Is John the Apostle Alive and Well: Investigating Mormon Doctrine

Thanks to the age of technology and the Internet, I discovered a strange fact about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints while watching a video retweeted on my iPad. The following is that video:

Is the basic argument put above true? Does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints really believe that the Beloved Disciple, John the Apostle, is still alive and well? Prior to watching this Lutheran satire meant to poke fun as well as make a profound point, I was unaware of such a fact about Mormonism. Certainly the LDS church has its share of strange beliefs, traditions, and its history is “interesting” to say the least, but if the assertion made in the above video is true, it just might take the prize.

First, let us begin with what the New Testament says. The strange conclusion of John’s Gospel reads thus:

18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He *said to him, “Follow Me!”

20 Peter, turning around, *saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 So Peter seeing him *said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus *said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they *were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself *would not contain the books that *would be written. (John 21:18-25)

The interchange between Jesus and the Apostle Peter is interesting. After foretelling of Peter’s own death, which, according to tradition, was fulfilled under Nero, Peter becomes interested in the fate of the Beloved Disciple in whom, it appears throughout the Gospel, there is a bit of rivarly between. Jesus’ answer is direct, “who cares? If I want him to live until I return, so be it. You follow me.”

The writer then explains that this statement by Jesus was misunderstood by many early believers. As a result, the editorial note was added that Jesus did not mean that John would live until the return of Christ, but only that John’s fate was none of Peter’s business. This is clear in the text.

Yet it seems the LDS Church begins here in their assertion that John the Apostle would not die until the parousia.Yet it is not the key text. As the video above suggests, we should begin with the LDS canonical book of Doctrines and Covenants, section 7. The section is introduced as follows:

Revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Oliver Cowdery, at Harmony, Pennsylvania, April 1829, when they inquired through the Urim and Thummim as to whether John, the beloved disciple, tarried in the flesh or had died. The revelation is a translated version of the record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself.

The text goes on to say:

1 And the Lord said unto me: aJohn, my beloved, what bdesirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you.

2 And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me apower over bdeath, that I may live and bring souls unto thee.   3 And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt atarry until I come in my bglory, and shalt cprophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.

4 And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring asouls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my bkingdom. 5 I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater awork yet among men than what he has before done.  6 Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a aministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be bheirs of salvation who dwell on the earth.

The evidence seems inconclusive. Clearly here Joseph Smith himself makes the assertion that, according to Jesus, in language clearly reminiscent of John 21:18-25, the Beloved Disciple would continue to live until Jesus returns (see also 3 Nephi 28:1-8).

For further evidence of this belief, Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson in their book Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (page 84) provide the following:

Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer 
The Three Nephites are at work among the lost tribes and elsewhere. John the Revelator is at work, and I believe the time will come suddenly, before we are prepared for it.

President John Taylor
Also, John, the revelator, was permitted to live upon the earth until the Savior should come, and the Book of Mormon gives an account of three Nephites, who lived on this American Continent, who asked for the same privilege and it was granted to them.

President Wilford Woodruff
The first quorum of apostles were all put to death, except John, and we are informed that he still remains on the earth, though his body has doubtless undergone some change. Three of the Nephites, chosen here by the Lord Jesus as his apostles, had the same promise – that they should not taste death until Christ case, and they still remain on the earth in the flesh.

Apostle Franklin Dewey Richards
And these men that have never tasted death – the three Nephites and the Apostle John – are busy working to bring to pass righteousness and to carry out the purposes of God; it won’t be long till we or our generations after us will see them and have fellowship with them.

The evidence is surprisingly damning. Clearly Smith and others LDS leaders from the beginning believed and taught in John’s temporal immorality, yet it is here that things get interesting. The LDS church, from what I can tell, still believe in the above, but in a modified sense. It is here where things get confusing and are more complicated than the goal of this blog post.

My point here is raising a serious, though at times minute, point of LDS theology illustrated brilliantly in the above video. LDS doctrine teaches that following the death of the apostles, minus John of course, the church entered into centuries of apostasy. They reject, therefore, the Christological creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon as well as the protestant doctrines of Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others. It isn’t until Joseph Smith is supposedly visited in New York in the 19th century that the church was restored. One has to wonder, however, if we are to take the above texts literally, and not all Mormons do, then what was John, and later the 3 Nephites, doing during these 1,700 years of apostasy. What work could have been more important than restoring the church of Jesus Christ?

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