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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Know, Knowledge

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The Old Testament . The Hebrew root yada [ ], 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 (Jeremiah 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 (Jeremiah 22:11-14 ).

To know is to realize the loss of children (Isaiah 47:8 ), grief (Isaiah 53:3 ), guilt (Jeremiah 3:13 ), expediency (Ecclesiastes 8:5 ), conversion (Jeremiah 16:19-21 ), and judgment (Ezekiel 25:14 ).

The word "know" reflects a variety of skills and professional abilities such as hunting (Genesis 25:27 ), sailing (1 Kings 9:27 ), playing the harp (1 Samuel 16:16 ), professional mourning (Amos 5:16 ), and reading (Isaiah 29:11 ). It also is used to indicate the ability to distinguish between good and evil (Genesis 3:5 ; Isaiah 7:15 ), the left and right hand (Jonah 4:11 ), the wise and the foolish (Ecclesiastes 2:19 ), the desirable and the undesirable (2 Samuel 19:35 ), and life and death (2 Samuel 12:22 ).

The word "know" is used as a euphemism for sex and intercourse: Adam knew his wife Eve and she became pregnant (Genesis 4:1 ). Women who have "known" a man are no longer virgins (Numbers 31:17,35 ). 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 (Genesis 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?" (Genesis 29:5 ). The pual participle of the Hebrew word indicates a close friend (Job 19:14 ; Psalm 55:13 ), a neighbor (Psalm 31:11 ), a companion (Psalm 88:8,18 ), and a relative (Ruth 2:1 ).

Divine-human relationships are also expressed by this term. The Lord knew Moses very well—"by name" (Exodus 33:11,12,17 ). Moses sought a reciprocal acquaintance with God (Exodus 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 (Jeremiah 1:5 ). He chose Abraham to be the father of a great nation (Genesis 18:19 ). The statement of Amos 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 (Exodus 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 (Isaiah 1:3 ). More than instinct is intended here. Loyalty to the covenant is clearly in mind since the witnesses of that covenant are invoked (Isaiah 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 (Deuteronomy 11:1-25 ).

The New Testament . The Greek words commonly translated know are oida [ ] and ginosko [ ]. These words have the various nuances of meaning of the English word "know." They have been influenced by the Hebrew word yada [ ], 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 (Philippians 3:10 ). Failure to know Jesus as Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36 ) resulted in his rejection and crucifixion (1 Corinthians 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 Timothy 2:4 ; 2 Timothy 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; 6:2,3, 9,15; 9:13,24). 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 the Old Testament. He knows the human heart (Luke 16:15 ). He knows his children's needs such as clothing and food (Matthew 6:32 ). He even anticipates our petitions (Matthew 6:8 ). In fact, he knows everything (1 John 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 it is in the Fourth Gospel (2:25; 5:42; 6:64; 10:14; 13:1,11; 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 (Galatians 4:8-9 ). It is through the kerygma that humans can know God (1 Corinthians 1:20-25 ). Spiritual discernment is not the result of profane reasoning (1 Timothy 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 Corinthians 13:12 ).

Carl Schultz

See also Elect, Election ; God ; Knowledge of God

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 Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Know, Knowledge'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bed/k/know-knowledge.html. 1996.

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