Knowing and Doing

As Jesus taught at the temple in Jerusalem during the feast of tabernacles, the educated class was shocked at His erudition. How could a carpenter from Galilee speak so eloquently? “How knoweth this man letters,” they asked, “having never learned?” (John 7:15). There’s more than a little hubris in this question. If the man knows, then of course he has learned! What they seem to mean is, “How can he know these things, without being taught by us.”

Jesus’s response revealed both the source of His knowledge and the path to achieve it: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:16-17).

It’s worth noting that the Greek word translated “know” in the question is different from the Greek word translated “know” in the answer.

  • eidó (οἶδα) means to perceive, to know by observation (“How knoweth this man letters?”)
  • ginóskó (γινώσκω) means to know by personal experience (“He shall know of the doctrine.”)

Alma taught that the way to gain spiritual knowledge is to “awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon” the word of God (Alma 32:27). You act on what you have been taught, and you learn by firsthand experience whether the guidance is useful or not. Perhaps in one sense, the knowledge comes first—the factual knowledge about what you should do—but the deep spiritual knowledge comes only by experience.

If someone asks you, “Do you know how to play the piano?” a completely inappropriate response would be, “Yes, I’ve seen many people play, and I read a book about it.” Perhaps that response is true in a sense, but it’s not what we mean. You learn how to play the piano by playing the piano—a lot. You might receive instruction from a teacher, and you might gain insight by observing other pianists, but in the most important sense, you learn by doing.

Bonnie L. Oscarson said:

Sometimes we try to do it backward. For example, we may take this approach: I will be happy to live the law of tithing, but first I need to know that it’s true. Maybe we even pray to gain a testimony of the law of tithing and hope the Lord will bless us with that testimony before we have ever filled out a tithing slip. It just doesn’t work that way. The Lord expects us to exercise faith. We have to consistently pay a full and honest tithe in order to gain a testimony of tithing. This same pattern applies to all the principles of the gospel, whether it is the law of chastity, the principle of modesty, the Word of Wisdom, or the law of the fast.

Be Ye Converted,” General Conference, October 2013

Discipleship requires practice. We work at emulating Jesus day in and day out, and as we do, our knowledge of Him grows. There is no shortcut, no workshop or textbook that can cram our brains full of the knowledge which can only be gained by doing.

Today, I will experiment on the word of God by striving to do His will. I will trust process to bring me deep knowledge: experiential knowledge, rather than observational knowledge.

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