1 John 4:6
We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
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4:1-6 Christians who are well acquainted with the Scriptures, may, in humble dependence on Divine teaching, discern those who set forth doctrines according to the apostles, and those who contradict them. The sum of revealed religion is in the doctrine concerning Christ, his person and office. The false teachers spake of the world according to its maxims and tastes, so as not to offend carnal men. The world approved them, they made rapid progress, and had many followers such as themselves; the world will love its own, and its own will love it. The true doctrine as to the Saviour's person, as leading men from the world to God, is a mark of the spirit of truth in opposition to the spirit of error. The more pure and holy any doctrine is, the more likely to be of God; nor can we by any other rules try the spirits whether they are of God or not. And what wonder is it, that people of a worldly spirit should cleave to those who are like themselves, and suit their schemes and discourses to their corrupt taste?We are of God - John here, doubtless, refers to himself, and to those who taught the same doctrines which he did. He takes it for granted that those to whom he wrote would admit this, and argues from it as an indisputable truth. He had given them such evidence of this, as to establish his character and claims beyond a doubt; and he often refers to the fact that he was what he claimed to be, as a point which was so well established that no one would call it in question. See John 19:35; John 21:24; 3 John 1:12. Paul, also, not unfrequently refers to the same thing respecting himself; to the fact - a fact which no one would presume to call in question, and which might be regarded as the basis of an argument - that he and his fellow apostles were what they claimed to be. See 1 Corinthians 15:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-11. Might not, and ought not, all Christians, and all Christian ministers, so to live that the same thing might be assumed in regard to them in their contact with their fellow-men; that their characters for integrity and purity might be so clear that no one would be disposed to call them in question? There are such men in the church and in the ministry now; why might not all be such?

He that knoweth God, heareth us - Every one that has a true acquaintance with the character of God will receive our doctrine. John might assume this, for it was not doubted, he presumed, that he was an apostle and a good man; and if this were admitted, it would follow that those who feared and loved God would receive what he taught.

Hereby - By this; to wit, by the manner in which they receive the doctrines which we have taught.

Know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error - We can distinguish those who embrace the truth from those who do not. Whatever pretensions they might set up for piety, it was clear that if they did not embrace the doctrines taught by the true apostles of God, they could not be regarded as his friends; that is, as true Christians. It may be added that the same test is applicable now. They who do not receive the plain doctrines laid down in the word of God, whatever pretensions they may make to piety, or whatever zeal they may evince in the cause which they have espoused, can have no well-founded claims to the name Christian. One of the clearest evidences of true piety is a readiness to receive all that God has taught. Compare Matthew 18:1-3; Mark 10:15; James 1:19-21.

6. We—true teachers of Christ: in contrast to them.

are of God—and therefore speak of God: in contrast to "speak they of the world," 1Jo 4:5.

knoweth God—as his Father, being a child "of God" (1Jo 2:13, 14).

heareth us—Compare Joh 18:37, "Every one that is of the truth, heareth My voice."

Hereby—(1Jo 4:2-6); by their confessing, or not confessing, Jesus; by the kind of reception given them respectively by those who know God, and by those who are of the world and not of God.

spirit of truth—the Spirit which comes from God and teaches truth.

spirit of error—the spirit which comes from Satan and seduces into error.

See Poole on "1Jo 4:5"

We are of God,.... Not only as the chosen of God, the children of God, regenerated ones, and believers, but as ministers of the Gospel; they were chosen, and called, and sent of God to preach the Gospel, and were qualified for it, by gifts received from him, and had their doctrine from him, as well as their commission and mission: they were not of the world, and therefore did not speak of the world, nor things suited to worldly men; but being of God, they spoke the words of God, which were agreeable to him, which made for the glory of the three divine Persons, and were consistent with the divine perfections; which maintained the honour and dignity of the persons in the Godhead; which magnified the grace of God in salvation, and debased the creature:

he that knoweth God; not only as the God of nature and providence, but as in Christ, and that not only professionally, but practically; that has an experimental knowledge of him, that knows him as exercising lovingkindness, having tasted of his grace and goodness; that knows him so as to trust in him, and love him; for such a knowledge of God is meant, as has true real affection to him joined with it; so that it is he that loves his name, his glory, his truths, and his ordinances: he

heareth us: not only externally, constantly attending on the ministry of the word, as such do; but internally, understanding what is heard, receiving it in love, cordially embracing it, and firmly believing it, and acting according to it:

he that is not of God; who is not born of God, but is as he was when born into the world, and is of it: and who does not righteousness, nor loves his brother, nor confesses the divinity, humanity, and offices of Christ, and so is not on the side of truth, nor has the truth of grace in him; see 1 John 3:10; such a man

heareth not us; he is a mere natural man, a carnal and unregenerate man; and such an one cannot attend on a Gospel ministry, or receive Gospel doctrines, which are with him senseless, stupid, and foolish notions, yea, foolishness itself; nor can he know and understand them through ignorance, and want, of a spiritual discerning; they are hard sayings, and he cannot hear, nor bear them; and when this is the case, it is a plain token of unregeneracy, and that such persons are not of God; see John 8:47.

Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error; the difference between truth and error; can distinguish one from another, and discern who are the true ministers of Christ, and who are the false teachers; for not only the word of God, the Scriptures of truth, are the test and standard, the touchstone to bring them to, and try them by; and the doctrines they severally bring show who they are; but even their very hearers distinguish them. Spirits, or men pretending to the Spirit of God, may be known in a great measure by their followers; they who have the spirit of error, and are of the world, they are followed, and caressed, and applauded by the men of the world, by unregenerate persons; they who have the spirit of truth, and are of God, they are heard and approved of, and embraced by spiritual men, by such who know God in Christ, and have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

{5} We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the {e} spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

(5) He testifies to them that his doctrine and the doctrine of his companions, is the assured word of God which of necessity we have boldly to set against all the mouths of the whole world, and thereby discern the truth from falsehood.

(e) True prophets, against whom are false prophets, that is, those who err and lead others into error.

1 John 4:6. ἠμεῖς] Antithesis of αὐτοί, 1 John 4:5; either specially John and the other apostles (Storr, Düsterdieck, Brückner, Braune, etc.) as the true teachers, or believers generally (Calvin, Spener, Lücke, de Wette, etc.); in favour of the former interpretation is the fact that believers are addressed in this section in the second person, together with the following ἀκούει ἠμῶν, as also the antithesis to ψευδοπροφῆται indicates teachers.

With ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐσμεν we are to supply, according to 1 John 4:5, the thought διὰ τοῦτο ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ λαλοῦμεν; the following words: ὁ γινώσκων τὸν Θεὸν ἀκούει ἡμῶν, contain the proof of the thought just expressed.

ὁ γιν. τὸν Θεόν forms the antithesis of ὁ κόσμος, and is synonymous with ὅς ἐστιν ἐκ τ. Θεοῦ, for it is only he who is a child of God that possesses the true knowledge of God. According to Lücke and others, the apostle means by this those to whom belongs the “general ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ εἶναι, i.e. the divine impress and instinct, which is the condition of childhood of God in Christ;” but the expression itself is opposed to this, for the knowledge of God is necessarily conditioned by faith in Christ.

In the second clause: ὃς οὐκ ἔστινοὐκ ἀκ. ἡμῶν, ὃςΘεοῦ forms the antithesis to ὁ γινώσκων τ. Θεόν. This is the antithesis between “world” and “church of the children of God.”

In the concluding clause: ἐκ τούτουτῆς πλάνης, it is to the immediately preceding thought that ἐκ τούτου refers. According to the usual view, with which Düsterdieck agrees, the sense of this passage is: He who hears the apostles shows thereby that the πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας is in him; he who, on the contrary, does not hear them, shows that the πν. τῆς πλάνης is in him; it is in his relation to the apostolic teaching that any one shows of what spirit he is the child.[259] But, according to the train of thought in this section, it is not the spirit of the hearers, but that of the teachers that is the subject (so also Myrberg and Braune); the sense therefore is: That the πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης prevails in the false prophets, may be known by this, that the world hears them; that in us, on the contrary, the πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας dwells, may be perceived by this, that those who know God, i.e. the children of God, hear us. The πν. τῆς ἀληθείας cannot be in him whom the world hears, nor can the πν. τῆς πλάνης be in him whom the children of God hear; Braune: “the πν. τῆς πλάνης is certainly in him whom the world hears, and the πν. τῆς ἀληθείας in him whom the children of God hear.”

τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας; comp. John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13; a description of the Holy Ghost, inasmuch as He not only produces a knowledge of the truth, but “makes the truth His very nature” (Weiss).[260] τὸ πν. τῆς πλάνης, the spirit that emanates from the devil, which seduces men to falsehood and error; comp. chap. 1 John 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1.

[259] Luther: “If we hear God’s true messengers, that is a plain token of true religion; if, however, we despise and mock them, that is a plain token of error.”

[260] The thought of this passage corresponds with that of John 10:3-5, where Christ appeals for a proof that He is the Good Shepherd to the fact that the sheep know and hear His voice, whilst they do not know the voice of the stranger, and flee from it.

1 John 4:6. Conversely, those who are getting to know God, understand the language of His messengers and listen to it. ἐκ τούτου, i.e, from their hearkening or not hearkening. Men’s attitude to the message of the Incarnate Saviour ranks them on this side or on that—on God’s side or the world’s. Of course St. John does not ignore St. Paul’s ἀληθεύοντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ (Ephesians 4:15). The message may be the truth and be rejected, not because of the hearers’ worldliness, but because it is wrongly delivered—not graciously and winsomely. Cf. Rowland Hill’s anecdote of the preaching barber who had made a wig for one of his hearers—badly made and nearly double the usual price. When anything particularly profitable escaped the lips of the preacher, the hearer would observe to himself: “Excellent! This should touch my heart; but oh, the wig!” τῆς ἀληθείας see note on 1 John 1:8. τὸ πν. τῆς πλάνης, “the spirit that leadeth astray”.

6. We are of God] ‘We’ with great emphasis, like ‘ye’ in 1 John 4:4, in contrast to the false prophets. ‘We’ is probably not equivalent to ‘ye’, viz. all true believers: ‘we’ means the Apostles. See on 1 John 4:14 and on 1 John 1:4. The opposition here is not between true and false Christians, but between true and false teachers. Comp. 1 Corinthians 14:37.

he that knoweth God heareth us] We might render, ‘He that increaseth in the knowledge of God’ (ὁ γινώσκεν τὸν Θεόν). Here once more we have that magisterial tone of Apostolic authority which is so conspicuous in the Prologue (1 John 1:1-4). It underlies the whole Epistle, as it does the whole of the Fourth Gospel, but here and there comes to the surface. It is the quiet confidence of conscious strength. Comp. ‘He that is of God heareth the words of God; for this cause ye hear them not because ye are not of God’; and, ‘Every one that is of the Truth heareth My voice’ (John 8:47; John 18:37). For ordinary Christians to adopt this language is presumptuous sectarianism.

Note that, as usual, the antithesis is not exact: ‘he that knoweth God’ is balanced by ‘he that is not of God’; indicating that it is the child of God who comes by experience to know Him.

Hereby know we] Literally, From this. A fresh sentence should begin here. It is not certain whether ‘from this’ refers to the whole section (1–6), or to the latter half (4–6), or only to the first half of 1 John 4:6. In any case the meaning is, not that those who hear the Apostle have the Spirit of truth, while those who refuse to hear have the spirit of error; but that the Apostles have the Spirit of truth because God’s children hear them, while the false prophets have the spirit of error because the world hears them.

the spirit of truth] The Holy Spirit; John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13 : comp. 1 Corinthians 2:12, where the whole passage is very similar to this. It is not easy to determine whether the genitive ‘of truth’ expresses the character of the Spirit, as in ‘the Holy Spirit of promise’ (Ephesians 1:13), ‘the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29), or the source, as in ‘the Spirit of God’ and ‘the Spirit of Christ’ (Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11). The Spirit is the Truth (1 John 5:7), proceeds from Him who is the Truth (John 14:6; John 14:26), communicates and interprets the Truth (John 16:13-14).

1 John 4:6. Ἐσμὲν, we are) Understand, on this account we speak from [of] God.—ἐκ τούτου, from this) which is stated in 1 John 4:2-6.

Verse 6. - The opposite case stated again, but not in the same form as in verse 4. The "we" here is not the same as the "ye" there, with the mere addition of the writer. "We" here seems to mean the apostles. If it is considered "broad enough to include all who have truly received Christ by faith," it leaves no one to be the hearers. "He that knoweth God heareth us" will mean that we hear ourselves, if "us" means all believers. But St. John's meaning seems rather to be that he who acquires knowledge ὁ γινώσκων of God is ready to listen to further apostolic instruction. From this ἐκ τούτου need not be confined to verse 6; it may apply to the whole passage. For the Spirit of truth, comp. John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13. 1 John 4:6He that knoweth (ὁ γινώσκων)

Lit., the one knowing: he who is habitually and ever more clearly perceiving and recognizing God as his Christian life unfolds. The knowledge is regarded as progressive and not complete. Compare Philippians 3:12, and He who is calling (ὁ καλῶν, 1 Thessalonians 5:24) also ὁ ἀγαπῶν he that loves (1 John 4:7).

Hereby (ἐκ τούτου)

Not the same as the common ἐν τούτῳ (1 John 4:2). It occurs only here in the Epistle. Ἑν τούτῳ is in this: ἐκ τούτου from this. The former marks the residing or consisting of the essence or truth of a thing in something the apprehension of which conveys to us the essential nature of the thing itself. The latter marks the inference or deduction of the truth from something, as contrasted with its immediate perception in that something. Rev., by this.

The spirit of error (τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης)

The phrase occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Compare πνεύμασι πλάνοις misleading spirits, 1 Timothy 4:1.

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