Why would confessing Jesus as born in the flesh be a standard by which to test the spirit within a prophet?
1 John 4:2 – 3: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
The version we find in the KJV is supported by 1 Uncial manuscript up to 500 A.D. as well as 5 after 750 A.D. as well as 17 minuscule manuscripts after 850 A.D. and three ancient translations, 2 from Syria and an Aramaic translation.
Modern translations have a shorter version, like the NIV: “”
1 John 4:2 – 3: “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
This version is supported by 2 uncials, both before 500 A.D. and 5 minuscules after 850 A.D. as well as 11 Ancient translations dating from 250 A.D. and spread out from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Europe up to Rome.
According to the Greek manuscripts available the two versions are very equal supported. An antique translation gives the evidence that the version it contains had been known and used at the time and place where the translation originated. The great geographic distribution of the shorter version contained in ancient translations let the pendulum swing more towards the short version.
We try to work out how the variation could have originated. Would any scribe have removed the words: ”is come in the flesh” by mistake or deliberately? This is highly unlikely. On the other hand it could very easily happen that one could by memory repeat the words from the directly preceding sentence and insert those words. If this is indeed what happened, the short version would represent the original autograph. The longer version would then be a variation on the words John had written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
By studying the context we try to discern what the function of this clause is in this part of John’s epistle. Why would the confession that “Jesus is come of the flesh” be the criterion by which to indicate the spirit of the Antichrist?
In 1 John 4:1 we read: “Do not believe every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God …” In the time of John the Docetism as a Gnostic heresy had already been active. They renounced the human nature of Jesus. As son of God he supposedly was only a spiritual being. Christ was so divine he could not have been human, since God lacked a material body, which therefore could not physically suffer. Jesus only appeared to be a flesh-and-blood man, his body was a phantasm.
The history of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven had been constructed by the disciples to incorporate the atonement sacrifice of the Old Testament. This heresy not only nullifies Jesus’ atonement, it denies Jesus’ human nature.
In Greek different tenses of the verb are used to express specific meaning. If I want to express something that happened in the past, but wanted to stress ist effect in the present, I use the a participle.
As an example, I do not merely want to state that “the cup fell and was broken”, but the effect it has in the present: “I wanted to pour myself a cup of coffee, but the cup fell and was broken.” This is the tense John uses when he stated that “Jesus is come in the flesh.”
The fact that Jesus came in the flesh and accepted a fully human body has effect until the present day. The atonement sacrifice on the cross, the resurrection and ascension and being seated at the right hand of God are not merely historical facts, but has ongoing effect. Who spiritualizes everything and denies the two natures of Christ, the divine and the mortal is not filled with the Holy Spirit, but indeed the spirit of the antichrist.
Prof. Francois Malan (emeritus) explains it as follows: “ ‘Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God’ – is a test whether the person that comes to you, is confessing the truth concerning Jesus; That Jesus Christ came from God and in reality became a human being. (Literally in the flesh, as in John 1:14 and 6:51 – 55 his flesh eat and his blood drink – that He really became a weak human being). This is confessed against the Greeks who would not believe that Jesus fully became human and the Jews who could not accept his divinity. The coming of Jesus in the past has effect in the present. The Son of God fully stepped into history as mediator between us and the Father. It is not merely a confessional article, but indicates a true personal relationship with God through Jesus and the consequence on how we live.
Both the short and the long variations convey this same message.
In the short version there is however another difference found in the English translations. Grammatically both are equal.
Some translations, like the NIV states: “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.”
Here the translator puts the emphasis on Jesus as Person. That would include both natures the divine as well as the human.
Other translations have another interpretation,
Like the BBE: “And every spirit which does not say this is not from God:”
And the CEV: “But when someone doesn’t say this about Jesus,”
Now the translation is referring back to the statement in the preceding sentence, and on the acknowledgement of the human nature of Jesus, which is the test in the struggle against the Docetism.
Looking at all the facts above, the short variation as we find in the modern versions, seems to render that which John had written down under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even the choice between the two possibilities in the short version accentuates the delicate choices the translator is often confronted with.
In our time it is not the human nature of Jesus that is attacked. It is His divine nature. The translation with “Who does not confess Jesus” emphasizes both natures of Jesus. Therefore I personally prefer this version. “Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” And in our day those who do not acknowledge Jesus, are very active. We should take note and not allow them to undermine our faith! “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.”