The key biblical terms for knowledge assume a personal familiarity, even an intimateinvolvement, with the known object. Similarly, knowing God entails acknowledging him asLord in obedience and praise. As a result, human knowledge of God is decisively shaped bythe fall and God's salvation.
Adam and Eve knew God. They acknowledged him as their Lord and obediently carried outtheir responsibilities as his stewards in creation. However, eating from the forbiddentree of the knowledge of good and evil decisively shaped humanity's future ( Genesis 2:9 Genesis 2:17 ). Theknowledge derived from eating this fruit is called godlike ( Genesis 3:5 Genesis 3:22 ),denoting a rebellious attempt to decide good and evil independently of the Creator.
The fall, however, did not destroy the availability of God's knowledge. Generalrevelation, God's uersal revelation, still exists. However, Scripture treats generalrevelation as ineffective in guiding humanity to God. Just as "the ox knows hismaster" ( Isa 1:3 ),humanity ought to recognize the Creator, but does not. Sin is the obstacle. Nothing ingeneral revelation hints that God is gracious to the sinner. The sinner distorts therealities of general revelation, fabricating a suitable idea of God ( Rom 8:7-8 ; Php 3:19 ). Thisfailure to know God issues in all other sin. Consequently, Scripture indicts humans who donot know the one and only God as morally perverse ( Isa 1:2-4 ; Hosea 4:1-2 ),rebellious sinners ( 1Sam 2:12 ; Jer 2:8 ),apostates ( Jer9:1-6 ; Hosea 4:6 ),idolaters ( Psalm 79:6 ; Hosea 2:13 ), anddeceivers engrossed in an delusion ( John 1:5 John 1:10 ; 1 Col 1:18-2:16 ).After explicating these dynamics in Romans 1:18-2:1, Paul concludes that after the fall,general revelation only renders sinners inexcusable before God.
After the fall, saving knowledge of God is grounded solely in God's decision to revealhimself to sinners ( Gen 18:18-19 ; Exod 33:17 ; Ps. 139 Jer 1:5 ; Eph 3:35 ). In theseActs of special revelation, God chooses a people for his purposes and guides them back tohimself ( Amos 3:2 ).For sinners can come into fellowship with God only through God's prior act, whichobjectively makes known his mercy, and subjectively makes us rightly related to Him.
Seeking God is dependent on the proper perspective. God has revealed himself throughhis prior Acts, and this revelation forms the proper historical context for understandingGod in the present ( Deut 4:29-39 ; 1 Chron 16:11-12 ).Consequently, knowledge of God frequently depends on the witness of others to whom God hasrevealed himself ( Psalm44:1-4 ; Isa51:1-2 ). Only those who know God may seek him. In the New Testament, for example, thefirst step toward knowledge consists of receiving Jesus' message ( John 7:16-17 ; 12:37-46 ; 20:30-31 ). Onlythose willing to believe that Jesus is doing the will of the Father receive the lightenabling them to discern that he is the Son of God. On this path, followers are led to thefull truth. Sinners, on the other hand, come to a knowledge of God through judgment andrepentance. In repentance one recognizes the holy God who demands righteousness: the fearof the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ( Psalm 25:14 ; 111:10 ; Prov 1:7 ; 2:5 ; 9:10 ).
Unlike other types of knowing, God engages and draws us to himself ( John 6:44 ). When wesurrender to him and acknowledge him as Lord, God "shows us the way we shouldgo" ( Psalm143:8 ; John 14:6 ).The biblical terms associated with knowing God, like trusting, acknowledging, andbelieving in God as Lord ( 1 Chron 28:9 ; Psalm 36:10 ; 79:6 ; Isa 43:10 ; Hosea 6:3 ), have acovenantal context. As a result, knowledge of God involves not simply propositions aboutGod, but encountering and embracing God as Lord ( Psalms 25:4 Psalms 25:12 ; 119:104 ), so thatGod becomes the center of our desires, affections, and knowledge.
Paul reinforces these connections by linking the love, knowledge, and glory of JesusChrist: Christians know this love, are established in love ( Eph 3:16-19 ),and perceive the glory of God in his face ( 2 Cor 4:6 ). KnowingChrist is a living relationship ( John 7:29 ; 10:14 ; 11:25 ) in which heabides in and transforms the believer into his life ( John 14:17 ; 17:3 ; 1 John 3:2 ).
If knowledge of God is the "path of our life, " this must manifest itself ingodly relationships to others ( Matt 7:17-20 ; John 10:27 ; 1 Cor 12:31-13:2 ; Php 4:9 ; Col 1:23 ). "Weknow that we have come to know him if we obey his commands" ( 1 John 2:3 ). Thosewho know God willingly practice his will and thus manifest his character by defending thecause of the poor ( Jer22:16 ; Hosea 6:6 ).In addition, the one following God's path becomes a co-worker for God's kingdom ( Isa 43:10-12 ).
Reflecting the messianic promise of knowledge ( Jer 24:7 ; 31:33-34 ),there is a finality to the Christian's knowledge of God ( Matt 11:27 ; Rom 16:25-27 ; Eph 1:9-10 ; Col 1:26-28 ). InChrist "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" ( Col 2:3 ). Moreover,in contrast to ordinary historical knowledge, this knowledge of God isself-authenticating. God himself personally confronts each individual in the Word ( 2 Cor 4:6 ; 1 John 2:27 ),foreshadowing the future when teaching is no longer necessary ( Jer 31:34 ).
On the other hand, the believer's knowledge of God in Jesus Christ is only provisional.It is sufficient for recognizing and trusting the object of faith ( John 17:3 ; Rom 10:9 ): "Iknow my sheep and my sheep know me My sheep listen to my voice" ( John 10:14 John 10:27 ).Without answering all our questions, it provides an adequate light for the journeyer inthis darkened world ( 2Peter 1:19 ). But this knowledge is only a foretaste of knowing God "face toface" in the hereafter ( 1 Cor 13:12 ), when"the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts" ( 2 Peter 1:19 ).
Timothy R. Phillips
See also God
Bibliography. J. Bergman and G. J. Botterweck, TDOT, 5:448-81; R.Bultmann, TDNT, 1:689-719; C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel;E. A. Martens, God's Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology; W. Elwell, TAB, pp.39-41, 564-67.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Knowledge of God
'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".