Doctrine and Covenants 93:6-18 promises that if we are faithful, we shall receive the “fulness of the record of John.” The context of this promise is somewhat strange. Jesus Christ is the first person narrator, who begins to quote John’s testimony of Jesus. So, we have Jesus speaking in the first person quoting John speaking in the first person bearing testimony of Jesus in the third person. Okay, so that is kind of weird. But that is not all that is weird about this passage. It is not at all clear exactly who John is. These verses in the D&C bear close resemblance to the Gospel of John chapter 1. In this chapter, the unnamed narrator presumed to be John the apostle offers a prolouge about the identity of Jesus and speaks about John the baptist’s testimony. In D&C 93, are these two “John’s” are conflated so that the same John gives testimony to both the first part of the prologue, as well as the testimony of John the Baptist? Herein lies a mystery.
Though D&C 93 is clearly intertextually related to John 1, there are many differences. I have noted these differences below. Bolded items are not included in D&C. Underlined items are additions to the narrative of John 1. Italicized items in the D&C column indicate a close relationship to John.
|John 1||D&C 93|
And aJohn saw and bore record of the fulness of my bglory, and the fulness of cJohn’s record is hereafter to be revealed.
aIn the bbeginning was the Word, and the cWordwas with God, and the dWord was eGod.
The same was in the abeginning with God.
All things were amade by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Therefore, in the beginning the aWord was, for he was the Word,even the messenger of salvation—
and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the
world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of
men and the light of men.
The worlds were amade by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him.
And the alight shineth in bdarkness; and the darkness ccomprehended it not.
There was a man sent from God, whose name wasaJohn.
He came unto his own, and his own areceived him not.
Which were aborn, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
¶ John bare awitness 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.
And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from agrace to grace, until he received a fulness;
¶ And this is the record of aJohn, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
And they asked him, What then? Art thou aElias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
John answered them, saying, I baptize with awater: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose ashoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
These things were done in aBethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
And John abare record, saying, I saw the bSpirit descending from heaven like a cdove, and it abode upon him.
33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the
same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and
remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the aHoly Ghost.
And I saw, and bare arecord that this is the Son of God.
And I, aJohn,
bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost
descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there
came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my bbelovedSon.
And it shall come to pass, that if you are faithful you shall receive the afulness of the record of John.
So, what are we to make of these differences? How are we to understand the relationship between these two texts? How are we to understand the nature of this revelation of Jesus Christ speaking about this record of John? Who is this John?
The relationship between the two texts cannot be thought of as a direct dependence or a misquotation. It is clear that Joseph Smith had a deep enough knowledge of the Bible that the differences cannot be reduced to his misremembering John 1 as he is dictating the revelation. Indeed, the text itself claims not to be dependent upon John 1 at all, but upon the “fulness of the record of John,” a different text entirely. This separate record plays on two “gaps” left in the text of John 1. First, the testimony of John the Baptist is referenced. Second, the exalted view of Jesus Christ offered in this chapter also has the cryptic phrase “grace for grace.” D&C 93 works out of these two gaps to offer an alternative understanding of Jesus Christ.
First, this different “record of John” is clearly related somehow to the Gospel of John, though the precise relationship is rather unclear because of the confusion about which John is being spoken of. Both texts say “John bare record” of the baptism of Jesus, yet in the D&C, this “John” is speaking in the first person. While in John 1 it is clear that this is John the Baptist, it is actually not clear at all in the D&C. All references to the scene of the baptism and the background on John the Baptist are absent from the D&C version. What is clear in D&C 93 is that the same John is testifying to both the status of the Word as well as the baptism of Jesus. But what is clear from John 1 is that John the Baptist was sent to bear witness of the Light (John 1:6-9).
In this reading then, the “John” in D&C 93 is John the Baptist. This understanding then attributes much of the testimony in the prologue of John 1 to John the Baptist, which John the Evangelist is reusing. As an intertextual reading, D&C 93 interprets John 1:6-9 to say that John the Baptist offers a testimony of the Light similar to that recorded in the Gospel. D&C 93 then leaves out the biographical background on John the Baptist because he is the first person speaker, and doesn’t give his own background or set the scene for his own testimony as John the Evangelist would have to do because he was not present.
As far as the theological differences are concerned, it is clear that the D&C has particular theological interests at stake in its reworking of John 1. There are significant expansions and significant deletions. In my reading D&C 93 has a significantly less exalted view of Christ. First, the unforgettable “and the Word was God” is conspicuously missing in D&C 93. Indeed, the text goes out of its way to say that “thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.” Second, there are two extended mentions that Jesus Christ did not at first receive the fulness, but grew “grace from grace.” This emphasis on the lower status of Jesus and his progression to a higher status undercuts the image of Jesus that one gets in John 1, while explaining that Jesus does finally receive the “fulness” at the baptism.
This notion of a progressing Christ functions as the linchpin for the entire section 93, which advances an anthropology of the spiritual progression of humanity. Here, Christology models anthropology, and Christ’s progression becomes something which the reader seeks to imitate.
As an intertextual reading of John 1, D&C 93 represents an incredibly subtle reworking of this familiar text. Rather than an awkward conflation of the two “John’s” in John 1, or a misquotation, D&C 93 brilliantly fills the gaps left open in John 1 by suggesting that there is a full record of John the Baptist’s testimony of Jesus, and that John 1 is actually dependent upon this prior record mentioned in D&C 93. Further, D&C 93 suggests that because Christ progressed, so too can the reader progress to receive a fulness of divine glory.
12 Replies to “The Record of John”
excellent and thorough evaluation TT. It does make you think about whom is talking and what they are talking about.
not exactly what i had in mind, but you’re getting there.
That’s because I am working with intertextuality, not formgeschichte as a method!
I have always read D&C 93 as suggesting that the beginning of the Gospel of John is written by the baptist and not by the revelator, or perhaps that we witnessing paraphrasing of a prior record. Someone suggested that John’s (as in the revelator purportedly writing the Gospel of John) use of the name John is indicative of this idea, that John the R would not use his own name and is thus speaking in behalf of John the Baptist.
TT, Great post. It’s really refreshing to see a peculiarly Mormon text carefully and rigorously examined using tools developed for that purpose. I particularly like the way you read the gaps.
TT, I don’t often stop here, but this was very interesting. D&C 93 has been a favorite of mine for years, mostly because of the mystery about who this “John” is. One of the D&C commentaries I’ve read is very unequivocal about it being John the Baptist, but the similarity to the John 1 wording has mostly lead me to a sense that it was John the Apostle. I’m letting this simmer, and see where I go next.
I’ve also been fascinated by the extensive use of the word “fulness” in this section, almost as a wordplay. But when I think about the “fulness of the record of John” (D&C 93:6, 18 ) and what that means, I lean towards gaining a testimony like that of John (either one, take your pick). The very first verse promises that “…It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am”. Both John the Baptist and John the Revelator had very powerful testimonies of Christ, and I read this section through verse 18 as an admonition to aspire to “see my face and know that I am” in a very real sense.
Thank you to the few who have braved actually reading this post, especially those of you who appreciated it!
TrevorM, I think we are on the same page, but I am confused by your last suggestion. Can you clarify who you think is speaking where?
kevinf, thanks for dropping by and we hope to see you more! I totally agree that the discussion of the record of John follows completely the promises of vv.1-5, and that the notion of “fulness” builds on the “grace for grace” theme.
Sorry perhaps I was unclear,
As I understand it John 1 is the Revelator’s quote of a prior record written by the Baptist. D&C 93 is also a quote of John the Baptist, and apparently both represent pieces (or expansions on) a fragment of a larger record written by the Baptist. Perhaps the Revelator is expanding on or paraphrasing what the Baptist wrote.
Because of the use of proper name in the chapter (instead of “that disciple whom Jesus loved” etc.) I had heard that the Revelator is making it clear who is responsible for the words, and that he is not talking about himself. Thus when I read, “and this is the record of John” in vs. 19 I see that as the Revelator’s way of giving credit for the aforementioned ideas and following testimony as belonging to the Baptist. The Revelator himself doesn’t seem to appear in the narrative until around verse 40, when in typical fashion, john goes to great lengths to avoid mentioning himself by name.
This is good stuff, thanks TT.
Great post. It does seem under-appreciated that D&C 93 is largely the record of John the Baptist, rather than John the Beloved. This was most clearly pointed out to me years ago by the 1972 book by RJ Matthews on the Baptist, “A Burning Light.” In a chapter devoted to Section 93 he points out that Orson Pratt (JD 16:58) and John Taylor (M&A 55, 59) are on record in print ascribing D&C 93 to John the Baptist, so you’re in great company, TT!
I also wonder about the JST changes to John 1, where a similar sort of theological manipulation about the status of Christ as God may be taking place. 1:1 says, “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.” Quite different than KJV. But then by v 16, some sort of link between the Word and God is back in: “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 fulness.”
Does this JST change further suggest perhaps a difference between the Son and God? Taken with 93, it supports a sort of progressiveness, just as your post points out, TT.
I wonder what the time relationship between editing John 1:1 and Section 93 is. If the JST was edited in order, and John 5:29 led to Section 76 in Feb 1832, then Section 93 is 15 months later…Hmm. I believe that the JST editing was not linear, but still, those dates are somewhat suggestive. One wonders how long these ideas were around.
Great to see you back commenting! This is an excellent insight, both as to the timing as well as to the Christological question.
For the timing issue, it does seem strange. However, you note that the JST on John 1 was done, and the John the Baptist stuff doesn’t appear there, just the Christological adjustments. What is interesting then, is that the continuity between John 1 and D&C has to do with Christology, not authorship. Perhaps he is adding two witnesses? In any case, the changes are rather interesting all around.
It strikes me that more could also be said of the various ways in which the word “grace” is being used. In John 1: 16, the “grace in place of grace” is unpacked in v.17 as a contrast between what was received through Christ and what came through Moses. I’d say that gap filling is indeed happening, but it’s happening with ideas that resonate more fully in contexts other than the 1st century Johannine community.