One of the quintessential misapplied verses in the Bible is 1 John 2.27. In this text, the Apostle John declares that believers have the anointing of God that teaches us all things and therefore we have no need to be taught by any man. The misapplication of this text is that Christians have no need of teaching. This is often cited as proof against seminaries and bible schools, but even quoted as evidence that Christians have no use of the traditional church paradigm. This misapplication is the result of a flawed interpretation of the text. The obvious dissonance of this position is quite comical. These opponents of teaching are committed teachers of that interpretation. They invest significant time researching this position to better teach it to others. On more than one occasion I have witnessed a public teaching of this text, painstakingly instructing the hearers on why they don’t need anyone to teach them… present company excluded apparently.
There are so many incongruities with this interpretation that it is hard to even know where to begin. First consider that John is TEACHING us that we don’t need to be taught. And he is doing so in the middle of an epistle written to communicate information and knowledge. It is the low point of proof-texting exegesis to pluck this verse out of the broader context of the book and proclaim that teaching is superfluous.
Second, it is absurd to ignore all the exhortations to teach and the invitations to be taught throughout the New Testament. But that is precisely what one must to do in order to sustain such a contrived interpretation of this isolated text. Paul explains that teaching is a gift that Christ gave the church, and that it would last until our gathering up to Himself. Jesus said that those that taught others his doctrine would be great in His kingdom. The Hebrews were admonished for not yet being teachers, despite their seniority in the faith. These are just a few selected examples. It really is silly to even argue this point. It is like arguing with fools that think that the earth is flat. They surgically remove a snippet from a literary work whose single purpose is to teach, and use it to teach that we don’t need to be taught. The only thing more absurd than that is the surprising number of Christians who allow themselves to be taught that they don’t need anyone to teach them.
Before we explore what John was actually teaching, let me state unequivocally that teaching is GOOD. It is one of the spiritual gifts that all Christians are encouraged to covet. It is one of the principle gifts given to the Church. And it is the tapestry of all the other gifts. Paul teaches that the other gifts are ineffective if nothing is taught when we exercise them. Unintelligible tongues are useless in the church because no one is taught. Prophecy, AKA preaching, is to be done in such a fashion that all may learn. The work of evangelism is summarized as “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Even gifts that are not centered on verbal communication are to be discharged in such a way as to be an ensample to the brethren–in other words, teaching by example.
Let’s be clear: While teaching is GOOD, not all teaching is good teaching. Paul cautions us against teaching that is endless and fruitless, whose only aim is to make the students ever more dependent on the teacher. That is not teaching. That is a key marker in identifying cults. They typically engage in long teaching sessions–both long hours and over long periods of time–listening to their leader. However none of them ever surpasses that leader, or develop the fundamental ideas independently. This is because cult leaders teach a never-ending cascade of “revelations”. There is no logical or doctrinal development from one epiphany to the other. So without the continuous revelation from the leader, the followers are lost. This is not teaching. Real teaching makes the student superior to the teacher. This can be observed in any discipline. Doctors today are more knowledgeable than their medical school instructors 20 years ago. Physicists today have surpassed their university professors. Any teacher that matriculates a class of students that don’t, in short order, surpass his knowledge is a failure as a teacher. Religious leaders are the only group who view teaching as a means of control of knowledge and a method of suppression of competition.
Real teaching is the most explosive and frightening human interaction. It conveys heretofore unknown information in such a way that the receiver is immediately brought abreast of the instructor and any additional effort at all by the student propels him beyond his predecessors. If a pastor’s teaching is not resulting in the expanding and equalizing of knowledge by the lifting of the uninformed, then he is not teaching. Too often what is classified as teaching is nothing more than slow, boring, pointless preaching. Teaching is a symbiotic gift. No one is a teacher merely because they explain something. You are only teaching if someone is learning.
Now that we have established that teaching is Biblical, let’s consider what the Apostle John is teaching us in this text.
This text is one of several that expound the meaning and impact of the New Covenant long before promised by God. He promised a new covenant that would supersede the planned obsolescence of the one given by disposition of angels on Sinai. As the epistle to the Hebrews subtly points out: While there is a superficial similitude between the Old and the New Covenants, they are fundamentally distinct. This is highlighted by recasting them as Testaments. The Old fits the covenant model far more comfortably than the New does. But once we view them as Testaments, the Old is immediately inapposite and obsolete, and the categorical superiority of the New is obvious and magnificent. Consider one of the points Paul makes: The death of the testator. A covenant does not have a testator, but a testament requires one. Therefore, to cast the Old as a Testamente we must locate the testator, and for that Testament to have any claim to legitimacy the testator must have died. The testator of the New is the Son of God himself. So who is the testator of the Old?… Bull and goats. The reason these Testaments or Covenants are so dissimilar is because they are categorically distinct. The New is not the Old recycled. It is not Sinai 2.0.
There are many differences that make that categorical distinction clear, but the one that John is referencing is the medium upon which they are written. The tables of stone are not mere symbols of the Old Covenant, they ARE the Old Covenant. But the New Testament is not written on a physical medium. Although we conveniently label the writings of the Apostles as the New Testament, they are not. The New Testament existed many years before any of them ever wrote a word. The New Testament was constituted during the Last Supper when Christ proclaimed, “This is the New Testament in my blood.” Where was it graven? In the hearts of each believer. Every believer has that same Testament sealed in his heart, regardless of how much of the writings of the Apostles he has access to. We appreciate the written Scriptures, but we do not depend on them the way the nation of Israel did on the covenant of stone. People without a single scrap of writing have heard the good news of the New Testament and been saved; just as saved as the person that has dissected each word of the epistles. As such, we do not have need of anyone to tell us what the New Testament is because it is in us. There are many things ABOUT the New Testament that we are unaware of, but the essence of that Testament is, and can only be, written by the Holy Spirit directly, and without intermediates, in the heart of each believer.