26. The Spirit and Epistemology

R.J. Rushdoony • Mar, 19 2024

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  • Series: Aspects of Systematic Theology
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Our Scripture is from 1 John 2:20. 1 John 2:20, and our subject is ‘the Spirit and epistemology.’ The Spirit and Epistemology. This is a verse we have dealt with, at times, I refer to it often, it is one of the more important verses of Scripture in that it is a text which opens up a whole world of meaning and thought, and we shall study it in detail today. 1 John 2:20.

“But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” 1

To talk about ‘the Spirit and epistemology’ is upsetting to some people, the title smacks of poor religion and little spirituality in the ears of some. The reason for this is that such people have a very limited view of the Bible. They see the faith as limited to spiritual concerns, to the life of the soul. Such a view is not Biblical, God made all things and He governs all things, and He requires us to view all things in terms of His Word. The Spirit does have a relationship to epistemology, but first of all what is ‘epistemology?’ It is the theory or the doctrine of knowledge: ‘how do we know?’ Epistemology is a branch of philosophy which tends to be negated or bypassed now, because modern man has given up on the subject. With his skepticism he has boxed himself in, and, philosophically speaking, knowledge is held to be virtually impossible. But the Bible states flatly:

“But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” 2

Now, we have a roadblock or two as we deal with the subject. First, the ungodly find this a most offensive statement. Christians pay too little attention to it, but the ungodly bridle at it. Moreover, there are Christian theologians, who because they are infected with the thinking of the world, are unwilling to come to terms with it.

For example, one very fine theologian who is Reformed in his theology, although his philosophy has certain weaknesses, Gordon H. Clark, has altered this reading so that he reads this text: “Ye all know ye have an unction from the Holy One.” 3 Not: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.”

Now this radically alters the meaning. Moreover, the reading he proposes is a manufactured one, and given Clark’s epistemology it is not a surprising one. An older commentator, Westcott, gives a clear analysis of the text and he tells us that the reference to unction or anointing is a clear reference to the Holy Spirit and His gifts.

“[Y]e have an unction, and in virtue of that gift from the Spirit ye know all things; ye have potentially complete and certain knowledge: no false teaching can deceive you, if ye are faithful to yourselves.’” 4

Westcott goes on to say:

“Here the outward symbol of the OldTestament—the sacred oil—is used to signify the gift of the Spirit from the Holy One which is the characteristic endowment of Christians.”

“This ‘unction,’ this gift of the Spirit, is said to come finally (ἀπὸ see c. 1:5, note) from the Holy One. The title is chosen with direct reference to the gift, for all hallowing flows from ‘the Holy One,’ but in itself it is ambiguous, and has been understood of God (the Father) and of Christ.” 5

Very clearly, we have a gift from the Spirit and we know all things.

Now, this is not a statement that a theologian would dare to make on his own. I remember, I was quite young, a student, when I first felt the force of this text; and it startled me. It is an audacious statement. It says something about us as Christians that no man would dare to say on his own; but the Word of God tells us this is so. Now, the basic question of epistemology is: ‘How do we know? How do we gain knowledge?’ A closely related question is: ‘Is knowledge possible?’

Now, knowledge is not possible in a universe of chance. If this universe is what modern man believes it to be - the fortuitous concourse of atoms - then knowledge is not possible. In a universe of chance, all facts are brute or meaningless facts, unrelated one to the other, and all are equally without meaning. On another occasion when I referred to this text and this view of chance, I said the closest thing you could compare such a view of the universe to would be the city dump. In the city dump nothing has any meaningful relationship to anything else, all things are just dumped there. But even that analogy is faulty, because in a city dump all things are relics of functioning and meaningful things, whereas in a universe with God if anything existed, if such a universe were possible, nothing would ever be remotely linked to meaning in the past, present, or future, nor would anything have a function. A world without God, if it were possible, would be a world without meaning and without knowledge. There would be no God, no knowledge, nothing. This is what the text tells us. But there is a God, the living God of Scripture.

Now, there are some people who refuse to acknowledge that God, either His existence or His Lordship. Such men deny that order exists in the universe, yet they do have some knowledge of the universe. As Van Til has pointed out, they deny God religiously, but presuppose Him in their scientific studies, they are dishonest. Religiously they deny order, scientifically they work in terms of it. How do we gain knowledge? How we gain knowledge depends, in part, on us. If I am color blind, I do not see color; my knowledge of the world will be a colorless knowledge. If I am blind, my knowledge of the world will be even more limited. If on top of that like Helen Keller I am born both blind and totally deaf, my knowledge of the world will be even more limited.

The facts are there, the world is there, but my ability then to know what that world is about and what it is like is limited by my blindness and my deafness. Now, the Bible tells us that this is precisely what marks the sinful man. By his sin man has blinded himself, he is self-blinded - the knowledge is there, but he deliberately suppresses it, he closes his mind to it. He will not know. This is why regeneration is at times compared by the Bible to sight, in Mark 8:18, John 9:39 and other verses, we are told that being born again is like seeing suddenly. “I was blind and now I see.” We are also told by Scripture that God’s law-Word is like light. Psalm 19:8, Psalm 119:130, Proverbs 6:23, and many, many other verses tell us that the Word of God is like light to our feet, to our lives.

Moreover, we are told that Jesus Christ is the light of the world, John 8:12, 1 John 1:1-10, Luke 2:32, John 3:19 and 12:35 and many other texts tell us that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. We are told, moreover, by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation.” To be born again is a moral fact, and it is an epistemological fact, it changes our knowing, we drop the blindness because we are made whole, we are cleansed; our blindness is ended, it is gone, and we have a clearer and a different view of the world and of ourselves, and a clearer knowledge of all things.

As we grow in grace, our ability to know also grows. We know all things in principle, not in detail; but we know their meaning, we know that God made all things, and the beginning and the end are determined by God, that He is the Lord, the governor, and all things move in terms of His providential government. Thus, while we do not know all things in detail, we know them in principle as a part of God’s key; His kingdom and order, we have the key to knowledge. Our Lord speaks of this fact, he says in Matthew 16:19:

“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 6

“Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” 7

The key. Our Lord says if you have the key then your life is in harmony with heaven, because then you will declare that is bound which God has ordained, and that is loosed which God has ordained. The keys are the ancient symbol of access to knowledge; we still have the symbolism of the keys, the Phi Beta Kappa Key. What it says is that because of your level of scholarship you have the key to knowledge in your particular area of expertise. The lawyers were interpreters of the Bible, but our Lord says they were not entering in, they refused the keys, but now the key is given to us.

Several weeks ago we referred to the controversy in the seventeenth century over the doctrine of the Spirit. The sectaries in England wanted to replace all book learning with the experience of the Spirit. They felt that if you were filled with the Holy Ghost then you would need no book learning. This led them to underrate all knowledge, and as I’ve pointed out, even so fine a man as John Bunyan who was very well read, pretended that he had no book learning apart from the Bible, because he wanted to appear as one who depended only on the Spirit and the Word for all his learning.

On the other hand, the university preachers closed the door on the Spirit and stressed their logic and their reasoning, their command of the biblical languages, and their training in the logic of the day. Both the sectaries and the university preachers were wrong. The Spirit gives the keys, He opens the door of our understanding. He does not thereby teach us the mathematics times tables nor the elements of chemistry. He does enable us to see the meaning of all things as is in no other way possible. The Spirit anoints and frees the whole man, even as unbelief stunts and warps the man.

It is interesting that as Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution and reordered his whole life in terms of that perspective, he himself confessed that he lost his ability to enjoy music and to enjoy life. On the contrary, we, however, as we receive the Spirit and grow in Him, every aspect of our life; material and physical, cultural and intellectual, is freed and opened up. As the Spirit works within us He makes us dominion men. We have an unction from the Holy One, and we are called to exercise dominion, and to know all things as an aspect of dominion. Of our Lord Himself it is said in Psalm 72:8:

He shall have dominion also from sea to sea,

And from the river unto the ends of the earth. 8

Under Christ and in Christ this is to be our realm, and we are called and anointed in the Spirit by the Father and the Son to exercise dominion and knowledge, in righteousness and holiness. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.”

Let us pray.

* * *

Almighty God our heavenly Father, we thank thee for the anointing of thy Holy Spirit. We thank thee that the eyes of our understanding are opened, and we are given grace to know, grace to grow, grace to exercise dominion. We thank thee, our Father, for thy calling, we thank thee for the gift of the Spirit, and we pray our Father that all the days of our life in faithfulness to thy calling we may extend the boundaries of our dominion, our knowledge, our holiness and righteousness, until the whole earth shall be covered with thy knowledge and righteousness, as the waters cover the sea. Bless us to this purpose. In Jesus' name, amen.

* * *

That’s right, because Christ’s Lordship is total, every area must be under the dominion of His word, His Word must govern all things, and therefore by His Word and by His Spirit we are to prevail, to govern, to know in every area of godly knowledge.

If you begin with a false knowledge your actions will be false, yes. There is a definite correlation; you cannot begin with false premises and wind up with a sound conclusion.

[Audience Member] If someone says that their actions are wrong in a certain way, but their theology is sound, is that possible?

[Rushdoony] That is contradictory, yes. If your theology is sound, you are going to produce sound fruit. Our Lord said: “A good tree produces good fruit.” If their actions are false, it is because whatever they may be professing, they are holding to something faulty. Today we have a great deal of dishonest profession. I have more than once encountered pastors who were thoroughgoing cynics about a great deal in Scripture, but they did not dare say so for fear of losing their churches.


[Audience Member] If we are to understand that God is everywhere, but Hell is the absence of God, is that a paradox?

[Rushdoony] A very good question. First of all, Hell is indeed the absence of meaning, people have put themselves outside of God, and therefore God gives them that kind of life in totality, which is Hell. Nothing has any meaningful relationship to anyone else, or anything else. So that in Hell every person there is his own world or universe, nothing is related to anything else. So that they live totally enclosed in their own mind and being.

Now, God still rules in Hell, but everyone there has shut Him out totally, so that there is an absence of God in the lives in Hell, but it is still a part of His world, His creation. Does that help explain that?


[Audience Member] Could you comment on 1 Corinthians 13:10?

[Rushdoony] 1 Corinthians 13:10, Yes. “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” Verse nine says: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”

Well, here of course the emphasis is on the progress of revelation. That as the whole of the Canon is given, there is a change in the program of God, or rather not a change, but there is no need for further prophesying, it is all here in the sense of prophesying and giving forth a new revelation from God. Prophesying continues in that we speak for God and we predict in terms of God’s word that the wages of sin are death.

This also has to do with the fact that the paramount gift, - I am trying to answer this without going into the subject because I am going to speak on this later you see - the fullness of maturity is life in communion with God and with man, everything else is something in part. So that the things that abide are faith, hope, and love; we are at peace with God, and we are at peace with our fellow-men, and knowledge of God shall cover the earth as waters cover the sea. We are told also by the prophets that by that day it will not be necessary for one to say to his neighbor: “Come with us to the house of the Lord.” Because all shall know Him. So, what Paul is saying is that the fullness will be precisely here in our communion, our community together. And that fullness of course comes in the new creation and its fullness, in Heaven and in the world after the Second Coming.

Moreover, we are told that the things that are most conducive are those which do not separate us from our fellow-believers, for example he says concerning love:

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” 9

Now what is he talking about except those virtues which have to do with living together in community. in communion one with another? So that what he is saying is: “Now you are all proud of your personal gifts of the Spirit, but if you have the ability to speak with the tongues of men and of angels and do not have this love,” why he says, “You are, and I am nothing more than sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal.” So, what is the fullness? Why, it is this community in the Spirit. This is that which we must work for, this is the goal, far more than any gifts or healings, or anything else. Does that help?

At no point does the gift of the Spirit isolate us from others. It brings us together. So Paul is telling people who are proud of a particular gift and boasting of it, that they are misinterpreting the gifts of the Spirit and perhaps do not have them. Any other questions? Yes?

[Audience Member] Could you comment on Hebrews 2:14-15?

[Rushdoony] Hebrews 2:14-15?

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” 10

Now, what our text tells us is that Christ became incarnate, took upon Himself our form, that He might be one of us. And being both God and man might make atonement to God which man in himself cannot do, with His sinless life, perfect keeping of the law, and by taking upon Himself as the second Adam the death penalty.

Now, this text, therefore, very definitely sets forth the meaning of the incarnation, and of the atonement; that Christ had to become man in order to effect our salvation. Even as the first Adam brought in sin and death, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, brings righteousness and life.

[Audience Member] A speaker I head said that the last enemy of course to be conquered was death, and he said since God’s creates life, God does not create death, he says the Devil does. And he gave as an instance his young son who was killed in an automobile accident, and he said: “God did not kill my boy, the Devil did.” And he said: “The reason the Devil did was because I did not have enough faith in God to save the life of my boy.” And that was very confusing to me.

[Rushdoony] Yes, such a statement would be very confusing, because such a statement really gives a part of the government of the universe to the Devil, and that is wrong. We cannot say that a certain realm of the world belongs to the Devil; God ordains all things in His wisdom. Yes?

[Audience Member] Is it a sin for a Christian to take Social Security payments?

[Rushdoony] Frankly, you get a bad bargain with Social Security, if you can avoid being under Social Security, good. But what they take from you, if an insurance company took you would get three times the return, you are being robbed even when you do take Social Security.

It has been your money that was taken from you, most of it has been used by the government, you are getting very poor returns on it; why should you take back your money? I think it is a bad bargain, it is a sad thing that we have it, if you were required to put the same kind of money that you put monthly into Social Security into some kind of private pension plan you would be far better off. If any private insurance company or pension plan managed itself and gave you the returns that Social Security does they would be in the courts for fraud. Yes?

[Audience Member] Do you think with some of the new faces in Congress the IRS might be slowed down in their attacks against Christian schools?

[Rushdoony] Yes, we are hoping that with some of the new faces in Congress we can slow down the IRS in its attacks. Plans are underfoot and underway already to work on the Congress when it convenes, the new Congress that is, in January, to exert a pressure on these newer men, to make them deliver, because the IRS does intend to destroy Christianity. Yes?

[Audience Member] I’m reading in the newspapers about the Moral Majority and Jerry Falwell. I don’t know anyone involved in that that has really been as successful as the newspapers make it sound, is this just a straw man that the media is using?

[Rushdoony] Moral Majority is the biggest of the various Christian groups formed, and all of them were very influential, and that is why there is an all-out attack on them, to try to destroy them, to say that it is a violation of the separation of church and state, when the whole purpose of the separation is to give the church the freedom to have a prophetic voice, to speak out as the prophets of old did about the evils of our time.

[Audience Member] Are there a lot of people involved in California?

[Rushdoony] Yes, they are more active elsewhere because there were some California groups, but in some states Moral Majority, Christian Voice, and other groups, were influential in registering hundreds of thousands of voters, and in alerting them to the moral issues at stake in our country.

[Audience Member] If they were supposed to do anything in California, they were a total failure, because the people we sent back to California are almost no different than the people that were there. They talk about the Reagan coattails, they talk about all of this, well that is not true in California! Moral Majority in California, or any of these other groups, they have really not done anything worthwhile out here.

[Rushdoony] Yes, well, as I pointed out two weeks ago, the failure of all these groups was their concentration on the national level. They did give us a much better Congress, but they neglected the states, and on the State level across the country the elections were pretty much a disaster. Yes, so now they are hoping to concentrate on that in the next two years as far as possible, the state situation is very little different across the country because the concentration was too national.

[Audience Member] I understand that the most important part of this last election was in the states, not in the Federal, due to the fact that this is now the year for redistricting, and all that we do is gerrymander again the same people we had before to make it even more difficult.

[Rushdoony] That’s right, on the State level it has been very critical. However, these people have just been alerted to the need to be active, you see, in the past year. So, they have learned a great deal and accomplished a great deal in a short time, they have a lot more to learn. But they do show an interest in learning. Yes?

[Audience Member] There was some sort of initiative or something on the ballot in Alaska to establish a committee to study the possibilities of seceding from the Union, of the United States, because of the land grant.

[Rushdoony] Yes. Well, let’s bow our heads now for the benediction.

* * *

And now go in peace, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, bless you and keep you, guide and protect you, this day and always, amen.

1 1 Jn 2:20.

2 1 Jn 2:20.

3 See; Gordon H. Clark. First John: A Commentary. Jefferson, Maryland: Trinity Foundation, 1980, 76f.

4 Brooke Foss Westcott. The Epistles of John. London: MacMillan and Co., 1883, 72.

5 Westcott, B. F., ed. (1902). The Epistles Of St. John: The Greek Text With Notes And Essays (4th ed., p. 73). Macmillan.

6 Mt 16:19.

7 Lk 11:52.

8 Ps 72:8.

9 1 Co 13:4–7.

10 Heb 2:14–16.

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