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Joseph Smith's First Vision/Fabricated to give "Godly authority"
It is asserted by some that Joseph Smith 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.
There is no doubt that before Joseph Smith produced his 1832 history of the Restoration he was telling other people that he had a directive from God to carry out a certain work and that he had received instruction directly from one of God's authorized representatives. Joseph Smith had no need to produce some type of authority claim by 'fabricating' the First Vision event in 1832. The line of Divine authority had already been long established.
This theory does not stand up to close scrutiny. There are numerous contemporary and reminiscent documents which indicate that before Joseph Smith recorded his 1832 history (September-November 1832) he was claiming - both implicitly and explicitly - to have authority from God to carry out his ministry.
Notice in the citations below that when the angel who revealed the plates is mentioned he is identified as God's messenger. Thus, Joseph Smith's interaction is not simply with a nondescript angel; the angel is an authorized representative of Deity.
- Joseph Smith "told us of God’s manifestations to him, of the discovery and receiving of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated" (Newel Knight).
- Joseph Smith specifically identifies the otherworldly messenger with whom he has been dealing as the angel of the Lord
- Martin Harris states that it was an angel of God who visited Joseph Smith and revealed the golden plates to him and he also said that Joseph had been chosen by the Lord.
- Palmyra townspeople state that "an angel of God" appeared to Joseph Smith.
- Joseph Smith said that he received a revelation from God to tell him where the plates were concealed.
- Joseph Smith told his wife’s uncle that he had been commanded by God to translate the plates.
- Joseph Smith states that he is a prophet sent by God to gather Israel.
- Joseph Smith declares that his ability to translate the plates is a gift from God.
- Joseph Smith wrote to members of his father’s family and told them that an angel of the Lord had revealed the gold book to him.
- Believers in Joseph Smith’s mission teach others that he has been visited by a messenger from "the Almighty".
- In the published statement of the Three Witnesses in the Book of Mormon (written ca. June 1829) it is said that it was "an angel of God" who showed them the golden plates.
- Joseph Smith confirms in an official Church document that he had been "called of God" and "God ministered unto him by an holy angel" when the Book of Mormon plates were revealed.
- Joseph Smith states that he has been entrusted by God.
- According to "the most credible reports" that a non-Mormon minister had heard "the angel indicated to [Joseph Smith] that the Lord [had] destined him" to carry out a certain work.
- Joseph Smith had seen God "personally" and received a commission from God to preach the gospel.
- Before the Book of Mormon translation was completed "the Lord" told Joseph Smith that it must be published.
- The "chief Elders" in Kirtland, Ohio - including Joseph Smith - state that the Prophet had "held communion with an angel from God" with regard to the golden plates.
- The Lord declares in the Doctrine and Covenants that He "called" Joseph Smith to be His servant (D&C 1:17).
If Latter-day Saint belief about the First Vision is correct, Joseph’s narrative reports a memory of his early experience. If, on the other hand, Vogel, Palmer, and other skeptical interpreters were to be correct, Joseph’s narrative was created to meet his needs as a church leader in the 1830s, bolstering his authority as prophet.
Because these two views lead to such different predictions, we can determine which view is correct by testing those predictions. And this is what we’ll do today.
These two radically different understandings of the First Vision lead us to two radically different predictions about how well Joseph’s First Vision accounts will align with the events of the early 1820s. On the first, the believing, view, Joseph’s narrative should match the 1820s context in some detail. On the second, skeptical, view, his narrative should match the claimed 1820s context poorly or only superficially.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- Newel Knight 
- Lucy Mack Smith, Autobiography, Chapter 21.
- Rev. John A. Clark 
- David Whitmer
- Henry Harris
- Nathaniel Lewis
- Hezekiah McKune
- Alva Hale
- Jesse Smith
- Palmyra Freeman (1829), 
- ?, "?," Evening and Morning Star 1 no. 1 (June 1832), 1. off-siteGospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- The Fredonia Censor, 10/10 (2 June 1830): page? 
- Letter, Rev. Diedrich Willers to L. Mayer and D. York, 18 June 1830.
- The Reflector [Palmyra, New York] 2/13 (14 February 1831), page ?
- The Sun (18 August 1831): page?
- Nancy Towle, Vicissitudes Illustrated, 2d ed., (Portsmouth: John Caldwell, 1833), 150–151; first edition printed in 1832.