Joseph Smith's First Vision/Lack of contemporary Father and Son vision until 1838

Published references to Father and Son in Joseph Smith's First Vision prior to 1838


Question: Is it true that there is no mention of Joseph Smith seeing the Father and Son in any “contemporary” newspaper, diary, LDS publication, or writing of any kind until the year 1838?

The eyewitnesses, and the periods of time their recitals cover, demonstrate that Joseph Smith talked about seeing the Father and Son on a regular basis and over an extended period of time prior to 1838

The eyewitnesses, and the periods of time their recitals cover, demonstrate that Joseph Smith talked about seeing the Father and Son on a regular basis and over an extended period of time -- before he had the 1838 Church history written down.

In The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831 it is said that four LDS missionaries were teaching in November 1830 that Joseph Smith had seen "God" personally. The 1832 historical recital listed below and the 1835 historical recounting below both qualify as 'contemporary' accounts.

Altogether there are at least eight eyewitness contemporary and reminiscent accounts that confirm Joseph Smith taught between 1831 and 1837 that the Father and Son (two personages) were present during his inaugural manifestation from heaven.

May 1831 – November 1833: John Alger

A. Karl Larson and Katharine Miles Larson, eds., Diary of Charles Lowell Walker (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1980), 2:755–56 [recorded 2 February 1893].

ca. 12 November 1831: Lorenzo Snow

He certainly could not have been deceived, it seemed to me, and if he was a deceiver he was deceiving the people knowingly; for when he testified that he had had a conversation with Jesus, the Son of God, and had talked with Him personally, as Moses is said to have talked with God upon Mount Sinai, and that he had also heard the voice of the Father, he was telling something that he either knew to be false or positively true. I was not at that time what might be called a religious boy, but I was interested in what I saw and heard there...
Deseret Evening News, no. 207 (20 July 1901), 22. off-site (emphasis added)

ca. 27 November 1832: Joseph Smith historical document

...a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy way walk in my statutes and keep my commandments...
Dean C. Jessee, ed., Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2002), 9–12.

9 August 1834 – 9 August 1835: Samuel W. Richards

When I was but ten years old, at my home in the State of Massachusetts, I heard the report that a young man in the west named Joseph Smith had been visited by God and His Son Jesus Christ was with him.

Not long after hearing this, two men came into the town where I was living and called at my father's house as missionaries. From them we learned the facts of the wonderful message they were bearing to the world; viz, that God, the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and authorized him to declare to the world the introduction of a new dispensation by which the people might be prepared for the fulness of times or when time should cease, and eternity enter upon its never-ending career.
Young Woman’s Journal, vol. 18, no. 12, December 1907, 537–39. off-site (emphasis added)

20 October 1834: Edward Stevenson

Fifty-three years ago in the town of Pontiac, Oakland County and then Territory, but since State of Michigan when I was but thirteen years of age. I first met with Joseph Smith, the Prophet of this generation and of the nineteenth century. I shall never forget the impression then made upon pon me by his presence and voice. He was accompanied by the three witnesses before mentioned, and at public meetings all of them in turn bore testimony, and to us it was indeed a day of Pentecost. First the Prophet related how he was alone in the woods in secret prayer when a bright light began to shine around him (like unto Paul's vision) the brightness of which at first alarmed him, but his fear was soon dispelled by the tho voice of the Father introducing His Only Begotten Son to him, who spoke to the young man, and instructed him (see Zech., 2nd chap.) He also described the visit of the angel (three times during one night to his bed-chamber) who instructed im in the fullness of the everlasting Gospel...
Millennial Star, vol. 48, no. 22, 31 May 1886, 341 off-site; Juvenile Instructor, vol. 29, no. 14 15 July 1894, 443–44. (emphasis added)

9 November 1835: Joseph Smith historical recounting

...I retired to the silent grove and bow[e]d down before the Lord, under a realising sense that he had said (if the bible be true) ask and you shall receive knock and it shall be opened seek and you shall find and again, if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men libarally and upbradeth not; information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it, I called upon the Lord for the first time, in the place above stated or in other words I made a fruitless attempt to p[r]ay, my toung seemed to be swolen in my mouth, so that I could not utter, I heard a noise behind me like some person walking towards me, I strove again to pray, but could not, the noise of walking seemed to draw nearer, I sprung up on my feet, and and looked around, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking, I kneeled again my mouth was opened and my toung liberated, and I called on the Lord in mighty prayer, a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon me head, and filled me with Joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first, he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee, he testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; and I saw many angels in this vision I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication;...
—Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds., Journals, Vol. 1: 1832–1839 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008), 87–88 (emphasis added).

13 November 1836: Kirtland Temple discourse

Joseph Smith gave “a relation . . . of the rise of the Church and of his experience” inside the Kirtland Temple to “a vast concourse” of people (“4 or 5 hundred”). The Prophet “gave the history of these things, relating many particulars of the manner of his first visions, etc.” (Parley P. Pratt to the Elders and Brethren of the Church of Latter-day Saints in Canada, 27 November 1836, MS, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah). Since Joseph had only one year previously referred to his experience in the grove with two personages as his “first communication . . . [or] vision,” he likely spoke about that event during this meeting.

August 1837: Mary Isabella Horne

I feel greatly honored when I realize that I have had the privilege of personally entertaining this great man, of ministering to his temporal wants, of shaking hands with him, and listening to his voice. I heard him relate his first first vision, when the Father and Son appeared to him; also his receiving the gold plates from the Angel Moroni. This recital was given in compliance with a special request of a few particular friends in the home of Sister Walton whose house was ever open to the Saints. While he was relating the circumstances the Prophet's countenance lightened up , and so wonderful a power accompanied his words that everybody who heard them felt his influence and power , and none could doubt the truth of his narration.
Woman’s Exponent, vol. 39, no. 1, June 1910, 5–6. off-site (emphasis added)


Question: Can it be proven that Joseph Smith claimed to have seen the Father and the Son as separate personages prior to 1835?

The person who put up this challenge understands quite well that unless there is some new documentary source discovered, we simply don't have this

There is a challenge that has been issued on the internet related to the details of Joseph Smith's first vision. The issuer of the challenge promises to pay money "to anyone who can show that Joseph Smith even CLAIMED that he saw God, the Father and Jesus Christ as separate personages when he was a teenager and that they told him to join none of the then-existing churches." [1]

Like the rest of us, the person who put up this challenge understands quite well that unless there is some new documentary source discovered, we simply don't have this. The date is important of course, because after 1835 we do have several things that point to this (so it isn't all coming late in the 1880s and 1890s). We just don't have a lot of good documentation in the period leading up to 1835. Certainly by 1838, Joseph Smith has provided us with a detailed description.

So, part of this is because there wasn't a lot of records being kept (which is normal - how much information do we have about most people living in that time frame?). Part of this is because the members of the Church were being moved around frequently - at a time when they simply didn't carry lots of extraneous stuff (Kirtland, Missouri, and hints of heading to Nauvoo then).

Of course, we do have other interesting documentation that is good. We have a letter from Oliver Cowdery written in November of 1829, that was published in 1829 in a newspaper where he talks about having seen the angel and the gold plates personally. We don't have the original letter of course (which shows how easily this stuff gets lost) - we only know of the letter because we do have copies of the newspaper. On top of this, the question is sometimes raised in connection with the idea that Joseph only later gets this idea of the separation of persons in the Godhead. And yet, long before 1835 (back in 1831) we have the material in the Book of Moses coming to the Saints, and we have other doctrinal statements that contest this point of view. So the idea that this was an invention after 1835 is hard to accept also.

And of course, this same sort of question could be asked about all sorts of other things. Remember the mount of transfiguration? Do we have any contemporary witnessed to that event with Jesus, and some of his disciples in Palestine? The gospels come far too late to be considered contemporary (and way, way to late by the standards provided here).

The whole purpose of this challenge isn't really to try and get people to prove something, but rather to try and suggest that Joseph changed the details of his vision over time

So the whole purpose of this challenge isn't really to try and get people to prove something, it is to try and suggest that because this one aspect of early Mormon history isn't well documented in a contemporary time frame, that there is some huge problem. And the question is whether or not we really believe that. Certainly the early Mormons who followed Joseph Smith believed that it wasn't important. And realistically most Mormons today don't think it's all that significant either.


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

Notes

  1. The text of the "challenge" has appeared at various locations on the internet in ex-Mormon forums. Text is as follows: Challenge from a critic. The Baura Challenge. I, Baura Kale, will give $1000 (USD) to anyone who can show that Joseph Smith even CLAIMED that he saw God, the Father and Jesus Christ as separate personages when he was a teenager and that they told him to join none of the then-existing churches. Note that I'm not asking that anyone prove that the First Vision actually happened, just that JS CLAIMED that it happened. The kicker is that I will only accept sources that were in existence BEFORE 1835. With all the newspaper accounts, Church publications (including a history of the beginnings of Mormonism written by Oliver Cowdery who was working in close association with JS), journals, letters, missionary pamphlets, broadsides etc. that were in print, all the sermons published and even books written about Mormonism, one of which included affidavits from dozens of JS's Palmyra neighbors, surely there MUST be some record of it in the pre-1835 documents. That's a full 14 years after it supposedly happened. I will not accept what JS LATER claimed to have happened to him way back in 1820; I will not accept a "testimony" that the First Vision is true; I will not accept a remembrance from some Mormon in the 1890s saying he remembers JS talking about the FV back in 1834. I will only accept documentary evidence that was in existence before 1835. Find that and you get the thousand bucks. Feel free to forward my challenge to any TBMs you might know. I've posted THE BAURA CHALLENGE many times here and have yet to have anyone come up with an attempt to meet it. Surely if JS told people and got in trouble for telling as it says in the PoGP there would be SOME record of it in the mountains of documents pertaining to early Mormonism pre 1835, right? Remember: God the Father and Jesus Christ as separate personages appearing and telling teenage JS not to join any of the existing churches. Find ANY mention of that by ANYONE before 1835 and you get a cool thousand bucks.