Word of the Week
January 24, 2021
Doing Your Own Word Studies
You can study the Bible without knowing Greek. That’s how most Christians do it. Even a great Christian scholar like Saint Augustine disliked Greek, and worked in Latin when he was writing theology. But Greek offers advantages. It’s like switching from black and white TV to high definition color screens. You can see what’s happening either way, but it’s more satisfying to watch the upgraded medium.
You can learn to use proven techniques to study Greek words for yourself. Just go to the Ezra Project Web site and take a look at the new Word Study Course that will be available in its completed form by the end of January.
Ginōskō – Knowledge that Goes Beyond Information
We live in the Big Information Age. A 10-year-old with a smart phone has access to more data than you can find in the Library of Congress. One source estimates that Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft collectively store enough bytes to play 2.2 billion years of music.
We know so much, but I wonder how much we really know.
Social media gives the illusion of intimacy. You can be “friends” with thousands of people, sharing the details of what you ate for breakfast but having no actual contact with them.
We know so many, but I wonder how many people we really know.
Long before the Internet existed, the Bible dealt with a similar predicament: knowing God without really knowing God.
No question is more important, and we can throw light on the answer by considering the Greek words for “knowing.”
The New Testament employs two Greek verbs for “know” most of the time.
- Oida (about 318 times)
- Ginōskō (about 225 times)
Both words are translated as “know,” covering a broad range of possible ideas. With blockbuster words like these, a full investigation would flow into multiple chapters, so we will track one important line of thought.
The two words overlap quite a bit, and they often seem to be used interchangeably. But there are some differences in flavor.
Consider two kinds of knowledge:
- Knowledge of facts
You know that 2+2=4. This is a raw fact. It’s easy to learn, and once you master it, you know all there is to know about it.
- Knowledge of people
You know a friend in a different way. You know facts about them, of course, but that’s not all. You know a person because you have spent time talking and doing things together, building a relationship. It is knowledge gained by experience.
This kind of knowledge takes time and it is never complete. Even people celebrating their 50th anniversary can still discover surprises about their spouse!
The Greek word oida can describe either kind of knowledge, but it leans a little toward the knowledge of facts. It is related to the word for “see,” and it often describes the kind of knowledge that results from observation. You have seen the reality and know it to be true. In some cases, you know the truth because God has revealed it.
The word ginōskō, on the other hand, often describes the kind of knowledge involved in building an intimate relationship with a person.
- In fact, ginōskō is tied so tightly to relationships that it is used to describe the sexual relations between a husband and wife (Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:34).
- At the day of judgment, Jesus declared, many would claim to be His followers, but He would say “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). Of course, He knew the facts about them, but He had no personal relationship with them.
The apostle John loves to use ginōskō to describe this deeper, person-to-person knowledge that characterizes God. Jesus chose ginōskō to describe the intimacy between the Father and the Son, as well as the connection between Himself and His sheep.
I am the good shepherd: and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father (John 10:14-15).
More than mere acquisition of facts, this knowledge leads to love (1 John 4:7-8) and obedience (John 10:27).
Knowledge about God is important. We need to raise the level of biblical literacy in our day. But actually knowing God in a personal relationship is even more vital. How well do you know God?
When you study the big words of the New Testament, you may be in danger of drowning in information overload. There’s not time to look at several hundred verses, so you’ll trust what you find in reliable sources.
Words like these overlap in meaning, and the distinctions I’ve drawn here are only general tendencies. They don’t apply to every use of the words. However, you can gain useful insights by viewing verses with them in mind. 2 Corinthians 5:21, for instance, says that Jesus “knew no sin” (ginōskō). Clearly, He knew all about sin, but He didn’t have any personal experience with it.
Q: When Jesus told the parable about the kingdom of heaven being like a dragnet in Matthew 13:47, what kind of net was he talking about?
A: This is the only place where this particular kind of net is mentioned in the New Testament. It is a sagēnē, a net so large that it was hooked to two boats. The boats would drag the net through the water, picking up any fish in its path. It was the perfect picture to communicate Christ’s point, which was that the kingdom would include all kinds of people, good and bad – just as the net caught all kinds of fish.
Where did we get the word idiot? Join us next week to find out when being an idiot had nothing to do with stupidity.
©Ezra Project 2021