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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

As the apostolic writers dealt mostly with moral and spiritual matters, they usually spoke of ignorance in a sense that was not merely intellectual. Thus ( Ephesians 4:18) the ignorance of the Gentiles was associated with vanity of mind, darkening of understanding, alienation from God, and hardening of heart, in a way that linked it to the deeper faculties of the soul. Even νοῦς is the faculty for recognizing moral good as well as intellectual truth, and διάνοια includes feeling and desiring as well as understanding. Ignorance arose, according to the apostles, as much from the condition of the conscience and the spirit as from the state of the mind (cf.  2 Timothy 3:7). Holding this conception, the apostles taught that ignorance sprang either from the state of the heart or from lack of the Christian revelation. The latter condition was much dwelt upon, for to all the apostles the Coming of Jesus Christ was the shedding forth of so great a light that all who had not seen that light dwelt in darkness, while they insisted also that light sufficient was given in the world to learn about God, if only men had not been led away by evil desires ( Romans 1:20). Thus arose the ignorance of God ( Acts 17:23), the yielding to lusts ( 1 Peter 1:14), the rejection of Jesus of Nazareth ( Acts 3:17), and, in St. Paul’s own experience, the persecution of the followers of Jesus Christ ( Acts 26:9).

The double source of these sins of ignorance led to God’s method of dealing with them. As they arose from evil in men, they were not left unpunished by God ( Romans 1:28); but, as they were done in ignorance of the full revelation, they were ‘winked at’ or ‘overlooked’ by God ( Acts 17:30), or in the forbearance of God were passed over ( Romans 3:25). This passing over (πάρεσις) did not exclude punishment, and was not equivalent to forgiveness (ἄφεσις); but it prepared the way for repentance ( Acts 3:19) and for the receiving of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus ( 1 Timothy 1:13).

The densest ignorance came to those who had heard the gospel of Christ and had persisted in rejecting it, for on them the curse foretold by Isaiah was abiding ( Acts 28:26). Such people, whatever their superficial knowledge might be, were walking in such darkness that they were content to live in sin and to be guilty of hatred of their brothers ( 1 John 3:6;  1 John 2:11).

Even in the experience of those who had come to a knowledge of Christ as Saviour and Lord there existed much ignorance.

(1) If Christ Himself knew not the day of the Great Appearing, it was not to be wondered at that the times and the seasons for the coming of God’s Kingdom in glory were hid from His disciples ( Acts 1:7). It is evident from some of the apostolic writings (cf. 1 Thess.) that many believed that the Great Day was to come almost immediately, and were totally ignorant of the delay that was to ensue.

(2) Another subject of which there was much ignorance was the state of the dead. The apostles in their eschatology did little to dispel the darkness connected with the present condition of the dead. Sometimes they referred to the blessedness of those ‘with Christ’ ( Philippians 1:23), sometimes to their quiescence in a state of sleep ( 1 Corinthians 15:20), and sometimes to the activities carried on ( 1 Peter 4:6), but the intermediate state was comparatively uninteresting to the Apostolic Age, as their main thought centred in the Resurrection and the Parousia. Even with regard to these great events of the future there was not always assured knowledge; disciples of Christ were not only doubtful of the Resurrection, but even opposed to its teaching, and St. Paul laboured to dispel their ignorance; while many sorrowed about their brethren who had passed away as if they had lost the opportunity of being present at the Parousia of Christ, not knowing that both those asleep and those alive would then together meet the Lord in the air ( 1 Thessalonians 4:15).

(3) According to the apostles, ignorance could never be wholly eliminated from Christian life, while the circle of knowledge must be constantly enlarged. The apostles were never content to leave even the humblest Christians in a state of ignorance, and one indication of this desire may be found in the phrase that recurs so often in the Epistles of St. Paul: ‘I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren’ ( Romans 1:13;  Romans 11:25,  1 Corinthians 10:1;  1 Corinthians 12:1,  2 Corinthians 1:8,  1 Thessalonians 4:13). But the apostles acknowledged that ignorance was found even in the most mature Christian experience. Thus they taught that there had been revealed to all Christians the great end of their life, viz. the perfecting of salvation, but they indicated that there was constantly shown a real ignorance of what was needed at any particular crisis in life. Hence Christians knew not what to pray for as they should at particular moments ( Romans 8:26), but in this ignorance the Holy Spirit helped within the heart by unutterable groanings. Still further, Christian experience was limited by its own capacity in face of the boundlessness of the Divine attributes. The apostles proclaimed that the love of God was made known pre-eminently in the life and death of Christ, but there were depths in God’s love that could never be fathomed by human knowledge. Christians knew that love, but even at the end they had to confess their ignorance, for it passed knowledge ( Ephesians 3:19). The apostles had no hesitancy in believing in a real knowledge of God, but they declared that a complete or exhaustive knowledge lay beyond even the most mature Christian experience. The only thorough Agnosticism spoken of by the apostles was such as certain Corinthians were in danger of, according to St. Paul, and was associated with their low ethics, their heathen intimacies, and their disbelief in the Resurrection. These characteristics were liable to produce a persistent ignorance of God (ἀγνωσία θεοῦ,  1 Corinthians 15:34) which was shared with the worst of the heathen and from which they could be saved only by being aroused from the stupor of pride and sensualism.

D. Macrae Tod.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

IGNORANCE . It appears to be in accordance with natural justice that ignorance should be regarded as modifying moral responsibility, and this is fully recognized in the Scriptures. In the OT, indeed, the knowledge of God is often spoken of as equivalent to true religion (see Knowledge), and therefore ignorance is regarded as its opposite (  1 Samuel 2:12 ,   Hosea 4:1;   Hosea 6:6 ). But the Levitical law recognizes sins of ignorance as needing some expiation, but with a minor degree of guilt (  Leviticus 4:1-35 ,   Numbers 15:22-32 ). So ‘ ignorances ’ are spoken of in 1Es 8:75 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘errors’), Tob 3:3 , Sir 23:2 f. as partly involuntary (cf.   Hebrews 5:2;   Hebrews 9:7 ). The whole of the OT, however, is the history of a process of gradual moral and spiritual enlightenment, so that actions which are regarded as pardonable, or even praiseworthy, at one period, become inexcusable in a more advanced state of knowledge. In the NT the difference between the ‘times of ignorance’ and the light of Christianity is recognized in   Acts 17:30 (cf.   1 Timothy 1:13 ,   1 Peter 1:14 ), and ignorance is spoken of as modifying responsibility in   Acts 3:17 ,   1 Corinthians 2:8 ,   Luke 23:34 . This last passage, especially, suggests that sin is pardonable because it contains an element of ignorance, while   Mark 3:29 appears to contemplate the possibility of an absolutely wilful choice of evil with full knowledge of what it is, which will be unpardonable (cf.   1 John 5:16 ). Immoral and guilty ignorance is also spoken of in   Romans 1:18 ff.,   Ephesians 4:18 . For the question whether Christ in His human nature could be ignorant, see Kenosis, Knowledge.

J. H. Maude.

Holman Bible Dictionary [3]

 Leviticus 4:2 4:13-14 Numbers 15:24-29 Numbers 15:30-31 Leviticus 4:13 4:22 4:27 Leviticus 4:1 Leviticus 5:5-6 Numbers 15:30-31 Leviticus 5:18 Psalm 119:10 Job 4:4 Proverbs 19:27

The New Testament speaks of past ignorance which God excuses. Such was the ignorance of those Jews who participated in crucifying Jesus ( Acts 3:17;  Acts 13:27 ), of Paul who persecuted Christians ( 1 Timothy 1:13 ), and of Gentiles who did not recognize the true God ( Acts 17:30 ). Though God “winks at” such past ignorance, He requires repentance ( Acts 3:19;  Acts 17:30 ). Obedience characterizes lives of the converted just as ignorant desires characterize those without Christ ( 1 Peter 1:14 ). The New Testament speaks of deliberate ignorance as well as “excusable” ignorance. Most often deliberate ignorance involves the stubborn refusal to acknowledge nature's witness to the powerful existence of God ( Romans 1:18-21;  Ephesians 4:18;  2 Peter 3:5 ).

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [4]

The want of knowledge or instruction. It is often used to denote illiteracy. Mr. Locke observes, that the causes of ignorance are chiefly three.

1. Want of ideas.

2. Want of a discoverable connection between the ideas we have.

3. Want of tracing and examining our ideas.

As it respects religion, ignorance has been distinguished into three sorts:

1. An invincible ignorance, in which the will has no part. It is an insult upon justice to suppose it will punish men because they were ignorant of things which they were physically incapable of knowing.

2. There is a wilful and obstinate ignorance; such as ignorance, far from exculpating, aggravates a man's crimes.

3. A sort of ignorance which is neither entirely wilful, nor entirely invincible; as when a man has the means of knowledge, and does not use them.

See KNOWLEDGE; and Locke on the Und. vol. 2: p. 178; Grove's Mor. Phil. vol. 2: p. 26, 29, 64; Watts on the Mind.

King James Dictionary [5]

IG'NORANCE, n. L. ignorantia ignoro,not to know ignarus, ignorant in and gnarus, knowing.

1. Want, absence or destitution of knowledge the negative state of the mind which has not been instructed in arts, literature or science, or has not been informed of facts. Ignorance may be general, or it may be limited to particular subjects. Ignorance of the law does not excuse a man for violating it. Ignorance of facts if often venial.

Ignorance is preferable to error.

2. Ignorances, in the plural, is used sometimes for omissions or mistakes but the use is uncommon and not to be encouraged.

Webster's Dictionary [6]

(1): ( n.) The condition of being ignorant; the want of knowledge in general, or in relation to a particular subject; the state of being uneducated or uninformed.

(2): ( n.) A willful neglect or refusal to acquire knowledge which one may acquire and it is his duty to have.

Charles Spurgeon's Illustration Collection [7]

Payson well says,' Oh! when we meet in heaven, we shall see how little we knew about it on earth.'

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [8]

ig´nō̇ - rans ( שׁגגה , sheghāghāh  ; ἂγνοια , ágnoia ): "Ignorance" is the translation of sheghāghāh , "wandering," "going astray" (  Leviticus 4:2 , etc., "if a soul sin through ignorance," the Revised Version (British and American) "unwittingly," margin "through error";  Leviticus 5:15;  Numbers 15:24; compare  Numbers 35:11;  Joshua 20:3;  Ecclesiastes 5:6;  Ecclesiastes 10:5 , "an error"). In the Law sheghāghāh means "innocent error," such as had to be taken with consideration in judgment (see passages referred to). "Ignorance" is also expressed by the negative lō' with yādha‛ , "to know" ( Isaiah 56:10;  Isaiah 63:16;  Psalm 73:22 ); also by bi - bhelı̄ da‛ath , literally, "in want of knowledge" ( Deuteronomy 19:4; compare  Deuteronomy 4:12;  Joshua 20:5 , translated "unawares," "unwittingly").

In the New Testament the words are agnoia , "absence of knowledge" (  Acts 3:17;  Acts 17:30;  Ephesians 4:18;  1 Peter 1:14 ); agnóēma , "error" ( Hebrews 9:7 , the Revised Version margin "Greek: ignorances"); agnōsı́a , "ignorance" ( 1 Peter 2:15 ), "no knowledge" ( 1 Corinthians 15:34 the Revised Version (British and American)); agnoéō , "to be without knowledge," "ignorant" ( Romans 1:13;  Romans 10:3;  Romans 11:25 , etc.), "not knowing" ( Romans 2:4 , etc.), "understood not" ( Mark 9:32 , etc.), "ignorantly" ( Acts 17:23 , the Revised Version (British and American) "in ignorance";  1 Timothy 1:13 ); idiō̇tēs , translated "ignorant" ( Acts 4:13 ), "unlearned" ( 1 Corinthians 14:16 , the Revised Version margin "him that is without gifts," and so in  1 Corinthians 14:23 ,  1 Corinthians 14:14 ), "rude" ( 2 Corinthians 11:6 ); agrámmatos , once only in connection with idiōtēs ( Acts 4:13 , "unlearned and ignorant men"); agrammatos corresponds to modern "illiterate" (compare  John 7:15;  Acts 26:24 ); idiōtēs originally denoted "the private man" as distinguished from those with a knowledge of affairs, and took on the idea of contempt and scorn. In Philo it denoted the whole congregation of Israel as distinguished from the priests ( De Vita Mosis , Iii 29). With Paul ( 1 Corinthians 14:16 ,  1 Corinthians 14:23 ,  1 Corinthians 14:24 ) it seems to denote "plain believers as distinguished from those with special spiritual gifts." In  Acts 4:13 it may refer to the want of Jewish learning; certainly it does not mean ignorant in the modern sense.

Paul in  Romans 1:18 ,  Romans 1:32 attributes the pre-Christian ignorance of God to "the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness" (but the margin has, with the King James Version, " hold the truth, compare   1 Corinthians 7:30 , Gr"); many, however (Alford, De Wette, Meyer and others), translation "hold back the truth." A willful ignorance is also referred to in  Ephesians 4:17 f;   2 Peter 3:5 . But there is also a less blameworthy ignorance. Paul at Athens spoke of "times of ignorance" which God had "overlooked" ( Acts 17:30 ); Paul says of himself that he "obtained mercy, because (he) did it (against Christ) ignorantly in unbelief" ( 1 Timothy 1:13 ); Peter said to the Jews ( Acts 3:17 ) that they and their rulers rejected Christ "in ignorance" (compare  1 Corinthians 2:8 ); and Jesus Himself prayed for those who crucified Him: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do"; ( Luke 23:34 ); in  Hebrews 5:2 the necessary qualification of a high priest is that he "can bear gently with the ignorant and erring" - those who sin in ignorance or go astray (compare   Hebrews 9:7 , "blood, which he offereth for himself, and for the errors of the people," margin "(Greek: ignorances"). Growing light, however, brings with it increasing responsibility, and the "ignorance" that may be "overlooked" at one stage of the history of men and nations may be blameworthy and even criminal at another.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [9]

the want of knowledge or instruction. It is often used to denote illiteracy. Mr. Locke observes that the causes of ignorance are chiefly three:

1, want of ideas;

2, want of a discoverable connection between the ideas we have;

3, want of tracing and examining our ideas.

As respects religion, ignorance has been distinguished into three sorts:

1. An Invincible ignorance, in which the will has no part. It is an insult upon justice to suppose it will punish men because they were ignorant of things which they were physically incapable of knowing.

2. There is a Willful and Obstinate ignorance; such an ignorance, far from exculpating, aggravates a man's crimes.

3. A sort of voluntary ignorance, which is neither entirely willful nor entirely invincible, as when a man has the means of knowledge, and does not use them. Locke, On The Understanding. 2, 178; Grove, Moral Philosophy, 2, 26, 29, 64; Watts, On The Mind; Henderson's Buck, Theolog. Dict. s.v. (See Knowledge).