Gnostic Doctrine

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

The Difference Between Gnosis and Epignosis?

 The Difference Between Gnosis and Epignosis?

As far as the words are concerned, they are both Greek nouns commonly translated “knowledge," gnosis and epignosis.

Both are related to the verb ginosko, which means “know; understand; perceive.” The way this verb is used in the Bible, though, shows that it can indicate a favorable relationship between the person and one he “knows.” (1Co 8:3; 2Ti 2:19) Knowledge (gnosis) is put in a very favorable light in the New Testament. 

For example, Peter exhorts us to "grow in knowledge" (2 Pet. 1:5-6), and the word is "gnosis". He assures us that if we follow his advice we will be "neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 8). But in this statement the word is "epignosis", and similar comparisons will be found elsewhere. The question is; What is the significance of these two words? And if we have "gnosis" (knowledge), when can we claim to have "epignosis" (deeper knowledge)?

Both words are derived from the verb "ginosko" which signifies the act of taking in knowledge, in such a way as to establish a relationship between the one knowing and the object known. For example: "This is life eternal to know (ginosko) Thee, the only true God and Jesus whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3).

In such a context, the verb implies the one knowing, and not merely an academic knowledge.
When the preposition "epi" is added to the noun or verb, transforming it into "epignosis" or "epignosko", it suggests a fuller knowledge or recognition of the object known. Hence the question posed us: When does one reach "gnosis" to move on to "epignosis"?

The answer, of course, is a matter of interpretation. Our opinion is that "epignosis" does not indicate an increased quantity of knowledge, but a fuller quality of it. "Epignosis" is the absorbing and manifesting of whatever knowledge the capacity of the individual permits him to absorb.

And capacity varies with the individual. Christ declared: "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 13:48). The liquid capacity of a glass may be half a pint or litre, and when that amount is poured into it, it has reached its full capacity. It would be folly, wasteful, and perhaps disastrous to try and pour two litres of liquid into it. So with ourselves. When we have reached full capacity according to our limited ability and are using that knowledge effectively, we have "epignosis"; even though our grasp of a subject is more limited than that of others.

However, not all that men may call “knowledge” is to be sought, because philosophies and views exist that are “falsely called ‘knowledge.’” (1Ti 6:20) The recommended knowledge is about God and his purposes. (2Pe 1:5) This involves more than merely having facts, which many atheists have; a personal devotion to God and Christ is implied. (Joh 17:3; 6:68, 69) Whereas having knowledge (information alone) might result in a feeling of superiority, our knowing “the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge,” that is, knowing this love by experience because we are personally imitating his loving ways, will balance and give wholesome direction to our use of any information we may have gained.—Eph 3:19.

Epignosis, a strengthened form of gno´sis (epi´, meaning "deeper" or “additional”), can often be seen from the context to mean “exact, accurate, or full knowledge.” Thus Paul wrote about some who were learning (taking in knowledge) “yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge [“a real knowledge,” TC; “a personal knowledge,” Ro; “clear, full knowledge,” Da ftn] of truth.” (2Ti 3:6, 7) He also prayed that ones in the Colossian congregation, who obviously had some knowledge of God’s will, for they had become Christians, “be filled with the accurate knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension.” (Col 1:9) Such accurate knowledge should be sought by all Christians (Eph 1:15-17; Php 1:9; 1Ti 2:3, 4), it being important in putting on “the new personality” and in gaining peace.—Col 3:10; 2Pe 1:2.

"Epignosis" is full-knowledge, or the fulness of knowledge. It is applying the substance of knowledge. Like ordinary food, it is not the quantity that we take in that counts, but the absorption by the body of the goodness of that which we consume, and which contributes to physical growth.

Consider the basic doctrine that God is one, and that we should "love Him" with all our strength. If we love a person sufficiently, we will enjoy being in his company, and we will extol his virtues to others. We will be anxious that he is well-respected by our acquaintances, and to that end we will introduce him to others, so that they may share our pleasure. Moreover, if our love is real, we will be longing and yearning after his presence, and moulding our lives so that we may appear attractive to him. So with the love of God. A person who truly loves God will yearn for fellowship with Him. He will strive to reach His holiness, knowing that it will please Him, in the same manner as he would pursue any object for which he feels a strong passion. He will find pleasure in studying the things relating to His majesty and purpose, in uttering words of praise to His name; and in occupying himself with the messages he has received from Him for his benefit and guidance. His feelings towards God will be like those of a lover towards the wife of his youth, or those of a father towards his child.


  1. I am studying 2 Peter 1, and the way I interpret 'gnosis' in 1:5 is the type of knowledge that comes by experience. For example, I can read a book on how to fly a plane, watch videos on how to fly a plane, write out all I have learned on how to fly a plane, but I don't "know" how to fly a plane until I've actually been in the cockpit up in the air. In that sense, 'gnosis' is more like 'tested knowledge', or experiential knowledge.

    It relates to 'arete' or virtue in the previous verse in this way: virtue is learning about what the Bible and the Holy Spirit say about morality (moral excellence), that is to say understanding what is good and what is evil in light of our faith in God, and knowledge is life experiences where that learning is applied (whether we apply it successfully or not). To make a case in point, it is easy to be good in church where we feel safe around other believers, but knowledge is applying goodness to difficult situations outside of church where we often fail to live up to God's standards.

  2. Knowledge probably means relationship. See the following examples:
    Phil 3:10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (NIV)
    Gen 4:1 Now Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” (ESV)
    Gen 4:25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” (ESV)
    Mt 1:24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (ESV)