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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

1 John 4:1

 

 

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Adam Clarke Commentary

Beloved, believe not every spirit - Do not be forward to believe every teacher to be a man sent of God. As in those early times every teacher professed to be inspired by the Spirit of God, because all the prophets had come thus accredited, the term spirit was used to express the man who pretended to be and teach under the Spirit's influence. See 1 Corinthians 12:1-12; 1 Timothy 4:1.

Try the Spirits - Δοκιμαζετε τα πνευματα· Put these teachers to the proof. Try them by that testimony which is known to have come from the Spirit of God, the word of revelation already given.

Many false prophets - Teachers not inspired by the Spirit of God, are gone out into the world - among the Jewish people particularly, and among them who are carnal and have not the Spirit.


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Bibliography
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/1-john-4.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Beloved, believe not every spirit - Do not confide implicitly in everyone who professes to be under the influences of the Holy Spirit. Compare Matthew 24:4-5. The true and the false teachers of religion alike claimed to be under the influence of the Spirit of God, and it was of importance that all such pretensions should be examined. It was not to be admitted because anyone claimed to have been sent from God that therefore he was sent. Every such claim should be subjected to the proper proof before it was conceded. All pretensions to divine inspiration, or to being authorised teachers of religion, were to be examined by the proper tests, because there were many false and delusive teachers who set up such claims in the world.

But try the spirits whether they are of God - There were those in the early Christian church who had the gift of “discerning spirits,” (see the notes at 1 Corinthians 12:10), but it is not certain that the apostle refers here to any such supernatural power. It is more probable, as he addresses this command to Christians in general, that he refers to the ability of doing this by a comparison of the doctrines which they professed to hold with what was revealed, and by the fruits of their doctrines in their lives. If they taught what God had taught in his word, and if their lives corresponded with his requirements, and if their doctrines agreed with what had been inculcated by those who were admitted to be true apostles, 1 John 4:6, they were to receive them as what they professed to be. If not, they were to reject them, and hold them to be impostors. It may be remarked, that it is just as proper and as important now to examine the claims of all who profess to be teachers of religion, as it was then. In a matter so momentous as religion, and where there is so much at stake, it is important that all pretensions of this kind should be subjected to a rigid examination. No one should be received as a religious teacher without the clearest evidence that he has come in accordance with the will of God, nor unless he inculcates the very truth which God has revealed. See the Isaiah 8:20 note, and Acts 17:11 note.

Because many false prophets are gone out into the world - The word prophet is often used in the New Testament to denote religious instructors or preachers. See the notes at Romans 12:6. Compare the notes at 2 Peter 2:1. Such false teachers evidently abounded in the times here referred to. See the notes at 1 John 2:18. The meaning is, that many had gone out into the world pretending to be true teachers of religion, but who inculcated most dangerous doctrines; and it was their duty to be on their guard against them, for they had the very spirit of antichrist, 1 John 4:3.


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Bibliography
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/1-john-4.html. 1870.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

There is a great deal of reiteration in this chapter, but additional truth appears with regard to testing the spirits (1 John 4:1-6), and there is more extended teaching on love. God is love, love as a test, love of one another, love of God, God's love of us, etc. are all stressed (1 John 4:7-21). One of the features of this whole epistle is the presentation of a number of tests regarding the genuineness of Christian life. These have been organized by some and classified as the tests of: (1) obedience; (2) love; and (3) faith.[1] However, they are not separate tests, but each partakes of the nature of the others. Note the following:

<MONO>

The Test What is Proved

Everyone that doeth Is begotten of him righteousness (1 John 2:29). (1 John 2:29).

By the Spirit which he gave us We know that he abideth in us (1 John 3:24). (1 John 3:24).

Everyone that loveth Is begotten of God, and (1 John 4:7) knoweth God (1 John 4:7).

If we love one another God abideth in us, and his (1 John 4:12) love is perfected in us (1 John 4:12).

Because he has given us of his We know that we abide in him Spirit (1 John 4:13). and he in us (1 John 4:13).

Confessing Jesus as the Son of God abides in him, and he in God (1 John 4:15). God (1 John 4:15).

Believing that Jesus is the That one is begotten of God Christ (1 John 5:1). (1 John 5:1).

If we keep his commandments We love God (1 John 5:3). (1 John 5:3).SIZE>MONO>

It will be noted that such tests have a prominent place in this chapter. They are not separate tests, actually, but a composite, each of the above Scriptures being, in a sense, commentary on each one of the others. What is Proved in each test, for example, being exactly the same thing that is proved by all the others. Likewise, the unity of the tests is seen in the fact that "keeping his commandments," "loving one another, ... doing righteousness," "possessing the Holy Spirit," etc., all amount to one and the same thing.

ENDNOTE:

[1] R. W. Orr, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 617.

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

Believe not every spirit ... "The literal meaning of this is stop believing; evidently some of John's readers were being carried away by Gnostic teaching."[2]

Every spirit ... means every false prophet, or every false teacher pretending, or seeming, to be inspired. It is a gross misinterpretation of this passage to understand John here as "speaking not of men, but of spirits."[3] The final clause of the verse states flatly that the "false prophets" were in view. Such men pretended to be prophets of God speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and the concurrent existence in the church of that period of true prophets (such as Agabus) tended at times to encourage Christians to listen to anyone claiming inspiration. Blaney was correct in identifying the false prophets of this verse with the antichrists of 1 John 2:18.[4] The problem of such men among God's people was nothing new; false prophets had often troubled the Israel of the Old Testament, and Christ himself warned of the "false prophets ... in sheep's clothing ... but who are ravening wolves, etc." (Matthew 7:15f). Likewise, Paul had to contend with the same thing at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:3). The test which Christ gave for recognizing such false teachers was, "by their fruits ye shall know them." That test should be added to the ones John was about to cite here.

Whether they are of God ... The expression "of God" is used seven times in these first seven verses; and, "It is of the first importance to attach a precise meaning to this phrase ... it means has its origin in God.[5]

Prove the spirits ... This admonition to establish the validity of the claims of any teacher claiming God as the origin of his message, was directed to the whole church. Every Christian is responsible for checking out the claims of allegedly inspired teachers, as noted by Sinclair: "This examination of truth and error is inculcated on all alike, not merely on an ordained or materially separate class."[6]

The nature of the doctrine taught by the evil teachers is easy to read in the apostle's refutation of it in the following verses. Smith summed it up thus:

The Cerenthian heresy had much to say about the "spirit," boasting a larger spirituality. Starting with the theological postulate of an irreconcilable antagonism between matter and spirit, it denied the possibility of the Incarnation, and drew a distinction between Jesus and Christ. Its spirit was not the Spirit of truth, but the spirit of error.[7]

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1022.

[3] Amos N. Wilder, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 274.

[4] Harvey J. S. Blaney, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 387.

[5] William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 92.

[6] W. N. Sinclair, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 487.

[7] David Smith, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), p. 189.


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-john-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Beloved, believe not every spirit,.... The apostle having mentioned the word "spirit" in the latter part of the preceding chapter, takes an occasion from thence to return to what he had been suggesting in the "second" chapter, concerning the many antichrists that then were, and whom he points out, and here cautions against. By "every spirit" he means, either every doctrine that is pretended to come from the Spirit of God, or every teacher, who professes to be qualified and sent by him, and to have his light, knowledge, and doctrine from him. Every true minister of the Gospel has the Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit, more or less, to qualify him for his work; he is separated, and called to it by him, and receives his spiritual light find knowledge from him; it is he that teaches him sound doctrine, and leads him into all truth, as it is in Jesus, and brings every necessary truth to his remembrance; and who succeeds his ministrations to the good of souls: but there are some who call themselves the ministers of the Gospel, who, though they may have some natural abilities, and a share of human learning, and a notional knowledge of things, yet have never received either grace or gifts from the Spirit; nor have they been ever called by him; nor are their ministrations according to that divine word which is inspired by him, nor attended with his demonstration and power; wherefore, though some professing to have the Spirit of Christ are to be believed, yet not everyone; and though the Spirit is not to be quenched in any, nor prophesying to be despised, yet care should be taken what is heard and received: some persons are so obstinate and incredulous as not to believe anything that is declared, be the evidence what it will; as the Jews would not believe Christ and his apostles, though what they said agreed with Moses and the prophets, and was confirmed by miracles; and others are too credulous; at once receive every teacher, and embrace every upstart doctrine: this they should not do,

but try the spirits whether they are of God; not by human reason, especially as carnal and unsanctified; for though the doctrines of the Gospel are not contrary to true reason, they are above it, and not to be judged of by it, and are disapproved of and rejected by carnal reason; but by the word of God, which is the standard of all doctrine; and whatever agrees with that is to be received, and what does not should be rejected. And so to do is very commendable, as appears from the instance of the Beraeans, who on this account are said to be more noble than those of Thessalonica, Acts 17:11; and from the commendation of the church at Ephesus, Revelation 2:2. And this is what every believer, every private Christian should do; to them it belongs to read and search the Scriptures, and prove all things, and judge for themselves of the truth of doctrine; and to such a probation or trial of the spirits, spiritual light, knowledge, judgment, sense, experience, and divine guidance are necessary, which should be asked of God, and an increase thereof; and all such diligent searchers, and humble inquirers, are capable of making judgment of persons and doctrines, whether they are from the Spirit of God or not, for the Spirit of God never speaks contrary to his word: and the reason why such a trial should be made is,

because many false prophets are gone out into the world: such who pretended either to a revelation of future things, and to foretell things to come; or rather to a gift of prophesying, or preaching in Christ's name, to be "prophets" and spiritual men, and ministers of the word, but were "false" ones; who either predicted what did not come to pass, or rather preached false doctrine, by corrupting the word, and handling it deceitfully, and so imposed upon and ruined the souls of others, as well as deceived their own: and there were not only one, or two, or a few of these, but "many", as our Lord had foretold, Matthew 24:11; and which makes the reason the stronger for not believing every spirit, but trying them; and the rather, since they were not sent of God, hot called out by his churches, but were "gone out" of themselves; of their own heads, and without any mission from God or man: and "into the world" too; they were in every part of it, and especially where there were any churches of Christ; into which they first crept in privily, and at unawares, but afterwards became public preachers of the word, and then separating from them, set up openly in the world for themselves.


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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855

Bibliography
Gill, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-john-4.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

1 Beloved, believe not every a spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

(1) Taking occasion by the name of the Spirit, lest love and charity should be separated from the worship of God, which chiefly depends on his true knowledge, he returns to that which he spoke of in the second chapter concerning the taking heed of antichrists: He will have us here take heed of two things, the one is, that seeing there are many false prophets, we should not trust every man: the other is, that because many men teach false things, we should not therefore believe any. We must then observe, that we may be able to discern the spirits of God which are to be followed, from impure spirits which are to be avoided.

(a) This is spoken by metonymy and it is as if he had said, Believe not every one who says that he has a gift of the Holy Spirit to do the office of a prophet.


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Bibliography
Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/1-john-4.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

1 John 4:1-21. Tests of false prophets. Love, the test of birth from God, and the necessary fruit of knowing His great love in Christ to us.

Beloved — the affectionate address wherewith he calls their attention, as to an important subject.

every spirit — which presents itself in the person of a prophet. The Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error, speak by men‘s spirits as their organs. There is but one Spirit of truth, and one spirit of Antichrist.

try — by the tests (1 John 4:2, 1 John 4:3). All believers are to do so: not merely ecclesiastics. Even an angel‘s message should be tested by the word of God: much more men‘s teachings, however holy the teachers may seem.

because, etc. — the reason why we must “try,” or test the spirits.

many false prophets — not “prophets” in the sense “foretellers,” but organs of the spirit that inspires them, teaching accordingly either truth or error: “many Antichrists.”

are gone out — as if from God.

into the world — said alike of good and bad prophets (2 John 1:7). The world is easily seduced (1 John 4:4, 1 John 4:5).


Copyright Statement
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/1-john-4.html. 1871-8.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Beloved (αγαπητοιagapētoi). Three times in this chapter (1 John 4:1, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11) we have this tender address on love.

Believe not every spirit (μη παντι πνευματι πιστευετεmē panti pneumati pisteuete). “Stop believing,” as some were clearly carried away by the spirits of error rampant among them, both Docetic and Cerinthian Gnostics. Credulity means gullibility and some believers fall easy victims to the latest fads in spiritualistic humbuggery.

Prove the spirits (δοκιμαζετε τα πνευματαdokimazete ta pneumata). Put them to the acid test of truth as the metallurgist does his metals. If it stands the test like a coin, it is acceptable (δοκιμοςdokimos 2 Corinthians 10:18), otherwise it is rejected (αδοκιμοςadokimos 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 13:5-7).

Many false prophets (πολλοι πσευδοπροπηταιpolloi pseudoprophētai). Jesus had warned people against them (Matthew 7:15), even when they as false Christs work portents (Matthew 24:11, Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). It is an old story (Luke 6:26) and recurs again and again (Acts 13:6; Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10) along with false teachers (2 Peter 2:1).

Are gone out (εχεληλυτασινexelēluthasin). Perfect active indicative of εχερχομαιexerchomai Cf. aorist in 1 John 2:19. They are abroad always.


Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Bibliography
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/1-john-4.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Beloved

Again the recognition of danger from false spirits prompts this affectionate address. Compare 1 John 3:21.

Try ( δοκιμάζετε )

Better, as Rev., prove. See on 1 Peter 1:7; see on Luke 12:55. Compare the phrase discerning of spirits, 1 Corinthians 12:10.

Of God ( ἐκ )

Out of: proceeding from.

False prophets ( ψευδοπροφῆται )

The term is applied in the New Testament to rivals of true prophets under the old dispensation (Luke 6:26; 2 Peter 2:1), and to rivals of the apostles under the gospel economy (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:11, Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). In Revelation to “the embodied power of spiritual falsehood” (Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10). The false prophet supports his claims by signs and portents (Matthew 24:24; Acts 13:6; Revelation 19:20) and is thus distinguished from the false teacher. See 2 Peter 2:1, where the two terms occur together.

Are gone out ( ἐξαληλύθασιν )

The perfect tense indicates that the influence of their going out on their false mission is in operation at the present.


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Bibliography
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/1-john-4.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Believe not every spirit — Whereby any teacher is actuated.

But try the spirits — By the rule which follows. We are to try all spirits by the written word: "To the law and to the testimony!" If any man speak not according to these, the spirit which actuates him is not of God.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Bibliography
Wesley, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/1-john-4.html. 1765.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

Every spirit; every pretended spiritual influence by which men may claim to be influenced.--Try the spirits; examine them by the tests given above, that is, by their obedience and brotherly love, and also by those mentioned below.


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Bibliography
Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ain/1-john-4.html. 1878.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

1.] Beloved (so 1 John 4:7, and ch. 1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:21, marking a transition to a subject on which the Apostle affectionately bespeaks their earnest attention), believe not every spirit (the expressions πᾶν πνεῦμα, τὰ πνεύματα, indicating plurality of spirits, are to he explained by the fact that both the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error speak by the spirits of men who are their organs. So we have, in reference to prophecy, 1 Corinthians 14:32, πνεύματα προφητῶν προφήταις ὑποτάσσεται. By the nature of the testimony of the human spirits, we shall know whether they are of God or not; whether they are organs of the πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας or of the πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης. It will be observed that this interpretation of πᾶν πνεῦμα, and the Apostle’s way of speaking, rest on the assumption of there being One Spirit of Truth, from God, and one spirit of error, from the world; as opposed to all rationalizing interpretations, such as “sensus hominis aliquo modo inspiratus,” Socinus; “doctrina,” Episcopius: as opposed also to all figurative understanding of the word, as Calv., “metonymice accipio pro eo qui spiritus dono se præditum esse jactat ad obeundum prophetiæ munus,” Beza, Grot., Whitby, Wolf, and even Lücke, who explains it by λαλοῦντες ἐν πνεύματι. It is not the men themselves, but their spirits as the vehicles of God’s Spirit or the spirit of antichrist, that are in question.

In πιστεύετε some have seen a figure drawn from the physical meaning of πνεῦμα; so Corn.-a-lap.,—“Respicit ad nautas, qui non credunt omni spiritui, id est, vento.” But this is far fetched and unlikely, in the universal acceptance of the spiritual meaning of both words), but try the spirits (this δοκιμάζειν is enjoined not on the “ecclesia in suis prælatis,” as Estius and the R.-Cath. expositors, but on all believers, as even he reluctantly admits: and the test is one of plain matter of fact, of which any one can be judge. The Church by her rulers is the authoritative assertor of this δοκιμασία in the shape of official adoption or rejection, but only as moved by her component faithful members, according to whose sense those her formularies are drawn, of which her authorities are the exponents) whether they are of God (bear the character of an origin from Him): because (ground for the necessity of this trial) many false-prophets (= ἀντίχριστοι πολλοί, ch. 1 John 2:18; προφῆται, not as foretelling future things, but as the month-pieces of the πνεῦμα which inspires them. Cf. 2 Peter 2:1, where the N. T. false teachers are called ψευδοδιδάσκαλοι, and compared to the O. T. ψευδοπροφῆται) are gone forth (scil. from him who sent them: even as Jesus Himself is said, John 8:42; John 13:3; John 16:27-28, ἐξεληλυθέναι from God. Or we may take it as in ch. 1 John 2:19, ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆλθον,—from the Church: but the other is more likely. Socinus and Grotius take it of “prodire ad munus suscipiendum:” but it certainly means more than this) into the world (cf. John 16:28, which tends to fix the ἐξεληλύθασιν above).


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Bibliography
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/1-john-4.html. 1863-1878.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

He returns to his former doctrine, which he had touched upon in the second chapter; for many (as it is usual in new things) abused the name of Christ for the purpose of serving their own errors. Some made a half profession of Christ; and when they obtained a place among his friends, they had more opportunity to injure his cause. Satan took occasion to disturb the Church, especially through Christ himself; for he is the stone of offense, against whom all necessarily stumble who keep not on the right way, as shewn to us by God.

But what the Apostle says consists of three parts. He first shews an evil dangerous to the faithful; and therefore he exhorts them to beware. He prescribes how they were to beware, that is, by making a distinction between the spirits; and this is the second part. In the third place, he points out a particular error, the most dangerous to them, he therefore forbids them to hear those who denied that the Son of God appeared in the flesh. We shall now consider each in order.

But though in the passage this reason is added, that many false prophets had gone forth into the world, yet it is convenient to begin with it. The announcement contains a useful admonition; for if Satan had then already seduced many, who under the name of Christ scattered their impostures, similar instances at this day ought not to terrify us. For it is the case perpetually with the Gospel, that Satan attempts to pollute and corrupt its purity by variety of errors. This our age has brought forth some horrible and monstrous sects; and for this reason many stand amazed; and not knowing where to turn, they cast aside every care for religion; for they find no more summary way for extricating themselves from the danger of errors. They thus, indeed, act most foolishly; for by shunning the light of truth, they cast themselves into the darkness of errors. Let, therefore, this fact remain fixed in our minds, that from the time the Gospel began to be preached, false prophets immediately appeared; and the fact will fortify us against such offenses.

The antiquity of errors keeps many, as it were, fast bound, so that they dare not emerge from them. But John points out here all intestine evil which was then in the Church. Now, if there were impostors mixed then with the Apostles and other faithful teachers, what wonder is it, that the doctrine of the Gospel has been long ago suppressed, and that many corruptions have prevailed in the world? There is, then, no reason why antiquity should hinder us to exercise our liberty in distinguishing between truth and falsehood.

1Believe not every spirit When the Church is disturbed by discords and contentions, many, as it has been said, being frightened, depart from the Gospel. But the Spirit prescribes to us a far different remedy, that is, that the faithful should not receive any doctrine thoughtlessly and without discrimination. We ought, then, to take heed lest, being offended at the variety of opinions, we should discard teachers, and, together with them, the word of God. But this precaution is sufficient, that all are not to be heard indiscriminately.

The word spirit I take metonymically, as signifying him who boasts that he is endowed with the gift of the Spirit to perform his office as a prophet. For as it was not permitted to any one to speak in his own name, nor was credit given to speakers but as far as they were the organs of the Holy Spirit, in order that prophets might have more authority, God honored them with this name, as though he had separated them from mankind in general. Those, then, were called spirits, who, giving only a language to the oracles of the Holy Spirit, in a manner represented him. They brought nothing of their own, nor came they forth in their own name, but the design of this honorable title was, that God’s word should not lose the respect due to it through the humble condition of the minister. For God would have his word to be always received from the mouth of man no otherwise than if he himself had appeared from heaven.

Here Satan interposed, and having sent false teachers to adulterate God’s word, he gave them also this name, that they might more easily deceive. Thus false prophets have always been wont superciliously and boldly to claim for themselves whatever honor God had bestowed on his own servants. But the Apostle designedly made use of this name, lest they who falsely pretend God’s name should deceive us by their masks, as we see at this day; for many are so dazzled by the mere name of a Church, that they prefer, to their eternal ruin, to cleave to the Pope, than to deny him the least part of his authority.

We ought, therefore, to notice this concession: for the Apostle might have said that every sort of men ought not to be believed; but as false teachers claimed the Spirit, so he left them to do so, having at the same time reminded them that their claim was frivolous and nugatory, except they really exhibited what they professed, and that those were foolish who, being astonished at the very sound of so honorable a name, dared not to make any inquiry on the subject.

Try the spirits As all were not true prophets, the Apostle here declares that they ought to have been examined and tried. And he addresses not only the whole Church, but also every one of the faithful.

But it may be asked, whence have we this discernment? They who answer, that the word of God is the rule by which everything that men bring forward ought to be tried, say something, but not the whole. I grant that doctrines ought to be tested by God’s word; but except the Spirit of wisdom be present, to have God’s word in our hands will avail little or nothing, for its meaning will not appear to us; as, for instance, gold is tried by fire or touchstone, but it can only be done by those who understand the art; for neither the touchstone nor the fire can be of any use to the unskillful. That we may then be fit judges, we must necessarily be endowed with and directed by the Spirit of discernment. But as the Apostle would have commanded this in vain, were there no power of judging supplied, we may with certainty conclude, that the godly shall never be left destitute of the Spirit of wisdom as to what is necessary, provided they ask for him of the Lord. But the Spirit will only thus guide us to a right discrimination, when we render all our thoughts subject to God’s word; for it is, as it has been said, like the touchstone, yea, it ought to be deemed most necessary to us; for that alone is true doctrine which is drawn from it.

But here a difficult question arises: If every one has the right and the liberty to judge, nothing can be settled as certain, but on the contrary the whole of religion will be uncertain. To this I answer, that there is a twofold trial of doctrine, private and public. The private trial is that by which every one settles his own faith, when he wholly acquiesces in that doctrine which he knows has come from God; for consciences will never find a safe and tranquil port otherwise than in God. Public trial refers to the common consent and polity of the Church; for as there is danger lest fanatics should rise up, who may presumptuously boast that they are endued with the Spirit of God, it is a necessary remedy, that the faithful meet together and seek a way by which they may agree in a holy and godly manner. But as the old proverb is too true, “So many heads, so many opinions,” it is doubtless a singular work of God, when he subdues our perverseness and makes us to think the same thing, and to agree in a holy unity of faith.

But what Papists under this pretense hold, that whatever has been decreed in councils is to be deemed as certain oracles, because the Church has once proved them to be from God, is extremely frivolous. For though it be the ordinary way of seeking consent, to gather a godly and holy council, when controversies may be determined according to God’s word; yet God has never bound himself to the decrees of any council. Nor does it necessarily follow, that as soon as a hundred bishops or more meet together in any place, they have duly called on God and inquired at his mouth what is true; nay, nothing is more clear that they have often departed from the pure word of God. Then in this case also the trial which the Apostle prescribes ought to take place, so that the spirits may be proved.


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Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/1-john-4.html. 1840-57.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Ver. 1. But try the spirits] As lapidaries do their stones, as goldsmiths do their metals. A Bristol stone may look as well as an Indian diamond; and many things glitter besides gold. Try therefore before you trust that which is doctrinally delivered unto you; being neither overly credulous, -the fool believeth everything; nor rashly censorious, as those were that said of our Saviour, "This man blasphemeth." {See Trapp on "1 Thessalonians 5:21"}

Because many false prophets] Both the old Church, Deuteronomy 13:1, and the new, Acts 20:30, were ever pestered with them.


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Trapp, John. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". John Trapp Complete Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/1-john-4.html. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

1 John 4:1

This text shows (1) that the highest pretensions may be hypocritical, and therefore mere profession amounts to nothing; (2) that all pretensions should be submitted to trial, and therefore to shrink from trial is to confess incompetence and immorality; (3) that God Himself is the true standard by which to try all men. One man is not to be compared with another; each man is to be judged before God. The fulfilment of this exhortation would be followed by three results: (1) Spiritual adventurers would meet with proper condemnation. All lackadaisical sympathy would be destroyed, etc. (2) The highest piety would be realised, the piety which lives upon God, and seeks truth at all costs, etc. (3) The multiplication of needless and vexatious sects would be arrested. Little nests of quacks and mutual flatterers would be broken up. Men who live in God despise the concealment of obscure theories and the ostentation of pretentious technicalities. The fulfilment of this exhortation would not, on the other hand, secure monotonous and insipid uniformity of thought, expression, and social development. God's ministry in nature is various, yet nature is one. The illustration applies to the highest life.

Parker, City Temple, vol. i., p. 60.


I. There are questions relating to spiritual influence in which we all, each for himself, ought to have the very deepest interest. For the most persistent sceptic that ever lived cannot deny the fact of spiritual influence. All the influences which proceed from mind to mind are spiritual influences. By certain spiritual or, if you like, mental influences, our conduct is determined, and our characters formed. The Spirit of life, and order, and growth to perfection; which works in the world of matter and also in the mind and soul of man, in the Bible is said to be the Spirit of God; and, on the other hand, all that is evil, and degrading, and dividing is said to be the working of a spirit of disobedience. So that the saving and destroying forces of the world are in perpetual activity.

II. Let me give you one test by which you may try the spirits whether they are of God. We are told in the Bible that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of adoption. And this is the uniting and converting power of the world. (1) It is the converting Spirit, not the spirit of fear and intimidation, not the spirit of the devil and his angels, not the unprincipled spirit of management and of making things easy all round, so that under all circumstances self may be triumphant, but the Spirit which rises up now and then with its saving regeneration in the heart of the cold and bad, the seducer and the faithless, saying, "I am a child of God; shame on me that I have stooped so low and forgotten who I am and what is my birthright," the Spirit which stirs in a man, and floods him over with penitence, and from his crossness and cruelty, his deep commonness and sinfulness, makes him get up and shake himself free. (2) And the same Spirit is the Spirit of unity. The Spirit which tells us we are sons of God tells also that we are brethren, and its word of command is, "Let brotherly love continue."

W. Page Roberts, Law and God, p. 89.


References: 1 John 4:1.—W. L. Alexander, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 309; J. Kennedy, Ibid., p. 206; A. M. Brown, Ibid., vol. ix., p. 152; J. G. Rogers, Ibid., vol. xxvii., p. 391. 1 John 4:1, 1 John 4:2.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 331. 1 John 4:2.—H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiii., p. 49. 1 John 4:3-7.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 195. 1 John 4:6.—E. White, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 328; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 297.


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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Sermon Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/1-john-4.html.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 John 4:1. Believe not every Spirit, By the spirits, understand not the men pretending to inspiration, nor the doctrines which they delivered, but the spirits from whence the doctrines proceeded; namely, first, the Spirit of God; secondly, the spirit of the man himself; or, thirdly, a demon, or wicked spirit. Having taken notice, ch. 1 John 3:24 that true Christians had the Spirit, the apostle here insinuates, that the false prophets had either never received the Spirit, or had entirely quenched it. They therefore were not to believe every one who pretended to be inspired by the Spirit of God, but to try the spirits. We should observe, that this rule is directed to Christians in general; to the people, as well as ministers; and if the people think and believe at all, they must judge and believe for themselves. A man must either take somebody for his infallible guide, or he must try and judge for himself. How much soever some churches or particular Christians have condemned the liberty of private judgment, the Christian religion encourages the most generous and extensive liberty, or freedom of inquiry: and all Christians ought to assert that liberty, and make the proper improvement of it; neither lightly receiving, nor rejecting what is proposed to them.


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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/1-john-4.html. 1801-1803.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Our apostle having in the last verse of the foregoing chapter mentioned the abiding of the spirit of God in the souls of believers, lest the Christians to whom he wrote should be deceived by such as might pretend to be acted by the Spirit, when indeed they were not; he comes in this chapter to caution and counsel all Christians to take heed of being seduced by such as should pretend to be inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, saying, Believe not every spirit; that is, every teacher who pretends to be inspired, and every doctrine that lays claim to the authority of divine revelation: But try the spirits: that is, examine their doctrines by the rule of the word of God, and try from whom they come, whether from the Spirit of God, or Satan: for many false prophets, or impostors and deceivers, are gone abroad in the world.

Learn hence, 1. That men from the beginning of Christianity have, and still do, falsely pretend to divine inspiration.

2. That Christians ought not to believe every one that thus pretends to be divinely inspired: for every one that has but enough of confidence, and little enough of conscience, may pretend to come from God.

Learn, 3. That neither are we to reject all that pretend to come from God; for when the apostle bids us not to believe every spirit, he supposes that we are to believe some; and when he bids us try the spirits whether they be of God, he supposes some to be of God, and that such as are so, ought to be believed by us.

Learn, 4. That there is some way to discern mere pretenders to inspiration from those who are truly and divinely inspired; it were in vain to make the trial, if there were no way to discern the truth.

Learn, 5. That it is the duty of all Christians to examine the doctrines propounded to them by the word of God; they having a judgment of discretion, though not a judgment of decision; a power to judge for themselves, not to impose upon others: nor does this allowed liberty of every one judging for himself take away the necessity and use of our spiritual guides and teachers, or exempt us from a due submission and obedience thereunto, but in concurrence with them, we are to try the spirits, whether they be of God.


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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/1-john-4.html. 1700-1703.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

1 John 4:1. The apostle first exhorts them not to believe παντὶ πνεύματι. The idea πνεῦμα is in closest connection with ψευδοπροφῆται. The true prophets spoke, as we read in 2 Peter 1:21 : ὑπὸ πνεύματος ἁγίου φερόμενοι; the source of the revelations which they proclaim ( πρόφημι) is the πνεῦμα ἅγιον or πν. τοῦ θεοῦ, by which is meant not an affection of their mind, but the power of God, distinct from their own personality, animating and determining them ( δύναμις ὑψίστου, synonymous with πνεῦμα ἅγιον, Luke 1:35). This πνεῦμα speaks through the prophet, penetrating into his πνεῦμα and communicating to him the truth to be revealed; thus the πνεῦμα of the prophet himself becomes a πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ. As every prophet has his own πνεῦμα, there exists, though the πνεῦμα ἅγιον is a single being, a plurality of prophetic spirits. The same relationship holds good, on the other hand, in the case of the false prophets. These also are under the influence of a spirit, namely, of the πνεῦμα which ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστι, of the πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης; this similarly is a single being, but inasmuch as with its lie it penetrates the πνεύματα of the false prophets and makes them like itself, it is true of the πνεῦμα of every individual prophet that it is not of God, not a πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, but a πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης. As John speaks here of a plurality of spirits ( παντὶ πνεύματι, τὰ πνεύματα), we are to understand by πνεῦμα in this passage not the higher spirit different from the human spirit, but this spirit itself, penetrated, however, and filled with the former(253) (comp. 1 Corinthians 14:32, and Meyer on this passage). This spirit, however, may be spoken of, not merely in plurality, but also in unity, that is, in collective sense, for on each of the two sides all πνεῦματα, being animated by one and the same spirit,—whether the divine or that which is against God,—are of one nature, and so form together one unity. It is incorrect to understand by πνεῦμα here by metonymy, “the prophets” themselves (= λαλοῦντες ἐν πνεύ΄ατι, Lücke, de Wette, Calvin: pro eo, qui spiritus dono se praeditum esse jactat ad obeundum prophetae munus; so also Erdmann, Myrberg, etc.), or “their inspiration” (Socinus, Paulus), or even “the teaching of the prophet, his inspired word” (Lorinus, Cyril, Didymus, etc.).

ἀλλὰ δοκι΄άζετε τὰ πνεύ΄ατα] The appearance of the ψευδοποροφῆται, i.e. such teachers as, moved by the ungodly spirit, proclaimed instead of the truth the antichristian lie, under the pretext of speaking by divine inspiration, necessitated in the Christian Church a trial of the spirits (a διάκρισις of them, 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29); comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; in order to know εἰ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, i.e. (if ἐκ is to be retained in its exact meaning), if they originate in and proceed from God.

This trial is to be exercised by all (comp. Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 10:15; 1 Corinthians 11:13), for “alloquitur (apostolus) non modo totum ecclesiae corpus, sed etiam singulos fideles” (Calvin); against which Lorinus arbitrarily says: non omnium est probare; unum oportet in ecclesia summum judicem quaestionum de fide moribusque; is est sine dubio Pontifex Maximus.

The necessity of the trial John establishes by the words: ὅτι πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται κ. τ. λ. These ψευδοπροφῆται are the same as in chap. 1 John 2:18 are called ἀντιχρίστοι; comp 1 John 4:2-3. The name ψευδοπροφῆται indicates that the teachers proclaimed their doctrine, not as the result of human speculation, but as a revelation communicated to them by the πνεῦ΄α of God. The expression: ἐξεληλύθασιν εἰς τὸν κόσ΄ον, does not merely signify their public appearance (Socinus: existere et publice munus aliquod aggredi; Grotius: apparere populo), nor is “ ἐξ οἰκῶν αὐτῶν to be mentally supplied” (Ebrard), but it is to be explained by the fact that the prophets, as such, were sent (comp. John 17:18), and therefore go out from Him who sends them. It is He, however, that sends them, who through His πνεῦμα makes them prophets. The idea of ἐξέρχεσθαι is accordingly different here from what it is in chap. 1 John 2:19 (contrary to Lorinus, Spener, etc.); a going out of the false prophets from the Church of the Lord is not here alluded to. With εἰς τὸν κόσ΄ον, compare John 6:14; John 10:36.


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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/1-john-4.html. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

1 John 4:1. παντὶ) every spirit, which presents itself.— πνεύματι) spirit, by which any teacher is influenced.— δοκιμάζετε, try) according to the rule, which is given in 1 John 4:2-3.— πολλοὶ) many, as at other times, so in that age also. A dreadful crop of heresies sprung up in those times. John zealously contends against them. If he were alive at this day, he would be called by some too severe.— ψευδοπροφῆται, false prophets) 2 Peter 2:1; Matthew 24:11; Matthew 24:24.— ἐξεληλύθασιν, have gone out) from their places. They have entered into the world: 2 John 1:7.— κόσμον, the world) which is easy to be deceived: 2Jn_1:4-5.


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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/1-john-4.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

1 JOHN CHAPTER 4

1 John 4:1-6 The apostle warneth to try by certain rules the

spirits that pretend to come from God.

1 John 4:7-21 He presseth the obligation of mutual love upon

Christians from the example and commandment of God.

Believe not every spirit; i.e. not every one

pretending to inspiration, or a revelation; spirit, whether good

or bad, being put for the person acted thereby.

But try the spirits; there being a judgment of discretion or discerning,

common to Christians, de jure, and which they ought to endeavour

for and to use upon such occasions, Acts 17:11 Philippians 1:9,10 1 Thessalonians 5:21;

and the attainment and exercise whereof is, in reference to the great

essentials of religion, more facile and sure: as when heretofore among

the Jews, any should attempt the drawing them off from the true God,

as Deuteronomy 13:1,2; and so when with Christians it should be

endeavoured to tempt them away from Christ, as the


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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/1-john-4.html. 1685.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

Every spirit; speaking to you through one who claims to be a prophet.

Try the spirits; the "discerning of spirits" was one of the special and temporary spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:10; but here the apostle proposes such tests as all might employ, verses 1 John 4:2-3. The doctrines and practice of all religious teachers should be tried by the word of God. If they agree with this they should be received, and if not should be rejected. Hence the right and the duty of all men to be acquainted with the word of God, that they may rightly judge and act in this matter.


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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Family Bible New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/1-john-4.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

1. ἀγαπητοί. See on 1 John 3:2. The tender address once more introduces a matter of deep practical importance: comp. 1 John 3:21.

μὴ παντὶ πνεύματι πιστεύετε. This exhortation does not give us the main subject of the section, any more than ‘Marvel not, brethren, if the world hate you’ (1 John 3:12) gave us the main subject of the last section (1 John 3:12-24). In both cases the exhortation is introductory and momentary. Having spoken of the Spirit by which we know that God abides in us, the Apostle goes on to speak of other spiritual influences which indubitably exist, and of which every one has experience, but which are not necessarily of God because they are spiritual. “He does not discredit the fact that spiritual influences were widely diffused; he does not monopolize such influences for the Christian Church. How could he discredit this fact? How can we? Are there not myriads of influences about us continually, which do not act upon our senses but upon our spirits, which do not proceed from things which may be seen and handled, but from the spirits of men? (Maurice). But besides ordinary spiritual influences, S. John probably has in his mind those extraordinary and supernatural powers which at various periods of the Church’s history persons have claimed to possess. Such claims exhibit themselves in professed revelations, prophecies, miracles, and the like. About all such things there are two possibilities which must put us on our guard: [1] they may be unreal; either the delusions of fanatical enthusiasts, or the lies of deliberate impostors: [2] even if real, they need not be of God. Miraculous powers are no absolute guarantee of the possession of truth. The present imperative has the same force as in 1 John 3:13 : ‘do not continue to believe, as I fear some do, whenever occasion arises’.

δοκιμάζετε. Prove the spirits. There are two words in N.T. meaning ‘to try, test, prove’; δοκιμάζειν and πειράζειν. The latter is used of the Jews trying or tempting Christ (Mark 8:11; Mark 10:2; &c.) and of the temptations of Satan (Matthew 4:1; Matthew 4:3, &c). Neither are common in S. John’s writings. He nowhere else uses δοκιμάζειν, which occurs about 20 times in N.T., and only 4 times uses πειράζειν (John 6:6; Revelation 2:2; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:10), which occurs about 40 times in N.T. The A.V. is very capricious in its renderings of the former; ‘allow’ (Romans 14:22), ‘approve’ (Romans 2:18), ‘discern’ (Luke 12:56), ‘examine’ (1 Corinthians 11:28), ‘like’ (Romans 1:28), ‘prove’ (Luke 14:19), ‘try’ (1 Corinthians 3:13); while the latter is rendered ‘examine’ (2 Corinthians 13:5), ‘prove’ (John 6:6), ‘tempt’ (Matthew 22:18), ‘try’ (Revelation 2:2). The Revisers have somewhat reduced this variety. In the one case ‘allow’ has been changed to ‘approve’; ‘examine’ and ‘try’ to ‘prove’: in the other case ‘examine’ has been changed to ‘try.’ The difference between the two words (which are found together 2 Corinthians 13:5 and Psalms 26:2) is on the whole this, that δοκιμάζειν commonly implies a good, if not a friendly object; to prove or test in the hope that what is tried will stand the test; whereas πειράζειν often implies a sinister object; to try in the hope that what is tried will be found wanting. The metaphor here is from testing metals. Comp. ‘Prove all things; hold fast that which is good’ (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

εἰ ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ. Whether their origin (ἐκ) is from God: comp. 1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:12. With δοκιμάζειν εἰ comp. πειράζειν εἰ (2 Corinthians 13:5).

A verse such as this cuts at the root of such pretensions as the Infallibility of the Pope. What room is left for Christians to ‘prove the spirits,’ if all they have to do is to ask the opinion of an official? The Apostle’s charge, ‘prove ye the spirits,’ may be addressed to Christians singly or to the Church collectively: it cannot be addressed to one individual exclusively. Comp. Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 10:15; 1 Corinthians 11:13. The verse also shews us in what spirit to judge of such things as the reported miracles at Lourdes and the so-called ‘manifestations’ of Spiritualism. When they have been proved to be real, they must still further be proved to see ‘whether they are of God.’ We are not to judge of doctrine by miracles, but of miracles by doctrine A miracle enforcing what contradicts the teaching of Christ and His Apostles is not ‘of God’ and is no authority for Christians. Comp. Galatians 1:8; Deuteronomy 13:1-3.

ὅτι πολλοὶ ψευδοπρ. The caution is against no imaginary or merely possible danger; it already exists. Warnings respecting the coming of such had been given by Christ, S. Paul, S. Peter, and S. Jude; and now S. John, writing long afterwards, tells the Church that these prophecies have been fulfilled. The πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται include the antichrists of 1 John 2:18; and what is here said of them seems to indicate that like Mahomet, Swedenborg, the Irvingites, and others, they put forth their new doctrine as a revelation.

ἐξεληλύθασιν εἰς τ. κ. This probably has no reference to what is said in 1 John 2:19 about their ‘going out from us’. It need mean no more than that they have appeared in public; but it perhaps includes the notion of their having a mission from the power that sent them: comp. John 3:17; John 6:14; John 10:36; John 11:27; John 12:47; John 12:49; and especially John 16:28. We need not confine these ‘many false prophets’ to the antichrists who had left the Christian communion. There would be others who, like Apollonius of Tyana, had never been Christians at all: and others even more dangerous who still professed to be members of the Church. The difficulties in the Church of Corinth caused by the unrestrained ‘speaking with tongues’ point to dangers of this kind.


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"Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/1-john-4.html. 1896.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

CONTENTS

Here are contained Commands to try the Spirits, and Rules given for discovering of them. Some blessed Things are spoken of Christ. The Chapter concludes with an Account of God's Love.


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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pmc/1-john-4.html. 1828.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

THE TRYING OF THE ANTICHRISTIC SPIRITS, 1 John 4:1-21.

1. The three condemnatory testsnon-confession of a human Jesus, worldliness; the not hearing us, the apostolic witnesses, 1 John 4:1-6.

1. Believe not every spirit—In this, the apostolic day of supernatural manifestations there are false inspirations, as well as true. There are demoniac instigations as well as true revelations. The term Spirit of God, in the second verse, shows that by spirits are antithetically meant, not merely human intellects or personalities, nor a temper or disposition of human minds. The errors of the errorists are referred back to supernatural sources; though the word spirits spontaneously, in 1 John 4:2-3, becomes a designation of the man himself inspired by the spirit. So the demoniac of Gadara becomes identified with the demon possessing him. See notes on Mark 5:1-20; 2 Thessalonians 2:9.

False prophets— Each possessed by, and identified with, his own spirit, and teaching his own particular error.

Gone out—From their chief commissioner, Satan. The intensity of John’s feelings in regard to these antichristic emissaries appears from his reference to the same deceivers in his second epistle, 1 John 4:7. There they have entered into the world, and each one is antichrist, and earnest warnings are given for a profound avoidance of them.


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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-john-4.html. 1874-1909.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world.’

‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God.’ We are here faced with a problem of interpretation. What does he mean by ‘every spirit’. At what point is an external ‘spirit’ being spoken of as compared with the actual inner spirit of the prophet? For Paul had spoken of ‘the spirits of the prophets’ and clearly meant by that their own spirits within them as stirred by the Holy Spirit. He would hardly have countenanced a multitude of spirits in the church, and there is no evidence of such elsewhere.

We certainly know of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, and John also speaks of the spirit of error (1 John 4:6), although possibly not having in mind a specific ‘spirit’. In the light of what has been said elsewhere it is possible that we might see this spirit of error as hinting at the Evil One, the Devil (1 John 2:13; 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 5:19), or possibly some of his minions, the ‘evil spirits’ of the Gospels, who speak through the antichrists (1 John 2:18-19; 1 John 2:22). But then we might rather have expected him to speak of the ‘spirit of deception’. The idea of the spirit of error may simply therefore be of any ‘spirit’, whether the internal spirit of the prophet or an external spirit which possesses him, which prophesies error. For at certain times it might well be just a vivid imagination that was at work. Many things can lead to error.

By ‘every spirit’ John may thus mean that which was seen to be at work in the prophet, of whatever nature it was. It might be the Holy Spirit working through the prophet’s spirit, it might be the prophet’s own spirit stirred up to ecstasy and working on its own inspiration, or it might be an evil spirit possessing the prophet.

‘Prove the spirits.’ As we have suggested above, in 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul spoke of ‘the spirits of the prophets’ he was almost certainly speaking of the prophets’ inner spirit (1 Corinthians 14:32), for he would hardly have countenanced a number of spirits speaking through them. And the fact that John here speaks of ‘every spirit’ as possibly being used by the Holy Spirit confirms the same. There is nowhere else any suggestion of more than one Spirit at work in the churches. Thus this might well be what John mainly means here. But he would certainly recognise that sometimes at least there was something more sinister at work behind false prophets. Either way the test was necessary because there were now so many false prophets.

‘Are gone out into the world.’ These false prophets are of the world. They are not of God, and they have no message from God. They go to the world and preach what the world wants to hear.

But they also visit the churches. And we must remember with what eagerness the churches would welcome Christian brothers. That is why letters of introduction had in the end to take such an important place among them. But these false prophets have no place among Christians, for they preach error. Thus all prophets must be tested. For sadly Christians were becoming enticed by these false prophets. The love of the world still drew some of them.


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Bibliography
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-john-4.html. 2013.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Episode on the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error; the test to be applied; and the sure application of it.

1 John 4:1. Beloved introduces an affectionate interlude, in which the apostle passes from the personal assurance of fellowship with God given by the Holy Ghost, to the assurance given by the same Spirit concerning the doctrine on the belief of which that assurance is based. Believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. The ‘spirits’ and the ‘false prophets’ are one. They are ‘antichrists’ in chap. 2; but the predominant reference to the Holy Ghost in this section gives occasion for the use of these two terms: ‘spirits’ as professing to be His organs, and ‘false prophets’ as professing to be moved by Him. As teachers they are not to be believed until tested: hence we are not to speak here of the gift of ‘discerning spirits’ (1 Corinthians 12:10), but of the universal duty incumbent on every Christian, of trying the doctrine brought concerning the Son of God. Many men professing to be inspired had gone out—not as in chap, 2 from the church—from the invisible realm, and from the one spirit of the lie into the world: not from the church into the world, but from the world into the church.


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Bibliography
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/1-john-4.html. 1879-90.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

1 John 4:1. Because the Gnostics and other heretics, in the first age, to gain the greater credit to their erroneous doctrines, assumed to themselves the character and authority of inspired teachers, John put his disciples in mind, (1 John 2:27,) that they had an unction from the Holy Spirit, by which they were enabled to judge with certainty, both of teachers and of their doctrine. He therefore, in this chapter, commands them not to believe rashly every teacher who pretended to be inspired, but to try the inspiration by which any preacher professed to speak, whether it was from God or from evil spirits; that after trial they might know whom it was their duty to attend to, and whom they ought to disregard and reject. And to secure them, as far as possible, from being deceived, he especially desires them to consider whether the teacher, who came to them, pretending to inspiration, held the great and fundamental doctrines of the gospel, which all the teachers, really inspired of God, regularly and uniformly maintained. His words may be paraphrased as follows: Believe not every spirit — By which any teacher is, or professes to be, actuated: or, believe not every teacher who pretends to be inspired by the Spirit of God; but try the spirits — Namely, whether they are of God — By the rule which God hath given. We are to try all spirits by the written word: To the law and to the testimony! If any man speak not according to these, the spirit which actuates him is not of God. Because many false prophets — Or false teachers; are gone forth into the world — With an intention to draw disciples after them.


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Bibliography
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/1-john-4.html. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Try the spirits; i.e. every doctrine that you hear: for now are many false teachers, false doctors, and false prophets. (Witham) --- Try, &c. viz. by examining whether their teaching be agreeable to the rule of the Catholic faith and the doctrine of the Church. For, as he says, (ver. 6) "He that knoweth God, heareth us: (the pastors of the Church) ...by this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." (Challoner) --- The Church only, not every private man, hath to prove and discern spirits.


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Bibliography
Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/1-john-4.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

Beloved. App-135.

believe. App-150.

spirit. App-101.

try = test, prove. By the Word of God. Greek. dokimazo. See Romans 1:28 with Romans 12:2.

whether = if. App-118.

of. App-104.

God. App-98.

false prophets. Greek. pseudoproptetes. First occurance: Matthew 7:15.

into. App-104.

world. App-129.


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Bibliography
Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/1-john-4.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Beloved - the affectionate address wherewith he calls attention to an important subject.

Every spirit - in the person of a prophet. The Spirit of truth, and that of error, speak by men's spirits as their organs. There is but one Spirit of truth, and one of Antichrist.

Try - by the tests (1 John 4:2-3). All are to do so: not merely ecclesiastics. Even an angel's message should be tested by the Word of God; much more men's teachings, however holy the teachers seem (Galatians 1:8).

Because ... - reason why we must test the spirits.

Many false prophets - not in the sense 'foretellers,' but organs of the spirit that inspires them, teaching error: 'many Antichrists.'

Are gone out - as if from God.

Into the world - said alike of good and bad prophets (2 John 1:7). The world is easily seduced (1 John 4:4-5).


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Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/1-john-4.html. 1871-8.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
believe not
Deuteronomy 13:1-5; Proverbs 14:15; Jeremiah 5:31; 29:8,9; Matthew 7:15,16; 24:4,5; Romans 16:18; 2 Peter 2:1
try
Luke 12:57; Acts 17:11; Romans 16:19; 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Revelation 2:2
many
2:18; Matthew 24:5,23-26; Mark 13:21; Luke 21:8; Acts 20:29; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:13; 2 Peter 2:1; 2 John 1:7

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Bibliography
Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/1-john-4.html.

The Bible Study New Testament

Do not believe . . . but test. In 1 John 3:24 John mentions the evidence of the Spirit. Because the false teachers all claimed to be inspired and to have received their (false) message from the Holy Spirit, John reminds the messianic community that they have among them some who can tell the difference (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 John 2:27) and identify those who are in fact inspired teachers. For many false prophets. His warning is still good today! See 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22.


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Bibliography
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". "The Bible Study New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/1-john-4.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

The spirits means those men who profess to be speaking by inspiration, such as John mentions in the closing verse of the preceding chapter. The false teachers used that claim to obtain attention from the uninformed. The brethren are warned not to believe every man who makes such a claim, but first try them which means to test and examine them by the rule that is given in the next verse.


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Bibliography
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on 1 John 4:1". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/znt/1-john-4.html. 1952.

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