Topical Guide/Church history/First Vision

    RESOURCES


Joseph Smith's First Vision

Joseph Smith's claim that he saw the Father and the Son in 1820 has produced a wide variety of criticism. This set of articles addresses the various critical claims related to the First Vision. The linked articles below are designed to help readers to see some of the weaknesses that are found in arguments that are made against Joseph Smith's First Vision accounts. Some of these arguments are currently being advocated in anti-Mormon literature that is handed out near the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York.

Criticisms of the First Vision accounts

Church discussion of the First Vision accounts

Summary: Has the Church hidden the various accounts of the First Vision over the years?

Jump to Subtopic:

1832

Summary: Critical analysis of Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account

Jump to Subtopic:

1835

Summary: Critical analysis of Joseph Smith's 1835 First Vision account

Jump to Subtopic:

1838

Summary: Joseph Smith's 1838 First Vision account is analyzed by critics of the Church in order to use it to prove that the First Vision never occurred. A variety of critical arguments are raised based upon the words Joseph used to describe the events leading up to his First Vision. We examine here the introduction to Joseph's 1838 First Vision account, found in the Pearl of Great Price and separate facts from opinion.

Jump to Subtopic:

Joseph Smith's first and second "visitation of angels"

Summary: Joseph Smith referred to the what we now know of as the First Vision as the "first visitation of angels." He referred to Moroni's visit as "another vision of angels."

Jump to Subtopic:

Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account states he was 15 years old rather than 14

Summary: In Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision recital he said that he was "in the 16th year of [his] age" when the manifestation took place but when he created the 1838 account he changed this information to say that he was "in [his] fifteenth year."

Jump to Subtopic:

Discrepancies in Paul's account of his vision

Summary: Paul the apostle gave more than one account of his vision of the resurrected Lord while on the road to Damascus. Like Joseph Smith's account of the First Vision, Paul's accounts differ in some details but agree in the overall message.

Jump to Subtopic:

D&C:84 says God cannot be seen without priesthood

Summary: Critics argue that Joseph Smith claimed that he saw God in 1820 and also claimed that he received the priesthood in 1829. But in a text which he produced in 1832 (DC 84:21-22) it is said that a person cannot see God without holding the priesthood. Therefore, it is claimed that Joseph Smith contradicted himself and this counts as evidence against his calling as an authentic prophet of God.

Was Joseph Smith told that "all the churches of the day were an abomination?"

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith stated that during the First Vision that he was told that "all the churches of the day were an abomination."

A "mormoninfographic" erroneously indicates that the words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear in Joseph's 1838 account.

Summary: An anti-Mormon "infographic" erroneously indicates that the words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear in Joseph's 1838 account, however, Joseph only refers to them as "personages." The link between the Father and the Son is only implied by the words spoken by the Father: "This is my beloved Son."

A "mormoninfographic" states that "pillar of fire" is not mentioned in Joseph's 1832 account.

Summary: An anti-Mormon "infographic" claims that Joseph Smith's 1832 account neglects to mention a "pillar of fire."

A "mormoninfographic" indicates that the 1835 "Erastus Holmes" account describes a different vision.

Summary: An anti-Mormon "infographic" indicates that the 1835 "Erastus Holmes" account describes a different vision. This short summary account of the "first visitation of angels" was written in Joseph's journal only five days after he described seeing two "personages" and "many angels."

Prophet's mother said First Vision was of an "angel"

Summary: The Prophet's mother—Lucy Mack Smith—wrote a letter in 1831 which seems to indicate that her son's First Vision consisted of seeing an "angel" instead of Deity. Critics suggest that this demonstrates that the Prophet's story evolved over time and that his claim to have seen God was a relatively late addition to his story.


Criticisms of events leading up to the First Vision

Joseph Smith and the Methodists

Summary: It is claimed that any association Joseph had with Methodism did not occur until the 1824-25 revival in Palmyra, and that his claim that the "unusual excitement" started with the Methodists in 1820 is therefore incorrect.

Jump to Subtopic:

Lucy Mack Smith and the Presbyterians

Summary: It is claimed that since there was a religious revival in Palmyra, New York in 1824-25 which appears to match details of Joseph Smith's official Church history, he must have mistakenly mixed this event in with his narrative about what happened in 1820, and that the Prophet's mother joined the Presbyterian church after Alvin Smith died in late 1823. This contradicts Joseph's statement that she joined in 1820, thereby dating Joseph's First Vision to no earlier than 1823.

Jump to Subtopic:

Religious activity in the Palmyra area in 1820

Summary: It is claimed that there were no religious revivals in the Palmyra, New York area in 1820, contrary to Joseph Smith's claims that during that year there was "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion...indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it"

Jump to Subtopic:

The Smith family's place of residence in 1820 at the time of Joseph Smith's First Vision

Summary: It is claimed that there are discrepancies in Joseph's account of his family's early history, which make his 1820 and subsequent revelations impossible, and that there is no evidence that the Smith family was in the Palmyra area in 1820 for the religious excitement and First Vision which Joseph reported.

Jump to Subtopic:

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "First Vision"

Summary: FairMormon analyzes the Wikipedia treatment of the First Vision.


Criticisms of events occurring after the First Vision

Joseph Smith's early knowledge of the nature of God

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph began his prophetic career with a "trinitarian" idea of God, and only later developed his theology of the Godhead. What do we know about Joseph and the early Saints' views on God?

Jump to Subtopic:

Published references to Joseph Smith's First Vision

Summary: It is claimed that there is no reference to the 1838 canonical First Vision story in any published material from the 1830s, and that nothing published in this period mentions that Joseph saw the Father and Son. They also assume that it would have been mentioned in the local newspapers at the time.

Jump to Subtopic:

Brigham Young's references to elements of Joseph Smith's First Vision

Summary: It is claimed that Brigham Young never mentioned the First Vision. This is false.

Jump to Subtopic:

John Taylor's understanding of the First Vision

Jump to Subtopic:

Did Joseph join other churches contrary to commandment in vision?

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith joined the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches between 1820 and 1830—despite the claim made in his 1838 history that he was forbidden by Deity (during the 1820 First Vision experience) from joining any denomination.

Jump to Subtopic:

Contradiction about knowing all churches were wrong

Summary: In his 1832 account of the First Vision, Joseph Smith said, “I found [by searching the scriptures] that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.” But in the 1835 account he said, “I knew not who [of the denominations] was right or who was wrong.” It is claimed that thus counts as evidence that the First Vision story evolved over time.

First Vision fabricated to give "Godly authority?"

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith decided after he released the Book of Mormon to the public that he needed 'authority from God' to justify his claims as a religious minister. Therefore, it is claimed that he fabricated the First Vision story in order to provide himself with a more prestigious line of authority than that of the "angel" who revealed the golden plates.

First Vision story became more detailed and colorful after 1832?

Summary: Some claim that Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision grew more detailed and more colorful after he first recorded it in 1832.

1838 account modified to offset leadership crisis?

Summary: It is claimed that in 1838 Joseph Smith revised his personal history to say that his original call came from God the Father and Jesus Christ rather than an angel. His motive for doing this was to give himself a stronger leadership role because an authority crisis had recently taken place and large-scale apostasy was the result.

Is there evidence that Joseph or his family were persecuted because of the First Vision?

Summary: Some claim that there is no evidence that Joseph or his family were persecuted because of the First Vision. They argue that this means that Joseph invented the story later.

Jump to Subtopic:

Andrew Jenson called one of the personages in the First Vision an "angel"

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


Doctrinal criticisms related to the First Vision

Does Doctrine and Covenants 121:28 contradict the First Vision?

Summary: In 1839 Joseph Smith received a revelation from God in which it was stated that the time would come "in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods they shall be manifest" (D&C 121:28). This was an "unnecessary revelation," since according to the official LDS Church First Vision account Joseph Smith supposedly knew that there was more than one God since 1820. This information counts as evidence that the Prophet's story was fraudulent.

Jump to Subtopic:

God the Father as a Spirit versus Embodied

Summary: 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.

Jump to Subtopic:

Personages seen by Joseph Smith

Summary: A list of known personages who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith or who were seen by him in vision.

Jump to Subtopic:

Brigham Young and the First Vision

Summary: It is claimed either that Brigham never taught about the First Vision, or that he taught that the Lord did not appear to Joseph. Both claims are false.

Jump to Subtopic:


Did the Church hide accounts of the First Vision?

The claim is sometimes made by critics that the LDS Church hides the various accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision that are not in its official canon. The following chronological database (compiled by FairMormon volunteer Edward Jones) demonstrates conclusively that this is simply not the case. The various accounts of the First Vision have been widely acknowledged in LDS-authored sources throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

LDS-Authored Publications (1910-1968)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1910-1968)

LDS-Authored Publications (1969-1978)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1969-1978)

LDS-Authored Publications (1979-1983)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1979-1983)

LDS-Authored Publications (1984-1989)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1984-1989)

LDS-Authored Publications (1990-1997)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1990-1997)

LDS-Authored Publications (1998-2003)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (1998-2003)

LDS-Authored Publications (2004-Present)

Summary: Mentions of the various accounts of the First Vision in LDS publications (2004-Present)


Primary sources related to Joseph Smith's First Vision

Original text of Joseph's accounts of the First Vision

1832 account

Summary: This is the earliest known account of the First Vision written by Joseph Smith. Source: Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp. 1-6. Published in: Dean Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.

1835 account

Summary: This account was written by Joseph Smith in his diary. Joseph described his vision to Robert Matthias, also known as "Joshua the Jewish minister". Joseph Smith Diary (1835–1836), original in Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah. Published in: Dean Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.

1835 (Erastus Holmes account)

Summary: Erastus Holmes account Deseret News 2.15 (May 29, 1852); also in Millennial Star 15. 27 (July 2, 1853): 424; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2: 79-80; cf. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:207.; DHC 2. 312.

1840 (Orson Pratt account)

1842 (Joseph Smith History of the Church)

Summary: "Joseph Smith’s History of the Church," Times and Seasons 3. 10 (15 Mar. 1842): 726-28

1842 (Wentworth letter account)

Summary: Wentworth letter. (Times and Seasons, 3.9 (1 Mar. 1842), p. 706-710

1842 (Orson Hyde account)

1843 (The Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette)

Summary: “The Prairies, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, etc.,” editor, David Nye White, The Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette 58 (September 15, 1843): 3

1843 (Levi Richards account)

Summary: Levi Richards’s diary about Joseph Smith preaching in the summer of 1843 and repeating the Lord’s first message to him that no church was His (see 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), 215.

1844 (Daniel Rupp account)

Summary: : “Latter Day Saints, by Joseph Smith, Nauvoo, Illinois,” in I. Daniel Rupp, HE PASA EKKLESIA: An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States (Philadelphia: J. Y. Humphreys, 1844), pp. 404; The account for Rupp was published in the original history of the Church published in “History of Joseph Smith,” Millennial Star 22. 7 (February 18, 1860): 102-3; also in Dean Jesse, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:448.

1844 (Alexander Neibaur account)

Summary: Alexander Neibaur Journal, 24 May 1844

1893 (Charles L. Walker account)

Summary: As told by John Alger


Joseph Smith: Other visionary experiences

Topics

Moroni's visit (summary)

Joseph Smith's early conception of God

Personages who appeared to Joseph Smith

Swedenborg and three degrees of glory



Characteristics of God

Unchanging

Summary: Does the Book of Mormon refute Joseph Smith on the nature of God? Critics point out that the Book of Mormon never says God was once a mortal. In fact, it teaches that God was always God. Take for instance Moroni 8:18. It says God is "unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity." Joseph Smith, however, taught, "We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and take away the veil so that you may see."

Elohim and Jehovah

Summary: It is claimed that Elohim, Jehovah, Adonai and other similar Old Testament Hebrew names for deity are simply different titles which emphasize different attributes of the "one true God." In support of this criticism, they cite Old Testament scriptures that speak of "the LORD [Jehovah] thy God [Elohim]" (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:2; 4:35; 6:4) as proof that these are different titles for the same God.

Foreknowledge

Summary: Most Latter-day Saints hold to unlimited foreknowledge. This has been the traditional view of most Christians since the post-New Testament period, and it is one doctrine that Joseph Smith didn't seem to question, as there are no revelations that address it. Indeed, it appears that most LDS leaders and scholars simply haven't questioned its veracity.

"God is a man"

Summary: Some Christians object to the Mormon belief that God has a physical body and human form by quoting scripture which says that "God is not a man" (e.g. Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Hosea 11:9).

God is a Spirit?

Summary: Some Christians object to the LDS position that God has a physical body by quoting John 4:24: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."

Lecture of Faith 5 teaches the Father is "a personage of spirit"

Summary: Lectures on Faith, which used to be part of the Doctrine and Covenants, teach that God is a spirit. Joseph Smith's later teachings contradict this. More generally, critics argue that Joseph Smith taught an essentially "trinitarian" view of the Godhead until the mid 1830s, thus proving the Joseph was "making it up" as he went along.

Joseph Smith's King Follett discourse on the nature of God

Summary: It is claimed that, in an effort to appear more "mainline" Christian, the Church is downplaying the importance of some doctrines taught late in Joseph Smith's lifetime. Prominent among these is the doctrine of human deification. To bolster their argument, critics usually quote from a 1997 Time magazine interview with President Gordon B. Hinckley: "I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it ... I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don't know a lot about it, and I don't think others know a lot about it." Critics have claimed that this means that President Hinckley has admitted to altering LDS doctrine, or discarding a teaching from the past.

Jump to Subtopic:

Do Latter-day Saints believe in a practice called "Celestial sex"?

Summary: Some evangelical Christians claim that Latter-day Saints believe in a practice called "Celestial sex," and that this is the manner in which "spirit children" are formed.

Jump to Subtopic:

Dallin H. Oaks on God

Summary: Author Richard Abanes in his critical book One Nation Under Gods claims that Dallin Oaks told Mormons in 1995 "that so-called Christianity sees God as an entirely different kind of being." He cites Dallin H. Oaks, "Apostasy and Restoration ," Ensign, May 1995, 84. However, Elder Oaks made no such claim.

Does the Bible describe a racist, polygamous, psychopathic and schizophrenic God?

Summary: One critic of the Church claims that Christians believe in a "part-time racist god and a part-time polygamous god" and a "part-time psychopathic schizophrenic" god.

Jump to Subtopic:

Corporeality of God

Summary: One thing that sets Latter-day Saints apart from nearly all of the rest of Christianity is the doctrine that God the Father possesses a body in human form. In fact, many of our Christian brothers and sisters see this belief as positively strange, and some even question our claim to the title “Christian” because of it.

Jump to Subtopic:


Early teachings about God in the Book of Mormon, from Joseph Smith, and among Church members

Joseph Smith's early conception of God

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith initially taught standard Nicene trinitarianism. The early documents tell a different story, however.

Jump to Subtopic:

Modalism in the Book of Mormon?

Summary: It is claimed that the Book of Mormon teaches the trinitarian heresy of modalism or Sabellianism. This reading misinterprets some Book of Mormon verses, and ignores Book of Mormon texts which clearly contradict this reading.

Jump to Subtopic:

Lecture on Faith 5 and the nature of God the Father

Summary: Lectures on Faith, which used to be part of the Doctrine and Covenants, teach that God is a spirit. Joseph Smith's later teachings contradict this. More generally, critics argue that Joseph Smith taught an essentially "trinitarian" view of the Godhead until the mid 1830s, thus proving the Joseph was "making it up" as he went along.

Jump to Subtopic:

Early LDS beliefs about God

Summary: Some evangelical Christians attempt to show that the LDS idea of deification is unbiblical, unchristian and untrue. They seem to think that this doctrine is the main reason why the LDS reject the Psychological Trinity.

Jump to Subtopic:

Repudiated concepts: Adam-God theory

Summary: Brigham Young taught that Adam, the first man, was God the Father. Since this teaching runs counter to the story told in Genesis and commonly accepted by Christians, critics accuse Brigham of being a false prophet. Also, because modern Latter-day Saints do not believe Brigham's "Adam-God" teachings, critics accuse Mormons of either changing their teachings or rejecting teachings of prophets they find uncomfortable or unsupportable.

Jump to Subtopic:


Deification of man

It is claimed that the doctrine of human deification is unbiblical, false, and arrogant. Related claims include: 1) Mormons believe they will 'supplant God', 2) Belief in theosis, or human deification, implies more than one "god," which means Mormons are "polytheists," 3) The Mormon concept of "human deification" is a pagan belief derived from Greek philosophy.

Is the doctrine of deification of Man unbiblical, false, and arrogant?

Summary: Some Christians claim that the doctrine of human deification is unbiblical, false, and arrogant because they think that Mormons believe they will 'supplant God'.

Jump to Subtopic:


The Holy Trinity

A collection of articles that address the Latter-day Saint view of the concept of the Trinity.

Early beliefs

Summary: Critics attempt to show that the LDS idea of deification is unbiblical, unchristian and untrue. They seem to think that this doctrine is the main reason why the LDS reject the Psychological Trinity, however, "the historic church's concept of the Trinity" does not exist.

Jump to Subtopic:

Nicene creed

Summary: It is claimed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not Christian because they do not accept the Nicene Creed's statement about the Trinity. Since the Nicene Creed was first adopted in A.D. 325, it seems clear that there were many Christians in the first centuries following the resurrection of Christ who did not use it. Those who oppose calling the Latter-day Saints "Christians" need to explain whether Peter and Paul are "Christians," since they lived and practiced Christianity at a time when there was no Nicene Creed, and no Trinitarianism in the current sense.

Jump to Subtopic:


Latter-day Saint views of Jesus Christ

How do Mormons view our savior Jesus Christ?

Brother of Satan?

Summary: It is claimed that the LDS consider Jesus and Satan to be "brothers," thus lowering the stature of Christ, or elevating Satan. Some go so far as to imply that the LDS "really" worship or revere Satan, and are thus not true "Christians."

Conception

Summary: It is claimed that Latter-day Saints reject the "Evangelical belief" that "Christ was born of the virgin Mary, who, when the Holy Ghost came upon her, miraculously conceived the promised messiah."

Divine sonship

Summary: Though the Church does not embrace Nicene trinitarianism, they still believe that there is "One God," despite seeing the Father and Son as distinct personages. How do Latter-day Saints understand Jesus' divine Sonship?

Gordon B. Hinckley states that Latter-day Saints don't believe in the "traditional" Christ

Summary: President Gordon B. Hinckley, responding to a question regarding whether Latter-day Saints believe in the “traditional Christ,” stated: "No I don't. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the dispensation of the fullness of times."

Worship a "different Jesus"?

Summary: It is claimed that members of the Church worship "a different Jesus" than the Jesus worshiped by Christians.

Latter-day Saints aren't Christians?

Summary: It is claimed that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not "Christian." A related claim is that the Church has only recently begun to portray itself as "Christian" in order to gain adherents.

Lord of the Universe

Summary: It is claimed that the LDS view of God is provincial or limited, with God simply being a ruler over "this planet."

Relationship to Quetzalcoatl

Summary: It is claimed that LDS scholars believe that Quetzalcoatl was Jesus Christ. However, since Quetzalcoatl's association with a "feathered serpent" constitutes "snake worship," some claim that this association is therefore inconsistent with worship of Jesus Christ.

Savior of other worlds?

Summary: It would appear that there is one savior — Jesus — and that his sacrifice was the ultimate sacrifice for all of the worlds created and populated by the Father. Some critics have used the idea of each world having its own Savior against us. Is there anything written or published on either concept?

The "Mormon" vs. the "Christian" Jesus

Summary: It is claimed that Latter-day Saints believe in a "different" Jesus that "mainstream" Christians.

Was Jesus married?

Summary: Do Latter-day Saints believe Jesus Christ was married?

One of many saviors?

Summary: It is claimed that the "Jesus of Mormonism is but one of many saviors."

Praying to

Summary: Latter-day Saints are criticized for not praying directly to Jesus Christ.

April 6th as the date of birth of Jesus Christ

Summary: Do Latter-day Saints believe Jesus was born 1830 years before the Church's organization on 6 April 1830?

Alpha and Omega

Summary: What does the term "Alpha and Omega" mean, beside the beginning and the end, when referring to the Savior? What does it mean to the restored church?


The Atonement of Jesus Christ

Critics seriously understate the position of the Church of Jesus Christ with respect to the atonement. Many of the quotations used by critics regarding the LDS view of the atonement have been taken out of context, or the further comments of the speaker have been ignored. This is an implied a form of "bearing false witness," which is completely against the Gospel that the Savior taught during His earthly ministry. Critics, such as the authors of Mormonism 101, show very little evidence of having "studied the [Latter-day Saint] movement for the greater part of their lives" as they claim. In fact, if one takes up the authors' challenge to check their sources, one finds that in every case they are found wanting, often seriously so. In their "witnessing tip" regarding the Book of Mormon the authors conclude their imaginary dialogue by asking: "If Smith was misleading in this statement, how can I trust his other statements?"

LDS view of the atonement

Summary: Statements regarding the LDS view of the atonement

The importance of the atonement of Jesus Christ to the Latter-day Saints

Summary: Joseph Smith, the founding prophet, stated that "the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." Those appendages include the gift of the Holy Ghost, power of faith, enjoyment of the spiritual gifts, restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth. [1] The atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the central fact of all LDS theological teaching.

Jump to Subtopic:

Was Jesus actually crucified on a cross?

Summary: In the original Greek of the New Testament, accounts of Jesus' death only say he was put to death on "a pole." Is the belief of most of Christianity on "the cross" actually misguided?

Jump to Subtopic:

The garden and the cross

Summary: There is evidence that other mainstream Christians considered the atonement to have at least begun in the Garden, being consummated on the cross, which is what the Latter-day Saints have taught for more than 170 years.

Jump to Subtopic:

The Atonement as viewed by historical Christianity

Summary: Critics seem to assume that the LDS position is a "ransom" theory of atonement, and that the mainstream Christian interpretation is one of sacrificial death on the cross. They quote some statements from Latter-day Saint leaders emphasizing the Garden of Gethsemane as being the place of the atonement. They write, "Christians have long maintained that this glorious act of sacrifice took place on Golgotha Hill… It was here that God Himself was subject to the humiliating death of a common criminal,"[2] and note that "Christians realize that salvation is a result of what Jesus did for them on the cross… To even insinuate that this took place in the Garden of Gethsemane is a foreign concept to the Christian."[3]

Jump to Subtopic:

Comparing the LDS and evangelical Christian views of the atonement

Summary: Critics often make comparisons of what they claim are LDS views of the atonement against evangelical Christian views in an attempt to discredit the LDS perspective.

Jump to Subtopic:

Extent of the atonement

Summary: Critics seem to object that the atonement is applicable to all who have ever lived. They want to restrict it to only those who lived after the Savior ("only after Christ's death" and "for the believer").

Jump to Subtopic:

The atonement as portrayed in Latter-day Saint hymns

Summary: We note one hymn sung frequently by the members of the Church of Jesus Christ during their worship services. It has been in the LDS hymnals since 1896, and includes the following thoughts: "Reverently and meekly now, let thy head most humbly bow, think of me, thou ransomed one; think what I for thee have done, with my blood that dripped like rain, sweat in agony of pain, with my body on the tree I have ransomed even thee. In this bread now blest for thee, emblem of my body see; in this water or this wine, emblem of my blood divine. Oh, remember what was done that the sinner might be won. On the cross of Calvary I have suffered death for thee. Bid thine heart all strife to cease; with thy brethren be at peace. Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be even forgiven now by me. In the solemn faith of prayer cast upon me all thy care, and my Spirit's grace shall be like a fountain unto thee. At the throne I intercede; for thee ever do I plead. I have loved thee as thy friend, with a love that cannot end. Be obedient, I implore, prayerful, watchful evermore, and be constant unto me, that thy Savior I may be." This hymn, penned by a Latter-day Saint, is even more significant, given that when the new edition of the LDS hymnal was reviewed by a Professor of Music at the University of Toronto, the reviewer indicated that it "would enhance a communion service in any church."[4] It does so precisely because it emphasizes the atoning sacrifice of Christ for all people. He is the Savior, who shed His blood for us. This has been the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the beginning, and continues to be so.


The Holy Ghost

Anachronistic Holy Ghost in Book of Mormon?

Summary: Why is the Holy Ghost mentioned so many times in the Book of Mormon prior to the time of Christ (e.g., 1 Nephi 10:17) and yet in the Old Testament there is hardly any mention of the Holy Ghost, especially with regard to his mission of bearing witness of the truth?

Jump to Subtopic:

The "burning in the bosom" in Mormonism as a method of determining truth

Summary: Critics complain that the LDS appeal to "revelation" or a "burning in the bosom" is subjective, emotion-based, and thus unreliable and susceptible to self-deception. Sectarian critics also belittle appeals to spiritual experiences, comparing them to "warm fuzzies," or merely something "felt by simply watching a Hollywood movie."

Jump to Subtopic:

The Holy Ghost is divine but does not possess a physical body

Summary: Critics charge that since LDS doctrine teaches that a body is required for exaltation, the Holy Ghost cannot be fully God, because he does not have a physical body.

Jump to Subtopic:

The "office of the Holy Ghost"

Summary: I have heard a few claims about certain Church leaders saying that Joseph Smith is the Holy Ghost (or "held the office of Holy Ghost"). Are there quotes or citations supporting or alluding to this somewhere?

Jump to Subtopic:

Moroni's promise

Summary: Critics have made a variety of attacks Moroni's promise (Moroni 10:3–5): They claim that praying about the Book of Mormon is not an objective standard for determining if the book is true or not, and should therefore not be trusted. They claim that many people have read and prayed about the Book of Mormon and have either received no answer, or an answer from God that it is false.

Jump to Subtopic:

Similar experiences

Summary: Some claim that when religious experiences of people of other faiths sound similar, it calls into question LDS spiritual experiences.

Jump to Subtopic:

Testimony and doubt reconciliation

Summary: How can a person reaffirm their testimony when they learn disconcerting facts that may bring their testimony into doubt?

Jump to Subtopic:


Theodicy

This page discusses the problem of evil—can one believe in a good, just, loving God when one considers all the suffering and evil in the world?

Why would a loving God allow the death of innocents?

Summary: Would a good, just God destroy children, such as in Noah's flood or the firstborn of Egypt?

Jump to Subtopic:


Question: Does the Church violate the Biblical command against "graven images" by displays sculptures of Christ?

Exodus 20:3-4 does not mean that one cannot have pictures, statues, or images of earthly or heavenly things in one's home or in church

It is claimed that the Church violates the Biblical command against "graven images" because it displays sculptures of Christ, statues of the angel Moroni on the spires of our temples, or paintings showing scriptural scenes, within temples, chapels, visitors' centers, and publications. (See Exodus 20:3-4.) }

Since

  1. God is the revelator of the verses in question, and
  2. God is God, and
  3. Moses was there and heard firsthand,

one should side with God and Moses and say that Exodus 20:3 does not mean that one cannot have pictures, statues, or images of earthly or heavenly things in one's home or in church.

Instead one should stick with the unambiguous interpretation of this principle that is given in Exodus 34:17, "Thou shalt make thee no molten gods." We are commanded not to worship images, or anything else besides God, and members of the Church do not.

It is ironic that those who accuse the LDS of not being Christians then complain that the Saints use images of Christ to remind them of their worship of him.

The prohibition in Exodus 20 is not the production of graven images per se but the bowing down and serving of such images

The prohibition in Exodus 20: (see also Deuteronomy 5:) is not the production of graven images per se but the bowing down and serving of such images. We should remember that God later commanded the construction of the seraphim and cherubim for the ark (Exodus 25:17-22, Exodus 37:8-9) and temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6:23-35, 1 Kings 8:6-7), and the veneration given to the Ark of the Covenant, as well as the brass serpent (Numbers 21:6-9).

In similar fashion, Latter-day Saints do not bow down and serve/worship images of Moroni and images of past and present leaders.

One of the facts that must be reconciled with any interpretation of Exodus 20:3-4 is that the Bible states that God explicitly commanded that the Israelites make images and include them in their holiest places of worship. The text explicitly says that these images were revealed to Moses while he was on the mount (Exodus 25:40 and Exodus 26:30), meaning that they were given at the same time as the Ten Commandments and are part of the environment in which Exodus 20 must be interpreted.

For example:

  • Exodus 25:18-20: God commands that gold Cherubim be made to cover the mercy seat in the tabernacle. (Exodus 37:7-9 says that Moses made the image.)
  • Exodus 25:33: God commands that the tabernacle bowls be almond-shaped with flowers. (Exodus 37:19 says that Moses made the image.)
  • Exodus 26:1: God commands that Cherubim be fashioned on the Tabernacle curtains. (Exodus 36:8 says that Moses made the image.)
  • Exodus 28:33: God commands that pomegranates be sewn onto the hem of the high priest's robe. (Exodus 39:24-26 says that Moses made the image.)

And finally:

And Moses did look upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the LORD had commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them. (Exodus 39:43).

Furthermore, we have not even mentioned all the images that were used during the construction of Solomon's Temple, such as the oxen holding up the brass sea (see 1 Kings 7:25) or the lions, oxen, and cherubim on the base (see 1 Kings 7:29).

Those people who reject all images of things on earth or in heaven have an interpretation of Exodus 20:3-4 that doesn't agree with God's interpretation of those verses or with Moses' interpretation of those verses.


Heavenly Mother

Summary: Do Latter-day Saints believe in a female divine person, a "Heavenly Mother" as counterpart to God, the Heavenly Father? Are we allowed to pray to our "Heavenly Mother?" It is claimed that LDS belief in a "queen of heaven" is a pagan belief, and that the concept of a "Heavenly Mother" has no support in LDS scripture.


Multiplicity of Gods

Infinite regress of Gods

Summary: Is it true that LDS doctrine teaches a "genealogy of gods," in which God the Father had/has a God, and this God had a God, and so forth? If so, how does LDS doctrine deal with the problem of an "infinite regress" of "great-great-grandfather Gods"?

Jump to Subtopic:

Polytheism

Summary: Some non-LDS Christian claim that Latter-day Saints are polytheists because we don't believe the Nicene Creed. Others say Mormons are polytheists because they believe humans can become gods. Is this an accurate characterization of LDS belief?

Jump to Subtopic:

Divine sonship

Summary: Though the Church does not embrace Nicene trinitarianism, they still believe that there is "One God," despite seeing the Father and Son as distinct personages. How do Latter-day Saints understand Jesus' divine Sonship?

Jump to Subtopic:

"No God beside me"

Summary: Some Christians claim that the Mormon doctrine of the Godhead and belief in theosis are not compatible with multiple statements in Isaiah that "beside [the Lord] there is no God." These passages include Isaiah 43:10-11; Isaiah 44:6,8; Isaiah 45:5-6; Isaiah 45:21-22; and Isaiah 46:9-10.

Jump to Subtopic:


Man's interaction with God

No man has seen God

Summary: It is claimed that the Bible teaches that God cannot be seen by mortals, and so claims by Joseph Smith and others to have seen God the Father or Jesus Christ must be false. The most commonly used Biblical citation invoked by the critics is probably John 1:18, which reads “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

Jump to Subtopic:



    MEDIA


Revised or Unaltered?: Joseph Smith's Foundational Stories, Matthew Brown, 2006 FAIR Conference

    PERSPECTIVES


First Vision FairMormon articles on-line
  • Craig Ray, "Joseph Smith's History Confirmed," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, August 2002) FairMormon link (Key source)


First Vision on-line articles

Primary sources

On-line articles about the First Vision

  • James B. Allen, "The Significance of Joseph Smith’s ‘First Vision’ in Mormon Thought," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 no. 3 (Fall 1966), 29–45. off-site
  • James B. Allen and Leonard J. Arrington, "Mormon Origins in New York: An Introductory Analysis," Brigham Young University Studies 9 no. 3 (Spring 1969), 241–74. off-site
  • Richard L. Anderson, "The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 no. 2 (Summer 1969), 13–28. off-site
  • Richard L. Anderson, "Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision through Reminiscences," Brigham Young University Studies 9 no. 3 (1969), 1–27. PDF link
  • Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith’s Home Environment," Ensign (July 1971), 57–59. off-site
  • Richard L. Anderson, "‘Of Goodly Parents’," New Era (December 1973), 34–39. off-site
  • Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith’s Testimony of the First Vision," Ensign (April 1996), 10–21. off-site
  • Carlos E. Asay, "‘Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning!’: Joseph Smith’s First Prayer and the First Vision," Ensign (April 1995), 44–49. off-site
  • Milton V. Backman Jr., "Awakenings in the Burned-over District: New Light on the Historical Setting of the First Vision," Brigham Young University Studies 9 no. 3 (1969), 301. PDF link
  • Milton V. Backman Jr. and James B. Allen, "Membership of Certain of Joseph Smith’s Family in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra," Brigham Young University Studies 10 no. 4 (Summer 1970), 482–84. off-site
  • Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Joseph Smith's Recitals of the First Vision," Ensign (January 1985), 8. off-site
  • Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Confirming Witnesses of the First Vision," Ensign (January 1986), 32. off-site
  • Milton V. Backman Jr., "I Have A Question: Did Brigham Young Confirm or Expound on Joseph Smith’s First Vision?," Ensign (April 1992), 59–60. off-site
  • Milton V. Backman, "First Vision," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:515–516. off-site
  • Ronald O. Barney, "The First Vision: Searching for the Truth," Ensign (January 2005), 14–19. off-site
  • Dale L. Berge, "Archeological Work at the Smith Log House," Ensign (August 1985), 24–26. off-site
  • Davis Bitton, "[review of Richard P. Howard, The Church through the Years, vol. 1,]," Brigham Young University Studies 33 no. 3 (Summer 1993), 607–608. off-site
  • Hoyt W. Brewster Jr., "I Have A Question: What Was There in the Creeds of Men that the Lord Found Abominable, as He Stated in the First Vision?”," Ensign (July 1987), 65–67. off-site
  • Richard L. Bushman, "The First Vision Story Revived," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 no. 1 (Spring 1969), 82–93. off-site
  • Richard L. Bushman, "Just the Facts Please (Review of Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record by H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 122–133. off-site
  • Richard L. Bushman, "The Visionary World of Joseph Smith," Brigham Young University Studies 37 no. 1 (1997–98), 183–204. off-site
  • Church Educational System, “Additional Details from Joseph Smith’s 1832 Account of the First Vision,” in Presidents of the Church: Student Manual (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), 5–6.
  • Church Educational System, “The First Vision,” in Church History in the Fullness of Times: Student Manual (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), 29–36. off-site
  • Richard H. Cracroft, "Rendering the Ineffable Effable: Treating Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Imaginative Literature," Brigham Young University Studies 36 no. 2 (1996–97), 93–116. off-site
  • Peter Crawley, “A Comment on Joseph Smith’s Account of His First Vision and the 1820 Revival,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring 1971), 106–107.
  • Donald L. Enders, "A Snug Log House," Ensign (August 1985), 14–23. off-site
  • Donald L. Enders, "The Sacred Grove," Ensign (April 1990), 14–17. off-site
  • James E. Faust, "The Magnificent Vision Near Palmyra," Ensign (May 1984), 67–69. off-site
  • Marvin S. Hill, "A Note on Joseph Smith’s First Vision and Its Import in the Shaping of Early Mormonism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 no. 1 (Spring 1979), 90–99. off-site
  • Marvin S. Hill, "The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 2 (Summer 1982), 31–46. off-site
  • Dean C. Jessee, "The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision," Brigham Young University Studies 9 no. 3 (Spring 1969), 279–80.
  • Dean C. Jessee, "The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision (1831–1839)," Brigham Young University Studies 9 no. 3 (Spring 1969), 275–296.
  • Dean C. Jessee, "The Earliest Documented Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision," in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820–1844 (Documents in Latter-day Saint History), edited by John W. Welch with Erick B. Carlson, (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press / Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 2005), 1–33. ISBN 0842526072. This book has recently been reprinted, in paperback. BYU Studies and Deseret Book (July 13, 2011)
  • Melvin J. Peterson, "“I Have A Question: Does D&C 84:19–22 Indicate that a Person Has to Have the Melchizedek Priesthood in Order to See God? Joseph Smith Didn’t Have the Priesthood at the Time of the First Vision," Ensign (December 1985), 60–61. off-site
  • Paul H. Peterson, "[review of Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism,]," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 209–15. off-site
  • Larry C. Porter, "Reverend George Lane—Good ‘Gifts,’ Much ‘Grace,’ and Marked ‘Usefulness,’," Brigham Young University Studies 9 no. 3 (Spring 1969), 321–40. off-site
  • Larry C. Porter, "Reinventing Mormonism: To Remake or Redo (Review of Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record by H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters)," FARMS Review of Books 7/2 (1995): 123–143. off-site
  • Larry C. Porter, "Solomon Chamberlain’s Missing Pamphlet: Dreams, Visions, and Angelic Ministrants," Brigham Young University Studies 37 no. 2 (1997–98), 113–29. off-site
  • D. Michael Quinn, "Joseph Smith's Experience of a Methodist 'Camp-Meeting'," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought - Dialogue Paperless: E-Paper #3 (12 July 2006), PDF link
  • Joseph Fielding Smith, "I Have A Question: What evidences do we have to substantiate the First Vision of Joseph Smith?," Ensign (October 1987), 58–59. off-site See also original version in Joseph Fielding Smith, Improvement Era (February 1960), 80–81.
  • Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996), 1–4. LDS link
  • Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Fruits of the First Vision," Ensign (May 2005), 36–38. off-site
  • Elden Watson, "Joseph Smith's First Vision—A Harmony";—complete text of all Joseph Smith's accounts on-line off-site  (Key source)
  • Elden Watson, "Joseph Smith's First Vision (introduction)" off-site
Joseph Smith other visionary issues on-line links
  • Dean C. Jessee, "Early Accounts of Joseph Smith (1831–1839)," Brigham Young University Studies 9 no. 3 (1969), 275–294. PDF link
  • David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. PDF link (Key source)
  • 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). Volume 3 link The passage is quoted frequently: Richard R. Hopkins, Biblical Mormonism. Responding to Evangelical Criticism of LDS Theology (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 1994), 123; Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 121. off-site; Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q. Cannon, eds., Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 55. ISBN 1570086729. ISBN 978-1570086724.; Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Second Edition (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 60.; also in M. Gerald Bradford and Larry E. Dahl, "Doctrine: Meaning, Source, and History of Doctrine," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:393–397.; Tad Callister, The Infinite Atonement (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000), 3–4; Keith W. Perkins, "Insights into the Atonement from Latter-day Scriptures," Principles of the Gospel in Practice, Sperry Symposium 1985 (Salt Lake City, Utah;: Randall Book Company, 1985), 91; Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report (April 1950), 130.; quoted in Richard G. Grant, Understanding these Other Christians. An LDS Introduction to Evangelical Christianity (self-published, 1998): 42; My Errand from the Lord. A personal study guide for Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums 1976-1977 (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President, 1976), 92. The statement was first published in an early LDS publication, the Elder's Journal I (1832), 28-9. The frequency of appearance of this quotation in LDS literature makes one wonder why it is not to be found in Mormonism 101; indeed, the authors claim to have read the first six references cited here.
  • Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 145. ( Index of claims )
  • McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 148.
  • Joseph L. Townsend, "Reverently and Meekly Now," hymn 185; first in 1896; also in 1906 edition, hymn 331. The reviewer was Hugh McKeller, in the journal, The Hymn (April 1996), quoted in Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns, 200.