First Vision

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For the Mariah Carey DVD, see The First Vision.
Stained glass depiction of the first vision of Joseph Smith, completed in 1913 by an unknown artist (Museum of Church History and Art).

The First Vision (also called the grove experience) refers to a vision that Joseph Smith said he received in the spring of 1820, in a wooded area in Manchester, New York, which his followers call the Sacred Grove. Smith described it as a personal theophany in which he received instruction from God. Smith's followers believe the vision reinforces his authority as the founder and prophet of the Latter Day Saint movement.

According to the account Smith told in 1838, he went to the woods to pray about which church to join but fell into the grip of an evil power that nearly overcame him. At the last moment, he was rescued by two shining "personages" (implied to be Jesus and God the Father) who hovered above him. One of the beings told Smith not to join any existing churches because all taught incorrect doctrines.

Smith wrote several accounts of the vision beginning in 1832, but none of the accounts was published until the 1840s. Though Smith had described other visions, the First Vision was essentially unknown to early Latter Day Saints; Smith's experience did not become important in the Latter Day Saint movement until the early-20th century, when it became the embodiment of the Latter Day Saint restoration.[1] The First Vision also corroborated distinctive Mormon doctrines such as the bodily nature of God the Father and the uniqueness of Mormonism as the only true path to salvation.[2]

Story of the vision[edit]

Smith wrote or dictated several versions of his vision story, and told the story to others who later published what they remember hearing. Taken together, these accounts set forth the following details:

Joseph Smith said that his first vision occurred in a grove of trees near his home.

Smith said that when he was about twelve (c. 1817–18), he became interested in religion and distressed about his sins.[3] He studied the Bible and attended church, but the accounts differ as to whether he determined on his own that there was no existing religion built upon the true teachings of Jesus[4] or whether the idea that all churches were false had not "entered his heart" until he experienced the vision.[5] During this period of religious concern, he determined to turn to God in prayer. An early account says the purpose of this prayer was to ask God for mercy for his sins[4] while later accounts emphasize his desire to know which church he should join.[6] Therefore, as his mother had done years before when concerned about an important religious question,[7] Smith said he went one spring morning to a secluded grove near his home to pray.[8] He said he went to a stump in a clearing where he had left his axe the day before[9] and began to offer his first audible prayer.[10]

He said his prayer was interrupted by a "being from the unseen world".[11] Smith said the being caused his tongue to swell in his mouth so that he could not speak.[12] One account said he heard a noise behind him like someone walking towards him[13] and then, when he tried to pray again, the noise grew louder, causing him to spring to his feet and look around, but he saw no one.[13] In some of the accounts, he described being covered with a thick darkness and thinking that he would be destroyed.[14] At his darkest moment, he knelt a third time to pray [13] and, as he summoned all his power to pray, he felt ready to sink into oblivion.[14] At that moment, he said his tongue was loosed and he saw a vision.[15]

Smith said he saw a pillar of light brighter than the noonday sun that slowly descended on him,[16] growing in brightness as it descended and lighting the entire area for some distance.[17] As the light reached the tree tops, Smith feared the trees might catch fire.[18] But when it reached the ground and enveloped him, it produced a "peculiar sensation."[19] "[H]is mind was caught away from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision."[20]

While experiencing the vision, he said he saw one or more "personages", described differently in Smith's accounts. In one, Smith said he "saw the Lord."[21] In diary entries, he said he saw a "visitation of Angels"[22] or a "vision of angels" that included "a personage," and then "another personage" who testified that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God," as well as "many angels".[23] In later accounts, Smith consistently said that he had seen two personages who appeared one after the other.[24] These personages "exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness."[25] The first personage had "light complexion, blue eyes, a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders, his right arm bare."[26] In later accounts, one of the personages called Smith by name "and said, (pointing to the other), 'This is my beloved Son, hear him.'"[14] Although Smith left their identity inexplicit, most Latter Day Saints infer that these personages were God the Father and Jesus.[27]

In two accounts, Smith said that the Lord told him his sins were forgiven, that he should obey the commandments, that the world was corrupt, and that the Second Coming was approaching.[28] Later accounts say that when the personages appeared, Smith asked them "O Lord, what church shall I join?"[9] or "Must I join the Methodist Church?"[26] In answer, he was told that "all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom."[29] All churches and their professors were "corrupt",[30] and "all their creeds were an abomination in his sight."[14] Smith was told not to join any of the churches, but that the "fulness of the gospel" would be made known to him at a later time.[31] After the vision withdrew, Smith said he "came to myself" and found himself sprawled on his back.[30]

Context and development of the vision story[edit]

Background[edit]

Smith was born on December 23, 1805, in Vermont, and around 1816 or 1817, his family moved to a farm just outside the town of Palmyra.[32] Like many other Americans living on the frontier at the beginning of the 19th century, Smith and his family believed in visions, dreams, and other mystical communications with God.[33] For example, in 1811, Smith maternal grandfather, Solomon Mack, described a series of visions and voices from God that resulted in his conversion to Christianity at the age of seventy-six.[34]

George Edward Anderson's photograph of the Smith Family Farm in Manchester, New York, c. 1907. (LDS Archives)

Before Smith was born, his mother Lucy Mack Smith went to a grove near her home in Vermont and prayed about her husband Joseph Smith, Sr.'s repudiation of evangelical religion.[7] That night she said she had a dream which she interpreted as a prophecy that Joseph, Sr., would later accept the "pure and undefiled Gospel of the Son of God."[35] She also stated that Smith, Sr. had a number of dreams or visions between 1811 and 1819,[36] the first vision occurring when his mind was "much excited upon the subject of religion."[37] Joseph Sr.'s first vision confirmed to him the correctness of his refusal to join any organized religious group.[38]

The Smith family was also exposed to the intense revivalism of this era. During the Second Great Awakening, numerous revivals occurred in many communities in the northeastern United States and were often reported in the Palmyra Register, a local paper read by the Smith family.[39] In the Palmyra area itself, large multi-denominational revivals occurred in 1816–17 and 1824–25.[40] In the intervening years, there were Methodist revivals, at least within twenty road miles of Palmyra; and more than sixty years later a newspaper editor in Lyons, New York, recalled "various religious awakenings in the neighborhood."[41]

The Smith family also practiced a form of folk magic,[42] which, although not uncommon in this time and place, was criticized by many contemporary Protestants "as either fraudulent illusion or the workings of the Devil."[43] Both Joseph Smith, Sr. and at least two of his sons worked at "money digging," using seer stones in mostly unsuccessful attempts to locate lost items and buried treasure.[44] In a draft of her memoirs, Lucy Mack Smith referred to folk magic:

I shall change my theme for the present, but let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles or soothsaying, to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of and the welfare of our souls.[45]

D. Michael Quinn has written that Lucy Mack Smith viewed these magical practices as "part of her family's religious quest" while denying that they prevented "family members from accomplishing other, equally important work."[46] Quinn also notes that the Smith family "participated in a wide range of magic practices, and Smith's first vision occurred within the context of his family's treasure quest."[47][48] Jan Shipps notes that while Smith's "religious claims were rejected by many of the persons who had known him in the 1820s because they remembered him as a practitioner of the magic arts," others of his earliest followers were attracted to his claims "for precisely the same reason."[49]

Richard Bushman has called the spiritual tradition of the Smith family "a religious melee." Joseph Smith, Sr., insisted on morning and evening prayers, but he was spiritually adrift. "If there was a personal motive for Joseph Smith Jr.'s revelations, it was to satisfy his family's religious want and, above all, to meet the need of his oft-defeated, unmoored father."[50]

Lucy Mack Smith had been baptized by the Presbetyrian Church sometime before February 1822, but did not at that time become a formal member of that church.[51]

Dating the First Vision[edit]

Photograph of the Sacred Grove by George Edward Anderson, circa 1907

Smith said that his First Vision occurred in the early 1820s, when he was in his early teens[52] but his accounts mention different dates within that period. In 1832, Smith wrote that the vision had occurred "in the 16th year of [his] age" (about 1821), after he became concerned about religious matters beginning in his "twelfth year" (about 1817).[53] In a later account, Smith said the vision took place "early in the spring of 1820" after an "unusual excitement on the subject of religion" ending during his 15th year (1820).[54]

Richard Bushman wrote that Smith "began to be concerned about religion in late 1817 or early 1818, when the aftereffects of the revival of 1816 and 1817 were still being felt."[55] Milton V. Backman wrote that religious outbreaks occurred in 1819–20 within a fifty-mile radius of Smith's home: "Church records, newspapers, religious journals, and other contemporary sources clearly reveal that great awakenings occurred in more than fifty western New York towns or villages during the revival of 1819–1820 .... Primary sources also specify that great multitudes joined the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Calvinist Baptist societies in the region of country where Joseph Smith lived."[56] Richard Lloyd Anderson has pointed out there was a Methodist Camp Meeting in Palmyra in 1818, with about 400 in attendance, that is verified by a contemporary journal. This agrees with the three-year time frame of his pondering on religion mentioned in Smith's 1832 account.[57] Backman cited evidence of a Methodist Camp Meeting in Palmayra in June 1820.[58]

In the version of the First Vision (first published in 1842) that has been canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), his family's decision to join the Presbyterian Church occurs prior to his First Vision.[59] However, Lucy Mack Smith said that she and some of her children sought comfort in the church after the death of her oldest son, Alvin, in November 1823, which, if her memory was correct, would place the date of the first vision no earlier than 1824.[60] In 1845, Lucy recalled that she tried to persuade her "husband to join with them as I wished to do so myself."[61] Her three oldest children Hyrum, Samuel, and Sophronia also joined the Presbyterian church, but "the two Josephs resisted her enthusiasm."[62] D. Michael Quinn says that Smith's account is a conflation of events over several years, a typical biographical device for streamlining the narrative.[63]

Local moves of the Smith family have also been used in attempts to identify the date of the vision. In the canonized version, Smith wrote that the First Vision occurred in "the second year after our removal to Manchester."[52] The evidence for the date of this move has been interpreted by believers as supporting 1820 and by non-believers as supporting 1824.[64]

The LDS Church has canonized the 1842 account in which Smith said that this vision occurred "early in the spring of 1820."[52] Two LDS scholars, researching weather reports and maple sugar production records, argue that the most likely exact date for the First Vision was Sunday, March 26, 1820.[65]

Recorded accounts of the vision[edit]

The importance of the First Vision within the Latter Day Saint movement evolved over time. There is little evidence that Smith discussed the First Vision publicly prior to 1830.[66] Mormon historian James B. Allen notes that:

The fact that none of the available contemporary writings about Joseph Smith in the 1830s, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no contemporary journal or correspondence yet discovered mentions the story of the first vision is convincing evidence that at best it received only limited circulation in those early days.[67]

Discussions in the 1820s[edit]

In the late 1810s or early 1820s, Smith was enrolled in a Methodist probationary class. An associate called him a "very passable exhorter,"[68] although some people considered his interpretations of scripture "persistent blasphemies."[69] Smith reportedly withdrew from the probationary class, announcing a belief that "all sectarianism was fallacious, and the churches on a false foundation."[69] According to one recollection, Smith "arose and announced that his mission was to restore the true priesthood. He appointed a number of meetings, but no one seemed inclined to follow him as the leader of a new religion."[70] Eventually, he refused to attend any religious services, telling his Mother, "I can take my Bible, and go into the woods, and learn more in two hours, than you can learn at meeting in two years, if you should go all the time."[71]

1830s reference to early Christian regeneration[edit]

In June 1830, Smith provided the first clear record of a significant personal religious experience prior to the visit of the angel Moroni.[72] At that time, Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery were establishing the Church of Christ, the first Latter Day Saint church. In the "Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ," Smith recounted his early history, noting

"For, after that it truly was manifested unto [Smith] that he had received remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world, but after truly repenting, God visited him by an holy angel ... and gave unto him power, by the means which was before prepared that he should translate a book."[73]

No further explanation of this "manifestation" is provided. Although the reference was later linked to the First Vision,[74] its original hearers could have understood the manifestation as simply another of many revival experiences in which the subject testified that his sins had been forgiven.[75] On the other hand, when in October 1830, non-Mormon critic and author Peter Bauder interviewed Smith for a book, Bauder was writing about false religions, Smith apparently declined to share his experience. Bauder thus stated that Smith was unable to recount a "Christian experience."[76]

1832 Smith account[edit]

The earliest extant account of the First Vision was handwritten by Smith in 1832, but it was not published until 1965.[77]

[T]he Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in <the> attitude of calling upon the Lord <in the 16th year of my age> a pillar of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the <Lord> opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph <my son> thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy <way> walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life <behold> the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned aside from the gospel and keep not <my> commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them according to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which <hath> been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud <clothed> in the glory of my Father ...."[78]

Unlike Smith's later accounts of the vision, the 1832 account emphasizes personal forgiveness and mentions neither an appearance of God the Father nor the phrase "This is my beloved Son, hear him." In the 1832 account, Smith also stated that before he experienced the First Vision, his own searching of the scriptures had led him to the conclusion that mankind had "apostatized from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament."[79]

1834 Cowdery account[edit]

In several issues of the Mormon periodical Messenger and Advocate (1834–35),[80] Oliver Cowdery wrote an early biography of Smith. In one issue, Cowdery explained that Smith was confused by the different religions and local revivals during his "15th year" (1820), leading him to wonder which church was true. In the next issue of the biography, Cowdery explained that reference to Smith's "15th year" was a typographical error, and that actually the revivals and religious confusion took place in Smith's "17th year."

Therefore, according to Cowdery, the religious confusion led Smith to pray in his bedroom, late on the night of September 23, 1823, after the others had gone to sleep, to know which of the competing denominations was correct and whether "a Supreme being did exist." In response, an angel appeared and granted him forgiveness of his sins. The remainder of the story roughly parallels Smith's later description of a visit by an angel in 1823 who told him about the golden plates. Thus, Cowdery's account, containing a single vision, differs from Smith's 1832 account, which contains two separate visions, one in 1821 prompted by religious confusion (the First Vision) and a separate one regarding the plates on September 22, 1822. Cowdery's account also differs from Smith's 1842 account, which includes a First Vision in 1820 and a second vision on September 22, 1823.

1835 Smith accounts[edit]

On November 9, 1835, Smith dictated an account of the First Vision in his diary after telling it to a stranger[81] who had visited his home earlier that day.[82] Smith said that when perplexed about religions matters, he had gone to a grove to pray[83] but that his tongue seemed swollen in his mouth and that he had been interrupted twice by the sound of someone walking behind him.[84] Finally, as he prayed, he said his tongue was loosed, and he saw a pillar of fire in which an unidentified "personage" appeared.[85] Then another unidentified personage told Smith his sins were forgiven and "testified unto [Smith] that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."[85] An interlineation in the text notes, "and I saw many angels in this vision."[85] Smith said this vision occurred when he was 14 years old and that when he was 17, he "saw another vision of angels in the night season after I had retired to bed" (referring to the later visit of the angel Moroni who showed him the location of the golden plates).[85] Smith identified none of these personages or angels with "the Lord" as he had in 1832.[86]

A few days later, on November 14, 1835, Smith told the story to another visitor, Erastus Holmes.[87] In his journal, Smith said that he had recited his life story "up to the time I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old."[88]

1838 Smith account[edit]

Depiction of the First Vision in the LDS Conference Center, Salt Lake City, Utah

In 1838, Smith began dictating the early history of what later became known as the Latter Day Saint movement.[89] This history included a new account of the First Vision, later published in three issues of Times and Seasons.[90] This version was later incorporated into the Pearl of Great Price, which was canonized by the LDS Church in 1880 as Joseph Smith–History. Thus, it is often called the "canonized version" of the First Vision story.

This canonized version differs from the 1840 version because the canonized version includes the proclamation, "This is My Beloved Son, hear Him" from one of the personages, whereas the 1840 version does not. The canonized version says that in the spring of 1820, during a period of "confusion and strife among the different denominations" following an "unusual excitement on the subject of religion", Smith had debated which of the various Christian groups he should join. While in turmoil, he read from the Bible: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."[91]

One morning, deeply impressed by this scripture, the fourteen-year-old Smith went to a grove of trees behind the family farm, knelt, and began his first vocal prayer. Almost immediately he was confronted by an evil power that prevented speech. A darkness gathered around him, and Smith believed that he would be destroyed. He continued the prayer silently, asking for God's assistance though still resigned to destruction. At this moment a light brighter than the sun descended towards him, and he was delivered from the evil power.

In the light, Smith "saw two personages standing in the air". One pointed to the other and said, "This is My Beloved Son, hear Him." Smith asked which religious sect he should join and was told to join none of them because all existing religions had corrupted the teachings of Jesus Christ.[92]

In his 1838 account, Smith wrote that he made an oblique reference to the vision to his mother in 1820, telling her the day it happened that he had "learned for [him]self that Presbyterianism is not true."[93] Lucy did not mention this conversation in her memoirs.[94][95]

Smith wrote he "could find none that would believe" his experience.[96] He said that shortly after the experience, he told the story of his revelation to a Methodist minister[97] who responded "with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there was no such thing as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there never would be any more of them."[98] He also said that the telling of his vision story "excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase."[99] There is no extant evidence from the 1830s for this persecution beyond Smith's own testimony.[100] None of the earliest anti-Mormon literature mentioned the First Vision.[101] Smith also said he told others about the vision during the 1820s, and some family members said that they had heard him mention it, but none prior to 1823, when Smith said he had his second vision.[102]

1840 Pratt account[edit]

In September 1840, Orson Pratt published a version of the First Vision in England.[103] This version states that after Smith saw the light, "his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision."[19] Pratt's account referred to "two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness".[19]

1842 Wentworth Letter[edit]

In 1842, two years before his death, Smith wrote to John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, outlining the basic beliefs of his churc0h and including an account of the First Vision.[104] Smith said that he had been "about fourteen years of age" when he had received the First Vision.[105] Like the Pratt account, Smith's Wentworth letter said that his "mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision."[105] and had seen "two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day."[106] Smith said he was told that no religious denomination "was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom" and that he was "expressly commanded to 'go not after them.'"[106]

Smith's accounts found in later reminiscences[edit]

Late in his life, Smith's brother William gave two accounts of the First Vision, dating it to 1823,[107] when William was twelve years old. William said the religious excitement in Palmyra had occurred in 1822–23 (rather than the actual date of 1824–25);[108] that it was stimulated by the preaching of a Methodist, the Rev. George Lane, a "great revival preacher"; and that his mother and some of his siblings had then joined the Presbyterian church.[109]

William Smith said he based his account on what Joseph had told William and the rest of his family the day after the First Vision:[110]

[A] light appeared in the heavens, and descended until it rested upon the trees where he was. It appeared like fire. But to his great astonishment, did not burn the trees. An angel then appeared to him and conversed with him upon many things. He told him that none of the sects were right; but that if he was faithful in keeping the commandments he should receive, the true way should be made known to him; that his sins were forgiven, etc.[110]

In an 1884 account, William also stated that when Joseph first saw the light above the trees in the grove, he fell unconscious for an undetermined amount of time, after which he awoke and heard "the personage whom he saw" speak to him.[111]

Differences in written accounts[edit]

In the first written accounts of the First Vision, the central theme is personal forgiveness, while in later accounts the focus shifts to the apostasy and corruption of churches.[112] In early accounts, Smith seems reluctant to talk about the vision; in later versions, various details are mentioned that were not mentioned in the earliest narratives.[113]

Jerald and Sandra Tanner cite the multiple versions of the First Vision as evidence that it may have been fabricated by Smith.[114] For instance, they have specifically pointed out that it is unclear between various versions whether Smith was 14 or 15 at the time of the vision; whether he attended a contemporaneous religious revival; whether the supernatural personages told Smith that his sins were forgiven; whether the personages were angels, Jesus, God, or some combination; and whether Smith had already determined for himself that all churches were false before he experienced the vision. However, Stephen Prothero argues that any historian should expect to find differences in narratives written many years apart, and that the key elements are present in all the accounts.[115]

Some believers view differences in the accounts as overstated. Richard L. Anderson wrote, "What are the main problems of interpreting so many accounts? The first problem is the interpreter. One person perceives harmony and interconnections while another overstates differences."[116] Other believers view the differences in the accounts as reflective of Smith's increase in maturity and knowledge over time.[117]

The following table gives a summary of differences in First Vision accounts:

Source of First Vision Supernatural beings Messages from beings Notes
1832 Joseph Smith's own handwriting from his Letterbook The Papers of Joseph Smith, v1, p. 5-7, Dean Jessee (ed.), Deseret Book Company 1989.[118] And Early Mormon Documents, v 1, p. 27-29, Dan Vogel, Signature Books, 1996. "The Lord" "Thy sins are forgiven thee"; the "world lieth in sin" and has "turned aside from the gospel"; and a brief apocalyptic note.[119] Frederick G. Williams edited Joseph's account to take place in his "16th year" (i.e. when he is 15 years old). All other accounts state his age as 14.
1835, Nov. 9, 14 - Joseph Smith diary (Ohio Journal, handwritten, Warren Parrish scribe) The Papers of Joseph Smith, Dean Jessee (ed.), v2, p68-69. Deseret Book Company 1989.[118] Two personages, and "many angels" "Thy sins are fogiven thee" and Jesus is the "son of God" No message of revivals or corrupt churches.
1838/1839 - History of the Church, Early Draft (James Mulholland Scribe) Two personages appear, and one says "This is my beloved Son, hear him". The personages tell Smith that all churches are corrupt. No mention of "sins forgiven". A revival is mentioned.
1842, March - Times and Seasons March 1, 1842, vol. 3 no. 9, pp 706–07. Two personages appear, and one says "This is my beloved Son, hear him". The personages tell Smith that all churches are corrupt. No mention of "sins forgiven". A revival is mentioned.
1842, March - Times and Seasons March 15, 1842, vol. 3 no. 11, pp. 727–28, April 1, 1842, vol. 3, no. 11, pp. 748–49. This version was later incorporated into History of the Church, and later into the Pearl of Great Price as Joseph Smith–History and thus is sometimes referred to as the "canonized version". Two personages appear, and one says "This is my beloved Son, hear him". The personages tell Smith that all churches are corrupt. No mention of "sins forgiven". A revival is mentioned. When this version was incorporated into the History of the Church, it was put into a context that suggests it was composed in 1838, but 1842 is the first known publication of this version.
1843, July - Letter from JS to D. Rupp An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States, Daniel Rupp, Philadelphia, 1844. pp. 404–10. Two personages appear. No mention of "this is my son". The personages tell Smith that all churches are corrupt. No mention of "sins forgiven". No revival mentioned. Available online here. See also the Wentworth letter.
1843, Aug 29 - Interview with journalist David White Reprinted in Jessee vol. 1 pp. 443–44.[118] Two personages appear. "Behold my beloved son, hear him". The personages tell Smith that all churches are corrupt. Revival is mentioned. No mention of "sins forgiven".

Accounts of others:

Source of First Vision Supernatural beings Messages from beings Notes
1840, September - Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions , Orson Pratt, Ballantyne and Huges publ, 1840 (reprinted in Jessee, vol. 1 pp. 149–60).[118] Two "glorious personages, who exactly resembed each other in their features". "his sins were forgiven". The personages tell Smith that all churches are corrupt. This is the first published version. No mention of revival. Online here.
1841, June - A Cry from the Wilderness , Orson Hyde, published in German, Frankfurt, 1842 (reprinted in Jessee, vol. 1 pp. 405–09).[118] Two "glorious personages" who resembed "each other in their features". No specific message. No mention of "sins forgiven" or revival. Smith determines for himself that all churches are corrupt.
1844, May 24 - as told to Alexander Neibaur Alexander Neibaur Journal, reprinted in Jessee, vol. 1, pp. 459–61.[118] Two personages appear. One has a "light complexion" and "blue eyes". "This is my beloved son harken ye him". Methodist churches are wrong. All churches are corrupt. Revival is mentioned. No mention of "sins forgiven".

Interpretations and responses to the vision[edit]

Among contemporary denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement, the First Vision is typically viewed as a significant (often the most significant) event in the latter day restoration of the Church of Christ. However, the faiths differ in their teachings about the vision's precise meaning and details. Secular scholars and non-Mormons view the vision as a lie, false memory, delusion, or hallucination, or some combination of these.

Early awareness by Latter Day Saints[edit]

The importance of the First Vision within the Latter Day Saint movement evolved over time. Early adherents were unaware of the details of the vision until 1840, when the earliest accounts were published in Great Britain. An account of the First Vision was not published in the United States until 1842, shortly before Smith's death. Jan Shipps has written that the vision was "practically unknown" until an account of it was published in 1842.[120] As the LDS historian Richard Bushman has written in his biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, "At first, Joseph was reluctant to talk about his vision. Most early converts probably never heard about the 1820 vision."[121]

Interpretation and use by the LDS Church[edit]

The canonical First Vision story was not emphasized in the sermons of Smith's immediate successors Brigham Young and John Taylor within the LDS Church. Hugh Nibley noted that although a "favorite theme of Brigham Young's was the tangible, personal nature of God," he "never illustrates [the theme] by any mention of the first vision."[122] This is not to say that Young did not teach about the First Vision, since he clearly did on multiple occasions.[123]

Taylor gave a complete account of the First Vision story in an 1850 letter written as he began missionary work in France,[124] and he may have alluded to it in a discourse given in 1859.[125] Throughout the late 1870s and 1880s, Taylor made numerous, explicit references to the First Vision in his sermons, books and letters.[126] These included his 1886 letter to his family, one of his last major theological pronouncements in which he stated "God revealed Himself, as also the Lord Jesus Christ, unto his servant the Prophet Joseph Smith"[127]

Three non-Mormon students of Mormonism, Douglas Davies, Kurt Widmer, and Jan Shipps, agree that the LDS Church's emphasis on the First Vision was a "'late development', only gaining an influential status in LDS self-reflection late in the nineteenth century." [128] The first important visual representation of the First Vision was painted by the Danish convert C. C. A. Christensen sometime between 1869 and 1878; George Manwaring, inspired by the artist, wrote a hymn about the First Vision ("Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning", later renamed "Joseph Smith's First Prayer"), first published in 1884.[129]

Widner states that it was primarily through "the post 1883 sermons of LDS Apostle George Q. Cannon that the modern interpretation and significance of the First Vision in Mormonism began to take shape."[130] As the sympathetic but non-Mormon historian Jan Shipps has written, "When the first generation of leadership died off, leaving the community to be guided mainly by men who had not known Joseph, the First Vision emerged as a symbol that could keep the slain Mormon leader at center stage."[131] The centennial anniversary of the vision in 1920 "was a far cry from the almost total lack of reference to it just fifty years before."[132] By 1939, even George D. Pyper, the LDS Church's Sunday School superintendent and manager of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, found it "surprising that none of the first song writers wrote intimately of the first vision."[133]

LDS President Joseph F. Smith in the Sacred Grove in 1905, helping to establish the First Vision as a defining element of LDS Church theology.

LDS Church president Joseph F. Smith is credited with having fully raised the First Vision to its modern status as a pillar of Mormon theology. Largely through Joseph F. Smith's influence, Smith's 1838 account of the First Vision became part of the canon of the LDS Church in 1880 when the faith canonized Smith's early history as part of the Pearl of Great Price.[134] After plural marriage ended at the turn of the 20th century, the First Vision was promoted heavily by Joseph F. Smith, and it soon replaced polygamy in the minds of adherents as the main defining element of Mormonism and the source of the faith's perception of persecution by outsiders.[135] As a result, belief in the First Vision is now considered fundamental to the faith, second in importance only to belief in the divinity of Jesus.[136] An official website of the LDS Church calls the First Vision "the greatest event in world history since the birth, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus Christ."[137]

In 1998, church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared,

Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision. It was the parting of the curtain to open this, the dispensation of the fullness of times. Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration. I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and His Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true. This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life.[138]

In 1961, Hinckley had gone further: "Either Joseph Smith talked with the Father and the Son or he did not. If he did not, we are engaged in a blasphemy."[139] Likewise, in a January 2007 interview conducted for the PBS documentary The Mormons, Hinckley said of the First Vision, "it's either true or false. If it's false, we're engaged in a great fraud. If it's true, it's the most important thing in the world .... That's our claim. That's where we stand, and that's where we fall, if we fall. But we don't. We just stand secure in that faith."[140]

According to the LDS Church, the vision teaches that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate beings with glorified bodies of flesh and bone; that mankind was literally created in the image of God; that Satan is real but God infinitely greater; that God hears and answers prayer; that no other contemporary church had the fullness of Christ's gospel; and that revelation has not ceased.[citation needed] In the 21st century, the vision features prominently in the LDS Church's program of proselytism.[141]

Perspectives within the Community of Christ[edit]

William Smith, a younger brother of Smith, and a key figure in the early Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church, renamed Community of Christ in 2001) gave several accounts of the First Vision, although in 1883 he stated that a "more elaborate and accurate description of his vision" was to be found in Smith's own history[142]

The RLDS Church did not emphasize the First Vision during the 19th century.[143] In the early-20th century, there was a revival of interest, and during most of the century, the First Vision was viewed as an essential element of the Restoration. In many cases, it was taught as the foundation and even the embodiment of the Restoration.[144] The vision was also interpreted as a justification for the exclusive authority of the RLDS Church as the Church of Christ.[145]

In the mid- to late-20th century, writers within the RLDS Church emphasized the First Vision as an illustration of the centrality of Jesus.[146] The church began taking a broader view of the vision, and used it as an example of how God evolves the church over time through revelation and restoration.[147] There was less emphasis on the Great Apostasy and a growing belief that the First Vision itself was not necessarily identical with Smith's later reconstructions and interpretations of the vision, what one RLDS Church Historian has called "genuine historical sophistication."[148] In 1980, this Church Historian noted that he had "systematically brought to the attention" of hundreds of church members "the substantive differences in half a dozen accounts of the First Vision" and expressed his satisfaction that RLDS scholars, "deeply moved and augmented by the presence of the wondrously diverse and conflicting accounts of the First Vision," could "begin the exciting work of developing a mythology of Latter Day Saint beginnings."[149]

Today, the Community of Christ generally refers to the First Vision as the "grove experience" and takes a flexible view about its historicity,[150] emphasizing "the healing presence of God and the forgiving mercy of Christ" felt by Joseph Smith.[151]

View of The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite)[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), a Rigdonite branch with 15,000 members headquartered in Pennsylvania, has had an independent history since the 1844 succession crisis. The church refers to the vision obliquely in a lengthy excerpt from Smith's 1842 account included in its official literature, in which the date "1820" and "a personage" (singular, not plural) are mentioned in paraphrases.[152]

Church of Christ (Temple Lot)[edit]

The Church of Christ (Temple Lot), a branch with 7000 adherents, rejects many of Smith's post-1832 revelations.[153] Nevertheless, the church uses several elements of the 1842 account of the First Vision, including Smith's desire to know which church he should join, his reading of James 1:5, his prayer in the grove, the appearance of God the Father and Jesus Christ, the statement by Jesus that all existing churches were corrupt, and the instruction that Smith should join none of them.[154]

Criticism and response[edit]

Writing of the "unusual excitement on the subject of religion" described in the First Vision story canonized by the LDS Church, Milton V. Backman said that although "the tools of the historian" could neither verify nor challenge the First Vision, "records of the past can be examined to determine the reliability of Joseph's description regarding the historical setting."[155] Grant Palmer and others claim that there are serious discrepancies between the various accounts, as well as anachronisms revealed by lack of contemporary corroboration.[156]

Leaders of the LDS Church have acknowledged that the First Vision as well as the Book of Mormon and Smith himself constitute "stumbling blocks for many." Apostle Neal A. Maxwell wrote:

In our own time, Joseph Smith, the First Vision, and the Book of Mormon constitute stumbling blocks for many—around which they cannot get—unless they are meek enough to examine all the evidence at hand, not being exclusionary as a result of accumulated attitudes in a secular society. Humbleness of mind is the initiator of expansiveness of mind.[157]

In a 2007 PBS documentary, Richard Mouw, an evangelical theologian and student of Mormonism, summarized his feelings about the First Vision:

My instinct is to attribute a sincerity to Joseph Smith. And yet at the same time, as an evangelical Christian, I do not believe that the members of the godhead really appeared to him and told him that he should start on a mission of, among other things, denouncing the kinds of things that I believe as a Presbyterian. I can't believe that. And yet at the same time, I really don't believe that he was simply making up a story that he knew to be false in order to manipulate people and to gain power over a religious movement. And so I live with the mystery.[158]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ (Flake 2003, p. 84) ("The First Vision changed the arena of confrontation over differences from social action to theological belief, a necessity created not only by the experience of persecution but also by Supreme Court law .... New emphasis on the First Vision successfully reframed the Latter-day Saints' necessary sense of otherness so that it fit safely within the politics of American religion. Unlike his teachings on plural marriage, Joseph Smith's First Vision placed his followers at odds only with other churches, not the state, and shifted the battle from issues of public morality to theological tenets.")
  2. ^ "Lesson 3: 'I Had Seen a Vision'", Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual, LDS Church, 1999, p. 11 ; Widmer 2000, p. 92: "The concepts of the apostasy of Christianity, God having a body of flesh and bone, the existence of a plurality of Gods, and the divine call of Joseph Smith as Prophet all have their foundation in the First Vision story."
  3. ^ Smith (1832, pp. 1–2).
  4. ^ a b Smith (1832, p. 2).
  5. ^ Smith (1838, p. 3).
  6. ^ Smith (1838, p. 3); Waite (1843); Neibaur (1844, May 24, 1844).
  7. ^ a b Smith (1853, p. 54); (Bushman 2005, p. 26).
  8. ^ Smith (1842b, p. 728).
  9. ^ a b Waite (1843).
  10. ^ Smith (1842b, p. 727).
  11. ^ Smith 1842c, p. 748; Pratt 1840, p. 5.
  12. ^ Smith 1835, p. 23. Smith 1842c, p. 748.
  13. ^ a b c Smith 1835, p. 23.
  14. ^ a b c d Smith 1842c, p. 748.
  15. ^ Smith 1835, p. 23; Smith 1842c, p. 748.
  16. ^ Smith 1832, p. 3;Smith 1842c, p. 748.
  17. ^ Pratt 1840, p. 5.
  18. ^ Pratt 1840, p. 5; 1835, p. 24.
  19. ^ a b c Pratt 1840, p. 5
  20. ^ Pratt 1840, p. 5; Smith 1842a, p. 706.
  21. ^ Smith (1832, p. 3).
  22. ^ Smith 1835, p. 37.
  23. ^ Smith 1835, p. 24.
  24. ^ Neibaur 1844, May 24, 1844; Waite 1843.
  25. ^ Pratt 1840, p. 5; Smith 1842a, p. 707.
  26. ^ a b Neibaur 1844, May 24, 1844.
  27. ^ Taylor 1879, p. 161. Taylor, who stated he had heard the story from Smith himself, said the personages were "the Lord" and "his Son Jesus".
  28. ^ Smith 1832, p. 3.
  29. ^ Smith 1842a, p. 707; Pratt 1840, p. 5.
  30. ^ a b Waite 1843; Smith 1842c, p. 748.
  31. ^ Smith 1842a, p. 707; Pratt 1840, p. 5. One account also said that "many other things did [the personage] say unto me which I cannot write at this time." Smith 1842c, p. 748.
  32. ^ Smith 1832, p. 1
  33. ^ Quinn 1998
  34. ^ "About midnight I saw a light about a foot from my face as bright as fire; the doors were all shut and no one stirring in the house. I thought by this that I had but a few moments to live, and oh what distress I was in .... Another night soon after, I saw another light as bright as the first, at a small distance from my face, and I thought I had but a few moments to live. And not sleeping nights and reading, all day I was in misery; well you may think I was in distress, soul and body. At another time in the dead of the night I was called by my Christian name; I arise up to answer to my name. The doors all being shut and the house still, I thought the Lord called, and I had but a moment to live." (Mack 1811, p. 25)
  35. ^ Smith (1853, pp. 55–56); Quinn (1998).
  36. ^ Smith (1853, pp. 56–59, 70–74). Smith, Sr.'s first vision was around 1811 (id. at 56–57), and his "seventh and last vision" was in 1819 (id. at 73–74). Bushman says, "The best barometer of the household's religious climate are seven dreams Joseph Sr. had in the years before and after his son's first vision. Lucy wrote down five of them, calling them visions. Since no other member of the family gave an account of the dreams or even referred to them, and Lucy recorded them thirty years later, there is no way of testing the accuracy of her memory." Bushman (2005, p. 36).
  37. ^ Smith (1853, pp. 56–57).
  38. ^ Smith (1853, pp. 57–58). Joseph Smith, Sr.'s second vision as reported by Lucy Mack Smith exhibits many similarities to the tree of life vision which Joseph Smith, Jr. would later dictate as part of the Book of Mormon (Bushman 2005, p. 36).
  39. ^ Turner 1852, p. 214
  40. ^ Bushman 2005, pp. 36, 46; Vogel (2004, pp. 26, 58–60): "Indeed, it was the revival of 1824–25, his family's conversion, and his mother's pressure that caused [Smith] so much pain and suffering rather than the revival of 1817 or the one he 'remembered' for 1820." Bushman does not argue for an 1820 revival in Palmyra, stating only that the "great revival of 1816 and 1817, which nearly doubled the number of Palmyra Presbyterians, was in progress when the Smiths arrived." (36)
  41. ^ Mather 1880, pp. 198–199; Roberts 1902.
  42. ^ Quinn 1998, p. xx–xxi: A 1985 memorandum sent from the headquarters of the LDS Church Educational System to regional and local administrators read, "Even if the [Mark Hofmann] letters were to be unauthentic, such issues as Joseph Smith's involvement in treasure-seeking and folk magic remain. Ample evidence exists for both of these, even without the letters."
  43. ^ Thomas, Keith (1971), Religion and the Decline of Magic, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 256 .
  44. ^ Smith 1838a, pp. 42–43 (saying that he had been a "money digger" but that it "was never a very profitable job to him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it"). Elders' Journal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 1 (43), July 1838 . For a discussion of Smith's money-digging activities by an academic LDS biographer, see Bushman 2005, pp. 48–49.
  45. ^ Lucy Smith "Preliminary Manuscript," LDS Church Archives, in Vogel 1996, p. 285
  46. ^ Quinn 1998, p. 55: "Joseph Smith's mother did not deny her family participation in occult activities but simply affirmed that these did not prevent family members from accomplishing other, equally important work." In a note at Vogel 1996, p. 285 (n. 84), Dan Vogel argues that this sentence from the draft may have been excised from the 1853 edition of Lucy Mack Smith's memoirs because of its allusion to folk magic, "which was a sensitive subject for those not wishing to give credence to claims made in affidavits collected in 1833 by Philastus Hurlbut."
  47. ^ Quinn 1998, p. 31
  48. ^ Michael Coe, professor emeritus of Anthropology at Yale, has called Joseph Smith "a great religious leader" and "one of the greatest people who ever lived" because "like a shaman in anthropology," like "magicians doing magic," he "started out faking it" but ended up convincing himself (as well as others) that his visions were true (Frontline and American Experience, "Interview: Michael Coe", in Helen Whitney, The Mormons, PBS  )
  49. ^ Shipps 1985, p. 18.
  50. ^ Bushman, pp. 25–27
  51. ^ Roger Nicholson, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, p. 171, which in turn is based on Vogel's Early Mormon Documents
  52. ^ a b c Joseph Smith–History 1:5.
  53. ^ Smith 1832, p. 3
  54. ^ Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 7
  55. ^ Bushman 2005, p. 37
  56. ^ Backman 1969, p. 11
  57. ^ Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Probing the Lives of Christ and Joseph Smith", FARMS Review, Vol. 21, Issue 2.
  58. ^ Backman, "Awakenings in the Burned-Over District: New Light on the Historical Setting of the First Vision," BYU Studies 9/3 (1969): 309
  59. ^ Joseph Smith–History 1:5–6.
  60. ^ "Lucy said that soon after Alvin's death, Palmyra experienced 'a great revival in religion, and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject, and we among the rest flocked to meeting house to see if there was a word of comfort for us that might relieve our over charged feelings.' She eventually decided to join the Presbyterian church."(Vogel 2004, p. 58). Marvin Hill has written, "I am inclined to agree that the religious turmoil that Smith described which led to some family members joining the Presbyterians and to much sectarian bitterness does not fit well into the 1820 context detailed by Backman. ... Indicating that the angel had told Smith of the plates prior to the revival, Lucy added that for a long time after Alvin's death the family could not bear nay talk about the golden plates, for the subject had been one of great interest to him and any reference to the plates stirred sorrowful memories. She said she attended the revival with hope of gaining solace for Alvin's loss. That kind of detail is just the sort that gives validity to Lucy's chronology. She would not have been likely to make up such a reaction for herself or the family nor mistake the time when it happened. I am persuaded that it was 1824 when Lucy joined the Presbyterians." (Hill 1982, p. 39).
  61. ^ Vogel 1996, p. 307 (1845).
  62. ^ Vogel 2004, p. 58.
  63. ^ Quinn 2006.
  64. ^ Manchester land assessment records show an increase in assessed value of the Smith property in 1823. Because the tax assessment of the Smiths' Manchester land rose in 1823, critics argue that the Smiths completed their Manchester cabin in 1822, which suggests an approximate date of 1824 for the First Vision. Joseph Smith, Sr. was first taxed for Manchester land in 1820. In 1821 and 1822, the land was valued at $700, but in 1823, the property was assessed at $1000, which may indicate "that the Smiths had completed construction of their cabin and cleared a significant portion of their land" (Vogel 2000, pp. 443–44). In response, some Mormon apologists argue that in 1818, the Smiths mistakenly constructed a cabin 59 feet north of the actual property line (which would have been in Palmyra rather than Manchester) and the 1823 increase in the property assessment was related to the completion of a wood frame home on the Manchester side of the Palmyra–Manchester township line. The latter interpretation would lend support for dating the First Vision to 1820 (Ray 2002, pp. 4–5). For a counter argument—that there was a second cabin on the Smith property in Manchester—see Vogel 2000, pp. 416–19. Vogel argues that based on archaeological and documentary evidence, the Manchester cabin was constructed prior to the Smiths' building of their frame home. "To argue for the existence of only the Jennings cabin, which the Smiths inadvertently built on the Palmyra side of the township line, one must assume that the error was perpetuated not only by the Smiths but also by authorities in both counties. However, the existence of the names of Joseph Sr., Alvin, and Hyrum on the Palmyra road lists for 1820–22 strongly argues that both the Smiths and village authorities understood that the cabin was in Palmyra township."(419)
  65. ^ Lefgren, John C. (October 9, 2002), "Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning: Sun 26 Mar 1820?", Meridian Magazine . Online reprint at johnpratt.com
  66. ^ "The earliest allusion, oral or written, to the first vision is the brief mention that was transcribed in June 1830 and originally printed in the Book of Commandments." (Palmer,[specify] 235).
  67. ^ Allen 1966
  68. ^ Turner (1852, p. 214)
  69. ^ a b Tucker (1876, p. 18).
  70. ^ Mather (1880, p. 199).
  71. ^ Smith (1853, p. 90).
  72. ^ The account was first published to non-Mormons in 1831. Howe (1831).
  73. ^ Howe (1831).
  74. ^ Allen (1980, p. 45); Bushman (2005, pp. 39, 112).
  75. ^ Bushman (2005, p. 39).
  76. ^ Bauder (1834, pp. 36–38).
  77. ^ "One of the most significant documents of that period yet discovered was brought to light in 1965 by Paul R. Cheesman, a graduate student at Brigham Young University. This is a handwritten manuscript apparently composed about 1833 and either written or dictated by Joseph Smith. It contains an account of the early experiences of the Mormon prophet and includes the story of the first vision. While the story varies in some details from the version presently accepted, enough is there to indicate that at least as early as 1833 Joseph Smith contemplated writing and perhaps publishing it. The manuscript has apparently lain in the L.D.S. Church Historian's office for many years, and yet few if any who saw it realized its profound historical significance." (Allen 1966, p. [page needed])
  78. ^ Smith 1832, p. 2. Angle brackets indicate insertions by Smith.
  79. ^ Joseph Smith History, 1832, as found in Vogel 1996, p. 28
  80. ^ See the full text of the Messenger and Advocate from December 1834, page 42[unreliable source?] and January 1835, 78-79.[unreliable source?]
  81. ^ The stranger was Robert Matthias, a religious con-artist using the alias "Joshua the Jewish minister".
  82. ^ Smith (1835, pp. 22–24).
  83. ^ Smith (1835, p. 23).
  84. ^ Smith (1835, pp. 23–24).
  85. ^ a b c d Smith (1835, p. 24).
  86. ^ Abanes,[specify] 16: the 1835 account[unreliable source?]. In 1835, Smith approved the "Lectures on Faith", an orderly presentation of Mormonism (probably written by Sidney Rigdon) in which it was taught that although Jesus Christ had a tangible body of flesh, God the Father was a spiritual presence—a view not out of harmony with orthodox Christian belief. The "Lectures on Faith" were canonized by the LDS Church and included as part of the Doctrine and Covenants until de-canonized after 1921. (Bushman,[specify] 283–84.)
  87. ^ Smith (1835, p. 35).
  88. ^ Smith (1835, pp. 35–36). When LDS Church historian B. H. Roberts included this account into his History of the Church 2:312, he changed the words "first visitation of angels" to "first vision."
  89. ^ The original 1838 manuscript has been lost, but the account was copied to manuscripts dating from 1839, which indicates that the year of writing was 1838, a fact also confirmed by Smith's journal entries. See Jessee (1969, pp. 6–7).
  90. ^ Times and Seasons, March and April, vol. 3 nos. 9, 11.
  91. ^ James 1:5; Joseph Smith–History.
  92. ^ See Great Apostasy.
  93. ^ Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 6
  94. ^ Lucy Smith's Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, first published in Liverpool in 1853. (Vogel 1996, p. 227)
  95. ^ http://woodlandinstitute.com/joseph/first-vision/pubSeerPg5JosephSmith1838.php.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  96. ^ Smith 1832, p. 2
  97. ^ According to Mormon apologist Larry C. Porter, the Methodist minister, George Lane, may have passed very near the Smith home and preached at a camp meeting along the way in July 1820. "In the pursuit of his ministerial duties Rev. Lane was in the geographical proximity of Joseph Smith on a number of occasions between the years 1819-1825. The nature degree or indeed the actuality of their acquaintanceship during this interval poses a number of interesting possibilities .... In July 1820 Lane would have had to pass through the greater Palmyra-Manchester vicinity..unless he went by an extremely circuitous route. Present records do not specify Lane's itinerary or exact route ... but they do for Lane's friend, Rev. George Peck .... [Peck's] conference route took him north to Ithaca, then on to a camp meeting in the Holland Purchase, subsequently passing along the Ridge Road to Rochester .... As Rev. Peck, [Lane] may even have stopped at a camp meeting somewhere along the way. A preacher of his standing would always be a welcome guest." (Porter 1969, p. 335). Smith never mentions the name of the minister.
  98. ^ Smith 1842c, p. 748; Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 6
  99. ^ Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 7.
  100. ^ Allen 1966, p. 30: "According to Joseph Smith, he told the story of the vision immediately after it happened in the early spring of 1820. As a result, he said, he received immediate criticism in the community. There is little if any evidence, however, that by the early 1830s Joseph Smith was telling the story in public. At least if he were telling it, no one seemed to consider it important enough to have recorded it at the time, and no one was criticizing him for it."
  101. ^ Allen 1966, p. 31: "Apparently not until 1843, when the New York Spectator printed a reporter's account of an interview with Joseph Smith, did a non-Mormon source publish any reference to the story of the first vision."
  102. ^ Palmer 2002, p. 245: "There is no evidence of prejudice resulting from this first vision. If his report that 'all the sects...united to persecute me' were accurate, one would expect to find some hint of this in the local newspapers, narratives by ardent critics, and in the affidavits D. P. Hurlbut gathered in 1833. The record is nevertheless silent on this issue. No one, friend or foe, in New York or Pennsylvania remember either that there was 'great persecution' or even that Joseph claimed to have had a vision. Not even his family remembers it."
  103. ^ Orson Pratt, "Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions", Orson Pratt, Ballantyne and Huges publ, 1840 (reprinted in Jessee,[specify] vol. 1 pp. 149–60)
  104. ^ Smith 1842a, pp. 706–710.
  105. ^ a b Smith 1842a, pp. 706
  106. ^ a b Smith 1842a, pp. 707
  107. ^ Smith 1883, pp. 6–8
  108. ^ Persuitte 2000, p. 26
  109. ^ Smith 1883, p. 6
  110. ^ a b Smith 1883, pp. 6, 8–9
  111. ^ Smith 1884
  112. ^ Bushman (2005, p. 40) ("In the 1835 account and again in 1838, the balance of the two parts of the story—personal forgiveness as contrasted to apostasy of the churches—shifted. Joseph's own salvation gave way to the opening of a new era of history.")
  113. ^ Bushman (2005, pp. 39–40) ("At first, Joseph was reluctant to talk about his vision .... When he described the First Vision in 1832, he abbreviated the experience.")
  114. ^ Tanner, Jerald and Sandra (1987), Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? (5th ed.), Utah Lighthouse Ministry, pp. 143–62 
  115. ^ American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon Publisher=Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2003. p. 171.  ("Any good lawyer (or historian) would expect to find contradictions or competing narratives written down years apart and decades after the event. And despite the contradictions, key elements abide. In each case, Jesus appears to Smith in a vision. In each case, Smith is blessed with a revelation. In each case, God tells him to remain aloof from all Christian denominations, as something better is in store.")
  116. ^ "One person perceives harmony and interconnections while another overstates differences. Think of how you retell a vivid event in your life—marriage, first day on the job, or an automobile accident. A record of all your comments would include short and long versions, along with many bits and pieces. Only by blending these glimpses can an outsider reconstruct what originally happened. The biggest trap is comparing description in one report with silence in another. By assuming that what is not said is not known, some come up with arbitrary theories of an evolution in the Prophet's story. Yet we often omit parts of an episode because of the chance of the moment, not having time to tell everything, or deliberately stressing only a part of the original event in a particular situation. This means that any First Vision account contains some fraction of the whole experience. Combining all reliable reports will recreate the basics of Joseph Smith's quest and conversation with the Father and Son."(Anderson 1996)
  117. ^ "I've actually studied the various accounts of Joseph's First Vision, and I'm struck by the difference in his recountings. But as I look back at my missionary journals, for instance, which I've kept and other journals which I've kept throughout my life, I'm struck now in my older years by the evolution and hopefully the progression that's taken place in my own life and how differently now from this perspective I view some things that happened in my younger years." Frontline and American Experience, "Interview: Marlin Jensen", in Helen Whitney, The Mormons, PBS 
  118. ^ a b c d e f Jessee 1989
  119. ^ Vogel (2004, p. 30): "...the vision confirmed what [Smith] and his father had suspected, that the world was spiritually dead. Jesus told Joseph Jr. that 'the world lieth in sin at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me.'"
  120. ^ Shipps 1985, p. 30. The first extant account of the First Vision is the manuscript account in Joseph Smith, "Manuscript History of the Church" (1839); the first published account is Orson Pratt, "An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records" (Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840); and the first American publication is Smith's letter to John Wentworth in Times and Seasons 3 (March 1842): 706–08, only two years before Smith's assassination. (These accounts are available Vogel 1996)
  121. ^ Bushman 2005, p. 39
  122. ^ Improvement Era (November 1961) p. 868.
  123. ^ E.g., Journal of Discourses 12:68–69.
  124. ^ "[Smith's] mind was troubled, he saw contention instead of peace; and division instead of union; and when he reflected upon the multifarious creeds and professions there were in existence, he thought it impossible for all to be right, and if God taught one, He did not teach the others, 'for God is not the author of confusion.' In reading his bible, he was remarkably struck with the passage in James, 1st chapter, 5th verse, 'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.' Believing in the word of God, he retired into a grove, and called upon the Lord to give him wisdom in relation to this matter. While he was thus engaged, he was surrounded by a brilliant light, and two glorious personages presented themselves before him, who exactly resembled each other in features, and who gave him information upon the subjects which had previously agitated his mind. He was given to understand that the churches were all of them in error in regard to many things; and he was commanded not to go after them; and he received a promise that the 'fulness' of the gospel should at some future time be unfolded unto him: after which the vision withdrew, leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace." John Taylor, Letter to the Editor of the Interpreter Anglais et Français, Boulogne-sur-mer (25 June 1850).[full citation needed]
  125. ^ "What could the Lord do with such a pack of ignorant fools as we were? There was one man that had a little good sense, and a spark of faith in the promises of god and that was Joseph Smith-a backwoods man. He believed a certain portion of scripture which said—"If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who to all men liberally and upbraideth not." He was fool enough in the eyes of the world, and wise enough in the eyes of God and angels, and all true intelligence to go into a secret place to ask God for wisdom, believing that God would hear him. The Lord did hear him, and told him what to do." Deseret News (Weekly), December 28, 1859, p. 337
  126. ^ Roger Nicholson, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture p. 179
  127. ^ B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1963) p. 394.
  128. ^ "Historians have pondered the various phrases of this vision's evolution and tend to see its present form as a 'late development,' only gaining an influential status in LDS self-reflection late in the nineteenth century." Davies, Douglas J. (2003), An Introduction to Mormonism, Cambridge University Press, p. 136 ; Widmer 2000, pp. 92–107; Shipps 1985, pp. 30–32.
  129. ^ Allen 1980, pp. 53–54.
  130. ^ Widmer 2000, p. 93; Journal of Discourses 24:340–41, 371–72. "The emergence of the First Vision is a syncretic approach to deal with past doctrinal inconsistencies on a broad scale. What it attempts to do is, in one giant sweep, gather all of the doctrinal inconsistencies, such as a plurality of Gods, God being an exalted man, the purpose of the Church, and the calling of Joseph Smith, and place it into an earlier time frame." Widner,[specify] p. 105.
  131. ^ Shipps 1985, p. 32.
  132. ^ Allen 1980, p. 57: "The Mutual Improvement Associations issued a special commemorative pamphlet, the vision was memorialized in music, verse and dramatic representations, and the church's official publication, the Improvement Era, devoted almost the entire April issue to that event."
  133. ^ George D. Pyper, Stories of Latter-day Saint Hymns: Their Authors and Composers (Salt Lake City: Deseret Press, 1939), 34. Pyper noted that Parley P. Pratt's earlier "An Angel from on High" and "Hark Ye Mortals" "referred to Cumorah and the Book of Mormon" rather than to the First Vision.
  134. ^ Bitton 1994, p. 86 as quoted in Anderson 1996
  135. ^ Flake (2004, pp. 120–21).
  136. ^ Allen (1966, p. 29).
  137. ^ The First Vision: Introduction, "Mission of the Prophet: The First Vision", JosephSmith.net (LDS Church) 
  138. ^ Hinkley, Gordon B. (November 1998), "What Are People Asking about Us?", Ensign, retrieved 2012-04-26 .
  139. ^ Improvement Era (December 1961) p. 907. David O. McKay, the ninth president of the LDS Church, also declared the First Vision to be the foundation of the faith. David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1951) p. 19.
  140. ^ (Frontline and American Experience, "Interview: Gordon B. Hinckley", in Helen Whitney, The Mormons, PBS . The full quotation mentions the ultimate reality of Moroni and the Book of Mormon translated from the plates: "Well, it's either true or false. If it's false, we're engaged in a great fraud. If it's true, it's the most important thing in the world. Now, that's the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true. And that's exactly where we stand, with a conviction in our hearts that it is true: that Joseph went into the [Sacred] Grove; that he saw the Father and the Son; that he talked with them; that Moroni came; that the Book of Mormon was translated from the plates; that the priesthood was restored by those who held it anciently. That's our claim. That's where we stand, and that's where we fall, if we fall. But we don't. We just stand secure in that faith.
  141. ^ Widmer 2000, p. 92
  142. ^ William Smith, "On Mormonism," in Vogel 1996, p. 496.
  143. ^ Howard 1980, p. 24.
  144. ^ Howard 1980, p. 25.
  145. ^ Howard 1980, pp. 25–26.
  146. ^ Howard 1980, p. 27.
  147. ^ Howard 1980, pp. 27–28.
  148. ^ Howard 1980, p. 28.
  149. ^ Howard 1980, pp. 28–29.
  150. ^ According to its website, the church "does not legislate or mandate positions on issues of history. We place confidence in sound historical methodology as it relates to our church story. We believe that historians and other researchers should be free to come to whatever conclusions they feel are appropriate after careful consideration of documents and artifacts to which they have access. We benefit greatly from the significant contributions of the historical discipline." Frequently Asked Questions, "Our Faith", cofchrist.org (Community of Christ) 
  151. ^ "Community of Christ History", cofchrist.org (Community of Christ) 
  152. ^ Bucci, Timothy Dom (1952), Apostasy and Restoration, Monongahela, Pa: Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonites), OCLC 34452615 . The reference quotes the 1842 account as found in the LDS Church Pearl of Great Price, with some exceptions including the following paraphrases: 1) "As the light shown down on him, a personage appeared...." (2, 6) "This was in the year 1820" (6). The summary following the excerpt (10) emphasizes the importance of the Book of Mormon, but makes no additional comment about the First Vision.
  153. ^ "History of the Church of Christ", churchofchrist-tl.org (Church of Christ (Temple Lot)), archived from the original on 2008-04-21 
  154. ^ Book of Mormon: How did we get it, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), archived from the original on 2008-04-20 
  155. ^ Backman 1969, p. 2
  156. ^ A recent skeptical summary of the First Vision stories is Grant Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 235–54. Palmer, a retired LDS religious instructor was disfellowshipped by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after publishing this book. Palmer concludes his chapter, "The 1832 account describes Joseph's experience most accurately. Smith's 1832 description does not forbid him from joining a church, nor does it mention a revival or persecution. Instead, he became convicted of his sins from reading the scriptures and received forgiveness from the Savior in a personal epiphany. He stated that his call to God's work came in 1823 from an angel, later identified as Moroni. When a crisis developed around the Book of Mormon in 1838, he conflated several events into one. Now he was called by God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820 during an extended revival, was forbidden to join any existing church, and was greatly persecuted by institutions and individuals for sharing his vision of God. This version is not supported by historical evidence." (253–54)
  157. ^ Neal A. Maxwell, Meek and Lowly (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1987) p. 76.
  158. ^ Frontline and American Experience, "Part One (Night One Transcript)", in Helen Whitney, The Mormons, PBS 

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