Knowledge Puffs Up? — Deflating a Popular Proverb

by Jeffrey E. Miller

A popular maxim for Bible study—and an essential canon for accurate hermeneutics—states that an exegete should never allow one verse alone to dictate his or her theology on a matter. This oft-repeated truism attempts to protect both the callow Bible student and the seasoned theologian from embracing principles as biblical without first considering the instruction of the whole counsel of God. When this habit of biblical correlation is not practiced consistently, and the emphasis of the Bible on a matter is overlooked in favor of one passage or verse, false doctrines begin to emerge in the community.

1 Corinthians 8:1 is a popular verse within Evangelical Christianity. The proverbial portion of the verse, “knowledge puffs up,” regularly echoes through the corridors of our churches. Normally, the proverb is spoken as a subtle rebuke of a believer seemingly falling in love with learning. Since learning brings forth knowledge and knowledge brings forth arrogance, we reason, then learning isn’t a habit worthy of our love. According to many who voice this proverb, some learning is necessary, but the sole objective of study is practice: Doing, not thinking. Our goal as Christians is not to know about God—which sounds impersonal and academic—but to know God. We know far more about the Bible (we imagine) than we can possibly obey, and so our focus must shift from that of impractical, pride-feeding knowledge to application and ministry skills acquisition. Our rallying cry: Let’s get spiritual (not academic)!

But does the Bible teach a corruption intrinsic to knowledge? Does God berate the believer who loves learning and who demonstrates considerable knowledge of his discipline? On the contrary, the whole of Scripture lends itself to the high value of learning and knowledge and, yes, to academics. From among dozens of passages highlighting the benefits of knowledge, only a few examples will be examined here…

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