What Does the Bible Say about Knowledge?

| Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
23 Nov
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God predicted that in the last days knowledge will increase, but the knowledge of the world is not the same as biblical knowledge.

What does the Bible say about knowledge? How does it differ from wisdom? What happens when people are ignorant of the knowledge of God, and why is knowledge important for Christ-followers? 

What Does the Bible Say about Knowledge?

In the Bible, the word “knowledge” first appears in Genesis. God placed a tree of the “knowledge of good and evil” in Eden, and commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree. When Satan questioned God’s commandment in Eve’s presence, she chose to disobey God, as did Adam (Genesis 3:1-6). This first couple knew intellectually about good and evil because of God’s command, but they understood good and evil experientially—as well as the devastating consequences of their choice—in disobedience. 

Knowledge is neither ethically nor morally neutral. The world encourages knowledge of all things, but not all knowledge is good. That’s why Paul said, “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). 

Author and spiritual coach David Sanford wrote, “‘Good’ knowledge is what God wants us to know, believe, and heed. ‘Evil’ knowledge is what Satan wants us to know, believe, and heed. It didn’t start with Eve’s first bite. Instead, it started with everything the Serpent said—that Eve decided to believe.” 

The battle of people choosing between good and bad knowledge continues throughout Scripture and to our present day. Christ-followers are instructed to examine  and meditate on the Word of God, because the knowledge God wants us to know is from Him. “Real knowledge,” Sanford says, “is from God the Father (James 1:16-18), God’s Son Jesus Christ (John 14:6), and God’s Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20-27).”

Christians cannot trust their deceitful hearts to point them in the direction of good knowledge, and Satan always tries to trick people (Jeremiah 17:9; John 10:10). Godly discernment and wisdom must be added to knowledge. As believers learn to fear God, the “knowledge of the Holy One” brings understanding (Proverbs 9:10).

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What Are Some Insightful Scriptures about Knowledge?

The Bible has so much to say about knowledge, both good and bad.

The Bible teaches that creation reveals the knowledge of God (Psalm 19:1-2), which is infinite. Human knowledge can cause pride and grief (1 Corinthians 8:1b; Ecclesiastes 1:18), and worldly knowledge is often opposed to biblical truth (1 Timothy 6:20-21). Godly knowledge comes from fearing the Lord—being in awe of Him and submitting to Him (Proverbs 1:7).

True, good knowledge comes from God as a gift—from “His own mouth”—to those who have understanding (Daniel 2:21; Proverbs 2:6). Believers can ask God for more knowledge (Psalm 119:66). One blessing of good knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of those who have it (Ecclesiastes 7:12b).

Christians are instructed to grow in knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18); and they will find that godly knowledge will be pleasant to their soul (Proverbs 2:10).

How Is Knowledge Different from Understanding and Wisdom?

Basically, knowledge is information we gain through reasoning, experience, or people, and wisdom is the ability to judge what is right and true. Understanding is another term the Bible uses that acts as a bridge between knowledge and wisdom. 

In “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know: Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom,” Hugh Whelchel charts the differences between the three terms. Whelchel says that at first glance the terms seem almost interchangeable, but there are differences. 

Knowledge, he says, deals with knowing the facts. People with knowledge can “collect, remember, and access information,” but they might not know what to do with that information. A person can be knowledgeable without being wise.

Understanding, Whelchel says, is “the ability to translate meaning from the facts. Those with understanding can “extract the meaning out of information”—seeing the what, how, and why—enabling a person to produce life principles.

Wisdom, then, is “knowing what to do next, given an understanding of the facts and circumstances.” A person with wisdom knows which principle to apply in a given context and do the right thing.

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Does God Want Us to Be Knowledgeable?

The subject of knowledge first deals with our intellect. God has intellect (Romans 11:34), and His universe was created with truth and logic. He created human intellect, giving mankind the ability to think, comprehend, reason, and remember. In Isaiah 1:18, people are urged to “reason” or consider with Him concerning sin and how to be forgiven. Knowledge is important to know God and what He expects of us. 

God says to love Him with our whole being, including the mind. Because human knowledge is limited, and without God the intellect is “darkened,” humans are unable to grasp truths about God (1 Corinthians 2:14) without Him. Indeed, thoughts without God are hostile to Him and a reason for sinful pride (1 Corinthians 8:1b). 

Human intellect needs to be redeemed so believers will have “the mind of Christ” and have their thoughts transformed (1 Corinthians 2:16; Romans 12:2). When a Christian asks God for wisdom and turns to the Word of God and the truth of the Gospel, God reveals His perspective about man’s condition and His purposes in and through the believer.

Whelchel noted that the word “disciple” literally means “a learner.” Christians are called to acquire knowledge of God in order to know what they are called to do. Believers hold to the Lord’s teachings so they can live in the truth (John 8:31-32).

R.C. Sproul wrote in his article “Walking in Wisdom,” “Careful study of the Bible is necessary for true discipleship. … Our Lord calls for a continued application of the mind to His Word. A disciple does not dabble in learning. He makes the pursuit of an understanding of God’s Word a chief business of his life.”

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What Does the Bible say about a Lack of Knowledge?

People who are ignorant are uninformed, unaware, or unwilling to learn. Unwillingness was the case in a sober passage about knowledge, Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” God’s people rejected knowledge of His laws. In Proverbs 1:27-29, God warned His people that in times of calamity, they would call out to Him, but He would not answer, because they “hated knowledge” and did not fear Him. They had continual, active “ignorance” to the law of God. They willfully chose to ignore it.

Just as in biblical days, there is a crisis of the Word of God in homes, communities, and places of worship today. Although copies and translations of Bibles are readily available, they often gather dust. Christ-followers desperately need solid biblical teaching in the church and through personal Bible study.

Idolatry grows in spiritual ignorance, but God does not want people to be ignorant about Him. People of faith could learn from Old Testament saints’ mistakes. Paul said, “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us…” (Romans 15:4). Christians today can learn from the mistakes and victories of people in both testaments.  

Father God is patient with those who are ignorant, and Jesus understands the weakness of the flesh. But God also offers plenty of opportunities to gain knowledge about Him. Paul said God showed him great mercy before he turned to Christ, because he had “acted in ignorance and unbelief” (Acts 3:17; 1 Timothy 1:13). Yet God commands all people to repent of their ignorance and foolish idolatries (Acts 17:22-30). 

Can a Person Have Too Much Knowledge?

Solomon said, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body;” but that doesn’t mean education is useless. Solomon’s point was that accumulation of knowledge isn’t as important as fearing and obeying God (Ecclesiastes 12:12-13). Jesus modeled this for us. No doubt His growth in wisdom as a child was based on the spiritual training He had at home (Luke 2:52). 

Education has been an important factor in church history. Church leaders like John Calvin and Martin Luther promoted education so people could understand God’s Word. That emphasis continued through the Sunday school movement and the establishment of universities as religious institutions. Parents are also encouraged to nurture their children in the Lord, which in the original language carries the meaning of training and instruction. All believers are to diligently “study” the Word. 

All that said, the Bible warns about a danger of knowledge. It can become a point of pride or arrogance (1 Corinthians 8:1b). The context of that verse is Christians who had knowledge about the problem of food sacrificed to idols—making it ceremoniously unclean—but new believers didn’t have that knowledge yet. Paul warned, “knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” 

As a Christian’s knowledge grows, love and understanding are needed toward those who may not have as much training. The Christian attitude should be life-long learning—“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I need to learn.” The heart attitudes of humility and love should guide all intellectual pursuits and engagement.

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Why Are Knowledge and Understanding Important for Christians?

There are at least five reasons why knowledge and understanding are important for Christ-followers.

1. Knowledge and understanding can help Christians fight spiritual battles. Believers need to know the tactics of the enemy—Satan’s wicked schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). The devil loves to blind the minds of people so they will be easy prey.

2. Knowledge and understanding are part of spiritual character building (2 Peter 1:5-9). Paul desired that believers’ love would keep on abounding and growing in knowledge and discernment (Philippians 1:9). 

3. Knowledge and understanding of the scriptures is one way God transforms believers, through the “renewing” of the mind (Romans 12:2). D.L. Moody said the Bible “was not given for our information but for our transformation.” Man’s thoughts and ways are not naturally God’s thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8). Man’s thoughts need to be “filled with the knowledge of his will” (Colossians 1:9). 

4. Knowledge and understanding help believers identify, avoid, and rebuke false teaching (2 Thessalonians 3:14; 2 John 1:10; 1 Timothy 5:19-20; 6:3-5).

5. Knowledge and understanding will help Christians train others. The more believers know of God’s Word, will and ways, the better they can instruct, mentor, and counsel. Biblical knowledge helps Christians—especially leaders—teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:17). With so much foolishness in the world, “Lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel” (Proverbs 20:15b).

How Can We Grow in Knowledge and Understanding?

Peter encouraged believers to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Certainly, daily Bible reading, study, and meditation are a good starting point. Also, just as Christians can ask God for wisdom, they can also ask Him to guide them to books, sermons, podcasts, etc., that can boost their growth in spiritual knowledge. 

When something in the Bible doesn’t make sense, Christians can test statements and arguments, and “hold fast” to what is good knowledge and biblical practice. Digging deeper into the Word and comparing Scripture with Scripture—being careful not to take passages out of context—often reveals truth that is missed with casual reading. 

Many Christians have also found that fasting heightens their learning process, making them more sensitive to what God wants to teach them. Suffering sometimes opens hearts to greater knowledge of and intimacy with Christ. Learning to “walk in the Spirit”—yielding to His control—will also enable growth in knowledge and understanding, because the Holy Spirit is the Christian’s greatest teacher

God created our intellect, and His Word and the Holy Spirit will help believers develop the “mind of Christ.” But it is the Christian’s responsibility to embrace, not ignore, the Lord’s means of gaining good knowledge.

Christianity.com, “What Is Knowledge, According to the Bible?”
GotQuestions.com, “What Does the Bible Say about Knowledge?”

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Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com and Christianity.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach.

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