We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

The passage above was written by John the apostle in the letter known as 1 John, a letter that was very likely intended to be circulated among the 1st century believing community.

I have a question: What would it look like for a 1st century reader or hearer of this text to “listen to” or “not listen to” John? (this text was probably eventually read to each congregation from a centralized copy—the ESV study Bible was not yet available).

Is not the answer simply this? To “listen to” the apostle John—and the apostles he includes by using the apostolic “we”—is to believe and to obey what they are attempting to communicate through the written word. And to “not listen to” them is to disbelieve and to disobey the communication.

If a false teacher directly contradicted something that John had written to the churches in this letter, then the false teacher was directly contradicting John—the false teacher was not “listening to” John—and was therefore showing himself to be one who does not know God. This can be implied from this text. If someone decided not to heed the words he read in his copy of this letter, then he was deciding not to heed the words of the apostle John. Or if someone decided not to heed the words that were read aloud from a copy of the circulating letter in the assembly, then that person was failing to heed the words of John—an apostle of the Lord Jesus who had been commissioned to speak on Christ’s behalf (John 16:12–15).

(I’m intentionally being redundant above to make the point below.)

Here’s my point: What 1 John means is what John meant it to mean. If you choose to “listen to” the text in a way that doesn’t include asking the question “What did John, the Spirit-filled, commissioned-by-Christ apostle, mean?”, then you are not rightly listening to the text. And this means you are not listening to the “us” in 1 John 4:6—the apostles.

Apostolic authority is tied to authorial intent.

Let us be those who know God by listening to the apostles. For the apostles speak the words of Christ, and their words lead to belief in Christ (John 17:20).

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2 thoughts on “Apostolic Authority and Authorial Intent

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