Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/1832/Struggle with Satan not mentioned

Struggle with Satan not mentioned in Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision

therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th year of my age a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me...

—Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision
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Question: Why is Joseph Smith's struggle with Satan not mentioned in the 1832 account of the First Vision?

Joseph Smith says in the official Church history account of the First Vision that directly before the theophany occurred he had a struggle with Satan, but this struggle is not mentioned in his 1832 recital of the experience

Joseph Smith says in the official Church history account of the First Vision that directly before the theophany occurred he had a struggle with Satan. But this struggle is not mentioned in his 1832 recital of the experience. Is this evidence that this visionary tale evolved over time by becoming more dramatic and elaborate?

The 'struggle' motif is absent from the first known self-written account of the Prophet's visionary experience (1832) but it is also absent from his self-written Wentworth Letter account (1842). It is clear from the available documentary evidence that the Prophet did not feel constrained by the arbitrary rule of his modern critics that he must include every aspect of his First Vision story in every single retelling of it, and no reasonable person should be bothered that he doesn't.

The following timeline displays the 'struggle' material found in First Vision recitals that were produced during the Prophet's lifetime. The corresponding text from the 1832 document is also provided for purposes of comparison.

It is obvious that Joseph Smith did not mention the 'struggle' element of the First Vision story every time he rehearsed it

Several observations about the information presented below may prove useful.

  • It is obvious that Joseph Smith did not mention the 'struggle' element of the First Vision story every time he rehearsed it - even after the official Church history account was written down (1838) and published (1842). He opted not to speak about that aspect of the story in the Wentworth Letter (1842), in a speech given before the Saints at the Nauvoo Temple (1843), and also when he conducted an interview with a non-Mormon newspaper editor (1843). Yet, he did briefly refer to that part of the story in a subsequent private conversation with a convert (1844).
  • A careful comparison of texts indicates that the Prophet's Wentworth Letter was likely constructed by utilizing the content of Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account pamphlet.[1] But even though Elder Pratt’s account refers directly to the 'struggle' theme, Joseph Smith chose not to include it within the Wentworth Letter.
  • Even after Joseph Smith revealed details about his 'struggle' with the Adversary he did not include some of them in subsequent accounts. For instance, in 1835 he told of hearing somebody walking up behind him but this detail didn't ever appear again in the known recitals. Gathering darkness and the dread of sudden destruction are mentioned in the official 1838 rendering of events but then it disappears and is not seen in any later sources which were produced during the Prophet's lifetime.

September–November 1832

I cried unto the Lord for mercy. . . and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord . . . a pillar of fire [or] light above the brightness of the sun at noonday came down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the Spirit of God.

9 November 1835

I called on the Lord for the first time in the place above stated, or in other words, I made a fruitless attempt to pray. My tongue seemed to be swollen in my mouth, so that I could not utter. I heard a noise behind me like some one walking towards me. I strove again to pray, but could not. The noise of walking seemed to draw nearer. I sprang upon my feet and looked round, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking. I kneeled again, my mouth was opened and my tongue loosed. I called on the Lord in mighty prayer. A pillar of fire appeared above my head, which presently rested down upon me and filled me with unspeakable joy.

2 May 1838

I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God, I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me and had such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction, not to an imaginary ruin but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world who had such a marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being, just at this moment of great alarm I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound.

September 1840

He therefore, retired to a secret place in a grove, but a short distance from his father's house, and knelt down, and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavored to overcome him; but he continued to seek for deliverance, until darkness gave way from his mind, and he was enabled to pray in feverency of the spirit, and in faith. And while thus pouring out his soul, anxiously desiring an answer from God, he at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him.

June 1841

He, therefore, retired to a secret place, in a grove, but a short distance from his father's house, and knelt down and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavored to overcome him. The adversary benighted his mind with doubts, and brought to his soul all kinds of improper pictures and tried to hinder him in his efforts and the accomplishment of his goal. However, the overflowing mercy of God came to buoy him up, and gave new impulse and momentum to his dwindling strength. Soon the dark clouds disappeared, and light and peace filled his troubled heart. And again he called upon the Lord with renewed faith and spiritual strength. At this sacred moment his mind was caught away from the natural objects with which he was surrounded, and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision.

1 March 1842

I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord, while fervently engaged in supplication my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision.

11 June 1843

he went into the grove & enquired of the Lord which of all the sects were right.

29 August 1843

I kneeled down, and prayed, saying, O Lord, what Church shall I join? Directly I saw a light.

24 May 1844

Went into the Wood to pray, kneels himself down, his tongue was close[d,] cleave[t]h to his roof—could utter not a word, felt easier after awhile—saw a fire toward heaven came near and nearer. . . . the fire drew nigher, rested upon the tree, enveloped him[, and] comforted [him].


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840), 1–31. off-site off-site Full title GL direct link