First Vision

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Stained glass depiction of Joseph Smith's First Vision, completed in 1913 by an unknown artist (Church History Museum, Salt Lake City).

The First Vision (also called the grove experience by members of the Community of Christ) refers to a theophany which Latter Day Saints believe Joseph Smith experienced in the early 1820s, in a wooded area in Manchester, New York, called the Sacred Grove. Smith described it as a vision in which he received instruction from God the Father and Jesus Christ.

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 God the Father and Jesus) who hovered above him. One of the beings told Smith not to join any of the existing churches because they all taught incorrect doctrines.

Smith wrote several accounts of the vision between 1832 and 1842, two of which were published in his lifetime.[1] Consistency of the accounts is a subject of debate, whether variations are indicators of significant shifts in Smith's theology or are simply changing emphasis of minor details.[2][3] The First Vision is revered in Latter-day Saint theology as the first step in the Latter Day Saint restoration, but it was relatively unknown to early adherents to the Latter Day Saint movement;[4] Smith's experience was published in 1842 and canonized in 1880 but not emphasized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) until the early 20th century.[5] For Latter-day Saints, the First Vision corroborates distinctive doctrines such as the bodily nature of God the Father and the uniqueness of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only true path to exaltation.[6]

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 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.[7] 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[8] or whether the idea that all churches were false had not "entered his heart" until he experienced the vision.[9] 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[8] while later accounts emphasize his desire to know which church he should join.[10] Smith said he went one spring morning to a secluded grove near his home to pray.[11] He said he went to a stump in a clearing where he had left his axe the day before[12] and began to offer his first audible prayer.[13]

He said his prayer was interrupted by a "being from the unseen world."[14] Smith said the being caused his tongue to swell in his mouth so that he could not speak.[15] One account said he heard a noise behind him like someone walking towards him and then,[16] 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.[16] In some of the accounts, he described being covered with a thick darkness and thinking that he would be destroyed.[17] At his darkest moment, he knelt a third time to pray[16] and, as he summoned all his power to pray, he felt ready to sink into oblivion.[17] At that moment, he said his tongue was loosed and he saw a vision.[18]

Smith said he saw a pillar of light brighter than the noonday sun that slowly descended on him,[19][17] growing in brightness as it descended and lighting the entire area for some distance.[20] As the light reached the tree tops, Smith feared the trees might catch fire.[21] But when it reached the ground and enveloped him, it produced a "peculiar sensation."[22] "[H]is mind was caught away from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision."[23]

While experiencing the vision, he said he saw one or more "personages", described differently in Smith's accounts. In his earliest written account, Smith said he "saw the Lord."[19] In diary entries, he said he saw a "visitation of Angels"[24] 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".[25] In later accounts, Smith consistently said that he had seen two personages who appeared one after the other.[26] These personages "exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness."[27] The first personage had "light complexion, blue eyes, a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders, his right arm bare."[28] In later accounts, one of the personages called Smith by name "and said, (pointing to the other), 'This is my beloved Son, hear him.'"[17] Although Smith didn't explicitly identify the personages, most Latter Day Saints infer that they were God the Father and Jesus.[29]

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.[19] Later accounts say that when the personages appeared, Smith asked them "O Lord, what church shall I join?"[12] or "Must I join the Methodist Church?"[28] 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."[30] All churches and their professors were "corrupt",[31] and "all their creeds were an abomination in his sight."[17] Smith was told not to join any of the churches, but that the fullness of the gospel would be made known to him at a later time.[32] After the vision withdrew, Smith said he came to and found himself sprawled on his back.[31]



Smith was born on December 23, 1805, in Vermont, and in 1816, his family moved to a farm just outside the town of Palmyra, New York.[33] In the first several decades of American society in the 1800s, there was a proliferation of religious options.[34] During the Second Great Awakening, revivals occurred in many communities in the northeastern United States. The religious environment in the region where the Smith family lived was so intense it is referred to today as the burned-over district.[35] In the Palmyra area itself, large multi-denominational revivals occurred in 1816–17 and 1824–25.[36][37] Within eight miles of the Smith family farm, at least four Methodist, three Presbyterian, two Baptist, and several Quaker groups held regular meetings.[38] Despite the large number of congregations however, only about 11% of Palmyra residents belonged to any organized religion in 1820, which was in line with the national average.[39]

Besides organized religion, the Smith family was exposed to a number of other belief systems.[40] A large ill-defined group of early Americans have been lumped into the term "seekers". This group held a heterogeneous set of beliefs; including that religion with creeds were unnecessary and the apostolic church no longer was on the earth.[41] Cunning folk traditions or folk magic was also prevalent in Palmyra; intertwined and considered congruous with Christianity.[35] Deism, the belief that God exists but does not intervene in earth, also had a growing hold in American culture with the publication of Thomas Paine's popular book The Age of Reason.[42]

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

Richard Bushman has called the spiritual tradition of the Smith family "a religious melee."[43] 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 communications with God.[44] In 1811, Smith's 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.[45]

Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, had a "believers baptism" early in her marriage, but did not formally join to any denomination early in her marriage.[46] Joseph Smith Sr. was a combination of deist and seeker, who was skeptical of organized religion, but not irreligious.[47][48] Before Smith was born, Lucy went to a grove near her home in Vermont and prayed about her husband's repudiation of evangelical religion.[49][50] 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."[51][44] She also stated that Smith Sr. had a number of dreams or visions between 1811 and 1819,[52] the first of which occurring when his mind was "much excited upon the subject of religion."[53] The first of Joseph Sr.'s visions confirmed to him the correctness of his refusal to join any organized religious group.[54] Smith's father additionally joined the local masonic lodge, with Smith's older brother Hyrum sometime shortly after arriving in Palmyra.[55]

Smith's older brother Alvin did not join any organized religion. Lucy said that after Alvin died in late 1823, she sought comfort in religion, and formally joined the Presbyterian church in either 1824 or 1825 along with her children Hyrum, Samuel and Sophronia.[46][56]

Dating the First Vision[edit]

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

Smith never gave a specific date of his reported vision, but said it occurred in the early 1820s, when he was in his early teens.[57] In the 1832 account Smith says that from age twelve to fifteen he was pondering the situation of the world in his heart, placing the vision in 1821.[58] Smith's scribe Frederick G. Williams inserted into the 1832 account that it had occurred "in the 16th year of [his] age" or 1821.[59] In the 1838 account, Smith said the vision took place "early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty."[60] In both his 1835 and 1842 account, Smith wrote that it occurred when "about fourteen years of age."[61][62]

Historians have looked at contextual clues from the accounts to further narrow down the date. In the 1838 account Smith noted the following events:

  • "Sometime in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion"
  • "(The unusual excitement) commenced with the Methodist"
  • "(The unusual excitement) soon became general among all the sects in that region of country, ... and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division among the people"
  • "My Fathers family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith and four of them joined that Church, Namely, My Mother Lucy, My Brothers Hyrum, Samuel Harrison, and my Sister Sophronia."
  • "It was on the morning of a beautiful clear day early in the spring"[63]

Each of these details have been the subject of significant research and debated widely among historians, critics, apologists and polemicists, sparking a variety of historical and theological interpretations.[64] In the fall of 1967 the Reverend Wesley P. Walters published a pamphlet asserting that the "unusual excitement" Joseph Smith wrote of matched the Palmyra revival of 1824, and was anachronistic to the 1820 setting.[65][66] Walters' pamphlet created a stir, and provoked a strong response from scholars at Brigham Young University (BYU). By spring of 1968 BYU Professor Truman G. Madsen organized around three dozen scholars to respond to Walters, and wrote to the First Presidency of the LDS Church that the "first vision has come under severe historical attack."[67] Walters's thesis and the subsequent response has framed the historical debate.[66]

Dating the move to Manchester[edit]

Local moves of the Smith family have been used in attempts to identify the date of the vision. Smith wrote that the First Vision occurred in "the second year after our removal to Manchester."[57] The evidence for the date of this move has been interpreted by many believers as supporting 1820 and by non-believers as supporting 1824.[68] 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".[69] 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.[70][71]

Dating the revival[edit]

Typical scene from a Methodist camp meeting

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."[72] 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."[73] Richard Lloyd Anderson has pointed out that 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.[74] Backman cited evidence of a Methodist Camp Meeting in Palmyra in June 1820.[75]

Dating the Smith family conversions to Presbyterianism[edit]

In the 1838 version of the First Vision (first published in 1842) that has been canonized by the LDS Church, his family's decision to join the Presbyterian Church occurs in the same year as his First Vision.[76]

The draft copy of Lucy Mack Smith's history does not mention the first vision at all.[77] However, the fair copy, penned by the same scribe as the draft copy, and which was in the possession of Lucy and on which she registered a copyright, includes in the narrative a copy of the 1838 version of the first vision, beginning with Joseph's words "I was at this time in my fifteenth year."[78] After the first vision account, Lucy continues with "From this time until the 21st of Sep. 1823, Joseph continued as usual to labor with his father; and nothing during this interval occured [sic] of very great importance..."[79] At this point Lucy describes the visitations of Moroni and the promise of the golden plates, followed by the death of Alvin, in November 1823.

Lucy then states that she and some of her children sought comfort in the religious revival after Alvin's death. This statement has been taken to refer to her and three of the children (Hyrum, Samuel, and Sophronia) joining the Presbyterian church.[80] If so, and if Joseph's statement that they joined this church in the same year as his first vision is accurate, then the first vision would have taken place in 1824.[81] However, this conclusion requires ignoring both Joseph's statement that the first vision occurred during his fifteenth year and Lucy's chronology in the fair copy. Alternatively, D. Michael Quinn says that Joseph Smith's account is a conflation of events over several years, a typical biographical device for streamlining the narrative.[82]

Dating the "beautiful, clear day"[edit]

In the 1838 account Smith said that this vision occurred "on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty."[83] Two Latter-day Saints, researching weather reports and maple sugar production records, argue in a non-peer-reviewed magazine article that the most likely exact date for the First Vision was Palm Sunday, March 26, 1820.[84] Mark Staker, an expert on the sacred grove site, states that early spring would be "sometime in most likely March, April, or the beginning weeks of May."[85]

Recorded accounts of the vision[edit]

Woodcut by J. Hoey of Joseph Smith's First Vision first published in 1873 in T. B. H. Stenhouse's book Rocky Mountain Saints.[86] This is the earliest known depiction of the First Vision.[87]

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.[88] 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.[89]

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.[90] 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."[91]

No further explanation of this "manifestation" is provided. Although the reference was later linked to the First Vision,[92] its original hearers would have understood the manifestation as simply another of many revival experiences in which the subject testified that his sins had been forgiven.[93]

1832 Smith account[edit]

The earliest extant account of the First Vision was handwritten by Smith in 1832 in a letter book, but its existence was not known outside the Church History department until it was published in 1965.[94] Sometime around 1930, the pages on which the account was written were torn from the letter book, removed from the Church Historian's collection and placed into a private safe in the custody of Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith. In 1952, General Authority Levi E. Young met with amateur historian LaMar Peterson and told him of a "strange account" in Joseph's handwriting that did not mention God the Father. In 1964, Peterson told Jerald and Sandra Tanner about the account, and they subsequently asked permission from Joseph Fielding Smith to see it, but were denied. In 1964, Smith authorized the showing of the account to Paul R. Cheesman, a BYU student working on his master's thesis. The Tanners obtained a copy of the thesis transcript and the account was published for the first time in 1965.[95]

[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 ...."[96]

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."[97]

1834 Cowdery account[edit]

In several issues of the Mormon periodical Messenger and Advocate (1834–35),[98][unreliable source?] 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 the true one. 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[99] who had visited his home earlier that day.[100] Smith said that when perplexed about religions matters, he had gone to a grove to pray[101] but that his tongue seemed swollen in his mouth and that he had been interrupted twice by the sound of someone walking behind him.[102] Finally, as he prayed, he said his tongue was loosed, and he saw a pillar of fire in which an unidentified "personage" appeared.[103] Then another unidentified personage told Smith his sins were forgiven and "testified unto [Smith] that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."[103] An interlineation in the text notes, "and I saw many angels in this vision."[103] 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).[103] Smith identified none of these personages or angels with "the Lord" as he had in 1832.[104]

A few days later, on November 14, 1835, Smith told the story to another visitor, Erastus Holmes.[105] 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."[106]

1838 Smith account[edit]

1912 artistic depiction of Joseph Smith reading James 1:5 as described in the 1838 account of the First Vision

In 1838, Smith began dictating a history, introduced as "I have been induced to write this history ... in relation both to myself and the Church."[107] This history included a new account of the First Vision, later published in three issues of Times and Seasons.[108] 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 version differs from the 1840 version because it 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 Epistle of James: "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."[109]

One morning, deeply impressed by this scripture, the fourteen-year-old Smith went to the woods near his home, 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.[110]

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."[111] Lucy did not mention this conversation in her memoirs in her own words, but included the narrative from Joseph's 1838 account directly.[112][113]

Smith wrote he "could find none that would believe" his experience.[8] He said that shortly after the experience, he told the story of his revelation to a Methodist minister[114] 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."[17][111] 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."[115] There is no extant evidence from the 1830s for this persecution beyond Smith's own testimony.[116] None of the earliest anti-Mormon literature mentioned the First Vision.[117] 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.[118] Joseph's mother recorded the 1820-23 persecution of Joseph in her memoir, stating "From this time until the 21st of Sep. 1823, Joseph continued as usual to labor with his father; and nothing during this interval occurred of very great importance; though he suffered, as one would naturally suppose every kind of opposition and persecution from the different orders of religion."[79]

First Vision by L. A. Ramsey, 1912.

1840 Pratt account[edit]

In September 1840, Orson Pratt published a version of the First Vision in England.[119] 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."[22] Pratt's account referred to "two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness".[22]

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 church and including an account of the First Vision.[120] Smith said that he had been "about fourteen years of age" when he had received the First Vision.[121] 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."[121] 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."[122] 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.'"[122]

Smith's accounts found in later reminiscences[edit]

In the rough draft of her autobiography, Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, describes her son being visited in 1823 by an angel, who told him "...there is not a true church on the Earth," but does not include a First Vision narrative.[123] The fair copy of the autobiography, prepared under Lucy's direction by the scribe who had also penned the rough draft, includes in the narrative a copy of the 1838 version of the First Vision from Times and Seasons.[78][124]

Late in his life, Smith's brother William gave two accounts of the First Vision, dating it to 1823,[125] 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);[126] 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.[127]

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:[128]

[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.[128]

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.[129]

Comparison of written accounts[edit]

Entrance to the Sacred Grove—property owned by the LDS Church—is open to visitors.

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.[130] 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.[131]

Jerald and Sandra Tanner cite the multiple versions of the First Vision as evidence that it may have been fabricated by Smith.[132] 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.[133]

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."[134] Other believers view the differences in the accounts as reflective of Smith's increase in maturity and knowledge over time.[135]

The following table compares elements of First Vision accounts:

Source of First Vision Supernatural beings Messages from beings Notes
1832 Joseph Smith's own handwriting from his Letterbook[136][137] "The Lord" "Thy sins are forgiven thee"; the "world lieth in sin" and has "turned aside from the gospel"; and a brief apocalyptic note.[138] Only account in Joseph Smith's handwriting. 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.[citation needed]
1835, Nov. 9, 14 - Joseph Smith diary (Ohio Journal, handwritten, Warren Parrish scribe)[139] Two personages, and "many angels" "Thy sins are forgiven 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)[140] 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. First edited and published in 15 March, 1 April 1842 Times and Seasons,[141] 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".[142]
1842, March 1 - Times and Seasons, as part of the Wentworth letter[143] 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.
1843, July - Letter from Joseph Smith to D. Rupp [144] 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 [145] 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
1834: Cowdery Account[146] An angel appears to Joseph in his bedroom. Angel grants forgiveness of his sins. 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.
1840, September - Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions , Orson Pratt,[147] Two "glorious personages, who exactly resembled 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[148] Two "glorious personages" who resembled "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 [149] 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".
1845 - Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, draft copy[123] An angel visited Joseph in 1823 "...there is not a true church on the Earth." The fair copy prepared under Lucy's direction by her scribe includes in the narrative a copy of the 1838 version of the first vision as found in the Times and Seasons.[78]

Interpretations and responses to the vision[edit]

Smith said that he was persecuted by local "professors of religion" after sharing his story.[150] Historian D. Michael Quinn noted that at the time, the Smith family practiced various Cunning Folk traditions that were criticized by leaders of organized religion, and that Smith's vision may have given Smith confidence to ignore those leaders and continue being an active participant in the Cunning Folk culture.[151]

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 deliberate deception, false memory, delusion, or hallucination, or some combination of these.[152]

The Godhead in Latter Day Saint theology[edit]

The first vision is often used to illustrate various LDS doctrines about the attributes of God and the nature of the Godhead. The LDS Church teaches that the vision shows that the members of the Godhead are three separate beings.[153]

In academia it is assumed that differences Smith's first vision accounts reflect an evolving concept of the Godhead.[154][155] For example, references to God in the early writings by Smith, including the Book of Mormon, can be seen as more Trinitarian or modalistic, where God is a single entity, but manifests himself in different modes, sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son, but always as an expression of the same one God.[156] Modalism was common in upstate New York at the time,[157] so the appearance of a single personage (Jesus) in Smith's 1832 account would be consistent with prevailing modalistic thought.[158]

Smith's early revelations and writings frequently referred to the Father and the Son being one, but after May 1833, he never again referred to God the Father and Jesus as being one.[159] In 1835, the Lectures on Faith were published as part of the Doctrine and Covenants, teaching a form of Binitarianism where the Father is a "personage of the spirit" and the Son is a "personage of tabernacle" looking exactly the same in appearance, with the Holy Ghost being the shared mind between them.[158][160][161] Joseph Smith's later accounts of the First Vision reflects the theology of the Lectures on Faith, for example, the 1835 account notes that "a personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, ... Another personage soon appeared, like unto the first."[162] By the 1840s Smith was teaching a form of social trinitarianism—that members of the Godhead were separate and distinct individuals united in purpose.[156][163]

LDS Church scholars generally do not accept the view that the early Latter Day Saints were modalists or binitarian.[164][165] Smith himself also rejected criticism that his views of God had changed, saying "I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods."[154]

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.[166] LDS historian Richard Bushman wrote, "At first, Joseph was reluctant to talk about his vision. Most early converts probably never heard about the 1820 vision."[167]

Interpretation and use by the LDS Church[edit]

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 Church's program of proselytism.[168]

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."[169] 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.[170]

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."[171] 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."[172]

A 2012 Pew Research survey of self-identified members of the LDS Church asked how important believing that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ was to being a "good Mormon." 80% responded that it was essential, 13% responded that it was important but not essential, and 6% responded that it was either not too, or not at all essential.[173]

Historical usage[edit]

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

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."[174] This is not to say that Young did not teach about the First Vision, since he clearly did on multiple occasions.[175]

Taylor gave a complete account of the First Vision story in an 1850 letter written as he began missionary work in France,[176] and he may have alluded to it in a discourse given in 1859.[177] Throughout the late 1870s and 1880s, Taylor made multiple, explicit references to the First Vision in his sermons, books and letters.[178] 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".[179]

Three non-Mormon students of Mormonism, Douglas Davies, Kurt Widmer, and Jan Shipps, agree that the church's emphasis on the First Vision was a "'late development', only gaining an influential status in LDS reflection late in the nineteenth century."[180] 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.[181]

Widmer states that it was primarily through "the post 1883 sermons of Latter-day Saint Apostle George Q. Cannon that the modern interpretation and significance of the First Vision in Mormonism began to take shape."[182] 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."[183] 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."[184] By 1939, even George D. Pyper, the 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."[185]

Church president Joseph F. Smith helped raise the First Vision to its modern status as a pillar of church theology. Largely through Joseph F. Smith's influence, Smith's 1838 account of the First Vision became part of the canon of the church in 1880 when the faith canonized Smith's early history as part of the Pearl of Great Price.[186] After plural marriage ended at the turn of the 20th century, Joseph F. Smith heavily promoted the First Vision, 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.[187] From 1905 to 1912, the story of the First Vision began to be incorporated into church histories, missionary tracts, and Sunday school lesson manuals.[188] 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.[189]

In 1920, the LDS Church held a commemoration in the Sacred Grove to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the First Vision. At the 200th anniversary in 2020, a video recording of church president Russell M. Nelson reading "The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World" in the grove was released at the church's general conference.

Perspectives within the Community of Christ[edit]

The Community of Christ generally refers to the First Vision as the "grove experience" and takes a flexible view about its historicity,[190] emphasizing "the healing presence of God and the forgiving mercy of Christ" felt by Joseph Smith.[191] The modern church is Trinitarian, and in contrast to the LDS Church, does not use the First Vision as evidence for the Godhead being three separate beings.[192][193]

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 the 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.[194]

The RLDS Church did not emphasize the First Vision during the 19th century.[195] 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.[196] The vision was also interpreted as a justification for the exclusive authority of the RLDS Church as the Church of Christ.[197]

In the mid- to late-20th century, writers within the RLDS Church emphasized the First Vision as an illustration of the centrality of Jesus.[198] 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.[199] 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."[200] 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."[201]

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.[202]

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.[203] 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.[204]

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."[205] Grant Palmer and other critics claim that there are serious discrepancies between the various accounts, as well as anachronisms revealed by lack of contemporary corroboration.[206][207] Other critics, like Fawn Brodie and Jerald and Sandra Tanner argue that the Smith's accounts are not unique and not much different from similar visions and accounts being reported by others, such as Elias Smith and Asa Wild, around the same time.[208]

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.[209]

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.[210]

Side-by-side comparison of Joseph Smith vision accounts[edit]

Summer 1832 History[211] November 1835 Journal[212] 1838 History[213] 1842 Wentworth Letter[214]
My mind became exceedingly distressed, for I became convicted of my sins, and by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith, and there was no society or denomination that was built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament. I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world, for I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday, today, and forever, that he was no respecter of persons, for he was God.

Being wrought up in my mind respecting the subject of religion, and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong.

My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be aright, which is it, and how shall I know it?

When about fourteen years of age, I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring about the plan of salvation, I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment; if I went to one society, they referred me to one plan, and another to another, each one pointing to his own particular creed as the summum bonum of perfection. Considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion, I determined to investigate the subject more fully, believing that if God had a church it would not be split up into factions, and that if he taught one society to worship one way, and administer in one set of ordinances, he would not teach another principles which were diametrically opposed.
For I looked upon the sun, the glorious luminary of the earth, and also the moon, rolling in their majesty through the heavens, and also the stars shining in their courses, and the earth also upon which I stood, and the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and the fish of the waters, and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in majesty and in the strength of beauty, whose power and intelligence in governing the things which are so exceedingly great and marvelous, even in the likeness of him who created them. And when I considered upon these things, my heart exclaimed, "Well hath the wise man said, 'It is a fool that saith in his heart, there is no God.'" My heart exclaimed, "All, all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent power, a being who maketh laws and decreeth and bindeth all things in their bounds, who filleth eternity, who was and is and will be from all eternity to eternity." And I considered all these things and that that being seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth.

And considering it of the first importance that I should be right in matters that involve eternal consequences, being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and bowed down before the Lord, under a realizing sense that he had said (if the Bible be true), "Ask, and you shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened; seek, and you shall find," and again, "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not." Information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it,

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: 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.

Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to "ask of God," concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.

Believing the word of God, I had confidence in the declaration of James; "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him."

Therefore, I cried unto the Lord for mercy, for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy. And the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness, and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord, in the sixteenth year of my age, I called upon the Lord for the first time in the place above stated. Or in other words, I made a fruitless attempt to pray; my tongue seemed to be swollen in my mouth, so that I could not utter. I heard a noise behind me, like some person walking towards me. I strove again to pray but could not. The noise of walking seemed to draw nearer. I sprung up on my feet and looked around but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking.

I kneeled again. My mouth was opened and my tongue liberated, and I called on the Lord in mighty prayer.

So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm,

I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord. While fervently engaged in supplication, my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded,

a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun at noonday came down from above and rested upon me. I was filled with the spirit of God, and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord. A pillar of fire appeared above my head. It presently rested down upon me and filled me with joy unspeakable. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared, like unto the first. I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noonday.
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 crucified for the world, that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life. Behold, 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. And mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth, to visit them according to their ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and apostles. Behold and lo, I come quickly, as it is written of me, in the cloud, clothed in the glory of my Father." He said unto me, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." He testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. And I saw many angels in this vision. My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than 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.

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof."

He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven.

They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to "go not after them," at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.
My soul was filled with love, and for many days I could rejoice with great joy. The Lord was with me, but I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision. Nevertheless, I pondered these things in my heart. I was about fourteen years old when I received this first communication. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, "Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off." I then said to my mother, "I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true." It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy?


  1. ^ "First Vision Accounts",, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  2. ^ James B. Allen, "The Significance of Joseph Smith's 'First Vision' in Mormon Thought,"] Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 [Autumn 1966]:42-43
  3. ^ Dan Vogel, "The Earliest Mormon Concept of God," in Gary James Bergera, ed., Line upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 17-33.
  4. ^ James B. Allen, "The Significance of Joseph Smith's 'First Vision' in Mormon Thought." Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 1 No. 3 (1966): 29–46.
  5. ^ (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.")
  6. ^ "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."
  7. ^ "Letterbook 1", pp. 1–2.
  8. ^ a b c "Letterbook 1", p. 2.
  9. ^ Smith (1838), p. 3.
  10. ^ Smith (1838, p. 3); Waite (1843); Neibaur (1841–48, May 24, 1844).
  11. ^ Smith (1842b), p. 728.
  12. ^ a b Waite (1843).
  13. ^ Smith (1842b), p. 727.
  14. ^ Smith 1842c, p. 748; Pratt 1840, p. 5.
  15. ^ Smith 1835, p. 23. Smith 1842c, p. 748.
  16. ^ a b c Smith 1835, p. 23.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Smith (1842c), p. 748.
  18. ^ Smith 1835, p. 23; Smith 1842c, p. 748.
  19. ^ a b c "Letterbook 1", p. 3.
  20. ^ Pratt (1840), p. 5.
  21. ^ Pratt 1840, p. 5; Smith 1835, p. 24.
  22. ^ a b c Pratt (1840), p. 5
  23. ^ Pratt 1840, p. 5; Smith 1842a, p. 706.
  24. ^ Smith (1835), p. 37.
  25. ^ Smith (1835), p. 24.
  26. ^ Neibaur 1841–48, May 24, 1844; Waite 1843.
  27. ^ Pratt 1840, p. 5; Smith 1842a, p. 707.
  28. ^ a b Neibaur 1841–48, May 24, 1844.
  29. ^ 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".
  30. ^ Smith 1842a, p. 707; Pratt 1840, p. 5.
  31. ^ a b Waite 1843; Smith 1842c, p. 748.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Shipps (1985), p. 4.
  34. ^ Hatch, Nathan O. Democratization of American Christianity. Yale University Press, 1991. e-book location 2307 of 7374
  35. ^ a b Shipps 1985, p. 7
  36. ^ Bushman (2005), pp. 36, 46.
  37. ^ 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)
  38. ^ Talmage, Jeremy Effusions of an Enthusiastic Brain: Joseph Smith's First Vision and the Limits of Experiential Religion BYU Studies Quarterly 59, no. 1 (2020) pg. 29-30
  39. ^ "Membership of Certain of Joseph Smith's Family in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra". August 6, 2019.
  40. ^ Shipps (1985), p. 6.
  41. ^ "Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism – 01 |".
  42. ^ Shipps (1985), p. 8.
  43. ^ Bushman (2005), pp. 25–27.
  44. ^ a b Quinn (1998).
  45. ^ "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)
  46. ^ a b (Vogel 2004, p. 7)
  47. ^ Shipps writes, "[Smith Senior's] father had given him a copy of Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, that he seems to have read with great interest."Shipps 1985, p. 8
  48. ^ Bushman (2005), pp. 25–27: "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."
  49. ^ Smith (1853), p. 54.
  50. ^ Bushman (2005), p. 26.
  51. ^ Smith (1853), pp. 55–56.
  52. ^ 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 (2005), p. 36: "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."
  53. ^ Smith (1853), pp. 56–57.
  54. ^ 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).
  55. ^ "Freemasonry and Mormons |".
  56. ^ As discussed below, the date of Lucy's conversion has been contested by some LDS Church scholars as it contradicts Smith's 1838 First Vision account. See Bushman (2005) footnote 30
  57. ^ a b Joseph Smith–History 1:5.
  58. ^ "History, circa Summer 1832, Page 2".
  59. ^ "History, circa Summer 1832, Page 3".
  60. ^ "History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2]," p. 3, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 5, 2020
  61. ^ "Journal, 1835–1836, Page 24".
  62. ^ ""Church History," 1 March 1842, Page 706".
  63. ^ "History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2]," p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 9, 2020
  64. ^ Hill (2001).
  65. ^ Walters, Wesley P., and Dale L. Morgan. New Light on Mormon Origins from Palmyra (N.Y.) Revival. 1967
  66. ^ a b "Exploring the First Vision, ed. Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2012), 1–40" (PDF).
  67. ^ Harper, Steven C. First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins. Oxford University Press, 2019. page 220
  68. ^ "Inventing Mormonism – 01 |".
  69. ^ Vogel (2000), pp. 443–44.
  70. ^ Ray (2002), pp. 4–5.
  71. ^ For a counter argument—that there was a second cabin on the Smith property in Manchester—see Vogel (2000), pp. 416–419. 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." (p. 419)
  72. ^ Bushman (2005), p. 37.
  73. ^ Backman (1969), p. 11.
  74. ^ Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Probing the Lives of Christ and Joseph Smith", FARMS Review, Vol. 21, Issue 2.
  75. ^ Backman, "Awakenings in the Burned-Over District: New Light on the Historical Setting of the First Vision," BYU Studies 9/3 (1969): 309
  76. ^ Joseph Smith–History 1:5–7.
  77. ^ Smith (1844–1845), bk. 4, p. 7
  78. ^ a b c Smith (1845), p. 73.
  79. ^ a b Smith (1845), p. 78.
  80. ^ "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).
  81. ^ Hill (1982), p. 39. "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 any 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."
  82. ^ Quinn (2006), p. 12.
  83. ^ Joseph Smith–History 1:14.
  84. ^ Lefgren, John C. (October 9, 2002), "Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning: Sun 26 Mar 1820?", Meridian Magazine. Online reprint The article's authors reject many other dates that fit the weather and maple sugar constraints, including April 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 30. The authors appear to favor March 26 based on their theory of this date's significance in the Enoch calendar, dismissing any date after April 14 as not being "early spring".
  85. ^ Joseph Smith Papers Podcast, p. 3
  86. ^ Palfreyman, "Mormon Roots in the American Forest," 15–16. Palfreyman identifies the woodcut in Rocky Mountain Saints as the earliest surviving First Vision image; Stenhouse, Rocky Mountain Saints 1873
  87. ^ Elise Petersen and Steven C. Harper, "Using Art and Film to Form and Reform a Collective Memory of the First Vision," in An Eye of Faith: Essays in Honor of Richard O. Cowan, ed. Kenneth L. Alford and Richard E. Bennett (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City, 2015), 257–75.
  88. ^ "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).
  89. ^ Allen (1966).
  90. ^ The account was first published to non-Mormons in 1831. Howe (1831).
  91. ^ Howe (1831).
  92. ^ Allen (1980, p. 45); Bushman (2005, pp. 39, 112).
  93. ^ Bushman (2005, p. 39).
  94. ^ "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. 35)
  95. ^ Stan Larson "Another Look at Joseph Smith's First Vision" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Summer 2014), pp. 37-62
  96. ^ "Letterbook 1", p. 2. Angle brackets indicate insertions by Smith.
  97. ^ Joseph Smith History, 1832, as found in Vogel (1996), p. 28
  98. ^ See the full text of the Messenger and Advocate from December 1834, page 42[unreliable source?] and January 1835, 78-79.
  99. ^ The stranger was Robert Matthias, a religious con-artist using the alias "Joshua the Jewish minister". Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 275-76.
  100. ^ Smith (1835, pp. 22–24).
  101. ^ Smith (1835, p. 23).
  102. ^ Smith (1835, pp. 23–24).
  103. ^ a b c d Smith (1835, p. 24).
  104. ^ Abanes,[specify] 16: the 1835 account Archived April 14, 2005, at the Wayback Machine[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,Rough Stone Rolling, 283–84.)
  105. ^ Smith (1835, p. 35).
  106. ^ 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."
  107. ^ 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).
  108. ^ Times and Seasons, March and April, vol. 3 nos. 9, 11.
  109. ^ James 1:5; Joseph Smith–History.
  110. ^ See Great Apostasy.
  111. ^ a b Roberts (1902), vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 6.
  112. ^ Smith (1853), p. 78.
  113. ^ "The First Vision: 1838 Joseph Smith History Account", Woodland Institute, Richard N. Holzapfel, archived from the original on 2012-08-25
  114. ^ 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.
  115. ^ Roberts (1902), vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 7.
  116. ^ 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."
  117. ^ 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."
  118. ^ 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."
  119. ^ Orson Pratt, "Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions", Orson Pratt, Ballantyne and Huges publ, 1840 (reprinted in Jessee,[specify] vol. 1 pp. 149–60)
  120. ^ Smith (1842a), pp. 706–710.
  121. ^ a b Smith (1842a), pp. 706.
  122. ^ a b Smith (1842a), pp. 707.
  123. ^ a b Smith (1844–1845), bk. 3, p. 10
  124. ^ Smith (2001), pp. 138, 335.
  125. ^ Smith (1883), pp. 6–8.
  126. ^ Persuitte (2000), p. 26.
  127. ^ Smith (1883), p. 6.
  128. ^ a b Smith 1883, pp. 6, 8–9
  129. ^ Smith 1884
  130. ^ 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.")
  131. ^ 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.")
  132. ^ Tanner, Jerald and Sandra (1987), Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? (5th ed.), Utah Lighthouse Ministry, pp. 143–62
  133. ^ 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.")
  134. ^ "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)
  135. ^ "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 (ed.), The Mormons, PBS
  136. ^ Jessee 1989
  137. ^ Early Mormon Documents, v 1, p. 27-29, Dan Vogel, Signature Books, 1996.
  138. ^ 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.'"
  139. ^ Jessee 1989, pp. 68–69
  140. ^ "History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2]," p. 2, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 2, 2020
  141. ^ "Times and Seasons Volume 3, Number 11".
  142. ^ Published in 1842
  143. ^ "Times and Seasons, 1 March 1842, Page 706".
  144. ^ An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States, Daniel Rupp, Philadelphia, 1844. pp. 404–10.
  145. ^ Interview with journalist David White Reprinted in Jessee vol. 1 pp. 443–44.
  146. ^ Oliver Cowdery in the Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate February 1835 issue.
  147. ^ Ballantyne and Huges publ, reprinted in: "Appendix: Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840," p. [3], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 2, 2020
  148. ^ Orson Hyde, published in German, Frankfurt, 1842 (reprinted in Jessee, vol. 1 pp. 405–09).
  149. ^ Alexander Neibaur Journal, reprinted in Jessee, vol. 1, pp. 459–61.
  150. ^ "History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2]," p. 4, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 31, 2020
  151. ^ Quinn 1998, p. 31
  152. ^ 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 (ed.), The Mormons, PBS )
  153. ^ "Godhead".
  154. ^ a b Harper, S. C. (2019). First vision memory and Mormon origin. New York: Oxford University Press. page 55
  155. ^ Kurt Widmer. Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution, 1830-1915. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000.
  156. ^ a b Bergera, G. J. (1989). Line upon line: essays on Mormon doctrine. Salt Lake City: Signature Books. Chapter 3
  157. ^ Vogel, D. (2004). Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet. Signature Books. page 150, 151
  158. ^ a b "New Approaches to the Book of Mormon – 04 |".
  159. ^ Kirkland, Boyd Jehovah as the Father:The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine Sunstone 9 (Autumn 1984):37
  160. ^ "Lectures on Theology ("Lectures on Faith")".
  161. ^ "Lectures on Faith". Lectures on Faith.
  162. ^ "Joseph Smith's First Vision (Pt 1)-Dan Vogel" – via
  163. ^ Bushman (2008, p. 6)
  164. ^ Bruening, Ari; Paulsen, David (January 1, 2001). "The Development of the Mormon Understanding of God: Early Mormon Modalism and Other Myths". Review of Books on the Book of Mormon. 13 (2).
  165. ^ "The First Vision: A Comparative Analysis | Keith Wilson and Katy Pratt Sumsion" – via
  166. ^ 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)
  167. ^ Bushman 2005, p. 39
  168. ^ Widmer 2000, p. 92
  169. ^ "The First Vision",, LDS Church, 9 September 2013
  170. ^ Hinkley, Gordon B. (November 1998), "What Are People Asking about Us?", Ensign, retrieved 2012-04-26
  171. ^ Improvement Era (December 1961) p. 907. David O. McKay, the ninth church president, 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.
  172. ^ (Frontline and American Experience, "Interview: Gordon B. Hinckley", in Helen Whitney (ed.), 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.
  173. ^ "Gregory Smith, "Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society" Pew Research Center, page 13" (PDF).
  174. ^ Improvement Era (November 1961) p. 868.
  175. ^ E.g., Journal of Discourses 12: 68–69.[full citation needed]
  176. ^ "[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]
  177. ^ "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
  178. ^ Nicholson, Roger (September 14, 2012). "Mormonism and Wikipedia: The Church History That "Anyone Can Edit" | The Interpreter Foundation".
  179. ^ B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1963) p. 394.
  180. ^ "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.
  181. ^ Allen 1980, pp. 53–54.
  182. ^ 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." Widmer,[specify] p. 105.
  183. ^ Shipps 1985, p. 32.
  184. ^ 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."
  185. ^ 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.
  186. ^ Bitton 1994, p. 86 as quoted in Anderson 1996
  187. ^ Flake (2004, pp. 120–21).
  188. ^ Flake, Kathleen (2005). The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot. Univ of North Carolina Press.
  189. ^ Allen (1966, p. 29).
  190. ^ 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", Community of Christ, archived from the original on 2007-02-03
  191. ^ "Community of Christ History", Community of Christ, archived from the original on 2013-10-21
  192. ^ Paul Edwards, Our Legacy of Faith: a brief history of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) (Herald Publishing House, 1991)
  193. ^ "Basic Beliefs." Community of Christ,
  194. ^ William Smith, "On Mormonism," in Vogel 1996, p. 496.
  195. ^ Howard 1980, p. 24.
  196. ^ Howard 1980, p. 25.
  197. ^ Howard 1980, pp. 25–26.
  198. ^ Howard 1980, p. 27.
  199. ^ Howard 1980, pp. 27–28.
  200. ^ Howard 1980, p. 28.
  201. ^ Howard 1980, pp. 28–29.
  202. ^ 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.
  203. ^ "History of the Church of Christ",, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), archived from the original on 2008-04-21
  204. ^ Book of Mormon: How did we get it, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), archived from the original on 2008-04-20
  205. ^ Backman 1969, p. 2
  206. ^ 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)
  207. ^ Brodie, Fawn (1946). No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 24–25. Joseph's first autobiographical sketch of 1834, which we have already mentioned, contained no whisper of an event that, if it had happened, would have been the most soul-shattering experience of his whole youth. The description of the vision was first published by Orson Pratt in his Remarkable Visions in 1840, twenty years after it was supposed to have occurred. Between 1820 and 1840 Joseph's friends were writing long panegyrics; his enemies were defaming him in an unceasing stream of affidavits and pamphlets, and Joseph himself was dictating several volumes of Bible-flavored prose. But no one in this long period even intimated that he had heard the story of the two gods. At least, no such intimation has survived in print or manuscript... Joseph's mother, when writing to her brother in 1831 the full details of the Book of Mormon and the founding of the new church, said nothing whatever about the "first vision"... The first published Mormon history, begun with Joseph's collaboration in 1834 by Oliver Cowdery, ignored it altogether, stating that the religious excitement in his neighborhood occurred when he was seventeen (not fourteen)... Joseph's own description of the first vision was not published until 1842, twenty-two years after the memorable event... If something happened that spring morning in 1820, it passed totally unnoticed in Joseph's home town, and apparently did not even fix itself in the minds of members of his own family. The awesome vision he described in later years may have been the elaboration of some half-remembered dream stimulated by the early revival excitement and reinforced by the rich folklore of visions circulating in his neighborhood.
  208. ^ The Changing World of Mormonism by Jerald and Sandra Tanner (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Mission, 1981), p. 159. The Elias Smith citation is from Elias Smith, The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith (Portsmouth, N.H., 1816, pp. 58-59).
  209. ^ Neal A. Maxwell, Meek and Lowly (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1987) p. 76.
  210. ^ Frontline and American Experience, "Part One (Night One Transcript)", in Helen Whitney (ed.), The Mormons, PBS
  211. ^ "History, circa Summer 1832, Page 1".
  212. ^ "Journal, 1835–1836, Page 23".
  213. ^ "History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2]," p. 2, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed February 23, 2020,
  214. ^ ""Church History," 1 March 1842," p. 706, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed February 23, 2020


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]