The Holy Spirit In 1 John -- By: Donald W. Mills

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 04:1 (Fall 1999)
Article: The Holy Spirit In 1 John
Author: Donald W. Mills

The Holy Spirit In 1 John

Donald W. Mills*

* Dr. Mills is Associate Professor of New Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Virginia Beach, VA.


The pneumatology of 1 John has not received the same degree of scholarly attention as that of the fourth gospel.1 This lack of attention is due in part to the view that the author of 1 John de-emphasizes the prominence and role of the Spirit. For example, it is argued that the doctrine of the Spirit “is not a key theme, and little is said about it.”2 Consequently, every reference to the Spirit should be understood with a lower case, hence “spirit.”3

However, a careful consideration of key texts of the epistle demonstrates that the Holy Spirit does occupy a vital place. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is a fundamental concern for 1 John.4 Any dealing with this epistle must, therefore, reckon with the person and work of the Spirit.

The Background: Pneumatological Controversy

Scholars commonly believe that, between the writing of the gospel

of John and 1 John, a group of heretics had misinterpreted various passages in John regarding the Spirit and had seceded from the orthodox group of believers.5 This secessionist group later merged into that large and varied movement known as second-century Gnosticism. A major reason for the departure of the heretics (2:19) stemmed from their conviction that they alone possessed the “anointing,” i.e., that they were the true recipients and guardians of Spirit-inspired truth (2:20). This can be seen not only in the way the apostle John refers to the activity of teaching in connection with the true “anointing” (as opposed to a false “anointing,” 2:27) but also in his solemn warning about false prophets (4:1) who perceived themselves as speaking under the Spirit’s guidance or in the name of God (as the expression “prophet” would imply).6 Thus the major crisis facing the churches in John’s community was pneumatological.7

John combats this faulty pneumatology in two broad areas. First, he shows the s...

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