Joseph Smith's First Vision/Nature of God

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Joseph Smith's First Vision and the nature of God

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Question: Does Doctrine and Covenants 121:28 contradict the First Vision?

Joseph Smith was teaching that the Father and Son were two separate divine Beings many years before the letters comprising D&C 121 were written

In 1839 Joseph Smith received a revelation from God in which it was stated that the time would come "in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods they shall be manifest" (D&C 121:28). This was an "unnecessary revelation," since according to the official LDS Church First Vision account Joseph Smith supposedly knew that there was more than one God since 1820. This information counts as evidence that the Prophet's story was fraudulent.

This anti-Mormon argument against the First Vision is built upon a false premise; the material being used as a weapon has been misidentified (it is NOT a revelation from the Lord). Joseph Smith did indeed understand since 1820 that the Father and Son were two separate divine Beings. And he was teaching this concept to the Saints many years before he had the 1839 letters written.[1]

This is truly one of the strangest accusations that has ever been made against the veracity of the First Vision story.

A study of the origin of D&C 121 reveals that it consists exclusively of five widely-separated, but sequential, extracts from two letters written by Joseph Smith and others between the 20th and 25th of March 1839 (while they were imprisoned in Liberty, Missouri). The extracts run as follows:

  1. D&C 121:1-6
  2. D&C 121:7-25
  3. D&C 121:26-32
  4. D&C 121:33
  5. D&C 121:34-46

The comment about "one God or many gods" is found in extract #3.

Anyone who will read the original letter from whence this extract was taken[2] will quickly discover that the comment about "one God or many gods" is NOT part of a revelation from the Lord—but is rather part of comments being made by Joseph Smith.

A careful reading of the first letter also reveals that references are made to all three members of the Godhead:

  • "God the father"
  • "our Lord and savior Jesus Christ"
  • "the holy Ghost"

The anti-Mormons who constructed this argument do not seem to be aware of the great inconsistency in their own reasoning. They mention the official LDS Church First Vision account but seem to fail to recognize that it was written by 2 May 1838—about ten and three-quarters months before the D&C 121 extracts were penned. The 1838 First Vision recital clearly differentiates between the Father and the Son as separate divine Beings. Do the detractors of Mormonism really expect others to believe that Joseph Smith was so blinded by his own deceit that he couldn't keep his story straight for less than a year? This seems implausible.

Question: Is the Father embodied or a spirit in the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants?

There is no documentary evidence that indicates exactly when Joseph Smith learned that God the Father had a glorified and perfected body of flesh and bone

When the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1835 it portrayed God the Father as a personage of spirit whereas Jesus Christ was portrayed as a personage of tabernacle, or one having a physical body. Yet the official LDS First Vision story portrays the Father as a physical Being. It is claimed that this is evidence of an evolution of story; and that the evolution of this story is evidence of fraud.

There is no documentary evidence that indicates exactly when Joseph Smith learned that God the Father had a glorified and perfected body of flesh and bone. And there is also no indication that Joseph learned any such thing during his 1820 First Vision. Regardless of when this revelation was bestowed upon the Prophet, it cannot be established beyond doubt that he was responsible for the teaching about the "spirit" nature of God found in the main text of lecture #5. It may, instead, be true that the Prophet was involved in adjusting the lecture #5 text to conform with his earlier work on the translation of the Bible.

When Doctrine and Covenants is combined with The Book of Mormon it may lead us in a better direction.

The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants though may push against this a little. In 3 Nephi 28:10, Jesus speaks to the Three Nephites who wished to remain on the earth to continue to preach the Gospel. The text reads thus:

7 Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.

8 And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.

9 And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand.

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

Note how the phrase "fulness of joy" is juxtaposed with not having to taste the pains of death. Notice also how the Savior says "ye shall be as I am". This must refer to the Savior's glorified body. Note how he then states that he is even as his father is. This verse may be used to show that the Book of Mormon envisions an embodied God. But we can go further. If we turn to Doctrine and Covenants 93:33-35. This revelation (section 93) dates to the year 1833. There, the phrase "fulness of joy" is juxtaposed with the "elements" (that v. 35 identifies as "man" or "the tabernacle of God") and "spirit" being "inseparably connected". Therefore, if we apply these verses back to verse 10 in the Book of Mormon, the Father had given Christ a "fulness of joy" and that only came after he had element and spirit inseparably connected, and he states that he is even as the Father is.

The "official" 1838 First Vision account does not say anything about the specific nature of the Father's body other than it could be seen

The "official" 1838 First Vision account (first published in 1842 in the Times and Seasons) does not say anything about God the Father possessing a physical body. In fact, it says nothing at all about the specific nature of the Father's body other than it could be seen. Critics of the LDS Church should be much more careful in what they say about the content of historical documents.

However, it is correct to say that the Lectures on Faith which were contained within the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants did refer to God the Father as a personage of spirit with a human or bodily form.

LECTURE #5, paragraph 2: “the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or rather man was formed after his likeness and in his image; he is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father”

LECTURE #5, questions and answers section: "What is the Father? He is a personage"

It becomes obvious from an examination of the "Questions and Answers" section of lecture #5 that the person who constructed this lecture drew heavily from the book of John in the New Testament (seven direct quotations were utilized). It is more than likely, therefore, that the statement in lecture #5 which reads "the Father being a personage of spirit" was drawn directly from John 4:24. It is curious, however, that even though this was listed as an attribute of the Father in the main text of the lecture it was deleted in the question and answer section.

the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power
[#5.] Q. What is the Father?

A. He is a personage of glory and of power ([lecture] 5 [paragraph] 2).

[NOTE: This is the precise coordinate for the statement that is made above]
[#6.] Q. . . . the Father is a personage of glory and of power

The Lectures on Faith were ready for publication by 17 February 1835 and it is clear that Joseph Smith had a hand in preparing them for public release.[3] But whether or not the Prophet was himself ultimately responsible for the initial creation of the lecture material is a vigorously debated topic.[4]

This brings up a very interesting question. Is it possible that the text of lecture #5 was edited by Joseph Smith—or the entire preparation/editorial committee (the First Presidency)—to delete the mention of God being a spirit in the question and answer section? This would make perfectly good sense since by 2 February 1833 Joseph Smith had changed John 4:24 in his translation of the Bible so that it no longer said that God was a spirit (see JST John 4:26).

At some point, Joseph Smith knew that God the Father had a physical body of flesh and bone

It is significant that shortly after the Lectures on Faith were presented before the School of the Elders in Kirtland, Ohio a Presbyterian minister named Rev. Truman Coe—who had lived among the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio for a span of four years—wrote that the Mormons "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."[5]

It is also significant that on 5 January 1841—shortly before the so-called "official" First Vision story was released to the public via the Church's press—Joseph Smith was teaching in Nauvoo the very same thing that Rev. Truman Coe had heard in Kirtland: "That which is without body or parts is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones."[6]


  1. See D&C 76:20-21; NeedAuthor, "A Vision," Evening and Morning Star 1 no. 2 (July 1832), 10. off-siteGospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  2. Joseph Smith, Letter to the Church at Quincy, Illinois (20 March 1839), cited in Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 13.
  3. Doctrine and Covenants, 1st ed., preface; 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), 2:169–170,180. Volume 2 link
  4. See Noel B. Reynolds, "The Case for Sidney Rigdon as Author of the Lecture on Faith (8 June 2004) [based on version given at Mormon History Association meeting at Kirtland 2003]. PDF link
  5. Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836): 4. Reprinted from Hudson Ohio Observer (16 August 1836): 1-2. off-site See also Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Press, 1996-2003), 1:47. See discussion in Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe's 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (1977), 347–350, 354. PDF link
  6. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 60.