More on Belief

Which is truth? Propositions or experience?

Ever have an argument with somebody that, months or even years later, you just can’t get out of you head? I do. Lots of ’em. Usually they keep surfacing until I win (at least in my head… 🙂 ).

[One of those arguments](http://www.neumatikos.org/essay/by-faith/#comment-299) happened almost a year and a half ago on this site between me and a guy named Zac on a part of a series I did on [faith](http://www.neumatikos.org/essay/by-faith/). We had some… philosophical differences.

It’s common enough to encounter the hyper-liberal suggestion that “true knowledge” excludes propositional truth and only includes experience and understanding. That is, that real truth cannot be condensed to consise statements. It’s a little unusual to be confronted with the opposite falsehood: that “true knowledge” only **includes** consise propositional statements. Most of us have a knee jerk against such a suggestion, but because it’s such a foreign idea, it’s a little difficult to effectively argue against it. (I’m still working on a real doosy of a philosophical post in order to do just that, but it’s been put on hold for quite a while now because of school.)

Usually all we can really fall back on is the fact that English frequently makes a distinction between knowledge *of* something, and knowing the thing itself, with the underlying concept that falling from a tree is somehow more substantial than a familiarity with the physics of the law of gravity. The assumption is that there must be two distinct kinds of knowledge, experiential and propositional (it’s up to you to decide which is more foundational).

However, I learned recently that there’s a similar kind of distinction made in scripture. In Greek, the word pisteuo (“I believe”) is a verb whose direct object naturally takes the dative. “Dative” is simply a name for a certain form of a word, a form which English doesn’t really have. Instead of using different forms of a word, we use helping words to distinguish different grammatical functions. Instead of a dative form, we use words like “to” or “for” to indicate an *indirect* object (“He gave the ball *to* Jenny”). But, as I said, pisteuo requires a the dative for a *direct* object (“He gave *the ball* to Jenny”).

So, in Greek, when Jesus says, “Why don’t you believe me when I say…”, the tendency would be to translate the sentence “Why don’t you believe *in* me when I say…”. Dative takes a helping word, right? But you can’t because of the way Pisteuo works in Greek. Jesus is specifically insisting here that the Jews believe the *content* of his statements. So does that mean that the New Testament has no way to say something like “You must believe *in* the son of man”, that is, in the person himself, without regard to any particular statements? Absolutely not. They have a special preposition just for that: *eis*, which roughly translates “into”, or, “in.”

Since the Greek includes both types of statements, it seems reasonable to conclude that both types of belief in Jesus are required: belief in Jesus the person, with the inherent trust in him as *a person*, and belief in the individual statements he makes, whether statements about himself, or about God the Father, or anything else he wishes to speak on. It seems to me, though, that *saving* knowledge would be the personal kind of knowledge, since generally in scripture when a person asks “what must I do to be saved” the answer is “believe *in* the Lord Jesus Christ,” and not simply “believe the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is a good thing. It means that we can trust in him without having to search for specific statements *from* him about every individual worry that we might have. We don’t have to wait for Jesus to specifically say he can hold us up on the water before we get out of the boat. Though, it might be advisable to wait for him to say “come” before we start climbing.)

Obviously, though, of course, belief in the person necessarily includes belief in everything that they actually say. It *would* be impossible to do the former without doing the latter.

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