Question: How do the First Vision accounts compare on the subject of Joseph's motivation for praying?


Question: How do the First Vision accounts compare on the subject of Joseph's motivation for praying?

Summary of themes

  • Between the ages of 12 and 15 Joseph Smith became exceedingly distressed about his personal sins and mourned over them. He became seriously concerned about the welfare of his soul and so he searched the scripture for information on that topic.
  • He both marveled and grieved that his acquaintances who belonged to various Christian denominations did not act in accordance with what was found on the pages of the Bible.
  • His study of the New Testament led him to the conclusion that all the Christian denominations with which he was acquainted had apostatized from the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Joseph pondered the darkness that pervaded the minds of mankind and its resultant wickedness and abominations - and he mourned for the sins of the world.
  • He also thought about the "contentions and division" among men [see - revival mentioned in the 1832 text].
  • Joseph believed from his personal observation of created objects and entities that God did indeed exist.
  • He also believed the scriptures that taught God was an eternal Being who was all powerful and everywhere present, who was no respecter of persons, who was a God of law and did not change over time, and wanted mankind to worship Him in truth.
  • When Joseph Smith "considered all these things" he prayed to the Lord and received his First Vision.

It is clear from a consultation of the 1832 text that Joseph Smith's desire to be forgiven of his personal sins was NOT the only motivation for his prayer in the wilderness. He prayed (as he explicitly states) because of "all" of the things he mentions - including the desire to worship God in truth; according to His laws (which Joseph did not believe was the case among any of the Christians denominations that he knew of).

Patterns within documents

The 1832 textual pattern of (1) desire to prepare for eternity / worship God in truth and (2) desire for forgiveness of personal sins can be detected in subsequent First Vision recitals, demonstrating that there is no change in his declared motive over time. The confusion of the critics on this issue arises when they do not see exact matches in themes across documents or insist that every detail of the story be present in every text that relates it.

1832 (Smith)

"my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul . . . . my mind become excedingly distressed for I became convicted of my sins . . . . when I considered all these things and that that Being seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth therefore I cried unto the Lord . . . . He spake unto me saying, 'Joseph my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.'"

1834 (Cowdery/Smith)

Joseph Smith had a "determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion . . . . [but he also] call[ed] upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and . . . to have an assurance that he was accepted of Him." Joseph is classified in this text among the "humble, penitent sinner."

1835 (Smith)

"being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right . . . being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and bowed down before the Lord . . . . He said unto me, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee.'"

1838 (Smith)

"how to act I did not know and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, would never know . . . . My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. . . . many other things did He say unto me which I cannot write at this time" [INDIRECT REFERENCE TO FORGIVENESS OF SINS?]

1840 (Pratt)

"[Joseph] began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence; but how, or in what way, to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind. He perceived that it was a question of infinite importance, and that the salvation of his soul depended upon a correct understanding of the same. . . . He was informed that his sins were forgiven"

1842 (Smith)

"I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring the plan of salvation I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment . . . . considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion, I determined to investigate the subject more fully" [FORGIVENESS OF SINS IS NOT MENTIONED]

1842 (Hyde)

"[Joseph] began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence; but how, or in what way to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind; he perceived that it was a question of infinite importance. . . . [The two personages] told him that his prayers had been answered, and that the Lord had decided to grant him a special blessing." [VEILED REFERENCE TO FORGIVENESS OF SINS? - Remember that Hyde utilized information straight from Pratt's account]

Notes