John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 1-Introduction and the Construction of the Gospels.

I wanted to say goodbye to our New Testament year and hello to the Book of Mormon. I did a few posts in 2015 about the NT, but nothing much about John. John’s Gospel is a key text in the restoration, and I think it’s important to see how the genesis of the Gospel finds a home in early Mormon works of scripture and discourse. I’m just scratching the surface here. There are book-length treatments that await this point of view. This stands as a kind of prelude to some Easter material I want to post around the holiday.
[You can read the whole series here.]
[Part 2, here.]

John the apostle of Jesus and brother of James | the beloved disciple | John the Evangelist? | John the Elder | John the Redactor | John the Revelator. Five or six identities, possibly six different persons/traditions, associated with the New Testament and in a number of ways, early Mormonism, including the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith’s revelations. To start out, I want to consider the Gospel of John and then to some extent the rest of what usually goes by the name, Johannine corpus. That includes the Gospel, the Letters (1, 2, 3 John) and Revelation.[1]

The Gospel of John has been the subject of some controversy in Christian thought, and opinions vary widely on its significance, meaning, and use. I’ll take a fairly common position about the canonical Gospels, and that is that they represent an end product of essentially three historical epochs. The first epoch is the time of Jesus, his acts, preaching, teaching disciples, healing, miracles, etc. The second period is after his death, resurrection, and departure, when he is being preached by the apostles and others, some who were eyewitnesses to his life and life events. The final epoch is the time when written accounts begin to appear of Jesus’ life: Mark ca. 60-70AD, Matthew, ca. 70-80AD, Luke, 80-90AD, John, 90-100AD (these dates are approximate and there are varying estimates).

So how does this effect the ways we read (the Gospel of) John? First, it rejects the idea that John is wholly divorced from an authentic tradition about Jesus. In other words, I’m supposing that John represents a purposeful redaction of circulating tradition, and that that tradition is represented in John. It is written with purpose in the sense that the point of view, the selection of terminology, the theological positions, and its Christology are at stake in a way that goes well beyond just a kind of memory exercise trying to repeat the annals of Jesus in some way. John (and the other Gospels too) are far from that. They have theological purpose strongly linked to the Old Testament and the cultural, political, intellectual, and religious environments of the writers.

It seems reasonable that the type of tradition that is referenced in John is related to the fact that it represents in part the thinking of people who were disciples of John the Baptist, a very intense expectation of the end times, and the Johannine tradition seems to represent Jerusalem rather than Galilee—this is apparent in the selection of Jerusalem-centric tales of Jesus (in the other Gospels, Jesus’ pretrial acts are countryside stories, reflected in the parables that are all matters of wisdom set in rural circumstances). John represents a way of thinking about Jesus that is quite unique to him, there are bridges to Luke, but not many. The author of John, I’ll call him John the Evangelist, or simply John unless some other distinction is required, would not be terribly sympathetic to the other Gospel accounts of Jesus, and I’ll try to make this point a bit as this goes on. See you next week.

[1] The RSV text of John is still a study standard (and it’s free), the Anchor Bible Gospel of John in 2 vols is a bit out of date, but still good in many ways, the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) is a fine version and the HarperCollins Study Bible is great. The fundamental work on John is still probably Raymond Brown’s The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times . Also, J. Louis Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (Knox, 2003) [the latter an important influence on the former]. Also worth your time is Robert Kysar’s article on John in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (3:919ff). There is a lot of excellent work on the Fourth Gospel out there, and there is a wide range of opinion on John, and I’ll try to weave my own ideas through and around those pillars and posts. Here’s a few more: John Ashton, Understanding the Fourth Gospel (Oxford, 1991); Thomas Brodie, The Gospel According to John (Oxford, 1997); Reimund Beiringer, et al., Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel (Louisville, KY, 2001). Also see Kysar’s The Maverick Gospel (London, 2007). For the Book of Mormon as literature, essential reading is Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon (Oxford, 2010). More in part 2.


  1. very excited about this series!

  2. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and perspective.

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