March 2012


To Love and Cherish

Doing Apologetics

Christianity: The Basics

What is Wrong with Social Justice

Christianity and Secularism

Evidence for the Bible

The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 2:20-21

Week 23:  Mar 11, 2012

Having just contrasted the position of his reader with that of his opponents, John returns to comforting his readers by clarifying why he is writing to them.


f.        Why John Writes (2:21-27)

i.      Premise: You Know all things (2:20-1)

20 – You have an anointing from the Holy One and know all things.[1]

an anointing

–          John returns his focus back to his readers by point out how they are distinctive.  But exactly what does he mean by anointing?   The Greek word here (χρῖσμα)  is a noun and it only occurs here and in verse 27 in the NT.  The verbal form is found in several places.   In Luke 4:18, Acts 4:27, 10:38, and Heb 1:9 it refer to Jesus being anointed by God.   In 2 Cor 1:21-22 it is used in relation to us.  Now the one who makes us—and you as well—secure in union with the Messiah  and has anointed us is God, 22who has placed his seal on us and has given us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment. The word literally means to, mark or touch lightly will oil to indicate some calling.   Louw Nida gives the meaning of the noun form of the word as an “assignment. ”  While in the Greek translation of the OT it is used in 1 Sam 9:16 where Saul is to be anointed King.

–          As to what John means, unfortunately, this is where our lack of knowledge shows.  We know that later Christians and Gnostics both had ritual anointing with oil.   Later Gnostics claimed they had a special anointing (again tied by to their secret knowledge), but there is no evidence of this during 1st century.   As for the other mentions of  “anointing” in NT,   The Greek word in these cases  is ἤλειφον not χρῖσμα and refers to the physical application of perfume or oil as in the following:

  • to care for the body  – Mt 6:17 – when fasting
  • the sick – Mk 6:13, James 5:14,
  • to prepare the dead for burial  – Mk 16:1
  • to honor a Guest –  Lk 7:38, Lk 7:46, Jn 11:2, Jn 12:3

The use by John here is most likely figurative. It is possible that John is using a play on words as the word Christ (Χριστός) is related and literally means the anointed one.  In which case, the antichrists then would be the anti-anointed ones.

–          In terms of the overall meaning of the verse, there are some strong parallel to the Gospel of John

1 John 14:17 –  He is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. But you recognize him, because he lives with you and will be in you.

2 John 15:26 – When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.

3 John 16:13 – Yet when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own accord, but will speak whatever he hears and will declare to you the things that are to come.

–          So this leaves us with the following options:

1 This is referring to a ritual that was performed. Again there is no evidence for such a ritual in the first century.   But there is a deeper problem here.    Those who left would have done the same ritual. So this would not really set them apart.

2 Because of the parallels with Gospel of John , many conclude that the anointing is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

3 Others see this as the word of God, i.e., the teaching handed down by the apostles and prophets that was stressed at the beginning of the letter.   This fits the broader context nicely – i.e. that it teaches us the truth (v27).   It also has the advantage of being objective, i.e., we can test by the Word of God.

4 Finally it is possible to see this as a combination of 2 and 3.   It is God’s Word, not as preached, but as receive by the work of the Holy Spirit.

–          My view:

While 4 has a lot of merit, I believe that the focus on the identity of the anointing somewhat misses John’s point.  Many commentators see John as still arguing against his opponents and this is yet another argument.  But I don’t believe that the main issue here is distinguishing Christians from those who left, but the security of salvation.

In context, John has just said that those who left were never part of us.  This shows that the security of salvation was an issue.   After all, a new Christian who had just seen the church split might very well wonder if it could happen to them, maybe it could happen to them.  Maybe they are not really part of the church either.  It is this context that John mentions the anointing.   It is interesting to note alone these lines that the only other use of χρῖσμα apart from Christ occurs in 2 Cor 1:21-22, a passage  which also is focused on the security of the believer.  While the others left, showing that they were not really believers in the first place, John’ reader remained.    John 14:23-24   If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. Then my Father will love him, and we will go to him and make our home within him. 24The one who does not love me does not keep my words.

from the Holy One

–          While this could be God the Father, it is more likely Jesus following the pattern of John 6:69 where Peter says, “Besides, we have believed and remain convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

and know all things.

–          There is a minor textual issue  at this point with some manuscripts reading  and know all things. (πάντα)  while others have and all of you know (πάντες)

1 In favor of and know all things is that this reading has a little broader textual evidence.  The problem is that it results in an incomplete sentence for “to know” requires an object (i.e, what is known).  The NIV handles this by supplying the world “truth” drawing it from the context of the next verse.

2 In favor of and all of you know is that it is a complete sentence and it is the slightly older reading.

Still the evidence is pretty balanced and it comes down to which you think was more likely, that a scribe thought that  “and all of you know”  needed something as in “… all of you know _______”  and changed this to .. and know all things. Or, is it more likely that a scribe though that to “and know all things” made us too much like Christ and changed this to read “and all of you know.”

As is always the case with such issues, there is no real theological point at stake, only how we understand this particularly passage.  This is abundantly clear when we realize that the reading and know all things is very similar to  2:27  while and all of you know is similar to  2:21.

–          Either way John is making a statement about our position.

1  You know lies are not in the truth

21 – I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because lies don’t come from truth.

–          John again emphasizes that that his condemnations are not directed at them, and he affirms there standing in the faith.  This is emphasized in both a negative and then a positive fashion.  What they know is the truth.   Flow of the argument over the last two verses is:

    1. They have an anointing of the Christ
    2. This anointing have given them knowledge
    3. Lies do not come from the truth.
    4. What they know is the truth.

Questions and Discussion

The discussion this week centered on the role of evidence.  If the anointing is understood as simply the Holy Spirit, there is the problem of subjectivity.   For example, Mormons when ask about their faith routinely talk about their testimony which centers on a subjective experience.  They believe this experience to be the Holy Spirit.  The problems with this immediately appear when their testimony is compared to the testimony of others that conflicts with theirs.  How could anyone know they were correct?  Mine, is an example of a conflicting testimony.  While their testimony says that Mormonism is true, mine is that it is false.   We cannot both be correct, and thus at least one of us must be wrong when it comes to what we think the Holy Spirit is telling us. This is where the word of God comes in, for it is an objective measure by which we can compare.

When we do compare, Mormonism to the teaching of the Bible, it quickly falls short, and thus  it is no wonder that Mormons have to fall back on dubious claims that  parts of the Bible have been removed or changed so as to obscure the teachings they think should be there.  Unfortunately for the Mormons, the text is very  well known and the minor difference that do exist among the thousands of manuscript are like the ones discussed in this week’s class and are not even close to the types of changes that their theories would need.

The bottom line is that Christians need not fear as we have a mountain of objective evidence that supports our beliefs and the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

See here for references and more background on the class.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission.

Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.


[1] 2:20 Other mss. read and all of you know

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