Knowledge; Full Knowledge: GNOSIS and EPIGNOSIS
2 Peter 1:8
2 Peter Lesson #025
December 5, 2019
“Father, as we come to You this evening, we recognize that we live in a dark, desperate world. It is a world without hope and that is walking in darkness. We, as believers, should shine forth as light in the midst of this wicked, perverse generation.
“Father, we pray that we might be challenged by Your Word. We know the only way we can truly shine forth and be seen as light is to be walking in the light of Your Word and let that penetrate our souls. We need to completely immerse ourselves in the Word so that the Word just permeates all aspects of our thinking and then God the Holy Spirit, will transform us face-to-face, growth-to-growth as we are conformed to the image of Christ.
“Father, we pray for our nation. We are in desperate need of a change of thinking. We have conformed ourselves to the thinking of Satan. We are walking in darkness. We are walking according to the prince of the power of the air. The trajectory over the last seventy-five years has been in the same direction. We desperately need a shift, a turn.
“The only real hope for us is Your Word. Father, we pray that we, as believers, will be involved, especially in local politics by voting and in national politics by voting. We know that while all of that is important, we know that the only thing that will ultimately transform the nation is the truth of Your Word, for that is the basis for genuine freedom.
“Father, as we study tonight help us to gain a greater appreciation for some things that we’ve learned in the past, things that we will continue to study, and help us to sharpen, tighten the focus of that which we have learned in the past that we may have a better perception of what You’re saying in Your Word. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles to 2 Peter 1. We’re at verse 8. We have spent the last three lessons dealing with the topic of spiritual life and bearing fruit, specifically, because of what is stated in the first part of 2 Peter 1:8.
In the second part of the verse, it states that if we walk by the Spirit we will be neither unproductive nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, we spent the last few lessons on what it means to bear fruit, to be productive, asking how that happens.
Now we’re going to see that this is related to knowledge. We’ve studied this before. We’ve had studies on knowledge, looking at the fact there are different words for knowledge in the Greek text, GNOSIS and EPIGNOSIS.
There are a lot of questions about what is the relationship between GNOSIS and EPIGNOSIS. What does GNOSIS mean? What does EPIGNOSIS mean? Many of us have been taught some details about this. What I’m going to say tonight is not going to necessarily contradict, but it will refine it. Some of you are going to have to unlearn some stuff. Others of you are going to pay attention to some things you haven’t heard before in this discussion. Most of you will wish you’d have three shots of expresso before Bible class tonight.
It’s a test to see if you can stay awake and concentrate and think through what we’re looking at tonight.
This is our passage. It starts off in 2 Peter 1:5–7. We went through these various virtues in the Christian life for these character qualities that are developed as we walk by the Spirit. There are various places in the Scripture where I pointed out where you have similar lists. They’re not exhaustive, but they describe key ideas, key character qualities, that we focus on this in application of Scripture.
When we apply Scripture, as we walk by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit will produce these qualities in our lives. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen from year to year, but one day you wake up and you realize there’s been some maturity that’s developed. You realize the Holy Spirit has produced some things in your life and you’re not doing the things you used to do. You’re not reacting to things the way you used to react. That’s spiritual growth. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Some people have gotten the impression that if they just confess their sins, it’s going to go “boom” and it will happen like that. That’s just mysticism and that’s not biblical. It’s line upon line, precept upon precept. It’s a little here; a little there, but not a lot here or a lot there.
If you’re not consistent—coming to class, reading the Word, day after day—it will take much, much longer. It takes time to immerse yourself in the Word. As Romans 12:2 states we’re not to be conformed to the world around us, but we’re born conformed to the world. We grow conformed to the world. It’s probably not until we get into our twenties when most of our bad habits, mental habits, physical habits, are well set before we begin to really get serious about the Word.
Then we have to unlearn all those bad thought habits, and bad action habits, and bad verbal habits which are sins. We have to start learning how to be disciplined in our walk by the Spirit.
The first three verses we looked at focus on those character qualities. Then in 2 Peter 1:8 Peter says, “If these things are yours and abound …” If you’re walking by the Spirit and these qualities are being produced in your life then you won’t be … The word there could be translated lazy, irresponsible, or unproductive.
You’re not going to be lazy, irresponsible, or unproductive because you’ve been walking by the Spirit, learning the Word, and applying the Word.
Then the verse goes on to say, “Nor will you be unfruitful.” We studied that fruit has to do with the spiritual qualities and spiritual characteristics. Fruit isn’t necessarily producing converts. It’s not how much money you give, how many people you bring to church, how many people are being converted, or how many people you give the gospel to. It has to do with that internal transformation into the character of Christ.
This fruitfulness, this productivity, is “In the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s really not the most helpful way to explain that from the Greek, but that’s what we have from the New King James Version.
It’s in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and in 2 Peter 1:9, we’re going to get into “For he who lacks these things is shortsighted—myopic, nearsighted, in fact the Greek word is the word from which we get the word myopic—even to blindness and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his own sins.”
In these next verses, 2 Peter 1:9–11, these are some proof texts for Lordship salvation and that your assurance is based on the fruit that’s in your life and not in the promise of the gospel. We’ll get into some interesting things there but tonight is sort of a standalone explanation of dealing with this word “knowledge.”
Slides 5 and 6
It says we’re not going to be useless, lazy, unproductive, or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here’s the word down in the lower right of the slide, EPIGNOSIS, which is the noun. It’s the object of the preposition EIS. Often when we see the word “in” in English that is frequently a translation of the Greek preposition EN, which, not always but sometimes, emphasizes means or instrumentality.
It would be easy to look at this in the English and say that we’re not unfruitful or unproductive by means of the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That would indicate that the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ that the EPIGNOSIS comes first and then the fruit bearing comes later.
It’s sort of a reverse. The process of growth involves getting knowledge, getting information under the Holy Spirt so you understand what it means. That takes time. It’s not a matter of just hearing something and saying that the pastor taught it so it’s true.
I would say that 99.9% of the time when people listen to me and say they agree with me and say it’s true, they’re not understanding it. It takes time to really think through these things. You have to go home and meditate on the Word and then God the Holy Spirit begins to build those connections.
That’s why you have Isaiah saying line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. It’s tiny steps. It’s incremental. It goes from factual information. Then you have this other word EPIGNOSIS. How does that relate to GNOSIS?
The first thing you have to understand is what this prepositional phrase means. It has the idea of EIS plus the accusative of a noun meaning producing an ultimate goal. Or it has the idea of in respect to or with reference to. Probably the clearest way to translate this is, “You will be neither unproductive nor unfruitful as you advance with respect to your knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s what I have down here in the box [in the lower right of the slide].
It relates to this process and that’s built on this kind of knowledge.
Let’s just start going through this as we look at some basic information. There are two words that we find in the New Testament. You have the Greek word EPIGNOSIS. This is a noun that occurs some twenty times in the New Testament. The verb form is much more than that and I’ll say something about that a little later on.
The cognate noun, GNOSIS, is used twenty-nine times in the New Testament. That includes the Gospels and the Epistles. That’s how many times it’s used. What you do in understanding the word is you look at how it’s used. You look at the grammar and syntax each place it’s used. You look at the objects of the noun, objects of the verb, what the noun’s related to, and what other nouns are there.
It’s really kind of an interesting way to do it. What we’re going to see is that GNOSIS is a broad term related to knowledge, related to facts, related to just information. But GNOSIS has a wide range of meaning. Every word does.
One of the big mistakes that has happened over the years is forgetting to understand each word in its context. How many times do you hear me talk about context, context, context? A word in Romans doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing that it means in Ephesians because the context is different. The author is using it in different contexts.
This is a real problem. A lot of people just say that a word just means “x” and that’s the meaning every time they see the word. How many times do you use words in so many different ways? For instance, think about the word trunk. What’s a trunk? I bet five different definitions, at least, are occurring to different people here.
You could have a trunk in a car. You could have a large storage or travel thing, like a suitcase, which is a trunk. An elephant’s nose is a trunk. You can talk about a main line of the telephone that’s called a trunk line. The word has different meanings.
If you just see the word trunk by itself, you may come up with any number of different things depending upon your background and what you’re reading into it. Context is what gives those words a different meaning. The same word can mean many different things in different contexts.
There are some words that are technical and these technical words like redemption, forgiveness, and propitiation are words that always mean basically the same things. But GNOSIS and EPIGNOSIS are not technical words.
They don’t mean the same things all the time. Sometimes they’re used interchangeably. The reason I’ve put them this way is that GNOSIS can sometimes mean the same thing as EPIGNOSIS. Maybe someone can think about this a little bit. Maybe I should have put them as overlapping circles and not concentric circles because sometimes EPIGNOSIS means the same thing as GNOSIS and sometimes it means something different than GNOSIS.
Most of the time it’s just a subset of GNOSIS because GNOSIS can be completely synonymous with EPIGNOSIS at times. At other times, it’s not. You have to look at the context and there’s a huge amount of debate over this.
Let me give you another example of how words change meaning. Hebrews 4:12. Most of you know it by heart, I think. “The Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of the soul and the spirit, the joints and the marrows, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
It pierces even to the division of soul and spirit. In that verse, “soul” is the word PSUCHE and “spirit” is the word PNEUMA, which are clearly distinguished. The Word of God distinguishes between those two as separate and distinct entities. As you’ve seen me teach, we talked about regeneration recently, the human soul was originally created with three components, body, soul, and spirit.
A lot of theologians disagree. They say all of these immaterial words for the different parts of man may emphasize different things but they’re usually interchangeably. Those who taught a strict dichotomy often acted like spirit always meant the human spirit, but you have problems with that. In James 2:26, James says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
That first part is what I’m looking at, “as the body without the spirit is dead.” Wow, that means that if I don’t have a spirit, then the body is dead. If you’re going to interpret “spirit” there to be the human spirit then you’re going to have a problem. If spirit always has to relate to the human spirit, that verse doesn’t make sense.
You’re going to run into someone who asks how you can hold to the fact we have a separate soul and a separate human spirit when you look at James 2:26 and you’re going to go, “Oh, I don’t know.” This word PNEUMA isn’t a technical term. In some places it refers to wind or air or breath. In other places it refers to just a thinking, like a spirit or attitude of bitterness.
In other places it refers to a demon or an evil spirit. In other places it refers to something in man that is distinguishable from the soul, so that soul and spirit can be distinguished. But in other places soul and spirit are used interchangeably.
It’s possible that in James 2:26 that what James is saying is about NESHAMAH, the breath of God, that God gives breath to man and then he’s alive. It’s possible that instead of translating PNEUMA as spirit, it could be translated as breath. That would make sense saying as the body without breath is dead. That’s possible.
It could also be that the body without the immaterial part of man is dead. Either one of those would work. The point I’m making is that words can have a technical meaning in some contexts and in other contexts they don’t have a technical meaning. That’s what’s true about GNOSIS and EPIGNOSIS.
We have to be careful because sometimes people have taken GNOSIS and EPIGNOSIS to always mean the same thing and that can’t be substantiated. There’s been a lot of debate over this. It’s not unreasonable to recognize that scholars over the years have struggled with this and pastors have struggled with this.
You’ll hear some pastors who’ll say one thing and other pastors who’ll say another thing. What’s interesting is if you plug those pastors into the time in which they were educated and the time in which they had their ministries and you look at the progress of our knowledge of language and of words, that they fit perfectly within the days in which they wrote or taught or were in school because of the development of the debates.
I want to give you a little clue as to the debate that’s gone on in terms of the meaning of this word, because it will help us to think through what the Bible is saying and what the word means. On the one hand you had a man by the name of Bishop Lightfoot. Joseph Barber Lightfoot, the Bishop of Durham.
He was a remarkable Greek scholar with a phenomenal Victorian education in classics and in biblical languages. In many cases these men who didn’t have TV so weren’t distracted by all these distractions we have today, and by the time they were sixteen or seventeen years old, they were far more advanced in their understanding of the original languages than most doctoral students in Greek or Hebrew today.
They really knew this material and then they advanced far beyond that. We’ve talked about the Granville-Sharp rule. Granville Sharp was an auto-didact, which means he was self-taught in the language. He surpassed many of his peers in his understanding of Greek. They were just phenomenal scholars in the 19th century.
One of them was J.B. Lightfoot. He wrote a number of commentaries, such as on Philippians and Colossians, and in both of those Books you have the use of the word EPIGNOSIS. These are Prison Epistles. That’s going to be important to distinguish in a minute.
He says, “The compound EPIGNOSIS is an advance upon GNOSIS, denoting a larger, more thorough knowledge. Hence also EPIGNOSIS is used especially of the knowledge of God and of Christ, as being the perfection of knowledge.”
EPI is a preposition attached to the root word GNOSIS, so that preposition could be doing something to the root word, GNOSIS. It’s adding some dimension to it. In other words, Lightfoot is saying that there is a clear difference between the words EPIGNOSIS and GNOSIS, denoting a larger and more thorough knowledge. Hence EPIGNOSIS is used especially of the knowledge of God and of Christ, as being the perfection of knowledge.
That’s Lightfoot’s view, but Lightfoot was critiqued by another scholar of that time, another bishop by the name of J. Armitage Robinson. When I was in seminary I got Lightfoot’s commentaries and we looked at those. There’s so many advances in commentaries and the understanding of language from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. Robinson’s commentary on Ephesians was … If you’re going to have five commentaries on Ephesians one of them better be Robinson’s.
This guy is just brilliant in the Greek. Does that mean I agree with everything that he says in terms of interpretation? Not necessarily. But he was brilliant in understanding the grammar and syntax and he said that EPIGNOSIS is different from just a different kind of knowledge or an advanced knowledge.
He says that the preposition EPI means that it is “knowledge directed towards an object, perceiving, discerning, and recognizing.” Actually, as you think about those two things, they’re not that contradictory. You can say that there’s a sense in which that fuller knowledge is a result of the fact that this is a knowledge that really is focused on the object of the knowledge and perceiving and discerning things.
What I’ve learned over the years is that a lot of times in theology when you have people sort of saying something is either this or that, that sometimes there are elements of both. If you can put it together you can advance by saying there’s some aspects of both, so let’s put that together instead of just saying it’s either one or the other.
Robinson went on to say that the preposition is not the way Lightfoot took the preposition by making it intensive. He said that’s got an intensive sense, so it makes it a more intense knowledge. Robinson said, instead, it’s more directive. Now you tell me the difference between intensive and directive. I think it’s a little bit of both.
Robinson says “it prepares us to expect a limitation of the verb to a particular object. So when the word is used as “in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ,” it’s focusing the content of that EPIGNOSIS on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and advancing in that relationship.
That’s what he’s saying. It’s more focused in the particular context. He goes on the say that thus GINOSKEIN, which is the verb for GNOSIS means to know in the fullest sense that can be given to the word knowledge. As our understanding of these words has developed, that might not be accepted today but that’s where the debate was.
He goes on to says that “EPIGINOSKEIN directs attention to some particular point in regard to which ‘knowledge’ is affirmed.” To know something, you have to understand it. I’ve heard people come out of Bible class saying they agree with something. I ask them to tell me what it means and they give it back to me and I’m thinking, “Not only did you not understand it but you understood it 180 degrees opposite from what I said.”
I don’t know if that’s your fault or my fault. I’d heard people say they heard me say X, Y, or Z and I’m cringing. They must have taken a vacation in the middle of the sentence. To know something, you have to understand it, and we understand it more and more as we go along. It’s incremental. We understand it and then as we apply what we understand, in my opinion, that’s when it sort of makes this transition from GNOSIS to EPIGNOSIS.
What we’re going to see is that since it’s directed toward something, it’s more applicational. That’s one of things that we see. I’ve read until I’m crazy different word studies and work that’s been done in the last thirty years on this. There were some debates between some people back in the 70s and there were some scholarly articles written then that basically would have changed what the people said had they known those positions.
Usually an article is published in some obscure New Testament exegesis magazine. Back then you didn’t have things showing up on the Internet and on the web and on Logos within twenty-four hours. It was maybe two years before it showed up in a periodical and that was in the library. You had to wade through all those manual things in order to find articles.
It took time for published articles to really filter down and have an impact. Robinson says, “So far then as we are able to distinguish between GNOSIS and EPIGNOSIS, we may say that GNOSIS is the wider word and expresses ‘knowledge’ in the fullest sense [which would be in the sense of information]; EPIGNOSIS is knowledge directed towards a particular object, perceiving, discerning, recognizing: but it is not knowledge in the abstract: that is GNOSIS.” What he’s saying is that EPIGNOSIS is targeted knowledge which is directed towards a fuller understanding of the concept so it can be applied.
Dr. Hoehner, who I mentioned before on Sunday morning in Ephesians, was head of the doctoral program at Dallas and he was also head of the Greek Department for many years. He taught Ephesians exegetical classes for about forty years and wrote one of the finest commentaries. He says regarding the use of EPIGNOSIS in Ephesians 1:17, “It is to know God intimately. This corresponds very closely with Colossians 1:9–10 where Paul prays that they will be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding and further that they will increase in the knowledge of God.”
He brings in the fact that EPIGNOSIS has the idea of a more intimate knowledge of something. It’s not just an awareness of knowledge in the abstract, not just knowledge of facts and data, but there’s a deeper, more intimate, more targeted, more applicational sense to that particular word.
Things do move from GNOSIS in one sense in some passages to GNOSIS in other passages. Now there’s basically three views that have come out on this. One view that comes out if you’ve ever read or heard it referenced in a 10-volume work called The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament edited by Gerhard Kittel.
The articles on all these different Greek words were all written by different Greek scholars, most of whom do not believe in inerrancy, infallibility, substitutionary atonement of Christ, the deity of Christ, or the literal miracles. They’re a whole bunch of classic liberal theologians.
One of the worst was a guy named Rudolph Bultmann, who I would be surprised is in heaven. A lot of guys didn’t even understand the gospel. They are German scholars known for their ability to get down into the details and micro-information and do good work on words, but words ultimately have to be interpreted in a context.
Kittel, the editor, was also the editor of the Biblical Hebraica, who I had in seminary. He was a Hebraist. It’s interesting because he was a member of the Nazi party in Germany and a rank anti-Semitic and when an American scholar named Geoffrey Bromiley translated that 10-volume work of Kittel’s into English, he had to heavily edit out all of the anti-Semitism and ugly, horrible things that Kittel wrote. Most people aren’t aware of this.
I wish someone would write a book on all these tools we use, but this is something you just sort of pick up along the way as you hear different people speak and read different articles and there’s no one place you can go and find all this stuff out. You just sort of have to spend a lifetime studying and listening and hearing. Bultmann, I don’t know for sure, but he may be anti-Semitic. He’s writing in Germany in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s and Germany was just rank with anti-Semitism. Everything they say, I’ve learned, you have to be able to document and prove it somewhere else. So, his view was that there’s absolutely no difference between GNOSIS and EPIGNOSIS.
Then you had a second view that EPIGNOSIS is a mature or complete knowledge, a fuller or riper, more minute knowledge, and more spiritual knowledge. That was really like Lightfoot’s view and that was dominant. But Lightfoot was not the only one in that camp. There’s another series of commentaries on the New Testament by another Greek scholar named Henry Alford. It was one of the first sets I bought before I went to seminary and he said EPIGNOSIS means a mature knowledge.
Then [Alfred] Plummer, another 19th or 20th century scholar, says that EPIGNOSIS means a fuller, riper, more minute knowledge. So you see that this is one school of thought. If you were studying under some pastor who was influenced by those guys or that’s who he read, that would be the information you would get.
Lightfoot sort of changes that a little bit. He’s the one who emphasizes that it’s a completely different kind of knowledge. That was very influential and it filtered its way out in lots and lots of different commentaries. You have to understand this kind of background when you’re working through word studies.
Let’s just look at how these things are used. When Paul uses the word EPIGNOSIS, it occurs three times in Romans. Romans was written after his second missionary journey, so Romans is somewhat early. We’ll see that in this Book—Romans 1:28, Romans 3:20, and Romans 10:2—he uses the word very differently than from the way he uses it in the later Prison Epistles, when he’s in prison in Rome which is probably some ten to fifteen years later.
Then you have its use in these Prison Epistles: Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon. There it’s used in a completely different way from the way it’s used in Romans. Then you have the Pastoral Epistles and it’s used in a completely different way there.
So to go into like Ephesians or Colossians and see how Paul uses GNOSIS and EPIGNOSIS and come to your conclusions, they may be accurate, and then to apply that to how it’s used in 1 Timothy or how it’s used in Romans, is just an etymological fallacy.
Let’s just look at this a minute. Romans 1:28, “And even as they—that is those unbelievers who are suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness—they did not like to retain God in their—EPIGNOSIS.” See here it’s not talking about some kind of spiritual knowledge. It’s just probably talking more along the lines of their full understanding. It’s pagan. That’s the idea here—"God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.”
Then look at Romans 3:20. It’s a knowledge that is absent from God. “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” That again isn’t talking about a spiritual knowledge. It’s using EPIGNOSIS almost as a synonym for knowledge, to understand what sin is.
Then in Romans 10:2 Paul is writing about God’s plan for the Jews in the future, for Israel, and Paul says, “For I bear them witness that they—that is, these Jews—have a zeal for God—the Pharisees were zealous for God. They’re legalists and they’ve rejected God but they have a zeal for God—but not according to knowledge.” There Paul uses EPIGNOSIS in a different way than he used it in Romans 1:28 and Romans 3:20. We see that’s different.
Then we move a little farther into Colossians. Colossians 1:9 and Colossians 1:10. This is in Paul’s opening prayer at the beginning of the Epistle to the Colossians. He prays that his readers will be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. EPIGNOSIS here is related to God’s will. Knowing what? Knowing God’s will. It’s characterized by wisdom and spiritual understanding.
Here it’s clearly using EPIGNOSIS in an elevated and spiritual sense that is related to maturity. Colossians 1:10 says, “That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work.” That sounds very similar to 2 Peter 1:8. “And increasing in the knowledge of God.”
What’s the object of the noun EPIGNOSIS here? It’s knowledge about God and it’s something that increases. This is something that is positive as a result of spiritual growth.
Another verse is Colossians 2:2, “That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all the riches of the full assurance of understanding to the knowledge—so it’s a goal—of the mystery of God.” The goal is to understand the mystery doctrine in the New Testament, so it’s an advance in knowledge, “Both of the Father and of Christ.” So, this is related to Christ’s mission as the Redeemer and the Head of the church, which is in the context of Colossians 1. So here it’s an advanced spiritual knowledge.
Then we have Colossians 3:10, “Put on the new man who is renewed in EPIGNOSIS knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” So it’s related to this renewal which is tied to spiritual growth and spiritual advance. That’s in Colossians 3:10.
Then we look at Ephesians 1:17 and Ephesians 4:13. Some of these are parallel. We studied Ephesians 1:17 in our Ephesians series. Paul’s prayer, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation …” This is talking about the Holy Spirit, Who is the source of wisdom and revelation of God. “In the knowledge of Him.” That says “in the sphere of the EPIGNOSIS of God.” So, it’s not just GNOSIS, information or theoretical knowledge, but it is a more intimate, targeted knowledge that is tied to application.
Ephesians 4:13 says, “Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge—not just GNOSIS but this is a more targeted, intimate knowledge of the Son of God and it’s tied to maturity—to a perfect man …” The word TELIOS there describing man is a word that indicates maturity. So, here we see EPIGNOSIS tied specifically to a more intimate relationship with God, a more targeted understanding of who God is and it is connected to spiritual maturity.
Then we come to Philippians 1:9 where again Paul uses it in a prayer very similar to the Colossians and Ephesians context. He says, “In this I pray that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge [EPIGNOSIS] and all discernment.”
Here EPIGNOSIS is related not just to understanding but application of that in discernment. When we were studying in the previous section in 2 Peter 1:5–7, it talks about giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue (moral excellence), and to virtue knowledge. That’s GNOSIS, because it’s the foundation for any other application or targeted knowledge. Then self-control, to self-control, perseverance, to perseverance godliness and spiritual maturity, brotherly kindness and to brotherly kindness love.
This is connected to love being the evidence in John 13:34–35, which says that “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” That’s talking about an external evidence that people can see in your life. When we’re growing in Christ, our love abounds more and more in the sphere of knowledge, EPIGNOSIS, and all discernment.
Again, this EPIGNOSIS is used in relation to discernment, understanding, and wisdom. This is all advancing spiritually mature knowledge. Philemon 6 says, “That the sharing of your faith may become effective by the—translated in the New King James as acknowledgment, it’s EPIGNOSIS. It should be translated—by the knowledge of every good thing.”
The object here is not “of God.” The object is not “of Christ.” The object is “of every good thing” that is good and acceptable in the sight of the Lord “which is in you in Christ Jesus.”
What we see in the Prison Epistles is that EPIGNOSIS it used in this more directed, spiritually mature sense of knowledge moving beyond just information and theoretical knowledge and information. That’s what comes because the believer is walking by the Spirit and the Word of God is growing and producing fruit in a person’s life.
Now we’re going to shift to the Pastoral Epistles, such as 1 Timothy, which was written while Paul is in prison the first time in Rome. It’s classified as one of the Pastoral Epistles and later 2 Timothy is written while he’s in prison the second time and Titus is probably written in between the two.
What’s interesting in the Pastoral Epistles is it’s always knowledge of truth. What is truth? Jesus said to the Father to “sanctify them by means of truth, Thy Word is truth.” So EPIGNOSIS is tied to truth all the way through it. It’s related to the content of Scripture that is the basis for our spiritual growth, our spiritual life, and our sanctification.
1 Timothy 2:4, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It’s not just an understanding of salvation. It’s tied to that fundamentally in this passage, of how to be saved, but it goes beyond just simply understanding the gospel and being justified.
1 Timothy 2:25, “In humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.” Those in opposition might be other believers or it might be unbelievers so that they may EPIGNOSIS know the truth.
2 Timothy 3:7, “Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” You can learn a lot of facts and a lot of information, but it’s not related to the EPIGNOSIS knowledge of the truth. Then Titus 1:1, “Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness.” This is a knowledge of Scripture which is consistent with EUSEBEIA which I interpret as spiritual life, to be like God, to have that reverence and fear of the Lord which is the beginning of knowledge according to Proverbs.
Let’s have a conclusion here. EPIGNOSIS is generally more specific than GNOSIS, at least in many, many of its occurrences. It is a targeted knowledge. In terms of the debate, just to make a couple of points here, Robinson’s position is really stronger than Lightfoot’s position. You don’t need to get into all of those details, but basically what he’s saying is that what the EPI does is, in his words, is like a built-in arrow. It targets the knowledge in a specific direction in terms of the object, the knowledge of God, the knowledge of Christ, or the knowledge of Truth. That is as far as it goes, but even his view is somewhat lacking.
The second thing we need to remember is that no definition or use of EPIGNOSIS fits its every usage. You have to look at the context each time to understand what it is talking about. It’s different in Romans. It has a different association in the Prison Epistles and it’s always related to truth in the Pastoral Epistles.
So you have these three different emphases. It has different nuances at different times.
The cognate verb to EPIGNOSIS is EPIGINOSKO. It’s used 42 times, over twice as much as EPIGNOSIS and it’s spread out pretty much in the Gospels, but it has a variety of meanings. It can mean just to know information. It can mean to come to the realization of the truth of something. It can mean to learn something or to find out something or it can have a more advanced targeted sense. You just can’t take it and always factor in the same meaning in every passage.
A third observation is that the part Robinson emphasizes is a directed force. Perhaps a better term for that is direct application.
EPIGNOSIS is really related to being able to move from that theoretical information where it is now comprehended, understood, and it’s the result of meditation. I’m talking here about how it’s used in the Prison Epistles. Now it has a more applicational force in it. It’s definitely related to application.
One of the things I thought was interesting is that there’s a German commentator who wrote a two-volume work translated as Word Studies in the New Testament. His name was Johannes Bingle. When he studied this word, he connected it to having confessed sin. So, you’ve got all these different people bringing out different things they see from EPIGNOSIS in different contexts, but it doesn’t always emphasize all of those things but it ties many of these things together.
One writer in writing about EPIGNOSIS in 2 Peter emphasizes the fact that this is related to applicational knowledge. In conclusion, I tied this together just thinking about this. What does all of this mean? We’ve gone through all this data. Let’s just summarize it.
First of all, EPIGNOSIS seems to be in the arena of someone who is walking by the Spirit. That means there’s been cleansing from sin. That’s what we see here in 2 Peter. It’s somebody who is walking by the Spirit where certain character transformations are taking place based on this knowledge.
The second thing we can see that comes across, especially in the Prison Epistles and Pastoral Epistles is it’s the word of truth, it’s the foundation for spiritual growth. It’s the knowledge of truth, the EPIGNOSIS knowledge of truth and as Christ prayed, we are sanctified by truth. It has a significance in its foundation for spiritual truth.
Third, it has an applicational force. It’s directed toward specific biblical truth that is applied in a specific direction. What’s interesting is what we have seen has happened in using computers for language analysis in the last thirty years and that holds true for biblical knowledge.
Just to going through the literature on this now is just phenomenal. Just as you see these changes that have taken place in this matured knowledge of different words, you see that here. To think the fundamental way many of us have understood this, EPIGNOSIS is, in some sense, emphasizing the fact we have to have a more mature understanding of the basic information.
That matured understanding is directed towards application and that matured understanding is a result of walking by the Spirit holds true. It’s not something automatic. It’s not like since I’ve heard it and so I believe it it’s now EPIGNOSIS.
It’s much more complex than that. It’s much more dynamic than that. It’s learning it. It’s thinking about it. Maybe this week you get one very thin layer and next month maybe it’s another thin layer. Each time you learn something it sort of gets plugged in, and you think about it more, and you grow. This just reminds us that we have to be spending a lot of time reflecting upon what the Scripture says in our lives and what we’re learning in the Word.
We have to be reminded of these things all the time because the default position of our life is to go with the sin nature. Maybe you haven’t realized it yet, or you don’t want to admit it yet, but that’s our default position. It’s when we’re not walking by the Spirit, we default to walking according to the flesh. So, we have to constantly be focusing our mind on knowledge, the facts, the information of Scripture, and then the application of that. Of course, all of that takes place within what we studied in the last three lessons in terms of our walk by the Spirit.
I hope that hasn’t muddied the water too much. It’s a good clarification and understanding of what these words mean and to avoid just thinking, “oh it always means this when it’s not necessarily so.” These are words and words are dynamic and words are used in a lot of different ways in a lot of different contexts.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study through these things and to be reminded that the spiritual life is based on knowledge, it’s based on information, it’s based on facts. It’s based on understanding how these facts relate and correlate. Because everything in life is spiritual, to really truly understand and target this information in terms of application and spiritual growth means that God the Holy Spirit has to be involved in our process of walking by the Spirit.
“Help us to understand this and not minimize knowledge and not reduce or hold back on the time in which we read, study, reflect on the Bible, listen to good Bible teaching. All of that is absolutely necessary on a day-by-day basis.
“We pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.”