Two Kinds of Knowledge

The Greek NT has two primary sources of knowledge. The first is gnosis, it is used in many forms/ways. The general idea is that this knowledge is something that one gains through study, lecture, observation. The other is oida, it is the personal experience knowledge. For instance, Paul’s “I know” in Philippians 4:12 is oida, not gnosis.

There were two different types of learning in Paul’s world. On the one hand, the Hebrew model that resembled a cohort following a Rabbi and learning all that they can from him. This idea reminds me of Rob Bell’s “Dust” teaching, that is masterful. In this type of learning, knowledge and human are fused together; one “eats a scroll” in this scenario.

The other learning type was the Greco-Roman model. In this model, one travels out of the real context into a classroom, removed from the elements (distractions), so we can learn all that we can. One can appreciate this idea, but it is troubling to think that we can really “know” something while removed from the context.

I’ve noticed something about these two types of knowledge. Gnosis tends to divide, exclude, and promote strife. I’ve heard more heated debates about technical differences in belief to make me sick. Even worse, I’ve been in them and I am sad to say that friendships have strained or collapsed. I guess some people really don’t want you to disagree with them for discussion’s sake when they post on Facebook or Twitter. They just want you to click the “Like” button. I should have probably known better.

Oida, on the other hand, bridges relationship, even when there is not consensus. Contrary to what we may think, oida does not always “stalemate” a discussion, “Well, it was true for me even though you cannot accept it.” Usually, oida-filled conversations end with a subtle head nod and a “I see you…”.

This discussion of knowledge has many handles and directions to which we can go. It should, however, challenge us in the way we create disciples. Do disciples really grow with gnosis alone; cloistered up in sermons and small groups, away from real life faith context?

How about for pastors? If oida is the craving of our culture, maybe we can begin to envision a new pastoral identity. Instead of one who resembles a CEO or a powerpoint presentation (relaying information without relationship), perhaps we need a pastoral figure who is more like a fitness class instructor (I want to use yoga instructor here, but some will be uncomfortable with it). A pastor is one who moves among the people, watching how things are going, showing subtle tips on how things can be more pure, more lovely, etc. (This image courtesy of Diana Butler Bass)

In sum, our culture is craving for the real, not just the theory. May we be people who eat the scroll and say, “I see you…”


Published by joeskillen

I'm a husband, dad of 2, Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS.

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