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1 John 4:1

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Beloved, believe not every spirit - Do not be forward to believe every teacher to be a man sent of God. As in those early times every teacher professed to be inspired by the Spirit of God, because all the prophets had come thus accredited, the term spirit was used to express the man who pretended to be and teach under the Spirit's influence. See 1 Corinthians 12:1-12; 1 Timothy 4:1.

Try the Spirits - Δοκιμαζετε τα πνευματα· Put these teachers to the proof. Try them by that testimony which is known to have come from the Spirit of God, the word of revelation already given.

Many false prophets - Teachers not inspired by the Spirit of God, are gone out into the world - among the Jewish people particularly, and among them who are carnal and have not the Spirit.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Beloved, believe not every spirit - Do not confide implicitly in everyone who professes to be under the influences of the Holy Spirit. Compare Matthew 24:4-5. The true and the false teachers of religion alike claimed to be under the influence of the Spirit of God, and it was of importance that all such pretensions should be examined. It was not to be admitted because anyone claimed to have been sent from God that therefore he was sent. Every such claim should be subjected to the proper proof before it was conceded. All pretensions to divine inspiration, or to being authorised teachers of religion, were to be examined by the proper tests, because there were many false and delusive teachers who set up such claims in the world.

But try the spirits whether they are of God - There were those in the early Christian church who had the gift of “discerning spirits,” (see the notes at 1 Corinthians 12:10), but it is not certain that the apostle refers here to any such supernatural power. It is more probable, as he addresses this command to Christians in general, that he refers to the ability of doing this by a comparison of the doctrines which they professed to hold with what was revealed, and by the fruits of their doctrines in their lives. If they taught what God had taught in his word, and if their lives corresponded with his requirements, and if their doctrines agreed with what had been inculcated by those who were admitted to be true apostles, 1 John 4:6, they were to receive them as what they professed to be. If not, they were to reject them, and hold them to be impostors. It may be remarked, that it is just as proper and as important now to examine the claims of all who profess to be teachers of religion, as it was then. In a matter so momentous as religion, and where there is so much at stake, it is important that all pretensions of this kind should be subjected to a rigid examination. No one should be received as a religious teacher without the clearest evidence that he has come in accordance with the will of God, nor unless he inculcates the very truth which God has revealed. See the Isaiah 8:20 note, and Acts 17:11 note.

Because many false prophets are gone out into the world - The word prophet is often used in the New Testament to denote religious instructors or preachers. See the notes at Romans 12:6. Compare the notes at 2 Peter 2:1. Such false teachers evidently abounded in the times here referred to. See the notes at 1 John 2:18. The meaning is, that many had gone out into the world pretending to be true teachers of religion, but who inculcated most dangerous doctrines; and it was their duty to be on their guard against them, for they had the very spirit of antichrist, 1 John 4:3.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Christians who are well acquainted with the Scriptures, may, in humble dependence on Divine teaching, discern those who set forth doctrines according to the apostles, and those who contradict them. The sum of revealed religion is in the doctrine concerning Christ, his person and office. The false teachers spake of the world according to its maxims and tastes, so as not to offend carnal men. The world approved them, they made rapid progress, and had many followers such as themselves; the world will love its own, and its own will love it. The true doctrine as to the Saviour's person, as leading men from the world to God, is a mark of the spirit of truth in opposition to the spirit of error. The more pure and holy any doctrine is, the more likely to be of God; nor can we by any other rules try the spirits whether they are of God or not. And what wonder is it, that people of a worldly spirit should cleave to those who are like themselves, and suit their schemes and discourses to their corrupt taste?
Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 7

In His word, God has committed to men the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the revealer of doctrines, and the test of experience. “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, R.V. GC vii.1

Yet the fact that God has revealed His will to men through His word, has not rendered needless the continued presence and guiding of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, the Spirit was promised by our Saviour, to open the word to His servants, to illuminate and apply its teachings. And since it was the Spirit of God that inspired the Bible, it is impossible that the teaching of the Spirit should ever be contrary to that of the word. GC vii.2

The Spirit was not given—nor can it ever be bestowed—to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. Says the apostle John, “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1. And Isaiah declares, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20. GC vii.3

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