Criticism of Mormonism/Video/Search for the Truth DVD/First Vision

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Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith or Search for the Truth DVD


Joseph Smith's Character: The First Vision

Note: Perhaps hoping that repetition can replace evidence, the video returns to these themes again here in less detail.

CLAIM: Joseph Smith said that a mortal person had to have the priesthood in order to see God and live. But since he didn't have the priesthood in 1820 he could not have really seen God as he claimed.

When D&C 84:21-22 is analyzed in context, it is apparent that the critics have misread LDS scripture. The pertinent passage says:

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. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. (DC 84:19-22)

The word "this" in verse 22 does not refer to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but rather to "the power of godliness." This power becomes available to mortals when they become one with the Spirit of God. 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). Joseph Smith described this quickening in several of his First Vision recitations. He was thereby enabled to see God face to face and live.

To read more:

CLAIM: Joseph Smith gave nine different accounts of what happened during the First Vision. He just couldn't keep his story straight, even when it came to who his heavenly visitors were.

  • The first three non-Mormon accounts listed (Willard Chase - written 6 years after the fact; John Clark - written 15 years after the fact; Peter Bauder - written 4 years after the fact) are obviously not about the 1820 First Vision, but rather the 1823 angel Moroni visitation. Either the critics are misinformed or they want to make it appear as though Joseph Smith's first claimed visionary experience was of an angel and that he later changed it into an encounter with Deity to be more impressive—the angel story then being refashioned as a second meeting with divine beings. The records do not support this scenario.
  • The fourth account listed is from an 1832 unpublished history which was written partly by the Prophet himself. Critics focus on the fact that in this text, only Jesus Christ is described as making an appearance to Joseph Smith—the Father is mentioned by name but not as a visitor. But they fail to notice that the testimony given by the Father during the First Vision (which is recited in the 1838 account as, "This is my Beloved Son") is, in fact, referred to in the opening paragraph of the 1832 document and directly precedes the recounting of the First Vision event. And they also do not seem to be aware of the fact that the Prophet deliberately constructed the 1832 narrative to parallel the theophany experienced by the apostle Paul (which accounts for the document's focus on the appearance of the Savior but not the Father). FAIRWiki link
  • The fifth account listed onscreen as 1834 was produced by Oliver Cowdery in 1834 and 1835. The critics do not tell their audience that this two-part narrative began by telling the orthodox First Vision story but then suddenly switched over to the Book of Mormon story because of a written request made by William W. Phelps. When this document is carefully evaluated its usefulness for the anti-Mormon agenda quickly evaporates. FAIRWiki link
  • The sixth account is 1835a. It could also be labeled as the Robert Mathias interview of November 9th. The two personages who are listed as appearing in this recital are obviously the Father and the Son. This becomes apparent when the text is compared to Joseph Smith's 1832, 1838, and 1842 accounts.
1835a - "another personage soon appeared like unto the first"
1842 - "two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness"
1835a - "he testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God"
1838 - "This is my beloved Son"
1835a - "he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee"
1832 - "he spake unto me saying, 'Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee'"
  • The seventh account is 1835b. It could be referred to as the Erastus Holmes interview of November 14th. The critics cry "inconsistency" when they point out that the Prophet says in this text that when he was fourteen years old he had his "first visitation of angels." But just five days previous—in the 1835a account—the Prophet stated that he saw "many angels" in addition to the two main personages of the vision. Thus, it is proper to say that Joseph Smith's first visitation of angels occurred during the First Vision experience, but they were not the only heavenly beings who were present.
  • The eighth account listed on the DVD is the 1838 recital which was eventually included in the canon of the LDS Church. The two celestial visitants are clearly identifiable in this document as the Father and the Son.
  • The ninth account is from an 1844 book on religions in the United States by I. Daniel Rupp. The statement in the DVD that the two personages in this account are "unidentified" is quite pointless since Rupp's book simply reprinted a slightly modified version of the Prophet's 1842 Wentworth Letter. This letter was published in the LDS Church's newspaper exactly one month before Joseph Smith printed the History of the Church First Vision recital (initially written down in 1838) which clearly identifies the Father and the Son.

The DVD fails to mention a substantial number of additional First Vision recitals given during the Prophet's lifetime:

  • 1831 sermon by the Prophet reported by Lorenzo Snow
  • 1833 remarks by the Prophet reported by John Alger
  • 1834 sermon by the Prophet reported by Joseph Curtis and Edward Stevenson
  • 1835 missionary statements reported by Samuel Richards
  • 1837 sermon by the Prophet reported by Mary Horne
  • 1839 interview with the Prophet's parents reported by Wandle Mace
  • 1840 missionary pamphlet published by Orson Pratt
  • 1842 missionary pamphlet published by Orson Hyde
  • 1843 sermon by the Prophet reported by Levi Richards
  • 1843 interview with Joseph Smith published in the Pittsburgh Gazette
  • 1844 interview with the Prophet reported by Alexander Neibaur

These eyewitnesses badly damage the anti-Mormon viewpoint on Joseph Smith's First Vision story because they demonstrate consistency in identifying the visitors in the Sacred Grove.

The DVD producers have indicated that they gathered information for this section of their movie from the website of the Institute for Religious Research. It is curious that they have left out item #10 on the website from their onscreen list of alleged First Vision accounts. This item is an interview with Martin Harris which was published in Tiffany's Monthly in the year 1859. A simple comparison of the principal story elements of this account with Harris' 1827 account makes it clear that he was talking about the same thing in both instances - the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, not the First Vision.

CLAIM: Joseph Smith was "known around the country as a fabricator of stories." Even his own mother was concerned about his habit of making things up.

The claim of Joseph Smith being known "around the country" as a liar is not backed up with any specific reference in the DVD. Joseph's father-in-law is mentioned as a source for this accusation, but the audience is not told that he (Isaac Hale) was an embittered man because Joseph Smith eloped with his daughter when he would not consent to their marriage. Isaac did not believe in the divine calling of his son-in-law but his daughter Emma (Joseph's wife) did because she played an active role in the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and gained a witness of its truthfulness for herself. It is extremely difficult for critics to pretend that Joseph Smith was a bare-faced liar about his divine calling when other people stood in the presence of angels with him, saw the same heavenly visions that he beheld, and heard the audible voice of God at the same time that he did.

The claim of the DVD that Joseph Smith's mother was "concerned" about Joseph telling stories is a case of wrenching a quotation out of proper context. Lucy Mack Smith simply said in her autobiography that her son told the family about information connected with the angel and the Book of Mormon plates (see Anderson, ed., Lucy's Book, 345). Lucy told the same information to Wandle Mace about seven years prior to producing her 1845 autobiography and clarified that this information was connected with the Book of Mormon "Nephites" and was shown to her son by vision.

In Joseph Smith's own official history he confirmed that he learned this information through the power of visions (Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 9, 1 March 1842, 707) and Oliver Cowdery made note of the same thing (Messenger and Advocate, vol. 1, no. 7, April 1835, 112). Thus, the origin of the stories mentioned by Joseph's mother in her autobiography was a heavenly one—she was not even remotely implying that her son was a teller of tall tales.

CLAIM: There is inconsistency in Joseph Smith's dating of the First Vision event and also in the message that was said to be delivered during the experience.

These are oft-repeated charges, despite the fact that they have been repeatedly and publicly debunked.

See the following articles:

For several detailed charts demonstrating the consistency of the elements contained within Joseph Smith's First Vision recitals see the following:

  • Michael R. Ash, "The First Vision PDF link
  • James B. Allen and John W. Welch, "The Appearance of the Father and Son to Joseph Smith in 1820," in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820–1844 (Documents in Latter-day Saint History), edited by John W. Welch with Erick B. Carlson, (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press / Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 2005), 56, 60, 62, 66–68. ISBN 0842526072. This book has recently been reprinted, in paperback. BYU Studies and Deseret Book (July 13, 2011)

Claim: President Brigham Young "denied that the Lord came to Joseph Smith in the First Vision. Young stated that Joseph had actually been visited by an angel, [who] informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day."

The edited version of Brigham Young's remarks that critics like to use read as follows:

the Lord did not come...but He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith...and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day....
—Brigham Young, (8 April 1855) Journal of Discourses 2:171.

Note the use of ellipses in this quote, indicating that information has been left out from the original source. A reading of the unedited quote indicates that Brigham Young was not saying that the Lord didn't come—just that the "Lord did not come with the armies of heaven, in power and great glory," to visit Joseph Smith. This is true; He did not. What did He do? He visited simply, along with His Son, and then He sent further messengers, just as Brigham stated.

It is clear from other sermons delivered by Brigham Young that he was well aware of the details of the First Vision as published by Joseph Smith in 1842—long before the 1855 address cited above. President Young taught:

Late in his life Brigham Young stated:

Why was Joseph Smith persecuted? Why was he hunted from neighborhood to neighborhood, from city to city, and from State to State, and at last suffered death? Because he received revelations from the Father, from the Son, and was ministered to by holy angels.
—Brigham Young, (17 September 1876) Journal of Discourses 18:231.

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 many years before in 1842.

To read more:

For further reading on the First Vision, please see:


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