Amélie Nothomb's novel Soif (Thirst) tells us Jesus's memoirs on the eve of the crucifixion. Jesus defends against the accusations made to him by referring to his omniscience as being imperfect. I understand, from two passages, that he knows some things about the future, but not all. In fact, Jesus says:

My knowledge of the times is no different from that of my destiny: I know Τι, I do not know Πως.

(My translation: I have only the French original at hand.) And elsewhere:

"He is omniscient, isn't he?"

Good question. I always know Τι, and never Πως.

This last passage then goes on to describe this difference in grammatical terms:

I know the compléments d'objet and never the compléments circonstantiels.

I have left these terms untranslated because I'm not sure of their English counterparts, and moreover, that is not the point of my question, which is: what are Τι and Πως? A search on Google and in a dictionary reveals only vague translations ("what" and "which") that do not explain in what way Jesus would and wouldn't be omniscient. In any case I couldn't find Τι and Πως as opposing philosophical concepts, as you might expect.


2 Answers 2


The context of a word governs its meaning of course; but here are some usages of your words in question. There is not much of a mystery here.

τι (ti) is the genitive form of τις (tis) is an interrogative pronoun in direct, indirect, and rhetorical questions meaning “who?” “which (one)?”; “what?” usages include but are not limited to the following:

  1. In questions to which the answer “nobody” is expected
  2. Who? In the sense of what sort of (a) person?
  3. Who are you? What sort of man are you?
  4. Which of two?
  5. Why? For what reason?
  6. Why? For what purpose?
  7. With what? through whom?
  8. Because of what thing?
  9. In exclamation “how?”

πῶς (pos) as an interrogative, particle means how? In what way? In direct questions a. to determine how something is happening, or should happen; w. indicative how? or in what?

b. in questioning indicating surprise “how is it possible that?”; or “I do not understand how”; a series of questions expressing surprise, introduced again and again by Πως. E.g. how is it possible you do not understand me? (Mt 16:11; Mk 8:21); “how is it you have no faith?” (Mk 4:40; Mt 21:20).

c. in questions denoting disapproval or rejection “with what right?”; “how dare you?”; how is it that you are bold enough to come in here?”; “how can you say?”

d. in rhetorical questions that call an assumption into question or reject it altogether “how (could or should)?

e. in questions of deliberation with deliberative subjunctive “what comparison can we find in the kingdom?” (Mk 4:30); “how are you to escape? = “you will not escape at all” (Mt. 23:33).

  1. In direct questions—a. with indicative after verbs of knowing, saying, asking, etc. In exclamation “how. . . !”


Walter Bauer, et. al. A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, The University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Wesley J. Perschbacher, The Analytical Greek Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, 1990.

Bernard Taylor, Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint, Hendrickson Publishers, 2010.

  • 1
    So a rough translation would be "I always know the What, but never the How"? Do you happen to have an example of a sentence where ti and pos are used as opposites?
    – Jos
    Jun 30, 2020 at 11:17
  • I will see what I can find.
    – user10067
    Jun 30, 2020 at 15:24
  • And "I always know the What but never the How" also makes sense as the meaning of "I know the compléments d'objet and never the compléments circonstantiels."
    – Peter Shor
    Jun 30, 2020 at 18:11

The idea of Jesus's omniscience is a dividing point between Catholic and many Protestants. The Catholics hold that the doctrine of 'kenosis' is a heresy, even though Peter says Jesus 'humbled" or "emptied" himself.

The Catholic position, that there was no difference in the two natures of Jesus, leads some to wild speculations that baby Jesus could fly and give life to clay birds.

Some non-Catholics go so far as to say that his two natures were so different that Jesus was merely a man who possessed a divine spirit. Neither of these positions satisfy the demands of a comprehensive doctrine on the subject.

The middle ground is probably closer to the truth. He was the pre-incarnate Word, also known as the un-begotten Son. He then 'humbled' or emptied himself as he became a baby. Consider closing your eyes. you do not become blind but simply choose not to use sight.

So the Word chose to 'close his eyes' to his divinity and operate fully in the flesh... able to 'open his eyes at any time.

This is part of his temptation. Would he have to face the cross, or could by his divine nature, figure out another way.

If he had given in and 'opened his eyes' he would forfeit the position as our high priest, who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. If he used divine power to resist sin, then he would not really understand our temptation.

So before becoming incarnate, he wrote notes for himself in the "mystery hidden from the beginning". To understand the mystery he had to approach the scriptures as a little child: in trust, asking questions, and without filters.

Through the notes he left himself in the OT. He discovered who he was, and what he was to do. He chose to be obedient to what he discovered there. He had to decide to be the savior of Israel at the wedding of Cana, and to be the savior of the gentiles in his encounter with the Samaritan woman. He had to choose to die, though his flesh resisted.

He knew God's plan as revealed in the mystery. He was often surprised by the means of the Father's will being accomplished. The 'miracles' and signs were not to convince the masses. After all, he taught in parables so that they would not believe.

They were a dialog between Father and son where a 'dinner theater' was being acted out in the literal history, which was shadow of the cross. Jesus would choose to participate in the 'play' showing that he understood his role in the cross, and the Father would do the miracle as an encouragement to him to continue toward the cross.

Jesus said that he would only perform one sign, in his own strength, and that was the sign of his own resurrection, which he accomplished by opening his eyes to his divinity.

His knowledge of the future was only that contained in the 'mystery', some are stated purposes and some are quite detailed in methods. But he himself did not know the day of his coming.

I upvoted Dave's answer because it is more direct, and added this as 'color'.

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