Baptist or Beloved?

The debate over who was “speaking” the testimony of Jesus Christ in the beginning of the Gospel of John has been one of the longest-standing questions in Christianity. Heracleon addressed this at about 165 a.d. He was a Gnostic and from the school of Valentinus. Valentinus was an early Gnostic, claiming to have secret knowledge passed from John (the Beloved). He attributed early material in the Gospel of John to John the Baptist.

Origen wrote early in the Third Century, disputed Heracleon and argued that it was John the Beloved who was responsible for the composition. Origen’s Commentary on John, Sixth Book, Chapter 2. The debate has never ended.

The term “logos” which is rendered “word” in most English translations of the Gospel of John, has a pre-Gospel of John history. The most recent use of the term, prior to the composition of the Gospel of John, was Philo of Alexanderia. He was born two decades before the birth of Christ and wrote just a few years prior to the composition of John’s writing.

Philo considered the “logos” to be an intermediary between man and God, a Divine being that bridged the gap between fallen man and perfect God. There is a great debate over the extent to which Philo’s writings influenced John’s composition.

John the Beloved’s composition begins by placing Christ in a pre-earth, creative role that is cosmic in scope. This introduction was intended to alert the reader that the individual described in the text that would follow was God. Then the often mundane events build with proof upon proof that the man Jesus was indeed the cosmic creator and God in very fact. By the end of the account, the proof has been assembled to demonstrate that the opening description was true beyond dispute. Christ was God.

Origen’s writings make it clear that a pre-earth existence for mankind, not just Christ but all men, was part of early Christian belief. That belief has been lost for most Christians. Origen wrote: “John’s soul was older than his body, and subsisted by itself before it was sent on the ministry of the witness of the light.” He extends this to us all: “if that general doctrine of the soul is to be received, namely, that it is not sown at the same time with the body, but is before it, and is then, for various causes, clothed with flesh and blood; then the words ‘sent from God’ will not appear to be applicable to John alone.” Origen’s Commentary on John, Book II, Chapter 24.  Meaning that not only did John exist before he was flesh and blood, but all men likewise existed before they entered this world.

The pre-earth existence of mankind is taught in the Bible. Jeremiah was told he was “ordained” before he entered his mother’s womb: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 KJV.

Job likewise describes the joy of the spirits of men when they learned of the plan for creating this world: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Job 38:7. Christ’s apostles inquired about the pre-birth sins of the man born blind. John 9:2. A question that could only be asked if it were possible for him to sin before birth because he existed prior to his birth.

Although Christians today do not recognize the doctrine of pre-earth existence of man’s spirit, it was once a part of Christian belief. Like the confusion about who is speaking in the earliest verses of the Gospel of John, Christianity has lost clarity that can only be restored by another revelation from God. As Roger Williams, a late Protestant Reformer in the American Colonies, said: “The apostasy… hath so far corrupted all, that there can be no recovery out of that apostasy until Christ shall send forth new apostles to plant churches anew.” He recognized that no man has authority to perform even the basic ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ unless Christ has authorized that man.

Reading the New Testament is like reading another person’s mail. It was written to a specific body of believers who had been taught by those who knew Christ. Today it is just as necessary to have that same vital connection to Christ in order to be saved. How can we believe the truth if we are not taught the truth? How can we be taught the truth unless someone is sent from Christ to teach a message from Him? How can anyone pretend to teach the truth if Christ did not send them? See Romans 10:14-15.

All or Nothing

Zion and a New Jerusalem will exist before the Lord’s return in glory. (D&C 45:28-32; 133:17-35; 45:65-75.) But God will bring it as His work. Mortal man will labor with Him, but the Lord will be given credit for accomplishing it. (Mosiah 12:22; 3 Ne. 16:18; –both quoting Isaiah 52:8.)

A chorus of Pied-Pipers are now clamoring for attention, none of whom speak for the Lord. None offer the slightest idea or information on how to proceed with the work of Zion. They chirp criticism and proclaim their doubts, claiming something ought to be done. The chorus does not sing from the same page, for one says, “there is no need for a temple”, while another states confidently, “Denver is too enamored with Joseph Smith”, and another proclaims as his great theme, “all you need is Jesus, for He has no final work on Zion to accomplish”, and another, “I’m not saying there hasn’t been a visit by something or someone with Denver, but it certainly wasn’t Christ.” Then there is: “The Davidic Servant will be the translated John!” says another. (This despite the fact that Zion is a mortal challenge to be accomplished by mortals. Immortals do not involve themselves directly in responsibilities required of mankind.) Many other alternatives are also offered, inconsistent and contradictory, all of which pursue as their one theme: Do not expect the Lord to bring again Zion; and if He does, do not expect it to be done with any involvement by Denver.

Do not be misled: I make no claims for myself. Nothing has been accomplished. Until the work is completed, no one can claim a role for himself or proclaim he will fulfill prophecy. Quite frankly, little has been done so far by any one, and every man’s life is short with little time to labor before taken from this world. The task of Zion is far more daunting than the foolish imagination of the human heart. If we soberly assess what is left to be accomplished, we would all repent and cooperate with one another, lending whatever strength we have to the task. We would stop fighting and opposing one another, and ask what we could do to aid.

No institution exists with the capacity to accomplish Zion. It will be so entirely foreign to this world that the people who come there will be required to adopt a new society, new way of thinking, different way of interacting, entirely new law, a form of government that does not presently exist, an order to their lives that alters everything, and a form of righteousness that is only possible for a society with a new structure.

Much of the sinfulness of mankind is due to the way our society, government and economy are organized. If mankind were reordered, a great deal of what is broken inside the individual would be fixed by a new environment. But it is an “all or nothing” proposition. Half-measures will fail. The restoration did not reach a conclusion. It began, halted, and has been receding ever since. The objective was Zion. But Zion is all or nothing. Taking “some” of the attributes without the rest of it, is doomed for failure.

Zion will have “all things in common” but only as a by-product of a larger construct. Without the rest of the social structure, implementing “all things in common” is only a curse, not a blessing. The Pinery Mission in Wisconsin was established to harvest lumber for the Nauvoo Temple. Those sent to Wisconsin decided to live a “consecrated” life and have everything in common. (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 24 footnote 26.) When the leaders of the mission wrote a letter February 15, 1844 to the first presidency to report on progress, they made an observation about how poorly things were working with their attempt at living consecration:

[T]he main hindrance to our successful operations was the feeding, clothing, and transporting a great many lazy, idle men, who have not produced any thing by their pretended labor, and thus eating up all that the dilligent and honest could produce by their unceasing application to labor, & (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 24.)

The economic catastrophe left the participants destitute. What was worse, the lumber from this effort, although intended for the Nauvoo Temple and Nauvoo House, was pilfered by workmen for use on their own Nauvoo residences.

Everyone knew the Nauvoo Temple had to be built with dispatch. The same commandment that required the temple built also warned that once sufficient time to build it had passed, if the saints failed to accomplish the task the church would be rejected. (D&C 124:31-32.) The men harvesting the lumber in the Pinery Mission concluded the Nauvoo Temple would not be completed according to the commandment. Their letter said:

…having also become convinced that the Church at Nauvoo are or in the Eastern States will not build the Nauvoo House according to the commandment, neither the Temple in a reasonable time. (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 30.)

As George Miller observed, theft of the lumber was preventing progress on the temple:

Miller discovered that lumber they had earlier supplied for the temple and the Nauvoo House was instead being used to construct houses for the workmen. (JS Papers Administrative Records, footnote 39, p. 30.)

When a society acts on the notion of having “all things in common” as an end, rather than a by-product of a new society, then any project, just like the Nauvoo Temple, becomes almost impossible to complete successfully. This principle cannot be separated from a reordered society. This is why the Lord must bring Zion, because mankind cannot.

Minutes of a meeting May 6, 1844 mentioned twenty-five men who would be returning from the Pinery Mission in Wisconsin:

About the 1st of July there will be about 25 able men down from the Pinery who would be destitute when they returned home. (JS Papers Administrative Record, p. 155.)

Zion will not begin with people attempting to “have all things in common.” Zion will require a new government, new social order, new way of life, an altogether different society from what now exists. It will not be just adopting some new magic economic rule like “have all things in common.”

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There are still a series of talks that need to be given to the Christian community. No venue has yet been arranged to speak in California, Texas or Atlanta. I appreciate the effort given by so many of you, and believe the attempts have all been noted by the Lord. The assignment to speak has not been withdrawn, and I still need assistance to make such arrangements for the three venues. If you can offer an opportunity, I would appreciate knowing of it.

Beloved

The Lord inquired of John, who is called “Beloved:”
“John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you.” (D&C 7: 1.)

This is what the Lord offers, at some point, to those who meet with Him as He confirms their exaltation. I’ve explained this in Beloved Enos. It is part of the privilege He extends to those who come to know Him.

 
A person could ask anything of Him. In the case of John, however, the request was completely selfless (one of the reasons he is “Beloved” by Christ). It reflects the same heart as the Lord’s.
 
“And I said unto him, Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee.”  (D&C 7: 2.)  That is, John desired this not for his own sake, but for the sake of those to whom he could minister.  He wanted to bring souls to Christ.
 
“And the Lord said unto me, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.” (D&C 7: 3.) The ministry of John would continue. There would be “nations” who would receive his prophesy. What do you suppose it means for John to be able to prophesy before “nations?” Do “nations” mean modern states, or do they mean family divisions or subsets, like the ancient tribes of Israel, which were called “nations?” Do the terms “nations, kindreds, tongues and people” have a family meaning? What family? Has the gospel been intended primarily for one family of redeemed souls all along? If so, then, how does one connect to that family? What is John doing?
 
The Lord explained to Peter that, concerning John, “he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth.” (D&C 7: 6.)
 
It is an interesting question to ask what John has been doing. What do you suppose it means to be “as flaming fire and a ministering angel?” What jurisdiction does John have if he “shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth?” Does this require John to be involved with all who are to become “heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth?” In what way would he be involved?
 
These are interesting things to contemplate. All the more so because these ideas are somewhat at odds with the idea that God has finished His work and given his power to men, as we claim. Nephi disagrees with the idea (2 Ne. 28: 5.), but that hasn’t affected our views much. We’re really quite certain we have everything we need without John.

2 Nephi 31: 4

2 Nephi 31: 4:


“Wherefore, I would that ye should remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet which the Lord showed unto me, that should baptize the Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world.”

This puts us back into the narrative Nephi wrote much earlier in his first book. He described this in 1 Nephi 11: 27. Although the Lord’s mortal ministry was future, and separated by more than half-a-millennium, Nephi witnessed it. The Lord is able to make witnesses of His mortal ministry even of someone who lived at another time and place, as He has done with Nephi.

During that vision, Nephi saw more than the Lord’s mortal ministry. He was shown the entire history of the world through the end of time.  However, Nephi was only permitted to bear selective testimony of what he saw. Others were given responsibility for testifying to portions of what Nephi saw, but was not permitted to record. He saw it all. He was to record only some of what he saw. He was told at a certain point that the responsibility for recording it became John the Beloved’s and not Nephi’s. (See 1 Nephi 14: 19-28.) Nephi saw it, John the Beloved saw it, and others, including Isaiah, also saw it. (1 Nephi 14: 26). I’ve explained this in Nephi’s Isaiah.

Here Nephi returns to the Lord’s baptism to begin an explanation of “the doctrine of Christ” ( 2 Nephi 31: 2) so that Nephi’s testimony refocuses the reader on the path required for salvation. Since Nephi’s primary reason for writing is to save others, he cannot finish without a final direct appeal for all to understand the “doctrine of Christ.”

What is the difference between “the doctrine of Christ” and the “Gospel of Jesus Christ?” How do they relate to one another?

Here Nephi has linked together four distinct thoughts: First he has 1) already described the prophet which 2) the Lord had shown to Nephi. This was the earlier vision described above. That prophet 3) should baptize the Lamb of God during the Lord’s mortal ministry. The Lord, who is the Lamb of God 4) should take away the sins of the world.

This is a specific time and setting. It involves a specific event and two persons: John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Nephi has seen the event, and reminds us of it as a baseline from which to reconstruct the “doctrine of Christ.”

Remember that the Jews who confronted John the Baptist did not ask him what ordinance he was performing. They did not ask why he was performing the ordinance. They only asked what authority permitted him to be performing an ordinance which they already understood and undoubtedly already practiced. Why would John baptize if he were not Christ, or Elias (in that context meaning Elijah), or another returning prophet who already had the authority. ( John 1: 19-28.) The inquisitors already understood the ordinance.

Baptism was a pre-Christian ordinance. Because of historic interests which conflict with one another, both the Jews and the Christians downplay or ignore that truth.

Look at the wording above and ask yourself:  Why, when the vision is shown to Nephi, is Christ identified as “the Lord?” Then, when Nephi beholds His baptism, why does he refer to Christ as “the Lamb of God?” The same person, at first identified as “the Lord,” and then identified as “the Lamb of God.” Why these two identities? Why would it be so clear to Nephi that the Lord holds these two identities that he would use them in this single verse to make Christ’s identity and deeds clear to the reader? How do the different names/titles help us to better understand Christ?

Why is a pre-Christian prophet commissioned to know and write about these things? Why would the Nephite descendants from the time of this writing through the time of Moroni all be entitled to know about this event? What importance is it for us to understand this about Christ?

Well, let’s push further into the “doctrine of Christ” to see what it may persuade us to do or believe.

Repent and be humble

As the Apostle John closes his Gospel, he adds this comment: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written ever one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21: 25.)

In D&C 7’s headnote we read that Section 7 is a “translated version of the record made on parchment by John and hidden up.”

In D&C 93 we read, “John saw and bore record of the fulness of my glory, and the fulness of John’s record is hereafter to be revealed. And he bore record, saying: …” (D&C 93: 6-7.) From verses 7 through 18 it is an excerpt from John’s more complete, and as yet unrevealed account.

[Bruce R. McConkie concluded that this was the testimony of John the Baptist, and not John the Beloved. I have accepted Elder McConkie’s position in books I have written, however, I believe the account in Section 93 is more likely John the Beloved’s record. Since the issue is only a 3 to me on the earlier scale I proposed, I have simply accepted Elder McConkie’s view in what I have written.]

John likely had a good deal more to add concerning the Savior, but deliberately withheld it. Similarly, we have the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon as a reminder that not everything has been revealed to us which prior generations had given to them.

We ought to have a bit more humility about our “Restoration” than we have. The fact is, we have never been given what the ancients were trusted to possess. We have never been equal to them. We certainly aren’t now. Until we take seriously the Book of Mormon (which will require us to both repent and become more humble than we’ve ever been), we aren’t qualified to receive more. (See, e.g., 3 Ne. 26: 7-12; D&C 84: 54-58.)

Of what then do we have to boast?