Joseph Smith Had Rare Insight into Gospel of John
By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer
The Gospel of John provides an ideal text for an examination of how the Prophet Joseph Smith studied and interacted with the ancient world, Nicholas J. Frederick of the Department of Ancient Scripture said in his presentation at the BYU Church History Symposium March 8.
Brother Frederick observed that phrasing from John’s Gospel provides “numerous catalysts for some of Joseph’s most illuminating teachings, and the author of the Fourth Gospel, John himself, played an important role in Joseph’s reception of the Melchizedek Priesthood.”
Brother Frederick said the manner in which Joseph interacted with the Gospel of John “demonstrates both breadth and depth.” For one thing, Joseph personally encountered John himself—first, and most important, when he received the Melchizedek Priesthood keys from Peter, James, and John.
But he said another occasion was suggested by President John Taylor, who taught: “When Joseph Smith was raised up as a prophet of God, Mormon, Moroni, Nephi, and others of the ancient prophets who lived on this continent, and Peter and John and others who lived on the Asiatic Continent, came to him and communicated to him certain principles pertaining to the gospel of the Son of God.”
Unfortunately, President Taylor never elaborated on what those principles might be, Brother Frederick said.
“But one possible clue is suggested in a revelation received by Joseph in August of 1831, where the Lord mentioned that during their theophany on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John themselves received information pertaining to the millennial state of the earth” (see D&C 63:20–21).
“While the events surrounding Joseph’s encounter with John are opaque, the significance of this angelic meeting is that it represents how Joseph viewed the ancient world. He didn’t simply study antiquity; he interacted with it, mingling with the authors of texts written nearly two millennia ago.”
Another level of contact between the Gospel of John and Joseph Smith “originates in Joseph Smith’s role as a revelator,” Brother Frederick said, explaining that on two separate occasions, the Prophet had revealed to him portions of the Gospel of John as written in a presumably earlier, unredacted state.
One of these occasions was during the translation of the Book of Mormon. Joseph and Oliver Cowdery engaged in a discussion regarding the eventual fate of John. Not reaching a consensus, they agreed to try to settle the matter by seeking a revelation through the Urim and Thummim. In response, Joseph received a view of an ancient parchment written and hid up by John himself. The text of what he saw is today recorded as Doctrine and Covenants 7. The second instance of Joseph receiving a vision of John’s written text is found in Doctrine and Covenants 93, Brother Frederick said. Here, “readers encounter what appears to be an early version of the Johannine Prologue,” or the first portion of the Gospel of John (see D&C 93:6–17).