(1 Jn. 2:27) Do we need to be taught or not?

CLAIM: Some interpreters claim that we do not need Bible study or instruction from fellow Christians, because we are each individually instructed by the Holy Spirit. This is why John writes, “You have no need for anyone to teach you” (1 Jn. 2:27). Is this the case?

RESPONSE: A number of observations can be made:

First, this interpretation contradicts itself and other NT passages. If this was the meaning of the passage, then John would have no need to write these words! Therefore, this interpretation is utterly self-defeating. Moreover, the Bible teaches that we need teachers in the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:11). Thus, such an interpretation would contradict other clear passages of Scripture. How then should we interpret this passage?

Second, we cannot merely address what John is writing, but also what John is writing against. In the midst of this section, he writes, “These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you” (1 Jn. 2:26). As we have already argued (see “Introduction to 1 John”), some form of proto-Gnosticism flooded the early church at this time, and there were some false teachers, who were trying to lead these believers astray. Thus, Kruse writes, “The primary allusion here is to the [false teachers] who wanted to lead the readers astray. It may be (though this cannot be demonstrated) that the [false teachers] claimed some special revelation from God to which they appealed in their attempt to influence the readers to adopt their teaching. If this was the case, the reminder that the readers already had an anointing from God, and therefore needed no one else to teach them, would be most apposite… Recognizing this, the author insists that when he himself writes to them, it is not because he wants to teach them the truth but because they know the truth (2:21).”[1]

Third, this statement should be read in light of Jesus’ teachings to the disciples. Jesus said, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (Jn. 14:26). Later he said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). The disciples, of course, didn’t become omniscient. And at times, they needed correction (Gal. 2:11ff). The point of Jesus’ statement is simply that the Holy Spirit would give them what they needed to know in order to write Scripture and lead the early church. Similarly, John’s readers knew this same body of knowledge from the disciples through the NT writings and apostolic teaching. Consequently, Akin writes, “The ministry of the Spirit worked through the apostles (not the heretics) to bring the message of salvation that is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Here was the reliable truth they were taught. Additional revelation was not needed; indeed it could be deadly.”[2]

Conclusion. John was speaking against those particular false teachers—not all true teachers, as the context indicates. With all of this in view, J.P. Moreland points out the irony of believers claiming to have a direct phone line to the Holy Spirit in their biblical exegesis. He writes, “John is addressing a historical situation in which Gnostic-like teachers were claiming special, secret insight into the Bible, a sort of specially illumined wisdom of which they were gatekeepers in much the same way some people today appeal to the Spirit to validate their biblical interpretations! John is saying that since the believers have been baptized (anointed) into the body of Christ by the Spirit, they have no need of some additional, special, secret knowledge only given to certain teachers. John is not making a statement about the need for teachers generally.”[3]

[1] Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John, ed. D. A. Carson, Second Edition, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; London: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2020), 117.

[2] Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 125.

[3] J.P. Moreland, Love God with All Your Mind (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), 48.