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In Matthew 11:27 (NIV), Jesus says

No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

However, in John 10:14 (NIV) Jesus says that people indeed do know him (the Son):

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—

Also, in Jesus' prayer in John 17:3 (NIV) he says

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

So why does Jesus say no one knows the Son except the Father, when he also says people can know him, the Son?

7 Answers 7

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Somewhat different verbs are involved in these verses. Specifically:

  • ἐπιγινώσκω (epiginóskó) occurs twice in Matt 11:27
  • γινώσκω (ginóskó) is used in John 10:14 & 17:3

The difference between the two is important in several contexts: ἐπιγινώσκω (epiginóskó) is an intensified form of γινώσκω (ginóskó) - the latter means to know generally or recognize, while the former means to know exactly and fully.

In this sense, the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus that no human fully understands except for the Father. Thus, Matt 11:27 is correct while John 10:14 and 17:3 also remain true. Note the comments of Ellicott:

No one knoweth the mystery of his person, his character, and dignity; no one knoweth what he has done, and what he is yet to do, for the salvation of the world; save the Father that sent him. “These words evidently declare that there is something inexplicably mysterious in the nature and person of Christ; which indeed appears in the most convincing manner, from the account elsewhere given of his Deity in Scripture.”

Barnes is similar:

No man knoweth the Son - That is, such is the nature of the Son of God, such the mystery of the union between the divine and human nature, such his exalted character as "divine," that no mortal can fully comprehend Jesus. None but God fully knows him. If he had been only a mere man, this language surely would not have been used of him.

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Your full question is a good one: “So why does Jesus say no one knows the Son except the Father, when he also says people can know him, the Son?” The answer lies in appreciating the different levels of “knowing” that there are in the Bible.

There is carnal ‘knowledge’ as happens in sexual intercourse (Matthew 1:25). This has got absolutely nothing to do with what Jesus meant, even though such an act is said by God to make the two "one flesh". Yet there is divine knowledge of the life growing in the womb, which is incredibly intimate but only known by God:

"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations" Jeremiah 1:5 K.J.V.

That is reminiscent of the wording used to describe the apostle Paul's calling to be minister of the gospel to the nations (Galatians 1:15). In both cases, the humans whom God knew and ordained before birth had no knowledge of God until years later, and even so, they were grown men before God's elective calling was understood and obeyed by them. Then they began to "know" God in a particular way, but not mere head-knowledge. That could be obtained by prophet and religious leader alike by studying the written scriptures. Yet Jesus castigated them for merely searching the scriptures without coming to him to have life (John 5:39-40 K.J.V.). They prided themselves on their intellectual grasp, and memory of, the scriptures. Oh, they knew lots about God, but they didn't know God as Jesus knew God.

How did Jesus know God? With a divine intimacy that no mere human has. That is why Paul explained that God separated him from his mother's womb "to reveal his Son in me". By divine revelation, he was stopped in his self-important tracks to have Christ revealed to him. He did not know who the glorious one was - "Who art thou, Lord?" - and the Son revealed the truth that gives eternal life, which enabled Paul to then know God as Father, and Christ as the Son.

Sadly, there are always people who think that study of the scriptures will enable them to know God and Christ, but they think that means head-knowledge; knowing things about God and Christ. No. Never. That is why a translation such as this is so gross: "This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ" (John 17:3 KIT). The ones who produced that version get all their followers to do rigorous study about the scriptures, yet 99% believe that they will never even see Christ nor ever be with him. Compare that with what the apostle Peter discovered in Matthew 16:16-17. Jesus rejoiced that his heavenly Father had revealed that divine knowledge to Peter.

So there we have two classic examples of the need for heaven to break through into a person's understanding before they can know God and Christ in a saving way; Paul had Christ's direct revelation; Peter had the Father's direct revealing. That's how both statements are true, and work together; "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (as your translation of Matthew 11:27 puts it.)

When we start with what God has already revealed to us, we should be spared stumbling around what humans think. Yes, there was human inability to grasp the enormity of just who Jesus was, and Jesus must often have sighed and looked disappointed with them. Yet Jesus told them, and us, plainly, that we must come to him, personally, in faith, if ever we are to know his Father in the only way that can save us from mere knowledge.

In the John 10:14 text you mention Jesus speaking of those who recognise him as their shepherd. They do so because they know Jesus gave his life for them, the sheep, so that when he speaks, his voice is recognised by them as the voice of their shepherd, unlike false shepherds who abandon the flock. They know Jesus is always with them, guiding them (even now he is in glory in heaven).

The knowledge the Father and the Son have is unique, due to their unique relationship. That is what accounts for what Jesus was driving at. Of course, until he arose in triumph from the grave, they were lacking the full, divine revelation of the Son being declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection - Romans 1:3-4. Then the full impact of that (and, hence, Peter's declaration pre-resurrection, of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God) came home to stay. Then believers had the indwelling Holy Spirit uniting them to their risen Lord. Then believers will go to be with their Lord in heavenly glory, the Holy Spirit bearing witness with them even now of this assurance Christ's resurrection gives them (Romans 8:1-27).

The "knowing them" that you ask about in Matthew 11:27 is not 'to know', ginosko; it is not 'known' - gnostos; it is not 'to see, have seen, known' - oioa oida; it is not 'to understand' - epistimai; it is 'to know fully about' - epiginosko. Just as "the fullness of deity" [i.e. the Godhead] dwells bodily in Christ (Colossians 2:9), so we are told in the next verse that those who belong to him "are complete in him" as he is their head. That is the sense in which Jesus spoke in Matthew 11:27. Because "all things are delivered unto me of the Father", that includes all believers who belong to him by faith. That is what brings them into a knowledge of the Father and the Son that goes beyond anything any human can attain to, for it requires the Father and the Son, in one Holy Spirit, to reveal such wonders to them.

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    Paul had Christ's direct revelation; Peter had the Father's direct revealing. Very edifying. And also the comment on ginosko, oida, epistimai and epiginosko. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 18:57
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A key to understanding the difference between Mt. 11 and the two quotes from John is context. Looking at Matthew's context, we see the quote as consistent with the immediate prior incidents, where Jesus repeatedly speaks of his deep disappointment at being misunderstood by humanity.

  • The chapter begins with even John the Baptist expressing a lack of certainty about Jesus' role: "Are you he who is to come or should we look for another?" (11:3) Jesus goes to list the works by which he should have been recognized and concludes with the reverse imprecation: "Blessed is he who takes no offense at me."

  • Jesus then bemoans the fact that his endeavors to spread the Good News have fallen on deaf ears: “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ (16-17)

  • Next, Jesus laments the popular misunderstanding of his and John's characters: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’" (18-19)

  • Then [Jesus] began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (20-22)

It is in this context that Jesus turns to his Heavenly Father as his only solace, even thanking Him for hiding the truth from the wise and revealing it to "infants." He then makes his statement as quoted in the OP.

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."

Matthew, looking back at the events from a generation later, emphasized that God had hidden the truth from world. Thus he portrayed Jesus rejoicing at the divine plan after experiencing human frustration at what felt like a failure to effectively communicate his message of repentance. This plan was known only to the Father and Son. At the time when Jesus spoke, it was not known to others. How the context given in the rest of the chapter show Jesus as desperately attempted to share his message and being misunderstood at every turn. As a fully human being, he must have felt completely alone except for God.

Just as the human side of Jesus experienced a moment of darkness in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion, so Jesus felt in this moment that no one could understand him except his Heavenly Father. Conversely, he also felt that no one except him, the Son, could know the Father. This was not said as a definitive theological statement by Jesus, but expressed his momentary sense of being misunderstood by all the world. However, in another sense, the divine plan of salvation through the Cross was known only to the Father and the Son.

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  • Thanks for the answer.
    – jjasper
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 11:12
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    In view of the OPs last sentence/question, when you conclude, "However, it is certainly true that no one knows Jesus in the same way that the Father does, and that no one knows the Father in the same way that Jesus does", have you not failed to deal with that Q? You only homed in one one aspect of what it could mean, humanly speaking; could you not add the unique difference deity makes to their relationship? I've only made 1 edit to correct a typo.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 13:18
  • I gave it a try Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 14:51
  • Noted..........
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 16:08
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As noted in Dottard’s answer, the word that is translated as “know” in Mt 11:27 (epiginóskó, Strong’s 1921) is not the same word that is used in Jn 10:14 and Jn 17:3 (ginóskó, Strong’s 1097). Though both reference knowledge that is gained through personal experience, epiginóskó means to know accurately or thoroughly (see how both words are used in 1 Cor 13:12). Of the forty-plus times the word epiginóskó occurs in the NT, Mt 11:27 is the only place where it explicitly references God the Father. Of equal significance is the fact that the only person that is said to know the Father in the sense of epiginóskó is the Son.

The text of Mt 11:27 forms a circular argument that loops back on itself. “No one knows the Son except the Father” leaves no way of fully knowing the Son except through the Father. “Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son” leaves no way of fully knowing the Father except by means of the Son. Together the two statements create a wall of inscrutability around the Father and the Son, one that cannot be forced from without, not even by the wisest of men, and the knowledge that is locked inside can only be revealed from within.

Jesus even says that God had hidden this knowledge from the wise and the learned while revealing it to infants and children (Mt 11:25). In a chapter about John the Baptist, his words are likely alluding to how John received knowledge of the Son while he was still an infant in his mother’s womb (Lk 1:41).

The extraordinary statements in Mt 11:27 raise a number of increasingly perplexing questions about the Son’s identity. Who is the Son that no one fully knows except the Father? How can he claim to fully know the Father, He who is the almighty and “unsearchable” God (Rom 11:33-34, Job 11:7)? And most mystifying of all, how does the Son have authority to reveal this knowledge to whomever he wants? “Either, then, we have here one of the revolting assumptions ever uttered, or the proper divinity of Christ should to Christians be beyond dispute” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, biblehub).

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There is no contradiction whatsoever: as John writes in the Prologue of his Gospel: “nobody has seen God, the only begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father revealed Him” (John 1:18), that is to say, we know God through Him letting us know God, for “has seen” in this passage is equal to saying “has known”.

However, this does not happen only in terms of Son’s mediation between us and the Father, so as to Him (the Son) letting us or vouchsafing upon us to know the Father but also in terms of mediation of the Father between us and the Son, that the Father lets or vouchsafes upon us the knowledge of His only begotten, co-eternal Son: “ “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44), or this famous verse: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven“ (Matthew 16:17). That is to say, neither the Father nor the Son need any mediation for knowledge of Each-Other, but humans need Their mutual mediation to know Them, and knowledge of one of Them necessarily implies the knowledge of the Other also - cf. John 14:8 “who has seen Me, has seen also the Father”.

Now, we see in Matthew 11:27 a complete parallelism, exclusivity and equality of the mutual knowledge of the Father and the Son, the epistemological equality necessarily implying also ontological equality, which means that both Father and the Son are God, for knowledge is an activity, and to equals in activity pertains equality in being/essence also, for rabbits cannot hunt buffalos, that dangerous activity being lions’ lot.

Thus to formulate or crystallize the answer to your question:

the mutual and reciprocal knowledge of the Father and the Son is complete, eternal, equal and infinite, whereas humans are possessing only a portion of this knowledge and only in virtue of Them willing and letting us to partake of and participate in this knowledge. Therefore the Father and the Son do not grow in Their mutual knowledge, while humans, and holy angels for that matter, constantly grow, in virtue of being creatures.

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As other answers state, there are two different words used:

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. (Matthew 11:27 ESV)
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me (John 10:14)
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

How these were understood during the Second Temple period, is seen from their use in the LXX:

epiginōskō
22 And Iakob drew near to his father Isaak, and he felt him and said, “The voice is Iakob’s voice, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 And he did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands, and he blessed him
(LXX-Genesis 27 NETS)

ginōskō
And I will take you for myself, as my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out from the oppression of the Egyptians.
(LXX-Exodus 6:7 NETS)

Obviously, Jacob knew both Esau and Jacob, but he did not recognize Jacob. The people would know the God who brought them out of Egypt, but soon after He did, they worshipped a gold calf, claiming it was that God. Like Isaac, they knew but failed to recognize. Thus, one could say the fundamental difference is applying what is known and not in a different type of knowledge:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one recognizes the Son except the Father, and no one recognizes the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me (John 10:14)
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

Like Isaac and those brought out of Egypt, it is possible to know yet fail to recognize.

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No one knows the Son except the Father.

The bond between the Father and son is unique. They alone share this intimate 'knowing'.

Jesus' prayer, as the OP points out, also signifies a great truth that aligns with the "No one knows the Son except the Father", and 'the Father the son'.

Jesus often stated that he was not here to do his own thing, follow his own will - but he wanted to do the Father's will instead. Only through this deep knowing, from which Jesus was able to trust, to love and to obey right up to death on a cross. He learnt this obedience from those things he suffered Heb 5:8.

Knowing who the Father was and that He had him in His care, Jesus was able to push through the many trials and temptations without sin.

There are many lesser ways to know a person that is not the same as Jesus expresses. However, this intimate knowing is also applied in another way - equating Jesus and the Father's knowing, with those of the sheep and their shepherd.

I am the good shepherd, and I know my own, and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father John 10:14

Jesus is praying to the Father (Matt 11:25) (who is also Jesus' God, John 20:17) and refers to the Father, as the only true God. Based on this intimate knowing we are told about quite plainly, we note that Jesus, speaking the truth, declares that he is not God, the Father alone is.

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3

That's why Jesus said what he did. If we retain the context of the passage, Jesus has made it crystal clear regarding the nature of God his Father, and himself, and we should not need to confuse the two.

Dottard's fine answer departs from scripture when he introduces the mysterious incarnation. There is no mystery, except from this imagined concept not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.

As noted in the comments below, "The Father is the one true God compared with false gods." This shows a faulty logic as it eliminates Jesus also being the one true God or the '(true) God the Son' which again, the Bible is eerily silent about.

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    You say "he also declares that he is not God". The Son is not the Father and Jesus said "I and the Father are one" John 19:30. Here "I" does not mean "the Father". The Father is the one true God compared with false gods. -1.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 23:28
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    Jesus explained 'one' so we don't need to make faulty conclusions about substance etc. "so that they may be one just as We are" John 17:11,22. Jesus calls the Father the only true God - the one he told Mary he was going to and still has in Rev numerous times. If he has a God he is not THE God. We must let the Bible interpret the Bible.
    – Steve
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 23:43
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    By "he also declares that he is not God" do you mean that "he also declares that he is not the [THE] God"?
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 23:44
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    No, clearly he told us the Father is THE only God. He cannot be too. However, if Satan is the god of this world, then Jesus is the god of the new world/age. But remains ever subordinate to his God having received everything from Him as noted in numerous places.
    – Steve
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 0:15
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    @Mr.Bond Jesus says "Destroy this temple and in three days "I" will raise it up." In Acts 13:30, we clearly see that he did not raise himself, but God raised him from the dead. (Check the Greek grammar.) This is strong evidence in favor of Jesus' "I" usage as being the Father's own wording.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 2:32

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