Joseph Smith's First Vision/The Father as Spirit vs. Embodied
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. Critics claim that this is evidence of an evolution of story; and that the evolution of this story is evidence of fraud.
There is no documentary evidence that indicates exactly when Joseph Smith learned that God the Father had a glorified and perfected body of flesh and bone. And there is also no indication that Joseph learned any such thing during his 1820 First Vision. Regardless of when this revelation was bestowed upon the Prophet, it cannot be established beyond doubt that he was responsible for the teaching about the "spirit" nature of God found in the main text of lecture #5. It may, instead, be true that the Prophet was involved in adjusting the lecture #5 text to conform with his earlier work on the translation of the Bible.
The "official" 1838 First Vision account (first published in 1842 in the Times and Seasons) does not say anything about God the Father possessing a physical body. In fact, it says nothing at all about the specific nature of the Father's body other than it could be seen. Critics of the LDS Church should be much more careful in what they say about the content of historical documents.
However, it is correct to say that the Lectures on Faith which were contained within the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants did refer to God the Father as a personage of spirit with a human or bodily form.
- LECTURE #5, paragraph 2: “the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or rather man was formed after his likeness and in his image; he is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father”
- LECTURE #5, questions and answers section: "What is the Father? He is a personage"
It becomes obvious from an examination of the "Questions and Answers" section of lecture #5 that the person who constructed this lecture drew heavily from the book of John in the New Testament (seven direct quotations were utilized). It is more than likely, therefore, that the statement in lecture #5 which reads "the Father being a personage of spirit" was drawn directly from John 4:24. It is curious, however, that even though this was listed as an attribute of the Father in the main text of the lecture it was deleted in the question and answer section.
- MAIN TEXT:
- the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power
- QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
- [#5.] Q. What is the Father?
A. He is a personage of glory and of power ([lecture] 5 [paragraph] 2).
- [NOTE: This is the precise coordinate for the statement that is made above]
- [#6.] Q. . . . the Father is a personage of glory and of power
The Lectures on Faith were ready for publication by 17 February 1835 and it is clear that Joseph Smith had a hand in preparing them for public release. But whether or not the Prophet was himself ultimately responsible for the initial creation of the lecture material is a vigorously debated topic.
This brings up a very interesting question. Is it possible that the text of lecture #5 was edited by Joseph Smith—or the entire preparation/editorial committee (the First Presidency)—to delete the mention of God being a spirit in the question and answer section? This would make perfectly good sense since by 2 February 1833 Joseph Smith had changed John 4:24 in his translation of the Bible so that it no longer said that God was a spirit (see JST John 4:26).
It is significant that shortly after the Lectures on Faith were presented before the School of the Elders in Kirtland, Ohio a Presbyterian minister named Rev. Truman Coe—who had lived among the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio for a span of four years—wrote that the Mormons "believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts; and that when the Creator formed Adam in his own image, he made him about the size and shape of God himself."
It is also significant that on 5 January 1841—shortly before the so-called "official" First Vision story was released to the public via the Church's press—Joseph Smith was teaching in Nauvoo the very same thing that Rev. Truman Coe had heard in Kirtland: "That which is without body or parts is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones."
- [note] (Doctrine and Covenants, 1st ed., preface; 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), 2:169–170,180. BYU Studies link
- [note] See Noel B. Reynolds, "The Case for Sidney Rigdon as Author of the Lecture on Faith (8 June 2004) [based on version given at Mormon History Association meeting at Kirtland 2003]. PDF link
- [note] Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836): 4. Reprinted from Hudson Ohio Observer (16 August 1836): 1-2. off-site See also Vogel, EMD, 1:47. See discussion in Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe's 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (1977), 347–350, 354. PDF link
- [note] 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), 60.