Friday, May 23, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Sixteen-1: Joseph Smith, Christ’s Baptism and the Fulness of the Holy Ghost

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Sixteen-1: 
Joseph Smith, Christ’s Baptism and the Fulness of the Holy Ghost

Introduction:  This is the first of two parts of an essay exploring Joseph Smith's contributions to our understanding of some details about the baptism of Jesus Christ found in the Gospel of John which ultimately lead us to profound teachings about our own destiny and the role of the Holy Ghost and the temple ordinances in achieving that destiny. Your comments are welcome and encouraged.


Part 1© 

The Gospel of John contains several interesting details about the baptism of Jesus which are not found in the Synoptic Gospels,(1) but which receive some additional emphasis and elaboration in the revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith.  When pursued they ultimately lead us to profound teachings about our own destiny and the role of the Holy Ghost and the temple ordinances in achieving that destiny.  John 1:33 reads:
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 Holy Ghost.
As I understand this passage, John, whose mission in part was to identify for Israel the Messiah, was told that he would know he had found his man when he saw the Spirit descend upon him and remain. This was commentary on the previous verse in which the Baptist testified that he “saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.”  (Jn.1:32, emphasis added.)

Why this detail is not mentioned in the Synoptics is a puzzle.  It’s inclusion here suggests that perhaps John had access to some information not then available to the other Evangelists.  Whatever the case, some in the early Church knew of writings today called the Gospel According to the Hebrews, which has a passage that alludes to the same idea. Jerome in his commentaries on the scriptures quotes from this lost text. His commentary in this case is relative to a phrase in Isaiah 11:2 which he has placed in parentheses:
(The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him) not partially as in the case of other holy men: but, according to the Gospel written in the Hebrew speech, which the Nazarenes read, ‘There shall descend upon him the whole fount of the Holy Spirit’ ....  In the Gospel I mentioned above, I find this written: And it came to pass when the Lord was come up out of the water, the whole fount of the Holy Spirit descended and rested upon him, and said unto him....(2)
Obviously Jerome thought this was a significant point, because in commenting on Isaiah 11:2 which speaks of the Spirit of the Lord which shall “rest” upon Christ, he (Jerome) opines that this means that Jesus did not receive just a portion of the Spirit such as is the case with other men. Rather, he received the “whole fount” and this is indicated by the fact that the Spirit rested or remained with Christ. Jerome here links the “rest” in Isaiah 11:2 with the same concept in John 1:32-33 in the terms “abode” and “remaining”. John the Baptist testified that he saw the “Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.” (Jn. 1:32)  It took up its residence in Christ.

As mentioned above, the revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith give additional emphasis to this part of the story of John.  To begin with, in the Book of Mormon, about 600 BC., Nephi records that he saw a vision of the Redeemer and “the prophet who should prepare the way before him”–John the Baptist. He saw John baptize the “Lamb of God” and “the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove.” (1 Ne. 11:27, emphasis added.) Here John’s story is not only confirmed in both its critical aspects–the abiding and the dove–but the latter is more explicit, whereas John’s language leaves it somewhat open as to whether he saw an actual dove or just the Spirit descending like a dove. Nephi said the Spirit descended “in the form of a dove.”  Joseph Smith will have more to say about this below.

A second important revelation on this subject is in Section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This revelation also reports the testimony of John the Baptist at the time of the baptism of Christ.  It reads:
15) And I, John, 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 beloved Son.
This revelation also confirms the “remain” idea with the word “sat” and the presence of the dove, in the same language as Nephi.  

In a Sunday meeting on the floor of the unfinished Nauvoo Temple in January 1843 Joseph Smith clarified the meaning of the descent of the Spirit “in the form” of a dove.  Luke 7:28 records Jesus as saying, “Among those ... born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist...” Joseph Smith gives three reasons in answer to the question as to why John was the greatest of prophets.  The second was that John was the only one who had the privilege of baptizing the Son of God.  He said:
Whoever led the Son of God into the waters of baptism, and had the privilege of beholding the Holy Ghost descend in the form of a dove, or rather in the sign of the dove, in witness of that administration? The sign of the dove was instituted before the creation of the world, a witness for the Holy Ghost, and the devil cannot come in the sign of a dove. The Holy Ghost is a personage, and is in the form of a personage. It does not confine itself to the form of a dove, but in sign of the dove. The Holy Ghost cannot be transformed into a dove; but the sign of a dove was given to John to signify the truth of the deed, as the dove is an emblem or token of truth and innocence.”(3)
Note that this clarification is only indirectly related to the language “like a dove” of John 1:32.  It actually clarifies the language “in the form of a dove” in Joseph Smith’s writings–1 Nephi 11:27 and D&C 93:15! Parenthetically I would add, if anyone was authorized to clarify the teachings of Joseph Smith it was the man himself.  His clarifying insight was that John the Baptist actually saw a dove descend and sit or abide upon Christ, but the dove was not the Holy Ghost. It was a sign not only that Jesus Christ was the Son of God; it was a token that the deed–the baptism–was correct or true and Jesus was innocent.

Another very interesting matter is Jerome’s comment that Christ received the Spirit, “not partially as in the case of other holy men....” Apparently Jerome thought that receiving the Holy Spirit through the laying of hands brought the recipient only a portion of the Spirit initially, but Christ received the “whole fount”. A passage in John 3:34-35 says as much:
34) For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. 35) The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. 
The clear implication of this verse is that Jesus is different. Other men receive a measure of the Spirit, but he received it without measure. A revelation to Joseph Smith confirms that, unlike Christ, the Spirit may not always abide with a man.
22) ... the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit.  Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. 23) A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him. (4)
Five years earlier Joseph taught:
The Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, cannot be received through the medium of any other principle than the principle of righteousness, for if the proposals are not complied with, it is of no use, but withdraws. (5)
Jerome’s idea has at least two additional parallels in the revelations of Joseph Smith.  The first is the JST version of John 3:34.  It reads:
34) ...  For God giveth him not the Spirit by measure, for he dwelleth in him, even the fulness. [Emphasis added.]
The antecedent of “he” in this verse is “the Spirit.” The fulness of the Spirit dwelt in, (like an abode), Christ. A similar passage is also found in D&C 93:16-17:
16) And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; 17) And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.
So, here we have Isaiah, John the Bapitst, John the Apostle, Nephi, Joseph Smith, and (ahem) Jerome, whose teachings all lean in the same direction about the importance of the descent of the Spirit upon Christ at the time of his baptism, from which we extract three precepts:
  1. The Spirit descended upon Christ.  John saw it come like a dove. Nephi described it as in the form of a dove. Joseph explained there was a dove, but it was a sign or token.
  2. The Spirit rested or “sat” upon Christ, it abode upon (in?) him, it remained upon him.
  3. At this time Jesus received the “whole fount” of the Spirit; he received the Spirit “without measure.”  The fulness of the Spirit and the glory of the Father dwelt in him.

To be continued.


1.   Matthew comes the closest when he says the John the Baptist saw the Spirit descend like a dove and “lighting” upon him.  Mt. 3:16.

2.  Cited in M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975, p. 5, bold emphasis added.  I am indebted to Margaret Barker for this reference.

3.    Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1967, pp. 275-276, emphasis in the original. A good friend reminded me that this discourse, as are all of Joseph’s discourses, is an amalgamation derived largely from the journals and memories of those who heard them.  See, Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1980), pp. 160-62, and notes on 264-65.   The amalgamation and enlargement can be seen by comparing the first published version of this statement in, “Mormonism,” Times and Seasons 4 (15 May 1843): 200, with this version.  I hasten to add that the amalgamation of the content of several journal accounts of these teachings does not appear to materially alter the ideas or meaning found in the individual journals and Times and Seasons.  The question naturally arises, under what circumstances did Joseph come by this knowledge. Two possibilities occur to me, though there may be others.  He may have learned something during his work on the JST when the Gospels were being studied and revised, or later during the translation of the Book of Abraham.  See Facsimile 2, Fig. 7, where he says this sign was given to Abraham.

4.  D&C 130:22-23, given 2 April 1843.

5.  TPJS, p. 148.  This statement comes from a record by Willard Richards and is unlikely a verbatim transcription of Joseph’s words.  This may be indicated by the unusual phrase “for if the proposals are not complied with...”  It seems to imply that something was said earlier in the sermon, of which this is a summary.  What proposals?  The commandments?  Or, those things which the Spirit proposes?  Should the phrase have read “for if its proposals are not complied with....”?  It is not clear and perhaps if we had the full sermon Joseph may have given some context or examples.  Nevertheless, the idea is clear that righteousness depends upon obedience to those “proposals” and in its absence the Spirit withdraws.  Jesus complied and did not experience such a withdrawal until perhaps when he was on the cross, but that is a separate, if related issue.

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