Inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was the aphorism Know Thyself. While its origins possibly stretch back to Luxor in Egypt, the saying featured prominently in Greek philosophy. Often used by philosophers as a reminder of one’s place – such as remembering as you approach Apollo’s temple that you are not one of the gods and should be careful in dealing with them – in its most ancient Egyptian form there are reports of the aphorism being used differently:
There are two parts of the ancient Luxor Temple, the External Temple, where the beginners were allowed to enter and the Internal Temple where a person was only allowed to enter after proven worthy and ready to acquire more knowledge and insights. One of the proverbs of the External Temple is “The body is the house of God.” That is why it is said: “Man, know thyself”. In the Internal Temple, one of the many proverbs is “Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods”. (Know Thyself.)
To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, you’d expect imitations to look like the real thing. After all, where else is a person described as the dwelling place of God? The Bible. As Paul assured his friend Timothy:
Guard the good deposit [that is, the gospel] that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1:14.)
So while some ancient philosophers and religions said the gods dwelt in people, Christianity teaches that the One True God dwells within his people.
Looking again at the Luxor Temple’s inscription, there is another part that is also near the truth: “know thyself, and you are going to know the gods.” It’s close but still missing the mark because in Christianity it is not by knowing ourselves that we come to know God but by knowing God that we come to know ourselves more fully.
Take Job for example. After a long gripe session about how he’d like to tell God a thing or two, God gave him the opportunity. Job came to a sobering realization:
“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3-6.)
This sounds close to the Greek philosophy: know yourself so that you will not step out of place in your relationship to God. In other words, never forget that he’s God and you’re not. Job’s response makes sense when you consider that he’d spent hours claiming the right to put God on the spot and make God justify himself.
Paul had a similar realization when it came to understanding himself as a sinner in need of God’s grace.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25.)
But despising yourself or considering yourself wretched is not God’s ideal for how you understand your place in relationship to him.
Becoming Aware of Who You Are in God’s Family
God wants you to know him and your place in him:
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
He is always mindful of you:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
And as Psalm 8 goes on to explain, your place is to be a glorious and honorable ruler in his kingdom:
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Yet being below angles is not your ultimate position in his kingdom:
Do you not know that we will judge angels? (1 Corinthians 6:3.)
How is it that you will rise to become a judge of angels? It is because you will be like Christ:
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2.)
Becoming like Jesus, being raised to a position above the angels, happens because Jesus makes it happen:
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5.)
Everything new includes you.
How would you know this about yourself if you didn’t first know who God is? And that is why in order to know who you really are you must know God first.