LDS First Vision Questions





A True Believer asks questions about Joseph Smith's First Vision Story

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The Church tells us:

first-vision"A believing boy took one small step and prayed. A loving Father in Heaven listened and responded. What has resulted could rightfully be referred to as one giant leap for mankind. All the towers ever built and all the spaceships ever launched pale in comparison to Joseph Smith's first vision. Though men fly higher and higher into the heavens, they will not find God or see his face unless they humble themselves, pray, and heed the truths revealed through the Prophet of the Restoration (Joseph Smith)."

"Some have foolishly said, 'Take away Joseph Smith and his prayer in the grove and the First Vision, and we can accept your message.' Such people would have us bury the treasure of saving truths already cited, and many more, and turn our backs on the most important event that has taken place in all world history from the day of Christ's ministry to the glorious hour when the First Vision occurred."
- Elder Carlos E. Asay, "One Small Step for a Man; One Giant Leap for Mankind," Ensign, May 1990, page 62

So I have several questions about the First Vision Story:

1. Why didn't Joseph Smith write the "official" version of the First Vision?

In fact, the Joseph Smith History in the Pearl of Great Price was written by a scribe, James Mulholland, and went unpublished for years. There are earlier versions of the First Vision story in Joseph Smith's own handwriting, but they are not considered "official" and are relatively ignored by the church.

2. If the official First Vision story was so important, why did it go unpublished until 1842?

Smith supposedly had his vision in 1820. Yet it took over seven private revisions and another 22 years to have it first published.

3. If Jesus Christ and God the Father really told Joseph Smith in 1820 that all churches were an abomination, then why did he try joining the Methodist church in June of 1828?

Records show that in June of 1828, Joseph Smith applied for membership in his wife's Methodist Church. He also joined Methodist classes taught there. (The Amboy Journal, Amboy, IL, details Smith's activity in the Methodist Church in 1828. April 30, 1879 p. 1; May 21, 1879 p.1; June 11, 1879, p.1; July 2, 1879 p.1.)

4. If Joseph Smith saw God in 1820, why did he pray in his room in 1823 to find out "if a Supreme being did exist?"

In the first history of Mormonism from 1835 written under Joseph Smith's direction, it says that the night of September 1823 Joseph Smith began praying in his bed to learn "the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him." (LDS periodical Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Feb. 1835) How could that possibly make sense if Smith had already seen God face-to-face some three years earlier in 1820?

5. Why did Joseph Smith fail to mention his First Vision when he first wrote a church history in 1835?

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote and published a history of the church that supposedly covered all of the important points related to its beginnings. However, Joseph Smith records a different story than the "official" one later published in 1842. In Joseph Smith's own 1835 published history of the church, he says that his first spiritual experience was in 1823 after a religious revival in Palmyra that same year. Smith testified that he prayed while in bed to discover if God existed when he was visited by an angelic messenger (Moroni) that forgave him his sins. Elements of this narrative are similar to the later "official" version except the "official" version has different dates, locations, visitors and purposes for Smith's first spiritual experience.

6. If Joseph Smith could not deny that he saw God, then why did his own handwritten accounts deny it?

In the other First Vision accounts, including one handwritten by Joseph Smith himself, he does not say that he saw God the Father. Instead, these earlier accounts refer to an angel, a spirit, many angels, or the Son. Yet in the "official" account, it says Joseph Smith saw God and knew God knew it, and therefore despite persecution, he dared not deny or change his story.

7. If Joseph Smith's First Vision was the most important historical event since the atonement, then why didn't early church members know about it?

The early church all but ignored this "one giant leap for mankind:"

"As far as Mormon literature is concerned, there was apparently no reference to Joseph Smith's first vision in any published material in the 1830's. Joseph Smith's history, which was begun in 1838, was not published until it ran serially in the Times and Seasons in 1842. The famous "Wentworth Letter," which contained a much less detailed account of the vision, appeared March 1, 1842, in the same periodical. Introductory material to the Book of Mormon, as well as publicity about it, told of Joseph Smith's obtaining the gold plates and of angelic visitations, but nothing was printed that remotely suggested earlier visitations."

"In 1833 the Church published the Book of Commandments, forerunner to the present Doctrine and Covenants, and again no reference was made to Joseph's first vision, although several references were made to the Book of Mormon and the circumstances of its origin."

"The first regular periodical to be published by the Church was The Evening and Morning Star, but its pages reveal no effort to tell the story of the first vision to its readers. Nor do the pages of the Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate, printed in Kirtland, Ohio, from October, 1834, to September, 1836. In this newspaper Oliver Cowdery, who was second only to Joseph Smith in the early organization of the Church, published a series of letters dealing with the origin of the Church. These letters were written with the approval of Joseph Smith, but they contained no mention of any vision prior to those connected with the Book of Mormon."

"In 1835 the Doctrine and Covenants was printed at Kirtland, Ohio, and its preface declared that it contained "the leading items of religion which we have professed to believe." Included in the book were the "Lectures on Faith," a series of seven lectures which had been prepared for the School of the Prophets in Kirtland in 1834-35. It is interesting to note that, in demonstrating the doctrine that the Godhead consists of two separate personages, no mention was made of Joseph Smith having seen them, nor was any reference made to the first vision in any part of the publication."

"The first important missionary pamphlet of the Church was the Voice of Warning, published in 1837 by Parley P. Pratt. The book contains long sections on items important to missionaries of the 1830's, such as fulfillment of prophecy, the Book of Mormon, external evidence of the book's authenticity, the resurrection, and the nature of revelation, but nothing, again, on the first vision."

"The Times and Seasons began publication in 1839, but, as indicated above, the story of the vision was not told in its pages until 1842. From all this it would appear that the general church membership did not receive information about the first vision until the 1840's and that the story certainly did not hold the prominent place in Mormon thought that it does today."
- Dialogue, Vol.1, No.3, p.31 - p.32

8. If it really happened, why couldn't Joseph Smith tell a consistent story about such a powerful experience as meeting with God and Jesus Christ face-to-face?

How many people forget where they were when their first child was born? Or when they got their patriarchal blessing? Or their wedding night? How many forget who they were with and what happened? If we can remember details such as year, circumstance and those involved, why couldn't Joseph Smith consistently recall basic facts about his incredible First Vision?

christian-vision9. Why does the "official" First Vision story contradict Joseph Smith's own handwritten testimony?

In Joseph Smith's first handwritten testimony of the first vision in 1832, he says he already knew all other churches were false before he prayed. Smith testified: "by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Yet in the "official" story written years later by a scribe, it has Joseph Smith saying: "I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I should join."

In fact, looking at all the versions of the first vision story, you see a pattern of contradictions and evolution, not a pattern of mere elaboration on a single original experience.

10. If Joseph Smith saw God the Father in the flesh with with a body in 1820, why did he teach later than God the Father did not have a physical body?

Up until the last version of the "First Vision" story, Joseph Smith taught that God the Father did not have a body.

For example, in 1835 Joseph Smith taught a class of Elders the "Lectures on Faith" which were also printed in the scripture volume Doctrine and Covenants. In this original Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith stated that God the Father was a personage of spirit. In Section 5 we find this statement about the Godhead:

Joseph Smith First Vision"The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man."
- Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 Edition, p. 53

The Prophet Joseph Smith himself signed a statement which was printed in the Preface to this 1835 Edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. In this statement he testified:

"The first part of the book will be found to contain a series of Lectures as delivered before a Theological class in this place, and in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation, we have arranged them into the following work."

President Joseph Fielding Smith also explained that the Prophet Joseph Smith helped prepare this part of scripture:

"Now the Prophet did know about these Lectures on Faith, because he helped to prepare them, and he helped also to revise these lectures before they were published [in the Doctrine and Covenants]."
- Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, page 195

Actually, these teachings were considered complete with regard to their doctrine concerning the Godhead at the time they were given.

On page 58 of the 1835 Edition of the Doctrine and Covenants the following question and answer appear:

"Q. Does the foregoing account of the Godhead lay a sure foundation for the exercise of faith in him unto life and salvation?"

"A. It does."

11. Why did Joseph Smith's mother, in the extensive history of her son's life, not mention Joseph ever having a vision from God and Jesus Christ, or that he was persecuted for it?

According to the "official" story, Joseph Smith told his mother his first vision story. Although Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of Joseph Smith Jr., wrote a lot of details about her son during the early 1820s, in her history of Joseph's life she did not mention him ever having a visitation from God and Jesus Christ. Nor does she mention any persecution.

You would think that Lucy would mention such an astounding event in her son's life. This was a bigger event than a big foot sighting; this was a visit from God and Jesus Christ! But apparently despite Joseph telling his mother, it was not significant enough for her to mention it in the extensive biography she wrote about her son.

The only element of the first vision story that Lucy mentions is religious revivals around Palmyra, yet she dates them to 1823, not 1820. Historical records of the time corroborate Lucky Mack Smith's dating of revivals in 1823 and none in Palmyra during 1820. See:

smith-first-visionLet's not forget what recent church leaders have said about the importance of the First Vision:

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