Sunday, March 31, 2013

Did the Holy Ghost Function Differently During Christ's Mortal Ministry? And Other New Testament Questions.

Question #1:  I read that Jesus never baptized people, only his disciples did. John 3:22 & 4:1-2. Why?

Answer:  KJV John 4:1-2  When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

This passage in its current form (as it is preserved in the King James Translation and other subsequent English translations of the Bible) is somewhat obscure, but fortunately the Joseph Smith translation of this section of text sheds a bit more light on the subject.

JST John 4:1-4  When therefore the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, They sought more diligently some means that they might put him to death; for many received John as a prophet, but they believed not on Jesus.  Now the Lord knew this, though he himself baptized not so many as his disciples; For he suffered them for an example, preferring one another.

According to Joseph Smith's inspired translation Christ did indeed perform baptismal ordinances personally, therefore the current form of the scripture as we read it in modern Bibles is likely the result of an error or deliberate change in scribal transcription, or an error in subsequent translation.  Elder Bruce R. McConkie is emphatic in affirming this truth:

“Contrary to the false teachings and traditions of sectarianism, Jesus personally performed water baptisms so that in all things he might be the great Exemplar. Without question he also performed all other ordinances essential to salvation and exaltation.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:148.)

Note however that even in the JST passage Christ did not baptize "so many as his disciples."  Aside from being busy, Christ may have had some more interesting reasons for personally performing less actual baptismal ordinances than his disciples did.  Matthew Henry (1622-1714) speculates that this is: "Because...He would honour his disciples, and so train them up to further services.  He would teach us that what is done by his ministers, according to His direction, He acknowledges as done by Himself" (Matthew Henry (Ed. Rev. Dr. Leslie F. Church), The NIV Matthew Henry Commentary, 327).

Question #2:  …About the baptism with fire.. I think when he [Christ] was resurrected it was said that he left the comforter / holy spirit on the earth for his people. And as I read more about it I think this is referring to the baptism with fire.. so I assume that while he was on earth... and living a normal mortal life there was no baptism with fire?  But then I got confused since when he himself was baptized he was baptized with both.  Since the holy ghost ( descended on him as a dove, right?) after his baptism with water..and wasn't that a sign for a baptism with fire..? and was he the only one then..and if so..why?

Answer:  The New Testament makes it clear that the Holy Ghost did not function in precisely the same capacity during Christ's mortal ministry as it does in our dispensation, although this changed after Christ's death and resurrection.

John 7:39  (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

According to the passage from John Chapter 7, the Holy Ghost was not yet given.  If this is true then how could the apostle Peter have gained his own witness that Jesus Christ was the son of the living God?

Matthew 16:17  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

Peter gained his knowledge, not by flesh and blood, but through the revelation of the spirit.  If the spirit had not yet been given how can this be?  The LDS Bible Dictionary explains:

"The power of the Holy Ghost was operative during the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus; otherwise no one would have received a testimony of the truths that these men taught (Matt. 16:16–17; see also 1 Cor. 12:3)"(LDS Bible Dictionary, 704).

The Power of the Holy Ghost vs. the Gift of the Holy Ghost

On the face of it, these two passages may seem confusing and contradictory when taken together.  One passage says that the Holy Ghost was not yet given, and yet in another the power of the Holy Ghost is clearly in full operation.  In order to make sense of this apparent contradiction one must understand the following distinction:

"The Holy Ghost is manifested to men on the earth both as the POWER of the Holy Ghost and as the GIFT of the Holy Ghost. The power can come upon one before baptism and is the convincing witness that the gospel is true. By the power of the Holy Ghost a person receives a testimony of Jesus Christ and of His work and the work of His servants upon the earth.

The gift [of the Holy Ghost] can come only after proper and authorized baptism and is conferred by the laying on of hands, as in Acts 8:12–25 and Moro. 2. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the right to have, whenever one is worthy, the companionship of the Holy Ghost. For those who receive this gift, the Holy Ghost acts as a cleansing agent to purify them and sanctify them from all sin. Thus it is often spoken of as “fire”" (LDS Bible Dictionary, 704).

The reason why the distinction between the power of the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost matters here is because it is clear that the power of the Holy Ghost was in full operation during Christ's mortal ministry, while the gift of the Holy Ghost had apparently not yet been given, and therefore did not function in the same capacity during Christ's mortal ministry as it does in our dispensation.

"For some reason not fully explained in the scriptures, the Holy Ghost did not operate in the fulness among the Jews during the years of Jesus’ mortal sojourn. Statements to the effect that the Holy Ghost did not come until after Jesus was resurrected must of necessity refer to that particular dispensation only, for it is abundantly clear that the Holy Ghost was operative in earlier dispensations. Furthermore, it has reference only to the gift of the Holy Ghost not being present, since the power of the Holy Ghost was operative during the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus; otherwise no one would have received a testimony of the truths that these men taught" (LDS Bible Dictionary, 704).

In the scriptures, the Holy Ghost is often referred to as the comforter, especially by Christ Himself, and baptism by the spirit is also occasionally referred to as baptism of fire.  These two functions of the Holy Ghost become available to men upon their receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and for that reason neither functioned in its normal capacity until the day of Pentecost.

The Comforter

In anticipation of his death and resurrection and subsequent departure from this mortal realm, Christ promised his disciples that the gift of the Holy Ghost would be given to them by the Father, in its capacity as the comforter:

John 14:16-18  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.  I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

John 14:26  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.

Christ also taught his disciples that the gift of the Holy Ghost could not come in full while he was on the Earth:

John 16:7  Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

This is significant.  Why is it that the comforter would not come during Christ's earthly ministry?  I think that the key to comprehending this mystery is revealed when you consider Christ's words in John 14:16: "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you ANOTHER Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;" Here Christ refers to the Holy Ghost as ANOTHER comforter.  Does this mean that there is more than one comforter?  If there is more than one comforter, who can it be?  Joseph Smith sheds light on this conundrum:

"There are two comforters spoken of.  One is the Holy Ghost, the same as given on the day of Pentecost, and that all saints receive after faith, repentance, and baptism....The other Comforter spoken of is a subject of great interest, and perhaps understood by few of this generation....Now what is this other Comforter?  It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself;" (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 149-151 ).

There is more involved in the subject of Christ as the second comforter than I wish to address in this setting, but suffice it to say that I feel confident in speculating that at least one reason the Holy Ghost did not operate in his full capacity as comforter until after Christ departed the Earth was because as long as Christ remained on the Earth His power to act as comforter in some way superseded that of the Holy Ghost.  Naturally, when Christ took his place at the Father's side, it then became necessary for the gift of the Holy Ghost to be given in full to those left behind in order to fill the spiritual void left by Christ's departure.  In this sense, I think that Christ was being literal when he told his disciples that "I will not leave you comfortless" as they anticipated his imminent departure.  He would not leave them comfortless, but instead He would send "another comforter" to "abide with [them] for ever."

"Jesus had conferred the Spirit [but not the gift of the Holy Ghost] upon the apostles once before (see John 20:22), which allowed them to enjoy the testimony building power of the Holy Ghost in a temporary sense because Jesus was physically with them.  But now [starting at the day of Pentecost] they had the right to the enjoyment of the gift of the Holy Ghost, that is, the right to the constant companionship of this [particular] member of the Godhead." (D. Kelly Ogden, Andrew C. Skinner, Verse by Verse: Acts Through Revelation, 34.)

Baptism by fire

This other comforter, or the gift of the Holy Ghost, was given to the twelve (and eventually through them to the other saints by the laying on of hands, see Acts 8:17), on the day of Pentecost.

Acts 2:1-4  And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

"The manifestation on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) was the gift of the Holy Ghost that came upon the Twelve, without which they were not ready for their ministries to the world"(LDS Bible Dictionary, 704).

This remarkable incident represents the fulfillment of Christ's promises concerning the other comforter that he would send to the apostles, and it also marks the moment in which the gift of the Holy Ghost (and the associated sanctifying effect that has come to be termed a baptism by fire) became fully operative in the lives of all who are baptized and receive the laying on of hands for the bestowal of said gift and live so as to become saints.

Acts 1:3-5  To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

The baptism of the Holy Ghost is often referred to as a baptism of fire.  Obviously this doesn’t necessarily have to be literal: as Luke writes in Acts, the manifestation of the spirit "appeared unto them...LIKE as of fire."  The description attributing a fire-like quality to the manifestation of the gift of the Holy Ghost has more to do with the effects of the gift than it does with any physical manifestation of said gift:

"The gift of the Holy Ghost is the right to have, whenever one is worthy, the companionship of the Holy Ghost. For those who receive this gift, the Holy Ghost acts as a cleansing agent to purify them and sanctify them from all sin. Thus it is often spoken of as “fire”"(LDS Bible Dictionary, 704).

For more on the cleansing and sanctifying effects of the baptism by fire, please refer to my article on sanctification.

At any rate, what I want you to remember is that the power of the Holy Ghost was in full operation during the time of Christ, but the gift of the Holy Ghost (and the associated baptism by fire) was apparently not fully active and available to anyone outside of Christ himself until the outpouring of the spirit on the day of Pentecost.

This is not the first time, nor is it the only time, that Christ has been the first, and therefore the only one (at least temporarily) to gain access to a blessing that was not available to others.  The most obvious example is the resurrection.  Christ was the first fruits of the dead, being the first that should rise.  That means that for at least a short period of time Christ was the only person who had gained the blessing of resurrection.

Fortunately Christ paved the way for each of us to gain resurrection, as evidenced by the fact that resurrected individuals are recorded as appearing to people in Jerusalem in Matthew 27:52-53 shortly following Christ's own resurrection: "And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many."

The point here is that it is not an entirely unusual thing for Christ to lead the way in obtaining certain blessings that at least initially, or for a time, were unavailable to others.

Christ's baptism and the significance of the dove

As for the incident of Christ's baptism, Joseph Smith explained the significance of the dove, especially as it relates to the nature of the Holy Ghost:

"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 the 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" (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:260–61, in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), 78–87).

Thus it is not entirely precise to call the dove the symbol of the baptism by fire.  More accurately it might be considered a sign of the seal of the Holy Spirit of promise signifying to John that Jesus was indeed the Christ and that His baptism had been ratified in heaven.

Question #3:  I also read that the difference to John was: "John was given authority to convert people. But Jesus would be greater than John because Jesus has the authority to both convert people and to destroy the unconverted " ( with the baptism of fire)

I think that I visited the same website that you did in obtaining that phrase about Jesus destroying the unconverted.  Do not put too much stock in that phrase, as they justify it with a misinterpretation of  Matthew 10:28:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

The one to whom Christ is here referring “which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” is not Christ Himself, nor does he refer to God, rather He is referring to “Beelzebub” (or the devil) whom he references just a few verses earlier (in verse 25).  The point is that the baptism of fire is never used to destroy anyone.  Quite the opposite.  Anyone who worthily becomes baptized by the water and the spirit, by those in authority, is entitled to the cleansing and sanctifying effect of the baptism of fire.  Sanctifying and cleansing is the whole function of the baptism of fire, and its purpose is to prepare us to enter back into God’s presence.

In order to understand the difference between John’s baptism and Christ’s baptism it is necessary to view John’s baptism as being wholly preparatory to Christ’s baptism just as the Aaronic priesthood is preparatory to the Melchizedek priesthood.  The Aaronic priesthood is not a separate priesthood, anymore than John’s baptism was independent of the power and authority of Jesus Christ.  Moreover, John exercised the Aaronic priesthood (see D&C 27:7-8, D&C 84:27), and therefore he could baptize, but he lacked the authority to confer the Holy Ghost upon others.  Christ on the other hand possessed this authority because he possessed the Melchizedek priesthood (see Hebrews 7:11-24).  That website you visited is therefore correct in asserting that the main difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Christ centers mainly on authority, namely the authority to complete the ordinance of baptism by the conferring of the Holy Ghost.

Matthew 3:11  I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

Christ had the power to baptize “with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” because his power and authority was in every way superior to John’s.  In every way, Christ himself was superior to John.  John’s job was to prepare the people and make way for the coming of the son of God, and his baptism was part of that commission.  He bore testimony of the superiority of Jesus Christ in John 3:27-31:

John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.  Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.  He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease.  He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.

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