I John 2:27 as Midrash on the New Covenant
By Ed Vasicek
Much of the New Testament, I believe, is Midrash (commentary, explanation, elaboration) of Old Testament passages. Using this approach can clarify many individual passages; it increases context and offers a "context booster;" when we look at a "mother text" along with its corresponding New Testament text, we may deepen our understanding. I am postulating that I John 2:27 is a Midrash on Jeremiah 31:34 (ESV), which reads:
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Notice how similar I John 2:27 is:
But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
"Knowing the Lord" in Jeremiah is elaborated upon as "the anointing you received" which "abides in you" (i.e., the indwelling of the Spirit by which we "know the Lord") in I John 2:27. Peter refers to this knowing God as being "partakers of the divine nature" in 2 Peter 1:3b-4a:
...the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature...
The fuller text, Jeremiah 31:31-34, tells us more about the New Covenant.
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
What makes the "New" Covenant "new," is not regeneration (which is seen throughout the Old Testament and called "circumcision of the heart," Deuteronomy 30:6).
There are several passages that describe the New Covenant, but there are, in my mind, three descriptors that stand out:
(1) Messiah has come and offered himself as our sacrifice for sin (Ezekiel 16:61-62, Luke 22:20).
(2) The Spirit is given (Ezekiel 11:19, 2 Corinthians 3:6) in a distinct way.
(3) Only those who know the Lord are under the New Covenant (unlike the Old Covenant, which included both the regenerate and unregenerate of Israel (Jeremiah 31:34).
If I am right, John is saying, "You know everything required to have saving faith (as opposed to Gnostic or false teaching), evidenced by the Spirit who is the hallmark of the New Covenant. " "Everything" here parallels "all things" in 2 Peter 1:3 below:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…
By "life," Peter is referring to eternal and spiritual life, not necessarily all the aspects of this life. In other words, the received Christian message is complete – the only message we need to save our souls and grant us eternal life.
Colossians 2:9-10 (NASB) conveys a similar concept:
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority…
Those who are already regenerate, saved, and thus indwelt by the Spirit need not look elsewhere for another plan of salvation. Unlike the recipients of Hebrews (Hebrews 6:1), the Christians John addresses were ready to advance; they did not need to revisit the entry truths of the Christian life.
I John 2:27 is, in essence, saying, “Do not second guess the Gospel. The faith has once and for all been delivered to the saints; there is no more enlightenment you need to be saved.” Any introspection should be about our walk within the light of the Gospel, not the Gospel itself.
The New Testament seems pretty clear, that, though the New Covenant was promised to Israel, the church is also currently part of the New Covenant. The New Covenant was not ONLY promised to Israel.
Every individual under the New Covenant now has personally covenanted with God and becomes part of the true, invisible church. Congregations – even faithful ones – are made up of true believers (wheat) who are part of the New Covenant and false professors of faith (tares) who, although associating with the New Covenant community, are not part of the New Covenant.
I John 2:19-20 suggests the New Covenant “anointing” is upon all true believers, but not apostates:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.
Advancing to the complete fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (near the very end of the Tribulation period), we can note all the surviving Jewish people will be truly regenerate and thus part of the New Covenant (“they shall all know me…”. Jeremiah 31:34b; “so all Israel will be saved…” Romans 11:26b).
The message of salvation through the atoning work of Messiah, the indwelling/anointing of the Holy Spirit, and true regeneration of those under the covenant is what makes the covenant “new.”