Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/William Smith said First Vision was an "angel"
William Smith (the Prophet's own brother) said that the First Vision was of an "angel" in 1823. This shows that even Joseph Smith's family members were confused about the details of his claimed spiritual manifestations. This is evidence that the First Vision story evolved over time.
When William Smith relied upon his own memory he got many aspects of the First Vision story correct. When he relied upon a faulty historical narrative he was dead wrong about the details. Critics should take William's advice and quit pointing to his statements as if they had some kind of important significance and turn instead to the Prophet's own published account because it is "more . . . accurate".
William Smith does indeed say in his 1883 autobiography that during a period of religious revival (which he dates at 1822-1823) Joseph Smith prayed to the Lord to know "the path of obedience" and was in turn visited by an angel who told him that "none of the sects were right." But anti-Mormons conveniently neglect to tell their audience members that directly after making this anomalous statement William adds that,
"A more elaborate and accurate description of [Joseph Smith's] vision, however, will be found in his own history"
(William B. Smith, William Smith on Mormonism [Lamoni, IA: Herald Steam Book and Job Office, 1883], 9).
This notation kicks the legs right out from underneath the stool that the critics are perched upon. William Smith identifies the Prophet's published history (the primary source of information) as being "more...accurate" than his own. This accurate version of events was canonized by the Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City three years before William Smith published his erroneous remarks.
Why was William Smith's recital of historical events so far off the mark? The answer is simple. He was drawing information, at length, from an inaccurate secondary source. A comparison of texts reveals that William was just rephrasing the information found in Oliver Cowdery's deficient Church history articles which were printed in the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate in 1834-35. This is where William got the "1823" date from and the idea that an "angel" appeared during the Prophet's initial visitation.
It should be noted that during the very same year that William published his autobiography (1883) he gave a speech wherein he discussed certain elements of Church history. This time he was not reworking published information for inclusion in another printed text - he was simply telling other people about incidents that he remembered. This time his recital was much closer to his brother's own account. William said on this occasion,
- About 4 years after Joseph Smith Sr. went to Palmyra, New York (i.e., in 1820) Joseph Jr. became concerned about religion.
- Joseph Jr. did not know which way to go; he desired guidance in this area.
- Joseph Jr. wanted to be prepared for the next life; he wanted to know the "plan".
- Joseph Jr. said that there was "a lack of wisdom".
- At that time Mother Smith some of her children belonged to the Presbyterian church.
- Joseph Jr. went into the "woods" to pray to the Lord for guidance.
- A bright light appeared like the brightness of the sun.
- Joseph Jr. received a "vision".
- In the light Joseph Jr. saw "a personage".
- "that [B]eing pointed him [i.e., Joseph] out as the messenger to go forth and declare [H]is truth to the world; for ‘They had all gone astray;’ ‘Every man was going his own way'".
(The Saints’ Herald, vol. 30, no. ----, 16 June 1883, 388).
- [note] William Smith, On Mormonism, 1883, Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:494–495.
- [note] In the Messenger and Advocate, Oliver began describing the “excitement raised on the subject of religion” that occurred in Joseph Smith’s “15th year of his life.” (Oliver Cowdery, "LETTER III," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 3 (Dec. 1834), 42.) In a subsequent issue however, Oliver declares his previous statement as having been “an error in the type—it should have been in the 17th,” and then proceeds to relate the story of Moroni’s visit in 1823. (Oliver Cowdery, "LETTER IV," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 5 (Feb. 1835), 78.) It is apparent that Oliver was originally planning to describe the events of the First Vision, but then switched to a description of the visit of the angel Moroni instead.
FAIR wiki articles
Wikipedia treatment of Joseph Smith's First Vision
- A FAIR Analysis of Wikipedia article "First Vision"—
FAIR analyzes the Wikipedia treatment of the First Vision. (Link)
Did the Church hide accounts of the First Vision?
The claim is sometimes made by critics that the LDS Church hides the various accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision that are not in its official canon. The following chronological database (compiled by FAIR volunteer Edward Jones) demonstrates conclusively that this is simply not the case. The various accounts of the First Vision have been widely acknowledged in LDS-authored sources throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
- LDS-Authored Publications (1910-1968)—
Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1910-1968) (Link)
- LDS-Authored Publications (1969-1978)—
Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1969-1978) (Link)
- LDS-Authored Publications (1979-1983)—
Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1979-1983) (Link)
- LDS-Authored Publications (1984-1989)—
Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1984-1989) (Link)
- LDS-Authored Publications (1990-1997)—
Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1990-1997) (Link)
- LDS-Authored Publications (1998-2003)—
Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1998-2003) (Link)
Events leading up to the First Vision
- Early Smith family history (Link)
- Methodist camp meetings in the Palmyra area—
Critics claim that any association Joseph had with Methodism did not occur until the 1824-25 revival in Palmyra, and that his claim that the "unusual excitement" started with the Methodists in 1820 is therefore incorrect. (Link)
- Joseph became "partial to the Methodist sect" in 1820—
Critics claim that Joseph didn't become "partial to the Methodist sect" until at least 1823, after Alvin's death, or as late as 1838, rather than in 1820 as he claimed in his 1838 First Vision account. (Link)
- Were there revivals in 1820?—
Critics 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" (Link)
- Smith family place of residence in 1820—
Critics claim that there are discrepancies in Joseph's account of his family's early history, which make his 1820 and subsequent revelations impossible, and that there is no evidence that the Smith family was in the Palmyra area in 1820 for the religious excitement and First Vision which Joseph reported. (Link)
- Joseph's accounts of the First Vision—
Joseph Smith gave several accounts of the First Vision. Critics charge that differences in the accounts show that he changed and embellished his story over time, and that he therefore had no such vision. (Link)
- Discrepancies in Paul's account of his vision—
Paul the apostle gave more than one account of his vision of the resurrected Lord while on the road to Damascus. Like Joseph Smith's account of the First Vision, Paul's accounts differ in some details but agree in the overall message. (Link)
- Do Greek scholars solve the discrepancies in Paul's vision accounts?—
The Church's sectarian critics accept Paul's account as true despite the Bible containing apparently frank contradictions in its accounts, while refusing to give Joseph Smith the same latitude. Members of the Church have long pointed out that this is a clear double standard, designed to bias the audience against Joseph from the beginning. Perhaps because of the force of this argument, some critics have begun to argue that no contradiction exists between the versions of Paul's vision. (Link)
- D&C:84 says God cannot be seen without priesthood—
Critics argue that Joseph Smith claimed that he saw God in 1820 and also claimed that he received the priesthood in 1829. But in a text which he produced in 1832 (DC 84:21-22) it is said that a person cannot see God without holding the priesthood. Therefore, critics claim that Joseph Smith contradicted himself and this counts as evidence against his calling as an authentic prophet of God. (Link)
- Was Joseph Smith told that "all the churches of the day were an abomination?"—
Some critics claim that Joseph Smith stated that during the First Vision that he was told that "all the churches of the day were an abomination." (Link)
Events occurring after the First Vision
- Joseph Smith's early conception of God—
Some critics claim that Joseph began his prophetic career with a "trinitarian" idea of God, and only later developed his theology of the Godhead. What do we know about Joseph and the early Saints' views on God? (Link)
- No reference to First Vision in 1830s publications—
Critics claim that there is no reference to the 1838 canonical First Vision story in any published material from the 1830s, and that nothing published in this period mentions that Joseph saw the Father and Son. They also assume that it would have been mentioned in the local newspapers at the time. (Link)
- Seldom mentioned in LDS publications before 1877 (short version)—
Critics charge, “Before the death of Brigham Young in 1877 the first vision was seldom mentioned in Mormon publications.” This evidence implies that the general membership of the LDS Church was not familiar with the First Vision story until late in the nineteenth century. (Link)
- No mention in non-LDS literature before 1843?—
There is no mention of the First Vision in non-Mormon literature before 1843. If the First Vision story had been known by the public before 1840 (when Orson Pratt published his pamphlet) the anti-Mormons “surely” would have seized upon it as an evidence of Joseph Smith’s imposture. (Link)
- Missionaries 1830 statement about Joseph seeing "God"—
Critics have claimed that just because LDS missionaries were teaching around 1 November 1830 that Joseph Smith had previously seen “God” personally it cannot be assumed that this was a reference to God the Father since the Book of Mormon (completed ca. 11 June 1829) refers to Jesus Christ as “the eternal God” (title page; 2 Nephi 26:12). The argument is made that since this evidence indicates that Joseph Smith understood Jesus Christ to be “God” the statement by the missionaries may have simply meant that Joseph Smith had seen the Savior; not necessarily the Father. (Link)
- No published reference to Father and Son vision until 1838?—
Critics claim that there is no mention of Joseph Smith seeing the Father and Son in any “contemporary” newspaper, diary, LDS publication, or writing of any kind until the year 1838. (Link)
- Joseph Smith did not know if God existed in 1823?—
Critics claim that according to a historical document published in Kirtland, Ohio in 1835 the Prophet Joseph Smith did not know if God existed in the year 1823. This text, therefore, provides evidence that Joseph Smith simply made up the story about the First Vision happening in the year 1820. (Link)
- Lucy Mack Smith and the Presbyterians—
Critics claim that since there was a religious revival in Palmyra, New York in 1824-25 which appears to match details of Joseph Smith's official Church history, he must have mistakenly mixed this event in with his narrative about what happened in 1820, and that the Prophet's mother joined the Presbyterian church after Alvin Smith died in late 1823. This contradicts Joseph's statement that she joined in 1820, thereby dating Joseph's First Vision to no earlier than 1823. (Link)
- Did Joseph join other churches contrary to commandment in vision?—
Critics charge that Joseph Smith joined the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches between 1820 and 1830—despite the claim made in his 1838 history that he was forbidden by Deity (during the 1820 First Vision experience) from joining any denomination. (Link)
- Contradiction about knowing all churches were wrong—
In his 1832 account of the First Vision, 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 the 1835 account he said, “I knew not who [of the denominations] was right or who was wrong.” Critics claim that thus counts as evidence that the First Vision story evolved over time. (Link)
- First Vision fabricated to give "Godly authority?"—
Critics claim that Joseph Smith decided after he released the Book of Mormon to the public that he needed 'authority from God' to justify his claims as a religious minister. Therefore, it is claimed that he fabricated the First Vision story in order to provide himself with a more prestigious line of authority than that of the "angel" who revealed the golden plates. (Link)
- First Vision story became more detailed and colorful after 1832?—
Some claim that Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision grew more detailed and more colorful after he first recorded it in 1832. (Link)
- 1838 account modified to offset leadership crisis?—
Critics claim that in 1838 Joseph Smith revised his personal history to say that his original call came from God the Father and Jesus Christ rather than an angel. His motive for doing this was to give himself a stronger leadership role because an authority crisis had recently taken place and large-scale apostasy was the result. (Link)
- Persecution after the vision?—
Some claim that there is no evidence that Joseph or his family were persecuted because of the First Vision. They argue that this means that Joseph invented the story later. (Link)
Additional First Vision issues
- D&C 121:28 contradicts vision?—
In 1839 Joseph Smith received a revelation from God in which it was stated that the time would come "in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods they shall be manifest" (D&C 121:28). This was an "unnecessary revelation," since according to the official LDS Church First Vision account Joseph Smith supposedly knew that there was more than one God since 1820. This information counts as evidence that the Prophet's story was fraudulent. (Link)
- Father: Spirit vs. Embodied—
When the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1835 it portrayed God the Father as a personage of spirit whereas Jesus Christ was portrayed as a personage of tabernacle, or one having a physical body. Yet the official LDS First Vision story portrays the Father as a physical Being. (Link)
- Personages seen by Joseph—
A list of known personages who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith or who were seen by him in vision. (Link)
- Brigham Young and the First Vision—
Critics claim either that Brigham never taught about the First Vision, or that he taught that the Lord did not appear to Joseph. Both claims are false. (Link)
- Moroni's visit (summary) (Link)
- Joseph Smith's early conception of God (Link)
- Personages who appeared to Joseph Smith (Link)
- Swedenborg and three degrees of glory (Link)
Characteristics of God
Does the Book of Mormon refute Joseph Smith on the nature of God? Critics point out that the Book of Mormon never says God was once a mortal. In fact, it teaches that God was always God. Take for instance Moroni 8:18. It says God is "unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity." Joseph Smith, however, taught, "We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and take away the veil so that you may see." (Link)
- Was God once a sinner?—
If God was once like us, do Mormons believe that God was once a sinner? (Link)
Critics attack the LDS doctrine of God the Father and Jesus Christ being corporeal beings—i.e., having physical bodies. They claim that this doctrine is not Biblical. (Link)
- Elohim and Jehovah—
Some critics assert that Elohim, Jehovah, Adonai and other similar Old Testament Hebrew names for deity are simply different titles which emphasize different attributes of the "one true God." In support of this criticism, they cite Old Testament scriptures that speak of "the LORD [Jehovah] thy God [Elohim]" (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:2; 4:35; 6:4) as proof that these are different titles for the same God. (Link)
Most Latter-day Saints hold to unlimited foreknowledge. This has been the traditional view of most Christians since the post-New Testament period, and it is one doctrine that Joseph Smith didn't seem to question, as there are no revelations that address it. Indeed, it appears that most LDS leaders and scholars simply haven't questioned its veracity. (Link)
- "God is a man"—
Critics object to the LDS position that God has a physical body and human form by quoting scripture which says that "God is not a man" (e.g. Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Hosea 11:9). (Link)
- God is a Spirit?—
Critics object to the LDS position that God has a physical body by quoting John 4:24: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." (Link)
- Lecture of Faith 5 teaches the Father is "a personage of spirit"—Lectures on Faith, which used to be part of the Doctrine and Covenants, teach that God is a spirit. Joseph Smith's later teachings contradict this. More generally, critics argue that Joseph Smith taught an essentially "trinitarian" view of the Godhead until the mid 1830s, thus proving the Joseph was "making it up" as he went along. (Link)
- Hinckley downplaying the King Follett Discourse—
Critics claim that, in an effort to appear more "mainline" Christian, the Church is downplaying the importance of some doctrines taught late in Joseph Smith's lifetime. Prominent among these is the doctrine of human deification. To bolster their argument, critics usually quote from a 1997 Time magazine interview with President Gordon B. Hinckley: "I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it ... I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don't know a lot about it, and I don't think others know a lot about it." Critics have claimed that this means that President Hinckley has admitted to altering LDS doctrine, or discarding a teaching from the past. (Link)
- "Celestial sex"—
Critics claim that Latter-day Saints believe in a practice called "Celestial sex," and that this is the manner in which "spirit children" are formed. (Link)
Early teachings about God in the Book of Mormon, from Joseph Smith, and among Church members
- Joseph Smith's early conception of God—
Critics claim that Joseph Smith initially taught standard Nicene trinitarianism. The early documents tell a different story, however. (Link)
- Modalism in the Book of Mormon?—
Critics claim that the Book of Mormon teaches the trinitarian heresy of modalism or Sabellianism. This reading misinterprets some Book of Mormon verses, and ignores Book of Mormon texts which clearly contradict this reading. (Link)
- Lecture on Faith 5 and the nature of God the Father—
Lectures on Faith, which used to be part of the Doctrine and Covenants, teach that God is a spirit. Joseph Smith's later teachings contradict this. More generally, critics argue that Joseph Smith taught an essentially "trinitarian" view of the Godhead until the mid 1830s, thus proving the Joseph was "making it up" as he went along. (Link)
- Early LDS beliefs about God—
Critics attempt to show that the LDS idea of deification is unbiblical, unchristian and untrue. They seem to think that this doctrine is the main reason why the LDS reject the Psychological Trinity. (Link)
Exaltation of Man
- Deification of man—
Critics claim that the doctrine of human deification is unbiblical, false, and arrogant. Related claims include: 1) Mormons believe they will 'supplant God', 2) Belief in theosis, or human deification, implies more than one "god," which means Mormons are "polytheists," 3) The Mormon concept of "human deification" is a pagan belief derived from Greek philosophy. (Link)
Understanding of God
A collection of articles that address the Latter-day Saint view of the concept of the Trinity. (Link)
This page discusses the problem of evil—can one believe in a good, just, loving God when one considers all the suffering and evil in the world? (Link)
- Holy Ghost—
Articles which discuss the third member of the trinity. (Link)
Brigham Young taught that Adam, the first man, was God the Father. Latter-day Saints have struggled to know the meaning of President Young's remarks, and a variety of approaches have been taken by faithful LDS to interpret his words. Regardless of which approach the reader prefers to accept, the Church's official position on Adam-God is clear: as popularly understood, Adam-God (i.e., "Adam, the first man, was identical with Elohim/God the Father") is not the doctrine of the Church. (Link)
Worship of God
- Graven images—
Critics claim that the Church violates the Biblical command against "graven images" because it displays sculptures of Christ, statues of the angel Moroni on the spires of our temples, or paintings showing scriptural scenes, within temples, chapels, visitors' centers, and publications. (See Exodus 20:3-4.) (Link)
- Heavenly Mother—
Do Latter-day Saints believe in a female divine person, a "Heavenly Mother" as counterpart to God, the Heavenly Father? Are we allowed to pray to our "Heavenly Mother?" Critics claim that LDS belief in a "queen of heaven" is a pagan belief, and that the concept of a "Heavenly Mother" has no support in LDS scripture. (Link)
Multiplicity of Gods
- Infinite regress of Gods—
Is it true that LDS doctrine teaches a "genealogy of gods," in which God the Father had/has a God, and this God had a God, and so forth? If so, how does LDS doctrine deal with the problem of an "infinite regress" of "great-great-grandfather Gods"? (Link)
Some non-LDS Christian claim that Latter-day Saints are polytheists because we don't believe the Nicene Creed. Others say Mormons are polytheists because they believe humans can become gods. Is this an accurate characterization of LDS belief? (Link)
- "No God beside me"—
Mainstream Christian critics claim that the Mormon doctrine of the Godhead and belief in theosis are not compatible with multiple statements in Isaiah that "beside [the Lord] there is no God." These passages include Isaiah 43:10-11; Isaiah 44:6,8; Isaiah 45:5-6; Isaiah 45:21-22; and Isaiah 46:9-10. (Link)
Interaction with God
- No man has seen God—
Critics claim that the Bible teaches that God cannot be seen by mortals, and so claims by Joseph Smith and others to have seen God the Father or Jesus Christ must be false. The most commonly used Biblical citation invoked by the critics is probably John 1:18, which reads “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (Link)
- Adam-God theory—
Brigham Young taught that Adam, the first man, was God the Father. Since this teaching runs counter to the story told in Genesis and commonly accepted by Christians, critics accuse Brigham of being a false prophet. Also, because modern Latter-day Saints do not believe Brigham's "Adam-God" teachings, critics accuse Mormons of either changing their teachings or rejecting teachings of prophets they find uncomfortable or unsupportable. (Link)