Last week we talked about how faith and reason work together as overlapping ways of knowing. To build on that idea, this week we’ll look at some specific passages from the New Testament that back this idea up, and find out what the Bible really means when it says that those who believe without seeing are blessed.
The New Testament: Faith Is Knowledge
The New Testament writers persistently treat faith and knowledge as overlapping. (All quotes here are in the English Standard Version.) New Testament faith is in a reliable authority–“God, who never lies” (Paul to Titus), speaking to us of matters “in which it is impossible for God to lie” (the letter to the Hebrews).
And here are just a few other examples of New Testament writers claiming that there is an overlap of faith and knowledge.
In Luke’s preface to his Gospel, he explains that he has researched the matter in the manner of a historian or a journalist, in order that his readers may know that the histories of Jesus are accurate: “. . . it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
In Romans 1, Paul explains that some truths about God are knowable to all from creation, and are indeed known to all who do not suppress that knowledge by sin. He says:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Again, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul appeals to the foundations of Christian theology in the dual evidences of fulfilled prophecy and eyewitness testimony to the great miracle of the Resurrection of the Messiah:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried,that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
John in John 20 says that the miracles of Jesus, as recorded by eyewitnesses, are evidence that he is the Messiah: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Again, John in his first letter explains that the testimony of him and other apostles is that of eyewitnesses–but also earwitnesses and handwitnesses:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
Peter in his second letter explains that fulfilled prophecy accompanied by eyewitness testimony to the glory of God bestowed on Jesus constitutes solid evidence for the doctrines of the Christian churches:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed.
By Faith, Not By Sight
So why do we have this consistent theme in the New Testament that separates faith and sight? Don’t we know everything we see? And vice versa? If some bit of theology is known, shouldn’t it also be seen to be true?
Let’s first review the major passages that separate faith from sight:
- John 20:29: “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ “
- 2 Corinthians 5:7: “. . . for we walk by faith, not by sight.”
- Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
So what is this sight?
One sense of it is literal sight–you know, that thing you do with your eyes. That’s the meaning in John 20, and probably in Hebrews 11. But there’s another sense, used in 2 Corinthians (and probably intended as a secondary meaning in Hebrews 11 and John 20). That other sense is: ways of knowing firsthand, without relying on trust.
I.e., sight is the leftmost region of the Venn diagram above. Like so:
The distinction between faith and sight is a distinction between two forms of reason and two ways of knowing: by rational trust, and firsthand. It is not at all a separation of faith and knowledge.
A closer look at one of these passages confirms this interpretation. Here’s the passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in context:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
Verse 7 tells us that we live not by sight but by faith (either in the God in whose presence we would like to be but are not yet, or in the main topic of this passage, the doctrine of the coming resurrection of the dead).
And look at the basis of this faith in verse 5: God “has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” of the keeping of these promises and the fulfilling of these desires. The Holy Spirit is the arrabon, the guarantee, pledge, the earnest-money, the down-payment.
This word, arrabon, is an economic term, a business term. It means “an earnest, earnest-money, a large part of the payment, given in advance as a security that the whole will be paid afterwards.”
The Holy Spirit is an enormous down-payment making the credit the Christian places in God’s promises a solid business decision.
And, of course, the Corinthian believers know they have the Holy Spirit by the wonders He does among them (1 Corinthians 12), by the wonders done when the Holy Spirit came on the church in the first place (Acts 2), by His power to heal them gradually of sin (Galatians 5:16-24), and by the miracles done among them when the Apostle Paul first came to them with the Gospel (2 Corinthians 12:12).
(If you read the section above titled “Knowledge As a Credit System,” note that whatever belief Paul says here is by faith, not sight, is part of a system of theological which is subject to direct confirmation at various points. The foregoing paragraph gives us some of those points.)
And that makes this trust a rational faith.
And that makes this faith a faith which is knowledge–assuming that the beliefs are trueand this isn’t a Gettier case. (And, if needed, I can explain in comments the significance of those assumptions, and tell you what a Gettier case is.)
So we do know what we see (when our beliefs are true and we’re not in a Gettier case); but we do not see everything we know–because some knowledge is by trust rather than sight.
But the New Testament teaches that the Christian faith is knowledge, from start to finish.