ix] The test of the incarnationArgument
John now sets out to align right belief with right living and right loving. "Lest confidence in the Spirit's presence induce sloppiness in the reader's religious life, John calls for keen diligence", Yarbrough.
i] Context: See 3:1-6.
ii] Background: See 1:1-5.
ii]i Structure: This passage, The test of the incarnation, presents as follows:
Argument #9, v1-6:
Being children of God involves distinguishing truth from error:
a word of encouragement, v1-3;
a word of assurance, v4-6.
John has established the fact that a person who obeys God's command to believe in his Son, a belief that generates brotherly love, is a child of God, born of God, indwelt by God, which reality is facilitated by the presence of the Spirit in their life. So, having encouraged his readers to love, 3:10-18, and having assured them of their grounding in Christ, 3:19-24, John again encourages them, this time toward spiritual discernment, 4:1-3. John is addressing a real situation where "secessionists ("false teachers", Marshall; "false prophets", Schnackenburg) .... [have] circulated among the churches and propagated their beliefs with a view of winning people over to their understanding of things", Kruse. In the face of this danger John tells his readers to "test", to evaluate their statements ("test the spirits"). John goes on in v4-6 to assure his readers that they are heading in the right direction and that they will therefore be able to stand against the destructive forces that are marshaled against them. "John focuses on the victory that believers have won, v4, the self-referential deludedness of the faith's detractors, v5, and the truth of the apostolic message, v6. Full and continual reception of that message, John implies, is the confirmation that believers are rightly discerning the spirits that seek to direct their devotion either heavenward, toward Christ and his ways, or elsewhere", Yarbrough.
v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
In this passage, John sets out a number of tests for true spirituality. The sample sermon provided on this site, serves as a possible preaching approach to the passage. It is a famous outline for a sermon and derives from Jonathan Edwards. In an age flooded with revival movements, his tests are very much to the point.
Text - 4:1
Arguments in support of the proposition that God is light, 1:5 - Being children of God involves distinguishing truth from error, v1-6: i] Encouragement toward spiritual discernment, v1-3. Addressing the members of his Christian fellowship, John asks them not to automatically accept that a person's spiritual qualifications, their spirituality ("every spirit"), and therefore their authority to speak for God, is necessarily genuine. He asks his readers to apply some tests to find out whether this person really does speak for God. Is their spirituality sourced from God, or is it just a product of a fruitful, even psychotic mind, or even worse, Satanic influences? John's readers know well that in these last days "false prophets" will be actively leading the brotherhood astray.
mh .... pisteuete (pisteuw) pres. imp. "do not believe" - As with "test", the present tense is durative, "do not continue to believe/trust ..... but continue to test."
panti pneumati (a atoV) "[do not believe] every spirit" - The dative is possibly locative, "you must not make the mistake of placing confidence in every spiritual utterance", Cassirer. "the spirit", "spirits", is possibly either "utterance inspired by a spirit, or a person inspired by a spirit", Marshall. It is difficult to decide whether John is referring to the utterance itself ("a spiritual utterance"), or the spirit-inspired person ("do not trust every man who claims to be inspired by the Spirit", Barclay), or a blending of both. Possibly John may just be using "every spirit" as a reference to "human beings", Kruse. Schnackenburg argues that the reference to "spirit / spirits" in this passage is not to the Holy Spirit, nor "demonic powers, but human spirits inspired either by God or by Satan". This seems close to the mark. We are not to take a person's spiritual credentials at face value, rather, we are to test them, test their spiritual status / spirituality, their claims and their utterances. The spiritual brother may not necessarily derive their spiritual qualification from God; such may come from Satan, even a fertile, or psychotic mind. In the end, "the fact that a statement was attributable to inspiration by the spirit does not prove that it is the Spirit of God which is at work", Marshall. "Do not automatically accept a person's spirituality, but test it to see whether it derives from God."
alla "but" - Adversative.
dokimazete (dokimazw) pres. imp. "test" - test, prove. Is this similar to "discerning the spirits", 1Cor.12:10, 14:1?
ei "whether" - if. Establishing a condition; "whether or not they have their source in God", Cassirer.
ek + gen. "from [God]" - out of, from. The preposition usually expresses source/origin, so the NIV "from God". Yet one wonders if John is using the phrase as a shorthand version of oJ gegennhmenoV ek tou qeou, "born from God" = "belongs to God", Brown.
oJti "because" - Here expressing cause/reason, as NIV.
yeudopofhtai (hV ou) "false prophets" - There have always been those within the Christian fellowship who outwardly seem to properly exercise a ministry of the Word, but who, either knowingly or unknowingly, misrepresent divine truth, cf. 2Pet.2:1 (a wolf in sheep's clothing", Matt.7:15). The ministry of prophecy referred to here is most likely not that of primary revelation, but either the Agabus type of ecstatic prophecy, or the prophecy of scriptural exposition outlined by Paul in 1st Corinthians chapter 14.
eiV "into [the world]" - Locative.
So, how do we test a person's claim that they possess a superior spirituality? How do we test for "false prophets"? Of most importance is their confession of Jesus. John only gives us a short-hand version of a creedal statement of belief, but joining the dots together in this letter we end up with a confession as follows: Jesus is the Christ, the messiah, Son of God incarnate ("come in the flesh"), who by his atoning death gives life eternal to all who believe. Of course, the great creeds of the Christian church are but an expansion of this simple statement of belief.
en + dat. "[this is] how" - in [this]. An instrumental sense for the preposition seems best, "by this"; "the test by which you can recognize God-given inspiration is this", Barclay.
ginwskete (ginwskw) pres. "you can recognize" - we know. Possible imp. "The proper way of recognizing", Cassirer.
to pneuma (a atoV) "the Spirit" - The NIV capitalization is misleading, although it is adopted by many translators. Although an articular noun "the spirit", as opposed to the reference "every spirit / spirits", it is still likely that "the human spirit / spirituality" is in John's mind. As noted above, this "spirit" refers to human spirituality, a quality/nature that can derive from God, but then may come from Satan, a fertile mind, even a psychotic mind. For this reason we must test "the spirit". "This is how we can tell if the true nature of God is in that person who claims that it is", Junkins.
tou qeou (oV) "of God" - The genitive is adjectival, limiting "spirit", the spirituality that is of the God type, or "Spirit", possessive, or possibly ablative, source/origin.
oJmologei (oJmologew) pres. "acknowledges" - [every spirit which] confesses, agrees.
elhluqota (ercomai) perf. part. "has come" - having come. The perfect tense, expressing a present state resulting from a past action, indicates that John does not just have in mind Jesus' birth, but the totality of Christ's incarnation - his redemptive work and present reign as the risen son of man. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting Jesus Christ, "Jesus Christ who has come in the flesh"; "Jesus as the Christ incarnate", Moffatt.
en + dat. "in [the flesh]" - in [flesh]. Probably here adverbial, expressing manner; "in a fleshly way." Acknowledging Christ as "incarnate" seems a rather limited test, but it is probably a shorthand expression for the base of Christian belief, cf. 2:22, 4:3, 4:15, 5:1, 5:5, 5:6 = "Jesus as the Christ (messiah), the Son of God, come in the flesh and the reality of his atoning death", Kruse.
ek "from" - [is] out of, from [God]. Possibly expressing source, but better "belongs to God", see above. "The person who's spirituality acknowledges the real Jesus demonstrates that they belong to God."
A person ("every spirit") who acknowledges this truth can be trusted, a person who doesn't should not be given a hearing. This sheep and goats situation where, at a distance the goats look like sheep, is just how it will be with the antichrist as he comes to us as an angel of light. The negative second half of John's statement, is an example of "short-talk", but the point is clear enough; "everyone who claims to be inspired and who denies this article of faith about Jesus Christ, does not draw his inspiration from God", Barclay.
mh + ind. "[every spirit that does] not [acknowledge]" - Incorrect grammar since it should be ou + ind. Are we missing something? See Culy who notes that it is classical usage where a subjective is being expressed.
ek + gen. "from [God]" - out of, from [God]. Expressing source / origin.
kai "-" - and. "Rather, this is the ....."
touto neut. "this" - The neuter indicating the whole of 3a, a spirituality that fails to acknowledge Jesus, so "it is rather", Brown; "rather, such spirituality is ....."
to "the spirit" - the. This pronominal article stands for "the spirit", as NIV; "is an Antichrist type of spirituality."
tou anticristou (oV) gen. "of the antichrist" - The genitive is ablative, expressing source / origin; "the spirit sourced from the antichrist." As Antichrist possesses Christ-like features, so a person's spirituality may seem like it is sourced from God, but may well not be divine in origin. "Such spirituality is an Antichrist type of spirituality, a spirituality that looks genuine, but isn't."
o} neut. pro. "which [you have heard is coming]" - Accusative of reference. This pronoun being neuter, indicates that it does not refer back to either "the spirit", or "the antichrist", both being nominative, but rather the situation where evil covers itself in the cloak of goodness. "Which situation / fraudulent revelation of evil in the guise of goodness / antichrist type of spirituality / .... you have been told ...." = "you were told [heard] that this situation was to come."
oJti "-" - that [it comes]. Here introducing a dependent statement of perception, "you have been told [heard] that it comes"; "it was coming", Moffatt.
hdh "already" - [and now is] already [in the world]. The situation is even now in the world. "It is in the world already", Junkins.
en + dat. "in [the world]" - Expressing space / sphere.
ii] The assurance of spiritual discernment, v4-6. Again, affectionately addressing his readers, John expresses his confidence that they have rejected, and will continue, to reject ("overcome"), the approaches of these "false prophets", and this because his readers rely on the living God. The resources of our God far outstrip the resources of the antichrist and his minions.
uJmeiV "you" - The position in the Gk. text is emphatic.
teknia "dear children" - By addressing his readers this way John serves to underline what he is about to say. "Little children", Brown.
ek + gen. "from God" - out of, from. Probably "you belong to God", Zerwick, see above. Being "from God" means that a person is "a child of God / born of God", and this because they confess Jesus.
nenikhkate (nikaw) perf. "have overcome" - you have overcome, conquered. The perfect tense again expressing a present state resulting from a past action. Probably "overcome" in the sense of rejecting the heretical teaching of the secessionists that deny Christ, so Kruse.
outouV "them" - Having referred to the present situation were an antichrist type of spirituality exists, John now refocuses on the individuals, the "them", the antichrist type spirits, those whose spirituality looks the part, but is not sourced from God. "You have overcome the appeal of such persons", Junkins.
oJti "because" - that. Here expressing cause/reason, as NIV.
oJ "the one who" - he. "He who is in you" is presumably God, but see below, and "he who is in the world" is "the Evil One", "the Prince of this world", cf. John's gospel.
en + dat. "in [you]" - Here locative, as NIV, although probably in a distributive sense, referring to the Christian community. It is usually argued that the Spirit is intended, possibly Jesus, but not the Father, since when referring to the Father the wording is not "to be in", but rather, "to abide in", so Brown, Bruce. It does seem though that John is simply referring to the indwelling presence of God facilitated by the Spirit, cf. 4:13.
meizwn comp. adj. "[is] greater [than the one who is in the world]". Not greater than the antichrist, so Phillips ("far stronger than the anti-Christ") since the secessionists are only like the antichrist. Rather, John obviously has Satan in mind, so Brown, Marshall, Schnackenburg, Kruse.
oJ art. "the one who [is in the world]" - The article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase en tw/ kosmw/, "in the world", into a substantive. "The one in the world is antichrist and the beings or forces he commands", Yarbrough.
These "false prophets", with their elite spirituality, can be identified as people of the world because they speak from the world's point of view.
autoi pro. "they" - "The spirits" of the antichrist type, those whose spirituality looks genuine, but is not sourced from God.
ek tou kosmou "[they are] from the world" - Best to take the preposition to mean "belong to the world", Brown, even though expressing source/origin, see above. "World" can be referenced in a neutral sense, but for John it means "both mankind united in opposition to God and the evil attitude characteristic of such people", Marshall.
dia + acc. "therefore" - because of [this]. Causal = "because of this reason. Brown notes that when this phrase is followed by a hoti clause it would normally refer forward, but when by itself it normally refers back, the "this" being "the fact that they are from the world". "That is why ...", Brown.
lalousin (lalew) pres. "speak" - they speak [from the world]. The first result of belonging to the world is that the secessionists "speak" "fondly of the world", Junkins; "they talk the world's language", Peterson; "their message has its source in the World", Barclay; "they speak from the world's point of view", Smalley. Both Barclay and Smalley best express the sense of the preposition ek, "from" = source.
kai "and" - Here obviously coordinate introducing the second result of being from the world.
akouei (akouw) pres. "listens" - hears. In the sense of hears, takes note of, believes and responds to. Schnackenburg suggests that obviously the secessionists have been quite successful in promoting their cause. The world listens to them because they are of the world. "They talk the world's language and the world eats it up", Peterson.
autwn gen. "them" - A genitive of direct object after a verb of perception.
People who possess true spirituality, who are in a personal and intimate relationship with the living God in Christ, find themselves engrossed in the apostolic tradition - the preserved teachings of Jesus and his apostles. The "false prophets", on the other hand, do not submit to the apostolic tradition. So then, it is by these tests that a believer can distinguish the genuine item from the fake. "This is how we identify the difference between the essence of reality and the essence of unreality", Junkins.
hJmeiV pro. "we" - The position is emphatic, "We belong to God." Who are the "we"? Commentators divide on the issue, either specifically John and his colleagues, or the wider Johannine community.
ek + gen. "from God" - Expressing source/origin, but with the sense "we belong to God"; see above.
oJ ginwskwn (ginwskw) pres. part. "whoever knows [God]" - the one who knows. The participle serves as a substantive. Note how "knows" balances "from God / belongs to God". Clearly both ideas are similar, so "knows" in the sense of intimate relationship with / belongs to.
akouei (akouw) pres. "knows" - listens. "Hear" as above.
hJmwn gen. pro. "to us" - of us. A genitive of direct object after a verb of perception.
o}V pro. "whoever" - who. Introducing a relative clause, "whoever does not belong to God", subject of "does not hear".
ek toutou neut. pro. "this is how" - from this. In this epistolary phrase the pronoun toutou is referring back to the situation where those who belong to God listen to the apostles, while those who don't belong to God don't listen, leading a conclusion " ...... that ....". "Out of / from this situation it is possible to recognize that ......"
thV alhqeiaV (a) gen. "[the Spirit] of truth" - As with "of falsehood", the genitive is functioning adjectivally, attributive, limiting "spirit". As already noted, "spirit" is likely not to refer to the Holy Spirit or some evil spirit ("Spirit" capitalized in the NIV), but rather a spiritual person, or possibly their spirituality. So, "a truthful spirit" = a spirituality that is of the truth, that reflects God, is the genuine item; it possesses "the essence of reality", Junkins.
planhV (h) "[the spirit] of falsehood" - of error. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "spirit"; "a lying spirit", "the essence of unreality", Junkins.