Joseph Smith's First Vision/Church Hides Accounts (1910-1968)


Church publications which discuss various First Vision accounts
Author: Various
LDS-authored publications (1910-1968)

LDS-authored publications which discuss various accounts of the First Vision (1910-1968)

1967 Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price (Deseret Book, 1967). Quotes first vision account from Wentworth letter (“a later account”), and from the canonized version interchangeably: 44-45. Quotes both versions again later in the book, again interchangeably (“another account”): 426-7.

1967 Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Joseph Smith, Popularizer… or Restorer?”, Improvement Era (March 1967): 58-61; to be continued Quotes from the version published in Times and Seasons April 1, 1842 [canonized in 1880]; also cites Orson Pratt’s pamphlet, ‘An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions’, from the 1841 U.S edition [first published in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1840; this is the first published version of the first vision]

1966 Bruce R. McConkie, “And I Saw Another Angel,” General Conference October 1966, Improvement Era (December 1966): 1139-40. Quotes first vision and Moroni material from Wentworth letter, but without telling his audience he is doing so. [One wonders if the audience noticed the difference]

1966 James B. Allen, “The Significance of Joseph Smith’s ‘First Vision’ in Mormon Thought,’ Dialogue 1 (1966): 29-45. “In connection with the story of the vision, then, it is important to ask certain questions: When was it first told? When was it first published? Did it have the significant place in early Mormon thought that it has today? If not, when did it begin to take on its present significance in the writings and teachings of the Church?” (30) He mentions 1843 New York Spectator; 1844 Daniel Rupp book; Wentworth Letter; official history, begun 1838, published 1842; he mentions the Neibaur diary [1844]; 1832 which had just come to light the previous year; November 9, 1835; Orson Pratt (1840); Orson Hyde (1842 German); as well as some late reminiscences, e.g., William Smith (1883); Edward Stevenson (1893); Lorenzo Snow (1901). “In conclusion, this essay perhaps demonstrates the need for new approaches to Mormon history by sympathetic Mormon historians….. In short, the writing of Mormon history has only begun.”

1966 Richard L. Anderson, “Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision through Reminiscences”, BYU Studies 9 (1966): 373-404. There are four official accounts of the First Vision from the Prophet…. their dates of composition are 1831-32, 1835, and 1838. This 1838 account was published as the "History of Joseph Smith" in 1842. Anderson also refers to Orson Pratt 1840; Lucy Mack Smith 1853. He also discusses Oliver Cowdery 1834, and William Smith, as well as several non-LDS writers of the day.

1965 Milton V. Backman, Jr., American Religions and the Rise of Mormonism (Salt Lake City, Utah Deseret Book Company1965) “ In the spring of 1820, a fourteen-year-old farm boy, Joseph Smith ….Therefore, adhering to the admonition of James, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God," Joseph sought an answer to his quest through vocal prayer. In the serenity of a beautiful grove, the boy knelt in prayer. "I was enrapt in a heavenly vision," Joseph stated, "and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness." One of the personages called him by name and said, "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" Then, Christ informed Joseph that "all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom." He was promised that if he remained worthy "the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto [him.]" (312, citing Joseph Smith, "Latter Day Saints," Rupp's Original History, 404-5;Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts, ed. (2nd ed. rev., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1959-60) I, 3-6). [This must have been one of the earliest citations for Rupp, who had requested an account of the rise and progress of the church; it was published in 1844, and reprinted several times over the next several years. It was also published in Millennial Star 22 (1860): 102-105]

1965 Paul R. Cheesman, An analysis of the Accounts Relating Joseph Smith’s Early Visions (Master’s Thesis, BYU 1965). This thesis contained the first publication of the 1832 account.

1964 William E. Berrett, The Restored Church. A Brief History of the Growth and Doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Deseret Book Company 1964. 12th edition; 10th edition 1961). [Author writes that this was first published in shorter form in 1936 to be used in Seminaries; in 1944 he combined it with another book, Doctrines of the Restored Church. This is the 10th edition, now the 12th] He begins by quoting from both the original History of Joseph Smith, which he says was begun in 1838, and published in Times and Seasons 1842, and the Wentworth letter (7). However, strangely enough, he gives the wrong dates for both these texts: The History in T&S 1843; the Letter in T&S March 15, 1842. In fact, the Letter was published March 1, 1842; the History began publication March 15, 1842.

1964 Carter E. Grant, “Story of the Church. New York-Pennsylvania Period”, Improvement Era (November 1964): 932-7. First vision account from both the canonized version and the Wentworth letter, first published in March 1, 1842 (934-5).

1963 “The Prophet Joseph Seen Through the Eyes of Youth”, Improvement Era (July 1963): 629. Quotes Edward Stevenson’s 1893 reminiscence of hearing the Prophet speak in 1834 in Pontiac, Michigan, testifying that the “Prophet testified with great power concerning the visit of the Father and the Son, and the conversation he had with them.”

1962 Preston Nibley, “The Wentworth Letter,” Improvement Era (February 1962): 96-7, 114, 116, 118. First vision on page 114.

1961 Hugh Nibley, “Censoring the Joseph Smith Story,” concluding installment, Improvement Era (July –November 1961). Discusses over 50 anti-LDS books and articles, and how they ‘censor’ the story by neglecting the first vision account, or by twisting it. Concludes with a Tanner publication which cited November 14, 1835, but neglects November 9, 1835, which Nibley quotes. Begins with: “Joseph Smith's "official" account of his first vision and the visits of the angel Moroni was written in 1838 and first published in the Times and Seasons in 1842” (Era July 1961: 490). Nibley also makes reference to his grandfathers diary (Niebaur account)

1960 Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness For Christ in America. The Book of Mormon. Evidence of Divine Power in the ’Coming Forth’ of the Book of Mormon (Brigham Young University 1960). First published 1942; reprinted 1943; Enlarged second edition 1947; enlarged third edition 1951. This is volume One. Keep in mind: these two volumes deal with the Book of Mormon; first vision material is important, but tangential. “[There] are two accounts written and compiled by Joseph Smith. The one is a long serial history of the Church containing a complete account of his own life…. And the organization and establishment of the Church in sequence down to May, 1838. It was first published in the Times and Seasons beginning March 15, 1842…. Another is a letter to Mr. John Wentworth, editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat published in the Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842” (page 17-18; the first account is quoted at length pages 45-51) The relevant portion of the Wentworth letter is quoted page 52 note. William Smith’s 1893 statement is quoted 43-44. Volume 2 was published by Kirkham himself, in 1951; republished by Brigham Young University 1959. Quotes the March 15, 1842 account extensively, 17-8 Refers to the first publication by Orson Pratt, in Scotland, 1840 (18-9)

1960 Hyrum L. Andrus, Joseph Smith, the Man and the Seer (Deseret Book, 1960). He quotes from William Smith interview in November 1893 (Deseret News January 20, 1894), and Oliver Cowdery letters (Messenger and Advocate Dec. 1834), both of which relate the Rev. George Lane preaching about which church to join. Andrus then quotes at length the official version; he then quotes from the Orson Pratt pamphlet of 1840, and in the footnote refers to several sermons by Pratt discussing the first vision (JD 12. 354-6; 14. 141; 15. 181; 17. 279; 22. 29). Andrus quotes several late reminiscences, including Edward Stevenson from 1893 (65-68)

1960 John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations 2nd edition (Bookcraft 1960): 338 Orson Pratt, who lived for some time in the Prophet's home issued a pamphlet in 1839, in which the first vision is described, and it is there placed in 1820. (Orson Pratt, Remarkable Visions, pp. 4, 5) Later in life, Orson Pratt said, "I have often heard him (the Prophet) relate it." (Journal of Discourses 7:220-221; 11:65-66; 12:302; 14:150-141; 15:180-182). Widtsoe also cites Lucy Mack Smith’s 1853 version (from the 1902 edition); also from Edward Stevenson’s 1893 “reminiscence”. He also cites William Smith’s interview, published in 1894

1951 John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith--Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1951); Chapter 5, cites: William Smith, Deseret News, January 20, 1894. Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith the Prophet, 1902 edition, pp. 73-77; 1945 edition, pp. 69-74. Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, p. 4. Isabella B. Horne, Young Women's Journal, vol. 32, p. 212; Relief Society Magazine, vol. 38, p. 158. Erastus Holmes, DHC., vol. 2, p. 312; Journal History, Saturday, November 14, 1835. Orson Pratt, Remarkable Visions, pp. 4-5; Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, pp. 220-221; vol. 11, pp. 65-66; vol. 12, p. 302; vol. 14, pp. 140-141; vol. 15, pp. 18-82; N. B. Lundwall, Masterful Discourses and Writings of Orson Pratt, pp. 235-236. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 8, p. 354. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 29; John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, p. 121; Wilford Woodruff, Leaves from my Journal, first edition, p. 86; George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol. 12, p. 334; vol. 13, p. 78; vol. 11, pp. 1-2.

1949 Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, volume 4: A Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums (Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1949) With reference to the Wentworth letter Elder Smith wrote: “The Prophet was inspired in the preparation of this sketch of the rise of the Church. This is the first article, as far as we know, ever furnished by request of an outside publication portraying the rise and progress of the Church. In the year 1838, the Prophet commenced preparing his history which was written in the manuscript record of the Church. This Wentworth article was published in the "Times and Seasons" in Nauvoo, in the issue of March 1, 1842. It is a remarkable document for its breadth and the thoroughness of its contents in compact form…..The Prophet commences his story by stating where he was born, and his removal to Manchester where he engaged in farming which he was taught by his father. When he was about fourteen years of age he began to reflect upon the importance of "being prepared for a future state," and therefore sought among the ministers, for knowledge concerning the plan of salvation. He found them in hopeless confusion, "each one pointing to his own particular creed as the summum bonum of perfection." He reached the conclusion, which all men of reasoning ability should be able to reach, that they could not all be right for God could not be the author of confusion. The story is a familiar one to all members of the Church, how he sought for light and after reading the counsel of James, received the inspiration to put that prophet's words to the test. The vision of the Father and the Son which came in answer to his earnest pleading filled his soul with the deepest joy. He told it to an unbelieving world thinking that such great knowledge so essentially beneficial to all men, would be received gladly; instead it brought down persecution on his head.”

1948 Elder Milton R. Hunter, Conference Report, April 1948, Morning Meeting, p.25-6 Let us consider a few examples of prophecies made by Joseph Smith and their fulfilment. When but a boy slightly past fourteen years of age, Joseph returned to the house from .the Sacred Grove on that memorable spring morning in 1820. He told the members of his family that he had seen the Eternal Father and his Only Begotten Son in a vision. During the course of that vision, he had been informed by the Savior that the true Church was not upon the earth (HC 1:2-6 ) and that if he lived a worthy life he was given. . . a promise that the fullness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto [him] me. ("The Wentworth Letter," cited in ibid., 4:536.)

1948 Milton R. Hunter PhD. Pearl of Great Price Commentary (Salt Lake City, Utah: Stevens & Wallis, Inc., 1948). Dr. Hunter reports that the Pearl of Great Price “gives the Prophet Joseph Smith’s own story of… the visitation of God the Father and His Only Begotten Son to the boy-prophet in answer to his humble prayer” (5) “In the spring of 1838, the Prophet Joseph Smith began to write his history…. The first of this narrative to appear came from the press on March 15, 1842…. It was published in the Times and Seasons, beginning in volume 3, number 10, page 726, and continued in succeeding issues until February 15, 1846. By the latter date, the events up to August, 1834, had been printed.” It was continued in Utah, with Deseret News November 15, 1851 (225) “In 1851 Franklin D. Richards took extracts from the Times and Seasons’ account… and published that material in the Pearl of Great Price” (226). Hunter reports that the Wentworth Letter was published in Times and Seasons March 1, 1842. “It traces in an admirable manner the story of the ‘First Vision’….” (240).

1944 Preston Nibley, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City, 1944), 31, quotes New York Spectator, September 23, 1843. It was not yet known to have been a reprint of an earlier article in the Pittsburgh Gazette.

1917 Brigham H. Roberts, “Christ in the Traditions of American Native Races. Part XI-Modern Visits of the Christ in America.” Improvement Era 20. 7 (May 1917). Cites both History of the Church 1. 5-6; and Wentworth Letter for first vision.

1910 Ben. E. Rich, ed., Scrapbook of Mormon Literature, 2 vols., 2: 20-21. Quotes the Wentworth account of the first vision in its entirety. [The date of publication for this two volume collection is unknown, but early 20th century]

1910 Brigham H. Roberts. “The Morning of the Restoration.” Improvement Era 14. 2 (December 1910). Cites both the canonized version (both Pearl of Great Price, and History of the Church), and the Wentworth Letter (from History of the Church, and its inclusion in George A. Smith, Answers to Questions, 1869).

Brigham H. Roberts, The Missouri Persecutions, p.i (no date given) Uses the Wentworth account for the first vision story. Footnote to chapter one.


Further reading

First Vision Publications