As I wrote a couple of months ago, I was particularly struck by this passage in 2 Peter 1:5-8. It could be viewed as God’s steps to success:
… make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At first reading, this passage seemed a bit confusing. If I had been Peter’s editor, I might have asked for a rewrite. How does adding knowledge (v.6) keep us from being “ineffective and unproductive” in our knowledge (v.8)?
Time to do a little research.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not a Bible scholar. I don’t understand Greek or Hebrew. But I am able to look up a word in a concordance. I discovered that the word translated “knowledge” in verse six isn’t quite the same as the word in verse eight. That one has a prefix changing the meaning to “full knowledge” and is often applied to God. That helps… a little. Having knowledge about Jesus is part of fully knowing Him, just as I can list facts about my husband, and that’s part of knowing him as a person.
Well then, what kind of knowledge are we talking about in verse six? Is Peter just telling us we need to know a lot of facts? Great! I love trivia, and with Google at my fingertips, I have access to more facts than I could assimilate in a lifetime! But somehow, I really doubt that’s what God is saying through Peter here.
One commentary I checked explained that the Greeks were really into knowledge. Their philosophers loved to claim access to hidden secrets, arcane knowledge that the rest of us riff-raff were ignorant about. But their kind of knowledge wasn’t helpful if you wanted to make it into the kingdom of God. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “… knowledge puffs up….” Being a know-it-all just allows us to go around feeling superior.
Next I looked to see what else the Bible has to say about knowledge. Once we get past Genesis (with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), knowledge seems to be a good, desirable asset. Proverbs is particularly big on its benefits; knowledge is equated with wisdom and discernment. Hosea 4:6 states, “… my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
This kind of knowledge isn’t just random information. It’s specific knowledge about God that He has revealed to His people, so that they can know and obey Him. We can be mis-informed. In Romans 10:3, Paul explains that the Jews were zealous for God (a good thing) but because they lacked knowledge, they missed their opportunity for righteousness.
If possible, it’s best to define a word by its usage in another book by the same author. Since we’re already in 2 Peter, we need to look at one more verse. 2 Peter 1:9 continues, “But if anyone does not have [these qualities], he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” Forgetting is the opposite of knowing. So maybe in this case it’s the knowledge of the gospel—that we have been cleansed from our sins—that Peter’s talking about.
Gaining this sort of knowledge can be tedious at times. While some people love to dig in and analyze verses and translations, others of us find it painful at best. I’m glad those gifted individuals share what they discover with the rest of us. Still, it’s when I discipline myself to sit down and ferret out truth for myself that I gain the most understanding. All of us can ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and learn the truth.
(Clip art licensed from the clip art gallery on DiscoverySchool.com.)