To “Know” God in John 10:14-15 (Monday with Mounce 201)
If ever there were a word that cried out for a word study, it is “to know.” Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know (γινώσκω) my own and they know (γινώσκουσίν) me, just as the Father knows (γινώσκει) me and I know (γινώσκω) the Father”
If these two verses aren’t enough, then John 17:3 cements the deal:
“This is eternal life, that they know (γινώσκωσιν) you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.”
γινώσκω functions as the key term describing not only our relationship with the Son and the Father, but the Son with the Father and the Father with the Son. In addition, it shows there is a correlation between how we “know” the Father/Son and how the Son/Father know each other.
Please stop for a moment and reflect on that. It is overwhelming.
BDAG defines γινώσκω this way. “This verb is variously nuanced in contexts relating to familiarity acquired through experience or association with pers. or thing.” The important point to note is that it is a knowing that is relational and growing. It is not some fact we accept, but the kind of knowledge that is gained through experience and, if the context allows it, through intimacy.
Of course, γινώσκω does not always have deep theological meaning; that is a function of context. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that he is sending Tychicus to tell them how he is doing, that they may “know” how he is (Eph. 6:22). When Jesus was twelve years old and his parents took him to Jerusalem, they did not “know” he was not with them on the return trip to Galilee (Lk. 2:43). But in all these cases, γινώσκω describes a knowledge gained through experience, and so it is the right Greek verb to describe an intimate, experiential, growing knowledge of God.
In my expository dictionary it is defined this way. “John especially has a rich view of what it means to ‘know.’ When Jesus says he knows his sheep and he knows the Father, he is speaking of an intimate relationship that involves deep feelings of love (Jn. 10:14–15). Such a relationship leads to obedience on our part (10:27). ‘Those who say, “I know him,” but do not do what he commands are liars’ (1 Jn. 2:4; cf. 3:6). In fact, Jesus defines eternal life as ‘knowing God and Jesus Christ,’ which involves both faith in him and love for him (Jn. 17:3). By contrast, John makes it plain that the world ‘does not know’ God (Jn. 17:25; 1 Jn. 3:1).”
Periodically I like to read through the Bible with one topic in mind, looking for verses and teaching on that topic. Currently it is “discipleship.” What is discipleship? How do you disciple? What is the goal of the process? Certainly, to love God, love one another, and to grow up into Christ-likeness is the goal. But one way to express that goal is to use γινώσκω. To deeply know Jesus and the Father. To come into an ever-increasing familiarity with the triune God. This is what life is about, life now and life to come.
But the incredible promise of our verse is that the knowledge we are gaining, and will gain throughout all eternity, is in some way similar to the knowledge God the Son and God the Father have for each other, and in some way we are given the unfathomable privilege of sharing in that relational knowledge.
Among other things, this shows how damaging a transactional view of salvation is. If we think of salvation only as a singular event in time, as a moment-in-time transaction, we lose the richness of what God has for us. Yes, there is a moment in time in which we walk through the gate, but there is the path, the path disciples take, a path not only of challenges and persecutions (since the path is “hard”), but a path of knowing, of increasing in intimate knowledge, of sheep knowing their Shepherd’s voice and following him.
In some very real sense, our relational knowledge of God is akin to God’s knowledge of himself, and he is sharing that with us. Eternal life is to know God, a growing, intimate, experiential knowledge that will stretch into eternity, always learning, but always more to learn.
We will never fully “know” an infinite God, but we will spend an unlimited number of millenniums growing. So let’s start now.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.
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