First John: 1 John 4:1a-The Child of God Must Not Trust in Every Spirit Lesson # 142
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit” is composed of the following: (1) vocative masculine singular form of the adjective agapētos (ἀγαπητός), “beloved” (2) negative particle me (μή), “not” (3) dative neuter singular form of the adjective pas (πᾶς), “every” (4) dative neuter singular form of the noun pneuma (πνεῦμα), “spirit” (5) second person plural present active imperative form of the verb pisteuō (πιστεύω), “do believe.”
In 1 John 4:1, the apostle John is employing the figure of asyndeton in order to emphasize the solemn nature of the prohibition he issues the recipients of First John and the command which follows it.
The former prohibits them from believing every spirit while on the other hand, the latter stands in contrast to the former and demands that they test these spirits to see whether they are from God or not.
He also uses this figure to mark a transition from the seventh major section of First John (3:19-24) to the eighth major section (4:1-6).
The adjective agapētos employed here as a substantive and means “beloved” indicating the close personal relationship that existed between the recipients of this epistle who were believers residing in the Roman province of Asia and the apostle John.
This adjective agapētos also speaks of the relationship the recipients of this epistle possessed with the Trinity and also expresses the fact that they were the recipients and beneficiary of God’s love.
The dative neuter singular form of the noun pneuma means “spirit” in the sense of an outlook or viewpoint expressed through instruction by a teacher which influences people.
The noun pneuma is modified by the adjective pas, which means “every, each and every” since the word pertains to totality and is used in a distributive sense emphasizing no exceptions.
Thus, this word indicates that John wants the recipients of First John to test “each and every” spirit or teaching since many false prophets have gone out into the world.
The second person plural present active imperative form of the verb pisteuō means “to trust in” and the word’s meaning is negated by the negative particle me, which denies any idea of the recipients of First John trusting in every teaching they hear.
Together, they form a prohibition which denies any idea of the recipients of First John trusting in every viewpoint which is communicated by any teacher through instruction.
The second personal plural form of this verb pisteuō means “each and every one of you, each one of you, every one of you” since the word refers to the recipients of First John as a corporate unit and is used in a distributive sense emphasizing no exceptions.
The present imperative form of the verb pisteuō is a customary present imperative whose force is for the recipients of this epistle to simply continue making it their habit of not trusting any viewpoint communicated by any teacher through instruction.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, each and every one of you must continue making it your habit of not trusting in every spirit. But rather, if and let us assume that it is true for the sake of argument that any of you are to confirm they possess the characteristic originating from the one and only God (the Father) and each one you know that you must, then each one of you must continue to make it your habit of thoroughly and critically examining these spirits because many false prophets are traveling about in the world. (Author’s translation)
1 John 4:1 begins the eighth major section of First John and which section ends in 1 John 4:6.
This section addresses the subject of the false teachers or proto-Gnostic teachers who rejected the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ who John describes in 1 John 2:18-19 as antichrists as well non-believers.
1 John 4:1-6 parallels 1 John 2:18-27 because of the chiastic structure of First John.
The first major section of the epistle is 1 John 1:1-4, which serves as the prologue to the epistle while the second major section is 1 John 1:5-2:2, which addresses the subject of making God out to be a liar by one’s conduct.
The third major section appears in 1 John 2:3-17, which speaks of the old or familiar commandment to love one another.
The fourth is 1 John 2:18-27 which addresses the existence of many antichrists or false teachers when John wrote this epistle.
The fifth is 1 John 2:28-3:10, which teaches that the recipients of this epistle will have confidence at the rapture of the church and subsequent Bema Seat Evaluation of the church by continuing to make it their habit of practicing righteousness, which is the direct result of living in fellowship with the Trinity.
The sixth major section appears in 1 John 3:11-18, which emphasizes the importance of the Lord Jesus Christ’s command in John 13:34 to love one another as He loves.
The seventh major section which appears in 1 John 3:19-24 teaches that the believer can possess confidence in prayer with the Father by the Lord Jesus Christ by obeying the Lord Jesus Christ’s command in John 13:34 and 15:12 to love one another as He has loved them.
Now, we come to the eighth major section of the epistle which parallels 1 John 2:18-27 since they both refer to the proto-Gnostic teachers who rejected the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ in the sense that they rejected He was truly a human being.
In 1 John 2:18-27, John describes them as “antichrists” and asserts that they never belonged to the Christian community because of this rejection of the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ.
1 John 4:1 begins with a prohibition, which is followed by a command which is couched in a first class conditional statement, which in turn is followed by a hoti causal clause.
When issuing this prohibition and command and the reason for them, the apostle John addresses the recipients of First John with the adjective agapētos, “beloved” which expresses the close personal relationship that existed between the recipients of this epistle and the apostle John.
It also speaks of the relationship the recipients of this epistle possessed with the Trinity in the sense that they were the recipients and beneficiary of the exercise of the triune God’s attribute of love.
John is solemnly communicating a deep, emotional Spirit inspired prohibition and command here in 1 John 4:1.
The prohibition demands that each one of the recipients of First John must continue making it their habit of not trusting in every spirit.
This prohibition denies any idea of the recipients of First John trusting in every viewpoint which is communicated by any teacher through instruction.
C.G. Kruse writes “Warnings about false prophets operating within the Christian community are found in several places in the NT (Matt 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 4:1). By their very nature false prophets appear to be genuine (cf. Matt 7:15: ‘They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves’), and by their false teaching they lead people away from the truth (cf. 2 Pet 2:1: ‘They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them’).”
D.L. Akin writes “Jesus had already warned his disciples about false prophets (Matt 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:21–23). Similar warnings can also be found from Paul (Acts 20:28–30), Peter (2 Pet 2:1–22), and Jude (Jude 4–19). These false prophets have the world, that evil system under Satan’s control that opposes God, as their stage; and the scope of their influence and work includes all of humanity.”
“Every spirit” is the noun pneuma refers to a particular viewpoint which is communicated by a teacher through instruction.
Specifically, it refers to the false teaching propagated by the antichrists John mentions in 1 John 2:18-19 who are described by him as false prophets here in 1 John 4:1.
This word pertains to the doctrine which these antichrists or false prophets communicated which was contrary to the Spirit inspired teaching of the apostles and originates with Satan’s cosmic system.
This interpretation is indicated by several factors.
The first is that John associates this word pneuma with false prophets here in verse 1.
Secondly, he associates pneuma with confessing or rejecting that Jesus Christ became a human being, thus, the word is related to what one teaches about the person of Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, the word pneuma is being contrasting with the Holy Spirit in verses 2, 3 and 6.
Connected to this, in verse 6, the word is associated with error and contrasted with the Holy Spirit who teaches truth.
Lastly, when pneuma is used with relation to the false prophets, it is said to have originated with the kosmos, “the world” in verse 5, which speaks of the cosmic system of Satan which is opposed to Jesus Christ and thus opposed to the Father and the Spirit.
The language of this prohibition in 1 John 4:1 expresses the fact that it applies to each one of the recipients of First John without exception.
In 1 John 2:12-14, John affirms that the recipients of this epistle were remaining faithful to his apostolic teaching and thus were already obeying this prohibition which he more than likely had taught them many times in the past.
 Kruse, C. G. (2000). The letters of John (p. 145). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos.
 Westcott, Epistles of John, 140. Stott challenges us to have biblical balance, avoiding “both extremes, the superstition which believes everything and suspicion which believes nothing” (Letters of John, 157).
 Akin, D. L. (2001). 1, 2, 3 John (Vol. 38, p. 171). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.