Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 2: Knowledge and Salvation

A fundamental aspect of gnostic (and Gnostic) thought is soteriological—that is, salvation in terms of, or by way of, knowledge. This aspect, however, is hardly unique to the quasi-Christian religious groups of the first centuries A.D. (i.e., what is usually labelled “Gnostic” [cf. Part 1 & my article on Gnosticism]); it can be found, in various forms, all throughout the New Testament. Even so, there may a wide range for what is meant, or assumed, with regard to the nature and object of this “knowledge”. It is important, then, to examine the various passages in the New Testament carefully. This I will do in the present article, providing a survey and summary for the most relevant passages, while giving more details exegesis of several key verses in the separate daily notes.

The Terminology

The basic word rendered “save” in New Testament Greek is sw|/zw (sœ¡zœ), occurring more than 100 times. Its fundamental meaning is to make or keep (someone) safe. It can refer to any form of physical protection (esp. in battle), usually with the idea that serious harm (or death) threatens. Sometimes it has the specific sense of rescuing someone (i.e. bringing them to safety), and, in a medical context, can also refer to healing from disease. Naturally, it could be used in a religious context as well, in several ways: (a) protection by the divine powers from harm or loss, (b) deliverance from personal sin and its effects, often through ritual means, and (c) passing through the divine/heavenly Judgment after death. When dealing with this word-group, Christians tend to have (c) in mind, but that is not always the sense which is meant, and assuming it can cause considerable confusion among readers and commentators; the context of each reference must be examined closely. Several important words are derived from the verb sw|/zw: (i) swth/r (sœt¢¡r), “one who saves, savior” [24 times]; (ii) swthri/a (sœt¢ría), “safety, saving, salvation” [46 times]; and (iii) swth/rio$ (sœt¢¡rios), “(adj.) saving” [4 times], used as a substantive “(means of) salvation/protection”. The compound verb diasw/zw (“bring through safely, to safety”) also occurs several times.

There are a number of other words, some partly synonymous, which can relate to the idea of salvation or being saved:

    • r(u/omai, lit. “drag (to safety)”, i.e. rescue, deliver
    • lu/w, “loose”, and esp. the compound a)polu/w, “loose from (bondage, etc)”, i.e. from prison or debt; the related verb lutro/w, with the nouns lu/tron, lu/trwsi$, etc, refers to providing the means for release (from prison, slavery, etc), i.e. ransom, redemption
    • a)fi/hmi, with the noun a&fesi$, “release, loose”, in particular from sin—so used frequently in the NT
    • dikaio/w, “make right, make just, do justice”, with the related noun dikaiosu/nh, adjective di/kaio$, etc.
    • zwopoie/w and zwogone/w, “make alive”, “give/preserve life”, etc
    • words related to healing, health and wholeness: i)a/omai, qerapeu/w, u(giai/nw, etc

In addition there is some vocabulary and idiom which is distinct to early Christian and Jewish thought of the period, such as, for example:

    • the idea of entering or inheriting the kingdom (of God)
    • the way leading toward God
    • finding (eternal) life
    • the words related to resurrection

Concept and range of meaning

Quite often in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel and book of Acts, the verbs sw|/zw (with the noun swthri/a) and r(u/omai refer either generally to saving/protecting a person from physical harm or specifically (in the case of sw|/zw) to healing from disease—cf. Mk 3:4; 5:23, 28; 6:56; 10:52; 13:20; 15:30-31 pars; Luke 1:69, 71, 74; John 11:12; 12:27; Acts 4:9; 14:9; 27:20; Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 1:10; 2 Thess 3:2; Heb 11:17; James 5:15; 2 Pet 2:7-9; Jude 5, et al. If we exclude these references, we are left with the idea of salvation in the deeper religious (and/or metaphysical) sense—of the soul, or of the person in an eschatological (final) sense. The sifting of these references must be done carefully, since there are a number of passages which are ambiguous or which make use of wordplay with different (levels of) meaning, such as Jesus’ famous saying in Mark 8:35 par, or the shipwreck scene in Acts 27 (cf. vv. 20, 31). However, it is possible to isolate two main ways salvation is expressed, from a religious/metaphysical standpoint, in the New Testament and early Christian tradition:

    • Salvation from sin—either: (a) from the effect of personal sins, or (b) from the power and control of sin
    • Salvation from the end-time Judgment by God, often described in terms of being saved from the anger/wrath of God which is about to come upon humankind

Interestingly, the aspect of salvation which is probably most commonly in mind with people today—that of the individual’s personal salvation following death (i.e. from the punishment [of Hell])—is not emphasized particularly in the New Testament. This, of course, was a popular way of thinking even in ancient times, usually depicted in some manner as the person standing before a divine/heavenly tribunal after death to be judged according to his/her deeds and actions while alive. The background of this idea is retained in early Christian thought, as for example, in the Beatitude form (Matt 5:3-12 / Lk 6:20-26) and the image of entering/inheriting the Kingdom (i.e. of the heavenly/eternal life), cf. Mk 9:47; 10:23ff; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 25:34; Jn 3:5; Acts 14:22; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:21, etc. However, specific references to the traditional (afterlife) scene of Judgment are somewhat rare in the New Testament (cf. 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 2:6ff; 14:10-12; also Matt 10:32-33; 12:41-42 par; 25:31-46). This is largely due to the fact that the eschatological emphasis has shifted to the (imminent) coming of the end—that is, the coming of God’s Judgment upon the earth, expected to occur soon, within the lifetime of most people. Early Christians widely shared this expectation, along with many Jews of the period; the distinctly Christian component was the role of Jesus as the Anointed One (Christ) of God and heavenly “Son of Man” whose coming (back) to earth from Heaven would usher in the Judgment. Thus the idea of salvation meant being saved from the Judgment (the anger/wrath of God) about to be visited upon sinful, wicked humanity (cf. the “day of YHWH” motif in the Old Testament Prophets). Christ, as the divine representative of YHWH, oversees the Judgment, but also acts as savior and deliverer of the Elect—that is, of God’s faithful people, the believers. This eschatological context for salvation is found all throughout the New Testament; of the many passages, I would note the following:

A similar (generalized) sense of eschatological salvation is found widely in early Christian thought—e.g., Luke 3:6 [Isa 40:5]; John 3:17; 5:34; 10:9; 12:47; Romans 10:9; 11:14, 26; 1 Cor 1:8; 3:15; 9:22; 10:33; 15:2; Phil 1:6, 9-10; 2:16; 1 Thess 5:23-24; 2 Thess 2:10; 2 Tim 2:4, 10, (15); 4:16; James 1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:20; 1 Pet 1:5, 9-10; 4:18? [Prov 11:31]; (2 Pet 2:9); (Jude 23); Heb 1:14; (7:25); 9:28. Virtually the entire book of Revelation deals with this theme.

With regard to the second main aspect of salvation—that of being saved/delivered from sin and its power—this is likewise expressed frequently, and in a number of ways, throughout the New Testament. Salvation from sin, either in a general sense, or in terms of (the effect of) personal sins, is commonly described in terms of “release” (a&fesi$), as of from a debt, bond, or burden. Baptism was originally seen as symbolizing the washing/removal of sin, when it was preceded by genuine repentance. This is the primary sense expressed in the Gospels, with the movement from baptism (as administered by John) to “release” being announced/declared by Jesus (and the apostles) through the authority of his word. Only rarely, however, are the words sw|/zw and swthri/a connected explicitly with salvation from sin (cf. Matt 1:21; Luke 7:50; 19:10 [par]; also James 5:20; Jude 23); even more rare is the direct connection of salvation with repentance (cf. Acts 2:40; 2 Cor 7:10), though the idea of repentance is common enough in the New Testament. Along a similar line, in the apostolic teaching (in the Pauline writings, etc), ethical instruction and exhortation, while frequent, is generally not described in terms of salvation from sin. Much more common is the idea of being loosed or freed from the power and dominion of sin, as from bondage to a wicked and oppressive ruler. This view is central to the theology (and Christology) of the Pauline letters:

It also underlies the Pauline language of purchase/redemption out of slavery (i.e. bondage to sin)—cf. 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; Gal 2:4; 3:13; 4:4-5; 5:1, 13; Rom 3:24; Col 1:14; Eph 1:7; Tit 2:14. This emphasis on freedom from bondage (to sin) is also found in the Johannine writings, including the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel. It often includes the specific motif of being delivered out of one domain (of sin and darkness) and into another (of truth, light and [eternal] life). These references will be discussed in more detail in a separate article, but it is important to note here that they have a good deal in common with the gnostic viewpoint; and is also expressed variously by Paul in his letters (cf. Gal 1:4; Col 1:12-14; [2 Tim 2:26], and note the entire discussion in Rom 5:12-8:2ff).

Salvation as knowledge

In turning to the idea of salvation specifically in terms of knowledge, we must keep in mind the two primary aspects of salvation outlined above—being saved (1) from the end-time Judgment, and (2) from the power (and domain) of sin. It is the latter aspect which is tied most directly with knowledge (gnw=si$), both in the New Testament and in gnostic thought. The terms “save/salvation” (sw|/zw / swthri/a) and “knowledge” (gnw=si$) appear together in several key passages:

    • Luke 1:77—part of the hymn/oracle of Zechariah, which moves from the deliverance of God’s people from the power of their (historical) enemies (vv. 71, 74) to deliverance from the power of sin. In verse 76 it is prophesied of John that he will act as the messenger of Mal 3:1, who will make ready the way for the Lord when he comes. The main purpose of John’s ministry will be “to give knowledge of salvation [gnw=si$ swthri/a$] to His people”; this knowledge will be disclosed and made manifest in the “release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”, which is symbolized in the ritual act of baptism. In verse 79, this knowledge is described using the image of light—”to shine upon the (one)s sitting in darkness and (the) shadow of death”.
    • 1 Cor 1:21—”For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through the wisdom, God considered (it) good, through the ‘stupidity’ of the proclamation [i.e. of the Gospel], to save the (one)s trusting”. I have discussed this verse as part of a series of notes on 1 Cor 1:18-2:14.
    • 2 Cor 2:14ff—For this important passage, cf. the studies in this series on 2:14 and 4:6.
    • 2 Pet 2:20-21—Again salvation is described as deliverance from sin, but with a slightly different nuance, emphasizing the action of those who come to faith (“fleeing from the defilement of the world”); this action, however, occurs strictly according to the knowledge of the Lord—that is, in our coming to know [e)n e)pignw/sei] him (Christ), who is identified as our savior (“the Savior Yeshua [the] Anointed”). This is personal knowledge of Christ—who he is and what God has done through him—but it is also, in verse 21, connected in religious terms to “the way of justice/righteousness”.

Elsewhere, this soteriological aspect of knowledge is expressed a number of ways, as:

As indicated previously, the motif of knowledge is fundamental in the Johannine writings; even though the noun gnw=si$ does not appear, the verb ginw/skw (“know”) occurs 86 times (56 in the Gospel), while the largely synonymous ei&dw (oi@da, “see, know”) occurs 113 times (85 in the Gospel). These passages are surveyed in a separate article, but several key verses should be noted here, which strongly express the idea of salvation by way of knowledge:

    • John 4:22—”you worship what you have not seen/known, we worship what we have seen/known—(in) that [i.e. because] salvation is out of the Jews”. This saying reflects the wordplay and dual-meaning typical of the discourses of Jesus in John. On the one hand, he seems to be expressing simply the traditional religious (and nationalistic) view that the Jews, rather than Samaritans, have preserved the true faith. However, according to the deeper spiritual meaning of his words, we have the idea that salvation comes “out of” (from) the Jews in the sense that Jesus himself came to be born and appear among the people, though without their knowing/realizing it. This true religious knowledge only comes by way of the Spirit (v. 23, cf. 3:3-8).
    • John 8:32—”and you will know the truth and the truth will make/set you free”. I discuss this verse in a separate pair of notes. For the idiom of knowing the truth, cf. above.
    • John 14:4-7—all of the important terms and motifs of knowledge and seeing, the relation between Father and Son (and the believer), etc., are encapsulated in this sequence of verses, centered around Jesus’ famous declaration: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life—no one comes toward the Father if not through me”. Knowledge of the way (o(do/$) which leads to God and (eternal) life involves knowing/seeing the Son who manifests the Father. Cf. my notes on this passage.
    • John 17:3—the declaration by Jesus in this verse is perhaps the most explicitly “gnostic” soteriological formulation in the New Testament (cf. the separate study):
      “And this is the life of (the) Ages [i.e. eternal life]: that they should know You the only true God and the (one) whom You se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed”.
    • 1 John 4:7—I include this verse because of the close connection it gives between knowing God and coming to be born from Him, drawing upon the distinctly Johannine relationship between spiritual birth (regeneration) and salvation (cf. John 1:9-13; 3:1-21, etc).

A gnostic approach in the New Testament?

Based on a number of the passages cited and discussed above, a strong argument can be made that there is, indeed, a gnostic component to the view of salvation expressed in the New Testament, especially within the Pauline and Johannine writings. At the same time, however, several other aspects of early Christian thought serve as a check or counterbalance toward the development of any (exaggerated) gnostic tendencies. Here, in conclusion of this article, I highlight what are probably the three most important elements in the New Testament in this regard, each of which will be discussed at different points in the remaining notes and articles of this series:

  • The emphasis on trust/faith—Much moreso than knowledge, salvation is expressed in terms of trust (pi/sti$), specifically trust in Christ as the means and embodiment of the (way of) salvation provided by God. When Jesus speaks of being “saved” by trust, it is usually in the context of physical healing (i.e., trust that Jesus has the power to heal); but, occasionally, the reference is to salvation from sin or eschatological salvation (Lk 7:50). In the early Gospel preaching and in the subsequent writings, it is trust/faith in the person and work of Jesus which is in view. This is especially prominent in the Pauline writings—cf. 2 Thess 2:12; 1 Cor 1:21; Gal 2:16ff; Rom 3:21-22; 10:9-13; Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 3:15; 1 Tim 4:10—and is ultimately expressed through the developed Pauline concept of “justification” by faith (Gal 2:16-21; 3:6-14, 21-22ff; 5:4-6; Phil 3:9; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:4-7, and frequently throughout Romans). Ephesians 2:8 provides the most explicit statement:
    “For by (the) favor (of God) you are (one)s (who) have come to be saved, through trust; and this (comes) not out of you (yourselves), but (is) the present/gift of God…”
  • The person of Christ, and the believers’ union with him—While a central savior figure, who reveals the knowledge of salvation, is common to gnostic (and Gnostic) thought, the primacy and centrality of Christ in the New Testament and early (orthodox) Christianity is especially significant. Salvation comes through knowing Christ, as poignantly expressed by Paul in Phil 3:8-10 (cf. the note on this passage). An even stronger Christological aspect of salvation is found in Col 1:26-27 and 2:2-3 (also discussed in a separate study). This orientation is still more pronounced in the Gospel and letters of John, as will be discussed in a separate article. It is no coincidence that the disputes between (proto-)Orthodox and Gnostic Christians of the 2nd and 3rd centuries tended to be christological in nature—that is, precisely how one should properly regard Jesus Christ as the Savior. The presentation of Jesus in the Pauline and Johannine writings could easily be interpreted in a decidedly gnostic manner. It is possible that 1 John already shows this dynamic at work (cf. 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:6-12), and the attempt to combat it.
  • The emphasis on love—The “love command (or principle)” is fundamental to early Christianity, normative for guiding behavior and relationships within the Community. It derives from Jesus’ teaching and has special prominence even in those writings (i.e. the Pauline and Johannine) which exhibit the greatest affinity with gnostic thought. In 1 Corinthians, Paul goes out of his way to set love over against any exaggerated sense of (spiritual) knowledge—cf. 8:1ff; 12:31b-14:1a; 16:14. Here he is referring to knowledge as a (prophetic) gift of the Spirit, not in the fundamental sense of knowing Christ. Indeed, Paul would surely say that knowledge of Christ, for the believer, means being guided by his presence (through the Spirit), following his example, which is epitomized and demonstrated perfectly through love.

Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 1: “Gnosis” and related terms

This article will explore the usage of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis) and related terms in the New Testament. The survey will be divided as follows—

    • The verb ginw/skw
    • The noun gnw=si$
    • The Pauline usage
    • gnwri/zw and other terms
    • The Johannine usage

with certain verses discussed in more detail in separate notes.

The verb ginw/skw

The verb ginw/skw (ginœ¡skœ) has the basic meaning “(to) know”, generally corresponding to the Hebrew ud^y` (y¹da±). It often carries a very specific Christian (theological) sense in Paul’s letters, as well as in the Gospel and letters of John—which will be discussed in separate sections below. We can see something of this already taking shape in the early Christian tradition preserved in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts. Apart from generic use of the verb in the narrative context, the following passages and occurrences may be noted:

    • Mark 4:13; 8:17; 13:28f par—Jesus’ disciples are to know (that is, understand) the truth of his teaching “hidden” under the parables. This is emphasized especially in the saying in Matt 13:11 (par Lk 8:10):
      “To you [pl., i.e. the disciples] it has been given to know [gnw=nai] the secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those (others) it has not been given”
      This indicates that knowledge has been revealed specially to Jesus’ followers, but not to the rest of the people (indeed, to them it has been hidden). I have discussed this passage in an earlier note.
    • Mark 5:43; 7:24; 9:30; Matt 9:30; 12:15f; Lk 18:34, pars—Similarly, on a number of occasions, Jesus seeks to keep his presence, his miracles, and/or the truth of his identity, from being known to people at large. This is sometimes referred to as the “Messianic secret”, as it is emphasized, in particular, in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1:25, 34, 44; 3:12; 7:36; 8:30; 9:9, etc).
    • This idea is built upon in Luke-Acts, where the people do not recognize (know) Jesus, and even the disciples truly understand only after it has been revealed to them following the resurrection—Lk 18:34; 19:42, 44; 24:35, cf. also 2:43, 50; 9:45; 17:20-21; 18:34; 22:34, 67-69; 24:16, 31ff, and note also the usage in Acts 19:15. Related to this is the important motif of the disciples coming to understand who Jesus is from the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures (Lk 24:25-27, 32, 44-45f; Acts 8:30, etc).
    • The image of the disciples (believers) being known by Jesus and by God the Father (Matt 7:23; 12:33 par). With regard to the latter, early tradition draws upon the older concept of God knowing the heartLk 16:15; Acts 1:24; 15:8, cf. also Mk 2:8; 7:6 par; Matt 15:8; Lk 24:38. Jesus’ special knowledge regarding his followers takes on distinctive meaning in the Gospel of John (cf. below), but it is suggested also at many points in the Synoptics.
    • The reverse image, of believers knowing God and His will, is mentioned several times, though in rather conventional terms (Lk 12:46-48; Acts 22:14, etc). More significant is the idea of knowing God the Father as manifest in the person of Jesus. This is stressed frequently throughout the Gospel of John; less so in the Synoptics, but cf. especially the saying in Luke 10:22, which I discuss here in a separate study.

As far as the remainder of the New Testament writings, the significant occurrences of the verb are: Heb 3:10 (LXX); 10:34; and Rev 2:23-24. Especially worth noting is the citation of Jer 31:34 in Hebrews 8:11, since it gives expression to the distinctive Christian interpretation of the “new covenant”—that believers will be taught by God himself through the presence of the (Holy) Spirit.

The noun gnw=si$

The noun gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) is derived from the verb ginw/skw (above). Of the 29 occurrences of the noun in the New Testament, 23 are found in the Pauline letters (cf. below). Interestingly, though the verb is prominent in the Johannine writings, the noun gnw=si$ does not occur. If the Gospel and letters are combating some form of gnostic (or Gnostic) tendency, as many commentators suggest, the absence of this word could be intentional. Here is a brief summary of the relevant occurrences (the Pauline passages will be discussed in context further below):

    • Rom 2:20—the Old Testament Law (Torah) is said to contain “the shape/form of knowledge and truth”
    • Rom 11:33—”the deep(ness) of the wealth and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!”; this is part of the doxology that serves as the climax of chapters 9-11, drawn from Old Testament passages such as Isa 40:13 and Job 41:3(?) [cf. also Job 9:10; Ps 77:20; Prov 25:3]. I discuss this in a separate study.
    • Romans 15:14—Paul expresses confidence that the believers in Rome are “soaked (full) of goodness, having been filled with all knowledge, and able to bring things to mind (for) each other”. A similar idea is found in 1 Cor 1:5; 2 Cor 8:7; 11:6; almost certainly this knowledge is to be understood as something given to believers specially through the presence of the Spirit. It may also reflect the prophecy of the “new covenant” in Jer 31:34 (cf. Heb 8:11).
    • 1 Cor 8:1, 7, 10-11—Paul’s argument is based on the statement in v. 1, presumably reflecting the conviction of many in Corinth, that believers “all hold knowledge”. Again, this should be understood as a ‘gift’ of the Spirit for those in Christ. Paul, however, makes clear that knowledge (and the expression of it) should be guided by love (i.e. the ‘love command’).
    • 1 Cor 12:8—Here knowledge is specifically described as something given (as a favor/gift) by God through the presence and work of the Spirit in and among believers (cf. also 14:6). It is paired with wisdom (sofi/a).
    • 1 Cor 13:2, 8—Paul uses gnw=si$ is a comprehensive sense, comprising both ‘ordinary’ human knowledge and divine/spiritual secrets that have been revealed to Christians. All of which is far surpassed by, and subordinate to, the principle of love in Christ.
    • 2 Cor 2:14; 4:6—believers are given the knowledge of God through Christ, and, in turn, reflect the glory of God (and Christ); cf. 3:12-18. I discuss these two passages in separate studies.
    • 2 Cor 10:5—worldly attitudes and ‘wisdom’ are contrary to the knowledge of God (and Christ, i.e. the Gospel). This is parallel to the important line of argument Paul develops in 1 Cor 2-3 (cf. below).
    • Phil 3:8—again, the knowledge of Christ surpasses worldly/religious experience and status; this verse is also treated in a separate note.
    • Col 2:3—Christ is referred to as “the secret of God”, in whom “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away” (cf. the separate study). This verse stands between the important Christological section in 1:9-19, the summary of the Gospel in vv. 23-29, and the section 2:8-18ff where Paul contrasts the knowledge believers have in Christ with worldly/religious thinking (cf. also 1 Tim 6:20).
    • Eph 3:19—Here it is said that the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge (cf. 1 Cor 13, etc).
    • 2 Pet 1:5-6—Knowledge is treated as a spiritual virtue/characteristic of believers (cf. 2 Cor 6:6).
    • 2 Pet 3:18—Believers are called to “grow in (the) favor and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Yeshua (the) Anointed”.

The Pauline Usage

In addition to the noun gnw=si$ (cf. above), the verb ginw/skw occurs frequently in the Pauline letters, usually with a definite theological and/or ethical sense. The significant occurrences may be outlined as follows:

Knowing God and his will

    • Rom 1:21: context of “natural revelation”—i.e., knowing something of God’s nature and character from what is manifest in creation (cf. the use of noe/w in v. 20)
    • Rom 2:18: context of God’s will as expressed in the Old Testament Law (Torah) (cf. 7:1)
    • Rom 3:17: part of a sequence of Scripture citations (Isa 59:7-8 etc) indicating that human beings, under the power of sin, are unable to know and understand God properly (cf. also 7:7, 15, including the idea that one comes to know/recognize sin as such through the Law); for more on “knowing” sin, cf. 2 Cor 5:21 (with regard to Jesus)
    • Rom 11:34 (Isa 40:13): the inability of created human beings to know/understand the mind (nou=$) of God; cf. 1 Cor 2:16
    • 1 Cor 1:21: the world did not (was not able to) know God through its (own) wisdom and/or as part of God’s own wisdom (cf. Rom 1:21); I have discussed this verse in an earlier note
    • Gal 4:9: the two-fold aspect of knowing—believers knowing God, and being known by Him (cf. the study on 1 Cor 13:12)

Knowing, specifically in the sense of recognizing/accepting Christ (the Gospel)

Knowing God through the presence/work of Christ and the Spirit

The specific idea of knowing Christ
    • Phil 3:10 (cf. v. 8)
    • Eph 3:19: knowing the love of Christ (which surpasses all knowledge)

God knowing the hearts/minds of human beings (and his people)

    • 1 Cor 3:20 (Ps 94:11); cf. also 2 Tim 2:19 (Num 16:5?)
    • 1 Cor 8:3: connected to the love of believers for God/Christ (and each other)
    • 1 Cor 14:7, 9: knowing in terms of understanding what is said/spoken among believers through the Spirit (importance of order and proper exercise of spiritual gifts)
    • Gal 4:9: being known by God, with the implied sense of election/predestination

Believers’ faith, attitude and behavior being known (to Paul and others, etc)

Knowing another person (believer), in terms of Christ, Christian love, and/or the Spirit

For more on Paul’s use of other, related terms, see the next section below.

The verb gnwri/zw and other terms

The related verb gnwri/zw (gnœrízœ, “make known”) is occasionally used in reference to God’s manifesting or revealing himself (“making himself known”), closely connected with the idea of the proclamation of the Gospel. Of the 25 occurrences in the New Testament, 18 are in the Pauline letters. It is often used by Paul as a rhetorical phrase to place emphasis on a specific point of teaching or instruction—”let it be known to you, I make known to you, etc” (1 Cor 15:1; 2 Cor 8:1, etc). More substantially, it is used of God in two basic senses:

    1. God making known his nature, character, power, etc to human beings or in creation—Rom 9:22-23; also Eph 1:9
    2. God making himself known in the person of Christ and the Gospel, which has been kept hidden until now—Rom 16:26; Col 1:27; also Eph 1:9; 3:5. Specifically it is referred to as a “secret” revealed to Paul (Eph 3:3; 6:19), manifest further, through believers, to the heavenly ‘rulers’ (Eph 3:10)

Outside of the Pauline writings, the verb is found in Luke 2:15, 17; John 15:15; 17:26; Acts 2:28 (citing Ps 16:11); and 2 Pet 1:16. There are several important compound forms of ginw/skw and gnwri/zw which are used on occasion:

e)piginw/skw (with the derived noun e)pi/gnwsi$)

The verb e)piginw/skw essentially means to have knowledge about [lit. upon, e)pi] (someone or something). It can be used in the sense of (a) gaining knowledge, (b) recognition, understanding, or acknowledgement, or (c) having thorough or intimate knowledge. The verb is used with some frequency in the New Testament, often in the context of recognizing Christ—Matt 11:27 par (cf. the earlier note); 14:35; 17:12; Mk 6:33, 54; Lk 24:16, 31; cf. also Lk 7:37. On occasion, we also read of Jesus (and others) gaining knowledge of someone’s thoughts, or other ‘hidden’ information (Mk 2:8; 5:30; Lk 5:22). The idea of knowing and/or acknowledging the truth of the Gospel and Christian teaching is expressed in Lk 1:4 and 2 Pet 2:21, and frequently in the use of the noun e)pi/gnwsi$. The verb occurs 12 times in the Pauline letters, and the noun 15 of the 20 instances in the New Testament; this usage may be summarized:

    • Rom 1:32—knowledge of the Law of God (especially in the ethical/moral aspect)
    • 1 Cor 13:12—to know God fully (at the end time), even as believers are fully known by him (cf. the study on this verse)
    • 1 Cor 14:37—to know/recognize the inspired/authoritative character of (Paul’s) apostolic instruction (cf. 2 Cor 1:13)
    • 1 Cor 16:18—believers are to acknowledge/recognize those who minister in Christ faithfully (cf. 2 Cor 1:14, also 6:9)
    • 2 Cor 13:5—believers should (be able to) recognize the presence of Christ in/among them
    • Col 1:6—believers recognize the grace/favor of God shown to them
    • [1 Tim 4:3—believers characterized as those with knowledge of the truth]

The Noun—

Elsewhere, the noun occurs four times in 2 Peter (1:2-3, 8; 2:20), always referring to believers’ knowledge of God and Christ.

noe/w

The verb noe/w (noéœ) means to have (something) in one’s mind [nou=$], often in the sense of perceiving, comprehending, or understanding. It is used 14 times in the New Testament, including five important occurrences in the Pauline letters (but apart from Rom 1:20 [cf. above], only in the disputed letters):

    • Eph 3:4—Paul’s insight/understanding (along with the noun sunesi$) of the “secret” of God; cf. also 3:20
    • 2 Tim 2:7—believers given understanding from God/Christ (cf. 1 Tim 1:7)

In Hebrews 11:3, it is connected specifically with the faith/trust (pi/sti$) of believers. The verb a)gnoe/w indicates the opposite, i.e. being without knowledge. It is used specifically by Paul (16 of 22 occurrences in the NT), often as a rhetorical phrase:”do you not know”, “I do not want you to be ignorant (of)…” More substantive (theological) use is found in Rom 10:3; 1 Cor 14:38.

suni/hmi and su/nesi$

The verb suni/hmi means to bring (things) together [sun], i.e. in one’s mind. It likewise refers to someone perceiving and understanding (or his/her failure to do so); in the Gospels it relates to the people’s response to the things Jesus said and did (Mk 4:12 par [LXX]; 7:14; 8:17, 21 pars; Lk 18:34; 24:45, etc). The related noun su/nesi$ is more common in Paul’s writings, in a specifically Christian sense, though, apart from 1 Cor 1:19 (citing Isa 29:14), only in the disputed letters: Col 1:9; 2:2 (rel. to the knowledge of Christ as God’s “secret”); Eph 3:4 (the “secret” of Christ); 2 Tim 2:7. The verb is used in Rom 3:11; 15:21 (both citing Scripture), and in 2 Cor 10:12 and Eph 5:17. The verb sunei/dw (su/noida) has a similar meaning (“see [things] together”), but is rare in the New Testament (the noun sunei/dhsi$ being much more common). However, frequently knowledge is described in terms of sight and seeing, the Greek language coming to use forms of the verb ei&dw (oi@da) interchangeably with ginw/skw; this will be discussed in an upcoming article (Part 3, on Revelation).

e)pi/stamai

The verb e)pi/stamai literally means “stand upon”, usually in the sense of “set (one’s mind) upon”, and thus come to know and understand something, i.e. specifically to know something well. It is typically used in an ordinary sense in the New Testament (narrative); but note Heb 11:8; Jude 10, and the Pauline 1 Tim 6:4.

The Johannine Usage

The verb ginw/skw is used most frequently in the Johannine writings: 57 times in the Gospel, 25 in the first letter, and once again in the second letter—83 in all, with the Gospel and first letter accounting for more than a third of all occurrences in the New Testament. The related noun gnw=si$, so important in Paul’s letters, and in much of early Christian thought and expression, does not appear in the Johannine writings at all (on this, cf. above). On “knowledge” in the Johannine writings, this is discussed in more detail in a separate article and supplemental note.

It may also be significant that a number of the other compound or related words discussed above likewise occur only rarely (or not at all) in the Johannine writings. For example, e)piginw/skw (and the related noun e)pi/gnwsi$) does not appear, nor does suni/hmi (and su/nesi$), etc; the verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) occurs only three times, though these instances are important (Jn 15:15; 17:26 [twice]). All of this is surely due, in large part, to the relatively simple (and repetitive) vocabulary used in both the Gospel and the letters—the basic verb ginw/skw (“know”) serves to cover virtually the entire semantic range. In the case of the Gospel, of course, it is impossible to separate such usage from the complicated question of the relationship between the developed discourses of Jesus in John, and the generally simpler sayings, parables, and discourses in the Synoptics. The consistent vocabulary could reflect the original (Aramaic) of Jesus himself, or a layer of interpretive translation and editing by John (and/or the Johannine writer[s]). Given the close similarity between the language of the Gospel and the letters (esp. 1 John), the latter seems far more likely.

Supplementing the verb ginw/skw is the important use of verbs related to sight and hearing. Jesus in the Johannine sayings and discourses, repeatedly connects knowledge with seeing and hearing the Son, who, in turn, is faithfully presenting what he has seen and heard from the Father. This is a vital aspect of Johannine portrait of Jesus—the theology (and Christology) expressed in these writings—and will be addressed in detail, and with considerable care, through the articles in this series.