We Know Him Who Is True- 1 John 5:19-21
As we conclude our examination of the final chapter of 1 John, we find that John concludes his message with a series of statements which lead us to deal with the subject of truth. He begins, in verse 19, by telling us that the “whole world is under the control of the evil one”, while believers are “children of God”. We, as human beings, are “under the control” of one of two “beings”, literally “under the influence” of either God or the devil. He then tells us, in verse 20, that we “also know” something else, that the “Son of God has come and has given us understanding, that we may know Him who is true”. John highlights for us here the fact that there is more than one type of “”knowing”, and more than one type of “truth”. The two Greek words here translated as to know are ginosko and oida. Oida refers primarily to a mental or intellectual knowledge, while ginosko refers primarily to an experiential and relational knowledge. These may be understood as the knowledge of comprehension and the knowledge of experience, or here in John’s revelation, knowing something as opposed to knowing someone, and John tells us here that it is the comprehension and understanding of who Jesus is as the Son of God which makes the experiential and relational knowledge of Him possible. It is the oida which makes the ginosko possible, the understanding of who He is which makes an ever growing relationship with Him possible. John then tells us that in this growing relationship, we grow to know “Him who is true”. The phrase translated “Him who is true” is two Greek words, the definite article (the) and the adjective alethia, “true or truth”. So what John literally says here is that we know “the truth”, and this gives rise to the question as to why the NIV translators would translate these two words as “Him who is true”. They do so to bring to our attention what John would likely be saying here, and to understand this requires a brief examination of the fact of the existence of different understandings of truth. John was a Hebrew, and would have been raised in and taught with a Hebrew understanding of truth. Those who read his letter in English have been raised in and taught with a Greek understanding of truth. Those who have been taught according to a Greek understanding of truth see it fundamentally as an abstract concept, as something. Those who have been taught according to a Hebrew understanding also see truth as an abstract concept, but see truth more fundamentally not as an abstract concept but as a person. Truth in Greek thinking is primarily something, while truth in Hebrew thinking is primarily someone, and the existence of the something is derived from the existence of the someone. So in John’s understanding of things, growing to know the truth is not fundamentally growing to know a series of facts or a body of information, but growing to know a person. John also relates the concept of truth with the concept of “control”, of being under the influence of someone or something. This is because whatever we accept as our ultimate “truth” is what will have the most profound influence upon our lives, is what will exert the most control over our thinking and behavior. This is why John ends his letter by telling his readers to “keep yourselves from idols”, because whatever we accept as our ultimate truth essentially acts as our “god”, for it is God who ultimately determines what is true (Genesis 3:22). For example,if science is our ultimate determiner of truth, then science will function as our “god”, and will exert the greatest influence upon our thinking and behavior. If Jesus is our ultimate determiner of truth, then Jesus will exert the greatest influence upon our thinking and behavior. In the world today, we are presented with many competing and contradictory “truths”, and these truths will compete with one another for influence over our thinking and behavior, and John here strongly admonishes all those who are children of God to resist the enticement of the world to accept any other truth as our ultimate truth than the truth which is in Jesus, who is “Him who is true”, or in other words, to keep ourselves from idols.