Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Joseph Smith and the Prologue of John

Posted by Robert C. on February 24, 2012

[This is a guest post submitted by William C. Van Buskirk. Thanks Bill, we hope to hear more from you!]

Section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants was received by Joseph Smith on May 6, 1833.  Joseph provides no background as to what prompted this revelation.  Since Section 93 uses the language and ideas of the Prologue of John  (John 1:1-18), it would appear that Section 93 was the result of an interaction of Joseph Smith with the Prologue.  But between the summer of 1830 and the time of this revelation, Joseph had been engaged in his New Translation of the Bible and he had already finished the New Testament.  From time to time Joseph would go back to passages already translated to make further changes.  We know that the New Translation was on Joseph’s mind as he received Section 93.  D&C 93:53a reads:  “And, verily I say unto you, that it is my will that you should ahasten to btranslate my scriptures….”  It may be that Joseph was engaged in editing his translation of John 1 when he received Section 93.

The purpose of this study is to review the relationship of D&C 93, John 1:1-18, and JST John 1:1-19.  It is a preliminary study leading to an exegetical commentary of D&C 93.

D&C 93:1 appears to be an answer to an assertion made in John 1:18a, “No man hath seen God at any time….”  John 1:17 says, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ,” so we are prepared for a contrast between Moses and Jesus in v. 18.  The statement that “no man hath seen God at any time” reminds us that Moses asked to see God’s glory in Ex. 33:18.  In Ex. 33:20 we read, “And he [the LORD] said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.”  (The JST alters Ex. 33:20 to explain that no “sinful man” can see his face and live.)  John 1:18b, after the assertion that “no man hath seen God at any time,” tells us “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [revealed] him.”

JST John 1:17-19 reads:  “For the law was given through Moses, but life and truth came through Jesus Christ.  For the law was after a carnal commandment, to the administration of death; but the gospel was after the power of an endless life, through Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father. And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved.”  While John 1:17 has “grace and truth” coming through Jesus, JST John 1:17 has “life and truth.”  “Life” in John nearly always means “eternal life” and it appears to have that meaning here.  In JST John 1:16 it states: “And of his fulness have all we received, even immortality and eternal life, through his grace.”  So grace and eternal life are directly related.

In D&C 93:1, Joseph explains how we can see the face of the Lord:  “Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who aforsaketh his bsins and cometh unto me, and ccalleth on my name, and dobeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall esee my fface and gknow that I am.”

The Lord is still speaking in D&C 93:2: “And that I am the true alight that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”  For this verse, Joseph has used John 1:9: “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”  JST John 1:9 is virtually the same with minor word changes.  The Lord continues to speak in D&C 93:3: “And that I am ain the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.”  Here Joseph uses the language of John 14:10a & 11a (“I am in the Father, and the Father in me”) to interpret John 1:1-2: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2The same was in the beginning with God.”

While D&C 93:3 says that the Father and the Son are one, D&C 93:4 seems to address a different issue; namely, why Jesus could be called both the Father and the Son:  “The Father abecause he bgave me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made cflesh my dtabernacle, and dwelt among the sons of men.”  This appears to draw on ideas from John 1:14: “And 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.”  JST John 1:14 is essentially the same.

D&C 93:5 continues, “I was in the world and received of my Father, and the aworks of him were plainly manifest.”  Here Joseph uses ideas of John 14:10b: “but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.”  That which he “received” of the Father was “of his fulness” (see D&C 93:4).

The Prologue of John is a magnificent hymn to the Word which is interrupted twice.  The first interruption (John 1:6-8) is a statement about John the Baptist:  “There 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.”  The second interruption (John 1:12) is also about the Baptist:  “John 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.”  The same interruptions occur in the JST Prologue.  The only significantly different verse is JST John 1:7:  “The same came into the world for a witness, to bear witness of the light, to bear record of the gospel through the Son, unto all, that through him men might believe.”  The differences between the JST and the KJV are shown through italics.

The Baptist makes his appearance in Section 93 in v. 6 and holds the stage for 13 verses.  There are quotations from the “record of John” which purports to be an original from which the Prologue of John has been redacted.  In the redaction “plain and precious“ truths have been lost (see 1 Ne. 13:28) which are restored in Section 93.  In D&C 93:18 we read, “And it shall come to pass, that if you are faithful you shall receive the afulness of the record of John.”

In D&C 93:6-8 we read, “And aJohn saw and bore record of the fulness of my bglory, and the fulness of cJohn’s record is hereafter to be revealed.  And he bore record, saying: I saw his glory, that he was in the abeginning, before the world was; “Therefore, in the beginning the aWord was, for he was the Word, even the messenger of salvation.”  This is paralleled by John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” JST John 1:1 is significantly different from John 1:1:   “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.”   In D&C 93:6-8 which does not appear in the JST and in JST John 1:16, Jesus was the Word; in JST 1:1, the gospel was the word.

D&C 93:9-10 continues:  “The alight 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.”  The parallel in John 1 is verses 3 and 4:  “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”   D&C 93:9a does not appear in the JST.  JST John 1:3-4 states:   “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made which was made. In him was the gospel, and the gospel was the life, and the life was the light of men.”  We see identification being made between Jesus and the gospel; indeed, the gospel was “in him.”

D&C 93:11 reads:   “And I, John, abear record that I beheld his bglory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.”  The parallel in John is John 1:14: “And 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.”  JST John 1:14 is essentially the same.

While in D&C 93:11 and John 1:14 the Only Begotten is said to be “full of grace and truth,” in D&C 93:12-14 we learn “he received not of the fulness at the first”:   “And I, John, saw that he received not of the afulness at the first, but received bgrace for grace;  And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from agrace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the aSon of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.”  I assume Jesus’ not receiving the “fulness at the first” refers to his infancy, childhood, and young manhood as he grew spiritually.  Based on the Baptist’s witness, I assume he received the fullness at the time of his baptism (D&C 93:16).  Not having “a fulness at the first” would be consistent with Paul’s expression in Phil. 2:7:  “But made himself of no reputation [Gk. “emptied himself”], and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”  The idea is that the Word of God who was God emptied himself of godhood in coming into the world.    He then received grace from the Father.  As he responded faithfully to the grace he had received, he received more grace and “continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.”   There is nothing in the JST about Jesus not receiving “a fulness at the first.”

In D&C 93:15-17 the Baptist reports what he witnessed at Jesus’ baptism:  “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 bbeloved Son.  And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; And he received aall bpower, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.”  In JST 1:31-33, we have the following account:  “And John bare record, saying; When he was baptized of me, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.  And I knew him; for he who 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 who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.   And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.”

In D&C 93:19-20, we learn that we too may receive of his fullness “grace for grace” as did Jesus:  “I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and aknow what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.  For if you keep my acommandments you shall receive of his bfulness, and be cglorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive dgrace for grace.”  This is an expansion on the idea expressed in John 1:16:  “And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”  In JST John 1:16b we read, “And as many as believe on his name shall receive of his fulness. And of his fulness have all we received, even immortality and eternal life, through his grace.”

D&C 93:21-22 continues:  “And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the abeginning with the Father, and am the bFirstborn;  And all those who are begotten through me are apartakers of the bglory of the same, and are the cchurch of the Firstborn.”  This expands John 1:2 (“The same [the Word] was in the beginning with God.”) and John 1:12-13:  “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  JST John 1:2 and 1:12-13 are essentially the same as in the KJV.

In D&C 93:23-29 we learn that not only the Word was in the beginning with God, but man was as well:  “Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is aSpirit, even the Spirit of truth; And atruth is bknowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; And whatsoever is amore or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a bliar from the beginning. The Spirit of atruth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He breceived a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth; And no man receiveth a afulness unless he keepeth his commandments. He that akeepeth his commandments receiveth btruth and clight, until he is glorified in truth and dknoweth all things. Man was also in the abeginning with God. bIntelligence, or the clight of dtruth, was not ecreated or made, neither indeed can be.”

We have here the Mormon doctrine of the preexistence of man.  Joseph introduces a new term: “intelligence.”  As used in this verse it is a technical term meaning the earliest preexistent state of man.  The phrase “light of truth” reflects the capacity of intelligence for growth in knowledge of truth.  In the preexistence, the intelligence is organized as a spirit which is then clothed in a body when man comes to earth.  As we keep the commandments, we receive truth and light (understanding) until we receive a fullness of truth.  Then we can become “glorified in truth.”  We understand that this process of growth “grace for grace” is one of eternal progression and goes all the way back to the original uncreated intelligence.

In D&C 93:36 we learn “The aglory of God is bintelligence, or, in other words, clight and truth.”  In this verse “intelligence” is used differently than in v. 29.  In v. 36, “intelligence” seems to mean a fullness of “light and truth,” and that this fullness constitutes God’s glory.   It is this fullness that Jesus received at the time of his baptism and it is of this fullness that we might receive “grace for grace” as we are obedient to the commandments.  Like Jesus, we too can receive a fullness and can become “glorified in truth.”   “As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be” (President Lorenzo Snow).

3 Responses to “Joseph Smith and the Prologue of John”

  1. Robert C. said

    Bill, I’ve had a chance to read this more closely now, and I really like where it’s headed. I would be very interested in spending some time reading D&C 93 quite closely and thoughtfully.

    I have several follow-up questions to your post, but I’m a bit short on time. Instead, I’m going to add a couple (three) links with other information on D&C 93, and I wonder how this meshes with your reading:

    * Notes on D&C 93 at the wiki.

    * Notes on creation that I wrote a while back which got me wondering about D&C 93 (and how creation themes are at work), but that I’ve never gotten back to.

    * Brief notes on prayer in D&C 93 that I also wrote a couple years ago now.

    Also, I’ve long been fascinated and perplexed by verse 30 (“truth is independent . . . to act for itself, as all intelligence also”). So, I couldn’t help notice that you skipped this verse. Care to share any thoughts on how to understand it? ;-)

    • William Van Buskirk said

      Robert, Thanks for taking my article seriously and for posting it. I look forward to contributing more in the future. I’ve looked at the notes for Section 93 on the wiki, but I need to study them more carefully to see how my reading meshes with it.

      You noticed I skipped verses 30-35. I am on less comfortable ground there. Let’s look at them.

      30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

      31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.

      32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation.

      33 For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;

      34 And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.

      35 The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples; and whatsoever temple is defiled, God shall destroy that temple.

      In Section 93, we learn that not only the Word was in the beginning with God, but man (intelligence) also. In verse 33 we learn that the elements are also eternal and I believe that verse 30 points us to self-existent eternal truths–eternal truths which God now has in fullness and which constitute his glory.

      Eternal truth does act for itself. The commandments of God reflect these eternal truths. As we are obedient to them, we receive more truth and more deeply understand the truth we have received. If we disobey the commandments, we suffer the consequences. God doesn’t punish us; the truth does. For example, if we engage in addictive behavior, we become addicted. It is an eternal truth. If we disobey the commandments of God, we are cut off from the presence of the Lord. By disobeying eternal truth, we move away from God. God doesn’t push us away. He continually invites us to turn back (repent), and to live a life that allows us to grow to become more like him.

      Section 93 is a very powerful doctrinal revelation. In this section Joseph began to receive the understanding that came to full flower in the King Follett discourse. I indicated that my piece was a prolegomena to an exegetical commentary on Section 93. There is much that I don’t understand about this section, but I look forward to wrestling with Joseph’s language to seek more light and understanding.


    • Robert C. said

      Thanks for these additional thoughts, Bill.

      I apologize for not offering my own thoughts in response right now. I am very interested in studying this section of the D&C quite carefully, and I’m anxious to find the time, but honestly it will be a matter of months, not just weeks, before it’s realistic that I’ll find that time. Meanwhile, your further thoughts reminded me of one additional link I’m going to paste here (so these various ideas are altogether on one page I can reference in the future) — it’s a bit more philosophical than the other links, but I think it’s very helpful for thinking deeper about the possible meanings and import of some key concepts in D&C 93:

      The Shape of Agency by Clark Goble

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