WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson LIX) 06/11/21

2:20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.

COMMENTARY

Severus of Antioch (488-538 AD) says that not only did the prophets and holy men who lived in the past receive God’s anointing to share His Word but also those who came later. That’s because they all believed in a coming Messiah who would be the Anointed One, our Savior. Just like John the Baptizer, they preached baptism as a form of regeneration through cleansing. As the priests anointed them with myrrh, so God christens us with the Holy Spirit. And as they were promised a seat at the banquet of Abraham, so are we pledged to be joint-heirs with the Anointed One.[1]

Bede the Venerable (672-735 AD) says that the spiritual unction is the Holy Spirit Himself, given in the Sacrament of Anointing. John says that they all have this blessing and can distinguish good people from evil ones so that he does not need to teach them what they already know because of their anointing. Because he is talking about heretics in this passage, he points out that they have received their endowment from the Holy One to underline that the heretics and all antichrists are deprived of that gift and do not belong to the Lord but rather are servants of Satan.[2]

John Calvin (1509-1564) states that the kingdom of the Anointed One consists of the Spirit, not in earthly delights or grandeur. That way, to be partakers with Him, we must renounce the world. The people saw such a visible symbol of anointing at the baptism of Jesus. That’s when the Spirit rested upon Him in the form of a dove. It also served to identify Him as the Anointed One.    

Calvin goes on to say that to designate the Spirit and His gifts by the term “unction” is not new. John uses the Greek noun charism, which means “a special endowment of the Holy Spirit,” which is translated here as “unction” and in verse twenty-seven as “anointing” (KJV).[3] That’s why we should not view it as being absurd.[4] It is the one area, says Calvin, from which we gain life, especially in what regards the heavenly life. There is not one drop of spiritual vigor in us except what the Holy Spirit instills. He came as a result of our Lord’s bidding of the Father, [5] bringing with Him the heavenly riches which we lacked so desperately to flow to and through us in bountiful abundance. And because believers stand unconquerable in the strength of their King, and His spiritual riches flourish among them, it is only right to call them Christians.[6]

John Owen (1616-1683) speaks of using the word “unction” in the Judaic congregation. Often, unction serves as a reference to the offices for which believers are consecrated and ordained. But these are at the bottom of the list led by the special anointing of Jesus the Anointed One. As the Anointed One, He holds office as Prophet, High Priest, and King, including Mediator.[7] According to the measure of our faith, we, who have the Spirit, are anointed with the oil of gladness.[8] The Anointed One is the fullness of the Spirit from which our anointing comes so that in all things He may have the pre-eminence.[9] [10] We, in turn, derive our calling and authority from these in carrying out His command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, healing, and baptizing under the jurisdiction of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In a pamphlet written by John Wesley (1703-1791), he states that what the Apostle John says here in verses twenty and twenty-seven about “unction,” some scholars have misapplied as being peculiar to the times of the Apostles. If that were so, then the anointing to preach the Gospel would have died with them. But God has armed His children to stand against false teachings. Some as teachers, others as preachers, and yet others as witnesses to the truth. Our being able to proclaim the Gospel through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is unique to Christianity.[11]

Responding to what the Apostle John says here in verse twenty, John Gill (1697-1771) tells us that the Jews say that all of [the original oil, used for many purposes] remains stored for the “age to come,” namely, the times of the Messiah.[12] [13] Now, God told these saints to reserve this oil for “Me.” That does not mean anyone other than the Messiah, our Lord Jesus the Anointed One. And since we who represent Him in this world are in union with Him, that anointing is meant for us as well. So, if anyone attempts to preach the Gospel without having the Anointed One in them and they being in union with the Anointed One can expect no anointed upon their preaching.[14] [15]

James Macknight (1721-1800) says that the way to tell the difference between factual teachers and false teachers is that gifted teachers have the “unction” of the Holy Spirit. In his Greek Lexicon, Joseph Thayer says that the way the Apostle John employs unction here is to denote the “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Macknight agrees with this interpretation. And the best way to determine if those gifts reside in a preacher or teacher is when our spirit agrees with the Holy Spirit that what the speaker is saying is valid.[16]

Samuel E. Pierce (1746-1829) tells us that Christ – the Anointed One, is the Person here designed. He is inherently holy. And as the Holy One of Israel, He alone is holy. By nature, He is independently holy, a fountain of holiness. It is from Him, elect saints, angels, and people, both in heaven, and earth, receive all their sanctity. The Anointed One is God’s Holy One. He is the most Holy. The seraphim worship Him in Isaiah’s vision: “I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of His robe filled the Temple. Attending Him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings, they covered their faces; with two, they covered their feet, and with two, they flew. They were calling out to each other, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! His glory fills the whole earth!’”[17] [18] I’ve often suggested that the three “Holy’s” are one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Spirit.

Charles Simeon (1759-1836) laments that in every age of the Church, persons have arisen from within to torment the Church herself. They not only to “speak perverse things” and “draw away disciples after them” but even introduce “damnable heresies” and “deny the Lord who bought them from sin’s slavery.” Our Lord foretold the coming of such antichrists. Even in the apostolic age, they existed in large numbers.

For a length of time, these persons, says Simeon, could not be distinguished from dedicated saints. The more eminent Christians, who had “the gift of discerning spirits,”[19] might see something wrong in their spirits and attitudes. Yet, since their defects were not generally visible or detrimental, they call for public disapproval. They were allowed to grow up as tares[20] among the wheat till they manifested their character before all by their unconcealed heresy. However, the Spirit protected the upright from contamination. And that which was instrumental to their preservation was “an unction from the Holy One,” whereby they were enabled to “discern all things,” and consequently, by “proving all things, to hold fast that which was good.”[21]

Adam Clarke 1762-1832) has a particular viewpoint on the meaning of this verse as the Apostle John meant it to be. Clarke says that John is guarding the Christians against seducers and deceivers, disturbing and striving to corrupt the congregations. As a consequence, he desires them to try the spirits to see if they were of God.[22] But how were they to try them? Mainly by their anointing – that spiritual light and discernment which they received from God. Also, by comparing the doctrine of these men with what they heard from the beginning. The anointing mentioned here seems to mean the spirit of illumination or deep knowledge and discernment in spiritual things. By this, they could readily distinguish the false apostles from the real.[23]

We can deduct from what Clarke says there that when we detect that a speaker is under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, it is not because of the preaching form or style of delivery. It is how enlightened we become with the Scripture illuminated by the speaker by God using one of His holy instruments or vessels to transmit the truth. George Leo Haydock (1774-1849) gives us the Roman Catholic view of verse twenty. John tells the members they received sufficient instructions by the grace and spirit of God against such false teachers. Catholic biblical scholar Robert Witham (1667-1738) calls it unction. That is, grace and wisdom from the Holy Spirit. Bishop Richard Challoner (1691-1781) explains – And you know all things, says John, as to what you ought to believe and practice. Therefore, I have not written to you as to ignorant persons.


[1] Severus of Antioch: Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., 1-3 John, p. 188

[2] Bede the Venerable: Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., 1-3 John, p. 188

[3] The New Century Version (NCV) translates it as “gift” in all three places.

[4] 1 John 2:20, 27

[5] John 14:16

[6] Calvin, John: Institutes, op. cit., Bk. 2, Ch. 15, pp. 521-522

[7] See Daniel 9:24; Hebrews 1:9; John 3:34

[8] Psalm 45:7

[9] Colossians 1:18

[10] Owen, John: Of Communion with God, Vol 3, Part 3, Ch. 3, p. 328

[11] Wesley, John, The Works of: Vol. 8, A Farther Appeal to Men or Reason and Religion, p. 99

[12] Exodus 30:31

[13] Jerusalem Talmud: Tractate Horayot, Jacob Neusner Edition, Ch. 3, p. 73

[14] See 1 John 2:27

[15] Gill, John: Exposition of the Entire Bible (Kindle Location 340547)

[16] Macknight, James: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 53

[17] Isaiah 6:1-3

[18] Pierce, S. E., An Exposition of the First Epistle General of John, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 224

[19] See 1 Corinthians 12:10

[20] Tares are a wheat-like species of rye-grass, the seeds of which are a strong soporific poison. It bears the closest resemblance to wheat until the ear appears, and only then the difference is discovered. It grows plentifully in Syria and Palestine. (cf. Matthew 13:24-30)

[21] Simeon, Charles: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 411

[22] 1 John 4:1

[23] Clarke, Adam: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 375

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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