Question: Is it possible that as late as the end of the nineteenth century that there was uncertainty among Mormon Church officials about the identity of the personages that appeared to Joseph Smith during his First Vision?


Question: Is it possible that as late as the end of the nineteenth century that there was uncertainty among Mormon Church officials about the identity of the personages that appeared to Joseph Smith during his First Vision?

A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel"

A history article printed in 1888 by assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson twice referred to one of the visitors as an "angel".[1] Two years later Church leaders revised Jenson's text to clear up the discrepancy but did not provide any notation about the change.

When the light of historical scholarship shines upon this particular charge of the critics, it quickly becomes apparent that this is really a non-issue. By the time that Andrew Jenson had published his anomalous First Vision account in 1888 the Pearl of Great Price rendition of the same story had already been canonized by the Church for eight years. Latter-day Saints had long been familiar with the official version of events that took place in the Sacred Grove and the precise identities of Joseph Smith's celestial visitors.

The publication that anti-Mormon critics are referring to was called The Historical Record and it was printed in Salt Lake City, Utah. Volume 7 of this collection contains the reference that critics utilize to try and cast doubt upon the veracity of the First Vision account.

Since Andrew held no position of authority in the LDS Church when he made his "angel" comments, they cannot be looked upon as having any kind of evidentiary value in regard to what Church leaders believed at the time

Andrew Jenson was not a Church historian ('assistant' or otherwise) in 1888 when he wrote the text in question. A book produced by Jenson himself indicates that “his services were engaged by the First Presidency, and he was blessed and set apart by Apostle Franklin D. Richards [on] April 16, 1891, as ‘an historian’ in the Church.”[2] Jenson was not sustained as the Assistant Church Historian until 10 April 1898. [3] Since Andrew held no position of authority in the LDS Church when he made his "angel" comments, they cannot be looked upon as having any kind of evidentiary value in regard to what Church leaders believed at the time.

Church critics neglect to tell their readership that Andrew Jenson is plainly listed as the editor and the publisher of both the initial 1888 text and the revision which they allege was printed in 1890. Furthermore, they fail to make note of the fact that when volumes 5-8 of The Historical Record were advertised for sale in a Utah newspaper in 1889 it was noted that this was a "work which Brother Jenson offers" to the public. [4] There is, therefore, no justification whatever in claiming that the LDS Church was somehow responsible for the content of Andrew Jenson's original 1888 article or the revised text that was issued later.

Notes

  1. Andrew Jenson, Historical Record (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson, 1888), 7:355–356. (January 1888)
  2. Andrew Jenson, Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 4 vols., (Salt Lake City, A. Jenson History Co., 1901; reprinted Salt Lake City, Utah : Greg Kofford Books, 2003), 1:261.
  3. See Autobiography, 192, 193, 391.
  4. Deseret Weekly, vol. 39, no. 15, 5 October 1889, 460