Joseph Smith's First Vision

Joseph Smith's First Vision

This page is a summary or index. More detailed information on this topic is available on the sub-pages below.

God touched his eyes with his finger and said “[Joseph] this is my beloved Son hear him.” As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Savior. After meeting, a few of us questioned him about the matter and he told us at the bottom of the meeting house steps that he was in the House of Father Smith in Kirtland when Joseph made this declaration, and that Joseph while speaking of it put his finger to his right eye, suiting the action with the words so as to illustrate and at the same time impress the [occurrence] on the minds of those unto whom He was speaking.

Diary of Charles Lowell Walker (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1980), 2:755–56 [recorded 2 February 1893]
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Joseph Smith's First Vision

Joseph Smith's claim that he saw the Father and the Son in 1820 has produced a wide variety of criticism. This set of articles addresses the various critical claims related to the First Vision. The linked articles below are designed to help readers to see some of the weaknesses that are found in arguments that are made against Joseph Smith's First Vision accounts. Some of these arguments are currently being advocated in anti-Mormon literature that is handed out near the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York.

Criticisms of the First Vision accounts

Church discussion of the First Vision accounts

Summary: Has the Church hidden the various accounts of the First Vision over the years?

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1832

Summary: Critical analysis of Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account

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1835

Summary: Critical analysis of Joseph Smith's 1835 First Vision account

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1838

Summary: Joseph Smith's 1838 First Vision account is analyzed by critics of the Church in order to use it to prove that the First Vision never occurred. A variety of critical arguments are raised based upon the words Joseph used to describe the events leading up to his First Vision. We examine here the introduction to Joseph's 1838 First Vision account, found in the Pearl of Great Price and separate facts from opinion.

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Joseph Smith's first and second "visitation of angels"

Summary: Joseph Smith referred to the what we now know of as the First Vision as the "first visitation of angels." He referred to Moroni's visit as "another vision of angels."

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Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account states he was 15 years old rather than 14

Summary: In Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision recital he said that he was "in the 16th year of [his] age" when the manifestation took place but when he created the 1838 account he changed this information to say that he was "in [his] fifteenth year."

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Discrepancies in Paul's account of his vision

Summary: 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.

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D&C:84 says God cannot be seen without priesthood

Summary: 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, it is claimed that Joseph Smith contradicted himself and this counts as evidence against his calling as an authentic prophet of God.

Was Joseph Smith told that "all the churches of the day were an abomination?"

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith stated that during the First Vision that he was told that "all the churches of the day were an abomination."

A "mormoninfographic" erroneously indicates that the words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear in Joseph's 1838 account.

Summary: An anti-Mormon "infographic" erroneously indicates that the words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear in Joseph's 1838 account, however, Joseph only refers to them as "personages." The link between the Father and the Son is only implied by the words spoken by the Father: "This is my beloved Son."

A "mormoninfographic" states that "pillar of fire" is not mentioned in Joseph's 1832 account.

Summary: An anti-Mormon "infographic" claims that Joseph Smith's 1832 account neglects to mention a "pillar of fire."

A "mormoninfographic" indicates that the 1835 "Erastus Holmes" account describes a different vision.

Summary: An anti-Mormon "infographic" indicates that the 1835 "Erastus Holmes" account describes a different vision. This short summary account of the "first visitation of angels" was written in Joseph's journal only five days after he described seeing two "personages" and "many angels."

Prophet's mother said First Vision was of an "angel"

Summary: The Prophet's mother—Lucy Mack Smith—wrote a letter in 1831 which seems to indicate that her son's First Vision consisted of seeing an "angel" instead of Deity. Critics suggest that this demonstrates that the Prophet's story evolved over time and that his claim to have seen God was a relatively late addition to his story.


Criticisms of events leading up to the First Vision

Joseph Smith and the Methodists

Summary: It is claimed 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.

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Lucy Mack Smith and the Presbyterians

Summary: It is claimed 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.

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Religious activity in the Palmyra area in 1820

Summary: It is claimed 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"

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The Smith family's place of residence in 1820 at the time of Joseph Smith's First Vision

Summary: It is claimed 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.

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A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "First Vision"

Summary: FairMormon analyzes the Wikipedia treatment of the First Vision.


Criticisms of events occurring after the First Vision

Joseph Smith's early knowledge of the nature of God

Summary: It is claimed 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?

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Published references to Joseph Smith's First Vision

Summary: It is claimed 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.

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Brigham Young's references to elements of Joseph Smith's First Vision

Summary: It is claimed that Brigham Young never mentioned the First Vision. This is false.

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John Taylor's understanding of the First Vision

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Did Joseph join other churches contrary to commandment in vision?

Summary: It is claimed 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.

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Contradiction about knowing all churches were wrong

Summary: 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.” It is claimed that thus counts as evidence that the First Vision story evolved over time.

First Vision fabricated to give "Godly authority?"

Summary: It is claimed 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.

First Vision story became more detailed and colorful after 1832?

Summary: Some claim that Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision grew more detailed and more colorful after he first recorded it in 1832.

1838 account modified to offset leadership crisis?

Summary: It is claimed 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.

Is there evidence that Joseph or his family were persecuted because of the First Vision?

Summary: 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.

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Andrew Jenson called one of the personages in the First Vision an "angel"

Summary: A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel."


Doctrinal criticisms related to the First Vision

Does Doctrine and Covenants 121:28 contradict the First Vision?

Summary: 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.

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God the Father as a Spirit versus Embodied

Summary: 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.

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Personages seen by Joseph Smith

Summary: A list of known personages who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith or who were seen by him in vision.

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Brigham Young and the First Vision

Summary: It is claimed 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.

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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 FairMormon 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)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1910-1968)

LDS-Authored Publications (1969-1978)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1969-1978)

LDS-Authored Publications (1979-1983)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1979-1983)

LDS-Authored Publications (1984-1989)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1984-1989)

LDS-Authored Publications (1990-1997)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1990-1997)

LDS-Authored Publications (1998-2003)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1998-2003)

LDS-Authored Publications (2004-Present)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (2004-Present)


Primary sources related to Joseph Smith's First Vision

Original text of Joseph's accounts of the First Vision

1832 account

Summary: This is the earliest known account of the First Vision written by Joseph Smith. Source: Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp. 1-6. Published in: Dean Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.

1835 account

Summary: This account was written by Joseph Smith in his diary. Joseph described his vision to Robert Matthias, also known as "Joshua the Jewish minister". Joseph Smith Diary (1835–1836), original in Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah. Published in: Dean Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.

1835 (Erastus Holmes account)

Summary: Erastus Holmes account Deseret News 2.15 (May 29, 1852); also in Millennial Star 15. 27 (July 2, 1853): 424; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2: 79-80; cf. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:207.; DHC 2. 312.

1840 (Orson Pratt account)

1842 (Joseph Smith History of the Church)

Summary: "Joseph Smith’s History of the Church," Times and Seasons 3. 10 (15 Mar. 1842): 726-28

1842 (Wentworth letter account)

Summary: Wentworth letter. (Times and Seasons, 3.9 (1 Mar. 1842), p. 706-710

1842 (Orson Hyde account)

1843 (The Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette)

Summary: “The Prairies, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, etc.,” editor, David Nye White, The Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette 58 (September 15, 1843): 3

1843 (Levi Richards account)

Summary: Levi Richards’s diary about Joseph Smith preaching in the summer of 1843 and repeating the Lord’s first message to him that no church was His (see Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 215.

1844 (Daniel Rupp account)

Summary: : “Latter Day Saints, by Joseph Smith, Nauvoo, Illinois,” in I. Daniel Rupp, HE PASA EKKLESIA: An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States (Philadelphia: J. Y. Humphreys, 1844), pp. 404; The account for Rupp was published in the original history of the Church published in “History of Joseph Smith,” Millennial Star 22. 7 (February 18, 1860): 102-3; also in Dean Jesse, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:448.

1844 (Alexander Neibaur account)

Summary: Alexander Neibaur Journal, 24 May 1844

1893 (Charles L. Walker account)

Summary: As told by John Alger