The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is Knowledge of God for the Elite Few?
A JULY evening in 1987 saw a strange event at the Palais des Congrès in Paris, France. Inside the auditorium, laser lights swept the walls as deep, solemn electronic sounds, interspersed with a gong and peals from bells, filled the huge room. On stage two men attired in black masks gently rocked a hanging burner shaped like a boat, while colored smoke belched forth from the wings of the stage. At the same time, dozens of white-clad men and women appeared before the audience of 4,000.
The event? A rock concert? No, an initiation ceremony of the Rosicrucians, a movement devoted to esoteric or secret wisdom. However, for the novices of this world fraternal order, this ceremony was just the first step in a series of degrees of initiation.
In some ways the secret society of the Rosicrucians is similar to the Gnostic sects that flourished during the second century C.E. and were a rival of Christianity. The Gnostics believed that salvation comes through mystical knowledge and that such secret wisdom is bestowed upon only the select few. But is knowledge of God for the elite few? Is it restricted to a small group of initiated ones?
Is Christianity a Secret Fraternity?
Some authors consider that to a certain extent Christianity is esoteric, or reserved for the few. In his book L’ésotérisme, Luc Benoist, honorary curator of the Museum of France, wrote: “Other signs of a reserved teaching are found in Saint Paul’s epistles: ‘I gave you milk and not solid food. . . . Whoever lives on milk alone understands nothing of the discourses of Wisdom.’ [Paraphrased from 1 Corinthians 3:2 and Hebrews 5:13] The texts of the early [Church] Fathers refer to ‘a truth that no novice may contemplate.’”
Was the apostle Paul, though, writing about esoteric knowledge? No, the context of Paul’s words shows that he was, in fact, upbraiding his Christian companions who were not new converts. Paul was writing to Christians who had not progressed spiritually and who “ought to be teachers” of other people “in view of the time” that they had been in the faith.—Hebrews 5:12.
Thus, Paul was not referring to truths he wished to keep secret but to explanations he wished to share with them, yet that were beyond their spiritual comprehension because they had not advanced in Scriptural knowledge as they should have done. We could compare Paul’s situation among those certain Christians to a mathematics teacher who expects her students to progress. If the students failed to do their homework properly and therefore did not fully grasp simple addition and multiplication principles, the teacher would be hard-pressed to help them fathom algebraic equations.
Knowledge Open to All
Admittedly, Bible knowledge is not static. With time and effort it is possible to obtain a better grasp of the truth and a deeper understanding of spiritual things. Moreover, the Bible shows that Jehovah has progressively revealed his purposes to his servants, but it never mentions any “hidden truths” that would be accessible to some and hidden from other sincere seekers of truth living in the same period. (Psalm 147:19, 20; Proverbs 2:1-11; 4:18; Isaiah 45:19) This was true not only when God was dealing with the nation of Israel but also when his Son, Jesus Christ, was laying the foundation for Christianity.
During his three-and-a-half-year ministry, Jesus covered a large part of the territory of Israel. Did he do this in a clandestine way or visit solely a closed group of the initiated? No. He preached his message publicly, often before crowds. Shortly before his death, when interrogated by the Jewish religious authorities about his manner of teaching, he explained: “I have spoken to the world publicly. I always taught in a synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.”—John 18:20.
Did you note that Jesus’ message is addressed to a vastly greater audience than just Palestine? It is directed to the whole world! Jesus did not say: ‘I have spoken the word to all people,’ that is, to all Jews. Instead, being prophetic, he selected the specific word for “world.”* Thus, Jesus preached no esoteric doctrine; it was for everyone, everywhere.
True, Jesus used figurative language, especially when teaching by parables, or illustrations. But this method merely enabled him to make a selection among his hearers. Those who were not truly interested in Jesus’ teaching just listened to his parables and went off without looking deeper into the matter. Those thirsting for knowledge stayed on for further explanation. Thus, knowledge was within reach of all sincerely seeking it.—Matthew 13:13, 34-36.
The fact that Christianity is open to all is evident from the tone sounded in the rest of the Scriptures too. For example, one of the last verses of the Bible contains God’s invitation to ‘come and take life’s water free.’ And it states specifically: “And let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.” So, again, Bible knowledge was to be made available to all.—Revelation 22:17; compare Isaiah 55:1.
Although knowledge of God is open to all, effort is nevertheless required to obtain it. The Bible encourages us to “keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures . . . keep searching for it.” (Proverbs 2:4) Consequently, knowledge must be acquired from God’s Word, the Bible, and then wisdom will become evident when its principles and commandments are put into practice.
Is the effort worth while? Yes, for such wisdom brings “goodwill from Jehovah” and can lead to everlasting life. What a treasure! Have you personally begun searching for this all-important knowledge?—Proverbs 8:34-36; Psalm 119:105.
Jesus did not use the phrase (pant·iʹ toi la·oiʹ) “to all the people,” that is, all who assembled or all of the same race; but (toi koʹsmoi) “to the world,” that is, the human race, mankind. Interestingly, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John states about John 18:20: “It is noteworthy that the strongest repudiation in the Gospels of cryptic or esoteric teaching in the words of Jesus is found in Jn [John].”
[Blurb on page 18]
On stage two men attired in black masks gently rocked a hanging burner shaped like a boat