Are There Multiple Contradicting Accounts Of Joseph Smith’s First Vision?

“There are at least 4 different First Vision accounts by Joseph Smith… No one – including Joseph Smith’s family members and the Saints – had ever heard about the First Vision for twelve to twenty-two years after it supposedly occurred. The first and earliest written account of the First Vision in Joseph Smith’s journal was written 12 years after the spring of 1820. There is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.” (CES Letter)

Yes, actually the First Vision was talked about prior to 1832. In 1829, reference to it was made in D&C 20:5, though very little detail was given. The question is why didn’t Joseph Smith write a full “official” account with many details until years later?

Too Controversial – Well, if you read the official account you will know why. It was incredibly controversial, and people were trying to kill Joseph Smith as it was. The First Vision meant:

  • All the other churches were wrong & influenced by Satan
  • All other preachers & pastors were not chosen by God
  • God the Father is a separate person than Jesus
  • God is a physical being

Young Joseph Smith kept quiet about these particular details so as to not ruffle any more feathers. He didn’t want to stir up more trouble by telling people God would rather choose a young boy than a well-learned pastor. After all, the First Vision was not mentioned in any non-Mormon writings until 1843, a full 10 years after the first proof of Mormon writing that mentions it. They apparently did not find it important enough to talk about.

If these anti-Mormons and apostates had known more about these four aspects of the First Vision, would they have complained about it? You bet! Would they have acted more violent against young Joseph Smith? Yes! So we can be sure Joseph Smith suppressed the more controversial claims of his First Vision and told only those he could trust. This is probably why Joseph Smith said: “many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.”

Why Would There Be Only One Account? – When a person has a special spiritual experience like this, his first thought is not to write it down in an official account. Especially a young teenager with a third grade education. Why would he immediately publish an official account?

That’s what a hoaxer would have done. A hoaxer would write down an account and then make sure to stick by it as they tell people about the made-up experience. They would spread it far and wide in the newspapers and emphasize the most controversial aspects. That’s what others who claimed to have visions in New England did, after all. But instead, Joseph Smith told others and it was these other people who wrote the accounts. In fact, the First Vision was one of the first things written about in the church at all, as the Book of Mormon was not published until 1830.

Why wouldn’t there be multiple accounts over the years as he tells different people about it? Why would he immediately publish an “official” account? Why would Joseph Smith’s first description of the vision be in his personal journal which nobody read if it was a hoax?

Different Details Mentioned At Different Times – Accounts mention or omit different details, but this is what you would expect. When you ask your grandpa about war stories, does he tell the exact same stories with the exact same details each time, as if he is reading off a script? If he does, I would question whether those stories are actually true, because it is the tendency of a hoaxer to stick by a scrip. A person whose story is true tends to mention different details at different times.

Initially Dismissed By Others – According to Joseph Smith’s journal, he told people about the First Vision but they thought it was the product of a wild imagination, as he was a young teenager, and that is why he stopped talking about it. Think about it, when you were 14 years old, if you had an incredible experience that was so important and so personal, would you go out telling everybody about it? Would you continue to tell everybody about it if their response was that you were crazy and they got angry and violent towards you?

First Vision Accounts

Joseph Smith wrote or oversaw the writing of four accounts. All other accounts were written by others. I could find a bunch of second-hand accounts. Here are the most important from Joseph Smith and others:

Milo Andrus, 1853 (Joseph told him in 1833)

“I was a boy, first nineteen years of age, when I heard the testimony of that man, Joseph Smith, that [an] angel came and that glory [shone] and [the] trees seemed to be consumed in [a] blaze and he was there entrusted with this information: that darkness covered the earth, that the great mass of [the] Christian world [was] universally wrong [and] their creeds [were] all upon [an] uncertain foundation. “Now as young as you are,” [he was told], “I call upon you from this obscurity: go forth and build up my kingdom on the earth.”

The principle that other churches were influenced by Satan is euphemistically explained as “the great mass of” Christianity being built on “uncertain foundation.” Rather than a vision of the godhead, he mentions an angel. If this were the result of a shifting narrative, Milo would have changed his story about an angel to be in line with the “official” account, but instead he understood that there were angels and the Lord in the vision.

John Alger (via Charles Lowell Walker, 1893)

“Br John Alger said while speaking of the Prophet Joseph, that when he, John, was a small boy he heard the Prophet Joseph relate his vision of seeing The Father and the Son, That God touched his eyes with his finger and said “Jospeh this is my beloved Son hear him.” As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Savior. After meeting, a few of us questioned him about the matter and he told us at the bottom of the meeting house steps that he was in the House of Father Smith in Kirtland when Joseph made this declaration, and that Joseph while speaking of it put his finger to his right eye, suiting the action with the words so as to illustrate and at the same time impress the occurence on the minds of those unto whom He was speaking.”

John Alger was born in 1820 and baptized in 1832, so this account, if true, probably happened prior to 1832. It confirmed Joseph talked about very early on the duality of God the Father and the Son appearing to him, before 1832.

Joseph Smith (1835)

“I commenced and gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from 6 years old up to the time I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14.”

Joseph said he was about 14 years old and refered to the First Vision as a visitation of angels.

Joseph Smith (1835)

“I commenced giving him a relation of the circumstances connected with the coming forth of the book of Mormon, as follows 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… I called on the Lord in mighty prayer, a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon me head, and filled me with Joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first, 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 I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication.”

Two personages appeared in a pillar of light (fire) and confirmed to him that Jesus is the Son of God. He mentioned a host of angels. Earlier in this quote, Joseph Smith confirmed that he was influenced by the scripture James 1:5 to pray about which church “was right or who was wrong.” He mentioned being paralyzed by the influence of Satan when he started praying in the grove.

Joseph Smith (1832, text italics is Joseph Smith’s handwriting–the rest is Frederick G. Williams)

At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns of for the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to searching the scriptures… my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that they did not [adorn instead] of adorn[ing] their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the [of the] minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that [mand] mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and 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 to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons… in the 16th year of my age a piller 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 asside 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 acording 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 and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but [I] could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart about that time my mother and but after many days.”

Joseph Smith explains in length that he prayed both about the welfare of his soul and to know which religious denomination was true, because he saw so much wickedness among them. The Lord appeared to him. He didn’t talk to others about the vision much in those early years because he couldn’t find anyone who would believe him.

Here is the only actual discrepancy among all the First Vision accounts. In this quote is the claim that Joseph Smith was 15 years old when he prayed (16th year of age). All the other accounts say 14 years old. Why this discrepancy? Because part was added later by Frederick G. Williams, not Joseph Smith. Apparently he got mixed up over the exact date.

The mention of “many angels” was written in later as well because this account was delivered in the context of Joseph Smith’s “first visitation of angels.” Most of these First Vision accounts were given to explain events that led up to the Book of Mormon. He emphasized the angels because it was angels that later told him about the gold plates and helped him translate them.

Joseph Smith (1838)

“I was at this time in my fifteenth year… 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… 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… 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!… 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… 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.”

No mention of a host of angels this time, which makes sense because the purpose of this account was not to explain the coming of the Book of Mormon, but to explain the “rise and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Still, notice he says, “many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.” As in… this account and other accounts do not give every single detail of what happened!

The Bible Is The Same Way – There are a lot of similarities between the lives of Jesus and Joseph Smith. Jesus lived in a time when all kinds of people were claiming to be the Messiah. Joseph Smith lived in a time when multiple people in New England were claiming to have visions of the Lord. The accounts of Jesus were written by others and compiled into the bible. The accounts of Joseph Smith were always written by other people as well. The four gospels were each written by different people at a much later date, and included different details of the events, exactly like the First Vision accounts.

CES Letter complains that they were “never taught or trained in the Missionary Training Center” about the multiple First Vision accounts. Well, maybe that is because anyone with brain cells can assume that a person talks about their experience more than once? Why would anyone assume that the 1838 “official” version is the only mention of it? How tiny was your critical thinking level to assume that Joseph Smith never recounted the First Vision except that one time?

CES Letter points out some details that were mentioned at different times and pretends like these are discrepancies. But two of the accounts they point to were given by Joseph Smith just five days apart! Are you telling me Joseph Smith made major shifts in his story in only five days (Nov.9 to Nov. 14)? The truth is there is remarkable consistency in Joseph Smith’s story in every account, consistent with someone who is recounting a true event. It is illogical to expect the same exact account with the same exact details every time.

CES Letter Logical Fallacies

Falsehood The claim that Joseph Smith did not talk to anyone about the First Vision before 1823 is demonstrably false.

The claims in CES Letter‘s chart about the First Vision accounts are riddled with falsehoods. The 1832 account does mention a pillar of fire–“fire” is crossed out and replaced with “light.” The Nov. 9 1835 account mentions a host of angels, not one angelic being. The Nov. 14 1835 account does not mention a host of angels, but makes a quick reference Joseph’s “first visitation of Angels.” It is a quick one-sentence statement, so it is no surprise that many other details are not included. The 1838 “official version” mentions a pillar of light, which is reasonably the same thing as a pillar of fire. CES Letter separates the “2 personages” from God the Father and Jesus Christ, and they fabricate the angelic being in order to incorrectly imply discrepancies.

CES Letter incorrectly claims the “1832 account states Joseph was 15 years old when he had the vision in 1821.” Actually, this was penciled in by Fredrick G. Williams later and was not written “by Joseph Smith.” It also never says he had the vision in 1821.

Repetition CES Letter repeats their First Vision argument eight more times in their pdf (p. 19, 35, 45, 49, 71, 76, 76, 81).

CES Letter repeats several claims within this First Vision argument to make the phony claims appear more credible, and repeats them again in a chart.

  • “No one – including Joseph Smith’s family members and the Saints – had ever heard about the First Vision for twelve to twenty-two years after it supposedly occurred…The first and earliest written account of the First Vision in Joseph Smith’s journal was written 12 years after the spring of 1820… There is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832… the Church members didn’t know about a First Vision until 22 years after it supposedly happened.”
  • “There are at least 4 different First Vision accounts [list of four accounts]… I did not know there were multiple First Vision accounts.” Then CES Letter posts a chart comparing four accounts.”
  • “first and earliest”
Non Sequiter If people write about something several times, does that mean there are differing conflicting accounts? How does the fact that Joseph Smith didn’t write about it for a while mean that he didn’t talk to anyone about it?
Cherry-picking CES Letter picks out a small handful of details that are mentioned or not mentioned in a few accounts to imply contradiction.
False Dilemma CES Letter says of these details: “They can’t all be correct together as they conflict with one another.” Actually yes, they can. Angels could have appeared to Joseph Smith as well as God the Father and Jesus Christ together, and he could have mentioned only some of them in various accounts. An angel appearance to a person does not mean God can’t appear along with the angel.

Even if it were “angel” instead of God the Father or Jesus, Christians references Jesus as an angel all the time. The Septugint of Isaiah 9:6, refers to Christ as the “messenger of great counsel.” Eusebius called Christ “the first and only begotten of God; the commander-in-chief of the spiritual and immortal host of heaven; the angel of mighty counsel; the agent of the ineffable purpose of the Father.” The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah said Christ “made himself like the angels of the air, that he was like one of them.” In The Epistula Apostolorum, Christ said: “I became like an angel to the angels…I myself was a servant for myself, and in the form of the image of an angel; so will I do after I have gone to my Father.” D&C 93:8 refers to Christ as “the messenger,” and Joseph Smith said after Christ’s resurrection he”appeared as an angel to His disciples.” John Taylor equates Jesus with an angel in the First Vision:

“None of them was right, just as it was when the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right… When the Father and the Son and Moroni and others came to Joseph Smith, he had a priesthood conferred upon him which he conferred upon others…”

In their chart, CES Letter replaces the painting of God and Jesus in front of Joseph Smith with a host of angels, with an angel in a pillar of fire, or with just Jesus. Either one or the other.

CES Letter complains that in the 1832 account, Joseph Smith “said that before praying he knew that there was no true or living faith or denomination upon the earth as built by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.” CES Letter says this contradicts the “official” 1838 account which says, “at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong.” Actually, what the 1832 account said (via Fredrick G. Willaims) was, “by searching the scriptures I found that there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament.” He didn’t say “true” or “living” or “as built by Jesus Christ.” He said “built upon the gospel.” Is a sect or denomination necessarily wrong if it is not built upon the gospel? Well, that’s what he was praying to find out.

CES Letter says “his primary purpose in going to prayer was to seek forgiveness of his sins,” in the 1832 account. Actually, he made it clear that his purpose was to pray about his own sins, “if the bible be true,” and to find out which church to join.

Shifting Goalposts In their previous argument about the rock in the hat, CES Letter pieced together details out of various accounts to set a narrative of a Urim and Thummim as well as seer stones in translating the gold plates. But this time, CES Letter does not allow the possibility of various accounts giving various pieces–either it was a host of angels, with an angel in a pillar of fire, or just Jesus appearing to Joseph. Either he prayed for forgiveness or he prayed to know which church to join.
Circular Logic We know Joseph Smith made it up because there are all multiple accounts, and there are all these varying multiple accounts because he made it up.

We know Joseph changed his view of the godhead because his story of the First Vision changed, and his story of the First Vision changed because his view of the godhead changed.

Red Herring CES Letter complains: “I was unaware of these omissions in the mission field as I was never taught or trained in the Missionary Training Center to teach investigators these facts.” What does CES Letter‘s failure to read church history and look up information for himself have to do with anything?
Big Lie TacticCES Letter references both the changing godhead argument and the rock and hat argument as a basis for their claims. This sets a narrative that the church changes its beliefs and hides true history from the people. Previous arguments set about to show this true history and explain how Joseph Smith really produced the Book of Mormon. These arguments now become more believable as they make the case that the foundational event, the First Vision, has been altered over time as well. The “treasure hunting” narrative becomes more sinister as we find out that the story changes to whatever it needs to be, and the truth is that there were no spiritual visions at all.

Of course, this is classic projection. The alternative to the Mormon and Christian ideology is a Social Justice ideology that changes the truth to whatever the narrative needs to be at the moment. Each argument that builds on the other is just bogus, and they still don’t go about explaining how Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon. It was a master plagiarism job that ripped off random books from England? It was dictated from his head in a hat?

Each argument follows the same logical fallacies. CES Letter cherry-picks a few details that weren’t mentioned in various accounts, and rakes Joseph Smith over the coals for a couple slips of memory. “The historical record shows that there was no revival in Palmyra in 1820. There was one in 1817 and there was another in 1824.” Really? Revivals can’t last longer than a year? Is there some time limit for religious revivals that I don’t know about. “There are records from his brother, William Smith, and his mother Lucy Mack Smith, both stating that the family joined Presbyterianism after Alvin’s death in November 1823 despite Joseph Smith claiming in the official 1838 account that they joined in 1820.” You are going to rake a middle-aged man over the coals for getting the date of a childhood event off by two or three years? An event from his early teenage years? He didn’t exactly have an iphone that he could go back and check the date. If Mormons were changing history to cover something up, wouldn’t Lucy Mack Smith and William have changed their story to fit in line with the “official” account? No, the truth is it is remarkable and convincing how consistent–yet not too consistent–the various First Vision accounts are.

The First Vision argument is hokey, but it is circular logic. The point is to boost the Big Lie and reaffirm the anti-Mormon narrative to those who already suspect that it is a hoax. The same argument is frequently used for the bible’s four gospels. Anti-Christians ignore the different authors and different contexts and reasons for writing their accounts. They cherry-pick a few details that were either not mentioned in some other account or described a little differently. For example, compare Matt. 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, John 19:19. Actually, the existence of multiple gospels is important evidence of its truth. “By the mouths of two or three witnesses.” The consistency and manner of delivering both the four gospels and the First Vision suggest they weren’t hoaxes.

Contradiction Strategy – The surrounding arguments for obscure books that allegedly influenced the Book of Mormon no longer seem very clownish now. The attack on faith and promotion of fake science gains considerable strength with this narrative in place, and the explanation for how Joseph Smith fabricated it suddenly appears more credible.

One thing nobody mentions is that Joseph Smith was only a child, a 14-year old boy, when he had the first vision. The implications certainly did not become evident until he was a man. Like Jesus’s early years, he had some growing up to do. If he were making it up, why didn’t he claim a vision in 1829 when he started work on the Book of Mormon? Why did he claim it happened years ago instead?

The human mind is trained to find patterns. It is easy to cherry-pick a few vague differences, dress up the context to sound more different, and build a narrative that one thing contradicts the other. It is especially effective for CES Letter to play this game immediately following arguments where they throw out vague similarities between two books and suggest one book was derived from the other, and similarities between the stories of Joseph “treasure hunting” and the gold plates. At this point in their document, our brain is eagerly looking for clues to piece together. We look at these stories of ‘treasure hunts’ and attach them to the gold plates. We look at the stories of ‘stones in a hat’ and attach them to the translation of the gold plates. Our brain is telling us there is no way the gold plates story couldn’t be derived from the teenage treasure hunting years. There is no way the first vision accounts couldn’t be contradictory.

This is the same argument that Leftists use against the bible and all the other prophets. The human brain is trained to look for discrepancies and patterns, so this trick is common. Pareidolia is why people see the Virgin Mary in breakfast cereal and human figures on Mars. It is confirmation bias.

When it comes to history, there is so much we don’t know and will never know. In this case, all we have are some angry statements from anti-Mormons and some second or third hand quotes from witnesses. Fools jump to conclusions.We must be careful not to be tricked when it comes to pareidolia and history, take care to use critical thought. If there is vague evidence for something but we mostly don’t know what really happened because it is history, do not jump to lazy conclusions, whatever narrative is hyped on South Park. It is easy to manipulate Satan’s followers when it comes to history because they rely only on what they can see and put no true faith in anything.

What does CES Letter believe in? What tenant of faith do hold that we can verify or discredit with these kinds of comparisons? Global warming? Human evolution? Give us something! Why don’t anti-Mormons discuss their alternative belief to the beliefs of the Book of Mormon and bible, and talk about physical evidences? Instead, they nit-pick and tear down an entire belief system with unscientific appeals to fake science.

This Marxist propaganda technique of finding contradiction is especially insidious as it defines Mormons in a constrained and unfair frame, and it rallies non-Mormons or anybody who was sitting on the fence in solidarity against Mormons and their beliefs. CES Letter never explains why Joseph Smith switched stories or how he came up with the deep theology and meanings of his vision.

Use Opponent As Authority Tactic – This is a popular Marxist tactic that anti-Mormons use. They use Mormonism’s own authorities to discredit the faith, such as an alleged Mormon scholar. What makes this argument powerful is:

  • Deceptively discredits the vast libraries of study on Book of Mormon theology by LDS professionals.
  • Gives more focus to a phony frame that attacks the Mormon church.
  • Divides the ranks of the church.
  • Establishes a frame that demands a clear, modern explanation in the Book of Mormon for every religious issue in existence, and that it be exactly corroborated by every other Mormon source.

CES Letter starts with a quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley:

“Our whole strength rests on the validity of that [First] vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens.”

Authoritarianism – Usually, anti-Mormons set the narrative that Joseph Smith ripped the First Vision off other stories of visions in New England. I’m a little suprise that CES Letter didn’t pick this low-hanging fruit. But I guess CES Letter just got done switching the narrative to inspiration from black magic, and it would be too ridiculous to switch it back to the narrative that he ripped a few details from various random other places. But that’s the route other anti-Mormons often take. With followers of Satan, after all, the narrative and truth can shift to whatever narrative it needs to be in the moment.

CES Letter does not appear to be upset about alleged contradictions so much as they weren’t taught in the MTC a simple, concise message of what to teach and think. It is all so complicated when you have to research and find truth on your own! Followers of Satan want a slogan or short phrase that they can simply shout and replace when they need to, such as “Equality now” or “Love Trump’s hate.” Slogans don’t really tell you anything, but they generalize and are easy to follow if you are mindless. CES Letter is outraged that they were expected to research, study, ponder, pray, and find truth for themselves–to exercise personal agency. They don’t want to have to think for themselves and lead their own faith pursuits.

Satan, take the wheel!