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Romans 1:18-21 appears to be saying "yes":

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (ESV)

But Matthew 11:27 appears to be saying "no":

27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (ESV)

Does everyone know God or not?


Related: Is God hidden or not?

5 Answers 5

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There is a noteworthy distinction of verbs: the lemma γινώσκω versus ἐπιγινώσκω, as listed in the following table:

Word Verse Lemma
γνωστὸν Rom. 1:19 γινώσκω
γνόντες Rom. 1:21 γινώσκω
ἐπιγινώσκει Matt. 11:27 ἐπιγινώσκω

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

Rom. 1:20
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.

Trench remarks,5

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


Footnotes

        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

References

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.

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  • 1
    Excellent. You could develop this further by continuing 1:20...*so men are without excuse.* Without excuse from what? From seeking to know this God who has made Himself known. IOW, since the Creator has made Himself known to every man, man should respond to this God, instead of seeking after other gods. Sep 21, 2022 at 10:09
  • Do you realize that epiginóskó and epignósis are also used in Romans 1? "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge (ἐπιγνώσει), God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;" 1:28 "Who knowing (ἐπιγνόντες ) the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them." 1:32 Knowing that now, can you still defend your position? Sep 22, 2022 at 19:57
  • Thanks for your time and your comments. I understand 1:28 as a rejection of the true knowledge (ἐπίγνωσις) of God. And since they rejected it, they must have had it prior. As for 1:32 to have deeper knowledge of God also involves knowing His judgement/ordinance. The verse states that pagans had deeper knowledge of God's judgement/ordinance, but again rejected it. How can we conclude that they only had common knowledge of God if they also had deeper understanding of His judgement? To me, it is a contradiction. Sep 23, 2022 at 0:00
  • On a side note. It were the Jews that knew God's judgement/ordinance, not the gentiles. Which is another proof that Paul used the Socratic method in this section. From the next verse on, he flips the narrative and goes after the self-righteous Jews Sep 23, 2022 at 0:01
  • [This answer is in the process of being edited.] Sep 24, 2022 at 18:15
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In Romans 1:18–3:8 Paul uses the Socratic method to show the lack of logic in the teaching of the Judaizers. The quoted verses are allusions to The Book of Wisdom chapters 13 and 14. That was the way the Jews thought about the pagans back then. At the same time thinking highly about themselves. In reality, even the Jews didn't know the true God. They knew about Him, but did not know Him. Paul is the best example of that. He was a highly educated Jew with an excellent knowledge of the scriptures, zealous and ready to kill for God. But like he says in the First Letter to Timothy:

12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. 17 Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

So Paul himself proves the truthfulness of Matthew 11:27 you quoted. He was spiritually blind until Jesus revealed to him the truth about Himself and the Father. Later, Paul was powerfully used to spread that knowledge together with the message of grace among the gentiles.

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It's a good thing Paul is talkative

This conundrum can be answered by considering the extra details cited by Paul - everyone has the ability to perceive the realities of:

  • God's power (e.g. through the natural world)
  • Divine nature (e.g. through moral intuition aka a conscience).

Everyone can see the evidence of the teleological and moral arguments for God's existence.

Not everyone knows Him in the manner described in Matthew 11:27 and, more famously, in John 17:3

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

This degree of knowledge/acquaintance is a work in progress for us. When we consider anyone we know well--let's consider especially someone we trust deeply--that level of knowledge didn't come by reading about them, and it didn't come as a single event, it was a process of acquaintance. A lifetime of commitment results in far greater acquaintance than casual observation.

To offer a very loose paraphrase into modern vernacular, this is the difference between "knowing" someone and "knowing of" someone. (e.g. I know of Buzz Aldrin but we've never met, and even if we had, I'm regrettably not one of his closest confidants)

--

Greek

The two verbs used here are related γινώσκω "ginóskó" (in Romans) and "epiginóskó" ἐπιγινώσκω (in Matthew). And although there is overlap in the meaning of these two words, I concur with Der Übermensch that the "epi" prefix serves as an intensifier.

Strong's offers the following usage for each word:

  • ginóskó: I am taking in knowledge, come to know, learn; aor: I ascertained, realized.
  • epiginóskó: I come to know by directing my attention to him or it, I perceive, discern, recognize; aor: I found out.

Note that ginóskó in Romans is in the aorist tense (epiginóskó in Matthew is not); for which Strong's suggests "I ascertained, realized". Paul's point is that physical & moral realities allow us to ascertain some basic things about God (not everything, and not the full scope of His plans & purposes).

To use my favorite Neptune analogy, humans were able to mathematically predict Neptune's existence before it was discovered by observation. People ascertained Neptune's existence prior to 1846 (Romans 1:21 knowledge); people just knew precious little about it (Matthew 11:27 knowledge) until telescopes & spacecraft provided direct revelation (Neptune source).

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Accountability

Paul is well aware that many did and would reject God. He acknowledges that everyone has access to the evidence he cites, but that some will reject this evidence is clear from both vs. 20 & vs. 21, e.g. they will be held accountable and "without excuse".

However, the New Testament does not treat knowledge as a binary variable: greater knowledge comes with greater accountability (see Luke 12:47-48), as evidenced by Judas being far more thoroughly disavowed by the Gospel writers than the Roman soldiers who carried out the crucifixion (e.g. compare John 17:12 & Luke 23:34). Judas knew better. A lot better.

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Conclusion

Paul makes a teleological argument and a moral argument using evidence to which everyone has access. That evidence manifests some of God's characteristics (powerful, just).

Jesus points out in Matthew (and John) that there is much more to His doctrine than just knowing some facts about the Father--we are supposed to come to know the Father as Jesus knows the Father. This aligns with James, who offered one of the New Testament's best examples of dry wit:

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. (James 2:19)

Knowing some facts about God is not enough; God has a much greater purpose in mind than simply convincing people that He exists.

1

I can say that I know Shakespeare in two senses: 1. that he is a great English playwright and poet whom, even before having read him, I respect, for so many intelligent and good-tasted people have praised him; and 2. that I have learned English, have read his main plays such as "Romeo and Juliet", "Hamlet" and "The King Lear", even read few of his sonnets. In the first sense hundred times more people know Shakespeare than in the second sense.

Similarly here, everybody knows that God exists through realization of the structure and intelligent design in the created world (1), but not everybody knows Him as having loved the mankind so much, as to send His only begotten Son for its salvation (2).

Thus, since there are many gradations of knowledge, then there is not any necessity of there being a contradiction.

-1

well there are different versions of knowing God.. but in the fullest sense.. no... the only people that fully know God for who God really is are those that keep his commands that teach of him and reflect him.. you have to walk in God's shoes to really know God and keeping his teaching like Jesus did is walking in his shoes.. what God teaches as a way of life is how God actually lives.. so when you keep his instructions of living you walk in his shoes and really know him, until then.. you don't really know God for who God really is.. And also biblically "knowing" someone means sex.. to know God in the fullest sense includes sex with God. for adam knew eve and had a baby.

Now it should be also explained.. everyone should know God exists.. but that doesnt' meant they can't be in denial and unbelief from lying to themselves.. Not knowing God is real is not an excuse.. the only way that happens if you hide from the truth and deny it and lie to yourself, distract yourself from thoughts you need to work out, etc.. so in a sense everyone knows God is real deep down.. but that's not the same as knowing God for who God really is.. really knowing his character and stuff.

Now there is another thing to discuss and that is that the word of God is written on our insides.. and the word is God.. Jesus is the word and the only way to be saved.. but most don't tell you.. Jesus is the moral compass in us all.. but to understand your moral compass requires consistant practice at obeying and understanding it and being honest about it and not slacking off for moments which set you back and corrupt your understanding of this.. in other words.. without the help of someone who already knows and practices it like Jesus, it's unlikely you will get it correct.. few people have such commitment and motivation and desire and faith that they can etc.. you probably gunna need Jesus' teaching from the bible to do it right.. and the longer you screwed off the more you mess up your moral compass and longer it takes to dedicate toward morals and truth to straiten it out.. but my point is this.. to some degree we all know God because he is that moral compass.. at the same time.. until you perfect your usage of such thing you don't fully understand it.

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