Unction and Knowledge
Post two from the excess of “Ask the Pastor” Sunday.
The question is: Based on 1 John 2:20, what is “unction” and “know all things”.
I must note first that the wordings are from the King James translation:
1 John 2:20 (KJV 1900)
20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
Here is the same verse in the NIV:
1 John 2:20 (NIV)
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.
I will handle this question in two parts: 1) The word “unction” and 2) the phrase “know all things”.
First, John uses the word “unction” or “anointing” again in a few verses:
1 John 2:26–27 (NIV)
26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 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.
The word in question (unction/anointing) is related to the word that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians:
2 Corinthians 1:21–22 (NIV)
21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
John uses the noun form, while Paul uses the verb form.
Historically, the noun was used for anointing oil for special occasions, like when a man was anointed king. The Greek translation of the Old Testament (The Septuagint) uses the word to the anointing of the coming Messiah.
Paul takes this concept and applies it to us. You see, when saved, God refashions us into the likeness of Christ, the Anointed One. Paul says that God has set his seal on us, the Holy Spirit, showing that God has guaranteed the Saved in their membership in Christ until the we are perfected.
John takes this term for Christ’s anointing and applies it to us as well, showing that, based upon our relationship with God and our special status as his people, we can have the clarity of faith and judgment and the assurance in life and decision that only comes from God.
Second, the phrase “know all things” or “all of you know the truth” needs some cultural background.
False Christians in John’s day used two special words to describe their experience: “knowledge” and “unction” (anointing). They claimed to have a special unction (anointing) from God which gave them a unique knowledge, above other so-called believers. They were “illuminated” and therefore living on a much higher level than anybody else.
But John points out that all true Christians know God and have received the Spirit of God! They all have the same anointing. Because they have believed the truth, they can recognize a lie when they meet it. Since we all have the same access to God, we can all understand Scripture.
This ties in with what Jesus said before he was crucified:
John 14:25–27 (NIV)
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
What are all the things we know? We know what Jesus taught. We know the things that are recorded for us in his Word.
Pastor of Calvary Bible Church, Neligh, NE. Missionary with RHMA. Husband to Maggie. Father to Grace, David, and Daniel. Saved by Jesus Christ