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When Bible Knowledge Is Not Enough

"We know that we all have knowledge" — these are the words the apostle Paul used in 1 Corinthians 8:1 to begin a chapter dealing with strained relationships between members of the church at first century Corinth.  Many Bible students view these words as a quotation of a catch-phrase used frequently by a particular group of Christians at Corinth who viewed themselves as having superior insight and a more sophisticated approach to the Christian life than many of their brothers and sisters. The burning issue that was causing problems in the church was whether or not a Christian could eat meat/food which had been used in sacrifices/worship to pagan gods. The meat-eaters insisted they could eat meat associated with pagan worship without endorsing and being involved in idolatry. Read carefully and you will see that they were indeed doing so — with no regard whatsoever to how their actions might be affecting other weaker members in the church who believed that eating the meat was wrong. The problem was not that the meat-eaters didn't know the truth—they did. The problem was that they got the big-head, climbed up on a high horse, paraded their knowledge for all to see, and looked down their spiritual noses at others whom they considered less sophisticated and knowledgeable than themselves. That's why Paul pricked their puffed-up balloon early on in the chapter by reminding them that "knowledge puffs up, but love edifies" (vs 1b). These church members knew the truth in their heads, but the truth they knew did little to change their hearts! The chapter makes clear that having correct knowledge was not enough. They knew about Christ, but were acting contrary to everything He lived and died for! So, Paul challenges bluntly in verses 11 and 12 , "Because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ."

The point of this article is not to suggest Bible knowledge is unimportant. No Bible passage teaches Christians to despise accurate teaching or suggests that intellectual or theological ignorance is good. The point is that knowing the truth in the Bible sense does not end with simply holding the correct view. In Paul's inspired words, "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies" (vs 1). We can be right in what we believe and very proud of our rightness and meanwhile also be uncaring and unfeeling toward lost and hurting people. And very unconcerned about the impact our actions have on fellow-Christians whom we deem to be less knowledgeable and spiritual than ourselves. We are right to be concerned about Bible knowledge and accuracy in belief and teaching. But 1st Corinthians 8 reminds us that Bible knowledge alone is not enough. Not if all it does is inform our heads while never transforming our hearts and lives; not if our beliefs don't influence our behavior; not if what we learn about God doesn't effect how we feel about other people. Authentic Christians will practice both the love of truth and the truth of love.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ