Needing not that any man teach you.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 June

1 John 2.26-29.

Ever heard of a “life verse”? It’s an idea y’find in some Evangelical circles; it means there’s a bible verse which isn’t just a Christian’s favorite verse, but one they kinda consider their personal mission statement. They base their life on it.

Heck, a number of these “life verses” are all found in the very same chapter of 1 Thessalonians:

  • “Always rejoice” 1Th 5.16 for people who are big on joy.
  • “Pray without ceasing” 1Th 5.17 for people who are big on prayer.
  • “Give thanks for everything” 1Th 5.18 for those who definitely do.
  • “Don’t quench the Spirit” 1Th 5.19 for those who love to listen to the Spirit.
  • “Don’t dismiss prophecy” 1Th 5.20 for prophecy (or prophecy scholar) fans.
  • “Test everything” 1Th 5.21 for big skeptics.
  • “Abstain from every form of evil” 1Th 5.22 for big legalists.

Anyway. I once worked with this woman whom I’m gonna call Eustacia. Her “life verse” was clearly this one:

1 John 2.27 KJV
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

Not just ’cause Eustacia quoted the “ye need not that any man teach you” part all the time. Really, nobody could teach her anything. She wouldn’t let ’em. She had “the anointing,” the Holy Spirit abiding in her, teaching her. So we weren’t allowed to.

Eustacia isn’t alone in this interpretation. 1 John 2.27 is the favorite proof text of the go-it-alone Christian. They’re all over Christendom; they’re the folks who won’t go to church lest the pastor and elders try to teach ’em. And since I teach, I run into this type all the time. Paradoxically enough, they even attend my classes. But the instant I tell ’em something they don’t wanna hear, or never heard before and really don’t like, up comes this verse like it’s their shield.

Eustacia did go to church; not mine. She picked one of those fiercely independent anti-denominational types, ’cause if she didn’t answer to anyone, why should her church? But if her pastor dared cross her, expect her to immediately find another church and take her family with her. She didn’t really need a pastor anyway. She had Jesus.

Didn’t read bible commentaries; don’t need bible scholars when it’s just you ’n Jesus. Didn’t read books by other Christians; can’t trust men, and all she needed was a good King James bible. Whenever she read it, and came to conclusions about it: Didn’t need anyone’s contributions, insights, and especially corrections. She had license to interpret her bible any old way she liked. If someone asked Eustacia, “How’d you come up with that?” she’d tell ’em. If someone objected, “But the context says otherwise,” she’d point to 1 John 2.27 and proudly proclaim her independence—from any tradition, any preachers, any scholars, any denomination, any fellow Christians.

And while we’re at it: Independence from logic, reason, context, and the Spirit’s fruit.

When iron can’t sharpen iron.

Nearly every time I hear someone quote 1 John 2.27, it’s to declare their absolute authority to make the bible say whatever they want, and declare we’re not allowed to correct ’em; we have zero authority. “I don’t need a teacher. Certainly not you. I’m anointed by the same Holy Spirit as the holy apostles. The same anointing teaches me all things. That’s why I’m right… and you’re wrong.

Back to Eustacia. I knew better than to try to teach her anything. I saw others try, and watched her blast her “life verse” at ’em like buckshot. She wouldn’t be corrected; she knew best. I always kinda wondered what was gonna happen when one of her kids realized their mom’s “life verse” might be useful as their life verse, spun the bible in a way she objected to, and quoted her favorite verse right back at her. Never did find out. Had to happen eventually. Bet it was epic.

This is the core problem with this “I don’t need any teacher” jazz: Works both ways. Ironically, some go-it-alone Christians never notice this, and try to become everybody else’s teacher. But like I said, misinterpreting 1 John 2.27 means you can sling their false interpretation right back at ’em: You won’t listen to me? Fine, I needn’t listen to you either. You have your wacky theories about what the bible means, and I have mine. One of us is right and the other wrong, and each of us think it’s the other. You can go to your church and I can go to mine, and both of us can think the other’s church is heretic. Twas ever thus.

Remember how we Christians are supposed to build one another up? 1Th 5.11 (Why’s that never anyone’s favorite “life verse”?) Remember we’re to encourage one another to do good, discourage one another from going astray, and love one another like Jesus loves us? Jn 13.34 Kinda impossible to do when we’re not permitted to teach one another.

If it’s just me ’n Jesus, and nobody’s permitted to instruct me but the Holy Spirit, it sorta makes all the scriptures’ instructions to teach one another impossible. And yeah I got a list:

  • Teach your kids the Law. Dt 11.19
  • Teaching the Law makes one great in God’s kingdom. Mt 5.19
  • Teach new believers to do everything Jesus commands. Mt 28.20
  • God’s appointed teachers in his church. 1Co 12.28, Ep 4.11
  • Share good things with your teacher. Ga 6.6
  • Teach in wisdom. Cl 3.16
  • Church supervisors must teach. 1Ti 3.2, Tt 1.9
  • Church elders ought to teach. 1Ti 5.17, 2Ti 2.24
  • Scripture is useful for teaching. 2Ti 3.16
  • Teach good behavior to the people of your church. Tt 2.3
  • There are false teachers, sure. 1Jn 2.1 This verse also implies there are valid teachers.

But if nobody can teach us but the Holy Spirit, there are no teachers.

Thankfully, God hasn’t designed his church, and his Christians, to be this level of stupid. We’re to submit to one another, Ep 5.21 which means I need to listen to what the Spirit told you, and you oughta listen to what the Spirit told me. This is how iron can sharpen iron. Pr 27.17 Which isn’t gonna happen when one iron tells the other, “You don’t sharpen me. Only the Spirit gets to sharpen me. You stand back.”

What are we to do with such people? Just as Jesus taught.

Matthew 15.13-14 KWL
13 Answering, Jesus said, “Every plant my heavenly Father never planted will be uprooted.
14 Leave them be; they’re blind guides for blind people.
When a blind person guides a blind person, both will fall in a hole.”

Don’t fret about go-it-alone Christians. They’ve chosen to learn the hard way—through harsh, unforgiving experience instead of godly wisdom. Through trial and lots of error, instead of learning from others’ mistakes. So let ’em fall into a few holes till they learn to finally ask for help.

But whatever you do, don’t put such people in leadership. Eustacia was a schoolteacher, and that’s one of the worst places to put an unteachable person. Thankfully she didn’t stay in that job long.

The context.

Now if you’re actually willing to be taught, here’s what John actually meant by this scritpure.

John’s church was beset by gnostics, religions which claimed they know all the answers to all the universe’s secrets. Yep, gnostics and gnostic religions totally still exist: Y’know how people come up with theories about how God works, turn those theories into Pinterest memes, and spread ’em all over the internet? Very same thing. Especially how they try to make a profit off their “spiritual wellness” by starting a lifestyle blog, selling tchotchkes, writing books, hosting seminars, and so forth. They wanna sell you their “secrets”—because who doesn’t wanna hear a secret?

Problem was, some of these “secrets” were leaking into Christianity and fuddling the Christians. So 1 John was written to reject these false ideas, and remind the Christians they did know God. They did have valid information. The gnostics didn’t have any dark secrets which God had withheld from Christianity—God doesn’t even do darkness.

1 John 2.26-29 KWL
26 I write you these things about those who mislead you.
27 As for you, the anointing you received remains on you.
You have no need for a certain new instructor who might teach you about everything;
instead it’s like the anointing itself teaches you about everything.
It’s true, isn’t false, and just as it teaches you, remain in it.
28 Now children, remain in the anointing so when it’s made known,
you can have enthusiasm and not be ashamed of it, at its coming.
29 When you recognize it’s righteous, you also know
everything it does is begotten by God and is also righteous.

John wasn’t rejecting teachers. At all. He was a teacher, remember? This letter is all about teaching his church. Teaching them they aren’t wrong about Jesus, they do know him, they do have the Holy Spirit within them, and they don’t need to listen to some antichrist teaching ’em otherwise.

True, the go-it-alone crowd will claim John really wasn’t saying this. They point to his bits about not writing new commands, 1Jn 2.7 or how fathers already know God, 1Jn 2.13 or how everybody has knowledge. 1Jn 2.20 They cherry-pick the heck out of 1 John 2 to defend their independent lifestyle. Doesn’t come from a pursuit of real knowledge; doesn’t come from a desire to know God better. It’s all about escaping accountability. They don’t wanna answer to anyone. They don’t wanna love one another.

Yes we already do have the Holy Spirit within us, steering us right. He anointed us when we first became Christian; no he didn’t literally pour ointment on us, but he did what anointing represents in the bible, i.e. gave us a mission. We’re to follow Jesus, and share him with the world. And not get sidetracked by weird gnostic bulls---… as far too many Christians will.

There are various Christians who confound the anointing with the Spirit. After all he teaches and reminds us of everything Jesus teaches. Jn 14.26 So when John wrote “the anointing itself teaches you about everything,” people leap to the conclusion the anointing is the Spirit and the Spirit is the anointing… and that’s not correct. If you’re in the military and your sergeant sends you an email with your mission spelled out in it, the email and your sergeant are two different things. Your sergeant might even misunderstand the mission and unintentionally mislead you—which is why you gotta keep referring back to the mission. The Spirit won’t ever make mistakes like that, but the same idea applies: He and his anointing are still two different things. They’re on the same page, same as Jesus and the Father, but we’d never say Jesus is the Father; same principle here.

Jesus’s church doesn’t have a shortage of teachers. (Some Christians claim it does, but that’s only because these particular Christians have trust issues.) Gnostics will claim otherwise: “They can’t teach you; they don’t know everything; we do, so follow us.” Gnostics aren’t the only people who do this; a number of churches and religions likewise try to grab our attention and lead sheep away from the flock.

One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs—assuming we listen to him—is to guide us away from them, and towards truth. Jn 16.13 When we’re wrong, or go wrong, he corrects us. Sometimes personally. Often through fellow Christians, ’cause we aren’t the only people who can hear him. He’s trying to foster community and teamwork, which means sometimes he’s gonna divvy up the knowledge, same as he does his gifts. And we’re to dig through it, dismiss the bias and bad information, get to the truth, and follow it.

Not arrogantly dismiss every teacher but him. That’s the fastest way to go weird. As we regularly see among go-it-alone Christians.

So we need teachers. Even those of us who are teachers, need teachers. We need one another. We need our fellow teachers to fact-check us: Test our statements to make sure they hold up. Keep us honest. Correct us when we’re off course. Ask tougher questions than we’ve thought of ourselves. You know, the whole iron-sharpening-iron idea.

Woe to Christians who think they’re beyond teaching. The time’s coming, and is already here, when they won’t listen to the Holy Spirit either.