What did John mean by we don't need anyone to teach us?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Why does 1 John 2:27 say that we don't need anyone to teach us?

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you….” (1 John 2:27a, NIV)

Answer: A quick reading of your verse’s immediate context (1 John 2:18-27) tells us that John is talking about the many antichrists that walk among us, and his purpose in this passage is to contrast the true with the false… and to encourage us to stay true. So, note the shift in verse 20.

“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.” (1 John 2:20, NIV)

This clarifies that the anointing mentioned in verse 27 is that of Jesus himself. He is the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24). So, although many antichrists may offer us many teachings, we have the Spirit of the true Christ dwelling within us. And since this is true, why even bother with what an antichrist has to say?

Note, however, that the word “anyone” is linked to false teachers in this context. This acts as a limiter. John is not talking about every teacher and every circumstance. That would go against the many passages declaring that we Christians should be under teaching all our lives… and I’m guessing this is what drove your question. (You didn’t specify). It’s just that the teachings should be of the right kind… and, therefore, not just of “anyone.”

So, what wrong kinds of teaching did John have in view? Anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ — God’s expected and anointed one — is a false teacher (1 John 2:22; 2 John 1:9). But we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and he bears witness that Jesus is the Christ… and this makes all the difference. So, we need no other teacher for this… and “this” is limited by the scope and purpose of this section. John was talking about false teachers and encouraging us to abide in Christ.

“I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”
(1 John 2:26–27, NIV, emphases mine)

1 John 2:27 is all about discernment… and that’s what John was going for. Sure, the New Testament emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16), but God is not anti-education. (Job 6:24; Psalm 25:5; 32:8-9; Proverbs 9:9-10; Hosea 4:6; Acts 17:11; Romans 12:2; Colossians 1:28, 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:15;  2 Peter 1:5). We still need teachers in the Body of Christ.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,”
(Ephesians 4:11, NIV)

Therefore, since teaching is one of the spiritual gifts in this age, the notion that we do not need any teaching — in anything, anymore — cannot stand. The Holy Spirit helps us discern… and that can save us a lot of missteps as we work in the kingdom of God. But we should still seek out teachings that will increase our knowledge of God and his creation academically. That’s more a function of our effort than the Holy Spirit… although he cooperates with that effort. But learning about everything and anything is one of the ways we grow in Christ (2 Peter 3:18), and discernment is the key to making a proper assessment of all phenomena (1 Corinthians 2:14).

What are some appropriate teachings then? The sermons, Sunday School teachings and home Bible studies associated with faithful local assemblies are some examples… as are the remote (but faithful) preachers we see and/or hear on electronic media. And let’s not forget our seminary students. Many of these already have the Spirit of Christ, yet they think it entirely appropriate that other people teach them — at great expense… and over a period of years!

Even people like William Lane Craig, a faithful believer of 40-plus years, founder of Reasonable Faith Ministries, prolific author — and a working philosopher with two European PhDs — puts himself under the teachings of scholars who have come before him. So, in spite of being (arguably) the most informed person in Christianity, he submits to teaching every day. That’s how life works… and that’s why God made us be teachers and learners.

Now, I see we are in the same age bracket… that of experience. But even those of us who have both chronological and experiential seniority still need to be constantly learning. It’s just that we must always exercise our spiritual discernment, too… because false teachers are everywhere! But we don’t have to buy what they are selling… and that’s all John was saying. It is true that we don’t need just “anyone” to teach us. But we do indeed need the right ones.

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