In Scripture we see one of Paul’s prayers for the churches is that they grow in full knowledge of Christ and love of the truth (Phil. 1:9, Col. 1:9, 2 Thes. 2:10). Now, in English, we have but the one word, “knowledge,” to express this concept, but throughout the New Testament Paul uses two different Greek words, and both are a gift from God. The first is gnosis which signifies a general knowledge that enables us to come to Christ, understand His work, know the difference between right and wrong, and grow in the things of God. This gnosis is the beginning point for every believer, and Paul speaks of this quite a bit. However, when praying for the church, this is not the word Paul uses.
In praying for the church, Paul prays that we may come to and grow in epignosis. So what is the difference? Epignosis refers to a complete, full, precise, and correct knowledge of things divine and ethical. In other words, it is not enough to have a knowledge of Christ. We need to come into accurate knowledge of Him. This is a significant differentiation because it is one thing to know about Him, but to have a precise knowledge is so much more.
Paul addresses this in I Corinthians thirteen, verse twelve. “Now I ginosko in part; then I will epignosko fully, just as God has epiginosko me.” The prayer of Paul for you and me is that we move beyond a mere head knowledge of Christ, but into knowledge based in truth, and there is a danger for the Christian who refuses to grow in the epignosis of God.
I Cor. 8:1 explains that “gnosis puffs up,” and this can lead to all sorts of error. Indeed, the Gnostic gospels take their name from this type of knowledge where we keep God at our level, and we do not recognize that His thoughts and ways are higher than our own. These authors had just enough knowledge to be dangerous and fell into error regarding many things, including the resurrection, which led to blasphemy and heresy.
In Ephesians 3:17, Paul tells us that love transcends gnosis, which suggests that love is a fruit of having an epignosis of Christ. This is backed up by Paul’s letter to the Colossians in which he commends them for having the epignosis of God in truth (1:6), and their love in the Spirit (1:8). Then he continues to pray that they will be filled with the epignosis of His will and then grow in it (1:9-10).
If gnosis can puff up, then epignosis leads us to love, which according to I Corinthians 13 is not puffed up, but gentle. The point being is that gnosis can bring us to Christ; however, it is epignosis that enables us to walk worthy of and fully please Him. This is what I desire for myself, my family, and the Body of Christ – that we would come into a complete and correct knowledge of our Lord. My prayer is that we would know Him in truth so that our lives reflect Him correctly to the world around us, and that we may know Him as intimately and wonderfully as He knows us.