Truth, Understanding, Insight


20th August 2010, mgh


1) Gnosis and Epignosis

In an era with such resources, we have no excuse for spiritual poverty. There is increasing inequity between the few rich with knowledge of right and truth, and those who prefer to be ignorant. Let us be rich in the treasure that fails not and share this with others. Knowledge of right and truth is the only treasure we can share with others and still have more abundantly ourselves!

In 2 Peter 1:1-8, there there are two words used for knowledge.

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge (epignosis/full discernment) of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge (epignosis/full discernment) of him that has called us to glory and virtue:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;(gnosis/knowing)
And to knowledge (gnosis/knowing) temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge (epignosis/full discernment) of our Lord Jesus Christ.(II Peter 1:1-8)

The two words generally translated as 'knowledge' are 'gnosis' and 'epignosis'. Whereas 'gnosis' conveys the idea of just 'knowing', 'epignosis' is a knowledge that involves a 'full discernment', which is 'to become fully acquainted with' or to have a full understanding of something.

In the above introductory quotation, Peter develops a progression. There is the ultimate full and discerning knowledge that the faithful should hope to achieve. The first step is that of a general knowing and to this general knowledge, it is necessary to develop the characteristics that he lists: faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity/love.

The following are quotations that use 'epignosis', which is a full and discerning knowledge.

Paul's desire is that the Ephesians gain wisdom, understanding, enlightenment and a full understanding of the hope of their calling and the promises that are given to the faithful.

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge /epignosis of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, (Ephesians 1: 17-18)

In Ephesians 4, Paul warns them that their faith and understanding should be strong enough to stand firm against those who would try to deceive them and turn them from the truth of the Word of God.

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge /epignosis of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; (Ephesians 4:12-14)

In writing to the Philippians Paul prays that they will grow in knowledge and understanding. He says that may your love abound 'yet more and more in knowledge /epignosis and in all judgement;' Their knowledge had to grow, together with the development of acceptable personal characteristics. Knowledge and character depend upon a mutual growth as seen in the next passage.

And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge /epignosisand in all judgement; That you may approve things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1: 9-11)

To the Colossians, there is a similar plea that they should be 'filled with the knowledge /epignosis of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.' They should increase in the Knowledge of God.

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge/epignosis of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge /epignosis of God; (Colossians 1:9-10)

And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge/epignosis after the image of him that created him: (Colossians 3:10)

However there are some who never attain the knowledge, the 'epignosis', full knowledge. What they learn is not based on the scriptures.

Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge /'epignosis' of the truth. (II Timothy3:7)

Paul directs the Romans to the Law of Moses for an understanding of sin.

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge /epignosis of sin. (Romans 3:20)

Throughout history man has often devised his own religion without reference to Yahweh's laws. They create followings for their own gloryand to be praised of men. They may have a zeal but they do not have a true understanding of Yahweh's plan with this earth and mankind.

For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge/ epignosis. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:2-3)

The greatest Example

If we look for a guide, it must be Yeshua. As a twelve year old he sought knowledge. For three days his parents, after the Passover, looked for him, even having to return to Jerusalem from their homeward journey. How long had he been in the temple seeking knowledge and understanding? Obviously it had been a long time for a young boy to be studying the scriptures and searching for answers and questioning the 'doctors'.

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that you sought me? know ye not that I must be about my Father's business? (Luke 2:46-49)

Isaiah clearly states where understanding and knowledge are to be found, the Word of God, which only can give light and knowledge.

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)

It is recorded that the Bereans did this after listening to Paul and Silas. They searched the Scriptures with an open and ready mind trying to find proof and evidence that supported the teachings of Paul and Silas, and many of them believed.

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. (Acts 17: 10-12)

2) A problem Passage

Paul writing to the Corinthians says in 1 Corinthians 8: 1, that 'Knowledge puffs up'. Following on from our previous section this appears to be an extraordinary statement presenting a conflict with other sections of the New Testament.

The context and subject of this chapter are related to idols and things offered to idols. Knowledge here is 'gnosis', and a general knowledge (gnosis) about idols.

I Corinthians 8: 1-13

Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge (gnosis) puffs up, but charity edifies.
And if any man think that he knows any thing, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (I Corinthians 8: 1-6)

Paul states that idols are totally without power, but eating of meat that has been offered to idols can have serious consequences.

Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commends us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. (Corinthians 8: 7-8)

If a person who has the knowledge that idols have no power and eats meat in an idol's temple may not be affected by his actions but if he is observed by one who is weak in understanding, that weak brother could perish, becoming embroiled in idol worship.

Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.For if any man see you which has knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? (I Corinthians 8: 9-11)

Paul also explains this in Romans. He again uses the word 'edify'. In 1Corinthians 8:1, Paul says that love edifies when he states that 'charity edifies'. To understand about idols and offerings does not mean that one's brethren will also have that understanding. To place a cause for stumbling in their way is not an act of love. One must be aware of the consequences of one's actions and words. To act in an irresponsible manner and place stumblingblocks in the path of others is not the knowledge of full discernment, 'epignosis', to which the faithful should aspire.

Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eats with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumble, or is offended, or is made weak. (Romans 14:19-21)

In other words one person may not be affected by the eating of the meat, but a weak brother could be led astray into idolatry by such actions and could stumble and fall through the actions of another. The word 'offend' means to 'cause to stumble'. A person who attains a full discerning knowledge (epignosis) has a love and care for others and will consider the effects that their actions could have on others.

But when you sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world stand, lest I make my brother to offend. (ie stumble) (I Corinthians 8: 12-13)

The Parable of the Sower

This parable is recorded extensively in the New Testament in three of the Gospels and does have relevance to knowledge. The seed that was scattered was defined by Yeshua as the Word of God. (Matthew 13: 3-23; Mark 4: 2-20; Luke 8: 4-15) Those who are commended are those who increase in understanding of the Word of God, which is essential to their growth and they bring forth fruit and in turn teach others. The implication is that those who want to be accepted by Yahweh should endeavour by consistent reference to the Word of God increase in knowledge. This can be achieved by a regular reading of the Word of God and searching of the scriptures as the Bereans did in Paul's day. (Acts 17: 10-12)

This is not a new concept in the Bible. The Old Testament has many references to the importance of the acquisition of knowledge.

3) Knowledge in the Old Testament

The Psalmist wants judgement and knowledge and confesses a belief in Yahweh's commands.

Teach me good judgement and knowledge: for I have believed thy commandments. (Psalm 119: 66)

In Proverbs there are frequent references to the need to acquire wisdom, understanding and knowledge as essential characteristics of the faithful. And more than this it is necessary, to increase 'knowledge and discretion' in order to obtain wisdom. Fear and reverence of Yahweh is the first step in gaining knowledge, but the foolish 'despise wisdom and instruction'.

To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1: 4-7)

In Proverbs 2, there is an appeal to search for knowledge with a strong desire and through prayer. It is like the search for treasure. Wisdom and knowledge are from Yahweh who 'gives wisdom: out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding'. Where is this found? In the Word of God. The reward is salvation.

So that you incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yea, if you cry after knowledge, and lift up your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures; Then shall you understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom: out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He lays up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keeps the paths of judgement, and preserves the way of his saints. Then shall you understand righteousness, and judgement, and equity; yea, every good path. When wisdom enters into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto your soul; Discretion shall preserve you, understanding shall keep you: (Proverbs 2: 2-11)

These same ideas are captured in other sections of Proverbs.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Proverbs 9: 10. See also Proverbs 15: 2,7,14)

There is gold, and a multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel. (Proverbs 20: 15)

Without knowledge there is no salvation says Yahweh in Hosea.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that you shall be no priest to me: seeing you have forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.(Hosea 4: 6)
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

Jeremiah was told to give the nation of Israel this warning and condemnation.

But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people: and walk you in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward. Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers. Therefore you shall speak all these words unto them; but they will not hearken to you: you shall also call unto them; but they will not answer thee. But you shall say unto them, This is a nation that obeyed not the voice of the LORD their God, nor received correction: truth is perished, and is cut off from their mouth. (Jeremiah 7: 23-28)

To reject knowledge meant that the nation of Israel would indeed become a desolation and only a few faithful would gain redemption and ultimate salvation which was to come through their Messiah and Redeemer, Yeshua. This message still remains the same for those today who seek redemption in this modern world.

Yeshua accused the Jews, who did not accept him as their Messiah, of not knowing the Word of God. They did not recognise the miracles that Yeshua performed as the sign of his Messiahship and Yahweh's power working in Yeshua. They were supposed to know their scriptures but because they failed to recognise him, this was evidence that they did not understand their scriptures. He then warns them that they needed to “search the scriptures”.

But I have greater witness than that of John(the Baptist): for the works which the Father has given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father has sent me. And the Father himself, which has sent me, has borne witness of me. You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And you have not his word abiding in you: for whom he has sent, him you believe not.
Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. (John 5: 36-39)

For those who seek salvation, the message remains the same, “search the scriptures”, which is, the Word of God.

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