WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson III) January 19, 2022

4:1a Dearly loved friends, don’t always believe everything you hear simply because someone says it is a message from God: test it first to see if it actually is, for there are many false teachers all around.

Johann Bengel (1687-1752) writes that a dreadful crop of heresies sprung up during the Apostle John’s ministry. But he zealously contends against them. Some would accuse him of being too conservative if he were alive today. Bengel expounds on this by noting the words in the KJV: “every.” It means those who present themselves. Also, the term spirit denotes – by which any teacher is motivated. Try – accomplished by the rule given in verses two and three. Many – in that time, as at other times. False prophets – see what other Apostles had to say.[1] Have gone out – from their posts, they entered society.[2] World – which it is easy to deceive.[3] [4]

Thomas Pyle (1674-1756) notes that John wrote this epistle when the Jews expected the appearance of their Messiah. They wanted Him to free them from the Romans according to the prophecies in the Scriptures. But unfortunately, so many impostors strived to gain believers by diabolical delusions and forgeries. So, John was telling his readers that they should be highly concerned that you examine their doctrines so that they too will be prevented from having their false teaching imposed on them.[5]

Charles Peters of St. Mabyn, Parish, Cornwall (1690-1774) says that God assists good people, both in the knowledge and practice of their duties, by the inward operation of His Holy Spirit; it is a plain and specific doctrine of Christianity. It also distinguishes the works of the Holy Spirit from the natural workings of the mind or suggestions by an evil spirit. Furthermore, anything felt in these phenomena which do not appear in Holy Scripture is exposed. Therefore, the only way to differentiate between them is to bring them to the standard of truth, God’s Word, and those rules of right and wrong, good and evil, fixed and sure.[6]

John Gill )1697-1771) reminds us that the Apostle John mentioned the word “spirit” in the latter part of chapter three, now he takes an occasion to speak of the many antichrists there were then to caution believers, stay away from. By “every spirit,” he means either every doctrine pretending to come from God or every teacher who professes to be qualified and sent by God and has a new revelation from Him. God endows faithful ministers of the Gospel with Spiritual gifts to prepare them for His work. They are separated and called by Him and receive His spiritual light to discover knowledge from Him.

But some are self-appointed ministers of the Gospel, says Gill. They have natural abilities and a significant education in theoretical knowledge. Yet they have never received either grace or gifts from the Spirit; nor have they been ever called by Him; nor significantly sufficient in dividing God’s Word for people to believe it came from God. So, it was in John’s Day, they called themselves Christians but preached a different Gospel than the one John shared. Those are the wolves in sheep clothing of which every believer needs to be aware.[7]

James Macknight (1721-1800) says that when the Apostle John warned, “do not believe every spirit,” he meant every teacher who pretends to be inspired by God’s Spirit, as is plain from the latter part of this verse; many false prophets are gone out into the world. These false prophets are called Antichrist and in the plural number Antichrists.[8] The Apostle John attempts to convince his readers that there are two spirits at work in the church: the Spirit of the Anointed One and the spirit against the Anointed One. He found these spirits manifested in the teachings and doctrines of those who minister in the Church.

The Apostle Paul said that all Scriptures as “breathed” out by God; the breath of God is the same as His Spirit. With that being so, then all false doctrines and heresies are breathed out by Satan. He’s still trying to do to God’s children what he could not do to God’s Son.[9] Macknight goes on to say that since some of you possess the gift of discerning spirits, do not hastily believe every teacher who pretends to be inspired. Instead, examine those teachers, whether God sent them or not, because many false prophets have gone out into the world, intending to attract disciples to their doctrine.[10]

John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) says that all Christians, to whom God has entrusted His Spirit, should all pay attention. Unfortunately, many pretending teachers and preachers carry a seducing spirit of false doctrines they claim to have uncovered through the brightness of enlightening visions and immediate revelation. But before you start to promote these tricky pretenders, carefully examine what they say is the true Light of God’s Word to discern what spirit is driving them and what doctrine they are teaching. Then look at what kind of life they lead and their real aims and goals. All believers must be cautious about those our Savior predicted would come because many of these imposters have gone around the world.[11]

Joseph Benson (1749-1821) says that for the Gnostics and other heretics in the first age of the Church to gain respect for their erroneous doctrines, they must assume the character and authority of inspired teachers. John had his disciples in mind[12] that they had the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which enabled them to judge with certainty both teachers and their doctrine. It was to secure them, as far as possible, from being deceived. We may paraphrase John’s words as follows: “Don’t believe everything you hear. Examine their messages to see if God’s Word inspired them. Do not utilize what you know to judge their prophecies, but let God’s Word decide if it’s real or false.”[13]

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) notes that the first six verses of this chapter form an episode. The Apostle John’s motives point to his readers concerning the supernatural. It involves the Spirit from the Anointed One as the reliable sign of their genuine fellowship with Him. The possibility that they might effortlessly make an indiscreet use of this remark to their destruction struck John. He further reflects that a false demonic spirit is everywhere in the world, especially in the circle of his readers. They may quickly be blinded and led astray thereby. In order not to be misunderstood, John expressly warns them against this spirit of error, stimulates them to fight vigorously against this spirit of terror, and stirs them up to prove the spirits utilizing a reliable test. The Apostle then instructs them. In doing so, he returns to a theme already discussed.[14] However, in these first six verses, his remarks form another quick episode, for he soon returns to the subject he had been treating, namely, the question of brotherly love.

The first of those is the testing of the spirits. What John demands here is also required by the Apostle Paul,[15] who, among the gifts of the Spirit, makes special mention of discerning the spirits. The spirits mentioned by Paul are to be understood as “spiritual gifts,” supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit John thinks in particular of the hearts of the prophets, among whom there was the false prophecy following the Lord’s prophetic word.[16] That is why John could rightly say that many are already operating in the world. It backed up John’s reason for issuing a warning and appeal at the verse’s beginning. He writes, “have gone out.” John knew that some fake prophets had “demonic spirits.”[17]

Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) points out that there are two words in Final Covenant meaning “to try, test, prove;” the one which we have here is the Greek verb dokimazō[18] [19] and of the Greek verb peirazōtemptations” of Satan.[20] The first occurs about 23 times, and the last occurs about 39 times in the Final Covenant. We find none of them in the Apostle John’s writings. He nowhere else uses the word which we have here, and the other only four times.[21]The Authorized Version (KJV) is very unpredictable in its renderings of the Greek phrase dokimazō. In Luke 12:56 “discern,”[22] Luke 14:19 “prove,”[23] Romans 1:28 “did not like,[24] Romans 2:18 “approvest,[25] Romans 14:22 “alloweth,”[26] 1 Corinthians 3:13 “try,”[27] 1 Corinthians 11:28 “examine,”[28] 1 Peter 1:7 “tried,”[29] and 1 John 4:1 “try.”[30]

We find the difference between the two Greek verbs dokimazō and peirazō in the Apostle Paul’s writings,[31] summed up in this: dokimazō used here in verse one usually implies something good, if not a friendly; to prove or test in the hope that when tried it will stand the test, whereas peirazō often means a menacing object; to try in the hope the tested and tried will be found insufficient. The Apostle Paul gives us this to consider: “Test them all; hold on to what is good.”[32]


[1] 2 Peter 2:1; Matthew 24:11, 24

[2] 2 John 1:7

[3] 1 John 4:4-5

[4] Bengel, Johann: The Critical English Testament, op. cit., p. 320

[5] Pyle, Thomas: A Paraphrase on the Epistles of the New Testament, Vol. II, Printed by W. Baxter, Oxford, 1817, p. 394

[6] Peters, Charles: The Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., Homiletics, p. 9

[7] Gill, John. Exposition of the Entire Bible (Kindle Location 341162-341193)

[8] 1 John 2:18

[9] Cf. Matthew 4:1-11

[10] Macknight, James: A New Literal Translation of the Apostolical Epistles, Vol. VI, Printed by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, London, 1821, pp. 84-85

[11] Brown, John of Haddington: Self-Interpreting Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, Published by Archibald Fullarton and Company, London, 1857, p. 1327

[12] 1 John 2:37

[13] Benson, Joseph. Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 3, p. 11094

[14] See 1 John 2:18-27

[15] 1 Corinthians 12:10

[16] Matthew 24:11, 24

[17] Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., December 1893, p. 122

[18] 1 John 4:1; See also 1 Peter 1:7; Hebrews 3:91 Timothy 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:21

[19] See also the one used where the Jews try to tempt (Greek syzēteō) the Anointed One; Mark 1:21; 8:11; 9:10; 9:14; 12:28

[20] Matthew 4:1, 3; 16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35

[21] John 6:6; Revelations 2:2, 20; 3:10

[22]Interpret” – NIV

[23]Try them out” – NIV

[24]Did not think it worthwhile” – NIV

[25]Approve” – NIV

[26]Approves” – NIV

[27]Test” – NIV

[28]Examine” – NIV

[29]Refined,” – NIV

[30]Test” – NIV

[31] 2 Corinthians 13:5; See also Psalm 26:2

[32] 1 Thessalonians 5:21

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s