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.
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.
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
came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my bbelovedSon.
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.