The Old Testament. The Hebrew root yada [[;d"y],translated "know"/"knowledge, " appears almost 950 times in the HebrewBible. It has a wider sweep than our English word "know, " including perceiving,learning, understanding, willing, performing, and experiencing. To know is not to beintellectually informed about some abstract principle, but to apprehend and experiencereality. Knowledge is not the possession of information, but rather its exercise oractualization.
Thus, biblically to know God is not to know about him in an abstract and impersonalmanner, but rather to enter into his saving actions ( Micah 6:5 ). To knowGod is not to struggle philosophically with his eternal essence, but rather to recognizeand accept his claims. It is not some mystical contemplation, but dutiful obedience.
In the doing of justice and righteousness, Josiah is said to have known God ( Jer 22:15-16 ).True knowledge of God involves obeying the stipulations of his covenant. It is expressedin living conformity to his will. The opposite of knowledge is not ignorance, butrebellion ( Jer22:11-14 ).
The word "know" reflects a variety of skills and professional abilities suchas hunting ( Gen25:27 ), sailing ( 1Kings 9:27 ), playing the harp ( 1 Sam 16:16 ),professional mourning ( Amos 5:16 ), andreading ( Isa 29:11 ).It also is used to indicate the ability to distinguish between good and evil ( Gen 3:5 ; Isa 7:15 ), the leftand right hand ( Jonah4:11 ), the wise and the foolish ( Eccl 2:19 ), thedesirable and the undesirable ( 2 Sam 19:35 ), andlife and death ( 2Sam 12:22 ).
The word "know" is used as a euphemism for sex and intercourse: Adam knew hiswife Eve and she became pregnant ( Gen 4:1 ). Women whohave "known" a man are no longer virgins ( Numbers 31:17 Numbers 31:35 ).In his declining days David had an attractive attendant who served him but did not havesexual relationships with him ( 1 Kings 1:4 ). Evensexual perversions such as sodomy ( Gen 19:5 ; Judges 19:22 ) andrape ( Judges 19:25 )are designated by the word "know."
The word "know" is used also to express acquaintance with a person. Jacobquestioned the shepherds of Haran, "Do you know Laban?" ( Gen 29:5 ). The pualparticiple of the Hebrew word indicates a close friend ( Job 19:14 ; Psalm 55:13 ), aneighbor ( Psalm31:11 ), a companion ( Psalms 88:8 Psalms 88:18 ),and a relative ( Ruth2:1 ).
Divine-human relationships are also expressed by this term. The Lord knew Moses verywell"by name" ( Exodus 33:11 Exodus 33:12 Exodus 33:17 ).Moses sought a reciprocal acquaintance with God ( Exod 33:13 ). Thepsalmist is amazed at God's intimate knowledge ( Psalm 139:6 ) of hispersonal life, his daily activities ( 139:1-2 ), evenhis unuttered and unformed thoughts ( 139:4 ).
The fact that God knows often indicates divine choice. He knew Jeremiah before hisbirth, singling him out to be a prophet ( Jer 1:5 ). He choseAbraham to be the father of a great nation ( Gen 18:19 ). Thestatement of am 3:2, "You (Israel) only have I chosen of all the families of theearth, " indicates divine selection. It is the way of the righteous that the Lordknows, endorses, and cherishes ( Psalm 1:6 ).
"Know" also is used as a treaty term. To know is to acknowledge. Thus whenthe new king of Egypt did not know Joseph ( Exod 1:8 ) he did notrecognize the agreement that had been developed between Joseph and Pharaoh at the time hisfamily came to Egypt. While the ox and donkey know their owner, Israel does not know ( Isa 1:3 ). More thaninstinct is intended here. Loyalty to the covenant is clearly in mind since the witnessesof that covenant are invoked ( Isa 1:2 ). Mosesdemands that those who had stood at Mount Sinai and entered into covenant with the Lordacknowledge that agreement and live by it ( Deut 11:1-25 ).
The New Testament. The Greek words commonly translated know are oida [ei [dw] and ginosko[ginwvskw].These words have the various nuances of meaning of the English word "know." Theyhave been influenced by the Hebrew word yada [
The New Testament emphasizes that knowing God is not simply an intellectualapprehension, but a response of faith and an acceptance of Christ. It is he who has madeGod known ( John 1:18 ).To know Christ is to know God ( John 14:7 ). Eternallife is to know the true God and Jesus Christ ( John 17:3 ). Pauldesires to know Christ in his death and resurrection ( Php 3:10 ). Failureto know Jesus as Lord and Messiah ( Acts 2:36 ) resultedin his rejection and crucifixion ( 1 Cor 2:8 ).
To know Christ is to know truth ( John 8:32 ). Whilethis is personal, it is also propositional. Knowledge of the truth ( 1 Tim 2:4 ; 2 Tim 2:25 ; 3:7 ; Titus 1:1 ) is bothenlightenment and acceptance of the cognitive aspects of faith.
Paul uses the rhetorical question, "Don't you know?" several times in 1Corinthians ( 3:16 ; 5:6 ; 1 Corinthians 6:2 1 Corinthians 6:3 1 Corinthians 6:9 1 Corinthians 6:15 ; 1 Corinthians 9:13 1 Corinthians 9:24 ). Thismay be an appeal to common knowledge, or a reference to a corpus of teaching that theapostle had communicated.
Affirmations about God's knowledge are more limited in the New Testament than in theOld Testament. He knows the human heart ( Luke 16:15 ). Heknows his children's needs such as clothing and food ( Matt 6:32 ). He evenanticipates our petitions ( Matt 6:8 ). In fact,he knows everything ( 1John 3:20 ).
Jesus uniquely knows God ( John 8:55 here knowledge and obedience are equated ). He knows the hidden designs of his questioners( Luke 11:17 ). Heis also perceptive of humankind. Nowhere is his penetrating knowledge noted more than itis in the Fourth Gospel ( 2:25 ; 5:42 ; 6:64 ; 10:14 John 14 ; John 13:1 John 13:11 ; 18:4 ; 19:28 ).
The limits of human knowledge are recognized in the New Testament. It is not throughwisdom that the world knows God, but rather through the divine initiative ( Gal 4:8-9 ). It isthrough the kerygma that humans can know God ( 1 Cor 1:20-25 ).Spiritual discernment is not the result of profane reasoning ( 1 Tim 6:20 ). God'srevelation in Christ has made knowledge of him possible. But at best, this knowledge ispartial. Perfection in the area of knowledge is reserved for the age to come ( 1 Cor 13:12 ).
Bibliography. R. Bultmann, TDNT, 1:689-719; P. R. Gilchrist, TWOT, 1:366-67;C. F. H. Henry and R. K. Harrison, ISBE, 3:48-50; A. Richardson, A TheologicalWord Book of the Bible, pp. 121-22; H. Ringgren, TDOT, 6:448-81.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Know, Knowledge
'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".