John 1: “We Have Found the Messiah”#BCCSundaySchool2019

High Christology and Discipleship in the Gospel according to John

This week’s BCC Gospel Doctrine lesson was written by Eric Huntsman, Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. Eric has written multiple books on the New Testament, including Good Tidings of Great Joy, God So Loved the World, and The Miracles of Jesus. Last month, he published a book-length study of discipleship in the Gospel of John, Becoming the Beloved Disciple (see our review here). We are beyond thrilled (and a little bit verklempt) that Eric has agreed to share his expertise with us and our readers as we study the opening chapter of John’s gospel this week. Footnotes for this post are located on a separate page and can be accessed through the provided links or by clicking here.

The assignment for this week’s lesson is the first reading that we have had from the Fourth Gospel, the account of Jesus’ ministry and mission traditionally attributed to John the Son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve and one of Jesus’ closest disciples. Before discussing chapter 1, which comprises the Prologue of this Gospel, we will first consider a few points concerning the Gospel’s authorship, composition, audience, stated purpose, and structure.  Hopefully this background will be useful in future lessons that include passages from the Gospel of John.

After this perhaps lengthy introduction, we will then see how the Prologue introduces the primary and secondary themes of the Gospel, which are the divine portrayal of Jesus and, I will suggest, the importance of individual discipleship.

The Figure of the Beloved Disciple and the Authorship of the Fourth Gospel

The Fourth Gospel, like the three Synoptics, is formally anonymous—that is, it does not directly state who wrote the text, nor does it specifically state who its intended audience is.[1] In the case of the Gospel of John, the original audience may have already known the author’s identity, and perhaps he did not want to highlight his own role in a narrative intended to focus on the Savior. Interestingly, the name “John,” by which the Fourth Gospel is now identified, never appears in the text except in reference to John the Baptist.

While the Gospel never directly refers to apostle John or identifies him as the audience, it does make important references to a figure usually referred to as “the Beloved Disciple.” This character appears in the second half of the Gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20), and he may be the same as the “other disciple,” who along with Peter followed Jesus to the high priest’s palace after the Savior’s arrest (John 18:15–16). This identification makes it likely that he was also the unnamed disciple of John the Baptist in John 1:35–40, who, along with Andrew, first heard John’s testimony and began following Jesus. As the figure who was the “the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things” (John 21:24), this Beloved Disciple seems to have been an eyewitness of much that Jesus said and did throughout the Gospel, even when he is not explicitly mentioned.[2]

Traditionally this figure has been identified with John the son of Zebedee, a leading member of the Twelve.[3] Thus, if he was the Beloved Disciple, he was either the author, or at least the authoritative source, for the Gospel that bears his name. Issues of authorship and composition are still much discussed in biblical scholarship,[4] however, and interested readers can consult my treatment of these issues published elsewhere.[5] However, the significance of this anonymous witness for our journey through the Gospel of John is found more in his role as a model disciple.[6] This figure never wavers in his devotion and was a witness of some of the most pivotal moments in the narrative: he leans on Jesus’s bosom at the Last Supper, stands at the foot of the cross, and runs to find the empty tomb (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:1–8).

Several of these early Christian sources, for instance, identified the apostle John as the author of the Fourth Gospel. Irenaeus supported this identification in the mid-second century, writing, “John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia (Against Heresies 3.1.1; see also 2.22.5 and 3.3.4). Likewise, another early authority, Clement of Alexandria, wrote, “But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel” (quoted in Eusebius, History of the Church 6.14.7). On the other hand, Papias, another early Christian source, provided ambiguous evidence, which we could read as suggesting that another early disciple, also named John but not the apostle, wrote the Fourth Gospel.[7]

In addition to this “John the Elder,” who might also be connected with 2 and 3 John, modern commentators have made a number of other suggestions for the beloved disciple. These range from Lazarus, Philip, Nathanael, Thomas, Judas (not Iscariot), John Mark, or an otherwise unknown disciple from Judea.[8] While the conventional identification of John the son of Zebedee as the author long remained the accepted one, some have noted that it might have been encouraged by the tendency to attribute Christian texts to apostolic authorship, real or putative, to give them more authority.[9] Others, however, have stressed that because such early Christian sources were relatively close to the time of the composition of the Gospels, these writers may well have preserved legitimate, well-known traditions regarding their authorship.[10]  

Compositional History and the Conventional Latter-day Saint Approach

As I have noted elsewhere,[11] scholars see the text as having gone through several stages of development. Later editors may have thus reworked and revised the original witness. Such theories of compositional history see the Beloved Disciple as an eyewitness who served as the original source for the Fourth Gospel. He either shared this orally with his own students or perhaps wrote an early draft, which a later author or editor reworked. This Gospel, along with other texts attributed to John, such as the epistles that bear his name and perhaps the book of Revelation, may have received final editing as part of a collection of Johannine works.[12] Latter-day Saints can certainly understand how this kind of compositional history can occur, being familiar with how discourses such as those of King Benjamin or Amulek were recorded by others, collected with one set of records, and then finally abridged and edited by Mormon (see Mosiah 2–5 and Alma 34).[13]

One indication of this compositional history is seen in the fact that all references to the Beloved Disciple are in the third person. While there are ancient parallels for authors referring to themselves impersonally in this way, it seems unlikely that an author who studiously avoided naming himself would regularly call himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Rather, this phrase might indicate a later editor’s understanding of the relationship that the original “author” had with the Lord, or it might reflect the honor and affection the editor and the first audience felt for this witness. Additionally, for homiletic reasons the final editor may have decided to use the anonymous source as a type to represent all disciples who used the text to better love and be loved by Jesus.

Such compositional history helps to reconcile the conventional understanding that many Latter-day Saints have regarding the authorship of the Gospel of John with the observations that other scholars have made about the text. Early Latter-day Saints leaders accepted the tradition that the apostle John wrote the Fourth Gospel, and later authorities and commentators have generally accepted the traditional identification without much analysis.[14] This propensity is understandable because Latter-day revelations seem to confirm that John was responsible for it (see D&C 7; D&C 77:1–15; D&C 88:141; see also 1 Nephi 14:18–27; Ether 4:16, which directly link the book of Revelation with John). In particular, D&C 7:1–3, a revelation that seems to have been received because of a discussion that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had about the fate of the apostle John, directly equates John with the “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in John 21:20–23.[15]

Equating the apostle John with the Beloved Disciple still allows Latter-day Saint readers to acknowledge the evidence marshalled by various Johannine scholars in their reconstruction of the compositional history of the Fourth Gospel.[16] In short, as the Beloved Disciple, he would have been the source of or the authority behind the material that others assembled, wrote, and later revised.

Purpose, Audience, and Dating

I have recently proposed that such a compositional history can help resolve conflicting possibilities regarding the original audience of the Gospel.[17] The stated purpose of the Gospel is broad: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:30–31, emphases added; compare with John 1:7). While this passage could have been written by a later editor, it nonetheless reflects very well the testimony that we would have expected from the apostle John or some other original witness of Jesus Christ. Still, many scholars have noted that certain episodes seem to reflect the situation of a particular Christian community in the late first century as much as they do the situation at the time of Jesus. One of the most frequently cited examples revolves around the story of the man blind from birth whom Jesus healed in John 9. Jesus’ opponents in the Jewish leadership threatened him and his parents with being “put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22; compare John 12:42; 16:2).

The resolution may be that the original source, and even the first author, had a simple, theological purpose for the text, but the final editor adapted it for his audience, emphasizing and perhaps adapting descriptions, to fit the situations that he and his readers faced. For a modern audience, however, perhaps a more important point is how we should interpret and apply the stated purpose of John 20:30–31 that readers “might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” Because of the theological depth of the Fourth Gospel, commentators both within and without the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints see John as a Gospel written for believers.[18] On the other hand, editorial asides and explanations seem to suggest that some readers did not know certain details of Jesus’ ministry or some points of doctrine. Additionally, deep theological, almost philosophical, reflections might have been intended for educated non-Christian readers.

Interestingly, the textual evidence for the phrase “might believe” is divided. Some manuscripts have read pisteuēte, a present subjunctive that means “continue to believe” or “keep believing,” a reading that would suggest that the text was meant to help readers deepen their faith. Others, however, read pisteusēte, an aorist subjunctive form that suggests beginning to believe or coming to faith.[19] Regardless of which reading best reflects the original, perhaps we should see a broad audience for the Gospel. Like the Book of Mormon that was written for the Lamanites, the rest of the House of Israel, and the Gentiles—in effect, for everyone—the Gospel of John is a powerful testimony of Jesus Christ that can bring all readers to know that Jesus is the Son of God. Having faith in this, they can then lay hold of his great gift of eternal life.

A staged compositional history also helps explain certain questions about the dating of the Gospel and the nature of its original and intended audiences. The developed theology of John and postapostolic references to its composition combine to suggest that it was written later than the Synoptics. Scholars frequently suggest a date in the A.D. 90s, placing it between Luke, usually assumed to be the last of the Synoptics written, and the appearance of the earliest manuscript evidence for the text, which dates to the early second century. On the other hand, the lack of any reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, present tense statements in the description of the Pool of Bethesda in John 5:2, and the fact that it seems to be unaware of the other Gospels could be taken to suggest an earlier date of composition.[20] These two different views might be reconciled by suggesting that the original material from the Beloved Disciple, whether transmitted orally or in written form, took shape earlier but the final edition that we now have dates to the end of the first century AD.

Structure

The Fourth Gospel is divided into four major parts: a Prologue (John 1:1–51), which comprises this week’s reading; a major division focusing on the ministry of Jesus (2:1–11:57); another division focusing on Jesus’s final week, culminating in his passion and resurrection (12:1–20:31); and an Epilogue (21:1–25).

The Prologue divides into two distinct sections. The first is a largely poetic composition focusing on the Jesus as “the Word” (Greek, logos) that establishes the high Christology of the Gospel (John 1:1–18). In other words, it stresses that both the premortal and the mortal Jesus were divine. The second is a narrative account of the calls of the first disciples, who follow Jesus as they come to different understandings of who he is (John 1:19–51). 

The major section immediately after the prologue is often called the “Book of Signs” (John 2:1–11:54) because of the seven miraculous signs (Greek, sēmeia) found in it, though it also contains seven important dialogues or discourses. The next major division is often called “The Book of Glory” (John 12:1–20:31) because John frequently describes the saving death and resurrection of Jesus as the means by which he is both glorified and glorifies the Father.

The style of the Epilogue (21:1–25) may suggest that it was a later addition; it certainly resumes a narrative that seemed to end with the programmatic statement of John 20:30–31. The Epilogue closes with a focus on the fate and testimony of the Beloved Disciple (21:20–25), which was most certainly added by a later editor.

The Logos Hymn (John 1:1–18)

Because the first section of the Gospel of John (1:1–18) consists of a poetic presentation of the premortal Christ as the Word of God, it is often called the Logos Hymn, because logos is the Greek term for “word” as well as for a wide semantic range of related concepts including account, matter, subject, rational thought, reason, idea. It was thus the idea or plan behind a “word” and the way that this idea was expressed and transmitted. By portraying the premortal Jesus as ho logos, the Prologue conveys how he represents the means by which God’s plans and ideas are effected and communicated.

The Prologue is not poetic or hymnic in typical Greek fashion, which would have been metrical. Instead, it represents ideas in largely parallel structure, the same kind of parallelism that is well-known from Hebrew poetry, suggesting perhaps that the hymn was originally cast in a Semitic language, either Hebrew or Aramaic. Because the Beloved Disciple is frequently identified as “the other” disciple who, along with Andrew, followed John the Baptist before they began to follow Jesus (John 1:35–37), there is the possibility that the hymn, in its original form might in fact have originated with John the Baptist.[21] Because the original seems to be alluded to in D&C 93:6–10, many Latter-day authorities and commentators have come to a similar conclusion.

However, the fragment restored in D&C 93 could likewise could be attributed to either John the Baptist or John the apostle, and the analyses of Thomas Wayment and Nick Frederick, both now at BYU, note the likelihood that the hymn largely has its origins of a largely Johannine Christian community rather than in the earlier following of John the Baptist.[22] Perhaps an intermediate position can be crafted by analogy to the dream of Lehi (1 Nephi 8) and the vision of Nephi (1 Nephi 11): John the Baptist may have prophesied of the premortal and incarnate Word in a way that led the Beloved Disciple to receive his own, expanded inspiration about the same, which he later rendered in Greek and used to introduce his Gospel.

As it stands in the Greek, the hymnic form makes the descriptions of the Word stand apart from the prose of the rest of the Gospel, thus serving as a way of portraying the divine, majestic nature of Christ. On the other hand, these poetic stanzas about the Word are interspersed with descriptions of the prophet John in prose, which produce almost off-handed asides that contrast the man John with the divine Christ.

1In the beginning was the Word, 
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2The same was in the beginning with God.
3All things were made by him;
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4In him was life;
and the life was the light of men.
5And the light shineth in darkness;
and the darkness comprehended it not.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7The same came for
a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might
believe. 8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that
Light.

9That was the true Light,
which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10He was in the world,
and the world was made by him,
and the world knew him not.
11He came unto his own,
and his own received him not.
12But as many as received him,
to them gave he power to become the sons of God,
even to them that believe on his name:
13Which were born, not of blood,
nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man,
but of God.
14And the Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us,
(and we beheld his glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,)
full of grace and truth.

15John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, “This was he of whom I
spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was
before me.”

16And of his fulness have all we received,
and grace for grace.
17For the law was given by Moses,
but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
18No man hath seen God at any time;
the only begotten [God],
which is in the bosom of the Father,
he hath declared him.

Echoing the opening of the creation story when God brought forth first light and then all of creation by speaking (see Genesis 1:3–2:3), John describes Jesus as the Word, representing God’s will, plan, and intent as well as the means by which he communicates and interacts with his creation. Because this hymn portrays the Word as divine and preexistent, it establishes the “high Christology” of the Gospel of John: the Word was not only existent and present with God, the Word was in fact divine itself. This divine Word was then the means of creation and the source of life and light.

When the hymn resumes after the first prosaic aside about John the Baptist, it proceeds to describe the Word’s experience within the world he had created. Interestingly, in v. 11, when the hymn describes the Word coming “unto his own” it uses the neuter plural (idia), yet it “his own” who do not receive him are in the masculine plural (idioi). In other words, while his physical creation accepted Christ (as seen in the response of the elements to his commands), his own people, exercising their agency, did not always receive him.

The reference to giving mankind the power to become the children of God in v. 12 can, as often understood, refer to fallen men and women regaining the status lost through the fall, but inasmuch as the Word is also called God in the hymn, it could also allude to those who are born again becoming the sons and daughters of Christ through the atonement (compare Mosiah 5:7).

When the Prologue declares, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), it connects Jesus with YHWH, or Jehovah, who had earlier dwelt with his people in the wilderness. This is done through the Greek term eskēnōsen (KJV, “dwelt”), which literally means “pitched his tent” and recalls the ancient Tabernacle in which Jehovah had dwelt after the Exodus. From that point on, John’s portrayal of Jesus is that of Jehovah only thinly veiled in flesh as he walks and works among his people. He knows the will of the Father perfectly and knows all things even before they happen (3:11; 7:29; 8:55; 10:15; 13:1–3; 18:4; 19:28). Further, he knows all men and women, seeing into their hearts and knowing which have been given to him by God (5:42; 17: 9, 11, 24).

A significant textual variant occurs in v. 18, where the older and most reliable manuscripts actually read “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten God [not “Son”], which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” This reading further emphasizes that the Word made flesh was, in fact, divine. This passage, of course, is a well-known crux for Latter-day Saint readers. While our current manual cites Old Testament examples “of people who saw God (see Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:11; Isaiah 6:5),” it could be argued that these were visions of Jehovah, usually associated with the premortal Christ, not the Father. Instead, this passage is usually reconciled by appeal to the JST, which reads, “And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son” (emphasis added). Even in this case, there is an interesting question about the antecedent of “he”: is it God, who in his appearances usually introduces and praises his Son, or perhaps man, meaning that once one has seen God, he or she must necessarily bear record of the Son.

The First Witnesses and Disciples (1:19–51)

Whereas the Logos Hymn focuses on the divine nature of Christ, the second half of the Prologue centers on the response of the first disciple to him, who form a chain of witnesses who share their knowledge of Christ with each following link.[23]

The first link in this chain is, in fact, John the Baptist, whom I prefer to call the Prophet John, because in the Fourth Gospel he actually does not baptize Jesus but rather serves as his first and preeminent witness. As a bridge between the hymn and the narrative description of the first disciples, the Prophet John takes his witness of the Light (vv. 8–9) and the fact that the Word existed before him (v. 15) and shares is with Andrew and another of his own disciples (perhaps the later Beloved Disciple himself), declaring, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; see also 1:35–36). With this testimony, the prophet John established one of the most important images of the Gospel of John, one that is fulfilled with the Crucifixion, when Jesus, as the spotless Passover lamb, died that we might live.[24]

When Andrew and the other disciple see Jesus, they immediately followed (Greek, ēkolouthēsan, from akoloutheō) him (John 1:37), using the word that was also employed to signal that one was attaching him or herself to a new master as a disciple. When Jesus saw them following him and asked what they wanted, they immediately asked where he was staying (Greek, meneis; KJV, “where dwellest thou?”). This is the same word that the Gospel of John later uses for “abide” in Jesus’s “Farewell Discourses” (see John 15:1–11), perhaps suggesting that they were not only prepared to change their living accommodations but were also pledging to persist in the new path of discipleship that they had chosen. Jesus’s famous response, “Come and see,” was then an invitation for them to spend time with him, learn his doctrine, and see whether it was, in fact, of God (see John 7:17).

Andrew’s brother Simon and his friend Philip are the next two disciples in the new chain of witnesses. Andrew “first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (John 1:41, emphasis added). The next link is Philip, who was from Bethsaida, the city on the Sea of Galilee that was also the hometown of Philip and Andrew. Philip finds Nathanael, testifying that Jesus was him “of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write” (John 1:45).

Nathanael, the final link in this chain, is perhaps the most striking example of one who comes to know who Jesus is and chooses to follow him. Responding to Philip’s invitation to “come and see” (John 1:46), Nathanael is surprised not only that Jesus knows him but that is also seems to be aware of a private spiritual moment that had been having under a fig tree (see John 1:48). This leads Nathanael to utter one of the strongest declarations regarding Jesus that anyone has expressed in this series of episodes: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:49, emphasis added).[25] While we do not know what Nathanael had been doing under the fig tree, conceivably he had been having a spiritual experience, perhaps praying about the very question of the coming of the Messiah and the deliverance of Israel. If so, Jesus’s direct address to his questions reminds me of the revelation that the Lord gave Oliver Cowdery during one of his periods of questioning: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:22–23).

As we study the calls of these first disciple as individuals and perhaps discuss them as families, we can easily compare them with the pattern for us as modern-day disciples: finding the truth, we are eager to share it with both family and friends, and we then often have the joy of serving together in the kingdom. As I have recently written, “The testimonies and discipleship of prophets and parents, family and friends, and leaders and teachers have blessed many of us. Our relationship with the Lord then impels us to share our own witness with those outside our faith, perhaps bringing them into the Church, even as we seek to strengthen friends and families within it. When we do so, like the prophet John, Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael, we become part of a great, beloved chain of witnesses.”[26]

Even more importantly for our study of the Gospel of John, these first disciples establish that the response of prospective disciple’s to Jesus’ divinity is to follow him, and when they do they come to better know who he actually is. Throughout the Gospel of John, how people respond to Jesus and how their discipleship is experienced proves to be a powerful theme that allows us to see ourselves, and others, in its pages.


Comments

  1. I’m going to need you to just rewrite all the Sunday School manuals for 2019. That’d be great.

  2. JST follower says:

    The JST of John 1 presents an entirely different theological perspective (“In the beginning was the GOSPEL…”) from that of the KJV. From an eternal or infinite perspective, seeking what is common among all gods and father gods and father father gods (infinite regression), it is the “Gospel” not Jesus that was in the beginning as the “word.” Why does Mr. Huntsman ignore the JST of this verse when it presents a far more comprehensive (infinitely meaningful) message than the KJV verse?

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Outstanding, Eric, thank you.

  4. I didn’t know about the other possible translations for the “Word”. Do you think that Joseph Smith knew about that when revealing information about the preexistence?

  5. Another Roy says:

    Thank you for your analysis. This is very helpful to me as I try to contextualize what I am reading in my personal study.

  6. First of all, thank you Professor Hunstman. This is excellent (to the extent I already knew something) and enlightening (for all the rest, the bulk of it).

    Second, I have long been intrigued by the Logos Hymn because it not only establishes the “High Christology” but is one of the easiest ways to link/compare/contrast Christianity with other religions and religious imagination. “Logos” deserves a book of its own (I’m sure it’s been done).

    Third, I enjoy tracking the “suppose” and “could be argued” and “might be” phrases. From someone so knowledgeable and careful, I want opinion beyond the purely academic. Thanks for letting that happen.

  7. This is great, Eric. Thanks for this.

  8. your food allergy is fake says:

    Dr Huntsman: Word! (as they say)

  9. All,

    I’m presuming this excellent post is merely a preview (brief) of what we can expect to see when Dr. Huntsman completes his volume on the Gospel of John in the BYU New Testament Commentary Series. Julie Smith’s According to Mark is out now!! I’m following these closely as they are a great leap forward for our New Testament understanding (scholarly and devotional) as members of the Church. I’d like to see a lot more of these. I can’t get enough of them. (And a shout out to Kevin Barney above, who is involved in that project in a MAJOR support capacity.)

  10. Eric Facer says:

    JST Follower, I can’t speak for Professor Huntsman regarding his choice not to discuss the JS translation on this point, but its is worth remembering that, with the exception of Matthew 24 and the Book of Moses, the JST has never been canonized. It is not part of the Standard Works. As Bruce R. McConkie stated: “[Regarding the] Joseph Smith Translation items, the chapter headings, Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, footnotes, the Gazeteer, and the maps. None of these are perfect; they do not of themselves determine doctrine; there have been and undoubtedly now are mistakes in them.”

    The JST is best viewed as a commentary, portions of which may have been genuinely inspired. But it does not, with the two exceptions noted above, constitute scripture.

  11. Michael Austin says:

    If anybody is having trouble accessing the footnotes page of this post (and, it appears that most people are having trouble accessing the footnotes page of this post), here is a link to a neatly formatted PDF:

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=199XYB_C5aSc8YW8bZApQPSjrz2InGhDi

    Sincerely,

    The Management

  12. JST Follower: Julie Smith addresses some JST issues in her Mark volume: pp. 905-916 cover issues describing the JST, with sub headings of The Impulse to Amplify Mark’s Unique Tendencies, The Impulse to Foreground Women, The Impulse to Read Closely and Critically, The Impulse to Modernize, The Impulse to Revise. I’m also looking forward to Thomas Wayment’s treatment of the JST for the New Testament in an upcoming book.

  13. Kristin V Brown says:

    Fascinating. Thank you for the work you have done. The name of your book is a great choice. It makes me want to learn more.

  14. Thank you, Dr. Huntsman. This is elegant! It is exactly what I crave as I begin a personal study of the New Testament. I look forward to reading your new book.

  15. Ryan Mullen says:

    Great write up, Eric. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge of John. I purchased your Miracles book to go along with the Come Follow Me curriculum and am excited to discover a framework for understanding Jesus’ miracles beyond just treating them as supernatural events.

    If you are checking this blog and open to responding to questions, I’m finding myself perplexed by the emphasis on John the Baptist in the opening chapters of the gospels. Mark, Luke, and John each give John the Baptist a fair amount of exposure for a work that is ultimately about Jesus. For someone who ultimately didn’t become a follower of Jesus (correct me if I’m wrong) it seems like an odd choice. Was John just such a popular preacher that his endorsement, so to speak, carried a lot of weight with first century Jews and Christians? Do we suppose there was conflict between communities of John’s disciples and communities of Jesus’ disciples in that first century, and so the gospel writers were trying to properly frame the interaction between the two? Did some see Christianity as an outgrowth of a Johannine movement?

  16. JST follower says:

    Interesting that, when in our scriptures we see a footnote that begins KJV John 1 labeled “a JST”, we go there for “further light and knowledge,” for a clearer understanding. Because the footnote text quoting the JST is “cannonized,” included in the standard works as “doctrinal content,” how do we argue that it is meaningless or suspect? The Church has appoved this text by its inclusion. John 1 JST is an inspired change of KJV John 1. Again, I ask why Dr. Huntsman has ignored the “inspired” information in a footnote that actually, officially, sends us to the JST? The JST changes the meaning significantly and begs for inclusion in our SS discussion of John 1 The KJV John 1 begins with a footnote a which says, “a JSTJohn 1-34 (Appendix).” Why is this reference and its referenced text we find in the Apendix not “cannonized” as an instance of “further light and knowledge” or official clarification? Why do we ignore what it is saying?

    a JST 1 In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God.
    2 The same was in the beginning with God.
    3 All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made which was made.
    4 In him was the gospel, and the gospel was the life, and the life was the light of men;.

  17. JST:
    John 1:14 And the same word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
    15 John bear witness of him, and cried, saying, This is he of whom I spake; He who cometh after me, is preferred before me; for he was before me.
    16 For in the beginning was the Word, even the Son, who is made flesh, and sent unto us by the will of the Father. And as many as believe on his name shall receive of his fullness. And of his fullness have all we received, even immortality and eternal life, through his grace.

  18. Another Roy says:

    JR that is very interesting. I suppose that what John intended and what JS intended could be two different things with somewhat different conclusions. I wonder what could have been meant by “gospel” in that context. Does it mean something like the plan of salvation with the central focus on the atonement? It certainly ties in well with Moses chapter 5 where the plan is preached to Adam and Eve.
    I believe an important element is to recognize that different historical figures had different understandings of doctrinal points. I further believe there is value in studying both John’s understanding and the understanding of JS without labeling one or the other as more correct.

  19. JST Follower: I always go to the JST for “further light and knowledge” and I fully believe the JST is inspired. Having said that, there’s a level to “canonization” that we have to acknowledge and respect which is even higher than general conference addresses. From a source I trust, I was told the vote when the LDS Bible was published was nearly unanimous among the 1P and the 12 only one negative. We “canonize” when they’re unanimous. What we are currently learning about the JST and what my own studies of various genres of scriptures (such as rewritten scripture, etc.) are showing me does NOT lessen my believe in Joseph’s inspiration, but it does lend credence to the decision not to canonize it. We take it in context with other forms of revelation. As I’ve posted above, try the BYU New Testament Commentaries (which Dr. Huntsman is a part of). The volumes released so far take the JST into account, but they also place it in a perspective that I believe is educational, faith promoting and appropriate. Stay tuned for more on the JST as the Joseph Smith Papers Project deals with it along with the Thomas Wayment book that will be coming out.

  20. Another Roy, I cannot tell from your comment whether you understood that what I quoted is the JST version of John 1:14-16. JS’ “gospel” does not show up in those verses in which he clearly identifies the “word” as Jesus. It is not a simple matter of contrasting JST and John as in the KJV.

  21. Michael Austin says:

    JST Follower,

    Your enthusiasm for the JST’s translation of “word” (logos) to “gospel” seems to rely on a fairly modern understanding of the word “gospel,” which, in both its LDS context and its larger Christian context, has shifted dramatically since 1830, when, in fact, it meant something much closer to “word.” At the time, there was much, much less distance between the words, and they were often used interchangeably: “preach the gospel”, “preach the word.” “Gospel” did not have any of the connotations that it now has in LDS curricular material.

  22. A few other points to keep in mind when discussing the JS Translation:

    • As is the case with Smith’s other “translations,” the JST is not a translation between languages; rather it is revision of the English text of the King James Version of the Bible. Joseph had not studied Hebrew or Greek prior to producing the JST, though in later years he did study Hebrew.

    • Only a portion of the JST appears in the footnotes to our scriptures; much of it has not been included, perhaps because it was deemed problematic or not worthy of inclusion. (The Community of Christ, which I believe is in possession of the original manuscripts of the JST, embraces it in its entirety.)

    • Regardless of the type of emendation made, some of the changes Joseph made are simply wrong. In addition, Smith translated certain passages twice, yielding different results, apparently having forgotten about the earlier version.

    The JS Translation does have value and is worthy of study, but it should be handled with care. Barlow’s excellent book, “Mormons and the Bible,” has a nice chapter about the prophet’s translation of the Bible for those who are interested in learning more.

  23. What Mike said. The JST of John 1 (“In the beginning was the gospel”) doesn’t teach the infinite regression of gods. The JST arguably not inconsistent with that doctrine, but you’re reading that into the text, not finding it there in the text.

    Joseph Smith’s changes offer a different perspective than the original, but I think it’s a mistake to pit them against each other as though they were mutually exclusive. And I specifically think it’s a mistake to read the JST as an argument that the Word is not Jesus. As JR already pointed out above, the JST of the verses that talk about the Word being made flesh not only doesn’t remove this, it affirmatively repeats it, especially in verse 16.

  24. Mary Bliss says:

    Among other things, I appreciated learning about the linguistic connection between John 1:38 and John 15. Thanks for that.

  25. Eric Facer, McConkie also said the JST is “a thousand times over the best Bible now existing on earth.” Which isn’t to say that he’s an authority on the subject, or that we necessarily have to agree with him, just that the quote you shared might give a false impression of McConkie’s feelings on the JST.

  26. That’s a fair point, Dylan. Though I believe it bears emphasizing that the McConkie quote I referenced does not express an opinion regarding the merits or demerits of the JST. Rather, it is a statement of the church’s position regarding the status of the Bible as accepted scripture vs. the status of the chapter headings, the JST, Bible Dictionary, etc., which are not. And the church’s position is clear: with the exception of Matthew 24 and Book of Moses, the JST has never been canonized. There is nothing in McConkie’s statement that is factually inaccurate.

    The quote you cite, on the other hand, is his opinion about the JST—one that seems to suggest that if it were up to him, the JST would be canonized.

  27. JST follower... says:

    It is a matter of precedence or order. In the beginning was the “Gospel” (as JST says) and that is the “Word” being talked about in both KJV and JST. It places precedence as the eternal continuity of the “Gospel” and Priesthood throughout all of the eternities. They come first. It is the Plan of Exaltation through the Priesthood that is the Gospel and is eternal, infinite. Every instance of an administrative unit we call this creation we are part of is based on the “Gospel:- that is the constant. Jesus Christ represents that “Word” in this particular creation, as the embodiment of the “Word (Gospel),” as KJV and JST call Him that. The Father as administrator has designated that, in the established order of the Gospel applied through infinity, his first born spirit son Jesus will be the embodiment of the Gospel, of the Word, in this instance of a new creation. This is an endowment to a certain player in the drama that has worked eternally, gods beyond gods infinitely. Each creation is played out the same, over and over, eternity after eternity, coming and going. In the beginning was the Gospel, which “word” is embodied (represented) in this particular instance in the person Jesus Christ. Thus, we get a much fuller picture of what is going on if we start with the JST and the Gospel first. I think this “glorifies” the Christ, as it puts Him in an eternal context.