WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson IX) 01/27/22

4:1 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.

In his interpretation of verse one, Wilder says that the Apostle John states that God has given us the Spirit,[1] which is “His Spirit” to be our “witness.[2] But we are not to believe every spirit, which means not to accept all the messages we hear are genuine. Many evil spirits led weak believers into sin and error; the reality of their supernatural impact was recognized everywhere in the Jewish and Christian literature, specially assigned to the “last hour.” Just as the “evil one” stands against God, so the Antichrist stands against the Anointed One. Likewise, “the spirit of error” against “the spirit of truth[3] and the “false prophets against the true prophets.” In the First and Final Covenants, the prophet is the bearer of revelation, the mouthpiece of “spirits.”

Examples of the role of prophecy in the Final Covenant, notes Wilder, are offered for our understanding.[4] The central theme in the Apostle Paul’s writings[5] was the contributions to the meetings of the church of those who have the gift of prophecy. The second-century church evidences a widespread hunger for new revelations and visions. However, much offered to meet this need too often took the form of irrational ideas and obscure concepts. The supernatural is not always divine. The rebuke by the prophet Jeremiah of false prophets who gave deceptive assurances of safety[6] illustrates the First Covenant background.

The Church found it necessary, says Wilder, to set up criteria and controls, a difficult thing to do since it involved the danger of smothering the spread of the Gospel. In one of His earliest letters, Paul writes, “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything.”[7] Other passages that document the discrimination of spirits,[8] viewed as a peculiar gift, and set up the test: “No one who is speaking with the help of God’s Spirit says, ‘Jesus be cursed.’ And no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ without the help of the Holy Spirit.”[9] In verse one, the false prophets were identified by their reaction to Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel and the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,”[10] we find that their unrighteous conduct and greed branded them. In Torah, it was called “flattery[11] and “popularism.”[12] [13]

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899- 1981) writes that the great theme of the Apostle in this Epistle is the possibility of having joy in this world, a joy that comes from God, despite circumstances and conditions. John had made that perfectly clear when he explained, “We write these things to you so that you can be full of joy with us.”[14] That is what he is concerned about, which is the extraordinary thing he unfolds to these people. They were Christians in a very complex and contradicting world, and yet John, now an old man, will tell them that “We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one.”[15] Nevertheless, they have God’s joy to the fullest.

And then Lloyd-Jones sees John suggesting that there are two excellent and foremost things that Christians must remember and hold on to come what may. The first is that we have fellowship with God; that the main effect of the coming of the Lord Jesus the Anointed One into this world, and of His work is that we who believe in Him and belong to Him and are in Him have fellowship with God; we are walking with God. The second great thing is that we, as children of God, have fellowship with Him, but we are in that same relationship with others, making us His children.[16]

Ronald Ralph Williams (1906-1970) writes that these two paragraphs contain some of the Apostle John’s most significant and characteristic teaching. In order to interpret it, we must visualize the atmosphere of the primitive church. Let’s rid ourselves of the psychological, scientific environment of the twentieth century. Picture a time when the earth was full of strange spirits, at least how it seemed to the minds of those then living back then. When people broke out into wild, ecstatic speech or song, it was immediately viewed as some form of spiritual or demonic possession.

Religious excitement has often led to extraordinary physical phenomena; for example, during the time of John Wesley, it was common for those who heard him falling to the ground and begin to cry and moan under the influence of his preaching. Today we call this being “slain in the Spirit.” Some might have mistakenly thought of it as the Holy Spirit’s work bringing conviction of sin and then the peace of forgiveness. But to others, it resulted from evil spirits, having as it were a “last fling” before handing over their prey to the Lordship of the Anointed One. Examples of this are in the Scriptures.[17]

In the last part of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s, when a Pentecostal awakening occurred in Europe and then the United States, this is how many of the nominal churches viewed Pentecostals to which they gave the intended demeaning name “Holy Rollers.” However, when members of the Episcopal and Catholic churches began to experience the same, they chose the term “Neo-Pentecostals.” My fifth great maternal grandfather, Methodist preacher Joshua Thomas of Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay, recorded many of these phenomena during his tent revival meetings on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Here’s one example: “One Sunday morning, there was a great meeting, and many professed to be born from above. They shouted all over the ground, and many fell and lay as dead on the ground; when they recovered, they began to praise God wonderfully.”[18]

William Barclay (1907-1978) looks at verse one with the eye of a Greek scholar. He found the recurring Greek preposition ek (“from”) and noun Theo (“God”). There are no arguments over the word “Theo.” It’s the tiny preposition “ek.”  In the KJV it is translated of (366x), from (181x), out of (162x), by (55x), on (34x), with (25x),[19] miscellaneous (98x), example: “which” Matthew 6:27; “among” Matthew 12:11; “went away again” Matthew 26:42; “beyond” Mark 6:51, etc. That is by no means easy to translate. But we need an English translation that interprets the Greek in its most accurate form. It is the phrase that the Revised Standard Version consistently renders of God. Its occurrences Verse 1: “Test the spirits to see whether they are of God.” Verse 2: “Every spirit which confesses that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh is of God.” Verse 3: “Every spirit which does not confess Jesus the Anointed One is not of God.” Verse 4: “Little children, you are of God.” Verse 6: “We are of God. He who is not of God does not listen to us.” Verse 7: “Love is of God.” It is easy to see the solutions various translators used for clarity.

In verses 1-3, James Moffatt translates the phrase as comes from God, and in verses 4, 6, and 7 belongs to God. In the New Testament in Modem Speech, R.F. Weymouth translates it from God in verses 1-3. In verse 4, he translates, You are God’s children. In verse 6, he summarizes: “We are God’s children. He who is not a child of God does not listen to us.” In verse 7, he has: “Love has its origin in God.” In his The New Testament in Plain English, in every case except verse 7, Charles Kingsley Williams translates as from God; in verse 7, he has God.

The difficulty is easy to see in the exchange of “from” and “of.” Yet, it is of prime importance to attach a precise meaning to this. The Greek ek means “out of,” “from,” “by,” and “away from.” and Theos means “God.” The mystery lies in the grammatical case used. The Greek ek is a preposition that signifies the origin of the action or motion proceeds. The Greek Theos is a masculine noun implying the source of the cause, which leads to an effect. So, the translator must decide whether this should read “from” or “of.” So, why is it so important to denote that a person, or a spirit, or a quality is ek tou theo.”)

The most straightforward translation is from God. If the preposition “of” is used, the English reader can understand that the person or spirit is a minor deity, a little lower than the angels, which can, like Lucifer, remain righteous or evil. But when “from” is chosen, it implies that God gave it or sent it. So, John says that we need to test the person or spirit, inspiring them. Therefore, God set them loose on the earth, and some have remained holy and others unholy. But when “from” is used, there is no doubt that Godly Spirit is from God, while the evil spirit is from some other source – the devil.[20]

F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) tells us that in the apostolic churches, as in ancient Israel, communications were made from time to time by “prophets.” They were men and women who spoke as the mouthpieces of a power beyond themselves. Every prophet claimed to be a spokesman of God, inspired by the Spirit of truth. Still, it was necessary to test these claims in the First and Final Covenants. In Elijah’s day, we meet prophets of Baal and prophets of Asherah, spokesmen of Canaanite divinities,[21] as well as those who, like Elijah himself, were prophets of the God of Israel.[22] To distinguish between the former and the latter was no difficult task. It was discerned when prophets made contradictory utterances by claiming to be messengers of God.[23] This same dilemma that the Apostles dealt with is much the same today.


[1] 1 John 3:24

[2] Ibid. 5:7

[3] Ibid. John 4:6

[4] Acts of the Apostles 11:27-28; 13:1-3; 21:9-12; Revelation 10:11

[5] 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14

[6] Jeremiah 14:14

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20

[8] 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; 14:1-5, 24-33

[9] Ibid. 12:3

[10] Also known as the Didache (Teaching)

[11] Job 17:5; 32:21; Psalm 5:9; 12:2-3; Proverbs 6:24; 7:21; Daniel 11:32

[12] 1 Samuel 16:7; 2 Samuel 3:36; Proverbs 13:20; 14:20; 18:24; 29:23

[13] Wilder Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., Exposition, pp. 271-273

[14] 1 John 1:4

[15] Ibid. 5:19

[16] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn: Life in the Anointed One, op. cit., 397-398

[17] Mark 9:25-27; Acts of the Apostles 16:16-18

[18] Thomas, Joshua: Parson of the Islands, by Adam Wallace, Published by the Office of the Methodist Home Journal, Philadelphia, 1872, p.30

[19] Cf. Matthew 1:18; 3:17; 2:15; 12:33; 20:21; 27:7

[20] Barclay, Phillip: The Daily Study Bible, op. cit., pp. 103-104

[21] 1 Kings 18:19

[22] Ibid. 18:4, 13, 22

[23] Bruce, F. F., The Epistles of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition. Kingsley Books, Inc. Kindle Edition

About drbob76

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