Pentecostals and Anti-Intellectualism

William Arnold III and Jason Dulle,

The Issue · The Biblical View of Knowledge · Conclusion

The Issue

We have noticed over the years that many Pentecostals are against any thing considered Ďintellectual.í This position is puzzling, because it is contrary to the very foundation of Christianity. One of the main reasons for such a stance is due to our strong emphasis on the spiritual, which to some individuals, excludes an in-depth study of Scripture and doctrine. As Pentecostals we often speak of our love for "the truth," and yet limit the definition of "the truth" to only a few issues, considering study of other areas of Scripture to be unimportant. There is, however, much more to the Bible than salvation Scriptures. Often, preachers and saints can be heard bashing Bible college/Biblical education. What is most interesting is that such words usually come from those who have never been to Bible college or had any formal Biblical education. Some have been known to belittle the study of Greek and Hebrew, the original languages of the Bible. Once again, this always comes from those who have never studied the Biblical languages.

What causes this type of attitude towards Biblical education? Surely there are several reasons. One possible motivation for such an attitude is fear. Some fear that their beliefs would be challenged by other viewpoints, and they would not be able to provide a counter-response. In all actuality a scrutiny of oneís beliefs will not diminish oneís faith, but rather strengthen it. Anything worth believing should be capable of close examination, and stand the test of scrutiny. There is nothing to be afraid of if we are really holding to truth. The study of the Greek and Hebrew will strengthen our faith, not hinder it.

The trend towards anti-Biblical education seems to be getting worse. Daniel Segraves, executive vice-president of Christian Life College, once noted that although the number of our churches continues to grow, the average number of students enrolling in our Bible colleges has remained constant for years. This indicates that the percentage of our people enrolling in Bible colleges each year is declining. Such a predicament is a tradgedy.

The Biblical View of Knowledge

The Bible upholds knowledge, understanding, and wisdom as virtues to be sought after. We are instructed to "get wisdom" and to "get understanding" (Pro. 4:5, 7; 16:16, see also Psa. 119:104). Paul prayed that his converts would grow in knowledge, wisdom and understanding (Eph. 1:16-18; Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:9). The Bible speaks negatively of ignorance (Psa 73:22; Isa. 56:10; Rom. 10:3; 1 Cor.. 14:38; 2 Cor. 2:11; 2 Peter 3:5). Paul frequently made the statement, "I would not have you ignorant" (Rom. 1:13; 11:25; 1 Cor. 10:1; 12:1; 2 Cor. 1:8; 1 Thess. 4:13; See also 2 Peter 3:8), while some Pentecostals extol ignorance! It was ignorance, Paul said, that caused him to kill Christians (1 Tim. 1:13).

Speaking of Israel, God said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hos. 4:6). If knowledge is important to God, it should be important to us also. If the church does not have a good knowledge of Godís Word, they will be subject to being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine from false teachers (Eph 4:14). The Bible strongly warns against false teaching and stresses the need for "truth" (Pro. 23:23; John 4:24; 8:32, Truth is correct knowledge as opposed to false knowledge.

Some will claim that knowledge is unimportant because Peter and John were said to be "unlearned and ignorant men" by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13). This statement must be understood in light of its historical context. The Sanhedrin realized that Peter and John had no formal rabbinic training, and thus, from their perspective, were not qualified to expound on the meaning of the Scripture. Some might gather from this that one does not need training in the Word of God, but this ignores the fact that the apostles had their theological training from Christ Himself in the flesh. Christ expounded to them the meaning of the Scriptures (Luke 24:47). Truly the apostles were full of the knowledge of truth. What they lacked was the formal training from the rabbis, which knowledge was often at variance with the letter and spirit of the Law as evidenced by Jesusí attacks on the Jewish theology of His day.

Another verse of Scripture used to support the idea that we should not seek knowledge is Paulís seeming condemnation of the "wise." He told the Corinthians, "For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (I Corinthians 1:26). The phrase "after the flesh" means "by human standards." Paul was not glorifying the lack of wisdom, but was downplaying the "wisdom of this world" (1:20). The wisdom of this world is often in opposition to the wisdom of Christ, which Paul does uphold as being important to the believer (1:24, 30). It should also be noted that Paul was writing to the church in Corinth, located in Greece. The Greeks were known for their various philosophies, most of which opposed the truth of the gospel. One was not considered wise by those in the world unless they were versed in these philosophies.. The wisdom of the world that Paul was referring to, then, was most likely the Greek philosophy so prevalent in Paulís day, not wisdom in general. The Scripture extols wisdom, but specifies it as godly wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10).

That the Scripture is not against knowledge and study is clearly evident from Paulís writings. He was a well trained man when it came to the Scripture. Many of his epistles contained some very deep theology. Even Peter confessed that Paul wrote things which could be difficult to understand (II Peter 3:16). This does not mean that Paul was speaking over the heads of his audience, because Peter went on to comment that it was the unlearned and unstable who twisted his words. Such a statement indicates that the church should be learned so as to interpret Paul's theology properly.

If knowledge and understanding are not important for the believer, and should not be sought after by diligent study, one has to wonder why Paul wrote so many epistles to begin with. Most of these epistles concerned an explanation and defense of the faith. Paul seemed to be very concerned with proper knowledge and understanding of the kingdom of God. He even told Timothy to study to show himself approved to God, rightly interpreting the Word of God so that he would not be ashamed (II Timothy 2:15). Why make such a command if knowledge was not important? Timothy already knew and preached the gospel, but Paul understood that there is much more to be learned after learning the simple truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Although some areas of knowledge are more important to the believer than are others, this does not mean that the other areas are not important at all. We are to follow Paulís example in teaching "the whole council of God" (Acts 20:27). Let us not be like Israel who is said to have "a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2). Zeal is an important element of oneís relationship with God, but zeal without knowledge will lead one down a path to destruction. Let our zeal for spiritual things be informed by a knowledge and understanding of God, derived from a thorough study of His Word.

See also "Who Needs Theology?"

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