Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/John Taylor's understanding of the First Vision
In an effort to cast doubt on the First Vision, critics appeal to the writing of John Taylor to demonstrate that early members were "confused" about the First Vision, and only adopted the "official" version much later. They seek to demonstrate that the earliest followers taught that an angel, rather than the Father and the Son, appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820.
Richard Abanes refers to “…the discrepancy between today’s official First Vision and the versions of it told by early Mormons, who taught that the First Vision involved an angel (or angels).” In a footnote to this comment he cites several church leaders, including John Taylor. The only citation Abanes gives for President Taylor is for March 2, 1879, but is incorrectly documented.
Critic Isaiah Bennett has written:
- Complications arise when one considers the statements of Smith’s successors as Mormon prophets [including John Taylor]. According to them, Smith had been visited by an angel, from whom he asked advice as to which church to join.
Bennett cites the same March 2, 1879 sermon, and one other.
Jerald and Sandra Tanner have also cited Taylor’s comments of March 2, 1879. They later write that “Many other confusing statements about the first vision were made by Mormon leaders after Joseph Smith’s death.”  Elsewhere the Tanners have stated that “Before the death of Brigham Young in 1877 the first vision was seldom mentioned in Mormon publications. When Mormon leaders did mention it they usually gave confusing accounts.” 
This warped perspective has unfortunately spilled over into less overtly anti-Mormon reference works. A past revision of the Wikipedia article on the First Vision states that “The First Vision was not emphasized in sermons by [subsequent leaders such as] John Taylor. This implies that Smith did not stress it strongly during his life, and that many early church leaders had little understanding of its prominence.”
John Taylor was remarkably consistent in his accounts of the First Vision. Critics ignore all other accounts, including a discussion given on the same day as their 'pet' quotation, to paint a picture of confusion instead of unity.
These claims are simply false, with reference to the oft-misused John Taylor. Consider the following evidence, from sermons, letters, and writings, which demonstrate Taylor’s complete awareness of that event, many well before the death of Brigham in 1877.
John Taylor became one of the editors of the Times and Seasons newspaper in Nauvoo, Illinois on 3 February 1842 (Brigham H. Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 102). He was serving in this capacity when the Wentworth Letter version of the First Vision was printed on 1 March 1842 and also when the History of the Church version of the First Vision was printed on 1 April 1842. John Taylor became chief editor of the Times and Seasons newspaper on 15 November 1842. There can be no doubt that Elder Taylor knew about the First Vision story as early as 1842.
In 1850, John Taylor was assigned to open France for the missionary activities of the Church. Upon arrival he wrote a letter, which was published in the French and English language paper. In that letter he wrote, in part:
- The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was first organized in the Town of Manchester, Ontario County, State of New York, U.S.A., 6th April 1830. Previous to this an holy angel appeared unto a young man about fifteen years of age, a farmer's son, named Joseph Smith, and communicated unto him many things pertaining to the situation of the religious world, the necessity of a correct church organization, and unfolded many events that should transpire in the last days, as spoken of by the Prophets. As near as possible I will give the words as he related them to me. He said that "in the neighborhood in which he resided there was a religious revival, (a thing very common in that country) in which several different denominations were united; that many professed to be converted; among the number, two or three of his father's family. When the revival was over, there was a contention as to which of these various societies the person who was converted should belong. One of his father's family joined one society, and another a different one. His mind was troubled, he saw contention instead of peace, and division instead of union; and when he reflected upon the multifarious creeds and professions there were in existence, he thought it impossible for all to be right, and if God taught one, He did not teach the others, "for God is not the author of confusion." In reading his bible, he was remarkably struck with the passage in James, 1st chapter, 5th verse. "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." Believing in the word of God, he retired into a grove, and called upon the Lord to give him wisdom in relation to this matter. While he was thus engaged, he was surrounded by a brilliant light, and two glorious personages presented themselves before him, who exactly resembled each other in features, and who gave him information upon the subjects which had previously agitated his mind. He was given  to understand that the churches were all of them in error in regard to many things; and he was commanded not to go after them; and he received a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be unfolded unto him; after which the vision withdrew leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace.
Elder Taylor continued with his narration, indicating that “some time later” as Joseph prayed another ‘being’ appeared surrounded by light who “declared himself to be an angel of God, sent forth by commandment, to communicate to him that his sins were forgiven…[and] that the great preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence.” The angel also told him about the plates, and the restoration about to begin. In October of that same year Elder Taylor published a pamphlet containing an expanded version of this letter, translated into French. The pamphlet was reprinted again in 1852.
On 13 August 1857 John Taylor and several members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve placed a copy of the Pearl of Great Price (containing the First Vision story) inside the southeast cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple (Wilford Woodruff Journal, Brigham Young Journal).
On 7 October 1859 John Taylor recited portions of the First Vision story in the Salt Lake City tabernacle. Among the details mentioned was the fact that Joseph Smith believed in the promise found in James 1:5 and went in secret to seek wisdom from God (Journal of Discourses, 7:322).
In 1876 Elder Taylor spoke at a funeral service, and he stated:
- Again, there are other things associated with these matters, all bearing more or less upon the same points. When God selected Joseph Smith to open up the last dispensation, which is called the dispensation  of the fullness of times, the Father and the Son appeared to him, arrayed in glory, and the Father, addressing himself to Joseph, at the same time pointing to the Son, said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." As there were great and important events to be introduced into the world associated with the interests of humanity, not only with the people that now are, but with all people that have ever lived upon the face of the earth, and as what is termed the dispensation of the fullness of times was about to be ushered in, Moroni, who held the keys of the unfolding of the Book of Mormon, which is a record of the people who lived upon this American continent, came to Joseph Smith and revealed to him certain things pertaining to the peoples who had lived here and the dealings of God with them, and also in regard to events that are to transpire on this continent.
Later in the same sermon he stated that Joseph had also been visited by Moroni, John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John. Isaiah Bennett makes reference to this sermon, but only to page 329: and the only plausible explanation for that reference is that Taylor makes reference to the angel which appeared to John the Revelator, on the island of Patmos. Otherwise that page tells of the visitation of Moroni and the others. Earlier in the sermon, however, Taylor made clear reference to the Father and the Son appearing, as contained in the above paragraph. Bennet and those who follow his tactics deceive their readers by omitting material which disproves their case.
In General Conference October 1877, President Taylor stated:
- The work we are engaged in emanated from God, and what did Joseph Smith know about it until God revealed it? Nothing. What did President Young, or the Twelve, or anybody else, know about it before the heavenly messengers, even God himself, came to break the long, long silence of ages, revealing through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the holy angels, the everlasting Gospel? Nothing at all. We were all alike ignorant until heaven revealed it.
The following month President Taylor stated:
- [W]e are told that no man knows the  things of God but by the Spirit of God. And if they cannot obtain a knowledge of God only by the Spirit of God, unless they receive that Spirit they must remain ignorant of these principles. And it matters not what the learning, what the intelligence, what the research, the philosophy, or religion of man may be, the things of God cannot be comprehended, except through and by the Spirit and revelations of God. And this can only be obtained through obedience to the principles which God has and shall ordain, sanction and acknowledge. And hence, in these last times, he first communicated a knowledge of himself to Joseph Smith, long ago, when he was quite young. Who in that day knew anything about God? Who had had any revelations from Him, or who knew anything in relation to the principles of life and salvation? If there were any persons I never heard of them, nor read of them, nor never met them. But when the Lord manifested himself to Joseph Smith, presenting to him his Son who was there also, saying, "This is my beloved Son, hear ye him;" he then knew that God lived; and he was not dependent upon anybody else for that knowledge. He saw him and heard his voice, and he knew for himself that there was a God, and of this he testified, sealing his testimony with his blood.
President Taylor also defended the First Vision in letters: In 1879 he wrote to a friend
- We of all others on the earth ought to be the last to oppress the Lamanites. Through the development of their record, by the ministrations of one of their old prophets, we are indebted for the introduction of the Everlasting Gospel; and of so great importance was this action considered that God Himself, accompanied by the Savior, appeared to Joseph.
It was mentioned above that several of the critics point to a sermon given by John Taylor in Kaysville, Utah, in the afternoon of March 2, 1879, to ‘prove’ that Taylor did not have a clear understanding of the First Vision. However, they fail to notice that President Taylor said earlier the same day, just a few miles away, in Ogden, Utah:
- When the Father and the Son and Moroni and others came to Joseph Smith, he had a priesthood conferred upon him which he conferred upon others for the purpose of manifesting the laws of life, the Gospel of the Son of God, by direct authority, that light and truth might be spread forth among all nations.
Clearly President Taylor was not confused regarding what happened early in Joseph Smith’s life.
Six months later he again testified to the visitation of the Father and the Son:
- The Lord has taken a great deal of pains to bring us where we are and to give us the information we have. He came himself, accompanied by his Son Jesus, to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He didn't send anybody but came himself, and introducing his Son, said: ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him.’ And he permitted the ancient prophets, apostles and men of God that existed in different ages to come and confer the keys of their several dispensations upon the prophet of the Lord, in order that he should be endowed and imbued with the power and Spirit of God, with the light of revelation and the eternal principles of the everlasting Gospel.
Ten days later he again testified to that transcendent event:
- Now, we will come to other events, of later date; events with which we are associated—I refer now to the time that Joseph Smith came among men. What was his position? and how was he situated? I can tell you what he told me about it. He said that he was very ignorant of the ways, designs and purposes of God, and knew nothing about them; he was a youth unacquainted with religious matters or the systems and theories of the day. He went to the Lord, having read James' statement, that "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." [James 1.5] He believed that statement and went to the Lord and asked him, and the Lord revealed himself to him together with his Son Jesus, and, pointing to the latter, said: ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him.’ He then asked in regard to the various religions with which he was surrounded.
Again, just a few weeks later he stated that
- as a commencement the Lord appeared unto Joseph Smith, both the Father and the Son, the Father pointing to the Son said ‘this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.’ Here, then, was a communication from the heavens made known unto man on the earth, and he at that time came into possession of a fact that no man knew in the world but he, and that is that God lived, for he had seen him, and that his Son Jesus Christ lived, for he also had seen him. What next? Now says the Father, "This is my beloved Son, hear him." The manner, the mode, the why, and the wherefore, he designed to introduce through him were not explained; but he, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer of man, he was the one pointed out to be the guide, the director, the instructor, and the leader in the development of the great principles of that kingdom and that government which he then commenced to institute.
Later, in Hooperville, Utah, he stated:
- Hence when the heavens were opened and the Father and Son appeared and revealed unto Joseph the principles of the gospel, and when the holy priesthood was restored and the Church and kingdom of God established upon the earth, there were the greatest blessings bestowed upon this generation which it was possible for man to receive.”
Two months later he again spoke of it:
- Finally, when all the preparations were made and everything was ready, or the time had fully come, the Father and the Son appeared to the youth Joseph Smith to introduce the great work of the latter days. He who presides over this earth and he who is said to be the maker of all things, the Father, pointing to his well-beloved Son, says, this is my beloved Son, hear him. He did not come himself to regulate and put in order all things, but he presented his Only Begotten Son, the personage who should be, as he is termed in the Scriptures, the Apostle and great High Priest of our profession, who should take the lead in the management and regulation of all matters pertaining to the great dispensation that was about to be ushered in.
Two months later he was in Idaho speaking:
- In the commencement of the work, the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith. And when they appeared to him, the Father, pointing to the Son, said, ‘This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!’ As much as to say, ‘I have not come to teach and instruct you; but I refer you to my Only Begotten, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world; I refer you to him as your Redeemer, your High Priest and Teacher. Hear him.’” Continuing, he pointed out that Joseph was also visited by Moroni, John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John.
In 1882 President John Taylor wrote a book on the subject of the mediation and atonement of the Savior, and its role in the life of the Restored Gospel. He included this statement:
- …when the Father and the Son appeared together to the Prophet Joseph Smith they were exactly alike in form, in appearance, in glory; and the Father said, pointing to His Son, ‘This is my beloved Son; hear Him.’
That same year the President said in a sermon:
- we declare that God himself took part in it, and that Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, accompanied him, both of whom appeared to Joseph Smith, upon which occasion the Father, pointing to the Son said, ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him.’…. ….. After the Lord had spoken to Joseph Smith, and Jesus had manifested himself to him….” He later refers to the visitation of Moroni, John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John.
During the October 1882 General Conference three of the General Authorities referred to the appearance of the Father and the Son. President Taylor stated that
- A message was announced to us by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, as a revelation from God, wherein he stated that holy angels had appeared to him and revealed the everlasting Gospel as it existed in former ages; and God the Father, and God the Son, both appeared to him; and the Father, pointing, said, this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.
Later that same year he said:
- In the first place He has Himself spoken to us from the heavens, as also has His Son Jesus Christ….  Now, it is the rule of God which is desired to be introduced upon the earth, and this is the reason why the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith….It is true that God appeared to Joseph Smith, and that His Son Jesus did…
President Taylor then went on to testify that Joseph Smith claimed that John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, and Moses had also appeared to him. 
At the dedication of the Logan Temple in 1884 President Taylor said:
- I have heard some remarks in the Temple pertaining to these matters, and also here, and it has been thought, as has been expressed by some, that we ought to look for some peculiar manifestations. The question is, What do we want to see? Some peculiar power, some remarkable manifestations? All these things are very proper in their place; all these things we have a right to look for; but we must only look for such manifestations as are requisite for our circumstances, and as God shall see fit to impart them. Certain manifestations have already occurred. When our Heavenly Father appeared unto Joseph Smith, the Prophet, He pointed to the Savior who was with him, (and who, it is said, is the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of His person) and said: ‘This is my beloved Son, hear Him.’” Later in the sermon he mentions the appearance of John the Baptist, and Peter, James and John; and Moroni.
In 1886, shortly before he died, President Taylor wrote a letter to his family, part of which reads:
- We are engaged in a great work, and laying the foundation thereof—a work that has been spoken of by all the holy prophets since the word was; namely, the dispensation of the fullness of times, wherein God will gather together all things in one, whether they be things in the earth, or things in the heaven; and for this purpose God revealed Himself, as also the Lord Jesus Christ, unto His servant the Prophet Joseph Smith, when the Father pointed to the Son and said: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him.’
As evidence that President Taylor had been telling the Saints about the First Vision throughout his life a comment made at his funeral would be pertinent; it was said there that
- Brother Taylor took the testimony that Joseph gave him, that Jesus delivered unto Joseph, that God bade Joseph to listen to from the lips of His beloved Son, as he bore those tidings to foreign lands…
- [note] Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005), 34–35, with footnote 76, page 339–340.
- [note] Isaiah Bennett, Inside Mormonism: What Mormons Really Believe (Catholic Answers: 1999), 4.
- [note] Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Changing World of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: 1980), 164.
- [note] Ibid., 166.
- [note] Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Case Against Mormonism, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City, 1967), 1:120.
- [note] "First Vision," wikipedia.org (last accessed 6 October 2006). off-site
- [note] Further examples of the Tanners' manipulation of the textual record by omitting key passages discussing the first vision can be seen at: D. Charles Pyle and Cooper Johnson, "Did early LDS leaders really misunderstand the First Vision?" FAIR link
- [note] John Taylor, Letter to the Editor of the Interpreter Anglais et Français, Boulogne-sur-mer (25 June 1850). (emphasis added) Reprinted in John Taylor, Millennial Star 12 no. 15 (1 August 1850), 235–236.
- [note] John Taylor, Aux amis de la vérité réligieuse. Récit abregé du commencement, des progres, de l’éstablissement, des persecutions, de la foi et de la doctrine de l’Église de Jésus-Christ des Saints des Derniers Jours (Paris 1850). [Translation: To friends of religious truth. An abridged account of the beginning, progress, establishment, persecutions, the faith, and the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.]
- [note] John Taylor, "A Funeral Sermon...over the remains of Ann Tenora, etc.," (31 December 1876) Journal of Discourses 18:325-6; 329, 330..(emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "The Trusteeship, etc.," (7 October 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:123. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "Gathering The Result Of Revelation, etc.," (14 November 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:151-152. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor letter to A. K. Thurber at Richfield, Utah (25 February 1879). (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "The Interest Of Humanity Should Be Observed," (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:257. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "Eternal Nature Of The Gospel, etc.," (28 November 1879) Journal of Discourses 21:116-117. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "Restoration Of The Gospel Through Joseph Smith, etc.," (7 December 1879) Journal of Discourses 21:161. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "The Revelation Of The Father And Son To Joseph Smith, And The Bestowal Upon Him Of The Priesthood, etc.," (4 January 1880) Journal of Discourses 21:65. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "The Privileges Of The Saints, etc.," (27 June 1881) Journal of Discourses 22:218. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "Duties Of The Saints — The Atonement, etc.," (28 August 1881) Journal of Discourses 22:298-299. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "Manifestation Of The Father And Son To The Prophet Joseph," (20 October 1881) Journal of Discourses 26:106-107. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, Mediation and Atonement (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Company, 1882; Photo lithographic reprint, Salt Lake City, 1964), 138.
- [note] John Taylor, "Restoration Of The Gospel," (5 March 1882) Journal of Discourses 23:29-32. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, Millennial Star 44 no. 22 (29 May 1882), 337–338. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "Man's Natural Spirit And The Spirit Of God, etc.," (23 November 1882) Journal of Discourses 23:322-323. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, "Manifestations To Be Looked For, etc.," (18 May 1884) Journal of Discourses 25:177-178, see also 179 for the other visitors. (emphasis added)
- [note] John Taylor, cited in B. H. Roberts, Life of John Taylor (1989; 1st published 1892), 394.
- [note] ?, "Laid to Rest. The Remains of President John Taylor Consigned to The Grave," Millennial Star 49 no. 36 (5 September 1887), 564.