Criticism of Mormonism/Books/No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith/Chapter 2

Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 2: Treasure in the Earth"



A FAIR Analysis of: No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, a work by author: Fawn Brodie
Claim Evaluation
No Man Knows My History
Chart.brodie.ch2.jpg

Response to claims made in No Man Knows My History, "Chapter 2: Treasure in the Earth"


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Response to claim: 16 - Joseph was notorious for telling tall tales

The author(s) make(s) the following claim:

Joseph was notorious for telling tall tales

Author's sources:
  1. "Mormonism", New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, New York, 1883, Vol. II, p. 1576.
  • Obadiah Dogberry (pseudonym for Abner Cole), Palmyra Reflector, Jan. 6 - March 19, 1831.
  • Abner Cole, "The Book of Pukei," Palmyra Reflector June - July 1830.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The "tall tales" were related to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

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  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith's trustworthiness

Response to claim: 16 - Joseph was charged with being "a disorderly person and an impostor" at his 1826 trial

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph was charged with being "a disorderly person and an impostor" at his 1826 trial.

Author's sources:
  1. "Mormonism", New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, New York, 1883, Vol. II, p. 1576.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Joseph was brought before a judge by relatives of Josiah Stowell, because they thought that Joseph was defrauding him. Joseph was acquitted and released.
  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith's 1826 trial#What is Joseph Smith's 1826 South Bainbridge "trial" for "glasslooking"?
  2. REDIRECTJoseph Smith's 1826 trial#What events resulted in Joseph Smith's 1826 court appearance in South Bainbridge?
  3. REDIRECTJoseph Smith's 1826 trial#Why was Joseph fined if he wasn't found guilty of anything?
  4. REDIRECTJoseph Smith's 1826 trial#''Ensign'' (June 1994): "'''Highlights in the Prophet’s Life''' 20 Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a "disorderly person," South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York

Response to claim: 18 - Fifty-one of Joseph's neighbors signed affidavits accusing him of being "destitute of moral character" and "addicted to vicious habits"

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Fifty-one of Joseph's neighbors signed affidavits accusing him of being "destitute of moral character" and "addicted to vicious habits."

Author's sources:
  1. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834). (Affidavits examined)

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Joseph's neighbors produced these affidavits at the request of an enemy of Joseph Smith: Doctor Philastus Hurlbut. They were published in the anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed.


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  1. REDIRECTThe Hurlbut affidavits

Response to claim: 18 - Joseph dreamed of an "illustrious and affluent" future, "detested the plow" and despaired about the family's debts

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph dreamed of an "illustrious and affluent" future, "detested the plow" and despaired about the family's debts.

Author's sources:
  1. Author's speculation.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author is reading Joseph's mind.


Question: Is it possible to deduce Joseph Smith's thoughts and dreams years after his death?

Some critics of the Church attempt to discern Joseph Smith's motivations, thoughts and dreams, in order to explain the rise of the Church

Secular critics face a tough challenge when attempting to explain the foundational stories of Church—the primary sources from Joseph Smith and his associates do not provide them with any useful information. The only explanation left to them is that Joseph must have been lying about everything that he said. Authors then resort to fabricating Joseph's thoughts and dreams, and deducing his motivations based upon his surroundings. As one reviewer of Vogel's work puts it, "if no evidence can be gathered to demonstrate that a historical actor thought what you attribute to him or her, no conjecture can be beyond the realm of hypothetical possibility—just make things up, if you need to."[1]:326 This technique allows secular critics to quite literally create any explanation that they wish to account for Joseph's ability to restore the Church.

Creating a "psychobiography" by putting thoughts into Joseph's head

Secular critics, as a result of their inability to accept what they call "paranormal experiences," must come up with explanations for why Joseph Smith was able to create and grow the Church. Since many of the primary documents from Joseph and his associates accept evidence of spiritual experiences and angelic visitations as normal, secular critics look at Joseph's surrounding environment in order to deduce his thoughts and dreams, thus creating a "psychobiography" of the Prophet. A well-known critical work in which this technique is heavily employed is Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History. Consider the following:

But the need for deference was strong within [Joseph]. Talented far beyond his brothers or friends, he was impatient with their modest hopes and humdrum fancies. Nimble-witted, ambitious, and gifted with a boundless imagination, he dreamed of escape into an illustrious and affluent future. For Joseph was not meant to be a plodding farmer, tied to the earth by habit or by love for the recurrent miracle of harvest. He detested the plow as only a farmer's son can, and looked with despair on the fearful mortage [check spelling] that clouded their future.[2]:18

Brodie's prose is very readable, and would be well suited to a fictional novel. Unfortunately, nothing in the paragraph quoted above is referenced to any sort of a source. According to Dr. Charles L. Cohen, professor of history and religious studies, and director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

This habit of insinuating herself into historical actors' minds constitutes the second part of Brodie's method. "For weeks" after learning that Martin Harris had lost the 116-page translation of the golden plates, she stated, "Joseph writhed in self-reproach for his folly." Lucy Smith described her son's distraught reaction when Harris told him the bad news, but, though one can well imagine Joseph agonizing over what to do, there is insufficient evidence to say in an unqualified declarative sentence what he actually did.[3]

The speculation of one author becomes a later author's "fact"

Since Brodie's work is heavily referenced by critics, Brodie's opinions eventually become considered to be "fact" by those who wish to tear down the Church. Brodie's pronouncements regarding Joseph's motives are then passed along to the next anti-Mormon writer. Consider how the following claim evolves from speculation to "documented endnote," when Brodie states:

The awesome vision he described in later years was probably 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. Or it may have been sheer invention, created some time after 1830 when the need arose for a magnificent tradition to cancel out the stories of his fortune-telling and money-digging. Dream images came easily to this youth, whose imagination was as untrammeled as the whole West (emphasis added).[2]:25

Now observe how author Richard Abanes treats this quote in his book Becoming Gods (retitled Inside Today's Mormonism):

Such a theory boldly challenges LDS apostle James Faust's contention that critics of the First Vision "find it difficult to explain away." His assertion is further weakened by yet another theory of Brodie's, which posits that Smith's story might have been "created some time after 1830 when the need arose for a magnificent tradition to cancel out the stories of his fortune-telling and money-digging" (emphasis added).[4]

Here we have an unsupported theory by Brodie being confirmed by another author to "further weaken" LDS claims about the First Vision. Brodie's speculation of "was probably" and "it may have been" now becomes a cited endnote in Abanes' work. The speculation of one author has become the documented fact for the next author down the line.

Deducing Joseph's thoughts from his environment

Another author who takes great liberties in deducing Joseph's thoughts and dreams is Dan Vogel. Vogel's book Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet liberally assigns motives to the Prophet which cannot be backed up with any primary source. Instead, the author must interpret the meaning behind second- and third-hand sources that agree with his point-of-view.

Frankly admitting his "inclination . . . to interpret any claim of the paranormal . . . as delusion or fraud" (p. xii), Vogel refuses to accept Joseph's and his supporters' autobiographical statements—most of which grant, either explicitly or implicitly, such "paranormal" phenomena as angels, revelation, visions, and prophecy—at face value. Vogel's Joseph opens his mouth only to lie and deceive; and whatever he might be experiencing, or trying to do, or thinking about, one can rest assured that it's not what any record generated by him or his sympathizers would have us believe.[5]:206

When an author disregards the primary sources—the statements made by Joseph Smith himself—it becomes possible to create any story, motivation, thought or dream which suits the author's purpose. Responding to Vogel's description of Joseph's prayers and thoughts on September 21, 1823 leading up to the visit of Moroni, BYU professors Andrew and Dawson Hedges note:

What more could a student of early Mormon history possibly want? Here, in a crisp three pages, is a detailed account of what Joseph Smith was thinking about, praying about, and hesitating about over 180 years ago during one of the most significant 24-hour periods in church history. And not just what he was thinking about, in general terms, but how and when, within this 24-hour period, his thoughts evolve! And Vogel gives us all this without a single source to guide his pen—indeed, in direct contravention of what the sources say! One might chalk up this ability to navigate so confidently and so deftly through Joseph's mind to some type of clairvoyance on Vogel's part—"clairvogelance," we could call it—were it not that he himself protests so loudly against anything smacking of the "paranormal."[5]:211

Again, as with Brodie, and freed from the constraint of having to use actual sources, the author can attribute any thought or motivation to the Prophet that they wish in order to explain the unexplainable.


Response to claim: 19 - A "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters became popular in the area. When Walters left the area, "his mantle fell upon" Joseph Smith

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

A "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters became popular in the area. When Walters left the area, "his mantle fell upon" Joseph Smith.

Author's sources:
  1. Not provided

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is the author's speculation. There is absolutely no evidence to support this.

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  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith and folk magic or the occult

Response to claim: 20 - William Stafford told a story about Joseph which claimed that he could find money using a bleeding black sheep

The author(s) make(s) the following claim:

William Stafford told a story about Joseph which claimed that he could find money using a bleeding black sheep.

Author's sources:
  1. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834). (Affidavits examined)

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This is one of the stories produced in affidavits that were gathered by Doctor Philastus Hurlbut - an enemy of the Church. The facts of this story are contradicted by other affidavits, and by Stafford's own son.


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  1. REDIRECTThe Hurlbut affidavits

Response to claim: 20 - Joseph could see "ghosts, infernal spirits" and "mountains of gold" in his seer stone

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph could see "ghosts, infernal spirits" and "mountains of gold" in his seer stone.

Author's sources:
  1. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834). (Affidavits examined)

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This story was among the affidavits gathered by Doctor Philastus Hurlbut - an enemy of the Church.


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  1. REDIRECTThe Hurlbut affidavits
Articles about Joseph Smith

What is the distinction between belief in "folk magic" and a religious belief in the supernatural?

The use of the terms "magic" and "occult" are prejudicial, loaded terminology

When critics use the term "magic" or "occult," they are using prejudicial, loaded terminology. Used in a neutral sense, magic might mean only that a person believes in the supernatural, and believes that supernatural can be influenced for the believer's benefit.

However, critics are generally not clear about what definition of magic they are using, and how to distinguish a "magical" belief in the supernatural from a "religious" belief in the supernatural.[6] Scholars of magic and religion have, in fact, come to realize that defining "magic" is probably a hopeless task. John Gee noted:

Defining "magic" as "religious beliefs other than their own"

In 1990, Cambridge University published Stanley Tambiah's Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality, which showed that the definitions of many of the most important writers on "magic" were heavily influenced both by their backgrounds and their personal ideological agendas: they defined "magic" as religious beliefs other than their own. In 1992, the International Interdisciplinary Conference on Magic in the Ancient World failed to come to any agreement on what "magic" was. The plenary speaker, Jonathan Z. Smith, in particular voiced strong opinions:

I see little merit in continuing the use of the substantive term "magic" in second-order, theoretical, academic discourse. We have better and more precise scholarly taxa for each of the phenomena commonly denoted by "magic" which, among other benefits, create more useful categories for comparison. For any culture I am familiar with, we can trade places between the corpus of materials conventionally labeled "magical" and corpora designated by other generic terms (e.g., healing, divining, execrative) with no cognitive loss. Indeed, there would be a gain.[7]

The use of the term "magic" is a negative label for modern Christians

The use of the term "magic" imposes, especially for modern Christians, a negative label at the outset, which explains its popularity for critics. As Professor of Egyptology Robert K. Ritner explained:

Modern Western terms for 'magic' function primarily as designations for that which we as a society do not accept, and which has overtones of the supernatural or the demonic (but not of the divine). It is important to stress that this pejorative connotation has not been grafted onto the notion of magic as the result of any recent theoretical fancy but is inherent in Western terminology virtually from its beginning. It constitutes the essential core of the Western concept of magic.[8]

The Book of Mormon condemns "magic"

Moroni's visit was a turning point for Joseph, for it is important to note that the Book of Mormon itself condemns "magic" whenever it is mentioned:

And it came to pass that there were sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics; and the power of the evil one was wrought upon all the face of the land, even unto the fulfilling of all the words of Abinadi, and also Samuel the Lamanite. Mormon 1꞉19

Regardless of Joseph's or his family's previous opinions regarding folk magic prior to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, they clearly always believed in and had faith in God. Joseph believed that instruments such as the Urim and Thummim and his seer stone were consecrated by God for their intended use.

Were Joseph Smith's spiritual experiences originally products of magic and the occult?

Joseph's family believed in folk magic, and that Joseph himself used several different seer stones in order to locate lost objects

It is a known fact that Joseph's family believed in folk magic, and that Joseph himself used several different seer stones in order to locate lost objects.[9] Brant Gardner notes,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society.

Joseph's family shared folk magic beliefs that were common to the day. Joseph's mother, Lucy, felt it important to note in her history that the family did not let these magical endeavors prevent the family from doing the necessary work to survive:

But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic for a season, that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But, whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls.[10]

Joseph's involvement with Josiah Stowell's attempt to locate a lost Spanish treasure is well documented in Church history

Stowell requested Joseph's assistance in a mining operation looking for old coins and precious metals. This effort, in fact, resulted in charges being brought against Joseph by Stowell's relatives for being a "glasslooker" in 1826. Joseph was ultimately charged with being a "disorderly person" and released. (For more detailed information, see: Joseph Smith's 1826 glasslooking trial)

Some, however, believe that all of Joseph's early spiritual experiences, particularly the First Vision and the visit of Moroni, were originally magical or occult experiences that were only later couched in spiritual terms. For example, the Hurlbut affidavits relate stories of Moroni's visit that cast the angel in the role of spiritual treasure guardian, with one (Willard Chase) even claiming that the angel appeared in the form of a toad.

D. Michael Quinn has been the most prolific author on the subject of "magic" influences on the origins of Mormonism. According to William Hamblin:

Quinn's overall thesis is that Joseph Smith and other early Latter-day Saint leaders were fundamentally influenced by occult and magical thought, books, and practices in the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is unmitigated nonsense. Yet the fact that Quinn could not discover a single primary source written by Latter-day Saints that makes any positive statement about magic is hardly dissuasive to a historian of Quinn's inventive capacity.[11]

Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly believed in supernatural power

Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly believed in supernatural power. And, they may have had some ideas about how to access that power that now strike us as inaccurate and even strange. This is not surprising, given the two centuries and massive scientific advances which separate our culture from theirs. However, there is no evidence that Joseph and others considered these things to be "magic," or the "occult," nor did they consider "magic" or the "occult" to be positive things.

What were the attitudes of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries toward "magic"?

The attitudes of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries toward "magic" was always negative

In 1841, Wilford Woodruff recounted an episode of Church disciplinary action:

The President then brought up the case of a Br Moumford, who was holding the office of a Priest, from whome fellowship had been withdrawn by the council of officers in consequence of his practizing fortune Telling, Magic, Black art &c & called upon Elders Woodruff & Cordon to express their feelings upon the subject when Elder Woodruff arose, & spoke Briefly upon the subject, & informed the assembly that we had no such custom or practice in the Church, & that we should not fellowship any individual who Practiced Magic fortune Telling, Black art &c for it was not of God. When It was moved & carried by the whole church that fellowship be withdrawn from Br Moumford.[12]

And, most importantly, the Book of Mormon's treatment of "magic" or "sorcery" is always negative, which seems strange if (as we are asked to believe by the critics) Joseph Smith concocted it while at the same time embracing that same "magic."

Joseph Smith locates a seer stone while digging a well. Image copyright (c) 2016 by Anthony Sweat.

How did Joseph Smith use his seer stones as a youth?

Joseph as the village seer: the use of the seer stone prior to the Restoration

Brant Gardner clarifies the role that Joseph and his stone played within the community of Palmyra,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society. He exhibited a talent parallel to others in similar communities. Even in Palmyra he was not unique. In D. Michael Quinn's words: "Until the Book of Mormon thrust young Smith into prominence, Palmyra's most notable seer was Sally Chase, who used a greenish-colored stone. William Stafford also had a seer stone, and Joshua Stafford had a 'peepstone which looked like white marble and had a hole through the center.'" Richard Bushman adds Chauncy Hart, and an unnamed man in Susquehanna County, both of whom had stones with which they found lost objects.[13]

During his tenure as a "village seer," Joseph acquired several seer stones. Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably that belonging to Palmyra seer Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[14]

The second seer stone was reportedly found while digging a well on the property of William Chase in 1822

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The second seer stone was reportedly found on the property of William Chase in 1822 as Chase described it:

In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me.... After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alleging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but I would lend it.[15]


Did Joseph Smith place his seer stone in his hat while looking for lost objects?

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with one of his seer stones

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with the second, white stone:

I was at the house of his father in Manchester, two miles south of Palmyra village, and was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw. I jumped from the bars and looked for it. Joseph and Northrop Sweet also did the same. We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him--I said, "Take your stone." I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat--the old white hat--and placed his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look to one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.[16]

Joseph's mother also indicated that Joseph was sought out by some, including Josiah Stoal, to use the stone to find hidden valuables. He

came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.[17]

Joseph referred to this incident in JS-H 1:55-56.

Stoal eventually joined the Church; some of his family, however, charged Joseph in court for events related to this treasure seeking. Stoal testified in Joseph's defense.

Joseph Knight also said that, at the command of the angel Moroni, Joseph looked into his seer stone to learn who he should marry. He "looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale."[18]

For a detailed response, see: Joseph's 1826 glasslooking trial

How many seer stones did Joseph Smith have in his possession?

Joseph had between two to four seer stones

Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[19]

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The color and sequence of obtaining these stones has often been confused,[20] and readers interested in an in-depth treatment are referred to the endnotes.[21]

Joseph would later discover at least two more seers stones in Nauvoo, on the banks of the Mississippi. These stones seem to have been collected more for their appearance, and there is little evidence of Joseph using them at that late date in his prophetic career.[22]

What did Joseph Smith's seer stones look like?

Witnesses gave descriptions of the stones

One witness reported (of the first, brown stone), from 1826:

It was about the size of a small hen's egg, in the shape of a high-instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket.[23]

The second stone:

[the] Seer Stone was the shape of an egg though not quite so large, of a gray cast something like granite but with white stripes running around it. It was transparent but had no holes, neither on the end or in the sides.[24]

How were Joseph Smith's seer stones involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon?

Joseph may have used his seer stone to view the location of the plates after Moroni told him where they were

There is considerable evidence that the location of the plates and Nephite interpreters (Urim and Thummim) were revealed to Joseph via his second, white seer stone. In 1859, Martin Harris recalled that "Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase...It was by means of this stone he first discovered the plates."[25]

Some critics have sought to create a contradiction here, since Joseph's history reported that Moroni revealed the plates to him (JS-H 1꞉34-35,42). This is an example of a false dichotomy: Moroni could easily have told Joseph about the plates and interpreters. The vision to Joseph may well have then come through the seer stone, as some of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (e.g., Section X) would later be revealed. One account matches this theory well:

I had a conversation with [Joseph], and asked him where he found them [the plates] and how he come to know where they were. he said he had a revelation from God that told him they were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his [seer] stone and saw them in the place of deposit.[26]

Joseph was initially more excited about the Nephite interpreters than the gold plates

Joseph Knight recalled that Joseph was more excited about the Nephite interpreters than the gold plates:

After breakfast Joseph called me into the other room, set his foot on the bed, and leaned his head on his hand and said, "Well I am disappointed."

"Well, I said, "I am sorry."

"Well, he said, "I am greatly disappointed. It is ten times better than I expected."

Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates and, said he, they appear to be gold. But, he seemed to think more of the glasses or the Urim and Thummim than he did of the plate for, said he, "I can see anything. They are marvelous."[27]

Martin Harris described the Nephite interpreters

Martin Harris later described the Nephite interpreters as "about two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five-eighths of an inch thick at the centre.... They were joined by a round bar of silver, about three-eights of an inch in diameter, and about four inches long, which with the two stones, would make eight inches."[28]

Joseph often used the seer stone to translate

Despite having the Nephite interpreters, Joseph Smith often used the seer stone to translate. This led to an episode in which Martin tested the veracity of Joseph's claim to use the second, white stone to translate:[29]

Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, "Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt." Martin then confessed that he wished to "stop the mouths of fools" who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.[30]

Joseph used his white seer stone sometimes "for convenience" during the translation of the 116 pages with Martin Harris; later witnesses reported him using his brown seer stone.

Joseph sometimes used the Nephite interpreters in the same manner as his seer stones, even when he was not translating

Mark-Ashurst McGee notes that Joseph used the Nephite interpreters in the same manner as his seer stone, even when he was not translating the plates, and may have removed them from the frame which held them:

On one occasion, while Joseph was digging a well for a woman in Macedon, his wife Emma felt that the plates were in danger and came to tell Joseph. Lucy wrote that Joseph, "having just looked into them before Emma go there[,] he perceived her coming and cmae up out of the well and met her..." [31] It seems doubtful that Joseph would have the eight-inch long pair of glasses with him while at work in the well. It seems that Joseph eventually detached the lenses from their frame and carried them in a pouch as he had his brown seer stone.[32]

For a detailed response, see: Why would Joseph use the "rock in the hat" for the Book of Mormon translation that he previously used for "money digging?"


Why did Joseph Smith eventually stop using the seer stones to receive revelation?

Joseph eventually learned, through divine tutoring, how to receive unmediated revelation

These "Urim and Thummim" were the means of receiving most of the formal revelations until June 1829. That was the time of completing the Book of Mormon, which was translated through the Nephite interpreters and also Joseph's other seer stone(s). After this, seer stones were generally not used while receiving revelation or translation. (The JST and the Book of Abraham translations both began with seer stone usage, but Joseph soon quit using them.[33]) Following his baptism, receipt of the Holy Ghost, and ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood, Joseph seems have felt far less need to resort to the stones.[34] He had learned, through divine tutoring, how to receive unmediated revelation—the Lord had taken him "line upon line" from where he was (surrounded with beliefs about seeing and divining) and brought him to further light, knowledge, and power.

This perspective was reinforced by Orson Pratt, who watched the New Testament revision (JST) and wondered why the use of seer stones/interpreters (as with the Book of Mormon) was not continued:

While this thought passed through the speaker's mind, Joseph, as if he read his thoughts, looked up and explained that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that Spirit and did not need the assistance of that instrument.[35]

Are there any Biblical parallels to Joseph Smith's understanding of the use of seer stones?

The idea of sacred stones acting as revelators to believers is present in the Bible

The idea of sacred stones acting as revelators to believers is present in the Bible, and Joseph Smith embraced a decidedly "non-magical" and "pro-religious" view of them:

In Revelation, John incorporates past religious symbols into his message. Thus the most internally consistent interpretation of the "white stone" combines with the book's assurance that the faithful will become "kings and priests" to the Most High (Rev. 1:6). These eternal priests will be in tune with God's will, like the High Priest with the breastplate of shining stones and the Urim. In Hebrew that term means "light," corresponding to the "white" stone of John's Revelation. This correlation should be obvious, but Joseph Smith is virtually alone in confidence that John sees the redeemed as full High Priests: "Then the white stone mentioned in Rev. 2:17 is the Urim and Thummim, whereby all things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms, even all kingdoms, will be made know." As for genuine religion, Joseph Smith perceived the stone of John's vision not as a stone of chance but as a conduit of enlightenment and a reward of worthiness of character.[36]

What happened to Joseph Smith's seer stones?

The Nephite interpreters were reclaimed by Moroni

As noted above, the Nephite interpreters were apparently reclaimed by Moroni following the loss of the 116 pages, and were only seen again by the Three Witnesses (Testimony of Three).

The seer stone was given to Oliver Cowdery

Van Wagoner and Walker write:

David Whitmer indicated that the seer stone was later given to Oliver Cowdery: "After the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished early in the spring of 1830 before April 6th, Joseph gave the Stone to Oliver Cowdery and told me as well as the rest that he was through with it, and he did not use the Stone anymore." Whitmer, who was Cowdery's brother-in-law, stated that on Oliver's death in 1848, another brother-in-law, "Phineas Young, a brother of Brigham Young, and an old-time and once intimate friend of the Cowdery family came out from Salt Lake City, and during his visit he contrived to get the stone from its hiding place, through a little deceptive sophistry, extended upon the grief-stricken widow. When he returned to Utah he carried it in triumph to the apostles of Brigham Young's 'lion house.'"...

[Van Wagoner and Walker here confuse the two seer stones, so this section is not included here, given that better information has since come to light.]

...Joseph Fielding Smith, as an apostle, made clear that "the Seer Stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days . . . is now in the possession of the Church." Elder Joseph Anderson, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve and long-time secretary to the First Presidency, clarified in 1971 that the "Seer Stone that Joseph Smith used in the early days of the Church is in possession of the Church and is kept in a safe in Joseph Fielding Smith's office.... [The stone is] slightly smaller than a chicken egg, oval, chocolate in color."[37] (This would be Joseph's first, "shoe-shaped stone," which was given to Oliver Cowdery, and then to his brother-in-law Phineas Young, brother of Brigham Young.[38]

Joseph's second (white) stone is also in the possession of the LDS First Presidency.[39]

Gardner: "Joseph Smith, long before golden plates complicated his position as a local seer, appears to have functioned just as Sally Chase did"

Brant Gardner:

Joseph Smith, long before golden plates complicated his position as a local seer, appears to have functioned just as Sally Chase did. Quinn reports that: "E. W. Vanderhoof [writing in 1905] remembered that his Dutch grandfather once paid Smith seventy-five cents to look into his ‘whitish, glossy, and opaque’ stone to locate a stolen mare. The grandfather soon ‘recovered his beast, which Joe said was somewhere on the lake shore and [was] about to be run over to Canada.’ Vanderhoof groused that ‘anybody could have told him that, as it was invariably the way a horse thief would take to dispose of a stolen animal in those days.'"13 While Vanderhoof reported a positive result of the consultation, it is interesting that his statement includes a qualifier that has the same intent as those added by the Saunders’ brothers. By the end of the century, one wouldn’t want to actually credit a village seer when describing their activities. Nevertheless, it isn’t the effectiveness that is important—it is the nature of the consultation. Sally Chase’s clients consulted her to find things which were lost, and Joseph Smith had at least one client who did the same.[40] —(Click here to continue)

Godfrey: "Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge"

Martin was a shrewd farmer and businessman, and a man of some property. He often warred between belief and doubt. For example, Martin put Joseph to the test during the translation of the 116 pages with the seer stone. He repeatedly subjected Joseph's claims to empirical tests to detect deception or fraud. He came away from those experiences convinced that Joseph was truly able to translate the plates. He was so convinced, he was willing to suffer ridicule and committed significant financial resources to publishing the Book of Mormon.

Kenneth W. Godfrey, Ensign (January 1988):

After returning from a trip to Palmyra to settle his affairs, Martin began to transcribe. From April 12 to June 14, Joseph translated while Martin wrote, with only a curtain between them. On occasion they took breaks from the arduous task, sometimes going to the river and throwing stones. Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, "Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt." Martin then confessed that he wished to "stop the mouths of fools" who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.[41]

To learn more about: seer stones in Church publications
Online
  • Richard Lloyd Anderson, "‘By the Gift and Power of God’," Ensign (September 1977), 79.
  • Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, the Man, the Seer (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1960), 102. GL direct link
  • William J. Hamblin, "An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metcalfe's Assumptions and Methodologies (Review of Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity by Brent Lee Metcalfe)," FARMS Review of Books 6/1 (1994): 434–523. off-site
  • Marvin S. Hill, "Money-Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretative Suggestion," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984), ?–??.GospeLink
  • Francis W. Kirkham, "The Manner of Translating The BOOK of MORMON," Improvement Era (1939). GL direct link
  • Joseph Fielding McConkie, Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2000), D&C 9. GL direct link
  • Stephen D. Ricks, "Translation of the Book of Mormon: Interpreting the Evidence," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993). [201–206] link
  • Brigham H. Roberts, "A Brief Debate on the Book of Mormon," in Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (1907), 1:350. Vol 1 GL direct link Vol 2 GL direct linkGL direct link
  • Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 1 (Winter 1990), 52.GL direct link
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Was a "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters Joseph Smith's "mentor"?

The idea that Walter's "mantle" fell upon Joseph is the creation of an enemy of Joseph Smith, Abner Cole

It is claimed by some that a "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters became popular in the Palmyra area, and that when Walters left the area, "his mantle fell upon" Joseph Smith. However, the idea that "Walters the Magician" was a mentor to Joseph Smith and that his "mantle" fell upon Joseph once Walters left the area originated with Abner Cole. Cole published a mockery of the Book of Mormon called the "Book of Pukei."

Matthew Brown discusses the "Book of Pukei":,

Cole claims in the "Book of Pukei" that the Book of Mormon really came into existence in the following manner:

  • Walters the Magician was involved in witchcraft and money-digging.
  • Walters was summoned to Manchester, New York by a group of wicked, idle, and slothful individuals—one of which was Joseph Smith.
  • Walters took the slothful individuals of Manchester out into the woods on numerous nighttime money-digging excursions. They drew a magic circle, sacrificed a rooster, and dug into the ground but never actually found anything.
  • The slothful group of Manchesterites then decided that Walters was a fraud. Walters himself admitted that he was an imposter and decided to skip town before the strong arm of the law caught up with him.
  • At this point, the mantle of Walters the Magician fell upon Joseph Smith and the rest of the Manchester rabble rallied around him.
  • The "spirit of the money-diggers" (who is identified implicitly with Satan in the text) appeared to Joseph Smith and revealed the Golden Bible to him.[42]

Does Lucy Mack Smith's mention of the "faculty of Abrac" and "magic circles" evidence that "magick" played a strong role in the Smith family's early life?

Lucy Mack Smith denied that her family was involved in wasting time by drawing "magic circles"

Critics generally neglect to provide the entire quote from Lucy. Dr. William J. Hamblin notes that there is "an ambiguously phrased statement of Lucy Mack Smith in which she denied that her family was involved in drawing "Magic circles."

There is no evidence from any Latter-day Saint sources about how to make "magic circles"

William Hamblin notes,

Quinn provides only very limited evidence, from anti-Mormon sources, that the Smiths were involved in making magic circles. He provides no evidence from LDS sources discussing how to make magic circles, describing their use by early Mormons, or establishing Mormon belief in the efficacy of such things.

Quinn does claim to have found one LDS reference supporting the use of magic circles. This is an ambiguously phrased statement of Lucy Mack Smith in which she denied that her family was involved in drawing "Magic circles" (p. 68; cf. 47, 66). Quinn maintains, because of an ambiguity of phraseology, that Lucy Mack Smith is saying that her family drew magic circles. The issue revolves around how the grammar of the original text should be understood. Here is how I read the text (with my understanding of the punctuation and capitalization added).

Now I shall change my theme for the present. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic for a season, that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But, whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls.125

When Lucy's statement is examined in context, it can be seen that she explicitly denies that the Smith's were involved in such things as "magic circles"

Hamblin continues,

Here is how I interpret the referents in the text.

Now I shall change my theme for the present [from a discussion of farming and building to an account of Joseph's vision of Moroni and the golden plates which immediately follows this paragraph]. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic [Joseph's visions] for a season, that we stopped our labor [of farming and building] and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business [farming and building, as the anti-Mormons asserted, claiming the Smiths were lazy]. We never in our lives suffered one important interest [farming and building] to swallow up every other obligation [religion]. But, whilst we worked with our hands [at farming and building] we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls [through religion].

Thus, as I understand the text, Lucy Smith declares she is changing her theme to the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In the public mind, that story is associated with claims that the Smiths were lazy and involved in magical activities. By the time Lucy Smith wrote this text in 1845, anti-Mormons were alleging that Joseph had been seeking treasure by drawing magic circles. She explicitly denies that they were involved in such things. She also denies that the Smiths were lazy. She wants to emphasize that, although she is not going to mention farming and building activities for a while, these activities were still going on. Quinn wants to understand the antecedent of "one important interest" as "trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying" (p. 68). I believe that the antecedent of "one important interest" is "all kinds of business," meaning farming and building. Quinn maintains the phrase to the neglect of means that they pursued magic to some degree, but not to the extent that they completely neglected their farming. I believe that the phrase to the neglect of means that they did not pursue magic at all, and therefore did not neglect their farming and building at all: they were not pursuing magic and thereby neglecting their business.

Lucy's narrative focuses on religious and business concerns, and does not discuss magic

Hamblin concludes,

Although the phrasing is a bit ambiguous, the matter can easily be resolved by reference to the rest of Lucy's narrative. Contra Quinn, Lucy Smith's text provides no other mention of the supposedly "important interest" of magical activities but does deal prominently with their religious and business concerns. If magic activities were such an important part of Joseph Smith's life and Lucy was speaking of them in a positive sense as "important interests," why did she not talk about them further in any unambiguous passage? My interpretation fits much better into the context of Lucy Smith's narrative as a whole, in which she amply discusses farming and family life, as well as religion and Joseph's revelations—the two important interests of the family—but makes no other mention of magic. As Richard Bushman notes, "Lucy Smith's main point was that the Smiths were not lazy as the [anti-Mormon] affidavits claimed—they had not stopped their labor to practice magic."126 Thus, ironically, Quinn is claiming that Lucy Smith's denial of the false claims that the Smith family was engaged in magical activities has magically become a confirmation of those very magical activities she is denying![43]

Did Joseph Smith, Sr. practice "divination"?

Peter Ingersoll, a former neighbor of the Smiths, claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr., practiced "divination"

It has been claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr., practiced "divination," and that this is evidence for the strong role which "magick" played in the Smith family's early life. This claim relies on one of the Hurlburt-Howe affidavits, given by Peter Ingersoll, a former neighbor of the Smiths.

Ingersoll's affidavit reads:

‘Was a neighbor of Smith from 1822 to 1830. The general employment of the family was digging for money. Smith senior once asked me to go with him to see whether a mineral rod would work in my hand, saying he was confident it would. As my oxen were eating, and being myself at leisure, I went with him. When he arrived near the place where he thought there was money, he cut a small witch-hazel, and gave me direction how to hold it. He then went off some rods, telling me to say to the rod, ‘Work to the money,’ which I did in an audible voice. He rebuked me for speaking it loud, saying it must be spoken in a whisper. While the old man was standing off some rods, throwing himself into various shapes, I told him the rod did not work. He seemed much surprised, and said he thought he saw it move. It was now time for me to return to my labor. On my return I picked up a small stone, and was carelessly tossing it from one hand to the other. Said he, (looking very earnestly,) ‘What are you going to do with that stone?’ ‘Throw it at the birds,’ I replied. ‘No,’ said the old man, ‘it is of great worth.’ I gave it to him. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘if you only knew the value there is back of my house!’ and pointing to a place near, ‘There,’ said he, ‘is one chest of gold and another of silver.’ He then put the stone which I had given him into his hat, and stooping forward, he bowed and made sundry maneuvers, quite similar to those of a stool-pigeon. At length he took down his hat, and, being very much exhausted, said, in a faint voice, ‘If you knew what I had seen, you would believe.’ His son, Alvin, went through the same performance, which was equally disgusting.

‘Another time the said Joseph senior told me that the best time for digging money was in the heat of summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise near the top of the ground. ‘You notice,’ said he, ‘the large stones on the top of the ground; we call them rocks, and they truly appear so, but they are in fact, most of them chests of money raised by the heat of the sun.’’....[44]

Some of Ingersoll's claims are clearly false, based on other, more reliable testimony

Some of Ingersoll's claims are clearly false, based on other, more reliable testimony. It is telling that the critics often wish to jettison Ingersoll's claims as those of a teller-of-tall-tales or a liar when it is clear that he cannot be trusted. Yet, when no evidence exists (pro- or con-) save Ingersoll's testimony, they then present his witness as a reliable data point for conclusions about the early years of Joseph Smith and his family. Of Ingersoll's claims, Richard L. Anderson noted:

Peter lived near Joseph Smith and was employed to go with him to Pennsylvania to move Emma's personal property to the Smith farm in the fall of 1827. Ingersoll claims that after this, Joseph told him he brought home white sand in his work frock and walked into the house to find "the family" (parents, Emma, brothers and sisters) eating. When they asked what he carried, he "very gravely" told them (for the first time) that he had a "golden Bible" and had received a revelation that no one could see it and live. At that point (according to Ingersoll), Joseph offered to let the family see, but they fearfully refused, and Ingersoll says that Joseph added, "Now, I have got the damned fools fixed, and will carry out the fun."

Rodger Anderson [author of the book under review by Anderson] agrees with me that this is just a tall tale. Why? Family sources prove they looked forward to getting the plates long before this late 1827 occurrence, and Joseph had far more respect for his family than the anecdote allows. So Rodger Anderson thinks that Ingersoll at first believed Joseph and then retaliated: "it seems likely that Ingersoll created the story as a way of striking back at Smith for his own gullibility in swallowing a story he later became convinced was a hoax" (p. 56). That may be, and there are perhaps others making affidavits with similar motives. But the more provable point is that good stories die hard. Facts were obviously bent to make Joseph Smith the butt of many a joke. So anecdotes could be yarns good for a guffaw around a pot-bellied stove.

Ingersoll has another story in this class. Joseph planned to move Emma and the plates to Pennsylvania at the end of 1827. Then Ingersoll has Joseph playing a religious mind game with Martin Harris: "I . . . told him that I had a command to ask the first honest man I met with, for fifty dollars in money, and he would let me have it. I saw at once, said Jo, that it took his notion, for he promptly give me the fifty." Willard Chase tells a similar story, not identifying his source. But in this case both Joseph Smith and Martin Harris gave their recollections. Both say that Martin was converted to Joseph Smith's revelations first and then offered the money out of conviction, not because of sudden street-side flattery. The best historical evidence is not something told by another party, especially one with hostility to the person he is reporting....

Rodger Anderson recoils at my suggestion that the affidavits were "contaminated by Hurlbut," but he has merely argued harder for one road to this same result. Rodger Anderson then contends that Hurlbut's influence does not matter, since many of the statements were signed under oath before a magistrate. This is one of scores of irrelevancies. The question is credibility, not form. As Jesus essentially said in the Sermon on the Mount, the honest person is regularly believable, not just under oath. Nor does the act of signing settle all, since it is hardly human nature to read the fine print of a contract or all details of prewritten petitions. Rodger Anderson finds Ingersoll's sand-for-plates story "the most dubious" (p. 56) and thus admits that Ingersoll is "the possible exception" in "knowingly swearing to a lie" (p. 114). But Ingersoll does not tell taller stories than many others glinting in the hostile statements reprinted by Rodger Anderson. Like the persecuting orthodox from the Pharisees to the Puritans, the New York community was performing an act of moral virtue to purge itself of the stigma of an offending new religion. Hurlbut contributed to the process of mutual contamination of similar stories and catch-words....

Rodger Anderson closes his survey with the appeal to accept "the Hurlbut-Deming affidavits" as significant "primary documents relating to Joseph Smith's early life and the origins of Mormonism" (p. 114). Some tell of "early life," but many only repeat tall tales or disclose the prejudice that Joseph Smith said faced him from the beginning. There are some authentic facts about the outward life of young Joseph, but his inner life makes him significant. It is this other half that the testimonials brashly claim to penetrate but cannot. To the extent that the Prophet's spiritual experiences are the primary issue, the Hurlbut-Deming statements are not primary documents.

Here I have discussed some aspects of their objective shortcomings, but I do not intend to take much time answering countercharges. Those who think like Rodger Anderson will continue to reason that the Hurlbut-Deming materials contain serious history because "many based their descriptions on close association with the Joseph Smith, Sr., family" (p. 114). That is too sloppy for my taste. Downgrading a reputation is serious business, and I want a reasonable burden of proof to be met on each major contention. Knowing the family is not enough—knowing specific incidents is required. The mathematics of true personal history is fairly simple: half-truths added to others still retain their category of half-truths; conclusions without personal knowledge have zero value; and any number multiplied by zero is still zero.

A final, highly personal reaction: I once discussed a negative biography with a friend, literature professor Neal Lambert. After pointing out shortcomings in method and evidence, I self-consciously added an intuitive judgment: "and I think there is a poor tone to the book." Instantly picking up my apologetic manner, Neal answered vigorously, "But tone is everything." In reality, attitude penetrates the judgments we make, whether in gathering the Hurlbut-Deming materials or in defending them. With few exceptions, the mind-set of these testimonials is skeptical, hypercritical, ridiculing. But history is a serious effort to understand, and tools with the above labels have limited value.[45]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Peter Ingersoll: Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 232-237, 248-249. (Affidavits examined) Partially reproduced in "The Origin of Mormonism," Christian Enquirer (New York) 5/51 (25 September 1852): [1]. Also available in full in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:40-45.

Did early members of the "Mormon" Church believe in witchcraft?

While some members may have believed in witchcraft, all the scriptural and primary evidence portrays their opinion of such things as negative, not positive

[46] There are a number of texts and incidents which indicate a basically negative attitude towards the occult by most early Mormons. Brooke himself notices several incidents manifesting such an anti-occult strain in early LDS thought: George A. Smith, for instance, destroyed magic books brought to America by English converts (p. 239). Likewise, "organizations advocating the occult were suppressed" by Brigham Young in 1855 (p. 287), while, "in 1900 and 1901, church publications launched the first explicit attacks on folk magic" (p. 291). But the evidence of negative attitudes among Mormons to matters occult is much more widespread than Brooke indicates.

The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants contain several explicit condemnations of sorcery, witchcraft, and magic. While admitting that there are only "rare references to magic or witchcraft in the Book of Mormon" (p. 176, 177), Brooke nonetheless insists that the "categories of treasure, magic, and sorcery . . . fascinated Joseph Smith" (p. 168). The Book of Mormon maintains that Christ will "cut off witchcrafts out of thy land" (3 Nephi 21꞉16), and sorcery, witchcraft, and "the magic art" are mentioned in lists of sins (Alma 1꞉32, Mormon 2꞉10). "Sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics" are also attributed to "the power of the evil one" (Mormon 1꞉19). In the Doctrine and Covenants, sorcerers are among those who are "cast down to hell" (DC 76꞉103,106), who "shall have their part in . . . the second death" (DC 63꞉17). These are the only references to magical or occult powers in LDS scripture, and they are uniformly and emphatically negative. Brooke's key terms, such as "alchemy," "astrology," "hermeticism," "androgyny," and "cabala," are never mentioned in LDS scripture.

Several early LDS writers were unequivocal in their condemnation of magic and the occult. One brother was "disfellowshipped by the council of officers, for using magic, and telling fortunes &c." The ancient Egyptian use of "omens, charms, unlucky days and magic" is described as "grossly superstitious." Orson Pratt described alchemy as "the pursuit of that vain phantom." His brother Parley was even more forthright:

It is, then, a matter of certainty, according to the things revealed to the ancient Prophets, and renewed unto us, that all the animal magnetic phenomena, all the trances and visions of clairvoyant states, all the phenomena of spiritual knockings, writing mediums, &c., are from impure, unlawful, and unholy sources; and that those holy and chosen vessels which hold the keys of Priesthood in this world, in the spirit world, or in the world of resurrected beings, stand as far aloof from all these improper channels, or unholy mediums, of spiritual communication, as the heavens are higher than the earth, or as the mysteries of the third heaven, which are unlawful to utter, differ from the jargon of sectarian ignorance and folly, or the divinations of foul spirits, abandoned wizards, magic-mongers, jugglers, and fortune-tellers.

Based on this extensive (but admittedly incomplete) survey of early Mormon writings, we can arrive at three logical conclusions:

  1. the unique ideas that critics advocating the "magic" hypothesis claim were central to the origins of Mormonism do not occur in early LDS primary texts;
  2. early Mormons seldom concerned themselves with things occult; but
  3. on the infrequent occasions when they mention the occult, it is without exception viewed negatively.

Was the fact that the recovery of the Book of Mormon plates occurred on the autumnal equinox somehow significant?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #193: Why Did Moroni Deliver the Plates on September 22? (Video)

There are many religious traditions (including Judaism) that use the equinoxes as part of their religious calendar

Joseph's meetings with Moroni and the recovery of the Book of Mormon occurred on the autumnal equinox, a date with astrological and magical significance. Some have speculated that this is evidence of Joseph Smith's preoccupation with "magick." However, there are many religious traditions (including Judaism) that use the equinoxes as part of their religious calendar. Thus, the presence of a significant "astrological" date may be coincidental or present for religious, not "magical" reasons. This again highlights the problems with "magic" as a category.

In this instance, critics presume that their claims about Joseph's preoccupation with magic is an accurate description of his attempt to recover the plates (see circular reasoning). If, however, there are other explanations for receiving the plates on the evening of 21–22 September 1827, then this cannot be used as evidence for pre-occupation with a "magic world view."

The recovery of the Book of Mormon plates occurred on a vital date in the Jewish calendar: Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year

The Book of Mormon claims to be a religious text, with a world-view sharing close affinities with Judaism. Interestingly, the plates' recovery occurred on a vital date in the Jewish calendar:

Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year (which had begun at sundown on 21 September 1827). At Rosh ha-Shanah the faithful were commanded to set a day aside as "a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:24).[47]

Rosh ha-Shanah also begins the Asseret Yemei Teshuva (The Ten Days of Repentance) which precede the holiest day of the Jewish year: Yom Kippur, the day of the atonement. Likewise, the Book of Mormon claimed to come forth to preach repentance, and prepare the way for Christ's second coming.

Rosh ha-Shanah is celebrated by the blowing of the ram's horn (shofar), just as Jesus' apocalyptic teachings foretold that the elect would be gathered by angels "with a great sound of a trumpet" (Matthew 24:31). The Revelation of St. John features angels with trumpets as part of the preparation or heralding of Christ's second coming (e.g., Revelation 8:2,6; compare DC 77꞉12). The Book of Mormon portrays itself squarely within this tradition, heralding and preparing the way for the gathering of the elect and the return of Christ (1 Nephi 13꞉34-42).

In the Jerusalem temple, "at the autumnal equinox the rays of the sun could enter the [holy of holies] because the whole of the edifice faced east."[48] Thus, on a date in which the idea of divine illumination, light, and knowledge streaming into God's earthly temple was so prominent, a new divine revelation of scripture fits at least as well as Quinn's claim that this date has astrological significance for "the introduction of 'broad cultural movements and religious ideas'."[49]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith derive his religious ideas in part from a mysticism called Kabbalah?

There is little actual evidence to support this

It is claimed that Joseph Smith's religious ideas derived in part from Kabbalah, a type of (usually Jewish) mysticism. Critics and the unwary presume that because a few lengthy works have been written about Joseph Smith and kabbalistic ideas, this is sufficient grounds for presuming a connection. The evidence behind this connection, is, however, on shaky evidential ground.

Before swallowing the critics' explanation, one should study the extensive reviews which illustrate numerous problems with this approach thus far.

It is not the job of the Saints to prove that kaballah did not influence Joseph Smith. It is the job of his critics to prove that it did. And, thus far, that proof has not been forthcoming. Extensive reviews of the works which purport to find this strain in Joseph Smith's thought are available (see below).

It is difficult to prove a negative—how might we prove that Joseph's ideas were not from Kabbalah? Rather, we can consider a number of the problems with this intellectual construct, and then ask if there are not perhaps better ways to understand Joseph's thought.

Some authors merely describe LDS doctrine or practice in kabbalistic or "hermetical" terms

Some authors merely describe LDS doctrine or practice in kabbalistic or "hermetical" terms, and then presume that by doing so they have proved that these ideas were, in fact, drawn from kabbalah. This is circular reasoning.

For example, one review wrote that:

Throughout his book, Brooke's approach might be characterized as scholarship by adjective (see, e.g., pp. 240, 294). Time and again, he places the adjective "hermetic" or "alchemical" before a noun relating to Mormonism and then proceeds as if the mere act of juxtaposing the two terms—essentially without argument—had established that the ill-defined adjective really applies. He holds that "certainly Joseph Smith was predisposed to a hermetic interpretation of sacred history and processes from his boyhood" (p. 208). But what does this mean? What is a "hermetic interpretation" here? Although Brooke himself seems to have a predisposition to a "hermetic interpretation" of almost everything in sight, Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly did not have the remotest idea of what hermeticism was.

Simply labeling Mormon celestial marriage "hermetic" and "alchemical" (as on pp. 214, 257-58, 281) does not make it such. Frequently, in a kind of fallacy of misplaced concretion, Brooke is misled by his own metaphors to misread nineteenth-century realities (as in his use of the terms "alchemy" and "transmutation" in discussing the Kirtland Bank [pp. 222-23; cf. 227-28]), and even twentieth-century Utah (as when he describes modern financial scams in Utah as "alchemical" [p. 299]). On at least one occasion, Fawn Brodie's (twentieth-century) portrayal of Sidney Rigdon as engaged in a metaphorical "witchhunt" inspires Brooke—evidently by sheer word association—to claim that Joseph Smith (!) saw himself as literally surrounded by witches (p. 230).[50]

This is a common approach, with another author falling victim to the same tendency:

Owens's entire thesis also suffers repeatedly from semantic equivocation—using a term "in two or more senses within a single argument, so that a conclusion appears to follow when in fact it does not."61 Owens does not adequately recognize the fact that the semantic domain of words can vary radically from individual to individual, through translation, by shifts in meaning through time, or because of idiosyncratic use by different contemporary communities.62 For Owens it is often sufficient to assert that he feels that kabbalistic or hermetic ideas "resonate" with his understanding of Latter-day Saint thought (p. 132). Thus, in an attempt to demonstrate affiliations between the Latter-day Saint world view and that of esotericists, Owens presents a number of ideas that he claims represent parallels between his understanding of the kabbalistic and hermetic traditions and his view of Latter-day Saint theology, but that, upon closer inspection, turn out to be only vaguely similar, if at all....

Owens frequently implicitly redefines kabbalistic and hermetic terms in a way that would have been foreign to both the original esoteric believers and to early Latter-day Saints. In an effort to make ideas seem similar, he is forced to severely distort both what esotericists and Latter-day Saints believe.[51]

Some critics stretch LDS scripture to the breaking point in an effort to "prove" their argument

...when a Book of Mormon passage denounces "works of darkness" (Alma 37꞉23), Brooke asserts that "although he never mentions them by name, Smith had declared an occult war on the witchlike art of the counterfeiters" (p. 178). Really? Nothing in the passage calls for such an interpretation, any more than does the analogous phrase in Ephesians 5:11. There can be little doubt, of course, that the early Latter-day Saints, like most of their contemporaries on the American frontier, suffered from counterfeiters' schemes and regarded them as enemies.....But that scarcely justifies Professor Brooke's arbitrary allegorical speculations. Besides, as readers will notice, Brooke cannot really decide whether the Mormons opposed counterfeiting or favored it. Either option will suffice for him, since either will allow him to claim that they were fascinated by it and since, taken together, they constitute a historical hypothesis that is virtually impervious to historical proof or disproof.[50]

Some critics ignore the common biblical sources for ideas in LDS thought, and instead argue that these ideas came from much more obscure hermetic thought

It is universally acknowledged that biblical quotations, paraphrases, and imagery fill all early LDS scripture, writings, and sermons. Time and again early Latter-day Saints explicitly point to biblical precedents for their doctrines and practices. Joseph Smith and all the early Mormon elders taught and defended their doctrines from the Bible. Even in the great King Follett discourse—which Brooke sees as a cornucopia of "hermetic" doctrine—Joseph declared "I am going to prove it [the doctrine of multiple gods] to you by the Bible." The text is filled with biblical quotations and allusions. Never do the early Saints claim they are following hermetic or alchemical precedents. Brooke, however, generously sets out to correct this lapse for them....[50]

Although far less problematically or extensively than Brooke, Owens also ignores obvious biblical antecedents to Latter-day Saint thought in favor of alleged hermetic or alchemical antecedents. Owens informs us that "Paracelsus also prophesied of the coming of the prophet "Elias' as part of a universal restoration, another idea possibly affecting the work of Joseph Smith" (p. 163 n. 90). Quite true. But why does Owens fail to mention the strong biblical tradition of the return of Elijah/Elias, the clear source for this idea for both Paracelsus and Joseph Smith? [51]

Critics cannot produce primary sources from the early Saints expressing their interest in kabbalah or hermeticism

Furthermore, critics tend to ignore or downplay evidence of an opposition to "magic" or "the occult" among early Saints:

...there are a number of texts and incidents which indicate a basically negative attitude towards the occult by most early Mormons. Brooke himself notices several incidents manifesting such an anti-occult strain in early LDS thought: George A. Smith, for instance, destroyed magic books brought to America by English converts (p. 239). Likewise, "organizations advocating the occult were suppressed" by Brigham Young in 1855 (p. 287), while, "in 1900 and 1901, church publications launched the first explicit attacks on folk magic" (p. 291).36 But the evidence of negative attitudes among Mormons to matters occult is much more widespread than Brooke indicates.

The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants contain several explicit condemnations of sorcery, witchcraft, and magic....The Book of Mormon maintains that Christ will "cut off witchcrafts out of thy land" (3 Nephi 21:16), and sorcery, witchcraft, and "the magic art" are mentioned in lists of sins (Alma 1:32, Mormon 2:10). "Sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics" are also attributed to "the power of the evil one" (Mormon 1:19). In the Doctrine and Covenants, sorcerers are among those who are "cast down to hell" (D&C 76:103, 106), who "shall have their part in . . . the second death" (D&C 63:17).37 These are the only references to magical or occult powers in LDS scripture, and they are uniformly and emphatically negative. Brooke's key terms, such as "alchemy," "astrology," "hermeticism," "androgyny," and "cabala," are never mentioned in LDS scripture.[50]

In another case, critics present

background material [that is] is often dated or misrepresented. Owens's use of sources, both primary and secondary, is problematic at a number of levels. First, he ignores nearly all earlier writings by Latter-day Saint scholars on the significance of the possible parallels between Latter-day Saint ideas and the Western esoteric tradition. There is, in fact, a growing body of Latter-day Saint literature that has examined some of these alleged parallels, and presented possible interpretations of the relationship between the esoteric tradition and the gospel. Why is Nibley not even mentioned by Owens, despite the fact that he has been writing on this subject for four decades?9 Robert F. Smith's discussion of many of these issues is ignored....

Furthermore, for the most part, Owens's account of the Western esoteric tradition does not rely on primary sources, or even translations of primary sources, but on secondary summaries, which he often misunderstands or misrepresents. This unfamiliarity with both the primary and secondary sources may in part explain the numerous errors that occur throughout his article....[51]

Critics often fail to provide any specifics to link these ideas to the members of the Church—generally because there aren't any such sources.

This does not deter critics, however, from a chain of speculation, supposition, and probability that hides the fact that no evidence whatever has been presented:

Owens insists that "any backwoods rodsman divining for buried treasures in New York in 1820 may have known about the [esoteric] tradition" and that "there undoubtedly existed individuals [in the early nineteenth-century United States] who were deeply cognizant of Hermeticism, its lore, rituals, and aspirations. And this group probably included an occasional associate of treasure diggers" (p. 159). Elsewhere Owens asserts that "there must have been more than a few" people in frontier New York who had been influenced by the hermetic, kabbalistic, and alchemical traditions (p. 165, emphasis added to all these citations). Evidence, please! Who exactly were these individuals? What exactly did they know? How exactly did they gain their unusual knowledge? Exactly when and where did they live? With whom exactly did they associate? What exactly did they teach their associates? What evidence—any evidence at all—does Owens provide for any of his speculations? [51]

Reliance on late, anti-Mormon accounts

Given the lack of material to support this hypothesis in the words of Joseph Smith or his followers, critics turn to their enemies:

...in large part Brooke relies on late secondhand anti-Mormon accounts—taken at face value—while rejecting or ignoring eye-witness contemporary Mormon accounts of the same events or ideas....

In a book purportedly analyzing the thought of Joseph Smith, it is remarkable how infrequently Joseph himself is actually quoted. Instead we find what Joseph's enemies wanted others to believe he was saying and doing. Thus, while it may be true that some early non-Mormons or anti-Mormons occasionally described some activities of Joseph Smith and the Saints as somehow related to "magic," it is purely a derogatory outsider view. The Saints never describe their own beliefs and activities in those terms. Brooke has a disturbing tendency to cite standard LDS sources and histories on noncontroversial matters—thereby establishing an impression of impartiality—while, on disputed points, using anti-Mormon sources without explaining the Mormon perspective or interpretation.[52]

Sometimes, critics even give "magical" meaning to common words used by Joseph Smith in a completely different context

in a breathtaking case of academic legerdemain, he takes common terms that occur with specialized technical meanings in hermetic and alchemical thought—terms such as "furnace," "refine," "stone," "metal," etc.—and proposes the existence of such common terms in Mormon writings as a subtle but irrefutable indication that Mormons had hermetic and alchemical ideas in the backs of their minds all along. In fact, so subtle is the impact of hermetic and alchemical thought on Joseph that "the hermetic implications of his theology may not even have been clear to Smith himself" (p. 208)! This is truly an alchemical transmutation of baseless assertions into pure academic fool's gold.[50]

Or:

Owens ignores two other obvious explanations: that both esoteric and Latter-day Saint ideas derive from a similar source, e.g., the Bible, or that Joseph Smith received true revelation, as opposed to some ill-defined type of Jungian "personal cognition." [51]

Some critics' relative unfamiliarity with LDS history is made clear by repeated self-contradiction and historical blunders

Brooke's presentation of early Mormon history is likewise plagued by repeated blunders. His depiction of a Joseph Smith who is "bitter," "suspicious," and "anxious" (p. 135)—a description helpful to Brooke's environmentalist reading of the Book of Mormon—flies in the face of Brooke's own claim that "by all accounts he was a gregarious, playful character" (p. 180; cf. JS-H 1:28). It may also seem remarkable to some that Joseph believed that "the simultaneous emergence of counterfeiting and the spurious Masonry of the corrupt country Grand Lodge in the early 1820s was an affliction on the people, the consequence of their rejection of Joseph Smith as a preacher of the gospel" (p. 177), since Joseph had not yet restored the gospel or begun to preach in the early 1820s. Brooke has Joseph and Oliver being "baptized into the Priesthood of Aaron" (p. 156), even though their baptism and their ordination to the priesthood were clearly two separate events.66 Furthermore, he uses the alleged counterfeiting activities of Theodore Turley, Peter Hawes, Joseph H. Jackson, Marenus Eaton, and Edward Bonney to propose a continued Mormon fascination with counterfeiting, and thereby, with alchemy (pp. 269-70), despite the fact that Jackson, Eaton, and Bonney were not LDS! And Brooke seems unsure as to whether John Taylor's Mediation and Atonement "was of great significance doctrinally, because it marked the rejection of the Adam-God concept," (p. 289) or whether the "rejection of the Adam-God doctrine [was] something that John Taylor had not really attempted" (p. 291).[50]

Errors also extend beyond LDS matters into the history of "magick" thought itself:

Owens makes an unsupported claim that the alchemists' ""philosopher's stone' [was] the antecedent of Joseph Smith's "seer's stone'" (p. 136). In fact, the philosopher's stone (lapis philosophorum) was thought to have been composed of primordial matter, the quintessentia—the fifth element after air, water, fire, and earth. Unlike Joseph's seer stone, it was not really a literal "stone" at all, but primordial matter (materia prima)—"this stone therefore is no stone," as notes a famous alchemical text.26 Sometimes described as a powder the color of sulfur, the philosopher's stone was used for the transmutation of matter and had little or nothing to do with divination. Indeed, the use of stones and mirrors for divination antedates the origin of the idea of the philosopher's stone. There is no relationship beyond the fact that both happen to be called a stone....

Owens claims that the concept that "God was once as man now is . . . could, by various exegetical approaches, be found in the Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition" (pp. 178-79). It is understandable that he provides neither primary nor secondary evidence for this assertion, since no hermetic or kabbalistic texts make such a claim. Unlike Latter-day Saint concepts of God and divinization, the metaphysical presuppositions of both hermeticism and kabbalism are fundamentally Neoplatonic.[51]

Even the complete absence of evidence is no bar to the critic:

Owens speculates at great length about possible Rosicrucian influences on Joseph Smith (pp. 138-54), asserting (with absolutely no evidence) that Luman Walter was influenced by Rosicrucian ideas (p. 162). Once again, however, Owens ignores the annoying fact that the Rosicrucian movement was effectively dead at the time of Joseph Smith. In England "the Gold and Rosy Cross appears to have had no English members and was virtually extinct by 1793."...

Thus Joseph Smith was alive precisely during the period of the least influence of Kabbalah, hermeticism, and Rosicrucianism, all of which had seriously declined by the late eighteenth century—before Joseph's birth—and would revive only in the late nineteenth century, after Joseph's death. Owens never recognizes these developments, but instead consistently quotes sources earlier and later than Joseph Smith as indicative of the ideas supposedly found in Joseph's day.[51]

Some critics do not seem to even understand modern LDS thought and history well

For example:

Professor Brooke's ignorance of contemporary Mormonism hurts him in amusing ways. Even the cold fusion claims made at the University of Utah a few years ago are pressed into service as illustrations of Mormon hermeticism: They are interesting, Brooke declares, "given Mormon doctrines on the nature of matter" (p. 299). He never troubles himself, though, to explain how the experiments of the two non-Mormon chemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman are even remotely helpful as indicators of Latter-day Saint attitudes and beliefs.

It is probably significant that Brooke's mistakes are not random; rather, his presentation consistently misrepresents LDS scripture, doctrine, and history in ways that tend to support his thesis by making LDS ideas seem closer to his hermetic prototypes. These are not minor errors involving marginal characters or events in LDS scripture and history; nor are they mere matters of interpretation. Rather, for the most part, they are fundamental errors, clearly demonstrating Brooke's feeble grasp of the primary texts.[50]

Did Joseph Smith have a Jupiter talisman on his person at the time of his death?

The only source of evidence that claims Joseph Smith had the Jupiter Talisman on his person is Charles Bidamon, made long after the death of Joseph and Emma

Did Joseph have this Talisman on him when he was murdered? What would it mean if he did?

This well circulated claim finds its origins in a 1974 talk by Dr. Reed Durham. Durham said that Joseph "evidently [had a Talisman] on his person when he was martyred. The talisman, originally purchased from the Emma Smith Bidamon family, fully notarized by that family to be authentic and to have belonged to Joseph Smith, can now be identified as a Jupiter talisman."[53]

There is only one source of evidence that claims Joseph Smith had the Jupiter Talisman on his person, and that source is Charles Bidamon. Bidamon's statement was made long after the death of Joseph and Emma, relied on memories from his youth, and was undergirded by financial motives.

The idea that Joseph Smith might have had a Jupiter Talisman in his possession is used by critics of the Church as proof of his fascination with the occult. As one work put it: "The fact that Smith owned a Jupiter talisman shows that his fascination with the occult was not just a childish fad. At the time of his death, Smith had on his person this talisman....[54]

By contrast, contemporary evidence demonstrates that Joseph did not have such a Talisman in his possession at his death.

Durham, the source of the idea in modern discourse, would later say:

I now wish I had presented some of my material differently… For instance, at the present time, after rechecking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter talisman. The source for my comment was a second-hand, late source. It came from Wilford Wood, who was told it by Charlie Bidamon, who was told it by his father, Lewis Bidamon, who was Emma’s second husband and a non-Mormon not too friendly to the LDS Church. So, the idea that the Prophet had such a talisman is highly questionable!... [One author who was presented wrote:] "Dr. Durham also told me he was trying to play the "devil’s advocate" in his Nauvoo speech, which is what many there, including myself, sensed. Unfortunately others took the words to further their purposes."[55]

What is the source of the story about Joseph Smith possessing a Jupiter talisman?

The source of the Talisman story, upon which Dr. Durham based his remarks, was Wilford C. Wood, who was told it by Charles Bidamon, the son of Lewis Bidamon

Lewis was Emma Smith's non-Mormon second husband. Charles was born following an affair between Lewis Bidamon and Nancy Abercrombie, which occurred while Lewis was married to Emma. Charles was taken in by Emma when four years old, and raised by her until her death 11 years later.[56] (This action says much for Emma's charity.)

The talisman, or "silver pocket piece" as described in 1937, appeared on a list of items purportedly own by Joseph Smith which were to be sold by Charles Bidamon

Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote that the Talisman, or "silver pocket piece" as described in 1937, appeared on a list of items purportedly own by Joseph Smith which were to be sold by Charles Bidamon. One item listed was "a silver pocket piece which was in the Prophet's pocket at the time of his assassination."[57]:541 Wilford Wood, who collected Mormon memorabilia, purchased it in 1938 along with a document from Bidamon certifying that the Prophet possessed it when murdered. The affidavit sworn to by Charles Bidamon at the time of Wilford C. Wood's purchase was very specific:

This piece came to me through the relationship of my father, Major L. C. Bidamon, who married the Prophet Joseph Smith's widow, Emma Smith. I certify that I have many times heard her say, when being interviewed, and showing the piece, that it was in the Prophet's pocket when he was martyred at Carthage, Ill.[57]:558

Bidamon waited fifty-eight years after Emma’s death to make his certification, and notes that at the time of her death he was only fifteen years old

Anderson noted that Bidamon waited fifty-eight years after Emma’s death to make his certification, and notes that at the time of her death he was only fifteen years old.

Durham based his comments on Wood's description for the item which was: "This piece [the Talisman] was in Joseph Smith's pocket when he was martyred at Carthage Jail."[57]:558[58] However, a list of the items in Joseph's possession at the time of his death was provided to Emma following the martyrdom. On this list there was no mention made of any Talisman-like item. If there had been such an article, it ought to have been listed.

The list of items in Joseph's possession at the time of his death did not list the talisman among them

In 1984, Anderson located and published the itemized list of the contents of Joseph Smith's pockets at his death. The list was originally published in 1885 in Iowa by James W. Woods, Smith's lawyer, who collected the prophet's personal effects after the Martyrdom. The contents from the published 1885 printing are as follows:

Received, Nauvoo, Illinois, July 2, 1844, of James W. Woods, one hundred and thirty- five dollars and fifty cents in gold and silver and receipt for shroud, one gold finger ring, one gold pen and pencil case, one penknife, one pair of tweezers, one silk and one leather purse, one small pocket wallet containing a note of John P. Green for $50, and a receipt of Heber C. Kimball for a note of hand on Ellen M. Saunders for one thousand dollars, as the property of Joseph Smith. - Emma Smith.[57]:558[59]

No Talisman or item like it is listed. It could not be mistaken for a coin or even a "Masonic Jewel" as Durham first thought. Anderson described the Talisman as being "an inch-and-a-half in diameter and covered with symbols and a prayer on one side and square of sixteen Hebrew characters on the other."[57]:541 Significant is the fact that no associate of Joseph Smith has ever mentioned anything like this medallion. There are no interviews that ever record Emma mentioning any such item as attested to by Charles Bidamon, though he claimed she often spoke of it.

Stephen Robinson: "In the case of the Jupiter coin, this same extrapolation error is compounded with a very uncritical acceptance of the artifact in the first place"

Of the matter of the Jupiter talisman that is alleged to have been among Joseph Smith's possessions at the time of his death, Stephen Robinson wrote:

In the case of the Jupiter coin, this same extrapolation error is compounded with a very uncritical acceptance of the artifact in the first place. If the coin were Joseph's, that fact alone would tell us nothing about what it meant to him. But in fact there is insufficient evidence to prove that the artifact ever belonged to the Prophet. The coin was completely unknown until 1930 when an aging Charles Bidamon sold it to Wilford Wood. The only evidence that it was Joseph's is an affidavit of Bidamon, who stood to gain financially by so representing it. Quinn [and any other critic who embraces this theory] uncritically accepts Bidamon's affidavit as solid proof that the coin was Joseph's. Yet the coin was not mentioned in the 1844 list of Joseph's possessions returned to Emma. Quinn negotiates this difficulty by suggesting the coin must have been worn around Joseph's neck under his shirt. But in so doing Quinn impeaches his only witness for the coin's authenticity, for Bidamon's affidavit, the only evidence linking the coin to Joseph, specifically and solemnly swears that the coin was in Joseph's pocket at Carthage. The real empirical evidence here is just too weak to prove that the coin was really Joseph's, let alone to extrapolate a conclusion from mere possession of the artifact that Joseph must have believed in and practiced magic. The recent Hofmann affair should have taught us that an affidavit from the seller, especially a 1930 affidavit to third hand information contradicted by the 1844 evidence, just isn't enough 'proof' to hang your hat on.[60]

Could the list of items on Joseph's person at the time of his death have been incomplete?

Bidamon's certification clearly states that the Talisman was "in the Prophet’s pocket when he was martyred," yet it does not appear in the list of his possessions at the time of his death

More recent arguments contend that Wood’s list was exaggerated or was an all together different type of list. For example, some suggest that since neither Joseph's gun or hat were on the report, the list must not be complete. It should be obvious, however, that these items were not found on Joseph's person. The record clearly states that he dropped his gun and left it behind before being murdered. As for the hat, even if he had been wearing it indoors, it seems unlikely to have remained on his head after a gun-fight and fall from a second-story window.

Critics also argue that the Talisman was not accounted for was because it ought to have been worn around the neck, hidden from view and secret to all (including Emma no less). Thus, the argument runs, it was overlooked in the inventory. While it may be true that Talismans are worn around the neck, Bidamon's certification clearly states that the Talisman was "in the Prophet’s pocket when he was martyred." So which is it? In his pocket like a lucky charm or secretly worn around his neck as such an item should properly be used? In either case, the record is clear that he did not have a Talisman on his person at the time of his death. The rest is speculation.

The critics also resort to arguing that a prisoner could not possibly have had a penknife, so how accurate can the list of Joseph's possessions be? Obviously, the fact that he had a gun makes the possession of a knife a matter of no consequence.[61] Critics will dismiss contemporary evidence simply because it is inconvenient.

"at the present time, after checking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter Talisman"

As a final note to the saga, when Durham was later asked how he felt about his speech regarding the Talisman, he replied:

I now wish I had presented some of my material differently." "For instance, at the present time, after checking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter Talisman. The source for my comment was a second-hand, late source. It came from Wilford Wood, who was told it by Charlie Bidamon, who was told it by his father, Lewis Bidamon, who was Emma’s second husband and non-Mormon not too friendly to the LDS Church. So the idea that the Prophet had such a talisman is highly questionable.[62]

What is the probability that Joseph Smith possessed items related to "magic"?

Probability problems

This claim rests upon a lengthy chain of supposition:[63]

  1. Joseph himself owned the item (e.g., parchment, Mars dagger, or Jupiter talisman).
  2. His possession dates to his early days of "treasure seeking."
  3. He used them for magical purposes.
  4. He made them himself or commissioned them.
  5. He therefore must have used magic books to make them.
  6. He therefore must have had an occult mentor to help him with the difficult process of understanding the magical books and making these items.
  7. This occult mentor transmitted extensive arcane hermetic lore to Joseph beyond the knowledge necessary to make the artifacts.

Theses seven propositions are simply a tissue of assumptions, assertions, and speculations. There is no contemporary primary evidence that Joseph himself owned or used these items. We do not know when, how, or why these items became heirlooms of the Hyrum Smith family. Again, there is no contemporary primary evidence that mentions Joseph or anyone in his family using these artifacts—as Quinn himself noted, "possession alone may not be proof of use." There is no evidence that Joseph ever had any magic books. There is no evidence that Joseph ever had an occult mentor who helped him make or use these items.

Improbability

The methodology used by the critics is a classic example of what one could call the miracle of the addition of the probabilities. The case relies on a rickety tower of unproven propositions that do not provide certainty, rather a geometrically increasing improbability. Probabilities are multiplied, not added. Combining two propositions, each of which has a 50% probability, does not create a 100% probability, it creates a 25% probability that both are true together:

  • chance of proposition #1 being true = 50% = 0.5
  • chance of proposition #2 being true = 50% = 0.5
  • chance of BOTH being true = .5 x .5 = .25 = 25%

Allowing each of these seven propositions a 50% probability—a very generous allowance—creates a .0078% probability that the combination of all seven propositions is true. And this is only one element of a very complex and convoluted argument, with literally dozens of similar unverified assertions. The result is a monumentally high improbability that the overall thesis is correct.

A non-response to this argument

D. Michael Quinn, a major proponent of the "magick" argument, responded to the above by claiming that "Only when cumulative evidence runs contrary to the FARMS agenda, do polemicists like Hamblin want readers to view each piece of evidence as though it existed in isolation."[64]

Replied Hamblin:

Quinn misunderstands and misrepresents my position on what I have called the "miracle of the addition of the probabilities"....

[Quinn's rebuttal discusses] the process of the verification of historical evidence. The issue was unproven propositions, not parallel evidence.

Quinn...proposed that a series of "magic" artifacts provide evidence that Joseph Smith practiced magic. My position is that, in order for us to accept any particular artifact as a single piece of evidence, we must first accept several unproven propositions, each of which may be true or false, but none of which is proven. The more unproven propositions one must accept to validate a piece of evidence, the greater the probability that the evidence is not, in fact, authentic. Thus, two historiographical processes are under discussion. One is the authentication of a particular piece of evidence: did Joseph own a magical talisman and use it to perform magical rites? The second is the cumulative significance of previously authenticated evidence in proving a particular thesis: does the authentication of the use of the talisman demonstrate that Joseph was a magician who adhered to a magical worldview? Quinn apparently cannot distinguish between these two phases of the historical endeavor, which goes far to account for some of the numerous failings in his book....

Of course the probative value of evidence is cumulative. The more evidence you have, the greater the probability that your overall thesis is true. Thus, if Quinn can demonstrate that the talisman and the parchment and the dagger all belonged to the Smith family and were used for magical purposes, it would be more probable that his overall thesis is true than if he could establish only that the Smiths owned and used just one of those three items. But my argument is that the authenticity of each of these pieces of evidence rests on half a dozen unproven propositions and assumptions.[11]

Was a "magic dagger" once owned by Hyrum Smith?

Everyone in the nineteenth-century frontier had at least one dagger, and this one was not designed for ceremonial magic or treasure hunting

It is claimed that the Smith family owned a magic dagger that was among Hyrum Smith's heirlooms. They cite this as proof of the Smith family's deep involvement in ritual magick.

William Hamblin discusses a dagger that was discovered to be among the the Hyrum Smith family heirlooms. The dagger is claimed by historian D. Michael Quinn to be associated with the practice of magic:

The big problem for Quinn is that a dagger is usually just a dagger. Everyone in the nineteenth-century frontier had at least one, and most people had many. Some daggers were inscribed; others were not. Daggers were bought and sold just like any other tool and could easily pass from one owner to another. Given the data presented above, we do not know when, where, or how Hyrum obtained his dagger, or even if he really did. Since there is no documentation on the dagger until 1963, it could have been obtained by one of his descendants after his death and later accidentally confused with Hy rum's heirlooms. We do not know what it meant to Hyrum (assuming he owned it). Was it simply a dagger with some strange marks? Was it a gift to him from a Masonic friend? All of this is speculation—but it is no more speculative than Quinn's theories. Whatever the origin and purpose of the dagger, though, it is quite clear that, based on the evidence Quinn himself has presented, it does not match the magic daggers designed for making magic circles nor does it match the astrology of any of the Smiths.[11]

Hamblin concludes that,

[D. Michael] Quinn, and those who have followed him, have completely misunderstood or misrepresented the purpose of the dagger. The inclusion of the astrological sigil for Scorpio means the dagger was designed for someone born under the sign of Scorpio. None of the Smiths was. Therefore, it was not made for the Smiths. Quinn demonstrates no understanding of talismanic magic. The inclusion of the talismanic sigils for Mars means it was designed to grant victory in battle or litigation. It was not designed for ceremonial magic or treasure hunting, as Quinn claims. Quinn cites sources from after 1870 as evidence for what the Smiths supposedly believed, while completely misrepresenting those sources. The only possible conclusion to draw from all this is that the dagger was made for an unknown person, and, if it somehow came into the possession of Hyrum Smith, it was obtained secondhand with the engravings already made. This conforms with the late Smith family tradition that remembers the signs on the blade as "Masonic" rather than magical.[11]

Does the Book of Mormon’s reference to "slippery treasures" stem from Joseph Smith’s involvement in money digging and the occult?

Review of the Criticism

Some readers of the Book of Mormon and other critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have criticized the Book of Mormon’s reference to "slippery treasures".[65] This reference has been cited as evidence to them that the supposed "magic world view" of Joseph Smith and perhaps his associates influenced the composition of the Book of Mormon for those portions of the Book of Mormon that reference such "slippery treasures."

Book of Mormon Central: Why Did Samuel Say the Wealth of Some Nephites Would Become "Slippery"?

This charge/question has been examined in detail by Book of Mormon Central. Readers are invited to become acquainted with their material to address the question.

Book of Mormon Central:

Samuel the Lamanite’s famous prophetic warnings are found in Helaman 13–15. His pronouncement began with a massive rebuke of the pride, greed, iniquities, priestcrafts, ingratitude, and foolishness of wicked Nephites who were willing to embrace false prophets while utterly rejecting the righteous prophets (Helaman 13:25–29). Samuel pulled no punches. In this context, he used the word "slippery" three times, and the word "slipped" once (vv. 30–36).

Did Joseph Smith's family own "magic parchments" which suggest their involvement in the "occult"?

There is no evidence that Joseph knew of, possessed, or used magical parchments

It is claimed that the Smith family owned "magic parchments," suggesting their involvement in the "occult." However, there is no evidence that Joseph knew of, possessed, or used magical parchments. All we know is that some parchments were eventually "heirlooms" of the Hyrum Smith family, but their provenance is not clear.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. Alan Goff, "Dan Vogel's Family Romance and the Book of Mormon as Smith Family Allegory (Review of: Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 321–400. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  2. 2.0 2.1 Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945). ( Index of claims )
  3. Charles L. Cohen, "No Man Knows My Psychology: Fawn Brodie, Joseph Smith, and Psychoanalysis," Brigham Young University Studies 44 no. 1, 68.
  4. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 44, note 135. ( Index of claims )
  5. 5.0 5.1 Andrew H. Hedges and Dawson W. Hedges, "No, Dan, That's Still Not History (Review of: Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, by Dan Vogel)," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 205–222. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  6. See discussions of this issue in: John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  7. John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; citing Stanley J. Tambiah, Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Jonathan Z. Smith, "Trading Places," in Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, ed. Marvin Meyer and Paul Mirecki (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 16.
  8. Robert K. Ritner, "Egyptian Magic: Questions of Legitimacy, Religious Orthodoxy and Social Deviance," in Studies in Pharaonic Religion and Society in Honour of J. Gwyn Griffiths , ed. Alan B. Lloyd (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1992), 190; cited in John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site] (emphasis in original).
  9. Criticisms of Joseph's use of "folk magic" appear in the following publications: “The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites,” Athenaeum, Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art 42 (July 1841): 370–74. off-site; Henry Caswall, The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century, or, the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints : To Which Is Appended an Analysis of the Book of Mormon (London: Printed for J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 28. off-site; John A. Clark, “Gleanings by the Way. No. VII,” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 18, no. 25 (12 September 1840), ??. off-site; James H. Hunt, Mormonism: Embracing the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Sect (St. Louis: Ustick and Davies, 1844), n.p.. off-site; MormonThink.com website (as of 28 April 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/transbomweb.htm; La Roy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman (New York) 3, no. 9 (3 March 1838): 34, citing Howe. off-site
  10. Luck Mack Smith, 1845 manuscript history transcribed without punctuation, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:285.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  12. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 28 March 1841; also cited in Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:75. ISBN 0941214133.
  13. Brant A. Gardner, Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?, FAIR Conference 2009. Gardner references D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 38. and Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 70.
  14. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–215.
  15. Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 241-242; cited in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 2 (Summer 1982): 48–68.
  16. Joel Tiffany, Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 164;cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, 55.
  17. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853),91–92.
  18. Dean C. Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 1 (August 1976).; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 281. Buy online
  19. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–215.
  20. See, for example, Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:129. GospeLink; Roberts was followed by Richard S. Van Wagoner, Dan Vogel, Ogden Kraut, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, and D. Michael Quinn. See discussion in Ashurst-McGee, 247n317.
  21. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–283.
  22. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–201.
  23. W. D. Purple, The Chenango Union (3 May 1877); cited in Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 2:365. ASIN B000HMY138. (See Van Wagoner and Walker, 54.)
  24. Richard Marcellas Robinson, "The History of a Nephite Coin," manuscript, 20 December 1834, Church archives; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 264. Buy online
  25. Mormonism—II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 163, see also 169; cited in Ashurst-McGee (2000), 286.
  26. Henry Harris, statement in E.D. Howe Mormonism Unvailed (1833), 252; cited in Ashurst-McGee (2000), 290.
  27. Joseph Knight, cited in Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, Saints Without Halos: The Human Side of Mormon History (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1981), 6. Spelling and punctuation have been modernized. The original text reads: "After Brackfist Joseph Cald me in to the other Room and he sit his foot on the Bed and leaned his head on his hand and says, well I am Dissopented. Well, say I, I am sorrey. Well, says he, I am grateley Dissopnted. It is ten times Better then I expected. Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates and, said he, they appear to be gold. But he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummim than he Did of the plates for says he, I can see anything. They are Marvelous."
  28. Joel Tiffany, "Mormonism—No. II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 165–166; cited in VanWagoner and Walker, footnote 27.
  29. Tiffany, 163.
  30. Told in Millennial Star 44:87; quotation from Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988), 6.
  31. Lucy Smith, "Preliminary Manuscript," 64, in Early Mormon Documents, 1:333-34. Cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 320–326.
  32. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 320–326.
  33. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 334–337.
  34. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 332–333.
  35. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman ; citing Orson Pratt, "Discourse at Brigham City," 27 June 1874, Ogden (Utah) Junction, cited in Orson Pratt, "Two Days´ Meeting at Brigham City," Millennial Star 36 (11 August 1874), 498–499.
  36. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  37. Van Wagoner and Walker, 58–59 (citations removed).
  38. Van Wagoner and Walker, 58–59 (citations removed). See also Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 230.
  39. Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View 242–247.
  40. Brant A. Gardner, "Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?," Proceedings of the 2009 FAIR Conference (August 2009).
  41. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988).
  42. Matthew Brown, "Revised or Unaltered? Joseph Smith's Foundational Stories.", 2006 FAIR Conference.
  43. William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site] (emphasis in original) Hamblin cites Luck Mack Smith, 1845 manuscript history transcribed without punctuation, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:285. and Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition, 1987), 73. ISBN 0252060121.
  44. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 235-236. (Affidavits examined) Reproduced in "The Origin of Mormonism," Christian Enquirer (New York) 5/51 (25 September 1852): [1]. Also available in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:40-45.
  45. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Review of Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined by Rodger I. Anderson," FARMS Review of Books 3/1 (1991): 52–80. off-site [Anderson's references have been silently removed from this citation.]
  46. This section of the response was based on William J. Hamblin, "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? Review of Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 251–325. off-site. Please consult the original for references and further information. By the nature of a wiki project, the base text may have since been modified and added to.
  47. Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site
  48. Bruce Chilton, "Jesus’ Dispute in the Temple and the Origin of the Eucharist," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29 no. 4, 22–23.
  49. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 121 ( Index of claims )
  50. 50.0 50.1 50.2 50.3 50.4 50.5 50.6 William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L. Mitton, "Mormon in the Fiery Furnace Or, Loftes Tryk Goes to Cambridge] (Review of The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 by John L. Brooke)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 3–58. off-site
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 51.3 51.4 51.5 51.6 William J. Hamblin, "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? Review of Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 251–325. off-site
  52. William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L. Mitton, "Mormon in the Fiery Furnace Or, Loftes Tryk Goes to Cambridge] (Review of The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 by John L. Brooke)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 3–58. off-site(italics in original)
  53. Dr. Reed Durham’s Presidential Address before the Mormon History Association on 20 April 1974.
  54. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 225. ( Index of claims )
  55. https://www.fairmormon.org/archive/publications/the-truth-about-the-god-makers
  56. Jerald R. Johansen, After the Martyrdom: What Happened to the Family of Joseph Smith (Springville, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 2004[1997]), 79. ISBN 0882905961. off-site
  57. 57.0 57.1 57.2 57.3 57.4 Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  58. Original coming from LaMar C. Berett, The Wilford Wood Collection, Vol. 1 (Provo, UT: Wilford C. Wood Foundation, 1972), 173.
  59. Anderson points to its original source in J. W. Woods "The Mormon Prophet," Daily Democrat (Ottumwa, Iowa), 10 May 1885; and in Edward H. Stiles, Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers and Public Men of Early Iowa (Des Moines: Homestead Publishing Co., 1916), 271.
  60. Stephen E. Robinson, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (1987), 94–95.
  61. These are examples of later arguments by Quinn in an attempt to refute Anderson.
  62. Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), 180. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X.
  63. This section of the response was based on William J. Hamblin, "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? Review of Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 251–325. off-site. By the nature of a wiki project, it has since been modified and added to.
  64. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 355—56 n. 121 ( Index of claims )
  65. Robert N. Hullinger, Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon (St. Louis, MO: Clayton Publishing House, 1980), 105; D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998), 61, 196–197.

Response to claim: 23 - Palmyra newspapers took no notice of Joseph's vision at the time it was supposed to have occurred

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Palmyra newspapers took no notice of Joseph's vision at the time it was supposed to have occurred.

Author's sources:
  1. Obediah Dogberry (Abner Cole), Palmyra Reflector, Feb. 1, 1831.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Why would the newspapers be interested in a story of a fourteen year old boy who had claimed to see God? Joseph didn't even tell his own family about it initially - he appears to have only told at least one of the local ministers, who severely chastised him for it.


Did Joseph Smith begin his prophetic career with a "trinitarian" idea of God?

Joseph and the early Saints were not trinitarian, and understood God's embodiment and the identity of the Father and Son as separate beings very early on

This doctrine is apparent in the Book of Mormon, and in the earliest friendly and non-friendly accounts of such matters from the Saints.

Such texts demonstrate that the supposed 'evidence' for Joseph altering his story later is only in the eyes of critical beholders. For example, Joseph's 1832 First Vision account focuses on the remission of his sins. However, critics who wish to claim that in 1832 Joseph had only a vaguely "trinitarian" idea of God (and so would see the Father and the Son as only one being) have missed vital evidence which must be considered.[1]

Martin Harris remembered rejecting the ideas of creedal Trinitarianism prior to meeting Joseph

Martin dictated an account of his early spiritual search:

52 years ago I was Inspired of the Lord & Tought of the Spirit that I should not Join Eny Church although I Was anxiousley Sought for by meny of the Secatirans[.] I Was taught I could not Walk togther unless agreed[.] What can you not be agreed in [is] in the Trinity because I can not find it in my Bible[.] find it for me & I am Ready to Receive it. 3 Persons in one god[.] one Personage I can not concede for this is Antichrist for Where is the Father & Son[?] I have more proof to Prove 9 Persons in the Trinity then you have 3[.]...other sects the Epicopalians also tired me[.] they say 3 Persons in one god Without Body Parts or Passions[.] I Told them such A god I would not be afraid of: I could not Please or offend him[.] [I] Would not be afraid to fight A Duel With such A god.[2]

It would be very strange for Martin to feel so strongly on this point, only to embrace Joseph's teachings if Joseph taught creedal trinitarianism.

1829 - The Book of Mormon

Christ Descends from Heavens

The Book of Mormon also begins (1 Nephi 1꞉8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on his throne. One [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi—thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate, and the role of Christ in giving instructions to the prophet while the Father looks on and approves is followed, just as it was in Joseph's First Vision. Here too, Lehi is described as praying to "the Lord," and yet has a vision of both God the Father and Christ.

Resurrection is Permanent Through Christ

Alma 11:45 makes clear that the resurrection is permanent and Mosiah 15:20 (along with several others) makes clear that the resurrection is brought about through Christ.

I and the Father are One to Three Nephites

In 3 Nephi 28:10 the Savior is speaking to the 3 Nephites. After declaring that they would never endure the pains of death he states:

And for this cause ye shall have fullness of joy; and he shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fullness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one.

Since the verse is juxtaposed closely with not tasting death and the Savior stating that they would be even as he and the Father are, this verse may be used to argue for an embodied Christ and God (and likely an early conceptualization of deification) in the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, the phrase "fullness of joy" is used in D&C 93:33 (a revelation dated to 1833) to describe element (or man’s tabernacle as v. 35 expresses) and spirit inseparably connected.

1830 - Book of Moses: "And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten"

Between June and October 1830, Joseph had dictated his revision (the "Joseph Smith Translation") to Genesis.[3] The first chapter of Moses was dictated in June 1830 (about a month after the Church's reorganization), and began:

2 And [Moses] saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.

3 And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

4 And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.

5 Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth.

6 And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all (Moses 1꞉2-6)

Here already, God distinguishes himself from the Only Begotten, Moses sees and speaks with God face to face, and says that Moses was created "in the similitude of mine Only Begotten."

Joseph's rendered Genesis 1:26 as:

And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so....And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. (Moses 2꞉26-27.)

There can be no doubt that Joseph understood "in mine own image" to refer to a physical likeness, rather than merely a moral or intellectual one. The JST of Genesis 5:1-2 reads

In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them (Moses 6꞉8-9, emphasis added)

Thus, by 1830 Joseph was clearly teaching a separation of the Father and Son, and insisting that both had some type of physical form which could be copied in the creation of humanity.

Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also noted that other Christian denominations took issue with the new Church because of its teachings about God, noting that in 1830:

the different denominations are very much opposed to us.... The Methodists also come, and they rage, for they worship a God without body or parts, and they know that our faith comes in contact with this principle.[4]

1831 - Joseph "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father"; D&C 50:43

Anti-Mormon writers in 1831 noted that Joseph claimed to have received "a commission from God"; and the Mormons claimed that Joseph "had seen God frequently and personally."[5] That Joseph's enemies knew he claimed to have "seen God," indicates that the doctrine of an embodied God that could be seen was well-known early on.

John Whitmer would also write in 1831 of a vision enjoyed by Joseph in which Joseph saw Christ as separate from the Father, for he "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father making intercession for his brethren, the Saints." (emphasis added) [6] Of this same experience, Levi Hancock wrote:

Joseph Smith then stepped out onto the floor and said, 'I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now.' (emphasis added) [7]

Doctrine and Covenants 50, a revelation given to Joseph Smith in May 1831, states in the 43rd verse that:

And the Father and I are one, I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.
This is interesting as, notwithstanding the verse being one that teaches the 'oneness' of the Father and the Son, it is not that of Modalism [nor the forms of Trinitarianism referred to by critics when making this argument against Joseph Smith]; instead, it is the same as John 17:22-23—one of indwelling unity, not being the same person.[8]

1832 - In the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father"

One should first note that in the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father." The Book of Mormon (translated three years earlier in 1829) also contains numerous passages which teach a physical separation and embodiment (even if only in spirit bodies, which are clearly not immaterial, but have shape, position, and form) of the members of the Godhead. (See: 3 Nephi 11, 1 Nephi 11꞉1-11, Ether 3꞉14-18.)

Furthermore, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were to receive a revelation of the three degrees of glory in the same year as Joseph's 1832 account was written; it clearly teaches a physical separation of the Father and Son, bearing witness of seeing both. (See D&C 76꞉14,20–24.)[9]

1832–1833 - "Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother"

Two of Joseph's close associates reported their own visions of God in the winter of 1832–1833. Both are decidedly not in the trinitarian mold.

Zebedee Coltrin:

Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling...a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him...

He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: "Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages."[10]

John Murdock:

During the winter that I boarded with[Bro[ther] Joseph... we had a number of prayer meetings, in the Prophet’s chamber.... In one of those meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exersise [sic] strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in a most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I had ever before seen. His countenance was the most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.[11]

1834–1835 - Lectures on Faith: "There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things"

In the School of the Prophets, the brethren were taught that

There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made. . . . They are the Father and the Son—the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fulness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle. (Lecture 5:1–2)

Here, the separateness of the Father and Son continues to be made clear.

1836 - "They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts"

A skeptical news article noted:

They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts; and that when the Creator formed Adam in his own image, he made him about the size and shape of God himself....[12]

Evidence that is absent

In addition to all the non-trinitarian evidence above, as Milton Backman has noted, there is a great deal of evidence that we should find, but don't. For example, no one has "located a publication (such as an article appearing in a church periodical or statement from a missionary pamphlet) written by an active Latter-day Saint prior to the martyrdom of the Prophet that defends the traditional or popular creedal concept of the Trinity. . . ." Moreover, there are no references in critical writings of the 1830s (including statements by apostates) that Joseph Smith introduced in the mid-thirties the doctrine of separateness of the Father and Son.[13]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Oliver Cowdery state that Joseph did not know if a "supreme being" existed in 1823?

In the first installment of his history published in December 1834, Oliver established Joseph's age as 14 and very accurately described the religious excitement leading up to the First Vision

Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in the Messenger and Advocate in December 1834 which is commonly misunderstood:

In 1834, Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in installments in the pages of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. The first installment talks of the religious excitement and events that ultimately led to Joseph Smith’s First Vision at age 14. However, in the subsequent installment published two months later, Oliver claims that he made a mistake, correcting Joseph’s age from 14 to 17 and failing to make any direct mention of the First Vision. Oliver instead tells the story of Moroni’s visit, thus making it appear that the religious excitement led to Moroni’s visit.

This curious account has been misunderstood by some to be evidence that the "first" vision that Joseph claimed was actually that of the angel Moroni and that Joseph invented the story of the First Vision of the Father and Son at a later time. However, Joseph wrote an account of his First Vision in 1832 in which he stated that he saw the Lord, and there is substantial evidence that Oliver had this document in his possession at the time that he wrote his history of the Church. This essay demonstrates the correlations between Joseph Smith’s 1832 First Vision account, Oliver’s 1834/1835 account, and Joseph’s 1835 journal entry on the same subject. It is clear that not only did Oliver have Joseph’s history in his possession but that he used Joseph’s 1832 account as a basis for his own account. This essay also shows that Oliver knew of the First Vision and attempted to obliquely refer to the event several times in his second installment before continuing with his narrative of Moroni’s visit.[14]

Two months later in the second installment published in February 1835, Oliver abruptly "corrects" Joseph's age from 14 to 17 years old, skips the First Vision and then proceeds instead to describe Moroni's visit

After spending the previous installment leading up to the First Vision, Oliver abruptly skips three years ahead and does not mention the vision directly. However, before describing Moroni's visit, Oliver even takes the time to minimize the importance of the religious excitement that he described in the previous installment, stating,

And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate (February 1835)

The religious "excitement" that Oliver is describing is now portrayed as an event in the past, during which Joseph desired to know "if a Supreme being did exist"

Note carefully what Oliver is saying. The religious "excitement," and the event that Oliver described in the first installment when he said that Joseph was 14 years of age, was when Joseph was seeking a "full manifestation of divine approbation" with the desire to know "if a Supreme being did exist." Oliver then alludes to the First Vision in the past tense by saying,

This, most assuredly, was correct—it was right. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast, that for him who knocks it shall be opened, & whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely.
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate (February 1835)

Oliver is stating that something of significance happened in Joseph’s life prior to the events that Oliver would be describing next, and he assures the reader that "this, most assuredly, was correct." Oliver then proceeds to describe Moroni's visit to Joseph at age 17.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is the fact that Latter-day Saint missionaries were teaching around 1 November 1830 that Joseph Smith had seen "God" personally a reference to having seen Jesus Christ, but not the Father?

The document which reports the missionaries’ teachings refers to "God" twice but also to "Christ" once and the "Holy Spirit" once

It cannot be successfully argued that before the missionaries made their statement in November 1830 Latter-day Saints would have understood "God" as a reference to Jesus Christ alone. When the missionaries (one of whom was Book of Mormon scribe Oliver Cowdery) were teaching that Joseph Smith had seen "God" personally they could have legitimately been referring to God the Father

The weakness of this argument is twofold. First and foremost, critics ignore the fact that the document which reports the missionaries’ teachings[15]refers to "God" twice but also to "Christ" once and the "Holy Spirit" once. Hence, all three members of the Godhead appear to be represented individually in the document. In this context, a natural interpretation demands that "God" refer to the Father and the statement made by the missionaries would therefore mean that sometime before November 1830 Joseph Smith had seen God the Father "personally."

The Book of Mormon talks of Lehi having a vision of both "God" and Jesus Christ

The second problem with the critics’ argument is that the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants contain several contemporary texts that undercut their position. For instance, 1 Nephi 12꞉18 speaks of "the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record." Here all three members of the Godhead are represented and "the Eternal God" is an obvious reference to God the Father. It becomes apparent from a reading of Alma 11꞉44, however, that this is a title that can be appropriately applied to all three divine Beings. This scriptural passage talks about being "arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God." This concept is paralleled in D&C 20꞉28—a text written about April 1830—which says that the "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal."

The Book of Mormon also begins (1 Nephi 1꞉8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on his throne. One bright being [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi—thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate, and the role of Christ in giving instructions to the prophet while the Father looks on and approves is followed, just as it was in Joseph's First Vision. Here too, Lehi is described as praying to "the Lord," and yet has a vision of both "God" and Christ.

Even a contemporary hostile source reports that Joseph communicated with "Almighty God"

A hostile account from someone who knew Joseph in 1827 reported:

I, Joseph Capron, became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1827. They have, since then, been really a peculiar people—fond of the foolish and the marvelous—at one time addicted to vice and the grossest immoralities—at another time making the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God. The family of Smiths held Joseph Jr. in high estimation on account of some supernatural power, which he was supposed to possess.[16]

Capron obviously dislikes and distrusts the Smiths, but he makes it clear that there were claims of holy intercourse (i.e., "communication" with)[17] "Almighty God." This sounds much more like a reference to the Father than to Christ.

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver’s Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1834 and 1835"

Roger Nicholson,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (December 6, 2013)
In 1834, Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in installments in the pages of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. The first installment talks of the religious excitement and events that ultimately led to Joseph Smith’s First Vision at age 14. However, in the subsequent installment published two months later, Oliver claims that he made a mistake, correcting Joseph’s age from 14 to 17 and failing to make any direct mention of the First Vision. Oliver instead tells the story of Moroni’s visit, thus making it appear that the religious excitement led to Moroni’s visit.

This curious account has been misunderstood by some to be evidence that the "first" vision that Joseph claimed was actually that of the angel Moroni and that Joseph invented the story of the First Vision of the Father and Son at a later time. However, Joseph wrote an account of his First Vision in 1832 in which he stated that he saw the Lord, and there is substantial evidence that Oliver had this document in his possession at the time that he wrote his history of the Church. This essay demonstrates the correlations between Joseph Smith’s 1832 First Vision account, Oliver’s 1834/1835 account, and Joseph’s 1835 journal entry on the same subject. It is clear that not only did Oliver have Joseph’s history in his possession but that he used Joseph’s 1832 account as a basis for his own account. This essay also shows that Oliver knew of the First Vision and attempted to obliquely refer to the event several times in his second installment before continuing with his narrative of Moroni’s visit.

Click here to view the complete article

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How early was the story of the First Vision known among the members of the Church?

Claims made by critics regarding early knowledge of the First Vision

  • It is claimed that "there is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832." [18]
  • It is claimed that there is "no reference to the 1838 canonical First Vision story in any published material from the 1830s."
  • It is claimed that "Not a single piece of published literature (Mormon, non-Mormon, or anti-Mormon) from the 1830s mentions Smith having a vision of the Father and Son."
  • If Joseph Smith's First Vision actually occurred, then why wouldn't it have been mentioned in the local newspapers at the time? Since no such record exists, is this evidence that the vision must not have actually occurred?

There is evidence that Church members were aware of elements of the First Vision story as early as 1827

Several LDS commentators - including one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles - agree that D&C 20:5 (part of the Articles and Covenants of the Church) is the earliest published reference to the First Vision story. [19] The Articles and Covenants of the Church were presented to the Church membership and then published in the following order

  • April-June 1829 - The Book of Mormon gave the first elements of the First Vision when translated in April-June 1829 and published in 1830. In 2 Nephi 27:24-27 we read:

24 And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:

25 Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men—

26 Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.

This scripture from Isaiah is exactly the scripture that Joseph either quotes or paraphrases in the 1832 and 1838 Account of the First Vision. Critics may dismiss this saying that it is simply a part of Joseph's fraudulent composition of the Book of Mormon but the verse still throws a huge wrench in their theories about there being no early mentions of the First Vision.
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church are first verbally presented by Joseph Smith for approval at a Church conference held in Fayette, New York on 9 June 1830 (see Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 1). The following sequence is found in the Articles and Covenants: (1) forgiveness of sin, (2) entanglement in vanities of the world, (3) visit of an angel with regard to the Book of Mormon plates. This is the exact same sequence presented in the Prophet's unpublished 1832 history and the forgiveness of sins comes during the First Vision event in that document.
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were read out loud by Oliver Cowdery during a Church conference on 26 September 1830 (see Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 3).
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in a non-LDS newspaper in Painesville, Ohio (Telegraph, 19 April 1831)
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in an LDS newspaper in Independence, Missouri (Evening and Morning Star, vol. 1, no. 1, June 1832).
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in an LDS newspaper in Independence, Missouri (Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2, no. 13, June 1833).
  • The Book of Commandments—which contained the Articles and Covenants—was published in July 1833 in Independence, Missouri (chapter 24, verses 6-7, page 48).
  • January 1835 Kirtland, Ohio reprint of an Evening and Morning Star article containing the "Articles and Covenants" (reprint of Evening and Morning Star, vol. 1, no. 1, June 1832, 2; reprinted by Frederick G. Williams).
  • The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants - which contained the Articles and Covenants - was published in September 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio (part 2, section 2, verse 2, pages 77-78).
  • June 1836 Kirtland, Ohio reprint of an Evening and Morning Star article containing the "Articles and Covenants" of the Church (reprint of Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2, no. 1, June 1833, 1; reprinted by Oliver Cowdery).


  1. REDIRECTTemplate:Test3

The Joseph Smith Papers: "The historical preamble to the 1830 'articles and covenants,'...appears to reference JS’s vision in speaking of a moment when 'it truly was manifested unto this first elder, that he had received a remission of his sins'"

"History, circa Summer 1832 - Historical Introduction," The Joseph Smith Papers:

In the early 1830s, when this history was written, it appears that JS had not broadcast the details of his first vision of Deity. The history of the church, as it was then generally understood, began with the gold plates. John Whitmer mentioned in his history "the commencement of the church history commencing at the time of the finding of the plates," suggesting that Whitmer was either unaware of JS’s earlier vision or did not conceive of it as foundational.5 Records predating 1832 only hint at JS’s earliest manifestation. The historical preamble to the 1830 "articles and covenants," for example, appears to reference JS’s vision in speaking of a moment when "it truly was manifested unto this first elder, that he had received a remission of his sins."6 Initially, JS may have considered this vision to be a personal experience tied to his own religious explorations. He was not accustomed to recording personal events, and he did not initially record the vision as he later did the sacred texts at the center of his attention. Only when JS expanded his focus to include historical records did he write down a detailed account of the theophany he experienced as a youth. The result was a simple, unpolished account of his first "marvilous experience," written largely in his own hand. The account was not published or widely circulated at the time, though in later years he told the story more frequently.[20]

Why didn't the newspapers in Palmyra take notice of Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Pearl of Great Price Central, Joseph Smith - History Insight #12: Why Was Joseph Smith Initially Reluctant to Tell Others About the First Vision?

Newspapers would not have considered a visionary claim from a 14-year-old boy to have been newsworthy

This claim by critics is indeed strange. We are apparently to believe that the newspapers of the area would consider a claim from a 14-year-old boy as newsworthy. We know that Joseph didn't even tell his family about the vision at the time that it occurred—when his mother asked him, all he said to her was that he had found that Presbyterianism was not true.

When Joseph told the story of his vision to a local minister, he was strongly refuted for doing so

Joseph did, however, make mention of his vision to a Methodist preacher. According to Richard Bushman, Joseph's perceived persecution for telling his story may not have actually been because it was a unique claim, but rather because it was a common one. According to Bushman,

The clergy of the mainline churches automatically suspected any visionary report, whatever its content...The only acceptable message from heaven was assurance of forgiveness and a promise of grace. Joseph's report of God's rejection of all creeds and churches would have sounded all too familiar to the Methodist evangelical, who repeated the conventional point that "all such things had ceased with the apostles and that there never would be any more of them."[21][22]

What references to the First Vision exist in published documents from the 1830s?

Pearl of Great Price Central, Joseph Smith - History Insight #12: Why Was Joseph Smith Initially Reluctant to Tell Others About the First Vision?

There are several significant references to the First Vision in published documents from the 1830s

1827

  • A skeptical account from Rev. John A. Clark mixed nine First Vision story elements together with the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and said that he learned them all in the Fall of 1827 from Martin Harris (John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way [Philadelphia: W. J. and J. K. Simmon, 1842],—-).
  • A hostile account from someone who knew Joseph in 1827 reported:
I, Joseph Capron, became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1827. They have, since then, been really a peculiar people—fond of the foolish and the marvelous—at one time addicted to vice and the grossest immoralities—at another time making the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God. The family of Smiths held Joseph Jr. in high estimation on account of some supernatural power, which he was supposed to possess.[23]
Capron obviously disliked and distrusted the Smiths, but he makes it clear that there were claims of holy intercourse (i.e., "communication" with)[24] "Almighty God."

1829 -1830

  • The Book of Mormon gave the first elements of the First Vision when published in 1830 (and translated in 1829). In 2 Nephi 27:24-27 we read:

24 And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:

25 Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men—

26 Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.

This scripture from Isaiah is exactly the scripture that Joseph either quotes or paraphrases in the 1832 and 1838 Account of the First Vision. Critics may dismiss this saying that it is simply a part of Joseph's fraudulent composition of the Book of Mormon but the verse still throws a huge wrench in their theories about there being no early mentions of the First Vision.

1831

  • LDS missionaries were teaching that Joseph Smith "had seen God frequently and personally" and received a commission from Him to teach true religion (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831).[25]

1832

  • LDS missionaries were teaching with regard to Joseph Smith: "Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse [to] prayer" (The Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832).
  • In October 1832, another Protestant minister wrote to a friend about the Latter-day Saints in his area: "They profess to hold frequent converse with angels; some go, if we may believe what they say, as far as the third heaven, and converse with the Lord Jesus face to face."[26]

1833

  • A few months later, in March of 1833, the Reverend Richmond Taggart wrote a letter to a ministerial friend, regarding the activities of Joseph Smith himself in Ohio: "The following Curious occurrance occurred last week in Newburg [Ohio] about 6 miles from this Place [Cleveland]. Joe Smith the great Mormonosity was there and held forth, and among other things he told them he had seen Jesus Christ and the Apostles and conversed with them, and that he could perform Miracles."[27] Here is a clear reference to Joseph Smith stating he had seen Jesus Christ. Joseph’s ‘conversations’ with the Apostles could be a reference to having seen, spoken to, and been ordained to the Priesthood by the early Apostles Peter, James, and John. Having received that Priesthood Joseph Smith was now qualified to perform healings, and other ‘miracles’.
  • A Missouri newspaper contains an article on a mass meeting of Latter-day Saints in July 1833, and refers to the Saints’ "pretended revelations from heaven… their personal intercourse with God and his angels… converse with God and his angels…."[28]
  • Philastus Hurlbut, following his excommunication from the Church in 1833, went east to Palmyra. He there interviewed many who claimed to have known Joseph Smith before the organization of the Church. Among those interviewed were some who left statements which give us more information on what the Prophet had been claiming at that early period. On November 3, 1833, Barton Stafford testified that Joseph had "professed to be inspired of the Lord to translate the Book of Mormon." Stafford claimed to have known them "until 1831 when they left this neighborhood." Five days later, on November 8, Joseph Capron testified that Joseph had made "the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God."[29] In 1884 and 1885 Arthur B. Deming collected affidavits in the Painesville, Ohio area, regarding the early Saints, and their recollection of Joseph Smith. Cornelius R. Stafford had been born in Manchester, NY, in 1813. He testified that Joseph Smith "claimed to receive revelations from the Lord."[30]

1834

1835

1836

  • The First Vision reference by William W. Phelps was republished as part of hymn #26 in the Saints' first hymnal—March 1836 (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1176).

When the published 1830s fragments of the First Vision story are compared to the as-yet-unpublished 1838 recital, it becomes apparent that the Prophet's account of things stayed steady during this time frame and was probably known among a wider cross-section of the contemporary LDS population than has been previously acknowledged.

1834 - "the 15th year of his life" [Cowdery]
1838 - "I was at this time in my fifteenth year"
1834 - "There was a great awakening, or excitement raised on the subject of religion" [Cowdery]
1838 - "there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion"
1834 - "our brother's mind became awakened" [Cowdery]
1838 - "my mind was called up to serious reflection"
1834 - "his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians" [Cowdery]
1838 - "My Fathers family were proselyted to the Presbyterian faith"
1834 - "his spirit was not at rest day nor night" [Cowdery]
1838 - "great uneasiness . . . extreme difficulties . . . my anxieties"
1832 - "not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I kept myself aloof from all these parties"; "no small stir and division"
1834 - "he was told they were right, and all others were wrong" [Cowdery]
1838 - "who was right and who was wrong"
1834 - "a general struggle was made by the leading characters of the different sects" [Cowdery]
1838 - "priest contending against priest"
1834 - "Large additions were made to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches" [Cowdery]
1838 - "multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties"
1835 - "the world in darkness lay" [Phelps]
1838 - "I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness"
1835 - "he sought the better way" [Phelps]
1838 - "I was one day reading the Epistle of James"
1832 - "being in doubt what his duty was" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I often said to myself, what is to be done?"
1832 - "he had recourse [to] prayer" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God"
1831 - "he had seen God . . . personally" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I saw two personages . . . One of them spake unto me calling me by name and said (pointing to the other) 'This is my beloved Son, Hear him'"

Here then are several early testimonies from friendly and non-LDS sources, confirming that Joseph Smith and/or the missionaries were talking about Joseph conversing with Jesus Christ, angels, Apostles (Peter, James and John?), and "Almighty God." Evidently the early Saints were doing a lot more talking about these things than the critics want their readers to know about.

Is there any mention of the First Vision in non-Mormon literature before 1843?

There are a number of reports in non-Latter-day Saint source which allude to the First Vision having occurred

The historical record supports the claim that the First Vision was mentioned in non-Mormon literature prior to 1843:

  • Report in a non-LDS newspaper of Mormon missionaries teaching that Joseph Smith had seen God personally and received a commission from Him to teach true religion (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831).
  • The "Articles and Covenants" of the Church - which contained a reference to something that happened during the First Vision - were published in a non-LDS newspaper (Telegraph, 19 April 1831).
  • Report in a non-LDS newspaper that Mormon missionaries were teaching at least six of the beginning elements of the First Vision story (Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832).
  • In April 1841 the British publication Athenæum (a literary weekly) reprinted material from Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account pamphlet.
  • A non-LDS newspaper printed the first elements of the First Vision story. They were first reported in the Congregational Observer [Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut] and then reprinted in the Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer, vol. 5, no. 23, 3 September 1841.
  • First Vision story elements from Orson Pratt's 1840 pamphlet were reprinted in The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, vol. 14 (new series), no. 42, July 1841, 370. Philadelphia: E. Littell and Co. (copied from the 1841 Athenæum article called "The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites").
  • When the Rev. John A. Clark published his autobiography he mixed nine First Vision story elements together with the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and said that he learned them all in the Fall of 1827 from Martin Harris (John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way [Philadelphia: W. J. and J. K. Simmon, 1842],—-).
  • A non-LDS college professor published the beginning story elements of the First Vision (Jonathan B. Turner, Mormonism in All Ages [New York: Platt and Peters, 1842], 14).

The majority of these reports are garbled, fragmentary, and out of proper context but this evidence still shows that the claim being made in the source cited above is not accurate.

If the First Vision story was known by the public before 1840, then would anti-Mormons "surely" have seized upon it as an evidence of Joseph Smith’s imposture?

The claim that critics of Joseph would have used the vision accounts is negated by the following evidence

  • Daniel P. Kidder, Mormonism and the Mormons (New York City: Lane and Sandford, 1842), 334. The appendix heading explains that the author was drawing material from the January through June editions of the 1842 Times and Seasons (two separate First Vision stories were found in the March and April editions). Joseph Smith, as editor of the Times and Seasons, Kidder said, "commenced publishing his autobiography. It is, however, nothing but the old story about the plates and the angel, with a few emendations to save appearances."
  • Quincy Whig, vol. 4, no. 46, 12 March 1842 – Acknowledgment that the "Wentworth Letter" had recently been published in the Times and Seasons on 1 March 1842. No mention is made of the First Vision story.
  • The Morning Chronicle, vol. 1, no. 190, 24 March 1842 [Pittsburgh] – quotes from the "Wentworth Letter" directly before and after the First Vision material but completely ignores the story (focuses on Joseph Smith’s birthday and the Book of Mormon instead).
  • John Hayward, The Book of Religions (Boston: John Hayward, 1842), 260-65, 271. This author indicates that he has possession of the Wentworth Letter and says, "we . . . are now enabled to tell [the] story [of the Latter-day Saints] in their own words." But he paraphrases the material about Joseph Smith's birth and background, completely skips over the First Vision story, provides lengthy quotes about the angel and the plates and even includes the Articles of Faith.

This is clear evidence that even if an anti-Mormon had multiple authoritative, unambiguous, printed copies of the First Vision story sitting right in front of them they would NOT necessarily seize upon it as evidence of an imposture. Some of them simply did NOT pay close attention to what Joseph Smith was saying openly.

Hugh Nibley pointed out years ago that anti-Mormon authors often went to great lengths to distort, ignore, or omit Joseph's telling of the visit of the Father and the Son.[31]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


Was the First Vision fabricated to give Joseph Smith "Godly authority?"

It is claimed by some that Joseph Smith decided after he released the Book of Mormon to the public that he needed 'authority from God' to justify his claims as a religious minister

It is asserted by some that Joseph Smith fabricated the First Vision story in order to provide himself with a more prestigious line of authority than that of the "angel" who revealed the golden plates.

There is no doubt that before Joseph Smith produced his 1832 history of the Restoration he was telling other people that he had a directive from God to carry out a certain work and that he had received instruction directly from one of God's authorized representatives. Joseph Smith had no need to produce some type of authority claim by 'fabricating' the First Vision event in 1832. The line of Divine authority had already been long established.

Joseph Smith had no need to produce some type of authority claim by 'fabricating' the First Vision event in 1832

This theory does not stand up to close scrutiny. There are numerous contemporary and reminiscent documents which indicate that before Joseph Smith recorded his 1832 history (September-November 1832) he was claiming - both implicitly and explicitly - to have authority from God to carry out his ministry.

Notice in the citations below that when the angel who revealed the plates is mentioned he is identified as God's messenger. Thus, Joseph Smith's interaction is not simply with a nondescript angel; the angel is an authorized representative of Deity.

November 1826

  • Joseph Smith "told us of God’s manifestations to him, of the discovery and receiving of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated" (Newel Knight).[32]

Spring 1827

  • Joseph Smith specifically identifies the otherworldly messenger with whom he has been dealing as the angel of the Lord[33]

Fall 1827

  • Martin Harris states that it was an angel of God who visited Joseph Smith and revealed the golden plates to him and he also said that Joseph had been chosen by the Lord.[34]

April 1828

  • Palmyra townspeople state that "an angel of God" appeared to Joseph Smith.[35]

1828

  • Joseph Smith said that he received a revelation from God to tell him where the plates were concealed.[36]
  • Joseph Smith told his wife’s uncle that he had been commanded by God to translate the plates.[37]
  • Joseph Smith states that he is a prophet sent by God to gather Israel.[38]
  • Joseph Smith declares that his ability to translate the plates is a gift from God.[39]

1829

  • Joseph Smith wrote to members of his father’s family and told them that an angel of the Lord had revealed the gold book to him.[40]
  • Believers in Joseph Smith’s mission teach others that he has been visited by a messenger from "the Almighty".[41]
  • In the published statement of the Three Witnesses in the Book of Mormon (written ca. June 1829) it is said that it was "an angel of God" who showed them the golden plates.

April 1830

  • Joseph Smith confirms in an official Church document that he had been "called of God" and "God ministered unto him by an holy angel" when the Book of Mormon plates were revealed.[42]

1830

  • Joseph Smith states that he has been entrusted by God.[43]
  • According to "the most credible reports" that a non-Mormon minister had heard "the angel indicated to [Joseph Smith] that the Lord [had] destined him" to carry out a certain work.[44]

November 1830

  • Joseph Smith had seen God "personally" and received a commission from God to preach the gospel.[45]

August 1831

  • Before the Book of Mormon translation was completed "the Lord" told Joseph Smith that it must be published.[46]

September 1831

  • The "chief Elders" in Kirtland, Ohio - including Joseph Smith - state that the Prophet had "held communion with an angel from God" with regard to the golden plates.[47]

November 1831

  • The Lord declares in the Doctrine and Covenants that He "called" Joseph Smith to be His servant (D&C 1꞉17).
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision grow more detailed and more colorful after he first recorded it in 1832?

Joseph Smith's later tellings of the First Vision story were less detailed than his earlier ones

Joseph Smith actually omitted details from his earlier First Vision account in his later ones. For example, the presence of "many angels" in addition to the two main personages noted in the 9 November 1835 account is never noted in any subsequent account.

Even though some of Joseph Smith's critics believe that the First Vision story changing over time is evidence that it was fabricated to begin with, the documents provide for a different explanation. The core elements of the First Vision story do not change as time passes - they are simply being clarified by the addition of details. The Prophet did not seem too concerned about which explanatory notes were being presented to his audience at any particular time because the really important parts—the core elements—never changed.

24 story elements found in the 1832 account of the First Vision do not show up again in later accounts

The above claim is not accurate simply because 24 story elements found in the 1832 account do not show up again in later recitals. In other words, the story actually becomes significantly LESS detailed over time because it does not include all of the elements that were initially rehearsed.

The 24 missing story elements from the 1832 recital are as follows:

  • Concern for personal salvation began at age 12
  • Taught that the scriptures contained the word of God
  • Realization of apostasy through study of the scriptures
  • Grief over hypocrisy of some denominational Christians
  • The creation bears testimony of God’s existence
  • God was, is, and will be to all eternity
  • God is the same forever
  • God is no respecter of persons
  • God makes laws
  • God is omnipotent
  • God is omnipresent
  • God wants to be worshipped in truth
  • Joseph Smith was convicted of his personal sins
  • Joseph Smith mourned for the sins of the world
  • Cry to God for mercy
  • Filled with the Spirit of God
  • Savior identified as the Lord of glory
  • Directive to obey commandments
  • Crucifixion so others could achieve eternal life
  • Second Coming in the cloud
  • Fulfillment of prophecies
  • Lord's anger against the earth’s inhabitants
  • Punishment for the ungodly
  • Joseph Smith was filled with love for many days

In the 9 November 1835 First Vision account, several story elements do not show up in subsequent accounts

The same type of thing happens with the 9 November 1835 recital of the story. There are several story elements presented that do not show up in subsequent retellings. The later recitals are, therefore, LESS detailed.

The missing 1835 elements are:

  • Reference to scripture - "seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened"
  • Joseph Smith hears a noise like a person walking toward him
  • Joseph Smith springs to his feet and looks around but doesn't see anybody
  • Many angels were seen during the vision (this element IS repeated in a recital given 5 days later)

Some details in the 1838 First Vision account do not appear in the 1842 (Wentworth Letter) account

A comparison of the Prophet's 1838 and 1842 recitals yields the same result. The following details from the 1838 recounting do not show up in the 1842—Wentworth Letter—rehearsal:

  • An unusual excitement on the subject of religion took place around Manchester, New York
  • Contention among denominational leaders
  • Large-scale conversions
  • Proselytizing of Joseph's family
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • James 1:5 affected Joseph with great force
  • Vision took place on a Spring morning
  • Seized by a dark power; fear of destruction
  • Pillar of light descended
  • Deliverance from the enemy
  • The Father introduced the Son
  • Creeds are an abomination; corruption of professors
  • Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof
  • Contempt and persecution for telling the story

Again, it is apparent that the Prophet's later tellings of the First Vision story were LESS detailed than his earlier ones.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith revise his account of the First Vision in 1838 to respond to a leadership crisis?

Joseph Smith was telling the same First Vision story in 1835, three years before the leadership crisis

It is claimed that in 1838 Joseph Smith revised his personal history to say that his original call came from God the Father and Jesus Christ rather than an angel. It is also claimed that his motive for doing this was to give himself a stronger leadership role because an authority crisis had recently taken place and large-scale apostasy was the result.

The idea that Joseph Smith modified the First Vision story in 1838 in order to quell a leadership crisis is a convenient mythology crafted by critics who seem to be woefully unfamiliar with the records of the past and were unaware that Joseph told the same story in 1835.

Warren Parrish was the "ringleader" of the Kirtland leadership crisis in 1839, and yet he was also the scribe for the 1835 First Vision account

This argument is a reference to the Kirtland crisis of 1837–38. Warren Parrish was considered by some of the Saints to be the ringleader of the Kirtland crisis. It is, therefore, all the more interesting that it was this same Warren Parrish who acted as scribe in recording a First Vision recital given by the Prophet Joseph Smith on 9 November 1835. When Parrish's 1835 account of the theophany is compared to the 1838 account it becomes glaringly obvious that the story did NOT change over time, as the critics would like everyone to believe.

There is no shift in historical content between the 1835 and 1838 First Vision accounts, since both are followed immediately thereafter by the Book of Mormon angel story

It should also be noted that both the 1835 and 1838 First Vision accounts are followed immediately thereafter by the Book of Mormon angel story. Thus, it is impossible for critics to claim a shift in historical content by the Prophet. Before the Kirtland crisis took place Joseph Smith spoke in the 1835 retelling of events about an 1820 vision of two personages followed by an 1823 visitation by an angel. After the Kirtland crisis took place Joseph Smith said the exact same thing in the 1838 retelling of events.

9 November 1835 – "was about 14 years old"
2 May 1838 – "a little over fourteen years of age"
9 November 1835 – "looking at the different systems [of religion] taught [to] the children of men"
2 May 1838 – "Some crying, ‘Lo here’ and some ‘Lo there’"
9 November 1835 – "being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion"; "being thus perplexed in mind"
2 May 1838 – "my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness"
9 November 1835 – "I knew not who was right or who was wrong"
2 May 1838 – "it was impossible for a person young as I was and so unacquainted with men and things to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong"
9 November 1835 – "the Lord . . . had said . . . if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not"
2 May 1838 – "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’"
9 November 1835 – "I retired to the silent grove"
2 May 1838 – "I retired to the woods"
9 November 1835 – "[I] bowed down before the Lord"; "I called upon the Lord for the first time"
2 May 1838 – "I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God . . . It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt"
9 November 1835 – "I made a fruitless attempt to pray, my tongue seemed to be swollen in my mouth, so that I could not utter . . . looked around, but saw no person"
2 May 1838 – "I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me and had such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue . . . the power of some actual being from the unseen world"
9 November 1835 – "a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon my head"
2 May 1838 – "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me"
9 November 1835 – "a personage appeared . . . another personage soon appeared"
2 May 1838 – "I saw two personages"
9 November 1835 – "he testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God"
2 May 1838 – "This is my beloved Son"]

Did Joseph Smith lose control of the Church during the 1838 Kirtland apostasy?

The historical record shows that Joseph Smith stayed firmly in charge of Church affairs during the 1838 crisis

Anti-Mormons claim that because of the problems caused by apostates in Kirtland, Ohio Joseph Smith suffered in his role as leader of the restored Church. While it is true that the apostates claimed Joseph Smith to be a fallen prophet, and tried to take over his role, the historical record shows that he stayed firmly in charge of Church affairs. In other words, the anti-Mormon claim that he needed to somehow boost his role as leader by modifying his story to sound more impressive falls flat. Consider the following timeline which leads right up to the time of the recording of the 1838 First Vision account.

  • On 7 November 1837 Joseph Smith was "unanimously" sustained by the Far West, Missouri Saints as the presiding officer of the Church.[48]:522 This is the same location where the Prophet had the 1838 First Vision account recorded.
  • About 10 December 1837 Joseph Smith returned to Kirtland, Ohio. While the Prophet was away at Far West, Missouri Warren Parrish and his band of "reformers" denounced the Saints in general as heretics and set Joseph Smith "at naught".[48]:528 During this period Parrish was under suspicion for embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the Kirtland bank - which led to the apostasy of a considerable number of Saints.
  • On 22 December 1837 the apostates were threatening to kill a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who was supportive of Joseph Smith[48]:529
  • On 12 January 1838 Joseph Smith and another member of the First Presidency of the Church left Kirtland, Ohio in order to "escape mob violence" which was aimed at them.[49]:1
  • Some of the Kirtland apostates, armed with rifles and pistols, followed the Prophet for 200 miles with the intent of taking his life - he was a firsthand witness to their threats.[49]:2-3
  • On 10 February 1838 Joseph Smith's authority was recognized in Far West, Missouri while that of the apostates was rejected and they were removed from office "by a united voice."[49]:7
  • On 12-14 March 1838 Joseph Smith was met by several groups and escorts, "with open arms," as he approached Far West, Missouri.[49]:9
  • On 29 March 1838 Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Church leaders in Kirtland, Ohio, mentioning the warm reception he received and says of Far West: "The Saints at this time are in union; and peace and love prevail throughout." He also relates: "Various and many have been the falsehoods written from Kirtland to this place, but [they] have availed nothing. We have no uneasiness about the power of our enemies in this place to do us harm." He spoke of recently receiving a vision from the Lord. The Prophet signed his letter as "President of the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints."[49]:10-12
  • On 6 April 1838 the General Conference of the Church was held in Far West, Missouri and Joseph Smith was the presiding officer.[49]:13
  • About 10 April 1838 Joseph Smith signs a letter identifying himself as one of the "Presidents of the whole Church of Latter-day Saints."[49]:15-16
  • On 28 April 1838 Joseph Smith attended a High Council by invitation and was invited to preside over it.[49]:25-26

Clearly, this is not the picture of a man in a leadership crisis who needed to bolster his standing among the Saints by making up some impressive-sounding story. This is the picture of a man who was being targeted by a small band of thugs but who still retained leadership standing among the vast majority of the Saints. The story that he told before the apostate problems of the Kirtland era was the same story he told after the troublemakers were shown the door.

Do contemporary documents shed any light on the possible persecution of the Smith family after Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Contemporary newspaper articles report an episode that likely provides some window into the persecution which the Smiths endured

Milton Backman recounts the events surrounding the death of Alvin, Joseph's elder brother:

After the death of Joseph's brother, Alvin, who died November 19, 1823, someone circulated the rumor that Alvin's body had been "removed from the place of his interment and dissected." In an attempt to ascertain the truth of this report, Joseph Smith, Sr., along with neighbors gathered at the grave, removed the earth, and found the body undisturbed. To correct the fabrication, designed in the opinion of Joseph's father to injure the reputation of the Smith family, Joseph, Sr., placed in the Wayne Sentinel (which appeared on successive Wednesdays from September 30 to November 3, 1824) a public notice reciting his findings that the body was undisturbed. [50]

Richard Bushman noted:

What Joseph said explicitly was that the vision led to trouble, though his youthful sensitivity probably exaggerated the reaction. The talk with the minister, he remembered, brought on ridicule by "all classes of men, both religious and irreligious because I continued to affirm that I had seen a vision." Local people seemed to have discussed his case, even though he said nothing to his parents. Eighteen years later when he wrote his history, the memories of the injustices still rankled.[51] For what ever reason, his father's family suffered "many persecutions and afflictions," he recalled, deepening a previous sense of alienation. William Smith remembered people throwing dirt, stones, and sticks against the Smith house. Later, after Alvin died, it was rumored someone had disturbed his body, and Joseph Sr. published a notice in the paper that the body had been exhumed and found to be untouched. Once someone fired a short at young Joseph for no apparent reason.[52][53]

This kind of malicious gossip is cruel and requires some motive. The notice that Joseph Smith Sr. placed in the Wayne Sentinel appeared four years after the first vision and one year after the first visit of Moroni to Joseph Smith, the visit in which Joseph was first shown the location of the plates but was not allowed to obtain them. This event is thus three years before Joseph's more-widely-known acquisition of the plates and five years before the publication of the Book of Mormon. If the Smith family could be the subject of such malicious gossip when faced with a tragedy like Alvin's death, without any other known motive for the ill treatment, can we reasonably presume that Joseph's vision had something to do with it? This should be considered in assesments of Joseph's claims to persecution[54]

What did Joseph Smith's mother Lucy Smith say regarding the persecution of the Smith family after the First Vision?

Joseph's mother recalled that Joseph suffered "every kind of opposition and persecution from different orders of religionists

Lucy Mack Smith recalled,

From this time [the First Vision] until the twenty-first of September, 1823 [when he saw the angel Moroni] Joseph continued, as usual, to labour 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 religionists. [55]

What did Joseph Smith's brother William Smith say regarding the persecution of the Smith family after the First Vision?

William Smith said that "We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision"

William Smith, Joseph's brother remembered:

We were all very much scoffed at and persecuted during all this time, while Joseph was receiving his visions and translating the plates. [56]

It has generally been stated that my father's family were lazy, shiftless and poor; but this was never said by their neighbors, or until after the angel appeared and the story of the golden Bible was told.... [57]

It is said that Joseph and the rest of the family were lazy and indolent. We never heard of such a thing until after Joseph told his vision, and not then by our friends. Whenever the neighbors wanted a good days work done they knew where they could get a good hand and they were not particular to take any of the other boys before Joseph either. We cleared sixty acres of the heaviest timber I ever saw. We had a good place, but it required a great deal of labor to make it a good place. We also had on it from twelve to fifteen hundred sugar trees, and to gather the sap and make sugar and molasses from that number of trees was no lazy job. We worked hard to clear our place and the neighbors were a little jealous. If you will figure up how much work it would take to clear sixty acres of heavy timber land, heavier than any here, trees you could not conveniently cut down, you can tell whether we were lazy or not, and Joseph did his share of the work with the rest of the boys.

["]We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision. We were considered respectable till then, but at once people began to circulate falsehoods and stories in a wonderful way." [58]

With William's accounts, we again see that the persecution was largely verbal, in the form of gossip and slander.

What did Joseph Smith's contemporaries say regarding the persecution of the Smith family after the First Vision?

Thomas H. Taylor said that some people "ducked him in the pond that you see over there, just because he preached what he believed and for nothing else"

Thomas H. Taylor, was asked, ""What did the Smiths do that the people abused them so?" He replied:

They did not do anything. Why! these rascals at one time took Joseph Smith and ducked him in the pond that you see over there, just because he preached what he believed and for nothing else. And if Jesus Christ had been there, they would have done the same to him. Now I don't believe like he did; but every man has a right to his religious opinions, and to advocate his views, too; if people don't like it, let them come out and meet him on the stand, and shew his error. Smith was always ready to exchange views with the best men they had. [Why didn't they like Smith?, asked the interviewer.]

To tell the truth, there was something about him they could not understand; someway he knew more than they did, and it made them mad. [59]

The raw notes for the Taylor interview likewise mention Joseph Smith being "ducked in the creek in Manchester" despite the fact that the Smiths "did nothing" and "nothing has been sustained [a]gainst [Joseph] Smith". [60]

Here too, then, we see an element of physical persecution, though the gossip and slander identified by William and Lucy was likely far more common.

Does Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision not mention that he was persecuted for telling others about the vision?

The Prophet's 1832 history of the Restoration talks about persecution in very close proximity to the First Vision recital

Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account does not explicitly say that he was persecuted for relating his spiritual manifestation to others. Some have claimed that this stands as evidence that the Prophet's story evolved over time—probably to add a sense of drama. However, the Prophet's 1832 history of the Restoration talks about persecution in very close proximity to the First Vision recital. The persecution is situated squarely between the First Vision experience and the angel Moroni visitations. The documentary evidence presented above demonstrates conclusively that Joseph Smith did not see anything wrong with telling the basic elements of his First Vision story and either giving a passing reference to other elements or leaving them out altogether. Regardless, it was still a record of the very same experience that took place at the Smith homestead near Palmyra, New York.

"My father's family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions"

Joseph Smith made some remarks in his 1832 First Vision account that have a marked degree of relevance to the argument being put forward by his critics. In relation to the period of time between the First Vision and the appearance of the Book of Mormon angel he said,

  • "I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart"
  • "there were many things which transpired that cannot be written"
  • "my father's family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions"

Since it is explicitly stated by Joseph Smith that nobody believed his story, it would be unreasonable to assume that all of the responses to it were friendly in nature. In fact, the Prophet says right in this text that before the Book of Mormon angel visited him his family was persecuted and afflicted for some unspecified reason(s). He did not elaborate upon the nature of the "many persecutions" that took place against his family because—as far as this particular document was concerned—he had elected not to write down "many things which transpired."

Documentary evidence from the 1838 First Vision account

The following documentary evidence from the 1838 First Vision account strengthens the argument that the 1832 text is referring to some type of persecution that took place because of Joseph's initial spiritual experience.

  • Back "then" (i.e., between 1820 and 1823) Joseph's mind was engaged in "serious reflection" over the notion that he had been the recipient of "the bitterst persecution and reviling" by adherents of religion, simply because he had spoken about his First Vision.
  • Persecution over the vision was also heaped upon Joseph Smith by "irreligious" persons.
  • His words were treated not only lightly but also with great contempt.
  • It was implied that he was a liar.
  • He was told that his experience originated with the Devil.
  • People became prejudiced against him. They spoke "all manner of evil against [him] falsely". He was "hated".
  • The persecution increased over time and even became "severe".
  • Some people tried to get Joseph Smith to "deny" his vision.
  • The Prophet relates: "I was led to say in my heart, 'Why persecute me for telling the truth?'"

This 1838 description corresponds very well with the "many persecutions and afflictions" that are mentioned in the 1832 account. It also matches closely with the 1832 statements that nobody would believe Joseph's story and he reflected upon this adverse situation in his heart.

The persecution aspect of the 1838 account is rarely mentioned in subsequent accounts

It should be pointed out that even though the 'persecution' theme is very pronounced in the 1838 account it is a piece of the story that was not always mentioned or emphasized in subsequent retelling (both published and verbal).

  • It is missing in Orson Pratt's 1840 missionary tract called An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions.
  • It is missing in the Prophet's 1842 Wentworth Letter recital.
  • It shows up again in David White's 1843 newspaper interview with the Prophet where an interesting insight is provided about the reason for the pronounced negative reaction by some of those who heard the story. The Prophet said, "When I went home and told the people that I had a revelation, and that all the churches were corrupt, they persecuted me, and they have persecuted me ever since."
  • Rejection, but no outright persecution, is mentioned in Alexander Neibaur's 1844 diary notes. There Joseph is said to have "told the Methodist priest [about the experience], [but he] said this was not a[n] age for God to reveal Himself in vision[. The priest said that] revelation ha[d] ceased with the New Testament."

This last example is especially significant because it is an obvious reference to the Methodist minister who is spoken of in the 1838 History of the Church account. The 1844 rehearsal of events is less detailed but it is, nevertheless, the same exact story. The 1844 document clearly demonstrates that Joseph Smith did not always include an equal amount of story elements in his recitals of the First Vision. Critics of this manifestation should, therefore, not expect any such thing when they scrutinize the pertinent documents. If an element of the story was not known by one particular audience it cannot be automatically assumed that it was not known by another.

Learn more about claims that Joseph Smith's First Vision is impossible because there is no such thing as visions
Online
  • Steven C. Harper, "Evaluating Three Arguments Against Joseph Smith's First Vision," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 2/2 (12 October 2012). [17–34] link
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Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


Did Joseph Smith become a member of Emma Hale Smith's Methodist congregation in 1828, eight years after the First Vision?

When the procedures and policy of the Methodist Episcopal Church are examined, it is not possible that Joseph could have joined as related in the story given by one of his critics

Joseph and Hiel Lewis were cousins of Emma Hale Smith; they would have been aged 21 and 11 respectively in 1828, and in 1879 reported:

...while he, Smith, was in Harmony, Pa., translating his book....that he joined the M[ethodist] [Episocpal] church. He presented himself in a very serious and humble manner, and the minister, not suspecting evil, put his name on the class book, the absence of some of the official members, among whom was the undersigned, Joseph Lewis, who, when he learned what was done, took with him Joshua McKune, and had a talk with Smith. They told him plainly that such a character as he was a disgrace to the church, that he could not be a member of the church unless he broke off his sins by repentance, made public confession, renounced his fraudulent and hypocritical practices, and gave some evidence that he intended to reform and conduct himself somewhat nearer like a christian than he had done. They gave him his choice, to go before the class, and publicly ask to have his name stricken from the class book, or stand a disciplinary investigation. He chose the former, and immediately withdrew his name. So his name as a member of the class was on the book only three days.--It was the general opinion that his only object in joining the church was to bolster up his reputation and gain the sympathy and help of christians; that is, putting on the cloak of religion to serve the devil in. [61]

However, the Lewis' account of Joseph's three-day membership leaves him neither the time, nor the searching assessment required to become a member of the Methodists. This scenario simply does not match how Methodists admitted or expelled members. At best, he was probably regarded as "on probation" or (in modern LDS parlance) "an investigator". The means by which the Methodists separated themselves from Joseph are inconsistent with him being a full member; they do, however, match how probationaries were handled, though in Joseph's case he seems to have had more abrupt and preemptory treatment than was recommended.

This, coupled with the late date of the reminiscences, the clearly hostile intent of the witnesses, and multiple reports from both friendly and skeptical sources that claim Joseph never formally joined another religion make the critics' interpretation deeply suspect.

There is a marked absence of any other witnesses of Joseph's supposed membership and involvement

The Lewis witness is late. There is a marked absence of any other witnesses of Joseph's supposed membership and involvement, even though there are many witnesses who could have given such testimony.

For example, Nathaniel Lewis, another family member, was a Methodist minister. In his 1834 affidavit against Joseph, he emphasized his "standing in the Methodist Episcopal Church" which led him to "suppose [Joseph] was careful how he conducted or expressed himself before me." Yet, though anxious to impugn Joseph's character, this Lewis said nothing about membership in (or expulsion) from the Methodists. [62]

Likewise, none of Emma's other family members said anything about a Methodist connection, though they were closest to and most aware of Joseph's actions at this juncture than at any other time. Yet, Isaac Hale, Alva Hale, Levi Lewis, and Sophia Lewis are silent on the matter of Joseph's Methodism.

How quickly could one join the Methodists in the 1830s?

As we examine Osmon Cleander Baker's A guide-book in the administration of the discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, we will discover that the scenario described by Joseph and Hiel Lewis of Joseph Smith's ejection from the Methodists simply does not match how Methodists admitted or expelled members. [63] (This work dates to 1855, but it often invokes Wesley himself, and is a good first approximation of how Methodists saw such matters.)

A six month probationary period was required in order to join the Methodists

The Guide-Book is clear that considerable time needs to elapse before one is formally admitted as a member:

[23] The regularly-constituted pastor is the proper authority to admit suitable persons to the communion of the Church. The preacher in charge, acting at first under the authority of Mr. Wesley, received members into the society, and severed their relations from the Church, according to his own convictions of duty. In 1784 the assistant was restricted from giving tickets to any, until they had been recommended by a leader with whom they had met, at least two months, on trial. In 1789 the term of probation was extended to six months....Hence, [24] since the organization of our Church, none could be received into full communion who had not previously been recommended by a leader; and, since 1840, it has been required that the applicant pass a satisfactory examination before the Church, respecting the correctness of his doctrine and his willingness to observe the rules of the Church....

Joseph's experience would predate the 1840 requirement, but clearly the requirement of at least a six month probationary period was required, and this required a leader to meet with them and be recommended for membership. The Lewis' three days certainly make this impossible.

Orthodox Christians may have the waiting period waived, but this still requires membership in an orthodox denomination, which Joseph Smith did not have

The Guide-Book indicates that orthodox Christians may have the waiting period waived:

6. "Persons in good standing in other orthodox Chruches, who desire to unite with us, may, by giving satisfactory answers to the usual inquiries, be received at once into full fellowship."....

This still requires membership in an orthodox denomination, which Joseph did not have. Further, he clearly could not give the "satisfactory answers" to the types of questions which the Guide-Book recommends, since the Lewis brothers insist that he was unwilling to do so only three days later. Furthermore, Joseph's views were clearly not "orthodox" by Methodist standards.

Those who were not full members of the church were called "probationers," and at least six months was required to end a probationary period

The Guide-Book is again specific about the length of time required to pass this stage, and the searching examination of conduct and belief that Methodist groups required:

[28]...it is a matter of vital importance to test, with deep scrutiny, the moral and Christian character of those who propose to enter her holy communion. No proselyte was admitted to Jewish fellowship without being well proved and instructed. The same care was observed by the early Christian Church. "None in those days," says Lord King, "were hastily advanced to the higher forms of Christianity, but according to their knowledge and merit, gradually [29] arrived thereto."...It is the prerogative of the preacher in charge alone to receive persons on trial. No one whose name is taken by a class-leader can be considered as a member on trial until the preacher recognizes the person as such....

[30] As the minister may not know whether the candidate makes a truthful declaration of his moral state, he is authorized "to admit none on trial except they are well recommended by one you know, or until they have met twice or thrice in class." As they are not supposed, at the time of joining on trial, to be acquainted with our doctrines, usages, and discipline, they are not required, at that time, to subscribe to our articles of religion and general economy; but if they propose to join in full connexion, "they must give satisfactory assurances both of the correctness of their faith and their willingness to observe and keep the rules of the Church."...

The Discipline does not specify the time when the probation shall terminate, but it has [31] fixed its minimum period. "Let none be received into the Church until they are recommended by a leader with whom they have met at least six months."...

Again, at least six months was required to end a probationary period. One could not even be a trial, or probationary member unless they were "well recommended" (which seems unlikely, given the reaction to those who did know about Joseph as soon as they heard) or had attended "twice or thrice in class"--this too seems unlikely given only three days of membership.

An earlier account from a Methodist magazine prior to 1828 also supports this reading. In a letter to the editor from a Methodist missionary in Connecticut, the missionary responds to the accusation by others (usually Calvinists) who claim the Methodists falsify their membership records: they are accused of counting only those who have been added, but subtracting those who had left. Part of the response includes line: ".... though the first six months of their standing is probationary, yet they are not during that time denied any of the privileges of our church" (page 33-34).

The letter writer speaks of a revival in New Haven, where he is based, in 1820. "My list of probationers, commencingt June 25, 1820, to this date [March 16, 1821], is one hundred and forty; between twelve and twenty of these have declined from us, some to the Congregationalists, and some back to the world, and some have removed, and one died in the triumphs of faith. I think we may count about one hundred and twenty since June last." (36-7)[64]

It seems likely, then, that the same procedures would have been in place in Joseph's 1828 encounter with Methodism, which occurred squarely between this 1822 letter and the 1855 manual.

Methodists also regarded baptism as an essential part of becoming a member, and specifically barred probationers who were not baptized from full membership and participation

[32] Nor is it the order of the Church for probationers, who have never been baptized, to partake of the holy sacrament. The initiatory rite should first be administered before the person is admitted to all the distinguishing rites of the new covenant.

Since we have no record that Joseph was baptized into Methodism or any other faith prior to his revelations and founding of a new religious movement, this is another bar to his membership with the Methodists. How did he compress his six-month probation, proper answers to all the questions, searching interview by his fellow parishioners, and his baptism, only to abandon the faith without complaint, all within three days?

The Methodist Church had no jurisdiction over acts committed before the member had joined

The Guide-Book was also clear that (save for immorality in preachers), the Methodist Church had no jurisdiction over acts committed before the member had joined:

[90] Any crime, committed at however remote a period, if it be within the time in which the accused has been a member of the Church, is indictable; but it cannot extend to any period beyond membership....

Thus, nothing that Joseph had said or done prior to his membership could have been grounds for action. Thus, only the events of a scant three days were under the jurisdiction of the Methodists, if he had been accepted as a full member. (The Lewises even admit that nothing Joseph had said or done was cause for suspicion, because those who did not know him saw no cause for concern. It was only those who knew his past who were concerned.)

If, however, he was seen as a probationary or "person on trial," then the church and its leaders and members had every right to assess anything about him and decide if he merited membership.

Those who have not formally joined the Methodists could leave the group relatively easily

The Guide-Book is clear that those who have not formally joined the Methodists can leave the group relatively easily:

[30] A mere probationer enters into no covenant with the Church. Every step he takes is preliminary to this, and either party may, at any time, quietly dissolve the relation between them without rupture or specific Church labour.

The Lewis brothers claim they gave Joseph a choice: (1) repent and change his ways; or (2) remove himself from association with them, by either (a) telling the class publicly that he was doing so; or (b) being subject to a disciplinary investigation. This matches how the Guide-Book recommends that probationers or "person[s] on trial" be handled:

[32] A person on trial cannot be arraigned before the society, or a select number of them, on definite charges and specifications. "If he walk disorderly, he is passed out by the door at which he came in. The pastor, upon the evidence and recommendation required in the Discipline, entered his name as a candidate, or probationer, for membership, and placed him in a class for religious training and improvement; now if his conduct be contrary to the gospel, or, in the language of our rule, if he 'walk disorderly [33] and will not be reproved,' it is the duty of the pastor to discontinue him, to erase his name from the class-book and probationers' list. This is not to be done rashly, or on suspicion, or slight evidence of misconduct. It is made the duty of his leader to report weekly to his pastor 'any that walk disorderly and will not be reproved.' This implies that the leader, on discovering an impropriety in his conduct, first conversed privately with him, and, on finding that he had done wrong, attempted to administer suitable reproof that he might be recovered. Had he received reproof, this had been the end of the matter; but he 'would not be reproved,'--would not submit to reproof,--and the leader therefore reports the case to the pastor. But it is evidently the design that after this first failure on the part of the leader, further efforts should be made by the pastor; for the rule, after providing that such conduct shall be made known to the pastor, adds: 'We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But, then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us.' The pastor, on consultation with the leader and others when convenient in country societies, and with the [34] leaders' meeting, where there is one, determines on the proper course, and carries the determination into effect. Here is a just correspondence between rights and duties." - Plat. Meth., p. 87.

In contrast to probationers, full members were required to undergo a disciplinary procedure

The Guide-Book is very clear:

[35] When a Church relation is formed, the member, virtually, promises to observe the rules and usages of the society, and if he violates them, to submit to the discipline of the Church. And hence none can claim a withdrawal from the Church against whom charges have been preferred, or until the Church has had an opportunity to recognise the withdrawal. A solemn covenant cannot be dissolved until the parties are duly notified....

How is this discipline to be handled? The Guide-Book contains extensive rules for managing such trials, and insists that such a trial is the only way to challenge the membership of a full member:

[83] It is a principle clearly recognised by the Discipline of our Church, that no member, in full connexion, can be dropped or expelled by the preacher in charge until the select committee, or the society of which he is a member, declares, in due form, that he is guilty of the violation of some Scriptural or moral principle,, or some requisition of Church covenant....[96] The Discipline requires that an accused member shall be brought before "the society of which he is a member, or a select number of them." In either case it should be understood that only members in full connexion are intended....

The "select committee" was a quasi-judicial body of church members assembled to hear such charges, assess the evidence, and affix punishment if necessary. The Guide-Book emphasizes that this important right had been explicitly defined after Joseph's time (in 1848). For full members, it is clearly seen as a privilege which cannot be abridged:

[83] The restrictive rules guarantee, both to our ministers and members, the privilege of trial and of appeal; and the General Conference has explicitly declared that "it is the right of every member of the Methodist Episcopal Church to remain in said Church, unless guilty of the violation of its rules; and there exists no power in the ministry, either individually or collectively, to deprive any member of said right."—Rec. Gen. Con. [89] 1848, p. 73. The fact that the member is guilty of the violation of the rules of the Church must be formally proved before the body holding original jurisdiction in the case. If the administrator personally knows that the charges are substantially true, it does not authorize him to remove the accused member. The law recognises no member as guilty until the evidence of guilt is duly presented to the proper tribunal, and the verdict is rendered....

Thus, even if the Lewis brothers had personal knowledge of Joseph's guilt, if he had been a full member, they could not have simply told him to leave.

Could Joseph just withdraw as a full member?

The Guide-Book seems to rule this option out, for full members:

[108] If an accused member evades a trial by absenting himself after sufficient notice has been given, and without requesting any one to appear in his behalf, it does not preclude the necessity of a formal trial....

Furthermore, the public removal in front of the congregation seems to be out of harmony with another rule regarding trials for full members:

[110] It is highly improper, ordinarily, to conduct a trial in a public congregation. None should be present except the parties summoned; at least, unless they are members of the Church....

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What did Brigham Young say that leads one to believe that he denied the First Vision?

Brigham stated that "The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven..."

It is claimed that President Brigham Young taught in an 1855 sermon that the Lord did not appear to Joseph Smith and forbid him from joining any of the religious denominations of his day, and that it was an "angel" who delivered this message instead. [65]

An edited version of the 1855 sermon text—as it is presented by Church critics—reads as follows:

"The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven...But He did send His angel to...Joseph Smith Jun[ior]...and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day."[66]

Brigham actually said "The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven...with aught else than the truth of heaven..."

A complete quotation of the relevant 1855 sermon text reads as follows (bolded words indicate anti-Mormon usage):

the Lord sent forth His angel to reveal the truths of heaven as in times past, even as in ancient days. This should have been hailed as the greatest blessing which could have been bestowed upon any nation, kindred, tongue, or people. It should have been received with hearts of gratitude and gladness, praise and thanksgiving.

But as it was in the days of our Savior, so was it in the advent of this new dispensation. It was not in accordance with the notions, traditions, and pre-conceived ideas of the American people. The messenger did not come to an eminent divine of any of the so-called orthodoxy, he did not adopt their interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. 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.

Brigham actually used several phrases from Joseph's published First Vision account in this sermon

The portion of the second paragraph that critics focus on in their argumentation contains distinct themes found in the official, previously-published history of Joseph Smith. It is, therefore, necessary to evaluate President's Young's remarks in that light. Consider the following comparison of texts -

  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong."
  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "they were following the precepts of men."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "they teach for doctrine the commandments of men."
  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "instead of the Lord Jesus."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" [Jesus Christ speaking].

Since President Young was obviously drawing his ideas from the official, published First Vision text it is reasonable to propose that he was referring to a completely different event after the comma that follows the word "Revelator" . . . while still referring to the "He" at the beginning of the sentence. Hence, "He" (the Lord) send His angel (Moroni) to Joseph Smith but "He" also—ON A DIFFERENT OCCASION—told Joseph Smith not to join any of the churches.

It should be noted that this sermon was not primarily about the foundational events of Mormonism, but about the United States government and its treatment of the Saints. President Young's remarks on foundational events were incidental, not central, to his message. It should also be pointed out that President Young did not personally deliver this sermon, but had Thomas Bullock read it to the audience which had assembled in the Salt Lake City tabernacle. Bullock served as a scribe on the Joseph Smith history project between 1845 and 1856. It is likely, therefore, that when Bullock delivered President Young's sermon in 1855 he was aware of the First Vision accounts found within the previously-published Joseph Smith history.

The First Vision story had been published nine times before Brigham gave this sermon

It should also be remembered that long before President Brigham Young's 1855 sermon was delivered in Salt Lake City his subordinates in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had published the First Vision story on nine different occasions: (Orson Pratt - 1840, 1850, 1851); (Orson Hyde - 1842); (John E. Page - 1844); (John Taylor - 1850); (Lorenzo Snow - 1850); (Franklin D. Richards - 1851, 1852). It is doubtful that President Young would have remained ignorant of these publications and their content. In fact, it is known that Elder Lorenzo Snow wrote to President Young on 1 November 1850 and mentioned explicitly that his publication contained accounts of "visions of Joseph" - including the First Vision story.[67]

The charge that President Brigham Young said an angel inaugurated the last dispensation instead of Deity cannot be supported. Evidence suggests that President Young's 1855 sermon is closely paraphrasing distinct First Vision story elements that were publicly available to all of the Saints in 1842.

Is there anything wrong with early Church leaders using the term "angel" to refer to Jesus Christ?

The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel"

What about the term "angel"? Is there anything wrong with Brigham Young or others using that term to refer to Jesus Christ? Malachi spoke of the Lord as the "messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in." (Mal.3:1) The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel."[68] The Septugint of Isaiah 9:6, traditionally thought by Christians to refer to Christ speaks of the "messenger of great counsel." This term for Jesus was frequently used by early Christians. Eusebius stated that Christ "was 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." [69] The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (an apocryphal work, thought to have been written before the fourth century states that when Christ descended to earth he "made himself like the angels of the air, that he was like one of them." [70] The Epistula Apostolorum (another important early Christian work, thought to have been written by 2nd Century Christians quotes the resurrected Jesus as saying,"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." [71] At least the use of the term "angel" in Christianity does not seem unknown.

Joseph Smith said that after his resurrection, Jesus Christ "appeared as an angel to His disciples."

How did Joseph Smith understand the term "angel"? One revelation calls Jesus Christ "the messenger of salvation" (D&C 93꞉8) Another states,"For in the Beginning was the Word, even the Son, who is made flesh, and sent unto us by the will of the Father." (JST John 1:16). The Father sends Jesus because he is the angel of salvation. Joseph Smith himself taught that angels of God are resurrected beings who have bodies of flesh and bone. [72] "Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while his body was lying in the supulchre) to the spirits in prison...After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples." [73] In Mormon theology the term "angel" has a unique doctrinal significance.

Since Joseph Smith frequently taught this doctrine, is it any wonder that those who knew him best (Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, etc.), would frequently refer to the Lord's visit to Joseph Smith as the visit of an angel (i.e. a resurrected personage of flesh and bone)?

Juncker (1994): "Unknown to many, the early church fathers often referred to Jesus as an Angel....in antiquity the word 'angel' meant 'messenger'"

Günther Juncker (at the time of this writing), Master of Divinity candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:

Unknown to many, the early church fathers often referred to Jesus as an Angel. And they gave him this appellation long before the (alleged) distortions of Constantine, the Controversies, the Councils, and the Creeds.... the word Angel has a prima facie claim to being a primitive, if not an apostolic, Christological title. Before pronouncing judgement on the Fathers, men who were often quite close to first-century apostles and eyewitnesses, we may recall that in antiquity the word "angel" had a broader semantic range than at present. When we think of angels, we immediately think of super-human, bodiless spirits, all of whom were created and some of whom fell with Satan in his rebellion. But in antiquity the word "angel" meant "messenger." It was primarily a functional (as opposed to an ontological) description and, thus, could refer to messengers who were human, angelic, or divine (the best known of the latter being Hermes, "the messenger god"). Likewise in Scripture, in both the OT and the NT, the term angel refers to human as well as to angelic messengers.[74]

Did Brigham Young confirm or expound on Joseph Smith’s first vision?

Milton V. Backman, "I Have a Did Brigham Young confirm or expound on Joseph Smith’s first vision?," Ensign, Apr. 1992, 59:

President Young’s conviction of the divine calling of Joseph Smith included an unwavering acceptance of Joseph’s testimony regarding the First Vision. In 1842, Joseph Smith published two accounts of his 1820 theophany in the Times and Seasons—one he had written and included earlier in the Wentworth Letter, and the other a more extended history that appeared in serial form. This latter account (the account which appears in the current edition of the Pearl of Great Price) was reprinted in the Deseret News, the Millennial Star, and the first editions of the Pearl of Great Price during the presidency of Brigham Young. That President Young was well acquainted with this history is evident by the fact that he periodically cited the work in his sermons and writings.[75] —(Click here to continue)

When and how often did Brigham Young refer to elements of Joseph Smith's First Vision in his discourses?

It cannot be denied that Brigham Young was aware of the official version of the First Vision as published by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois

It has been claimed that "Brigham Young never once mentioned the First Vision of God the Father and his Son in his 30 years of preaching as President of the Church." Note that the same critics also claim that Brigham Young taught only that an angel came: a strange claim to make while insisting that Brigham never spoke of the First Vision at all.

It cannot be denied that Brigham Young was aware of the official version of the First Vision as published by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois. And it is almost beyond comprehension to believe that President Young was not aware of numerous First Vision story recitals (both in print and over the pulpit) by high Church authorities such as Orson Pratt, Lorenzo Snow, John E. Page, George Q. Cannon, Orson Hyde, John Taylor, Franklin D. Richards, and George A. Smith.

First Vision elements and other revelatory claims for Joseph in Brigham Young's addresses

  • JS called at fourteen[76]
  • JS called as a youth[77]
  • Revival or Reformation[78]
  • All churches wrong; Don’t join any church[79]
  • Two personages[80]
  • Moroni and Book of Mormon[81]
  • Priesthood restored[82]

Chronological mentions of First Vision and other visitations by Brigham Young

This charge is not historically accurate. It can be plainly seen in the information provided below that Brigham Young was aware of the First Vision story during his tenure as President of the Church and not only shared it with non-Mormons in written form but also spoke to the Saints about it over the pulpit.

1832

  • Brigham Young September 1832, declared that he "received the sure testimony, by the spirit of prophecy, that he [Joseph Smith] was all that any man could believe him to be, as a true Prophet."[83]

1835–36

  • Around 9 August 1835 Joseph Young (Brigham Young’s brother) was serving as a missionary with Burr Riggs and they were teaching the First Vision story.[84] In the Summer of 1836 Joseph Young and Brigham Young were serving together as missionaries.[85]

1838

  • Brigham Young, 22 December 1838:
I left Kirtland in consequence of the fury of the mob … who threatened to destroy me because I would proclaim, publicly and privately, that I knew, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the Most High God.[86]

1841

On the 4th June I started for home, in company with Elders Young and Taylor.—Elder O. Pratt remained in New York to republish the book he had printed in Edinburgh, Scotland, giving a history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and of which he intended to publish 5,000 copies…. [78] Elder Orson Pratt arrived here this week…[87]

1845

  • Brigham Young, June 25, 1845: we received the priesthood from God through Joseph Smith…. The Twelve Apostles who received the priesthood from Joseph[88]

1847

  • Brigham Young, D&C 136꞉37 (January 14, 1847): … Joseph Smith, whom I did call upon by mine angels, my ministering servants, and by mine own voice out of the heavens, to bring forth my work.[89]
  • Brigham Young, January 17, 1847: Dr. Richards read ‘The Word and Will of the Lord’ [D&C 136] and all present voted unanimously to receive it. I addressed the assembly showing that the Church had been led by revelation just as much since the death of Joseph Smith as before, and that he was as great and good a man, and as great a Prophet as ever lived upon the earth, Jesus excepted. Joseph received his apostleship from Peter and his brethren[90]
  • Brigham Young
When Brother Joseph received the priesthood he did not receive all at once but he was a prophet, seer and revelator before he received the fullness of the priesthood and keys of the kingdom. He first received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained under the hands of John the Baptist. He then had not power to lay on hands to confirm the church but afterwards he received the Patriarchal or Melchizedek Priesthood from under the hands of Peter, James and John, who were of the Twelve apostles and were the presidency when the other apostles were absent.[91]

1848

  • Brigham Young wrote, late December 1848: "Elder Orson Pratt published a series of pamphlets on the first principles, viz., Divine Authority, or the Question, Was Joseph Smith Sent of God…. Kingdom of God parts 1 & 2…. Also reprinted his pamphlet entitled Remarkable Visions 16 pages… All of which were published in Liverpool, England"....[92]

1850

  • Brigham Young, June 23, 1850, Bowery: "[sin and darkness] makes it necessary for the Lord to speak from the heavens, send his angels to converse with men, and cause his servants to testify of the things of God"[93]
  • On 1 November 1850 Lorenzo Snow wrote a letter to Brigham Young and informed him that he had produced a tract called The Voice of Joseph which included information on "visions of Joseph Smith." This tract talks about the Prophet’s First Vision experience. [94]

1853

  • Brigham Young 19 June 1853:
All persons who are acquainted with this kingdom, who knew Joseph Smith from his boyhood, from the time the Lord revealed to him where the plates containing the matter in the Book of Mormon were deposited, from the time the first revelation was given to him, and as far back as he was known, in anywise whatever, as a person professing to have received a visitation from heaven—all must know that as much priestcraft as was then within the circle of the knowledge of Joseph Smith, jun., he had to bear on his back, and to lift from time to time. On the other hand, as his name spread abroad, and the principles of the Gospel began to be more extensively taught, in the same proportion he had more to bear. The Lord began to raise him up, and endow him with wisdom and power that astonished both his friends and his foes.[95]
  • Brigham Young 24 July 1853:
the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of the Lord, that an angel from heaven administered to him, that the Latter-day Saints have got the true Gospel, that John the Baptist came to Joseph Smith and committed to him the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood; and that Peter, James, and John also came to him, and gave him the keys of the Melchisedek Priesthood....[96]

1854

  • The Lucy Mack Smith autobiography called Biographical Sketches became available in Utah. Since Brigham Young protested vigorously against some of this book’s content he was more than likely aware of the 1838 Church history First Vision material printed within it. [97]
  • Brigham Young, March 31, 1854:
….After the administration of baptism, we believe in laying hands upon the candidate for his confirmation as a member of the Church, and for his reception of the Holy Ghost; and we believe that these, and all other ordinances pertaining to salvation, should be administered by persons actually clothed with the priesthood, as again restored to the earth through the ministration of angels to the Prophet JOSEPH SMITH…. Trusting that this reply, though brief, will be satisfactory on the points of your inquiry I remain, respectfully, your obedient servant, BRIGHAM YOUNG, [98]

1855

  • Brigham Young, (Feb 18, 1855):
But as it was in the days of our Savior, so was it in the advent of this new dispensation. It was not in accordance with the notions, traditions, and pre-conceived ideas of the American people. The messenger did not come to an eminent divine of any of the so-called orthodoxy, he did not adopt their interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. 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 knowlege [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. No sooner was this made known, and published abroad, and people began to listen and obey the heavenly summons, than opposition began to rage, and the people, even in this favored land, began to persecute their neighbors and friends for entertaining religious opinions differing from their own.[99]
  • [NOTE: compare the above with this by George Q. Cannon in 1889:
But you may ask, ‘How shall I know concerning this? Shall I expect the Lord Himself to come, or His Son Jesus, or send a holy angel to me?’ In reply, we say, No; do not look for such things. This is not the Lord’s way of dealing with His children. It is true, the Father and the Son and angels visited the Prophet Joseph. This was necessary. He was a chosen instrument to accomplish a great work, and to do this he was visited in this manner, so that through him knowledge that had long been lost might be restored[100] (308b)

1857

On 13 August 1857 Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Daniel H. Wells, John Taylor, Willard Richards, and Wilford Woodruff placed several publications in the southeast cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple that contained First Vision accounts. They were:
  • The Pearl of Great Price
  • Lorenzo Snow, The Voice of Joseph
  • Orson Pratt, (various tracts)
  • Franklin D. Richards, Compendium
  • John Jaques, Catechism for Children
  • Millennial Star, vol. 14 supplement
  • Millennial Star, vol. 3[101]

1858

  • On 20 January 1858 apostles Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith appended a statement to the published Church history stating that "since the death of the Prophet Joseph, the history has been carefully revised under the strict inspection of President Brigham Young, and approved of by him." This history contains the 1838 First Vision account.[102]

1859

  • In the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on 1 September 1859 Brigham Young referred to Joseph Smith’s published 1838 First Vision account. He asked, "[H]ave I yet lived to the state of perfection that I can commune in person with the Father and the Son at my will and pleasure? No . . . . [three sentences later] Joseph Smith in his youth had revelations from God. He saw and understood for himself. Are you acquainted with his life? You can read the history of it. I was acquainted with him during many years. He had heavenly visions; angels administered to him. The vision of his mind was opened to see and understand heavenly things. He revealed the will of the Lord to the people, and yet but few were really acquainted with brother Joseph." [103]

1860

  • Brigham Young 3 June 1860
The Lord has led this people from the beginning. From the day that Joseph obtained the plates, and previous to that time, the Lord dictated him. He directed him day by day and hour by hour.[104]

1861

  • In the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on 3 March 1861 Brigham Young said: "The Lord chose Joseph Smith, called upon him at fourteen years of age, gave him visions, and led him along, guided and directed him in his obscurity until he brought forth the plates and translated them, and Martin Harris was prevailed upon to sustain the printing of the Book of Mormon. All this was done in the depths of poverty, obscurity, and weakness."[105]
  • Brigham Young 6 April 1861:
The Book of Mormon was translated near where we [BY and HCK] then resided, as we might say, in our own neighbourhood. It was translated about as far from where brother Kimball then lived as it is from here to Little Cottonwood; and where Joseph first discovered the plates was about as far from where I then lived as it is from here to Provo. Here we would have considered the discoverer of those plates and the translator of the Book of Mormon as [p.2] one of our neighbours. We are in the habit here of travelling more frequently and further than we were there. From the time that Joseph had his first revelation, in the neighbourhood where brother Kimball and I then lived, appears but a few days. Since then this people have passed through, experienced, and learned a great deal.[106]
  • Brigham Young, April 7, 1861:
We are not able to print a book for want of paper. Now we are prepared to go to work and make our own paper. As I have remarked, we have most excellent machinery; we also have good paper-makers; and what hinders our making the best of paper, and all the paper we want to use? Then we can print, in book form, the History of Joseph Smith, and do it in a respectable manner. Then we can print the Church History for ourselves and for the world, and every book we need.[107]

1864

  • On 1 September 1864 Brigham Young signed and dated a copy of the Pearl of Great Price and donated it to Harvard university. This volume contains Joseph Smith’s 1838 First Vision account.[108]
  • Brigham Young 4 June 1864:
The Lord had not spoken to the inhabitants of this earth for a long time, until He spoke to Joseph Smith, committed to him the plates on which the Book of Mormon was engraved, and gave him a Urim and Thummim to translate a portion of them, and told him to print the Book of Mormon, which he did, and sent it to the world, according to the word of the Lord….. it was first organized on the 6th of April, 1830. This was a slow business, but at last he organized the Church, for the Lord had revealed to him the Aaronic priesthood upon which the Church was first organized; after that he received the Melchisedec priesthood, when the Church was more fully organized, and a few more believed, and then a few more and a few more.[109]
  • Brigham Young 13 November 1864
The first act that Joseph Smith was called to do by the angel of God, was, to get the plates from the hill Cumorah, and then translate them, and he got Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery to write for him. He would read the plates, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim, and they would write.[110]

1866

  • Brigham Young 17 June 1866:
He called upon his servant Joseph Smith, jun., when he was but a boy, to lay the foundation of his kingdom for the last time. Why did he call upon Joseph Smith to do it? because he was disposed to do it. Was Joseph Smith the only person on earth who could have done this work? No doubt there were many others who, under the direction of the Lord, could have done that work; but the Lord selected the one that pleased him, and that is sufficient. [111]

1867

  • Brigham Young, June 23rd, 1867
When the Lord called upon Joseph he was but a boy—a child, only about fourteen years of age. He was not filled with traditions; his mind was not made up to this, that, or the other. I very well recollect the reformation which took place in the country among the various denominations of Christians—the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others—when Joseph was a boy. Joseph's mother, one of his brothers, and one, if not two, of his sisters were members of the Presbyterian Church, and on this account the Presbyterians hung to the family with great tenacity. And in the midst of these revivals among the religious bodies, the invitation, "Come and join our church," was often extended to Joseph, but more particularly from the Presbyterians. Joseph was naturally inclined to be religious, and being young, and surrounded with this excitement, no wonder that he became seriously impressed with the necessity of serving the Lord. But as the cry on every hand was, "Lo, here is Christ," and "Lo, there!" Said he, "Lord, teach me, that I may know for myself, who among these are right." And what was the answer? "They are all out of the way; they have gone astray, and there is none that doeth good, no not one." When he found out that none were right, he began to inquire of the Lord what was right, and he learned for himself. Was he aware of what was going to be done? By no means. He did not know what the Lord was going to do with him, although He had informed him that the Christian churches were all wrong, because they had not the Holy Priesthood, and had strayed from the holy commandments of the Lord, precisely as the children of Israel did. …[70] When the Lord called upon His servant Joseph, after leading him along for years until he got the plates, from a portion of which the Book of Mormon was translated…. The Lord sent John to ordain Joseph to the Aaronic Priesthood, and when he commenced to baptize people he sent a greater power—Peter; James, and John, who ordained him to the apostleship, which is the highest office pertaining to the Kingdom of God that any man can possess on the face of the earth, for it holds the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven....[112]

1868

  • President B. Young 6 October 1868:
Orson Pratt spoke: some seven years before the Lord entrusted them [the plates] to his care…. The Lord revealed himself to this youth when he was between fourteen and fifteen years of age....[113]

1870

  • Brigham Young, Tabernacle, SLC, July 17, 1870:
Is there any harm in believing in the Lord Jesus Christ? I frequently ask the question for my own satisfaction. Is there a doctrine taught in this book (the Bible), that would ruin or injure man, woman or child on the face of the earth? Not one. Is there a doctrine taught by Jesus and his disciples that would not do good to the people morally, physically, socially, religiously or politically? Not one. Did Joseph Smith ever teach a doctrine that would not elevate the soul, feelings, heart and affections of every individual who would embrace it? Not one. Did he ever teach a doctrine that would lead those who embraced it down to wretchedness, woe and misery, that would give them pain for ease, darkness for light, error for truth? No; but just the reverse. He proffered life and salvation—light for darkness and truth for error. He proffered all that was in the Gospel of the Son of God, and proclaimed that very Gospel that John saw the angel flying through the midst of heaven to restore. That angel delivered the keys of this apostleship and ministry to Joseph Smith and his brethren....[114]

1871

  • Brigham Young, General Conference, April 8, 1871:
Did Joseph Smith ever arrogate to himself this right? Never, never, never; and if God had not sent a messenger to ordain him to the Aaronic Priesthood and then other messengers to ordain him to the Apostleship, and told him to build up his kingdom on the earth, it would have remained in chaos to this day.[115]

1872

  • John Taylor, May 26, 1872 Tabernacle, Ogden Tabernacle[116]

1873

  • Brigham Young 18 May 1873:
When Joseph Smith first learned [p.42] from God the principle of baptism for the remission of sins, he undoubtedly thought that he had learned something great and wonderful; so, also, when he received his ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood under the hands of John the Baptist. But he did not fly off at a tangent, and think he had it all, but was willing and anxious to be taught further. After receiving this authority, he baptized his friends. When he organized the Church, he received the higher Priesthood, after the order of Melchisedec, which gave him authority not only to baptize for the remission of sins, but to confirm by the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost. The Aaronic Priesthood holds power to baptize, but not to lay on hands to confer the Holy Ghost. When Joseph Smith received this higher power, he did not throw away the first, but received additions to it. He learned of and administered the Sacrament, then went to preaching a year or two, and received the High Priesthood, which he imparted to others, and then obtained other communications and powers, until he received the full pattern and authority to build up the kingdom of God, preparatory to the coming of the Son of Man, which also he imparted to others.[117]
  • Brigham Young June 29, 1873 Logan Bowery
From the time that Joseph obtained a knowledge of the plates in the hill Cumorah he received little by little, a little at a time. When he first obtained a knowledge of these plates I apprehend that he knew nothing, in comparison, of their contents and the design of the Lord in bringing them forth. But he was instructed little by little until he received the Aaronic priesthood, then the privilege of baptism for the remission of sins, then the Melchizedek Priesthood, then organizing a church, &c.,[118]
  • Brigham Young, 10 August 1873, SLC Tabernacle:
The condition of the nations of the earth, politically, socially and religiously, was next dwelt upon, and, in concluding, President Young bore a powerful testimony to the gospel of Christ as revealed in this age of the [564] world, through Joseph Smith, the prophet.[119]

1874

  • President Young’s Address; Railroad Celebration.—Opening of the U.S.R.R. to Provo [read by David McKenzie]
JOSEPH SMITH. It is true that the angel, commissioned to restore, in this our day, the fullness of the everlasting Gospel, found Joseph but a youth and comparatively unlearned, he having had but limited opportunities for education in the then wilds of Western New York; but, from that date, until so foully massacred with his brother Hyrum in Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois, on the 27th June, 1844, in the 39th year of his age, he assiduously applied himself to studying the English, German, Hebrew and other languages, and gaining all information of worth from every available source, especially through revelation from Heaven, the fountain of all light and knowledge. (5)[120]
  • Brigham Young 21 June 1874:
We have passed from one thing to another, and I may say from one degree of knowledge to another. When Joseph first received the knowledge of the plates that were in the hill Cumorah, he did not then receive the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, he merely received the knowledge that the plates were there, and that the Lord would bring them forth, and that they contained the history of the aborigines of this country. He received the knowledge that they were once in possession of the Gospel, and from that time he went on, step by step, until he obtained the plates, and the Urim and Thummim, and had power to translate them.[p.240] This did not make him an Apostle, it did not give to him the keys of the kingdom, nor make him an Elder in Israel. He was a Prophet, and had the spirit of prophecy, and had received all this before the Lord ordained him….. He received the Aaronic Priesthood, and then he received the keys of the Melchisedek Priesthood, and organized the Church. He first received the power to baptise, and still did not know that he was to receive any more until the Lord told him there was more for him. Then he received the keys of the Melchisedek Priesthood, and had power to confirm after he had baptized, which he had not before. He would have stood precisely as John the Baptist stood, had not the Lord sent his other messengers, Peter, James and John, to ordain Joseph to the Melchisedek Priesthood. …[121]

1876

  • Orson Pratt, October 8, 1876, General Conference:
He spoke of some who had attained to a perfect knowledge. Joseph Smith, when a youth of fourteen years of age, had a knowledge of the existence of God the Father, Jesus Christ his Son, and holy angels, for he not only saw them with his eyes, but heard their voice [BY spoke morning and twice in the afternoon sessions.][122]
  • Brigham Young: Sunday afternoon 17 September 1876 SLC Tabernacle:
Brother Cannon speaks of Christians. We are Christians professedly, according to our religion. People have gathered to themselves certain ideas, and laid them down as systems, calling them religion, all professing to believe and obey the Scriptures. Their religious are peculiar to themselves—our religion is peculiar to God, to angels, and to the righteous of time and eternity. Why are we persecuted because of our religion? Why was Joseph Smith persecuted? Why was he hunted from neighborhood to neighborhood, from city to city, and from State to State, and at last suffered death? Because he received revelations from the Father, from the Son, and was ministered to by holy angels, and published to the world the direct will of the Lord concerning his children on the earth. Again, why was he persecuted? Because he revealed to all mankind a religion so plain and so easily understood, consistent with the Bible, and so true. It is now as it was in the days of the Savior; let people believe and practise these simple, Godlike traits, and it will be as it was in the old world, they will say, if this man be let alone he will come and take away our peace and nation....[123]
  • Brigham Young 21 May 1877 Logan:
[144] The priesthood which Peter, James and John held while in the flesh was the highest ever bestowed upon the children of men, and it was conferred upon Joseph and Oliver, and without it they never could have built up the Kingdom. … The Lord sent his messengers, Peter, James and John, to ordain him to the highest authority that could be given…..[124]

1877

  • Brigham Young died August 29, 1877.

Brigham Young (1861): "The Lord chose Joseph Smith, called upon him at fourteen years of age, gave him visions"

Brigham Young:

The Lord chose Joseph Smith, called upon him at fourteen years of age, gave him visions, and led him along, guided and directed him in his obscurity until he brought forth the plates and translated them, and Martin Harris was prevailed upon to sustain the printing of the Book of Mormon. All this was done in the depths of poverty, obscurity, and weakness. [125]

Learn more about claims that Brigham Young denied Joseph Smith's First Vision
Key sources
  • Daniel C. Peterson, "'Easier than Research, More Inflammatory than Truth'," Proceedings of the 2000 FAIR Conference (August 2000). link
Navigators

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Christian Research and Counsel, "Documented History of Joseph Smith's First Vision," full-color pamphlet, 10 pages. [There is a notation within this pamphlet indicating that research and portions of text were garnered from Utah Lighthouse Ministry]

What do critics of Mormonism say about John Taylor and the First Vision?

Critics focus only on one sermon in whichTaylor mentioned "an angel" and ignore the numerous times Taylor referred to the Father and the Son, including another sermon given the same day

Richard Abanes refers to "…the discrepancy between today’s official First Vision and the versions of it told by early Mormons, who taught that the First Vision involved an angel (or angels)." In a footnote to this comment he cites several church leaders, including John Taylor. The only citation Abanes gives for President Taylor is for March 2, 1879, but is incorrectly documented.[126]

Critic Isaiah Bennett has written:

Complications arise when one considers the statements of Smith’s successors as Mormon prophets [including John Taylor]. According to them, Smith had been visited by an angel, from whom he asked advice as to which church to join.[127]

Bennett cites the same March 2, 1879 sermon, and one other.

Jerald and Sandra Tanner have also cited Taylor’s comments of March 2, 1879.[128]:164 They later write that "Many other confusing statements about the first vision were made by Mormon leaders after Joseph Smith’s death." [128]:166 Elsewhere the Tanners have stated that "Before the death of Brigham Young in 1877 the first vision was seldom mentioned in Mormon publications. When Mormon leaders did mention it they usually gave confusing accounts."[129]

This warped perspective has unfortunately spilled over into less overtly anti-Mormon reference works. A past revision of the Wikipedia article on the First Vision states that "The First Vision was not emphasized in sermons by [subsequent leaders such as] John Taylor. This implies that Smith did not stress it strongly during his life, and that many early church leaders had little understanding of its prominence."[130]

These claims are simply false, with reference to the oft-misused John Taylor.[131] Consider the following evidence, from sermons, letters, and writings, which demonstrate Taylor’s complete awareness of that event, many well before the death of Brigham in 1877.

What did John Taylor have to say about Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Taylor talked about the visit of the Father and the Son numerous times

John Taylor became one of the editors of the Times and Seasons newspaper in Nauvoo, Illinois on 3 February 1842.[132]:102 He was serving in this capacity when the Wentworth Letter version of the First Vision was printed on 1 March 1842 and also when the History of the Church version of the First Vision was printed on 1 April 1842. John Taylor became chief editor of the Times and Seasons newspaper on 15 November 1842. There can be no doubt that Elder Taylor knew about the First Vision story as early as 1842.

In 1850, John Taylor was assigned to open France for the missionary activities of the Church. Upon arrival he wrote a letter, which was published in the French and English language paper. In that letter he wrote, in part:

The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was first organized in the Town of Manchester, Ontario County, State of New York, U.S.A., 6th April 1830. Previous to this an holy angel appeared unto a young man about fifteen years of age, a farmer's son, named Joseph Smith, and communicated unto him many things pertaining to the situation of the religious world, the necessity of a correct church organization, and unfolded many events that should transpire in the last days, as spoken of by the Prophets. As near as possible I will give the words as he related them to me. He said that "in the neighborhood in which he resided there was a religious revival, (a thing very common in that country) in which several different denominations were united; that many professed to be converted; among the number, two or three of his father's family. When the revival was over, there was a contention as to which of these various societies the person who was converted should belong. One of his father's family joined one society, and another a different one. His 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 [236] 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".[133]

Elder Taylor continued with his narration, indicating that "some time later" as Joseph prayed another ‘being’ appeared surrounded by light who "declared himself to be an angel of God, sent forth by commandment, to communicate to him that his sins were forgiven…[and] that the great preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence." The angel also told him about the plates, and the restoration about to begin. In October of that same year Elder Taylor published a pamphlet containing an expanded version of this letter, translated into French.[134] The pamphlet was reprinted again in 1852.

On 13 August 1857 John Taylor and several members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve placed a copy of the Pearl of Great Price (containing the First Vision story) inside the southeast cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple.[135]

On 7 October 1859 John Taylor recited portions of the First Vision story in the Salt Lake City tabernacle. Among the details mentioned was the fact that Joseph Smith believed in the promise found in James 1:5 and went in secret to seek wisdom from God.[136]

In 1876 Elder Taylor spoke at a funeral service, and he stated:

Again, there are other things associated with these matters, all bearing more or less upon the same points. When God selected Joseph Smith to open up the last dispensation, which is called the dispensation [326] of the fullness of times, the Father and the Son appeared to him, arrayed in glory, and the Father, addressing himself to Joseph, at the same time pointing to the Son, said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." As there were great and important events to be introduced into the world associated with the interests of humanity, not only with the people that now are, but with all people that have ever lived upon the face of the earth, and as what is termed the dispensation of the fullness of times was about to be ushered in, Moroni, who held the keys of the unfolding of the Book of Mormon, which is a record of the people who lived upon this American continent, came to Joseph Smith and revealed to him certain things pertaining to the peoples who had lived here and the dealings of God with them, and also in regard to events that are to transpire on this continent.[137]

Later in the same sermon he stated that Joseph had also been visited by Moroni, John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John. Isaiah Bennett makes reference to this sermon, but only to page 329: and the only plausible explanation for that reference is that Taylor makes reference to the angel which appeared to John the Revelator, on the island of Patmos. Otherwise that page tells of the visitation of Moroni and the others. Earlier in the sermon, however, Taylor made clear reference to the Father and the Son appearing, as contained in the above paragraph. Bennet and those who follow his tactics deceive their readers by omitting material which disproves their case.

In General Conference October 1877, President Taylor stated:

The work we are engaged in emanated from God, and what did Joseph Smith know about it until God revealed it? Nothing. What did President Young, or the Twelve, or anybody else, know about it before the heavenly messengers, even God himself, came to break the long, long silence of ages, revealing through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the holy angels, the everlasting Gospel? Nothing at all. We were all alike ignorant until heaven revealed it.[138]

The following month President Taylor stated:

[W]e are told that no man knows the [152] things of God but by the Spirit of God. And if they cannot obtain a knowledge of God only by the Spirit of God, unless they receive that Spirit they must remain ignorant of these principles. And it matters not what the learning, what the intelligence, what the research, the philosophy, or religion of man may be, the things of God cannot be comprehended, except through and by the Spirit and revelations of God. And this can only be obtained through obedience to the principles which God has and shall ordain, sanction and acknowledge. And hence, in these last times, he first communicated a knowledge of himself to Joseph Smith, long ago, when he was quite young. Who in that day knew anything about God? Who had had any revelations from Him, or who knew anything in relation to the principles of life and salvation? If there were any persons I never heard of them, nor read of them, nor never met them. But when the Lord manifested himself to Joseph Smith, presenting to him his Son who was there also, saying, "This is my beloved Son, hear ye him;" he then knew that God lived; and he was not dependent upon anybody else for that knowledge. He saw him and heard his voice, and he knew for himself that there was a God, and of this he testified, sealing his testimony with his blood.[139]

President Taylor also defended the First Vision in letters: In 1879 he wrote to a friend

We of all others on the earth ought to be the last to oppress the Lamanites. Through the development of their record, by the ministrations of one of their old prophets, we are indebted for the introduction of the Everlasting Gospel; and of so great importance was this action considered that God Himself, accompanied by the Savior, appeared to Joseph.[140]

It was mentioned above that several of the critics point to a sermon given by John Taylor in Kaysville, Utah, in the afternoon of March 2, 1879, to ‘prove’ that Taylor did not have a clear understanding of the First Vision. However, they fail to notice that President Taylor said earlier the same day, just a few miles away, in Ogden, Utah:

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 for the purpose of manifesting the laws of life, the Gospel of the Son of God, by direct authority, that light and truth might be spread forth among all nations.[141]

Clearly President Taylor was not confused regarding what happened early in Joseph Smith’s life.

Six months later he again testified to the visitation of the Father and the Son:

The Lord has taken a great deal of pains to bring us where we are and to give us the information we have. He came himself, accompanied by his Son Jesus, to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He didn't send anybody but came himself, and introducing his Son, said: ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him.’ And he permitted the ancient prophets, apostles and men of God that existed in different ages to come and confer the keys of their several dispensations upon the prophet of the Lord, in order that he should be endowed and imbued with the power and Spirit of God, with the light of revelation and the eternal principles of the everlasting Gospel.[142]

Ten days later he again testified to that transcendent event:

Now, we will come to other events, of later date; events with which we are associated—I refer now to the time that Joseph Smith came among men. What was his position? and how was he situated? I can tell you what he told me about it. He said that he was very ignorant of the ways, designs and purposes of God, and knew nothing about them; he was a youth unacquainted with religious matters or the systems and theories of the day. He went to the Lord, having read James' statement, that "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." [James 1.5] He believed that statement and went to the Lord and asked him, and the Lord revealed himself to him together with his Son Jesus, and, pointing to the latter, said: ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him.’ He then asked in regard to the various religions with which he was surrounded.[143]

Again, just a few weeks later he stated that

as a commencement the Lord appeared unto Joseph Smith, both the Father and the Son, the Father pointing to the Son said ‘this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.’ Here, then, was a communication from the heavens made known unto man on the earth, and he at that time came into possession of a fact that no man knew in the world but he, and that is that God lived, for he had seen him, and that his Son Jesus Christ lived, for he also had seen him. What next? Now says the Father, "This is my beloved Son, hear him." The manner, the mode, the why, and the wherefore, he designed to introduce through him were not explained; but he, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer of man, he was the one pointed out to be the guide, the director, the instructor, and the leader in the development of the great principles of that kingdom and that government which he then commenced to institute.[144]

Later, in Hooperville, Utah, he stated:

Hence when the heavens were opened and the Father and Son appeared and revealed unto Joseph the principles of the gospel, and when the holy priesthood was restored and the Church and kingdom of God established upon the earth, there were the greatest blessings bestowed upon this generation which it was possible for man to receive.[145]

Two months later he again spoke of it:

Finally, when all the preparations were made and everything was ready, or the time had fully come, the Father and the Son appeared to the youth Joseph Smith to introduce the great work of the latter days. He who presides over this earth and he who is said to be the maker of all things, the Father, pointing to his well-beloved Son, says, this is my beloved Son, hear him. He did not come himself to regulate and put in order all things, but he presented his Only Begotten Son, the personage who should be, as he is termed in the Scriptures, the Apostle and great High Priest of our profession, who should take the lead in the management and regulation of all matters pertaining to the great dispensation that was about to be ushered in.[146]

Two months later he was in Idaho speaking:

In the commencement of the work, the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith. And when they appeared to him, the Father, pointing to the Son, said, ‘This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!’ As much as to say, ‘I have not come to teach and instruct you; but I refer you to my Only Begotten, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world; I refer you to him as your Redeemer, your High Priest and Teacher. Hear him.’ Continuing, he pointed out that Joseph was also visited by Moroni, John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John.[147]

In 1882 President John Taylor wrote a book on the subject of the mediation and atonement of the Savior, and its role in the life of the Restored Gospel. He included this statement:

…when the Father and the Son appeared together to the Prophet Joseph Smith they were exactly alike in form, in appearance, in glory; and the Father said, pointing to His Son, ‘This is my beloved Son; hear Him.’[148]

That same year the President said in a sermon:

we declare that God himself took part in it, and that Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, accompanied him, both of whom appeared to Joseph Smith, upon which occasion the Father, pointing to the Son said, ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him.’…. …..[32] After the Lord had spoken to Joseph Smith, and Jesus had manifested himself to him…. [He later refers to the visitation of Moroni, John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John.][149]

During the October 1882 General Conference three of the General Authorities referred to the appearance of the Father and the Son. President Taylor stated that

A message was announced to us by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, as a revelation from God, wherein he stated that holy angels had appeared to him and revealed the everlasting Gospel as it existed in former ages; and God the Father, and God the Son, both appeared to him; and the Father, pointing, said, this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.[150]

Later that same year he said:

In the first place He has Himself spoken to us from the heavens, as also has His Son Jesus Christ…. [323] Now, it is the rule of God which is desired to be introduced upon the earth, and this is the reason why the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith….It is true that God appeared to Joseph Smith, and that His Son Jesus did…

President Taylor then went on to testify that Joseph Smith claimed that John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, and Moses had also appeared to him.[151]

At the dedication of the Logan Temple in 1884 President Taylor said:

I have heard some remarks in the Temple pertaining to these matters, and also here, and it has been thought, as has been expressed by some, that we ought to look for some peculiar manifestations. The question is, What do we want to see? Some peculiar power, some remarkable manifestations? All these things are very proper in their place; all these things we have a right to look for; but we must only look for such manifestations as are requisite for our circumstances, and as God shall see fit to impart them. Certain manifestations have already occurred. When our Heavenly Father appeared unto Joseph Smith, the Prophet, He pointed to the Savior who was with him, (and who, it is said, is the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of His person) and said: ‘This is my beloved Son, hear Him.’ [Later in the sermon he mentions the appearance of John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John; and Moroni.][152]

In 1886, shortly before he died, President Taylor wrote a letter to his family, part of which reads:

We are engaged in a great work, and laying the foundation thereof—a work that has been spoken of by all the holy prophets since the word was; namely, the dispensation of the fullness of times, wherein God will gather together all things in one, whether they be things in the earth, or things in the heaven; and for this purpose God revealed Himself, as also the Lord Jesus Christ, unto His servant the Prophet Joseph Smith, when the Father pointed to the Son and said: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him.’[132]:394

As evidence that President Taylor had been telling the Saints about the First Vision throughout his life a comment made at his funeral would be pertinent; it was said there that

Brother Taylor took the testimony that Joseph gave him, that Jesus delivered unto Joseph, that God bade Joseph to listen to from the lips of His beloved Son, as he bore those tidings to foreign lands…[153]

John Taylor (2 March 1879): "the Father and the Son...came to Joseph Smith" and "the Prophet Joseph asked the angel"

The following two statements were made by John Taylor in different discourses on the same day, 2 March 1879. In one, Taylor talks of Joseph Smith asking "the angel" which church was right, and in the other, Taylor clearly states that "the Father and the Son...came to Joseph Smith." This demonstrates how early Church leaders often used the term "angel" to refer to the personages that appeared in the First Vision, even though they clearly knew that they were the Father and the Son.

"When the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right"

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.[154]

"When the Father and the Son and Moroni and others came to Joseph Smith"

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 for the purpose of manifesting the laws of life... [155]

Notice how one refers to an "angel" and the other refers to "the Father and the Son." Taylor was clearly aware of the details of the First Vision. This also demonstrates how early Church leaders used the term "angel" to represent the personages that Joseph saw, even at the same time that they recognized that these personages were the Father and the Son.

See FAIR Evidence:
John Taylor publicly mentioned Joseph Smith's First Vision over 19 times


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Don Bradley, "The Original Context of the First Vision Narrative: 1820s or 1830s"

Don Bradley,  Proceedings of the 2013 FAIR Conference, (August 2, 2013)
If Latter-day Saint belief about the First Vision is correct, Joseph’s narrative reports a memory of his early experience. If, on the other hand, Vogel, Palmer, and other skeptical interpreters were to be correct, Joseph’s narrative was created to meet his needs as a church leader in the 1830s, bolstering his authority as prophet.


These two radically different understandings of the First Vision lead us to two radically different predictions about how well Joseph’s First Vision accounts will align with the events of the early 1820s. On the first, the believing, view, Joseph’s narrative should match the 1820s context in some detail. On the second, skeptical, view, his narrative should match the claimed 1820s context poorly or only superficially.

Because these two views lead to such different predictions, we can determine which view is correct by testing those predictions. And this is what we’ll do today.

Click here to view the complete article

Is it possible that as late as the end of the nineteenth century that there was uncertainty among Church officials about the identity of the personages that appeared to Joseph Smith during his First Vision?

A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel"

A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel".[156] Two years later Church leaders revised Jenson's text to clear up the discrepancy but did not provide any notation about the change.

When the light of historical scholarship shines upon this particular charge of the critics, it quickly becomes apparent that this is really a non-issue. By the time that Andrew Jenson had published his anomalous First Vision account in 1888 the Pearl of Great Price rendition of the same story had already been canonized by the Church for eight years. Latter-day Saints had long been familiar with the official version of events that took place in the Sacred Grove and the precise identities of Joseph Smith's celestial visitors.

The publication that anti-Mormon critics are referring to was called The Historical Record and it was printed in Salt Lake City, Utah. Volume 7 of this collection contains the reference that critics utilize to try and cast doubt upon the veracity of the First Vision account.

Since Andrew held no position of authority in the LDS Church when he made his "angel" comments, they cannot be looked upon as having any kind of evidentiary value in regard to what Church leaders believed at the time

Andrew Jenson was not a Church historian ('assistant' or otherwise) in 1888 when he wrote the text in question. A book produced by Jenson himself indicates that "his services were engaged by the First Presidency, and he was blessed and set apart by Apostle Franklin D. Richards [on] April 16, 1891, as ‘an historian’ in the Church."[157] Jenson was not sustained as the Assistant Church Historian until 10 April 1898. [158] Since Andrew held no position of authority in the LDS Church when he made his "angel" comments, they cannot be looked upon as having any kind of evidentiary value in regard to what Church leaders believed at the time.

Church critics neglect to tell their readership that Andrew Jenson is plainly listed as the editor and the publisher of both the initial 1888 text and the revision which they allege was printed in 1890. Furthermore, they fail to make note of the fact that when volumes 5-8 of The Historical Record were advertised for sale in a Utah newspaper in 1889 it was noted that this was a "work which Brother Jenson offers" to the public. [159] There is, therefore, no justification whatever in claiming that the LDS Church was somehow responsible for the content of Andrew Jenson's original 1888 article or the revised text that was issued later.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is it possible that as late as the end of the nineteenth century that there was uncertainty among Church officials about the identity of the personages that appeared to Joseph Smith during his First Vision?

A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel"

A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel".[160] Two years later Church leaders revised Jenson's text to clear up the discrepancy but did not provide any notation about the change.

When the light of historical scholarship shines upon this particular charge of the critics, it quickly becomes apparent that this is really a non-issue. By the time that Andrew Jenson had published his anomalous First Vision account in 1888 the Pearl of Great Price rendition of the same story had already been canonized by the Church for eight years. Latter-day Saints had long been familiar with the official version of events that took place in the Sacred Grove and the precise identities of Joseph Smith's celestial visitors.

The publication that anti-Mormon critics are referring to was called The Historical Record and it was printed in Salt Lake City, Utah. Volume 7 of this collection contains the reference that critics utilize to try and cast doubt upon the veracity of the First Vision account.

Since Andrew held no position of authority in the LDS Church when he made his "angel" comments, they cannot be looked upon as having any kind of evidentiary value in regard to what Church leaders believed at the time

Andrew Jenson was not a Church historian ('assistant' or otherwise) in 1888 when he wrote the text in question. A book produced by Jenson himself indicates that "his services were engaged by the First Presidency, and he was blessed and set apart by Apostle Franklin D. Richards [on] April 16, 1891, as ‘an historian’ in the Church."[161] Jenson was not sustained as the Assistant Church Historian until 10 April 1898. [162] Since Andrew held no position of authority in the LDS Church when he made his "angel" comments, they cannot be looked upon as having any kind of evidentiary value in regard to what Church leaders believed at the time.

Church critics neglect to tell their readership that Andrew Jenson is plainly listed as the editor and the publisher of both the initial 1888 text and the revision which they allege was printed in 1890. Furthermore, they fail to make note of the fact that when volumes 5-8 of The Historical Record were advertised for sale in a Utah newspaper in 1889 it was noted that this was a "work which Brother Jenson offers" to the public. [163] There is, therefore, no justification whatever in claiming that the LDS Church was somehow responsible for the content of Andrew Jenson's original 1888 article or the revised text that was issued later.



Notes

  1. David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. (Key source)
  2. "Testimony of Martin Harris Written by my hand from teh Moth of Martin Harris," dictated to Edward Stevenson 4 September 1870, Edward Stevenson Collection, Miscellaneous Papers, Church Archives; cited by Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:331.
  3. Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, and Scott H. Faulring (editors), Joseph Smith's New Translation Of The Bible: Original Manuscripts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2004), 82.
  4. Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, ed. Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 161.
  5. The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) (14 February 1832): 102.
  6. F. Mark McKiernan, An Early Latter-day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer (Independence, MO.: Herald Publishing House 1980), 67, punctuation corrected; cited in Robert L. Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 3 (Summer 1989), 49–68.
  7. As cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," footnote 12.
  8. Robert S. Boylan, "D&C 50:43 and the 'Oneness' of the Father, Son, and Believers vs. the claim early Latter-day Saint Theology was a Form of Modalism," Scriptural Mormonism (7 July 2020).
  9. The current D&C 76 vision was first published in Evening and Morning Star, Independence, Missouri, July 1832.
  10. 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883 (Palm Desert, California: ULC Press, 1981), 39; cited in Paulsen, 34.
  11. "An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock Taken From His Journal by Himself," (typescript) Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 13; cited in Paulsen, 35.
  12. Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836). Reprinted from Ohio Observer, circa August 1836. off-site See Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe’s 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (Spring 1977), 347-55. See also Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:47.
  13. Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Joseph Smith's First Vision: Cornerstone of a Latter-day Faith," in To Be Learned is Good, If ..., ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987).; cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," 59.
  14. Roger Nicholson, "The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver's Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith's First Vision in 1834 and 1835," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8/4 (6 December 2013). [27–44] link
  15. “Gold Bible, No. 4,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 13 (14 February 1831): 102. off-site
  16. Joseph Capron affidavit, 8 November 1833; in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258-259. (Affidavits examined)
  17. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "intercourse." defines the term as simply "[1] Communication....[2] Silent communication or exchange."
  18. Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director. www.cesletter.com
  19. See Hyrum M. Smith, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary (Liverpool: George F. Richards, 1919), 139; Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Volume 1: The Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 110–11; Grant Underwood, "First Vision," in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:410; Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 1:130.
  20. "History, circa Summer 1832 - Historical Introduction," The Joseph Smith Papers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  21. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 41.
  22. For an in-depth discussion of how the preacher's rejection of Joseph caused him to not speak of the event for many years and the affects the rejection had on Joseph's memory (and which refutes this criticism), see Steven C. Harper, "First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019) 9-12.
  23. Joseph Capron affidavit, 8 November 1833; in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258-259. (Affidavits examined)
  24. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "intercourse." defines the term as simply "[1] Communication....[2] Silent communication or exchange."
  25. Regarding the reference in the Palmyra Reflector, Richard Abanes, in his anti-Mormon work Becoming Gods, boldly declares in the main body of his text on page 34 that "[n]ot a single piece of published literature" mentions the First Vision, yet in an endnote at the back of the book on page 338 acknowledges this newspaper account. He attempts to dismiss this by claiming that the reference is "vague," yet acknowledges that "as early as 1831 Smith might have been starting to privately tell select persons that he had at some point seen God."
  26. Rev. B. Pixley, Christian Watchman, Independence Mo., October 12, 1832; in Among the Mormons. Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers, Edited by William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958): 74. This article by Pixley was reprinted in Independent Messenger (Boston, Mass.) of November 29, 1832; also in Missouri Intelligencer (Columbia, Mo.), and the American Eagle (Westfield, New York). Cited also in Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, The Man and The Seer (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1960), 68, note 46. It is not clear what Rev. Pixley was referring to by the comment about the third heaven, though it may refer to the Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory [D&C 76], which had been received February 1832, and published in July in the Evening and Morning Star, in Kirtland, Ohio. Verse 20 indicates that "we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father…."
  27. Richmond Taggart to the Reverend Jonathan Goings, 2 March 1833, 2, Jonathon Goings Papers, American Baptist Historical Society, Rochester, New York, quoted in Hurlbut. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:205. See also Gregory A. Prince, Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 8.
  28. Missouri Intelligencer (August 10, 1833); quoted in John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 337. GL direct link
  29. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:22, 24. Original in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 251&ndash 252, and 258–260, respectively. (Affidavits examined)
  30. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:107. Original in Arthur B. Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism newspaper (January 1888), 3.
  31. See, for example, "Censoring the Joseph Smith Story," in Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991),55–96. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct linkGL direct link
  32. Newel Knight [citation needed]
  33. Lucy Mack Smith, Autobiography, Chapter 21.
  34. Rev. John A. Clark [citation needed]
  35. David Whitmer[citation needed]
  36. Henry Harris[citation needed]
  37. Nathaniel Lewis[citation needed]
  38. Hezekiah McKune[citation needed]
  39. Alva Hale[citation needed]
  40. Jesse Smith[citation needed]
  41. Palmyra Freeman (1829), [citation needed]
  42. ?, "?," Evening and Morning Star 1 no. 1 (June 1832), 1. off-siteGospeLink
  43. The Fredonia Censor, 10/10 (2 June 1830): page? [citation needed]
  44. Letter, Rev. Diedrich Willers to L. Mayer and D. York, 18 June 1830.
  45. The Reflector [Palmyra, New York] 2/13 (14 February 1831), page ?
  46. The Sun (18 August 1831): page?
  47. Nancy Towle, Vicissitudes Illustrated, 2d ed., (Portsmouth: John Caldwell, 1833), 150–151; first edition printed in 1832.
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957). Volume 2 link
  49. 49.0 49.1 49.2 49.3 49.4 49.5 49.6 49.7 History of the Church. Volume 3 link
  50. Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 114.
  51. ManH A-I, in PJS, 1:273, 275. The only other evidence of persecution are a reminiscence by Thomas H. Taylor of Manchester about Joseph being dcuked in a pond for teaching what he believed, and an inexplicable attempt on his life recorded by Lucy Smith. She said an unknown attacker took a shot at Joseph one day as he entered the yard. The times of both incidents are uncertain. Thomas H. Taylor, Interview (1881), in EMD, 2:118; BioS, 73.
  52. Wayne Sentinel, Sept. 30, 1824; W. Smith, Mormonism, 13; Backman, First Vision, 119; BioS, 73
  53. Richard Bushman, "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling" (New York, NY: Knopf Publishing, 2005) 43. Internal endnotes retained for reference.
  54. For a much more scholarly discussion of how the preacher's rejection of Joseph caused him to not speak of the event for many years, see Steven C. Harper, "First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019) 9-12.
  55. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 78.
  56. William Smith, William Smith on Mormonism (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Steam Book and Job Office, 1883), 5-19; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:493-502.
  57. "The Old Soldier's Testimony. Sermon preached by Bro. William B. Smith, in the Saints' Chapel, Detroit, Iowa, June 8th, 1884. Reported by C. E. Butterworth," Saints' Herald 31 (4 October 1884): 643-44; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:503-506.
  58. "W[illia]m. B. Smith's last Statement," [John W. Peterson to Editor], Zion's Ensign (Independence, Missouri) 5/3 (13 January 1894): 6. Reprinted in "Statement of William Smith, Concerning Joseph, the Prophet," Deseret Evening News 27 (20 January 1894): 11; and "The Testimony of William Smith," Millennial Star 61 (26 February 1894): 132-34; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:513.
  59. William H. Kelley, "The Hill Cumorah and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167-68; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 2:83. Also in Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 119.
  60. William Kelley, Notebook, No. 5, 1; in William H. Kelley Papers, RLDS Church Library-Archives, Independence, Missouri; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 2:83.
  61. Joseph and Hiel Lewis, "Mormon History. A New Chapter, About to Be Published," Amboy Journal [Illinois] 24 (30 April 1879): 1; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 4:300–306.
  62. "Mormonism," Susquehanna Register, Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834): 1; republished in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 266-267. (Affidavits examined); reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 4:293-295.
  63. Osmon Cleander Baker, A guide-book in the administration of the discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York : Carlton & Phillips, 1855). All citations in this article are from this work, unless otherwise footnoted. All italics are original; bold-face has been added.
  64. The Methodist Magazine 5 (January 1822). Citation provided by Ted Jones.
  65. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 164.( Index of claims ); Christian Research and Counsel, "Documented History of Joseph Smith’s First Vision," full-color pamphlet, 10 pages. [There is a notation within this pamphlet indicating that research and portions of text were garnered from Utah Lighthouse Ministry]; Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)
  66. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:171.
  67. Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1884),127–128.
  68. James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words In The Hebrew Bible With Their Renderings In the Authorized English Version (Nashville: Abingdon, 1890), 66.
  69. The History of the Church Book I:2 (3), in Eusebius: The History of the Church From Christ to Constantine, G.A. Williamson Translator (Penguine Books, 1986), 33-4.
  70. Martyrdom And Ascension of Isaiah 10:30-31, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 2 Vols. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1985), 2:174.
  71. Epistula Apostulorum 14, in Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha 2 Vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 1:199.
  72. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 162. "An angel has flesh and bones; we see not their glory." If Jesus comes as an angel he "will adapt himself to the language and capacity" of the individual.
  73. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 191. See also D&C 129.
  74. Günther Juncker, "Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title," Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994): 221–250.
  75. Ensign (April 1992).
  76. JD 8:353-4. (3 March 186). wiki]; JD 12:67-8. (June 23rd, 1867). wiki
  77. JD 2:171. (Feb 18, 1855). wiki; JD 7:243. (September 1, 1859). wiki; JD 11:253. (17 June 1866). wiki
  78. JD 12:67-8. (June 23rd, 1867). wiki
  79. JD 2:171. (Feb 18, 1855). wiki; JD 12:67-8. (June 23rd, 1867). wiki
  80. JD 18:231. (17 September 1876). wiki
  81. JD 1:185-19. (14 March 1860). wiki JD 8:15-6. (3 June 1860). wiki JD 8:66. (3 March 1861). wikiJD 8:353-4. (6 April 1861). wiki JD 9:1. (4 June 1864). wiki JD 10:303. (13 November 1864). wiki JD 10:363-365. (June 23rd, 1867). wiki JD 12:67-8. .wiki; Deseret News Weekly 22 (June 29, 1873):388, in Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 6:79. (21 June 1874); JD 18:239-40. .wiki
  82. Manuscript History of Brigham Young (June 25, 1845); Manuscript History of Brigham Young (June 17, 1847); Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985) (journal entry dated 15 August 1847). ISBN 0941214133.; JD 1:7. (April 6, 1853). wiki [Millennial Star 15 (24 July 1853), 489, 491.]; JD 1:233-245. (April 6, 1853). wiki; Letter to Freeport, Ill., Bulletin, 1 June 1854, reprinted in New York Times June 7, 1854; (4 June 1864) JD 10:303. (June 18, 1865). wiki; JD 11:126. (June 23, 1867). wiki; JD 12:67-8. (July 17, 1870). wiki; JD 13:216. (April 8, 1871). wiki; Deseret News 20/10 (April 12, 1871): 112; JD 14:95. (18 May 1873). wiki; JD 16:42. .wiki; Deseret News Weekly 22 (29 June 1873):388, in Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 6:79. (21 June 1874); JD 18:239-40. (21 May 1877). wiki Deseret News Weekly 26:274-275; Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 6:142.
  83. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, ed. Elden Jay Watson (Salt Lake City, 1968), 4 [Leland Nelson, 4]
  84. See Young Women's Journal 18 no. 12 (December 1907), 537–539.; Samuel W. Richards, Journal Book 2 of Travels To Nauvoo, BYU Special Collections, Writings of Early Latter-day Saints, 26; Andrew Jenson, Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 4 vols., (Salt Lake City, A. Jenson History Co., 1901; reprinted Salt Lake City, Utah : Greg Kofford Books, 2003), 1:187.
  85. Andrew Jenson, Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 4 vols., (Salt Lake City, A. Jenson History Co., 1901; reprinted Salt Lake City, Utah : Greg Kofford Books, 2003), 1:115.
  86. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, ed. Elden Jay Watson (Salt Lake City, 1968), p pp. 23-24 [Leland Nelson, 13].
  87. Heber C. Kimball, letter to Millennial Star editor, Nauvoo, July 15, 1841: Millennial Star 2 (15 July 1841), 77-78. This must refer to Remarkable Visions (Orson Pratt's account of Joseph's first vision and other revelations); nothing else had published by him yet.
  88. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, ed. Leland Nelson, 94
  89. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, William Harwell, 14; Millennial Star 14 no. 10 (1 May 1852), 151.
  90. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 16.
  91. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), [citation needed]:319-320 (journal entry dated 15 August 1847). ISBN 0941214133.
  92. Manuscript History of Brigham Young. 1847-1850, edited by William S. Harwell (Salt Lake City, Utah: Collier’s Publishing Co., 1997): 139
  93. Deseret News 1/3 (29 June 1850) [following sermon by Reverend G.B. Day]
  94. Lorenzo Snow, The Italian Mission (London: W. Aubrey, 1851), 13; also in Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1884),127–128.
  95. JD 1:185-191. (19 June 1853). wiki
  96. JD 1: (24 July 1853). wiki
  97. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 75.; Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother: Revised and Enhanced, edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), editor's introduction. ISBN 1570082677.
  98. Letter to MR. HENRY A. MCAFEE, Freeport, Stephenson Co., Ill; letter to editor of the Freeport, Illinois Bulletin June 1, 1854. Reprinted New York Times (7 June 1854), 3.
  99. JD 2:171. (18 Feb 1855). wiki
  100. George Q. Cannon, editorial, "The Testimony of the Gospel," Juvenile Instructor 24 (1 July 1889): 308-9.
  101. Brigham Young Journal, 13 August 1857, Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah; Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 5:76-77. ISBN 0941214133.
  102. Deseret News, 7/46 (20 January 1858): 363.
  103. {{JDfairwiki|author=Brigham Young|vol=7|disc=37|start=243|end=244, {{ea]]}}
  104. JD 8:66. (3 June 1860). wiki
  105. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:354.
  106. JD 9:1-2. (6 April 1861). wiki
  107. Deseret News 11/13 (29 May 1861): 97-8; Reprinted in JD 9:31-40. (7 April 1961). wiki
  108. Rodney Turner, "Franklin D. Richards and the Pearl of Great Price," in Donald Q. Cannon, ed., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: British Isles (Provo, UT: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1990), 184.
  109. JD 10:303. (4 June 1864). wiki
  110. JD 10:363-365. (13 November 164). wiki
  111. JD 11:253. (17 June 1866). wiki
  112. Brigham Young, (23 June 1867) Journal of Discourses 12:67,70-70.
  113. SLC Tabernacle, General Conference, 6 1/2 p.m.; Deseret News Weekly 17:282; Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 5:133.
  114. Deseret News Weekly 19 (August 3, 1870): 303-308; also in JD 13:216. .wiki
  115. Deseret News 20/10 (April 12, 1871): 112; JD 14:95. (8 April 1871). wiki
  116. Deseret News 21 (September 25, 1872): 504-5; synopsis in Millennial Star 34/27 (July 2, 1872): 419-20; JD 15:169-70. (26 May 1872). wiki
  117. JD 16:42. (18 May 1873). wiki
  118. Deseret News Weekly 22:388; Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 6:79.
  119. Deseret News Weekly 22:441; Millennial Star 35 no. 36 (9 September 1873), 563-4.; Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 6:82.
  120. Millennial Star 36 no. 1 (Tuesday, 6 January 1874)), 1-7. [from Salt Lake Herald]: 2-6.
  121. JD 18:239-40. (21 June 1874). wiki
  122. Deseret News 25 (October 11, 1876): 585; Millennial Star 38 no. 46 (13 November 1876), 721.
  123. Deseret News Weekly 25 (11 October 1876): 582; JD 18:231. (17 Setpember 1876). wiki
  124. Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 6:142.; Deseret News Weekly 26:274-275.
  125. Brigham Young, (3 March 1861) Journal of Discourses 8:354..
  126. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 34–35, with footnote 76, page 339–340.. ( Index of claims )
  127. Isaiah Bennett, Inside Mormonism: What Mormons Really Believe (Catholic Answers: 1999), 4.
  128. 128.0 128.1 Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979).( Index of claims )
  129. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Case Against Mormonism, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City, 1967), 1:120.
  130. "First Vision," wikipedia.org (last accessed 6 October 2006). off-site
  131. Further examples of the Tanners' manipulation of the textual record by omitting key passages discussing the first vision can be seen at: D. Charles Pyle and Cooper Johnson, "Did early LDS leaders really misunderstand the First Vision?" FAIR link
  132. 132.0 132.1 B. H. Roberts, Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City, Utah: George Q. Cannon & Sons, Co., 1892).
  133. John Taylor, Letter to the Editor of the Interpreter Anglais et Français, Boulogne-sur-mer (25 June 1850). (emphasis added) Reprinted in John Taylor, Millennial Star 12 no. 15 (1 August 1850), 235–236.
  134. John Taylor, Aux amis de la vérité réligieuse. Récit abregé du commencement, des progres, de l’éstablissement, des persecutions, de la foi et de la doctrine de l’Église de Jésus-Christ des Saints des Derniers Jours (Paris 1850). [Translation: To friends of religious truth. An abridged account of the beginning, progress, establishment, persecutions, the faith, and the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.]
  135. Wilford Woodruff journal, under date (August 13, 1857); it can be found in the published version volume 5, page 76; it is also in Journal History under that date. Also, William L. Knecht and Peter L. Crawley, eds. History of Brigham Young, 1847-1867 (Berkeley, CA: MassCal Associates, 1964). [21 July 1847-29 December 1867]
  136. John Taylor, (7 October 1859) Journal of Discourses 7:322.
  137. John Taylor, "A Funeral Sermon...over the remains of Ann Tenora, etc.," (31 December 1876) Journal of Discourses 18:325-6; 329, 330 (emphasis added).
  138. John Taylor, "The Trusteeship, etc.," (7 October 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:123 (emphasis added).
  139. John Taylor, "Gathering The Result Of Revelation, etc.," (14 November 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:151-152 (emphasis added).
  140. John Taylor letter to A. K. Thurber at Richfield, Utah (25 February 1879), (emphasis added).
  141. John Taylor, "The Interest Of Humanity Should Be Observed," (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:257, (emphasis added).
  142. John Taylor, "Eternal Nature Of The Gospel, etc.," (28 November 1879) Journal of Discourses 21:116-117, (emphasis added).
  143. John Taylor, "Restoration Of The Gospel Through Joseph Smith, etc.," (7 December 1879) Journal of Discourses 21:161, (emphasis added).
  144. John Taylor, "The Revelation Of The Father And Son To Joseph Smith, And The Bestowal Upon Him Of The Priesthood, etc.," (4 January 1880) Journal of Discourses 21:65, (emphasis added).
  145. John Taylor, "The Privileges Of The Saints, etc.," (27 June 1881) Journal of Discourses 22:218, (emphasis added).
  146. John Taylor, "Duties Of The Saints — The Atonement, etc.," (28 August 1881) Journal of Discourses 22:298-299, (emphasis added).
  147. John Taylor, "Manifestation Of The Father And Son To The Prophet Joseph," (20 October 1881) Journal of Discourses 26:106-107, (emphasis added).
  148. John Taylor, The Mediation and Atonement (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Co., 1882), 138.
  149. John Taylor, "Restoration Of The Gospel," (5 March 1882) Journal of Discourses 23:29-32, (emphasis added).
  150. John Taylor, Millennial Star 44 no. 22 (29 May 1882), 337–338, (emphasis added).
  151. John Taylor, "Man's Natural Spirit And The Spirit Of God, etc.," (23 November 1882) Journal of Discourses 23:322-323 (emphasis added).
  152. John Taylor, "Manifestations To Be Looked For, etc.," (18 May 1884) Journal of Discourses 25:177-178, see also 179 for the other visitors, (emphasis added).
  153. ?, "Laid to Rest. The Remains of President John Taylor Consigned to The Grave," Millennial Star 49 no. 36 (5 September 1887), 564.
  154. John Taylor, (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:167.
  155. John Taylor, (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:257.
  156. Andrew Jenson, Historical Record (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson, 1888), 7:355–356. (January 1888)
  157. Andrew Jenson, Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 4 vols., (Salt Lake City, A. Jenson History Co., 1901; reprinted Salt Lake City, Utah : Greg Kofford Books, 2003), 1:261.
  158. See Autobiography, 192, 193, 391.
  159. Deseret Weekly, vol. 39, no. 15, 5 October 1889, 460
  160. Andrew Jenson, Historical Record (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson, 1888), 7:355–356. (January 1888)
  161. Andrew Jenson, Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 4 vols., (Salt Lake City, A. Jenson History Co., 1901; reprinted Salt Lake City, Utah : Greg Kofford Books, 2003), 1:261.
  162. See Autobiography, 192, 193, 391.
  163. Deseret Weekly, vol. 39, no. 15, 5 October 1889, 460

Response to claim: 24 - The story of Joseph first vision evolved greatly between his 1832 and 1838 accounts

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

The story of Joseph first vision evolved greatly between his 1832 and 1838 accounts.

Author's sources:
  • Times and Seasons, March 15, 1842
  • Dean D. Jessee's (Dean C. Jessee) "Early Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision," Brigham Young University Studies, Vol. IX, 1969, pp. 275-294.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Critics use the word "evolved," but the basic details of the accounts are the same, with some accounts having additional details that others do not.


Criticism of Mormonism/Books/No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith/Chapter 2

I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the first vision anymore than I am worried that there are four different writers of the gospels in the New Testament, each with his own perceptions, each telling the events to meet his own purpose for writing at the time. I am more concerned with the fact that God has revealed in this dispensation a great and marvelous and beautiful plan that motivates men and women to love their Creator and their Redeemer, to appreciate and serve one another, to walk in faith on the road that leads to immortality and eternal life.

—Gordon B. Hinckley, “God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign, Oct 1984, 2 off-site

∗       ∗       ∗
Critics of Mormonism have delighted in the discrepancies between the canonical [1838 PGP] account and earlier renditions, especially one written in Smith's own hand in 1832. For example, in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing. 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.

—Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 171.
∗       ∗       ∗

What are the criticisms related to Joseph Smith's accounts of the First Vision?

Why did Joseph wait 12 years to record his First Vision?

President Dallin H. Oaks explained, "As a boy, Joseph Smith had not [kept a record]. His formal education was limited, paper was expensive and it was not customary for poor farm boys in the United States to keep journals. That is why we lack contemporaneous accounts of his earliest visions."[1]

Joseph Smith gave several accounts of the First Vision that include different details

  • Some charge that differences in the accounts show that he changed and embellished his story over time, and that he therefore had no such vision.[2]
  • It is claimed by some that the Church has not discussed these accounts in official Church publications.
  • One critic of the Church states, "I learned that Joseph Smith provided multiple and varying accounts of his first vision story, and that some of these accounts (e.g., his descriptions of the Godhead) seemed to evolve over time to correspond with his own changing beliefs." [3]

Joseph tailored the story and details included of his vision based upon his audience

Joseph adjusted and emphasized certain portions of his narrative of the First Vision to account for his audience, as well as to incorporate his evolving understanding of Church doctrine. This is not unusual:

We often edit or entirely rewrite our previous experiences—unknowingly and unconsciously—in light of what we now know or believe. The result can be a skewed rendering of a specific incident, or even of an extended period in our lives, that says more about how we feel now than what happened then. Thus, without knowing it, we can modify our own history.” [4]

The Church has published information about the various First Vision accounts since at least 1970

The Church has published information about the various First Vision accounts since at least 1970. Critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often seek to point out differences between the various accounts which Joseph Smith gave of his First Vision. In defense of their position that the Prophet changed his story over a six year period (1832 to 1838) they claim that the earliest followers of Joseph Smith either didn’t know about the First Vision, or seem to have been confused about it. The Church, however, has discussed the various accounts in a number of publications. Joseph Smith's various accounts of the First Vision were targeted at different audiences, and had different purposes. They, however, show a remarkable degree of harmony between them. There is no evidence that the early leaders of the LDS Church did not understand that the Prophet saw two Divine Personages during his inaugural theophany.

A graphical comparison of the details of Joseph Smith's accounts of the First Vision. Image courtesy of LDS.net. Original may be viewed at LDS.net page "Why Are There Differences Between Joseph Smith’s 4 First Vision Accounts?" off-site






See FAIR Evidence:
More evidence related to the First Vision accounts


Steven C. Harper, "Four Accounts and Three Critiques of Joseph Smith’s First Vision"

Steven C. Harper,  Proceedings of the 2011 FAIR Conference, (August 2011)
There are essentially three arguments against the first vision. The minister to whom Joseph reported the event announced that there were no such things these days. More than a century later Fawn Brodie wrote with literary grace to mask historical deficiencies that Joseph concocted the vision years after he said it happened. Then a generation later Wesley Walters charged Joseph with inventing revivalism when a lack of historical evidence proved that there was none, and therefore no subsequent vision as a result. So by now it has become a foregone conclusion for some there are no such things as visions, and Joseph failed to mention his experience for years and then gave conflicting accounts that didn’t match historical facts.

Click here to view the complete article

Richard J. Maynes: "Joseph wrote or dictated four known accounts of his First Vision"

Elder Richard J. Maynes speaking at the Worldwide YSA Devotional held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on 1 May 2016. https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/watch/worldwide-devotional/2016/05?lang=eng Image from LDS.org

Elder Richard J. Maynes, Presidency of the Seventy, at the Worldwide Young Adult Devotional held 1 May 2016 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle:

Let me share with you some historical context leading up to Joseph Smith's First Vision...Joseph wrote or dictated four known accounts of his First Vision. Additionally, his contemporaries recorded their memories of what they heard Joseph say about the vision; five such accounts are known. It is a blessing to have these records. They make Joseph’s First Vision the best-documented vision in history. I encourage you to visit history.lds.org to learn more about the accounts and see how they work together to paint a more complete picture...Like the individual New Testament Gospels that together more completely describe Christ’s life and ministry, each one of the accounts describing Joseph’s First Vision adds unique detail and perspective to the total experience. They together tell Joseph’s consistent, harmonious story. They all emphasize that there was confusion and strife among Christian churches, that Joseph desired to know which — if any — was right, that he searched the scriptures and prayed, that a light descended from heaven, and that divine beings appeared and answered his prayer.—(Click here to continue) [5]

Gospel Topics: "The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail. Historians expect that when an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details. Indeed, differences similar to those in the First Vision accounts exist in the multiple scriptural accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus and the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration.3 Yet despite the differences, a basic consistency remains across all the accounts of the First Vision. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if it were less well documented. [6]—(Click here to continue)

Seminary Manual (2013): "Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his vision in his multiple accounts"

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013), LESSON 6: Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20:

Just as Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his vision in his multiple accounts, the Apostle Paul emphasized different aspects of his vision of the Savior to different audiences (see Acts 9:1–9; Acts 22:5–11; Acts 26:12–20). Why do you think Joseph Smith and Paul emphasized different things each time they related the accounts of their visions? [7]

Backman (1985): "On at least four different occasions, Joseph Smith either wrote or dictated to scribes accounts of his sacred experience of 1820"

Milton V. Backman, Ensign (January 1985):

On at least four different occasions, Joseph Smith either wrote or dictated to scribes accounts of his sacred experience of 1820. Possibly he penned or dictated other histories of the First Vision; if so, they have not been located. The four surviving recitals of this theophany were prepared or rendered through different scribes, at different times, from a different perspective, for different purposes and to different audiences.1 It is not surprising, therefore, that each of them emphasizes different aspects of his experience.[8]

Allen (1970): "the Prophet described his experience to friends and acquaintances at least as early as 1831-32...he continued to do so in varying detail until the year of his death"

James B. Allen, Improvement Era (April 1970):

Nevertheless, it can now be demonstrated that the Prophet described his experience to friends and acquaintances at least as early as 1831-32, and that he continued to do so in varying detail until the year of his death, 1844. We presently know of at least eight contemporary documents that were written during his lifetime.[9]

Neuenschwander (2009): "Joseph's vision was at first an intensely personal experience...it became the founding revelation of the Restoration"

Dennis B. Neuenschwander, Ensign (January 2009):

Joseph's vision was at first an intensely personal experience—an answer to a specific question. Over time, however, illuminated by additional experience and instruction, it became the founding revelation of the Restoration. [10]

Gordon B. Hinckley (1984): "I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the first vision"

Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign (October 1984):

I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the first vision anymore than I am worried that there are four different writers of the gospels in the New Testament, each with his own perceptions, each telling the events to meet his own purpose for writing at the time. I am more concerned with the fact that God has revealed in this dispensation a great and marvelous and beautiful plan that motivates men and women to love their Creator and their Redeemer, to appreciate and serve one another, to walk in faith on the road that leads to immortality and eternal life.[11]

Prothero (2003): "in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing"

Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (2003):

Critics of Mormonism have delighted in the discrepancies between the canonical [1838 PGP] account and earlier renditions, especially one written in Smith's own hand in 1832. For example, in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing. 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.[12]

Did the details of Joseph’s First Vision experience appear to have changed when communicating to his followers such that the elders of the Church did not know that Joseph saw two personages?

Early Church leaders sometimes mentioned the word "angel" in relation to the First Vision

The following quotes are often used to support the assertion that Church leaders did not understand the nature of the First Vision:

  1. Brigham Young “The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven ... 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.” (Brigham Young, (1855) Journal of Discourses 2:171.)
  2. Wilford Woodruff “The same organization and Gospel that Christ died for ... 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 ... He told him the Gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of His kingdom in the world ... Joseph was strengthened by the Spirit and power of God, and was enabled to listen to the teachings of the angel. ... The man to whom the angel appeared obeyed the Gospel.” (Journal of Discourses, vol.2, 1855, pp.196-197)
  3. George A. Smith “He [Joseph Smith] 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.” (George A. Smith, (1863) Journal of Discourses 12:334.)
  4. John Taylor “How was it, and which was right? 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. What, none of them? No. We will not stop to argue that question; the angel merely told him to join none of them that none of them were right.” (Journal of Discourses, 1879, vol.20, pp.158-171)

Critics of the Church use a quote from Brigham Young to demonstrate that he was unfamiliar with the First Vision: "The Lord did not come...But he did send His angel"

Brigham's full quote, including the portions removed by the critics:

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 knowlege 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.[13]

The critics ignore a quote where Brigham actually did state the that Lord "called upon" Joseph Smith at age 14

Brigham Young:

The Lord chose Joseph Smith, called upon him at fourteen years of age, gave him visions, and led him along, guided and directed him in his obscurity until he brought forth the plates and translated them, and Martin Harris was prevailed upon to sustain the printing of the Book of Mormon. All this was done in the depths of poverty, obscurity, and weakness. [14]

Critics of the Church use a quote from John Taylor as evidence that he wasn't familiar with the First Vision: "When the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right"

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.[15]

The critics ignore this quote from John Taylor that was made the very same day in another discourse: "When the Father and the Son and Moroni and others came to Joseph Smith"

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 for the purpose of manifesting the laws of life... [16]

Notice how one refers to an "angel" and the other refers to "the Father and the Son." Taylor was clearly aware of the details of the First Vision. This also demonstrates how early Church leaders used the term "angel" to represent the personages that Joseph saw, even at the same time that they recognized that these personages were the Father and the Son.

Does Doctrine and Covenants 84 say that one cannot see God without holding the priesthood?

This argument is fatally flawed by an improper interpretation of D&C 84:21-22 and also by not taking into account additional texts that were produced by Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith claimed that he saw God in 1820 and also claimed that he received the priesthood in 1829. However, in a text which he produced in 1832 (D&C 84꞉21-22) it is said that a person cannot see God without holding the priesthood. Some have misinterpreted section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants in an effort to destroy the testimony of Joseph Smith with regard to the reality of the First Vision. Their effort fails when the text is seen in its proper context and then compared with other writings that were prepared by the Prophet.

When D&C 84:21-22 is analyzed in context then an interpretation emerges that does not support the one proposed by the Prophet's critics. The relevant words read:

19 "And this greater [i.e., Melchizedek] priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live."

The word "this" in verse 22 does not refer to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but rather to "the power of godliness"

The word "this" in verse 22 does not refer to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but rather to "the power of godliness." [17] One of the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood is the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (see D&C 49꞉14). As the Lord explained in an 1831 revelation, "no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God" (D&C 67꞉11).

Moses was transfigured in order that he could see God and endure his presence

An example of this happening is seen in the Pearl of Great Price where it is recorded that Moses "saw God face to face, and he talked with Him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure His presence" (Moses 1꞉2). Moses confirmed that it was because he was transfigured by the glory of God that he did not die when he saw the Lord's face while in mortality (see Moses 1꞉11). The Lord verified to Moses in yet another text that sinful mortals cannot see His face and live (see JST Exodus 33:20).

Joseph Smith recorded that he was "filled with the Spirit of God" during the First Vision

This brings us to the case of Joseph Smith in 1820. In the earliest known account of this heavenly manifestation (written in 1832 - the same year as D&C 84) the Prophet made note of the fact that when the experience began a pillar of fire rested down upon him and he was "filled with the Spirit of God." Once the heavens were opened the Savior appeared and said, "Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee." The Redeemer tied these elements together in a Book of Mormon passage where He informed a multitude of His disciples that certain persons would be "visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins (3 Nephi 12꞉2). Since the Prophet's experience followed the same pattern, it is reasonable to believe that this is what happened to him in the Sacred Grove.

There are two further pieces of evidence pointing to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was transfigured during the First Vision event. First, there is Orson Pratt's 1840 recounting of the incident wherein he relates that the pillar of fire or light "continued descending slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and [Joseph Smith] was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system." [18] Joseph noticed that there was some sort of change wrought upon his body and it was of an extraordinary nature—something he was apparently not accustomed to. Second, we find a parallel between what happened to Moses after his transfiguration and that which happened to young Joseph after his theophany ended. In Moses chapter 1 we read:

9 "And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that His glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth. [10] And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man."(Moses 1꞉9-10)

In the Charles Walker account of the First Vision, it is indicated that Jesus touched Joseph's eyes in order for him to be able to see him

Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, as told by John Alger:

2nd Feb Thurs [1893] Cold and chilly. Attended Fast Meeting.... 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. We enjoyed the conversation very much, as it was something that we had never seen in church history or heard of before.[19]

In three of the Prophet's retellings of the First Vision story he mentions that he too lost his strength and fell to the earth

1838 Main Text and Note B
"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 recover[ed] in some degree."
1843 David N. White Interview
"when I came to myself, I was sprawling on my back and it was some time before my strength returned."
1844 Alexander Neibaur Diary
"I endeavored to arise but felt uncom[monly] feeble."

Some early Christian authors saw things in the same way as Joseph

For example, in an early Christian document called the Clementine Homilies the apostle Peter is portrayed as agreeing:

For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son, because it is illumined by exceeding great light. . . . For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light.[20]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


Did God tell Joseph Smith that all of the churches of the day were an "abomination"?

Joseph did not claim that the churches of the day were "an abomination." He was told that their creeds were an abomination

One critic claims,

According to Mormon scripture, the founder of your church (Joseph Smith) was told by God in 1820 that all the churches of the day were "an abomination."

Joseph did not claim that the churches of the day were "an abomination." He was told that their creeds were an abomination. According to Joseph Smith's history, he was told the following by Jesus Christ during the First Vision:

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.”

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


Did Joseph Smith change his stated motivation for praying in later years after he received the First Vision?

The story elements of the vision remain steady over time

The assertion that Joseph Smith's motivation for prayer changes in later accounts of the First Vision event does not pass the test of close examination. The evidence shows, rather, that the story elements remain steady over time. Joseph's motivations for praying are not, as one critic puts it "all over the place." He had two motivations: forgiveness of sins, and a desire to know which church was right.

  • 1832 Account
    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....
    My mind become exceedingly distressed for I became convicted of my sins....He spake unto me saying, 'Joseph my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.
  • 1835 Account (9 Nov. 1835)
    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....
    he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee....
  • 1835 Account (14 Nov. 1835)
    This account is simply a one line summary of the vision - motive not given.
  • 1838 Account (published in 1842)
    Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?....My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join....
    many other things did He say unto me which I cannot write at this time....
  • 1840 Account by Orson Pratt
    ...if any one of these denominations be the Church of Christ, which one is it?...
    He was informed that his sins were forgiven.

It must be kept in mind that those who report the Prophet's inaugural manifestation in writing do not always spell things out in exactly the same way; sometimes they obscure information by the language they choose to utilize and on occasion they omit story elements altogether (possibly because of audience considerations).

First Vision accounts in Church publications

The claim is sometimes made by critics that the Church hides the various accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision that are not in its official canon. The following chronological database (compiled by FAIR volunteer Edward Jones) demonstrates conclusively that this is simply not the case. The various accounts of the First Vision have been widely acknowledged in LDS-authored sources throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Gospel Topics, located on lds.org., "First Vision Accounts"

Gospel Topics,  Gospel Topics, located on lds.org.
The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail. Historians expect that when an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details. Indeed, differences similar to those in the First Vision accounts exist in the multiple scriptural accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus and the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration.3 Yet despite the differences, a basic consistency remains across all the accounts of the First Vision. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if it were less well documented.

Click here to view the complete article

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, "LESSON 6: Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20"

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,  Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, (2013)
Just as Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his vision in his multiple accounts, the Apostle Paul emphasized different aspects of his vision of the Savior to different audiences (see Acts 9:1–9; Acts 22:5–11; Acts 26:12–20). Why do you think Joseph Smith and Paul emphasized different things each time they related the accounts of their visions?

Click here to view the complete article

LDS-Authored Publications (1910-1968)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1910-1968)

LDS-Authored Publications (1969-1978)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1969-1978)

LDS-Authored Publications (1979-1983)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1979-1983)

LDS-Authored Publications (1984-1989)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1984-1989)

LDS-Authored Publications (1990-1997)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1990-1997)

LDS-Authored Publications (1998-2003)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1998-2003)

LDS-Authored Publications (2004-Present)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (2004-Present)


Learn more about claims that the Church has hidden different versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision


Notes

  1. Dallin H. Oaks, "First Presidency Commissions New Biography of the Prophet Joseph Smith," Newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, 15 September 2023.
  2. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 29–36. ( Index of claims ); Isaiah Bennett, Inside Mormonism: What Mormons Really Believe (Catholic Answers: 1999); Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 24–25. ( Index of claims ); John Dehlin, "Why People Leave the LDS Church," (2008).; Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) Chapter 8. ( Index of claims ); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Case Against Mormonism, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City, 1967), 1:120–128.; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), Chapter 6.( Index of claims ); Search for the Truth DVD (2007) Resources; Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers
  3. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  4. Seema L. Clifasfi, Maryanne Garry, and Elizabeth Loftus, “Setting the Record (or Video Camera) Straight on Memory and Other Memory Myths,” in Tall Tales about the Mind and Brain: Separating Fact from Fiction, edited by Sergio Della Sala (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 61; cited in Gardner, Gift and Power, 119n1.
  5. Elder Richard J. Maynes, "Worldwide Young Adult Devotional," (1 May 2016).
  6. "First Vision Accounts," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  7. "LESSON 6: Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013) 20.
  8. Milton V. Backman, "Joseph Smith's Recitals of the First Vision," Ensign (January 1985).
  9. James B. Allen, "Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision - What Do We Learn from Them?," Improvement Era (April 1970): 4-13.
  10. Dennis B. Neuenschwander, "Joseph Smith: An Apostle of Jesus Christ," Ensign (January 2009): 16-22.
  11. Gordon B. Hinckley, “God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign (October 1984): 2.
  12. Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 171.
  13. (1855) Journal of Discourses 2:171.
  14. Brigham Young, (3 March 1861) Journal of Discourses 8:354..
  15. John Taylor, (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:167.
  16. John Taylor, (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:257.
  17. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants: Volume Three (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004), 32-33.
  18. Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840), 5. off-site off-site Full title GL direct link
  19. Karl Larson and Katharine Miles Larson, eds., Diary of Charles Lowell Walker (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1980), 2:755–56 [recorded 2 February 1893]
  20. Apostle Peter (claimed), "Clementine Homilies," in 17:16 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)8:322–323. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  1. REDIRECTMultiple accounts of the First Vision

Response to claim: 24- Oliver Cowdery described Joseph's first vision as having occurred in 1823

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery described Joseph's first vision as having occurred in 1823

Author's sources:
  1. Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, Letter IV, Feb. 1835, p. 78.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This is related to Oliver Cowdery's attempt to write a history of the Church, which did not actually describe the First Vision at all.


Did Joseph Smith begin his prophetic career with a "trinitarian" idea of God?

Joseph and the early Saints were not trinitarian, and understood God's embodiment and the identity of the Father and Son as separate beings very early on

This doctrine is apparent in the Book of Mormon, and in the earliest friendly and non-friendly accounts of such matters from the Saints.

Such texts demonstrate that the supposed 'evidence' for Joseph altering his story later is only in the eyes of critical beholders. For example, Joseph's 1832 First Vision account focuses on the remission of his sins. However, critics who wish to claim that in 1832 Joseph had only a vaguely "trinitarian" idea of God (and so would see the Father and the Son as only one being) have missed vital evidence which must be considered.[1]

Martin Harris remembered rejecting the ideas of creedal Trinitarianism prior to meeting Joseph

Martin dictated an account of his early spiritual search:

52 years ago I was Inspired of the Lord & Tought of the Spirit that I should not Join Eny Church although I Was anxiousley Sought for by meny of the Secatirans[.] I Was taught I could not Walk togther unless agreed[.] What can you not be agreed in [is] in the Trinity because I can not find it in my Bible[.] find it for me & I am Ready to Receive it. 3 Persons in one god[.] one Personage I can not concede for this is Antichrist for Where is the Father & Son[?] I have more proof to Prove 9 Persons in the Trinity then you have 3[.]...other sects the Epicopalians also tired me[.] they say 3 Persons in one god Without Body Parts or Passions[.] I Told them such A god I would not be afraid of: I could not Please or offend him[.] [I] Would not be afraid to fight A Duel With such A god.[2]

It would be very strange for Martin to feel so strongly on this point, only to embrace Joseph's teachings if Joseph taught creedal trinitarianism.

1829 - The Book of Mormon

Christ Descends from Heavens

The Book of Mormon also begins (1 Nephi 1꞉8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on his throne. One [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi—thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate, and the role of Christ in giving instructions to the prophet while the Father looks on and approves is followed, just as it was in Joseph's First Vision. Here too, Lehi is described as praying to "the Lord," and yet has a vision of both God the Father and Christ.

Resurrection is Permanent Through Christ

Alma 11:45 makes clear that the resurrection is permanent and Mosiah 15:20 (along with several others) makes clear that the resurrection is brought about through Christ.

I and the Father are One to Three Nephites

In 3 Nephi 28:10 the Savior is speaking to the 3 Nephites. After declaring that they would never endure the pains of death he states:

And for this cause ye shall have fullness of joy; and he shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fullness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one.

Since the verse is juxtaposed closely with not tasting death and the Savior stating that they would be even as he and the Father are, this verse may be used to argue for an embodied Christ and God (and likely an early conceptualization of deification) in the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, the phrase "fullness of joy" is used in D&C 93:33 (a revelation dated to 1833) to describe element (or man’s tabernacle as v. 35 expresses) and spirit inseparably connected.

1830 - Book of Moses: "And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten"

Between June and October 1830, Joseph had dictated his revision (the "Joseph Smith Translation") to Genesis.[3] The first chapter of Moses was dictated in June 1830 (about a month after the Church's reorganization), and began:

2 And [Moses] saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.

3 And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

4 And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.

5 Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth.

6 And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all (Moses 1꞉2-6)

Here already, God distinguishes himself from the Only Begotten, Moses sees and speaks with God face to face, and says that Moses was created "in the similitude of mine Only Begotten."

Joseph's rendered Genesis 1:26 as:

And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so....And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. (Moses 2꞉26-27.)

There can be no doubt that Joseph understood "in mine own image" to refer to a physical likeness, rather than merely a moral or intellectual one. The JST of Genesis 5:1-2 reads

In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them (Moses 6꞉8-9, emphasis added)

Thus, by 1830 Joseph was clearly teaching a separation of the Father and Son, and insisting that both had some type of physical form which could be copied in the creation of humanity.

Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also noted that other Christian denominations took issue with the new Church because of its teachings about God, noting that in 1830:

the different denominations are very much opposed to us.... The Methodists also come, and they rage, for they worship a God without body or parts, and they know that our faith comes in contact with this principle.[4]

1831 - Joseph "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father"; D&C 50:43

Anti-Mormon writers in 1831 noted that Joseph claimed to have received "a commission from God"; and the Mormons claimed that Joseph "had seen God frequently and personally."[5] That Joseph's enemies knew he claimed to have "seen God," indicates that the doctrine of an embodied God that could be seen was well-known early on.

John Whitmer would also write in 1831 of a vision enjoyed by Joseph in which Joseph saw Christ as separate from the Father, for he "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father making intercession for his brethren, the Saints." (emphasis added) [6] Of this same experience, Levi Hancock wrote:

Joseph Smith then stepped out onto the floor and said, 'I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now.' (emphasis added) [7]

Doctrine and Covenants 50, a revelation given to Joseph Smith in May 1831, states in the 43rd verse that:

And the Father and I are one, I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.
This is interesting as, notwithstanding the verse being one that teaches the 'oneness' of the Father and the Son, it is not that of Modalism [nor the forms of Trinitarianism referred to by critics when making this argument against Joseph Smith]; instead, it is the same as John 17:22-23—one of indwelling unity, not being the same person.[8]

1832 - In the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father"

One should first note that in the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father." The Book of Mormon (translated three years earlier in 1829) also contains numerous passages which teach a physical separation and embodiment (even if only in spirit bodies, which are clearly not immaterial, but have shape, position, and form) of the members of the Godhead. (See: 3 Nephi 11, 1 Nephi 11꞉1-11, Ether 3꞉14-18.)

Furthermore, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were to receive a revelation of the three degrees of glory in the same year as Joseph's 1832 account was written; it clearly teaches a physical separation of the Father and Son, bearing witness of seeing both. (See D&C 76꞉14,20–24.)[9]

1832–1833 - "Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother"

Two of Joseph's close associates reported their own visions of God in the winter of 1832–1833. Both are decidedly not in the trinitarian mold.

Zebedee Coltrin:

Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling...a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him...

He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: "Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages."[10]

John Murdock:

During the winter that I boarded with[Bro[ther] Joseph... we had a number of prayer meetings, in the Prophet’s chamber.... In one of those meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exersise [sic] strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in a most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I had ever before seen. His countenance was the most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.[11]

1834–1835 - Lectures on Faith: "There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things"

In the School of the Prophets, the brethren were taught that

There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made. . . . They are the Father and the Son—the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fulness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle. (Lecture 5:1–2)

Here, the separateness of the Father and Son continues to be made clear.

1836 - "They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts"

A skeptical news article noted:

They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts; and that when the Creator formed Adam in his own image, he made him about the size and shape of God himself....[12]

Evidence that is absent

In addition to all the non-trinitarian evidence above, as Milton Backman has noted, there is a great deal of evidence that we should find, but don't. For example, no one has "located a publication (such as an article appearing in a church periodical or statement from a missionary pamphlet) written by an active Latter-day Saint prior to the martyrdom of the Prophet that defends the traditional or popular creedal concept of the Trinity. . . ." Moreover, there are no references in critical writings of the 1830s (including statements by apostates) that Joseph Smith introduced in the mid-thirties the doctrine of separateness of the Father and Son.[13]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Oliver Cowdery state that Joseph did not know if a "supreme being" existed in 1823?

In the first installment of his history published in December 1834, Oliver established Joseph's age as 14 and very accurately described the religious excitement leading up to the First Vision

Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in the Messenger and Advocate in December 1834 which is commonly misunderstood:

In 1834, Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in installments in the pages of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. The first installment talks of the religious excitement and events that ultimately led to Joseph Smith’s First Vision at age 14. However, in the subsequent installment published two months later, Oliver claims that he made a mistake, correcting Joseph’s age from 14 to 17 and failing to make any direct mention of the First Vision. Oliver instead tells the story of Moroni’s visit, thus making it appear that the religious excitement led to Moroni’s visit.

This curious account has been misunderstood by some to be evidence that the "first" vision that Joseph claimed was actually that of the angel Moroni and that Joseph invented the story of the First Vision of the Father and Son at a later time. However, Joseph wrote an account of his First Vision in 1832 in which he stated that he saw the Lord, and there is substantial evidence that Oliver had this document in his possession at the time that he wrote his history of the Church. This essay demonstrates the correlations between Joseph Smith’s 1832 First Vision account, Oliver’s 1834/1835 account, and Joseph’s 1835 journal entry on the same subject. It is clear that not only did Oliver have Joseph’s history in his possession but that he used Joseph’s 1832 account as a basis for his own account. This essay also shows that Oliver knew of the First Vision and attempted to obliquely refer to the event several times in his second installment before continuing with his narrative of Moroni’s visit.[14]

Two months later in the second installment published in February 1835, Oliver abruptly "corrects" Joseph's age from 14 to 17 years old, skips the First Vision and then proceeds instead to describe Moroni's visit

After spending the previous installment leading up to the First Vision, Oliver abruptly skips three years ahead and does not mention the vision directly. However, before describing Moroni's visit, Oliver even takes the time to minimize the importance of the religious excitement that he described in the previous installment, stating,

And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate (February 1835)

The religious "excitement" that Oliver is describing is now portrayed as an event in the past, during which Joseph desired to know "if a Supreme being did exist"

Note carefully what Oliver is saying. The religious "excitement," and the event that Oliver described in the first installment when he said that Joseph was 14 years of age, was when Joseph was seeking a "full manifestation of divine approbation" with the desire to know "if a Supreme being did exist." Oliver then alludes to the First Vision in the past tense by saying,

This, most assuredly, was correct—it was right. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast, that for him who knocks it shall be opened, & whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely.
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate (February 1835)

Oliver is stating that something of significance happened in Joseph’s life prior to the events that Oliver would be describing next, and he assures the reader that "this, most assuredly, was correct." Oliver then proceeds to describe Moroni's visit to Joseph at age 17.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is the fact that Latter-day Saint missionaries were teaching around 1 November 1830 that Joseph Smith had seen "God" personally a reference to having seen Jesus Christ, but not the Father?

The document which reports the missionaries’ teachings refers to "God" twice but also to "Christ" once and the "Holy Spirit" once

It cannot be successfully argued that before the missionaries made their statement in November 1830 Latter-day Saints would have understood "God" as a reference to Jesus Christ alone. When the missionaries (one of whom was Book of Mormon scribe Oliver Cowdery) were teaching that Joseph Smith had seen "God" personally they could have legitimately been referring to God the Father

The weakness of this argument is twofold. First and foremost, critics ignore the fact that the document which reports the missionaries’ teachings[15]refers to "God" twice but also to "Christ" once and the "Holy Spirit" once. Hence, all three members of the Godhead appear to be represented individually in the document. In this context, a natural interpretation demands that "God" refer to the Father and the statement made by the missionaries would therefore mean that sometime before November 1830 Joseph Smith had seen God the Father "personally."

The Book of Mormon talks of Lehi having a vision of both "God" and Jesus Christ

The second problem with the critics’ argument is that the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants contain several contemporary texts that undercut their position. For instance, 1 Nephi 12꞉18 speaks of "the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record." Here all three members of the Godhead are represented and "the Eternal God" is an obvious reference to God the Father. It becomes apparent from a reading of Alma 11꞉44, however, that this is a title that can be appropriately applied to all three divine Beings. This scriptural passage talks about being "arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God." This concept is paralleled in D&C 20꞉28—a text written about April 1830—which says that the "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal."

The Book of Mormon also begins (1 Nephi 1꞉8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on his throne. One bright being [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi—thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate, and the role of Christ in giving instructions to the prophet while the Father looks on and approves is followed, just as it was in Joseph's First Vision. Here too, Lehi is described as praying to "the Lord," and yet has a vision of both "God" and Christ.

Even a contemporary hostile source reports that Joseph communicated with "Almighty God"

A hostile account from someone who knew Joseph in 1827 reported:

I, Joseph Capron, became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1827. They have, since then, been really a peculiar people—fond of the foolish and the marvelous—at one time addicted to vice and the grossest immoralities—at another time making the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God. The family of Smiths held Joseph Jr. in high estimation on account of some supernatural power, which he was supposed to possess.[16]

Capron obviously dislikes and distrusts the Smiths, but he makes it clear that there were claims of holy intercourse (i.e., "communication" with)[17] "Almighty God." This sounds much more like a reference to the Father than to Christ.

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver’s Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1834 and 1835"

Roger Nicholson,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (December 6, 2013)
In 1834, Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in installments in the pages of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. The first installment talks of the religious excitement and events that ultimately led to Joseph Smith’s First Vision at age 14. However, in the subsequent installment published two months later, Oliver claims that he made a mistake, correcting Joseph’s age from 14 to 17 and failing to make any direct mention of the First Vision. Oliver instead tells the story of Moroni’s visit, thus making it appear that the religious excitement led to Moroni’s visit.

This curious account has been misunderstood by some to be evidence that the "first" vision that Joseph claimed was actually that of the angel Moroni and that Joseph invented the story of the First Vision of the Father and Son at a later time. However, Joseph wrote an account of his First Vision in 1832 in which he stated that he saw the Lord, and there is substantial evidence that Oliver had this document in his possession at the time that he wrote his history of the Church. This essay demonstrates the correlations between Joseph Smith’s 1832 First Vision account, Oliver’s 1834/1835 account, and Joseph’s 1835 journal entry on the same subject. It is clear that not only did Oliver have Joseph’s history in his possession but that he used Joseph’s 1832 account as a basis for his own account. This essay also shows that Oliver knew of the First Vision and attempted to obliquely refer to the event several times in his second installment before continuing with his narrative of Moroni’s visit.

Click here to view the complete article

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How early was the story of the First Vision known among the members of the Church?

Claims made by critics regarding early knowledge of the First Vision

  • It is claimed that "there is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832." [18]
  • It is claimed that there is "no reference to the 1838 canonical First Vision story in any published material from the 1830s."
  • It is claimed that "Not a single piece of published literature (Mormon, non-Mormon, or anti-Mormon) from the 1830s mentions Smith having a vision of the Father and Son."
  • If Joseph Smith's First Vision actually occurred, then why wouldn't it have been mentioned in the local newspapers at the time? Since no such record exists, is this evidence that the vision must not have actually occurred?

There is evidence that Church members were aware of elements of the First Vision story as early as 1827

Several LDS commentators - including one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles - agree that D&C 20:5 (part of the Articles and Covenants of the Church) is the earliest published reference to the First Vision story. [19] The Articles and Covenants of the Church were presented to the Church membership and then published in the following order

  • April-June 1829 - The Book of Mormon gave the first elements of the First Vision when translated in April-June 1829 and published in 1830. In 2 Nephi 27:24-27 we read:

24 And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:

25 Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men—

26 Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.

This scripture from Isaiah is exactly the scripture that Joseph either quotes or paraphrases in the 1832 and 1838 Account of the First Vision. Critics may dismiss this saying that it is simply a part of Joseph's fraudulent composition of the Book of Mormon but the verse still throws a huge wrench in their theories about there being no early mentions of the First Vision.
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church are first verbally presented by Joseph Smith for approval at a Church conference held in Fayette, New York on 9 June 1830 (see Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 1). The following sequence is found in the Articles and Covenants: (1) forgiveness of sin, (2) entanglement in vanities of the world, (3) visit of an angel with regard to the Book of Mormon plates. This is the exact same sequence presented in the Prophet's unpublished 1832 history and the forgiveness of sins comes during the First Vision event in that document.
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were read out loud by Oliver Cowdery during a Church conference on 26 September 1830 (see Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 3).
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in a non-LDS newspaper in Painesville, Ohio (Telegraph, 19 April 1831)
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in an LDS newspaper in Independence, Missouri (Evening and Morning Star, vol. 1, no. 1, June 1832).
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in an LDS newspaper in Independence, Missouri (Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2, no. 13, June 1833).
  • The Book of Commandments—which contained the Articles and Covenants—was published in July 1833 in Independence, Missouri (chapter 24, verses 6-7, page 48).
  • January 1835 Kirtland, Ohio reprint of an Evening and Morning Star article containing the "Articles and Covenants" (reprint of Evening and Morning Star, vol. 1, no. 1, June 1832, 2; reprinted by Frederick G. Williams).
  • The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants - which contained the Articles and Covenants - was published in September 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio (part 2, section 2, verse 2, pages 77-78).
  • June 1836 Kirtland, Ohio reprint of an Evening and Morning Star article containing the "Articles and Covenants" of the Church (reprint of Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2, no. 1, June 1833, 1; reprinted by Oliver Cowdery).



The Joseph Smith Papers: "The historical preamble to the 1830 'articles and covenants,'...appears to reference JS’s vision in speaking of a moment when 'it truly was manifested unto this first elder, that he had received a remission of his sins'"

"History, circa Summer 1832 - Historical Introduction," The Joseph Smith Papers:

In the early 1830s, when this history was written, it appears that JS had not broadcast the details of his first vision of Deity. The history of the church, as it was then generally understood, began with the gold plates. John Whitmer mentioned in his history "the commencement of the church history commencing at the time of the finding of the plates," suggesting that Whitmer was either unaware of JS’s earlier vision or did not conceive of it as foundational.5 Records predating 1832 only hint at JS’s earliest manifestation. The historical preamble to the 1830 "articles and covenants," for example, appears to reference JS’s vision in speaking of a moment when "it truly was manifested unto this first elder, that he had received a remission of his sins."6 Initially, JS may have considered this vision to be a personal experience tied to his own religious explorations. He was not accustomed to recording personal events, and he did not initially record the vision as he later did the sacred texts at the center of his attention. Only when JS expanded his focus to include historical records did he write down a detailed account of the theophany he experienced as a youth. The result was a simple, unpolished account of his first "marvilous experience," written largely in his own hand. The account was not published or widely circulated at the time, though in later years he told the story more frequently.[20]

Why didn't the newspapers in Palmyra take notice of Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Pearl of Great Price Central, Joseph Smith - History Insight #12: Why Was Joseph Smith Initially Reluctant to Tell Others About the First Vision?

Newspapers would not have considered a visionary claim from a 14-year-old boy to have been newsworthy

This claim by critics is indeed strange. We are apparently to believe that the newspapers of the area would consider a claim from a 14-year-old boy as newsworthy. We know that Joseph didn't even tell his family about the vision at the time that it occurred—when his mother asked him, all he said to her was that he had found that Presbyterianism was not true.

When Joseph told the story of his vision to a local minister, he was strongly refuted for doing so

Joseph did, however, make mention of his vision to a Methodist preacher. According to Richard Bushman, Joseph's perceived persecution for telling his story may not have actually been because it was a unique claim, but rather because it was a common one. According to Bushman,

The clergy of the mainline churches automatically suspected any visionary report, whatever its content...The only acceptable message from heaven was assurance of forgiveness and a promise of grace. Joseph's report of God's rejection of all creeds and churches would have sounded all too familiar to the Methodist evangelical, who repeated the conventional point that "all such things had ceased with the apostles and that there never would be any more of them."[21][22]

What references to the First Vision exist in published documents from the 1830s?

Pearl of Great Price Central, Joseph Smith - History Insight #12: Why Was Joseph Smith Initially Reluctant to Tell Others About the First Vision?

There are several significant references to the First Vision in published documents from the 1830s

1827

  • A skeptical account from Rev. John A. Clark mixed nine First Vision story elements together with the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and said that he learned them all in the Fall of 1827 from Martin Harris (John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way [Philadelphia: W. J. and J. K. Simmon, 1842],—-).
  • A hostile account from someone who knew Joseph in 1827 reported:
I, Joseph Capron, became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1827. They have, since then, been really a peculiar people—fond of the foolish and the marvelous—at one time addicted to vice and the grossest immoralities—at another time making the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God. The family of Smiths held Joseph Jr. in high estimation on account of some supernatural power, which he was supposed to possess.[23]
Capron obviously disliked and distrusted the Smiths, but he makes it clear that there were claims of holy intercourse (i.e., "communication" with)[24] "Almighty God."

1829 -1830

  • The Book of Mormon gave the first elements of the First Vision when published in 1830 (and translated in 1829). In 2 Nephi 27:24-27 we read:

24 And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:

25 Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men—

26 Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.

This scripture from Isaiah is exactly the scripture that Joseph either quotes or paraphrases in the 1832 and 1838 Account of the First Vision. Critics may dismiss this saying that it is simply a part of Joseph's fraudulent composition of the Book of Mormon but the verse still throws a huge wrench in their theories about there being no early mentions of the First Vision.

1831

  • LDS missionaries were teaching that Joseph Smith "had seen God frequently and personally" and received a commission from Him to teach true religion (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831).[25]

1832

  • LDS missionaries were teaching with regard to Joseph Smith: "Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse [to] prayer" (The Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832).
  • In October 1832, another Protestant minister wrote to a friend about the Latter-day Saints in his area: "They profess to hold frequent converse with angels; some go, if we may believe what they say, as far as the third heaven, and converse with the Lord Jesus face to face."[26]

1833

  • A few months later, in March of 1833, the Reverend Richmond Taggart wrote a letter to a ministerial friend, regarding the activities of Joseph Smith himself in Ohio: "The following Curious occurrance occurred last week in Newburg [Ohio] about 6 miles from this Place [Cleveland]. Joe Smith the great Mormonosity was there and held forth, and among other things he told them he had seen Jesus Christ and the Apostles and conversed with them, and that he could perform Miracles."[27] Here is a clear reference to Joseph Smith stating he had seen Jesus Christ. Joseph’s ‘conversations’ with the Apostles could be a reference to having seen, spoken to, and been ordained to the Priesthood by the early Apostles Peter, James, and John. Having received that Priesthood Joseph Smith was now qualified to perform healings, and other ‘miracles’.
  • A Missouri newspaper contains an article on a mass meeting of Latter-day Saints in July 1833, and refers to the Saints’ "pretended revelations from heaven… their personal intercourse with God and his angels… converse with God and his angels…."[28]
  • Philastus Hurlbut, following his excommunication from the Church in 1833, went east to Palmyra. He there interviewed many who claimed to have known Joseph Smith before the organization of the Church. Among those interviewed were some who left statements which give us more information on what the Prophet had been claiming at that early period. On November 3, 1833, Barton Stafford testified that Joseph had "professed to be inspired of the Lord to translate the Book of Mormon." Stafford claimed to have known them "until 1831 when they left this neighborhood." Five days later, on November 8, Joseph Capron testified that Joseph had made "the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God."[29] In 1884 and 1885 Arthur B. Deming collected affidavits in the Painesville, Ohio area, regarding the early Saints, and their recollection of Joseph Smith. Cornelius R. Stafford had been born in Manchester, NY, in 1813. He testified that Joseph Smith "claimed to receive revelations from the Lord."[30]

1834

1835

1836

  • The First Vision reference by William W. Phelps was republished as part of hymn #26 in the Saints' first hymnal—March 1836 (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1176).

When the published 1830s fragments of the First Vision story are compared to the as-yet-unpublished 1838 recital, it becomes apparent that the Prophet's account of things stayed steady during this time frame and was probably known among a wider cross-section of the contemporary LDS population than has been previously acknowledged.

1834 - "the 15th year of his life" [Cowdery]
1838 - "I was at this time in my fifteenth year"
1834 - "There was a great awakening, or excitement raised on the subject of religion" [Cowdery]
1838 - "there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion"
1834 - "our brother's mind became awakened" [Cowdery]
1838 - "my mind was called up to serious reflection"
1834 - "his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians" [Cowdery]
1838 - "My Fathers family were proselyted to the Presbyterian faith"
1834 - "his spirit was not at rest day nor night" [Cowdery]
1838 - "great uneasiness . . . extreme difficulties . . . my anxieties"
1832 - "not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I kept myself aloof from all these parties"; "no small stir and division"
1834 - "he was told they were right, and all others were wrong" [Cowdery]
1838 - "who was right and who was wrong"
1834 - "a general struggle was made by the leading characters of the different sects" [Cowdery]
1838 - "priest contending against priest"
1834 - "Large additions were made to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches" [Cowdery]
1838 - "multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties"
1835 - "the world in darkness lay" [Phelps]
1838 - "I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness"
1835 - "he sought the better way" [Phelps]
1838 - "I was one day reading the Epistle of James"
1832 - "being in doubt what his duty was" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I often said to myself, what is to be done?"
1832 - "he had recourse [to] prayer" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God"
1831 - "he had seen God . . . personally" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I saw two personages . . . One of them spake unto me calling me by name and said (pointing to the other) 'This is my beloved Son, Hear him'"

Here then are several early testimonies from friendly and non-LDS sources, confirming that Joseph Smith and/or the missionaries were talking about Joseph conversing with Jesus Christ, angels, Apostles (Peter, James and John?), and "Almighty God." Evidently the early Saints were doing a lot more talking about these things than the critics want their readers to know about.

Is there any mention of the First Vision in non-Mormon literature before 1843?

There are a number of reports in non-Latter-day Saint source which allude to the First Vision having occurred

The historical record supports the claim that the First Vision was mentioned in non-Mormon literature prior to 1843:

  • Report in a non-LDS newspaper of Mormon missionaries teaching that Joseph Smith had seen God personally and received a commission from Him to teach true religion (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831).
  • The "Articles and Covenants" of the Church - which contained a reference to something that happened during the First Vision - were published in a non-LDS newspaper (Telegraph, 19 April 1831).
  • Report in a non-LDS newspaper that Mormon missionaries were teaching at least six of the beginning elements of the First Vision story (Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832).
  • In April 1841 the British publication Athenæum (a literary weekly) reprinted material from Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account pamphlet.
  • A non-LDS newspaper printed the first elements of the First Vision story. They were first reported in the Congregational Observer [Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut] and then reprinted in the Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer, vol. 5, no. 23, 3 September 1841.
  • First Vision story elements from Orson Pratt's 1840 pamphlet were reprinted in The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, vol. 14 (new series), no. 42, July 1841, 370. Philadelphia: E. Littell and Co. (copied from the 1841 Athenæum article called "The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites").
  • When the Rev. John A. Clark published his autobiography he mixed nine First Vision story elements together with the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and said that he learned them all in the Fall of 1827 from Martin Harris (John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way [Philadelphia: W. J. and J. K. Simmon, 1842],—-).
  • A non-LDS college professor published the beginning story elements of the First Vision (Jonathan B. Turner, Mormonism in All Ages [New York: Platt and Peters, 1842], 14).

The majority of these reports are garbled, fragmentary, and out of proper context but this evidence still shows that the claim being made in the source cited above is not accurate.

If the First Vision story was known by the public before 1840, then would anti-Mormons "surely" have seized upon it as an evidence of Joseph Smith’s imposture?

The claim that critics of Joseph would have used the vision accounts is negated by the following evidence

  • Daniel P. Kidder, Mormonism and the Mormons (New York City: Lane and Sandford, 1842), 334. The appendix heading explains that the author was drawing material from the January through June editions of the 1842 Times and Seasons (two separate First Vision stories were found in the March and April editions). Joseph Smith, as editor of the Times and Seasons, Kidder said, "commenced publishing his autobiography. It is, however, nothing but the old story about the plates and the angel, with a few emendations to save appearances."
  • Quincy Whig, vol. 4, no. 46, 12 March 1842 – Acknowledgment that the "Wentworth Letter" had recently been published in the Times and Seasons on 1 March 1842. No mention is made of the First Vision story.
  • The Morning Chronicle, vol. 1, no. 190, 24 March 1842 [Pittsburgh] – quotes from the "Wentworth Letter" directly before and after the First Vision material but completely ignores the story (focuses on Joseph Smith’s birthday and the Book of Mormon instead).
  • John Hayward, The Book of Religions (Boston: John Hayward, 1842), 260-65, 271. This author indicates that he has possession of the Wentworth Letter and says, "we . . . are now enabled to tell [the] story [of the Latter-day Saints] in their own words." But he paraphrases the material about Joseph Smith's birth and background, completely skips over the First Vision story, provides lengthy quotes about the angel and the plates and even includes the Articles of Faith.

This is clear evidence that even if an anti-Mormon had multiple authoritative, unambiguous, printed copies of the First Vision story sitting right in front of them they would NOT necessarily seize upon it as evidence of an imposture. Some of them simply did NOT pay close attention to what Joseph Smith was saying openly.

Hugh Nibley pointed out years ago that anti-Mormon authors often went to great lengths to distort, ignore, or omit Joseph's telling of the visit of the Father and the Son.[31]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


Was the First Vision fabricated to give Joseph Smith "Godly authority?"

It is claimed by some that Joseph Smith decided after he released the Book of Mormon to the public that he needed 'authority from God' to justify his claims as a religious minister

It is asserted by some that Joseph Smith fabricated the First Vision story in order to provide himself with a more prestigious line of authority than that of the "angel" who revealed the golden plates.

There is no doubt that before Joseph Smith produced his 1832 history of the Restoration he was telling other people that he had a directive from God to carry out a certain work and that he had received instruction directly from one of God's authorized representatives. Joseph Smith had no need to produce some type of authority claim by 'fabricating' the First Vision event in 1832. The line of Divine authority had already been long established.

Joseph Smith had no need to produce some type of authority claim by 'fabricating' the First Vision event in 1832

This theory does not stand up to close scrutiny. There are numerous contemporary and reminiscent documents which indicate that before Joseph Smith recorded his 1832 history (September-November 1832) he was claiming - both implicitly and explicitly - to have authority from God to carry out his ministry.

Notice in the citations below that when the angel who revealed the plates is mentioned he is identified as God's messenger. Thus, Joseph Smith's interaction is not simply with a nondescript angel; the angel is an authorized representative of Deity.

November 1826

  • Joseph Smith "told us of God’s manifestations to him, of the discovery and receiving of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated" (Newel Knight).[32]

Spring 1827

  • Joseph Smith specifically identifies the otherworldly messenger with whom he has been dealing as the angel of the Lord[33]

Fall 1827

  • Martin Harris states that it was an angel of God who visited Joseph Smith and revealed the golden plates to him and he also said that Joseph had been chosen by the Lord.[34]

April 1828

  • Palmyra townspeople state that "an angel of God" appeared to Joseph Smith.[35]

1828

  • Joseph Smith said that he received a revelation from God to tell him where the plates were concealed.[36]
  • Joseph Smith told his wife’s uncle that he had been commanded by God to translate the plates.[37]
  • Joseph Smith states that he is a prophet sent by God to gather Israel.[38]
  • Joseph Smith declares that his ability to translate the plates is a gift from God.[39]

1829

  • Joseph Smith wrote to members of his father’s family and told them that an angel of the Lord had revealed the gold book to him.[40]
  • Believers in Joseph Smith’s mission teach others that he has been visited by a messenger from "the Almighty".[41]
  • In the published statement of the Three Witnesses in the Book of Mormon (written ca. June 1829) it is said that it was "an angel of God" who showed them the golden plates.

April 1830

  • Joseph Smith confirms in an official Church document that he had been "called of God" and "God ministered unto him by an holy angel" when the Book of Mormon plates were revealed.[42]

1830

  • Joseph Smith states that he has been entrusted by God.[43]
  • According to "the most credible reports" that a non-Mormon minister had heard "the angel indicated to [Joseph Smith] that the Lord [had] destined him" to carry out a certain work.[44]

November 1830

  • Joseph Smith had seen God "personally" and received a commission from God to preach the gospel.[45]

August 1831

  • Before the Book of Mormon translation was completed "the Lord" told Joseph Smith that it must be published.[46]

September 1831

  • The "chief Elders" in Kirtland, Ohio - including Joseph Smith - state that the Prophet had "held communion with an angel from God" with regard to the golden plates.[47]

November 1831

  • The Lord declares in the Doctrine and Covenants that He "called" Joseph Smith to be His servant (D&C 1꞉17).
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision grow more detailed and more colorful after he first recorded it in 1832?

Joseph Smith's later tellings of the First Vision story were less detailed than his earlier ones

Joseph Smith actually omitted details from his earlier First Vision account in his later ones. For example, the presence of "many angels" in addition to the two main personages noted in the 9 November 1835 account is never noted in any subsequent account.

Even though some of Joseph Smith's critics believe that the First Vision story changing over time is evidence that it was fabricated to begin with, the documents provide for a different explanation. The core elements of the First Vision story do not change as time passes - they are simply being clarified by the addition of details. The Prophet did not seem too concerned about which explanatory notes were being presented to his audience at any particular time because the really important parts—the core elements—never changed.

24 story elements found in the 1832 account of the First Vision do not show up again in later accounts

The above claim is not accurate simply because 24 story elements found in the 1832 account do not show up again in later recitals. In other words, the story actually becomes significantly LESS detailed over time because it does not include all of the elements that were initially rehearsed.

The 24 missing story elements from the 1832 recital are as follows:

  • Concern for personal salvation began at age 12
  • Taught that the scriptures contained the word of God
  • Realization of apostasy through study of the scriptures
  • Grief over hypocrisy of some denominational Christians
  • The creation bears testimony of God’s existence
  • God was, is, and will be to all eternity
  • God is the same forever
  • God is no respecter of persons
  • God makes laws
  • God is omnipotent
  • God is omnipresent
  • God wants to be worshipped in truth
  • Joseph Smith was convicted of his personal sins
  • Joseph Smith mourned for the sins of the world
  • Cry to God for mercy
  • Filled with the Spirit of God
  • Savior identified as the Lord of glory
  • Directive to obey commandments
  • Crucifixion so others could achieve eternal life
  • Second Coming in the cloud
  • Fulfillment of prophecies
  • Lord's anger against the earth’s inhabitants
  • Punishment for the ungodly
  • Joseph Smith was filled with love for many days

In the 9 November 1835 First Vision account, several story elements do not show up in subsequent accounts

The same type of thing happens with the 9 November 1835 recital of the story. There are several story elements presented that do not show up in subsequent retellings. The later recitals are, therefore, LESS detailed.

The missing 1835 elements are:

  • Reference to scripture - "seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened"
  • Joseph Smith hears a noise like a person walking toward him
  • Joseph Smith springs to his feet and looks around but doesn't see anybody
  • Many angels were seen during the vision (this element IS repeated in a recital given 5 days later)

Some details in the 1838 First Vision account do not appear in the 1842 (Wentworth Letter) account

A comparison of the Prophet's 1838 and 1842 recitals yields the same result. The following details from the 1838 recounting do not show up in the 1842—Wentworth Letter—rehearsal:

  • An unusual excitement on the subject of religion took place around Manchester, New York
  • Contention among denominational leaders
  • Large-scale conversions
  • Proselytizing of Joseph's family
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • James 1:5 affected Joseph with great force
  • Vision took place on a Spring morning
  • Seized by a dark power; fear of destruction
  • Pillar of light descended
  • Deliverance from the enemy
  • The Father introduced the Son
  • Creeds are an abomination; corruption of professors
  • Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof
  • Contempt and persecution for telling the story

Again, it is apparent that the Prophet's later tellings of the First Vision story were LESS detailed than his earlier ones.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith revise his account of the First Vision in 1838 to respond to a leadership crisis?

Joseph Smith was telling the same First Vision story in 1835, three years before the leadership crisis

It is claimed that in 1838 Joseph Smith revised his personal history to say that his original call came from God the Father and Jesus Christ rather than an angel. It is also claimed that his motive for doing this was to give himself a stronger leadership role because an authority crisis had recently taken place and large-scale apostasy was the result.

The idea that Joseph Smith modified the First Vision story in 1838 in order to quell a leadership crisis is a convenient mythology crafted by critics who seem to be woefully unfamiliar with the records of the past and were unaware that Joseph told the same story in 1835.

Warren Parrish was the "ringleader" of the Kirtland leadership crisis in 1839, and yet he was also the scribe for the 1835 First Vision account

This argument is a reference to the Kirtland crisis of 1837–38. Warren Parrish was considered by some of the Saints to be the ringleader of the Kirtland crisis. It is, therefore, all the more interesting that it was this same Warren Parrish who acted as scribe in recording a First Vision recital given by the Prophet Joseph Smith on 9 November 1835. When Parrish's 1835 account of the theophany is compared to the 1838 account it becomes glaringly obvious that the story did NOT change over time, as the critics would like everyone to believe.

There is no shift in historical content between the 1835 and 1838 First Vision accounts, since both are followed immediately thereafter by the Book of Mormon angel story

It should also be noted that both the 1835 and 1838 First Vision accounts are followed immediately thereafter by the Book of Mormon angel story. Thus, it is impossible for critics to claim a shift in historical content by the Prophet. Before the Kirtland crisis took place Joseph Smith spoke in the 1835 retelling of events about an 1820 vision of two personages followed by an 1823 visitation by an angel. After the Kirtland crisis took place Joseph Smith said the exact same thing in the 1838 retelling of events.

9 November 1835 – "was about 14 years old"
2 May 1838 – "a little over fourteen years of age"
9 November 1835 – "looking at the different systems [of religion] taught [to] the children of men"
2 May 1838 – "Some crying, ‘Lo here’ and some ‘Lo there’"
9 November 1835 – "being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion"; "being thus perplexed in mind"
2 May 1838 – "my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness"
9 November 1835 – "I knew not who was right or who was wrong"
2 May 1838 – "it was impossible for a person young as I was and so unacquainted with men and things to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong"
9 November 1835 – "the Lord . . . had said . . . if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not"
2 May 1838 – "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’"
9 November 1835 – "I retired to the silent grove"
2 May 1838 – "I retired to the woods"
9 November 1835 – "[I] bowed down before the Lord"; "I called upon the Lord for the first time"
2 May 1838 – "I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God . . . It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt"
9 November 1835 – "I made a fruitless attempt to pray, my tongue seemed to be swollen in my mouth, so that I could not utter . . . looked around, but saw no person"
2 May 1838 – "I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me and had such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue . . . the power of some actual being from the unseen world"
9 November 1835 – "a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon my head"
2 May 1838 – "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me"
9 November 1835 – "a personage appeared . . . another personage soon appeared"
2 May 1838 – "I saw two personages"
9 November 1835 – "he testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God"
2 May 1838 – "This is my beloved Son"]

Did Joseph Smith lose control of the Church during the 1838 Kirtland apostasy?

The historical record shows that Joseph Smith stayed firmly in charge of Church affairs during the 1838 crisis

Anti-Mormons claim that because of the problems caused by apostates in Kirtland, Ohio Joseph Smith suffered in his role as leader of the restored Church. While it is true that the apostates claimed Joseph Smith to be a fallen prophet, and tried to take over his role, the historical record shows that he stayed firmly in charge of Church affairs. In other words, the anti-Mormon claim that he needed to somehow boost his role as leader by modifying his story to sound more impressive falls flat. Consider the following timeline which leads right up to the time of the recording of the 1838 First Vision account.

  • On 7 November 1837 Joseph Smith was "unanimously" sustained by the Far West, Missouri Saints as the presiding officer of the Church.[48]:522 This is the same location where the Prophet had the 1838 First Vision account recorded.
  • About 10 December 1837 Joseph Smith returned to Kirtland, Ohio. While the Prophet was away at Far West, Missouri Warren Parrish and his band of "reformers" denounced the Saints in general as heretics and set Joseph Smith "at naught".[48]:528 During this period Parrish was under suspicion for embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the Kirtland bank - which led to the apostasy of a considerable number of Saints.
  • On 22 December 1837 the apostates were threatening to kill a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who was supportive of Joseph Smith[48]:529
  • On 12 January 1838 Joseph Smith and another member of the First Presidency of the Church left Kirtland, Ohio in order to "escape mob violence" which was aimed at them.[49]:1
  • Some of the Kirtland apostates, armed with rifles and pistols, followed the Prophet for 200 miles with the intent of taking his life - he was a firsthand witness to their threats.[49]:2-3
  • On 10 February 1838 Joseph Smith's authority was recognized in Far West, Missouri while that of the apostates was rejected and they were removed from office "by a united voice."[49]:7
  • On 12-14 March 1838 Joseph Smith was met by several groups and escorts, "with open arms," as he approached Far West, Missouri.[49]:9
  • On 29 March 1838 Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Church leaders in Kirtland, Ohio, mentioning the warm reception he received and says of Far West: "The Saints at this time are in union; and peace and love prevail throughout." He also relates: "Various and many have been the falsehoods written from Kirtland to this place, but [they] have availed nothing. We have no uneasiness about the power of our enemies in this place to do us harm." He spoke of recently receiving a vision from the Lord. The Prophet signed his letter as "President of the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints."[49]:10-12
  • On 6 April 1838 the General Conference of the Church was held in Far West, Missouri and Joseph Smith was the presiding officer.[49]:13
  • About 10 April 1838 Joseph Smith signs a letter identifying himself as one of the "Presidents of the whole Church of Latter-day Saints."[49]:15-16
  • On 28 April 1838 Joseph Smith attended a High Council by invitation and was invited to preside over it.[49]:25-26

Clearly, this is not the picture of a man in a leadership crisis who needed to bolster his standing among the Saints by making up some impressive-sounding story. This is the picture of a man who was being targeted by a small band of thugs but who still retained leadership standing among the vast majority of the Saints. The story that he told before the apostate problems of the Kirtland era was the same story he told after the troublemakers were shown the door.

Do contemporary documents shed any light on the possible persecution of the Smith family after Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Contemporary newspaper articles report an episode that likely provides some window into the persecution which the Smiths endured

Milton Backman recounts the events surrounding the death of Alvin, Joseph's elder brother:

After the death of Joseph's brother, Alvin, who died November 19, 1823, someone circulated the rumor that Alvin's body had been "removed from the place of his interment and dissected." In an attempt to ascertain the truth of this report, Joseph Smith, Sr., along with neighbors gathered at the grave, removed the earth, and found the body undisturbed. To correct the fabrication, designed in the opinion of Joseph's father to injure the reputation of the Smith family, Joseph, Sr., placed in the Wayne Sentinel (which appeared on successive Wednesdays from September 30 to November 3, 1824) a public notice reciting his findings that the body was undisturbed. [50]

Richard Bushman noted:

What Joseph said explicitly was that the vision led to trouble, though his youthful sensitivity probably exaggerated the reaction. The talk with the minister, he remembered, brought on ridicule by "all classes of men, both religious and irreligious because I continued to affirm that I had seen a vision." Local people seemed to have discussed his case, even though he said nothing to his parents. Eighteen years later when he wrote his history, the memories of the injustices still rankled.[51] For what ever reason, his father's family suffered "many persecutions and afflictions," he recalled, deepening a previous sense of alienation. William Smith remembered people throwing dirt, stones, and sticks against the Smith house. Later, after Alvin died, it was rumored someone had disturbed his body, and Joseph Sr. published a notice in the paper that the body had been exhumed and found to be untouched. Once someone fired a short at young Joseph for no apparent reason.[52][53]

This kind of malicious gossip is cruel and requires some motive. The notice that Joseph Smith Sr. placed in the Wayne Sentinel appeared four years after the first vision and one year after the first visit of Moroni to Joseph Smith, the visit in which Joseph was first shown the location of the plates but was not allowed to obtain them. This event is thus three years before Joseph's more-widely-known acquisition of the plates and five years before the publication of the Book of Mormon. If the Smith family could be the subject of such malicious gossip when faced with a tragedy like Alvin's death, without any other known motive for the ill treatment, can we reasonably presume that Joseph's vision had something to do with it? This should be considered in assesments of Joseph's claims to persecution[54]

What did Joseph Smith's mother Lucy Smith say regarding the persecution of the Smith family after the First Vision?

Joseph's mother recalled that Joseph suffered "every kind of opposition and persecution from different orders of religionists

Lucy Mack Smith recalled,

From this time [the First Vision] until the twenty-first of September, 1823 [when he saw the angel Moroni] Joseph continued, as usual, to labour 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 religionists. [55]

What did Joseph Smith's brother William Smith say regarding the persecution of the Smith family after the First Vision?

William Smith said that "We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision"

William Smith, Joseph's brother remembered:

We were all very much scoffed at and persecuted during all this time, while Joseph was receiving his visions and translating the plates. [56]

It has generally been stated that my father's family were lazy, shiftless and poor; but this was never said by their neighbors, or until after the angel appeared and the story of the golden Bible was told.... [57]

It is said that Joseph and the rest of the family were lazy and indolent. We never heard of such a thing until after Joseph told his vision, and not then by our friends. Whenever the neighbors wanted a good days work done they knew where they could get a good hand and they were not particular to take any of the other boys before Joseph either. We cleared sixty acres of the heaviest timber I ever saw. We had a good place, but it required a great deal of labor to make it a good place. We also had on it from twelve to fifteen hundred sugar trees, and to gather the sap and make sugar and molasses from that number of trees was no lazy job. We worked hard to clear our place and the neighbors were a little jealous. If you will figure up how much work it would take to clear sixty acres of heavy timber land, heavier than any here, trees you could not conveniently cut down, you can tell whether we were lazy or not, and Joseph did his share of the work with the rest of the boys.

["]We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision. We were considered respectable till then, but at once people began to circulate falsehoods and stories in a wonderful way." [58]

With William's accounts, we again see that the persecution was largely verbal, in the form of gossip and slander.

What did Joseph Smith's contemporaries say regarding the persecution of the Smith family after the First Vision?

Thomas H. Taylor said that some people "ducked him in the pond that you see over there, just because he preached what he believed and for nothing else"

Thomas H. Taylor, was asked, ""What did the Smiths do that the people abused them so?" He replied:

They did not do anything. Why! these rascals at one time took Joseph Smith and ducked him in the pond that you see over there, just because he preached what he believed and for nothing else. And if Jesus Christ had been there, they would have done the same to him. Now I don't believe like he did; but every man has a right to his religious opinions, and to advocate his views, too; if people don't like it, let them come out and meet him on the stand, and shew his error. Smith was always ready to exchange views with the best men they had. [Why didn't they like Smith?, asked the interviewer.]

To tell the truth, there was something about him they could not understand; someway he knew more than they did, and it made them mad. [59]

The raw notes for the Taylor interview likewise mention Joseph Smith being "ducked in the creek in Manchester" despite the fact that the Smiths "did nothing" and "nothing has been sustained [a]gainst [Joseph] Smith". [60]

Here too, then, we see an element of physical persecution, though the gossip and slander identified by William and Lucy was likely far more common.

Does Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision not mention that he was persecuted for telling others about the vision?

The Prophet's 1832 history of the Restoration talks about persecution in very close proximity to the First Vision recital

Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account does not explicitly say that he was persecuted for relating his spiritual manifestation to others. Some have claimed that this stands as evidence that the Prophet's story evolved over time—probably to add a sense of drama. However, the Prophet's 1832 history of the Restoration talks about persecution in very close proximity to the First Vision recital. The persecution is situated squarely between the First Vision experience and the angel Moroni visitations. The documentary evidence presented above demonstrates conclusively that Joseph Smith did not see anything wrong with telling the basic elements of his First Vision story and either giving a passing reference to other elements or leaving them out altogether. Regardless, it was still a record of the very same experience that took place at the Smith homestead near Palmyra, New York.

"My father's family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions"

Joseph Smith made some remarks in his 1832 First Vision account that have a marked degree of relevance to the argument being put forward by his critics. In relation to the period of time between the First Vision and the appearance of the Book of Mormon angel he said,

  • "I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart"
  • "there were many things which transpired that cannot be written"
  • "my father's family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions"

Since it is explicitly stated by Joseph Smith that nobody believed his story, it would be unreasonable to assume that all of the responses to it were friendly in nature. In fact, the Prophet says right in this text that before the Book of Mormon angel visited him his family was persecuted and afflicted for some unspecified reason(s). He did not elaborate upon the nature of the "many persecutions" that took place against his family because—as far as this particular document was concerned—he had elected not to write down "many things which transpired."

Documentary evidence from the 1838 First Vision account

The following documentary evidence from the 1838 First Vision account strengthens the argument that the 1832 text is referring to some type of persecution that took place because of Joseph's initial spiritual experience.

  • Back "then" (i.e., between 1820 and 1823) Joseph's mind was engaged in "serious reflection" over the notion that he had been the recipient of "the bitterst persecution and reviling" by adherents of religion, simply because he had spoken about his First Vision.
  • Persecution over the vision was also heaped upon Joseph Smith by "irreligious" persons.
  • His words were treated not only lightly but also with great contempt.
  • It was implied that he was a liar.
  • He was told that his experience originated with the Devil.
  • People became prejudiced against him. They spoke "all manner of evil against [him] falsely". He was "hated".
  • The persecution increased over time and even became "severe".
  • Some people tried to get Joseph Smith to "deny" his vision.
  • The Prophet relates: "I was led to say in my heart, 'Why persecute me for telling the truth?'"

This 1838 description corresponds very well with the "many persecutions and afflictions" that are mentioned in the 1832 account. It also matches closely with the 1832 statements that nobody would believe Joseph's story and he reflected upon this adverse situation in his heart.

The persecution aspect of the 1838 account is rarely mentioned in subsequent accounts

It should be pointed out that even though the 'persecution' theme is very pronounced in the 1838 account it is a piece of the story that was not always mentioned or emphasized in subsequent retelling (both published and verbal).

  • It is missing in Orson Pratt's 1840 missionary tract called An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions.
  • It is missing in the Prophet's 1842 Wentworth Letter recital.
  • It shows up again in David White's 1843 newspaper interview with the Prophet where an interesting insight is provided about the reason for the pronounced negative reaction by some of those who heard the story. The Prophet said, "When I went home and told the people that I had a revelation, and that all the churches were corrupt, they persecuted me, and they have persecuted me ever since."
  • Rejection, but no outright persecution, is mentioned in Alexander Neibaur's 1844 diary notes. There Joseph is said to have "told the Methodist priest [about the experience], [but he] said this was not a[n] age for God to reveal Himself in vision[. The priest said that] revelation ha[d] ceased with the New Testament."

This last example is especially significant because it is an obvious reference to the Methodist minister who is spoken of in the 1838 History of the Church account. The 1844 rehearsal of events is less detailed but it is, nevertheless, the same exact story. The 1844 document clearly demonstrates that Joseph Smith did not always include an equal amount of story elements in his recitals of the First Vision. Critics of this manifestation should, therefore, not expect any such thing when they scrutinize the pertinent documents. If an element of the story was not known by one particular audience it cannot be automatically assumed that it was not known by another.

Learn more about claims that Joseph Smith's First Vision is impossible because there is no such thing as visions
Online
  • Steven C. Harper, "Evaluating Three Arguments Against Joseph Smith's First Vision," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 2/2 (12 October 2012). [17–34] link
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Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


Did Joseph Smith become a member of Emma Hale Smith's Methodist congregation in 1828, eight years after the First Vision?

When the procedures and policy of the Methodist Episcopal Church are examined, it is not possible that Joseph could have joined as related in the story given by one of his critics

Joseph and Hiel Lewis were cousins of Emma Hale Smith; they would have been aged 21 and 11 respectively in 1828, and in 1879 reported:

...while he, Smith, was in Harmony, Pa., translating his book....that he joined the M[ethodist] [Episocpal] church. He presented himself in a very serious and humble manner, and the minister, not suspecting evil, put his name on the class book, the absence of some of the official members, among whom was the undersigned, Joseph Lewis, who, when he learned what was done, took with him Joshua McKune, and had a talk with Smith. They told him plainly that such a character as he was a disgrace to the church, that he could not be a member of the church unless he broke off his sins by repentance, made public confession, renounced his fraudulent and hypocritical practices, and gave some evidence that he intended to reform and conduct himself somewhat nearer like a christian than he had done. They gave him his choice, to go before the class, and publicly ask to have his name stricken from the class book, or stand a disciplinary investigation. He chose the former, and immediately withdrew his name. So his name as a member of the class was on the book only three days.--It was the general opinion that his only object in joining the church was to bolster up his reputation and gain the sympathy and help of christians; that is, putting on the cloak of religion to serve the devil in. [61]

However, the Lewis' account of Joseph's three-day membership leaves him neither the time, nor the searching assessment required to become a member of the Methodists. This scenario simply does not match how Methodists admitted or expelled members. At best, he was probably regarded as "on probation" or (in modern LDS parlance) "an investigator". The means by which the Methodists separated themselves from Joseph are inconsistent with him being a full member; they do, however, match how probationaries were handled, though in Joseph's case he seems to have had more abrupt and preemptory treatment than was recommended.

This, coupled with the late date of the reminiscences, the clearly hostile intent of the witnesses, and multiple reports from both friendly and skeptical sources that claim Joseph never formally joined another religion make the critics' interpretation deeply suspect.

There is a marked absence of any other witnesses of Joseph's supposed membership and involvement

The Lewis witness is late. There is a marked absence of any other witnesses of Joseph's supposed membership and involvement, even though there are many witnesses who could have given such testimony.

For example, Nathaniel Lewis, another family member, was a Methodist minister. In his 1834 affidavit against Joseph, he emphasized his "standing in the Methodist Episcopal Church" which led him to "suppose [Joseph] was careful how he conducted or expressed himself before me." Yet, though anxious to impugn Joseph's character, this Lewis said nothing about membership in (or expulsion) from the Methodists. [62]

Likewise, none of Emma's other family members said anything about a Methodist connection, though they were closest to and most aware of Joseph's actions at this juncture than at any other time. Yet, Isaac Hale, Alva Hale, Levi Lewis, and Sophia Lewis are silent on the matter of Joseph's Methodism.

How quickly could one join the Methodists in the 1830s?

As we examine Osmon Cleander Baker's A guide-book in the administration of the discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, we will discover that the scenario described by Joseph and Hiel Lewis of Joseph Smith's ejection from the Methodists simply does not match how Methodists admitted or expelled members. [63] (This work dates to 1855, but it often invokes Wesley himself, and is a good first approximation of how Methodists saw such matters.)

A six month probationary period was required in order to join the Methodists

The Guide-Book is clear that considerable time needs to elapse before one is formally admitted as a member:

[23] The regularly-constituted pastor is the proper authority to admit suitable persons to the communion of the Church. The preacher in charge, acting at first under the authority of Mr. Wesley, received members into the society, and severed their relations from the Church, according to his own convictions of duty. In 1784 the assistant was restricted from giving tickets to any, until they had been recommended by a leader with whom they had met, at least two months, on trial. In 1789 the term of probation was extended to six months....Hence, [24] since the organization of our Church, none could be received into full communion who had not previously been recommended by a leader; and, since 1840, it has been required that the applicant pass a satisfactory examination before the Church, respecting the correctness of his doctrine and his willingness to observe the rules of the Church....

Joseph's experience would predate the 1840 requirement, but clearly the requirement of at least a six month probationary period was required, and this required a leader to meet with them and be recommended for membership. The Lewis' three days certainly make this impossible.

Orthodox Christians may have the waiting period waived, but this still requires membership in an orthodox denomination, which Joseph Smith did not have

The Guide-Book indicates that orthodox Christians may have the waiting period waived:

6. "Persons in good standing in other orthodox Chruches, who desire to unite with us, may, by giving satisfactory answers to the usual inquiries, be received at once into full fellowship."....

This still requires membership in an orthodox denomination, which Joseph did not have. Further, he clearly could not give the "satisfactory answers" to the types of questions which the Guide-Book recommends, since the Lewis brothers insist that he was unwilling to do so only three days later. Furthermore, Joseph's views were clearly not "orthodox" by Methodist standards.

Those who were not full members of the church were called "probationers," and at least six months was required to end a probationary period

The Guide-Book is again specific about the length of time required to pass this stage, and the searching examination of conduct and belief that Methodist groups required:

[28]...it is a matter of vital importance to test, with deep scrutiny, the moral and Christian character of those who propose to enter her holy communion. No proselyte was admitted to Jewish fellowship without being well proved and instructed. The same care was observed by the early Christian Church. "None in those days," says Lord King, "were hastily advanced to the higher forms of Christianity, but according to their knowledge and merit, gradually [29] arrived thereto."...It is the prerogative of the preacher in charge alone to receive persons on trial. No one whose name is taken by a class-leader can be considered as a member on trial until the preacher recognizes the person as such....

[30] As the minister may not know whether the candidate makes a truthful declaration of his moral state, he is authorized "to admit none on trial except they are well recommended by one you know, or until they have met twice or thrice in class." As they are not supposed, at the time of joining on trial, to be acquainted with our doctrines, usages, and discipline, they are not required, at that time, to subscribe to our articles of religion and general economy; but if they propose to join in full connexion, "they must give satisfactory assurances both of the correctness of their faith and their willingness to observe and keep the rules of the Church."...

The Discipline does not specify the time when the probation shall terminate, but it has [31] fixed its minimum period. "Let none be received into the Church until they are recommended by a leader with whom they have met at least six months."...

Again, at least six months was required to end a probationary period. One could not even be a trial, or probationary member unless they were "well recommended" (which seems unlikely, given the reaction to those who did know about Joseph as soon as they heard) or had attended "twice or thrice in class"--this too seems unlikely given only three days of membership.

An earlier account from a Methodist magazine prior to 1828 also supports this reading. In a letter to the editor from a Methodist missionary in Connecticut, the missionary responds to the accusation by others (usually Calvinists) who claim the Methodists falsify their membership records: they are accused of counting only those who have been added, but subtracting those who had left. Part of the response includes line: ".... though the first six months of their standing is probationary, yet they are not during that time denied any of the privileges of our church" (page 33-34).

The letter writer speaks of a revival in New Haven, where he is based, in 1820. "My list of probationers, commencingt June 25, 1820, to this date [March 16, 1821], is one hundred and forty; between twelve and twenty of these have declined from us, some to the Congregationalists, and some back to the world, and some have removed, and one died in the triumphs of faith. I think we may count about one hundred and twenty since June last." (36-7)[64]

It seems likely, then, that the same procedures would have been in place in Joseph's 1828 encounter with Methodism, which occurred squarely between this 1822 letter and the 1855 manual.

Methodists also regarded baptism as an essential part of becoming a member, and specifically barred probationers who were not baptized from full membership and participation

[32] Nor is it the order of the Church for probationers, who have never been baptized, to partake of the holy sacrament. The initiatory rite should first be administered before the person is admitted to all the distinguishing rites of the new covenant.

Since we have no record that Joseph was baptized into Methodism or any other faith prior to his revelations and founding of a new religious movement, this is another bar to his membership with the Methodists. How did he compress his six-month probation, proper answers to all the questions, searching interview by his fellow parishioners, and his baptism, only to abandon the faith without complaint, all within three days?

The Methodist Church had no jurisdiction over acts committed before the member had joined

The Guide-Book was also clear that (save for immorality in preachers), the Methodist Church had no jurisdiction over acts committed before the member had joined:

[90] Any crime, committed at however remote a period, if it be within the time in which the accused has been a member of the Church, is indictable; but it cannot extend to any period beyond membership....

Thus, nothing that Joseph had said or done prior to his membership could have been grounds for action. Thus, only the events of a scant three days were under the jurisdiction of the Methodists, if he had been accepted as a full member. (The Lewises even admit that nothing Joseph had said or done was cause for suspicion, because those who did not know him saw no cause for concern. It was only those who knew his past who were concerned.)

If, however, he was seen as a probationary or "person on trial," then the church and its leaders and members had every right to assess anything about him and decide if he merited membership.

Those who have not formally joined the Methodists could leave the group relatively easily

The Guide-Book is clear that those who have not formally joined the Methodists can leave the group relatively easily:

[30] A mere probationer enters into no covenant with the Church. Every step he takes is preliminary to this, and either party may, at any time, quietly dissolve the relation between them without rupture or specific Church labour.

The Lewis brothers claim they gave Joseph a choice: (1) repent and change his ways; or (2) remove himself from association with them, by either (a) telling the class publicly that he was doing so; or (b) being subject to a disciplinary investigation. This matches how the Guide-Book recommends that probationers or "person[s] on trial" be handled:

[32] A person on trial cannot be arraigned before the society, or a select number of them, on definite charges and specifications. "If he walk disorderly, he is passed out by the door at which he came in. The pastor, upon the evidence and recommendation required in the Discipline, entered his name as a candidate, or probationer, for membership, and placed him in a class for religious training and improvement; now if his conduct be contrary to the gospel, or, in the language of our rule, if he 'walk disorderly [33] and will not be reproved,' it is the duty of the pastor to discontinue him, to erase his name from the class-book and probationers' list. This is not to be done rashly, or on suspicion, or slight evidence of misconduct. It is made the duty of his leader to report weekly to his pastor 'any that walk disorderly and will not be reproved.' This implies that the leader, on discovering an impropriety in his conduct, first conversed privately with him, and, on finding that he had done wrong, attempted to administer suitable reproof that he might be recovered. Had he received reproof, this had been the end of the matter; but he 'would not be reproved,'--would not submit to reproof,--and the leader therefore reports the case to the pastor. But it is evidently the design that after this first failure on the part of the leader, further efforts should be made by the pastor; for the rule, after providing that such conduct shall be made known to the pastor, adds: 'We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But, then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us.' The pastor, on consultation with the leader and others when convenient in country societies, and with the [34] leaders' meeting, where there is one, determines on the proper course, and carries the determination into effect. Here is a just correspondence between rights and duties." - Plat. Meth., p. 87.

In contrast to probationers, full members were required to undergo a disciplinary procedure

The Guide-Book is very clear:

[35] When a Church relation is formed, the member, virtually, promises to observe the rules and usages of the society, and if he violates them, to submit to the discipline of the Church. And hence none can claim a withdrawal from the Church against whom charges have been preferred, or until the Church has had an opportunity to recognise the withdrawal. A solemn covenant cannot be dissolved until the parties are duly notified....

How is this discipline to be handled? The Guide-Book contains extensive rules for managing such trials, and insists that such a trial is the only way to challenge the membership of a full member:

[83] It is a principle clearly recognised by the Discipline of our Church, that no member, in full connexion, can be dropped or expelled by the preacher in charge until the select committee, or the society of which he is a member, declares, in due form, that he is guilty of the violation of some Scriptural or moral principle,, or some requisition of Church covenant....[96] The Discipline requires that an accused member shall be brought before "the society of which he is a member, or a select number of them." In either case it should be understood that only members in full connexion are intended....

The "select committee" was a quasi-judicial body of church members assembled to hear such charges, assess the evidence, and affix punishment if necessary. The Guide-Book emphasizes that this important right had been explicitly defined after Joseph's time (in 1848). For full members, it is clearly seen as a privilege which cannot be abridged:

[83] The restrictive rules guarantee, both to our ministers and members, the privilege of trial and of appeal; and the General Conference has explicitly declared that "it is the right of every member of the Methodist Episcopal Church to remain in said Church, unless guilty of the violation of its rules; and there exists no power in the ministry, either individually or collectively, to deprive any member of said right."—Rec. Gen. Con. [89] 1848, p. 73. The fact that the member is guilty of the violation of the rules of the Church must be formally proved before the body holding original jurisdiction in the case. If the administrator personally knows that the charges are substantially true, it does not authorize him to remove the accused member. The law recognises no member as guilty until the evidence of guilt is duly presented to the proper tribunal, and the verdict is rendered....

Thus, even if the Lewis brothers had personal knowledge of Joseph's guilt, if he had been a full member, they could not have simply told him to leave.

Could Joseph just withdraw as a full member?

The Guide-Book seems to rule this option out, for full members:

[108] If an accused member evades a trial by absenting himself after sufficient notice has been given, and without requesting any one to appear in his behalf, it does not preclude the necessity of a formal trial....

Furthermore, the public removal in front of the congregation seems to be out of harmony with another rule regarding trials for full members:

[110] It is highly improper, ordinarily, to conduct a trial in a public congregation. None should be present except the parties summoned; at least, unless they are members of the Church....

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What did Brigham Young say that leads one to believe that he denied the First Vision?

Brigham stated that "The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven..."

It is claimed that President Brigham Young taught in an 1855 sermon that the Lord did not appear to Joseph Smith and forbid him from joining any of the religious denominations of his day, and that it was an "angel" who delivered this message instead. [65]

An edited version of the 1855 sermon text—as it is presented by Church critics—reads as follows:

"The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven...But He did send His angel to...Joseph Smith Jun[ior]...and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day."[66]

Brigham actually said "The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven...with aught else than the truth of heaven..."

A complete quotation of the relevant 1855 sermon text reads as follows (bolded words indicate anti-Mormon usage):

the Lord sent forth His angel to reveal the truths of heaven as in times past, even as in ancient days. This should have been hailed as the greatest blessing which could have been bestowed upon any nation, kindred, tongue, or people. It should have been received with hearts of gratitude and gladness, praise and thanksgiving.

But as it was in the days of our Savior, so was it in the advent of this new dispensation. It was not in accordance with the notions, traditions, and pre-conceived ideas of the American people. The messenger did not come to an eminent divine of any of the so-called orthodoxy, he did not adopt their interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. 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.

Brigham actually used several phrases from Joseph's published First Vision account in this sermon

The portion of the second paragraph that critics focus on in their argumentation contains distinct themes found in the official, previously-published history of Joseph Smith. It is, therefore, necessary to evaluate President's Young's remarks in that light. Consider the following comparison of texts -

  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong."
  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "they were following the precepts of men."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "they teach for doctrine the commandments of men."
  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "instead of the Lord Jesus."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" [Jesus Christ speaking].

Since President Young was obviously drawing his ideas from the official, published First Vision text it is reasonable to propose that he was referring to a completely different event after the comma that follows the word "Revelator" . . . while still referring to the "He" at the beginning of the sentence. Hence, "He" (the Lord) send His angel (Moroni) to Joseph Smith but "He" also—ON A DIFFERENT OCCASION—told Joseph Smith not to join any of the churches.

It should be noted that this sermon was not primarily about the foundational events of Mormonism, but about the United States government and its treatment of the Saints. President Young's remarks on foundational events were incidental, not central, to his message. It should also be pointed out that President Young did not personally deliver this sermon, but had Thomas Bullock read it to the audience which had assembled in the Salt Lake City tabernacle. Bullock served as a scribe on the Joseph Smith history project between 1845 and 1856. It is likely, therefore, that when Bullock delivered President Young's sermon in 1855 he was aware of the First Vision accounts found within the previously-published Joseph Smith history.

The First Vision story had been published nine times before Brigham gave this sermon

It should also be remembered that long before President Brigham Young's 1855 sermon was delivered in Salt Lake City his subordinates in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had published the First Vision story on nine different occasions: (Orson Pratt - 1840, 1850, 1851); (Orson Hyde - 1842); (John E. Page - 1844); (John Taylor - 1850); (Lorenzo Snow - 1850); (Franklin D. Richards - 1851, 1852). It is doubtful that President Young would have remained ignorant of these publications and their content. In fact, it is known that Elder Lorenzo Snow wrote to President Young on 1 November 1850 and mentioned explicitly that his publication contained accounts of "visions of Joseph" - including the First Vision story.[67]

The charge that President Brigham Young said an angel inaugurated the last dispensation instead of Deity cannot be supported. Evidence suggests that President Young's 1855 sermon is closely paraphrasing distinct First Vision story elements that were publicly available to all of the Saints in 1842.

Is there anything wrong with early Church leaders using the term "angel" to refer to Jesus Christ?

The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel"

What about the term "angel"? Is there anything wrong with Brigham Young or others using that term to refer to Jesus Christ? Malachi spoke of the Lord as the "messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in." (Mal.3:1) The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel."[68] The Septugint of Isaiah 9:6, traditionally thought by Christians to refer to Christ speaks of the "messenger of great counsel." This term for Jesus was frequently used by early Christians. Eusebius stated that Christ "was 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." [69] The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (an apocryphal work, thought to have been written before the fourth century states that when Christ descended to earth he "made himself like the angels of the air, that he was like one of them." [70] The Epistula Apostolorum (another important early Christian work, thought to have been written by 2nd Century Christians quotes the resurrected Jesus as saying,"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." [71] At least the use of the term "angel" in Christianity does not seem unknown.

Joseph Smith said that after his resurrection, Jesus Christ "appeared as an angel to His disciples."

How did Joseph Smith understand the term "angel"? One revelation calls Jesus Christ "the messenger of salvation" (D&C 93꞉8) Another states,"For in the Beginning was the Word, even the Son, who is made flesh, and sent unto us by the will of the Father." (JST John 1:16). The Father sends Jesus because he is the angel of salvation. Joseph Smith himself taught that angels of God are resurrected beings who have bodies of flesh and bone. [72] "Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while his body was lying in the supulchre) to the spirits in prison...After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples." [73] In Mormon theology the term "angel" has a unique doctrinal significance.

Since Joseph Smith frequently taught this doctrine, is it any wonder that those who knew him best (Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, etc.), would frequently refer to the Lord's visit to Joseph Smith as the visit of an angel (i.e. a resurrected personage of flesh and bone)?

Juncker (1994): "Unknown to many, the early church fathers often referred to Jesus as an Angel....in antiquity the word 'angel' meant 'messenger'"

Günther Juncker (at the time of this writing), Master of Divinity candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:

Unknown to many, the early church fathers often referred to Jesus as an Angel. And they gave him this appellation long before the (alleged) distortions of Constantine, the Controversies, the Councils, and the Creeds.... the word Angel has a prima facie claim to being a primitive, if not an apostolic, Christological title. Before pronouncing judgement on the Fathers, men who were often quite close to first-century apostles and eyewitnesses, we may recall that in antiquity the word "angel" had a broader semantic range than at present. When we think of angels, we immediately think of super-human, bodiless spirits, all of whom were created and some of whom fell with Satan in his rebellion. But in antiquity the word "angel" meant "messenger." It was primarily a functional (as opposed to an ontological) description and, thus, could refer to messengers who were human, angelic, or divine (the best known of the latter being Hermes, "the messenger god"). Likewise in Scripture, in both the OT and the NT, the term angel refers to human as well as to angelic messengers.[74]

Did Brigham Young confirm or expound on Joseph Smith’s first vision?

Milton V. Backman, "I Have a Did Brigham Young confirm or expound on Joseph Smith’s first vision?," Ensign, Apr. 1992, 59:

President Young’s conviction of the divine calling of Joseph Smith included an unwavering acceptance of Joseph’s testimony regarding the First Vision. In 1842, Joseph Smith published two accounts of his 1820 theophany in the Times and Seasons—one he had written and included earlier in the Wentworth Letter, and the other a more extended history that appeared in serial form. This latter account (the account which appears in the current edition of the Pearl of Great Price) was reprinted in the Deseret News, the Millennial Star, and the first editions of the Pearl of Great Price during the presidency of Brigham Young. That President Young was well acquainted with this history is evident by the fact that he periodically cited the work in his sermons and writings.[75] —(Click here to continue)

When and how often did Brigham Young refer to elements of Joseph Smith's First Vision in his discourses?

It cannot be denied that Brigham Young was aware of the official version of the First Vision as published by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois

It has been claimed that "Brigham Young never once mentioned the First Vision of God the Father and his Son in his 30 years of preaching as President of the Church." Note that the same critics also claim that Brigham Young taught only that an angel came: a strange claim to make while insisting that Brigham never spoke of the First Vision at all.

It cannot be denied that Brigham Young was aware of the official version of the First Vision as published by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois. And it is almost beyond comprehension to believe that President Young was not aware of numerous First Vision story recitals (both in print and over the pulpit) by high Church authorities such as Orson Pratt, Lorenzo Snow, John E. Page, George Q. Cannon, Orson Hyde, John Taylor, Franklin D. Richards, and George A. Smith.

First Vision elements and other revelatory claims for Joseph in Brigham Young's addresses

  • JS called at fourteen[76]
  • JS called as a youth[77]
  • Revival or Reformation[78]
  • All churches wrong; Don’t join any church[79]
  • Two personages[80]
  • Moroni and Book of Mormon[81]
  • Priesthood restored[82]

Chronological mentions of First Vision and other visitations by Brigham Young

This charge is not historically accurate. It can be plainly seen in the information provided below that Brigham Young was aware of the First Vision story during his tenure as President of the Church and not only shared it with non-Mormons in written form but also spoke to the Saints about it over the pulpit.

1832

  • Brigham Young September 1832, declared that he "received the sure testimony, by the spirit of prophecy, that he [Joseph Smith] was all that any man could believe him to be, as a true Prophet."[83]

1835–36

  • Around 9 August 1835 Joseph Young (Brigham Young’s brother) was serving as a missionary with Burr Riggs and they were teaching the First Vision story.[84] In the Summer of 1836 Joseph Young and Brigham Young were serving together as missionaries.[85]

1838

  • Brigham Young, 22 December 1838:
I left Kirtland in consequence of the fury of the mob … who threatened to destroy me because I would proclaim, publicly and privately, that I knew, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the Most High God.[86]

1841

On the 4th June I started for home, in company with Elders Young and Taylor.—Elder O. Pratt remained in New York to republish the book he had printed in Edinburgh, Scotland, giving a history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and of which he intended to publish 5,000 copies…. [78] Elder Orson Pratt arrived here this week…[87]

1845

  • Brigham Young, June 25, 1845: we received the priesthood from God through Joseph Smith…. The Twelve Apostles who received the priesthood from Joseph[88]

1847

  • Brigham Young, D&C 136꞉37 (January 14, 1847): … Joseph Smith, whom I did call upon by mine angels, my ministering servants, and by mine own voice out of the heavens, to bring forth my work.[89]
  • Brigham Young, January 17, 1847: Dr. Richards read ‘The Word and Will of the Lord’ [D&C 136] and all present voted unanimously to receive it. I addressed the assembly showing that the Church had been led by revelation just as much since the death of Joseph Smith as before, and that he was as great and good a man, and as great a Prophet as ever lived upon the earth, Jesus excepted. Joseph received his apostleship from Peter and his brethren[90]
  • Brigham Young
When Brother Joseph received the priesthood he did not receive all at once but he was a prophet, seer and revelator before he received the fullness of the priesthood and keys of the kingdom. He first received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained under the hands of John the Baptist. He then had not power to lay on hands to confirm the church but afterwards he received the Patriarchal or Melchizedek Priesthood from under the hands of Peter, James and John, who were of the Twelve apostles and were the presidency when the other apostles were absent.[91]

1848

  • Brigham Young wrote, late December 1848: "Elder Orson Pratt published a series of pamphlets on the first principles, viz., Divine Authority, or the Question, Was Joseph Smith Sent of God…. Kingdom of God parts 1 & 2…. Also reprinted his pamphlet entitled Remarkable Visions 16 pages… All of which were published in Liverpool, England"....[92]

1850

  • Brigham Young, June 23, 1850, Bowery: "[sin and darkness] makes it necessary for the Lord to speak from the heavens, send his angels to converse with men, and cause his servants to testify of the things of God"[93]
  • On 1 November 1850 Lorenzo Snow wrote a letter to Brigham Young and informed him that he had produced a tract called The Voice of Joseph which included information on "visions of Joseph Smith." This tract talks about the Prophet’s First Vision experience. [94]

1853

  • Brigham Young 19 June 1853:
All persons who are acquainted with this kingdom, who knew Joseph Smith from his boyhood, from the time the Lord revealed to him where the plates containing the matter in the Book of Mormon were deposited, from the time the first revelation was given to him, and as far back as he was known, in anywise whatever, as a person professing to have received a visitation from heaven—all must know that as much priestcraft as was then within the circle of the knowledge of Joseph Smith, jun., he had to bear on his back, and to lift from time to time. On the other hand, as his name spread abroad, and the principles of the Gospel began to be more extensively taught, in the same proportion he had more to bear. The Lord began to raise him up, and endow him with wisdom and power that astonished both his friends and his foes.[95]
  • Brigham Young 24 July 1853:
the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of the Lord, that an angel from heaven administered to him, that the Latter-day Saints have got the true Gospel, that John the Baptist came to Joseph Smith and committed to him the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood; and that Peter, James, and John also came to him, and gave him the keys of the Melchisedek Priesthood....[96]

1854

  • The Lucy Mack Smith autobiography called Biographical Sketches became available in Utah. Since Brigham Young protested vigorously against some of this book’s content he was more than likely aware of the 1838 Church history First Vision material printed within it. [97]
  • Brigham Young, March 31, 1854:
….After the administration of baptism, we believe in laying hands upon the candidate for his confirmation as a member of the Church, and for his reception of the Holy Ghost; and we believe that these, and all other ordinances pertaining to salvation, should be administered by persons actually clothed with the priesthood, as again restored to the earth through the ministration of angels to the Prophet JOSEPH SMITH…. Trusting that this reply, though brief, will be satisfactory on the points of your inquiry I remain, respectfully, your obedient servant, BRIGHAM YOUNG, [98]

1855

  • Brigham Young, (Feb 18, 1855):
But as it was in the days of our Savior, so was it in the advent of this new dispensation. It was not in accordance with the notions, traditions, and pre-conceived ideas of the American people. The messenger did not come to an eminent divine of any of the so-called orthodoxy, he did not adopt their interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. 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 knowlege [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. No sooner was this made known, and published abroad, and people began to listen and obey the heavenly summons, than opposition began to rage, and the people, even in this favored land, began to persecute their neighbors and friends for entertaining religious opinions differing from their own.[99]
  • [NOTE: compare the above with this by George Q. Cannon in 1889:
But you may ask, ‘How shall I know concerning this? Shall I expect the Lord Himself to come, or His Son Jesus, or send a holy angel to me?’ In reply, we say, No; do not look for such things. This is not the Lord’s way of dealing with His children. It is true, the Father and the Son and angels visited the Prophet Joseph. This was necessary. He was a chosen instrument to accomplish a great work, and to do this he was visited in this manner, so that through him knowledge that had long been lost might be restored[100] (308b)

1857

On 13 August 1857 Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Daniel H. Wells, John Taylor, Willard Richards, and Wilford Woodruff placed several publications in the southeast cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple that contained First Vision accounts. They were:
  • The Pearl of Great Price
  • Lorenzo Snow, The Voice of Joseph
  • Orson Pratt, (various tracts)
  • Franklin D. Richards, Compendium
  • John Jaques, Catechism for Children
  • Millennial Star, vol. 14 supplement
  • Millennial Star, vol. 3[101]

1858

  • On 20 January 1858 apostles Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith appended a statement to the published Church history stating that "since the death of the Prophet Joseph, the history has been carefully revised under the strict inspection of President Brigham Young, and approved of by him." This history contains the 1838 First Vision account.[102]

1859

  • In the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on 1 September 1859 Brigham Young referred to Joseph Smith’s published 1838 First Vision account. He asked, "[H]ave I yet lived to the state of perfection that I can commune in person with the Father and the Son at my will and pleasure? No . . . . [three sentences later] Joseph Smith in his youth had revelations from God. He saw and understood for himself. Are you acquainted with his life? You can read the history of it. I was acquainted with him during many years. He had heavenly visions; angels administered to him. The vision of his mind was opened to see and understand heavenly things. He revealed the will of the Lord to the people, and yet but few were really acquainted with brother Joseph." [103]

1860

  • Brigham Young 3 June 1860
The Lord has led this people from the beginning. From the day that Joseph obtained the plates, and previous to that time, the Lord dictated him. He directed him day by day and hour by hour.[104]

1861

  • In the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on 3 March 1861 Brigham Young said: "The Lord chose Joseph Smith, called upon him at fourteen years of age, gave him visions, and led him along, guided and directed him in his obscurity until he brought forth the plates and translated them, and Martin Harris was prevailed upon to sustain the printing of the Book of Mormon. All this was done in the depths of poverty, obscurity, and weakness."[105]
  • Brigham Young 6 April 1861:
The Book of Mormon was translated near where we [BY and HCK] then resided, as we might say, in our own neighbourhood. It was translated about as far from where brother Kimball then lived as it is from here to Little Cottonwood; and where Joseph first discovered the plates was about as far from where I then lived as it is from here to Provo. Here we would have considered the discoverer of those plates and the translator of the Book of Mormon as [p.2] one of our neighbours. We are in the habit here of travelling more frequently and further than we were there. From the time that Joseph had his first revelation, in the neighbourhood where brother Kimball and I then lived, appears but a few days. Since then this people have passed through, experienced, and learned a great deal.[106]
  • Brigham Young, April 7, 1861:
We are not able to print a book for want of paper. Now we are prepared to go to work and make our own paper. As I have remarked, we have most excellent machinery; we also have good paper-makers; and what hinders our making the best of paper, and all the paper we want to use? Then we can print, in book form, the History of Joseph Smith, and do it in a respectable manner. Then we can print the Church History for ourselves and for the world, and every book we need.[107]

1864

  • On 1 September 1864 Brigham Young signed and dated a copy of the Pearl of Great Price and donated it to Harvard university. This volume contains Joseph Smith’s 1838 First Vision account.[108]
  • Brigham Young 4 June 1864:
The Lord had not spoken to the inhabitants of this earth for a long time, until He spoke to Joseph Smith, committed to him the plates on which the Book of Mormon was engraved, and gave him a Urim and Thummim to translate a portion of them, and told him to print the Book of Mormon, which he did, and sent it to the world, according to the word of the Lord….. it was first organized on the 6th of April, 1830. This was a slow business, but at last he organized the Church, for the Lord had revealed to him the Aaronic priesthood upon which the Church was first organized; after that he received the Melchisedec priesthood, when the Church was more fully organized, and a few more believed, and then a few more and a few more.[109]
  • Brigham Young 13 November 1864
The first act that Joseph Smith was called to do by the angel of God, was, to get the plates from the hill Cumorah, and then translate them, and he got Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery to write for him. He would read the plates, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim, and they would write.[110]

1866

  • Brigham Young 17 June 1866:
He called upon his servant Joseph Smith, jun., when he was but a boy, to lay the foundation of his kingdom for the last time. Why did he call upon Joseph Smith to do it? because he was disposed to do it. Was Joseph Smith the only person on earth who could have done this work? No doubt there were many others who, under the direction of the Lord, could have done that work; but the Lord selected the one that pleased him, and that is sufficient. [111]

1867

  • Brigham Young, June 23rd, 1867
When the Lord called upon Joseph he was but a boy—a child, only about fourteen years of age. He was not filled with traditions; his mind was not made up to this, that, or the other. I very well recollect the reformation which took place in the country among the various denominations of Christians—the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others—when Joseph was a boy. Joseph's mother, one of his brothers, and one, if not two, of his sisters were members of the Presbyterian Church, and on this account the Presbyterians hung to the family with great tenacity. And in the midst of these revivals among the religious bodies, the invitation, "Come and join our church," was often extended to Joseph, but more particularly from the Presbyterians. Joseph was naturally inclined to be religious, and being young, and surrounded with this excitement, no wonder that he became seriously impressed with the necessity of serving the Lord. But as the cry on every hand was, "Lo, here is Christ," and "Lo, there!" Said he, "Lord, teach me, that I may know for myself, who among these are right." And what was the answer? "They are all out of the way; they have gone astray, and there is none that doeth good, no not one." When he found out that none were right, he began to inquire of the Lord what was right, and he learned for himself. Was he aware of what was going to be done? By no means. He did not know what the Lord was going to do with him, although He had informed him that the Christian churches were all wrong, because they had not the Holy Priesthood, and had strayed from the holy commandments of the Lord, precisely as the children of Israel did. …[70] When the Lord called upon His servant Joseph, after leading him along for years until he got the plates, from a portion of which the Book of Mormon was translated…. The Lord sent John to ordain Joseph to the Aaronic Priesthood, and when he commenced to baptize people he sent a greater power—Peter; James, and John, who ordained him to the apostleship, which is the highest office pertaining to the Kingdom of God that any man can possess on the face of the earth, for it holds the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven....[112]

1868

  • President B. Young 6 October 1868:
Orson Pratt spoke: some seven years before the Lord entrusted them [the plates] to his care…. The Lord revealed himself to this youth when he was between fourteen and fifteen years of age....[113]

1870

  • Brigham Young, Tabernacle, SLC, July 17, 1870:
Is there any harm in believing in the Lord Jesus Christ? I frequently ask the question for my own satisfaction. Is there a doctrine taught in this book (the Bible), that would ruin or injure man, woman or child on the face of the earth? Not one. Is there a doctrine taught by Jesus and his disciples that would not do good to the people morally, physically, socially, religiously or politically? Not one. Did Joseph Smith ever teach a doctrine that would not elevate the soul, feelings, heart and affections of every individual who would embrace it? Not one. Did he ever teach a doctrine that would lead those who embraced it down to wretchedness, woe and misery, that would give them pain for ease, darkness for light, error for truth? No; but just the reverse. He proffered life and salvation—light for darkness and truth for error. He proffered all that was in the Gospel of the Son of God, and proclaimed that very Gospel that John saw the angel flying through the midst of heaven to restore. That angel delivered the keys of this apostleship and ministry to Joseph Smith and his brethren....[114]

1871

  • Brigham Young, General Conference, April 8, 1871:
Did Joseph Smith ever arrogate to himself this right? Never, never, never; and if God had not sent a messenger to ordain him to the Aaronic Priesthood and then other messengers to ordain him to the Apostleship, and told him to build up his kingdom on the earth, it would have remained in chaos to this day.[115]

1872

  • John Taylor, May 26, 1872 Tabernacle, Ogden Tabernacle[116]

1873

  • Brigham Young 18 May 1873:
When Joseph Smith first learned [p.42] from God the principle of baptism for the remission of sins, he undoubtedly thought that he had learned something great and wonderful; so, also, when he received his ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood under the hands of John the Baptist. But he did not fly off at a tangent, and think he had it all, but was willing and anxious to be taught further. After receiving this authority, he baptized his friends. When he organized the Church, he received the higher Priesthood, after the order of Melchisedec, which gave him authority not only to baptize for the remission of sins, but to confirm by the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost. The Aaronic Priesthood holds power to baptize, but not to lay on hands to confer the Holy Ghost. When Joseph Smith received this higher power, he did not throw away the first, but received additions to it. He learned of and administered the Sacrament, then went to preaching a year or two, and received the High Priesthood, which he imparted to others, and then obtained other communications and powers, until he received the full pattern and authority to build up the kingdom of God, preparatory to the coming of the Son of Man, which also he imparted to others.[117]
  • Brigham Young June 29, 1873 Logan Bowery
From the time that Joseph obtained a knowledge of the plates in the hill Cumorah he received little by little, a little at a time. When he first obtained a knowledge of these plates I apprehend that he knew nothing, in comparison, of their contents and the design of the Lord in bringing them forth. But he was instructed little by little until he received the Aaronic priesthood, then the privilege of baptism for the remission of sins, then the Melchizedek Priesthood, then organizing a church, &c.,[118]
  • Brigham Young, 10 August 1873, SLC Tabernacle:
The condition of the nations of the earth, politically, socially and religiously, was next dwelt upon, and, in concluding, President Young bore a powerful testimony to the gospel of Christ as revealed in this age of the [564] world, through Joseph Smith, the prophet.[119]

1874

  • President Young’s Address; Railroad Celebration.—Opening of the U.S.R.R. to Provo [read by David McKenzie]
JOSEPH SMITH. It is true that the angel, commissioned to restore, in this our day, the fullness of the everlasting Gospel, found Joseph but a youth and comparatively unlearned, he having had but limited opportunities for education in the then wilds of Western New York; but, from that date, until so foully massacred with his brother Hyrum in Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois, on the 27th June, 1844, in the 39th year of his age, he assiduously applied himself to studying the English, German, Hebrew and other languages, and gaining all information of worth from every available source, especially through revelation from Heaven, the fountain of all light and knowledge. (5)[120]
  • Brigham Young 21 June 1874:
We have passed from one thing to another, and I may say from one degree of knowledge to another. When Joseph first received the knowledge of the plates that were in the hill Cumorah, he did not then receive the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, he merely received the knowledge that the plates were there, and that the Lord would bring them forth, and that they contained the history of the aborigines of this country. He received the knowledge that they were once in possession of the Gospel, and from that time he went on, step by step, until he obtained the plates, and the Urim and Thummim, and had power to translate them.[p.240] This did not make him an Apostle, it did not give to him the keys of the kingdom, nor make him an Elder in Israel. He was a Prophet, and had the spirit of prophecy, and had received all this before the Lord ordained him….. He received the Aaronic Priesthood, and then he received the keys of the Melchisedek Priesthood, and organized the Church. He first received the power to baptise, and still did not know that he was to receive any more until the Lord told him there was more for him. Then he received the keys of the Melchisedek Priesthood, and had power to confirm after he had baptized, which he had not before. He would have stood precisely as John the Baptist stood, had not the Lord sent his other messengers, Peter, James and John, to ordain Joseph to the Melchisedek Priesthood. …[121]

1876

  • Orson Pratt, October 8, 1876, General Conference:
He spoke of some who had attained to a perfect knowledge. Joseph Smith, when a youth of fourteen years of age, had a knowledge of the existence of God the Father, Jesus Christ his Son, and holy angels, for he not only saw them with his eyes, but heard their voice [BY spoke morning and twice in the afternoon sessions.][122]
  • Brigham Young: Sunday afternoon 17 September 1876 SLC Tabernacle:
Brother Cannon speaks of Christians. We are Christians professedly, according to our religion. People have gathered to themselves certain ideas, and laid them down as systems, calling them religion, all professing to believe and obey the Scriptures. Their religious are peculiar to themselves—our religion is peculiar to God, to angels, and to the righteous of time and eternity. Why are we persecuted because of our religion? Why was Joseph Smith persecuted? Why was he hunted from neighborhood to neighborhood, from city to city, and from State to State, and at last suffered death? Because he received revelations from the Father, from the Son, and was ministered to by holy angels, and published to the world the direct will of the Lord concerning his children on the earth. Again, why was he persecuted? Because he revealed to all mankind a religion so plain and so easily understood, consistent with the Bible, and so true. It is now as it was in the days of the Savior; let people believe and practise these simple, Godlike traits, and it will be as it was in the old world, they will say, if this man be let alone he will come and take away our peace and nation....[123]
  • Brigham Young 21 May 1877 Logan:
[144] The priesthood which Peter, James and John held while in the flesh was the highest ever bestowed upon the children of men, and it was conferred upon Joseph and Oliver, and without it they never could have built up the Kingdom. … The Lord sent his messengers, Peter, James and John, to ordain him to the highest authority that could be given…..[124]

1877

  • Brigham Young died August 29, 1877.

Brigham Young (1861): "The Lord chose Joseph Smith, called upon him at fourteen years of age, gave him visions"

Brigham Young:

The Lord chose Joseph Smith, called upon him at fourteen years of age, gave him visions, and led him along, guided and directed him in his obscurity until he brought forth the plates and translated them, and Martin Harris was prevailed upon to sustain the printing of the Book of Mormon. All this was done in the depths of poverty, obscurity, and weakness. [125]

Learn more about claims that Brigham Young denied Joseph Smith's First Vision
Key sources
  • Daniel C. Peterson, "'Easier than Research, More Inflammatory than Truth'," Proceedings of the 2000 FAIR Conference (August 2000). link
Navigators

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Christian Research and Counsel, "Documented History of Joseph Smith's First Vision," full-color pamphlet, 10 pages. [There is a notation within this pamphlet indicating that research and portions of text were garnered from Utah Lighthouse Ministry]

What do critics of Mormonism say about John Taylor and the First Vision?

Critics focus only on one sermon in whichTaylor mentioned "an angel" and ignore the numerous times Taylor referred to the Father and the Son, including another sermon given the same day

Richard Abanes refers to "…the discrepancy between today’s official First Vision and the versions of it told by early Mormons, who taught that the First Vision involved an angel (or angels)." In a footnote to this comment he cites several church leaders, including John Taylor. The only citation Abanes gives for President Taylor is for March 2, 1879, but is incorrectly documented.[126]

Critic Isaiah Bennett has written:

Complications arise when one considers the statements of Smith’s successors as Mormon prophets [including John Taylor]. According to them, Smith had been visited by an angel, from whom he asked advice as to which church to join.[127]

Bennett cites the same March 2, 1879 sermon, and one other.

Jerald and Sandra Tanner have also cited Taylor’s comments of March 2, 1879.[128]:164 They later write that "Many other confusing statements about the first vision were made by Mormon leaders after Joseph Smith’s death." [128]:166 Elsewhere the Tanners have stated that "Before the death of Brigham Young in 1877 the first vision was seldom mentioned in Mormon publications. When Mormon leaders did mention it they usually gave confusing accounts."[129]

This warped perspective has unfortunately spilled over into less overtly anti-Mormon reference works. A past revision of the Wikipedia article on the First Vision states that "The First Vision was not emphasized in sermons by [subsequent leaders such as] John Taylor. This implies that Smith did not stress it strongly during his life, and that many early church leaders had little understanding of its prominence."[130]

These claims are simply false, with reference to the oft-misused John Taylor.[131] Consider the following evidence, from sermons, letters, and writings, which demonstrate Taylor’s complete awareness of that event, many well before the death of Brigham in 1877.

What did John Taylor have to say about Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Taylor talked about the visit of the Father and the Son numerous times

John Taylor became one of the editors of the Times and Seasons newspaper in Nauvoo, Illinois on 3 February 1842.[132]:102 He was serving in this capacity when the Wentworth Letter version of the First Vision was printed on 1 March 1842 and also when the History of the Church version of the First Vision was printed on 1 April 1842. John Taylor became chief editor of the Times and Seasons newspaper on 15 November 1842. There can be no doubt that Elder Taylor knew about the First Vision story as early as 1842.

In 1850, John Taylor was assigned to open France for the missionary activities of the Church. Upon arrival he wrote a letter, which was published in the French and English language paper. In that letter he wrote, in part:

The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was first organized in the Town of Manchester, Ontario County, State of New York, U.S.A., 6th April 1830. Previous to this an holy angel appeared unto a young man about fifteen years of age, a farmer's son, named Joseph Smith, and communicated unto him many things pertaining to the situation of the religious world, the necessity of a correct church organization, and unfolded many events that should transpire in the last days, as spoken of by the Prophets. As near as possible I will give the words as he related them to me. He said that "in the neighborhood in which he resided there was a religious revival, (a thing very common in that country) in which several different denominations were united; that many professed to be converted; among the number, two or three of his father's family. When the revival was over, there was a contention as to which of these various societies the person who was converted should belong. One of his father's family joined one society, and another a different one. His 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 [236] 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".[133]

Elder Taylor continued with his narration, indicating that "some time later" as Joseph prayed another ‘being’ appeared surrounded by light who "declared himself to be an angel of God, sent forth by commandment, to communicate to him that his sins were forgiven…[and] that the great preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence." The angel also told him about the plates, and the restoration about to begin. In October of that same year Elder Taylor published a pamphlet containing an expanded version of this letter, translated into French.[134] The pamphlet was reprinted again in 1852.

On 13 August 1857 John Taylor and several members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve placed a copy of the Pearl of Great Price (containing the First Vision story) inside the southeast cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple.[135]

On 7 October 1859 John Taylor recited portions of the First Vision story in the Salt Lake City tabernacle. Among the details mentioned was the fact that Joseph Smith believed in the promise found in James 1:5 and went in secret to seek wisdom from God.[136]

In 1876 Elder Taylor spoke at a funeral service, and he stated:

Again, there are other things associated with these matters, all bearing more or less upon the same points. When God selected Joseph Smith to open up the last dispensation, which is called the dispensation [326] of the fullness of times, the Father and the Son appeared to him, arrayed in glory, and the Father, addressing himself to Joseph, at the same time pointing to the Son, said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." As there were great and important events to be introduced into the world associated with the interests of humanity, not only with the people that now are, but with all people that have ever lived upon the face of the earth, and as what is termed the dispensation of the fullness of times was about to be ushered in, Moroni, who held the keys of the unfolding of the Book of Mormon, which is a record of the people who lived upon this American continent, came to Joseph Smith and revealed to him certain things pertaining to the peoples who had lived here and the dealings of God with them, and also in regard to events that are to transpire on this continent.[137]

Later in the same sermon he stated that Joseph had also been visited by Moroni, John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John. Isaiah Bennett makes reference to this sermon, but only to page 329: and the only plausible explanation for that reference is that Taylor makes reference to the angel which appeared to John the Revelator, on the island of Patmos. Otherwise that page tells of the visitation of Moroni and the others. Earlier in the sermon, however, Taylor made clear reference to the Father and the Son appearing, as contained in the above paragraph. Bennet and those who follow his tactics deceive their readers by omitting material which disproves their case.

In General Conference October 1877, President Taylor stated:

The work we are engaged in emanated from God, and what did Joseph Smith know about it until God revealed it? Nothing. What did President Young, or the Twelve, or anybody else, know about it before the heavenly messengers, even God himself, came to break the long, long silence of ages, revealing through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the holy angels, the everlasting Gospel? Nothing at all. We were all alike ignorant until heaven revealed it.[138]

The following month President Taylor stated:

[W]e are told that no man knows the [152] things of God but by the Spirit of God. And if they cannot obtain a knowledge of God only by the Spirit of God, unless they receive that Spirit they must remain ignorant of these principles. And it matters not what the learning, what the intelligence, what the research, the philosophy, or religion of man may be, the things of God cannot be comprehended, except through and by the Spirit and revelations of God. And this can only be obtained through obedience to the principles which God has and shall ordain, sanction and acknowledge. And hence, in these last times, he first communicated a knowledge of himself to Joseph Smith, long ago, when he was quite young. Who in that day knew anything about God? Who had had any revelations from Him, or who knew anything in relation to the principles of life and salvation? If there were any persons I never heard of them, nor read of them, nor never met them. But when the Lord manifested himself to Joseph Smith, presenting to him his Son who was there also, saying, "This is my beloved Son, hear ye him;" he then knew that God lived; and he was not dependent upon anybody else for that knowledge. He saw him and heard his voice, and he knew for himself that there was a God, and of this he testified, sealing his testimony with his blood.[139]

President Taylor also defended the First Vision in letters: In 1879 he wrote to a friend

We of all others on the earth ought to be the last to oppress the Lamanites. Through the development of their record, by the ministrations of one of their old prophets, we are indebted for the introduction of the Everlasting Gospel; and of so great importance was this action considered that God Himself, accompanied by the Savior, appeared to Joseph.[140]

It was mentioned above that several of the critics point to a sermon given by John Taylor in Kaysville, Utah, in the afternoon of March 2, 1879, to ‘prove’ that Taylor did not have a clear understanding of the First Vision. However, they fail to notice that President Taylor said earlier the same day, just a few miles away, in Ogden, Utah:

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 for the purpose of manifesting the laws of life, the Gospel of the Son of God, by direct authority, that light and truth might be spread forth among all nations.[141]

Clearly President Taylor was not confused regarding what happened early in Joseph Smith’s life.

Six months later he again testified to the visitation of the Father and the Son:

The Lord has taken a great deal of pains to bring us where we are and to give us the information we have. He came himself, accompanied by his Son Jesus, to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He didn't send anybody but came himself, and introducing his Son, said: ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him.’ And he permitted the ancient prophets, apostles and men of God that existed in different ages to come and confer the keys of their several dispensations upon the prophet of the Lord, in order that he should be endowed and imbued with the power and Spirit of God, with the light of revelation and the eternal principles of the everlasting Gospel.[142]

Ten days later he again testified to that transcendent event:

Now, we will come to other events, of later date; events with which we are associated—I refer now to the time that Joseph Smith came among men. What was his position? and how was he situated? I can tell you what he told me about it. He said that he was very ignorant of the ways, designs and purposes of God, and knew nothing about them; he was a youth unacquainted with religious matters or the systems and theories of the day. He went to the Lord, having read James' statement, that "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." [James 1.5] He believed that statement and went to the Lord and asked him, and the Lord revealed himself to him together with his Son Jesus, and, pointing to the latter, said: ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him.’ He then asked in regard to the various religions with which he was surrounded.[143]

Again, just a few weeks later he stated that

as a commencement the Lord appeared unto Joseph Smith, both the Father and the Son, the Father pointing to the Son said ‘this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.’ Here, then, was a communication from the heavens made known unto man on the earth, and he at that time came into possession of a fact that no man knew in the world but he, and that is that God lived, for he had seen him, and that his Son Jesus Christ lived, for he also had seen him. What next? Now says the Father, "This is my beloved Son, hear him." The manner, the mode, the why, and the wherefore, he designed to introduce through him were not explained; but he, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer of man, he was the one pointed out to be the guide, the director, the instructor, and the leader in the development of the great principles of that kingdom and that government which he then commenced to institute.[144]

Later, in Hooperville, Utah, he stated:

Hence when the heavens were opened and the Father and Son appeared and revealed unto Joseph the principles of the gospel, and when the holy priesthood was restored and the Church and kingdom of God established upon the earth, there were the greatest blessings bestowed upon this generation which it was possible for man to receive.[145]

Two months later he again spoke of it:

Finally, when all the preparations were made and everything was ready, or the time had fully come, the Father and the Son appeared to the youth Joseph Smith to introduce the great work of the latter days. He who presides over this earth and he who is said to be the maker of all things, the Father, pointing to his well-beloved Son, says, this is my beloved Son, hear him. He did not come himself to regulate and put in order all things, but he presented his Only Begotten Son, the personage who should be, as he is termed in the Scriptures, the Apostle and great High Priest of our profession, who should take the lead in the management and regulation of all matters pertaining to the great dispensation that was about to be ushered in.[146]

Two months later he was in Idaho speaking:

In the commencement of the work, the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith. And when they appeared to him, the Father, pointing to the Son, said, ‘This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!’ As much as to say, ‘I have not come to teach and instruct you; but I refer you to my Only Begotten, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world; I refer you to him as your Redeemer, your High Priest and Teacher. Hear him.’ Continuing, he pointed out that Joseph was also visited by Moroni, John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John.[147]

In 1882 President John Taylor wrote a book on the subject of the mediation and atonement of the Savior, and its role in the life of the Restored Gospel. He included this statement:

…when the Father and the Son appeared together to the Prophet Joseph Smith they were exactly alike in form, in appearance, in glory; and the Father said, pointing to His Son, ‘This is my beloved Son; hear Him.’[148]

That same year the President said in a sermon:

we declare that God himself took part in it, and that Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, accompanied him, both of whom appeared to Joseph Smith, upon which occasion the Father, pointing to the Son said, ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him.’…. …..[32] After the Lord had spoken to Joseph Smith, and Jesus had manifested himself to him…. [He later refers to the visitation of Moroni, John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John.][149]

During the October 1882 General Conference three of the General Authorities referred to the appearance of the Father and the Son. President Taylor stated that

A message was announced to us by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, as a revelation from God, wherein he stated that holy angels had appeared to him and revealed the everlasting Gospel as it existed in former ages; and God the Father, and God the Son, both appeared to him; and the Father, pointing, said, this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.[150]

Later that same year he said:

In the first place He has Himself spoken to us from the heavens, as also has His Son Jesus Christ…. [323] Now, it is the rule of God which is desired to be introduced upon the earth, and this is the reason why the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith….It is true that God appeared to Joseph Smith, and that His Son Jesus did…

President Taylor then went on to testify that Joseph Smith claimed that John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, and Moses had also appeared to him.[151]

At the dedication of the Logan Temple in 1884 President Taylor said:

I have heard some remarks in the Temple pertaining to these matters, and also here, and it has been thought, as has been expressed by some, that we ought to look for some peculiar manifestations. The question is, What do we want to see? Some peculiar power, some remarkable manifestations? All these things are very proper in their place; all these things we have a right to look for; but we must only look for such manifestations as are requisite for our circumstances, and as God shall see fit to impart them. Certain manifestations have already occurred. When our Heavenly Father appeared unto Joseph Smith, the Prophet, He pointed to the Savior who was with him, (and who, it is said, is the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of His person) and said: ‘This is my beloved Son, hear Him.’ [Later in the sermon he mentions the appearance of John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John; and Moroni.][152]

In 1886, shortly before he died, President Taylor wrote a letter to his family, part of which reads:

We are engaged in a great work, and laying the foundation thereof—a work that has been spoken of by all the holy prophets since the word was; namely, the dispensation of the fullness of times, wherein God will gather together all things in one, whether they be things in the earth, or things in the heaven; and for this purpose God revealed Himself, as also the Lord Jesus Christ, unto His servant the Prophet Joseph Smith, when the Father pointed to the Son and said: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him.’[132]:394

As evidence that President Taylor had been telling the Saints about the First Vision throughout his life a comment made at his funeral would be pertinent; it was said there that

Brother Taylor took the testimony that Joseph gave him, that Jesus delivered unto Joseph, that God bade Joseph to listen to from the lips of His beloved Son, as he bore those tidings to foreign lands…[153]

John Taylor (2 March 1879): "the Father and the Son...came to Joseph Smith" and "the Prophet Joseph asked the angel"

The following two statements were made by John Taylor in different discourses on the same day, 2 March 1879. In one, Taylor talks of Joseph Smith asking "the angel" which church was right, and in the other, Taylor clearly states that "the Father and the Son...came to Joseph Smith." This demonstrates how early Church leaders often used the term "angel" to refer to the personages that appeared in the First Vision, even though they clearly knew that they were the Father and the Son.

"When the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right"

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.[154]

"When the Father and the Son and Moroni and others came to Joseph Smith"

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 for the purpose of manifesting the laws of life... [155]

Notice how one refers to an "angel" and the other refers to "the Father and the Son." Taylor was clearly aware of the details of the First Vision. This also demonstrates how early Church leaders used the term "angel" to represent the personages that Joseph saw, even at the same time that they recognized that these personages were the Father and the Son.

See FAIR Evidence:
John Taylor publicly mentioned Joseph Smith's First Vision over 19 times


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Don Bradley, "The Original Context of the First Vision Narrative: 1820s or 1830s"

Don Bradley,  Proceedings of the 2013 FAIR Conference, (August 2, 2013)
If Latter-day Saint belief about the First Vision is correct, Joseph’s narrative reports a memory of his early experience. If, on the other hand, Vogel, Palmer, and other skeptical interpreters were to be correct, Joseph’s narrative was created to meet his needs as a church leader in the 1830s, bolstering his authority as prophet.


These two radically different understandings of the First Vision lead us to two radically different predictions about how well Joseph’s First Vision accounts will align with the events of the early 1820s. On the first, the believing, view, Joseph’s narrative should match the 1820s context in some detail. On the second, skeptical, view, his narrative should match the claimed 1820s context poorly or only superficially.

Because these two views lead to such different predictions, we can determine which view is correct by testing those predictions. And this is what we’ll do today.

Click here to view the complete article

Is it possible that as late as the end of the nineteenth century that there was uncertainty among Church officials about the identity of the personages that appeared to Joseph Smith during his First Vision?

A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel"

A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel".[156] Two years later Church leaders revised Jenson's text to clear up the discrepancy but did not provide any notation about the change.

When the light of historical scholarship shines upon this particular charge of the critics, it quickly becomes apparent that this is really a non-issue. By the time that Andrew Jenson had published his anomalous First Vision account in 1888 the Pearl of Great Price rendition of the same story had already been canonized by the Church for eight years. Latter-day Saints had long been familiar with the official version of events that took place in the Sacred Grove and the precise identities of Joseph Smith's celestial visitors.

The publication that anti-Mormon critics are referring to was called The Historical Record and it was printed in Salt Lake City, Utah. Volume 7 of this collection contains the reference that critics utilize to try and cast doubt upon the veracity of the First Vision account.

Since Andrew held no position of authority in the LDS Church when he made his "angel" comments, they cannot be looked upon as having any kind of evidentiary value in regard to what Church leaders believed at the time

Andrew Jenson was not a Church historian ('assistant' or otherwise) in 1888 when he wrote the text in question. A book produced by Jenson himself indicates that "his services were engaged by the First Presidency, and he was blessed and set apart by Apostle Franklin D. Richards [on] April 16, 1891, as ‘an historian’ in the Church."[157] Jenson was not sustained as the Assistant Church Historian until 10 April 1898. [158] Since Andrew held no position of authority in the LDS Church when he made his "angel" comments, they cannot be looked upon as having any kind of evidentiary value in regard to what Church leaders believed at the time.

Church critics neglect to tell their readership that Andrew Jenson is plainly listed as the editor and the publisher of both the initial 1888 text and the revision which they allege was printed in 1890. Furthermore, they fail to make note of the fact that when volumes 5-8 of The Historical Record were advertised for sale in a Utah newspaper in 1889 it was noted that this was a "work which Brother Jenson offers" to the public. [159] There is, therefore, no justification whatever in claiming that the LDS Church was somehow responsible for the content of Andrew Jenson's original 1888 article or the revised text that was issued later.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is it possible that as late as the end of the nineteenth century that there was uncertainty among Church officials about the identity of the personages that appeared to Joseph Smith during his First Vision?

A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel"

A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel".[160] Two years later Church leaders revised Jenson's text to clear up the discrepancy but did not provide any notation about the change.

When the light of historical scholarship shines upon this particular charge of the critics, it quickly becomes apparent that this is really a non-issue. By the time that Andrew Jenson had published his anomalous First Vision account in 1888 the Pearl of Great Price rendition of the same story had already been canonized by the Church for eight years. Latter-day Saints had long been familiar with the official version of events that took place in the Sacred Grove and the precise identities of Joseph Smith's celestial visitors.

The publication that anti-Mormon critics are referring to was called The Historical Record and it was printed in Salt Lake City, Utah. Volume 7 of this collection contains the reference that critics utilize to try and cast doubt upon the veracity of the First Vision account.

Since Andrew held no position of authority in the LDS Church when he made his "angel" comments, they cannot be looked upon as having any kind of evidentiary value in regard to what Church leaders believed at the time

Andrew Jenson was not a Church historian ('assistant' or otherwise) in 1888 when he wrote the text in question. A book produced by Jenson himself indicates that "his services were engaged by the First Presidency, and he was blessed and set apart by Apostle Franklin D. Richards [on] April 16, 1891, as ‘an historian’ in the Church."[161] Jenson was not sustained as the Assistant Church Historian until 10 April 1898. [162] Since Andrew held no position of authority in the LDS Church when he made his "angel" comments, they cannot be looked upon as having any kind of evidentiary value in regard to what Church leaders believed at the time.

Church critics neglect to tell their readership that Andrew Jenson is plainly listed as the editor and the publisher of both the initial 1888 text and the revision which they allege was printed in 1890. Furthermore, they fail to make note of the fact that when volumes 5-8 of The Historical Record were advertised for sale in a Utah newspaper in 1889 it was noted that this was a "work which Brother Jenson offers" to the public. [163] There is, therefore, no justification whatever in claiming that the LDS Church was somehow responsible for the content of Andrew Jenson's original 1888 article or the revised text that was issued later.



Notes

  1. David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. (Key source)
  2. "Testimony of Martin Harris Written by my hand from teh Moth of Martin Harris," dictated to Edward Stevenson 4 September 1870, Edward Stevenson Collection, Miscellaneous Papers, Church Archives; cited by Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:331.
  3. Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, and Scott H. Faulring (editors), Joseph Smith's New Translation Of The Bible: Original Manuscripts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2004), 82.
  4. Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, ed. Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 161.
  5. The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) (14 February 1832): 102.
  6. F. Mark McKiernan, An Early Latter-day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer (Independence, MO.: Herald Publishing House 1980), 67, punctuation corrected; cited in Robert L. Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 3 (Summer 1989), 49–68.
  7. As cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," footnote 12.
  8. Robert S. Boylan, "D&C 50:43 and the 'Oneness' of the Father, Son, and Believers vs. the claim early Latter-day Saint Theology was a Form of Modalism," Scriptural Mormonism (7 July 2020).
  9. The current D&C 76 vision was first published in Evening and Morning Star, Independence, Missouri, July 1832.
  10. 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883 (Palm Desert, California: ULC Press, 1981), 39; cited in Paulsen, 34.
  11. "An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock Taken From His Journal by Himself," (typescript) Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 13; cited in Paulsen, 35.
  12. Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836). Reprinted from Ohio Observer, circa August 1836. off-site See Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe’s 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (Spring 1977), 347-55. See also Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:47.
  13. Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Joseph Smith's First Vision: Cornerstone of a Latter-day Faith," in To Be Learned is Good, If ..., ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987).; cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," 59.
  14. Roger Nicholson, "The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver's Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith's First Vision in 1834 and 1835," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8/4 (6 December 2013). [27–44] link
  15. “Gold Bible, No. 4,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 13 (14 February 1831): 102. off-site
  16. Joseph Capron affidavit, 8 November 1833; in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258-259. (Affidavits examined)
  17. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "intercourse." defines the term as simply "[1] Communication....[2] Silent communication or exchange."
  18. Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director. www.cesletter.com
  19. See Hyrum M. Smith, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary (Liverpool: George F. Richards, 1919), 139; Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Volume 1: The Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 110–11; Grant Underwood, "First Vision," in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:410; Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 1:130.
  20. "History, circa Summer 1832 - Historical Introduction," The Joseph Smith Papers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  21. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 41.
  22. For an in-depth discussion of how the preacher's rejection of Joseph caused him to not speak of the event for many years and the affects the rejection had on Joseph's memory (and which refutes this criticism), see Steven C. Harper, "First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019) 9-12.
  23. Joseph Capron affidavit, 8 November 1833; in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258-259. (Affidavits examined)
  24. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "intercourse." defines the term as simply "[1] Communication....[2] Silent communication or exchange."
  25. Regarding the reference in the Palmyra Reflector, Richard Abanes, in his anti-Mormon work Becoming Gods, boldly declares in the main body of his text on page 34 that "[n]ot a single piece of published literature" mentions the First Vision, yet in an endnote at the back of the book on page 338 acknowledges this newspaper account. He attempts to dismiss this by claiming that the reference is "vague," yet acknowledges that "as early as 1831 Smith might have been starting to privately tell select persons that he had at some point seen God."
  26. Rev. B. Pixley, Christian Watchman, Independence Mo., October 12, 1832; in Among the Mormons. Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers, Edited by William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958): 74. This article by Pixley was reprinted in Independent Messenger (Boston, Mass.) of November 29, 1832; also in Missouri Intelligencer (Columbia, Mo.), and the American Eagle (Westfield, New York). Cited also in Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, The Man and The Seer (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1960), 68, note 46. It is not clear what Rev. Pixley was referring to by the comment about the third heaven, though it may refer to the Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory [D&C 76], which had been received February 1832, and published in July in the Evening and Morning Star, in Kirtland, Ohio. Verse 20 indicates that "we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father…."
  27. Richmond Taggart to the Reverend Jonathan Goings, 2 March 1833, 2, Jonathon Goings Papers, American Baptist Historical Society, Rochester, New York, quoted in Hurlbut. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:205. See also Gregory A. Prince, Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 8.
  28. Missouri Intelligencer (August 10, 1833); quoted in John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 337. GL direct link
  29. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:22, 24. Original in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 251&ndash 252, and 258–260, respectively. (Affidavits examined)
  30. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:107. Original in Arthur B. Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism newspaper (January 1888), 3.
  31. See, for example, "Censoring the Joseph Smith Story," in Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991),55–96. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct linkGL direct link
  32. Newel Knight [citation needed]
  33. Lucy Mack Smith, Autobiography, Chapter 21.
  34. Rev. John A. Clark [citation needed]
  35. David Whitmer[citation needed]
  36. Henry Harris[citation needed]
  37. Nathaniel Lewis[citation needed]
  38. Hezekiah McKune[citation needed]
  39. Alva Hale[citation needed]
  40. Jesse Smith[citation needed]
  41. Palmyra Freeman (1829), [citation needed]
  42. ?, "?," Evening and Morning Star 1 no. 1 (June 1832), 1. off-siteGospeLink
  43. The Fredonia Censor, 10/10 (2 June 1830): page? [citation needed]
  44. Letter, Rev. Diedrich Willers to L. Mayer and D. York, 18 June 1830.
  45. The Reflector [Palmyra, New York] 2/13 (14 February 1831), page ?
  46. The Sun (18 August 1831): page?
  47. Nancy Towle, Vicissitudes Illustrated, 2d ed., (Portsmouth: John Caldwell, 1833), 150–151; first edition printed in 1832.
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957). Volume 2 link
  49. 49.0 49.1 49.2 49.3 49.4 49.5 49.6 49.7 History of the Church. Volume 3 link
  50. Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 114.
  51. ManH A-I, in PJS, 1:273, 275. The only other evidence of persecution are a reminiscence by Thomas H. Taylor of Manchester about Joseph being dcuked in a pond for teaching what he believed, and an inexplicable attempt on his life recorded by Lucy Smith. She said an unknown attacker took a shot at Joseph one day as he entered the yard. The times of both incidents are uncertain. Thomas H. Taylor, Interview (1881), in EMD, 2:118; BioS, 73.
  52. Wayne Sentinel, Sept. 30, 1824; W. Smith, Mormonism, 13; Backman, First Vision, 119; BioS, 73
  53. Richard Bushman, "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling" (New York, NY: Knopf Publishing, 2005) 43. Internal endnotes retained for reference.
  54. For a much more scholarly discussion of how the preacher's rejection of Joseph caused him to not speak of the event for many years, see Steven C. Harper, "First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019) 9-12.
  55. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 78.
  56. William Smith, William Smith on Mormonism (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Steam Book and Job Office, 1883), 5-19; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:493-502.
  57. "The Old Soldier's Testimony. Sermon preached by Bro. William B. Smith, in the Saints' Chapel, Detroit, Iowa, June 8th, 1884. Reported by C. E. Butterworth," Saints' Herald 31 (4 October 1884): 643-44; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:503-506.
  58. "W[illia]m. B. Smith's last Statement," [John W. Peterson to Editor], Zion's Ensign (Independence, Missouri) 5/3 (13 January 1894): 6. Reprinted in "Statement of William Smith, Concerning Joseph, the Prophet," Deseret Evening News 27 (20 January 1894): 11; and "The Testimony of William Smith," Millennial Star 61 (26 February 1894): 132-34; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:513.
  59. William H. Kelley, "The Hill Cumorah and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167-68; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 2:83. Also in Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 119.
  60. William Kelley, Notebook, No. 5, 1; in William H. Kelley Papers, RLDS Church Library-Archives, Independence, Missouri; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 2:83.
  61. Joseph and Hiel Lewis, "Mormon History. A New Chapter, About to Be Published," Amboy Journal [Illinois] 24 (30 April 1879): 1; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 4:300–306.
  62. "Mormonism," Susquehanna Register, Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834): 1; republished in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 266-267. (Affidavits examined); reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 4:293-295.
  63. Osmon Cleander Baker, A guide-book in the administration of the discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York : Carlton & Phillips, 1855). All citations in this article are from this work, unless otherwise footnoted. All italics are original; bold-face has been added.
  64. The Methodist Magazine 5 (January 1822). Citation provided by Ted Jones.
  65. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 164.( Index of claims ); Christian Research and Counsel, "Documented History of Joseph Smith’s First Vision," full-color pamphlet, 10 pages. [There is a notation within this pamphlet indicating that research and portions of text were garnered from Utah Lighthouse Ministry]; Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)
  66. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:171.
  67. Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1884),127–128.
  68. James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words In The Hebrew Bible With Their Renderings In the Authorized English Version (Nashville: Abingdon, 1890), 66.
  69. The History of the Church Book I:2 (3), in Eusebius: The History of the Church From Christ to Constantine, G.A. Williamson Translator (Penguine Books, 1986), 33-4.
  70. Martyrdom And Ascension of Isaiah 10:30-31, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 2 Vols. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1985), 2:174.
  71. Epistula Apostulorum 14, in Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha 2 Vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 1:199.
  72. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 162. "An angel has flesh and bones; we see not their glory." If Jesus comes as an angel he "will adapt himself to the language and capacity" of the individual.
  73. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 191. See also D&C 129.
  74. Günther Juncker, "Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title," Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994): 221–250.
  75. Ensign (April 1992).
  76. JD 8:353-4. (3 March 186). wiki]; JD 12:67-8. (June 23rd, 1867). wiki
  77. JD 2:171. (Feb 18, 1855). wiki; JD 7:243. (September 1, 1859). wiki; JD 11:253. (17 June 1866). wiki
  78. JD 12:67-8. (June 23rd, 1867). wiki
  79. JD 2:171. (Feb 18, 1855). wiki; JD 12:67-8. (June 23rd, 1867). wiki
  80. JD 18:231. (17 September 1876). wiki
  81. JD 1:185-19. (14 March 1860). wiki JD 8:15-6. (3 June 1860). wiki JD 8:66. (3 March 1861). wikiJD 8:353-4. (6 April 1861). wiki JD 9:1. (4 June 1864).