Saturday, May 30, 2009

Head knowledge vs heart Knowledge: Truth or fiction?

Growing up in the church I have often heard of this distinction. We are warned about the problems of head knowledge and exhorted to let our head knowledge become heart knowledge. Some have explained it saying that our problems are often a matter of eighteen inches; the distance between our head and our heart. Growing up with this concept I have accepted it as true, but recently I have been having some doubts as to the reality of such a distinction. Is such a distinction a biblical distinction and, if so, how does one move from head knowledge to heart knowledge? Is such a distinction a distinction in reality or a construction of human imagination?

It appears to me that God often uses the mind and the heart interchangeably, often making little distinction between them. For example, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." (Proverbs 23:7 NKJV) Solomon ascribes reasoning and thinking as a faculty of the heart. Jesus also spoke of the heart's as a seat of thought, "But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart." (Like 9:47) Conversely, the mind is describes as having some of the same frailties and iniquities as the heart. "Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind , rejected in regard to the faith." (2 Timothy 3:8) and "To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled." (Titus 1:15) Depravity, unbelief, and defilement are traits we often attribute to the heart but which the Bible also attributes to the mind.

These scriptures, and others, have lead me to conclude that there is no biblical difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. That being said, it is clear from observation that there is some distinction between different kinds of knowledge. For example, in schools where the scriptures are taught as literature, the students have knowledge of the Word of God but few have any of the power of the Word they have learned. Even the devil has knowledge of God and yet he is eternally damned. Simple knowledge is not enough, so what is the difference between knowledge and knowledge that can change and save us? What does the Bible have to say about this distinction and what is the biblical remedy? The biblical distinction is found in the Book of Hebrews.
"Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest." (Hebrews 4:1-3)
The biblical distinction between the different kinds of knowledge is knowledge alone and knowledge with faith. There are many who have a knowledge of the existence of God, and many who even have a knowledge of His word, yet without faith such knowledge is powerless to save us, change us, and lead us in the ways of God. It is one thing to know that Jesus died for us, but it is another to mix that knowledge with faith. So how does one move from knowledge to knowledge with faith? Paul goes on to give us the answer.
"And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief." (Hebrews 3:18-19)
Paul directly links unbelief and disobedience. Knowledge without faith is knowledge without obedience. Jesus warned the Pharisees about the necessity of obedience to the understanding of knowledge. "But when Jesus heard this, He said, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: "I desire compassion, and not sacrifice," for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (Matthew 9:12-13) The Pharisees had knowledge but their disobedience kept them from true understanding of that knowledge; they had knowledge but not knowledge mixed with faith. Jesus told them that true knowledge and understanding was learned through obedience, not mere learning. He instructed them to "go and learn" the meaning of knowledge.

The truth is that often obedience precedes knowledge and without that obedience we often forfeit the power of the knowledge we seek. Consider what Isaiah prophesied, "A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it. And the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away." (Isaiah 35:8, 10) The scripture can equally be translated, "they will overtake gladness and joy." Joy and gladness are in the way of obedience and by walking in obedience we will overtake gladness and joy. Obedience first, joy and gladness second. Paul also taught this, "and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed." (Hebrews 12:13) Notice the order, obedience then healing.

While the Bible does not make a distinction between head and heart knowledge, it does distinguish between knowledge with and without faith. Let us determine not to be unbelieving in our knowledge but, through obedience to the truth, let us mix our knowledge with faith.

David Robison

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  1. Good word. Thanks.

  2. Fascinating article. This is a good post for me. Easy to read, and simple steps that any blogger can follow. Thanks a bunch for sharing.

  3. Mr. Robison
    You had made this explanation more confuse of what really it is. The “knowledge of the heart” is what had been called true Gnosis. Gnosis is undoubtedly an experience based not in concepts and precepts, but in the sensibility of the heart.


  4. Good article. If I understand it correctly, what we call "heart" is more literally "inner parts" or even "bowels".

    Perhaps it shouldn't be "head knowledge", or "heart knowledge" but "gut knowledge".