaning of the Bible properly. Language may allow sentences that can be interpreted differently, but their correct interpretation becomes evident depending on the setting of the historical and cultural background, the setting of its specific literary genre and the setting of the passage in the Bible as a whole. All fully functional human-beings have the same cognitive and communicative abilities to learn and understand each other and to share knowledge of the truth. The diversity of language and culture do not conflict with the universality of the human mind, i.e. the different ways in which people express the truth in different societies and cultures and in different times and places doesn’t show that we cannot share the same understanding of what is true and what is false.

The greatest obstacle to come to the correct interpretation are our own presuppositions. Even our language, our culture, our education and our personal preferences will influence the way we interpret the text. If someone assumes God does not exist or that miracles are nothing more than myth and legend, then these presumptions will have a profound impact on the way they interpret the text. Likewise, if someone lives according to the teachings of Buddha or Muhammad or Mormon or specific theologians, these teachings will also have a profound impact on their interpretation of the Bible.

This, however, doesn’t mean that they can’t come to a correct understanding of the text. Somehow many individuals from all sort of backgrounds and beliefs, some even in the most dangerous circumstances, all came to the same conclusion that the message and the teachings of the Bible are true and that God exists and wants to have a relationship with them through Jesus Christ, his Son. So regardless of our worldviews, all human beings are capable of coming to the knowledge of God through the Bible. We should be aware that our worldview, our prejudice and our presuppositions can subvert the correct understanding of the text. If we read the Bible with an open mind and open heart and look sincerely for the truth, then, whether we’d like it or not, we will have to submit our individual beliefs to whatever truth this text entails.

Howe, A. T. 2003. How to Interpret Your Bible Correctly (Part 1). CRI.

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COPYRIGHT © 2009 Life put in perspective by Harry Buckley. All rights reserved.

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