Elder Jeffrey R. Holland is known for his eloquent and moving calls to repentance aimed at motivating members of the Church to live the gospel more fully. He often includes lengthy vignettes drawn from LDS and Christian history in his talks. Elder Holland followed this approach in his October 2012 Conference talk about love and loyalty, opening with a long story freely expanding John's account (John 21:1-14) of a post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and some of his apostles, who were back in Galilee — fishing.
Elder Holland intensifies the story for dramatic effect. First, he refers to a similar episode recounted not in John but at Luke 5:1-11, which Luke places at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. He then suggests that the encounter narrated in John would have prompted the disciple-fishermen to recall the earlier event narrated by Luke. Second, he also ties the three times Jesus posed to Peter the question "Do you love me?" to the three times Peter denied knowing Jesus on the night Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem. Finally, he puts expanded dialogue into the mouth of Jesus, telling Peter something like this: Peter, if you love me, why are you here, fishing? I don't need fish; I need disciples. I need someone to feed my sheep, to preach my gospel, and to defend the faith. Leave all this. Go teach and testify.
From this story of Jesus tying Peter's professed love to Peter's momentary lapse of loyalty, Elder Holland links love to loyalty. He attributes the success of the early Church led by eleven Galilean peasants to this dynamic: love of Jesus and loyalty to the proclamation of the gospel announced by Jesus. He then bore testimony that apostolic keys are once again on the earth, held by the apostles who lead the LDS Church. He closed bearing testimony to three particular groups of people:
- to those who have retreated from full activity in the Church, "I fear you face a lot of long nights and empty nets."
- to returned missionaries who have gone inactive or left the Church, a plea to fix their faithfulness.
- to the youth of the Church, "love God and remain clean from the blood and sins of this generation."
Tradition — the content of the ongoing teaching and preaching of a church — must be based on sound scriptural exegesis. So let's look at John 21. It follows what is plainly an ending to John's gospel at John 20:30-31. John 21 is introduced with the same Greek phrase (meta tauta, after these things) that introduces Mark 16:12-20, widely acknowledged to be text added to the original ending at Mark 16:11. Holzapfel, Huntsman, and Wayment, at p. 145 of Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament (Deseret Book, 2006) call John 21 an "epilogue" and the "fourth and final section" of John's gospel.
Other scholars go further, seeing John 21 (as well as some earlier material in John) as the work of a later editor who then added a new summary ending at John 21:25. The article on John's Gospel in the Oxford Guide to the Bible (OUP, 1993; edited by Metzger and Coogan) posits a three-stage process of composition within the Johannine community: development as oral tradition, later written recording of that developed tradition, then a later editing of the written material that included the addition at John 21. What you think that last editor was trying to accomplish with those additions affects your reading of John 21. For example, both episodes recounted in John 21 seem to highlight the importance of Peter over the "beloved disciple" (generally but not always taken to be John, son of Zebedee). None of this argues against the use of John 21 for teaching and preaching, but it does need to be taken into account when basing a particular teaching on a text in John 21.
A second item for discussion is Elder Holland's linking love and loyalty. He actually spent very little time addressing this topic. It's a theme that appears earlier in John at John 14:15: "If you love me, keep my commandments." The formulation in John 21 is similar but has a different focus: "If you love me, feed my sheep." The second term, "loyalty," has many meanings and is subject to a variety of uses and a few abuses. On occasion loyalty is appealed to in order to persuade or pressure someone to do something they object to on moral or institutional grounds. So it pays to be careful exactly how the term is used. (I'm not suggesting Elder Holland misused the term, just that from time to time others might.) I look forward to reading the transcript when it is available to review Elder Holland's short discussion.
I'll wind up the post with a quote from an April 2003 Priesthood Session talk by President Hinckley entitled "Loyalty," in which he helpfully reviews some of the different ways the term is used in the Church.
I think of loyalty in terms of being true to ourselves. I think of it in terms of being absolutely faithful to our chosen companions. I think of it in terms of being absolutely loyal to the Church and its many facets of activity. I think of it in terms of being unequivocally true to the God of heaven, our Eternal Father, and His Beloved Son, our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Note: I put together a page with selected quotations from prior General Conference talks by Elder Holland.