After an apologetics lecture last year, I was asked a good question. I had to table it for the time, went home, and researched just to make sure I’d give the right Scripture-based answer. What I found was awesome and encouraging, so I thought I’d share.
My assertion, based on the assertion of Paul in Romans 1:18-34, is that everyone knows the only living, true, and triune God (Yahweh). I stated that no one is ignorant of this truth, just that those in Adam willingly suppress this truth due to their sinful nature. Again this covers everyone throughout time and across borders. I also stated that unbelief according to Scripture is not “no-knowledge” in the sense of simply not having any knowledge, but a foolish suppression of the truth that is known (v. 18-20).
Now to the question. I was asked that if everyone knows God then what about 1 Corinthians 15:34?
“Become right-minded and stop sinning, because some people are ignorant about God. I say this to your shame.” (CSB, emphasis added)
Paul is speaking on the same issue as he did with the Stoics and Epicureans in Acts 17. In this context, He’s speaking to people who proclaim Jesus’ Lordship, yet are having trouble with the idea of the resurrection on the last day. He basically says to these people, who believe in Jesus and His work (the Gospel), that there are others who are ignorant about God. He shames these believers with this because this knowledge has been revealed to them by way of the Gospel, and they are not being consistent in their belief.
The issue is that this verse states that some are “ignorant of God,” and I had stated that people do not go to Hell because of what they don’t know, but because they rebel against what they do know¹. And again, according to Scripture, everyone knows of His existence. This sounds like either I’m wrong or there is a contradiction, but there is a great simple answer to this question. All we have to do is go to the Greek and let Scripture interpret itself.
The word for ignorance in this verse in Corinthians in the greek is ἀγνωσίαν (agnosian), which is also used in 1 Pet 2:15. This word is where we get our medical term Agnosia which is a loss of ability to recognize common objects (that is, a loss of ability to understand the significance of sensory stimuli e.g., tactile, auditory, or visual] resulting from brain damage)². According to Strong’s this word specifically means, “a willful ignorance.”³
Now, when we go back to Romans and read on in the passage (v 1:21-25):
“For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (CSB)
Paul asserts that all Mankind has become deluded. So like the medical term of the day, they have become unable to recognize, in this case, the truth of God. But it wasn’t by sheer accident, Man has willfully beat their head against the wall of God’s truth until they rendered themselves comatose and woke up with “no memory.”
So the simple answer is that anytime Scripture talks about unbelief or ignorance of God, it is not talking about not having any knowledge of God, but it talks about the foolish and willing suppression of truth that God has clearly made known to everyone.