Multiple versions of the First Vision

I have been reading Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman. I can tell that it is going to take a while to get through it. I love to read and so far I love both the content and the style of the book. The story is, of course familiar and as yet I have found nothing surprising or unexpected. I am comparing it to other Joseph Smith biographies in my library. It was my mother who got me started on collecting and reading them so many years ago.

I hope you won’t be shocked to learn that among the dozen or more Joseph Smith Biographies that I have read I include No Man Knows my History: The Life of Joseph Smith by Fawn Brodie. I’m sure you can probably guess that I didn’t like it. Although the research was excellent, I did not agree with her assumptions, interpretations and conclusions. I am no scholar but I know that she did not include material that would have cast doubt on her theories.

Differing viewpoints of history

That’s why it is so important to get different viewpoints on something of historical importance. For example, did you know that there are at least nine early accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision? Some people have a problem with that. They contend that the accounts differ and demonstrate a revisionist history that is deceitful. A close inspection and comparison of the accounts reveals otherwise. Yet, critics continue to claim that the official version is inaccurate.

There is no way I can do justice to the subject of the First Vision or the multiple versions that have come down to us through history. Others have extensively investigated, researched and reported on the various versions. As always, I bow to Jeff Lindsay and the marvelous work he has done over the years on the oft-linked and quoted LDS FAQ on the First Vision. Historian Milton Backman published an excellent summary in the Ensign of the first-hand accounts.

Revisionist History

Please forgive me for wading into an area on which I am not an authority. I claim no expertise in either LDS history or scholarly research. I am just a simple computer guy who loves the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have often read the term revisionist history used by critics of the church who claim that there seems to be a massive cover-up of our history. They also refer to the hidden history.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. Perhaps you could point me to some authoritative sources. I am just your typical California Mormon who grew up in the Church attending Seminary classes in High School and Institute classes in College. I served a mission and taught in Seminary for several years. I have also taught in Sunday School, Primary and Priesthood for many years. My callings include serving in Bishoprics, as a High Counselor and a High Priest Group Leader.

What am I missing?

Am I just naive? Every time I chance upon something on the Internet claiming to have the inside scoop on the real Mormon history I am disappointed to find nothing that I didn’t already know. Some sites point out that I should be questioning my faith and that they can help me with my recovery from Mormonism. I didn’t know that being a Mormon was a sickness or disease. Other than bad grammar, the things they claim should shock me, don’t. What’s wrong with me?

I have studied the life and teachings of Joseph Smith all my life. I have taught what he taught. I have studied the works that he brought forth by the gift and power of God. I have embraced the Church that he restored and all that it teaches. Of course I was not there when Joseph received his First Vision. Neither were you. But I do know this: what Joseph said happened, really did happen just as he said it did. This I know from personal revelation obtained through prayer.

13 thoughts on “Multiple versions of the First Vision”

  1. For some reason, God works through flawed men. I think it has something to do with the fact that there is no one else from which to choose.Moses was taught under Pharoah, and he killed an Egyptian. Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh, and instead he found a ship going in the opposite direction to Tarshish. The Apostle Peter denied Christ at a crucial moment. The Apostle Paul, as Saul, persecuted saints. By these standards, Joseph Smith’s flaws seem pretty meek.I very much enjoyed Richard Bushman’s book, and I need to read it again this summer. I have read Brodie too. Actually, I saw her give a speech while I was going to U.C. Riverside in the mid-seventies. Personally, I think it is good to ponder multiple points of view.Ultimately, Joseph Smith’s works stand the test of time. Brodie will be forgotten long before Joseph Smith. The reason I am a member of the Church has little or nothing to do with the personalities in the Church. Simply, I could not belong to a Church that believed the people of China (or some other remote region) are all going to Hell because they never had a chance to hear of Christ. What about all the people that lived before Christ? Only LDS theology solves the problem, and it does so in a most satisfactory manner.As a result, I understand that ALL people are children of God. They are valuable and their lives are meaningful. Now, I enjoy the study of problems in Church history. I want to know how my religion arose. On the other hand, I also realize that academic debates on history have NOTHING to do with true theology.

  2. Hi, Tim. Thanks for this post. I’m with you.The straw-grasping efforts of critics of Joseph Smith leave me saying, “Really? I don’t get it.”I linked to your post over at Exceedingly Curious and provided a sort-of-related cartoon.John Governale

  3. Tim, What was the purpose of your comments? Why did you drag us through your life only to come to the same worn-out conclusions that all good L.D.S. people do? You let us know that you’re not an authority and that you bow to Lindsay and other L.D.S. writers. In other words, you have no opinions other that those you’ve been given.You grew up in the L.D.S. Church, attended seminary and institute, taught various classes, and have held several church offices. What’s your point? You’ve done just what you’ve been told to do and, yet, you still, according to your own words, have no expertise in L.D.S. history. Doesn’t this scare you just a little?You make the comment, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it.” The fact that you could actually come face to face with nine different versions of the first vision and see nothing wrong has nothing to do with not being able to see it but with not wanting to see it. You ask, “What am I missing?” I’d say the guts to actually do some honest research. You might not have expertise in “scholarly research,” but I bet you can read. I don’t know what sites you’ve gone to, but an excellent one is Utah Lighthouse Ministries. It has every type of “anti” literature imaginable: L.D.S. history, L.D.S. scriptures, L.D.S. documents, L.D.S. eyewitness accounts, and L.D.S. publications. You have to ask yourself, if you really have the truth, why the powers that be in S.L.C. don’t want you reading this stuff, so much so that you can actually lose your temple recommend, putting your celestial inheritance in jeopardy. Sorry,that head in the sand stuff doesn’t fly with God. Read I Thess. 5:21 and I Jn. 4:1. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Tim, there are no do overs. It’s heaven or hell. What you have been taught is wrong. The evidence is there, so let’s not have anymore of that ridiculous talk that you “just don’t see it” and “What am I missing?” You, and only you, are responsible for where you end up, so you better be finding something more than a “burning in the bosom” on which to hang your trust. Tim, you are a vile sinner. You deserve the wrath of Almighty God, that which He prepared for Satan and his demons, poured out upon you forever for how much you have sinned against Him. Pretty scary, huh? Tim, I deserve the same thing. The only difference between you and me is that you are a sinner, and I am a forgiven sinner. Jesus paid the price for my sin, and I accepted His sacrifice for me. That’s the gospel; that’s the good news. There is nothing that you can do to save yourself. Only by asking for forgiveness and asking Jesus into your heart as Lord and Savior of your life will you be able to escape the wrath to come. Hebrews 2:3 calls this a “great” salvation. Only someone with something to hide would expect you to take his word for something without researching and studying for yourself. The same thing goes for any organization that lays claim to your eternal destiny. You owe it to yourself to find out what the truth is because you’re the one who’ll be spending eternity reaping the consequences of your decision. I’ll be praying for you.

  4. Hi Babs,Thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving your thoughtful and encouraging comment. I appreciate being labeled as a good LDS person. You have a valid point about the importance of understanding our history a little bit better. I like your comment that it’s not necessary to be a scholar but to at least be able to read.I have visited Utah Lighthouse ministries many times. I was saddened to read of the death of Jerald Tanner. Sandra and Jerald did a lot of research over the years. Although a thorn in the side of the Brethren, they got a lot of people thinking. I have enjoyed their research. There is so much available that it is hard to find the time to focus on what is really important that can be found there.I don’t agree that you can lose your temple recommend by reading sites like Utah Lighthouse Ministries or Ex-Mormons for Jesus or Recovery from Mormonism or Post Mormon or The Real Mormon Story or any of the other sites out there that oppose the work of the church.The temple recommend question refers to sympathy for apostate polygamous groups. The phrase is “support, affiliate with, or agree with”. I suppose as long as you don’t join their board of directors or send them money or do other things that further their goals you should be OK. What do you think?I love studying LDS history but it not my primary focus. My desire is to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. I appreciate your invitation to come unto Christ. We share a common goal. I too recognize that I am a sinner and need the grace of my Savior and Redeemer. I am so grateful for repentance and the opportunities for do overs as long as I am mortal.Thank you for your prayers. I will also pray for you. Isn’t it wonderful that we can focus on the love of the Savior in our prayers and follow his example of kindness and compassion for the lost sheep.I appreciate your courage in sharing your feelings about the Savior on my blog. I would like to visit your site and read some of your personal writings about the Savior and your research into the church. What is the address?

  5. Tim,I don’t have a blog, but I will share my background and some of my personal feelings about Jesus on yours if that’s okay. Here’s my religious background in a nutshell: I was born into the L.D.S. Church. I believed what they said. Their books and explanations of Scripture sounded right. Certainly there was nothing that I saw or read or heard that led me to question anything they taught. In fact, I clearly remember thinking that the L.D.S. Church must be true because, if I were God, that’s exactly the church that I would have on earth. This is how I lived my life for 41 years.In 1991, I was handed a booklet called To Moroni With Love. Among other things, it listed several false prophecies of Smith and other prophets. For all I didn’t know about God and religion, there was one thing that I did know. A true prophet of God can never give a false prophecy, not one, neither generally nor in any detail (Deut. 18:21-22). In fact, in the Old Testament, a false prophet was put to death, the first time. At that point, I knew something was wrong, and I set out to find out what it was. For the next nine months, I spent untold hours every day researching everything I could get my hands on-books, videos, L.D.S. everything, past and present. I checked and re-checked everything. I read arguments from both sides and compared doctrine with the Bible. The amount of information I went through was staggering but, through it all, I found out what was wrong: I had been lied to, and I left the L.D.S. Church. After that, to a lesser degree, I continued my study and reading the Bible. Two years later, I found myself in a situation which required that I either continue as I was, relying upon myself, which is the foundation of Mormon salvation, or surrender myself wholly to God, which is biblical salvation. I chose the latter. As I knelt in prayer, I repented for being a sinner and asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart and to take control of my life. He did, and I was born again into the family of God. There is a remarkable passage in God’s word: Romans 8:16-17. These verses are talking about being children of God, saying that the Spirit itself bears witness to our spirit of our salvation, which is what being a child of God means. In other words, if you are truly a child of God, you are saved and, if you are truly saved, God bears witnesses of that truth to you, to your spirit. You know that Mormons talk a lot about being children of God. They bear witness to Joseph Smith being a prophet of God. They bear witness that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus. They bear witness that the L.D.S. Church is the only true church on earth. However, if you ask any Mormon whether he or she knows for an absolute certainty that he or she is saved, not one is able to answer “yes,” not one. The most that can be mustered is an “I hope.” Why? In these verses, God has given each person the unmistakable touchstone by which he or she can and will know. If the Spirit bears witness to our spirit once we are saved, then why isn’t there any Mormon who can bear witness of this fact?You wrote that you have visited sites, including Utah Lighthouse Ministries and, yet, you are apparently unfazed by what you’ve read. To be truthful, I find this almost unbelievable. It doesn’t bother you that•J.S. an d other L.D.S. prophets gave false prophecies?• J.S. practiced polygamy before the revelation, and his successors and other leaders practiced it after it was rescinded?• J.S. entered into polygamy with married women?• J.S. passed on the office of prophet, seer, and revelator to his son, Joseph Smith III, and not Brigham Young?• God Himself gave the translation to the BOM, yet there are thousands of changes in it?• the oaths and rites of the temple ceremony are almost verbatim to Masonry and Black Magic?• J.S. plagiarized the Bible to add to the BOM?• D.N.A. testing of thousands of Native Americans in North, Central, and South America shows, conclusively, that there is no (none, nada, zip) connection between the “Lamanites” and the Hebrews?Except for the D.N.A. results, which are explained in the video DNA vs. the Book of Mormon, which is online, these facts are all documented in L.D.S. publications and are but a drop in the bucket to what’s out there. You say that we have a common goal, which is both yes and no. I have no doubt that you want to serve the Lord as I do but, because we have such vastly different ideas of both the way to achieve the goal as well as what the goal is, we don’t really share a goal. My goal is to mirror Jesus in this life through denial of self and relying upon His promises to change me for His glory and, then, to live with Him throughout eternity. Your goal is to obey all the laws and ordinances of the Mormon gospel in this life and to become a god of your own world throughout eternity. We don’t share a common gospel. Paul warns us in Gal.1:8, “But though we, or an angel [MORONI?] from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” In the next verse, Paul warns us, “As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] [JOSEPH SMITH?] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (v 9). The biblical gospel can be found in Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8-10, and Romans 10-9-10. This is not your gospel. We don’t share a common Jesus. My Jesus is God (Heb. 1:8) and has always been God (I Tim. 1:17). He is the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 22:13) and creator of ALL things. Colossians 1:16-17 say, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” Included in the “all” in heaven is Lucifer, meaning that Jesus can’t be Lucifer’s brother. We are warned about false Christs in Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:22. This doesn’t just mean that there will be men claiming to be Jesus but that a different Jesus will be taught. Is the Jesus of Mormonism the Jesus of the Bible? The answer might surprise you. When asked this very question, Gordon B. Hinckley, the man you revered as a prophet of God, emphatically replied, “No.” He went on to explain that his Jesus was not the traditional One but the One of “this dispensation of the fullness of times.” This is just fancy wording for another Jesus. I apologize, but all of my stuff is in storage, and I don’t have access to the article. It was printed in the Deseret News, which you’ll recognize as an L.D.S. publication. I’m sure with a little research, perhaps through the Tanner’s site, you can find it copied in its entirety.I don’t know what you researched through the Tanner’s website but, considering the breadth and depth of information and documentation which they provide, practically every bit of it from L.D.S. sources, I have to stick to my original comment that you just don’t want to see it. I was there, too, so I don’t really blame you. No one wants to find out that the religious organization that one has put his time, money, effort, and spiritual allegiance into is wrong, especially while simultaneously condemning every other denomination. However, that doesn’t change the facts. You claim that you “love studying L.D.S. History.” Okay, I’m going to take you up on that. I do have a rule, however, which must be fiercely adhered to. You must ask God daily to show you the truth. Deal? Notice, here, that I am not creating bias by hinting at what this truth is. Romans 3:4 says, “… let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” The doctrines and subjects that could be covered in this quest are almost endless so, with your okay, I suggest that you focus on Masonry because Joseph Smith was a Mason. This might seem like an odd place to start, but I am confident that through it, you will come to see some things that you haven’t seriously considered before. There is a great deal written on this subject. Tanner’s book Mormonism, Magic, and Masonry is an excellent place to start. There are also two videos which will give in-depth information on this organization. The first is The Light Behind Masonry Google video and The Illuminati part 1, both by Bill Schnoebelen through the Prophecy Club. We are at odds at what we believe, and it is my prayer that you will have the courage to honestly study this subject. To prevent our playing doctrinal volleyball, I suggest that you research this subject for at least a month or so. I’ll read your blog at the end of June to see what your thoughts are. I realize that there’s a chance that you won’t want to do this, and that’s fine. In that case, I will just keep you in my prayers.

  6. Tim, I won’t bore you with the details, but “Babs” is now “Barbara.” Thanks!

  7. Hi Barbara,Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your history. I was sorry to learn of your decision to leave the church after reading some material that left you with doubts. There’s nothing wrong with honesty in our study of the doctrine and history. You studied it out and did what you felt best. I applaud your courage. I know there are some who lose love and respect of family after that.I love your focus on the Savior and your knowledge and ability to share the scriptures. It is wonderful to have the word of the Lord to give light to our lives. I commend you for your continual study of the scriptures. I know that as we read them we can receive the spirit of the Lord, which fills us with love and compassion for others. It also gives us courage to share the gospel with boldness and love.I so very much appreciate you taking the time and trouble to write your wonderful comments. I am encouraged when others who are disaffected or who have left the church are willing to share their stories in an intelligent manner as you have. There are so many who write so poorly and just want to rant and rave about how they were offended or hurt. I prefer to read stories of those who left over doctrinal issues. It shows they are thinkers about things that are important to our salvation.I reviewed the list of difficult items you noted that one can find on the Utah Lighthouse ministries website. Much material on these subjects can also be found all over the internet these days. The subjects you mentioned are commonly discussed in LDS and post-LDS forums. I have also written about several of them on my blog and will be writing about the others in the near future. Thank you for sharing the list. It is very helpful.I took your suggestion to heart and did a little memory refreshing on the Mormons and Masons issue. I confess that I had forgotten about it. Thanks for bringing it up. After a few hours of gathering my materials and reviewing them, I wrote a summary post this evening. I’m sure I missed the point of why you wanted me to study it out. I confess that I found it tiring after a few moments. To use my favorite phrase, “I just don’t see it.”I’m not trying to be funny or offensive. I hope you can sense my sincerity in saying that I am not bothered by the difficulties that seem to trouble some with the early history of our church. I also hope you can sense my desire to conduct our dialog in a spirit of love and respect. I appreciate your willingness to engage in this discovery together.I took your advice and prayed that God would show me the truth. I specifically prayed that I would be able to understand the issues in the subject you asked me to study and to be able to address them at least to my satisfaction. I hope I was able to present them with some measure of intelligence and in a manner that will be helpful to others, including you.As I wrote in my essay, I approach studying our history with a desire to see the hand of the Lord in bringing it about. Don’t get me wrong. I see all the mistakes that Joseph made. Trusting John C. Bennett was a big one which I’m sure he regretted. But just think, if it weren’t for him, Joseph might not have been motivated to approach the Lord and receive revelation on the temple endowment. Isn’t that wonderful?Barbara, let’s focus on the Savior, shall we? I prefer to dialog with intelligent people on what he has done for us and how he wants to bless us. We really do have so much in common. I confess I don’t understand all the difficulties that some people have in not seeing how important it is to be like him. He did not take offense – ever! He also treated others with kindness and respect. We can do the same.

  8. Wait a minute…you just basically said you didn’t care. That’s not a response other than blind faith. Brilliant.

  9. Hi Kalvin,Faith is blind, otherwise it is not faith. Faith is evidence of things not seen, which are true. Yes, it is true that it doesn’t bother me that there are multiple versions of the First Vision (or was it more properly defined as the First visit?)But I do care. I care that it bothers other people. I’m not sure that I understand why it is such an issue to have multiple accounts. It helps enrich my understanding of what happened.Ultimately, we all have to take what Joseph said on faith because we weren’t there. We either believe him or we don’t. I choose to believe him. I feel blessed for what Joseph claimed took place on that Spring day in 1820.

  10. With all due respect to Babs, many of her arguments fall short in light of recent scholarship and apolegetic work on the subject. Still, we all have our certain ways that we go.

    Which is why I trust what the Spirit says above all else. It is how I know the Church is true, the Book of Mormon is true, and that Jesus is the Christ. And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

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