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

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Question: 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.