Were There Multiple Changing Accounts Of Joseph Smith’s First Vision?

The First Vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith in the Spring of 1820 commenced the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith prayed about which church to join, and God told him to join none. God called Joseph Smith to be prophet and restore God’s true church.

Opponents say Joseph Smith gave multiple contradictory accounts of his first vision of God the Father and Jesus. Why are there discrepancies of such an important event? But these opponents are distorting the facts. There there are no real discrepancies, but there is a persistent attempt by anti-Mormons to unfairly smear Joseph Smith.

Each time someone talks about a childhood event, we should expect a them to include different details.

Actually A Dream?

Opponents say it is unclear whether the First Vision was a “real, physical event.” Or “was this a vision in the same sense that Lehi saw a vision of the tree of life, in a dream?” Orson Pratt said:

“When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and, immediately, his mind was caught away from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision”

But Orson Pratt made it perfectly clear that he was talking about Joseph Smith’s state of mind. He was not talking about the physical manner of his vision, which you can tell when you like that the entire context of that quote:

“…he continued to seek for deliverance until darkness gave way from his mind, and he was enabled to pray in fervency of the spirit and in faith… He was also informed upon the subjects which had for some time previously agitated his mind… his mind was drawn out in fervent prayer… This sudden appearance of a light so bright, as must naturally be expected, occassioned a shock or sensation that extended to the extremities of the body. It was, however, followed with a calmness and serenity of mind…”

Joseph Smith said his vision was not a dream or out of body experience. It was a real physical event:

“I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”

Contradictory Accounts?

“When he first penned the account, Joseph only mentioned one person visiting him, which is no small detail to be mistaken about,” claim opponents.

Joseph Smith said in his 1832 account that “The Lord” spoke to him. Yes, but he never said “only” the Lord spoke to him. He simply didn’t mention that the Lord was introduced by God the Father. So what? There is no mistake here.

When a person includes extra details of an event in later accounts, that means they are creating “false memories about those events,” says anti-Mormon group MormonThink.

“We consistently spin the stories of our lives rather than recall events correctly. And the confabulations always are designed to make ourselves look better. These are established facts.” So if Joseph Smith included more detail in later descriptions of the First Vision, doesn’t that mean he could have been grossly exaggerating? Did Joseph Smith add details of the event over time to make it sound better?

This is really begging the question. Anybody who repeatedly recalls an event earlier in their life is going to talk about different details than before. Over time, Joseph Smith included some details and excluded some details. Joseph Smith wasn’t exactly making himself look good in his later accounts, with his descriptions of youthful weakness and being overcome by the power of Satan. And there were details in his earlier accounts that he didn’t talk about later on, such as multiple angels.

Only One Account From Joseph Smith’s Hand

They claim that there are “nine different accounts given by Joseph Smith relating the First Vision with varying degrees of changes and circumstances.”

Actually, the 1832 account from Joseph Smith’s Letterbook is the only account we have written by Joseph Smith. He didn’t write much during his life. The other accounts were written down by others. Some were recorded with closer supervision by Joseph Smith than others.

The opponents make it seem like Joseph Smith gave plenty of accounts later in his life and that few other people wrote about it. But actually the opposite is true! There are many accounts written by others but only this one account written by Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith closely oversaw the 1842 account from the Times and Seasons, as it went on to become part of the official History of the Church.

“Joseph Smith described a different first vision story when he oversaw the first church history published in 1835,” claims MormonThink. Not true. In fact, the hadn’t published the church history yet in 1835! It was published years later. The 1835 account, written by Warren Parrish, and based on Joseph Smith’s discussion with Robert Matthews, had nothing to do with the church history volume. And it shows no differences with the other accounts. Comparison charts incorrectly claim that this account describes only one personage appearing. Actually it clearly describes two personages: “…a personage appeard… another personage soon appeard…”

No discrepancies there. The anti-Mormons are lying about the First Vision account.

Only One Discrepancy

The Letterbook account was written by Joseph Smith, but others added things later. Frederick G. Williams added later on: “in the 16th year of my age,” (aka 15 years old). This is important because all the other accounts say he was 14 years old. Why this discrepancy?

FairMormon says it is a matter of Joseph Smith’s poor school education:

Joseph wrote, “we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructid in reading and writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements.”

Although the portion of Joseph’s 1832 history is in his own handwriting, the text insertion of “in the 16th year of my age” was in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, Joseph’s scribe. It is likely that Joseph’s dating schemes were slightly off when he dictated his age to Williams, many years after-the-fact….

Once the date of the First Vision was correctly established it remained steady throughout all subsequent recitals as the “15th year” or “age 14.”

All other accounts say Joseph Smith was 14 years old.

Smith said that there were many things in the vision that he didn’t write about. “…many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.” (JSH 1:20) Smith told about parts of the vision according to whatever he was talking about in the context of that particular account, and these accounts were many years apart.

So there were details left out or included in different accounts, but not any major discrepancies. The only thing is the question of his age, and that appears to be Fredrick G. Williams just marking it in later incorrectly.

When Did Joseph Smith Learn All Churches Were Wrong?

In the 1832 account, Joseph Smith says he “already knew all other churches were false before he prayed,” points out Mormon Think.

“…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 built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ…”

They are taking these snippets out of context, effectively misquoting this passage. Here is the entire quote. It is clear that Joseph Smith was worried about his own personal sins and apostasy, and was frustrated that he couldn’t find a correct church. He was talking about personal apostasy, not organized churches:

“…my mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that mand 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…”

Joseph Smith never said that he concluded that every church on earth was wrong. Just that he could not find a church that built on the true gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no contradiction in the 1842 account of the First Vision when it says Joseph Smith didn’t know yet that “all the sects” on earth were wrong.

“”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.”

 

 

Why Wasn’t It Published Quickly?

 

First Vision Was Among First Writings

Mormon Think complains that the “first written version of the account by Joseph was not given until 12 years after it supposedly took place.” Why wasn’t such an important event written about for over a decade?

The church and Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon in 1830. As Mormon Think points out, “The first regular periodical to be published by the Church was The Evening and Morning Star” (Dialogue, James Allen). That was started in 1832, the same year as Smith’s first writing about his First Vision.

So the First Vision is actually one of the first writings produced by Joseph Smith and the church.

Joseph Smith did not write much because of his poor education, as he mentioned. He didn’t write about anything much at all. Mormon Think says, “As far as Mormon literature is concerned, there was apparently no reference to Joseph Smith’s First Vision in any published material in the 1830’s.” That’s because there was little Mormon literature published at that time. Printing was tough to do in those days. The Book of Commandments was printed in a small number in 1833, until anti-Mormons destroyed the printing press. It wasn’t until years later that much could be printed at all.

Included In Church History

Mormon Think claims the First Vision “was left out of the first publication of the Church’s history written by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.” Completely false. The First Vision was included in the Church History publication under BH Roberts in 1902, from the Wentworth Letter account.

Previously, only small excerpts were published in the Times and Seasons, as it was a very massive library of literature and was still being prepared. The First Vision account that appeared in the Church History was published in this newspaper in March 1842 and April 182. Another account was printed in this newspaper on March 1, 1842.

Not Included In Book of Commandments?

Mormon Think also complains that the First Vision was “also left out of the Book of Commandments,” which was the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Of course it was! The Book of Commandments was a book of commandments, not of Joseph Smith’s diary accounts of his experiences. Only direct accounts of revelation from God, with God giving commandments in first person language was included in this book. The First Vision record did not fit that qualification. This is why the First Vision does not appear in D&C today, but in the Pearl of Great Price, which was included in scripture in 1880.

Mormon Think claims “no reference was made to Joseph’s first vision in Book of Commandments.” False. References to the First Vision were indeed in the Book of Commandments. In D&C 20:5, God reminded Joseph Smith that the Lord told him in the First Vision that his sins were forgiven him. This section of D&C was delivered in 1829, only 9 years after the First Vision event took place.

Mormon Think claims “the general church membership did not receive information about the First Vision until the 1840’s.” But that can’t be true. Joseph Smith talked about it all the time. Why do you think there are so many second-hand accounts about it? Wikipedia is lying when it says Joseph Smith was “reluctant to talk about his vision.” He just didn’t publish it until 1842.

Threat Of Violence

“Most assume that the most important news about God and Christ would be written and published immediately to the world.” says Mormon Think.

That’s pretty stupid to assume. Joseph Smith was violently attacked by anti-Mormon persecutors because he taught a different Christian doctrine. They destroyed the church’s printing press for printing different religious ideas. They murdered and raped Mormons and stole their property. The U.S. government issued a genocidal extermination order of Mormons, ordering them wiped off the face of the earth.

How would the murderous anti-Mormons have reacted if the church started spreading literature of God the Father and Jesus Christ (two different personages) telling everyone that all their churches were corrupt and evil? It would have made the persecution worse. It is a good thing Joseph Smith made better assumptions than Mormon Think. His decision saved lives. Joseph Smith explained:

In the meantime we were forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood.We had been threatened with being mobbed, from time to time, and this, too, by professors of religion.”

Besides, why would Joseph Smith delay publishing his account of the vision? Wouldn’t he be better off spreading it right away and attracting followers?

Well, why didn’t Jesus immediately publish an account of His life? It wasn’t till many decades later that the first accounts of Jesus’ life were written and spread around. And the four accounts of Jesus had many major discrepancies, didn’t they? An examination and comparison of the four gospels in the New Testament would surely prove more discrepancies than between the nine accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision.

 

Did Later Mormon Leaders Give Contradictory Accounts?

Later statements by LDS prophets and apostles contradict Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision, claims Mormon Think. Why isn’t there a consistent narrative about this foundational event?

Well first of all, these statements were all given many years after the first vision was published. So why would they contradict a well known and well established account? Anti-Mormons have a talent for taking quotes out of context and twisting them to fit an anti-Mormon frame. Let’s take a look at each statement:

Did Orson Hyde

“Some one may say, “If this work of the last days be true, why did not the Saviour come himself to communicate this intelligence to the world?” Because to the angels was committed the power of reaping the earth, and it was committed to none else. And after the mighty champions that hold the keys of this dispensation came and brought the intelligence that the time of harvest was now—that the time of the end was drawing nigh,—when this proclamation was made, and the announcement saluted the ears of the children of men, what was to be done next? Behold, the gathering of the Saints begins.” (1854)

 

This is not even about the first vision. Orson Hyde was talking about the “grand harvest” of missionary work in D&C chapter 110, not about the restoration of the gospel in general. That is why he speaks of angels and not the Savior himself making the proclamation.

Brigham Young

“The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven, in power and great glory, nor send His messengers panoplied with aught else than the truth of heaven, to communicate to the meek the lowly, the youth of humble origin, the sincere enquirer after the knowledge of God. But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith Jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong; that they were following the precepts of men instead of the Lord Jesus; that He had a work for him to perform, inasmuch as he should prove faithful before Him.”” (1855)

Brigham Young was comparing the restoration through Joseph Smith with the Jews’ expectation of a militant Messiah in Jesus’ time. The point he was making was that the restoration of the gospel did not come with armies of angels destroying the earth, but through the restoration of priesthood keys. He was talking about the vision of angels through which priesthood keys were delivered:

“It is because the keys of the dispensation were committed by messengers sent from the Celestial world unto Joseph Smith, and are now held on the earth by his people.” He wasn’t even talking about the First Vision!

Mormon Think says: “It is certain Young is speaking of the First Vision for he says the angel told Smith to join no church for they were all wrong. This is the very question the official version of the story states Smith asked of the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove.”

Anti-Mormons have a difficult time reading plain English. He didn’t say the angel told Joseph Smith not to join any church. Look again at what Brigham Young said: “But [God] did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith Jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects…” God sent his angel and informed him not to join any of the religions. Get it now?

Wilford Woodruff

“That same organization and Gospel that Christ died for, and the Apostles spilled their blood to vindicate, is again established in this generation. How did it come? By the ministering of an holy angel from God,… The angel taught Joseph Smith those principles which are necessary for the salvation of the world;… He told him the Gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of His kingdom in the world,… This man to whom the angel appeared obeyed the Gospel;…” (1855)

Mormon Think is misquoting this. They took out the part that made it clear that the First Vision was of the Lord:

“The gospel has gone forth in our day in its true glory, power, order, and light, as it always did when God had a people among men that He acknowledged. That same organization and gospel that Christ died for, and the Apostles spilled their blood to vindicate, is again established in this generation. How did it come? By the ministering of an holy ANGEL from God, out of heaven, who held converse with man, and revealed unto him the darkness that enveloped the world, and unfolded unto him the gross darkness that surrounded the nations, those scenes that should take place in this generation, and would follow each other in quick succession, even unto the coming of the Messiah. The ANGEL taught Joseph Smith those principles which are necessary for the salvation of the world; and THE LORD gave him commandments, and sealed upon him the Priesthood, and gave him power to administer the ordinances of the house of the Lord. HE told him the gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of HIS kingdom in the world, that the people had turned away from HIS true order, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant, and inherited lies and things wherein their was no profit. HE told him the time had come to lay the foundation for the establishment of the Kingdom of God among men for the last time, preparatory to the winding up scene” (source)

 

Heber C. Kimball

“Do you suppose that God in person called upon Joseph Smith, our Prophet? God called upon him; but God did not come himself and call, but he sent Peter to do it. Do you not see? He sent Peter and sent Moroni to Joseph, and told him that he had got the plates.” (1857)

This was not about the First Vision or Restoration in general. It was specifically about the gift of the tools that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon. This is clear if you look at Kimball’s entire quote.

“”If God confers gifts, and blessings, and promises, and glories, and immortality, and eternal lives, and you receive them and treasure them up, then our Father and our God has joy in that man. . . . Do you not see [that] God is not pleased with any man except those that receive the gifts, and treasure them up, and practice upon those gifts? And He gives those gifts, and confers them upon you, and will have us to practice upon them. Now, these principles to me are plain and simple.

Do you suppose that God in person called upon Joseph Smith, our Prophet? God called upon him; but God did not come Himself and call, but He sent Peter to do it. Do you not see? He sent Peter and sent Moroni to Joseph, and told him that he had got the plates. Did God come Himself? No: He sent Moroni and told him there was a record, and says he, “That record is [a] matter that pertains to the Lamanites, and it tells when their fathers came out of Jerusalem, and how they came, and all about it; and, says he, “If you will do as I tell you, I will confer a gift upon you.” Well, he conferred it upon him, because Joseph said he would do as he told him. “I want you to go to work and take the Urim and Thummim, and translate this book, and have it published, that this nation may read it.” Do you not see, by Joseph receiving the gift that was conferred upon him, you and I have that record?”

John Taylor

“How did this state of things called Mormonism originate? We read that an angel came down and revealed himself to Joseph Smith and manifested unto him in vision the true position of the world in a religious point of view.” (1863)

Same out of context tactic as with the Heber C. Kimball quote. He was talking about the restoration of the priesthood. Out of the many hundreds of First Vision accounts from later general authorities, only a handful mentioned the angels in the First Vision account, and they did so because they were talking about the series of angelic visions necessary for that to happen. Anti-Mormons take these quotes out of context.

George A. Smith

“When Joseph Smith was about fourteen or fifteen years old,…he went humbly before the Lord and inquired of Him, and the Lord answered his prayer, and revealed to Joseph, by the ministration of angels, the true condition of the religious world. When the holy angel appeared, Joseph inquired which of all these denominations was right and which he should join, and was told they were all wrong,…”

See entire quote in context here.

The reason George Smith emphasizes the angels and not God the Father and Son is because he was talking about the restoration of the priesthood, and he was tying this message to subsequent visions regarding the priesthood keys. Joseph Smith wrote that there were angels present at the First Vision. The message of these angels in this and subsequent visions brought about the restoration of the priesthood. This is why George A. Smith’s quote goes on: “But the vision was repeated several times…” Angels repeatedly arrived to restore the priesthood.

Mormon Think distorts another George A. Smith quote:

“He sought the Lord by day and by night, and was enlightened by the vision of an holy angel. When this personage appeared to him, of his first inquiries was, ‘Which of the denominations of Christians in the vicinity was right?” (1863)

Again, look at the entire quote. This was about restoring the priesthood. George Smith was emphasizing the restoration of the priesthood by angels, and the angel Moroni repeated God’s assertion that none of the denominations of churches were true. Moroni explained in several visions following the First Vision why true church was not on the earth: because the keys of the priesthood were not on the earth.

Joseph Smith’s Mother

“Joseph’s mother, was unacquainted with a vision of the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove. In her unpublished history, she traced the origin of Mormonism to a late-night bedroom visit by an angel. According to her, the angel told him “there is not a true church on Earth, No, not one”” (Mormon Think)

The entire quote makes it clear that she was talking about the priesthood. Moroni’s visit.

“After we ceased conversation, he went to bed but he had not laid there long till a bright enter the room where he lay. He looked up and saw an angel of the Lord by him. The angel spoke, I perceive that you are enquiring in your mind which is the true church. There is not a true church on Earth. No, not one, has not been since Peter took the Keys into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Again, the angel Moroni repeated God’s assertion that no true church was on the earth, as part of his explanation for why he was restoring priesthood keys.

Now, let’s take a look at the opponents pushing the false narratives about the First Vision. Mormon Think managing editor Tom Phillips tried to get the LDS prophet Thomas S. Monson arrested for fraud in a frivolous criminal court, because Tom Phillips disagreed with Mormon teachings, according to reports.

Those are the kind of anti-Mormons we are dealing with here. It’s no wonder they are dishonest and deceitful about Mormon doctrine.