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Multiple accounts of the First Vision/1832/Only one Personage appears
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- Question: Why does Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision not mention two personages?
- Question: Is there any reference to God the Father being present in Joseph Smith's 1832 account?
- Question: Why did the Prophet construct the 1832 narrative in a manner such as to exclude explicit mention of the Father's appearance?
- Gospel Topics: There are other, more consistent ways of seeing the evidence
- Question: Did any of Joseph's scribe ever say anything about Joseph's story of the vision changing over time?
a piller of
firelight above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me...
—Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision
Question: Why does Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision not mention two personages?
Although the 1832 account does not specifically indicate that the Father appeared, He is mentioned
The theophany portion of the 1832 account does not specifically indicate that the Father appeared to Joseph Smith together with Jesus Christ. The relevant text (in its original form) reads as follows:
"a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day c[a]me down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the <Lord> opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph <my son> thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy <way> walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life <behold> the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not <my> commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which <hath> been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud <clothed> in the glory of my Father." (emphasis added)
Even though the Savior makes a direct reference to the Father there is no indication in this portion of the 1832 document that God appeared to Joseph Smith alongside His Son.
The same pattern exists in the Book of Mormon with Lehi's vision of God on His throne
This type of pattern is seen in the Book of Mormon, translated in 1829: The Book of Mormon begins (1 Nephi 1:8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on His throne. One [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi—thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate, and the role of Christ in giving instructions to the prophet while the Father looks on and approves is followed, just as it was in Joseph's First Vision. Here too, Lehi is described as praying to "the Lord," and yet has a vision of both God the Father and Christ.
Question: Is there any reference to God the Father being present in Joseph Smith's 1832 account?
A significant phrase in the introductory paragraph is associated with the First Vision: "receiving the testimony from on high"
There is a very significant phrase located in the introductory paragraph of the Prophet's historical narrative. There he indicates that the 1832 document is . . .
"A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brough<t> [it] forth and established [it] by his hand <firstly> he receiving the testamony from on high secondly the ministering of Angels thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of Aangels to adminster the letter of the Gospel—<—the Law and commandments as they were given unto him—>and the ordinencs, forthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God."
This paragraph not only introduces the document with a heavy emphasis on the Son of God but it also chronologically outlines four inaugural events of the Restoration.
- FIRST: Reception of "the testimony from on high" - First Vision
- SECOND: The "ministering of angels" - Moroni visitations
- THIRD: Reception of the Holy Priesthood to administer the letter of the gospel - Aaronic
- FOURTH: Reception of the High Priesthood after the order of the Son - Melchizedek
This 1832 phraseology corresponds with the words spoken by God the Father when He introduced His Son in the Sacred Grove
The significant phrase in the introductory paragraph is the one associated with the First Vision -- "receiving the testimony from on high" (spelling standardized). When this phrase is placed in conjunction with the Prophet's 1835 and 1838 accounts of the First Vision it becomes obvious that the 1832 phraseology closely corresponds with the words spoken by God the Father when He introduced His Son in the Sacred Grove.
- (1832 ACCOUNT)
- “firstly . . . receiving the testimony from on high”
- (1835 ACCOUNT)
- “He [God the Father] testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”
- (1838 ACCOUNT)
- "[He] said...This is my beloved Son”
The Father's identification of Jesus Christ as His Son was His "testimony" of Him.
Critics have objected that -- in their minds -- the phrase "from on high" cannot be so easily equated with God the Father. But there is a sizable amount of corroborating evidence for this idea. Consider the following points of connection.
- 3 Ne. 11:3, 5-7 - between April and June 1828
The Father's "voice . . . came out of heaven" [i.e., 'from on high'] and testified of His "Beloved Son."
- D&C 20:16 - April 1830
Joseph Smith stated, "the Lord God has spoken it; and we . . . have heard . . . the words of the glorious Majesty on high."
- Matthew, Mark, Luke, 1 Peter - between 8 March 1831 and 24 March 1832
There are five New Testament scriptures (which Joseph Smith would have been familiar with from his work on the JST) that have distinct parallels to the First Vision story. Jesus Christ's Old World disciples heard the Father's voice come "from heaven" (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22; 2 Pt. 1:17-18) [i.e, 'from on high'] or "out of the cloud" (Mt. 17:5) [i.e., 'from on high'] and in each of these instances the Father testified of His Son and employed the same phraseology that Joseph Smith said He utilized during the First Vision.
- JST John 1:18/19 - between 20 November 1831 and 16 February 1832
"And no man hath seen God at any time, except he [i.e., God the Father] hath borne record of the Son."
- 1832 First Vision account - between 22 September 1832 and 27 November 1832
"receiving the testimony from on high"
- D&C 93:15 - 6 May 1833
Mention is made of the Father's voice being heard "out of heaven."
- Patriarchal Blessing - 9 December 1834
When the Prophet received his Patriarchal Blessing on 9 December 1834 he was reminded by the Patriarch (his father) that during his "youth" he had "heard [God's] voice from on high."
Joseph Smith appears to have equated the voice "from on high" with God the Father both before and after he penned his 1832 First Vision account
This chronological evidence points to the conclusion that Joseph Smith appears to have equated the voice "from on high" with God the Father both before and after he penned his 1832 First Vision account.
"The Lord opened the heavens and I saw the Lord"
Another line from the 1832 account that may be referring to two people may be this line
I was ﬁlled with the spirit of God, and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord
It has been argued that the seperation of "Lord" into two may be referring to the Lord God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Three pieces of evidence can be used to argue for this interpretation.
- Evidence #1 - The separation of "Lord" is used in scripture in Psalm 110:1 to refer to two distinct, divine individuals. As John Welch and James Allen have argued, if David can do this, so can Joseph. This connection becomes more plausible when we realize that Joseph would have either recently been working on or completed Psalms in his Inspired Translation of the Bible at this time.
A couple of critics have taken issue with this evidence for the interpretation--claiming that since Psalm 110:1 was originally written in Hebrew with two different words for Lord (rendering "Lord" and "LORD" in all caps for the second mention) that the argument fails.
Latter-day Saint apologist and theologian Robert S. Boylan has responded by showing how Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted, echoed, and/or alluded to passage in the New Testament which Joseph would have been working on revising in his Inspired Translation of the Bible. He then shows that the revelations in Doctrine and Covenants leading up chronologically to the publication of the history containing the 1832 account of Joseph’s vision deliberately echo that verse (Doctrine and Covenants 20:24; 49:5-6; 76: 20, 23). If Joseph were familiar with that verse close to the publication of the account by way of the Old and/or New Testament and as echoed in his revelations published in the Doctrine and Covenants, it seems reasonable to assume that he could have used that verse as a template for rendering his account of events surrounding the First Vision. This is even if one mention is capitalized and the other not. If the structure is deliberate and clear (and it appears so), then it seems odd to be upset that Joseph doesn't use capitals for the second "Lord" he writes about.
- Evidence #2 - The successive appearance of personages in other accounts (such as the 1835 account).
The 1832 account may be read to have a successive appearance of personages, one after the other. This is strengthened by the 1835 accounts mention of successive appearance. Further evidence of this in the 1832 account may be that Joseph was "filled with the spirit of God" before he mentions "the Lord".
- Evidence #3 - Joseph used "Lord" to refer to God and not just Jesus Christ in the 1832 account.
Some have argued that the 8 uses of Lord in the 1832 account all refer to Jesus Christ. There are at least three references that may be read otherwise:
A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous [sic] experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Christ the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the Church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brought forth and established by his hand.
A separation of "Christ" and "the Lord.” This is able to be read with Christ or the Father as the Lord.
My mind became exceedingly distressed, for I became convicted of my sins, and by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith, and there was no society or denomination that was built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.
The mention of Lord and Jesus Christ is tricky to consolidate here. This is best read so as to refer to the Father as the Lord.
The third plausible evidence of God as Lord is the ending of the account:
My soul was ﬁlled with love, and for many days I could rejoice with great joy. The Lord was with me, but I could ﬁnd none that would believe the heavenly vision. Nevertheless, I pondered these things in my heart.
The reference here is vague enough that it cannot be conclusively read one way or the other--especially with the just-cited mention of the Lord.
Question: Why did the Prophet construct the 1832 narrative in a manner such as to exclude explicit mention of the Father's appearance?
Analysis of the 1832 First Vision text reveals that it was deliberately constructed on the framework of many scriptural citations
Since it can be concluded from the above documentary evidence that Joseph Smith did indeed make an oblique reference to the appearance of the Father in his 1832 history the question becomes—Why did the Prophet construct the 1832 narrative in the manner that he did (so as to exclude explicit mention of the Father's appearance)? A careful analysis of the 1832 First Vision text reveals that it was deliberately constructed on the framework of many scriptural citations. The apostle Stephen's view of both the Father and the Son is clearly utilized by the Prophet in one section of the 1832 text but, more importantly, Joseph Smith told the actual theophany portion of this narrative in language that very closely corresponds to the apostle Paul's vision of Jesus Christ (Acts 26:). .
The apostle Paul did not report that he saw the Father alongside the Son
The Father is not explicitly mentioned as making an appearance in the theophany portion of the 1832 First Vision account because Joseph Smith patterned that part of his narrative after the vision of Jesus Christ experienced by the apostle Paul.
Paul did not report that he saw the Father alongside the Son, and so it is logical that this is the reason why Joseph Smith did not explicitly mention the Father's appearance in his text either. The Prophet's strong sense of connection with Paul's visionary experience is referred to by him right in his 1838 First Vision account. The context of this connection is the persecution experienced by both men for speaking publicly about a heavenly manifestation. Joseph Smith relates in his 1838 history that he was informed by a clergyman that his vision was "all of the devil." This piece of information may help to explain why the Prophet chose to couch his first known written account of his vision in heavy biblical language and imagery. He may have hoped that by doing this his story would have a better chance of being accepted amongst a populace that was steeped in biblical content.
Gospel Topics: "There are other, more consistent ways of seeing the evidence."
The Gospel Topics Essay touching on the first vision touches on another way of looking at the evidence. It focuses on the awkward repetition of the word "Lord" and how this may have been Joseph's perhaps uneducated way of stating the order of appearance of the personages.
Embellishment. The second argument frequently made regarding the accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision is that he embellished his story over time. This argument focuses on two details: the number and identity of the heavenly beings Joseph Smith stated that he saw. Joseph’s First Vision accounts describe the heavenly beings with greater detail over time. The 1832 account says, “The Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord.” His 1838 account states, “I saw two Personages,” one of whom introduced the other as “My Beloved Son.” As a result, critics have argued that Joseph Smith started out reporting to have seen one being—“the Lord”—and ended up claiming to have seen both the Father and the Son.9 There are other, more consistent ways of seeing the evidence. A basic harmony in the narrative across time must be acknowledged at the outset: three of the four accounts clearly state that two personages appeared to Joseph Smith in the First Vision. The outlier is Joseph Smith’s 1832 account, which can be read to refer to one or two personages. If read to refer to one heavenly being, it would likely be to the personage who forgave his sins. According to later accounts, the first divine personage told Joseph Smith to “hear” the second, Jesus Christ, who then delivered the main message, which included the message of forgiveness.10 Joseph Smith’s 1832 account, then, may have concentrated on Jesus Christ, the bearer of forgiveness. Another way of reading the 1832 account is that Joseph Smith referred to two beings, both of whom he called “Lord.” The embellishment argument hinges on the assumption that the 1832 account describes the appearance of only one divine being. But the 1832 account does not say that only one being appeared. Note that the two references to “Lord” are separated in time: first “the Lord” opens the heavens; then Joseph Smith sees “the Lord.” This reading of the account is consistent with Joseph’s 1835 account, which has one personage appearing first, followed by another soon afterwards. The 1832 account, then, can reasonably be read to mean that Joseph Smith saw one being who then revealed another and that he referred to both of them as “the Lord”: “the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord.”Joseph’s increasingly specific descriptions can thus be compellingly read as evidence of increasing insight, accumulating over time, based on experience. In part, the differences between the 1832 account and the later accounts may have something to do with the differences between the written and the spoken word. The 1832 account represents the first time Joseph Smith attempted to write down his history. That same year, he wrote a friend that he felt imprisoned by “paper pen and Ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect Language.” He called the written word a “little narrow prison.” The expansiveness of the later accounts is more easily understood and even expected when we recognize that they were likely dictated accounts—an, easy, comfortable medium for Joseph Smith and one that allowed the words to flow more easily.
Read the full article here.
Question: Did any of Joseph's scribes ever say anything about Joseph's story of the vision changing over time?
Joseph's scribe Frederick G. Williams never mentioned anything about Joseph's story "evolving" over time
It is interesting to note that the scribe for the material which directly precedes and follows after the 1832 First Vision narrative - Frederick G. Williams - never mentioned anything about Joseph Smith's story evolving over time and becoming more elaborate with the so-called 'addition' of the Father. Williams was a resident of Quincy, Illinois when the First Vision account which explicitly refers to the Father was published in Nauvoo, Illinois on 1 April 1842. It is known that Williams was with the Prophet in Nauvoo shortly before his death on 10 October 1842 but during the intervening six months there is no known objection by Frederick to the content of the printed text. Why not? Williams was the person who wrote down the words in the introductory remarks of the 1832 document that talk of Joseph Smith receiving "the testimony from on high" during the First Vision. And it is known that Frederick was accompanying four LDS missionaries who, in November 1830, were teaching the citizens of Painesville, Ohio that Joseph Smith had seen "God" personally (see the 1830 statement about seeing "God"). Williams was a member of the First Presidency of the Church on 9 November 1835 when Joseph Smith was teaching a non-Mormon that there were two personages who appeared during the First Vision (see Joseph Smith diary, 9 November 1835). Frederick probably never drew attention to a so-called 'discrepancy' between what Joseph Smith taught in 1832, 1835, 1838, and 1842 because he knew that there wasn't one; he knew that the words of the Father spoken during the vision were referred to right in the text that he had written down in 1832.
Joseph's scribe Oliver Cowdery never mentioned anything about Joseph's story changing
Oliver Cowdery is another person who was in a position to know if the Prophet's First Vision story had changed over time by the addition of the Father. But he never mentioned any such 'discrepancy'. Cowdery had possession of the 1832 First Vision account when he wrote and published a series of Church history letters in December 1834 and February 1835 and so he was fully aware of the explicit mention of Christ's appearance and he also would have known of the introductory remark which refers to "the testimony from on high" being delivered during this event. Cowdery became the Associate or Assistant President of the entire Church on 5 December 1834 (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1653), and thus he would have been in the highest office of Church authority when the Prophet was teaching about one year later that two personages appeared during the First Vision (Joseph Smith diary, 9 November 1835).
Even after both Fredrick G. Williams and Oliver Cowdery became disaffected with Joseph Smith, they never challenged his story of the First Vision
Both Fredrick G. Williams and Oliver Cowdery had reason to feel animosity toward Joseph Smith and the Church since they were both excommunicated in the late 1830's. But neither of these men - even after their reinstatements into full fellowship - ever pointed to any 'creative editing' of the Prophet's First Vision story to sound more impressive and dramatic.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 9–20. off-site.
- See John W. Welch and James B. Allen "Analysis of Joseph Smith's Accounts of the First Vision," Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820-1844, 1st ed., John W. Welch, ed. (Provo, UT: BYU Studies Press, 2005).
- See for example Stan Larson, "Another Look at Joseph Smith's First Vision," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 47, no. 2 (Summer 2014): 37-62 (52).
- Robert Boylan, "Psalm 110:1 and the two Lords in the 1832 First Vision Account," <http://scripturalmormonism.blogspot.com/2017/10/psalm-1101-and-two-lords-in-1832-first.html> (6 October 2019).
- Stan Larson, "Another Look," 52.
- See the 2006 FAIR Conference address entitled "Revised or Unaltered? Joseph Smith's Foundational Stories" and its accompanying slides (see links below in the "Video" section).
- Gospel Topics Essays "First Vision Accounts" lds.org