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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


1. συν - ιέναι , - εσις adj. ετός (priv. ἀσύνετος), to bring one thing alongside of another: (1) for combat; (2) metaph., for critical comparison, ‘to bring the outward object into connexion with the inward sense’ (Liddell and Scott), ‘to put the perception with the thing perceived’ (Grimm-Thayer), to ‘apprehend the bearings of things’ (Lightfoot, Col. ). The typical passage is  Matthew 13:19;  Matthew 13:23, where the exact significance is distinctly brought out. The hearer ‘by the wayside’ differs from ‘him that was sown upon good ground’ in this, that the former ‘understandeth not’ while the latter ‘understandeth’—the former does not apprehend the bearing of what he hears on practical conduct, the latter sees the bearing and acts accordingly. The former ‘does not recognize himself as standing in any relation to the word which he hears or to the kingdom of grace which that word proclaims’ (Trench, Parables, in loc. ), while the latter does so recognize. In  Matthew 13:51, concluding the series of parables, Jesus asks His disciples if they have apprehended the meaning of all that He has said. In the same sense ( Matthew 17:13) the disciples have, by the exercise of their critical faculty, recognized that in speaking of Elias, Jesus was in fact referring to the Baptist. Hence the contrast between συν. and other words—ἀκούειν,  Matthew 13:13-15;  Matthew 13:23,  Mark 7:14,  Luke 8:10, the sound of the word spoken falling on the ear contrasted with the exercise of such criticism as leads to the apprehending of its personal bearing: νοεῖν,  Mark 8:17, perceiving contrasted with earnest reflexion. A comparison of  Matthew 16:12 with ||  Mark 8:21 is interesting, Mt. representing the disciples as having recognized on further consideration, while Mk. gives ‘a stimulating question which leaves the Twelve to think out for themselves’ the comparison of leaven with teaching (Swete, in loc ). Similarly,  Mark 6:52 (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885, ‘considered’ Authorized Version) of the miracle of the loaves and the walking on the sea; ‘debuerant a pane ad mare concludere’ (Bengel). Lk. employs the word less frequently than Mt. or Mk. In  Luke 2:50;  Luke 18:34;  Luke 24:45, where it occurs in the narrative, the meaning of apprehending the significance of the word spoken, recognizing its tearing on the circumstances (the mission of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the sufferings), is apparent. He does not use the special thought in his account of the exposition of the parable of the Sower.

The privative adj. ἀσύνετος ‘without understanding,’ exhibits the precise meaning of the verb,  Matthew 15:16,  Mark 7:18. ‘The ἀσύν. is the man who lacks the discernment which comes from the due use of the illuminated intelligence’ (Swete). The positive adj. συνετός ( Matthew 11:25,  Luke 10:21), Authorized Version ‘prudent,’ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘understanding,’ preserves the idea of critical comparison, in contrast with the more general intelligence denoted by σοφός; but the reference is to material not spiritual things: ‘the “wisdom of the world” which is “foolishness with God” [contrasted with] the “foolishness of the world” which is “wisdom with God,” on which St. Paul was so fond of dwelling’ (Farrar).

The noun σύνεσις occurs only in  Luke 2:47, where the precise idea is implied of the growth of Jesus in the development of His faculty of recognizing truth in every aspect along with His growth in stature; and  Mark 12:33, where, however, the reading is more than doubtful.

St. Paul’s usage of the word cannot he overlooked. It is in strict harmony with that of the Gospels. See especially  Colossians 1:9, where he combines ‘understanding’ with ‘wisdom’ in his prayer, and  Ephesians 3:4 of ‘the mystery of Christ,’ 5:17 of ‘the will of God’ ( Ephesians 1:18 διανοιας is a disputed reading). See Lightfoot, Col. , where Aristotle’s definition is expounded.

2. νοεῖν  Matthew 15:17,  Mark 7:18,  Matthew 16:9,  Mark 8:17,  Matthew 16:11 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘perceive,’  Matthew 24:15,  Mark 13:14 (Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885),  John 12:40 (from  Isaiah 6:9) Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘perceive’: to perceive (1) with the senses , (2) with the mind . As distinguished from συν. it occupies a middle place between bodily sensation and critical apprehension. The first step is the sensuous perception (ἀκούειν, ἰδεῖν, etc.), then the mental act of attention to what is thus presented (νοεῖν), which in turn precedes the derivative critical act (συνιέναι), by which one is enabled to form a judgment on it. The process of digestion, the multiplication of the loaves, the passage read, the word heard, are objects first of sensation, then of attention, and lastly of reflexion, in order that their true bearing may be apprehended. Cf.  2 Timothy 2:7 and Ellicott’s note.

3. γιγνώσκειν is rendered by ‘understand’ (Authorized Version) in  Matthew 26:10,  John 8:27;  John 8:43;  John 10:6;  John 12:16 (cf. rendering of its privative ἀγνοεῖν in  Mark 9:32 =  Luke 9:45). In other cases γ. is rendered by ‘know,’ and it is difficult to find a reason for not adhering to that rendering in these verses. γ. differs from συν. in so far that while συν. generally marks an antithesis to sense-perception, γ. marks an advance upon it. Preoccupation with lower thoughts, self-complacency excluding apprehension of spiritual truths, present circumstances obscuring the full significance and necessitating a further enlightenment by new circumstances and prolonged pondering, hinder this advance. Only when these difficulties are removed can one come to know the higher aspects of the reality. (For the thought, compare  John 2:22;  John 13:7;  John 14:26). ἀγ. (Gospels only  Mark 9:32,  Luke 9:45) preserves this idea of advance , ‘there was a Divine purpose in their temporary ignorance’ (Swete). The disciples were unwilling to admit the idea of suffering and death, and the rebuke administered to Peter made them afraid to ask questions; thus they remained ignorant for a time.

Literature.—The Lexicons and Commentaries, all of which refer to Lightfoot’s Colossians , 1:9; R. W. Dale, Week-Day Sermons (1867), p. 10.

R. Macpherson.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2]

The Old Testament . The basic Hebrew word so translated is the verb biyn [   Job 8:10;  12:24 ).

Biyn [בִּין] is associated with the Hebrew substantive beyn [בַּיִן בַּיִת], which means "interval" and, when used as a preposition, "between." Thus, the basic meaning of biyn [בִּין] is to separate, to distinguish. It is perceptive insight with the ability to judge.

Understanding is seen as a gift of God ( Daniel 2:21 ) and it is to be prayed for ( Psalm 119:34 ). In answer to the question, "Where shall wisdom or understanding be found?" the response is, "God alone knows" ( Job 28:12,20,23 ). It also results from the study of the divine precepts ( Psalm 119:104 ) and careful reflection in the sanctuary ( Psalm 73:17 ). Hearing is no assurance of understanding ( Daniel 12:8 ).

Understanding has a moral character ( Job 28:28 ). This does not, however, preclude the cognitive ( Psalm 49:3-4 ) for understanding is to be gotten ( Proverbs 4:5,7 ), sought (23:23), and learned (4:1). This can be seen in references to the understanding of a foreign language ( Isaiah 33:19 ) and Daniel's understanding of all the subjects in which he was interrogated by Nebuchadnezzar ( Daniel 1:20 ). The emphasis of this word goes beyond collection of data, however. Acquired knowledge must be used and used correctly. The injunction is to trust in the Lord rather than to rely on one's understanding ( Proverbs 3:5 ).

A person can perceive data with the senses: with the eyes ( Job 13:1;  23:8 ), with the ears ( Job 23:5;  Proverbs 29:19 ), with the touch (pots can feel the heat —  Psalm 58:9 ), and with the taste ( Job 6:30 ).

Understanding can pertain to arts and crafts ( 2 Chronicles 2:13 ) or to the administrative functions of the king ( 2 Chronicles 2:12 )even extended to the messianic king ( Isaiah 11:2 ). David's understanding as shepherd of his people is extolled ( Psalm 78:72 ). While artisans have made idols according to their understanding ( Hosea 13:2 ), Isaiah challenges the effectiveness of such effort, noting that artisans can create no gods at all (44:17). Daniel possesses apocalyptic understanding ( Daniel 9:2,23;  10:1 ).

Understanding is associated with wisdom and personified ( Proverbs 2:3;  7:4;  8:14-31 ). While some see this as an hypostasis, it is more likely a poetic personification of an abstract principle.

On the one hand, God is the most important object of understanding ( Isaiah 43:10;  Jeremiah 9:24 ), but in an intellectual sense he is beyond a person's understanding ( Isaiah 40:28 ).

The New Testament . Of the seventeen occurrences of understanding in the Revised Standard Version New Testament, ten are translations of suniemi [Συνίω Συνίημι] or one of its derivatives. This is the word that the Septuagint uses as a translation of biyn [בִּין]. Its meaning is to understand, to gain insight into something.

It can designate a positive quality as when the scribe concurred with Jesus about loving the Lord with "all your understanding" ( Mark 12:33 ) and in Paul's prayer for the Colossians where he couples it with "spiritual wisdom" ( Colossians 1:9 ). It can be the means of understanding an important truth ( 2 Timothy 2:7 ) or the Lord's will ( Ephesians 5:17 ).

There is also a negative quality to this word. Jesus used parables because of his audience's slowness to understand ( Matthew 13:13 ). Even his own disciples did not understand the miracle of loaves and fishes ( Mark 6:52 ). Jesus notes that infants understand God's program better than the intellectuals ( Matthew 11:25 ).

The other significant Greek word rendered "understand" is noeo [   Philippians 4:7 ). The apocalyptic number 666 is a challenge to the person who has understanding ( Revelation 13:18 ). The pagans act as they do because they are "darkened in their understanding" ( Ephesians 4:18 ). On the other hand, John affirms that understanding has been made possible by the revelation of Jesus ( 1 John 5:20 ).

Understanding, then, involves the cognitive, the spiritual, and the moral. While human efforts are called for, the ability to understand comes from God. The final test of understanding is obedience to God.

Carl Schultz

See also Mind/Reason; Wisdom

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [3]

A — 1: Νοῦς (Strong'S #3563 — Noun Masculine — nous — nooce )

for which see Mind , No. 1, is translated "understanding" in  Luke 24:45 , AV (RV, "mind");  1—Corinthians 14:14,15 (twice),19;   Philippians 4:7;  Revelation 13:18 .

A — 2: Σύνεσις (Strong'S #4907 — Noun Feminine — sunesis — soon'-es-is )

akin to suniemi, "to set together, to understand," denotes (a) "the understanding, the mind or intelligence,"  Mark 12:33; (b) "understanding, reflective thought,"  Luke 2:47;  1—Corinthians 1:19 , RV, "prudence;"  Ephesians 3:4 , RV (AV, "knowledge");  Colossians 1:9;  2:2;  2—Timothy 2:7 . See Prudence , No. 2.

A — 3: Διάνοια (Strong'S #1271 — Noun Feminine — dianoia — dee-an'-oy-ah )

for which see Mind , No. 2, is rendered "understanding" in  Ephesians 4:18;  1—John 5:20 (in some texts,   Ephesians 1:18 , AV, for kardia, "heart," RV).

B — 1: Ἀσύνετος (Strong'S #801 — Adjective — asunetos — as-oon'-ay-tos )

"without understanding or discernment" (a, negative, sunetos, "intelligent, understanding"), is translated without understanding" in  Matthew 15:16 :  Mark 7:18;  Romans 1:31;  10:19 , RV, "void of understanding" (AV, "foolish"); in  Romans 1:21 , RV, "senseless" (AV, "foolish").

 1—Corinthians 14:20

King James Dictionary [4]


1. Comprehending apprehending the ideas or sense of another, or of a writing learning or being informed. 2. a. Knowing skillful. He is an understanding man.


1. The faculty of the human mind by which it apprehends the real state of things presented to it, or by which it receives or comprehends the ideas which others express and intend to communicate. The understanding is called also the intellectual faculty. It is the faculty by means of which we obtain a great part of our knowledge.  Luke 24 .  Ephesians 1 .

By understanding I mean that faculty whereby we are enabled to apprehend the objects of knowledge, generals or particulars, absent or present, and to judge of their truth or falsehood, good or evil.

There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.  Job 32 .

2. Knowledge exact comprehension.

Right understanding consists in the perception of the visible or probably agreement or disagreement of ideas.

3. Intelligence between two or more persons agreement of minds union of sentiments. There is a good understanding between the minister and his people.

Webster's Dictionary [5]

(1): ( n.) The power to understand; the intellectual faculty; the intelligence; the rational powers collectively conceived an designated; the higher capacities of the intellect; the power to distinguish truth from falsehood, and to adapt means to ends.

(2): ( p. pr. & vb. n.) of Understand

(3): ( n.) Specifically, the discursive faculty; the faculty of knowing by the medium or use of general conceptions or relations. In this sense it is contrasted with, and distinguished from, the reason.

(4): ( a.) Knowing; intelligent; skillful; as, he is an understanding man.

(5): ( n.) The act of one who understands a thing, in any sense of the verb; knowledge; discernment; comprehension; interpretation; explanation.

(6): ( n.) An agreement of opinion or feeling; adjustment of differences; harmony; anything mutually understood or agreed upon; as, to come to an understanding with another.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [6]

The faculty of perceiving things distinctly; or that power of the mind by which we arrive at a proper idea or judgment of things.

See Judgment, Mind, Soul