Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/Orson Pratt's statements regarding the First Vision

Orson Pratt's statements regarding the First Vision


Question: Did Orson Pratt state that it was an angel that appeared during the First Vision?

Elder Orson Pratt was never confused about the identity of the Beings who appeared to Joseph Smith during his inaugural theophany

The two quotations used by critics to try and establish the 'Orson-Pratt-said-it-was-an-angel' argument read as follows:

What critics of the Church note that Orson Pratt said on 19 December 1869: "proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him"

"By and by an obscure individual...proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him...This young man, some four years afterwards, was visited again by a holy angel."[1]

What critics fail to note that Orson Pratt actually said on 19 December 1869: "and saw two glorious personages clothed upon with this pillar of fire"

The use of the 19 December 1869 quote is a prime example of how some Church critics are not very careful in their evaluation and presentation of historical texts. This document actually makes an explicit reference to the identity of the Prophet's First Vision visitants but the critics have edited that part out! The original quote is presented below. Notice the semi-colon after "God had sent an angel to him" which marks the beginning of a new thought.

'The canon of scripture is full, it is complete, and it is the very height of blasphemy to suppose that God would give any more!'

This was the condition of mankind before this Church arose, forty years ago. By and by an obscure individual, a young man, rose up, and, in the midst of all Christendom, proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him; that through his faith, prayers, and sincere repentance he had beheld a supernatural vision, that he had seen a pillar of fire descend from Heaven, and saw two glorious personages clothed upon with this pillar of fire, whose countenance shone like the sun at noonday; that he heard one of these personages say, pointing to the other, 'This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.' This occurred before this young man was fifteen years of age; and it was a startling announcement to make in the midst of a generation so completely given up to the traditions of their fathers; and when this was proclaimed by this young, unlettered boy to the priests and the religious societies in the state of New York, they laughed him to scorn. 'What!' said they, 'visions and revelations in our day! God speaking to men in our day!' They looked upon him as deluded; they pointed the finger of scorn at him and warned their congregations against him. 'The canon of scripture is closed up; no more communications are to be expected from heaven. The ancients saw heavenly visions and personages; they heard the voice of the Lord; they were inspired by the Holy Ghost to receive revelations, but behold no such thing is to be given to man in our day, neither has there been for many generations past.' This was the style of the remarks made by religionists forty years ago.

This young man, some four years afterwards, was visited again by a holy angel. It was not merely something speaking in the dark; it was not something wrapped up in mystery, with no glory attending it, but a glorious angel whose countenance shone like a vivid flash of lightning."

It is clear to any person who is familiar with the primary literature which describes Joseph Smith's early spiritual manifestations that when Elder Pratt said that Joseph was "visited again by a holy angel" several years later he was NOT talking about an additional visit by an angel. What he was saying was that Joseph Smith was "visited again" after an interval of several years and this time it was not by the Father and the Son—but by an angel.

What critics of the Church note that Orson Pratt said on 10 December 1871: "that God had sent his angel from heaven"

"Here was Joseph Smith, a boy...he was only between fourteen and fifteen years of age...Would he stand forth and bear testimony that he had seen with his own eyes a messenger of light and glory, and that he heard the words of his mouth as they dropped from his lips and had received a message from the Most High, at that early age? And then...to have the finger of scorn pointed at him... 'No visions in our day, no angels come in our day...' and still continue to testify...that God had sent his angel from heaven."[2]

What critics fail to note that Orson Pratt actually said on 10 December 1871: "when the Lord first revealed Himself to that little boy, he was only between fourteen and fifteen years of age"

The 10 December 1871 quote has been taken out of its proper context, as the more complete text below demonstrates.

Now then, let us come back again. Here was Joseph Smith, a boy, his very youth ought to testify in his favor, for when the Lord first revealed Himself to that little boy, he was only between fourteen and fifteen years of age. Now, can we imagine or suppose that a great impostor could be made out of a youth of that age, and one that could reveal the doctrine of Christ as he has revealed it to this generation? Would he stand forth and bear testimony that he had seen with his own eyes a messenger of light and glory, and that he heard the words of his mouth as they dropped from his lips and had received a message from the Most High, at that early age? And then, after having declared it, to have the finger of scorn pointed at him, with exclamations, 'There goes the visionary boy! No visions in our day, no angels come in our day, no more revelation to be given in our day! Why he is deluded, he is a fanatic'; and to have this scorn and derision and still continue to testify, in the face and eyes of all this, while hated and derided by his neighbors, that God had sent his angel from heaven. Can you imagine that a youth would do this?

After Elder Pratt provided the correct background for the First Vision story he switched over to speaking about a hypothetical situation - not an historical one. Notice that the hypothetical situation can naturally be interpreted along the very same lines as the orthodox story of Joseph Smith's experience: "bear testimony that he had seen with his own eyes a messenger of light and glory, and that he heard the words of his mouth as they dropped from his lips [i.e., the angel Moroni visitations] and had received a message from the Most High [i.e., the First Vision], at that early age."

There is ample documentary evidence that both before and after Elder Orson Pratt made the disputed comments above he was teaching that the Prophet's First Vision visitants were the Father and the Son.


Question: What did Orson Pratt state about Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Orson Pratt was well aware of the details of the story of the First Vision

The details of his recitals did not vary and therefore show no signs of uncertainty.

15 October 1849

Orson Pratt quotes from the History of the Church First Vision account in part 2 of “Are the Father and the Son Two Distinct Persons?”[3]

15 December 1850

Publication - The First Vision material is a quotation of the "History of Joseph Smith" taken from the Millennial Star, vol. 3, no. 2, June 1842, 21, which in turn was copied from the 1842 Times and Seasons Church history.[4]

1851

Publication - Early in the year Orson Pratt gathered together his pamphlets and issued them as a book.[5] Among this collection is “Remarkable Visions” and “Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon” #4. This combination is significant because the "Divine Authenticity" material clarifies who the two Personages are in the "Remarkable Visions" pamphlet.

1853

Publication - Orson Pratt had the autobiography of Lucy Mack Smith (the Prophet's mother) published. The editors of this volume inserted the Times and Seasons First Vision account into it. This First Vision text identifies the Prophet's visitors as the Father and the Son.[6]

14 August 1859

Orson Pratt said that he had "often" heard Joseph Smith relate that in a "cloud of light he saw two glorious personages; and one, pointing to the other, said, 'Behold my beloved Son! hear ye Him.'"[7]

6 October 1868

Orson Pratt said, "The Lord revealed Himself to this youth [i.e., Joseph Smith] when he was between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and as soon as he related this vision, although at that young and tender age, the wrath and indignation of the people were stirred up against him."[8]

24 February 1869

Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith "saw, in the midst of this glorious pillar of fire, two glorious personages, whose countenances shone with an exceeding great lustre. One of them spoke to him, saying, while pointing to the other, 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him.'"[9]

19 December 1869

Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith saw "two glorious personages . . . he heard one of these personages say, pointing to the other, 'This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.'"[10]

19 March 1871

Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith "saw in this light two glorious personages, one of whom spoke to him, pointing to the other, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.'"[11]

22 September 1872

Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith "saw these two glorious personages, their countenances shining with exceeding great brilliancy. One of them, while pointing to the other, addressed him in this language, 'Behold my beloved son, hear ye Him.'"[12]

20 September 1874

Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith "saw nothing excepting the light and two glorious personages standing before him in the midst of this light. One of these personages, pointing to the other, said - "Behold my beloved Son, hear ye Him.'"[13]

20 May 1877

Orson Pratt said that several years previous to 1823 Joseph Smith "received a heavenly vision . . . in which he had seen the face of God, the Father."[14]

19 September 1880

Orson Pratt said that "a wonderful revelation was given to[Joseph Smith], the first one he ever received. In a great and glorious open vision, in answer to his prayers, there was the manifestation of two of the great personages in the heavens — not angels, not messengers, but two persons that hold the keys of authority over all the creations of the universe. Who were they? God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ."[15]

10 October 1880

[This was the day the Pearl of Great Price account of the First Vision was canonized] Orson Pratt said, "You find a little boy, Joseph Smith, calling upon the name of the Lord, in the spring of the year 1820 before he was not yet fifteen years of age; and the result of his calling upon the name of the Lord was that a pillar of fire appeared in the heavens above him, and it continued to descend and grow brighter and brighter, until it reached the top of the trees that were growing around about where he was praying; and so great was the glory of this light that this lad, this youth, this boy, seemed to feel almost fearful lest the trees themselves would be consumed by it. But it continued to descend until it rested upon this lad and immediately his mind was caught away from the surrounding objects, was swallowed up in a heavenly vision, in which he saw two glorious personages, one was the Father, the other was the Son."[16]


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.[17]


Question: Is there anything wrong with early Church leaders using the term "angel" to refer to Jesus Christ?

The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel"

What about the term "angel"? Is there anything wrong with Brigham Young or others using that term to refer to Jesus Christ? Malachi spoke of the Lord as the "messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in." (Mal.3:1) The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel."[18] The Septugint of Isaiah 9:6, traditionally thought by Christians to refer to Christ speaks of the "messenger of great counsel." This term for Jesus was frequently used by early Christians. Eusebius stated that Christ "was the first and only begotten of God; the commander-in-chief of the spiritual and immortal host of heaven; the angel of mighty counsel; the agent of the ineffable purpose of the Father." [19] The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (an apocryphal work, thought to have been written before the fourth century states that when Christ descended to earth he "made himself like the angels of the air, that he was like one of them." [20] The Epistula Apostolorum (another important early Christian work, thought to have been written by 2nd Century Christians quotes the resurrected Jesus as saying,"I became like an angel to the angels...I myself was a servant for myself, and in the form of the image of an angel; so will I do after I have gone to my Father." [21] At least the use of the term "angel" in Christianity does not seem unknown.

Joseph Smith said that after his resurrection, Jesus Christ "appeared as an angel to His disciples."

How did Joseph Smith understand the term "angel"? One revelation calls Jesus Christ "the messenger of salvation" (D&C 93:8) Another states,"For in the Beginning was the Word, even the Son, who is made flesh, and sent unto us by the will of the Father." (JST John 1:16). The Father sends Jesus because he is the angel of salvation. Joseph Smith himself taught that angels of God are resurrected beings who have bodies of flesh and bone. [22] "Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while his body was lying in the supulchre) to the spirits in prison...After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples." [23] In Mormon theology the term "angel" has a unique doctrinal significance.

Since Joseph Smith frequently taught this doctrine, is it any wonder that those who knew him best (Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, etc.), would frequently refer to the Lord's visit to Joseph Smith as the visit of an angel (i.e. a resurrected personage of flesh and bone)?


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

Notes

  1. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 13:65-66.
  2. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 14:262.
  3. Orson Pratt, "Are the Father and the Son Two Distinct Persons?," Millennial Star 11 no. 20 (15 October 1849), 310.
  4. Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, No. 4: Evidences of the Book of Mormon and Bible Compared (Liverpool, England: R. James, 1850), points #10–11. This is a pamphlet (#4 out of 6) written on 15 December 1850.
  5. Orson Pratt, A Series of Pamphlets (Liverpool, England: R. James, 1851).
  6. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), chapter 17.
  7. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 7:221.
  8. JD 12:302. (6 October 1868). wiki
  9. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 12:354.
  10. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 13:66.
  11. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 14:140-142.
  12. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 15:182-183.
  13. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 17:279-280.
  14. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 19:16.
  15. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 21:310-311, (emphasis added).
  16. JD 22:29. (10 OCtober 1880). wiki
  17. Günther Juncker, “Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title,” Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994):221–250.
  18. James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words In The Hebrew Bible With Their Renderings In the Authorized English Version (Nashville: Abingdon, 1890), 66.
  19. The History of the Church Book I:2 (3), in Eusebius: The History of the Church From Christ to Constantine, G.A. Williamson Translator (Penguine Books, 1986), 33-4.
  20. Martyrdom And Ascension of Isaiah 10:30-31, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 2 Vols. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1985), 2:174.
  21. Epistula Apostulorum 14, in Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha 2 Vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 1:199.
  22. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 162. "An angel has flesh and bones; we see not their glory." If Jesus comes as an angel he "will adapt himself to the language and capacity" of the individual.
  23. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 191. See also D&C 129.