Over the next few weeks, we’ll be talking about the First Vision. Faulk goes on about this issue for the next 9 pages of the LFMW, so we’re all going to get very familiar with the various accounts.
I have a deep fondness for the First Vision. When I was a young child in Primary, learning the words to “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” was one of the very first times I can ever remember feeling the Spirit. I was so young at the time I didn’t understand what the feeling was or what it meant. I remembered it, though. It became one of the central pillars of my testimony from the day I was old enough to understand what the Spirit had been teaching me. My dad grew up inactive in the Church, and it was the account in the Pearl of Great Price that gave him his testimony. And when I was a teenager, it was the First Vision that I felt prompted to share with my good friend that led her to investigate the Church and eventually get baptized. So, when I say that the First Vision is important to me on a personal level, I do mean that.
This section begins with even more quotes. The first is from President Hinckley:
President Gordon B. Hinckley rests the entire truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on the validity of the First Vision when he stated, “Our whole strength rests on the validity of that [First] vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens” (Gordon B. Hinckley, The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith, General Conference, October 2002)
This quote was lifted straight from the opening of the First Vision section of the CES Letter. I’ve always loved that talk, however, and there’s no getting around it: if the First Vision never happened, then the Church is not “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” That event is the foundation for everything that came afterward.
I firmly believe that there is room in our church for everyone, regardless of our current level of belief. However, our church also does make bold truth claims regarding its historicity, truthfulness, and approval by God. The time will come when we will have to decide once and for all what we truly believe. The Lord Himself has promised that we can’t halt longer between two opinions because He will spew us out of His mouth if we are lukewarm in our testimonies.
Someday, we all are going to have to decide if we believe that the Book of Mormon is genuinely an ancient record or not, that Christ is the true head of this church, that we are led by modern-day prophets receiving revelation from Him, and that He and His Father appeared to Joseph Smith in a grove of trees and through him, restored the fulness of the Gospel to the Earth. President Hinckley was absolutely right.
When studying the circumstances surrounding the First Vision, issues arise that are not taught to members of the Church. These issues involve: the timeline, common First Vision-like accounts, Joseph’s multiple accounts, contemporary statements, discrepancies with the official version, and continued concealment.
As with literally everything our church teaches, individual knowledge on these topics will vary. Some of us were taught these things in Seminary; some were not. We have been encouraged right from the start to study all that we can on our own, however. Our time in Sunday School, Primary, Relief Society, and Elder’s Quorum each week is limited. We also have limited time in Seminary and Institute. Our teachers simply can’t cover every single thing that has ever happened in our history, and every quote that has ever been made by the members or even the leadership. The time we spend in church is for fellowshipping and trying to bring people closer to Christ. We should be studying Church history on our own time.
However, we each learn in different ways and at different rates. And the simple fact is, a lot of people don’t like history or theology. A lot of us don’t have the time or the inclination to study on our own. Many of us can’t even find the time to read the scriptures regularly. But the thing is, we have to make the time.
I can’t speak Spanish fluently. I know a few words, but I’m not even very conversant because I took French in middle and high school. And now that I’m an adult, despite easy access to a multitude of methods and resources available to me in order to learn Spanish, I never have. I could blame my various schools, teachers, or professors for not teaching it to me. But if I never took the classes, are they really to blame? I never got a textbook, I never downloaded an audio course, I never took lessons. I never even bought myself an English-to-Spanish dictionary. I never made the time to learn it. So, if I can’t speak the language today, whose fault is that? To be blunt, it’s mine. If it was something I truly wanted to know, I could have made time to learn it. I just didn’t.
And if there are some of us who don’t know that Joseph Smith told his story more than once, the exact timeline of events of early Church history, that others in Joseph’s day and age claimed to have visions, etc., it’s because we never took the time to study those things. I’m not saying that to blame anybody. I’m just saying that we have to take some personal responsibility. Why shouldn’t we be expected to study the church we belong to? Why shouldn’t we read the scriptures we claim to hold as sacred? Why shouldn’t we read what our founding prophet actually said in his own words? Especially when these things have been acknowledged and discussed for decades in our church’s most widely read publications?
In this day and age, with so much information right at our fingertips, why should we expect to be spoon-fed every piece of information we think we should know? Why shouldn’t we bear some of the responsibility for looking it up? Most of us carry around a portable computer in our pocket or purse everywhere we go. Why can’t we, at a minimum, make a 30-second Google search on our own? Is that really too much to ask when we’re talking about our eternal salvation?
Joseph Smith claimed to have experienced the First Vision in 1820, yet there appears to be no record before 1832. The Church confirms this fact when it states, “The oldest account, written in 1832, was part of an autobiography. This account emphasized Joseph’s quest for religious truth and his desire to be forgiven of his sins. Therein, Joseph stated that the Lord said to him, “Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee.” (https://www.lds.org/topics/first-visionaccounts?lang=eng). If this event occurred in 1820, then it was 12 years later when Joseph decided to first make a record of it; 2 years after the organization of the Church.
It’s absolutely true that Joseph’s 1832 account was the first attempt at recording the vision in any kind of detail. There were scattered references to it prior to then, as we’ll get into, but this was the first time he attempted to record it.
In fact, we only have one thing written by Joseph prior to 1832 and very few documents written afterward. As someone who was much more comfortable speaking than writing (the exact opposite of me), he dictated his own letters and journal entries for years. Every document we have in Joseph’s handwriting is listed at the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and it contains only 82 items. Fifty-one of those items are individual journal entries, most only a single sentence or paragraph long.
Joseph famously hated writing. He referred to it once in a letter as a “little narrow prison almost as it were total darkness of paper pen and Ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect Language” [sic]. And don’t forget, this account of the First Vision was written only a few short years after the time period in which Emma described him as being unable to “neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon.”
While those of us who were raised in the Church come from a culture of writing down our spiritual experiences, Joseph did not. He didn’t start recording things until two years after he was commanded to. Even then, when he did start keeping a daily journal, he only wrote in it for 10 days before giving up for nearly a year. So, it should not be a surprise to anyone that it took him so long to write this account down, or that it’s brief and lacking detail compared to some of the later accounts.
No contemporary periodicals in the 1830s mention Joseph Smith, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no journal or correspondence from that time mention the story of the First Vision.
I assume this sentence is missing a “that” after “the 1830s.” Otherwise, this sentence doesn’t make sense. Multiple periodicals from the 1830s mention Joseph Smith. But even granting the likely typo, this claim is categorically untrue, as I’ll go through in a moment.
First, though, this seems to be due to some poor editing on Faulk’s part. You see, this section is different from the original text of the “For My Wife and Children” letter. Despite claiming that “every single line in their response to [his] letter is a lie,” the author changed several portions of his letter in response to FAIR’s rebuttal, including this one. The original assertion was that no one had ever heard of the First Vision until 1842, and this was altered once FAIR pointed out that Orson Pratt published an account of it in 1840. However, it seems that Faulk didn’t update all of the language to reflect the new corrections.
Former Church Historian James B. Allen, acknowledged that the story of the First Vision was not known in the 1830’s. Elder Allen stated that in the 1830s “the general membership of the Church knew little, if anything, about it.” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966) According to the historical record, there is no reference to the First Vision in any published or hand-recorded material in the 1830s.
While the quoted portion is correct as far as Allen knew—remember, that quote is more than half a century old and we know more now than we did then—the sentence following it is not. There’s a reason James B. Allen did not say “According to the historical record, there is no reference to the First Vision in any published or hand-recorded material in the 1830s” anywhere in that article, and that’s because it’s wildly incorrect.
For one obvious, notable example, Joseph’s 1832 account falls under the banner of being both hand-recorded and a journal entry from the 1830s. One of Joseph’s scribes, Frederick G. Williams, assisted on this history and surely learned of the First Vision during this time. And, in fact, this account says literally says that he told others about it:
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.
How can you possibly claim that Joseph didn’t tell others about his vision when it says right here that he did? But there’s considerably more early evidence of the First Vision than just this account.
In another instance, the Palmyra Reflector, which is a periodical, published an article on February 14, 1831, about Joseph Smith that derided him for having “seen God frequently and personally,” and saying that he “had now received a commission from God” to preach with authority. Clearly, people were talking about it in the early 1830s if it was being mocked in a local newspaper.
On April 19, 1831, an Ohio newspaper, the Painesville Telegraph, published the Articles and Covenants of the Church, which referenced Joseph having received a remission of his sins. That event happened during the First Vision. And, as the linked source demonstrates, this includes our modern-day Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was recorded a year earlier in April of 1830. Verse 5 of that section also mentions Joseph’s remission of sins. These Articles and Covenants were also republished in a variety of sources throughout 1830-1831, as well as read to a conference of Saints in September of 1830.
In 1832, a man named B. Pixley published an article in the Christian Watchman, which was republished in the Ohio Atlas on December 6, 1832. It mentions that members of the Church “converse with Christ face to face.” (At the link, run a search for “Pixley” and it’ll be the first entry that comes up.)
Joseph Smith gave additional evidences while working on the JST. The JST of John 1:19 states that no man has seen God the Father at any time, unless he’s bearing record of Christ, which is exactly what happened during the First Vision. This would have been translated near but prior to February 16, 1832, which is when Joseph and Sidney Rigdon had the joint vision of the Celestial Kingdom while working on the JST for John 5:29.
And a recently published paper by Walker Wright and Don Bradley also shows that the JST rendition of Psalm 14, which was likely completed in January or February of 1833 (he worked on the New Testament before most of the Old Testament), echoes language from Joseph’s 1832 account. This suggests that it was probably heavily influenced by the First Vision.
In early March of 1833, Richmond Taggart gave an account claiming that Joseph “had seen Jesus Christ and the Apostles and conversed with them.”
Also in 1833, on August 10, the Missouri Intelligencer spoke of a meeting held the month prior in which it was claimed that members of the Church discussed “their personal intercourse with God and his angels…converse with God and his angels….”
In Mormonism Unvailed by E.D. Howe, published in 1834 (not to be confused with Mormonism Unveiled by John D. Lee, published in 1877), a man named Joseph Capron gave a statement mentioning Joseph’s “holy intercourse with Almighty God.”
Joseph’s patriarchal blessing given to him by his father in December, 1834, describes Joseph speaking with God “even in thy youth,” which seems like a clear nod to the First Vision.
The hymn “Now We’ll Sing With One Accord” was written by W.W. Phelps in 1835 and published in the Messenger and Advocate and in the Church’s first hymnal later that same year. This hymn describes a heavenly messenger announcing the restoration of the Priesthood as well as Joseph conversing with Jesus Christ, both elements of the First Vision.
One of Joseph’s journal entries from November of 1835, recorded by Warren Parrish, recounts his telling a visitor about the First Vision in some fair detail. This is the official second account, indicating two additional people had heard of it.
Just a few days later, in another journal entry, it describes a second visitor who was told of Joseph’s “first visitation of Angels which was when [he] was about 14 years old.”
The Joseph Smith History from our Pearl of Great Price, while not published for the first time until 1842, was begun in 1838. Therefore, at least one and probably more of Joseph’s scribes certainly learned of the First Vision during this recounting, which again was in the 1830s.
In a book titled Gleanings By the Way, John A. Clark recounted a confused, secondhand conversation with Martin Harris that mentioned elements of the First Vision mixed in with other events. Though this book was not published until 1842, the author states that the conversation took place in autumn of 1827. If there is any truth behind this story, that means that Martin Harris, at least, was aware of the vision before 1830.
Though I cited it earlier, Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote an article in 1969, only three years after James B. Allen’s comment above, listing multiple accounts with references to elements of the First Vision.
And FAIR compares a list phrases taken from various other accounts from the 1830s against the Joseph Smith History account we’re all so familiar with, stating, “[I]t 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.”
So, claiming that there’s no references at all to the First Vision in any contemporary periodicals, Church publications, journals, correspondence, or published or handwritten account from the 1830s is, quite frankly, absurd.
Obviously, not everyone knows that these various references exist. But you don’t even need to know about all of those other mentions to know that Faulk was wrong in his assertions from this portion of his letter. All you have to do is point to Joseph’s 1832 handwritten account that Faulk already discussed, and that negates everything he said afterward. Neither basic logic nor historical fact supports his claims here.
In 1833 the Church published the Book of Commandments, a predecessor to the Doctrine and Covenants. The first printing of the Book of Commandments also contained the Lectures on Faith, a series of seven lectures outlining the doctrine and theology of the Church up to that point; no reference was made of the First Vision.
Aside from oblique references like the one already mentioned in D&C 20, the First Vision is not included in the Doctrine and Covenants today, either. It’s in the Pearl of Great Price. It wasn’t a recorded revelation pertaining to the organization of the new Church, and even of those, the Book of Commandments did not include everything.
There was a paper shortage and the Book of Commandments pages were only about 4 ½ x 3 ⅛ inches. They were tiny books and space was limited. And, according to Orson Pratt, Joseph was selective about which revelations went into the book:
“Joseph, the Prophet, in selecting the revelations from the Manuscripts, and arranging them for publication, did not arrange them according to the order of the date in which they were given, neither did he think it necessary to publish them all in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, but left them to be published more fully in his History. Hence, paragraphs taken from the revelations of a later date, are, in a few instances, incorporated with those of an earlier date. Indeed, at the time of compilation, the Prophet was inspired in several instances to write additional sentences and paragraphs to the earlier revelations. In this manner the Lord did truly give ‘line upon line, here a little and there a little,’ the same as He did to a revelation that Jeremiah received. And even though this revelation was burned by the wicked king of Israel, the Lord revealed the central message again with great numbers of additional content.” (Millennial Star 17 [25 Apr. 1857]: 260.)
The Book of Commandments was more limited in scope than the Doctrine and Covenants was, and it didn’t include much in the way of Church history. It also did not include the Lectures on Faith, as my Reddit friend WooperSlim reminded me.
The Lectures on Faith were just that—sermons about the nature of faith, along with some minor recitations of the rules governing the running of the early Church included in the second half of the volume. However, they were not given until the winter of 1834-1835, approximately a year and a half after the Book of Commandments was printed. The Lectures on Faith were not published until their inclusion in the original 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Additionally, there was no reason to mention the First Vision in it, as it was also not a history book.
The first periodical to be published by the Church was The Evening and Morning Star, but it never tells the story of the First Vision.
The Evening and Morning Star printed some revelations as they came out, but mostly it reported news and included articles about theology, letters to the Saints living different states, and notices about upcoming events. The Church history it published was brief and lacking detail. It was intended to give background information on the Church’s movement to Ohio, then Missouri, so that the members would be able to see how the Church was spreading and growing. It wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive history.
Nor do the pages of the Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate, printed in Kirtland. In this newspaper Oliver Cowdery, who was second only to Joseph Smith in the early organization of the Church, published a series of letters dealing with the origin of the Church. These letters were written with the approval of Joseph Smith, but again, they contained no mention of any vision.
For some super quick background on what Faulk’s talking about here, Oliver wrote a series of eight letters to W.W. Phelps, giving some brief summaries of the history of the Church to that point. These were printed in the Messenger and Advocate, and Joseph was so impressed with them that he later had them reprinted as a block in his 1834-1836 history, but without any clarifications or corrections. There is no evidence that Joseph requested that Oliver write the letters, and the extent of his involvement is not clear.
However, there is “substantial evidence” that Oliver had access to Joseph’s 1832 account while writing these letters, and that Oliver, knowing about the First Vision, hinted at it but did not elaborate further. Perhaps Joseph asked him not to, which would be in keeping with his pattern at that point.
Joseph did not habitually broadcast his visions until after the Kirtland Temple was completed. I’m not entirely sure what the correlation was there; perhaps the Lord told him it was the right time. Prior to that point, he had been given several admonitions that he should not share certain things openly until the time was right:
Early revelations cautioned leaders against sharing the texts widely. A circa Summer 1829 revelation, for example, gave the explicit command to “shew not these things neither speak these things unto the World.” A 3 November 1831 revelation, dictated immediately following the aforementioned conference, reminded listeners that Smith’s revelations had been “commanded to be kept from the world in the day that they were given.” With the newly authorized publication, however, the revelations were now “to go forth unto all flesh & this according to the mind & the will of the Lord.”
He also believed, like many of us do, that we should keep sacred experiences to ourselves unless the Spirit prompts us otherwise. And, of course, he was used to being mocked and persecuted when he did share his visions with the public.
While working on the Book of Mormon translation, Joseph once recounted:
In the meantime we were forced to keep secret the circumstances of our having been baptized, and having received this priesthood; owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood. We had been threatened with being mobbed, from time to time, and this too by professors of religion…
And there is one rather shocking story regarding his brother Alvin that might explain why Joseph was reluctant to publicly share something that had already brought him ridicule. You see, both Willard Chase and Joseph Knight explained that before Joseph Smith obtained the golden plates, he had been instructed to bring his oldest brother, Alvin, along with him when he collected them.
However, before that could happen, Alvin died of mercury poisoning in late 1823. So, Joseph was instructed to bring Emma with him instead. It was in between Alvin’s death and Joseph obtaining the plates that things took a disturbing turn.
From September-November of 1824, Joseph Smith Sr. ran weekly notices in the Wayne Sentinel newspaper explaining that, due to rumors of Alvin’s body being exhumed and dissected, he and some neighbors had to dig up the body to prove that it was still intact. (To view the Wayne Sentinel article, click on the link and run a search for “Alvin.”) The rumors were ostensibly saying that Joseph mutilated his dead brother’s body, brought a piece of Alvin to the hill with him, and engaged in necromancy in order to fulfill the prophecy, as was suggested by Ed Decker, D. Michael Quinn, and others. It was this story that Mark Hofmann exploited in his infamous Salamander Letter forgery.
Can you imagine how horrible the rumors must have been that a grieving parent would have to dig up his dead son’s corpse in front of witnesses in order to prove that another of his sons hadn’t mutilated the body for Satanic purposes? And we wonder why Joseph didn’t want to publicly share things that led to rumors like those ones?
But even still, Joseph was privately sharing his visions with those he trusted, and the evidence shows that clearly.
The first missionary pamphlet of the Church was the Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People, published in 1837 by apostle Parley P. Pratt. The book contains long sections on items important to missionaries of the 1830’s, such as fulfillment of prophecy, the Book of Mormon, external evidence of the book’s authenticity, the resurrection, and the nature of revelation, but again, nothing on the First Vision.
No, but as demonstrated, other publications and accounts did discuss the First Vision. I don’t know why Parley Pratt didn’t include it. Perhaps Joseph asked him not to. Maybe Parley believed in giving investigators milk before meat and not casting your pearls before swine. Maybe he wasn’t one of those who knew the details of the vision yet. Who knows?
The story of the First Vision was not printed until 1840, when Orson Pratt published an account where neither personage is identified at Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ.
Yes, which again, was a late addition to the letter by Faulk despite his claims that everything FAIR said about his work was a lie.
For 20 years there are no records of transcribed sermons by Joseph or the other elders of the Church, no personal journal entries by any of Joseph Smith’s family or followers, and no LDS periodicals or publications describing this historic event. By its first publication in 1840, not a single one of the 16,865 members of the Church ever recorded hearing about it. From all this it would appear that the general membership did not receive any information about the First Vision until the 1840’s. Even then the story certainly did not hold the prominent place in common knowledge that it does today.
Again, this is only somewhat true, as there is certainly evidence of it being relatively common knowledge, at least among those who knew Joseph personally. Oliver Cowdery, Frederick G. Williams, Warren Parrish, W.W. Phelps, James Mulholland, Martin Harris, Erastus Holmes, scribes who dictated for Joseph and had access to his records, and numerous other people who gave accounts or wrote newspaper articles referencing it were all aware of the claims being made regarding the First Vision. That something is not written down in explicit detail is not proof that no one had ever heard of it.
As an example, I have never announced my real name on Reddit. And yet, due to these blog posts, there are numerous people on that site who know my real name but who still typically refer to me by my Reddit handle. People are aware of that information and they know where to go to find it. It is not commonly used, however, even among those on the site that I consider to be good friends. That even includes those who I know on other social media sites and in real life. We have each other’s real names, but we often do not use them when talking to or about each other while on Reddit. There are only vague, circumstantial hints that people on the site now know my real name, and yet, it can’t be denied that many people do.
That is obviously nowhere near as momentous a thing as the First Vision, but it supports my larger point: despite it not being published in full detail yet, there is solid evidence that multiple people were aware of at least some elements of the First Vision prior to 1840. There were two handwritten accounts of it in journals by that time, a host of newspaper articles referencing it, accounts of people hinting at it, at least three records of Joseph admitting to telling people about it, a hymn that included elements of it, etc.
The simple truth is that we don’t know for certain how prominent it was, or why it wasn’t more prominent. We don’t know for certain why those who clearly knew of it didn’t share it publicly. We don’t know for certain why Joseph didn’t broadcast it far and wide until later in his life. But we have some very good guesses, and we know that it was being discussed at least among some people. Despite whatever Faulk is insinuating here, there is evidence of the First Vision years before he claims there was.
Common First Vision-Like Accounts
Several religious publications in the New England area demonstrate that such visions were common during the early Church.
At this point, Faulk writes out six different accounts that are quite interesting to read, even though I’d read several before. Due to space limitations I’m not going to list them all here, but they are available at Faulk’s website if anyone would like to read them. Some include seeing both God the Father and Jesus Christ; one received a remission of his sins; and two were told that all Christian denominations had been corrupted. One of those two was also told that God would soon raise up an apostolic church like the one that existed after Christ’s resurrection.
It appears that when Joseph Smith initially wrote his First Vision experience in 1832, many people related stories of visionary experiences with Heavenly Father and Jesus. Joseph’s story turns out to be quite a common claim in his day.
This is something that I’ve known about for a while now. In my experience, though, not many people do. It’s okay to be surprised, confused, or even a little disturbed by it. To me, though, this is just further evidence of Joseph’s calling as a prophet.
What happened before Christ’s birth? Multiple people on at least two continents were warned it would happen. What happened in the Americas prior to Christ’s death? Prophecies of destruction and days of blackness. What happened prior to the revelation lifting the Priesthood restriction? Blessings suddenly started being given to black members by patriarchs and others, declaring that they’d enjoy the blessings of the Priesthood, missions, and the temple during their lives on Earth, rattling those giving the blessings. They’d felt strongly impressed to say those words, but didn’t understand why or how it would happen. What happened to Heber C. Kimball and his family and neighbors the night Joseph received the plates, long before they met? They heard the sound of a rushing wind and saw a heavenly army marching across the skies.
The Lord prepares His people for momentous things. He’s already given us numerous signs of His Second Coming. So why, then, wouldn’t He also give us signs to prepare us for the restoration of His Priesthood and the fulness of the Gospel?
It’s also worth pointing out that, while others were told that other Christian denominations had become corrupted over time, only Joseph was told not to join any of the other churches in the meantime.
The other main difference is this: how many of those other people claiming visions of God from Joseph’s day can you name? Any? Did any of them form churches that still exist today, let alone ones that have grown and thrived the way ours has? Only Joseph’s name was prophesied to be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues. Only Joseph was driven from state to state and murdered for his prophetic claims. Only Joseph produced works of new scripture that are lengthy, complex, and internally consistant. There’s a reason why the world knows his name and not the names of the others who had similar visions during the same time period.
I’m going to wrap this here. Next week, we’ll talk about the multiple accounts of the First Vision and where they differ. For now, though, just know that Faulk was mistaken in his assertion that there was no recorded evidence of the First Vision throughout the 1830s. Understand that other visions of God from Joseph’s day are not only nothing we need to worry about, but they’re actually keeping in the Lord’s pattern. Even if this is brand new information for some of you, it’s not the devastating bombshell Thomas Faulk apparently thinks it is.
Sarah Allen is relatively new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. An avid reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her friends lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises. That’s when she began sharing what she’d learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.
John Perry says
Thank you, Sarah, for your research and for this review.
When Joseph returned home after the glorious vision, his mother asked him what the matter was. I always found his subdued response remarkable: “…All is well…I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true”. Most of us probably could not contain ourselves from sharing the glorious details, but sharing intimate details of personal experiences was not Joseph’s way. And when he did try to share it with a preacher, he was sternly rebuked, which would only reinforce his initial reticence.
For Joseph, this vision was initially interpreted as first and foremost a personal experience. That there were reports of similar personal visions would only strengthen this viewpoint. The self-reflecting circumstances accompanying the 1832 recording of the vision only reinforce this idea.
It is instructive that after the 3 night-time visitations of Moroni in 1823, Joseph intended to keep those visions to himself. He had to be COMMANDED in a 4th visit from Moroni the next morning to tell his father what had happened. This forced sharing is understandable, given that his entire family would be impacted by the events surrounding the retrieval and translation of the Book of Mormon record; otherwise, it appears Joseph would have told no one.
Finally, due to external rumors by enemies of the Church, Joseph Smith was obligated (induced) to record the account of his First Vision, not as a personal experience alone, but in the context of the Church. This objective is made clear in JS History v. 1 with phrases such as “in relation to the rise and progress of The Church…” and to “defend the Church against“ those who would “militate against its character as a Church”.
Much of this information can be found in the gospel library at Gospel Library->Church History->First Vision. One cannot really claim to be a student of the First Vision without reading and listening to everything at this site.
There is an interesting parallel with Section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants that I will describe is a subsequent comment, as this one is already quite long.
John Perry says
I find it interesting that the April 3, 1836 visitations of Moses, Elijah, Elias, and the Savior Himself, bestowing vital keys of the restoration, was received by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in a similar fashion. Here they were, in the Kirtland temple, curtains lowered to separate themselves from the hundreds of Saints in the main hall, when they are given this glorious vision. When the curtains were raised, did Joseph and Oliver relate their experience to those seated in the hall? Nope.
Within a day or two, Joseph had his scribe, Warren Cowdery, record the details of the vision in Joseph’s journal. Although Joseph Smith did not publicly declare that the 1836 vision had occurred to him and Oliver Cowdery, he did teach about the visitors in the vision and of their importance. But he did not relate the visionary experience.
As the vision made its way into the Manuscript History of the Church not long before Joseph’s death, still only Joseph and his scribes (and the estranged Oliver Cowdery) were aware of it.
It wouldn’t be until 1852 that the vision was first published in the Deseret News for public consumption, a gap of 16 years. It would be another 24 years before this vision was added to the Doctrine and Covenants as section 110.
Nobody disputes that Joseph Smith had this vision recorded in his journal with days of its occurrence in April 1836, nor do we challenge the fact that it was additional 16 years before it was published and 44 years before it was canonized.
What we see is a pattern. Joseph Smith was not one to make public his visionary experiences unless it was necessary or he was commanded to. This is entirely consistent with how he approached his telling of the First Vision and we should not be surprised at the paucity of its telling in the few years immediately following its occurrence.
Thanks for tolerating this length of comment.
May the Lord bless you in your efforts.
Great article. I love Fair LDS!
Sarah Allen says
John, thank you for that intriguing contribution! I loved reading your thoughts, and the way you tied the First Vision to Section 110 was very interesting to me. I hadn’t considered that before.