Editor’s note: This post provides an overview of the theology studies of Epistemology and Bibliology with applications pointing to biblical counseling. In this series of posts, Terry Enns provides an overview of 10 different areas of systematic theology. This post was excerpted from a message at our Annual Conference. You can listen to the message here. Read also the first post in this series: Introduction — A Theology of Biblical Counseling
Epistemology is the doctrine of the knowledge of God.
God is Inconceivable and Incomprehensible
Scripture affirms that while God has revealed Himself to us, He is inconceivable and incomprehensible (Isa. 40:18). When we think about God, about all of His attributes and think about how He functions, what is there like God in the universe? Nothing! Only God is like God and there is a sense in which He is incomprehensible because He is infinite and eternal; He is beyond our comprehension. We cannot understand Him in His totality.
God is Knowable
And yet along with His incomprehensibility, God has also revealed Himself to us and thus is knowable (Jn. 1:1, 14). So He is incomprehensible and yet He has made Himself manifest so that while we cannot know Him entirely we can know something about Him and know Him. He is knowable.
God’s Truth is Knowable
Additionally, God is the source of all truth. Not only can know something about Him but we can also know something about His truth. All truth is sourced in Him (Jn 17:17). The means to sanctification and the means to transformation into the likeness of Jesus Christ is by the truth, and we know the truth by the Word of God. If we want people to know the truth and to have a sound mind, they must see things as God sees them and define them as He does. Solomon says in Proverbs 1, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” If we want to know God and if we want to fear God, then we must know Him as He is revealed in the Word of God.
What is the result of this? When we know God, we will have great energy for God. When we know God, we will have great thoughts of God. When we know Him, we will have great boldness for Him, and we will have great contentment in Him as well. J.I Packer says, “We must recognize how much we lack knowledge of God. We must learn to measure ourselves, not by our knowledge about God, not by our gifts and responsibilities in the church, but by how we pray and what goes on in our hearts. Many of us I suspect have no idea how impoverished we are at this level; let us ask the Lord to show us.” That last sentence is important. We need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God so that we know Him well and as we know Him increasingly well, He will be an increasing joy to us.
Bibliology, the doctrine or teaching about Scripture, is a fitting partner to epistemology. How do we know what we know about God? We know about Him through Scripture.
Scripture is God-Breathed
The first essential truth about Scripture is that Scripture is God-breathed. Second Timothy 3:16-17 is the quintessential passage that explains that truth. Some translations say Scripture is “inspired,” and we may think inspired means something like, “Scripture is really motivating” or “it’s really encouraging.” That is not what “inspired” means in this passage. It means that it is “breathed out.” As God breathed into Adam the breath of life, so He has breathed out Scripture with the life that is contained in Him. Scripture is alive and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. It contains the very life and essence of God and because of that it is life giving.
Scripture is Authoritative
Along with that, Scripture has authority. So when Satan tempted Jesus, He responded to Satan’s temptation with the authority of Scripture (Mt. 4:1-11; Lk. 4:1-13). Satan had no fitting answer to Christ’s use of Scripture because the authority of Scripture is final. It ends all arguments.
Scripture is also the means that God uses to reveal the inner heart and condition of every man (Heb. 4:12-13). Due to man’s fallenness, he has no authority and must rely on the singular word that is inerrant and authoritative, and that is the Word of God. Scripture has authority to speak into life, to command life, to order life, and to direct life.
Scripture Speaks to Every Area of Life
Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable and in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul identifies four different aspects of life over which Scripture has authority: it teaches us what we need to do, it reproves us (it shows us where we are not doing what we should be doing), it corrects us (it shows us how we need to be living in contrast to the way we have been living), and then it trains us for righteousness, so that we can live in a way that is pleasing to God. Therefore, every aspect and facet of life is controlled and ordered by the authority of Scripture. In fact, Paul says to Timothy in verses 14 and 15, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” That’s why we do what’s called biblical counseling, because Scripture is relevant to every situation and speaks to every question and circumstance of life and gives people direction into how they might live and make decisions.
We also say the Bible is the tool that is used by the Holy Spirit to equip believers to live righteously. The only other options are to lean on one’s own wisdom, lean on somebody else’s wisdom, or what one can sort himself out by watching Oprah or a host of other television or media “counselors” and try and function that way. You don’t have to follow Scripture, but a failure to acknowledge these truths leads to a pursuit of comfort rather than obedience, a submission to the authority of personal experience over the authority of Scripture, and an exaltation of contemporary thinking rather than the principles of the Bible. So, in other words, you can go to anything else but then you get what that gives you and not what God gives you. So God, who has created us and has revealed Himself to us in His Word, directs us by His Word. And if we ignore His Word then we lose everything that comes by Him and from Him. And that naturally leads us to the next topic: theology proper.
Terry Enns is the pastor of Grace Bible Church in Granbury Texas. He has over twenty years of pastoral counseling experience, and is a certified counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC). In addition to his preaching and pastoral duties at Grace, Terry maintains an active blog at Words of Grace.