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Response to "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 5 - The Word of Wisdom



A FAIR Analysis of: For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife), a work by author: Anonymous
Chart LTMW word of wisdom.png

Response to claims made in "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 5- The Word of Wisdom


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Response to claim: "Verse 2 – Clearly states that the Word of Wisdom is not a commandment; yet modern members are asked if they follow it during temple interviews"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Verse 2 – Clearly states that the Word of Wisdom is not a commandment; yet modern members are asked if they follow it during temple interviews and will not be issued a temple recommend if the interviewer feels that they do not properly adhere.

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

The Word of Wisdom was not originally a "commandment": This was changed by President Heber J. Grant.

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Articles about Joseph Smith

Revelations in Context: "Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture"

"The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013):

Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture, especially when fermented beverages of all kinds were frequently used for medicinal purposes. The term "strong drink" certainly included distilled spirits like whiskey, which hereafter the Latter-day Saints generally shunned. They took a more moderate approach to milder alcoholic beverages like beer and "pure wine of the grape of the vine of your own make" (see D&C 89꞉6). For the next two generations, Latter-day Saint leaders taught the Word of Wisdom as a command from God, but they tolerated a variety of viewpoints on how strictly the commandment should be observed. This incubation period gave the Saints time to develop their own tradition of abstinence from habit-forming substances. By the early twentieth century, when scientific medicines were more widely available and temple attendance had become a more regular feature of Latter-day Saint worship, the Church was ready to accept a more exacting standard of observance that would eliminate problems like alcoholism from among the obedient. In 1921, the Lord inspired Church president Heber J. Grant to call on all Saints to live the Word of Wisdom to the letter by completely abstaining from all alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco. Today Church members are expected to live this higher standard.[1]

Has the implementation and enforcement of the Word of Wisdom changed over time?

Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements for the Word of Wisdom as today's Saints are

Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are. Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28꞉10-13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

"Strong drink" was initially interpreted as hard liquor, and did not include beer or lightly fermented wine

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89:5, 7), which was initially interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" (D&C 89:17) and therefore acceptable (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). The complete prohibition of alcoholic drinks of any kind only became part of the Word of Wisdom following the temperance movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant supported the movement and Grant made complete abstention from alcohol in any form a requirement for a temple recommend in the early 1920s.

Consider also that drinking water in Joseph Smith's day (or during Biblical times) was a gamble because water purity was always questionable; a little alcohol in a beverage ensured that it was free of viruses and bacteria. The development of germ theory in the late 19th century lead to chemical treatments to ensure a safe supply of public drinking water. A strict ban of all alcohol in Joseph Smith's time would have been a death sentence for many Latter-day Saints—especially during the 1832–1833 cholera pandemic, which spread its disease by water.

Tobacco, coffee and tea were not initially prohibited, but instead their use was discouraged

The same sort of "ramping up" of requirements occurred with regard to tobacco, coffee and tea. While use of these items was often discouraged by Church leaders, enforcement was usually light and confined to people who were severe abusers. For example, Brigham Young made the following remarks in April 1870 General Conference:

On Sunday, after meeting, going through the gallery which had been occupied by those claiming, no doubt, to be gentlemen, and perhaps, brethren, you might have supposed that cattle had been standing around there and dropping their nuisances. Here and there were great quids of tobacco, and places a foot or two feet square smeared with tobacco juice. I wish the door-keepers, when, in the future, they observe any persons besmearing the seats and floor in this way to request them to leave the house; and, if they refuse and will not stop spitting about and besmearing their neighbors, just take them and lead them out carefully and kindly. It is an imposition for those claiming to be gentlemen to spit tobacco juice for ladies to draw their clothes through and besmear them, or to leave their dirt in the house. We request all addicted to this practice, to omit it while in this house. Elders of Israel, if you must chew tobacco, omit it while in meeting, and when you leave, you can take a double portion, if you wish to. [2]

Kate Holbrook: The Word of Wisdom: Development and Practice


In what way did Joseph Smith implement the Word of Wisdom during his lifetime?

Joseph Smith never interpreted the Word of Wisdom revelation as demanding total abstinence

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are.

Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28:10,13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

As one historian noted:

it appears clear that Joseph Smith never interpreted the [Word of Wisdom] revelation as demanding total abstinence, but stressed moderation and self-control....He had no objections to using tobacco for medicinal purposes. With regard to wine and "strong drink" possibly the most accurate index to the Prophet's position was expressed by Benjamin F. Johnson, who personally knew Joseph: "As a companion, socailly, he was highly endowed; was kind, generous, mirth loving, and a times even convivial. He was partial to a well supplied table and he did not always refuse the wine that maketh the heart glad."[3]

Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89꞉5,7), which some (including Joseph) seem to have interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some (D&C 89꞉17) and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). One historian notes that the degree of rigor with which early Saints observed the Word of Wisdom varied:

[23] While the Saints opposed the common use of tea [24] and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequently used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use....

[25] The journal of Joseph Smith reveals many instances where Joseph and other Church leaders drank wine and a tolerant attitude towards the consumption of this beverage is particularly noticeable....

[26] Despite the injunction contained in the revelation discouraging the drinking of wine, (except for sacramental purposes) the casual nature of the allusions to this beverage suggest that many Church Authorities did not consider moderate wine drinking in the same category as the use of strong drinks....

Evidence suggests that the drinking of tea, coffee, and liquor was [in the 1830s] in general violation of the principle [of the Word of Wisdom], though exceptions can be found. All of these items were used by the Saints for medicinal purposes. Moderate wine-drinking was evidently acceptable to most Church leaders....[27] In short, it would seem that adherence to the revelation to at least 1839 required Church members to be moderately temperate but certainly [did] not [require] total abstinence....[4]

Did Joseph Smith give some of the brethren money to purchase whiskey in violation of the Word of Wisdom?

The use of whiskey as a stimulant while traveling was allowed, but abusing it by getting drunk was not

Liquor in judicious amounts was used as a medicinal substance, and seen as a stimulant or restorative against fatigue. This is why Joseph "investigated the case"--he wished to know if the use had been acceptable or to excess. (In a similar way, a modern-day Church leader who heard that a member was using morphine might investigate to discover if such use is appropriate--e.g., under a doctor's supervision in proper prescribed amounts for a legitimate ailment--or whether they were abusing it to get "high".)

Here's what Joseph said,

The company moved on to Andover, where the Sheriff of Lee County requested lodgings for the night for all the company. I was put up into a room and locked up with Captain Grover. It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whiskey that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom.

I called the brethren in and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done, and gave them a couple of dollars, with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey.[5]

The complete prohibition on alcohol was phased in gradually

Critics of the Church who use this quote as evidence that Joseph disregarded the Word of Wisdom also do not inform readers that the complete prohibition on alcohol was a gradual matter, and so Joseph's judgment on the issue was possible (which explains why no one at the time was shocked or outraged by it). Later nineteenth century Mormons, such as Brigham Young, understood the matter in the same way, and also distinguished between the excessive and judicious use of spirits.

Did Joseph Smith appear in public smoking a cigar right after teaching a sermon on the Word of Wisdom?

This accusation was made by Amasa Lyman, who had already been excommunicated from the Church

Abraham H. Cannon made an entry in his diary stating that Amasa Lyman saw Joseph Smith smoking the cigar immediately after delivering a sermon on the Word of Wisdom and that he immediately afterward "rode through the streets smoking a cigar" in order to try "the faith of the Saints."[6] At the time that Lyman made this accusation, he had already been excommunicated from the Church.

We ought to start with a degree of suspicion when we hear stories like this, because Joseph really did to things on occasion to test the Saints

These sorts of things really call into question a lot of these kinds of stories - especially when they are published long after the events they claim to be portraying (and the cigar story is certainly that). By the time these stories develop, we have these cultural myths being created about Joseph Smith. And so when we have this story about the Amasa Lyman encounter that first shows up in Abraham Canon's journal in 1895, we ought to start with a degree of suspicion. The problem we have with stories like this is that Joseph really did on occasion do things to test the Saints. He liked to go down to the boats at Nauvoo dressed poorly so as to interact with the new converts coming in to Nauvoo and to see what their expectations were. He regularly acted in ways that some thought were inappropriate for a prophet. One of the more widely known stories in the later 19th century was this one, recorded by William Allred and published in 1892:

I was with him [Joseph Smith] in the troubles at DeWitt, Adam-ondi-ahman, and in Far West. I have played ball with him many times in Nauvoo. He was preaching once, and he said it tried some of the pious folks to see him play ball with the boys. He then related a story of a certain prophet who was sitting under the shade of a tree amusing himself in some way, when a hunter came along with his bow and arrow, and reproved him. The prophet asked him if he kept his bow strung up all the time. The hunter answered that he did not. The prophet asked why, and he said it would lose its elasticity if he did. The prophet said it was just so with his mind, he did not want it strung up all the time. Another time when I heard him preaching he said if he should tell the people all the Lord had revealed to him, some would seek his life. Even as good a man as old Father C—-, here on the stand, he added, (pointing back to him) would seek his life.[7]

There is this story, and it sounds like something we might expect, but it tends to have problems when we realize that this entire story is based on a much older story about the New Testament apostle John. Here is a version of that story, published by Fracis De Sales, in 1609:

It is necessary sometimes to relax our minds as well as our bodies by some kind of recreation. St. John the Evangelist, as Cassian relates, was one day found by a huntsman with a partridge on his hand, which he was caressing for his recreation. The huntsman asked how such a man as he could spend his time in so poor and mean an occupation? St. John replied: Why dost thou not carry thy bow always bent? For fear, answered the huntsman, that if it were always bent, it would loose its spring and become useless. Be not surprised, then, replied the apostle, that I should sometimes remit a little of the close application and attention of my spirit and enjoy a little recreation, that I may afterward employ myself more fervently in divine contemplation.[8]

Did Joseph Smith violate the Word of Wisdom by drinking tea?

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today

Joseph Smith is reported as drinking tea on a few occasions. Does this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not enforced as rigorously, or with the same requirements, in Joseph Smith's day. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Many speakers emphasized the Lord's patience in this matter, as applied to both leaders and members.

But, many of the events described are actually concerned about medical practice, not the social or recreational use of these substances. For example, one might be shocked to learn that President Kimball used morphine—however, the morphine was prescribed for cancer pain by a physician.

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal. Why would this be?

In consulting the journal entry, we read: "Saturday, March 11th Too cold last night as to freeze [p.332] water in the warmest rooms in the city. River filled with anchor ice. 8 1/2 o'clock in the office, Joseph said he had tea with his breakfast." [9]

In Joseph's day, some medical thinking held that "hot drinks" (such as tea and coffee) could heat the body and vital fluids. While this was usually regarded as a bad idea that would be dangerous to health:

I found, after maturely considering the subject, that all animal bodies are formed of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. Earth and water constitute the solids, and air and fire, or heat, are the cause of life and motion. That cold, or lessening the power of heat, is the cause of all disease; that to restore heat to its natural state, was the only way by which health could be produced;....a state of perfect health arises from a due balance or temperature of the four elements; but if it is by any means destroyed, the body is more or less disordered. And when this is the case, there is always an actual diminution or absence of the element of fire, or heat; and in proportion to this diminution or absence, the body is affected by its opposite, which is cold. And I found that all disorders which the human family were afflicted with, however various the symptoms, and different the names by which they are called, arise directly from obstructed perspiration, which is always caused by cold, or want of heat ....[10]

This entry is from the works of Samuel Thomson, a founder of what became known as "Thomsonian herbalism." There were several Latter-day Saint physicians who were Thomsonians, including (significantly) Willard Richards, who wrote the diary entry we are here considering. The emphasis on loss of heat and lack of stimulation is significant—for it clashed with another set of medical principles, the "orthodox" or "heroic" doctors who came to believe that acute disease was not caused by lack of heat, but by too much energy, heat, or vital force: hence their prescriptions for bleeding, purging, and the like: to lower the energy or "heat." [11] Thus, under normal circumstances an 'energizing', 'hot', or 'stimulating' drink would be inappropriate.

There might, however, be exceptions. Thomson described a local woman who acted as a healer, and his admiration for her skill and methods is clear:

There was an old lady by the name of Benton lived near us, who used to attend our family when there was any sickness. At that time there was no such thing as a Doctor known among us, there not being any within ten miles. The whole of her practice was with roots and herbs, applied to the patient, or given in hot drinks, to produce sweating; which always answered the purpose. [12]

Thus, in a time of extreme cold, a "hot drink" like tea could be seen as a medicinal or preventative treatment which would help maintain health, since it would prevent the loss of the vital heat upon which the body depended. As a Thomsonian physician, Willard Richards (who wrote Joseph's journal for him) would have known and preached this. An "orthodox physician" (wary of heat, and more apt to bleed or purge) would have vigorously disagreed. [13]

By analogy, a modern member would be in violation of the Word of Wisdom if he or she injected morphine as a "recreational" drug. But, if the same drug was administered for a medical reason, the member would not be at fault. (Indeed, we might find fault with someone for refusing a medical treatment to maintain their health or cure an illness.)

That Richards was not surprised or offended by Joseph's consumption of tea on a bitterly cold winter morning demonstrates that Joseph's action was not the scandal that some wish to portray it as.

As one historian observed in 1972:

While the Saints opposed the common use of tea and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequenlty used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use.[14]

Did George A. Smith report that some church members left the church after finding that their leaders drank tea and coffee?

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous

Some critics of the Church hope their readers will be shocked by George A. Smith's admission that Emma Smith offered some new converts a glass of tea. But, why would George A. Smith admit to Joseph committing a grave sin, if such it was? His account provides us with the clues:

I know persons who apostatized because they supposed they had reasons; for instance, a certain family, after having travelled a long journey, arrived in Kirtland, and the prophet asked them to stop with him until they could find a place. Sister Emma, in the mean time, asked the old lady if she would have a cup of tea to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey, or a cup of coffee. This whole family apostatized because they were invited to take a cup of tea or coffee, after the Word of Wisdom was given. [15]

It is significant that George A. Smith says Emma made the offer "to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey." This is not merely a polite offer of something to drink—it is suggesting that the old woman may be particularly vulnerable to having her "vital heat" diminished by the rigors of a long journey exposed to the elements. Emma is probably making a health-related offer, not just offering a social beverage as we would today. Difficulties in assuring clean water supplies also make tea or coffee a sometimes wiser choice for health. Both coffee and tea are made from boiled water, which will kill bacteria. Even without boiling, the tannic acid in tea would kill the bacteria that caused such scourges as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery—all real risks on the American frontier. [16]

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous—the Word of Wisdom did not forbid the maintenance of health.

Did Willard Richards violate the Word of Wisdom by using tobacco at Carthage Jail?

Joseph Smith obtained some tobacco for a friend while in Carthage Jail prior to being martyred. Doesn't this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbalist, a type of physician common in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day. The tobacco was intended for medicinal purposes.

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbalist, a type of physician common in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States. Thomson was the name of the founder of this school of practice, which differed from the practice of the "orthodox" medical doctors, who focused on balancing humors, purging, inducing diarrhea, and so forth.

Neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom--they were likely medicinal

An aspect of Thomsonian medicine was Thomson's enthusiasm for the use of lobelia, or wild Indian tobacco. It was used as a cure-all, and was prominently used as an emetic to induce vomiting and restore health. This is the key to understanding the use of tobacco at Carthage Jail.

Neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom--they were likely medicinal.

Tobacco for Willard Richards

Willard Richards, who was in jail with Joseph, was a Thomsonian physician. This was a branch of pre-modern medical practice which required minimal schooling. Thomson's followers' believed strongly in the use of lobelia, or wild Indian tobacco. It was used as a cure-all, and was prominently used as an emetic to induce vomiting and restore health. This is the key to understanding the use of tobacco at Carthage Jail.

Critics Gerald and Sandra Tanner (p. 33) make a great deal of Joseph asking for a "pipe and tobacco" for Willard Richards. However, when we understand the circumstances, this action makes sense, and it has nothing to do with the Word of Wisdom. In the first place, we must realize that Joseph and Willard were locked in Carthage Jail.

Joseph had sent Stephen Markham out, as previous text unquoted by the Tanners tells us: "'Brother Markham...go get the doctor [i.e., Richards] something to settle his stomach,' [said Joseph,] and Markham went out for medicine. When he got the remedies desired...[the] Carthage Greys gathered round him, put him on his horse, and forced him out of the town at the point of the bayonet." So, Markham could not return, and none of the remedies he had obtained reached the jail. [17]

It is not clear which remedies Markham sought out—but he could not return. A Thomsonian like Richards would have probably seen tobacco as a medicinal drug, however—especially in a pinch when he could get nothing else. This would be particularly true if the tobacco was lobelia—it was the Thomsonian cure-all, literally.

The Tanners complain elsewhere about how in the History of the Church the words "pipe and some tobacco" were replaced by the word "medicine" (p. 471). But, this misses the point in a spectacular way—tobacco was considered a medicine at the time! Modern editors would not make this type of change to a historical text, but one can understand why rather than bother to explain about Thomsonian beliefs and medical practices, the editors of earlier times decided to simply "translate" the reason for the tobacco. The issue only becomes important, after all, when one is unfamiliar with early nineteenth century medicine.

There is further evidence that the tobacco was not seen as a problem by current or later leaders, since John Taylor's later account of the martyrdom in History of the Church mentions it very frankly and matter-of-factly:

Before the jailer came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more.

The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailer went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as also Brother Taylor and the doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out. When at the top of the stairs some one below called him two or three times, and he went down.[18]

Since neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom. Leaders would not include this information if it made Joseph look bad. This should be our first clue that something else is going on.[19] Some critics, however, have not sought to understand, but merely to condemn by trusting that their audience will not understand the fine points of early nineteenth century frontier medicine.

Events surrounding the death of Joseph Smith

Summary: To learn more about the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage jail, follow this link.
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph utter a false prophecy and show disregard for the Word of Wisdom in telling Orson Hyde that he would drink wine with him in Palestine?

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come (Luke 22:18) which was reiterated in a revelation to Joseph Smith (D&C 27꞉5). Joseph prophesied that he would drink with Hyde there—but whether he would go to Palestine in this life was something about which he immediately expressed uncertainty.

Those who offer this criticism make three errors:

  1. they do not cite the entire text
  2. they refuse to consider a fulfillment after this life.
  3. they ignore the Word of Wisdom's application in historical context.

The prophecy: "If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me"

Joseph was not certain that he would see Palestine during this life. As can be seen below, Joseph (1) prophesied that he would drink wine with Hyde in the Holy Land; and then (2) expressed hope that he would go with the Twelve to the Holy Land, but was aware he might not live, and left the matter to God's will:

Elder Hyde told of the excellent white wine he drank in the east [Palestine]. Joseph prophesied in the name of the Lord that he would drink wine with him in that country. Joseph [said], "From the 6th day of April next, I go in for preparing with all present for a Mission through the United States and when we arrive {page 143} at Maine we will take ship for England and so on to all countries where we are a mind for to go." P[r]e[se]nt: H[yrum] Smith, B[righam] Young, H[eber] C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, W[ilford] Woodruff, Geo[rge] A. Smith, [and] W[illard] Richards.

[Joseph said,] "We must write for John E. Page. We must love the whole Quorum. We must send Kings and Queens to Nauvoo and we will do it. We must all start from this place. Let the 12 [Apostles] be called in on the {page 143} 6th of April and a notice be given for a special conference on the platform on [the] House of the Lord. We are sure to go as we live till spring. If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me."[20]

In Joseph's day, wine was not forbidden by the Word of Wisdom

Once again, critics count on their audience thinking that the prophets have commanded the same degree of observance of the Word of Wisdom throughout Church history.


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

To learn more about Joseph Smith: Word of Wisdom

Articles about Joseph Smith

Revelations in Context: "Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture"

"The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013):

Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture, especially when fermented beverages of all kinds were frequently used for medicinal purposes. The term "strong drink" certainly included distilled spirits like whiskey, which hereafter the Latter-day Saints generally shunned. They took a more moderate approach to milder alcoholic beverages like beer and "pure wine of the grape of the vine of your own make" (see D&C 89꞉6). For the next two generations, Latter-day Saint leaders taught the Word of Wisdom as a command from God, but they tolerated a variety of viewpoints on how strictly the commandment should be observed. This incubation period gave the Saints time to develop their own tradition of abstinence from habit-forming substances. By the early twentieth century, when scientific medicines were more widely available and temple attendance had become a more regular feature of Latter-day Saint worship, the Church was ready to accept a more exacting standard of observance that would eliminate problems like alcoholism from among the obedient. In 1921, the Lord inspired Church president Heber J. Grant to call on all Saints to live the Word of Wisdom to the letter by completely abstaining from all alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco. Today Church members are expected to live this higher standard.[21]

Has the implementation and enforcement of the Word of Wisdom changed over time?

Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements for the Word of Wisdom as today's Saints are

Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are. Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28꞉10-13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

"Strong drink" was initially interpreted as hard liquor, and did not include beer or lightly fermented wine

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89:5, 7), which was initially interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" (D&C 89:17) and therefore acceptable (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). The complete prohibition of alcoholic drinks of any kind only became part of the Word of Wisdom following the temperance movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant supported the movement and Grant made complete abstention from alcohol in any form a requirement for a temple recommend in the early 1920s.

Consider also that drinking water in Joseph Smith's day (or during Biblical times) was a gamble because water purity was always questionable; a little alcohol in a beverage ensured that it was free of viruses and bacteria. The development of germ theory in the late 19th century lead to chemical treatments to ensure a safe supply of public drinking water. A strict ban of all alcohol in Joseph Smith's time would have been a death sentence for many Latter-day Saints—especially during the 1832–1833 cholera pandemic, which spread its disease by water.

Tobacco, coffee and tea were not initially prohibited, but instead their use was discouraged

The same sort of "ramping up" of requirements occurred with regard to tobacco, coffee and tea. While use of these items was often discouraged by Church leaders, enforcement was usually light and confined to people who were severe abusers. For example, Brigham Young made the following remarks in April 1870 General Conference:

On Sunday, after meeting, going through the gallery which had been occupied by those claiming, no doubt, to be gentlemen, and perhaps, brethren, you might have supposed that cattle had been standing around there and dropping their nuisances. Here and there were great quids of tobacco, and places a foot or two feet square smeared with tobacco juice. I wish the door-keepers, when, in the future, they observe any persons besmearing the seats and floor in this way to request them to leave the house; and, if they refuse and will not stop spitting about and besmearing their neighbors, just take them and lead them out carefully and kindly. It is an imposition for those claiming to be gentlemen to spit tobacco juice for ladies to draw their clothes through and besmear them, or to leave their dirt in the house. We request all addicted to this practice, to omit it while in this house. Elders of Israel, if you must chew tobacco, omit it while in meeting, and when you leave, you can take a double portion, if you wish to. [22]

Kate Holbrook: The Word of Wisdom: Development and Practice


In what way did Joseph Smith implement the Word of Wisdom during his lifetime?

Joseph Smith never interpreted the Word of Wisdom revelation as demanding total abstinence

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are.

Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28:10,13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

As one historian noted:

it appears clear that Joseph Smith never interpreted the [Word of Wisdom] revelation as demanding total abstinence, but stressed moderation and self-control....He had no objections to using tobacco for medicinal purposes. With regard to wine and "strong drink" possibly the most accurate index to the Prophet's position was expressed by Benjamin F. Johnson, who personally knew Joseph: "As a companion, socailly, he was highly endowed; was kind, generous, mirth loving, and a times even convivial. He was partial to a well supplied table and he did not always refuse the wine that maketh the heart glad."[23]

Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89꞉5,7), which some (including Joseph) seem to have interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some (D&C 89꞉17) and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). One historian notes that the degree of rigor with which early Saints observed the Word of Wisdom varied:

[23] While the Saints opposed the common use of tea [24] and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequently used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use....

[25] The journal of Joseph Smith reveals many instances where Joseph and other Church leaders drank wine and a tolerant attitude towards the consumption of this beverage is particularly noticeable....

[26] Despite the injunction contained in the revelation discouraging the drinking of wine, (except for sacramental purposes) the casual nature of the allusions to this beverage suggest that many Church Authorities did not consider moderate wine drinking in the same category as the use of strong drinks....

Evidence suggests that the drinking of tea, coffee, and liquor was [in the 1830s] in general violation of the principle [of the Word of Wisdom], though exceptions can be found. All of these items were used by the Saints for medicinal purposes. Moderate wine-drinking was evidently acceptable to most Church leaders....[27] In short, it would seem that adherence to the revelation to at least 1839 required Church members to be moderately temperate but certainly [did] not [require] total abstinence....[4]

Did Joseph Smith give some of the brethren money to purchase whiskey in violation of the Word of Wisdom?

The use of whiskey as a stimulant while traveling was allowed, but abusing it by getting drunk was not

Liquor in judicious amounts was used as a medicinal substance, and seen as a stimulant or restorative against fatigue. This is why Joseph "investigated the case"--he wished to know if the use had been acceptable or to excess. (In a similar way, a modern-day Church leader who heard that a member was using morphine might investigate to discover if such use is appropriate--e.g., under a doctor's supervision in proper prescribed amounts for a legitimate ailment--or whether they were abusing it to get "high".)

Here's what Joseph said,

The company moved on to Andover, where the Sheriff of Lee County requested lodgings for the night for all the company. I was put up into a room and locked up with Captain Grover. It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whiskey that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom.

I called the brethren in and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done, and gave them a couple of dollars, with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey.[24]

The complete prohibition on alcohol was phased in gradually

Critics of the Church who use this quote as evidence that Joseph disregarded the Word of Wisdom also do not inform readers that the complete prohibition on alcohol was a gradual matter, and so Joseph's judgment on the issue was possible (which explains why no one at the time was shocked or outraged by it). Later nineteenth century Mormons, such as Brigham Young, understood the matter in the same way, and also distinguished between the excessive and judicious use of spirits.

Did Joseph Smith appear in public smoking a cigar right after teaching a sermon on the Word of Wisdom?

This accusation was made by Amasa Lyman, who had already been excommunicated from the Church

Abraham H. Cannon made an entry in his diary stating that Amasa Lyman saw Joseph Smith smoking the cigar immediately after delivering a sermon on the Word of Wisdom and that he immediately afterward "rode through the streets smoking a cigar" in order to try "the faith of the Saints."[25] At the time that Lyman made this accusation, he had already been excommunicated from the Church.

We ought to start with a degree of suspicion when we hear stories like this, because Joseph really did to things on occasion to test the Saints

These sorts of things really call into question a lot of these kinds of stories - especially when they are published long after the events they claim to be portraying (and the cigar story is certainly that). By the time these stories develop, we have these cultural myths being created about Joseph Smith. And so when we have this story about the Amasa Lyman encounter that first shows up in Abraham Canon's journal in 1895, we ought to start with a degree of suspicion. The problem we have with stories like this is that Joseph really did on occasion do things to test the Saints. He liked to go down to the boats at Nauvoo dressed poorly so as to interact with the new converts coming in to Nauvoo and to see what their expectations were. He regularly acted in ways that some thought were inappropriate for a prophet. One of the more widely known stories in the later 19th century was this one, recorded by William Allred and published in 1892:

I was with him [Joseph Smith] in the troubles at DeWitt, Adam-ondi-ahman, and in Far West. I have played ball with him many times in Nauvoo. He was preaching once, and he said it tried some of the pious folks to see him play ball with the boys. He then related a story of a certain prophet who was sitting under the shade of a tree amusing himself in some way, when a hunter came along with his bow and arrow, and reproved him. The prophet asked him if he kept his bow strung up all the time. The hunter answered that he did not. The prophet asked why, and he said it would lose its elasticity if he did. The prophet said it was just so with his mind, he did not want it strung up all the time. Another time when I heard him preaching he said if he should tell the people all the Lord had revealed to him, some would seek his life. Even as good a man as old Father C—-, here on the stand, he added, (pointing back to him) would seek his life.[26]

There is this story, and it sounds like something we might expect, but it tends to have problems when we realize that this entire story is based on a much older story about the New Testament apostle John. Here is a version of that story, published by Fracis De Sales, in 1609:

It is necessary sometimes to relax our minds as well as our bodies by some kind of recreation. St. John the Evangelist, as Cassian relates, was one day found by a huntsman with a partridge on his hand, which he was caressing for his recreation. The huntsman asked how such a man as he could spend his time in so poor and mean an occupation? St. John replied: Why dost thou not carry thy bow always bent? For fear, answered the huntsman, that if it were always bent, it would loose its spring and become useless. Be not surprised, then, replied the apostle, that I should sometimes remit a little of the close application and attention of my spirit and enjoy a little recreation, that I may afterward employ myself more fervently in divine contemplation.[27]

Did Joseph Smith violate the Word of Wisdom by drinking tea?

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today

Joseph Smith is reported as drinking tea on a few occasions. Does this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not enforced as rigorously, or with the same requirements, in Joseph Smith's day. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Many speakers emphasized the Lord's patience in this matter, as applied to both leaders and members.

But, many of the events described are actually concerned about medical practice, not the social or recreational use of these substances. For example, one might be shocked to learn that President Kimball used morphine—however, the morphine was prescribed for cancer pain by a physician.

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal. Why would this be?

In consulting the journal entry, we read: "Saturday, March 11th Too cold last night as to freeze [p.332] water in the warmest rooms in the city. River filled with anchor ice. 8 1/2 o'clock in the office, Joseph said he had tea with his breakfast." [28]

In Joseph's day, some medical thinking held that "hot drinks" (such as tea and coffee) could heat the body and vital fluids. While this was usually regarded as a bad idea that would be dangerous to health:

I found, after maturely considering the subject, that all animal bodies are formed of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. Earth and water constitute the solids, and air and fire, or heat, are the cause of life and motion. That cold, or lessening the power of heat, is the cause of all disease; that to restore heat to its natural state, was the only way by which health could be produced;....a state of perfect health arises from a due balance or temperature of the four elements; but if it is by any means destroyed, the body is more or less disordered. And when this is the case, there is always an actual diminution or absence of the element of fire, or heat; and in proportion to this diminution or absence, the body is affected by its opposite, which is cold. And I found that all disorders which the human family were afflicted with, however various the symptoms, and different the names by which they are called, arise directly from obstructed perspiration, which is always caused by cold, or want of heat ....[29]

This entry is from the works of Samuel Thomson, a founder of what became known as "Thomsonian herbalism." There were several Latter-day Saint physicians who were Thomsonians, including (significantly) Willard Richards, who wrote the diary entry we are here considering. The emphasis on loss of heat and lack of stimulation is significant—for it clashed with another set of medical principles, the "orthodox" or "heroic" doctors who came to believe that acute disease was not caused by lack of heat, but by too much energy, heat, or vital force: hence their prescriptions for bleeding, purging, and the like: to lower the energy or "heat." [30] Thus, under normal circumstances an 'energizing', 'hot', or 'stimulating' drink would be inappropriate.

There might, however, be exceptions. Thomson described a local woman who acted as a healer, and his admiration for her skill and methods is clear:

There was an old lady by the name of Benton lived near us, who used to attend our family when there was any sickness. At that time there was no such thing as a Doctor known among us, there not being any within ten miles. The whole of her practice was with roots and herbs, applied to the patient, or given in hot drinks, to produce sweating; which always answered the purpose. [31]

Thus, in a time of extreme cold, a "hot drink" like tea could be seen as a medicinal or preventative treatment which would help maintain health, since it would prevent the loss of the vital heat upon which the body depended. As a Thomsonian physician, Willard Richards (who wrote Joseph's journal for him) would have known and preached this. An "orthodox physician" (wary of heat, and more apt to bleed or purge) would have vigorously disagreed. [32]

By analogy, a modern member would be in violation of the Word of Wisdom if he or she injected morphine as a "recreational" drug. But, if the same drug was administered for a medical reason, the member would not be at fault. (Indeed, we might find fault with someone for refusing a medical treatment to maintain their health or cure an illness.)

That Richards was not surprised or offended by Joseph's consumption of tea on a bitterly cold winter morning demonstrates that Joseph's action was not the scandal that some wish to portray it as.

As one historian observed in 1972:

While the Saints opposed the common use of tea and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequenlty used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use.[33]

Did George A. Smith report that some church members left the church after finding that their leaders drank tea and coffee?

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous

Some critics of the Church hope their readers will be shocked by George A. Smith's admission that Emma Smith offered some new converts a glass of tea. But, why would George A. Smith admit to Joseph committing a grave sin, if such it was? His account provides us with the clues:

I know persons who apostatized because they supposed they had reasons; for instance, a certain family, after having travelled a long journey, arrived in Kirtland, and the prophet asked them to stop with him until they could find a place. Sister Emma, in the mean time, asked the old lady if she would have a cup of tea to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey, or a cup of coffee. This whole family apostatized because they were invited to take a cup of tea or coffee, after the Word of Wisdom was given. [34]

It is significant that George A. Smith says Emma made the offer "to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey." This is not merely a polite offer of something to drink—it is suggesting that the old woman may be particularly vulnerable to having her "vital heat" diminished by the rigors of a long journey exposed to the elements. Emma is probably making a health-related offer, not just offering a social beverage as we would today. Difficulties in assuring clean water supplies also make tea or coffee a sometimes wiser choice for health. Both coffee and tea are made from boiled water, which will kill bacteria. Even without boiling, the tannic acid in tea would kill the bacteria that caused such scourges as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery—all real risks on the American frontier. [35]

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous—the Word of Wisdom did not forbid the maintenance of health.

Did Willard Richards violate the Word of Wisdom by using tobacco at Carthage Jail?

Joseph Smith obtained some tobacco for a friend while in Carthage Jail prior to being martyred. Doesn't this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbalist, a type of physician common in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day. The tobacco was intended for medicinal purposes.

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbalist, a type of physician common in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States. Thomson was the name of the founder of this school of practice, which differed from the practice of the "orthodox" medical doctors, who focused on balancing humors, purging, inducing diarrhea, and so forth.

Neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom--they were likely medicinal

An aspect of Thomsonian medicine was Thomson's enthusiasm for the use of lobelia, or wild Indian tobacco. It was used as a cure-all, and was prominently used as an emetic to induce vomiting and restore health. This is the key to understanding the use of tobacco at Carthage Jail.

Neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom--they were likely medicinal.

Tobacco for Willard Richards

Willard Richards, who was in jail with Joseph, was a Thomsonian physician. This was a branch of pre-modern medical practice which required minimal schooling. Thomson's followers' believed strongly in the use of lobelia, or wild Indian tobacco. It was used as a cure-all, and was prominently used as an emetic to induce vomiting and restore health. This is the key to understanding the use of tobacco at Carthage Jail.

Critics Gerald and Sandra Tanner (p. 33) make a great deal of Joseph asking for a "pipe and tobacco" for Willard Richards. However, when we understand the circumstances, this action makes sense, and it has nothing to do with the Word of Wisdom. In the first place, we must realize that Joseph and Willard were locked in Carthage Jail.

Joseph had sent Stephen Markham out, as previous text unquoted by the Tanners tells us: "'Brother Markham...go get the doctor [i.e., Richards] something to settle his stomach,' [said Joseph,] and Markham went out for medicine. When he got the remedies desired...[the] Carthage Greys gathered round him, put him on his horse, and forced him out of the town at the point of the bayonet." So, Markham could not return, and none of the remedies he had obtained reached the jail. [36]

It is not clear which remedies Markham sought out—but he could not return. A Thomsonian like Richards would have probably seen tobacco as a medicinal drug, however—especially in a pinch when he could get nothing else. This would be particularly true if the tobacco was lobelia—it was the Thomsonian cure-all, literally.

The Tanners complain elsewhere about how in the History of the Church the words "pipe and some tobacco" were replaced by the word "medicine" (p. 471). But, this misses the point in a spectacular way—tobacco was considered a medicine at the time! Modern editors would not make this type of change to a historical text, but one can understand why rather than bother to explain about Thomsonian beliefs and medical practices, the editors of earlier times decided to simply "translate" the reason for the tobacco. The issue only becomes important, after all, when one is unfamiliar with early nineteenth century medicine.

There is further evidence that the tobacco was not seen as a problem by current or later leaders, since John Taylor's later account of the martyrdom in History of the Church mentions it very frankly and matter-of-factly:

Before the jailer came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more.

The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailer went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as also Brother Taylor and the doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out. When at the top of the stairs some one below called him two or three times, and he went down.[37]

Since neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom. Leaders would not include this information if it made Joseph look bad. This should be our first clue that something else is going on.[38] Some critics, however, have not sought to understand, but merely to condemn by trusting that their audience will not understand the fine points of early nineteenth century frontier medicine.

Events surrounding the death of Joseph Smith

Summary: To learn more about the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage jail, follow this link.
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph utter a false prophecy and show disregard for the Word of Wisdom in telling Orson Hyde that he would drink wine with him in Palestine?

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come (Luke 22:18) which was reiterated in a revelation to Joseph Smith (D&C 27꞉5). Joseph prophesied that he would drink with Hyde there—but whether he would go to Palestine in this life was something about which he immediately expressed uncertainty.

Those who offer this criticism make three errors:

  1. they do not cite the entire text
  2. they refuse to consider a fulfillment after this life.
  3. they ignore the Word of Wisdom's application in historical context.

The prophecy: "If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me"

Joseph was not certain that he would see Palestine during this life. As can be seen below, Joseph (1) prophesied that he would drink wine with Hyde in the Holy Land; and then (2) expressed hope that he would go with the Twelve to the Holy Land, but was aware he might not live, and left the matter to God's will:

Elder Hyde told of the excellent white wine he drank in the east [Palestine]. Joseph prophesied in the name of the Lord that he would drink wine with him in that country. Joseph [said], "From the 6th day of April next, I go in for preparing with all present for a Mission through the United States and when we arrive {page 143} at Maine we will take ship for England and so on to all countries where we are a mind for to go." P[r]e[se]nt: H[yrum] Smith, B[righam] Young, H[eber] C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, W[ilford] Woodruff, Geo[rge] A. Smith, [and] W[illard] Richards.

[Joseph said,] "We must write for John E. Page. We must love the whole Quorum. We must send Kings and Queens to Nauvoo and we will do it. We must all start from this place. Let the 12 [Apostles] be called in on the {page 143} 6th of April and a notice be given for a special conference on the platform on [the] House of the Lord. We are sure to go as we live till spring. If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me."[39]

In Joseph's day, wine was not forbidden by the Word of Wisdom

Once again, critics count on their audience thinking that the prophets have commanded the same degree of observance of the Word of Wisdom throughout Church history.


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

To learn more about Joseph Smith: Word of Wisdom

Question: Did Heber J. Grant include a strict observance of the Word of Wisdom in the temple recommend interview because of the repeal of prohibition?

The Word of Wisdom requirement in the temple recommend interview was in place for many years before Prohibition was repealed

The temple recommend requirement was in place by 1919. Prohibition wasn't repealed until 1933.

A 1919 letter, Instructions to mission presidents, date October 8, 1919 clearly shows the Word of Wisdom requirement being in place at that time:

Temple Recommends

Presidents of Missions are not authorized to give temple recommends; these are issued by the President of the Church for mission members; upon obtaining suitable letters of recommendation from Mission Presidents for such members. Letters of recommendation should be given only to those who have been members of the Church at least a year, and in good standing for one year prior to giving the recommend. It must be known that they keep the Word of Wisdom, pay their tithing and otherwise are good members. Each letter of recommendation should specify what particular blessing the person is recommended to receive. [First Presidency: Heber J. Grant, Anthon H. Lund and Charles W. Penrose] [40]

The notion that President Grant could, unilaterally, institute such a change also goes against all established Church procedure and the scriptural mandate in D&C 107:27.

The church had been emphasizing the importance of living the Word of Wisdom from a very early time

The church had been emphasizing the importance of living the Word of Wisdom from a very early time. Clearly there were always many who refused to go along with it. Even Brigham Young had difficulty giving up coffee and tobacco until his later years. So, the Church kept emphasizing it.

  • 1841 At a conference of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, held in Zarahemla, Iowa, commencing on Saturday August 7th, 1841 Times and Seasons, 2. 548

Resolved, That this church will not fellowship any person or persons who are in the habit of drinking ardent spirits, or keeping tipling shops, and we will use our best endeavors to suppress it.

  • 1850 Millennial Star 12.3 (February 1, 1850): 42.

ORDINATIONS.--…. If he be guilty of drinking ardent spirits, instead of being ordained to the priesthood, he should be admonished; and if he should in any case, carry it to drunkenness, he should be strictly dealt with; and if he repent not, he should be excommunicated (42).

  • 1851: Wilford Woodruff.

President Young ... made many interesting remarks. He spoke upon the word of wisdom, of its origin &c. Said it was well kept when it was first given.[41]

  • 1925: Heber J. Grant (April 1925):

President Wilford Woodruff from this stand, many years ago, called upon every man holding the Priesthood and occupying any office in this Church, to obey the Word of Wisdom or to resign and step aside. I reiterate that men who do not obey the Word of Wisdom are not worthy to stand as examples before the people, to be invited into private priesthood meetings and to discuss matters for the welfare of the Church of God. Their disobedience shows a lack of faith in the work of God. I shall not take your time to read all of the Word of Wisdom, but I shall take time to read the words of the living God that must be acknowledged by every Latter-day Saint to be the word of God, or he or she is not entitled to be a member of this Church. After telling us what is good for us, the Lord makes a promise that is one of the most marvelous, one of the most uplifting and inspiring promises that could possibly be made to mortal man.[42]


Question: How was enforcement of the Word of Wisdom phased in over time?

Brigham Young declined to make the Word of Wisdom a "test of fellowship"

Said Brigham Young in 1861:

Some of the brethren are very strenuous upon the "Word of Wisdom", and would like to have me preach upon it, and urge it upon the brethren, and make it a test of fellowship. I do not think I shall do so. I have never done so. [43]

Ezra T. Benson notes that observing the Word of Wisdom would be "pleasing" to our Heavenly Father

In 1867, Ezra T. Benson exhorted the Saints to live the law, but seemed to realize that not all the Saints of the time had the capacity:

Supposing he had given the Word of Wisdom as a command, how many of us would have been here? I do not know; but he gave this without command or constraint, observing that it would be pleasing in His sight for His people to obey its precepts. Ought we not to try to please our Heavenly Father? [44]

In 1870, Brigham Young left the compliance with the Word of Wisdom up to the individual

In 1870, Brigham Young again emphasized that this was a commandment of God, but that following was left, to an extent, with the people:

The observance of the Word of Wisdom, or interpretation of God's requirements on this subject, must be left, partially, with the people. We cannot make laws like the Medes and Persians. We cannot say you shall never drink a cup of tea, or you shall never taste of this, or you shall never taste of that....[45]

In 1898, the First Presidency noted that bishops should not withhold temple recommends based upon the Word of Wisdom

Just before the turn of the century, in 1898, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve discussed the Word of Wisdom:

President Woodruff said he regarded the Word of Wisdom in its entirety as given of the Lord for the Latter-day Saints to observe, but he did not think that Bishops should withhold recommends from persons who did not adhere strictly to it. [46]

So, even by this date keeping the Word of Wisdom was not a “point of fellowship”—you could still have a temple recommend if you didn’t obey, though the leaders remained clear that it was a true doctrine from the Lord.

By 1902, temple recommends were beginning to be denied to those who did not follow the Word of Wisdom

By 1902, the Church leaders were strongly encouraging the members to keep the law, and were even beginning to deny temple recommends to those who would not. They were, however, still merciful and patient with the older members who had not been born into the system, and for whom change was presumably quite difficult:

[In 1902] Joseph F. Smith urged stake presidents and others to refuse recommends to flagrant violators but to be somewhat liberal with old men who used tobacco and old ladies who drank tea. Habitual drunkards, however, were to be denied temple recommends. [47]

By 1905, the Council of the Twelve were actively preaching that no man should hold a leadership position if he would not obey the Word of Wisdom. [48] On 5 July 1906, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve began using water instead of wine for their sacrament meetings. [49] By 1915, President Joseph F. Smith instructed that no one was to be ordained to the priesthood or given temple recommends without adherence. [50] Heber J. Grant became President of the Church in 1918, and he continued the policy of Word of Wisdom observance; after that time temple attendance or priesthood ordination required obedience to the principle. Thus, the Church membership had eighty-five years to adapt and prepare for the full implementation of this revelation. [51] By 1933, the General Handbook of Instructions listed the Word of Wisdom as a requirement for temple worship, exactly 100 years after the receipt of the revelation by Joseph Smith. [52]

Joseph F. Smith reasoned that the long period of implementation was needed to allow people to overcome addictions

According to Joseph F. Smith, this long period of patience on the part of the Lord was necessary for all—from the newest member to even the leaders:

The reason undoubtedly why the Word of Wisdom was given—as not by 'commandment or restraint' was that at that time, at least, if it had been given as a commandment it would have brought every man, addicted to the use of these noxious things, under condemnation; so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome, before He brought them under the law. [53]

Thus, we should not expect perfect observance of the Word of Wisdom (especially in its modern application) from early members or leaders. The Lord and the Church did not expect it of them—though the principle was taught and emphasized.


Response to claim: "Verse 12,13 – Meat should only be eaten in the winter or during a famine"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Verse 12,13 – Meat should only be eaten in the winter or during a famine.

FAIR's Response

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

The Word of Wisdom was geared toward 19th century realities, and it has been adjusted for modern times by living prophets. In the 19th century, meat was difficult to preserve during the summer, but easy to preserve in the winter. Modern methods of refrigeration now make it possible to preserve meat in any season.

Jump to Detail:

Question: Do Mormons who do not eat meat "sparingly" violate the Word of Wisdom?

Just as past members struggled as individuals and a group to keep some parts of the Word of Wisdom, it is arguable that some members today likewise struggle

As with the former members, the Lord is merciful and has not yet created a "standard" for meat consumption—each member and his or her conscience settles the matter with him or herself.

With respect to the question of why we do some things (tend to eat lots of meat) but not others (don't drink tea), the reason for that likely has much to do with the concept of following the counsel of living prophets. The current Church Handbook says "hot drinks" means tea and coffee, and it forbids the use of illegal drugs, even though neither "tea" nor illegal drugs are explicitly mentioned in the Word of Wisdom. Like other scriptures, we rely on guidance from living prophets to help us to know how Doctrine and Covenants Section 89 should be applied in our time. With respect to eating meat sparingly, that remains a "word of wisdom," but, unlike refraining from tea, is not mentioned in the current Handbook and has not been publicly mentioned by any General Authorities for many years.

Joseph Fielding Smith made the following statement with regard to eating meat:

While it is ordained that the flesh of animals is for man's food, yet this should be used sparingly. The wording of this revelation is perfectly clear in relation to this subject, but we do not always heed it. [54]

Thus, each member is encouraged to do better, but as in Joseph Smith's day we ought not to attack or dictate to others. If the Lord is displeased with us individually, he can make his will known by revelation. If He is displeased with the Church as a whole, prophetic authority will give the necessary correction.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Members and leaders struggled with its application, and leaders of the Church were clear that while the Lord expected perfect adherence to the Word of Wisdom as an ideal, he was also patient and understanding of everyone—leader and member—who struggled to alter their habits.

In our day, the Word of Wisdom applies in ways in which it did not for Joseph Smith's era—the modern Word of Wisdom forbids a great many other illegal street drugs that received little attention in the 19th century.

Question: Does the Word of Wisdom prohibit the eating of meat except during periods of winter, cold or famine?

Response to claim: "according to the Word of Wisdom, members should currently refrain from hot drinks of all kinds, chocolate and soups included"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

It seems that the modern Church has settled on coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs as the new interpretation. But according to the Word of Wisdom, members should currently refrain from hot drinks of all kinds, chocolate and soups included. Alcohol is not banned at all, but only strong drinks (hard liquor). In addition, according to the Word of Wisdom, all members should be vegetarian most of the year. These parts have been reinterpreted to change the original intent.

FAIR's Response

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

According to the Word of Wisdom, members who lived at the time that it was given were asked to refrain from hot drinks of all kinds, chocolate and soups included. However, it does not specify what we should currently refrain from using: That is why we have modern prophets. They are allowed to modify these types of requirements based upon the current situation and needs of the Church and its members.


Response to claim: "if God really wanted Joseph to give the saints a code of health that would continue to modern day, he should have included things like daily cardiovascular exercise, and the avoidance of fast food and soda"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Additionally, the Lord’s Law of Health does not seem to have anything to do with physical health at all. Obese members are given temple recommends, while active, healthy, and fit individual who drink tea or coffee are not. It seems that if God really wanted Joseph to give the saints a code of health that would continue to modern day, he should have included things like daily cardiovascular exercise, and the avoidance of fast food and soda.

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

There author contradicts his previous position:
  1. The author states that we should observe the Word of Wisdom's original interpretation: "members should currently refrain from hot drinks of all kinds, chocolate and soups included"
  2. The author states that the Word of Wisdom should be reinterpreted to include items that did not exist in the 1800s: "he should have included things like daily cardiovascular exercise, and the avoidance of fast food and soda"

Either one believes that the Word of Wisdom must be observed strictly according to what was in it when it was written down, or one must accept that modern prophets can modify these requirements to adjust to modern society: One can't have it both ways. (By the way, "cardiovascular exercise" wasn't much of a problem for those living on the 19th century frontier.)


Response to claim: "the Church has long taught that coffee was unhealthy. But coffee’s reputation in the Church appears to be backward"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

the Church has long taught that coffee was unhealthy. But coffee’s reputation in the Church appears to be backward. Numerous studies show the potential health benefits are surprisingly large. Researchers found 36 studies Involving more than 1.2 million participants who consumed about three to five cups a day, were at the lowest risk for cardiovascular diseases. Also, additional studies including almost 480,000 participants with consumption of two to six cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of stroke and many others diseases, compared with those who drank none.

Author's sources:
  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/12/upshot/more-consensus-on-coffees-benefits-than-you-might-think.html?mcubz=1

FAIR's Response

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

Various studies have long discussed health benefits that can be derived from drinking coffee or wine (usually in moderation). If the Word of Wisdom was meant to be primarily for health reasons, the revelation would have told the 19th century saints to boil water before drinking it. However, Latter-day Saints' abstinence from consuming coffee and wine serves as a test of faithfulness and as a social identifier. This very often leads to conversations about the church, and always serves to identify a Latter-day Saint as a member of the covenant people.


With regard to health benefits, note also that the New York Times author states that the cardiovascular benefits are derived from black coffee, and that this is not what most people consider "coffee" these days:

Of course, everything I’m saying here concerns coffee — black coffee. I am not talking about the mostly milk and sugar coffee-based beverages that lots of people consume. These could include, but aren’t limited to, things like a McDonald’s large mocha (500 calories, 17 grams of fat, 72 grams of carbohydrates), a Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha (580 calories, 22 grams of fat, 79 grams of carbs), and a Large Dunkin’ Donuts frozen caramel coffee Coolatta (670 calories, 8 grams of fat, 144 grams of carbs). I won’t even mention the Cold Stone Creamery Gotta-Have-It-Sized Lotta Caramel Latte (1,790 calories, 90 grams of fat, 223 grams of carbs). Regular brewed coffee has 5 or fewer calories and no fat or carbohydrates. [55]

So, claiming that the Church is "backward" because coffee's "potential health benefits are surprisingly large" is a gross oversimplification.


Response to claim: Joseph Smith "becomes a member of a Methodist congregation that taught against hot drinks" in Harmony, Pennsylvania in June 1828

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith was very familiar with Methodist teachings. In fact, in June 1828 he became a member of the local congregation in Harmony, Pennsylvania under minister Nathaniel Lewis. It is important to note that this was after his first vision where the Lord told him that all religions were wrong.

FAIR's Response

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

A six month probationary period was required in order to join the Methodists, yet Joseph Lewis and Hiel Lewis claimed that "his name as a member of the class was on the book only three days." [56] 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.

Jump to Detail:

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.[57]

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.[58]

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.[59] 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.[60]

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."[61] 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) [62] 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) [63]

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.[64]

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.)[65]

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."[66]

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.[67]

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....[68]

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.[69]

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.[70]

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[71]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.[72]

Capron obviously dislikes and distrusts the Smiths, but he makes it clear that there were claims of holy intercourse (i.e., "communication" with)[73] "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." [74]
  • 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. [75] 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).


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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.[76]

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."[77][78]

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.[79]
Capron obviously disliked and distrusted the Smiths, but he makes it clear that there were claims of holy intercourse (i.e., "communication" with)[80] "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).[81]

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."[82]

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."[83] 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…."[84]
  • 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."[85] 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."[86]

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.[87]

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).[88]

Spring 1827

  • Joseph Smith specifically identifies the otherworldly messenger with whom he has been dealing as the angel of the Lord[89]

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.[90]

April 1828

  • Palmyra townspeople state that "an angel of God" appeared to Joseph Smith.[91]

1828

  • Joseph Smith said that he received a revelation from God to tell him where the plates were concealed.[92]
  • Joseph Smith told his wife’s uncle that he had been commanded by God to translate the plates.[93]
  • Joseph Smith states that he is a prophet sent by God to gather Israel.[94]
  • Joseph Smith declares that his ability to translate the plates is a gift from God.[95]

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.[96]
  • Believers in Joseph Smith’s mission teach others that he has been visited by a messenger from "the Almighty".[97]
  • 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.[98]

1830

  • Joseph Smith states that he has been entrusted by God.[99]
  • 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.[100]

November 1830

  • Joseph Smith had seen God "personally" and received a commission from God to preach the gospel.[101]

August 1831

  • Before the Book of Mormon translation was completed "the Lord" told Joseph Smith that it must be published.[102]

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.[103]

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.[104]: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".[104]: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[104]: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.[105]: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.[105]: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."[105]:7
  • On 12-14 March 1838 Joseph Smith was met by several groups and escorts, "with open arms," as he approached Far West, Missouri.[105]: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."[105]: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.[105]: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."[105]:15-16
  • On 28 April 1838 Joseph Smith attended a High Council by invitation and was invited to preside over it.[105]: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. [106]

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.[107] 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.[108][109]

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[110]

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. [111]

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. [112]

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.... [113]

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." [114]

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. [115]

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". [116]

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. [117]

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. [118]

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. [119] (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)[120]

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. [121]

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."[122]

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.[123]

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."[124] 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." [125] 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." [126] 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." [127] 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. [128] "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." [129] 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.[130]

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.[131] —(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[132]
  • JS called as a youth[133]
  • Revival or Reformation[134]
  • All churches wrong; Don’t join any church[135]
  • Two personages[136]
  • Moroni and Book of Mormon[137]
  • Priesthood restored[138]

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."[139]

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.[140] In the Summer of 1836 Joseph Young and Brigham Young were serving together as missionaries.[141]

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.[142]

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…[143]

1845

  • Brigham Young, June 25, 1845: we received the priesthood from God through Joseph Smith…. The Twelve Apostles who received the priesthood from Joseph[144]

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.[145]
  • 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[146]
  • 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.[147]

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"....[148]

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"[149]
  • 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. [150]

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.[151]
  • 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....[152]

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. [153]
  • 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, [154]

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.[155]
  • [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[156] (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[157]

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.[158]

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." [159]

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.[160]

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."[161]
  • 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.[162]
  • 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.[163]

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.[164]
  • 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.[165]
  • 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.[166]

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. [167]

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....[168]

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....[169]

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....[170]

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.[171]

1872

  • John Taylor, May 26, 1872 Tabernacle, Ogden Tabernacle[172]

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.[173]
  • 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.,[174]
  • 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.[175]

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)[176]
  • 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. …[177]

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.][178]
  • 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....[179]
  • 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…..[180]

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. [181]

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.[182]

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.[183]

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.[184]:164 They later write that "Many other confusing statements about the first vision were made by Mormon leaders after Joseph Smith’s death." [184]: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."[185]

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."[186]

These claims are simply false, with reference to the oft-misused John Taylor.[187] 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.[188]: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".[189]

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.[190] 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.[191]

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.[192]

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.[193]

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.[194]

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.[195]

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.[196]

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.[197]

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.[198]

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.[199]

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.[200]

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.[201]

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.[202]

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.[203]

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.’[204]

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.][205]

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.[206]

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.[207]

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.][208]

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.’[188]: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…[209]

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.[210]

"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... [211]

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".[212] 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."[213] Jenson was not sustained as the Assistant Church Historian until 10 April 1898. [214] 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. [215] 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".[216] 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."[217] Jenson was not sustained as the Assistant Church Historian until 10 April 1898. [218] 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. [219] 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. "The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013)
  2. Deseret News (11 May 1870): 160; reprinted in Brigham Young, "Fortieth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," Millennial Star 32 no. 22 (31 May 1870), 346. See discussion of the history in Robert J. McCue, "Did the Word of Wisdom Become a Commandment in 1851?," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 66–77.off-site
  3. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 38. The cited material is [Letter from BF Johnson to George F. Gibbs, 1903.]
  4. 4.0 4.1 Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972. Page numbers cited within text.
  5. Millennial Star 21:283
  6. October 1895 entry in theDiary of Abraham H. Cannon, Volume 19
  7. [citation needed]
  8. [citation needed]
  9. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 331.
  10. J.U. and C.G. Lloyd, "Life and Medical Discoveries of Samuel Thomson, and a history of the Thomsonian Materia Medica, as shown in "The New Guide to Health," (1835) and the literature of that day, &c." in Bulletin of the Lloyd Library of Botany, Pharmacy and Materia Medica No. 11, Reproduction Series No. 7 (1909): 26. off-site (italics added)
  11. Lester E. Bush, Jr., "The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth Century Perspective," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 49.
  12. Lloyd, 12. (emphasis added)
  13. Bush, 55
  14. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 23-24.
  15. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 2:214.
  16. Tom Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses (New York, Walker Publishing Co., 2005), 135, 179.
  17. History of the Church, 6:616. Volume 6 link
  18. 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), 6:616. Volume 6 link
  19. 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), 6:616. Volume 6 link
  20. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 294.
  21. "The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013)
  22. Deseret News (11 May 1870): 160; reprinted in Brigham Young, "Fortieth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," Millennial Star 32 no. 22 (31 May 1870), 346. See discussion of the history in Robert J. McCue, "Did the Word of Wisdom Become a Commandment in 1851?," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 66–77.off-site
  23. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 38. The cited material is [Letter from BF Johnson to George F. Gibbs, 1903.]
  24. Millennial Star 21:283
  25. October 1895 entry in theDiary of Abraham H. Cannon, Volume 19
  26. [citation needed]
  27. [citation needed]
  28. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 331.
  29. J.U. and C.G. Lloyd, "Life and Medical Discoveries of Samuel Thomson, and a history of the Thomsonian Materia Medica, as shown in "The New Guide to Health," (1835) and the literature of that day, &c." in Bulletin of the Lloyd Library of Botany, Pharmacy and Materia Medica No. 11, Reproduction Series No. 7 (1909): 26. off-site (italics added)
  30. Lester E. Bush, Jr., "The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth Century Perspective," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 49.
  31. Lloyd, 12. (emphasis added)
  32. Bush, 55
  33. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 23-24.
  34. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 2:214.
  35. Tom Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses (New York, Walker Publishing Co., 2005), 135, 179.
  36. History of the Church, 6:616. Volume 6 link
  37. 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), 6:616. Volume 6 link
  38. 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), 6:616. Volume 6 link
  39. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 294.
  40. Instructions to mission presidents, October 8, 1919 Original circular letter. Church Historian's Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol. 5, p.163.
  41. 17 January 1851, Salt Lake City, Wilford Woodruff Journal Mss (BYA 2.40)
  42. Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, April 1925, p.9
  43. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:35.
  44. Ezra T. Benson, Journal of Discourses 11:367.
  45. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 14:20.
  46. Minutes of First Presidency and Council of Twelve Meeting, Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” May 5, 1898, Church Archives; cited in Thomas G. Alexander, "The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 78–88.off-site
  47. Alexander, "Principle to Requirement," 79.
  48. Alexander, "Principle to Requirement," 79.
  49. This exception had been permitted by the Word of Wisdom from the beginning (see D&C 89꞉5-6), though it was also clear that what one used for the sacramental emblems was not of primary doctrinal importance (see D&C 27).
  50. Alexander, "Principle to Requirement," 82.
  51. See discussion in Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1964), Doctrine and Covenants 89:2.
  52. McConkie and Ostler, ibid.
  53. Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report (October 1913), 14.
  54. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 148.
  55. Aaron E. Carroll, "More Consensus on Coffee’s Effect on Health Than You Might Think," THE NEW HEALTH CARE (11 May 2015)
  56. 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.
  57. 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)
  58. "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.
  59. 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.
  60. Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, ed. Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 161.
  61. The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) (14 February 1832): 102.
  62. 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.
  63. As cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," footnote 12.
  64. 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).
  65. The current D&C 76 vision was first published in Evening and Morning Star, Independence, Missouri, July 1832.
  66. 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883 (Palm Desert, California: ULC Press, 1981), 39; cited in Paulsen, 34.
  67. "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.
  68. 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.
  69. 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.
  70. 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
  71. “Gold Bible, No. 4,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 13 (14 February 1831): 102. off-site
  72. Joseph Capron affidavit, 8 November 1833; in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258-259. (Affidavits examined)
  73. 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."
  74. Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director. www.cesletter.com
  75. 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.
  76. "History, circa Summer 1832 - Historical Introduction," The Joseph Smith Papers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  77. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 41.
  78. 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.
  79. Joseph Capron affidavit, 8 November 1833; in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258-259. (Affidavits examined)
  80. 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."
  81. 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."
  82. 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…."
  83. 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.
  84. 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
  85. 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)
  86. 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.
  87. 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
  88. Newel Knight [citation needed]
  89. Lucy Mack Smith, Autobiography, Chapter 21.
  90. Rev. John A. Clark [citation needed]
  91. David Whitmer[citation needed]
  92. Henry Harris[citation needed]
  93. Nathaniel Lewis[citation needed]
  94. Hezekiah McKune[citation needed]
  95. Alva Hale[citation needed]
  96. Jesse Smith[citation needed]
  97. Palmyra Freeman (1829), [citation needed]
  98. ?, "?," Evening and Morning Star 1 no. 1 (June 1832), 1. off-siteGospeLink
  99. The Fredonia Censor, 10/10 (2 June 1830): page? [citation needed]
  100. Letter, Rev. Diedrich Willers to L. Mayer and D. York, 18 June 1830.
  101. The Reflector [Palmyra, New York] 2/13 (14 February 1831), page ?
  102. The Sun (18 August 1831): page?
  103. Nancy Towle, Vicissitudes Illustrated, 2d ed., (Portsmouth: John Caldwell, 1833), 150–151; first edition printed in 1832.
  104. 104.0 104.1 104.2 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
  105. 105.0 105.1 105.2 105.3 105.4 105.5 105.6 105.7 History of the Church. Volume 3 link
  106. Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 114.
  107. 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.
  108. Wayne Sentinel, Sept. 30, 1824; W. Smith, Mormonism, 13; Backman, First Vision, 119; BioS, 73
  109. Richard Bushman, "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling" (New York, NY: Knopf Publishing, 2005) 43. Internal endnotes retained for reference.
  110. 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.
  111. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 78.
  112. 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.
  113. "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.
  114. "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.
  115. 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.
  116. 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.
  117. 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.
  118. "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.
  119. 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.
  120. The Methodist Magazine 5 (January 1822). Citation provided by Ted Jones.
  121. 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)
  122. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:171.
  123. Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1884),127–128.
  124. James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words In The Hebrew Bible With Their Renderings In the Authorized English Version (Nashville: Abingdon, 1890), 66.
  125. 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.
  126. 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.
  127. Epistula Apostulorum 14, in Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha 2 Vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 1:199.
  128. 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.
  129. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 191. See also D&C 129.
  130. Günther Juncker, "Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title," Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994): 221–250.
  131. Ensign (April 1992).
  132. JD 8:353-4. (3 March 186). wiki]; JD 12:67-8. (June 23rd, 1867). wiki
  133. JD 2:171. (Feb 18, 1855). wiki; JD 7:243. (September 1, 1859). wiki; JD 11:253. (17 June 1866). wiki
  134. JD 12:67-8. (June 23rd, 1867). wiki
  135. JD 2:171. (Feb 18, 1855). wiki; JD 12:67-8. (June 23rd, 1867). wiki
  136. JD 18:231. (17 September 1876). wiki
  137. 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
  138. 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.
  139. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, ed. Elden Jay Watson (Salt Lake City, 1968), 4 [Leland Nelson, 4]
  140. 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.
  141. 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.
  142. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, ed. Elden Jay Watson (Salt Lake City, 1968), p pp. 23-24 [Leland Nelson, 13].
  143. 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.
  144. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, ed. Leland Nelson, 94
  145. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, William Harwell, 14; Millennial Star 14 no. 10 (1 May 1852), 151.
  146. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 16.
  147. 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.
  148. Manuscript History of Brigham Young. 1847-1850, edited by William S. Harwell (Salt Lake City, Utah: Collier’s Publishing Co., 1997): 139
  149. Deseret News 1/3 (29 June 1850) [following sermon by Reverend G.B. Day]
  150. 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.
  151. JD 1:185-191. (19 June 1853). wiki
  152. JD 1: (24 July 1853). wiki
  153. 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.
  154. 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.
  155. JD 2:171. (18 Feb 1855). wiki
  156. George Q. Cannon, editorial, "The Testimony of the Gospel," Juvenile Instructor 24 (1 July 1889): 308-9.
  157. 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.
  158. Deseret News, 7/46 (20 January 1858): 363.
  159. {{JDfairwiki|author=Brigham Young|vol=7|disc=37|start=243|end=244, {{ea]]}}
  160. JD 8:66. (3 June 1860). wiki
  161. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:354.
  162. JD 9:1-2. (6 April 1861). wiki
  163. Deseret News 11/13 (29 May 1861): 97-8; Reprinted in JD 9:31-40. (7 April 1961). wiki
  164. 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.
  165. JD 10:303. (4 June 1864). wiki
  166. JD 10:363-365. (13 November 164). wiki
  167. JD 11:253. (17 June 1866). wiki
  168. Brigham Young, (23 June 1867) Journal of Discourses 12:67,70-70.
  169. SLC Tabernacle, General Conference, 6 1/2 p.m.; Deseret News Weekly 17:282; Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 5:133.
  170. Deseret News Weekly 19 (August 3, 1870): 303-308; also in JD 13:216. .wiki
  171. Deseret News 20/10 (April 12, 1871): 112; JD 14:95. (8 April 1871). wiki
  172. 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
  173. JD 16:42. (18 May 1873). wiki
  174. Deseret News Weekly 22:388; Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 6:79.
  175. Deseret News Weekly 22:441; Millennial Star 35 no. 36 (9 September 1873), 563-4.; Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 6:82.
  176. Millennial Star 36 no. 1 (Tuesday, 6 January 1874)), 1-7. [from Salt Lake Herald]: 2-6.
  177. JD 18:239-40. (21 June 1874). wiki
  178. Deseret News 25 (October 11, 1876): 585; Millennial Star 38 no. 46 (13 November 1876), 721.
  179. Deseret News Weekly 25 (11 October 1876): 582; JD 18:231. (17 Setpember 1876). wiki
  180. Eldon Watson (editor), Brigham Young Addresses (1982), 6:142.; Deseret News Weekly 26:274-275.
  181. Brigham Young, (3 March 1861) Journal of Discourses 8:354..
  182. 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 )
  183. Isaiah Bennett, Inside Mormonism: What Mormons Really Believe (Catholic Answers: 1999), 4.
  184. 184.0 184.1 Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979).( Index of claims )
  185. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Case Against Mormonism, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City, 1967), 1:120.
  186. "First Vision," wikipedia.org (last accessed 6 October 2006). off-site
  187. 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
  188. 188.0 188.1 B. H. Roberts, Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City, Utah: George Q. Cannon & Sons, Co., 1892).
  189. 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.
  190. 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.]
  191. 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]
  192. John Taylor, (7 October 1859) Journal of Discourses 7:322.
  193. 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).
  194. John Taylor, "The Trusteeship, etc.," (7 October 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:123 (emphasis added).
  195. John Taylor, "Gathering The Result Of Revelation, etc.," (14 November 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:151-152 (emphasis added).
  196. John Taylor letter to A. K. Thurber at Richfield, Utah (25 February 1879), (emphasis added).
  197. John Taylor, "The Interest Of Humanity Should Be Observed," (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:257, (emphasis added).
  198. John Taylor, "Eternal Nature Of The Gospel, etc.," (28 November 1879) Journal of Discourses 21:116-117, (emphasis added).
  199. John Taylor, "Restoration Of The Gospel Through Joseph Smith, etc.," (7 December 1879) Journal of Discourses 21:161, (emphasis added).
  200. 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).
  201. John Taylor, "The Privileges Of The Saints, etc.," (27 June 1881) Journal of Discourses 22:218, (emphasis added).
  202. John Taylor, "Duties Of The Saints — The Atonement, etc.," (28 August 1881) Journal of Discourses 22:298-299, (emphasis added).
  203. John Taylor, "Manifestation Of The Father And Son To The Prophet Joseph," (20 October 1881) Journal of Discourses 26:106-107, (emphasis added).
  204. John Taylor, The Mediation and Atonement (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Co., 1882), 138.
  205. John Taylor, "Restoration Of The Gospel," (5 March 1882) Journal of Discourses 23:29-32, (emphasis added).
  206. John Taylor, Millennial Star 44 no. 22 (29 May 1882), 337–338, (emphasis added).
  207. John Taylor, "Man's Natural Spirit And The Spirit Of God, etc.," (23 November 1882) Journal of Discourses 23:322-323 (emphasis added).
  208. 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).
  209. ?, "Laid to Rest. The Remains of President John Taylor Consigned to The Grave," Millennial Star 49 no. 36 (5 September 1887), 564.
  210. John Taylor, (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:167.
  211. John Taylor, (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:257.
  212. Andrew Jenson, Historical Record (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson, 1888), 7:355–356. (January 1888)
  213. 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.
  214. See Autobiography, 192, 193, 391.
  215. Deseret Weekly, vol. 39, no. 15, 5 October 1889, 460
  216. Andrew Jenson, Historical Record (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson, 1888), 7:355–356. (January 1888)
  217. 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.
  218. See Autobiography, 192, 193, 391.
  219. Deseret Weekly, vol. 39, no. 15, 5 October 1889, 460

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). 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: Joseph Smith received the Word of Wisdom because Emma's complaints about "the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Brigham Young stated that the Word of Wisdom was given in response to problems encountered while conducting those meetings:

“I think I am as well acquainted with the circumstances which led to the giving of the Word of Wisdom…When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet [Joseph Smith] entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol.12, p.158)

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


Response to claim: "Joseph taught the Word of Wisdom but did not practice it. If the Lord really gave this revelation to Joseph, one would think he would at least follow it himself"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Joseph taught the Word of Wisdom but did not practice it. If the Lord really gave this revelation to Joseph, one would think he would at least follow it himself.

FAIR's Response

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

The enforcement of the Word of Wisdom in Joseph Smith's time was not as strict as it is today, and it allowed wine.

Jump to Detail:

Articles about Joseph Smith

Revelations in Context: "Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture"

"The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013):

Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture, especially when fermented beverages of all kinds were frequently used for medicinal purposes. The term "strong drink" certainly included distilled spirits like whiskey, which hereafter the Latter-day Saints generally shunned. They took a more moderate approach to milder alcoholic beverages like beer and "pure wine of the grape of the vine of your own make" (see D&C 89꞉6). For the next two generations, Latter-day Saint leaders taught the Word of Wisdom as a command from God, but they tolerated a variety of viewpoints on how strictly the commandment should be observed. This incubation period gave the Saints time to develop their own tradition of abstinence from habit-forming substances. By the early twentieth century, when scientific medicines were more widely available and temple attendance had become a more regular feature of Latter-day Saint worship, the Church was ready to accept a more exacting standard of observance that would eliminate problems like alcoholism from among the obedient. In 1921, the Lord inspired Church president Heber J. Grant to call on all Saints to live the Word of Wisdom to the letter by completely abstaining from all alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco. Today Church members are expected to live this higher standard.[1]

Has the implementation and enforcement of the Word of Wisdom changed over time?

Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements for the Word of Wisdom as today's Saints are

Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are. Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28꞉10-13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

"Strong drink" was initially interpreted as hard liquor, and did not include beer or lightly fermented wine

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89:5, 7), which was initially interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" (D&C 89:17) and therefore acceptable (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). The complete prohibition of alcoholic drinks of any kind only became part of the Word of Wisdom following the temperance movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant supported the movement and Grant made complete abstention from alcohol in any form a requirement for a temple recommend in the early 1920s.

Consider also that drinking water in Joseph Smith's day (or during Biblical times) was a gamble because water purity was always questionable; a little alcohol in a beverage ensured that it was free of viruses and bacteria. The development of germ theory in the late 19th century lead to chemical treatments to ensure a safe supply of public drinking water. A strict ban of all alcohol in Joseph Smith's time would have been a death sentence for many Latter-day Saints—especially during the 1832–1833 cholera pandemic, which spread its disease by water.

Tobacco, coffee and tea were not initially prohibited, but instead their use was discouraged

The same sort of "ramping up" of requirements occurred with regard to tobacco, coffee and tea. While use of these items was often discouraged by Church leaders, enforcement was usually light and confined to people who were severe abusers. For example, Brigham Young made the following remarks in April 1870 General Conference:

On Sunday, after meeting, going through the gallery which had been occupied by those claiming, no doubt, to be gentlemen, and perhaps, brethren, you might have supposed that cattle had been standing around there and dropping their nuisances. Here and there were great quids of tobacco, and places a foot or two feet square smeared with tobacco juice. I wish the door-keepers, when, in the future, they observe any persons besmearing the seats and floor in this way to request them to leave the house; and, if they refuse and will not stop spitting about and besmearing their neighbors, just take them and lead them out carefully and kindly. It is an imposition for those claiming to be gentlemen to spit tobacco juice for ladies to draw their clothes through and besmear them, or to leave their dirt in the house. We request all addicted to this practice, to omit it while in this house. Elders of Israel, if you must chew tobacco, omit it while in meeting, and when you leave, you can take a double portion, if you wish to. [2]

Kate Holbrook: The Word of Wisdom: Development and Practice


In what way did Joseph Smith implement the Word of Wisdom during his lifetime?

Joseph Smith never interpreted the Word of Wisdom revelation as demanding total abstinence

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are.

Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28:10,13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

As one historian noted:

it appears clear that Joseph Smith never interpreted the [Word of Wisdom] revelation as demanding total abstinence, but stressed moderation and self-control....He had no objections to using tobacco for medicinal purposes. With regard to wine and "strong drink" possibly the most accurate index to the Prophet's position was expressed by Benjamin F. Johnson, who personally knew Joseph: "As a companion, socailly, he was highly endowed; was kind, generous, mirth loving, and a times even convivial. He was partial to a well supplied table and he did not always refuse the wine that maketh the heart glad."[3]

Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89꞉5,7), which some (including Joseph) seem to have interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some (D&C 89꞉17) and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). One historian notes that the degree of rigor with which early Saints observed the Word of Wisdom varied:

[23] While the Saints opposed the common use of tea [24] and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequently used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use....

[25] The journal of Joseph Smith reveals many instances where Joseph and other Church leaders drank wine and a tolerant attitude towards the consumption of this beverage is particularly noticeable....

[26] Despite the injunction contained in the revelation discouraging the drinking of wine, (except for sacramental purposes) the casual nature of the allusions to this beverage suggest that many Church Authorities did not consider moderate wine drinking in the same category as the use of strong drinks....

Evidence suggests that the drinking of tea, coffee, and liquor was [in the 1830s] in general violation of the principle [of the Word of Wisdom], though exceptions can be found. All of these items were used by the Saints for medicinal purposes. Moderate wine-drinking was evidently acceptable to most Church leaders....[27] In short, it would seem that adherence to the revelation to at least 1839 required Church members to be moderately temperate but certainly [did] not [require] total abstinence....[4]

Did Joseph Smith give some of the brethren money to purchase whiskey in violation of the Word of Wisdom?

The use of whiskey as a stimulant while traveling was allowed, but abusing it by getting drunk was not

Liquor in judicious amounts was used as a medicinal substance, and seen as a stimulant or restorative against fatigue. This is why Joseph "investigated the case"--he wished to know if the use had been acceptable or to excess. (In a similar way, a modern-day Church leader who heard that a member was using morphine might investigate to discover if such use is appropriate--e.g., under a doctor's supervision in proper prescribed amounts for a legitimate ailment--or whether they were abusing it to get "high".)

Here's what Joseph said,

The company moved on to Andover, where the Sheriff of Lee County requested lodgings for the night for all the company. I was put up into a room and locked up with Captain Grover. It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whiskey that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom.

I called the brethren in and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done, and gave them a couple of dollars, with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey.[5]

The complete prohibition on alcohol was phased in gradually

Critics of the Church who use this quote as evidence that Joseph disregarded the Word of Wisdom also do not inform readers that the complete prohibition on alcohol was a gradual matter, and so Joseph's judgment on the issue was possible (which explains why no one at the time was shocked or outraged by it). Later nineteenth century Mormons, such as Brigham Young, understood the matter in the same way, and also distinguished between the excessive and judicious use of spirits.

Did Joseph Smith appear in public smoking a cigar right after teaching a sermon on the Word of Wisdom?

This accusation was made by Amasa Lyman, who had already been excommunicated from the Church

Abraham H. Cannon made an entry in his diary stating that Amasa Lyman saw Joseph Smith smoking the cigar immediately after delivering a sermon on the Word of Wisdom and that he immediately afterward "rode through the streets smoking a cigar" in order to try "the faith of the Saints."[6] At the time that Lyman made this accusation, he had already been excommunicated from the Church.

We ought to start with a degree of suspicion when we hear stories like this, because Joseph really did to things on occasion to test the Saints

These sorts of things really call into question a lot of these kinds of stories - especially when they are published long after the events they claim to be portraying (and the cigar story is certainly that). By the time these stories develop, we have these cultural myths being created about Joseph Smith. And so when we have this story about the Amasa Lyman encounter that first shows up in Abraham Canon's journal in 1895, we ought to start with a degree of suspicion. The problem we have with stories like this is that Joseph really did on occasion do things to test the Saints. He liked to go down to the boats at Nauvoo dressed poorly so as to interact with the new converts coming in to Nauvoo and to see what their expectations were. He regularly acted in ways that some thought were inappropriate for a prophet. One of the more widely known stories in the later 19th century was this one, recorded by William Allred and published in 1892:

I was with him [Joseph Smith] in the troubles at DeWitt, Adam-ondi-ahman, and in Far West. I have played ball with him many times in Nauvoo. He was preaching once, and he said it tried some of the pious folks to see him play ball with the boys. He then related a story of a certain prophet who was sitting under the shade of a tree amusing himself in some way, when a hunter came along with his bow and arrow, and reproved him. The prophet asked him if he kept his bow strung up all the time. The hunter answered that he did not. The prophet asked why, and he said it would lose its elasticity if he did. The prophet said it was just so with his mind, he did not want it strung up all the time. Another time when I heard him preaching he said if he should tell the people all the Lord had revealed to him, some would seek his life. Even as good a man as old Father C—-, here on the stand, he added, (pointing back to him) would seek his life.[7]

There is this story, and it sounds like something we might expect, but it tends to have problems when we realize that this entire story is based on a much older story about the New Testament apostle John. Here is a version of that story, published by Fracis De Sales, in 1609:

It is necessary sometimes to relax our minds as well as our bodies by some kind of recreation. St. John the Evangelist, as Cassian relates, was one day found by a huntsman with a partridge on his hand, which he was caressing for his recreation. The huntsman asked how such a man as he could spend his time in so poor and mean an occupation? St. John replied: Why dost thou not carry thy bow always bent? For fear, answered the huntsman, that if it were always bent, it would loose its spring and become useless. Be not surprised, then, replied the apostle, that I should sometimes remit a little of the close application and attention of my spirit and enjoy a little recreation, that I may afterward employ myself more fervently in divine contemplation.[8]

Did Joseph Smith violate the Word of Wisdom by drinking tea?

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today

Joseph Smith is reported as drinking tea on a few occasions. Does this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not enforced as rigorously, or with the same requirements, in Joseph Smith's day. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Many speakers emphasized the Lord's patience in this matter, as applied to both leaders and members.

But, many of the events described are actually concerned about medical practice, not the social or recreational use of these substances. For example, one might be shocked to learn that President Kimball used morphine—however, the morphine was prescribed for cancer pain by a physician.

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal. Why would this be?

In consulting the journal entry, we read: "Saturday, March 11th Too cold last night as to freeze [p.332] water in the warmest rooms in the city. River filled with anchor ice. 8 1/2 o'clock in the office, Joseph said he had tea with his breakfast." [9]

In Joseph's day, some medical thinking held that "hot drinks" (such as tea and coffee) could heat the body and vital fluids. While this was usually regarded as a bad idea that would be dangerous to health:

I found, after maturely considering the subject, that all animal bodies are formed of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. Earth and water constitute the solids, and air and fire, or heat, are the cause of life and motion. That cold, or lessening the power of heat, is the cause of all disease; that to restore heat to its natural state, was the only way by which health could be produced;....a state of perfect health arises from a due balance or temperature of the four elements; but if it is by any means destroyed, the body is more or less disordered. And when this is the case, there is always an actual diminution or absence of the element of fire, or heat; and in proportion to this diminution or absence, the body is affected by its opposite, which is cold. And I found that all disorders which the human family were afflicted with, however various the symptoms, and different the names by which they are called, arise directly from obstructed perspiration, which is always caused by cold, or want of heat ....[10]

This entry is from the works of Samuel Thomson, a founder of what became known as "Thomsonian herbalism." There were several Latter-day Saint physicians who were Thomsonians, including (significantly) Willard Richards, who wrote the diary entry we are here considering. The emphasis on loss of heat and lack of stimulation is significant—for it clashed with another set of medical principles, the "orthodox" or "heroic" doctors who came to believe that acute disease was not caused by lack of heat, but by too much energy, heat, or vital force: hence their prescriptions for bleeding, purging, and the like: to lower the energy or "heat." [11] Thus, under normal circumstances an 'energizing', 'hot', or 'stimulating' drink would be inappropriate.

There might, however, be exceptions. Thomson described a local woman who acted as a healer, and his admiration for her skill and methods is clear:

There was an old lady by the name of Benton lived near us, who used to attend our family when there was any sickness. At that time there was no such thing as a Doctor known among us, there not being any within ten miles. The whole of her practice was with roots and herbs, applied to the patient, or given in hot drinks, to produce sweating; which always answered the purpose. [12]

Thus, in a time of extreme cold, a "hot drink" like tea could be seen as a medicinal or preventative treatment which would help maintain health, since it would prevent the loss of the vital heat upon which the body depended. As a Thomsonian physician, Willard Richards (who wrote Joseph's journal for him) would have known and preached this. An "orthodox physician" (wary of heat, and more apt to bleed or purge) would have vigorously disagreed. [13]

By analogy, a modern member would be in violation of the Word of Wisdom if he or she injected morphine as a "recreational" drug. But, if the same drug was administered for a medical reason, the member would not be at fault. (Indeed, we might find fault with someone for refusing a medical treatment to maintain their health or cure an illness.)

That Richards was not surprised or offended by Joseph's consumption of tea on a bitterly cold winter morning demonstrates that Joseph's action was not the scandal that some wish to portray it as.

As one historian observed in 1972:

While the Saints opposed the common use of tea and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequenlty used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use.[14]

Did George A. Smith report that some church members left the church after finding that their leaders drank tea and coffee?

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous

Some critics of the Church hope their readers will be shocked by George A. Smith's admission that Emma Smith offered some new converts a glass of tea. But, why would George A. Smith admit to Joseph committing a grave sin, if such it was? His account provides us with the clues:

I know persons who apostatized because they supposed they had reasons; for instance, a certain family, after having travelled a long journey, arrived in Kirtland, and the prophet asked them to stop with him until they could find a place. Sister Emma, in the mean time, asked the old lady if she would have a cup of tea to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey, or a cup of coffee. This whole family apostatized because they were invited to take a cup of tea or coffee, after the Word of Wisdom was given. [15]

It is significant that George A. Smith says Emma made the offer "to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey." This is not merely a polite offer of something to drink—it is suggesting that the old woman may be particularly vulnerable to having her "vital heat" diminished by the rigors of a long journey exposed to the elements. Emma is probably making a health-related offer, not just offering a social beverage as we would today. Difficulties in assuring clean water supplies also make tea or coffee a sometimes wiser choice for health. Both coffee and tea are made from boiled water, which will kill bacteria. Even without boiling, the tannic acid in tea would kill the bacteria that caused such scourges as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery—all real risks on the American frontier. [16]

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous—the Word of Wisdom did not forbid the maintenance of health.

Did Willard Richards violate the Word of Wisdom by using tobacco at Carthage Jail?

Joseph Smith obtained some tobacco for a friend while in Carthage Jail prior to being martyred. Doesn't this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbalist, a type of physician common in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day. The tobacco was intended for medicinal purposes.

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbalist, a type of physician common in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States. Thomson was the name of the founder of this school of practice, which differed from the practice of the "orthodox" medical doctors, who focused on balancing humors, purging, inducing diarrhea, and so forth.

Neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom--they were likely medicinal

An aspect of Thomsonian medicine was Thomson's enthusiasm for the use of lobelia, or wild Indian tobacco. It was used as a cure-all, and was prominently used as an emetic to induce vomiting and restore health. This is the key to understanding the use of tobacco at Carthage Jail.

Neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom--they were likely medicinal.

Tobacco for Willard Richards

Willard Richards, who was in jail with Joseph, was a Thomsonian physician. This was a branch of pre-modern medical practice which required minimal schooling. Thomson's followers' believed strongly in the use of lobelia, or wild Indian tobacco. It was used as a cure-all, and was prominently used as an emetic to induce vomiting and restore health. This is the key to understanding the use of tobacco at Carthage Jail.

Critics Gerald and Sandra Tanner (p. 33) make a great deal of Joseph asking for a "pipe and tobacco" for Willard Richards. However, when we understand the circumstances, this action makes sense, and it has nothing to do with the Word of Wisdom. In the first place, we must realize that Joseph and Willard were locked in Carthage Jail.

Joseph had sent Stephen Markham out, as previous text unquoted by the Tanners tells us: "'Brother Markham...go get the doctor [i.e., Richards] something to settle his stomach,' [said Joseph,] and Markham went out for medicine. When he got the remedies desired...[the] Carthage Greys gathered round him, put him on his horse, and forced him out of the town at the point of the bayonet." So, Markham could not return, and none of the remedies he had obtained reached the jail. [17]

It is not clear which remedies Markham sought out—but he could not return. A Thomsonian like Richards would have probably seen tobacco as a medicinal drug, however—especially in a pinch when he could get nothing else. This would be particularly true if the tobacco was lobelia—it was the Thomsonian cure-all, literally.

The Tanners complain elsewhere about how in the History of the Church the words "pipe and some tobacco" were replaced by the word "medicine" (p. 471). But, this misses the point in a spectacular way—tobacco was considered a medicine at the time! Modern editors would not make this type of change to a historical text, but one can understand why rather than bother to explain about Thomsonian beliefs and medical practices, the editors of earlier times decided to simply "translate" the reason for the tobacco. The issue only becomes important, after all, when one is unfamiliar with early nineteenth century medicine.

There is further evidence that the tobacco was not seen as a problem by current or later leaders, since John Taylor's later account of the martyrdom in History of the Church mentions it very frankly and matter-of-factly:

Before the jailer came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more.

The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailer went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as also Brother Taylor and the doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out. When at the top of the stairs some one below called him two or three times, and he went down.[18]

Since neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom. Leaders would not include this information if it made Joseph look bad. This should be our first clue that something else is going on.[19] Some critics, however, have not sought to understand, but merely to condemn by trusting that their audience will not understand the fine points of early nineteenth century frontier medicine.

Events surrounding the death of Joseph Smith

Summary: To learn more about the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage jail, follow this link.
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph utter a false prophecy and show disregard for the Word of Wisdom in telling Orson Hyde that he would drink wine with him in Palestine?

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come (Luke 22:18) which was reiterated in a revelation to Joseph Smith (D&C 27꞉5). Joseph prophesied that he would drink with Hyde there—but whether he would go to Palestine in this life was something about which he immediately expressed uncertainty.

Those who offer this criticism make three errors:

  1. they do not cite the entire text
  2. they refuse to consider a fulfillment after this life.
  3. they ignore the Word of Wisdom's application in historical context.

The prophecy: "If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me"

Joseph was not certain that he would see Palestine during this life. As can be seen below, Joseph (1) prophesied that he would drink wine with Hyde in the Holy Land; and then (2) expressed hope that he would go with the Twelve to the Holy Land, but was aware he might not live, and left the matter to God's will:

Elder Hyde told of the excellent white wine he drank in the east [Palestine]. Joseph prophesied in the name of the Lord that he would drink wine with him in that country. Joseph [said], "From the 6th day of April next, I go in for preparing with all present for a Mission through the United States and when we arrive {page 143} at Maine we will take ship for England and so on to all countries where we are a mind for to go." P[r]e[se]nt: H[yrum] Smith, B[righam] Young, H[eber] C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, W[ilford] Woodruff, Geo[rge] A. Smith, [and] W[illard] Richards.

[Joseph said,] "We must write for John E. Page. We must love the whole Quorum. We must send Kings and Queens to Nauvoo and we will do it. We must all start from this place. Let the 12 [Apostles] be called in on the {page 143} 6th of April and a notice be given for a special conference on the platform on [the] House of the Lord. We are sure to go as we live till spring. If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me."[20]

In Joseph's day, wine was not forbidden by the Word of Wisdom

Once again, critics count on their audience thinking that the prophets have commanded the same degree of observance of the Word of Wisdom throughout Church history.


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

To learn more about Joseph Smith: Word of Wisdom

Articles about Joseph Smith

Revelations in Context: "Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture"

"The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013):

Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture, especially when fermented beverages of all kinds were frequently used for medicinal purposes. The term "strong drink" certainly included distilled spirits like whiskey, which hereafter the Latter-day Saints generally shunned. They took a more moderate approach to milder alcoholic beverages like beer and "pure wine of the grape of the vine of your own make" (see D&C 89꞉6). For the next two generations, Latter-day Saint leaders taught the Word of Wisdom as a command from God, but they tolerated a variety of viewpoints on how strictly the commandment should be observed. This incubation period gave the Saints time to develop their own tradition of abstinence from habit-forming substances. By the early twentieth century, when scientific medicines were more widely available and temple attendance had become a more regular feature of Latter-day Saint worship, the Church was ready to accept a more exacting standard of observance that would eliminate problems like alcoholism from among the obedient. In 1921, the Lord inspired Church president Heber J. Grant to call on all Saints to live the Word of Wisdom to the letter by completely abstaining from all alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco. Today Church members are expected to live this higher standard.[21]

Has the implementation and enforcement of the Word of Wisdom changed over time?

Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements for the Word of Wisdom as today's Saints are

Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are. Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28꞉10-13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

"Strong drink" was initially interpreted as hard liquor, and did not include beer or lightly fermented wine

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89:5, 7), which was initially interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" (D&C 89:17) and therefore acceptable (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). The complete prohibition of alcoholic drinks of any kind only became part of the Word of Wisdom following the temperance movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant supported the movement and Grant made complete abstention from alcohol in any form a requirement for a temple recommend in the early 1920s.

Consider also that drinking water in Joseph Smith's day (or during Biblical times) was a gamble because water purity was always questionable; a little alcohol in a beverage ensured that it was free of viruses and bacteria. The development of germ theory in the late 19th century lead to chemical treatments to ensure a safe supply of public drinking water. A strict ban of all alcohol in Joseph Smith's time would have been a death sentence for many Latter-day Saints—especially during the 1832–1833 cholera pandemic, which spread its disease by water.

Tobacco, coffee and tea were not initially prohibited, but instead their use was discouraged

The same sort of "ramping up" of requirements occurred with regard to tobacco, coffee and tea. While use of these items was often discouraged by Church leaders, enforcement was usually light and confined to people who were severe abusers. For example, Brigham Young made the following remarks in April 1870 General Conference:

On Sunday, after meeting, going through the gallery which had been occupied by those claiming, no doubt, to be gentlemen, and perhaps, brethren, you might have supposed that cattle had been standing around there and dropping their nuisances. Here and there were great quids of tobacco, and places a foot or two feet square smeared with tobacco juice. I wish the door-keepers, when, in the future, they observe any persons besmearing the seats and floor in this way to request them to leave the house; and, if they refuse and will not stop spitting about and besmearing their neighbors, just take them and lead them out carefully and kindly. It is an imposition for those claiming to be gentlemen to spit tobacco juice for ladies to draw their clothes through and besmear them, or to leave their dirt in the house. We request all addicted to this practice, to omit it while in this house. Elders of Israel, if you must chew tobacco, omit it while in meeting, and when you leave, you can take a double portion, if you wish to. [22]

Kate Holbrook: The Word of Wisdom: Development and Practice


In what way did Joseph Smith implement the Word of Wisdom during his lifetime?

Joseph Smith never interpreted the Word of Wisdom revelation as demanding total abstinence

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are.

Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28:10,13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

As one historian noted:

it appears clear that Joseph Smith never interpreted the [Word of Wisdom] revelation as demanding total abstinence, but stressed moderation and self-control....He had no objections to using tobacco for medicinal purposes. With regard to wine and "strong drink" possibly the most accurate index to the Prophet's position was expressed by Benjamin F. Johnson, who personally knew Joseph: "As a companion, socailly, he was highly endowed; was kind, generous, mirth loving, and a times even convivial. He was partial to a well supplied table and he did not always refuse the wine that maketh the heart glad."[23]

Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89꞉5,7), which some (including Joseph) seem to have interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some (D&C 89꞉17) and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). One historian notes that the degree of rigor with which early Saints observed the Word of Wisdom varied:

[23] While the Saints opposed the common use of tea [24] and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequently used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use....

[25] The journal of Joseph Smith reveals many instances where Joseph and other Church leaders drank wine and a tolerant attitude towards the consumption of this beverage is particularly noticeable....

[26] Despite the injunction contained in the revelation discouraging the drinking of wine, (except for sacramental purposes) the casual nature of the allusions to this beverage suggest that many Church Authorities did not consider moderate wine drinking in the same category as the use of strong drinks....

Evidence suggests that the drinking of tea, coffee, and liquor was [in the 1830s] in general violation of the principle [of the Word of Wisdom], though exceptions can be found. All of these items were used by the Saints for medicinal purposes. Moderate wine-drinking was evidently acceptable to most Church leaders....[27] In short, it would seem that adherence to the revelation to at least 1839 required Church members to be moderately temperate but certainly [did] not [require] total abstinence....[4]

Did Joseph Smith give some of the brethren money to purchase whiskey in violation of the Word of Wisdom?

The use of whiskey as a stimulant while traveling was allowed, but abusing it by getting drunk was not

Liquor in judicious amounts was used as a medicinal substance, and seen as a stimulant or restorative against fatigue. This is why Joseph "investigated the case"--he wished to know if the use had been acceptable or to excess. (In a similar way, a modern-day Church leader who heard that a member was using morphine might investigate to discover if such use is appropriate--e.g., under a doctor's supervision in proper prescribed amounts for a legitimate ailment--or whether they were abusing it to get "high".)

Here's what Joseph said,

The company moved on to Andover, where the Sheriff of Lee County requested lodgings for the night for all the company. I was put up into a room and locked up with Captain Grover. It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whiskey that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom.

I called the brethren in and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done, and gave them a couple of dollars, with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey.[24]

The complete prohibition on alcohol was phased in gradually

Critics of the Church who use this quote as evidence that Joseph disregarded the Word of Wisdom also do not inform readers that the complete prohibition on alcohol was a gradual matter, and so Joseph's judgment on the issue was possible (which explains why no one at the time was shocked or outraged by it). Later nineteenth century Mormons, such as Brigham Young, understood the matter in the same way, and also distinguished between the excessive and judicious use of spirits.

Did Joseph Smith appear in public smoking a cigar right after teaching a sermon on the Word of Wisdom?

This accusation was made by Amasa Lyman, who had already been excommunicated from the Church

Abraham H. Cannon made an entry in his diary stating that Amasa Lyman saw Joseph Smith smoking the cigar immediately after delivering a sermon on the Word of Wisdom and that he immediately afterward "rode through the streets smoking a cigar" in order to try "the faith of the Saints."[25] At the time that Lyman made this accusation, he had already been excommunicated from the Church.

We ought to start with a degree of suspicion when we hear stories like this, because Joseph really did to things on occasion to test the Saints

These sorts of things really call into question a lot of these kinds of stories - especially when they are published long after the events they claim to be portraying (and the cigar story is certainly that). By the time these stories develop, we have these cultural myths being created about Joseph Smith. And so when we have this story about the Amasa Lyman encounter that first shows up in Abraham Canon's journal in 1895, we ought to start with a degree of suspicion. The problem we have with stories like this is that Joseph really did on occasion do things to test the Saints. He liked to go down to the boats at Nauvoo dressed poorly so as to interact with the new converts coming in to Nauvoo and to see what their expectations were. He regularly acted in ways that some thought were inappropriate for a prophet. One of the more widely known stories in the later 19th century was this one, recorded by William Allred and published in 1892:

I was with him [Joseph Smith] in the troubles at DeWitt, Adam-ondi-ahman, and in Far West. I have played ball with him many times in Nauvoo. He was preaching once, and he said it tried some of the pious folks to see him play ball with the boys. He then related a story of a certain prophet who was sitting under the shade of a tree amusing himself in some way, when a hunter came along with his bow and arrow, and reproved him. The prophet asked him if he kept his bow strung up all the time. The hunter answered that he did not. The prophet asked why, and he said it would lose its elasticity if he did. The prophet said it was just so with his mind, he did not want it strung up all the time. Another time when I heard him preaching he said if he should tell the people all the Lord had revealed to him, some would seek his life. Even as good a man as old Father C—-, here on the stand, he added, (pointing back to him) would seek his life.[26]

There is this story, and it sounds like something we might expect, but it tends to have problems when we realize that this entire story is based on a much older story about the New Testament apostle John. Here is a version of that story, published by Fracis De Sales, in 1609:

It is necessary sometimes to relax our minds as well as our bodies by some kind of recreation. St. John the Evangelist, as Cassian relates, was one day found by a huntsman with a partridge on his hand, which he was caressing for his recreation. The huntsman asked how such a man as he could spend his time in so poor and mean an occupation? St. John replied: Why dost thou not carry thy bow always bent? For fear, answered the huntsman, that if it were always bent, it would loose its spring and become useless. Be not surprised, then, replied the apostle, that I should sometimes remit a little of the close application and attention of my spirit and enjoy a little recreation, that I may afterward employ myself more fervently in divine contemplation.[27]

Did Joseph Smith violate the Word of Wisdom by drinking tea?

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today

Joseph Smith is reported as drinking tea on a few occasions. Does this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not enforced as rigorously, or with the same requirements, in Joseph Smith's day. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Many speakers emphasized the Lord's patience in this matter, as applied to both leaders and members.

But, many of the events described are actually concerned about medical practice, not the social or recreational use of these substances. For example, one might be shocked to learn that President Kimball used morphine—however, the morphine was prescribed for cancer pain by a physician.

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal. Why would this be?

In consulting the journal entry, we read: "Saturday, March 11th Too cold last night as to freeze [p.332] water in the warmest rooms in the city. River filled with anchor ice. 8 1/2 o'clock in the office, Joseph said he had tea with his breakfast." [28]

In Joseph's day, some medical thinking held that "hot drinks" (such as tea and coffee) could heat the body and vital fluids. While this was usually regarded as a bad idea that would be dangerous to health:

I found, after maturely considering the subject, that all animal bodies are formed of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. Earth and water constitute the solids, and air and fire, or heat, are the cause of life and motion. That cold, or lessening the power of heat, is the cause of all disease; that to restore heat to its natural state, was the only way by which health could be produced;....a state of perfect health arises from a due balance or temperature of the four elements; but if it is by any means destroyed, the body is more or less disordered. And when this is the case, there is always an actual diminution or absence of the element of fire, or heat; and in proportion to this diminution or absence, the body is affected by its opposite, which is cold. And I found that all disorders which the human family were afflicted with, however various the symptoms, and different the names by which they are called, arise directly from obstructed perspiration, which is always caused by cold, or want of heat ....[29]

This entry is from the works of Samuel Thomson, a founder of what became known as "Thomsonian herbalism." There were several Latter-day Saint physicians who were Thomsonians, including (significantly) Willard Richards, who wrote the diary entry we are here considering. The emphasis on loss of heat and lack of stimulation is significant—for it clashed with another set of medical principles, the "orthodox" or "heroic" doctors who came to believe that acute disease was not caused by lack of heat, but by too much energy, heat, or vital force: hence their prescriptions for bleeding, purging, and the like: to lower the energy or "heat." [30] Thus, under normal circumstances an 'energizing', 'hot', or 'stimulating' drink would be inappropriate.

There might, however, be exceptions. Thomson described a local woman who acted as a healer, and his admiration for her skill and methods is clear:

There was an old lady by the name of Benton lived near us, who used to attend our family when there was any sickness. At that time there was no such thing as a Doctor known among us, there not being any within ten miles. The whole of her practice was with roots and herbs, applied to the patient, or given in hot drinks, to produce sweating; which always answered the purpose. [31]

Thus, in a time of extreme cold, a "hot drink" like tea could be seen as a medicinal or preventative treatment which would help maintain health, since it would prevent the loss of the vital heat upon which the body depended. As a Thomsonian physician, Willard Richards (who wrote Joseph's journal for him) would have known and preached this. An "orthodox physician" (wary of heat, and more apt to bleed or purge) would have vigorously disagreed. [32]

By analogy, a modern member would be in violation of the Word of Wisdom if he or she injected morphine as a "recreational" drug. But, if the same drug was administered for a medical reason, the member would not be at fault. (Indeed, we might find fault with someone for refusing a medical treatment to maintain their health or cure an illness.)

That Richards was not surprised or offended by Joseph's consumption of tea on a bitterly cold winter morning demonstrates that Joseph's action was not the scandal that some wish to portray it as.

As one historian observed in 1972:

While the Saints opposed the common use of tea and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequenlty used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use.[33]

Did George A. Smith report that some church members left the church after finding that their leaders drank tea and coffee?

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous

Some critics of the Church hope their readers will be shocked by George A. Smith's admission that Emma Smith offered some new converts a glass of tea. But, why would George A. Smith admit to Joseph committing a grave sin, if such it was? His account provides us with the clues:

I know persons who apostatized because they supposed they had reasons; for instance, a certain family, after having travelled a long journey, arrived in Kirtland, and the prophet asked them to stop with him until they could find a place. Sister Emma, in the mean time, asked the old lady if she would have a cup of tea to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey, or a cup of coffee. This whole family apostatized because they were invited to take a cup of tea or coffee, after the Word of Wisdom was given. [34]

It is significant that George A. Smith says Emma made the offer "to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey." This is not merely a polite offer of something to drink—it is suggesting that the old woman may be particularly vulnerable to having her "vital heat" diminished by the rigors of a long journey exposed to the elements. Emma is probably making a health-related offer, not just offering a social beverage as we would today. Difficulties in assuring clean water supplies also make tea or coffee a sometimes wiser choice for health. Both coffee and tea are made from boiled water, which will kill bacteria. Even without boiling, the tannic acid in tea would kill the bacteria that caused such scourges as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery—all real risks on the American frontier. [35]

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous—the Word of Wisdom did not forbid the maintenance of health.

Did Willard Richards violate the Word of Wisdom by using tobacco at Carthage Jail?

Joseph Smith obtained some tobacco for a friend while in Carthage Jail prior to being martyred. Doesn't this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbalist, a type of physician common in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day. The tobacco was intended for medicinal purposes.

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbalist, a type of physician common in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States. Thomson was the name of the founder of this school of practice, which differed from the practice of the "orthodox" medical doctors, who focused on balancing humors, purging, inducing diarrhea, and so forth.

Neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom--they were likely medicinal

An aspect of Thomsonian medicine was Thomson's enthusiasm for the use of lobelia, or wild Indian tobacco. It was used as a cure-all, and was prominently used as an emetic to induce vomiting and restore health. This is the key to understanding the use of tobacco at Carthage Jail.

Neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom--they were likely medicinal.

Tobacco for Willard Richards

Willard Richards, who was in jail with Joseph, was a Thomsonian physician. This was a branch of pre-modern medical practice which required minimal schooling. Thomson's followers' believed strongly in the use of lobelia, or wild Indian tobacco. It was used as a cure-all, and was prominently used as an emetic to induce vomiting and restore health. This is the key to understanding the use of tobacco at Carthage Jail.

Critics Gerald and Sandra Tanner (p. 33) make a great deal of Joseph asking for a "pipe and tobacco" for Willard Richards. However, when we understand the circumstances, this action makes sense, and it has nothing to do with the Word of Wisdom. In the first place, we must realize that Joseph and Willard were locked in Carthage Jail.

Joseph had sent Stephen Markham out, as previous text unquoted by the Tanners tells us: "'Brother Markham...go get the doctor [i.e., Richards] something to settle his stomach,' [said Joseph,] and Markham went out for medicine. When he got the remedies desired...[the] Carthage Greys gathered round him, put him on his horse, and forced him out of the town at the point of the bayonet." So, Markham could not return, and none of the remedies he had obtained reached the jail. [36]

It is not clear which remedies Markham sought out—but he could not return. A Thomsonian like Richards would have probably seen tobacco as a medicinal drug, however—especially in a pinch when he could get nothing else. This would be particularly true if the tobacco was lobelia—it was the Thomsonian cure-all, literally.

The Tanners complain elsewhere about how in the History of the Church the words "pipe and some tobacco" were replaced by the word "medicine" (p. 471). But, this misses the point in a spectacular way—tobacco was considered a medicine at the time! Modern editors would not make this type of change to a historical text, but one can understand why rather than bother to explain about Thomsonian beliefs and medical practices, the editors of earlier times decided to simply "translate" the reason for the tobacco. The issue only becomes important, after all, when one is unfamiliar with early nineteenth century medicine.

There is further evidence that the tobacco was not seen as a problem by current or later leaders, since John Taylor's later account of the martyrdom in History of the Church mentions it very frankly and matter-of-factly:

Before the jailer came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more.

The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailer went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as also Brother Taylor and the doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out. When at the top of the stairs some one below called him two or three times, and he went down.[37]

Since neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom. Leaders would not include this information if it made Joseph look bad. This should be our first clue that something else is going on.[38] Some critics, however, have not sought to understand, but merely to condemn by trusting that their audience will not understand the fine points of early nineteenth century frontier medicine.

Events surrounding the death of Joseph Smith

Summary: To learn more about the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage jail, follow this link.
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph utter a false prophecy and show disregard for the Word of Wisdom in telling Orson Hyde that he would drink wine with him in Palestine?

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come (Luke 22:18) which was reiterated in a revelation to Joseph Smith (D&C 27꞉5). Joseph prophesied that he would drink with Hyde there—but whether he would go to Palestine in this life was something about which he immediately expressed uncertainty.

Those who offer this criticism make three errors:

  1. they do not cite the entire text
  2. they refuse to consider a fulfillment after this life.
  3. they ignore the Word of Wisdom's application in historical context.

The prophecy: "If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me"

Joseph was not certain that he would see Palestine during this life. As can be seen below, Joseph (1) prophesied that he would drink wine with Hyde in the Holy Land; and then (2) expressed hope that he would go with the Twelve to the Holy Land, but was aware he might not live, and left the matter to God's will:

Elder Hyde told of the excellent white wine he drank in the east [Palestine]. Joseph prophesied in the name of the Lord that he would drink wine with him in that country. Joseph [said], "From the 6th day of April next, I go in for preparing with all present for a Mission through the United States and when we arrive {page 143} at Maine we will take ship for England and so on to all countries where we are a mind for to go." P[r]e[se]nt: H[yrum] Smith, B[righam] Young, H[eber] C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, W[ilford] Woodruff, Geo[rge] A. Smith, [and] W[illard] Richards.

[Joseph said,] "We must write for John E. Page. We must love the whole Quorum. We must send Kings and Queens to Nauvoo and we will do it. We must all start from this place. Let the 12 [Apostles] be called in on the {page 143} 6th of April and a notice be given for a special conference on the platform on [the] House of the Lord. We are sure to go as we live till spring. If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me."[39]

In Joseph's day, wine was not forbidden by the Word of Wisdom

Once again, critics count on their audience thinking that the prophets have commanded the same degree of observance of the Word of Wisdom throughout Church history.


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

To learn more about Joseph Smith: Word of Wisdom
Video
  • "Joseph Smith and alcohol," BH Roberts Foundation print-link. Video version: "Did Joseph Smith drink alcohol?,"  (8 December 2023). video-link.
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