Word Study: Knowledge

The original words are very rich. Most deeply and richly of all, we can know God personally.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New in Greek. Let’s do an old fashioned word study of the most common verbs and nouns.

Old Testament

The main verb is yada (pronounced ya-dah and used 956 times). Since it is so common, it expresses a wide range or meaning, like knowing or understanding. It is often paired with the verb for perception, as in a legal matter: seen and learned, for example. Eyes and ears are essential for acquiring knowledge—they are the gateways to knowledge. The heart is the place of cognitive activity of knowing. So we can know with our hearts. Most importantly, we can know God through the covenant relationship. God has revealed himself in this binding legal agreement. Finally, man can know woman by intimate relations; for example, Adam knew Eve (Gen. 4:1).

Another verb is bin (pronounced bean and used 171 times). It is most often used in the Wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), so the connection to wisdom and understanding. “It describes a depth of knowledge beyond mere awareness, but does not seem to describe a relational aspect. … Thus the alternate translations, such as “perceive” or “discern,” or gain insight,” may more readily capture the nuance of the term” (Mounce 757).

A noun is daat (pronounced dah-aht and is used 88 times), which is derived from the verb yada, and it means knowledge in all spheres of life, like moral knowledge, or it can mean abilities or skills; that is, you know how to do something.

New Testament

The Greek noun is gnosis (pronounced g’noh-seess and used 29 times). BDAG is considered the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it has these definitions: (1) “comprehension or intellectual grasp of something, knowledge”; (2) “the content of what is known, knowledge, what is known”; (3) “dissident variety of knowledge, knowledge”; this means the oppositions of so-called knowledge or seeming knowledge. Yes, we get our word know from the stem gnō-.

A verb is ginōskō (pronounced gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). It is so common that it is used 222 times in the NT. BDAG, considered the authoritative lexicon the Greek NT, has numerous definitions of the verb, depending on the context: (1) “to arrive at a knowledge of someone or something, know, know about, make acquaintance of”; (2) “to acquire information through some means, learn (of), ascertain, find out”; (3) “grasp the significance or meaning of something, understand, comprehend”; (4) “to be aware of something, perceive, notice, realize”; (5) to have sexual intercourse with, sex / marital relations with”; (6) “to have come to the knowledge of, have come to know, know.” (7) “to indicate that one does know, acknowledge, recognize.

A second verb is epiginōskō (pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard as in “get,” and it is used 44 times in the NT). In any case here are the basic meanings, depending on the context: (1) “know exactly, completely”; “know again, recognize”; “acknowledge’; (2) “know, learn, find out, ascertain; notice; perceive, learn of; understand, know, learn to know.”

A third verb is epistamai (pronounced eh-pea-sta-my and used 14 times), which means (1) “to gain a firm mental grasp of something, understand”; (2) “to acquire information about something, know, be acquainted with.”

The most common verb is oida (pronounced oi-dah and used 318 times). Believe it or not, the Greek is eidō, but in the perfect tense it is oida, and it means “to know.” Eidō is related to Latin video, which means “I see.” (We get our word video from the Latin.) Therefore, seeing and knowing are related to the word group. In any case, by the NT times, oida stuck as a separate form in itself, whether past or present tense. In the NT BDAG says it means: (1) to have information about, know”; (2) be intimately acquainted with or stand in close relation to, know” (Matt. 26:72; Mark 14:71; Luke 22:57; 2 Cor. 5:16); (3) “to know / understand how, can, be able” (with infinitive) (Luke 11:13; 12:56; Matt. 7:11; Php. 4:12; 1 Thess. 4:4; 1 Tim. 3:5; Jas. 4:17; 2 Pet. 2:9); (4) to grasp the meaning of something, understand, recognize, come to know, experience” (Mark 4:13; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; Matt. 26:70; John 16:18; 1 Cor. 14:16; Luke 22:60; Matt. 12:15; Luke 6:8; 11:17; John 6:61); (5) “to remember, recollect, recall, be aware of” (see 1 Cor. 1:16); (6) “to recognize the merit, respect, honor” (1 Thess. 5:12).

How does this post help me know God more intimately?

We can know a person, a thing, a fact, an abstract thing like math. We can also know people intimately, soul to soul spirit to spirit. We can even know God personally or know about him from a distance, like a theological truth. It is best to know him personally. Increase your prayer life. Get to know him intimately.


Works Cited

At that link, look for Mounce and BDAG.

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