Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/1838/Account modified to offset leadership crisis
Critics claim 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.
The idea that Joseph Smith modified the First Vision story in 1838 in order to quell a leadership crisis is a convenient mythology crafted by critics who seem to be woefully unfamiliar with the records of the past and were unaware that Joseph told the same story in 1835.
This argument is a reference to the Kirtland crisis of 1837–38. Warren Parrish was considered by some of the Saints to be the ringleader of the Kirtland crisis. It is, therefore, all the more interesting that it was this same Warren Parrish who acted as scribe in recording a First Vision recital given by the Prophet Joseph Smith on 9 November 1835. When Parrish's 1835 account of the theophany is compared to the 1838 account it becomes glaringly obvious that the story did NOT change over time, as the critics would like everyone to believe.
It should also be noted that both the 1835 and 1838 First Vision accounts are followed immediately thereafter by the Book of Mormon angel story. Thus, it is impossible for critics to claim a shift in historical content by the Prophet. Before the Kirtland crisis took place Joseph Smith spoke in the 1835 retelling of events about an 1820 vision of two personages followed by an 1823 visitation by an angel. After the Kirtland crisis took place Joseph Smith said the exact same thing in the 1838 retelling of events.
- 9 November 1835 – “was about 14 years old”
- 2 May 1838 – “a little over fourteen years of age”
- 9 November 1835 – “looking at the different systems [of religion] taught [to] the children of men”
- 2 May 1838 – “Some crying, ‘Lo here’ and some ‘Lo there’”
- 9 November 1835 – “being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion”; “being thus perplexed in mind”
- 2 May 1838 – “my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness”
- 9 November 1835 – “I knew not who was right or who was wrong”
- 2 May 1838 – “it was impossible for a person young as I was and so unacquainted with men and things to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong”
- 9 November 1835 – “the Lord . . . had said . . . if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not”
- 2 May 1838 – “I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse which reads, ‘If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him’”
- 9 November 1835 – “I retired to the silent grove”
- 2 May 1838 – “I retired to the woods”
- 9 November 1835 – “[I] bowed down before the Lord”; “I called upon the Lord for the first time”
- 2 May 1838 – “I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God . . . It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt”
- 9 November 1835 – “I made a fruitless attempt to pray, my tongue seemed to be swollen in my mouth, so that I could not utter . . . looked around, but saw no person”
- 2 May 1838 – “I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me and had such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue . . . the power of some actual being from the unseen world”
- 9 November 1835 – “a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon my head”
- 2 May 1838 – “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me”
- 9 November 1835 – “a personage appeared . . . another personage soon appeared”
- 2 May 1838 – “I saw two personages”
- 9 November 1835 – “he testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”
- 2 May 1838 – “This is my beloved Son”
Anti-Mormons claim that because of the problems caused by apostates in Kirtland, Ohio Joseph Smith suffered in his role as leader of the restored Church. While it is true that the apostates claimed Joseph Smith to be a fallen prophet, and tried to take over his role, the historical record shows that he stayed firmly in charge of Church affairs. In other words, the anti-Mormon claim that he needed to somehow boost his role as leader by modifying his story to sound more impressive falls flat. Consider the following timeline which leads right up to the time of the recording of the 1838 First Vision account.
- On 7 November 1837 Joseph Smith was "unanimously" sustained by the Far West, Missouri Saints as the presiding officer of the Church. This is the same location where the Prophet had the 1838 First Vision account recorded.
- About 10 December 1837 Joseph Smith returned to Kirtland, Ohio. While the Prophet was away at Far West, Missouri Warren Parrish and his band of "reformers" denounced the Saints in general as heretics and set Joseph Smith "at naught". During this period Parrish was under suspicion for embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the Kirtland bank - which led to the apostasy of a considerable number of Saints.
- On 22 December 1837 the apostates were threatening to kill a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who was supportive of Joseph Smith
- On 12 January 1838 Joseph Smith and another member of the First Presidency of the Church left Kirtland, Ohio in order to "escape mob violence" which was aimed at them.
- Some of the Kirtland apostates, armed with rifles and pistols, followed the Prophet for 200 miles with the intent of taking his life - he was a firsthand witness to their threats.
- On 10 February 1838 Joseph Smith's authority was recognized in Far West, Missouri while that of the apostates was rejected and they were removed from office "by a united voice."
- On 12-14 March 1838 Joseph Smith was met by several groups and escorts, "with open arms," as he approached Far West, Missouri.
- On 29 March 1838 Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Church leaders in Kirtland, Ohio, mentioning the warm reception he received and says of Far West: "The Saints at this time are in union; and peace and love prevail throughout." He also relates: "Various and many have been the falsehoods written from Kirtland to this place, but [they] have availed nothing. We have no uneasiness about the power of our enemies in this place to do us harm." He spoke of recently receiving a vision from the Lord. The Prophet signed his letter as "President of the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints."
- On 6 April 1838 the General Conference of the Church was held in Far West, Missouri and Joseph Smith was the presiding officer.
- About 10 April 1838 Joseph Smith signs a letter identifying himself as one of the "Presidents of the whole Church of Latter-day Saints."
- On 28 April 1838 Joseph Smith attended a High Council by invitation and was invited to preside over it.
Clearly, this is not the picture of a man in a leadership crisis who needed to bolster his standing among the Saints by making up some impressive-sounding story. This is the picture of a man who was being targeted by a small band of thugs but who still retained leadership standing among the vast majority of the Saints. The story that he told before the apostate problems of the Kirtland era was the same story he told after the troublemakers were shown the door.
- [note] Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:522. BYU Studies link
- [note] History of The Church, 2:528. BYU Studies link
- [note] History of The Church, 2:529. BYU Studies link
- [note] History of The Church, 3:1. BYU Studies link
- [note] History of The Church, 3:2–3. BYU Studies link
- [note] History of The Church, 3:4–7. BYU Studies link
- [note] History of The Church, 3:8–9. BYU Studies link
- [note] History of The Church, 3:10–12. BYU Studies link
- [note] History of The Church, 3:13. BYU Studies link
- [note] History of The Church, 3:15–16. BYU Studies link
- [note] History of The Church, 3:25–26. BYU Studies link