The key biblical terms for knowledge assume a personal familiarity, even an intimate involvement, with the known object. Similarly, knowing God entails acknowledging him as Lord in obedience and praise. As a result, human knowledge of God is decisively shaped by the fall and God's salvation.
Adam and Eve knew God. They acknowledged him as their Lord and obediently carried out their responsibilities as his stewards in creation. However, eating from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil decisively shaped humanity's future ( Genesis 2:9 Genesis 2:17 ). The knowledge 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. General revelation, God's universal revelation, still exists. However, Scripture treats general revelation as ineffective in guiding humanity to God. Just as "the ox knows his master" ( Isa 1:3 ),humanity ought to recognize the Creator, but does not. Sin is the obstacle. Nothing in general revelation hints that God is gracious to the sinner. The sinner distorts the realities of general revelation, fabricating a suitable idea of God ( Rom 8:7-8 ; Php 3:19 ). This failure to know God issues in all other sin. Consequently, Scripture indicts humans who do not 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 ), and deceivers 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 reveal himself to sinners ( Gen 18:18-19 ; Exod 33:17 ; Ps. 139 Jer 1:5 ; Eph 3:35 ). In these Acts of special revelation, God chooses a people for his purposes and guides them back to himself ( Amos 3:2 ).For sinners can come into fellowship with God only through God's prior act, which objectively makes known his mercy, and subjectively makes us rightly related to Him.
Seeking God is dependent on the proper perspective. God has revealed himself through his prior Acts, and this revelation forms the proper historical context for understanding God 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 has revealed himself ( Psalm44:1-4 ; Isa51:1-2 ). Only those who know God may seek him. In the New Testament, for example, the first step toward knowledge consists of receiving Jesus' message ( John 7:16-17 ; 12:37-46 ; 20:30-31 ). Only those willing to believe that Jesus is doing the will of the Father receive the light enabling them to discern that he is the Son of God. On this path, followers are led to the full truth. Sinners, on the other hand, come to a knowledge of God through judgment and repentance. In repentance one recognizes the holy God who demands righteousness: the fear of 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 we surrender to him and acknowledge him as Lord, God "shows us the way we should go" ( Psalm143:8 ; John 14:6 ).The biblical terms associated with knowing God, like trusting, acknowledging, and believing in God as Lord ( 1 Chron 28:9 ; Psalm 36:10 ; 79:6 ; Isa 43:10 ; Hosea 6:3 ), have a covenantal context. As a result, knowledge of God involves not simply propositions about God, but encountering and embracing God as Lord ( Psalms 25:4 Psalms 25:12 ; 119:104 ), so that God becomes the center of our desires, affections, and knowledge.
Paul reinforces these connections by linking the love, knowledge, and glory of Jesus Christ: 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 ). Knowing Christ is a living relationship ( John 7:29 ; 10:14 ; 11:25 ) in which he abides 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 in godly relationships to others ( Matt 7:17-20 ; John 10:27 ; 1 Cor 12:31-13:2 ; Php 4:9 ; Col 1:23 ). "We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands" ( 1 John 2:3 ). Those who know God willingly practice his will and thus manifest his character by defending the cause 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 ). In Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" ( Col 2:3 ). Moreover, in contrast to ordinary historical knowledge, this knowledge of God is self-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 ): "I know 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 in this darkened world ( 2Peter 1:19 ). But this knowledge is only a foretaste of knowing God "face to face" 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".