The Expository Files

"The Anointing" In First John 2

1 John 2

"But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things," 1 John 2:20.

"But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just s it has taught you, you will abide in Him," 1 John 2:27

This article serves at least three purposes: (1) to explain further a comment I made in a recent public panel discussion, (2) to change what I have written before on this passage, and (3) to provoke further study of the text among readers.

Until recent study my conclusion was, this anointing has reference to the spiritual gifts certain Christians had in the first century, during that time while the New Testament was being written (see 1 Cor. 12-14). I based this on the contextual indications that those anointed in this sense knew all things and did "not need that anyone teach" them. That made good sense to me.

I now see something else in this passage that I believe warrants study. I trust the readers of Expository Files to let me bring something up for study, without dogmatically insisting my view is perfect. Here's a question to consider: Is it an absolute, that spiritually gifted or inspired Christians in the first century did not need to be taught?

That is not an absolute! The apostle Paul wrote an epistle to the church at Corinth to teach them. There were Christians there who had spiritual gifts, yet they needed to be taught by an apostle (1 Cor. 12:1), not only about the use of the gifts, but also about everything else addressed in First and Second Corinthians. Given that, I cannot argue that those with spiritual gifts did not need anyone to teach them. Thus, I cannot make that argument in the context of 1 John 2. Even if the "anointing" in 1 Jno. 2:20,27 could be classified as related to spiritual gifts, that cannot be upheld on the basis of the phrase, "you do not need that anyone teach you." At this point in my study, I was compelled to go back into the context and give the matter fresh, hopefully objective attention.

Whatever John means by this "anointing" they had received, it certainly did not exclude being taught by the apostle John! Consider:

"These things we write to you...," 1 Jno. 1:4
"This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you...," 1 Jno. 1:5
"These things I write to you...," 1 Jno. 2:1
"I write to you...," 1 Jno. 2;12,13, etc.

Again let me stress the point. If we argue that the "anointing" is a reference to spiritual gifts because of the statement, "you do not need that anyone teach you," that line of argument is defeated by the fact that John is teaching them!

Here is an approach that is worthy of thought. Why must the "anointing" be understood in some miraculous (spiritual gifts/inspiration) sense? Why not understand this as simply their reception of truth. They were anointed by the truth the Holy Spirit revealed. This is what they had "received from Him." This is what was abiding in them. They were taught people!

So what is meant, "you do not need that anyone teach you?" They didn't need to listen to the Gnostic religious philosophers. They didn't need to be taught by the "false prophets" who had "gone out into the world," (1 Jno. 4:1).

This conclusion seems to me to be yielded from the context. John wants to impress upon his readers, they have been taught! "These things we write to you ... this is the message ... I write to you ... I have written to you ... you know it ... let that abide in you ... if what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son, etc." Then in verse 26, "These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you." Immediately after this: "But the anointing, etc."

My present understanding is, John is not talking about some special measure of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts or some sort of direct indwelling. He is saying, you have been taught! Don't let anyone deceive you or teach you a lie.

Part of our problem with the "anointing" is, we see the word and think we must quickly respond to charismatic claims. We must. But let's not respond so quickly that we miss the powerful point John is making. What protects us against deceivers is not the performance of spiritual gifts; not some mysterious indwelling or emotional empowerment. What protects us is the truth within us combined with the practice of righteousness. We can know "all things" we need to know today by our dependence on the sufficient scriptures given by the Holy Spirit.

There is some evidence that the Gnostic teachers used a word similar to "anointing." They were talking about someone being initiated into their cult, receiving enlightenment or perhaps the secrets of the order. John wants to impress upon Christians, they have received a much higher initiation/enlightenment from the Holy Spirit. They had been taught! John said, "the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and as it has taught you, you will abide in Him." Our fellowship with God does not require any teaching but what the Holy Spirit has given.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 12.3; March 2005