1 john 4:1-6 [test the spirits]

teacher, test the spirits

Written by Nikole Hahn

Nikole Hahn is a recovering perfectionist blogging at "Life Upside Down" at www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com. She is also the publisher of The Relevant Christian Magazine (@TRCMagazine). She is a member of Word Weavers International, a book reviewer, writer, and coffee addict.

April 2, 2012

teacher, test the spirits

[serialposts]Read 1 John 4:1-6 (ESV, NIV, The Message).

Dear friends, 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.” – 1 John 4:1

Many of us have relatives who aren’t saved or who are in cults. For those who are in cults, this and other scriptures are a problem to their belief system. Especially 1 John 4:2 where scripture goes on to explain how to recognize a “false prophet.” In John’s time, there were a group of people who believed that Jesus came down in the spirit to take over the Jesus-man on earth, and when Jesus died, the spirit ascended and the man died in the flesh. God also did not have intimate relations with Mary. Mary was a virgin.

We know that Jesus is God in the flesh. “…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… (2b).” In this world, we have many little anti-Christ’s—those that John describes as not believing Christ came—but we know the big anti-Christ is on the horizon. Because the world wants to wrestle more of God’s beloved away from Salvation, we must strengthen our minds with truth.

Things like political correctness, enabling, and relativism are all things that can make us waver in our walk as believers and make non-believers think we’re harsh for holding fast to the truth. The point of this passage is to encourage us to fight gnosticism also known as “false prophets” or belief systems that contradict God. That’s not so easy when even Christian churches are embracing belief systems that are contradictory like the prosperity theology, those who are soft on sinful behavior, those who are soft on theology telling people what they want to hear, and any belief system that dims God’s holiness. We’re all about “understanding” rather than in being obedient to God.

If someone tries to tell you something is the truth or attempts to make a way of living right when it’s wrong, “test the spirits” by going to the Bible. Take the Bible in context. It’s not a book of beautiful quotes for us to pick and choose what to believe—it’s God’s Word unchanged. Let me quote you something from the late Dr. Ron Carlson:

After I had shared the above facts with this student, I offered him the following challenge: I said to him, “If you do not believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, if you do not believe that the Bible is of a supernatural origin, than I challenge you to a test.”  I said to the student, “I challenge you to go to any library in the world, you can choose any library you like, and find 66 books which match the characteristics of the 66 books in the Bible.  You must choose 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, written on 3 different continents.  However, they must share a common storyline, a common theme, and a common message, with no historical errors or contradictions.”  I went on to say, “If you can produce such a collection of books, I will admit that the Bible is not the inspired word of God.”  The student’s reply was almost instantaneous, he emphatically stated, “But that’s impossible!” 

But that’s impossible!”  It truly is impossible, for any collection of human writings.  However, the Bible passes this test.  The Bible contains 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents, with no historical errors or contradictions.  The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, bears the mark of Divine inspiration.” – Jason Carlson and Ron Carlson

Do you have relatives or friends in cults? Were you tempted to believe  doctrine not in the Bible? Why? Do you still?


  1. Jane Lebak

    But there are historical errors and contradictions in the Bible…

    • Nikole Hahn

       I disagree. A great resource, too, is “Is the Bible Reliable?” If there are contradictions or errors in the Bible, then why should we believe what the Bible says about Jesus? Why shouldn’t we believe another “bible” was invented. If you don’t look carefully in context within the Bible it might appear that way.

      • Jane Lebak

        But there *are* actual inconsistencies in the Biblical text, and I do believe what the Bible says about Jesus. 

        John has Jesus crucified on a Thursday; the synoptics have Jesus crucified on a Friday. Mark says Jesus was crucified at 9 in the morning. Matthew says it was at 12.

        Acts says Judas bought a field with the money he got for betraying Jesus, has a terrible accident in the field, falls and dies. Matthew says Judas went and hanged himself.

        Historical inconsistencies: things like Herod pursuing Jesus after his birth (Herod died in 4AD) but Luke saying Mary and Joseph were answering a census when Quirinus was governor of Syria (Quirinus took office in 6AD.)

        According to Gen. 26:34 and 28:9, Esau’s wives were as follows:Judith, daughter of Beeri the Hittite (Gen. 26:34)
        Bashemath, daughter of Elon the Hittite (Gen. 26:34)
        Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael, sister of Nebajoth (Gen. 28:9)However, according to Gen. 36:2-3, his wives were:Adah, daughter of Elon the Hittite
        Aholibamah, granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite
        Bashemath, daughter of Ishmael, sister of Nebajoth
        I blogged about this a long time ago:

        I don’t have a problem with these inconsistencies in the Bible because the truth isn’t about whether all the tiniest fragments of details match; the spiritual truth is what matters.

        • Nikole Hahn

          Here are some of my answers. I’m working on the rest.
          But there *are* actual inconsistencies in the Biblical text,
          and I do believe what the Bible says about Jesus. 


          “Another real-life case concerns a newspaper report which
          lists the time of birth of twin babies. The first was born at 1:40
          AM, and second was born at 1:10 AM. If this account did not have the
          added detail that the birth occurred the during the night in which
          Daylight Savings ended, it would appear to be a real
          contradiction/error. You have to know the whole story, or at least
          have a plausible explanation.

          Since the accounts in the Bible are rarely intended as
          exhaustive and precise descriptions, it would be prudent to see if
          differing accounts complement, rather than contradict one another.

          The critic seems to assume that the Bible is written in one
          genre: a literal and descriptive account. While the Bible does indeed
          contain literal and descriptive accounts (which, of course, are not
          exhaustive in details), it also contains many other styles of
          composition: the Proverbs list “rules of thumb,” the Psalms
          communicate through poetry, many teachings/prophecies are in the form
          of hyperbole and metaphor, parables contain deeper messages, etc.
          Since the Bible is actually many books of different genres by several
          different authors, the critic’s assumption leads her astray if it is
          used to create contradictions.”

          John has Jesus crucified on a Thursday; the synoptics have
          Jesus crucified on a Friday. Mark says Jesus was crucified at 9 in
          the morning. Matthew says it was at 12.



          “Conclusion. There are several “preparations”
          mentioned here:  the “preparation” for the Feast of
          Unleavened Bread; the “preparation” for the Passover meal;
          the “preparation” for the Passover-bullock; and the
          “preparation” for the Sabbath which coincided with the
          feast. Now understanding these preparations is the key to
          understanding the accuracy and intent of the Holy Scriptures. The
          Passover meal was taken by Jesus and his disciples in the evening,
          the same time all the other Jews partake of it. However, the feast or
          the offering of Passover-bullock at the time of Jesus coincided after
          his crucifixion. Therefore Jesus was crucified daytime after the
          Passover meal but before the feast of the Passover-Sabbath.”

          Acts says Judas bought a field with the money he got for
          betraying Jesus, has a terrible accident in the field, falls and
          dies. Matthew says Judas went and hanged himself.



          “Gruesome as it is, Judas’ dead body hung in the hot sun
          of Jerusalem, and the bacteria inside his body would have been
          actively breaking down tissues and cells. A byproduct of bacterial
          metabolism is often gas. The pressure created by the gas forces fluid
          out of the cells and tissues and into the body cavities. The body
          becomes bloated as a result. In addition, tissue decomposition occurs
          compromising the integrity of the skin. Judas’ body was similar to
          an overinflated balloon, and as he hit the ground (due to the branch
          he hung on or the rope itself breaking) the skin easily broke and he
          burst open with his internal organs spilling out.

          There is no contradiction surrounding Judas’ death;
          rather, merely two descriptions given by two different authors of the
          same event.”

          Historical inconsistencies: things like Herod pursuing Jesus
          after his birth (Herod died in 4AD) but Luke saying Mary and Joseph
          were answering a census when Quirinus was governor of Syria (Quirinus
          took office in 6AD.)


          “Another factor in Luke 2:2, however, is a bit controversial
          but not without a reasonable explanation. Luke states that this
          enrollment was taken when Quirinius (Cyrenius) was governor of Syria.
          Actually, he wasn’t the governor of the Syrian province until 6 CE.
          Nevertheless, Luke’s statement can be taken in one of two ways.
          First, does the Greek word, protos (G4413),
          refer to the enrollment being the first of its kind, making protos
          modify Quirinus’ governorship, meaning **before** the enrollment
          taken by Quirinius when he was governor of Syria in 6 CE at the time
          of Archelaus’ exile? Some scholars believe this is possible,
          pointing to John 1:30 and John 15:18 for support for the use of
          protos. If this is so, then there is no
          controversy—the enrollment occurred **before** Quirinius’
          governorship and this agrees with the historical records. However,
          another possibility is that Quirinius was on a special assignment
          from the Emperor, deriving his authority from the Roman government at
          Antioch in Syria to take the enrollment in Judea.

          Many of Quirinius’ responsibilities were conducted under the
          authority of his being especially assigned to the task. He oversaw
          the census taken in 6 BCE. That was a special assignment. He was
          assigned as the guardian to Gaius, the son of the Emperor, and this
          was a special assignment.[4] Tascitus
          also claimed Quirinius had a special talent for business,[5]
          which would make him a desirable candidate to conduct a census.
          Josephus records that there were governors (plural) in Syria about
          the time of the enrollment,[6] so,
          although Quirinius isn’t mentioned by name in Josephus’ account,
          it is entirely possible that he was under special assignment to take
          care of the census responsibility. The text in Luke couldn’t
          properly say he was governor of Judea or Palestine, since this was
          Herod’s kingdom. Luke would have to say that his governorship
          derived its authority from the Roman province of Syria, even though
          he was under special assignment to perform the task in Herod’s
          kingdom, which in reality was subservient to Caesar.”


          “It is true that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the
          Great (Matthew
          2:1), and based on strong historical evidence, it
          is generally agreed upon that Herod died in 4 BC. How could Jesus
          have been born in the period designated as “BC” (i.e., “Before
          Christ”)? While there are many intricacies to explain every
          alteration to the calendar during the past two millennia, the short
          answer is that the basis for our modern calendar began in AD 525 when
          Dionysius Exiguus the Little was commissioned to develop a standard
          calendar for the Western Church. He decided to start the calendar in
          AD 1, but his calculations were off by approximately four years.2
          Given that Herod ordered the slaughter of all the children two years
          old and younger in Bethlehem, it is possible that Jesus was about two
          years old at that time, thus the year of His birth may have been 6 or
          5 BC. Bolt is correct on this point, yet nearly every other statement
          he made in the above paragraph is disputed.”

          • Nikole Hahn


            “Some years ago I published a
            study (together with P. Artzi) on the most prominent of the Mari
            ladies—Shibtu, Zimri-Lim’s queen [Zimri-Lim was king of Mari in
            the time of the Patriarchs]….Until quite recently it was thought
            that Shibtu was the daughter of Yarim-Lim, king of Aleppo, and his
            chief wife, Gashera. In several documents, however, Shibtu’s mother
            is named as Zizi. Either Shibtu was a princess by a secondary queen
            at Aleppo, or it might be assumed that Zizi was Gashera’s nickname.
            Such nicknames were not uncommon in antiquity, and even Zimri-Lim was
            not immune to this phenomenon, for his family often addressed him as
            ‘my Star’” (Malamat 1989: 12).

            “Much later, the
            wife of Assyrian king Sennacherib (705–681 BC) bore an Aramaic
            name, Naqia, and an Assyrian name, Zakutu (Boardman 1991: 138; Kuhrt
            1995: 527). Thus, it is entirely possible that two of Esau’s wives
            were known by two different names: their names given to them at
            birth, Adah and Mahalath, and their identical nicknames, “Fragrant.” 


            Boardman, J, et al., eds. 1991.
            Cambridge Ancient History, 2nd ed., Vol. 3., Part 2: The Assyrian and
            Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth
            to the Sixth Centuries BC. (Cambridge University Press).

            Douglas, J.D., organizing ed., 1982.
            New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press).

            Kuhrt, A. 1995. The Ancient Near
            East c. 3000–330 BC, in 2 vols. (London: Routledge).

            Malamat, A. 1989. Mari and the Early
            Israelite Experience. London: Oxford Univ. Press.”

          • Jane Lebak

            It’s harder to believe that two women with different birth names acquired the same nickname than it is to believe that there was a scribal “typo” in transcribing the names. 😉

          • Jane Lebak

            Wow, you’ll go through a lot of gyrations to make the contradictions disappear.

            The Judas thing: Acts 1:18 says he *bought* the field. Bought it. Dead people don’t buy things. Even if they rot in the son and their guts spill out, they don’t buy things. Matthew says he threw the money back at the Sanhedrin. Judas couldn’t have bought the field with the money if he threw it back at them. He couldn’t have bought it after he was dead and his body had rotted. The Sanhedrin couldn’t have bought the field if he already bought it.

            I’m not going through the rest. My comment is already TL;DR. But these contradictions aren’t a problem to my faith. Spiritually, yes, the Bible is written in many different forms. The problem comes when people insist the Bible must be literally accurate in every way and that it doesn’t contradict itself. Then you need to write thousand-word posts insisting that the contradictions in the text never happened.

          • @bibledude

            Great resources Nikole! And I particularly enjoy what you shared about the different genres of writing in the Bible… that’s something that I spend extensive time on in a Bible Interpretation class that I teach. There are several instances when ‘contradictions’ appear in poetic forms that are actually very commonly used tools in poetry… especially ancient Hebrew poetry. So to try to understand them as literal in a translated-to language loses the actual meaning/intent of the passage. There are some important interpretation tools we must consider when reading the Biblical texts, and often apparent ‘inconsistencies’ go away VERY easily.

        • @bibledude

          Thanks for bring up these inconsistencies Jane! This is good reference or anyone who wants to dig into this stuff a little deeper. 

          I have heard some explanations that would clear up much of this stuff… like the miscalculations in the years that would have resulted in Jesus being born in 5-6AD, which would account for the Herod and census issues. And other explanations regarding the wives of Esau. 

          I’m not saying that I have all of the answers, but it’s actually pretty easy to reason through most of these kinds of things, especially when we study the texts in the ancient languages and literary forms that they were written in. 
          This is interesting stuff, and it’s really cool that this discussion is happening on a post about ‘testing the spirits’… I think it’s important for Christians to know why they believe what they believe! Thanks for stopping in and sharing!

          • Nikole Hahn

            I love climbing into this stuff. :o) 

          • Jane Lebak

            My opinion (and it’s worth what you paid for it) is that the Bible doesn’t have to be internally consistent in every single way in order for Jesus / God/ Truth to be revealed.

            Let’s say my husband is at a conference, and I get a call from his friend Mark, who says, “Hey, I met your husband tonight at dinner over burgers, and he wanted me to tell you he loves you.”

            Then I get another call from my husband’s friend Matthew, who says, “Hey, I met your husband with Mark tonight over pizza, and he wanted me to tell you he loves you.”

            THen I get a third call from my husband’s friend Luke, who says, “Hey, Mark and your husband were having burgers at lunch, and your husband wanted me to tell you he misses you oodles and bunches, and he can’t wait to see you on Friday.”

            Then I ge ta fourth call from John, and John says, “Hey, at dinner tonight, I saw your husband with a group of like ten people, but he looked kind of lonely, so I know he misses you and he loves you.”

            Okay, now is any rational person going to say, “Jane, your husband didn’t really exist”? No, even if all the accounts don’t match. Was it lunch or dinner? What was he eating? What did he really say? But the general gist of it is totally on-target. I don’t need to sit here wrapping myself in knots, wondering if maybe they were all eating pizza-burgers or maybe they had a late lunch that stretched on into the dinner hour. 

            I see this the same way. The core of the message is the same. I don’t need to believe Esau married a bunch of women and called all of them the same nickname because he had memory problems, or that Judas bought a field on credit after he was dead. Those gyrations stretch credulity far more than believing God gave us a message, and we wrote it down with some errors in the text.

    • Nikole Hahn

       Another good resource is, “The Truth Project.” Both are very hefty studies, but worth the time to look into.


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1 john 4:1-6 [test the spirits]

by Nikole Hahn time to read: 3 min