Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The Changing World of Mormonism/Chapter 6

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 6: The First Vision"

A FairMormon Analysis of: The Changing World of Mormonism, a work by author: Jerald and Sandra Tanner
Claim Evaluation
The Changing World of Mormonism
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Response to claims made in The Changing World of Mormonism, "Chapter 6: The First Vision"

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Response to claim: 149 - Oliver Cowdery's 1834 attempt at writing a history of the Church ignored the First Vision

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery's 1834 attempt at writing a history of the Church ignored the First Vision.

Author's sources:
  1. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 24-25. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Actually, the first installed of Cowdery's 1834/1835 history began with the events leading up to the vision, but the second installment published two months later only alluded to the vision as an event of the past, and proceeded to tell the story of Moroni's visit instead. It is evident that Oliver had Joseph Smith's 1832 history in his possession, which clearly describes the First Vision.


Question: Did Oliver Cowdery state that Joseph did not know if a "supreme being" existed in 1823?

In the first installment of his history published in December 1834, Oliver established Joseph's age as 14 and very accurately described the religious excitement leading up to the First Vision

Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in the Messenger and Advocate in December 1834 which is commonly misunderstood:

In 1834, Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in installments in the pages of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. The first installment talks of the religious excitement and events that ultimately led to Joseph Smith’s First Vision at age 14. However, in the subsequent installment published two months later, Oliver claims that he made a mistake, correcting Joseph’s age from 14 to 17 and failing to make any direct mention of the First Vision. Oliver instead tells the story of Moroni’s visit, thus making it appear that the religious excitement led to Moroni’s visit.

This curious account has been misunderstood by some to be evidence that the “first” vision that Joseph claimed was actually that of the angel Moroni and that Joseph invented the story of the First Vision of the Father and Son at a later time. However, Joseph wrote an account of his First Vision in 1832 in which he stated that he saw the Lord, and there is substantial evidence that Oliver had this document in his possession at the time that he wrote his history of the Church. This essay demonstrates the correlations between Joseph Smith’s 1832 First Vision account, Oliver’s 1834/1835 account, and Joseph’s 1835 journal entry on the same subject. It is clear that not only did Oliver have Joseph’s history in his possession but that he used Joseph’s 1832 account as a basis for his own account. This essay also shows that Oliver knew of the First Vision and attempted to obliquely refer to the event several times in his second installment before continuing with his narrative of Moroni’s visit.[1]

Two months later in the second installment published in February 1835, Oliver abruptly "corrects" Joseph's age from 14 to 17 years old, skips the First Vision and then proceeds instead to describe Moroni's visit

After spending the previous installment leading up to the First Vision, Oliver abruptly skips three years ahead and does not mention the vision directly. However, before describing Moroni's visit, Oliver even takes the time to minimize the importance of the religious excitement that he described in the previous installment, stating,

And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate (February 1835)

The religious "excitement" that Oliver is describing is now portrayed as an event in the past, during which Joseph desired to know "if a Supreme being did exist"

Note carefully what Oliver is saying. The religious "excitement," and the event that Oliver described in the first installment when he said that Joseph was 14 years of age, was when Joseph was seeking a "full manifestation of divine approbation" with the desire to know "if a Supreme being did exist." Oliver then alludes to the First Vision in the past tense by saying,

This, most assuredly, was correct—it was right. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast, that for him who knocks it shall be opened, & whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely.
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate (February 1835)

Oliver is stating that something of significance happened in Joseph’s life prior to the events that Oliver would be describing next, and he assures the reader that “this, most assuredly, was correct.” Oliver then proceeds to describe Moroni's visit to Joseph at age 17.


Question: What criticisms are related to Oliver Cowdery's 1834-1835 history of the Church?

Critics of the Church conflate Oliver's first and second installments of his Church history in order to "prove" that Joseph was not aware that a "Supreme being" existed three years after he claimed to have had his first vision

When Oliver Cowdery published his version of the history of the Church in December 1834 and February 1835 he did not include a recital of the First Vision story - thus implying that it was not known among the Saints by that point in time. One critical website makes the following claim:

In the first history of Mormonism from 1835 written under Joseph Smith's direction, it says that the night of September 1823 Joseph Smith began praying in his bed to learn 'the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.' (LDS periodical Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Feb. 1835). It makes no sense for him to ask if God existed, if Smith had already seen God face-to-face some three years earlier, and knew he existed.[2]

and

In Joseph Smith's 1835 published history of the church, he claimed that his first spiritual experience was in 1823 after a religious revival in Palmyra that same year. Smith testified that he prayed while in bed one night, to discover if God existed.

These claims, however, are false. Oliver's February 1835 installment did not describe Joseph's First Vision - it described Moroni's visit. It should also be noted that this was not "Joseph Smith's 1835 published history."

Only two years prior to Oliver's history, Joseph's 1832 account of the First Vision clearly establishes the date of both the first vision, and the vision of Moroni

Oliver Cowdery did, in fact, know about the First Vision when he recorded his version of the history of the Restoration—he had physical possession of the Prophet's 1832 history, which contains an account of the First Vision.

In October 1834 Cowdery announced in his newspaper that Joseph Smith would help with the history project but the Prophet himself noted that "no month ever found [him] more busily engaged than November." [3] In December 1834 President Smith was busy lecturing at the School of the Elders and acting as a trustee for the Kirtland High School and so during this month he sent Oliver a short letter to be included as part of the project, but also noted within it that he learned of his prominent role in the project, and its imminent appearance in the press, by reading Cowdery's periodical! [4]


Response to claim: 149-150 - In 1832, 12 years after the First Vision, Joseph had a revelation that said that a man could not see God without the priesthood

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

In 1832, 12 years after the First Vision Joseph had a revelation that said that a man could not see God without the priesthood.

Author's sources:
  • D&C 84:21-22
  • Doctrines of Salvation 1:4.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The authors have misinterpreted this scripture that they cite.

See Quote mining—Doctrines of Salvation 1:4 to see how this quote was mined.

Question: Does Doctrine and Covenants 84 say that one cannot see God without holding the priesthood?

This argument is fatally flawed by an improper interpretation of D&C 84:21-22 and also by not taking into account additional texts that were produced by Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith claimed that he saw God in 1820 and also claimed that he received the priesthood in 1829. However, 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. Some have misinterpreted section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants in an effort to destroy the testimony of Joseph Smith with regard to the reality of the First Vision. Their effort fails when the text is seen in its proper context and then compared with other writings that were prepared by the Prophet.

When D&C 84:21-22 is analyzed in context then an interpretation emerges that does not support the one proposed by the Prophet's critics. The relevant words read:

19 "And this greater [i.e., Melchizedek] priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live."

The word "this" in verse 22 does not refer to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but rather to "the power of godliness"

The word "this" in verse 22 does not refer to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but rather to "the power of godliness." [5] One of the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood is the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (see DC 49:14). As the Lord explained in an 1831 revelation, "no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God" (DC 67:11).

Moses was transfigured in order that he could see God and endure his presence

An example of this happening is seen in the Pearl of Great Price where it is recorded that Moses "saw God face to face, and he talked with Him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure His presence" (Moses 1:2). Moses confirmed that it was because he was transfigured by the glory of God that he did not die when he saw the Lord's face while in mortality (see Moses 1:11). The Lord verified to Moses in yet another text that sinful mortals cannot see His face and live (see JST Exodus 33:20).

Joseph Smith recorded that he was "filled with the Spirit of God" during the First Vision

This brings us to the case of Joseph Smith in 1820. In the earliest known account of this heavenly manifestation (written in 1832 - the same year as D&C 84) the Prophet made note of the fact that when the experience began a pillar of fire rested down upon him and he was "filled with the Spirit of God." Once the heavens were opened the Savior appeared and said, "Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee." The Redeemer tied these elements together in a Book of Mormon passage where He informed a multitude of His disciples that certain persons would be "visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins (3 Nephi 12:2). Since the Prophet's experience followed the same pattern, it is reasonable to believe that this is what happened to him in the Sacred Grove.

There are two further pieces of evidence pointing to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was transfigured during the First Vision event. First, there is Orson Pratt's 1840 recounting of the incident wherein he relates that the pillar of fire or light "continued descending slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and [Joseph Smith] was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system." [6] Joseph noticed that there was some sort of change wrought upon his body and it was of an extraordinary nature—something he was apparently not accustomed to. Second, we find a parallel between what happened to Moses after his transfiguration and that which happened to young Joseph after his theophany ended. In Moses chapter 1 we read:

9 "And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that His glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth. [10] And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man."(Moses 1:9-10)

In the Charles Walker account of the First Vision, it is indicated that Jesus touched Joseph's eyes in order for him to be able to see him

Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, as told by John Alger:

2nd Feb Thurs [1893] Cold and chilly. Attended Fast Meeting.... Br John Alger said while speaking of the Prophet Joseph, that when he, John, was a small boy he heard the Prophet Joseph relate his vision of seeing The Father and the Son, That God touched his eyes with his finger and said “Jospeh this is my beloved Son hear him.” As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Savior. After meeting, a few of us questioned him about the matter and he told us at the bottom of the meeting house steps that he was in the House of Father Smith in Kirtland when Joseph made this declaration, and that Joseph while speaking of it put his finger to his right eye, suiting the action with the words so as to illustrate and at the same time impress the occurence on the minds of those unto whom He was speaking. We enjoyed the conversation very much, as it was something that we had never seen in church history or heard of before.[7]

In three of the Prophet's retellings of the First Vision story he mentions that he too lost his strength and fell to the earth

1838 Main Text and Note B
"When I came to myself again I found myself lying on my back looking up into heaven; When the light had departed I had no strength, but soon recover[ed] in some degree."
1843 David N. White Interview
"when I came to myself, I was sprawling on my back and it was some time before my strength returned."
1844 Alexander Neibaur Diary
"I endeavored to arise but felt uncom[monly] feeble."

Some early Christian authors saw things in the same way as Joseph

For example, in an early Christian document called the Clementine Homilies the apostle Peter is portrayed as agreeing:

For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son, because it is illumined by exceeding great light. . . . For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light. [8]


Response to claim: 150 - There were no references to the First Vision in the 1830s

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

There were no references to the First Vision in the 1830s.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

No reference to First Vision in 1830s publications?

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Fact checking results: This claim is false

This is false.


Question: What references to the First Vision exist in published documents from the 1830s?

There are several significant references to the First Vision in published documents from the 1830s

1827

  • A skeptical account from Rev. John A. Clark mixed nine First Vision story elements together with the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and said that he learned them all in the Fall of 1827 from Martin Harris (John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way [Philadelphia: W. J. and J. K. Simmon, 1842],---).
  • A hostile account from someone who knew Joseph in 1827 reported:
I, Joseph Capron, became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1827. They have, since then, been really a peculiar people -- fond of the foolish and the marvelous -- at one time addicted to vice and the grossest immoralities -- at another time making the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God. The family of Smiths held Joseph Jr. in high estimation on account of some supernatural power, which he was supposed to possess.[9]
Capron obviously disliked and distrusted the Smiths, but he makes it clear that there were claims of holy intercourse (i.e., "communication" with)[10] "Almighty God."

1831

  • LDS missionaries were teaching that Joseph Smith "had seen God frequently and personally" and received a commission from Him to teach true religion (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831).[11]

1832

  • LDS missionaries were teaching with regard to Joseph Smith: "Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse [to] prayer" (The Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832).
  • In October 1832, another Protestant minister wrote to a friend about the Latter-day Saints in his area: "They profess to hold frequent converse with angels; some go, if we may believe what they say, as far as the third heaven, and converse with the Lord Jesus face to face."[12]

1833

  • A few months later, in March of 1833, the Reverend Richmond Taggart wrote a letter to a ministerial friend, regarding the activities of Joseph Smith himself in Ohio: "The following Curious occurrance occurred last week in Newburg [Ohio] about 6 miles from this Place [Cleveland]. Joe Smith the great Mormonosity was there and held forth, and among other things he told them he had seen Jesus Christ and the Apostles and conversed with them, and that he could perform Miracles."[13] Here is a clear reference to Joseph Smith stating he had seen Jesus Christ. Joseph’s ‘conversations’ with the Apostles could be a reference to having seen, spoken to, and been ordained to the Priesthood by the early Apostles Peter, James, and John. Having received that Priesthood Joseph Smith was now qualified to perform healings, and other ‘miracles’.
  • A Missouri newspaper contains an article on a mass meeting of Latter-day Saints in July 1833, and refers to the Saints’ “pretended revelations from heaven… their personal intercourse with God and his angels… converse with God and his angels….”[14]
  • Philastus Hurlbut, following his excommunication from the Church in 1833, went east to Palmyra. He there interviewed many who claimed to have known Joseph Smith before the organization of the Church. Among those interviewed were some who left statements which give us more information on what the Prophet had been claiming at that early period. On November 3, 1833, Barton Stafford testified that Joseph had “professed to be inspired of the Lord to translate the Book of Mormon.” Stafford claimed to have known them “until 1831 when they left this neighborhood.” Five days later, on November 8, Joseph Capron testified that Joseph had made “the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God.”[15] In 1884 and 1885 Arthur B. Deming collected affidavits in the Painesville, Ohio area, regarding the early Saints, and their recollection of Joseph Smith. Cornelius R. Stafford had been born in Manchester, NY, in 1813. He testified that Joseph Smith “claimed to receive revelations from the Lord.”[16]

1834

1835

1836

  • The First Vision reference by William W. Phelps was republished as part of hymn #26 in the Saints' first hymnal—March 1836 (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1176).

When the published 1830s fragments of the First Vision story are compared to the as-yet-unpublished 1838 recital, it becomes apparent that the Prophet's account of things stayed steady during this time frame and was probably known among a wider cross-section of the contemporary LDS population than has been previously acknowledged.

1834 - "the 15th year of his life" [Cowdery]
1838 - "I was at this time in my fifteenth year"
1834 - "There was a great awakening, or excitement raised on the subject of religion" [Cowdery]
1838 - "there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion"
1834 - "our brother's mind became awakened" [Cowdery]
1838 - "my mind was called up to serious reflection"
1834 - "his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians" [Cowdery]
1838 - "My Fathers family were proselyted to the Presbyterian faith"
1834 - "his spirit was not at rest day nor night" [Cowdery]
1838 - "great uneasiness . . . extreme difficulties . . . my anxieties"
1832 - "not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I kept myself aloof from all these parties"; "no small stir and division"
1834 - "he was told they were right, and all others were wrong" [Cowdery]
1838 - "who was right and who was wrong"
1834 - "a general struggle was made by the leading characters of the different sects" [Cowdery]
1838 - "priest contending against priest"
1834 - "Large additions were made to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches" [Cowdery]
1838 - "multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties"
1835 - "the world in darkness lay" [Phelps]
1838 - "I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness"
1835 - "he sought the better way" [Phelps]
1838 - "I was one day reading the Epistle of James"
1832 - "being in doubt what his duty was" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I often said to myself, what is to be done?"
1832 - "he had recourse [to] prayer" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God"
1831 - "he had seen God . . . personally" [Missionaries]
1838 - "I saw two personages . . . One of them spake unto me calling me by name and said (pointing to the other) 'This is my beloved Son, Hear him'"

Here then are several early testimonies from friendly and non-LDS sources, confirming that Joseph Smith and/or the missionaries were talking about Joseph conversing with Jesus Christ, angels, Apostles (Peter, James and John?), and “Almighty God.” Evidently the early Saints were doing a lot more talking about these things than the critics want their readers to know about.


Response to claim: 152 - Joseph's 1832 account mentions that he was in the 16th year of his age rather than the 15th

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's 1832 account mentions that he was in the 16th year of his age rather than the 15th.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct. An insertion in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams states that Joseph was in his "16th year."


Question: Why does Joseph Smith state in his 1832 First Vision account that he was in his "16th year" of age?

The only account showing a different age is the 1832 account, which states age 15 rather than 14

In the 1832 account, Frederick G. Williams inserted the "in the 16th year of my age" above Joseph's text after Joseph had already written it. (See: "History, circa Summer 1832," The Joseph Smith Papers)

1832.account.16th.year.png

Joseph's 1832 account states the "16th year" of his age in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams

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 in all other accounts in which he mentions his age, he was in his "fifteenth year."

  • Is this evidence that the Prophet's story evolved over time, and was thus a fabrication to begin with?

The only First Vision account that provided a different age was the 1832 account written in Joseph Smith's own handwriting. In 1832, 12 years after the First Vision, Joseph wrote, "we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructid in reading and writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements."

There is nothing nefarious in Joseph Smith correcting his own slight mathematical miscalculations

Although the portion of Joseph's 1832 history is in his own handwriting, the text insertion of "in the 16th year of my age" was in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, Joseph's scribe. It is likely that Joseph's dating schemes were slightly off when he dictated his age to Williams, many years after-the-fact. There is nothing nefarious in Joseph Smith correcting his own slight mathematical miscalculations.

Two years later, Oliver Cowdery had Joseph's 1832 history in his possession when he began publishing history of the Church in late 1834 in the Latter-day Saints' Messenger and Advocate. Oliver clearly established Joseph's age as 14 ("the 15th year of his life") during the period of religious excitement (although Oliver ultimately never described the actual First Vision at this time). Once the date of the First Vision was correctly established it remained steady throughout all subsequent recitals as the "15th year" or "age 14."


Response to claim: 154 - The 1832 account only mentions one personage

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The 1832 account only mentions one personage.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The 1832 account does not mention "personages" at all, unlike later accounts. It states that Joseph saw and conversed with the Lord, without explicitly mentioning the presence of the other personage.


Question: Why does Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision not mention two personages?

Although the 1832 account does not specifically indicate that the Father appeared, He is mentioned

The theophany portion of the 1832 account does not specifically indicate that the Father appeared to Joseph Smith together with Jesus Christ. The relevant text (in its original form) reads as follows:

"a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day c[a]me 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 behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life <behold> the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not <my> commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which <hath> been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud <clothed> in the glory of my Father."[17] (emphasis added)

Even though the Savior makes a direct reference to the Father there is no indication in this portion of the 1832 document that God appeared to Joseph Smith alongside His Son.

The same pattern exists in the Book of Mormon with Lehi's vision of God on His throne

This type of pattern is seen in the Book of Mormon, translated in 1829: The Book of Mormon begins (1 Nephi 1:8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on His throne. One [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi—thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate, and the role of Christ in giving instructions to the prophet while the Father looks on and approves is followed, just as it was in Joseph's First Vision. Here too, Lehi is described as praying to "the Lord," and yet has a vision of both God the Father and Christ.


Response to claim: 156 - The personages in the 1835 version are not explicitly identified as God the Father and Jesus Christ

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The personages in the 1835 version are not explicitly identified as God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

None of the First Vision accounts, including the one canonized in the current Pearl of Great Price, state explicitly that the personages were the Father and the Son. This is implied when one personage introduced the other as his "beloved Son." However, Church leaders such as John Taylor repeatedly identified the personages as the Father and the Son.


Question: What are the two 1835 First Vision accounts that refer to angels?

Joseph Smith's two 1835 accounts of the First Vision

Two of Joseph Smith's November 1835 diary entries make reference to the First Vision:

November 9, 1835

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 testifyed 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; When I was about 17 years old I saw another vision of angels in the night season after I had retired to bed.[18]

Note that the additional detail that there were "many angels" was inserted into the text as a clarification. This is the only account which mentions other personages in the vision other than the Father and Son.

November 14, 1835

I commenced and gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from 6 years old up to the time I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14.[19]


Question: Why does Joseph Smith's 9 November 1835 account of the First Vision mention "many angels?"

Criticisms related to Joseph Smith's 9 November 1835 account of the First Vision

The capitalized word "Angels" in Joseph Smith's diary entry for 14 November 1835 has given rise to two distinct criticisms by detractors of the faith, and one misguided conclusion by some Latter-day Saints.

Criticism #1 - Critics note that this word is plainly used in reference to the First Vision and thus assume that Joseph Smith did not consistently claim to see Deity during this manifestation and that he therefore contradicted himself.
Criticism #2 - Critics conclude that the official History of the Church was "falsified" when this reference was changed without any notation.
Misguided Conclusion - Some conclude that since the word "Angels" is capitalized in the text Joseph Smith must have been applying this title to Deity.

Both the two personages and "many angels" are mentioned

The mention of "many angels" in the November 9, 1835 diary entry is a clarifying detail. The appearance of the Father and Son are clearly referenced separately from the mention of the "many angels." Since the visit of the Father and Son are acknowledged in the diary entry for the 9th the change from "first visitation of Angels" to "the First Vision" in the History of the Church entry is not a "falsification" of information.


Response to claim: 157 - The 1835 account talks about a visitation of angels instead of the Father and Son

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The 1835 account talks about a visitation of angels instead of the Father and Son.

Author's sources:
  1. Deseret News, vol. 2, no.15, May 29, 1852
  • History of the Church 11:312

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

There are two 1835 journal entries that refer to the First Vision. The first one mentions the two personages, and also mentions that there were "many angels" that appeared as well. The second entry, recorded only a few days later, refers to the entire First Vision as the "first visitation of angels." The second entry was simply a summary of the vision, without describing any specific elements.


Question: Does the 14 November 1835 account reference to the "first vision of Angels" mean that Joseph Smith did not see Deity?

It is patently absurd to believe that Joseph Smith would contradict himself in less than one week while telling the same exact story in front of the same exact scribe

It is patently absurd to believe that Joseph Smith would contradict himself in less than one week while telling the same exact story in front of the same exact scribe (Warren Parrish). A careful examination of the diary entries for the 9th and 14th of November indicates that the "Angels" of the 14th are the very same "angels" mentioned on the 9th. The "angels" referred to on the 9th are definitely IN ADDITION TO the two main personages who appeared - the text says quite specifically that the angels "also" made an appearance on this occasion. Joseph Smith is not contradicting himself but is rather providing an additional detail about the event he is describing.


Response to claim: 159 - Joseph's claim of seeing the Father and the Son was not unique

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's claim of seeing the Father and the Son was not unique.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

So what? Jesus' teaching of repentance was not unique either. One must assess the fruits of Joseph's prophetic ministry. How many of those who claimed visions also produced a 500+ page book in less than three months?


Response to claim: 160 - Oliver Cowdery's 1834 history in the Messenger and Advocate did not mention the First Vision

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery's 1834 history in the Messenger and Advocate did not mention the First Vision.

Author's sources:
  1. Latter Day Saint's Messenger and Advocate 1:42, Feb. 1835.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Actually, the first installed of Cowdery's 1834/1835 history began with the events leading up to the vision, but the second installment published two months later only alluded to the vision as an event of the past, and proceeded to tell the story of Moroni's visit instead. It is evident that Oliver had Joseph Smith's 1832 history in his possession, which clearly describes the First Vision.


Question: Did Oliver Cowdery state that Joseph did not know if a "supreme being" existed in 1823?

In the first installment of his history published in December 1834, Oliver established Joseph's age as 14 and very accurately described the religious excitement leading up to the First Vision

Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in the Messenger and Advocate in December 1834 which is commonly misunderstood:

In 1834, Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in installments in the pages of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. The first installment talks of the religious excitement and events that ultimately led to Joseph Smith’s First Vision at age 14. However, in the subsequent installment published two months later, Oliver claims that he made a mistake, correcting Joseph’s age from 14 to 17 and failing to make any direct mention of the First Vision. Oliver instead tells the story of Moroni’s visit, thus making it appear that the religious excitement led to Moroni’s visit.

This curious account has been misunderstood by some to be evidence that the “first” vision that Joseph claimed was actually that of the angel Moroni and that Joseph invented the story of the First Vision of the Father and Son at a later time. However, Joseph wrote an account of his First Vision in 1832 in which he stated that he saw the Lord, and there is substantial evidence that Oliver had this document in his possession at the time that he wrote his history of the Church. This essay demonstrates the correlations between Joseph Smith’s 1832 First Vision account, Oliver’s 1834/1835 account, and Joseph’s 1835 journal entry on the same subject. It is clear that not only did Oliver have Joseph’s history in his possession but that he used Joseph’s 1832 account as a basis for his own account. This essay also shows that Oliver knew of the First Vision and attempted to obliquely refer to the event several times in his second installment before continuing with his narrative of Moroni’s visit.[20]

Two months later in the second installment published in February 1835, Oliver abruptly "corrects" Joseph's age from 14 to 17 years old, skips the First Vision and then proceeds instead to describe Moroni's visit

After spending the previous installment leading up to the First Vision, Oliver abruptly skips three years ahead and does not mention the vision directly. However, before describing Moroni's visit, Oliver even takes the time to minimize the importance of the religious excitement that he described in the previous installment, stating,

And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate (February 1835)

The religious "excitement" that Oliver is describing is now portrayed as an event in the past, during which Joseph desired to know "if a Supreme being did exist"

Note carefully what Oliver is saying. The religious "excitement," and the event that Oliver described in the first installment when he said that Joseph was 14 years of age, was when Joseph was seeking a "full manifestation of divine approbation" with the desire to know "if a Supreme being did exist." Oliver then alludes to the First Vision in the past tense by saying,

This, most assuredly, was correct—it was right. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast, that for him who knocks it shall be opened, & whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely.
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate (February 1835)

Oliver is stating that something of significance happened in Joseph’s life prior to the events that Oliver would be describing next, and he assures the reader that “this, most assuredly, was correct.” Oliver then proceeds to describe Moroni's visit to Joseph at age 17.


Question: What criticisms are related to Oliver Cowdery's 1834-1835 history of the Church?

Critics of the Church conflate Oliver's first and second installments of his Church history in order to "prove" that Joseph was not aware that a "Supreme being" existed three years after he claimed to have had his first vision

When Oliver Cowdery published his version of the history of the Church in December 1834 and February 1835 he did not include a recital of the First Vision story - thus implying that it was not known among the Saints by that point in time. One critical website makes the following claim:

In the first history of Mormonism from 1835 written under Joseph Smith's direction, it says that the night of September 1823 Joseph Smith began praying in his bed to learn 'the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.' (LDS periodical Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Feb. 1835). It makes no sense for him to ask if God existed, if Smith had already seen God face-to-face some three years earlier, and knew he existed.[21]

and

In Joseph Smith's 1835 published history of the church, he claimed that his first spiritual experience was in 1823 after a religious revival in Palmyra that same year. Smith testified that he prayed while in bed one night, to discover if God existed.

These claims, however, are false. Oliver's February 1835 installment did not describe Joseph's First Vision - it described Moroni's visit. It should also be noted that this was not "Joseph Smith's 1835 published history."

Only two years prior to Oliver's history, Joseph's 1832 account of the First Vision clearly establishes the date of both the first vision, and the vision of Moroni

Oliver Cowdery did, in fact, know about the First Vision when he recorded his version of the history of the Restoration—he had physical possession of the Prophet's 1832 history, which contains an account of the First Vision.

In October 1834 Cowdery announced in his newspaper that Joseph Smith would help with the history project but the Prophet himself noted that "no month ever found [him] more busily engaged than November." [22] In December 1834 President Smith was busy lecturing at the School of the Elders and acting as a trustee for the Kirtland High School and so during this month he sent Oliver a short letter to be included as part of the project, but also noted within it that he learned of his prominent role in the project, and its imminent appearance in the press, by reading Cowdery's periodical! [23]


Response to claim: 162 - "Mormon apologists are beginning to retreat from the idea that God the Father appeared to Joseph Smith"

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

"Mormon apologists are beginning to retreat from the idea that God the Father appeared to Joseph Smith"

Author's sources:
  1. None provided

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is an absurd claim on the part of the authors, with (as is usual with such things) no evidence presented.


Response to claim: 162-163 - The Book of Mormon teaches that there is only one God

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Mormon teaches that there is only one God.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The authors misinterprets what the Book of Mormon says.
  • Members of the Church believe that God is one. They also believe that more than one personage can be spoken of as God.

Question: Does the Book of Mormon teach that Christ and the Father are a single individual expressing himself in different modes?

The Book of Mormon teaches that the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three persons, and is not consistent with either modalism/Sabellianism or standard Nicene trinitarianism

It is claimed that the Book of Mormon teaches Sabellianism, also called modalism, i.e., the belief that Christ and the Father are a single individual expressing himself in different modes.[24]

The Book of Mormon teaches that the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three persons, and is not consistent with either modalism/Sabellianism or standard Nicene trinitarianism.

How are the Father and the Son one?

  • "And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one."(3 Nephi 19:23)

3 Nephi clearly teaches that Jesus Christ and the Father are two persons:

  • "Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name." (3 Nephi 9:15)
  • Ironically, Nicene trinitarians use a similar scripture in the Bible (John 1:1), in favor of the doctrine of the Nicene trinity (God in three persons). Thus, such language cannot be used as clear evidence of modalism.

Other examples in scripture

  • "And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one." (3 Nephi 28:10)

Jesus and the Spirit are two separate persons:

  • "But he [Jesus] truly gave unto them bread to eat, and also wine to drink. And he said unto them: He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled. But he truly gave unto them bread to eat, and also wine to drink. And he said unto them: He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled.Now, when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold, they were filled with the Spirit; and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus, whom they both saw and heard." (3 Nephi 20:7-9)
  • This scripture demonstrates that Mormon 7:7 and 2 Nephi 31:21 are not saying that Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are the same person.

Jesus Christ sits on the right hand of the Father:

  • "And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen."(Moroni 9:26)

Christ the Eternal Father is not the same as God the Father:

  • Christ is sometimes denominated "the Father because he was conceived by the power of God" (Mosiah 5:3)

Christ is the Father of our salvation:

  • "And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. "(Mosiah 5:7)

Christ is often discussed as a clearly distinct individual from the Father

  • The Nephites who witnesses the risen Christ were first spoken to by God: "6 And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them: 7 Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him." (3 Nephi 11:6-7) This was followed by Jesus' appearance, where he makes his own role and the Father's quite distinct: "I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. 11 And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning" (3 Nephi 11:10-11).
  • Jesus later also demonstrated their separate nature:
    • "...this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me" (3 Nephi 11:32).
    • "...not at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell it unto your brethren at Jerusalem" (3 Nephi 15:14).
    • "Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land. 16 This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them...." (3 Nephi 15:15-16).
    • "I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them" (3 Nephi 16:3).
    • "...thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you...." (3 Nephi 16:10).
    • "...now I go unto the Father, and also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel, for they are not lost unto the Father, for he knoweth whither he hath taken them" (3 Nephi 17:4).
    • "... I give unto you another commandment, and then I must go unto my Father that I may fulfil other commandments which he hath given me" (3 Nephi 18:27).
    • "And now I go unto the Father, because it is expedient that I should go unto the Father for your sakes" (3 Nephi 18:35).

Jesus' constant distinction between himself and the Father in both space (Jesus must leave the Nephites and go to the Father) and in giving instructions/commands (Jesus is commanded or not commanded by the Father repeatedly, and he obeys) are inconsistent with either Sabellianism or standard Nicene trinitarianism. Jesus and the Father are here clearly two distinct beings, though united in will and intent through divine love and obedience of the Son to the Father's will.

Other Book of Mormon examples

  • "I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end." (Moroni 8:3)
  • "Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son." (Jacob 4:5)

It is a stretch to interpret the scriptures above in favor of Sabellianism. Therefore, verses in the Book of Mormon that might imply Sabellianism should likely be interpreted in a different sense, if this is plausible in the text. This is not difficult.


Response to claim: 164 - Brigham Young denied that the Lord came to Joseph Smith in the First Vision

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Brigham Young denied that the Lord came to Joseph Smith in the First Vision.

Author's sources:
  1. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:171.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The authors omit parts of Brigham's statement the contradict their assertion.


Question: What is Brigham Young claimed to have said that leads one to doubt that he denied the First Vision?

Brigham stated that "The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven..."

It is claimed that President Brigham Young taught in an 1855 sermon that the Lord did not appear to Joseph Smith and forbid him from joining any of the religious denominations of his day, and that it was an "angel" who delivered this message instead. [25]

Note that the same critics also claim that Brigham Young never spoke about the First Vision at all:

An edited version of the 1855 sermon text—as it is presented by Church critics—reads as follows:

"The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven...But He did send His angel to...Joseph Smith Jun[ior]...and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day."[26]

Brigham actually said "The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven...with aught else than the truth of heaven..."

A complete quotation of the relevant 1855 sermon text reads as follows (bolded words indicate anti-Mormon usage):

"the Lord sent forth His angel to reveal the truths of heaven as in times past, even as in ancient days. This should have been hailed as the greatest blessing which could have been bestowed upon any nation, kindred, tongue, or people. It should have been received with hearts of gratitude and gladness, praise and thanksgiving.

But as it was in the days of our Savior, so was it in the advent of this new dispensation. It was not in accordance with the notions, traditions, and pre-conceived ideas of the American people. The messenger did not come to an eminent divine of any of the so-called orthodoxy, he did not adopt their interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven, in power and great glory, nor send His messengers panoplied with aught else than the truth of heaven, to communicate to the meek[,] the lowly, the youth of humble origin, the sincere enquirer after the knowledge of God. But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith Jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong; that they were following the precepts of men instead of the Lord Jesus; that He had a work for him to perform, inasmuch as he should prove faithful before Him."

Brigham actually used several phrases from Joseph's published First Vision account in this sermon

The portion of the second paragraph that critics focus on in their argumentation contains distinct themes found in the official, previously-published history of Joseph Smith. It is, therefore, necessary to exvaluate President's Young's remarks in that light. Consider the following comparison of texts -

  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong."
  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "they were following the precepts of men."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "they teach for doctrine the commandments of men."
  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "instead of the Lord Jesus."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" [Jesus Christ speaking].

Since President Young was obviously drawing his ideas from the official, published First Vision text it is reasonable to propose that he was referring to a completely different event after the comma that follows the word "Revelator" . . . while still referring to the "He" at the beginning of the sentence. Hence, "He" (the Lord) send His angel (Moroni) to Joseph Smith but "He" also—ON A DIFFERENT OCCASION—told Joseph Smith not to join any of the churches.

It should be noted that this sermon was not primarily about the foundational events of Mormonism, but about the United States government and its treatment of the Saints. President Young's remarks on foundational events were incidental, not central, to his message. It should also be pointed out that President Young did not personally deliver this sermon, but had Thomas Bullock read it to the audience which had assembled in the Salt Lake City tabernacle. Bullock served as a scribe on the Joseph Smith history project between 1845 and 1856. It is likely, therefore, that when Bullock delivered President Young's sermon in 1855 he was aware of the First Vision accounts found within the previously-published Joseph Smith history.

The First Vision story had been published nine times before Brigham gave this sermon

It should also be remembered that long before President Brigham Young's 1855 sermon was delivered in Salt Lake City his subordinates in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had published the First Vision story on nine different occasions: (Orson Pratt - 1840, 1850, 1851); (Orson Hyde - 1842); (John E. Page - 1844); (John Taylor - 1850); (Lorenzo Snow - 1850); (Franklin D. Richards - 1851, 1852). It is doubtful that President Young would have remained ignorant of these publications and their content. In fact, it is known that Elder Lorenzo Snow wrote to President Young on 1 November 1850 and mentioned explicitly that his publication contained accounts of "visions of Joseph" - including the First Vision story.[27]

The charge that President Brigham Young said an angel inaugurated the last dispensation instead of Deity cannot be supported. Evidence suggests that President Young's 1855 sermon is closely paraphrasing distinct First Vision story elements that were publicly available to all of the Saints in 1842.


Response to claim: 164 - John Taylor claimed that an angel appeared during the First Vision

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

John Taylor claimed that an angel appeared during the First Vision.

Author's sources:
  1. John Taylor, Journal of Discourses 20:167.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors ignore the numerous statements made by John Taylor in which he directly states that the Father and the Son appear, including one that occurred the very same day that he made the statement about "angels." The authors also do not understand that the term "angels" was also applied to Deity.


John Taylor (2 March 1879): "the Father and the Son...came to Joseph Smith" and "the Prophet Joseph asked the angel"

The following two statements were made by John Taylor in different discourses on the same day, 2 March 1879. In one, Taylor talks of Joseph Smith asking "the angel" which church was right, and in the other, Taylor clearly states that "the Father and the Son...came to Joseph Smith." This demonstrates how early Church leaders often used the term "angel" to refer to the personages that appeared in the First Vision, even though they clearly knew that they were the Father and the Son.

"When the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right"

None of them was right, just as it was when the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right.[28]

"When the Father and the Son and Moroni and others came to Joseph Smith"

When the Father and the Son and Moroni and others came to Joseph Smith, he had a priesthood conferred upon him which he conferred upon others for the purpose of manifesting the laws of life... [29]

Notice how one refers to an "angel" and the other refers to "the Father and the Son." Taylor was clearly aware of the details of the First Vision. This also demonstrates how early Church leaders used the term "angel" to represent the personages that Joseph saw, even at the same time that they recognized that these personages were the Father and the Son.


Response to claim: 164 - George A. Smith claimed that an angel appeared during the First Vision

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

George A. Smith claimed that an angel appeared during the First Vision.

Author's sources:
  1. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 12:333-334.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors ignore clear evidence that George A. Smith was aware of the details of the First Vision, and the fact that the term "angel" could also be applied to Deity.


Question: Was George A. Smith unaware that the Father and Son appeared to Joseph Smith during the First Vision?

George A. Smith was aware that the Father and Son appeared prior to making his statements about an "angel" appearing

Apostle George A. Smith said on two separate occasions that Joseph Smith's First Vision was of an "angel"—not of the Father and the Son. However, the argument that George A. Smith was simply not aware of a Father-and-Son First Vision account when he made his "angel" statements is nonsense since it can be shown from a documentary standpoint that he did indeed have prior knowledge of such a thing. An argument of ignorance is also untenable in light of the fact that Brother Smith's close associates in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had published orthodox recitals of the First Vision on nine different occasions long BEFORE he made his verbal missteps at the pulpit: (Orson Pratt - 1840, 1850, 1851); (Orson Hyde - 1842); (John E. Page - 1844); (John Taylor - 1850); (Lorenzo Snow - 1850); (Franklin D. Richards - 1851, 1852).

Historic documents appear to verify the claim that on two different occasions George A. Smith spoke of an angel appearing during Joseph Smith's First Vision

This does not mean that Brother Smith was not aware of the Father and the Son appearing to the Prophet at the time that he made his anomalous remarks. The following timeline demonstrates that the Prophet's cousin was well aware of the official version of events. His out-of-place comments need to be evaluated from that perspective.

7 April 1854

Elder George A. Smith was appointed at General Conference to be the new Church Historian.

9 August 1855

Elder George A. Smith wrote to the editor of the Deseret News on 9 August 1855 and gave permission to publish a short Church history that was originally requested for inclusion in a non-Mormon publication, but which ultimately did not appear in print. When Elder Smith told the First Vision story in this history he said that Joseph Smith beheld "two glorious Beings" during the experience. The capitalization of the word "Beings" indicates that the two individuals were considered to be Deity. Elder Smith then went on to tell the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon which, he said, was instigated by an "angel" who was commissioned of God (Deseret News, vol. 5, no. 26, 5 September 1855, 2).

15 August 1855

The First Vision account as found in the Wentworth Letter (1 March 1842) was published in Salt Lake City in connection with the official History of the Church. This account speaks of "two glorious personages" and then later speaks of the single "angel" who was involved in revealing the existence of the Book of Mormon plates. Since Elder Smith was the Church Historian at this time he likely would have known about the content of this publication.[30]

6 August 1862

Elder George A. Smith's short Church history (see 9 August 1855 above) was reprinted on the pages of the Deseret News. In this First Vision account Elder Smith referred to "two glorious Beings" and then later spoke of the single "angel" who was involved in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon[31]

15 November 1864

In a discourse on historical matters, Elder George A. Smith quoted directly from the official First Vision account, which was first published in the Times and Seasons newspaper on 15 March 1842 and 1 April 1842. Elder Smith recited the line, “This is my Beloved Son, hear Him” – leaving no doubt that he knew the specific identities of the two "personages" who appeared to Joseph Smith during the First Vision event.[32]

15 November 1868

President George A. Smith (now a counselor in the First Presidency) accurately related many First Vision story elements - as published in the Church’s official history - but mistakenly mixed them together with several accurate angel Moroni story elements - as published in the Church’s official history. He said,

  • Joseph Smith was 14 or 15 years old
  • There was a revival involving Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists
  • There was a scramble after the revival to secure converts
  • Unpleasant feelings were the result
  • Joseph Smith had attended those meetings
  • Joseph Smith prayed because of James 1:5
  • The Lord sent an angel to Joseph Smith in answer to his prayer
  • Joseph Smith asked the angel which church was right and the angel said they were all wrong
  • The vision was repeated several times and Joseph Smith was commanded to tell his father about it
  • Joseph Smith’s father told him to observe the instructions that were given to him.[33]

20 June 1869

President George A. Smith mistakenly mixed together accurate First Vision story elements with accurate angel Moroni story elements. He said,

  • Some members of Joseph Smith’s family joined the Presbyterians
  • Joseph Smith reflected much on religion
  • Joseph Smith was astonished at the bad feelings manifested at the end of the reformation
  • Joseph Smith was led to pray because of James 1:5
  • Joseph Smith had a vision of a holy angel
  • Joseph Smith asked which of the denominations in the vicinity was right
  • Joseph Smith was told that they had all gone astray and wandered into darkness
  • Joseph Smith was instructed not to join any of them
  • Joseph Smith was told that God was about to restore the gospel in its simplicity and purity.[34]

1869

President George A. Smith published a small pamphlet which contained the Wentworth Letter account of the First Vision.[35]

20 November 1870

President George A. Smith accurately related several First Vision story elements at the pulpit. This time he did NOT mistakenly include any angel Moroni story elements in his narrative.

  • The Lord revealed Himself to Joseph Smith
  • Joseph Smith was puzzled by hearing learned men preach about different doctrines
  • Joseph Smith saw the learned men quarrel over converts
  • Joseph Smith prayed humbly, with faith, because of James 1:5
  • Joseph Smith asked the Lord which was the right way
  • The Lord showed Joseph Smith the right way.[36]

The timeline shows that George A. Smith was accurate in relating First Vision details when he had a physical text to read from

The pattern that can be seen in the timeline above is that George A. Smith was accurate in relating First Vision details when he had a physical text to read from or was formally writing down historical matters; he was accurate on many points when he was talking extemporaneously; he corrected himself after delivering erroneous verbal remarks.


George A. Smith (1868): "revealed to Joseph by the ministration of angels, the true condition of the religious world"

George A. Smith:

When Joseph Smith was about fourteen or fifteen years old, living in the Western part of the State of New York, there was a revival of religion, and the different sects in that portion of the State—principally Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists—preached the necessity of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and repentance in order to be saved, declaring that unless men and women did this, and obtained what they termed, "a hope for the future," they would be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone, and there remain for ever. I have heard men spend hours in endeavoring to explain how long this hell would last. It was frequently illustrated in this manner, "Suppose a bird could carry a drop of water from this planet to another, and be gone a year on the journey, and continue this until every drop of water, on the earth was carried away, and then should take a particle of sand and go to another planet and be gone a thousand years, and carry one article of sand at a time until every particle of matter of which this globe is composed was carried away, that then this eternal punishment would have just commenced, and that the torture and pain there inflicted were so great that no mortal could conceive anything about it." The general effort in their preaching was to scare men into the road to heaven by such descriptions of eternal punishment. When eloquent men deliver such discourses they produce, especially upon ignorant people, more or less agitation, and when this is pretty general it is called a revival of religion. But when the excitement subsides and the converts have obtained what is termed "a hope," then the sects who may have united in bringing about such results begin to scramble to secure the converts. It was so at the time to which I have referred in western New York. The Baptists wanted their share, and the Methodists and Presbyterians theirs; and the scramble ended in a very unpleasant and un-Christian state of feeling.

Joseph Smith had attended these meetings, and when this result was reached he saw clearly that something was wrong. He had read the Bible and had found that passage in James which says, "If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not," and taking this literally, he went humbly before the Lord and inquired of Him, and the Lord answered his prayer, and revealed to Joseph, by the ministration of angels, the true condition of the religious world. When the holy angel appeared, Joseph inquired which of all these denominations was right and which he should join, and was told they were all wrong,—they had all gone astray, transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances and broken the everlasting covenant, and that the Lord was about to restore the priesthood and establish His Church, which would be the only true and living Church on the face of the whole earth.

Joseph, feeling that to make known such a vision would be to subject himself to the ridicule of all around him, knew not what to do. But the vision was repeated several times, and in these repetitions he was instructed to communicate that which he had seen to his father. His father was not a member of any church, but was a man of exemplary life. His mother and bro. Hyrum were members of the Presbyterian church. Joseph communicated what he had seen to his father, who believed his testimony, and told him to observe the instructions that had been given him.

These visits led, in a short time, to the bringing forth of the record known as the Book of Mormon, which contained the fullness of the Gospel as it had been preached by the Savior and his apostles to the inhabitants of this land; also a history of the falling away of the people who dwelt on this continent and the dealings of God with them. [37]


Juncker (1994): "Unknown to many, the early church fathers often referred to Jesus as an Angel....in antiquity the word 'angel' meant 'messenger'"

Günther Juncker (at the time of this writing), Master of Divinity candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:

Unknown to many, the early church fathers often referred to Jesus as an Angel. And they gave him this appellation long before the (alleged) distortions of Constantine, the Controversies, the Councils, and the Creeds.... the word Angel has a prima facie claim to being a primitive, if not an apostolic, Christological title. Before pronouncing judgement on the Fathers, men who were often quite close to first-century apostles and eyewitnesses, we may recall that in antiquity the word "angel" had a broader semantic range than at present. When we think of angels, we immediately think of super-human, bodiless spirits, all of whom were created and some of whom fell with Satan in his rebellion. But in antiquity the word “angel” meant “messenger.” It was primarily a functional (as opposed to an ontological) description and, thus, could refer to messengers who were human, angelic, or divine (the best known of the latter being Hermes, “the messenger god”). Likewise in Scripture, in both the OT and the NT, the term angel refers to human as well as to angelic messengers.[38]


Question: Is there anything wrong with early Church leaders using the term "angel" to refer to Jesus Christ?

The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel"

What about the term "angel"? Is there anything wrong with Brigham Young or others using that term to refer to Jesus Christ? Malachi spoke of the Lord as the "messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in." (Mal.3:1) The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel."[39] The Septugint of Isaiah 9:6, traditionally thought by Christians to refer to Christ speaks of the "messenger of great counsel." This term for Jesus was frequently used by early Christians. Eusebius stated that Christ "was the first and only begotten of God; the commander-in-chief of the spiritual and immortal host of heaven; the angel of mighty counsel; the agent of the ineffable purpose of the Father." [40] The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (an apocryphal work, thought to have been written before the fourth century states that when Christ descended to earth he "made himself like the angels of the air, that he was like one of them." [41] The Epistula Apostolorum (another important early Christian work, thought to have been written by 2nd Century Christians quotes the resurrected Jesus as saying,"I became like an angel to the angels...I myself was a servant for myself, and in the form of the image of an angel; so will I do after I have gone to my Father." [42] At least the use of the term "angel" in Christianity does not seem unknown.

Joseph Smith said that after his resurrection, Jesus Christ "appeared as an angel to His disciples."

How did Joseph Smith understand the term "angel"? One revelation calls Jesus Christ "the messenger of salvation" (D&C 93:8) Another states,"For in the Beginning was the Word, even the Son, who is made flesh, and sent unto us by the will of the Father." (JST John 1:16). The Father sends Jesus because he is the angel of salvation. Joseph Smith himself taught that angels of God are resurrected beings who have bodies of flesh and bone. [43] "Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while his body was lying in the supulchre) to the spirits in prison...After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples." [44] In Mormon theology the term "angel" has a unique doctrinal significance.

Since Joseph Smith frequently taught this doctrine, is it any wonder that those who knew him best (Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, etc.), would frequently refer to the Lord's visit to Joseph Smith as the visit of an angel (i.e. a resurrected personage of flesh and bone)?


Response to claim: 166-171 - There was no revival in the area where Joseph Smith lived in 1820

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

There was no revival in the area where Joseph Smith lived in 1820.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph didn't claim that there was a formal "revival," although most people infer that this is the case. Joseph's interest in religion began at age 12 following the 1817-1818 revival, and continued up until the time of the First Vision in 1820. In addition, the Methodists, whom Joseph specifically mentioned, were holding regular camp meetings in the Palmyra area in 1820.


Christofferson (2013): "Critics have also claimed that there were no religious revivals in the Palmyra, New York, area in 1820"

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, at a BYU Idaho devotional in 2013:

Critics have also claimed that there were no religious revivals in the Palmyra, New York, area in 1820, as Joseph Smith reported in his history. With today’s greater access to original sources, including the Palmyra Register newspaper, there is ample evidence of religious revivals in the area during 1820 and some years prior. It appears that the Methodists had a regularly used camp meeting ground, and that revivals were common enough that often they garnered no coverage in the newspapers unless something out of the ordinary occurred such as a death. (Footnote 12)[45]


Question: What religious excitement was occurring in Palmyra in 1820?

Methodist camp meetings were being held in Palmyra in 1820

Some claim 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" Joseph Smith—History 1:5

Joseph Smith talked of observing, as a 14-year-old, "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion" in the Palmyra area during the Spring of 1820. Joseph notes that "It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country." There is documented evidence of at least one Methodist camp meeting in the Palmyra area during that period, which only by chance happened to be mentioned in the local newspaper because of a specific death that seemed to be associated with it. It is reasonable to assume that the Methodists had more than one camp meeting during this period. In addition, there are newspaper articles talking of large-scale revival activity in the larger region surrounding Palmyra during the same general period when Joseph Smith said that it was taking place.

It is interesting to note that one crtical website attempts to dismiss evidence of Methodist camp meetings in the Palmyra area in 1820 because they are not "revivals", offering this weak excuse:

The church’s November 2013 essay and FAIR (an unofficial apologist LDS site) claim that there was a revival in 1820. They use the term revival loosely to help convince investigators that Smith’s claims are correct. An ad in the newspaper for a church camp meeting is not a revival that causes the “religious excitement” that Smith described. [46]

The critic's description is incorrect: This was not "an ad in a newspaper for a church camp meeting." It was a newspaper article about a death that occurred near the camp meeting - the camp meeting itself was never advertised in the newspaper, and likely never would have been. However, its mention in the newspaper is evidence that Methodist camp meetings were being held in the area at that time. The only reason that one was mentioned is because of the death associated with it.

One should keep in mind that Joseph Smith never used the term "revival" in his description - he simply described it as "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion." To a 14 year old who had been concerned about religion starting at age 12 after the 1817 revival, the ongoing camp meetings in the town in which he lived would certainly qualify.


Notes

  1. Roger Nicholson, "The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver’s Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1834 and 1835," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8:27-44 (December 6, 2013).
  2. "The First Vision," mormonthink.com.
  3. 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), 2:170. Volume 2 link
  4. J. Christopher Conkling, A Joseph Smith Chronology (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 68–69.
  5. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants: Volume Three (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004), 32-33.
  6. Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840), 5. off-site off-site Full title GL direct link
  7. 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]
  8. Apostle Peter (claimed), "Clementine Homilies," in 17:16 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)8:322–323. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  9. Joseph Capron affidavit, 8 November 1833; in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258-259. (Affidavits examined)
  10. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "intercourse." defines the term as simply "[1] Communication....[2] Silent communication or exchange."
  11. Regarding the reference in the Palmyra Reflector, Richard Abanes, in his anti-Mormon work Becoming Gods, boldly declares in the main body of his text on page 34 that "[n]ot a single piece of published literature" mentions the First Vision, yet in an endnote at the back of the book on page 338 acknowledges this newspaper account. He attempts to dismiss this by claiming that the reference is "vague," yet acknowledges that "as early as 1831 Smith might have been starting to privately tell select persons that he had at some point seen God."
  12. Rev. B. Pixley, Christian Watchman, Independence Mo., October 12, 1832; in Among the Mormons. Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers, Edited by William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958): 74. This article by Pixley was reprinted in Independent Messenger (Boston, Mass.) of November 29, 1832; also in Missouri Intelligencer (Columbia, Mo.), and the American Eagle (Westfield, New York). Cited also in Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, The Man and The Seer (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1960), 68, note 46. It is not clear what Rev. Pixley was referring to by the comment about the third heaven, though it may refer to the Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory [DC 76:], which had been received February 1832, and published in July in the Evening and Morning Star, in Kirtland, Ohio. Verse 20 indicates that “we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father….”
  13. Richmond Taggart to the Reverend Jonathan Goings, 2 March 1833, 2, Jonathon Goings Papers, American Baptist Historical Society, Rochester, New York, quoted in Hurlbut. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:205. See also Gregory A. Prince, Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 8.
  14. Missouri Intelligencer (August 10, 1833); quoted in John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 337. GL direct link
  15. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:22, 24. Original in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 251&ndash 252, and 258–260, respectively. (Affidavits examined)
  16. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:107. Original in Arthur B. Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism newspaper (January 1888), 3.
  17. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 9–20. off-site [PRECISE page numbering is needed; the words "emphasis added" need to be inserted after a ";" and space after the numbering designation.]
  18. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 74–77.
  19. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 84.
  20. Roger Nicholson, "The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver’s Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1834 and 1835," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8:27-44 (December 6, 2013).
  21. "The First Vision," mormonthink.com.
  22. 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), 2:170. Volume 2 link
  23. J. Christopher Conkling, A Joseph Smith Chronology (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 68–69.
  24. Origen Bachelor, Mormonism Exposed Internally and Externally (New York: Privately Published, 1838), 24. off-site
  25. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 164.( Index of claims ); Christian Research and Counsel, “Documented History of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” full-color pamphlet, 10 pages. [There is a notation within this pamphlet indicating that research and portions of text were garnered from Utah Lighthouse Ministry]; Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)
  26. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:171.
  27. Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1884),127–128.
  28. John Taylor, (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:167.
  29. John Taylor, (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:257.
  30. See Deseret News 5 no. 23 (15 August 1855), 1.
  31. Deseret News, vol. 12, no. 6, 6 August 1862, 2.
  32. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 11:2.
  33. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 12:334.
  34. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 13:77-78.
  35. George A. Smith, The Rise, Progress, and Travels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Office, 1869), 37.
  36. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 13:293.
  37. George A. Smith, (15 November 1868) Journal of Discourses 12:333-334..
  38. Günther Juncker, “Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title,” Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994):221–250.
  39. James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words In The Hebrew Bible With Their Renderings In the Authorized English Version (Nashville: Abingdon, 1890), 66.
  40. The History of the Church Book I:2 (3), in Eusebius: The History of the Church From Christ to Constantine, G.A. Williamson Translator (Penguine Books, 1986), 33-4.
  41. Martyrdom And Ascension of Isaiah 10:30-31, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 2 Vols. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1985), 2:174.
  42. Epistula Apostulorum 14, in Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha 2 Vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 1:199.
  43. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 162. "An angel has flesh and bones; we see not their glory." If Jesus comes as an angel he "will adapt himself to the language and capacity" of the individual.
  44. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 191. See also D&C 129.
  45. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, "The Prophet Joseph Smith," Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional (24 September 2013)
  46. MormonThink.com page "The First Vision"