There is a noteworthy distinction of verbs: the lemma γινώσκω versus ἐπιγινώσκω, as listed in the following table:
In Rom. 1:17, the apostle Paul discusses «τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ». According to LSJ, γνωστὸν can mean either “known” or “knowable,” which would be akin to actual versus theoretical knowledge. In addition, as the substantive τὸ γνωστὸν, it can refer to “the common knowledge.”
Here, it is referring to actual knowledge, hence “what is known of God” or “the common knowledge of God.” This τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, as Meyer notes, “excludes that which needed a special revelation to make it known” but rather “is derived from the general revelation of nature.”a Humanity is held accountable for τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ because it is evident in them (φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς) since God made it evident to them.
The apostle Paul explains how God made τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ evident to them — huamnity.
He states this common knowledge of God is evident (φανερόν) in them (ἐν αὐτοῖς) — humanity, because God made it evident (ἐφανέρωσεν) to them (αὐτοῖς). How so?
He elaborates that, from the beginning of creation, God’s invisible attributes (τὰ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ), both His eternal power and divinity (ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης),3 are observed (καθορᾶται), being understood (νοούμενα) by [seeing] God’s creations (τοῖς ποιήμασιν).
In other words, humanity has the common knowledge of the invisible God (i.e., His existence, and therefore, His sovereignty, providence, etc.) by seeing God’s visible creation.4
|20 For, from the creation of the world, His invisible [attributes], both His eternal power and deity, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made...
While the apostle Paul provides a basis for the common knowledge of God (τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ), he does not reason that humanity can known God intimately by those same creations. And, it is this intimate knowledge (ἐπίγνωσις) that the Lord Jesus refers to in Matthew by the related verb ἐπιγινώσκω.
Of ἐπίγνωσις, as compared with γνῶσις, it will be sufficient to say that ἐπί must be regarded as intensive, giving to the compound word a greater strength than the simple possessed; thus ἐπιποθέω (2 Cor. 5:2), ἐπιμελέομαι: and, by the same rule, if γνῶσις is ‘cognitio,’ ‘kenntniss,’ ἐπίγνωσις is ‘major exactiorque cognitio’ (Grotius), ‘erkenntniss,’ a deeper and more intimate knowledge and acquaintance.
No one has the full, initimate knowledge of the Son but the Father, and of the Father but the Son. But, the Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, reveals the Father to Christians,6 and by being “in Christ,” Christians increase in this intimate knowledge of God.7
1 Per LSJ, γνωστός, p. 355: A. known, A.Ch.702, S. OT361, Fr.203, Pl.Tht.205d, X.HG2.3.44, etc.; γνωστόν, τό, common knowledge
2 γνωστὸν, like γνόντες, is related to γινώσκω.
3 «ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης» is in apposition to «τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ».
4 In my opinion, not a particularly convincing argument. How do the physically blind obtain this knowledge of God’s existence if they cannot physically see God’s creation?
5 Trench, p. 285, § LXXV
6 John 1:18
7 Col. 1:10
Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; et al. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. with revised supplement. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.
Trench, Richard Chenevix. Synonyms of the New Testament. 12th ed. London: Kegan, 1894.