Several years ago, my wife and I were using our GPS in a large city. We were near a section of the city where two interstates converge with a few other roads. The GPS told us to turn left. The problem was that there was no left turn. My stubborn GPS couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t “proceed to the route.” My wife and I finally realized that the road we needed to be on was a bridge above us, and the GPS didn’t account for the recent road construction. Because we lacked that knowledge, our trip was much more difficult.
A lack of knowledge can make the Christian life more difficult. Moving through the virtues of 2 Peter 1:5-7, knowledge is the next virtue Peter mentions. With this virtue, we face a unique problem. Didn’t Peter say beforehand that his hearers already have knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 1:3)? If so, why do they need to acquire something they already have?
According to Peter, God has given us what we need for a godly life through knowledge of Him (2 Peter 1:3). Although the Greek word in verses 2 and 3 (epignosis) is slightly different than the word in verses 5 and 6 (gnosis), scholars debate whether the words themselves differ much in meaning. What we do see from the context, however, is that Peter is mentioning two different types of knowledge. Let’s call these “initial knowledge” and “mature knowledge.”
Initial knowledge is an acquaintance or basic understanding of Jesus Christ. It is essential in being a Christian. Peter prays that his hearers would receive grace and peace through initial knowledge (2 Peter 1:2). They have all they need to live a godly life in that knowledge (1:3). Later in the letter, we see that initial knowledge isn’t enough. You can have initial knowledge and still be useless and fruitless (1:8). You can have initial knowledge without even experiencing salvation (2:20-22), and, in this case, your situation is worse than if you never had that initial knowledge.
Mature knowledge is what Peter is talking about in 2 Peter 1:5. We can assume that mature knowledge includes the types of truths that Peter states or implies that his hearers know. What are these truths? The virtues are what help us finish the race (2 Peter 1:11-15). Prophecy from God doesn’t depend on human decision or interpretation — or, as we might say, the Scriptures aren’t negotiable (1:20-21). God has previously rescued the godly from trials (2:4-10, 15-16). Mockers won’t stop mocking simply because Jesus has come (3:3). The God who made the world will also destroy and remake the world (3:5-7, 10-13).
Peter concludes the letter by mentioning that growing in mature knowledge would keep his hearers from distorting Paul’s letters (3:16-18). How can we add mature knowledge to our moral excellence? Among other things, we add mature knowledge by reading and thinking hard about the Scriptures. We add mature knowledge by expecting our pastors and teachers to unfold the truths of God’s Word rather than telling us simply what we think we want to hear.
True faith leads us to thirst for that mature knowledge. Without it, the journey of the Christian life, like the trip my wife and I took, will be far more difficult.