Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 44

The Johannine authorship of the three Epistles of John is strongly attested. Polycarp and other sources of the second century quote from the first epistle. By the fourth century, the epistles were among the homologoumena or generally accepted books, while 2 Peter, Jude, and the book of Revelation were still not universally received. Since the unnamed author is an eyewitness (1 John 1:1-4; 4:14), since the style and language are similar to that of John's Gospel, and since the references in the second century name the author as John, this has been practically unanimously accepted through the centuries.

According to Irenaeus, a late second-century writer, John spent the latter part of his life in and near Ephesus. We also note that the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were addressed to Ephesus and six important cities in surrounding Asia Minor: Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Although the precise destination of 1 John is not given, we may safely presume that it was to people in those areas. Further, the content of 1 John presupposes an acquaintance with the Gospel, and it also refers to doctrinal problems from apostates. Thus, the date may be between about A.D. 70 and 90, probably closer to the latter date. But the problems of anti-Christ were already being signaled by Paul in the fifteen years before A.D. 62, when he was taken to Rome. Second Peter prophetically and Jude historically both point to the incipient apostasy of the "Great Gap" of 70 to 100; 1 John is to be dated to that period. According to Hegesippus, who compiled an early history of the Christian church and whose writings were quoted and used by Eusebius in the beginning of the fourth century, this is the time when the Gnostics began to flourish and to teach openly what they had secretly been espousing:

"Until then the church remained a pure and uncorrupted virgin, for those who attempted to corrupt the healthful rule of the Savior's preaching, if they existed at all, lurked in obscure darkness. But when the sacred band of the Apostles and the generation of those to whom it had been vouchsafed to hear with their own ears the divine wisdom had reached the several ends of their lives, then the federation of godless error took its beginning through the deceit of false teachers who, seeing that none of the Apostles still remained, barefacedly tried against the preaching of the truth the counter-proclamation of 'knowledge falsely so-called.'"

The author of 2 John is an elder (Greek presbyteros), a term used in the late first and early second century for apostle, even as it is used today by the Latter-day Saints. (See D&C 20:38.) In writing to the "elect lady and her children" John warns against deceiving teachers and false doctrines. In the Didache (an authentic Christian text of the late first century, first discovered and published about a century ago), the anonymous author warns members of the church to shun anyone who taught for pay. Again, the circumstances of 2 John fit best about A.D. 90, and 3 John, addressed to a local leader named Gaius, was probably composed about the same time.

(Thomas W. Mackay, "The Epistles of John," in Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 237.)

Orson Pratt on the love of God:

It is declared, as part of the belief of the Methodists, that God is without passions. Love is one of the great passions of God. Love is everywhere declared a passion, one of the noblest passions of the human heart. This principle of love is one of the attributes of God. "God is love," says the Apostle John," and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." If, then, this is one of the great attributes of Jehovah, if he is filled with love and compassion towards the children of men, if his son Jesus Christ so loved the world that he gave his life to redeem mankind from the effects of the fall, then, certainly, God the Eternal Father must be in possession of this passion. Again, he possesses the attribute of Justice, which is sometimes called Anger, but the real name of this attribute is Justice. "He executeth justice," says the Psalmist; also, "Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne." Justice is one of the noble characteristics of our heavenly Father; hence another of his passions.

(Orson Pratt, Discourse, November 12, 1876, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 18: 288—289.)

Stephen E. Robinson on the commandment to love:

The Savior himself makes it clear in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon that there is one thing, one principle, that more than anything else makes us true children of our Father in Heaven: "Love your enemies . . . that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven." Do you want to be a true son or daughter of God? Then love your enemies (and your friends, too, I would guess), for God loves and blesses all his children. Do you want to be like God? Then cultivate the one trait above all others that characterizes God—love all your brothers and sisters as he loves all his children.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the commandment to love is the Prime Directive, so to speak. It is the first and most important principle in eternity. It is the single most important principle of the gospel and includes all the rules within itself. Loving others and acting accordingly will make us more like God than any other principle. Unfortunately, it also seems to be the element many of us forget first when we start trying to "be religious." Many "religious" people, especially those relying on the rule-based approach, come to think that religion is about what we eat, or how we vote, or how many meetings we attend, or how much money we pay, or how many pages we read. All those things are important, but none of them is most important. It is possible to be "active" in church and still be spiritually dead, particularly if we fail to love one another. That is what Paul and Moroni are telling us in 1 Corinthians 13 and Moroni 7: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains [that is, though I may have all the other attributes of piety], and have not charity, I am nothing. . . . Charity never faileth. . . . And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

If a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity. . . . Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all.

The Prime Directive has been delivered to us pointedly by the Savior no fewer than three times in John's Gospel alone: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; 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" (John 13:34-35). "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12-13). "These things I command you, that ye love one another" (John 15:17).

Matthew records the delivery of the Prime Directive on another occasion. When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus answered, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).

This is not emotional fluff. This is not pie in the sky, wishful thinking, or idealistic gas. Love is not some subsidiary principle that allows the weepy among us to go off on a crying jag. It's not just something thrown in for the benefit of the sisters or for the super-sensitive "artsy" types. It is not an option that may be ignored by those who would prefer not to clutter their lives with other peoples' problems. There is a grand key here, probably the grandest of them all. It is this: the heart and soul of the gospel is love, and all the rest is commentary. Whatever else we may perceive religion to be, we are wrong—for true religion is love in action—God's love for us and our love for God and for our neighbors.

But surely, one may say, if I'm personally righteous, and I've got a Ph.D., and I'm a stake president or a Relief Society president, and I pay 20-percent tithing, and I have fifteen children, and I went on a mission, and I got married in the temple, and I'm an Eagle Scout, and I have two years' worth of food storage, and my genealogy is done all the way back to Adam—surely for all this God will exalt me even if I'm not a very compassionate person and don't really love my brothers and sisters.


Listen to Joseph Smith: "To be justified before God we must love one another."

Listen to Nephi: "The Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing."

Listen to Alma: "If ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men."

Listen to Moroni: "This love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father."

Listen to Paul (again): "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."

Listen to Peter: "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently."

Listen to John: "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love."

Love is the sine qua non of the kingdom of God, the "without-which- not" of celestial glory. Other things may be required as well, but without love in our hearts for God and for our fellow beings, we will not be raised up to a throne. There are no exceptions. We cannot become like God, we cannot be true sons and daughters of God without love—for God is love.

(Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 135—136.)

Comments and feedback can be sent to