John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 7-John and the Historicity of Scripture.

[Part 6 is here. The finale is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

There is an issue with John’s Gospel that’s related to Doc. and Cov. 7, but I avoided it when I brought up the revelation. This seemed like the right place to discuss it, the back end of what I originally planned, since it leads to a natural conclusion and where this whole thing was supposed to end up. But I’ve since realized that it really belongs in an extended study of resurrection texts, so I’m just going to hit a few of the high spots here, and then come back to it in some Easter posts. Maybe.

The possibility, a reasonable possibility, exists that John 21 is not part of the Evangelist’s original work. If not, it was attached to the Gospel not long after the composition of John, because apparently there is little evidence that the Gospel circulated widely without chapter 21. So if it was added later, it was added early on.

The added chapter is one with the corpus of John in some ways, so it must have represented at least a portion of the community. A part of the reason for seeing it as separate from the Gospel originally is that chapter 20 seems to terminate the Gospel. Then you get another chapter that opens things up again with appearances of Jesus and it seems utterly disconnected from chapter 20, the disciples of chapter 21 are completely ignorant of what happened in chapter 20—it’s a different tradition—and more importantly there is this discussion of Peter. He’s given authority over the sheep (Christians). It’s rather different from the shepherd narrative in John 10 where Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and there is only one shepherd possible—all others are thieves. In chapter 21, Jesus gives authority to a human being. But the authority is qualified in Johannine fashion: Peter must love the sheep, and it’s feed my [Jesus’] sheep.[9]

The point with section 7 is that the source document (Gospel of John) for John 21 (Deutero-John?) is originally missing the interview that section 7 expands on, and I think that the present form of section 7, different as it is from what I quoted before, may be seen as a midrash on the earlier material found in the Joseph Smith Papers reference. Finally then, there are two commentaries on Deutero-John if you will, a primary (JSP) and secondary commentary (Doc. Cov. 7), and the question as to whether it’s Johannine must be answered, yes. In every way that John 21 is. It is also possible the Joseph Smith’s flesh and blood expansion of “translated bodies” is fashioned partly as an explanation of John 21 (I didn’t say he wouldn’t die–in Joseph Smith’s translation mythos, translated bodies do die).

This is I think the key to understanding the Book of Mormon references to Revelation, and “John,” and Deutero-Isaiah, and things like Doctrine and Covenants 77, a commentary on Revelation. Historically, it’s revelation that was meant for the community of believers that it gathered in nineteenth-century America. It was in fact written for them, composed for them, translated for them, to help them cohere to a new revelation, a new covenant (or perhaps also, a renewal of the covenant) of Jesus. It’s worth considering that, like John itself, there are ancient traditions represented in the Book of Mormon, but they are mediated through voices that are far less concerned with history than conversion and continuance of faith. Perhaps the divine intervention in the text is tailored to bring about belief rather than shock and rejection in its original audience. The Book of Mormon confirms ideas in its Protestant target audience at the same time that it challenges others in ways that would appeal to “Delaware Valley” residents (and that was the critique of people like Alexander Campbell). Put another possible way, God is merciful in his attempts to gather his people and efficient in founding his movement. In every age. However we read John, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants, it’s worthwhile to consider them as much more than some kind of historicity/authorship proof texts.

Next time: I’m going to wind this up. I’d hoped to use this series as a kind of prelude to some Easter posts, but it now seems terribly complicated. In any case, happy forthcoming Easter!

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[9] There are two parts to John chapter 21 in terms of the ministry. Jesus has the disciples fish and they catch 153 fish (why John is compelled by numbers like this is an interesting question). There is this act of claiming the harvest (proclaim the gospel), but then there is the sheep motif. It’s hard to make caught fish into a metaphor for “perfecting the saints,” but bringing back shepherd and sheep allows John to address the problem of community leadership.

Comments

  1. I’m excited for the Easter series; I hope you can sort out the difficulties.

  2. Very interesting series. You’ve put quotation marks around Delaware Valley. Can you be more specific about the area or cultural region you’re referring to.

  3. MJP, it was a too subtle reference to Stephen J. Fleming, “‘Congenial to Almost Every Shade of Radicalism’: The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 17, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 129-64, but more generally, a reference to the religious background of early Latter-day Saints (think Sydney Rigdon and the Family).

  4. Thanks for the shout out, WVS. MJP the Delaware Vally is the Philadelphia area: Philadelphia and the surrounding counties in New Jersey, Penn., and Delaware. All near the Delaware River.

  5. Stephen, your article looks very interesting. I haven’t been able to find a copy online. Any suggestions for the best way to get a copy?