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Saturday
Mar262011

First Vision

Joseph Smith's first vision stands today as the greatest event in world history since the birth, ministry, and resurrection of
Jesus Christ.
LDS.org

Timeline
Early 1800's
Visionary tales common throughout New England
1820
First Vision*
1829
Joseph claims to receive Aaronic Priesthood
1832, Sept.
Joseph: "no man can see God without priesthood"
1832, Nov.
*Earliest account of the first vision
1835
Diary version
1842
Official version published
1880
Official version canonized

The First Vision The First Vision
Mormons are taught that local revivals prompted Joseph (age 14) to go into the woods one morning to pray about which church to join. In doing so, Joseph became overwhelmed by a dark force that paralyzed him until God the Father and Jesus Christ both appear before him in bodily form. Jesus Christ told Joseph not to join any church as they were all wrong.
  • If true, this event would be the first ever appearance of God the Father, as the prophets and apostles of biblical times teach us that man has never seen God, nor can see Him.
    Holy Bible You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!
    — Exodus 33:20

    No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
    — John 1:18

    Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.
    — John 6:46

    Who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see...
    — 1 Timothy 6:16

    No one has seen God at any time...
    — 1 John 4:12
  • This event is the basis for the existence of the Mormon church. For if Joseph was not instructed that all churches were wrong, it nullifies the notion that there was ever a complete apostasy and the notion that the Mormon church is the only true church.
  • This event is cited as evidence for the Mormon doctrine that God the Father has a body of flesh and bones and that the Father and Son are separate and distinct gods.


History or Imagination?

The historicity of this event is doubtful for several reasons:
  • There is no evidence for this event but Joseph's own claim.
  • He remained silent for over a decade, as the earliest account is dated twelve years after the visitation allegedly occurred.
  • Joseph asserted that priesthood authority is required to see God the Father. He claimed to receive such authority in May of 1829. By his own assertion he could not have seen God the Father nine years prior in 1820.
    Joseph Smith And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

    Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
    Doctrine and Covenants 84:21-22
  • Visionary tales were common in New England during the early 1800's. Themes in Joseph's own visionary tale appear to be borrowed from other earlier visions.



Contradictory Versions

Versions that predate the church's official version contradict it on key items, including:
  • The age when Joseph had the visitation
  • His motivation for praying
  • Whether or not there were local revivals
  • Who appeared before Joseph
  • What was and wasn't said to him
  • Whether or not he was overwhelmed by a dark force

Official Version (1842) [full text]
The official version of this event was not published until 1842, over two decades after the vision allegedly occurred. It was canonized in the Pearl of Great Price in 1880.

Diary Version (1835) [full text]
Two entries recorded five days apart in Joseph's diary refer to this event as "a visitation of angels". In this version it is many angels who appear before Joseph.

Handwritten Version (1832) [full text]
The earliest version is a handwritten history written by Joseph. This version is vaulted and has never been formally published by the Mormon church. In this version, Joseph already knew that all churches were wrong before ever going to pray. Only Jesus Christ appears to him.

Version Inconsistencies
Handwritten Version
(1832)
Diary Version
(1835)
Official Version
(1842)
Age of visitation in the 16th year of my age I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication I was at this time in my fifteenth year
Local revivals - - Local revivals spark Joseph's curiosity as to which are true and false
Location - I retired to the silent grove I retired to the woods
Motivation to pray Note: contradictory to the official version, Joseph had already learned for himself that all denominations were wrong:

by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but they had apostatised from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ
looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right 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... for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong

Heard noises - 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 -
Overwhelmed by a dark force - - immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me
Has difficulty praying - I made a fruitless attempt to pray, my tongue seemed to be swollen in my mouth, so that I could not utter... [after hearing noises] I kneeled down again my mouth was opened and my tongue liberated and [the dark force] had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak
Who appeared Jesus Christ, implied:

I was crucified for the world
Many Angels, one testifies about Jesus Christ.

Note: Joseph summarized the first encounter as:

"the first visitation of angels"

and the second encounter with Moroni as:

"another vision of angels"
God the Father and Jesus Christ, implied.

One introduces the other:

This is My Beloved Son
Sins forgiven I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee -


First Vision Versions

The full text all versions.

Handwritten Version (1832) ^
Joseph Smith At about the age of twelve years my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal Soul. Which led me to searching the scriptures believing as I was taught that they contained the word of God. Thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel exceedingly. For I discovered that they did not adorn 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 situation of the world of mankind; the contentions and divisions; the wickedness and abominations; and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind.

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 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, today and forever. That he was no respecter to persons. For he was God. 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 beast 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 exceeding 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 these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent power: a being who maketh Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds; who filleth Eternity; who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity. And when I considered all these things and that that being seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth: therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy. For there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy.

And the 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 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 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." And my soul was filled with love and for many days.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
A History of the Life of Joseph Smith
Note: added punctuation and corrected spelling.


Diary Version (1835) ^
  • November 9th entry: Joseph relates his visitation to a Jewish minister. This entry was omitted from the History of the Church 2:304
    Joseph Smith I commenced giving him [Joshua] 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. And I considered 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 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. 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. 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.

    When I was about 17 years old I saw another vision of angels in the night season after I had retired to bed.

    Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
    Diary, November 9, 1835
    Note: punctuation added and spelling corrected.
  • November 14th entry: Joseph relates his visitation to Erastus Holmes. The words "visitation of angels" was changed to "first vision" when recorded in the History of the Church 2:312
    Joseph Smith A Gentleman called this after noon by the name of Erastus Holmes of Newberry, Clermont County, Ohio. He called to make enquiry about the establishment of the church of the latter-day Saints and to be instructed more perfectly in our doctrine, etc.

    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 years old. And also the visitations that I received afterward concerning the book of Mormon; and a short account of the rise and progress of the church up to this date. He listened very attentively and seemed highly gratified; and intends to unite with the Church. He is a very candid man. Indeed and I am much pleased with him.

    Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
    Diary, November 14, 1835
    Note: punctuation added and spelling corrected.


Official Version (1842) ^
Joseph Smith 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 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!"

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. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
LDS.org


Conclusion

With no other witnesses to this event, all we have is Joseph's word. But he is not credible when he can't keep his story straight. If this event were true, we would not expect him to wait for over a decade to bring it up.

By suppressing the earliest handwritten version, by omitting the entire November 9th diary entry, and by changing "visitation of angels" to "first vision" in the November 14th diary entry, the LDS church has presented a consistent version to its members.



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