Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/Letter to a CES Director/First Vision Concerns & Questions

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    Response to "First Vision Concerns & Questions"


A FairMormon Analysis of: Letter to a CES Director
A work by author: Jeremy Runnells
Claim Evaluation
Letter to a CES Director
Chart.ces.letter.firstvision.jpg

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YouTube Video Response: "Letter to a CES Director: CES Letter 22 to 23 First Vision" by Brian Hales.

Responses to various revisions of the "Letter to a CES Director" and associated documents by the same author

Response to claim: "There are at least 4 different First Vision accounts by Joseph Smith"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

There are at least 4 different First Vision accounts by Joseph Smith.

FairMormon Response



Fact
The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The Church has published information about these accounts since at least 1970.

Richard J. Maynes: "Joseph wrote or dictated four known accounts of his First Vision"

Elder Richard J. Maynes speaking at the Worldwide YSA Devotional held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on 1 May 2016. https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/watch/worldwide-devotional/2016/05?lang=eng Image from LDS.org

Elder Richard J. Maynes, Presidency of the Seventy, at the Worldwide Young Adult Devotional held 1 May 2016 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle:

Let me share with you some historical context leading up to Joseph Smith's First Vision...Joseph wrote or dictated four known accounts of his First Vision. Additionally, his contemporaries recorded their memories of what they heard Joseph say about the vision; five such accounts are known. It is a blessing to have these records. They make Joseph’s First Vision the best-documented vision in history. I encourage you to visit history.lds.org to learn more about the accounts and see how they work together to paint a more complete picture...Like the individual New Testament Gospels that together more completely describe Christ’s life and ministry, each one of the accounts describing Joseph’s First Vision adds unique detail and perspective to the total experience. They together tell Joseph’s consistent, harmonious story. They all emphasize that there was confusion and strife among Christian churches, that Joseph desired to know which — if any — was right, that he searched the scriptures and prayed, that a light descended from heaven, and that divine beings appeared and answered his prayer.—(Click here to continue) [1]


Gordon B. Hinckley (1984): "I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the first vision"

Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign (October 1984):

I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the first vision anymore than I am worried that there are four different writers of the gospels in the New Testament, each with his own perceptions, each telling the events to meet his own purpose for writing at the time. I am more concerned with the fact that God has revealed in this dispensation a great and marvelous and beautiful plan that motivates men and women to love their Creator and their Redeemer, to appreciate and serve one another, to walk in faith on the road that leads to immortality and eternal life.[2]


Gospel Topics: "The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail. Historians expect that when an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details. Indeed, differences similar to those in the First Vision accounts exist in the multiple scriptural accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus and the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration.3 Yet despite the differences, a basic consistency remains across all the accounts of the First Vision. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if it were less well documented. [3]—(Click here to continue)


Seminary Manual (2013): "Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his vision in his multiple accounts"

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013), LESSON 6: Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20:

Just as Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his vision in his multiple accounts, the Apostle Paul emphasized different aspects of his vision of the Savior to different audiences (see Acts 9:1–9; Acts 22:5–11; Acts 26:12–20). Why do you think Joseph Smith and Paul emphasized different things each time they related the accounts of their visions? [4]


Backman (1985): "On at least four different occasions, Joseph Smith either wrote or dictated to scribes accounts of his sacred experience of 1820"

Milton V. Backman, Ensign (January 1985):

On at least four different occasions, Joseph Smith either wrote or dictated to scribes accounts of his sacred experience of 1820. Possibly he penned or dictated other histories of the First Vision; if so, they have not been located. The four surviving recitals of this theophany were prepared or rendered through different scribes, at different times, from a different perspective, for different purposes and to different audiences.1 It is not surprising, therefore, that each of them emphasizes different aspects of his experience.[5]


Allen (1970): "the Prophet described his experience to friends and acquaintances at least as early as 1831-32...he continued to do so in varying detail until the year of his death"

James B. Allen, Improvement Era (April 1970):

Nevertheless, it can now be demonstrated that the Prophet described his experience to friends and acquaintances at least as early as 1831-32, and that he continued to do so in varying detail until the year of his death, 1844. We presently know of at least eight contemporary documents that were written during his lifetime.[6]


Neuenschwander (2009): "Joseph's vision was at first an intensely personal experience...it became the founding revelation of the Restoration"

Dennis B. Neuenschwander, Ensign (January 2009):

Joseph's vision was at first an intensely personal experience—an answer to a specific question. Over time, however, illuminated by additional experience and instruction, it became the founding revelation of the Restoration. [7]


Prothero (2003): "in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing"

Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (2003):

Critics of Mormonism have delighted in the discrepancies between the canonical [1838 PGP] account and earlier renditions, especially one written in Smith's own hand in 1832. For example, in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing. Any good lawyer (or historian) would expect to find contradictions or competing narratives written down years apart and decades after the event. And despite the contradictions, key elements abide. In each case, Jesus appears to Smith in a vision. In each case, Smith is blessed with a revelation. In each case, God tells him to remain aloof from all Christian denominations, as something better is in store.[8]


Question: What are the criticisms related to Joseph Smith's accounts of the First Vision?

Joseph Smith gave several accounts of the First Vision that include different details

  • Some charge that differences in the accounts show that he changed and embellished his story over time, and that he therefore had no such vision.[9]
  • It is claimed by some that the Church has not discussed these accounts in official Church publications.
  • One critic of the Church states, "I learned that Joseph Smith provided multiple and varying accounts of his first vision story, and that some of these accounts (e.g., his descriptions of the Godhead) seemed to evolve over time to correspond with his own changing beliefs." [10]

The Church has published information about the various First Vision accounts since at least 1970

The Church has published information about the various First Vision accounts since at least 1970. Critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often seek to point out differences between the various accounts which Joseph Smith gave of his First Vision. In defense of their position that the Prophet changed his story over a six year period (1832 to 1838) they claim that the earliest followers of Joseph Smith either didn’t know about the First Vision, or seem to have been confused about it. The Church, however, has discussed the various accounts in a number of publications. Joseph Smith's various accounts of the First Vision were targeted at different audiences, and had different purposes. They, however, show a remarkable degree of harmony between them. There is no evidence that the early leaders of the LDS Church did not understand that the Prophet saw two Divine Personages during his inaugural theophany.

A graphical comparison of the details of Joseph Smith's accounts of the First Vision. Image courtesy of LDS.net. Original may be viewed at LDS.net page "Why Are There Differences Between Joseph Smith’s 4 First Vision Accounts?" off-site


Response to claim: "The dates / his ages are all over the place"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director make(s) the following claim:

The dates / his ages are all over the place (April 2013)
The dates / his ages: The 1832 account states Joseph was 15 years old when he had the vision in 1821 while the other accounts state he was 14 years old in 1820 when he had the vision. (October 2014)

FairMormon Response



Propaganda/Spin
The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Only the first account shows an age discrepancy of age 15 rather than age 14, and the entry regarding the age wasn't even in Joseph Smith's own handwriting.

Question: Are the ages stated in Joseph's accounts of the First Vision "all over the place?"

All other accounts except the 1832 one state Joseph's age as 14 or that he was in his "fifteenth year"

The ages are not, as one critic states, "all over the place." [11] The only account produced by Joseph Smith that indicated a different age was the 1832 account (age 15 rather than 14, based upon a text insertion above the line by Frederick G. Williams after Joseph had already written his account). All remaining accounts indicate age 14 (the "15th" year).

The only account showing a different age is the 1832 account, which states age 15 rather than 14

In the 1832 account, Frederick G. Williams inserted the "in the 16th year of my age" above Joseph's text after Joseph had already written it. (See: "History, circa Summer 1832," The Joseph Smith Papers)

1832.account.16th.year.png

In the 1832 history, the farther back in time Joseph Smith goes, the more inexact Joseph's dating scheme becomes

The 'one-year-off-the mark' dating anomaly of the 1832 First Vision account can best be understood by taking a look at all of the dates and time frame indicators that are provided within the document. It can then be seen that the farther back in time Joseph Smith goes, the more inexact his dating scheme becomes.

Notice that the date of the First Vision is an above-the-line insertion in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, meaning that it was not placed in the text initially but was added at a later time than the creation of the main text.

(17 years back in time)

"at the age of about ten years my father Joseph Smith Sr. moved to Palmyra" [23 Dec. 1815 – 23 Dec. 1816]

(15 years back in time)

"At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously impressed" [23 Dec. 1817 – 23 Dec. 1818]

(12 years back in time)

"from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart" [23 Dec. 1817 – 23 Dec. 1821]
"while in <the> attitude of calling upon the Lord <in the 16th year of my age> a pillar of fire" [23 Dec. 1820 – 23 Dec. 1821]
"for many days"
"about that time"
"after many days"

(7 years back in time)

"when I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord . . . [and an] angel [appeared]. . . . it was on the 22d day of Sept. AD 1822"

(5 years back in time)

"the plates [I] obtained them not until I was twenty one years of age"
"in this year I was married . . . 18th [of] January AD 1827"
"on the 22d day of Sept of this same year I obtained the plates"
"in December following we moved to Susquehanna"

Joseph Smith: "I was merely instructed in reading and writing and the ground <rules> of arithmetic which constituted my whole literary acquirements”

Particular attention should be focused on the fact that even though Joseph Smith correctly stated that he was "seventeen years of age" when the angel Moroni appeared to him on 22 September 1823, he got the time of that manifestation wrong by one year. A clue as to why this incorrect date was placed by the Prophet in this historical account can be found right in the 1832 document itself. Near the beginning of the narrative Joseph writes: “being in indigent circumstances [we] were obliged to labor hard for the support of a large family having nine children. And as it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the family therefore we were deprived of the benefit of an education. Suffice it to say [that] I was merely instructed in reading and writing and the ground <rules> of arithmetic which constituted my whole literary acquirements”. Elder Orson Pratt once asked rhetorical questions of the Prophet to illustrate his meager level of formal education: "Had you been to college? No. Had you studied in any seminary of learning? No. Did you know how to read? Yes. How to write? Yes. Did you understand much about arithmetic? No. About grammar? No. Did you understand all the branches of education which are generally taught in our common schools? No." (Journal of Discourses, 7:220-21). And when Elder Pratt wrote specifically about the First Vision he was even more specific about the level of the Prophet's math skills, saying that he had "a very limited understanding of the elementary rules of arithmetic." (Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions [Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840], ---).

In the 1838 history, Joseph got the year of his own brother's death wrong

The 1832 history is not the only one where the Prophet made a dating mistake that was one year off the mark. He did the same thing when he created the 1838 Church history, but this time he got the year of his own brother's death wrong. He erroneously remembered that it was 1824 instead of 1823. The significant thing about this particular dating blunder is that four years after the Prophet recorded the initial information he came to the realization that it was not correct and had his scribe, Willard Richards, make the appropriate adjustment. Perhaps the problem with the date was brought to the Prophet's attention by a member of his own family after the information had been printed and made available for public perusal [publication in May 1842; correction in December 1842].

Initial Manuscript Record (2 May 1838)

"Alvin (who is now dead)"
"In the year Eighteen hundred and twenty four my fathers family met with a great affliction by the death of my eldest brother Alvin."

Publication ( 15 March 1842 / 2 May 1842)

"Alvin, (who is now dead)" (Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 10, 15 March 1842, 727).
"In the year eighteen hundred and twenty-four my father's family met with a great affliction by the death of my eldest brother Alvin." (Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 13, 2 May 1842, 772).

Post-Publication Manuscript Correction (2 December 1842)

"Alvin (who <died Nov. 19th: 1823 in the 25 year of his age.> is now dead)" [the last three words are stricken out]
"In the year Eighteen hundred and twenty four my fathers family met with a great affliction by the death of my eldest brother Alvin." [this year designation was not corrected by Willard Richards - whose editorial additions and notes end before this point in the manuscript]

A similar type of dating correction scenario, as mentioned above, may have taken place in connection with the 1832 history. Oliver Cowdery claimed that he had the Prophet's help in creating his December 1834 Church history article and despite the fact that he had the erroneously-dated 1832 document sitting in front of him [see paper on this subject] he provided the correct year for the Prophet's First Vision - "in the 15th year of his life" (i.e., between 23 December 1819 and 23 December 1820). And just nine months later the Prophet himself was telling a non-Mormon that the First Vision took place when he was "about 14 years old" (Joseph Smith diary, 9 November 1835).


Question: Is there a case where Joseph stated that his age was 17 rather than 14 at the time of the First Vision?

Some critics think so: One case in which the age in an 1835 account was mistakenly stated as age 17

An image from "mormoninfographics" is in circulation on the internet which mistakenly states that Joseph claimed that he was age 17 when the First Vision occurred. However, this was a misreading of Joseph Smith's 1835 journal entry, which clearly states that Joseph was age 14 at the time of the first vision, and age 17 at the time of Moroni's visit.

An anti-Mormon "mormoninfographic" which attempts to demonstrate that the ages of the first vision accounts are different. Since this was posted, the owner of "mormoninfographics" acknowledged and corrected this mistake by removing all of the ages from this particular graphic. [12]


Response to claim: "The dates / his ages: The 1832 account states Joseph was 15 years old when he had the vision in 1821 while the other accounts state he was 14 years old in 1820 when he had the vision"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (October 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The dates / his ages: The 1832 account states Joseph was 15 years old when he had the vision in 1821 while the other accounts state he was 14 years old in 1820 when he had the vision.

FairMormon Response



Fact
The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Joseph's scribe Frederick G. Williams inserted the phrase about Joseph being in the "16th year" of his age in the 1832 account.

Question: Why does Joseph Smith state in his 1832 First Vision account that he was in his "16th year" of age?

The only account showing a different age is the 1832 account, which states age 15 rather than 14

In the 1832 account, Frederick G. Williams inserted the "in the 16th year of my age" above Joseph's text after Joseph had already written it. (See: "History, circa Summer 1832," The Joseph Smith Papers)

1832.account.16th.year.png

Joseph's 1832 account states the "16th year" of his age in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams

In Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision recital he said that he was "in the 16th year of [his] age" when the manifestation took place but in all other accounts in which he mentions his age, he was in his "fifteenth year."

  • Is this evidence that the Prophet's story evolved over time, and was thus a fabrication to begin with?

The only First Vision account that provided a different age was the 1832 account written in Joseph Smith's own handwriting. In 1832, 12 years after the First Vision, Joseph wrote, "we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructid in reading and writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements."

There is nothing nefarious in Joseph Smith correcting his own slight mathematical miscalculations

Although the portion of Joseph's 1832 history is in his own handwriting, the text insertion of "in the 16th year of my age" was in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, Joseph's scribe. It is likely that Joseph's dating schemes were slightly off when he dictated his age to Williams, many years after-the-fact. There is nothing nefarious in Joseph Smith correcting his own slight mathematical miscalculations.

Two years later, Oliver Cowdery had Joseph's 1832 history in his possession when he began publishing history of the Church in late 1834 in the Latter-day Saints' Messenger and Advocate. Oliver clearly established Joseph's age as 14 ("the 15th year of his life") during the period of religious excitement (although Oliver ultimately never described the actual First Vision at this time). Once the date of the First Vision was correctly established it remained steady throughout all subsequent recitals as the "15th year" or "age 14."


Response to claim: "The reason or motive for seeking divine help – bible reading and conviction of sins, a revival, a desire to know if God exists, wanting to know which church to join – are all over the place"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The reason or motive for seeking divine help – bible reading and conviction of sins, a revival, a desire to know if God exists, wanting to know which church to join – are all over the place. (April 2013)
The reason or motive for seeking divine help – Bible reading and conviction of sins, a revival, a desire to know if God exists, wanting to know which church to join – are not reported the same in each account. (October 2014)


Provenance of this claim:
Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 252. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response



Propaganda/Spin
The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author exaggerates perceived differences in the accounts, when in reality the accounts contain primarily the same core details, with some additional details in specific ones. The only major difference is that the 1832 account mentions one personage ("the Lord") instead of two.


Question: What was Joseph Smith's motivation for going to the grove to pray in 1820?

Joseph had two motivations: obtain a forgiveness of sins, and a desire to know which church was right

Joseph Smith's stated motivation for praying to the Lord changes between the first known account of the First Vision (1832) and the official version of it (1838). The 1832 account emphasizes his desire for a forgiveness of sins, and the 1838 (official) account emphasizes his desire to know which church was right. Some critic claim that Joseph changed his story in later years.

The texts that are employed by critics to justify the charge of 'differing motivations' are as follows:

1832

"I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy"

1838

"My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join."

The words that precede the point at which Joseph Smith offers his prayer in the 1832 text demonstrate that the anti-Mormon claim about his motivation changing is not sustainable. These words read as follows (standardized for readability):

At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul which led me to searching the scriptures believing, as I was taught, that they contained the word of God.
Thus applying myself to them, and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations, led me to marvel exceedingly. For I discovered that they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository. This was a grief to my soul.
Thus, from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind: the contentions and divisions, the wickedness and abominations, and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind.
My mind become 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 built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.
And I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world.
For I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday, today, and forever. That He was no respecter to persons, for He was God. For I looked upon the sun - the glorious luminary of the earth - and also the moon rolling in their majesty through the heavens, and also the stars shining in their courses, and the earth also upon which I stood, and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven, and the fish of the waters, and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in majesty and in the strength of beauty - whose power and intelligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and marvelous, even in the likeness of Him who created them.
And when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed, "Well hath the wise man said, 'It is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God.'" My heart exclaimed, "All all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent power; a Being who maketh laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds; who filleth eternity; who was, and is, and will be from all eternity to eternity." And when I considered all these things and that that Being seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth, therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy.


Question: Did Joseph Smith change his stated motivation for praying in later years?

The story elements of the vision remain steady over time

The assertion that Joseph Smith's motivation for prayer changes in later accounts of the First Vision event does not pass the test of close examination. The evidence shows, rather, that the story elements remain steady over time. Joseph's motivations for praying are not, as one critic puts it "all over the place." He had two motivations: forgiveness of sins, and a desire to know which church was right.

  • 1832 Account
    my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations, led me to marvel exceedingly. For I discovered that they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository. This was a grief to my soul....
    My mind become exceedingly distressed for I became convicted of my sins....He spake unto me saying, 'Joseph my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.
  • 1835 Account (9 Nov. 1835)
    being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right....
    he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee....
  • 1835 Account (14 Nov. 1835)
    This account is simply a one line summary of the vision - motive not given.
  • 1838 Account (published in 1842)
    Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?....My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join....
    many other things did He say unto me which I cannot write at this time....
  • 1840 Account by Orson Pratt
    ...if any one of these denominations be the Church of Christ, which one is it?...
    He was informed that his sins were forgiven.

It must be kept in mind that those who report the Prophet's inaugural manifestation in writing do not always spell things out in exactly the same way; sometimes they obscure information by the language they choose to utilize and on occasion they omit story elements altogether (possibly because of audience considerations).


Question: How do the First Vision accounts compare on the subject of Joseph's motivation for praying?

Summary of themes

  • Between the ages of 12 and 15 Joseph Smith became exceedingly distressed about his personal sins and mourned over them. He became seriously concerned about the welfare of his soul and so he searched the scripture for information on that topic.
  • He both marveled and grieved that his acquaintances who belonged to various Christian denominations did not act in accordance with what was found on the pages of the Bible.
  • His study of the New Testament led him to the conclusion that all the Christian denominations with which he was acquainted had apostatized from the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Joseph pondered the darkness that pervaded the minds of mankind and its resultant wickedness and abominations - and he mourned for the sins of the world.
  • He also thought about the "contentions and division" among men [see - revival mentioned in the 1832 text].
  • Joseph believed from his personal observation of created objects and entities that God did indeed exist.
  • He also believed the scriptures that taught God was an eternal Being who was all powerful and everywhere present, who was no respecter of persons, who was a God of law and did not change over time, and wanted mankind to worship Him in truth.
  • When Joseph Smith "considered all these things" he prayed to the Lord and received his First Vision.

It is clear from a consultation of the 1832 text that Joseph Smith's desire to be forgiven of his personal sins was NOT the only motivation for his prayer in the wilderness. He prayed (as he explicitly states) because of "all" of the things he mentions - including the desire to worship God in truth; according to His laws (which Joseph did not believe was the case among any of the Christians denominations that he knew of).

Patterns within documents

The 1832 textual pattern of (1) desire to prepare for eternity / worship God in truth and (2) desire for forgiveness of personal sins can be detected in subsequent First Vision recitals, demonstrating that there is no change in his declared motive over time. The confusion of the critics on this issue arises when they do not see exact matches in themes across documents or insist that every detail of the story be present in every text that relates it.

1832 (Smith)

"my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul . . . . my mind become excedingly distressed for I became convicted of my sins . . . . when I considered all these things and that that Being seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth therefore I cried unto the Lord . . . . He spake unto me saying, 'Joseph my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.'"

1834 (Cowdery/Smith)

Joseph Smith had a "determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion . . . . [but he also] call[ed] upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and . . . to have an assurance that he was accepted of Him." Joseph is classified in this text among the "humble, penitent sinner."

1835 (Smith)

"being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right . . . being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and bowed down before the Lord . . . . He said unto me, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee.'"

1838 (Smith)

"how to act I did not know and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, would never know . . . . My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. . . . many other things did He say unto me which I cannot write at this time" [INDIRECT REFERENCE TO FORGIVENESS OF SINS?]

1840 (Pratt)

"[Joseph] began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence; but how, or in what way, to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind. He perceived that it was a question of infinite importance, and that the salvation of his soul depended upon a correct understanding of the same. . . . He was informed that his sins were forgiven"

1842 (Smith)

"I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring the plan of salvation I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment . . . . considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion, I determined to investigate the subject more fully" [FORGIVENESS OF SINS IS NOT MENTIONED]

1842 (Hyde)

"[Joseph] began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence; but how, or in what way to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind; he perceived that it was a question of infinite importance. . . . [The two personages] told him that his prayers had been answered, and that the Lord had decided to grant him a special blessing." [VEILED REFERENCE TO FORGIVENESS OF SINS? - Remember that Hyde utilized information straight from Pratt's account]


Response to claim: "Who appears to him – a spirit, an angel, two angels, Jesus, many angels, the Father and the Son – are all over the place."

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Who appears to him – a spirit, an angel, two angels, Jesus, many angels, the Father and the Son – are all over the place.

FairMormon Response



Propaganda/Spin
The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author exaggerates perceived differences in the accounts, when in reality the accounts contain primarily the same core details, with some additional details in specific ones. The only major difference is that the 1832 account mentions one personage ("the Lord") instead of two. For example, none of the accounts mention that only an angel appeared, although one mentions the presences of "many angels" in addition to the two personages. Joseph referred to his First Vision as the "First Visitation of angels" and Moroni's visit as "another visitation of angels."

Question: By what name did Joseph Smith refer to the First Vision?

Joseph referred to his 1820 theophany as the "first visitation of Angels" or the "first communication"

Joseph Smith never actually referred to what we now call the "First Vision" by that name. Instead, he referred to it as the "first visitation of angels" or the "first communication." Joseph also referred to Moroni's visit as "another vision of angels."

  • One critic of Mormonism states that "Who appears to [Joseph] – a spirit, an angel, two angels, Jesus, many angels, the Father and the Son – are all over the place." [13]
Joseph Smith's 9 November 1835 journal entry, which was written by his scribe, describes a visit of two personages. The scribe then goes back and inserts the phrase "and I saw many angels in this vision" between the lines. Image from "Journal, 1835–1836," Joseph Smith Papers off-site

The account that Joseph entered in his journal on 9 November 1835 was a detailed account which clearly describes two personages, as well as "many angels." The account that Joseph wrote just five days later in his journal on 14 November 1835 was a one line summary of the event, which he described as "the first visitation of Angels." Critics of the Church seem to believe that Joseph completely changed his story from "two personages" to "Angels" over the course of only five days. The truth is that Joseph referred to all of the personages that appeared to him as "angels."

The terms "personages" and "angels" were interchangeable

This confusion regarding "angels" versus "personages" is illustrated in a critical "Mormoninfographic".[14] We have illustrated the error by comparing Joseph's journal entries on both days.

Mormoninfographic.error.1835-2.jpg


Juncker (1994): "Unknown to many, the early church fathers often referred to Jesus as an Angel....in antiquity the word 'angel' meant 'messenger.'"

Günther Juncker (at the time of this writing), Master of Divinity candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:

Unknown to many, the early church fathers often referred to Jesus as an Angel. And they gave him this appellation long before the (alleged) distortions of Constantine, the Controversies, the Councils, and the Creeds.... the word Angel has a prima facie claim to being a primitive, if not an apostolic, Christological title. Before pronouncing judgement on the Fathers, men who were often quite close to first-century apostles and eyewitnesses, we may recall that in antiquity the word "angel" had a broader semantic range than at present. When we think of angels, we immediately think of super-human, bodiless spirits, all of whom were created and some of whom fell with Satan in his rebellion. But in antiquity the word “angel” meant “messenger.” It was primarily a functional (as opposed to an ontological) description and, thus, could refer to messengers who were human, angelic, or divine (the best known of the latter being Hermes, “the messenger god”). Likewise in Scripture, in both the OT and the NT, the term angel refers to human as well as to angelic messengers.[15]


Joseph Smith: "Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while his body was lying in the sepulcher)...After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples"

Joseph Smith considered a personage with a resurrected body of flesh and bone to be an "angel". This included Jesus Christ:

Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while his body was lying in the sepulcher) to the spirits in prison, to fulfill an important part of His mission, without which He could not have perfected His ward, or entered into His rest. After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples.[16]


Joseph Smith (9 Nov. 1835): "I saw many angels in this vision...I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication"

Joseph Smith's journal (scribe Warren Parrish):

he testifyed unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God; <and I saw many angels in this vision> I was about 14. years old when I received this first communication; When I was about 17 years old I saw another vision of angels, in the night season after I had retired to bed[17]


Joseph Smith (14 Nov. 1835): "I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old"

Joseph Smith's journal (scribe Warren Parrish):

up to the time I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14, years old and also the the visitations that I received afterward, concerning the book of Mormon[18]


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."[19] (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.


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:).[20] .

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.


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.


Joseph Smith (1832): "a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above"

Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp. 1-6.

a piller of fire light 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 [21]


Joseph Smith (9 Nov. 1835): "a pillar of fire appeared above my head...a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame"

a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon me head, and filled me with Joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first [22]


Orson Pratt (1840): "a very bright and glorious light in the heavens...He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them"

Orson Pratt:

[Joseph], at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and, as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system. [23]


Joseph Smith (1842): "surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day"

Joseph Smith, Wentworth letter:

I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day.[24]


Response to claim: "he still manages to directly contradict himself by reporting “visitation of Angels” as compared to an actual visitation from Deity"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

In this summary account, written by Joseph 15 years after the fact, he still manages to directly contradict himself by reporting “visitation of Angels” as compared to an actual visitation from Deity.

FairMormon Response



Mistakes/Errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

There is no contradiction. Just five days prior to calling the First Vision the "first visitation of Angels," Joseph described a vision which included two personages (Diety, being the Father and the Son, inferred by the introduction "this is my beloved Son") and "many angels." He named this entire encounter the "first visitation of Angels."

Question: Why did Joseph Smith state the he was visited by two personages and then just five days later say that he was visited by angels?

Joseph's diary was simply summarizing the First Vision as the "first visitation of Angels"

Joseph had described his vision in detail in his journal just five days earlier (9 November 1835) when he described his visit with "Joshua the Jewish Minister." When he described his visit with Erastus Holmes, he simply referred to it as the "first visitation of Angels." In Joseph's 9 November 1835 entry, in addition to seeing two personages, Joseph also mentioned that he had seen "many angels" in the vision.

Critics attempt to use this to show inconsistency in Joseph's accounts of the First Vision. For example, a critical graphic indicates that the 1835 "Erastus Holmes" account describes a different vision. The graphic implies that he didn't mention every other element of the vision, and that this makes it inconsistent. However, Joseph was simply offering a one-line summary of the event that he had described only five days earlier in his journal.

Mormoninfographic.erastus.holmes.summary-1.jpg


Response to claim: "Joseph intended the exact wording to be 'pillar of light' – not 'pillar of fire'"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

By using the “Delete” button of his time along with inserting “light” to immediately replace “fire,” Joseph intended the exact wording to be “pillar of light” – not “pillar of fire.”

FairMormon Response



Mistakes/Errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The "mormoninfographic" uses the fact that the word "fire" does not appear in the final draft to demonstrate a perceived inconsistency with Joseph's 1835 account, which used the term "pillar of fire." This is nonsense, since it is obvious from the 1832 strikeout that Joseph was trying to decide which of the two terms "fire" or "light" best described what he saw. That's the point - it is obvious that Joseph was willing to describe the pillar as either "fire" or "light." The "mormoninfographic" obscures that fact.
Logical Fallacy: Special Pleading
The author creates a one-sided argument by including favorable data and excluding unfavorable data through improper means. In this case, the author "moved the goalpost" by changing his argument when his original claim was shown to be false.

The "mormoninfographic" claimed that the word "fire" was not part of the 1832 account. We demonstrated that it was. Whether or not it was crossed out is irrelevant - it is there, it is readable, and it is indicative of what Joseph was thinking as he wrote. However, this isn't what the CES Letter author is responding to: He instead appears to be claiming that we are disputing what Joseph intended to write. The reality is that Joseph wrote both words in his history as he was attempting to decide which one provided a more accurate description. Because the CES Letter author failed to debunk our original claim, he instead decided to respond to one that we never made.

Question: Why did Joseph mention a "pillar of light" in his 1832 account, but a "pillar of fire" in his 1835 account of the First Vision?

Joseph Smith's 1832 account mentions a "pillar of fire," which he then crossed out to replace with "a pillar of light"

Joseph did indeed dictate "pillar of fire" in his 1832 journal account. He then crossed out the word "fire" and wrote "light." Therefore Joseph wrote both "pillar of fire" and "pillar of light."

Joseph was not certain of how to describe the light that he saw, characterizing it as both "fire" and "light." Orson Pratt, in his 1840 pamphlet "A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions," wrote of a "very bright and glorious light" which descended, yet he gave it the characteristics of "fire" when he noted that Joseph "expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them."

[Joseph], at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and, as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system. [25]

Some critics of the Church wish to portray "pillar of light" or "pillar of fire" as a discrepancy between accounts

The is no discrepancy here: Joseph wrote "pillar of fire" in his 1832 account, and then crossed out the word "fire" and replaced it with "light." In his 9 November 1835 account, he states "a pillar of fire." In the canonized 1838 account, he describes it as a "pillar of light." The fact that in 1832 Joseph ultimately decided to write "pillar of light" does not negate the fact that Joseph originally wrote the words "pillar of fire" in his record. Some critics has attempted to show a discrepancy between the 1832 account and later accounts by pointing out that Joseph wrote "pillar of light." For example, the following critical graphic incorrectly represents the 1832 account.

Mormoninfographic.error.1832.fire.light.2.jpg


Response to claim: "FairMormon is arguing here that Joseph Smith did not in fact see God the Father and his son Jesus Christ, which is an apostate view"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

FairMormon is arguing here that Joseph Smith did not in fact see God the Father and his son Jesus Christ, which is an apostate view given that the recently published LDS.org essay titled “First Vision Accounts” states otherwise:

Joseph Smith recorded that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him…

So, which is it? Did Joseph see God the Father and Jesus Christ or did he merely see two angelic personages?

FairMormon Response



Falsehood
The author has disseminated false information

We will restate FairMormon's position:

1) The statement by the CES Letter author that "FairMormon is arguing here that Joseph Smith did not in fact see God the Father and his son Jesus Christ" is absolutely and totally false.

2) Joseph Smith never used the words "Jesus Christ" and "God the Father" in any of his accounts of the First Vision. In the 1832 account, he said that he saw "the Lord." These are facts.

3) Joseph always described the Father and the Son as "personages." The statement of one personage to Joseph that "this is my Beloved Son" while gesturing to the other clearly indicates that these personages are God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, even if Joseph did not explicitly name them as such in his First Vision account.

4) Many prophets after Joseph Smith have clearly identified the two personages as the Father and the Son. John Taylor in particular was very vocal about this.
Logical Fallacy: Strawman
The author sets up a weakened or caricatured version of the opponent's argument. The author then proceeds to demolish the weak version of the argument, and claim victory.

FairMormon's position is, always has been, and always will be that Joseph Smith saw two divine personages: God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. The author apparently misunderstood the original claim. The question with regard to the "mormoninfographic" is "Did the actual words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear in Joseph's 1838 account of the First Vision?" while the CES Letter author responds to a question that was never asked: "Did God the Father and Jesus Christ appear in Joseph's 1838 account of the First Vision?" He then creates a strawman to misrepresent FairMormon's position regarding the appearance of the Father and Son during the First Vision, and then "debunks" his own strawman.


Question: Did the actual words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear in Joseph's 1838 account of the First Vision?

Joseph Smith only referred to God the Father and Jesus Christ as "personages" in the 1838 account - their actual identities as Father and Son are only confirmed when one identifies the other as his "beloved Son"

Many Church leaders, such as John Taylor, repeatedly talked of Joseph being visited by the Father and the Son. However, when Joseph refers to them in the 1838 account, he only refers to them as two "personages," one of whom introduces the other as his "beloved Son." This clearly infers the identity of the two personages as the Father and the Son.

However, some critics of the Church assume that Joseph explicitly named the personages as the Father and the Son. One good example of such an assumption is a "mormoninfographic" that, in its effort to illustrate contradictions between Joseph's account of the First Vision, erroneously indicates that the words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" actually appear in Joseph's 1838 account. This is for the purpose of contrasting the lack of mention of the Father and the Son by name in the 1835 account.

When challenged on this error, the author of the graphic said regarding the 1835 account: "you seem to be suggesting that I should depict something other than what is in the written record. There's nothing in the 1835 account that would indicate God or Jesus only what you are inferring from other accounts." [26] Indeed, there is no explicit mention of God the Father and Jesus Christ in the 1835 account, but Joseph reports that one of the personages that appeared "testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

The only way to identify the personages in the 1838 account as Father and Son is to use an external source: The Holy Bible contains the phrase "this is my beloved Son"

So, where in the 1838 written record do the names "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear? Nowhere: in the 1838 account Joseph refers to them as "personages." Yet, the author of the graphic "check marked" two items that are not present in the written record.

We agree that that "This is my beloved son" implies that the personages are God the Father and Jesus Christ, but the only way to infer that is to look at something that is not in the written (1838) record - you have to use the Bible (the account of Jesus' baptism) to make the connection. Therefore, allowing an additional record to be used to clarify Joseph's written words from 1838 violates the author's own rules: He won't allow Joseph's words from the other accounts to used to to clarify, yet he allows the Bible to be used to clarify.

Mormoninfographics.error.1838.personages.jpg


Response to claim: "the Church altered Joseph's words to instead read "I received my First Vision...” in the History of the Church"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

his 1835 account was falsified into the History of the Church (Vol. 2, Ch. 23, p.312). Despite correctly being published in the Church newspaper (Deseret News, Vol.2, No. 15, Saturday, May 29, 1852) as specifically including Joseph's words, "I received the first visitation of Angels,” the Church altered Joseph's words to instead read "I received my First Vision...” in the History of the Church.

FairMormon Response



Mistakes/Errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph's 9 November 1835 journal entry recorded that he saw two personages accompanied by many angels. His summary description just five days later on 14 November 1835 referred to the entire event as the "first visitation of Angels." How exactly is that inconsistent? Joseph simply assigned his own name to the event. When B.H. Roberts wrote History of the Church, he chose to assign a different name to Joseph's theophany. Roberts wanted something different than the "first visitation of Angels," and he instead chose to call the event the "First Vision." Roberts did not choose to call it the "first visitation" or the "visitation of two personages and a lot of angels": He simply chose to call the event the first of Joseph's visions, because that's exactly what it was. This wasn't an attempt to hide nature of who had appeared to Joseph during the vision.

Joseph Smith (9 Nov. 1835): "a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame...another personage soon appeard like unto the first...and I saw many angels in this vision"

I kneeled again my mouth was opened and my toung liberated, and I called on the Lord in mighty prayer, a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon me head, and filled me with Joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first, he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee, he testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; and I saw many angels in this vision I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication; [27]


Joseph Smith (14 Nov. 1835): "I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14"

I commenced and gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from 6 years old up to the time I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14. years old and also the visitations that I received afterward, concerning the book of Mormon [28]


Question: What are the two 1835 First Vision accounts that refer to angels?

Joseph Smith's two 1835 accounts of the First Vision

Two of Joseph Smith's November 1835 diary entries make reference to the First Vision:

November 9, 1835

a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon me head, and filled me with Joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first, he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee, he testifyed unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; <and I saw many angels in this vision> I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication; When I was about 17 years old I saw another vision of angels in the night season after I had retired to bed.[29]

Note that the additional detail that there were "many angels" was inserted into the text as a clarification. This is the only account which mentions other personages in the vision other than the Father and Son.

November 14, 1835

I commenced and gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from 6 years old up to the time I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14.[30]


Question: Why does Joseph Smith's 9 November 1835 account of the First Vision mention "many angels?"

Criticisms related to Joseph Smith's 9 November 1835 account of the First Vision

The capitalized word "Angels" in Joseph Smith's diary entry for 14 November 1835 has given rise to two distinct criticisms by detractors of the faith, and one misguided conclusion by some Latter-day Saints.

Criticism #1 - Critics note that this word is plainly used in reference to the First Vision and thus assume that Joseph Smith did not consistently claim to see Deity during this manifestation and that he therefore contradicted himself.
Criticism #2 - Critics conclude that the official History of the Church was "falsified" when this reference was changed without any notation.
Misguided Conclusion - Some conclude that since the word "Angels" is capitalized in the text Joseph Smith must have been applying this title to Deity.

Both the two personages and "many angels" are mentioned

The mention of "many angels" in the November 9, 1835 diary entry is a clarifying detail. The appearance of the Father and Son are clearly referenced separately from the mention of the "many angels." Since the visit of the Father and Son are acknowledged in the diary entry for the 9th the change from "first visitation of Angels" to "the First Vision" in the History of the Church entry is not a "falsification" of information.


Question: Does the use of the capitalized word "Angel" in the 14 November 1835 account refer to Diety?

The capitalized "Angel" may be used to refer to Deity, but not exclusively

The examples of the usage of the words "angel" and "Angel" clearly show that, although the capitalized version of the word can be used to refer to Deity, it is not exclusively used in this manner.

An examination of the adjoining sentences in the 9 November 1835 account (original source document) reveals that within a very short space Warren Parish thrice used the capitalized word “Angel” to refer to Moroni. Therefore, the capitalized “Angels” of the 14 November 1835 statement - which was also penned by Warren Parish - cannot be exclusively applied to Deity.

It should also be noted that one of Joseph Smith’s other contemporaneous scribes (Frederick G. Williams) regularly used the capitalized words “Angel” and “Angels” to refer to celestial beings other than Deity. And on at least one occasion Joseph Smith himself used the capitalized word “Angels” to do the same (see below).

31 July 1832 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"God is rem[em]bering mercy unto us and making us mighty to the pulling down the strong hold of Satan, having sent down the Angel of God to trouble the waters"

September–November 1832 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"seccondly the ministering of Angels"

4 January 1833 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western Tribes of Indians, having been found through the ministration of an holy Angel translated into our own Language by the gift and power of God"

19 December 1833 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"This day Bro William Pratt and David Pattin took their Journey to the Land of Zion for the purpose of bearing dispatches to the Brethren in that place from Kirtland O may God grant it a blessing for Zion as a kind Angel from heaven Amen"

16 August 1834 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"was met in the face and eyes as soon as I had got home with a catalogue that was as black as the author himself and the cry was Tyrant,! Pope!! King!!! Usurper!!!! Abuser of men!!!!! Ange[l]!!!!!! False prophet!!!!! Prophecying Lies in the name of the Lord and taking consecrated monies!!!!!!! and every other lie to fill up and complete the cattelogue that was necissary to perfect the Church to be meet for the devourer the shaft of the devouring <destroying> Angel! . . . . when the church lifts up the head the Angel will bring us good tidings even so Amen"

7 October 1835 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"according to the measure that he meeteth out with a liberal hand unto the poor so shall it be measured to him again by the hand of his God even an hundred fold Angels shall guard <his> house and shall guard the lives of his posterity"

29 October 1835 [handwriting of Warren Parish]

"I then set down and taught <related to> them the history of the coming forth of the book the administration of the Angel to me"

9 November 1835 [handwriting of Warren Parish]

"I saw many angels in this vision. I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication; When I was about 17 years old I saw another vision of angels in the night season . . . . an angel appeared before me . . . . the angel appeard to me again . . . . the Angel came to me again and commanded me to go and tell my Father, what I had seen and heard, I did so, he wept and told me that it was a vision from God to attend to it I went and found the place, where the plates were, according to the direction of the Angel, also saw them, and the angel as before; the powers of darkness strove hard against me. I called on God, the Angel told me that the reason why I could not obtain the plates at this time was because I was under transgression"

14 November 1835 [handwriting of Warren Parish]

"I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14 years old"

16 November 1835 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"O ye Angels! that surround the throne, <of God> Princes of heaven, that excell in strength, ye who are clothed with transcendant brightness"

29 March 1838 [handwriting of George W. Robinson]

"chariot of fire came and near the place and the Angel of the Lord put forth his hand unto Br. Marks & said unto him thou art my son come here"

2 May 1838 [handwriting of James Mullholland]

"I answered that an Angel of God had revealed it unto him. He then said to me, let me see that certificate"

21 March 1839 [handwriting of Alexander McRae and Caleb Baldwin]

"which our fathers have wa[i]ted with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times which their minds were pointed to by the Angels as held in reserve for the fullness of their glory"

4 April 1839 [handwriting of Joseph Smith]

"With immotions known only to God, do I write this letter, the contemplations, of the mind under these circumstances, defies the pen, or tounge, or Angels, to discribe, or paint, to the human mind"

16, 23 August 1842 [handwriting of William Clayton]

"I say it by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and by the ministering of Holy Angels, and by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. . . . sound of the Arch-Angels trump"

[These texts can be found in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition]


Question: Does the 14 November 1835 account reference to the "first vision of Angels" mean that Joseph Smith did not see Diety?

It is patently absurd to believe that Joseph Smith would contradict himself in less than one week while telling the same exact story in front of the same exact scribe

It is patently absurd to believe that Joseph Smith would contradict himself in less than one week while telling the same exact story in front of the same exact scribe (Warren Parrish). A careful examination of the diary entries for the 9th and 14th of November indicates that the "Angels" of the 14th are the very same "angels" mentioned on the 9th. The "angels" referred to on the 9th are definitely IN ADDITION TO the two main personages who appeared - the text says quite specifically that the angels "also" made an appearance on this occasion. Joseph Smith is not contradicting himself but is rather providing an additional detail about the event he is describing.


Question: Was the History of the Church falsified when "first visitation of Angels" was changed to "my first vision"?

Joseph's 14 November 1835 diary entry morphs as it is copied into subsequent records

The 14 November 1835 First Vision diary reference is connected with an interview that the Prophet conducted with an investigator named Erastus Holmes. Notice that the diary entry morphs as it is copied into subsequent records.

  • "I commenced and gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from 6 years old up to the time I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14. years old and also the the visitations that I received afterward, concerning the book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the church, up to this, date" (Joseph Smith diary, 14 November 1835, pp. 36-37).
  • "He (Smith) commenced and gave him a brief relation of his experience while in his youthful days, say from the age of six years up to the time he received the first visitation of Angels which was when he was about 14 years old. He also gave him an account of the revelations he had afterward received concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and a succinct account of the rise and progress of the church up to this date" (“History, 1834–1836,” Book A-1, p. 129).
  • "I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old up to the time I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old; also the revelations that I received afterwards concerning the Book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the church up to this date" (Deseret News, vol. 2, no. 15, 29 May 1852).
  • "I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old up to the time I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old; also the revelations that I received afterwards concerning the Book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the church up to this date" (Millennial Star, vol. 15, no. 27, 2 July 1853, 424 - from the Deseret News).
  • "I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old up to the time I received my first vision, which was when I was about fourteen years old; also the revelations that I received afterwards concerning the Book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the Church up to this date" (History of the Church, 2:312; written between 1902-1912).

It was B.H. Roberts that modified the diary entry in History of the Church

If the editor of the seven History of the Church volumes (Brigham H. Roberts) was not drawing information directly from the original Joseph Smith diary then he may have felt that a previous editor had made an error in description - and took it upon himself to correct it. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word falsify as "to make false by mutilation or addition." Since the Prophet's 14 November 1835 diary entry does indeed refer to his "first visitation of Angels" (which took place during the First Vision) the anti-Mormon characterization cannot be applied to Elder Roberts' editorial clarification in any legitimate sense.


Response to claim: "The historical record shows that there was no revival in Palmyra in 1820"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The historical record shows that there was no revival in Palmyra in 1820. There was one in 1817 and there was another in 1824. There are records from his brother, William Smith, and his mother Lucy Mack Smith, both stating that the family joined Presbyterianism after Alvin’s death in November 1823 despite Joseph Smith claiming in the official 1838 account that they joined in 1820; 3 years before Alvin Smith’s death.

FairMormon Response



Mistakes/Errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph mentions an "excitement" on the subject of religion, which most interpret to mean "revival." However, Joseph's 1832 account shows that he began to become concerned about religion at age 12, which coincides with a known 1818 revival.

Question: What statements did Joseph Smith make about religious excitement in the area of Palmyra?

Statements from Joseph's history regarding religious excitement when he was a youth

Critics of Joseph Smith claim that no revival is mentioned in the 1832 First Vision account because the actual word 'revival'—or something similar—is not found within the text. But they have failed to notice a distinct pattern of words that demonstrate a definite link between the various First Vision accounts.

7 March 1832

On 7 March 1832 (just a few months before Joseph Smith penned his 1832 First Vision account) some Mormon missionaries in Pennsylvania were saying that during Joseph’s youth he had repented of his sins but was “not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them,” and so he resorted to prayer.[31]

September—November 1832

"At about the age of twelve years my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul, which led me to searching the scriptures, believing as I was taught that they contained the word of God. Thus applying myself to them, and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations, led me to marvel exceedingly. For I discovered that they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository. This was a grief to my soul. Thus, from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind the contentions and divisions the wickedness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind. My mind became excedingly 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 built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament. And I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world. For I learned in the scriptures that . . . . [A]nd when I considered all these things, and that that Being seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth, therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy."[32]

December 1834

  • During "the 15th year of [Joseph Smith's] life" there was "a great awakening, or excitement raised on the subject of religion" in Palmyra, New York and its "vicinity."
  • There was "much enquiry for the word of life"
  • "in common with others, [Joseph Smith's] mind became awakened"
  • "For a length of time the reformation seemed to move in a harmonious manner"
  • "but, as the excitement ceased . . . a general struggle was made by the leading characters of the different sects, for proselytes"
  • "Large additions were made to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches"
  • "Then strife seemed to take the place of that apparent union and harmony . . . and a cry—I am right—you are wrong—was introduced"; "all professed to be the true church"
  • "In this general strife for followers, [Joseph Smith's] mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians"
  • This circumstance gave Joseph "further reflection"
  • He received "strong solicitations to unite with one of those different societies"
  • But "seeing the apparent proselyting disposition manifested with equal warmth from each, [Joseph Smith's] mind was led to more seriously contemplate the importance of a move of this kind"
  • His "spirit was not at rest day nor night"
  • Joseph did not want to "profess godliness without its benign influence upon [his] heart" [i.e., 'repenting of sins' theme]
  • He also did not want to "unite with a society professing to be built upon the only sure foundation, and that profession be a vain one"
  • Joseph Smith felt that there would be "serious consequences of moving hastily, in a course fraught with eternal realities"
  • He believed that "amid so many [denominations], some must be built upon the sand"
  • "In this situation where could he go?"
  • Joseph spent time "reflecting" on a passage of scripture
  • He had a strong "degree of determination . . . relative to obtaining a certainty of the things of God"[33]

9 November 1835

"being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involve eternal consequ[e]nces; being thus perplexed in mind . . . . information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it"[34]

2 May 1838

“multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division among the people, Some crying, ‘Lo here’ and some ‘Lo there’. Some were contending for the Methodist faith, Some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist . . . . a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued; Priest contending against priest, and convert against convert . . . a strife of words and a contest about opinions”. . . .“so great was the confusion and strife amongst the different denominations”. . . . “the cry and tumult were so great and incessant"; “war of words, and tumult of opinions”; “the contests of these parties of religionists[35]

When the September—November 1832 First Vision account is compared with subsequent recitals (especially 1838), and one partial previous rendition, it appears that they are all telling the same story: Prior to the First Vision event there were contentions and divisions among the different religious denominations in connection with a revival. It seems, therefore, that the Prophet's handwritten 1832 account does indeed make a passing reference to revival activity.

There are several other phrases in the Prophet's 1832 account that can be interpreted as references to revivals

There are several other phrases in the Prophet's 1832 account that can be interpreted as references to revivals. For instance, Joseph Smith said that when he was "about the age of twelve years" (23 December 1817—23 December 1818) he became seriously concerned about the welfare of his soul. Why did these feelings arise at this point in time? Possibly because there was a Methodist camp-meeting/revival from June 19th through the 22nd, 1818 held in Palmyra, New York.[36]

Joseph Smith pointed to a time period "from the age of twelve years to fifteen" (i.e., between 23 December 1817 and 23 December 1821) when he –

  • applied himself to studying the scriptures
  • noticed the hypocrisy of some persons who claimed to be religious
  • pondered the "contentions and divisions" among men [revival imagery seen in other First Vision accounts]
  • pondered the "wickedness and abominations" and "darkness" of mankind
  • was grieved by what he saw around him; felt to mourn for the sins of the world
  • became "exceedingly distressed" because he felt "convicted of [his] sins" and felt to "mourn" for them
  • did not recognize any religious denomination that followed the biblical pattern completely
  • determined that God wanted to be worshiped in truth
  • decided to pray

The phrase “I cried unto the Lord for mercy” in Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account also has a strong ring of revivalism to it.

Some of the themes enumerated above can be matched with the Prophet's other descriptions of things that happened during the revival activity of Palmyra and its vicinity. This matching of themes tends to support the argument that the 1832 text does indeed refer to revival activity.

(1832) "the scriptures . . . they contained the word of God"; (1834) "that record called the word of God"
(1832) "I became convicted of my sins"; (1834) "arouse the sinner to look about him for safety"
(1832) "that Being seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth"; (1834) "All professed to be the true church"
(1832) "society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament"; (1834) "a society professing to be built upon the only sure foundation"
(1832) "those of different denominations . . . they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and godly conversation"; (1834) "they were certainly hypocritical"
(1832) "my mind became exceedingly distressed"; (1838) "my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness"
(1832) "the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind"; (1838) "At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness" or pray

The phrase “I cried unto the Lord for mercy” in Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account also has a strong ring of revivalism to it. Rev. George Peck recounted the happenings at a Methodist camp meeting held on 4 July 1816 in Plymouth, New York. He said that “There was an unbroken roar of fervent supplication all over the ground, while the awful voice of the preacher resounded.” One person then fell to the ground and cried for mercy.[37]


Response to claim: "FairMormon and apologists have to do everything they can to stretch the 1817-1818 Revival as long as possible - all the way into 1820"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The fact that FairMormon and apologists have to do everything they can to stretch the 1817-1818 Revival as long as possible - all the way into 1820 - as Joseph claimed, is a testament in itself that there was no revival environment in 1820 as Joseph described and claimed in his history.

FairMormon Response



Propaganda/Spin
The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

FairMormon has never attempted to "stretch" the 1817-1818 revival into 1820: This is simply a bit of hyperbole on the part of the author. As we have noted, Joseph himself states that his interest in religion began at age 12 (1818), and there is evidence that Methodist camp meetings were being held in Palmyra in 1820. There is sufficient evidence of an "excitement" in the area on the subject of religion in 1820.
Logical Fallacy: Black-or-White
The author presents two alternative states as the only two possibilities, when more possibilities exist.

The author accepts only two possibilities: 1) there was a "revival" or 2) there wasn't a "revival." He doesn't consider the possibility of anything in between that would correlate with an excitement on the subject of religion in the Palmyra area in 1820.

Question: At what age did Joseph Smith become concerned about religion?

Joseph's interest in religion began when he was 12 years old, after the 1817 revival

Joseph's concern about religion started when he was twelve years old, close on the heels of the revival of 1817. In his 1832 account, Joseph notes that his concern about religion began at age 12 (1817-1818):

"At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns of for the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to searching the scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that they did not adorn instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul..." (Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision)

Richard Bushman notes that this "would have been in late 1817 and early 1818, when the after-affects of the revival of 1816 and 1817 were still felt in Palmyra." [38]

Joseph Smith talked of observing, as a 14-year-old, "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion" in the Palmyra area during the Spring of 1820. Joseph notes that "It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country." There is documented evidence of at least one Methodist camp meeting in the Palmyra area during that period, which only by chance happened to be mentioned in the local newspaper because of a specific death that seemed to be associated with it. In addition, there are newspaper articles talking of large-scale revival activity in the larger region surrounding Palmyra during the same general period when Joseph Smith said that it was taking place.

It is reasonable to assume based upon the facts that the Methodists had more than one camp meeting during this period. This could easily account for the religious excitement in Palmyra that, in Joseph's mind at age 14, began with the Methodists.

From age 12 to 15 Joseph pondered many things in his heart concerning religion

Joseph continues in his 1832 account: "[T]hus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins." In July, 1819, several years after Joseph said his mind became "seriously imprest," a major Methodist conference was held near Palmyra:

[T]he Methodists of the Genesee Conference met for a week in Vienna (later Phelps), a village thirteen miles southeast of the Smith farm on the road to Geneva. About 110 ministers from a region stretching 500 miles from Detroit to the Catskills and from Canada to Pennsylvania met under the direction of Bishop R. R. Robert to receive instruction and set policy. If we are to judge from the experience at other conferences, the ministers preached between sessions to people who gathered from many miles around. It was a significant year for religion in the entire district. . . . The Geneva Presbytery, which included the churches in Joseph's immediate area, reported in February, 1820, that "during the past year more have been received into the communion of the Churches than perhaps in any former year." Methodists kept no records for individual congregations, but in 1821 they built a new meetinghouse in town. [39]


Question: What religious excitement was occurring in Palmyra in 1820?

Methodist camp meetings were being held in Palmyra in 1820

Some claim that there were no religious revivals in the Palmyra, New York area in 1820, contrary to Joseph Smith's claims that during that year there was "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion...indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it" Joseph Smith—History 1:5

Joseph Smith talked of observing, as a 14-year-old, "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion" in the Palmyra area during the Spring of 1820. Joseph notes that "It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country." There is documented evidence of at least one Methodist camp meeting in the Palmyra area during that period, which only by chance happened to be mentioned in the local newspaper because of a specific death that seemed to be associated with it. It is reasonable to assume that the Methodists had more than one camp meeting during this period. In addition, there are newspaper articles talking of large-scale revival activity in the larger region surrounding Palmyra during the same general period when Joseph Smith said that it was taking place.

It is interesting to note that one crtical website attempts to dismiss evidence of Methodist camp meetings in the Palmyra area in 1820 because they are not "revivals", offering this weak excuse:

The church’s November 2013 essay and FAIR (an unofficial apologist LDS site) claim that there was a revival in 1820. They use the term revival loosely to help convince investigators that Smith’s claims are correct. An ad in the newspaper for a church camp meeting is not a revival that causes the “religious excitement” that Smith described. [40]

The critic's description is incorrect: This was not "an ad in a newspaper for a church camp meeting." It was a newspaper article about a death that occurred near the camp meeting - the camp meeting itself was never advertised in the newspaper, and likely never would have been. However, its mention in the newspaper is evidence that Methodist camp meetings were being held in the area at that time. The only reason that one was mentioned is because of the death associated with it.

One should keep in mind that Joseph Smith never used the term "revival" in his description - he simply described it as "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion." To a 14 year old who had been concerned about religion starting at age 12 after the 1817 revival, the ongoing camp meetings in the town in which he lived would certainly qualify.


Response to claim: "the family joined Presbyterianism after Alvin’s death in November 1823 despite Joseph Smith claiming in the official 1838 account that they joined in 1820"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

There are records from his brother, William Smith, and his mother Lucy Mack Smith, both stating that the family joined Presbyterianism after Alvin’s death in November 1823 despite Joseph Smith claiming in the official 1838 account that they joined in 1820; 3 years before Alvin Smith’s death.

FairMormon Response



Mistakes/Errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

No records exist showing when the Smith's joined the Presbyterian church.

Question: When was Lucy Mack Smith baptized?

Richard Bushman: "In recounting her baptism around 1803, Lucy Smith by implication suggested a date for her membership in the Presbyterian church in Palmyra"

Lucy Mack Smith recorded in her history that she sought out baptism sometime around 1803, without formally joining any Church at that time. The Reverend Wesley Walters attempts to place Lucy's association with the Presbyterians at 1824, to coincide with the formal 1824 revival. In 1987, Richard Bushman summarized the debates about Lucy's Presbyterianism to that point:

In recounting her baptism around 1803, Lucy Smith by implication suggested a date for her membership in the Presbyterian church in Palmyra. She had searched for a minister who would baptize her without the requirement of commitment to one church. She found such a man, who left her "free in regard to joining any religious denomination." After this, she says, "I stepped forward and yielded obedience to this ordinance; after which I continued to read the Bible as formerly until my eldest son had attained his twenty-second year." Biographical Sketches, pp. 48-49. Alvin was twenty-two in 1820. Unfortunately, the Presbyterian records that could confirm this date are lost. In an 1893 interview William Smith said that Hyrum, Samuel, and Catherine were Presbyterians, but since Catherine was only eight in 1820, and Sophronia, whom Joseph named, was seventeen, Sophronia was more likely to be the sister who joined....All the circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, the date of Lucy Smith's engagement to Presbyterianism remains a matter of debate. It is possible to argue plausibly that she did not join until later Palmyra revivals in 1824. [41]

Thus, a definitive answer to the question will probably elude us, though Bushman clearly favored the early date.

Critics act as if the matter has been settled the way the Reverend Wesley Walters hoped it would be--insisting that the 1824 date was the only viable one. This is false, and the weight of evidence is probably on the side of the "traditional" understanding of Lucy and at least some children as Presbyterians prior to an 1820 First Vision.


Response to claim: "Again, Joseph's mother, Lucy, and Joseph's brother, William, both stated that the family joined Presbyterianism after Alvin's death in November 1823"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Again, Joseph's mother, Lucy, and Joseph's brother, William, both stated that the family joined Presbyterianism after Alvin's death in November 1823.

FairMormon Response



Mistakes/Errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

No records exist showing when the Smith's joined the Presbyterian church.

Question: Did Lucy Mack Smith join the Presbyterian Church after her son Alvin died in 1823?

Lucy Mack Smith did not say in her autobiography that she joined the Presbyterian church after her son Alvin died

It is claimed that the Prophet's mother joined the Presbyterian church after Alvin Smith died in late 1823 (Joseph Smith said she joined in 1820). If Lucy Mack Smith joined the Presbyterian Church in 1823, then this contradicts Joseph's statement that she joined in 1820, thereby dating Joseph's First Vision to no earlier than 1823.

There are several problems with this argument. The most serious one is that Lucy Mack Smith did NOT say in her autobiography that she joined the Presbyterian church after her son Alvin died. The original manuscript of the autobiography (including the crossed-out portion) actually says:

  • Alvin Smith died (19 November 1823).
  • "lamentation and mourning filled the whole neighborhood".
  • Those from Alvin's immediate circle felt "more than usual grief".
  • The funeral and the interment took place.
  • "The circumstances of [Alvin's] death aroused the neighborhood to the subject of religion".
  • The Smith family "could not be comforted" because of Alvin's loss.
  • "About this time there was a great revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject and we among the rest flocked to the meetinghouse to see if there was a word of comfort for us that might relieve our overcharged feelings."
  • One man was laboring in the area "to effect a union of all the churches that all denominations might be agreed to worship God with one mind and one heart".
  • Lucy Mack Smith thought that this idea "looked right" and tried to persuade her husband to "join with them" (i.e., the unionized group of "all denominations").
  • Lucy Mack Smith "wished" to join herself with this group.
  • All the Smith children were "inclined" to join this group except Joseph (who refused from the first to attend the meetings).
  • Joseph told his mother that he did not wish to prevent her or any member of the Smith family from attending any church meeting or "joining any church" that they liked but stated his own desire not to go with them. Joseph also stated that if they did join any church they would not be with them long because of "the wickedness of their hearts".
  • Father Smith attended one meeting of the unionized church group but declined thereafter. He said that he did not object if Mother Smith and the children wanted to attend these meetings or join with the group.

There are several observations that will help to clarify the meaning of this text.

The effect of Alvin's funeral on the Smith family

Alvin's funeral was conducted by a Presbyterian clergyman named Benjamin B. Stockton. [42] This detail raises the strong possibility that someone in the Smith household had an affiliation with the Presbyterian church by November 1823 (Stockton did not become the official pastor of Palmyra's Western Presbyterian Church until 18 February 1824). [43] Indeed, in one of William Smith's recountings of Church history he seems very clearly to say that his mother and some of his siblings were members of the Presbyterian church at the time of Alvin's funeral. [44] And in another recounting he states that they had this affiliation in the year 1820. [45]


Question: Did Lucy Mack Smith state when she joined the Presbyterians?

Lucy does not say when she joined the Presbyterians

Lucy Mack Smith does not say in her autobiography that she actually joined with the religious group that was composed of "all the churches". She only says that she desired to join with them. She may well have already been associated with the Presbyterians.

Lucy was baptized first and THEN in 1820 she formally joined a denomination

One Presbyterian author claims that "when Lucy reached Palmyra, she developed a connection with the Presbyterian church, even though she held aloof from membership." As support for this assertion, he cites Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 11-13 and notes that "Solomon Mack, Lucy's father, was a Universalist during her childhood but converted to orthodox Christianity in 1810." The author does not clarify the nature of Lucy's connection to the Presbyterian church after her arrival in Palmyra. Although he notes that Lucy "had sought spiritual comfort from a noted Presbyterian minister" while in Randolph, Vermont (citing Lucy's autobiography), he fails to note that this same autobiography provides the timeframe for when she was baptized. She says, “I concluded that my mind would be easier if I were baptized and I found a minister who was willing to baptize me and leave me free from membership in any church after which I pursued the same course until my oldest son [Alvin] attained his 22nd year” - which took place on 11 February 1820.

The "revival" mentioned by Lucy occurs one year prior to the 1824 revival

The "great revival in religion" that is mentioned in Mother Smith's autobiography appears to take place not long after Alvin's death in November 1823. In fact, it seems that it was Alvin's death that instigated this particular event. A disparity in timeframes (a one-year gap) calls any perceived connection between this event and Palmyra's 1824-25 revival into doubt. A ministerial eyewitness says that nothing much like a recognizable revival even took place in the village of Palmyra until December 1824 (The Methodist Magazine, vol. 8, no. 4, April 1825). Mother Smith does not mention any conversions during the December 1823 denomination-welding event which she describes while the December 1824 revival garnered more than 150 converts who joined themselves with various separate churches.

Lucy's family was suspended from fellowship in the Presbyterian church in March 1830

Church records confirm that Lucy's family was suspended from fellowship in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra on March 10, 1830. The charge was 18 months of inactivity, which indicates that they had not attended since September 1828. This was one year after Joseph had received the plates. [46]

Joseph's actions support the First Vision account of his relatives joining the Presbyterians

Joseph Smith's comments to his mother about joining "any" church are significant. He said that taking such an action would be a mistake because of what was in the hearts of the adherents. During the First Vision the Lord told Joseph that the hearts of the members of the Christian denominations were far from Him (1832 account). Joseph also told his mother that if she did decide to join one of the churches she would not be long with them. This make perfect sense when it is remembered that just a few months prior to this time Joseph had informed his family that an angel had told him about golden plates and indicated that God was about to reveal "a more perfect knowledge of the plan of salvation and the redemption of the human family" (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], chapter 18).

The facts contained within the primary source documents do not support the conclusions of the critics. Joseph Smith said that his mother and siblings were members of the Presbyterian church in 1820 when he had the First Vision and the writings of his mother and brother support that statement. Joseph Smith was not in a state of confusion or bent on deception when he recorded the occurrences of his past. Readers of the Prophet's history can have confidence in what is presented before them.


Response to claim: "Why did Joseph hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead, as shown previously with the Book of Mormon, if he clearly saw that the Father and Son were separate embodied beings in the official First Vision?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Why did Joseph hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead, as shown previously with the Book of Mormon, if he clearly saw that the Father and Son were separate embodied beings in the official First Vision? [and] The following verses are among many verses still in the Book of Mormon that hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead...

FairMormon Response



Mistakes/Errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author starts with the assumption that Joseph held a Trinitarian view. There are plenty of verses in the Book of Mormon that support the concept that the Father and the Son are separate entities, just like the Bible does.
Logical Fallacy: Begging the Question
The author presents a circular argument in which the starting assumption requires the conclusion to be true.

The author starts with the assumption that Joseph held a Trinitarian view, then claims that a reading of the Book of Mormon leads to this conclusion.

Question: Did Joseph began his prophetic career with a "trinitarian" idea of God?

Joseph and the early Saints were not trinitarian, and understood God's embodiment and the identity of the Father and Son as separate beings very early on

This doctrine is apparent in the Book of Mormon, and in the earliest friendly and non-friendly accounts of such matters from the Saints.

Such texts demonstrate that the supposed 'evidence' for Joseph altering his story later is only in the eyes of critical beholders. For example, Joseph's 1832 First Vision account focuses on the remission of his sins. However, critics who wish to claim that in 1832 Joseph had only a vaguely "trinitarian" idea of God (and so would see the Father and the Son as only one being) have missed vital evidence which must be considered.[47]

Martin Harris remembered rejecting the ideas of creedal Trinitarianism prior to meeting Joseph

Martin dictated an account of his early spiritual search:

"52 years ago I was Inspired of the Lord & Tought of the Spirit that I should not Join Eny Church although I Was anxiousley Sought for by meny of the Secatirans[.] I Was taught I could not Walk togther unless agreed[.] What can you not be agreed in [is] in the Trinity because I can not find it in my Bible[.] find it for me & I am Ready to Receive it. 3 Persons in one god[.] one Personage I can not concede for this is Antichrist for Where is the Father & Son[?] I have more proof to Prove 9 Persons in the Trinity then you have 3[.]...other sects the Epicopalians also tired me[.] they say 3 Persons in one god Without Body Parts or Passions[.] I Told them such A god I would not be afraid of: I could not Please or offend him[.] [I] Would not be afraid to fight A Duel With such A god.[48]

It would be very strange for Martin to feel so strongly on this point, only to embrace Joseph's teachings if Joseph taught creedal trinitarianism.

1829 - In the Book of Mormon one [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi--thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate

The Book of Mormon also 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.

1830 - Book of Moses: "And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten"

Between June and October 1830, Joseph had dictated his revision (the "Joseph Smith Translation") to Genesis.[49] The first chapter of Moses was dictated in June 1830 (about a month after the Church's reorganization), and began:

2 And [Moses] saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.

3 And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

4 And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.

5 Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth.

6 And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all (Moses 1:2-6)

Here already, God distinguishes himself from the Only Begotten, Moses sees and speaks with God face to face, and says that Moses was created "in the similitude of mine Only Begotten."

Joseph's rendered Genesis 1:26 as:

And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so....And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. (Moses 2:26-27.)

There can be no doubt that Joseph understood "in mine own image" to refer to a physical likeness, rather than merely a moral or intellectual one. The JST of Genesis 5:1-2 reads

In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them (Moses 6:8-9, emphasis added)

Thus, by 1830 Joseph was clearly teaching a separation of the Father and Son, and insisting that both had some type of physical form which could be copied in the creation of humanity.

Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also noted that other Christian denominations took issue with the new Church because of its teachings about God, noting that in 1830:

the different denominations are very much opposed to us.... The Methodists also come, and they rage, for they worship a God without body or parts, and they know that our faith comes in contact with this principle.[50]

1831 - Joseph "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father"

Anti-Mormon writers in 1831 noted that Joseph claimed to have received "a commission from God"; and the Mormons claimed that Joseph "had seen God frequently and personally."[51] That Joseph's enemies knew he claimed to have "seen God," indicates that the doctrine of an embodied God that could be seen was well-known early on.

John Whitmer would also write in 1831 of a vision enjoyed by Joseph in which Joseph saw Christ as separate from the Father, for he "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father making intercession for his brethren, the Saints." (emphasis added) [52] Of this same experience, Levi Hancock wrote:

Joseph Smith then stepped out onto the floor and said, 'I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now.' (emphasis added) [53]

1832 - In the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father"

One should first note that in the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father." The Book of Mormon (translated three years earlier in 1829) also contains numerous passages which teach a physical separation and embodiment (even if only in spirit bodies, which are clearly not immaterial, but have shape, position, and form) of the members of the Godhead. (See: 3 Nephi 11:, 1 Nephi 11:1-11, Ether 3:14-18.)

Furthermore, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were to receive a revelation of the three degrees of glory in the same year as Joseph's 1832 account was written; it clearly teaches a physical separation of the Father and Son, bearing witness of seeing both. (See D&C 76:14,20–24.)[54]

1832–1833 - "Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother"

Two of Joseph's close associates reported their own visions of God in the winter of 1832–1833. Both are decidedly not in the trinitarian mold.

Zebedee Coltrin:

Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling...a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him....

He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: "Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages.[55]

John Murdock:

During the winter that I boarded with[Bro[ther] Joseph... we had a number of prayer meetings, in the Prophet’s chamber.... In one of those meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exersise [sic] strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in a most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I had ever before seen. His countenance was the most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.[56]

1834–1835 - Lectures on Faith: "There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things"

In the School of the Prophets, the brethren were taught that

"There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made. . . . They are the Father and the Son--the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fulness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle. (Lecture 5:1–2)

Here, the separateness of the Father and Son continues to be made clear.

1836 - "They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts"

A skeptical news article noted:

They 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....[57]

Evidence that is absent

In addition to all the non-trinitarian evidence above, as Milton Backman has noted, there is a great deal of evidence that we should find, but don't. For example, no one has "located a publication (such as an article appearing in a church periodical or statement from a missionary pamphlet) written by an active Latter-day Saint prior to the martyrdom of the Prophet that defends the traditional or popular creedal concept of the Trinity. . . ." Moreover, there are no references in critical writings of the 1830s (including statements by apostates) that Joseph Smith introduced in the mid-thirties the doctrine of separateness of the Father and Son.[58]


Question: What changes were made to the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon?

Among the changes Joseph Smith made are these four in 1 Nephi 11 and 13

The earliest edition of the Book of Mormon referred to Jesus as "God." Joseph Smith later changed some, but not all, of these to "the Son of God." It is claimed by some that this is evidence that Joseph Smith changed the Book of Mormon to conform to his changing beliefs about the Trinity, claiming that Joseph was originally a solid Trinitarian (perhaps even a Modalist), and as he later began to teach that the Father and Son were two separate beings, he had to change the Book of Mormon to support his new doctrine. However, this change was a deliberate editorial insertion by Joseph Smith to clarify four verses in 1 Nephi.

The second edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1837 at Kirtland, Ohio. The typesetting and printing were done during the winter of 1836–37, with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taking an active part in the editing process.

In this edition numerous corrections were made to the text of the 1830 (first) edition to bring it back to the reading in the original and printer's manuscripts. Joseph Smith also made a number of editorial changes to the text, as was his right as the translator of the text.

Among the changes he made are these four in 1 Nephi 11 and 13:

  Original manuscript Printer's manuscript 1830 edition 1837 edition
1 Nephi 11:18 behold the virgin which thou seest is the Mother of god after the manner of the flesh behold the virgin which <whom> thou seest is the Mother of <the son of> God after the manner of the flesh Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh. Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
1 Nephi 11:21 & the angel said unto me behold the lam of god yea even the eternal father knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw & the Angel said unto me behold the Lamb of God yea even the <God> Father knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
1 Nephi 11:32 & it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again saying look and i lookt & beheld the lam of god that he was taken By the People yea the ever lasting god was judgd of the world and i saw & bare record & it came to pass that the Angel spake unto me again saying look & I looked & behold the Lamb of God that he was taken by the People yea the everlasting God was Judged of the world & I saw &amp bear record And it came to pass the angel spake unto me again, saying, look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record. And it came to pass the angel spake unto me again, saying, look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God, was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
1 Nephi 13:40 (Not extant.) & the Angel spake unto me saying these last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles shall establish the truth of the first which is <which are> of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb & shall make known the plain & precious things which have been taken away from them & shall make known unto all Kindreds Tongues & People that the Lamb of God is the <the son of> eternal Father & the saviour of the world & that all men must Come unto him or they cannot be saved And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which is of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain the precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world; and that all men must come unto Him, or they cannot be saved; And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain the precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world; and that all men must come unto Him, or they cannot be saved;

(The strikeouts and <insertions> in the printer's manuscript are in Joseph's hand, and were added by him during the preparation of the 1837 edition.)


Question: Why did Joseph Smith make changes to the Book of Mormon?

These changes were made for the purpose of clarification, not doctrinal modification

These changes are clarifications that the passages are speaking of Jesus, not God the Father.

The terms "God," "Everlasting God," and "Eternal Father" are ambiguous since they could properly refer to either the Father or the Son. For example, "Eternal Father" refers to God the Father in Moroni 4:3, Moroni 5:2, and Moroni 10:4, but to God the Son in Mosiah 16:15 and Alma 11:38-39.

The addition of "the Son of" to four passages in 1 Nephi does not change the Book of Mormon's teaching that Jesus Christ is the God of Old Testament Israel. This concept is taught in more than a dozen other passages whose readings remain unchanged from the original manuscripts. For example:

  • "And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself...as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up...and to be crucified...and to be buried in a sepulchre...." (1 Nephi 19:10)
  • "...he said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth." (Mosiah 7:27)
  • "Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father." (Mosiah 16:15)
  • "Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last." (Alma 11:38-39)

(See also 2 Nephi 25:12; Mosiah 3:8; Mosiah 13:28,33-34; Mosiah 15:1; Helaman 8:22-23; Helaman 14:12; Helaman 16:18; 3 Nephi 11:10,14; Mormon 9:12; Ether 3:14; Ether 4:7; Ether 4:12.)

It is simply illogical to conclude that Joseph Smith changed the four passages in 1 Nephi to conform to his supposed changing theological beliefs, but somehow forgot to change all the others.[59]


Question: Were any of the changes to the Book of Mormon made in reaction to sectarian criticism?

Some changes may have been made to eliminate the Catholic-sounding phrase "the mother of God"

Another reason "the Son of" was introduced into 1 Nephi 11:18 could have been to eliminate the Catholic-sounding phrase "the mother of God" that had been objected to by early critics of the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdery, responding to an article by Alexander Campbell in the Baptist newspaper The Pioneer, wrote in 1835:

Again, this writer [Campbell] says: "The name of Jesus Christ, was declared to Nephi, 545 years before it was announced to Mary, and she, in true Roman phraseology, is called 'the mother of God.'"

∗       ∗       ∗

This "friend of truth" says that Mary was "called the mother of God."—The reader will please turn to the 25th page of the book of Mormon, and read: "And he [the angel] said unto me, behold, the virgin which thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh."

Now, every man knows, who has read the New Testament, that Mary was called the Lord's mother; and beside we remember to have read a word or two of Paul's writings, where he says: "But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. Now, the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not."—See Gal. 1. Here we have it—the Lord Jesus was born of a woman, had a brother, and yet had no mother according to the flesh!![60]

Since this criticism of the Book of Mormon was fresh on Oliver's mind, and he was involved in the editing of the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon, it is possible that the change in 1 Nephi 11:18 was inserted at his prompting.


Response to claim: "There is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

There is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.

FairMormon Response



Mistakes/Errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

There is circumstantial evidence from 1830 that the vision was known, so the statement that there is "absolutely" no evidence of it is incorrect.

The Joseph Smith Papers: "The historical preamble to the 1830 'articles and covenants,' for example, appears to reference JS’s vision in speaking of a moment when 'it truly was manifested unto this first elder, that he had received a remission of his sins'"

"History, circa Summer 1832 - Historical Introduction," The Joseph Smith Papers:

In the early 1830s, when this history was written, it appears that JS had not broadcast the details of his first vision of Deity. The history of the church, as it was then generally understood, began with the gold plates. John Whitmer mentioned in his history “the commencement of the church history commencing at the time of the finding of the plates,” suggesting that Whitmer was either unaware of JS’s earlier vision or did not conceive of it as foundational.5 Records predating 1832 only hint at JS’s earliest manifestation. The historical preamble to the 1830 “articles and covenants,” for example, appears to reference JS’s vision in speaking of a moment when “it truly was manifested unto this first elder, that he had received a remission of his sins.”6 Initially, JS may have considered this vision to be a personal experience tied to his own religious explorations. He was not accustomed to recording personal events, and he did not initially record the vision as he later did the sacred texts at the center of his attention. Only when JS expanded his focus to include historical records did he write down a detailed account of the theophany he experienced as a youth. The result was a simple, unpolished account of his first “marvilous experience,” written largely in his own hand. The account was not published or widely circulated at the time, though in later years he told the story more frequently.[61]


Question: Why didn't the newspapers in Palmyra take notice of Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Newspapers would not have considered a visionary claim from a 14-year-old boy to have been newsworthy

This claim by critics is indeed strange. We are apparently to believe that the newspapers of the area would consider a claim from a 14-year-old boy as newsworthy. We know that Joseph didn't even tell his family about the vision at the time that it occurred—when his mother asked him, all he said to her was that he had found that Presbyterianism was not true.

When Joseph told the story of his vision to a local minister, he was strongly refuted for doing so

Joseph did, however, make mention of his vision to a Methodist preacher. According to Richard Bushman, Joseph's perceived persecution for telling his story may not have actually been because it was a unique claim, but rather because it was a common one. According to Bushman,

The clergy of the mainline churches automatically suspected any visionary report, whatever its content...The only acceptable message from heaven was assurance of forgiveness and a promise of grace. Joseph's report of God's rejection of all creeds and churches would have sounded all too familiar to the Methodist evangelical, who repeated the conventional point that "all such things had ceased with the apostles and that there never would be any more of them."[62]


Question: What references to the First Vision exist in published documents from the 1830s?

There are several significant references to the First Vision in published documents from the 1830s

1827

  • A skeptical account from Rev. John A. Clark mixed nine First Vision story elements together with the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and said that he learned them all in the Fall of 1827 from Martin Harris (John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way [Philadelphia: W. J. and J. K. Simmon, 1842],---).
  • A hostile account from someone who knew Joseph in 1827 reported:
I, Joseph Capron, became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1827. They have, since then, been really a peculiar people -- fond of the foolish and the marvelous -- at one time addicted to vice and the grossest immoralities -- at another time making the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God. The family of Smiths held Joseph Jr. in high estimation on account of some supernatural power, which he was supposed to possess.[63]
Capron obviously disliked and distrusted the Smiths, but he makes it clear that there were claims of holy intercourse (i.e., "communication" with)[64] "Almighty God."

1831

  • LDS missionaries were teaching that Joseph Smith "had seen God frequently and personally" and received a commission from Him to teach true religion (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831).[65]

1832

  • LDS missionaries were teaching with regard to Joseph Smith: "Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse [to] prayer" (The Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832).
  • In October 1832, another Protestant minister wrote to a friend about the Latter-day Saints in his area: "They profess to hold frequent converse with angels; some go, if we may believe what they say, as far as the third heaven, and converse with the Lord Jesus face to face."[66]

1833

  • A few months later, in March of 1833, the Reverend Richmond Taggart wrote a letter to a ministerial friend, regarding the activities of Joseph Smith himself in Ohio: "The following Curious occurrance occurred last week in Newburg [Ohio] about 6 miles from this Place [Cleveland]. Joe Smith the great Mormonosity was there and held forth, and among other things he told them he had seen Jesus Christ and the Apostles and conversed with them, and that he could perform Miracles."[67] Here is a clear reference to Joseph Smith stating he had seen Jesus Christ. Joseph’s ‘conversations’ with the Apostles could be a reference to having seen, spoken to, and been ordained to the Priesthood by the early Apostles Peter, James, and John. Having received that Priesthood Joseph Smith was now qualified to perform healings, and other ‘miracles’.
  • A Missouri newspaper contains an article on a mass meeting of Latter-day Saints in July 1833, and refers to the Saints’ “pretended revelations from heaven… their personal intercourse with God and his angels… converse with God and his angels….”[68]
  • Philastus Hurlbut, following his excommunication from the Church in 1833, went east to Palmyra. He there interviewed many who claimed to have known Joseph Smith before the organization of the Church. Among those interviewed were some who left statements which give us more information on what the Prophet had been claiming at that early period. On November 3, 1833, Barton Stafford testified that Joseph had “professed to be inspired of the Lord to translate the Book of Mormon.” Stafford claimed to have known them “until 1831 when they left this neighborhood.” Five days later, on November 8, Joseph Capron testified that Joseph had made “the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God.”[69] In 1884 and 1885 Arthur B. Deming collected affidavits in the Painesville, Ohio area, regarding the early Saints, and their recollection of Joseph Smith. Cornelius R. Stafford had been born in Manchester, NY, in 1813. He testified that Joseph Smith “claimed to receive revelations from the Lord.”[70]

1834

1835

1836

  • The First Vision reference by William W. Phelps was republished as part of hymn #26 in the Saints' first hymnal—March 1836 (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1176).

When the published 1830s fragments of the First Vision story are compared to the as-yet-unpublished 1838 recital, it 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.

1834 - "the 15th year of his life" [Cowdery]
1838 - "I was at this time in my fifteenth year"
1834 - "There was a great awakening, or excitement raised on the subject of religion" [Cowdery]
1838 - "there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion"
1834 - "our brother's mind became awakened" [Cowdery]
1838 - "my mind was called up to serious reflection"
1834 - "his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians" [Cowdery]
1838 - "My Fathers family were proselyted to the Presbyterian faith"
1834 - "his spirit was not at rest day nor night" [Cowdery]
1838 - "great uneasiness . . . extreme difficulties . . . my anxieties"
1832 - "not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I kept myself aloof from all these parties"; "no small stir and division"
1834 - "he was told they were right, and all others were wrong" [Cowdery]
1838 - "who was right and who was wrong"
1834 - "a general struggle was made by the leading characters of the different sects" [Cowdery]
1838 - "priest contending against priest"
1834 - "Large additions were made to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches" [Cowdery]
1838 - "multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties"
1835 - "the world in darkness lay" [Phelps]
1838 - "I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness"
1835 - "he sought the better way" [Phelps]
1838 - "I was one day reading the Epistle of James"
1832 - "being in doubt what his duty was" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I often said to myself, what is to be done?"
1832 - "he had recourse [to] prayer" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God"
1831 - "he had seen God . . . personally" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I saw two personages . . . One of them spake unto me calling me by name and said (pointing to the other) 'This is my beloved Son, Hear him'"

Here then are several early testimonies from friendly and non-LDS sources, confirming that Joseph Smith and/or the missionaries were talking about Joseph conversing with Jesus Christ, angels, Apostles (Peter, James and John?), and “Almighty God.” Evidently the early Saints were doing a lot more talking about these things than the critics want their readers to know about.


Response to claim: "this actually confirms the point I’m making in that the first vision was unknown to the Saints and the world before 1832"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

After scouring through everything, the best FairMormon can do is this? This actually confirms the point I’m making in that the First Vision was unknown to the Saints and the world before 1832. In fact, most of the Saints were unaware of a First Vision until it was published in 1842.

FairMormon Response



Mistakes/Errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Elements consistent with the First Vision story appear in publications as early as 1827, and Church publications as early as 1830.
Logical Fallacy: Special Pleading
The author creates a one-sided argument by including favorable data and excluding unfavorable data through improper means. In this case, the author "moved the goalpost" by changing his argument when his original claim was shown to be false.

When it was demonstrated that Church writings did contain elements related to the First Vision prior to 1832, the author changed his claim:
  • In the original CES Letter, the author "made the point" that there was "absolutely no record of the First Vision prior to 1832". (This assertion is false)
  • In "Debunking FairMormon," the author changes his argument to "making the point" that "the first vision was unknown to the Saints and the world before 1832" to accommodate the fact that there were relevant writings prior to 1832.

Christensen: "Runnells shifts the argument regarding the First Vision from 'absolutely no record of' to...'the first vision was unknown to the Saints and the world before 1832'"

Kevin Christensen: [71]

On page 22 of his Letter, Runnells claims that “there is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.”[72] The FairMormon website response points out an article in the Palmyra Reflector from 1831 that indicates discussion of Joseph’s vision as early as November 1830. They also point to the allusion in D&C 20, which dates to April 1830. Notice that in his response to FairMormon, Runnells shifts the argument regarding the First Vision from “absolutely no record” to “this actually confirms the point I’m making in that the first vision was unknown to the Saints and the world before 1832. In fact, most of the Saints were unaware of a first vision until it was published in 1842.” But of course, that was not the point he was making. “Absolutely no record” is the point he was making. His response swaps in a very different claim, one much easier to defend....

In his original Letter, Runnells says, “Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1834.”[73] He uncritically repeats [Grant] Palmer’s claims about an 1834 date and leaves this crucially important information from 1832 off the table. When FairMormon points out the 1832 account, he labors to devalue the significance of this passage, and of other earlier sources that FairMormon mentions: “FAIR’s above answer actually confirms my point that the general Church membership was unfamiliar with the now official story of the Priesthood restoration until 1834. The best FAIR can do after scouring through everything for their rebuttal is this?”[74]

Notice again the shift from an original argument against the priesthood restoration based on “no such claim until 1834” to a much softer complaint about the general membership being “unfamiliar with the now official story.”


Question: How early was the story of the First Vision known among the members of the Church?

Claims made by critics regarding early knowledge of the First Vision

  • It is claimed that "there is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832." [75]
  • It is claimed that there is "no reference to the 1838 canonical First Vision story in any published material from the 1830s."
  • It is claimed that "Not a single piece of published literature (Mormon, non-Mormon, or anti-Mormon) from the 1830s mentions Smith having a vision of the Father and Son."
  • If Joseph Smith's First Vision actually occurred, then why wouldn't it have been mentioned in the local newspapers at the time? Since no such record exists, is this evidence that the vision must not have actually occurred?

There is evidence that Church members were aware of elements of the First Vision story as early as 1827

Several LDS commentators - including one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles - agree that D&C 20:5 (part of the Articles and Covenants of the Church) is the earliest published reference to the First Vision story. [76] The Articles and Covenants of the Church were presented to the Church membership and then published in the following order.

  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church are first verbally presented by Joseph Smith for approval at a Church conference held in Fayette, New York on 9 June 1830 (see Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 1). The following sequence is found in the Articles and Covenants: (1) forgiveness of sin, (2) entanglement in vanities of the world, (3) visit of an angel with regard to the Book of Mormon plates. This is the exact same sequence presented in the Prophet's unpublished 1832 history and the forgiveness of sins comes during the First Vision event in that document.
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were read out loud by Oliver Cowdery during a Church conference on 26 September 1830 (see Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 3).
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in a non-LDS newspaper in Painesville, Ohio (Telegraph, 19 April 1831).
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in an LDS newspaper in Independence, Missouri (Evening and Morning Star, vol. 1, no. 1, June 1832).
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in an LDS newspaper in Independence, Missouri (Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2, no. 13, June 1833).
  • The Book of Commandments—which contained the Articles and Covenants—was published in July 1833 in Independence, Missouri (chapter 24, verses 6-7, page 48).
  • January 1835 Kirtland, Ohio reprint of an Evening and Morning Star article containing the “Articles and Covenants” (reprint of Evening and Morning Star, vol. 1, no. 1, June 1832, 2; reprinted by Frederick G. Williams).
  • The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants - which contained the Articles and Covenants - was published in September 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio (part 2, section 2, verse 2, pages 77-78).
  • June 1836 Kirtland, Ohio reprint of an Evening and Morning Star article containing the “Articles and Covenants” of the Church (reprint of Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2, no. 1, June 1833, 1; reprinted by Oliver Cowdery).


Response to claim: "In the 1832 account, Joseph said that before praying he knew that there was no true or living faith or denomination upon the earth"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

In the 1832 account, Joseph said that before praying he knew that there was no true or living faith or denomination upon the earth as built by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. His primary purpose in going to prayer was to seek forgiveness of his sins. . . .In the official 1838 account, Joseph said his “object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join”…”(for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)”. This is in direct contradiction to his 1832 First Vision account.

Provenance of this claim:
Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 252. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response



Mistakes/Errors
The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

How would Joseph have determined that there was no true "denomination upon the earth" by examining the few churches that he had access to in Palmyra? He may have determined that none of the ones that he was familiar with were true, but how would he know that there wasn't one on the entire earth unless he asked God during his vision?
Logical Fallacy: Composition/Division
The author assumed that one part of something had to be applied to everything.

Joseph stated that at age 14 that he had determined that there was no true church upon the earth prior to the First Vision. Joseph had access to, at best, four or five churches within the Palmyra area, and therefore based his assumption upon what he knew. During his vision, he asked Jesus Christ if there was a true church upon the earth. This is entirely logical.

Question: Did Joseph Smith decide that all churches were wrong before he received the First Vision?

Criticisms of Joseph's 1832 account compared to his 1835 account of the First Vision

In his 1832 history, Joseph Smith said:

I found [by searching the scriptures] 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 built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.

But in 1835 he said, “I knew not who [of the denominations] was right or who was wrong.”

  • It this a contradiction and is this evidence that the First Vision story evolved over time?
  • One critic of the Church states, "In the 1832 account, Joseph said that before praying he knew that there was no true or living faith or denomination upon the earth as built by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. His primary purpose in going to prayer was to seek forgiveness of his sins. . . .In the official 1838 account, Joseph said his “object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join”…”(for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)”"

If you had come to the conclusion that mankind has apostatized from the true faith, and you suddenly found Jesus standing in front of you, wouldn't you ask Him if any of those churches was the correct one?

If you had come to the conclusion that mankind has apostatized from the true faith, and you suddenly found Jesus standing in front of you, wouldn't you ask Him if any of those churches was the correct one? Or would you simply tell Him, "never mind, I already figured it out for myself?"

Besides, where is the inconsistency? How many churches did Joseph have immediate knowledge of? Three or four? Joseph determined that the churches with which he had direct experience did not adhere to the scriptures and that therefore mankind "had apostatized from the true and living faith." During his vision, he then asked the Lord which church was right, because it had not occurred to him that the Lord's church didn't exist anywhere on the face of the earth. It had never entered into his heart that all churches were wrong.

Joseph's motivation in his 1832 account, in addition to seeking forgiveness of his sins, was also to determine whether God's church was upon the earth

Josephs.1832.account.which.church.is right.jpg

There is no contradiction in the two texts presented in the above argument, only a short-sighted understanding of some isolated sources. The answer to this apparent contradiction lies in a detailed examination of relevant texts.


Question: How could Joseph Smith come to the conclusion that all churches were wrong on his own?

Joseph was in doubt as to what his duty was regarding joining a church

The answer to this apparent contradiction lies in a detailed examination of relevant texts. It is important to first compare Joseph Smith’s November 1832 text (which is in his own handwriting) with a newspaper article printed earlier that same year which refers to the Prophet’s inaugural religious experiences.

1832 (February): “not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse [to] prayer” (Fredonia Censor).
1832 (November): “my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations . . . . 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 built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament” (handwritten account by Joseph Smith).[77]

Joseph Smith concluded that none of the denominations with which he had acquaintance was built upon the New Testament gospel

When both of these texts are taken into consideration the following storyline suggests itself: Joseph Smith had come to the conclusion, through personal scripture study, that none of the denominations WITH WHICH HE HAD AN INTIMATE ACQUAINTANCE was built upon the New Testament gospel. He prayed for guidance because he was “in doubt what his duty was.” This doubt is obliquely referred to again in Oliver Cowdery’s February 1835 Messenger and Advocate partial First Vision recital where he said that because of the religious excitement the Prophet had “determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion.”[78]

Doubt is present again in the Prophet’s November 1835 diary entry: “I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involve eternal consequences.”[79] So the conclusion this fourteen-year-old boy had reached through personal scripture study did not altogether solve his dilemma. In fact, in the May 1838 account he clarifies that because of his youth and inexperience in life he could not make an absolute decision with regard to this matter: “it was impossible for a person young as I was and so unacquainted with men and things to come to any certain conclusion who was right, and who was wrong”; “I often said to myself, what is to be done? Who of all these parties are right? Or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right which is it, and how shall I know it?”; “if any person needed wisdom from God I did, for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had [I] would never know.”

Joseph wanted to know which of the many hundreds of denominations on earth was the correct one

Orson Pratt’s 1840 First Vision account helps to explain why the ‘Joseph-decided-every-existing-church-was-wrong’ theory cannot possibly be valid. Elder Pratt reports, “He then reflected upon the immense number of doctrines now in the world which had given rise to many hundreds of different denominations. The great question to be decided in his mind was—if any one of these denominations be the Church of Christ, which one is it?” This expansive view is reflected in the Prophet’s 1838 account. There he states, “My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right that I might know which to join. No sooner therefore did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I should join.”


Response to claim: "Joseph Fielding Smith, upon discovering the 1832 account, ripped out the pages out of the letter book"

The author(s) of "Debunking FAIR’s Debunking" (also known as "Debunking FairMormon" - from the author of the Letter to a CES Director) (20 July 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Fielding Smith, upon discovering the 1832 account, ripped out the pages out of the letter book. He then took the ripped documents and hid them in his personal safe where they were hidden out of circulation for three decades until the mid-1960s. Upon learning that Church enemies, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, were aware of these documents, Joseph Fielding Smith removed the documents out of his personal safe and had them taped back into Joseph’s letter book that he removed decades earlier.

FairMormon Response



Propaganda/Spin
The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

It is not known who removed the pages from the book or why. If, indeed, Joseph Fielding Smith had hidden these documents in his "personal safe," why would he replace them in the original letterbook upon learning that the Tanners were aware of them? If he wanted to keep them hidden from the Tanners, then he would have simply kept them in his safe.

Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith remove the 1832 account of Joseph Smith's First Vision from its original letterbook and hide it in his safe?

It is not known who removed the pages from the book or why, nor is it known when or why they were restored to the book

From History, circa Summer 1832 on the Joseph Smith Papers site (click the Source Notes tab):

Photocopy and microfilm images of the book, as well as an inspection of the conservation work now present in the volume, indicate that the text block separated from the binding at some point. Also, the initial three leaves containing the history were excised from the volume. The eight inscribed leaves in the back of the volume may have been cut out at the same time. Manuscript evidence suggests that these excisions took place in the mid-twentieth century. A tear on the third leaf, which evidently occurred during its excision, was probably mended at the time. This tear was mended with clear cellophane tape, which was invented in 1930. The three leaves of the history certainly had been removed by 1965, when they were described as “cut out,” although they were archived together with the letterbook. The size and paper stock of the three excised leaves match those of the other leaves in the book. Also, the cut and tear marks, as well as the inscriptions in the gutters of the three excised leaves, match those of the remaining leaf stubs, confirming their original location in the book. The three leaves were later restored to the volume, apparently in the 1990s. This restoration was probably part of a larger conservation effort that took place, in which the entire volume was rebound, including binding the formerly loose index of letters. The first gathering, which contains the history, was slightly trimmed in connection with this conservation work. The volume shows marked browning, brittleness, and wear. It is listed in Nauvoo, Illinois, and early Salt Lake City, Utah, inventories made by the Church Historian’s Office, as well as in the 1973 register of the JS Collection, indicating continuous institutional custody. [80]

Here is the reference to the document by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, as published in their book Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?:

"Strange" Accounts

For years the Mormon leaders publicly maintained that Joseph Smith told only one story concerning the First Vision. Preston Nibley declared: "Joseph Smith lived a little more than twenty-four years after this first vision. During this time he told but one story--..." (Joseph Smith the Prophet, 1944, page 30)

At the very time that Preston Nibley made this statement the Mormon leaders were suppressing at least two accounts of the First Vision which were written prior to the account which Joseph Smith published in the Times and Seasons. Levi Edgar Young, who was the head of the Seven Presidents of Seventies in the Mormon Church, told LaMar Petersen that he had examined a "strange" account of the First Vision and was told not to reveal what it contained. The following is from notes by LaMar Petersen of an interview with Levi Edgar Young which was held on Feb.3, 1953:

"A list of 5 questions was presented. Bro. Young indicated some surprise at the nature of the questions but said he heartily approved of them being asked. Said they were important, fundamental, were being asked more by members of the Church, and should be asked. Said the Church should have a committee available where answers to such questions could be obtained. He has quit going down with his own questions to Brother Joseph Fielding (Smith) because he was laughed at and put off.

"His curiosity was excited when reading in Roberts' Doc. History reference to 'documents from which these writings were compiled.' Asked to see them. Told to get higher permission. Obtained that permission. Examined the documents. Written, he thought, about 1837 or 1838. Was told not to copy or tell what they contained. Said it was a 'strange' account of the First Vision. Was put back in vault. Remains unused, unknown." [81]

Notes

  1. Elder Richard J. Maynes, "Worldwide Young Adult Devotional," (1 May 2016).
  2. Gordon B. Hinckley, “God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign, Oct 1984, 2.
  3. "First Vision Accounts," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  4. "LESSON 6: Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013) 20.
  5. Milton V. Backman, "Joseph Smith's Recitals of the First Vision," Ensign (January 1985).
  6. James B. Allen, "Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision - What Do We Learn from Them?," Improvement Era (April 1970) 4-13.
  7. Dennis B. Neuenschwander, "Joseph Smith: An Apostle of Jesus Christ," Ensign (January 2009) 16-22.
  8. Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 171.
  9. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 29–36. ( Index of claims ); Isaiah Bennett, Inside Mormonism: What Mormons Really Believe (Catholic Answers: 1999); Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 24–25. ( Index of claims ); John Dehlin, "Why People Leave the LDS Church," (2008).; Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) Chapter 8. ( Index of claims ); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Case Against Mormonism, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City, 1967), 1:120–128.; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), Chapter 6.( Index of claims ); Search for the Truth DVD (2007) Resources; Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers
  10. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  11. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director".
  12. "I am the owner and main contributor to mormoninfographics.com I wanted to thank you or whoever for pointing out the error I had in the 1835 Jewish Minister account. I had mistakenly labeled his age as 17. This has since been corrected. I apologize for the error and welcome any and all input on this or any other infographic. Thank you." (Posted by bjpascoal, on 20 June 2013 - 08:35 PM on Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board) off-site The author of "A Letter to a CES Director" subsequently corrected the graphic in the copy of the letter hosted on his site.
  13. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (2013)
  14. Image from "MormonInfographics.com".
  15. Günther Juncker, “Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title,” Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994):221–250.
  16. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 191. See also D&C 129.
  17. "Journal, 1835–1836," The Joseph Smith Papers.
  18. "Journal, 1835–1836," The Joseph Smith Papers.
  19. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 9–20. off-site [PRECISE page numbering is needed; the words "emphasis added" need to be inserted after a ";" and space after the numbering designation.]
  20. 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).
  21. "History, circa Summer 1832," The Joseph Smith Papers.
  22. Joseph Smith's journal entry of 9 November 1835 (Monday)
  23. "Appendix: Orson Pratt, A[n Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840,"] The Joseph Smith Papers.
  24. Joseph Smith, Wentworth letter. (Times and Seasons, 3.9 (1 Mar. 1842), p. 706-710
  25. "Appendix: Orson Pratt, A[n Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840,"] The Joseph Smith Papers.
  26. See post by "bjpascoal," posted on June 21, 2013 on Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board. off-site
  27. Joseph Smith's journal entry of 9 November 1835 (Monday)
  28. Joseph's journal entry of 14 November 1835 (Saturday)
  29. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 74–77.
  30. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 84.
  31. The Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832.
  32. Joseph Smith, 1832 vision account; found in Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 1–2.; from MS Joseph Smith, "A History of the Life of Joseph Smith," in Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp. 1-6, Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City. direct off-site
  33. (December 1834) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:42-43.
  34. Joseph Smith, Journal entry, 9 November 1835; found in Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 22. from MS Joseph Smith Journal, 1835-36, 193 pp., Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City. direct off-site
  35. JS-H 1:5-6
  36. E. Latimer, The Three Brothers: Sketches of the Lives of Rev. Aurora Seager, Rev. Micah Seager, Rev. Schuyler Seager, D.D. (New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1880), 21–22, citing the Aurora Seager diary. This revival was never mentioned in the Palmyra newspapers.
  37. George Peck, The Life and Times of Rev. George Peck (New York: Nelson and Philips, 1874), chapter 2.
  38. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition, 1987), 53. ISBN 0252060121.
  39. Bushman, Beginnings of Mormonism, 53.
  40. MormonThink.com page "The First Vision"
  41. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition, 1987), 53n32. ISBN 0252060121.
  42. "W[illia]m. B. Smith's last Statement," [John W. Peterson to Editor], Zion's Ensign (Independence, Missouri) 5/3 (13 January 1894): 6. Reprinted in "Statement of William Smith, Concerning Joseph, the Prophet," Deseret Evening News 27 (20 January 1894): 11; and "The Testimony of William Smith," Millennial Star 61 (26 February 1894): 132-34; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:513.
  43. See Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 69. Also see Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:487n13.
  44. Zion’s Ensign, vol. 5, no. 3, 13 January 1894.
  45. "William B. Smith. Experience and Testimony," in "Sketches of Conference Sermons," reported by Charles Derry, Saints' Herald 30 (16 June 1883): 388; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:490–492.
  46. Milton V. Backman and James B. Allen, "Membership of Certain of Joseph Smith's Family in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra," Brigham Young University Studies 10 no. 4 (1970), 482-484.
  47. David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. (Key source)
  48. "Testimony of Martin Harris Written by my hand from teh Moth of Martin Harris," dictated to Edward Stevenson 4 September 1870, Edward Stevenson Collection, Miscellaneous Papers, LDS Church Archives; cited by Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:331.
  49. Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, and Scott H. Faulring (editors), Joseph Smith's New Translation Of The Bible: Original Manuscripts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2004), 82.
  50. Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, edited by Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 161. AISN B000FH6N04.
  51. The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) (14 February 1832): 102.
  52. F. Mark McKiernan, An Early Latter-day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer (Independence, MO.: Herald Publishing House 1980), 67, punctuation corrected; cited in Robert L. Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 3 (Summer 1989), 49–68.
  53. As cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," footnote 12.
  54. The current D&C 76 vision was first published in Evening and Morning Star, Independence, Missouri, July 1832.
  55. 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883 (Palm Desert, California: ULC Press, 1981), 39; cited in Paulsen, 34.
  56. "An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock Taken From His Journal by Himself," (typescript) Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 13; cited in Paulsen, 35.
  57. Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836). Reprinted from Ohio Observer, circa August 1836. off-site See Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe’s 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (Spring 1977), 347-55. See also Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:47.
  58. Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Joseph Smith's First Vision: Cornerstone of a Latter-day Faith," in To Be Learned is Good, If ..., ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987).; cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," 59.
  59. Because of the significant number of Book of Mormon passages that speak of Jesus as God, the original readings in 1 Nephi are perfectly acceptable in their original form. Royal Skousen, editor of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, has recommended that they be restored to their original readings (Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon 4/1: 233).
  60. Oliver Cowdery, "Trouble in the West," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 1 (April 1835), 105. direct off-site
  61. "History, circa Summer 1832 - Historical Introduction," The Joseph Smith Papers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  62. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 41.
  63. Joseph Capron affidavit, 8 November 1833; in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258-259. (Affidavits examined)
  64. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "intercourse." defines the term as simply "[1] Communication....[2] Silent communication or exchange."
  65. Regarding the reference in the Palmyra Reflector, Richard Abanes, in his anti-Mormon work Becoming Gods, boldly declares in the main body of his text on page 34 that "[n]ot a single piece of published literature" mentions the First Vision, yet in an endnote at the back of the book on page 338 acknowledges this newspaper account. He attempts to dismiss this by claiming that the reference is "vague," yet acknowledges that "as early as 1831 Smith might have been starting to privately tell select persons that he had at some point seen God."
  66. Rev. B. Pixley, Christian Watchman, Independence Mo., October 12, 1832; in Among the Mormons. Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers, Edited by William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958): 74. This article by Pixley was reprinted in Independent Messenger (Boston, Mass.) of November 29, 1832; also in Missouri Intelligencer (Columbia, Mo.), and the American Eagle (Westfield, New York). Cited also in Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, The Man and The Seer (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1960), 68, note 46. It is not clear what Rev. Pixley was referring to by the comment about the third heaven, though it may refer to the Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory [DC 76:], which had been received February 1832, and published in July in the Evening and Morning Star, in Kirtland, Ohio. Verse 20 indicates that “we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father….”
  67. Richmond Taggart to the Reverend Jonathan Goings, 2 March 1833, 2, Jonathon Goings Papers, American Baptist Historical Society, Rochester, New York, quoted in Hurlbut. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:205. See also Gregory A. Prince, Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 8.
  68. Missouri Intelligencer (August 10, 1833); quoted in John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 337. GL direct link
  69. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:22, 24. Original in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 251&ndash 252, and 258–260, respectively. (Affidavits examined)
  70. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:107. Original in Arthur B. Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism newspaper (January 1888), 3.
  71. Kevin Christensen, "Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest: Observations on the Inevitable Consequences of the Different Investigative Approaches of Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 10:175-238 (2014).
  72. Jeremy Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 22.
  73. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 49.
  74. Runnells, “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking”.
  75. Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director. www.cesletter.com
  76. See Hyrum M. Smith, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary (Liverpool: George F. Richards, 1919), 139; Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Volume 1: The Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 110–11; Grant Underwood, “First Vision,” in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:410; Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 1:130.
  77. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 2.
  78. Oliver Cowdery, "LETTER IV," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 5 (Feb. 1835), 78.
  79. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 22.
  80. History, circa Summer 1832, The Joseph Smith Papers.
  81. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, "Chapter 8: The First Vision," Mormonism--Shadow or Reality?

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