12. Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 4:1-6
The present section, 4:1-6, is one of three units within the letter (the other two are 2:12-14 and 2:15-17) that virtually all interpreters would regard as a self-contained unit. The subject matter of each of these sections is so clearly distinguished from the surrounding context that there can be little doubt that each constitutes a separate unit of thought. I have yet to find a proposed division of 1 John that breaks 4:1-6 apart.506
This section does, however, contain two subdivisions: 4:1-3, introduced by =agaphtoiv (agaphtoi, “dear friends”) in 4:1, and 4:4-6, introduced by tekniva (teknia, “little children”) in 4:4.
4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Since possession of the Spirit he has given us (3:24) is a ground of assurance for the believer, it is important to test the spirits, because not every spirit is the Spirit of God (4:1-6). The second section (4:7-21) deals with the believer’s assurance of God’s love.
The false prophets are the opponents with their false christology who have gone out from the Christian community the author is addressing into the world. They are claiming to be inspired by the Spirit of God. The author of 1 John makes it clear, however, that not all spirits are from God, and so it is necessary to test the spirits to determine if they are from God. The test the author proposes is in the following verse (4:2).
The referents of pneuvmati and pneuvmata in 4:1. In the previous verse, 1 John 3:24, the author tells the readers that one of the ways in which they may be assured that God “resides” in them is by the (Holy) Spirit which he has given to believers. Now, in a section closely tied to the preceding one, the author realizes the need for further qualification because the Holy Spirit is not the only spirit active in the world. Thus in 4:1 the readers are warned, “do not believe every spirit (pneuvmati, pneumati), but test the spirits (pneuvmata, pneumata) to determine if they are from God.” One could argue that the plural here indicates a reference to demonic or evil spirits behind the human prophets which inspire them. However, the primary contrast in 1 John is not between believers and multiple evil spirits, but between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit (4:6).507 The readers must be warned not to make the mistake of thinking that every spirit which influences human behavior is the Spirit of God. There are two spirits at work to influence human behavior, the Spirit of truth (toV pneu'ma th' ajlhqeiva [to pneuma ths alhqeias] in 4:6), that is, the Spirit of God, and the spirit of deceit (mentioned explicitly in 4:6 as toV pneu'ma th' plavnh [to pneuma ths planhs]), that is, the evil spiritual being known as Satan. The same opposition between these two spirits is found in the Gospel of John in 16:8-11, which describes the conflict between the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) and the “Ruler of this world” (Satan, the devil).
But while the author of 1 John views these two spirits as real entities which are at work in the world, their influence is evident in terms of its effect on human beings (note how the writer shifts easily from discussing the Spirits in 4:1-3 to addressing the readers and the opponents directly as “you” [uJmei', Jumeis] and “they” [aujtoiv, autoi] in 4:4-5). The Holy Spirit influences and motivates the human spirits of the believers in the community to which the author is writing, while the evil spirit of deceit influences and motivates the human spirits of the opponents with their false teaching.
The author’s use of dokimavzete (dokimazete, “test”) in 4:1. According to the third edition of the Bauer lexicon, the verb means “to make a critical examination of someth. to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine.”508 Since in the second half of the present verse the author mentions “false prophets” who have “gone out into the world” it appears highly likely that his concept of testing the spirits is drawn from the Old Testament concept of testing a prophet to see whether he is a false prophet or a true one. The procedure for testing a prophet is found in Deut 13:2-6 and 18:15-22. An Old Testament prophet was to be tested on the basis of (1) whether or not his predictive prophecies came true (Deut 18:22) and (2) whether or not he advocated idolatry (Deut 13:1-3). In the latter case the people of Israel are warned that even if the prophet should perform an authenticating sign or wonder, his truth or falsity is still to be judged on the basis of his claims, i.e., whether or not he advocates idolatry.509
Here in 1 John the idea of “testing the spirits” comes closer to the second Old Testament example of “testing the prophets” mentioned above. According to 1 John 4:2-3, the spirits are to be tested on the basis of their christological confession: the person motivated by the Spirit of God will confess “Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh”; while the person motivated by the spirit of deceit will not confess “Jesus” and is therefore not from God. This comes somewhat closer to the idea expressed by Paul in 1 Cor 12:3 where the person speaking charismatic utterances is also to be judged on the basis of his christological confession: “So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is cursed,’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
The identification of the “false prophets” who have “gone out into the world” in 4:1. It seems clear that the “false prophets” mentioned in 1 John 4:1 are the author’s opponents, since he has already labeled them “antichrists” in 2:18 and 2:22, and uses this same label again in 4:3.510 It is best to understand the adjective polloiv (polloi, “many”) as implying that there were a considerable number of opponents who withdrew from fellowship with the Christian community to which the author is writing. All the opponents, however (not just some of them), are viewed as “false prophets” here, because according to 4:3 and 4:6 the spirit that motivates every one of them is the spirit of deceit. In the author’s antithetical framework there are only two possible alternatives: either a person is motivated by the Spirit of God, in which case he is a genuine believer and belongs to the faithful Christian community to which the author is writing; or one is motivated by the spirit of deceit, in which case he belongs to the opponents, who are ‘false prophets’ because like the false prophet of Deut 13:1-3 they advocate a form of idolatry. As far as the author is concerned this ‘idolatry’ consists in their attempt to seduce others into adopting their heretical christological views while rejecting the apostolic testimony (1 John 1:1-4) about who Jesus is (4:2).
The description of the false prophets as having “gone out into the world” appears to be a direct reference to the secession of the opponents in 2:19 since the same verb (ejxevrcomai [exercomai], “to go out, to depart”) is used in both places. Not only that, but the same verb also occurs in John 13:30 as a description of the departure of Judas Iscariot, who in the Fourth Gospel is called “devil” by Jesus himself (John 6:70-71; cf. 13:2). To leave the author’s congregation and go out into the “world” is, in the framework of Johannine theology, a clear indication that the secessionists are viewed by the author as unsaved, since he warns the readers in 1 John 2:15-17 not to love the “world,” which is described as transitory rather than eternal (2:17), and in the Fourth Gospel when Jesus prays for the disciples, he specifically states that the “world” hates them (17:14) and they do not belong to it (17:14, 16).
4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God,
This is the test for the spirits: every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God. Note that the test is both confessional (concerning what a person believes) and christological (concerning what a person believes about Jesus). Presumably the opponents would not be able to make this confession, since this is designed to test the truth or falsehood of their prophetic claims.
The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 4:2. Once again we must attempt to determine whether the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) refers to what precedes or to what follows. This occurrence falls into category (2) mentioned in the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”511 There is no subordinating conjunction following the ejn touvtw/ (en toutw) here in 4:2, so the phrase could refer either to what precedes or to what follows. Contextually the phrase refers to what follows, because the following clause in 4:2b-4:3a,512 while not introduced by a subordinating conjunction, does explain the preceding clause beginning with ejn touvtw/ (en toutw).513 In other words, the following clause in 4:2b-3a is analogous to a subordinate clause introduced by an epexegetical Jina or Joti, and the relationship can be represented in the English translation by a colon, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” Most modern translations follow this approach and insert the colon.514
The meaning of the phrase oJmologei' =Ihsou'n CristoVn ejn sarkiV ejlhluqovta (Jomologei Ihsoun Criston en sarki elhluqota, literally “confess Jesus Christ in the flesh having come”) in 4:2. This forms part of the author’s christological confession which serves as a test of the spirits. Many interpreters have speculated that the author of 1 John is here correcting or adapting a slogan of the secessionist opponents, but there is no concrete evidence for this in the text. Such a possibility is mere conjecture.515 The phrase may be understood in a number of different ways, however: (1) the entire phrase “Jesus Christ come in the flesh” may be considered the single object of the verb oJmologei' (Jomologei, “confess”; so B. Westcott, A. Brooke, J. Bonsirven, R. Brown, S. Smalley, and others); (2) the verb oJmologei' (Jomologei, “confess”) may be followed by a double accusative of object-complement,516 so that “Jesus Christ” functions as object and the phrase “come in the flesh” as complement; the meaning would be “confess Jesus Christ as come in the flesh” (so B. Weiss, J. Chaine, and others). (3) A third possibility is to see the verb followed by a double accusative of object-complement as in (2), but in this case the object is “Jesus” and the complement is “[the] Christ come in the flesh,” so that what is being confessed is “Jesus as [the] Christ come in the flesh” (so N. Alexander, J. Stott, J. Houlden, and others).
All three options are grammatically possible, although not equally probable. Option (1) has a number of points in its favor: (a) the parallel in 2 John 7 suggests to some that the phrase should be understood as a single object; (b) option (2) makes “Jesus Christ” the name of the preincarnate second person of the Trinity, and this would be the only place in the Johannine literature where such a designation for the preincarnate Logo occurs; and (c) option (3) would have been clearer if Cristovn (Criston, “Christ”) had been accompanied by the Greek article (oJmologei' =Ihsou'n toVn CristoVn, Jomologei Ihsoun ton Criston).
Nevertheless I am inclined to prefer option (3) on the basis of the overall context involving the secessionist opponents: their christological views would allow the confession of “the Christ come in the flesh,”517 but they would have trouble confessing that Jesus was (exclusively) the Christ incarnate. It seems to me that the author’s failure to repeat the qualifying phrases (CristoVn ejn sarkiV ejlhluqovta, Criston en sarki elhluqota) in the negative repetition of the confession in 4:3a actually suggests that the stress is on Jesus as the component of the confession objected to by the opponents. I do not see how the parallel in 2 John 7 favors option (1), in spite of R. Brown’s assertion that it does.518 As for the objection that option (3) would have been clearer if the author had included the Greek article before Cristovn (Criston, “Christ”), one can hardly complain about the presence or absence of an article given the convoluted and obscure grammatical constructions the author has employed elsewhere in 1 John!
The related or parallel construction in John 9:22 (ejavn ti aujtoVn oJmologhvsh/ Cristovn, ean tis auton Jomologhsh Criston, “if anyone should confess him [to be the] Christ”) provides further support for option (3). This is discounted by Brown because the verb in John 9:22 occurs between the two accusative objects rather than preceding both as here – although Brown does mention Rom. 10:9 as another parallel closer in grammatical structure to 1 John 4:2).519 Brown does not mention the textual variants in John 9:22, however: both Ì66 and Ì75 (along with K, Ë13 and others) read oJmologhvsh/ aujtoVn Cristovn (Jomologhse auton Criston).520 This structure exactly parallels 1 John 4:2, and a good case could be made that this is actually the preferred reading in John 9:22; furthermore, it is clear from the context in John 9:22 that Cristovn (Criston, “Christ”) is the complement (what is predicated concerning the first accusative) since the object (the first accusative) is aujtovn (auton, “him”) rather than the proper name =Ihsou'n (Ihsoun, “Jesus”). The parallel in John 9:22 thus appears to me to be clearer than either 1 John 4:2 or 2 John 7. In fact, it proves useful in understanding both the latter constructions.
4:3 but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, that you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world.
Since the spirit…not from God is unable to confess Jesus, this is where the opponents appear to have had their christological problems. Perhaps they could confess the Messiah come in the flesh, but could not connect this with Jesus. Many heresies and sects have begun by distorting who Jesus is. The author of 1 John identifies this false spirit with the spirit of the Antichrist. Earlier the author had called the opponents themselves antichrists (1 John 2:19). Now he says the false spirit behind them is the spirit of the Antichrist. It is important to note that behind the people are spirits who motivate them.
The force of the kaiv (kai, translated by the NET Bible here as “but”) at the beginning of 4:3. The kaiv (kai) which begins 4:3 introduces the “negative side” of the test by which the spirits can be known in 4:2-3. Thus it is adversative (contrastive) in force: “…every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”
The meaning of mhV oJmologei' toVn =Ihsou'n (mh Jomologei ton Ihsoun, “does not confess Jesus”) in 4:3. The omission of Cristovn (Criston, “Christ”) from the negative repetition of the confession in 4:3a is significant. According to our reconstruction of the opponents’ views, they would have had no difficulty confessing that the Christ (the Logo) had come in the flesh, since they appear to have based their soteriology on the fact of the incarnation, as reflected in the stress on the incarnation found in John 1:14. What they could not acknowledge was the salvific significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry (including his sacrificial death on the cross), and this is precisely where the author of 1 John differed radically with them. Thus the opponents could have confessed the Christ come in the flesh (the incarnation), they could not have confessed Jesus, because they denied that there was any salvific significance to his earthly life and ministry.521 There is a textual variant in this verse which replaces the negated verb mhV oJmologei' (mh Jomologei) with luei (luei), which would mean in this context “to annul, to abolish.”522 However, the external (manuscript) evidence for this variant is extremely slim, because it is supported only by the Latin Vulgate and a few fathers, three of whom (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen) are mentioned in the margin of ms 1739. With such slender external support, it is very unlikely this represents the original reading.
The referent of pneu'ma (pneuma, “spirit”) in 4:3. “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus” in 4:3a refers to the spirit of deceit (cf. 4:6), that is, Satan, behind the opponents with their false christological confession. The opponents refused to confess the salvific significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.523
The referent of toV tou' ajnticrivstou (to tou anticristou, “the [spirit] of the Antichrist”) in 4:3. This is another reference to the spirit of deceit (cf. 4:6), this time referred to as “the [spirit] of the Antichrist.”524 This is the “spirit of the Antichrist” which the readers have heard about: the author has already announced that it is now at large in the world (2:18), and he will do so again in 2 John 7. R. Brown thinks the mention of the “spirit of the Antichrist” as “coming” (e[rcetai, ercetai) here in 4:3 is a word-play on the preceding description of Jesus as “come in the flesh” (ejlhluqovta, elhluqota) in 4:2.525 It seems much more probable, however, that this is an allusion to the Antichrist as “the prince who is to come” in Dan 9:26, who in the LXX is referred to as oJ hJgouvmeno oJ ejrcovmeno (Jo Jhgoumenos Jo ercomenos, “the coming prince” [or, “the prince who is coming”). The “spirit of the Antichrist,” that is, the motivating spirit behind the Antichrist, is Satan.
The meaning of kovsmo (kosmos, “world”) in 4:3. The term kovsmo (kosmos) is understood to be neutral in its connotation here, meaning “the world of humanity,” the sphere in which the “spirit of the Antichrist” operates.526 It is true that later uses of the term kovsmo (kosmos) in this section (e.g., vv. 4, 5) are more negative in tone than the earlier ones in vv. 1, 3. However, it is just as possible to take all six references to kovsmo (kosmos) in vv. 1-5 as negative, referring to that which opposes God and his purposes. The so-called “false prophets,” by their secession from the Johannine Christian community (cf. 2:18-19) have gone into the “world” (4:1) and the “world” listens to them (4:5). In this way the antithetical contrast between the “world” of faith (the author’s readers) and the “world” of unbelief (the secessionist opponents) becomes clear (cf. 2 John 7).527
4:4 You are from God, little children, and have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
The author now gives reassurance to his readers (whom he addresses yet again as little children) that they are victorious over the opponents (have conquered them), because the Holy Spirit (the one who is in you) is greater than the spirit of the Antichrist (the one who is in the world).
The significance of the author’s inclusion of uJmei' (Jumeis, “you”) in 4:4. The author’s use of uJmei' (Jumeis) at the beginning of 4:4 signals both emphasis and contrast. The author is now contrasting the readers, whom he regards as genuine believers,528 with the opponents (aujtouv [autous, “them”]) who are not. But there is also an emphatic shift from reference to the spirits (the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit, cf. 1 John 4:6) in 4:1-3 to the people whom those respective spirits influence and control: the readers, as God’s children, are motivated by the Spirit of God; the opponents, as children of the devil (cf. 3:10), are motivated by the spirit of the Antichrist (4:3), that is, Satan.
The significance of the perfect tense nenikhvkate (nenikhkate, “have conquered”) in 4:4. Here the perfect tense looks not only at a decisive victory won in the past over the secessionist opponents, but at the results of that victory continuing in the present.529 The immediate context here suggests that more emphasis is on the existing results than on the past completed action, although if one sees a more polemical tone to the present section one might argue for somewhat more emphasis on the past completed action.
The referent of aujtouv (autous, “them”) in 4:4. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the author of 1 John has shifted the emphasis in 4:4 from the spirits themselves to the people whom they motivate, influence, and control. While the author’s readers are motivated by the Spirit of God, the opponents, the secessionists with their heterodox christology who withdrew from the Christian community to which 1 John is addressed (2:19), are motivated by Satan, known in this context as the spirit of deceit (cf. 4:6). Thus aujtouv (autous, “them”) refers to the opponents, and the author tells his readers that they have “conquered” these opponents, just as in 2:13-14 the author assured the readers that they had conquered the “evil one” (a reference to Satan) who is viewed in the present context as the motivating spirit behind the opponents.530 The basis for the author’s assertion of victory, “because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world,” is not mere empty boasting, but is consistent with his earlier statements about believers being “from God” (4:2; also 3:1-2) and God residing in believers (2:5-6; 3:24).531 This is still true even if the Spirit of God is the primary referent here rather than God himself, since in Johannine theology there is considerable interchange of function between Father, Son, and Spirit as far as the believer is concerned.
The referents of the first and second uses of the relative pronoun oJ (Jo, translated both times by the NET Bible as “the one who”) in 4:4. Some interpreters have taken the first use of the relative pronoun oJ (Jo) to refer to Jesus or to God the Father because of the Johannine emphasis on Jesus or God “residing” in the believer.532 Significantly, however, the verb mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) is not used here. In context the contrast is clearly between the Spirit of truth, that is, the Holy Spirit, and the spirit of deceit, that is, Satan (cf. 4:6). Thus it seems clear that when the author mentions “the one who is in you” in speaking to the readers, he is referring to the Spirit of God.533 Likewise, the second occurrence of the relative pronoun oJ (Jo) refers to “the one who is in the world,” a reference to the spirit of deceit, that is, Satan.
Regarding the conflict portrayed here between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error, Smalley noted,
If the thought of this v, with its allusion to the battle between spiritual truth and error, God and the evil one, grazes the edge of dualism, this dualism is ethical and not cosmic…Jewish and not Greek. For John is in no doubt about the ultimate outcome of the conflict (“he in you is more powerful”; cf. further v 6; 5:4-5; Rev 5:5; 12:11; 17:14).534
4:5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world’s perspective and the world listens to them.
In 4:1 the author insisted the opponents, who were characterized as false prophets, had gone out into the world. Now he asserts the opponents are from the world. This determines their perspective and also ensures that the world pays attention to them. Compare John 15:19: “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own.”
The referent of the pronoun aujtoiv (autoi, “they”) in 4:5. In contrast to uJmei' (Jumeis, “you”) at the beginning of 1 John 4:4 which refers to the readers, the author speaks of the opponents here as aujtoiv (autoi, “they”). While the author’s readers are regarded as believers (note “you are of God,” 4:4a), the opponents are regarded as unbelievers. Confirmation of this is provided here by their association with “the world”: they are “of the world” (ejk tou' kovsmou eijsivn, ek tou kosmou eisin). From the author’s perspective the departure of the opponents from the believing community (1 John 2:19) demonstrated that they never had been genuine Christians, but had been guilty of a false profession all along. Thus they belong to the world, and when they speak the world listens to them because they are its own.
The significance of the statement in 4:5 that “the world listens to them.” The “world” pays attention to the message of the secessionist opponents because, as Stott observed, their message “originates in its own circle.”535 The Pharisees complained about the success of Jesus in gathering a following in similar terms (John 12:19): “Look, the world has run off after him!” R. Brown, S. Smalley, and R. Schnackenburg see in the author’s comment about the opponents here (“the world listens to them”) a hint that the opponents may be enjoying greater success than the faithful believers to whom the author is writing.536 This may be so, but there is not enough information in the context to be sure.537 The author’s primary interest in the opponents is the disastrous effect they could have on the believing community to which he is writing; their relative success in the world at large is of secondary interest to him at best.
4:6 We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.
Now the author introduces another way to test the spirits: We are of God is inclusive, referring to the author and the faithful Christians who have held fast to the apostolic testimony about who Jesus is. Whoever is not from God refers to the opponents, who are refusing to listen to the apostolic testimony about Jesus.
The referent of the pronoun hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) in 4:6. It is difficult to isolate the extent of the author’s intended reference by his use of the pronoun hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) in 4:6. (1) This could be a distinctive (or exclusive) use of “we” by which the author refers specifically to himself and the other apostolic eyewitnesses as guardians of the truth concerning the eyewitness testimony to the significance of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, as emphasized in the prologue (1:1-4).538 In this case the meaning is, “We apostolic witnesses are from God, and the person who knows God (the true Christian) listens to us….” (2) But it is also possible that by the use of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) here the author intends to include himself with his readers and all genuine Christians, as over against the heterodox opponents with their false christology.539 This would mean, “We (all of us true Christians) are from God, and the person who knows God (the true Christian) listens to us….” R. Brown thinks it more likely that a nondistinctive use of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) is involved here (the second option above), where the writer does not single himself and the other apostolic eyewitnesses out from among the rest of Christianity.540 Partly this is because Brown does not see the author of 1 John himself as an eyewitness of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, but a member of the community to which he is writing,541 although in fairness it must be noted that the contrast with the opponents (“they”) in the previous verse supports an inclusive use of “we” here to refer to both the author and his readers.
It is also possible to see a distinctive use of hJmei' (Jhmeis, “we”) here (the first option mentioned above), similar to the prologue’s emphasis on the (apostolic) eyewitness testimony to the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. This may provide sufficient justification for the author (whom I understand to be one of those eyewitnesses) to distinguish himself from the members of the community to which he writes. The author would be, in effect, stating his apostolic authority here when he says “the person who knows God listens to us,” because he, as an apostle – a delegated successor whom Jesus himself appointed to carry on the ministry after his departure and return to the Father – can echo Jesus’ own words in John 10:27, “my sheep listen to my voice.”542 In other words, those who are genuine believers will pay attention to the apostolic testimony about Jesus, and those who are not (the opponents) will ignore it.
The referent of the phrase ejk touvtou (ek toutou, “by this”) in 4:6. This phrase, which occurs only here in the Johannine corpus but bears obvious similarity to the much more common phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”),543 must refer to what precedes, since there is nothing in the following context for it to relate to, and 4:1-6 is recognized by almost everyone as a discrete unit. There is still a question, however, of what in the preceding context the phrase refers to. Interpreters have suggested a reference only to 4:6, to 4:4-6, or to all of 4:1-6.544 The latter seems most likely, because the present phrase forms an inclusion with the phrase ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 3:24 which introduces the present section. Thus “by this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit” refers to all of 4:1-6 with its “test” of the spirits by the christological confession made by their adherents in 4:1-3 and with its emphasis on the authoritative (apostolic) eyewitness testimony to the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry in 4:4-6.
The identification of the “Spirit of truth” and the “spirit of deceit” mentioned in 4:6. Although some interpreters have regarded the “spirits” in 4:6 as human spirits, it appears abundantly clear in the context that (while 4:1a is ambiguous and might refer either to human spirits or spiritual beings who influence people) the author sees behind the opponents and their false christology the spirit of the Antichrist, that is, Satan (4:3b), at work, and behind the true believers of the community to which he is writing, the Spirit of God (4:2). This is made clear in 4:4 by the reference to the respective spirits as “the one who is in you” (oJ ejn uJmi'n, Jo en Jumin) and “the one who is in the world” (oJ ejn tw'/ kovsmw/, Jo en tw kosmw).545 In the final analysis this may be another instance of Johannine ambiguity, and it is really only a question of whether the human agents who speak are in view first, or the spiritual beings who exert influence over them.
506 See the discussion of major divisions in 1 John in the previous section “Structure and Purpose of 1 John.”
507 Cf. Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 61-62, and Marshall, The Epistles of John, 204, n. 3. A similar contrast between the “spirit of truth” and the “spirit of falsehood” (corresponding to light and darkness respectively) can be seen in the Qumran literature in 1QS 3:18; 4:23. On this contrast see also Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 106, and Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 283, n. 2. This is not to suggest direct links between 1 John and Qumran; their antithetical or dualistic outlooks may be similar but are not identical.
508 BDAG 255 s.v. dokimavzw 1.
509 Note that in the concluding verse of the letter (1 John 5:21) the author warns his readers against idolatry.
510 Cf. Smalley, who summarizes, “The ‘false prophets’ who have ‘defected into the world’ are undoubtedly the heretical members of John’s congregation who have spearheaded a secession from the community…and a direct reference to this ‘defection’ has already been made in 2:18-19” (1, 2, 3 John, 219).
511 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”
512 I.e., “Every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”
513 Cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 220.
514 So, for example, neb, nasb, niv, nrsv, nlt, esv, NET Bible, tniv.
515 Note Brown’s comment: “Too often scholars have been distracted by speculating that there was a somewhat similar secessionist slogan which the author corrected in order to achieve the present wording” (The Epistles of John, 492).
516 See Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 188, n. 41. Wallace lists John 9:22; 1 John 4:2; and 2 John 7 as examples of the verb oJmologevw (Jomologew, “I confess”) taking a double accusative of object and complement.
517 Perhaps in the sense of the Spirit indwelling believers, although this is hard to prove.
518 Brown, The Epistles of John, 492. It is difficult to see how the use of the present participle in 2 John 7 instead of the perfect participle in 1 John 4:2 would contribute to option (1), and the same can be said for the relocated prepositional phrase ejn sarkiV (en sarki).
519 Brown, The Epistles of John, 493.
520 The order of the Greek words is different. In the textual variant found in Ì66 and Ì75 (along with other mss) both object and complement follow the verb, as in 1 John 4:2.
521 See the earlier section “The Opponents and Their Teaching in 1 John,” for further discussion and summarization of the views of the opponents. Smalley made an important observation: “John is not discussing the contrast between faith and unbelief; he is condemning those heretical beliefs, within and beyond his community, which amount to a determined and antichristian rebellion against God (v 3b)” (1, 2, 3 John, 223).
522 BDAG 607 s.v. luvw 4.
523 See also the discussion in the previous paragraph.
524 In the Greek text pneu'ma [pneuma, “spirit”] is elided and must be supplied. Cf. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 224). According to Westcott, the omission of pneu'ma may be the author’s way of generalizing the allusion to the figure of the Antichrist (The Epistles of St. John, 143). Marshall saw the omission as a device to prevent any suggestion that there is a “spirit” of antichrist comparable to the Spirit of God (The Epistles of John, 208, n. 12).
525 Brown, The Epistles of John, 496. The lexical form of both these verbs is the same (ejrcomai, ercomai).
526 Cf. Haas, et al., A Translator’s Handbook, 104; Marshall, The Epistles of John, 209, n. 18. See also the discussion of the meaning of kovsmo (kosmos) in 2:15.
527 See also Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 178-82, esp. 179, n. 51.
528 Note the use of tekniva (teknia, “little children”), a term of endearment, to address them.
529 Cf. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 109-110.
530 Bultmann compares the “triumphal self-consciousness” of the author’s community implicit here with that expressed in the first part of 1 John 3:14 (The Johannine Epistles, 63).
531 See Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 132-33; cf. also Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 100.
532 Haas (A Translator’s Handbook, 104) saw a reference to God the Father here, while Westcott (The Epistles of St. John, 144) thought the relative pronoun referred to Christ. For a survey of the different uses of mevnw (menw, “I reside/remain”) in 1 John, see 1 John 2:6.
533 So Stott, The Epistles of John, 157, and Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 110. Smalley, on the other hand, saw a combined reference to God as Father, Son, and Spirit based on the trinitarian character of this section, especially v. 3 (1, 2, 3 John, 227)
534 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 227.
535 Stott, The Epistles of John, 157.
536 Brown, The Epistles of John, 498; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 228; Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 204-205.
537 Georg Strecker argued that seeing in 1 John 4:5 a comment about the degree of success enjoyed by the opponents amounted to an overestimation of the possibility of obtaining historical information from the text (The Johannine Letters, 139). He may well be right.
538 So Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 115, and Stott, The Epistles of John, 157-58, who see the referents of the “we” here as differentiated from the Christian readers of the letter in general.
539 So Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant, 288, n. 10; cf. also Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, 64, n. 15. Haas (A Translator’s Handbook, 104) expresses a preference for this inclusive sense of “we,” although he acknowledges that it may be exclusive instead.
540 Brown states, “A decision between the distinctive and nondistinctive use of ‘we’ is difficult here, but overall I am inclined toward the latter” (The Epistles of John, 499).
541 Brown did not hold to apostolic authorship of 1 John.
542 Even if one does not hold that the Apostle John wrote 1 John, it is still evident from the context that the author is claiming to have apostolic authority in the confrontation with the secessionist opponents: he places himself among the apostles to bolster his arguments against the teaching of the opponents. It seems to me, however, that it is simpler to regard the author himself as one of those eyewitnesses he describes in 1:1-4.
543 For the complete discussion of the problems with identifying the referents of ejn touvtw/ phrases in 1 John, see the section “The referent of ejn touvtw/ (en toutw, “by this”) in 2:3.”
544 Dodd preferred to see the phrase referring not just to v. 6, but to the christological confession in vv. 2-3 as well (The Johannine Epistles, 102). Smalley allowed that the phrase referred to v. 6, but stated further that “an allusion to the earlier test (a proper acknowledgment of Jesus, vv 2-3) is almost certainly in view as well” (1, 2, 3 John, 230).
545 See the sections “The referents of pneuvmati and pneuvmata in 4:1” and “The referents of the first and second uses of the relative pronoun oJ (Jo) in 4:4” above for further discussion.