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Question #395

What is the anointing in 1 John 2:20?

Could you tell me how you interpret 1 John 2:20? What is the anointing that is mentioned (NASV)? Who is the Holy One? I've read comments from about 4 men. They all seem to be different.

The Answer:

1 John 2:20 has simple language, but sometimes, as here, simple language can be difficult to understand. Thus, this passage has given rise to different understandings. Perhaps the best way to begin is with that which is clear: 1) the readers had received an anointing; 2) they received the anointing from the "Holy One"; and 3) the anointing enabled them to know "all things." The ASV's margin alerts to a textual problem, Some very ancient authorities read and ye all know,' referring "all" to the readers rather than to the readers' knowledge. These three facts lead to three questions:

1. What is "the anointing"?

2. Who is the "Holy One"?

3. To whom or what does the "all" belong, and, if it belongs to "knowledge," what does it mean to "know all things"?

1. What is "the anointing"? "Anointing" comes from the Greek word crisma. It refers to the anointing itself and not to the act of anointing. That this is the meaning in this context is supported by v. 27 where John wrote of "the anointing that ye have received of him abideth in you." Thus, the "anointing" is something that the readers had received and which abode in them. This can refer to two things – the extraordinary bestowing of the Holy Spirit, i.e, miraculous gifts of the type Paul discussed in 1 Cor. 12, or the ordinary gift of the Holy Spirit that all Christians receive upon baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Reasonable arguments are made for both positions, which means that either position is possible, and that neither position can be dogmatically accepted or rejected.

2. Who is the "Holy One"? There is some certainty that the anointing comes from Christ, for he is the Holy One. Every New Testament use of the phrase applies it to Christ (Mark 1:4; Luke 4:34; Acts 2:27; 3:14; 13:35; 1 John 2:20).

3. To whom or what does the "all belong, and, if it belongs to "knowledge," what does it mean to "know all things"? Lenski argues that the anointing is the ordinary gift of the Spirit received at baptism. He accepts the ASV marginal reading, contending that "the next clause: 'and you all know,' states what Christ's anointing bestows on true Christians, namely the enlightenment of knowledge." The object of "knowing" in this context, he argues, is the mark of an antichrist and how to recognize one. He rejects the reading, "ye know all things," arguing that it goes far beyond that which one needs to know in order to identify an antichrist. He admits, however, that the "all things" is governed by the context, and that, if correct, would refer only to that which needs to be known to identify the antichrist.

Bruce Metzger, in "The Gospel and Epistles of John," sums up the argument well:

NEB 'you all', like RV margin and RSV, follows the reading pantes (nominative plural masculine), whereas RV test, 'ye know all things', follows the reading panta (accusative plural neuter). The latter is the majority readingk but the former has the weighty support of the early witnesses to the Alexandrian text-type (expecially Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus and the Sahidic Coptic version). [NOTE: Many Greek text scholars contend that agreement between Sinaiaticus and Vaticanus establishes the original text.] In favor of pantes is the fact that it is the more difficult reading (an object is normally expected after the verb 'know') and therefore more likely to be changed to panta than vice versa. Against this, it has been suggested that the reading pantes may have been influenced by the occurrence of the same word in verse 19 ('they all' are not of us'). The reading panta ('all things') could be understood in the same sense as verse 27, 'his anointing teaches you about everything'.

If we adopt the reading 'you all know' here, the point is that the true knowledge is not confined to a favoured élite but is accessible to them all. What they all know is made clear by the words that follow: they know the difference between truth and falsehood. They know the difference between these not because they have explored the mazes of falsehood but because they 'know the truth.' For believers this 'truth' is embodied in a person, in Him who said 'I am . . . the truth" (John 14:6). They know it because they know Him, and this knowledge is theirs because they have received 'the Spirit of truth' (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). When He comes, said Jesus of the Spirit, 'he will guide you into all the truth' (John 16:13), and to the same effect He prayed for His disciples: "Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth' (John 17:17). Those who have come go know the truth as 'the truth is in Jesus' (Eph. 4:21) have, it is implied, a built-in spiritual instinct which enables them to detect and refuse whatever is basically incompatible with that truth, no matter how speciously and eloquently it may be set before them. They know that 'no lie is of the truth' – or to quote the NEB rendering again: 'lies, one and all, are alien to the truth'.

There is no need to argue over whether the anointing is "ordinary" or "extraordinary." For today's reader, the truth to which he is directed is the inspired perfect knowledge that is the Bible. It is given by the Spirit who was sent by Christ and it is sufficient to make the man of God perfect, or complete (2 Tim. 3:16-17). "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Pet. 1:3). The way to acquire this knowledge is study: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth 2 Tim. 2:15). To the extent that Mr. Metzger's words may imply that today there is some sort of "magical, miraculous" "spiritual instinct" separate and apart from scripture, his words are false. To the extent that his words imply that the God-given knowledge is that found only in His word, his words are true.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)