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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Understanding

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UNDERSTANDING

1. συν-ιέναι, -εσις adj. ετός (priv. ἀσύνετος), to bring one thing alongside of another: (1) for combat; (2) metaph., for critical comparison, ‘to bring the outward object into connexion with the inward sense’ (Liddell and Scott), ‘to put the perception with the thing perceived’ (Grimm-Thayer), to ‘apprehend the bearings of things’ (Lightfoot, Col.). The typical passage is Matthew 13:19; Matthew 13:23, where the exact significance is distinctly brought out. The hearer ‘by the wayside’ differs from ‘him that was sown upon good ground’ in this, that the former ‘understandeth not’ while the latter ‘understandeth’—the former does not apprehend the bearing of what he hears on practical conduct, the latter sees the bearing and acts accordingly. The former ‘does not recognize himself as standing in any relation to the word which he hears or to the kingdom of grace which that word proclaims’ (Trench, Parables, in loc.), while the latter does so recognize. In Matthew 13:51, concluding the series of parables, Jesus asks His disciples if they have apprehended the meaning of all that He has said. In the same sense (Matthew 17:13) the disciples have, by the exercise of their critical faculty, recognized that in speaking of Elias, Jesus was in fact referring to the Baptist. Hence the contrast between συν. and other words—ἀκούειν, Matthew 13:13-15; Matthew 13:23, Mark 7:14, Luke 8:10, the sound of the word spoken falling on the ear contrasted with the exercise of such criticism as leads to the apprehending of its personal bearing: νοεῖν, Mark 8:17, perceiving contrasted with earnest reflexion. A comparison of Matthew 16:12 with || Mark 8:21 is interesting, Mt. representing the disciples as having recognized on further consideration, while Mk. gives ‘a stimulating question which leaves the Twelve to think out for themselves’ the comparison of leaven with teaching (Swete, in loc). Similarly, Mark 6:52 (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 , ‘considered’ Authorized Version ) of the miracle of the loaves and the walking on the sea; ‘debuerant a pane ad mare concludere’ (Bengel). Lk. employs the word less frequently than Mt. or Mk. In Luke 2:50; Luke 18:34; Luke 24:45, where it occurs in the narrative, the meaning of apprehending the significance of the word spoken, recognizing its tearing on the circumstances (the mission of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the sufferings), is apparent. He does not use the special thought in his account of the exposition of the parable of the Sower.

The privative adj. ἀσύνετος ‘without understanding,’ exhibits the precise meaning of the verb, Matthew 15:16, Mark 7:18. ‘The ἀσύν. is the man who lacks the discernment which comes from the due use of the illuminated intelligence’ (Swete). The positive adj. συνετός (Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21), Authorized Version ‘prudent,’ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘understanding,’ preserves the idea of critical comparison, in contrast with the more general intelligence denoted by σοφός; but the reference is to material not spiritual things: ‘the “wisdom of the world” which is “foolishness with God” [contrasted with] the “foolishness of the world” which is “wisdom with God,” on which St. Paul was so fond of dwelling’ (Farrar).

The noun σύνεσις occurs only in Luke 2:47, where the precise idea is implied of the growth of Jesus in the development of His faculty of recognizing truth in every aspect along with His growth in stature; and Mark 12:33, where, however, the reading is more than doubtful.

St. Paul’s usage of the word cannot he overlooked. It is in strict harmony with that of the Gospels. See especially Colossians 1:9, where he combines ‘understanding’ with ‘wisdom’ in his prayer, and Ephesians 3:4 of ‘the mystery of Christ,’ 5:17 of ‘the will of God’ (Ephesians 1:18 διανοιας is a disputed reading). See Lightfoot, Col., where Aristotle’s definition is expounded.

2. νοεῖν Matthew 15:17, Mark 7:18, Matthew 16:9, Mark 8:17, Matthew 16:11 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘perceive,’ Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14 (Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ), John 12:40 (from Isaiah 6:9) Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘perceive’: to perceive (1) with the senses, (2) with the mind. As distinguished from συν. it occupies a middle place between bodily sensation and critical apprehension. The first step is the sensuous perception (ἀκούειν, ἰδεῖν, etc.), then the mental act of attention to what is thus presented (νοεῖν), which in turn precedes the derivative critical act (συνιέναι), by which one is enabled to form a judgment on it. The process of digestion, the multiplication of the loaves, the passage read, the word heard, are objects first of sensation, then of attention, and lastly of reflexion, in order that their true bearing may be apprehended. Cf. 2 Timothy 2:7 and Ellicott’s note.

3. γιγνώσκειν is rendered by ‘understand’ (Authorized Version ) in Matthew 26:10, John 8:27; John 8:43; John 10:6; John 12:16 (cf. rendering of its privative ἀγνοεῖν in Mark 9:32 = Luke 9:45). In other cases γ. is rendered by ‘know,’ and it is difficult to find a reason for not adhering to that rendering in these verses. γ. differs from συν. in so far that while συν. generally marks an antithesis to sense-perception, γ. marks an advance upon it. Preoccupation with lower thoughts, self-complacency excluding apprehension of spiritual truths, present circumstances obscuring the full significance and necessitating a further enlightenment by new circumstances and prolonged pondering, hinder this advance. Only when these difficulties are removed can one come to know the higher aspects of the reality. (For the thought, compare John 2:22; John 13:7; John 14:26). ἀγ. (Gospels only Mark 9:32, Luke 9:45) preserves this idea of advance, ‘there was a Divine purpose in their temporary ignorance’ (Swete). The disciples were unwilling to admit the idea of suffering and death, and the rebuke administered to Peter made them afraid to ask questions; thus they remained ignorant for a time.

Literature.—The Lexicons and Commentaries, all of which refer to Lightfoot’s Colossians, 1:9; R. W. Dale, Week-Day Sermons (1867), p. 10.

R. Macpherson.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Understanding'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/u/understanding.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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