FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/"Questions and Answers" on Mormon Stories/First Vision
A FairMormon Analysis of: "Questions and Answers: What aspects of LDS Church teachings/doctrine do you still believe in, vs. not?", a work by author: John Dehlin
Jump to Subtopic:
- Response to claim: "Joseph Smith provided multiple and varying accounts of his first vision story"
- Response to claim: "descriptions of the Godhead....seemed to evolve over time"
- Response to claim: "some of these accounts....seemed to evolve over time to correspond with his own changing beliefs"
Response to claim: "Joseph Smith provided multiple and varying accounts of his first vision story"
(25 June 2014 revision): Joseph Smith provided multiple and varying accounts of his first vision story
There are multiple accounts to be sure, but any variations between them are severely emphasized by critics. The supposed inconsistencies are not nearly as dramatic as the author portrays them, and none of Joseph's contemporaries ever accused him of changing or fudging his story. The Church has not hidden the existence of these various accounts, but published them widely in books, official magazines, and BYU Studies.
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.
- 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." 
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.” 
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.
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. —(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? 
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.
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.
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. 
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.
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.
Response to claim: "descriptions of the Godhead....seemed to evolve over time"
(25 June 2014 revision): descriptions of the Godhead....seemed to evolve over time
The only possible case which fits this description is the 1832 account (which was a draft and never published in Joseph's lifetime). This account focuses on the appearance and words of Jesus Christ. However, the author ignores the introductory material from the 1832 account, which describes Joseph's receipt of the "testimony from on high"—a phrase used repeatedly elsewhere to describe the Father's witness of Christ's divinity, whom Joseph also describes in the 1832 account as "the son of the living God." Both members of the Godhead can be discerned if one consults the entire account.
the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brough<t> [it] forth and established [it] by his hand <firstly> he receiving the testamony from on high....
- —Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision Account
Question: Why does Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision not mention two personages?
Although the 1832 account does not specifically indicate that the Father appeared, He is mentioned
The theophany portion of the 1832 account does not specifically indicate that the Father appeared to Joseph Smith together with Jesus Christ. The relevant text (in its original form) reads as follows:
"a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day c[a]me down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the <Lord> opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph <my son> thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy <way> walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life <behold> the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not <my> commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which <hath> been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud <clothed> in the glory of my Father." (emphasis added)
Even though the Savior makes a direct reference to the Father there is no indication in this portion of the 1832 document that God appeared to Joseph Smith alongside His Son.
The same pattern exists in the Book of Mormon with Lehi's vision of God on His throne
This type of pattern is seen in the Book of Mormon, translated in 1829: The Book of Mormon 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.
Question: Is there any reference to God the Father being present in Joseph Smith's 1832 account?
A significant phrase in the introductory paragraph is associated with the First Vision: "receiving the testimony from on high"
There is a very significant phrase located in the introductory paragraph of the Prophet's historical narrative. There he indicates that the 1832 document is . . .
"A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brough<t> [it] forth and established [it] by his hand <firstly> he receiving the testamony from on high secondly the ministering of Angels thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of Aangels to adminster the letter of the Gospel—<—the Law and commandments as they were given unto him—>and the ordinencs, forthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God."
This paragraph not only introduces the document with a heavy emphasis on the Son of God but it also chronologically outlines four inaugural events of the Restoration.
- FIRST: Reception of "the testimony from on high" - First Vision
- SECOND: The "ministering of angels" - Moroni visitations
- THIRD: Reception of the Holy Priesthood to administer the letter of the gospel - Aaronic
- FOURTH: Reception of the High Priesthood after the order of the Son - Melchizedek
This 1832 phraseology corresponds with the words spoken by God the Father when He introduced His Son in the Sacred Grove
The significant phrase in the introductory paragraph is the one associated with the First Vision -- "receiving the testimony from on high" (spelling standardized). When this phrase is placed in conjunction with the Prophet's 1835 and 1838 accounts of the First Vision it becomes obvious that the 1832 phraseology closely corresponds with the words spoken by God the Father when He introduced His Son in the Sacred Grove.
- (1832 ACCOUNT)
- “firstly . . . receiving the testimony from on high”
- (1835 ACCOUNT)
- “He [God the Father] testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”
- (1838 ACCOUNT)
- "[He] said...This is my beloved Son”
The Father's identification of Jesus Christ as His Son was His "testimony" of Him.
Critics have objected that -- in their minds -- the phrase "from on high" cannot be so easily equated with God the Father. But there is a sizable amount of corroborating evidence for this idea. Consider the following points of connection.
- 3 Ne. 11:3, 5-7 - between April and June 1828
The Father's "voice . . . came out of heaven" [i.e., 'from on high'] and testified of His "Beloved Son."
- D&C 20:16 - April 1830
Joseph Smith stated, "the Lord God has spoken it; and we . . . have heard . . . the words of the glorious Majesty on high."
- Matthew, Mark, Luke, 1 Peter - between 8 March 1831 and 24 March 1832
There are five New Testament scriptures (which Joseph Smith would have been familiar with from his work on the JST) that have distinct parallels to the First Vision story. Jesus Christ's Old World disciples heard the Father's voice come "from heaven" (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22; 2 Pt. 1:17-18) [i.e, 'from on high'] or "out of the cloud" (Mt. 17:5) [i.e., 'from on high'] and in each of these instances the Father testified of His Son and employed the same phraseology that Joseph Smith said He utilized during the First Vision.
- JST John 1:18/19 - between 20 November 1831 and 16 February 1832
"And no man hath seen God at any time, except he [i.e., God the Father] hath borne record of the Son."
- 1832 First Vision account - between 22 September 1832 and 27 November 1832
"receiving the testimony from on high"
- D&C 93:15 - 6 May 1833
Mention is made of the Father's voice being heard "out of heaven."
- Patriarchal Blessing - 9 December 1834
When the Prophet received his Patriarchal Blessing on 9 December 1834 he was reminded by the Patriarch (his father) that during his "youth" he had "heard [God's] voice from on high."
Joseph Smith appears to have equated the voice "from on high" with God the Father both before and after he penned his 1832 First Vision account
This chronological evidence points to the conclusion that Joseph Smith appears to have equated the voice "from on high" with God the Father both before and after he penned his 1832 First Vision account.
"The Lord opened the heavens and I saw the Lord"
Another line from the 1832 account that may be referring to two people may be this line
I was ﬁlled with the spirit of God, and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord
It has been argued that the seperation of "Lord" into two may be referring to the Lord God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Three pieces of evidence can be used to argue for this interpretation.
- Evidence #1 - The separation of "Lord" is used in scripture in Psalm 110:1 to refer to two distinct, divine individuals. As John Welch and James Allen have argued, if David can do this, so can Joseph. This connection becomes more plausible when we realize that Joseph would have either recently been working on or completed Psalms in his Inspired Translation of the Bible at this time.
A couple of critics have taken issue with this evidence for the interpretation--claiming that since Psalm 110:1 was originally written in Hebrew with two different words for Lord (rendering "Lord" and "LORD" in all caps for the second mention) that the argument fails.
Latter-day Saint apologist and theologian Robert S. Boylan has responded by showing how Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted, echoed, and/or alluded to passage in the New Testament which Joseph would have been working on revising in his Inspired Translation of the Bible. He then shows that the revelations in Doctrine and Covenants leading up chronologically to the publication of the history containing the 1832 account of Joseph’s vision deliberately echo that verse (Doctrine and Covenants 20:24; 49:5-6; 76: 20, 23). If Joseph were familiar with that verse close to the publication of the account by way of the Old and/or New Testament and as echoed in his revelations published in the Doctrine and Covenants, it seems reasonable to assume that he could have used that verse as a template for rendering his account of events surrounding the First Vision. This is even if one mention is capitalized and the other not. If the structure is deliberate and clear (and it appears so), then it seems odd to be upset that Joseph doesn't use capitals for the second "Lord" he writes about.
- Evidence #2 - The successive appearance of personages in other accounts (such as the 1835 account).
The 1832 account may be read to have a successive appearance of personages, one after the other. This is strengthened by the 1835 accounts mention of successive appearance. Further evidence of this in the 1832 account may be that Joseph was "filled with the spirit of God" before he mentions "the Lord".
- Evidence #3 - Joseph used "Lord" to refer to God and not just Jesus Christ in the 1832 account.
Some have argued that the 8 uses of Lord in the 1832 account all refer to Jesus Christ. There are at least three references that may be read otherwise:
A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous [sic] experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Christ the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the Church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brought forth and established by his hand.
A separation of "Christ" and "the Lord.” This is able to be read with Christ or the Father as the Lord.
My mind became exceedingly distressed, for I became convicted of my sins, and by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith, and there was no society or denomination that was built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.
The mention of Lord and Jesus Christ is tricky to consolidate here. This is best read so as to refer to the Father as the Lord.
The third plausible evidence of God as Lord is the ending of the account:
My soul was ﬁlled with love, and for many days I could rejoice with great joy. The Lord was with me, but I could ﬁnd none that would believe the heavenly vision. Nevertheless, I pondered these things in my heart.
The reference here is vague enough that it cannot be conclusively read one way or the other--especially with the just-cited mention of the Lord.
Question: Why did the Prophet construct the 1832 narrative in a manner such as to exclude explicit mention of the Father's appearance?
Analysis of the 1832 First Vision text reveals that it was deliberately constructed on the framework of many scriptural citations
Since it can be concluded from the above documentary evidence that Joseph Smith did indeed make an oblique reference to the appearance of the Father in his 1832 history the question becomes—Why did the Prophet construct the 1832 narrative in the manner that he did (so as to exclude explicit mention of the Father's appearance)? A careful analysis of the 1832 First Vision text reveals that it was deliberately constructed on the framework of many scriptural citations. The apostle Stephen's view of both the Father and the Son is clearly utilized by the Prophet in one section of the 1832 text but, more importantly, Joseph Smith told the actual theophany portion of this narrative in language that very closely corresponds to the apostle Paul's vision of Jesus Christ (Acts 26:). .
The apostle Paul did not report that he saw the Father alongside the Son
The Father is not explicitly mentioned as making an appearance in the theophany portion of the 1832 First Vision account because Joseph Smith patterned that part of his narrative after the vision of Jesus Christ experienced by the apostle Paul.
Paul did not report that he saw the Father alongside the Son, and so it is logical that this is the reason why Joseph Smith did not explicitly mention the Father's appearance in his text either. The Prophet's strong sense of connection with Paul's visionary experience is referred to by him right in his 1838 First Vision account. The context of this connection is the persecution experienced by both men for speaking publicly about a heavenly manifestation. Joseph Smith relates in his 1838 history that he was informed by a clergyman that his vision was "all of the devil." This piece of information may help to explain why the Prophet chose to couch his first known written account of his vision in heavy biblical language and imagery. He may have hoped that by doing this his story would have a better chance of being accepted amongst a populace that was steeped in biblical content.
Question: Did any of Joseph's scribes ever say anything about Joseph's story of the vision changing over time?
Joseph's scribe Frederick G. Williams never mentioned anything about Joseph's story "evolving" over time
It is interesting to note that the scribe for the material which directly precedes and follows after the 1832 First Vision narrative - Frederick G. Williams - never mentioned anything about Joseph Smith's story evolving over time and becoming more elaborate with the so-called 'addition' of the Father. Williams was a resident of Quincy, Illinois when the First Vision account which explicitly refers to the Father was published in Nauvoo, Illinois on 1 April 1842. It is known that Williams was with the Prophet in Nauvoo shortly before his death on 10 October 1842 but during the intervening six months there is no known objection by Frederick to the content of the printed text. Why not? Williams was the person who wrote down the words in the introductory remarks of the 1832 document that talk of Joseph Smith receiving "the testimony from on high" during the First Vision. And it is known that Frederick was accompanying four LDS missionaries who, in November 1830, were teaching the citizens of Painesville, Ohio that Joseph Smith had seen "God" personally (see the 1830 statement about seeing "God"). Williams was a member of the First Presidency of the Church on 9 November 1835 when Joseph Smith was teaching a non-Mormon that there were two personages who appeared during the First Vision (see Joseph Smith diary, 9 November 1835). Frederick probably never drew attention to a so-called 'discrepancy' between what Joseph Smith taught in 1832, 1835, 1838, and 1842 because he knew that there wasn't one; he knew that the words of the Father spoken during the vision were referred to right in the text that he had written down in 1832.
Joseph's scribe Oliver Cowdery never mentioned anything about Joseph's story changing
Oliver Cowdery is another person who was in a position to know if the Prophet's First Vision story had changed over time by the addition of the Father. But he never mentioned any such 'discrepancy'. Cowdery had possession of the 1832 First Vision account when he wrote and published a series of Church history letters in December 1834 and February 1835 and so he was fully aware of the explicit mention of Christ's appearance and he also would have known of the introductory remark which refers to "the testimony from on high" being delivered during this event. Cowdery became the Associate or Assistant President of the entire Church on 5 December 1834 (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1653), and thus he would have been in the highest office of Church authority when the Prophet was teaching about one year later that two personages appeared during the First Vision (Joseph Smith diary, 9 November 1835).
Even after both Fredrick G. Williams and Oliver Cowdery became disaffected with Joseph Smith, they never challenged his story of the First Vision
Both Fredrick G. Williams and Oliver Cowdery had reason to feel animosity toward Joseph Smith and the Church since they were both excommunicated in the late 1830's. But neither of these men - even after their reinstatements into full fellowship - ever pointed to any 'creative editing' of the Prophet's First Vision story to sound more impressive and dramatic.
Question: 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.
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.
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:
“10 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. 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.
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." 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)  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) 
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."
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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....
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.
Response to claim: "some of these accounts....seemed to evolve over time to correspond with his own changing beliefs"
(25 June 2014 revision): some of these accounts....seemed to evolve over time to correspond with his own changing beliefs
Without specifics, it is difficult to know which supposed "evolution" is referred to. Many of the standard examples from anti-Mormon literature, however, have been repeatedly debunked.
Those who adopt the author's stance often ignore other documents written at the same (or earlier) time than the First Vision accounts which contain the ideas and doctrines supposedly "missing" from the First Vision narratives. It is implausible to argue that Joseph taught these doctrines before giving a First Vision account, then rejected the ideas and contradicted them in a Vision account, only to then readopt and continue teaching the original ideas from before the Vision!Joseph's 1832 vision account also explicitly says that there are many things which God told him which he is not writing in that particular account—this makes the absence of any particular element unsurprising and of little value for the author's theory.
- 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
- John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
- 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.
- "First Vision Accounts," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
- "LESSON 6: Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013) 20.
- Milton V. Backman, "Joseph Smith's Recitals of the First Vision," Ensign (January 1985).
- James B. Allen, "Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision - What Do We Learn from Them?," Improvement Era (April 1970): 4-13.
- Dennis B. Neuenschwander, "Joseph Smith: An Apostle of Jesus Christ," Ensign (January 2009): 16-22.
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign (October 1984): 2.
- Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 171.
- Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 9–20. off-site.
- See John W. Welch and James B. Allen "Analysis of Joseph Smith's Accounts of the First Vision," Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820-1844, 1st ed., John W. Welch, ed. (Provo, UT: BYU Studies Press, 2005).
- See for example Stan Larson, "Another Look at Joseph Smith's First Vision," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 47, no. 2 (Summer 2014): 37-62 (52).
- Robert Boylan, "Psalm 110:1 and the two Lords in the 1832 First Vision Account," <http://scripturalmormonism.blogspot.com/2017/10/psalm-1101-and-two-lords-in-1832-first.html> (6 October 2019).
- Stan Larson, "Another Look," 52.
- See the 2006 FAIR Conference address entitled "Revised or Unaltered? Joseph Smith's Foundational Stories" and its accompanying slides (see links below in the "Video" section).
- 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)
- "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, LDS Church Archives; cited by Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:331.
- 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.
- Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, ed. Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 161.
- The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) (14 February 1832): 102.
- 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.
- As cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," footnote 12.
- 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," <https://scripturalmormonism.blogspot.com/> (7 July 2020).
- The current D&C 76 vision was first published in Evening and Morning Star, Independence, Missouri, July 1832.
- 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883 (Palm Desert, California: ULC Press, 1981), 39; cited in Paulsen, 34.
- "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.
- 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.
- 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.