The Holy Spirit in 1 John

In this series, Network211 founder Dr. George M. Flattery presents what the letter of 1 John says about the Holy Spirit.

I John 2:18-29

“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.

As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. .

These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.

Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.”

– I John 2:18-29, NAU

Just like many churches today, the churches led by John struggled with internal problems and external opposition. As our text indicates, some of the members of the church (or churches) to which John wrote had left the congregation. They were teaching heresy and John had to deal with it.

John’s opponents deny the Son (I John 2:23), deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (I John 4:2II John 7), and deny that Jesus is the Christ (I John 2:22). Over against all this, John affirms that Jesus is the Christ (I John 5:1), that Jesus had come in the flesh (I John 4:2), and that Jesus is the Son (I John 2:233:23; and 5:11).

Because of the heresy that his opponents were teaching, John calls them antichrists. The heresy was so serious that John counters them in the strongest terms. They are not wrong in minor ways; they are against Christ. With regard to I John 2:18-29, Guthrie (p. 865) writes:

Already many antichrists have come and the apostle foresees a time when all opposition will be focused upon one impersonation of evil. Those who have dissociated themselves from the believers clearly do not belong to them. Antichrists are first contrasted with God’s anointed one and then defined as those who deny both God and Christ (ii. 18-22). But believers are in a very different position as heirs of eternal life, for they have the inner anointing of God and need no other teacher (ii. 23-27). Believers are, therefore, exhorted to abide in Christ also as to be unashamed at His coming. Their righteousness deeds are evidence of their regeneration (ii. 28, 29).

We include I John 2:18-29 in our study of the Holy Spirit because John teaches about the anointing. A general study of the anointing would include all that the Bible says on the subject, but our purpose here is to discuss what John means. As John uses the term, the anointing protects believers from error. The believers will not be deceived by the antichrists.

The Central Question

The central question in I John 2: 20 and 27 is whether the anointing (chrisma) refers to the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, or both. These ideas are discussed by Burge and Dunn.

First, Burge holds the view that the anointing is the Holy Spirit. He (p. 128) declares:

When John speaks of the Christian’s anointing, he likely has in mind their endowment with the Holy Spirit, a gift that is able to give all knowledge. Some interpreters see this instead as a body of teaching that empowers the believer against heresy. I disagree. John’s Gospel again and again refers to believers as recipients of the Spirit (14:17, 26; 15:26; 16:13).

Second, Dunn discusses the possibility that John is referring to both the Word and the Spirit, but he gives priority to the Spirit. He (p. 197) reaches the following conclusion:

The answer may well be that John in speaking of chrisma is not thinking clearly of one or the other, but of both. Yet, while it is probably a mistake to distinguish sharply between the two, we must give the Spirit first place: the chrisma is the Spirit–albeit the Spirit working in conjunction with, or even through the Word.” (Transliteration Mine)

Third, in my view the anointing refers in this text to the Holy Spirit, but especially the Holy Spirit in His teaching role. The Holy Spirit teaches the truth to believers who are then able to overcome the antichrists and their heresy. This harmonizes very well with John’s emphasis in his gospel on the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit of Truth (John 16:13) guides the believers into all the truth.

The One Who Anoints

Next we will consider the question, “Who does the anointing?” According to verse 20, the anointing is from the “Holy One.” Although some hold that this title refers to the Father, the most likely choice is Christ. Peter identifies Jesus as the Holy One in John 6:69 and in Acts 3:14. Jesus was Himself anointed and is qualified to anoint others.

The fact that Jesus anoints the believer strengthens the view that the anointing refers to the Spirit. Jesus was anointed with the Spirit and is identified (John 16:7) as the Sender of the Spirit. The New Testament does not say that Jesus would send the Word. Indeed, the Word came to us as the Spirit inspired human vessels to write.

The Anointed Ones

The next question is, “Whom does Jesus anoint?” Are all believers anointed? Are some believers anointed for special tasks? Can believers be repeatedly anointed? Several observations will be useful.

First, both Testaments use the term anoint with regard to empowerment. The Old Testament uses the word anoint to indicate the appointment, endorsement, and empowerment of God’s servants. Also, Isaiah (61:1) prophesied that Christ would be anointed for service. In the New Testament the anointing of Christ is mentioned four times (Luke 4:18Acts 4:2710:38; and Hebrews 1:9). The first three of these verses refer to the empowerment of Christ. Used in this way, being anointed is nearly synonymous with being filled with the Spirit.

Second, apart from our text, the New Testament uses anoint with regard to believers only in II Corinthians 1:21. The anointing in this passage is both coincidental with coming to faith and inclusive of anointing for special service. As we follow Christ, we have an abiding anointing, but we also experience special moments of anointing. As a matter of fact most Christians use the term anoint in all these ways.

Third, John uses anoint in a special sense. The believers are confronted with heresy. The anointing (the Holy Spirit) teaches them and protects them from error. Given this, we must assume that all believers are anointed. None of the believers were left without teaching and protection. Nevertheless, even with regard to the Spirit’s enlightenment, some believers are more responsive than others.

The Abiding Anointing

According to John “the anointing which you received from Him [Jesus] abides in you.” That anointing (the Holy Spirit) teaches the disciples. Then, John says, “and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” Lenski’s translation of this gives the best sense (p. 441): “and just as it did teach you, continue to remain in him!” In other words just as the Spirit taught them to do, they are to continue to remain in Christ.

Two points attract our attention. First, John does not specifically say when the anointing takes place. However, it is presupposed that all Christians in some measure are anointed. As we have pointed out above, the anointed ones in this passage are the believers. However, John does not overlook the experiential aspect of the Spirit’s presence.

John, like other New Testament writers put the emphasis on our experience of the Spirit. In I John 4:13 he writes: “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” Compare I John 3:24. The tendency of many believers is to say, “You are saved; therefore you have the Spirit.” In contrast to this, John says, “You experience the Spirit; therefore you know you are saved.”

Second, the anointing abides or remains in us. In his gospel, John stressed the abiding presence of the Spirit in Jesus (John 1:33) and in the believers (John 14: 16-17). Rather than dwelling on the way in which the disciples first received the Spirit, John emphasizes the continuing and abiding power of the Spirit.

Third, there is a close relationship between the Spirit, or the anointing, and what He teaches. The disciples (verse 24) are to “let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning.” The truth, like the Spirit, abides in them. Then, John says, “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” When the Word and the Spirit abide in the disciples, they will abide in the Son and the Father.

The Purpose of the Anointing

Clearly, the purpose of the anointing in our text is to teach the disciples. Because of the anointing, the disciples know about all things and they do not need anyone to teach them.

First, in verse 27, John says “His anointing teaches you about all things (peri panton). Here, the thought is not that the disciples know all things, but that the Spirit teaches them concerning all things. Our knowledge about all things can continue to be enhanced and grow deeper. The Spirit continues to teach us throughout our lives.

A textual discussion arises over the last clause in verse 20. Some manuscripts have the Greek word pantes. The NAU accepts this version and gives the translation “and you all know” or, as Robertson (p. 216) says, “Ye all know it.” Other manuscripts have the word panta which yields this translation “and you know all things.” Both Dunn (p. 199) and Lenski (pp. 435-436) support the first reading.

There is harmony of thought concerning the Holy Spirit in John and I John. We only have to compare the passages in John about the Spirit of Truth (John 14:1715:2616:713) with this passage to see the connection. We are anointed with the Spirit so that we may be properly taught. When the disciples know the truth, they are better prepared for service. The Spirit enables them (John 20:23) to present the truth and apply it to others.

Second, because of the anointing, the disciples “have no need for anyone to teach” them. Concerning verse 20, Chafer (p. 134) writes: “Here, again, it is implied hat every Christian, being anointed, is indwelt by the Spirit and therefore is in the way of knowing those ‘deep things’ of God which are alone imparted by the indwelling Spirit.”

What verse 27 means with regard to teachers in the church is debated. According to Dunn (p. 355), John does not present a concept of ministry, let alone official ministry. Instead, says Dunn, John emphasizes immediate relationship with God through the Spirit and the Word. This may be, but we need not conclude that the teaching office of the church is denied. Burge (p. 132) declares that John:

“is not setting aside the authority of pastors trying to instruct their congregations. Rather, John is invalidating the authority of he false teachers. If they were validating their new theological insights though the authority of the Spirit, as I suspect they were doing, and if John’s congregation likewise shares in this Spirit equally, this self-promoting authority diminishes”

Third, John says “and is true and is not a lie.” What is it that is true and is not a lie? Does John refer to the anointing or to what is taught by the anointing. The anointing is the Holy Spirit. As Lenski (p. 442) points out, it is what he teaches that true and not a lie.


When the church is faced with heresy, John writes about the anointing. The anointing is the Holy Spirit who teaches us the truth. The truth protects us from error. Spirit and the Word abide in us, and we abide in Christ. The early believers needed the anointing, so they would not fall prey to false teachers. Still today, we need the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.

The term anoint is used frequently among Christians in the sense of being filled with the Spirit. Indeed this usage probably is more common than the sense of the abiding Spirit who teaches. It appears that the use of “anoint” in the sense of “filled” is firmly fixed in the vocabulary of the church. Appropriately, we will continue speak of being anointed or empowered for special purposes

For Further Study

Biederwolf, William E. A Help to the Study of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974.
Burge, Gary M. The Letters of John: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Cumming, James Elder. Through the Eternal Spirit. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1965.
Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1970.
Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. London: The Tyndale Press, 1970.
Horton, Stanley M. What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1976.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966.
Morgan, G. Campbell. The Spirit of God. Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1953.
Pache, Rene. The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. Chicago: Moody Press, 1957.
Riggs, Ralph M. The Spirit Himself. Springfield: the Gospel Publishing House, 19.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Thayer, Joseph Henry. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962.

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