Why did Joseph Smith change what Jesus said from “this is eternal life” to “this is eternal LIVES”?
Beginning in John chapter 13, Jesus moves away from public ministry to private ministry with those who were His disciples. As the lesson manual says, “Today we call it the ‘Last Supper,’ but we don’t know if Jesus’s disciples fully realized, when they gathered for the annual Passover feast, that this would be their last meal with their Master before his death. Jesus, however, ‘knew that his hour was come.’” While the people were celebrating the feast of the Passover memorial of what happened to their forefathers in Egypt – Jesus was getting ready to become the actual Lamb of this Passover. As they were concluding their meal, Verse 4 “He (Jesus) riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.” – in the manner that a slave or servant would. Verses 5-9 “After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” Peter seems shocked at the actions of the Lord. “Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head (In that case, please wash me completely).” Verses 12-16 “So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If the, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet (you ought to serve one another). For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.”
After Judas leaves the group in the upper room to carry out the betrayal, the Savior desires to give these eleven men – whom He loved – the single most important directive or commandment of His mission and ministry. And so, He says, Verses 34-35 “A new commandment I give unto (He renews a very old commandment), That ye love one another; (here is the added part) as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Did you catch how important it is to show love one to another? The simple fact is that If we don’t, we are not followers of Christ. Love one another, He says. That’s all I am asking of you, as you go forth into this world. In time, Christians were not going to be known or identified by anything else – but by their love. The second part of this is Jesus – not only commanding them to love one another – but to love as He has loved them. So, I ask, how is our love? Is it, Godly love? As the manual asks, “What can we do to make love the defining characteristic of our discipleship?”
Moving on to John chapter 14, I didn’t want to skip Verse 6 which Jesus answering Thomas says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” The early believers were called those of “the way.” In addition, Jesus is “The Truth.” He doesn’t say He can teach you the truth, He said, “I AM the way, the Truth.” These identifiers distinguish Jesus form all other systems, philosophies, and religions which will ultimately fail. Why do they fail? They are not “the Truth.” He, Jesus, is the author and finisher of our faith. “He is the way, truth, and the Life.” He is the creator of all living things. John 1:4 “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” In John 11:25 Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” He is the author of the resurrection and of rebirth. And Jesus concludes by saying “no man cometh to the Father but by me.” No one EVER comes to the Father except through or by Jesus. He is the sheep gate.
In the next few verses we learn more about Jesus’s relationship to the Father and our relationship to Him. So, Jesus continues saying to Thomas and the other ten apostles, John 14:7 “If ye had known me (completely), ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth (but from this time forward) ye know him, and have seen him.” The Greek term for know is Gnosko. It means, to know – that you know – that you know. It relates to spiritual knowledge. Referring to Paul’s teaching of Jesus in Colossians 1:15 “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” Jesus incarnate was a representation of the God – who is spirit and therefore invisible. What the incarnate Son did – the invisible God would have done. What the incarnate Son said – the invisible God would have said. How the Son loved – is how the invisible God would have loved. We have a living human model of God on earth. Bottom-line, God is a consuming fire of spirit, light and love. He is one God. He became human, manifesting Himself in flesh, and saved the world. And He sends His Spirit now into the hearts of those who believe on Him. John 1:18 “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Taking on flesh He was called the Son of God. Presenting Himself in spirit – He is called the Holy Spirit. Residing invisibly in heaven – He is called God the Father.
Philip wants more proof. So, Jesus gives even more clarification in John 14:9 “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” He is not saying that to see Jesus the Son physically is to know what the Father looks like. The Father does not have a body of flesh and bone. He wanted his disciples to perceive and to know that when they were dealing with Him that they were dealing with the invisible God. Jesus is the direct fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy verse that we sing about in Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The might God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” In the next verses the Lord says more about Him and His relationship with God the Father than any other place in scripture. Verse 10 “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” We know from Colossians 2:9 “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”
The lesson manual states “Jesus Christ knew He would soon leave His disciples, and He knew they would need spiritual support once He was gone. To help them understand how they would receive this support, He taught them about the Holy Ghost.” So let’s take a look at the recommended passages from John 14 verse 16, 17 and 26 “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” The terms “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” mean exactly, the same thing. The phrase “Holy Ghost” is simply an older term dating back hundreds of years and is found in the Kings James Version. Because the word “ghost” has a different meaning today than it did back then, modern translations of the Bible always use “Holy Spirit” which is what I prefer. Quite frankly, at His departure and with His sending the Holy Spirit to be with them, they were going to be stronger in the faith and more empowered. They just didn’t know it yet. Remember at this time being with the Lord, these apostles hadn’t received the outpouring of the Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 the Holy Spirit would come to dwell in them and each believer forward.
As John chapter 15 begins, we see an allegory in which the Lord illustrates the essential relationship between His Apostles and Himself and Himself and His Father. We will refer to this teaching as simply, “Jesus is the True Vine.” Jesus was utilizing well known imagery to teach these men: First, that He was the true vine and nothing else could compare, and Second, to illustrate the importance of bearing fruit and the process by which this fruit production took place. Verse 1 “I AM the true vine (grape vine), and my Father is the husbandman (farmer, owner).” Jesus calls Himself not just the vine but the “true vine.” We know that He is quite literally the true vine as He alone shed His blood – the wine of the vine – for the world. A grape vine – the main stalk – produces and yields juice and nourishment to all the branches. So was Jesus – the source of all strength and grace to theses eleven apostles – as their Master and teacher. He is telling them that it is He who imparts to them all that they need. And His “Father is the husbandman” – better described as the “vine-dresser” or the one who has the care of the vineyard. He waters, weeds, trims, cuts, prunes, digs and builds as a means to produce fruit -grapes. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. God appointed his Son to be the source of life and growth to man. The Father’s role is to bring about a harvest of love. Verse 2 “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” As the vine-dresser you need to produce fruits – grapes or love – so that the product can be used to bless more and more people. Any reasonable vine-dresser would not only remove the dead wood but would purge and prune all the productive vines to bring forth even more fruit to accomplish His means. This is the case with the Father. He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to overcome and save the world by Love. Those who follow and abide in His Son will overcome and help save the world by and through the same – fruit of love.
Verse 3 “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” We will read Jesus pray to the Father in relation to the Apostles in John 17:17 “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” Then He says Verse 4 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” Stay connected with and attached to the True Vine and He will continue to nourish you. Just as a branch of the vine cannot live without remaining attached to the vine, so we cannot bear fruits of love unless we stay connected to Him. Verse 5 “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” As Christians we truly recognize and admit that anything good that comes out of us is the result of Him. Verse 6 “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered: and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” Symbolic of those lacking faith and love – are those who no longer look to Him and have become detached. The next verse especially was given to the eleven apostles. Verse 7 “If ye abide in me (stay faithful to Him), and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” In the last of this allegory, Jesus reiterates the point of all this, saying, Verse 8 “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” In and through this relationship of them – and us – abiding in Him, and therefore much love being produced, our Father is glorified. I can’t really leave Chapter 15, without quoting these Verses 9 through 12 “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. THIS IS MY COMMANDMENT, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” What is His commandment? To love. It’s all about LOVE.
John chapter 17 is The Great Intercessory Prayer offered by Jesus in the Garden of olive trees called Gethsemane. This is the longest prayer recorded in the New Testament. It is also referred to as The High Priestly Prayer. Knowing He was about to offer Himself up and over to the enemies, He lifted up His eyes and in His role as the Great High Priest to the world said, Verse 1 “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee.” That through the Gospel – made possible by the sacrifice and death of His Son – God would be glorified. We might also read it saying that Jesus Himself would glorify the Father by the way He approaches His coming death – just as He glorified the Father by the way He lived. Verse 3 “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Jesus says here that the very definition of life eternal is to KNOW the single true God and His Son whom He sent. This involves an intimate personal relationship with God. Verse 4 “I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”
I need to mention in closing that Joseph Smith used the verse we just read here in John 17:3 – but rendered it with slightly different wording and with a significant different meaning. In Smith’s revelation on the plurality of wives, Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132:24 reads, “This is eternal LIVES – to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law” –speaking of the Law of Polygamy. It is “this is eternal lives,” which emphasizes the fact that those faithful Latter-day Saints who earn eternal life will have “eternal lives,” meaning eternal increase – meaning there will be no end to the spirit children they will have in eternity. Let me refer again to Section 132, the end of Verse 19 and the beginning of Verse 20 “It shall be done unto them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when are out of this word; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds (lives) forever and ever. Then shall they be gods.” What are we to think about this twisting of scripture – the very words of our Lord – to fit the false and perverse doctrine of men? I for one, am deeply offended. And, I’m sure that God is also.