John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 6-John and Joseph Smith’s Revelations and Preaching-Holy Ghost-Election.

[Part 5 is here. Part 7 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

While Joseph Smith appeals to John in working out the meaning of Election, at the same time John’s texts in chapters 14, 15, 16 become vital in both the Mormon egalitarian ministry of knowledge and the Mormon temple priesthood (and John 15 is the opening text for Smith’s announcement of choosing apostles in 1835): “God hath not revealed any thing to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve & even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to–bear them.” This comes to a head in John’s treatment of the Spirit. In the other Gospels, and Acts, the word used for the Spirit is a word without gender, pneuma—breath. It appears for example in Gabriel’s speech to Mary, the Greek version (LXX) of Genesis at the creation, and James 2:26, a favorite, though perhaps misused “body” and “spirit” text. John employs a different word to enhance or stand in for “Holy Spirit” that is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, Parakletos (pa-ROCK-luh-toss, is close enough) and it has masculine gender. In other words, John is speaking (writing) of a person.

The word also appears in 1 John, though there it references Christ. In John’s Gospel the word appears in the narrative of the Last Supper and nowhere else. The word is known outside the Johannine corpus, it has a legal sense of counselor, attorney if you will. Someone who is alongside a defendant: para=alongside, kletos=called. The Latin translation is advocatus and it comes into English as advocate, in the sense of attorney, lawyer, legal counsel. John’s vocabulary is one of conflict with Jews, they had to defend themselves in their Jewish life, in the synagogue, and John uses Parakletos in this sense:

John 16:8–the Paraklete, when he comes, will prove the world wrong about sin, about justice and judgement.(RSV)

That is, it’s a reversal of the legal proceedings and death of Jesus.


John 15:26–when the Paraklete comes, the spirit of truth who comes forth from the Father whom I shall send you from the Father, he will bear witness on my behalf

It’s legal language. The usage appears in Joseph Smith’s revelation of May 6, 1833, Doc. and Cov. 93:

And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father . . . even the Spirit of truth . . .

and much of the rest of this portion of the revelation is clearly Johannine.[7]

Parakletos has a broader use in the Gospel. Calling someone to your side, not just as legal counselor, but as someone who consoles, and some early Latin translations use the word “consolator.” Luther preferred this (Joseph Smith thought highly of parts of Luther’s translation) and John’s account of the Last Supper has Jesus consoling the disciples when he tells them he must leave. They are sad.

There is another way the Gospel used the word and this is picked up and used heavily by Joseph Smith. In the Gospel, Jesus says that the Parakletos will be sent by him to the disciples. He will come forth from the Father and he “will be present to you.” Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus says he came from the Father, and everything he says, he heard from the Father, everything he does, he saw when he was with the Father (John 5). Now the Paraclete (anglicized version of Parakletos) is coming, and everything he communicates, he gets from Jesus.

These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor [Parakletos], the Holy Spirit [pneuma], whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you . . .
I have told you this even before it [happens] that you may believe. I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming [John 14:26-9.]

And in chapter 16,

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

The double identity of the Spirit of truth, the Parakletos, is clearly represented. And Joseph Smith puts this to work in his explication of John as speaking to the communicator aspect (he calls it a conveyor of “pure intelligence”), and as an assurance of salvation, a guarantor, a Holy Spirit of Promise (the Holy Spirit is promised to the believers), something Joseph Smith reduces to ritual in several ways, in typical Nauvoo fashion. Joseph puts it as “the two comforters,” though his use of John on this point is rather awkward, it is true to the literature in general. As Jesus is to the Father, the Paraclete is to Jesus. Jesus is now with the Father, but whoever has the Paraclete, has Jesus present with her. John’s speech about the Paraclete being within them registers in Joseph’s material theology thus:

The Holy Ghost is a personage, and a person cannot have the personage of the H. G. in his heart. A man receive the gifts of the H. G., and the H. G. may descend upon a man but not to tarry with him. [William Clayton diary, April 2, 1843, Joseph Smith Papers, Journals vol. 2, Appendix.]

This passage was altered in the 1856 editing process to read

the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him. [Doc. and Cov. 130:22-3]

This latter version elaborates on the Gospel’s language, and perhaps this was part of the reason for it’s somewhat contradictory present form, arising as it did from Joseph Smith’s material reification of spirit and the unseen world in general.

John shares some of the ideas about the Spirit found in the other Gospels, but in Parakletos he is unique. And it affects the concept of church. How can the church or an individual function according to the will of God? It’s through the communicator. It tells us how to get past the fixedness of scripture. How do we face issues Jesus did not face? The Pastorals (Timothy, Titus) approach this in a different way. They establish a leadership, trained to preserve the oral tradition, vet ideas, and correct divergence. John’s version has the Paraclete. The Spirit takes Jesus and interprets him for the time and circumstance of the present and every baptized person has the promise of this Spirit. These are the two very different pictures I’ve mentioned in the last post, and it’s the egalitarian one that perfuses John. Joseph Smith finally rationalizes his encounters with the realities of John and Paul by subscribing to spiritual stewardship. The Magisterium is not just physical (presidencies, quorums, councils, bishops), it’s spiritual: a lower rank can’t legitimately have the Paraclete lead them to correct/direct a higher rank.

The downside of this is that it encourages the very dissembling dictatorship that Joseph mourns over in his letter from Liberty Jail (Doc. and Cov. 121). On the other hand, stability may be a virtue as the Pastorals suggest, but by institutionalizing the rejection of new ideas, after that institution becomes fixed, a greater danger for leaders perhaps is to not have ideas, or to be separated from the body because of hierarchical loyalties and layers. I’ve already mentioned Hiram Page (see part 5), and his existence in early Mormonism speaks to something about the Johannine community. When 1 John is written, the community had already split, and it split very likely because of its general rejection of hierarchy. When the Parakletos can guide all without respect of persons, then it becomes difficult to render judgement when opposing claims arise. And the writer of 1 John uses the phrase, “try (test) the spirits” because there are spirits other than the Holy Spirit. And they can influence. Joseph Smith is inspired by the same idea in treating the disagreements that come about in the earliest Mormon communities (Doc. and Cov. 50).[8]

The writer of 1 John is telling the community that he has the Spirit of truth, and the dissenters have a deceiving spirit. But it’s a sure bet that even though we don’t have any voice from the other side of the schism, they would be saying, oh no! WE have the Spirit of truth, you are deceived. And that’s always the thing with this idea of one (God) speaking to many. Who (if any) really has the voice of God? You can’t tell by claims alone.

Finally, Joseph Smith’s use of John may lie at the heart of what J. Stapley terms Cosmological Priesthood. But there is a certain dissonance there and with Joseph Smith’s use of John in his later expressed theology. That dissonance lies in the idea of “adoption.” For John, people are not adopted “to God” in any sense. For John, we are God’s children because he begot us (not what you’re thinking). It’s Paul that has adoption as fundamental in the salvific narrative. John would have objected strenuously to any such notion. As a human father begets children, so the divine Father begets children. In John’s story of resurrection, Jesus uses the language of Ruth: my Father and your Father, my God and your God. And it’s present in the resurrected Jesus coming to the Twelve (or ten or eleven however you count) he breathes on them he’s God, he’s using the divine breath of Genesis to beget them (John 20:22). He’s breathing life into them. Of course it’s not the sense of Brigham Young, Orson Pratt and company, but it’s not adoption, it’s a literal birth and the Joseph Smith—Sidney Rigdon experience reannounces this in their John-inspired vision of salvation (Doc. and Cov. 76:24). People are begotten sons and daughters to God, it’s not just a different verb. Smith, like he does in so many instances, welds the two discontinuous traditions: the Johannine idea to the Pauline idea, and the best examples may be his May-Sept 1843 sermon cycle. I could go on and on, but this has to end somewhere.[9]

Next time: a little more on Doc. and Cov. 7 I think.
[7] The language of section 93 suggests that a separate record of John the Baptist is present, and there are arguments for that, but it may also be seen as the report of one of the Baptist’s disciples (John!). And the wording has often been seen as some kind of verification of the Gospel’s historicity. That may be the case, but I think it also fits the notion of commentary on the work of the Evangelist, and a superposition on John that declares a kind of universalism. The section puts man in the position of Jesus. Jesus was in the beginning, the Word. He comes down. Man was in the beginning with the Father (this seems like something John would have rejected out of hand—but go on) but Man, humans, are not faithful to the teaching of the other world. They hear, but they do not recognize the teaching and so are condemned. They are Light, like Jesus, but they don’t receive it here. It is wonderfully heretical and at the same time beautifully symmetrical with the rest of the Gospel (and luciously Platonic in a way), as it registers the need of the Parakletos. And it shows something else: it’s an explanation of the Johannine account of the rejection of Jesus in the synagogue, and so it more closely fits the era of the Evangelist than the era of Jesus. While this may seem like subtlety, it has the advantage of a logical meshing with the structure of the Gospel and the Letters, and it preserves a historicity all its own. Given the timelessness that seems to haunt much of John, Joseph Smith’s commentary and revelations that reference John are finally appropriate given his status as a Prophet. It’s what prophets have always done. (Frederick treats section 93 and John 1 in chapter 4 of his dissertation–see the note in part 2).

[8] A long article (likely a collaboration between Joseph Smith and John Taylor) appears in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons in April 1842, under the title, “Try the Spirits.” It uses various spiritual movements of the age, Jemima Wilkinson, the French Prophets, etc. as object lessons, but what it’s really driving at is the rumors circulating in the community. It’s another example of the Nauvoo/Kirtland translation.

[9] Another theme of Joseph Smith is the power to forgive sins, retain sins. It’s tied sometimes to the Mathean idea of keys of the kingdom (seal on earth, sealed in heaven; loosed on earth, loosed in heaven idea) (Journal of Discourses 6:155). John has Jesus saying to the disciples that they have power to forgive or retain, but this was largely seen in the early Christian church as a reference to baptism: baptize–forgive sins, don’t baptize–retain sins. This is the Johannine version of Matthew and Mark: go out and teach, baptize. It’s a long time before this gets interpreted as something separate, and finally a sacrament (Penance). (There’s an eventual connection to the Eucharist—and we (Mormons) have remarkably similar stuff in various claims and forms too.)


  1. J. Stapley says:

    This is really good. I need to work think through this a little more, I think.

  2. It seems important in trying to understand a number of things about Mormonism (and for me, preaching). I thought you might like it.