Ensimmäinen näky

The First Vision is one of the major historical and doctrinal events in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The official version may be summed up this way: On a clear spring morning in 1820, Joseph Smith, when 14 years old, retired to woods near his home to pray. His subject: which if any of the churches was right; "...Who of all these parties are right, or, are they all wrong together? (It is interesting to note that just eight verses later Joseph Smith said: "...for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong..." Joseph Smith-History 1:18.) If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?" (Joseph Smith-History 1:10.)

These questions were allegedly raised in Joseph's mind by " unusual excitement on the subject of religion". A religious revival had allegedly occurred and four members of Joseph's family had joined the Presbyterian Church, his mother Lucy, his brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison, and his sister, Sophronia (Joseph Smith-History, 1:7.) Joseph wanted to know which church he should join.

Several notable events allegedly occurred while Joseph was in the woods praying: He was almost overcome by an evil power; his tongue was bound; a pillar of light fell upon him; he was "...delivered from the enemy..."; he saw two personages, God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ; Joseph asked the personages a question: "...which of all the sects was right..."; he was told all were wrong, to join none of them.

The official story was not accepted for inclusion in the standard works until 1880. (Ensign, Dec. 1984, page 38; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 3:1071, under Pearl of Great Price.) It can now be found in the Mormon Scripture Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History (JSH) 1:1-20, pages 47-50, 1981 Ed.

Joseph Smith's 1832 Diary Account

On page 2 and 3 of his 1832 diary (Ensign, December 1984 pages 24-26, January 1985, page 11; The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, compiled and edited by Dean C. Jessee, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, pages 4-6) Joseph Smith wrote in his own hand an account of his First Vision and his thoughts preceding it

  1. From page 2 of the diary Joseph Smith writes: " searching the scriptures I found 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 up the gospel of Jesus Christ..." On page 3 of the diary it should be noted that Joseph does not ask Jesus which of the sects was right and which he should join. He already knew the answer as a result of searching the Scriptures! In the official version (JSH 1:18) Joseph does ask which church is true.
  2. Joseph is 15 years old, not 14 as in the official version (JSH 1:7, 14);
  3. No evil power is mentioned; the official version mentions an evil power (JSH 1:15-16);
  4. Only one personage, Jesus, is mentioned; the official version mentions two personages, which LDS read to be the Father and the Son (JSH 1:17-18);
  5. There is no mention of a religious excitement which in the official version (JSH 1:8) provoked his need to pray.

There are over 9 versions of the First Vision from Joseph Smith and those with whom he shared details.

Notable Items And Differences

There are several observations worth noting about the First Vision stories.

The official version did not appear in any LDS official publication until March and April 1842, (Times and Season, Vol. III, No. 10, March 15, 1842, pages 726-728 and Vol.III, No, 11, April 1, 1842, pages 748-749.) 22 years after the alleged vision. There are very significant differences between the various versions, i.e. Joseph was 14 and 15 years of age, an evil power was present/not present; the number of personages ranged from none to two (0-2); God the Father and Jesus Christ were present/not present, angels were reported in some cases; no question was asked in some cases (join which church?); the revival that caused Joseph Smith to pray is not mentioned in all versions. The October and December 1834 and February 1835 Messenger and Advocate article relating of the early history of the Church said nothing about the First Vision story. There is more on this below.

Note that the versions chronologically closest to the alleged actual event (items 2 and 3 in the Table) differ significantly from the final official version. Also worth noting is that the version (item 6) from early members, who later became high ranking church leaders, also differs significantly from the final official version.

No Revival In 1820

Using period Presbyterian and Methodist Church records and other historical sources the Reverend Wesley P. Walters in his 26 page booklet New Light on Mormon Origins (First published by the Utah Christian Tract Society, P.O. Box 725, La Mesa, CA 92041, 1967. It is currently available from Mormonism Research Ministry, P.O. Box 20705, El Cajon, CA 92021.) and his book, Inventing Mormonism (by H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters) (Salt Lake City, Smith Research Associates, 1994, distributed by Signature Books, pages 15-41.), clearly demonstrates there was no revival in the Palmyra, New York, area in the 1820 period and shows that the revival actually occurred in 1824.

Evidence that there was no 1820 revival is also found in the official Mormon Church's paper of the period. In its first issue editor Oliver Cowdery, (Oliver Cowdery was Joseph Smith's scribe for most of the writing of the Book of Mormon, was present during the alleged restoration of the priesthood and was the "second elder," i.e. the number two man in the whole church.) states that he will write a "full history" of the sect with Joseph Smith's assistance:

...we have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints and the most interesting parts of its progress to the present time,...that our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. Smith Jr. had offered to assist us. (Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 1, October 1834, page 13)

Two months later (Vol. 1, No. 3, December 1834, page 42 - This paper's paging started with 1 at the start of the October 1834 edition and continued increasing with each paper's publication. The new edition continued the page numbering where the previous one left off.) he says Joseph Smith was in his 15th year when a religious revival resulted in his wondering which church was right. After another two months (Vol. 1, No. 5, February 1835, page 78) he corrects what he said on page 42. He now says (apparently with Joseph Smith assistance) that Joseph was in his 17th year when the religious excitement occurred. In this correction Mr. Cowdery says:

You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr's, age - that was an error in the type - it should have been in the 17th - you will please remember this correction as it will be necessary for the full understanding of what will follow in time. This would bring the date down to the year 1823. (Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 5, February 1835, page 78)

Oliver Cowdery continues the full history in the Messenger and Advocate on pages 78-79. He relates how on the evening of the 21st of September 1823 a personage sent by the commandment of the Lord visited Joseph Smith in his bedroom. Nothing is said about Joseph's praying outdoors in the sacred Grove and being visited by the Father and Son. The full history places the revival in 1823, not 1820 as in the official version (Mormon scripture, Joseph Smith-History 1:1-20). It points to the conclusion that today's official version was a later invention.

Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith's mother, in her unpublished account of the family history conveys similar historical information as provided by Oliver Cowdery in the Messenger and Advocate. She says nothing about a First Vision event in 1820 and places a "great revival in religion" that interested them after the death of her son Alvin, (Preliminary draft of "Lucy Smith's History," (This was published in a greatly modified form under "History of Joseph Smith" By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, Bookcraft, 1958. page 55 of the handwritten copy, page 174 of the typed transcript in the LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City). Alvin died November 19, 1823. This must be the revival that Joseph in the present official version (Joseph Smith - History 1:7) that allegedly occurred in 1820. Joseph's mother does says her son was visited by an angel ("Lucy Smith's History," handwritten copy, pages 46-47), but nothing is said about a visitation of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Smiths Not Living On Farm In 1820

The Reverend Wesley Walters in his article "Joseph's First Vision Story Undermined", (Quarterly Journal, Personal Freedom Outreach, Vol. 8, No. 1, Jan.-March, 1987, page 4) and his book Inventing Mormonism (by H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Salt Lake City, Smith Research Associates, distributed by Signature Books, 1994, pages 1-13.) uses Palmyra road tax records (Salt Lake City, Smith Research Associates, distributed by Signature Books, 1994, pages 1-13.), a Town of Manchester property tax assessment record and other historical documents to show that the Smiths did not move from Palmyra, New York to their farm in Manchester, New York (about 2 miles from the Village of Palmyra) until sometime after April, 1822 and before July 1823. By using Joseph Smith-History 1:5 where Joseph says that the revival occurred in the second year after their move to Manchester, Reverend Walters again shows that the revival must have occurred in the 1824 time frame, not 1820 as stated in the official version (1:3-5).

Additional evidence appears in the Smiths' genealogy. It states that Lucy Smith, the youngest child of the Smith family, was born July 18, 1821 in Palmyra (Inventing Mormonism, by H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, pages XXV and 7.)

Another indication that the Smiths were not living on their farm in Manchester, New York in 1820 is found in Joseph Smith-History 1:3, 5:

I was born in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and five, on the twenty third day of December...My father...moved to Palmyra, Ontario (now Wayne) county, in the State of New York, when I was in my tenth year [1814-1815], or thereabouts. In about four years [1818-1819] after my father's arrival in Palmyra, he moved with his family into Manchester in the same county of Ontario- ...Some time in the second year [1820-1821] after our removal to Manchester there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion... [Joseph then goes on to describe the excitement on religion and how it led to his desire to know which church to join and then his subsequent prayer and vision in the spring of 1820] (Joseph Smith - History 1:14)

According to the time calculations Joseph Smith supplies here they moved to the farm in "Manchester" about 1818. Wayne County was not formed until April 11, 1823 and it was Ontario County prior to this, as Joseph recognized. But the area Joseph called Manchester did not have this name in the 1818 to 1821 time period. It was first called Farmington, then renamed Burt on March 31, 1821. It was not named Manchester until April 16, 1822 (Gazetteer of the State of New York, by J. H. French, LL.D., page 497, 1860; Gazetteer of the State of New York, by Horatio Gates Spafford, LL.D., page 302, 1824).) It could be said that Joseph Smith just made a mistake in calling the town Manchester but it is consistent with the other evidence to believe that Joseph Smith correctly named it Manchester. If the revival occurred in the second year after the move to Manchester (JSH 1:5), then we have it occurring in 1824 (Two years after April 16, 1822, at least) - a date consistent with church revival records/history and with what tax records reveal about the family's move, as shown above.

The "Explanatory Introduction" of the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants has an interesting statement on the subject of where the Smiths' were living:

During his early life he moved with his family to Manchester, in western New York. It was while he was living near Manchester in the spring of 1820, when he was fourteen years of age, that he experienced his first vision, in which he was visited in person by God, the Eternal Father, and his Son Jesus Christ.

This LDS commentary places the Smith's near Manchester when Joseph Smith allegedly had his First Vision.

What Did Local Newspapers have?

In Joseph Smith-History 1:21-23 and 75 Joseph Smith relates that, when he shared with others the vision he had of the Father and Son he was greatly persecuted.

I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors (These were not college teachers, these were church members, see more on this in chapter 6 in Answering Questions and Objections From Mormons.) of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sectsall united to persecute me. (Joseph Smith-History 1:22)

We had been threatened with being mobbed, from time to time, and this, too, by professors of religion. And their intentions of mobbing us were only counteracted by the influence of my wife's father's family (under Divine providence), who had become very friendly to me, and who were opposed to mobs, and were willing that I should be allowed to continue the work of translation without interruption; and therefore offered and promised us protection from all unlawful proceedings, as far as in them lay. (Joseph Smith-History 1:75)

It would seem that public persecution of the scope and magnitude described here would be noted in the local newspaper, but there is nothing. In fact the editor of the local paper, the Palmyra Reflector, edited by Obadiah Dogberry (a pseudonym for Abner Cole) had the following to say:

It however appears quite certain that the prophet himself never made any serious pretensions to religion until his late pretended revelation [the discovery of the Book of Mormon] (The brackets are in the quote. The Book of Mormon publication process started in 1827; see Appendix 2 for the dates associated with the Book of Mormon.). (Palmyra Reflector, February 1, 1831)

...It is well know that Joe Smith never pretended to any communion with angels, until a long period after the pretended finding of his book... (Palmyra Reflector, article Number V, February 28, 1831; this article and the one above were reported in: A New Witness For Christ in America, by Francis W. Kirkham, Zion Printing and Publishing Co., Independence, 1942, 281-295 and No Man Knows My History, by Fawn M. Brodie, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1974, pages 22-23, 429-431)

To Summarize

Four separate main lines of evidence now show that the revival was not in 1820:

  1. the tax records referenced above along with Joseph Smith-History 1:3-5.
  2. The Messenger and Advocate article by Oliver Cowdery.
  3. Presbyterian and Methodist Church records.
  4. Joseph Smith said the town they moved to was Manchester.

There is no evidence that there were two revivals of the magnitude described by Joseph Smith, one in 1820 and another in the 1824 time frame. The only revival that fits Joseph Smith's statement "...became general among all sects in that region of country...the whole district of country seemed affected... great multitudes united themselves to different religious parties..." (Joseph Smith-History 1:5) - occurred in 1824. If no revival occurred in 1820 then Joseph Smith lied. If he lied he is a false prophet, condemned by the Bible (Deut. 18:20-22; Col. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:2). A possible explanation is that whoever wrote the current official history based it on the Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 3, December 1834, page 42 and missed the correction in Vol. 1, No. 5, February 1835, page 78. This would mean the official version, a foundational event in the Mormon Church, is based upon a typographical error.

Another possible explanation of why the First Vision story changed is that Joseph Smith did not want this event to be overshadowed by vision claims of others.

Visions about religion and the use of seer stones were not that unusual in the period of Joseph Smith's youth (Joseph Smith, The First Mormon, by Donna Hill, Doubleday & Co. Inc., 1977, page 48; Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1987, pages 38-50, 122-123, 143-148, 194-214.).

Hiram Page, an early convert who left the Mormon Church in 1838, allegedly had a vision in 1830 about the location of Zion and the New Jerusalem ("And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him;" (also note the historical heading - Sept. 1830, D&C 28:11; History of the Church, 1:111)

EARLY SPECULATION AS TO SITE OF NEW JERUSALEM. When it was made known that the New Jerusalem was to be built in America, the saints began to wonder where the city would be. Hiram Page, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, secured a "peep stone" by means of which he claimed to receive revelation for the Church. Among the things he attempted to make known was where this city was to be built, Considerable commotion naturally prevailed, and even Oliver Cowdery was deceived into accepting what Hiram Page had given. The Prophet Joseph Smith had some difficulty in correcting this evil and composing the minds of the members of the Church. (Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 3:75)

Hiram Page Born in Vermont 1800; baptized April 11, 1830; withdrew from the Church, 1838; died in Ray Co., Missouri, August 12, 1852. (The Articles of Faith, James E. Talmage, page 503)

To our great grief, however, we soon found that Satan had been lying in wait to deceive, and seeking whom he might devour. Brother Hiram Page had in his possession a certain stone, by which he had obtained certain revelations concerning the upbuilding (sic) of Zion, the order of the Church , etc,... History of the Church, 1:109-110).

Early convert Solomon Chamberlain, who lived 20 miles east of Manchester when Joseph Smith was there, claimed the Lord, through a vision, told him that all churches were corrupt and all people, with a few exceptions, were wrong (Joseph Smith The First Mormon, by Donna Hill, Doubleday & Co. Inc., 1977, page 48.).

Others in this same time period were reported to have had visions. ("Smith's accounts of this first vision were consistent with other contemporary ecstatic experiences; nothing about his account was unusual for his time and place." The Mormon Hierarchy, by D. Michael Quinn, Signature Books, 1994, page 3; In note 13 on page 269 of this same reference several examples are given.)

When the LDS were in Kirtland, Ohio (1831-1838) the Father and Son were allegedly seen at least a dozen times at four separate sites. Joseph Smith saw many of these appearances in Kirtland (Joseph Smith's Kirtland, by Karl Ricks Anderson, Deseret Books, Salt Lake City, 1989, pages 107-113.). He may have felt compelled to embellish his first vision account so that it would not be overshadowed by these later visions.

Pro-Mormon historian Marvin Hill, in speaking about the 1832 version (item 3 in Figure 1), said:

Merely on the face of it, the 1832 version stands a better chance of being more accurate and unembellished than the 1838 account [the official version] which was intended as a public statement, streamlined for publication. When Joseph dictated his 1838 version (if he did in fact actually dictate it), he was aware of what had been previously published by Oliver Cowdery and aware of his stature as the prophet of a new and important religious movement. It would be natural for him to have smoothed out the story, making it more logical and compelling than perhaps it first seemed in 1820. (Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. XV, No. 2, Summer 1982, "The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation," page 39 (This article is also available from: Mormon Miscellaneous, 8865 South 1300 East, Sandy, UT 84092, March 1986, Reprint 7, page 9.).

This pro-Mormon writer admits that Joseph Smith may have fabricated much of the first vision account.

What Some LDS Might Say In Response

Differences In The Gospel

Some Mormons might point to the first four books of the New Testament to justify the conflicting versions of the First Vision. They might say: "Look at the differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If they can have differences then why can't Joseph Smith?" This argument ignores the fact that the referenced gospels were penned by four different authors describing the same historical events from different perspectives, different vantage points. It is logical that one would exclude things another would include. But with the First Vision story there is only one person telling the story. He is the one who allegedly experienced it. Yet he tells it differently each time, contradicting his own testimony. There is really no valid comparison between the gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the First Vision stories by one writer, Joseph Smith.

It Doesn't Really Mean That...

Some LDS may say: "What you call an attack in Joseph Smith-History 1:18-20 really applied only to that day (1820), not to our time. You just don't really understand what is being said."

Some Mormons are embarrassed by the harshness of Joseph Smith-History 1:18-20. In an effort to mitigate its harshness some will take various approaches. Some will say that the first vision only applied to the 1820 period, but not to our time frame. The Mormon Church has not sanctioned this idea, so, we are only dealing with personal opinion.

There is no internal evidence in the first vision story that supports this idea, but there is evidence that proves it wrong. JS-H 1:19 says that the creeds of the sects were an abomination. The creeds of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches (JS-H 1:5, 8-10 names the churches) are essentially the same now as they were in 1820.

While the Baptist church does not use formal creeds, its founding document (in 1800) said salvation is by the grace of God. The modern day continuation of this church still adheres to this same belief (These ideas are expanded on in a private paper Creeds, Sects and the Mormon Church, by John Farkas, July 2, 1992.).

If the creeds and beliefs of the churches in 1820 are essentially unchanged today, it seems logical that if they were an abomination in 1820 they would also be an abomination today. There is nothing published by the Mormon Church that would contradict this idea.

Professors Were Public Teachers

Another approach Mormons use is to say that the "professors" mentioned in Joseph Smith-History 1:19 are "public teachers or college professors". To say that "professors" were public teachers is not consistent with:

  1. The 1820 period dictionary meaning of the word.
  2. The context of its use in JS-H 1:19, 22 and 75.
  3. The schools in the Palmyra area in the spring of 1820.

The context is the local churches and their creeds. The key thoughts in verses 18 and 19 (up to the word professor) are:

  1. Joseph Smith asks "which of all the sects was right" (These sects are the local churches mentioned in verses 5, 8-10).
  2. Joseph is told he should join none of them, as they were all wrong.
  3. The creeds of these churches were an abomination is God's sight.

We should also consider the meaning of professor in dictionaries of the 1820 period. The first definition of professors in three dictionaries of the period is: "One who makes open declaration of his sentiments or opinions; particularly, one who makes a public avowal of his belief in the Scriptures and his faith in Christ, and thus unites himself to the visible church." (An American Dictionary of the English Language: by Noah Webster, 1828); "One who declares himself of any opinion or party." (A Dictionary of the English Language, by Samuel Johnson, 1805); "One who declares himself of any opinion or party." (A Dictionary of the English Language, Abridged by the editor, from that of Dr Samuel Johnson, as edited by Robert Gordon Latham, 1876).

A professor then, by the first definition, in the context of JS-H 1:19, 22 and 75, is one who accepts (professes belief in) the creeds that were allegedly an abomination in God's sight. It is they who were teaching "commandments of men".

Many LDS only give the second dictionary meaning of professor. The second and third definition in the dictionary references above are: "One that publicly teaches any science or branch of learning; particularly an officer in a university, college or other seminary..."; "One who publickly (sic) practises (sic) or teaches an art." and "One who publicly practises (sic), or teaches, an art...One who is visibly religious."

Using the second and third dictionary definitions is not consistent with the schools in the Palmyra area in the spring of 1820. It was a newly settled area and the schools were not sophisticated enough to have professors teaching at a college, university, seminary level or teaching an art. Milton V. Backman in his book Joseph Smith's First Vision, page 51, (Bookcraft Inc, Salt Lake City, 1971, 1980) reports:

In the summer of 1820 [after Joseph Smith's First Vision] an academy was opened in Palmyra village where students studied Latin and Greek. Four years later an independent school was also established there and pupils gathered in the upper room of the academy where they were taught geography, mathematics, astronomy, surveying, grammar, reading, and writing.

The schools in the spring of 1820 were one room school houses teaching the basics - reading, writing and arithmetic, not church creeds (ibid, page 51).

To assume that the JS-H 1:19 meaning of professor is the second dictionary definition is inconsistent with the reality of schools in the Palmyra area in the spring of 1820 and with the context of verses 1:5, 8-10, 18-19, 22 and 75. It is clear that the professors in JS-H were those who professed to (accepted) the creeds of the Palmyra churches (sects) Joseph Smith was praying about.


Picture yourself, for a moment, seated as a juror in a court of law where a criminal case is being tried. On the witness stand in his own defense, the defendant has just submitted to questioning by his attorney, during which questioning he related in detail his testimony as to what took place at the alleged crime scene. Now, as the cross-examination proceeds, the prosecuting attorney repeats the same questions. The defendant tells the story again, only this time he tells it differently. So, the prosecutor asks him to go through it all a third time. When he does, he changes his story again. The clerk of the court is then asked to read aloud a statement the defendant signed shortly after his arrest, and this presents still another version of events. Summing up, the prosecutor points out that the defendant testified variously that a certain father and son were present at the scene, that only the son was present, and that neither was present; that he needed information and so asked a question, and that he already had the information and hence asked nothing; that a certain evil influence was present, and that it was not - and so on, with these and other aspects of the story changing each time it was retold. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," the prosecutor concludes, "I leave it to you to decide whether the defendant is a credible witness on his own behalf."

Applying the same standard of judgment leads many observers to question the LDS Church's official First Vision story. At best, it is incorrect and not supportable by historical data. At worst, the First Vision was an invention fabricated by Joseph Smith and embellished to meet changing needs in his early church. Neither possibility inspires much confidence in this foundation of Mormonism.

Lisätietoa Vertailua joidenkin 1. näyn versioiden välillä


 Etusivu > Artikkelit | Sivun alkuun


 2000-10-07 — 2004-08-05