To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding.
Our culture is fascinated with four-letter words.
And believe it or not, the same can be said of the Scriptures. The Word of God places an incredible amount of significance on some simple, four-letter words.
Let me give you a quick example.
Show Me the Love
There are some four-letter words that will transform your entire life once you understand their meaning. “Love” is one of these words. In our culture you can love your wife, love your children, love your job, love pizza and ice cream, you can love Fluffy your new pet cat, you can love the way you look in a pair of jeans, you can love the meal you’ve just eaten at Cheddars, you can love the Carolina Panthers, you can love Johnny Depp movies, you can even love the deal you got on your new car. And in the English, all we know is that you have a really strong and intense feeling of affection for whatever phrase comes after the word love— even if that phrase ranges from your love for your children to your love of ice cream.
But in the New Testament we find several different Greek words used to describe different kinds of love. For example, you have the word agape which describes the highest form of love, the kind of love the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father (John 5:20). It’s the altruistic, self-sacrificing, accepting, benevolent, gracious, all-encompassing and all-giving love that is used in Scripture to communicate the love God has for His creation and for His children.
Next you have phileo which is defined as “brotherly love” or the love between friends. It means to have affection for someone, or to befriend someone. As a side note, God calls us to agape our enemies, to love them like Christ loves us in order to win them to Him. But He never encourages us to phileo our enemies, to befriend them. Why? Because “bad company corrupts good character” every time (1 Cor. 15:33). Remember?
Then you have eros, the intimate, physical, sexual love a man has for his wife. This is the root of our word, erotic. It expresses feelings of arousal shared between people who are physically attracted to each other.
We have three different Greek words used to describe in great detail the meaning of a simple, four-letter word. We enjoy and rejoice in, for example, the agape of God yet we would never agape pizza. We phileo our best friend, our college roommate, but would never use eros to describe that relationship. See the difference? Can you see how important it is to define and understand even our simple, overused, familiar four-letter words?
Let me show you how this plays out in real time.
Do You Love Me?
In the last chapter of John we find Jesus restoring His disciples, specifically Peter, and we have recorded a conversation where Jesus asks Peter, three times, “Do you love Me?” The conversation goes like this:
Jesus: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
Peter: “Yes Lord; You know that I love You.” (John 21:15).
Jesus: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
Peter: “Yes Lord; You know that I love You.” (John 21:16).
Jesus: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
Peter: “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” (John 21:17).
The third time Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him the Scriptures say: Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:17). Why? Why was Peter grieved? Was it because Peter didn’t think Jesus was paying attention to what he was saying? Or was it because Peter didn’t like getting grilled in front of his friends? Or maybe Peter wasn’t grieved, maybe he was just annoyed Jesus kept asking him the same question over and over again and didn’t seem to accept his answer?
Maybe. But maybe not.
Unless we understand the meaning of one, simple, four-letter word, we can come up with all sorts of reasons for Peter being grieved that are not true. But once we take the time to see what Greek words for love are used in this conversation, everything changes. Everything becomes crystal clear. There’s no longer any reason to guess or to assume, now we know. Here is their conversation in the Greek:
Jesus: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agape) Me more than these?”
Peter: “Yes Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” (John 21:15).
Jesus: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agape) Me?”
Peter: “Yes Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” (John 21:16).
Jesus: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (phileo) Me?”
Peter: “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileo) You.” (John 21:17).
Or, to put it in our language:
Jesus: “Peter, do you love (agape) Me like I love (agape) you? Do you love (agape) me with an unselfish and self-sacrificing love (agape) like I love (agape) you?”
Peter: “Uh, Lord. I love (phileo) you like a friend.”
Jesus: “Peter, do you love (agape) Me like I love (agape) You? Do you love (agape) Me with the highest form of love (agape)?”
Peter: “Lord, like I said, I love (phileo) you like a friend, like my best friend.”
Jesus: “Peter, do you really just love (phileo) Me like a friend?”
Peter: “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileo) You like my best bud, like my pal, my buddy, my homeboy, my BFF.”
Can you see now why Peter was grieved the third time Jesus spoke? The true meaning of some small, four-letter words can change our entire understanding of what the Scriptures truly say. And this is just the beginning.
Yada and Ginosko
Which brings us to another vital, four-letter word. And this word is know. To know how. To know what. To know something. To be in the know. To have knowledge. To acknowledge someone.
Again, there are several Greek and Hebrew words used to describe and define a clear and concise picture of what our single word know actually means. And until we unpack these words we’ll never understand the glorious depth of what the Lord is revealing to us in His Word. We’ll get lazy and let our English definition of what we think the word means cloud what truth He may be telling us today. And that would be a great shame.
In Proverbs 1:2 we read that one of the purposes of this great book is: To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding.
But what does the word, know (yada in the Hebrew and ginosko in the Greek) really mean? And does it matter?
Hang on, my friend. For tomorrow we’ll look at this powerful four-letter word and see exactly how the Lord uses it to give us a lasting understanding of what it means to “know wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:2) and also what it means when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:14).
- What does the word love mean to you?
- Can you use agape, phileo and eros to describe the different kinds of love in your life? Do you see the difference?
- Will you, from now on, circle the word love each time you read a passage and indicate for yourself what Greek word is used?
- What do you think it means to “know wisdom”? And how would you define wisdom?
- Can you describe a time when you felt God had given you His wisdom? What was that like? And if you have never had that experience, why not? Can you think of a reason God hasn’t given you His wisdom in a particular situation? And do you want that to change?
Next Step Challenge
Go grab a Word Study, like Vines or Zodhiates, or go to www.blueletterbible.com and do a simple, online word search for “know” in both the Old and New Testament. Notice the different ways the word is translated in the English. What does that say to you?
Then go to John 21:17 (see below) and notice the two different words translated “know” in this passage. What is the Lord trying to tell us?
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know (eido) all things; You know (ginosko) that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
Finally, look up the meaning of eido (1492 in Strong’s) and ginosko (1097 in Strong’s) and write this verse again using the proper meaning of the Greek words for love and for know.
Does this statement by the Lord seem clearer to you? Good.