How does one receive the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6)?
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s phrasing here implies, I think, that the light of knowledge (φωτισμός τῆς γνώσεως) is something that is already possessed by those in whose hearts God has already shined: For God … hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of knowledge.
It might be relevant to observe that the word “give” is not in the Greek text (πρὸς φωτισμὸν), so that a more literal reading of the verse might be something like shined in our hearts, for the illumination of the knowledge (Orthodox New Testament), or who did shine in our hearts, for the enlightening of the knowledge (Young’s Literal Translation). In other words, it is God’s shining in our hearts that gives us the light of knowledge of His Glory.
Perhaps it is also worth considering the meaning of the underlying Greek represented by the English word knowledge in virtually all translation. This word is γνῶσις – gnosis, which refers to what some lexicons translate as “esoteric knowledge.” It might be distinguished from ἐπιστήμη (episteme)1 – practical, factual knowledge.
If God has already shined the light of knowledge of His Glory, why might we feel it is lacking? Here I think we can refer to a preceding verse (v.3):
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In who the
god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not,
lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of
God, should shine unto them.
But what if one supposes that he or she “believes”, but still struggles to recognize the light of God within themselves? One might here then contemplate what it really means to believe (πιστεύω – pisteuō). The word in antiquity did not represent some abstract acknowledgement of facts, but rather full trust and faith in something or someone (in fact, “faith” and “belief” are indistinguishable in Greek – both are represented by πιστεύω). One must examine oneself closely, I think, and honestly assess whether one is blinded by the god of this present world - which, depending on one’s particular station, seems to be a god of self-centeredness, humanism, or ultra-rationalism (e.g. reducing Scripture to a collection of propositions from which to construct syllogisms).
The knowledge we are discussing is not something yet to be acquired, but is something that God has placed within us, but which needs to be uncovered. In the preceding chapter of the Epistle, Paul wrote (3:15):
Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken
In what does this turning to the Lord consist? I would argue that it consists in keeping the commandments within the gospel of Christ that Paul refers to. This is taught elsewhere in Scripture:
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and
make our abode with him (John 14:23).
As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I
have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love (John
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in
heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not
prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in
thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them,
I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew
Referring to this subject, the 19th century Russian spiritual writer, Ignatius Brianchaninov,2 commented:
From these words of the Lord it is evident that the commandments of
the Gospel must be so studied that they become the possession, the
property of the mind; only then is the exact, constant fulfillment of
them possible such as the Lord requires. The Lord reveals Himself to
the doer of the commandments spiritually, and He is seen with the
spiritual eye, with the mind. The person sees the Lord in himself, in
his thoughts and feelings, transfigured by the Holy Spirit.3
I think that all of the other allusions you include are relevant. What they have in common is that they refer the knowledge of God not as something to be attained, but rather as something that has been instilled within us, or at least presented to us, but is hidden until we make ourselves receptive to it. Commenting on the passage surrounding Matthew 13:15 (one that you cite), for example, the 4th century Church Father John Chrysostom4 wrote:
“It would have been fitting, then,” one may say, “to have opened their
eyes, if they cannot see.” Yes, if the blindness were natural, it
would be fitting to open them. But because it was a voluntary and
self-chosen blindness, He said not simply, “They see not,” but rather
“seeing, they see not.” The blindness is of their own wickedness.
1. This word appears only once in the New Testament, and that in a variant of Philippians 4:8, but it appears occasionally in the writings of the Church Fathers and over 60 times in the Greek Septuagint. It may be that in 1st century Koine Greek, γνῶσις came to represent both types of knowledge, just as English only has the single word “knowledge” (although other languages retain a distinction – e.g. Spanish conocer v. saber, German kennen v. wissen).
2. 1807-1867. Formerly a military engineer under the patronage of Emperor Nicholas I, he renounced his life in “the world” and became a monk and later a recluse. He is considered one of the most authoritative Eastern Orthodox writers of the 19th century.
3. The Arena (Holy Trinity Monastery, 1997), p.3 (The first edition of this book was originally published in India).
4. Born c.349 in Antioch, died 407 in Pontus. His authority as an exegete is respected by Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants alike.