Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Tue Sep 4 07:45:46 EDT 2001

At 4:13 AM +0000 9/4/01, Mark Wilson wrote:
>You asked:
>>Is it correct that gnosis is the substitive for ginwskw? As in,
>>ginwskw is
>>the verb to know, and gnosis is the thing known.
>GNWSIS is a substantive, meaning "knowledge," or "that which is known."
>I suppose this would correspond to an active sense and passive sense.

This is certainly not wrong: GNWSIS is indeed used both for "knowing" and
for the content or "knowledge." But I think it's worthwhile being aware
that the building-block here -SIS (gen. -SEWS) regularly produces nouns
that normally refer to the PROCESS or PERFORMING of the verbal action of
the root to which this unit is attached. Thus the sense "knowing" is the
more basic sense associated with GNWSIS, and PRAXIS from PRATTW/PRAG- means
"doing" or "enacting" and POIHSIS from POIE- means "making" or "creating"
(although it has taken on a specialized sense of 'composing poetry'). It is
this 'process' or 'performance' sense that is associated with GNWSIS in
Gnosticism and one can already see this essentially esoteric sense of the
word used by Paul in 1 Corinthians in a generally negative sense referring
to a sort of intimate "knowing" akin to a sort of private mystical
religious experience.

At any rate, it is useful to know such building-blocks as -SIS AND -MAT-
(forms object-nouns like PRAGMA  'action performed' or hRHMA 'thing
spoken') and -THR/-THS/-TWR (forms agent-nouns like POIHTHS 'creator' or
'composer', hRHTWR 'speaker'). More often than not these suffixes form
nouns built on verbal stems that are pretty readily decipherable if one
recognizes the verbal stem to which they are attached, but there's a caveat
that a word once launched into common usage may develop varied alternative
usages, as GNWSIS has acquired the 'passive' sense of the CONTENT of

>Is there a substitive
>>the greek verb oida, like gnosis is for ginwskw?
>OIDA comes from an old Greek root VID- ... from which
>we get "video." I believe the substantive for OIDA would
>be EIDOS. This word is found in the GNT meaning: appearance,
>that which strikes the eye.

EIDOS is from that root wEID/wOID/wID and was used first, I believe, by
medical writers in the sense of 'recognizable category'. Plato used it,
along with its cognate IDEA interchangeably for the transcendental 'form'
or 'idea' of the epistemological and metaphysical doctrine for which he is
best known; Aristotle used it in a sense closer to that of the medical
writers for 'category' and especially for the 'sub-category' of a GENOS;
GENOS and EIDOS were converted respectively into the Latin GENUS and
SPECIES, whence those terms came into the European languages, particularly
into biological terminology.

There is in fact in Greek an action-noun EIDHSIS meaning "knowing" and an
object-noun EIDHMA meaning "knowledge'; they do not appear in the New
Testament, but if you consult the LSJ lexicon at the Perseus web-site,
you'll see the range each of those words took on in the course of their

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at OR cwconrad at

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