One great benefit of learning other languages is the insight it gives into how their speakers think. If you want to understand another culture’s worldview, look at their language. Those who took Spanish in high school probably remember the difficultly of learning when to use one of the language’s two words equivalent to the English word knowledge. Saber generally refers to factual knowledge. Someone can saber the answer to a question or how to ride a bike. However, you would never saber a friend. Instead the verb conocer is used. It is used for more experiential knowledge, knowing a person or a place in which you live. The differences I given to these to two Spanish words are loose and I am sure that a Spanish speaker would be quick to correct my broad statement. However, using different words for different types of knowledge is actually common in many languages. In Koine Greek ginosko, epiginosko, and oida are the main words translated into our work know.
To explore this more I want to give definitions to the two different French words for knowledge, savoir and connaître, which are similar to the two Spanish words I mentioned. For the sake of argument connaître with be used of experiential or hands on knowledge and savoir of intellectual or factual knowledge.
What kind of knowledge was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? It is possible that Adam and Eve had some kind of factual knowledge or savoir of the good and evil. If they didn’t, the serpent surely brought that knowledge to Eve, the idea of disobeying God. However, it was not until they ate of the fruit that they obtained experiential knowledge or connaître of evil.
These differences in knowledge have a strong effect on our spiritual lives. I find it relatively easy to gain more savoir about God. There are hundreds of books that can teach me about God, but do I really know him. By tireless study I can learn a lot about the country of China, perhaps more than most of the inhabitants themselves. Until I actually go there I will never actually know about China. Similarly a husband knows his wife in a vastly different way than an acquaintance knows her. To gain the experiential knowledge about Christ, the connaître, is more difficult.
I think this is part of the reason why Bible College and seminary can be so challenging to a person’s faith. Through it we come to know God, far more than we know him. A great divide develops between savoir and connaître. The two kinds are so easy to confuse. It is a great tragedy for someone to know about God, but not actually know him. I confess that I spend far too much time in pursuit of savoir of God and too little in connaître. I know too little of God. I could construct a theological defense of the sovereignty of God from Scripture, but when something doesn’t go my way I complain and whine to God about why he let things happen as they did. I know too little of God and his ways.
Good Will Hunting is a powerful movie that touches on this divide. (As a disclaimer I don’t recommend it to everyone because of its content. See previous post.) Will Hunting, a young Matt Damon, is a genius of savant level, but works as a janitor at MIT and lives in the ghetto. He is forced to meet with a washed up psychologist Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, as part of a parole deal. Will has already frustrated several other therapists using his brilliant mind and believes he doesn’t need help. His attempt to keep this new psychologist at arm’s length is thwarted by Sean’s unconventional methods. At the same time Will meets a girl he actually cares about for more than just a one-night stand, but is unable to open himself to her. One of the most powerful lines in the movie is when Sean tells him, “You live in your head, don’t you.” Near the end Sean confronts Will about being abused as a child.
“It’s not your fault.”
“Yeh, I know that.”
“Look at me son; it’s not your fault.”
“No, it’s not your fault.”
This continues until Will’s knowledge passes from one kind to another and the young man who keeps everyone at a distance tearfully embraces the older. O’ that our knowledge of Christ would do the same.