Podcast listener Roscoe from Tennessee writes: “Hi Pastor John. I love the podcast and enjoy the little tidbits I receive from you as you proclaim God’s Word. My question is quite simple: What does the apostle John imply/mean when he states in 1 John 2:26–27, ‘But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true — it is not a lie. So just as he taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ’ (that is the NLT). What does this mean for average Christians and our Bible reading? Is this a charge not to listen to teachers? Are we given a new empowerment in our Bible reading? PS: I listen to and appreciate my pastor, he’s a fine man of God!”
Let’s walk through the text and let the context help us out here. Admittedly, it does sound strange to hear John say in 1 John 2:27: “You have no need that anyone should teach you.” It sounds strange, because he himself is at that moment doing a kind of teaching. And it sounds strange because Jesus commanded us to teach the nations all things. And it sounds strange because teaching is a spiritual gift from God which he would want us to use — and on and on. The reasons why it would sound strange are many. So let’s look, because we know that he is not stupid. He knows what he is saying. He means what he means. And we want to dig in here and let the context help us see how this is coherent.
So let’s start back at verse 19. If Roscoe wants to get his Bible, this would be a good time to do it. And I am using the ESV because his New Living Translation is a little bit of a paraphrase. Start back at verse 19 where John refers to some folks who had been professing Christians, but somehow had been deceived and made shipwreck of their faith and left the church. So verse 19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
Then John contrasts those people with you who are true Christians. Verse 20: “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.” Or perhaps a better translation, even more radical: “You know all things,” which is another problem. “You don’t need a teacher. You know all things.” Well, all things in what sense with what limitations?
In other words, what makes the difference between you and those who have left is that you have the Holy Spirit. You have this anointing in the Holy Spirit. And he will not let that happen to you. He will grant you to have a right understanding of all things that you need to know to stay safe in Christ. There is the contrast that he is drawing between those who left — who were deceived — and you now who are not going to be deceived because you have the Holy Spirit. And then he gives a glimpse of what the false teaching is.
Verses 22–23: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” So the issue is the nature of Christ. Who is he? And the false teachers deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. The Christ, the Messiah, has not come in the flesh. That is what they are teaching. He hasn’t come in the flesh. This idea of a divine messiah in the flesh, the false teachers were rejecting.
And to get this wrong is to go totally wrong. Verse 23: “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” That is terrible. I mean that is the ultimate. You are lost. You don’t have God. Then John mentions two safeguards. And here we are getting close to the issue, two safeguards that they have against this error. And the first is the teaching that came to them in the beginning of their Christian life. Verse 24: “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.”
There is no thought here that the anointing from the Holy Spirit would replace the knowledge of Christ that comes by hearing teaching. You are supposed to keep it. Hold onto it. Remember it. Let it abide in you. They had been taught once by man. That is how they know the Word of God. We don’t know how extensive their body of knowledge was. It might have been remarkably extensive. It could have been the whole Old Testament delivered to them en masse, in some kind of document that was cherished. Or it could have been the whole story of the gospels — and on and on. Whatever it was, they had — John says — what they needed to be protected against this false teaching. And it had come to them through the teaching of men.
So they don’t need someone to replace it, add to it, reinterpret it. They don’t need that. They have the deposit of saving truth once for all delivered (Jude 3) and they have got what they need to be protected. That is what the deceivers are trying to do: add to the teachings, change the teachings, argue that they got the teachings wrong somehow, get them all mixed up about what they had heard so that they go off the deep end about Jesus. And so he adds in verse 26: “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.” That is probably the most important contextual comment for understanding why he says you don’t need teachers. “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.”
Then comes the second safeguard. So the first safeguard was: What you have heard from the beginning, the Word of God, the teaching that I delivered to you or somebody had delivered to you, guards you. And now the second safeguard is verse 26: “The anointing that you have received from him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing” — this Holy Spirit presence and power — “as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie — just as it has taught you, abide in him.”
In other words, the anointing of the Holy Spirit is all you need to avoid this heresy and interpret correctly what was taught you from the beginning about the Messiah. The purpose of this anointing is not to add new information to what they had heard from the beginning, but to give them such a clear and true sense of Christ and who he is in that teaching that they cannot be drawn away and swayed by the deceivers.
So the point of saying that you don’t have need of any teachers is that you have what you need. One, verse 24: You have what you heard from the beginning. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. Two, verse 26: You have the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The anointing that you received from the beginning abides in you. So they don’t need (1) false teachers twisting what they heard from the beginning and (2) they don’t need any more protection from the false teachers than they already have — the truth of God’s word and the Holy Spirit. It really does boil down to that. You have the word. You have the Spirit. What they need is to see that truth for what it is — and that is the work of the Holy Spirit.