The Old Testament. The Hebrew root yada [[;d"y],translated "know"/"knowledge, " appears almost 950 times in the Hebrew Bible. It has a wider sweep than our English word "know, " including perceiving, learning, understanding, willing, performing, and experiencing. To know is not to be intellectually informed about some abstract principle, but to apprehend and experience reality. Knowledge is not the possession of information, but rather its exercise or actualization.
Thus, biblically to know God is not to know about him in an abstract and impersonal manner, but rather to enter into his saving actions ( Micah 6:5 ). To know God is not to struggle philosophically with his eternal essence, but rather to recognize and 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 expressed in living conformity to his will. The opposite of knowledge is not ignorance, but rebellion ( Jer22:11-14 ).
The word "know" reflects a variety of skills and professional abilities such as hunting ( Gen25:27 ), sailing ( 1Kings 9:27 ), playing the harp ( 1 Sam 16:16 ),professional mourning ( Amos 5:16 ), and reading ( Isa 29:11 ).It also is used to indicate the ability to distinguish between good and evil ( Gen 3:5 ; Isa 7:15 ), the left and right hand ( Jonah4:11 ), the wise and the foolish ( Eccl 2:19 ), the desirable and the undesirable ( 2 Sam 19:35 ), and life and death ( 2Sam 12:22 ).
The word "know" is used as a euphemism for sex and intercourse: Adam knew his wife Eve and she became pregnant ( Gen 4:1 ). Women who have "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 have sexual relationships with him ( 1 Kings 1:4 ). Even sexual perversions such as sodomy ( Gen 19:5 ; Judges 19:22 ) and rape ( Judges 19:25 )are designated by the word "know."
The word "know" is used also to express acquaintance with a person. Jacob questioned the shepherds of Haran, "Do you know Laban?" ( Gen 29:5 ). The pual participle of the Hebrew word indicates a close friend ( Job 19:14 ; Psalm 55:13 ), a neighbor ( 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 very well"by name" ( Exodus 33:11 Exodus 33:12 Exodus 33:17 ).Moses sought a reciprocal acquaintance with God ( Exod 33:13 ). The psalmist is amazed at God's intimate knowledge ( Psalm 139:6 ) of his personal life, his daily activities ( 139:1-2 ), even his unuttered and unformed thoughts ( 139:4 ).
The fact that God knows often indicates divine choice. He knew Jeremiah before his birth, singling him out to be a prophet ( Jer 1:5 ). He chose Abraham to be the father of a great nation ( Gen 18:19 ). The statement of am 3:2, "You (Israel) only have I chosen of all the families of the earth, " indicates divine selection. It is the way of the righteous that the Lord knows, endorses, and cherishes ( Psalm 1:6 ).
"Know" also is used as a treaty term. To know is to acknowledge. Thus when the new king of Egypt did not know Joseph ( Exod 1:8 ) he did not recognize the agreement that had been developed between Joseph and Pharaoh at the time his family came to Egypt. While the ox and donkey know their owner, Israel does not know ( Isa 1:3 ). More than instinct is intended here. Loyalty to the covenant is clearly in mind since the witnesses of that covenant are invoked ( Isa 1:2 ). Moses demands that those who had stood at Mount Sinai and entered into covenant with the Lord acknowledge 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." They have been influenced by the Hebrew word yada [[;d"y], such influence having been mediated through the Septuagint, but they also reflect an adaptation demanded by a pagan world ignorant of God's existence.
The New Testament emphasizes that knowing God is not simply an intellectual apprehension, but a response of faith and an acceptance of Christ. It is he who has made God known ( John 1:18 ).To know Christ is to know God ( John 14:7 ). Eternal life is to know the true God and Jesus Christ ( John 17:3 ). Paul desires to know Christ in his death and resurrection ( Php 3:10 ). Failure to know Jesus as Lord and Messiah ( Acts 2:36 ) resulted in his rejection and crucifixion ( 1 Cor 2:8 ).
To know Christ is to know truth ( John 8:32 ). While this is personal, it is also propositional. Knowledge of the truth ( 1 Tim 2:4 ; 2 Tim 2:25 ; 3:7 ; Titus 1:1 ) is both enlightenment 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 ). This may be an appeal to common knowledge, or a reference to a corpus of teaching that the apostle 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 ). He knows his children's needs such as clothing and food ( Matt 6:32 ). He even anticipates 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 ). He is 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 through wisdom that the world knows God, but rather through the divine initiative ( Gal 4:8-9 ). It is through 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's revelation in Christ has made knowledge of him possible. But at best, this knowledge is partial. 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 Theological Word 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
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Know, Knowledge
'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".