4 Feb 2009

Lani's question: 

What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?

Don's answer:

Let’s begin by looking at the obvious difference between wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is knowing about something, but wisdom is understanding how that knowledge should be applied or used.

The Bible warns us of an increase in knowledge at the end of time (Daniel 12:4). However, it says nothing about an increase in wisdom. This in itself helps to explain why Paul predicted that the end of time would be marked by “perilous days” (2 Timothy 3:1).

Knowledge without accompanying wisdom is a curse rather than a blessing. For instance, knowledge enables us to both heal and kill. Its medicine reduces the death rate in retail, while its war machinery kills people wholesale. What is desperately needed with such knowledge is accompanying wisdom, for it is wisdom alone that teaches us when to heal and when to kill.

It is safe to say that there is more knowledge in the world today than there has ever been. In fact, we are told that knowledge is increasing so rapidly that it doubles every other year. In spite of this fact, our world today is also marked by meaninglessness. There has never been a time in the history of the world when so many people were searching for purpose and meaning in their lives.

How do you explain the above? Is it not explained by the fact that our world today is drowning in ever-increasing knowledge at the same time it is experiencing an ever-worsening draught of wisdom? Knowledge is outracing wisdom in our modern-day world. Consequently, men are coming to know more and more about less and less, while understanding less and less about more and more. While knowledge may explain how brown cows eat green grass and give white milk that is turned into yellow butter, only wisdom can enlighten us to the meaning of life.

When it comes to wisdom, the Bible teaches us that it is only a prayer away (James 1:5). Most of us will never be rocket-scientists, people with PHD degrees from MIT who possess the knowledge to construct a space shuttle. Still, all of us can come to understand the meaning of life by simply turning from “evil” to “the fear of the Lord.” This, as the Bible teaches, is where true wisdom is found (Job 28:28).  

Now, there is a wisdom of this world, which should not be confused with the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. It never leads men to God nor to true wisdom, which alone reveals to us the true meaning of life. Instead, it only leads men to destruction; as King Solomon warned, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).

To the wisdom of this world, the preaching of the cross is foolishness. But to the wisdom that comes only from God, the preaching of the cross, which is the central message of the “Holy Scriptures,” is the only thing that makes men “wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15).

The Bible teaches that knowledge is a good thing. It’s just that wisdom is a far more superior acquisition (Proverbs 4:7). Still, the importance of knowledge should not be downplayed. Speaking through the ancient Prophet Hosea, God once warned, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). So much for the old idiom, “Ignorance is bliss.” According to the Bible, ignorance can be lethal.

I’ve often told my children that when they’re through learning, they’re through. I don’t believe we ever get to old to learn and I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone that I couldn’t learn something from. I don’t know about you, but I want to be as curious and inquisitive on the day I die as I am today. Yet, I need to be ever mindful of the fact, as does ever disciple (learner) of Christ, that knowledge untempered by love tends to “puff up” rather than “build up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Before concluding my answer to your question, I believe it is important to point out that the Greek word often used in the New Testament for “knowledge” means to “know experientially,” not just intellectually. In John 17:3, Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, who you have sent.” The Greek word Jesus uses here for “know” means to “know experientially.” Eternal life does not come from knowing the truth about God, but from truly knowing God. It’s not a mere matter of nodding your head to the claims of Christ, but a matter of entering into a personal relationship with Christ. 

Herein lies one of the great tragedies of our day. Many today know about God, but very few know God. While many know Christ intellectually, few have any intimate knowledge of Him.   


Don Walton