Criticism of Mormonism/Websites/MormonThink/The First Vision

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Response to MormonThink page "The First Vision"

A FairMormon Analysis of: MormonThink, a work by author: Anonymous
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Response to claims made on MormonThink page "The First Vision"

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Response to claim: In the early 1800s having visions wasn't perceived to be all that uncommon

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Visions in the early 1800s were common. In modern times if someone said they had a vision it would seem extraordinary, or more likely not believable. However in the early 1800s having visions wasn't perceived to be all that uncommon. Even Joseph Smith's father claimed to have had a vision - namely the Tree of Life vision. People believed in magic, seer stones, divining rods, etc. and people claiming to have visions weren't seen as all that strange. Like much of Joseph's work, the first vision is strikingly similar to someone else's story.

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 true. Joseph was not the only one to report having a vision.


Question: What is the difference between Joseph Smith's first vision and other reported visions of God at the time?

The type of event that we now refer to as Joseph Smith's First Vision was not entirely uncommon at the time

There were at the time people who went to the wood to pray after reading the Bible, and as a result received visions and epiphanies. Visionaries are not that uncommon in environments where people are routinely open to the divine. Even the famous Charles Finney had one. Finney, after retiring to the woods to pray, described the experience:

Just at this moment I again thought I heard someone approach me, and I opened my eyes to see whether it were so. But right there the revelation of my pride of heart, as the great difficulty that stood in the way, was distinctly shown to me. An overwhelming sense of my wickedness in being ashamed to have a human being see me on my knees before God, took such powerful possession of me, that I cried at the top of my voice, and exclaimed that I would not leave that place if all the men on earth and all the devils in hell surrounded me. "What!" I said, "such a degraded sinner I am, on my knees confessing my sins to the great and holy God; and ashamed to have any human being, and a sinner like myself, find me on my knees endeavoring to make my peace with my offended God!" The sin appeared awful, infinite. It broke me down before the Lord.

Just at that point this passage of Scripture seemed to drop into my mind with a flood of light: "Then shall ye go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. Then shall ye seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." I instantly seized hold of this with my heart. I had intellectually believed the Bible before; but never had the truth been in my mind that faith was a voluntary trust instead of an intellectual state. I was as conscious as I was of my existence, of trusting at that moment in God's veracity. Somehow I knew that that was a passage of Scripture, though I do not think I had ever read it. I knew that it was God's word, and God's voice, as it were, that spoke to me. I cried to Him, "Lord, I take Thee at Thy word. Now Thou knowest that I do search for Thee with all my heart, and that I have come here to pray to Thee; and Thou hast promised to hear me."

That seemed to settle the question that I could then, that day, perform my vow. The Spirit seemed to lay stress upon that idea in the text, "When you search for me with all your heart." The question of when, that is of the present time, seemed to fall heavily into my heart. I told the Lord that I should take Him at his word; that He could not lie; and that therefore I was sure that He heard my prayer, and that He would be found of me.

He then gave my many other promises, both from the Old and the New Testament, especially some most precious promises respecting our Lord Jesus Christ. I never can, in words, make any human being understand how precious and true those promises appeared to me. I took them one after the other as infallible truth, the assertions of God who could not lie. They did not seem so much to fall into my intellect as into my heart, to be put within the grasp of the voluntary powers of my mind; and I seized hold of them, appropriated them, and fastened upon them with the grasp of a drowning man.

I continued thus to pray, and to receive and appropriate promises for a long time, I know not how long. I prayed till my mind became so full that, before I was aware of it, I was on my feet and tripping up the ascent toward the road. The question of my being converted, had not so much as arisen to my thought; but as I went up, brushing through the leaves and bushes, I recollect saying with emphasis, "If I am ever converted, I will preach the Gospel."[1]

Although Finney doesn't claim to have seen any personages, he does describe a communication with God. Joseph Smith describes his experiences in much the same way as others in his environment did.

Joining a church at that time required one to explain one's standing with God to a preacher

Keep in mind that Joseph prayed to find out if his sins had been forgiven. And he discovered that they had. This pleased him greatly. Why did he pray about this matter? The reason is that joining a church at that time often required that one explain one's standing with God to a preacher. We are dealing with Protestant sects. And conservative Protestants believe that one is saved (justified) at the moment one confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. So Joseph, as he faced the competing Protestant sects, was deeply concerned about his sins. One had to demonstrate to oneself and also convince a preacher that one had been saved--that is, justified. And there were, as you mention, many instances in which prayers were answered by visions in which the person learned that God had forgiven their sins.

One difference between Joseph's vision and others is that Joseph was told not to join any denomination

The difference between Joseph's experience and many other accounts by visionaries, is that, in addition to being told that his sins were in fact forgiven, he was also told not to join any denomination. When he told that part of his visionary experience, it got him into big trouble with preachers. It was not the vision that was a problem for preachers, but his reporting that he should not join some sect.

So the fact is, contrary to our current way of telling his story, the First Vision was not the beginning of Joseph's call as Seer, Prophet, Revelator and Translator. Although we now see that his vision signaled the beginning of the restoration, his vision did not begin the work of the restoration, but it steered him away from joining one of the competing denominations. It was Joseph's subsequent encounters with Moroni that made him a Seer, and eventually the founding Prophet of a fledgling Church, and not his initial vision, which was initially for him a private event about which he was reluctant to talk, though eventually he dictated some very sketchy accounts that were found and published during our lifetime. And Joseph told a few people about it, and word got around, which caused him much trouble with Protestant preachers.

Neither Joseph nor others at that time offered the First Vision as a reason to become Latter-day Saints

Joseph eventually wrote the account of that early vision late in his life because rumors about it had circulated and caused him difficulty. But neither Joseph nor any of the other early Saints offered that vision as a reason for others to become Latter-day Saints during his lifetime. It was only much later that what we now call the First Vision began to take on a special importance for the Saints. One reason is that Americans soon did not live in a visionary environment. The great Charles Dickens, writing in England, explained why. He called Joseph Smith vision an absurdity--"seeing visions in the age of railways."

Wilford Woodruff came into the Church of Jesus Christ because he had known earlier in his life someone he believed was a prophet who had alerted him to the soon to be restoration of primitive Christianity. This remarkable story, which was included in the lesson manual on President Woodruff, illustrates the visionary world in which Joseph was raised. Though there were a few--one or two--instances in which the visionary reported encounters with two heavenly messengers, it was most often God the Son who they reported appearing to them.

But there have been and still are peoples not impacted by post-enlightenment skepticism about divine things who are open to visions and other dramatic encounters with the divine, though they often do not speak in public about such things, since they tend to see them as strictly private blessings and not something about which one ought to be gossiping and boasting.

The establishment of the restored Church of Jesus Christ began with the Book of Mormon

The first missionaries in the Church used The Book of Mormon, not the First Vision, as a witness that the heavens were open, and that each individual, by applying the promise in Moroni 10:3-5, can receive a direct manifestation from Heavenly Father, through the Holy Ghost, that The Book of Mormon is true. After that testimony is gained, it follows that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, as he brought The Book of Mormon forth and restored the fullness of the Gospel under the direction of the Savior.

The fledgling Church of Christ began with the Book of Mormon, the witnesses to the plates, the restoration of priesthood keys, and not directly with what we call the First Vision, though that initial experience assisted in Joseph avoiding what could be perceived as damaging sectarian contamination. The historical record shows that Joseph never gave any attention to the creeds or arguments of quarreling preachers. This was the purpose served by the First Vision.


Response to claim: Issues related to revivals in the Palmyra area in 1820

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The authors assert that there were no religious "revivals" anywhere in the area in which Joseph Smith lived in 1820. The following statements appear on this page:

Is there evidence that Joseph was mistaken or did not tell the truth about a revival in 1820?

and

There was no revival anywhere in the Palmyra-Manchester, New York area in 1820. The events as told by Joseph Smith will not fit into the time period between the 1824 revival and the 1830 publication of the Book of Mormon.

and

According to the historical evidence Joseph Smith could not have been stirred by an 1820 revival to ask which church was true, since there was no revival in 1820 anywhere near Manchester, New York, where he was living. A revival as described by Joseph Smith did occur there beginning in the spring of 1824.

The authors also attempt to dismiss evidence of Methodist "camp meetings" in the area simply because they were not called "revivals":

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.

FairMormon Response

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

Joseph mentions an "excitement" on the subject of religion, which most interpret to mean "revival." However, Joseph's 1832 account shows that he began to become concerned about religion at age 12, which coincides with a known 1818 revival.


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)[2]


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. [3]

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.


Question: Was there no mention of revival activity in 1820 in the newspaper?

References to regional revival activity in the Palmyra Register, a newspaper which Joseph's family would have read, are clearly evident

A Presbyterian historian on Wikipedia comments on this FAIR Wiki article:

FAIR disagrees with your assessment and stubbornly holds to an 1820 date, Methodist camp meetings as interdenominational revivals, no date conflation, and local newspapers not reporting local news. The FAIR page never suggests that the time and place of the interdenominational religious awakening is irrelevant...[4]

Indeed, we "stubbornly hold" to the 1820 date, and we do not consider the time and place of religious awakening irrelevant. This claim by critics that there is no record of revival activity in the region surrounding Palmyra during the 1820 timeframe has simply not stood up to historical scrutiny. References to regional revival activity in the Palmyra Register, a newspaper which Joseph's family would have read, are clearly evident. While these revivals did not occur in Palmyra itself, their mention in the local newspaper would have given Joseph Smith the sense that there was substantial revival activity in the region. [5]

  • GREAT REVIVALS IN RELIGION. The religious excitement which has for some months prevailed in the towns of this vicinity...This is a time the prophets desired to see, but they never saw it....—Palmyra Register, June 7, 1820 (Ballston, NY - 196 miles away from Palmyra)
  • REVIVAL. A letter from Homer [N.Y.] dated May 29, received in this town, states, that 200 persons had been hopefully converted in that town since January first; 100 of whom had been added to the Baptist church. The work was still progressing.—Palmyra Register, August 16, 1820 (Homer, NY - 76 miles away from Palmyra)
  • REVIVALS OF RELIGION. "The county of Saratoga, for a long time, has been as barren of revivals of religion, as perhaps any other part of this state. It has been like 'the mountains of Gilboa, on which were neither rain nor dew.' But the face of the country has been wonderfully changed of late. The little cloud made its first appearance at Saratoga Springs last summer. As the result of this revival about 40 have made a public profession of religion in Rev. Mr. Griswold's church....A revival has just commenced in the town of Nassau, a little east of Albany. It has commenced in a very powerful manner....—Palmyra Register, September 13, 1820 (Saratoga, NY - 193 miles away from Palmyra)
  • FROM THE RELIGIOUS REMEMBRANCER A SPIRITUAL HARVEST. "I wish you could have been with us yesterday. I had the pleasure to witness 80 persons receive the seal of the covenant, in front of our Church. Soon after 135 persons, new members, were received into full communion. All the first floor of the Church was cleared; the seats and pews were all crowded with the members...Palmyra Register, October 4, 1820 (Bloomingsgrove, NY - 209 miles away from Palmyra)

There wasn't even any mention of the 1818 revival in Palmrya in the local newspaper

Critics often wish to place the revival which Joseph spoke about in 1818. However, even though we know that a revival occurred in Palmyra during June 1818, there is no mention of it in the town paper, despite the fact that it was attended by Robert R. Roberts, who was one of "only three Methodist bishops in North America." [6]

Once again, the commonality of such an event did not ensure that it would get a mention—yet, by the critics' same argument, this "silence" in the newspaper should mean that the 1818 revival didn't happen either.


Question: At what age did Joseph Smith become concerned about religion?

Joseph's interest in religion began when he was 12 years old, after the 1817 revival

Joseph's concern about religion started when he was twelve years old, close on the heels of the revival of 1817. In his 1832 account, Joseph notes that his concern about religion began at age 12 (1817-1818):

"At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns of for the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to searching the scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that they did not adorn instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul..." (Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision)

Richard Bushman notes that this "would have been in late 1817 and early 1818, when the after-affects of the revival of 1816 and 1817 were still felt in Palmyra." [7]

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. 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 reasonable to assume based upon the facts that the Methodists had more than one camp meeting during this period. This could easily account for the religious excitement in Palmyra that, in Joseph's mind at age 14, began with the Methodists.

From age 12 to 15 Joseph pondered many things in his heart concerning religion

Joseph continues in his 1832 account: "[T]hus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins." In July, 1819, several years after Joseph said his mind became "seriously imprest," a major Methodist conference was held near Palmyra:

[T]he Methodists of the Genesee Conference met for a week in Vienna (later Phelps), a village thirteen miles southeast of the Smith farm on the road to Geneva. About 110 ministers from a region stretching 500 miles from Detroit to the Catskills and from Canada to Pennsylvania met under the direction of Bishop R. R. Robert to receive instruction and set policy. If we are to judge from the experience at other conferences, the ministers preached between sessions to people who gathered from many miles around. It was a significant year for religion in the entire district. . . . The Geneva Presbytery, which included the churches in Joseph's immediate area, reported in February, 1820, that "during the past year more have been received into the communion of the Churches than perhaps in any former year." Methodists kept no records for individual congregations, but in 1821 they built a new meetinghouse in town. [8]


Question: What evidence of religious excitement is there from non-Mormon sources?

Evidence of religious excitement from non-Mormon sources

Non-Mormon evidence demonstrates that there was a considerable increase in membership among some Christian sects. One source goes so far as to point out the growth over a given period without explicit revivals:

1817 to 1830 increase from 6 to 80 without revival, in a particular circuit (emphasis added). [9]

David Marks was born the same year as Joseph Smith, 1805. His parents moved to Junius, not far from Palmyra, when he was a teenager. He became very religious very early, and left home to become an itinerant Baptism minister. He published his memoirs in 1831. Here are some things he has to say about happenings in Junius and Phelps [Vienna], in 1819:

In the fall of the year 1818, upon relating my experience to the Calvinistic Baptist church in Junius, they received me as a candidate for baptism;….
I continued to attend the Baptist covenant meetings, and was treated with the same studied coldness as before. Six months had passed [i.e., sometime in spring 1819], since the church received me as a candidate for baptism,….
In the month of July, 1819, Elder Zabulon Dean, and his companion, having heard of my situation, and feeling interested, sent an appointment to our neighborhood; and came thirty miles, accompanied by brother Samuel Wire, then an unordained preacher, Deacon C., and Brother S. They were all Free-Will Baptists, and the first of whom I had any knowledge. On Saturday, July 10th, I meet with them, learned their sentiments, spirit and humility; which so well accorded with my own views and feelings, that desiring to be baptized, I related to them my experience and sentiments, also the manner in which my application to unite with the Baptist church had been received and afterwards rejected. They expressed satisfaction with my experience, approved of my sentiments, and the next day, being the Sabbath, a meeting was appointed for preaching and examination, at the house where the Baptist church usually met for worship (29).
On the 17th of the same month [July 1819], I attended the Benton Quarterly Meeting of the Free-Will Baptists, in the town of Phelps, eighteen miles from my father’s, and was there received a member of the church in that place. Five were baptized, communion and washing feet attended to, and a profitable season was enjoyed. After this, Elder Dean and brother Wire frequently preached in Junius, and a good reformation followed their labors; in which some of my former persecutors were converted to the faith of the gospel. In the ensuing autumn, brother Wire was ordained. He and Elder Dean baptized fifteen in Junius, who united with the church in Phelps; but in January following [1820], they were dismissed and acknowledged a church in Junius, taking the scriptures for their only rule of faith and practice. Being absent at the time of its organization, I did not become one of its members till the ensuing Spring. This church walked in gospel order several months, and enjoyed many happy seasons. But the summer of prosperity passed, and the winter of adversity succeeded. New and unexpected trials brought heaviness and mourning. Seven or eight, who first united and were well engaged, soon turned aside after Satan and walked no more with us. Iniquity abounding, the love of some waxed cold. Every feeling of my soul was pained, when those with whom I had taken sweet counsel, thus wounded the innocent cause of Jesus and brought it into reproach. But while our number decreased by [31] excommunications, the Lord more than supplied the vacancies by adding to the church of such as should be saved. [10]

Clearly, there was extensive religious excitement in the Palmyra area. A young man of Joseph's age was likewise much taken by it, as Joseph himself was.

What was happening in Joseph's area in 1820

Joseph states that about 1820 "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion" had commenced, and that "[i]t commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country." The Palmyra newspaper reported many conversions in the “burned-over” district. The Palmyra Register recorded that the Methodists had a religious camp meeting in 1820. [11] Since they did not have a chapel yet, they would meet in the woods on Vienna Road. [12] Pomeroy Tucker (a witness hostile to Joseph Smith) states that “protracted revival meetings were customary in some of the churches, and Smith frequented those of different denominations…” [13] These revivals in 1820 must have helped the Methodists, for they were able to build their first church in Palmyra by 1822, down on Vienna Road where they held their camp meetings.[14] The Zion Episcopal Church was originated in 1823. [15] In 1817, the Presbyterians were able to split into an eastern group and a western group. The eastern group used the only actual church building that was in Palmyra in 1820, while the western group assembled in the town hall. [16]


Question: Were revivals and religious excitement too common to be noticed in the newspapers?

One report of a Methodist camp meeting in Palmyra only made it into the local newspaper because of a fatality due to alcohol consumption

Ironically, evidence for local religious meetings was less likely to be documented in the newspapers because they were so common. One report of a Methodist camp meeting in Palmyra only made it into the local newspaper because of a fatality due to alcohol consumption. The paper, in a less politically correct time, pointed out that the deceased was Irish and had died due to alcohol at the Camp-ground outside Palmyra:

The deceased, we are informed, arrived at Mr. McCollum's house the evening preceding, from a camp-meeting which was held in this vicinity, in a state of intoxication....It is supposed he obtained his liquor, which was no doubt the cause of his death, at the Camp-ground, where, it is a notorious fact, the intemperate, the lewd and dissolute part of community too frequently resort for no better object, than to gratify their base propensities.[17]

The Methodists strenuously objected to the implication that their camp meetings where places where people came to get drunk. The Palmyra Register printed a clarification about a week later:

By this expression we did not mean to insinuate, that he obtained it within the enclosure of their place of worship, or that he procured it of them, but at the grog-shops that were established at, or near if you please, their camp-ground. It was far from our intention to charge the Methodists with retailing ardent spirits while professedly met for the worship of their God.[18]

Thus, Joseph's recollection of religious excitement in Palmyra is confirmed at the very edge of the Spring of 1820; very close to the time when he said he prayed to God about religion. [19]


Palmyra Register (1820): "It was far from our intention to charge the Methodists with retailing ardent spirits while professedly met for the worship of their God"

28 June 1820: "The deceased, we are informed, arrived...from a camp-meeting which was held in this vicinity, in a state of intoxication"

Palmyra Register, 28 June 1820:

Effects of Drunkenness--DIED at the house of Mr. Robert McCollum, in this town, on the 26th inst. James Couser, aged about forty years. The deceased, we are informed, arrived at Mr. McCollum's house the evening preceding, from a camp-meeting which was held in this vicinity, in a state of intoxication. He, with his companion who was also in the same debasing condition, called for supper, which was granted. They both stayed the night--called for breakfast next morning--when notified that it was ready, the deceased was found wrestling with his companion, who he flung with the greatest ease,--he suddenly sunk down upon a bench,--was taken with an epileptic fit, and immediately expired.--It is supposed he obtained his liquor, which was no doubt the cause of his death, at the Camp-ground, where, it is a notorious fact, the intemperate, the lewd and dissolute part of community too frequently resort for no better object, than to gratify their base propensities.

The deceased, who was an Irishman, we understand has left a family, living at Catskill this state. [20]

Mention of "the Camp-ground" did not endear the paper to the local Methodists, who objected to the implication that this (the location of their worship services) was the site of drinking to excess and a place of gathering by the "dissolute part" of the community. An article appeared in the same paper a week later which said:

5 July 1820: "Methodists...we did not mean to insinuate, that he obtained it within the enclosure of their place of worship"

Palmyra Register, 5 July 1820

"Plain Truth" is received. By this communication, as well as by the remarks of some of our neighbors who belong to the Society of Methodists, we perceive that our remarks accompanying the notice of the unhappy death of James Couser, contained in our last, have not been correctly understood. "Plain truth" says, we committed "an error in point of fact," in saying that Couser "obtained his liquor at the camp-ground." By this expression we did not mean to insinuate, that he obtained it within the enclosure of their place of worship, or that he procured it of them, but at the grog-shops that were established at, or near if you please, their camp-ground. It was far from our intention to charge the Methodists with retailing ardent spirits while professedly met for the worship of their God. Neither did we intend to implicate them by saying that "the intemperate, the dissolute, &c. resort to their meetings."--And if so we have been understood by any one of that society, we assure them they have altogether mistaken our meaning. [21]

Palmyra register 28 June and 5 July 1820 drunken man dies at camp meeting.jpg


Benajah Williams (1820): "Had a two Days meeting at Sq Bakers in Richmond. Br. Wright being gone to campmeeting on Ridgeway circuit I expected to find Br. J. Hayes at the Meeting"

In July 1820, a minister named Benajah Williams wrote the following of a camp meeting at a site only twenty-eight miles from Palmyra:

“Sat. 15th10 Had a two Days meeting at Sq Bakers in Richmond. Br. Wright being gone to campmeeting on Ridgeway circuit I expected to find Br. J. Hayes at the Meeting & calculated to get him to take the lead of the meeting but when on my way to meeting met him going to conference & tried to get him to return but he thout[sic] not best as his horse was young, he said he could not ride through by conference by the time it commenced Then I thout what shall I do I shall have to take the lead at the meeting & do the p- (preaching) but the Lord prepaired him self a preacher it rained powerfully until 11 o’clock so that I was verry wet I called with some of the Brtheren at Br. Eldredges11 and took dinner then rode to the place appointed for meeting. & found Br. Lane a Presiding Elder from Susquehanna District with five more preachers. Br. Warner p. on Sat. Br. Griffing exhorted. We had a good prayer meeting at six in the evening.”

“Sab. 16th Our Lovefeast began at 9 & the Lord was present to bless & we had a shout in the camp. Br E Bibbins p- at 11 from…the lord attended the word & the people were satisfied with the Sermons. Br. Lane exhorted and spoke on Gods method in bringing about Reffermations [sic] his word was with as from the authority of God. & not as the Areons. After him Br. Griffin with life & energy & Br. Vose closed the Meeting after with some of the Brethren dined with Br. W. E….” [22]

Palmyra to richmond new york walking.jpg


Response to claim: Issues related to Oliver Cowdery's 1834-1835 Church history published in the Messenger and Advocate

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The authors make several references to Oliver Cowdery's Church history published in the Messenger and Advocate starting in 1834:

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.

and

Cowdery's statement that Smith had wondered, several years after the alleged "first vision," as to whether "a Supreme Being did exist"...

and

...the Moroni visit was hailed by church leaders as the actual first vision in the first official history.

and

Oliver Cowdery's account in the 1834 "Messenger and Advocate" stated that the "first vision" occurred in 1823. He did not report an 1820 vision, indicating that Cowdery was unaware of the 1820 experience. Cowdery's account also reported that Smith's interest in religion was sparked by the preaching of Methodist elder George Lane, rather than Smith's version, that claimed that he was inspired by reading in the Bible at age 14. Cowdery also stated that the date of the "religious excitement in Palmyra and vicinity" was in Smith's "17th year," which would have been 1823, rather than 1820.

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.

FairMormon Response

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

This is related to Oliver Cowdery's attempt to write a history of the Church, which did not actually describe the First Vision at all.


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.[23]

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.[24]

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." [25] 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! [26]


Question: Was Oliver Cowdery aware of the details of the First Vision that were written in Joseph Smith's 1832 history?

Oliver stated that he had "authentic documents" which he was using as a basis for his 1834-1835 history

Oliver Cowdery announced in an article published at the outset of his 1834-35 history writing project that he would not only be assisted by the Prophet in this endeavor, but he also had "authentic documents" from which to extract correct information. His statement reads,

That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J[oseph] Smith jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative. [27]

With these two valuable resources at Oliver Cowdery's disposal, it would be only natural for modern readers to expect that his recital of the founding events of the Church would be both accurate and complete.

Oliver had access to Joseph's 1832 history, and was therefore aware of the First Vision

The identification of the "authentic documents" mentioned by Cowdery is crucial to understanding the historical puzzle under discussion. It is claimed that Cowdery was not aware of the First Vision story at this time and therefore did not include it in his narrative. But they are wrong. A careful comparison of Joseph Smith's unpublished 1832 history with Cowdery's 1834–35 history reveals that the "authentic documents" in question were the six pages of the 1832 history. Because of this, it cannot be successfully argued that Oliver Cowdery did not know of the First Vision story when he wrote his history. Critics typically ignore the fact that Cowdery's published 1834 document begins telling the First Vision story—providing the correct year for its occurrence and giving details about the Palmyra-area 'revival' activity that preceded the theophany.

Another important piece of information to keep in mind is that in the same document in which Cowdery began talking about First Vision story themes, he published a letter from Joseph Smith that surveyed some of the events of his boyhood. In this letter the Prophet acknowledged that while he was living in the Palmyra and Manchester areas of New York as a youth he "fell into many vices and follies." He also pointed out that this fact was already mentioned in the "Articles and Covenants" of the Church. This is a reference to what is now known as section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Verse 5 of section 20 reads: "After it was truly manifested unto this first elder [i.e., Joseph Smith] that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world." The first part of this verse is considered by some LDS scholars to be the first published reference to the First Vision experience; it was recorded in April 1830.(See DC 20:5.)

It must also be remembered that Oliver Cowdery was publicly teaching around 1 November 1830 (along with several other LDS missionaries) that the Prophet Joseph Smith had seen God "personally" and received a commission from Him to preach true religion [28]—and yet Cowdery did not provide a record of this momentous event in his published 1834-35 historical narrative. Furthermore, it cannot be forgotten that Joseph Smith was telling the First Vision story publicly long before Oliver Cowdery published his narrative.

November 1831
Lorenzo Snow and a large crowd heard the story in Hiram, Ohio.
October 1834
Edward Stevenson, Joseph Curtis and others heard the story in Pontiac, Michigan.
December 1834
Joseph Smith Sr. reminded his son—the Prophet—in a blessing given on the 9th:
The Lord thy God has called thee by name out of the heavens; thou hast heard his voice from on high from time to time, even in thy youth. . . . Thou hast been called, even in thy youth[,] to the great work of the Lord” [29]

This closely corresponds with the official First Vision account where the Prophet indicates:

One of <them> spake unto me calling me by name and said (pointing to the other) 'This is my beloved Son, Hear him.'....[I] displayed the weakness of youth [during this time]. [30]

Why did Oliver skip ahead three years and not mention the vision?

When several key documents are consulted it is possible to see how Oliver Cowdery could have known full well about the First Vision experience (by reading the 1832 account) yet fail to report it in his rendition of Church history.

Cowdery's historical narrative consists of the text of a series of letters that he was writing to William W. Phelps. By going a little backward in time we find that on 7 September 1834, Cowdery wrote to Phelps and discussed a "few incidents connected with the rise of this church." His focus was on things that he had personally experienced. He spoke of hearing the voice of the Redeemer, his reception of the Aaronic priesthood, his angel-directed baptism, and his work as scribe for the Book of Mormon manuscript. [31] The next letter from Cowdery to Phelps (written in December) began telling the details of the First Vision story leading up to the theophany. [32] Then at the end of December, Phelps wrote back. He mentioned Cowdery's history project, the priesthood being committed to Cowdery, the Book of Mormon coming forth, Cowdery’s scribal work for the Book of Mormon, and Phelps himself hearing news of the Book of Mormon sometime in the year 1823. Phelps requested Cowdery to explain what the angel had said to Joseph Smith about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and also to “let church history tell” the particulars of what the angel said when the priesthood was restored. [33] When Cowdery responded to Phelps in February of 1835 he acknowledged receipt of his letter, made his now-baffling dating adjustment to the year 1823, announced that he did not want to talk about the 'revival' activity from his previous letter anymore, and proceeded to give an account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon on "the evening of the 21st of September, 1823." [34] William had suggested the focus of the narrative in the letters and Oliver had obliged.

Joseph re-instituted the correct dating parameters for the First Vision when he later talked with Oliver

When the Prophet spoke several months after Cowdery made his dating adjustment, however, (and also when he recorded the official Church history in 1838) he re-instituted the correct dating parameters for the First Vision, indicating thereby that Oliver had gotten it right the first time.

Consider the following sequence:

Oliver Cowdery (December 1834)
"the 15th year of his life"
Oliver Cowdery (February 1835)
"an error in the type—it should have been in the 17th"
Joseph Smith (November 1835)
"I was about 14 years old"
Joseph Smith (May 1838)
"I was at this time in my fifteenth year....between fourteen and fifteen years of age"


Response to claim: "There is no evidence that Joseph told anyone before about 1835, including his family, about the first vision story we know today"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

There is no evidence that Joseph told anyone before about 1835, including his family, about the first vision story we know today.

FairMormon Response

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

There is circumstantial evidence from 1830 that the vision was known, so the statement that there is "absolutely" no evidence of it is incorrect. If no one knew about the vision until "about 1835," why was a skeptical newspaper account describing how Mormon missionaries were teaching that Joseph had personally seen God in November of 1830? Not only had Church members heard that Joseph had seen God, but they were preaching it and a hostile press was writing about it. LDS missionaries were teaching that Joseph Smith had seen God "personally" and received a commission from Him to teach true religion (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831). There was a report in a non-LDS newspaper that Mormon missionaries were teaching at least six of the beginning elements of the First Vision story (Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832). When the Rev. John A. Clark published his autobiography he 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],---).


Question: How early was the story of the First Vision known among the members of the Church?

Claims made by critics regarding early knowledge of the First Vision

  • It is claimed that "there is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832." [35]
  • It is claimed that there is "no reference to the 1838 canonical First Vision story in any published material from the 1830s."
  • It is claimed that "Not a single piece of published literature (Mormon, non-Mormon, or anti-Mormon) from the 1830s mentions Smith having a vision of the Father and Son."
  • If Joseph Smith's First Vision actually occurred, then why wouldn't it have been mentioned in the local newspapers at the time? Since no such record exists, is this evidence that the vision must not have actually occurred?

There is evidence that Church members were aware of elements of the First Vision story as early as 1827

Several LDS commentators - including one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles - agree that D&C 20:5 (part of the Articles and Covenants of the Church) is the earliest published reference to the First Vision story. [36] The Articles and Covenants of the Church were presented to the Church membership and then published in the following order.

  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church are first verbally presented by Joseph Smith for approval at a Church conference held in Fayette, New York on 9 June 1830 (see Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 1). The following sequence is found in the Articles and Covenants: (1) forgiveness of sin, (2) entanglement in vanities of the world, (3) visit of an angel with regard to the Book of Mormon plates. This is the exact same sequence presented in the Prophet's unpublished 1832 history and the forgiveness of sins comes during the First Vision event in that document.
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were read out loud by Oliver Cowdery during a Church conference on 26 September 1830 (see Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 3).
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in a non-LDS newspaper in Painesville, Ohio (Telegraph, 19 April 1831).
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in an LDS newspaper in Independence, Missouri (Evening and Morning Star, vol. 1, no. 1, June 1832).
  • The Articles and Covenants of the Church were published in an LDS newspaper in Independence, Missouri (Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2, no. 13, June 1833).
  • The Book of Commandments—which contained the Articles and Covenants—was published in July 1833 in Independence, Missouri (chapter 24, verses 6-7, page 48).
  • January 1835 Kirtland, Ohio reprint of an Evening and Morning Star article containing the “Articles and Covenants” (reprint of Evening and Morning Star, vol. 1, no. 1, June 1832, 2; reprinted by Frederick G. Williams).
  • The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants - which contained the Articles and Covenants - was published in September 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio (part 2, section 2, verse 2, pages 77-78).
  • June 1836 Kirtland, Ohio reprint of an Evening and Morning Star article containing the “Articles and Covenants” of the Church (reprint of Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2, no. 1, June 1833, 1; reprinted by Oliver Cowdery).


Response to claim: "the story of the first vision "was not given general circulation in the 1830's"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

James B. Allen, who served as assistant church historian, acknowledged that the story of the first vision "was not given general circulation in the 1830's. Dr. Allen wrote that

"...none of the available contemporary writings about Joseph Smith in the 1830's, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no contemporary journal or correspondence yet discovered mentions the story of the first vision...."

Dr. Allen goes on to state that in the 1830's "the general membership of the Church knew little, if anything, about it." Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, pages 29-45.

Author's sources:
  1. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, pages 29-45.

FairMormon Response

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

  1. REDIRECT Template:Question: Is the fact that Latter-day Saint missionaries were teaching around 1 November 1830 that Joseph Smith had seen “God” personally a reference to having seen Jesus Christ, but not the Father?

Response to claim: "in the early 1800s having visions wasn't perceived to be all that uncommon"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

In modern times if someone said they had a vision it would seem extraordinary, or more likely not believable. However in the early 1800s having visions wasn't perceived to be all that uncommon. Even Joseph Smith's father claimed to have had a vision - namely the Tree of Life vision. People believed in magic, seer stones, divining rods, etc. and people claiming to have visions weren't seen as all that strange. Like much of Joseph's work, the first vision is strikingly similar to someone else's story.

FairMormon Response

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

Since visions were not uncommon, that kind of explains why Joseph didn't really mention it to many people, or why many people didn't pay much attention if he did. MormonThink can't have it both ways: it can't be both astonishing that no one remembered Joseph talking about his First Vision in early Palmyra, and that such things were regarded as common. They were seen as common (and somewhat disreputable) and so it is no surprise that no one local paid any attention to it at the time. Pastors of that day looked down on people who claimed to see God in a vision - such things were being discouraged. It was the vision of Moroni and the subsequent recovery and translation of the Book of Mormon that caused Joseph to realize that his path was different than others who had claimed to see visions. Therefore, Joseph emphasized that and only wrote the full account of his First Vision much later.

As Richard Bushman noted:

The clergy of the mainline churches automatically suspected any visionary report, whatever its content...The only acceptable message from heaven was assurance of forgiveness and a promise of grace. Joseph's report of God's rejection of all creeds and churches would have sounded all too familiar to the Methodist evangelical, who repeated the conventional point that "all such things had ceased with the apostles and that there never would be any more of them."[37]


Response to claim: "How could Smith’s family be unaware of his vision while neighbors were persecuting him for it?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Joseph claimed that the neighborhood knew about the vision and persecuted him for it. But evidence indicates that his own family did not know about the vision. If Joseph's story had actually occurred and excited persecution, family members did not talk or write about it in memoirs. The question arises from reasonable investigators, “How could Smith’s family be unaware of his vision while neighbors were persecuting him for it”?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Joseph never said that his vision caused "excited persecution" in his "neighborhood". He described being persecuted for it specifically after talking to a Methodist preacher about it:

"Joseph did tell a Methodist preacher about the First Vision. Newly reborn people customarily talked over their experiences with a clergyman to test the validity of the conversion. The preacher's contempt shocked Joseph. Standing on the margins of the evangelical churches, Joseph may not have recognized the ill repute of visionaries. The preacher reacted quickly and negatively, not because of the strangeness of Joseph's story, but because of its familiarity. Subjects of revivals all too often claimed to have seen visions.[38]

MormonThink can't have it both ways: it can't be both astonishing that no one remembered Joseph talking about his First Vision in early Palmyra, and that such things were regarded as common (see above). They were seen as common (and somewhat disreputable) and so it is no surprise that no one local paid much attention to it at the time, other than to be scornful or dismissive if Joseph told them. Joseph did not tell his family about Moroni until he was commanded to do so by the angel. Rather than being inconsistent, this reinforces the truthfulness of Joseph's account: he apparently wasn't inclined to tell everyone until he was directed to do so. Perhaps he had learned his lesson and was "once bitten, twice shy"? Why do you suppose MormonThink doesn't tell us this? It's right in Joseph's official history, and yet they act like his actions are completely mysterious. Do they not know the material at all, or are they hiding something intentionally?

I shortly after arose from my bed, and, as usual, went to the necessary labors of the day; but, in attempting to work as at other times, I found my strength so exhausted as to render me entirely unable. My father, who was laboring along with me, discovered something to be wrong with me, and told me to go home. I started with the intention of going to the house; but, in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me, and I fell helpless on the ground, and for a time was quite unconscious of anything. The first thing that I can recollect was a voice speaking unto me, calling me by name. I looked up, and beheld the same messenger standing over my head, surrounded by light as before. He then again related unto me all that he had related to me the previous night, and commanded me to go to my father and tell him of the vision and commandments which I had received. (Joseph Smith History 1:48-49).


Response to claim: "Historical documents indicate that Joseph was persecuted for engaging in a confidence scheme using a magic rock-in-a-hat"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Historical documents indicate that Joseph was persecuted for engaging in a confidence scheme using a magic rock-in-a-hat to reveal where buried treasure lay beneath the earth’s surface, and later, in 1827, using that same rock-in-the-hat to locate golden plates buried near his home.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Where are these historical documents that indicated that Joseph was persecuted for "engaging in a confidence scheme using a magic rock-in-a-hat"? Are they referring to the 1826 South Bainbridge court appearance? If that is the case, Joseph wasn't convicted or fined at that court appearance. He was never convicted of running a "confidence scheme."


Response to claim: "The date of the vision and his age varies - from 1823 (age 16), to 1821 (age 15), to 1820 (age 14)"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Joseph did not tell a consistent story, but changed key elements over the years. The date of the vision and his age varies - from 1823 (age 16), to 1821 (age 15), to 1820 (age 14)

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

Only the first account shows an age discrepancy of age 15 rather than age 14, and the entry regarding the age wasn't even in Joseph Smith's own handwriting.


Question: Are the ages stated in Joseph's accounts of the First Vision "all over the place?"

All other accounts except the 1832 one state Joseph's age as 14 or that he was in his "fifteenth year"

The ages are not, as one critic states, "all over the place." [39] The only account produced by Joseph Smith that indicated a different age was the 1832 account (age 15 rather than 14, based upon a text insertion above the line by Frederick G. Williams after Joseph had already written his account). All remaining accounts indicate age 14 (the "15th" year).

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

In the 1832 history, the farther back in time Joseph Smith goes, the more inexact Joseph's dating scheme becomes

The 'one-year-off-the mark' dating anomaly of the 1832 First Vision account can best be understood by taking a look at all of the dates and time frame indicators that are provided within the document. It can then be seen that the farther back in time Joseph Smith goes, the more inexact his dating scheme becomes.

Notice that the date of the First Vision is an above-the-line insertion in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, meaning that it was not placed in the text initially but was added at a later time than the creation of the main text.

(17 years back in time)

"at the age of about ten years my father Joseph Smith Sr. moved to Palmyra" [23 Dec. 1815 – 23 Dec. 1816]

(15 years back in time)

"At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously impressed" [23 Dec. 1817 – 23 Dec. 1818]

(12 years back in time)

"from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart" [23 Dec. 1817 – 23 Dec. 1821]
"while in <the> attitude of calling upon the Lord <in the 16th year of my age> a pillar of fire" [23 Dec. 1820 – 23 Dec. 1821]
"for many days"
"about that time"
"after many days"

(7 years back in time)

"when I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord . . . [and an] angel [appeared]. . . . it was on the 22d day of Sept. AD 1822"

(5 years back in time)

"the plates [I] obtained them not until I was twenty one years of age"
"in this year I was married . . . 18th [of] January AD 1827"
"on the 22d day of Sept of this same year I obtained the plates"
"in December following we moved to Susquehanna"

Joseph Smith: "I was merely instructed in reading and writing and the ground <rules> of arithmetic which constituted my whole literary acquirements”

Particular attention should be focused on the fact that even though Joseph Smith correctly stated that he was "seventeen years of age" when the angel Moroni appeared to him on 22 September 1823, he got the time of that manifestation wrong by one year. A clue as to why this incorrect date was placed by the Prophet in this historical account can be found right in the 1832 document itself. Near the beginning of the narrative Joseph writes: “being in indigent circumstances [we] were obliged to labor hard for the support of a large family having nine children. And as it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the family therefore we were deprived of the benefit of an education. Suffice it to say [that] I was merely instructed in reading and writing and the ground <rules> of arithmetic which constituted my whole literary acquirements”. Elder Orson Pratt once asked rhetorical questions of the Prophet to illustrate his meager level of formal education: "Had you been to college? No. Had you studied in any seminary of learning? No. Did you know how to read? Yes. How to write? Yes. Did you understand much about arithmetic? No. About grammar? No. Did you understand all the branches of education which are generally taught in our common schools? No." (Journal of Discourses, 7:220-21). And when Elder Pratt wrote specifically about the First Vision he was even more specific about the level of the Prophet's math skills, saying that he had "a very limited understanding of the elementary rules of arithmetic." (Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions [Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840], ---).

In the 1838 history, Joseph got the year of his own brother's death wrong

The 1832 history is not the only one where the Prophet made a dating mistake that was one year off the mark. He did the same thing when he created the 1838 Church history, but this time he got the year of his own brother's death wrong. He erroneously remembered that it was 1824 instead of 1823. The significant thing about this particular dating blunder is that four years after the Prophet recorded the initial information he came to the realization that it was not correct and had his scribe, Willard Richards, make the appropriate adjustment. Perhaps the problem with the date was brought to the Prophet's attention by a member of his own family after the information had been printed and made available for public perusal [publication in May 1842; correction in December 1842].

Initial Manuscript Record (2 May 1838)

"Alvin (who is now dead)"
"In the year Eighteen hundred and twenty four my fathers family met with a great affliction by the death of my eldest brother Alvin."

Publication ( 15 March 1842 / 2 May 1842)

"Alvin, (who is now dead)" (Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 10, 15 March 1842, 727).
"In the year eighteen hundred and twenty-four my father's family met with a great affliction by the death of my eldest brother Alvin." (Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 13, 2 May 1842, 772).

Post-Publication Manuscript Correction (2 December 1842)

"Alvin (who <died Nov. 19th: 1823 in the 25 year of his age.> is now dead)" [the last three words are stricken out]
"In the year Eighteen hundred and twenty four my fathers family met with a great affliction by the death of my eldest brother Alvin." [this year designation was not corrected by Willard Richards - whose editorial additions and notes end before this point in the manuscript]

A similar type of dating correction scenario, as mentioned above, may have taken place in connection with the 1832 history. Oliver Cowdery claimed that he had the Prophet's help in creating his December 1834 Church history article and despite the fact that he had the erroneously-dated 1832 document sitting in front of him [see paper on this subject] he provided the correct year for the Prophet's First Vision - "in the 15th year of his life" (i.e., between 23 December 1819 and 23 December 1820). And just nine months later the Prophet himself was telling a non-Mormon that the First Vision took place when he was "about 14 years old" (Joseph Smith diary, 9 November 1835).


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."


Question: Is there a case where Joseph stated that his age was 17 rather than 14 at the time of the First Vision?

Some critics think so: One case in which the age in an 1835 account was mistakenly stated as age 17

An image from "mormoninfographics" is in circulation on the internet which mistakenly states that Joseph claimed that he was age 17 when the First Vision occurred. However, this was a misreading of Joseph Smith's 1835 journal entry, which clearly states that Joseph was age 14 at the time of the first vision, and age 17 at the time of Moroni's visit.

An anti-Mormon "mormoninfographic" which attempts to demonstrate that the ages of the first vision accounts are different. Since this was posted, the owner of "mormoninfographics" acknowledged and corrected this mistake by removing all of the ages from this particular graphic. [40]


Response to claim: "The reason or motive for seeking divine help changes"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Joseph did not tell a consistent story, but changed key elements over the years....The reason or motive for seeking divine help changes - from (1) no motive (a spirit appears with the news of gold plates),(2) Bible reading and conviction of sins, (3) a revival, and (4)a desire to know if God existed.

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 author exaggerates perceived differences in the accounts, when in reality the accounts contain primarily the same core details, with some additional details in specific ones. The only major difference is that the 1832 account mentions one personage ("the Lord") instead of two.


Question: What was Joseph Smith's motivation for going to the grove to pray in 1820?

Joseph had two motivations: obtain a forgiveness of sins, and a desire to know which church was right

Joseph Smith's stated motivation for praying to the Lord changes between the first known account of the First Vision (1832) and the official version of it (1838). The 1832 account emphasizes his desire for a forgiveness of sins, and the 1838 (official) account emphasizes his desire to know which church was right. Some critic claim that Joseph changed his story in later years.

The texts that are employed by critics to justify the charge of 'differing motivations' are as follows:

1832

"I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy"

1838

"My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join."

The words that precede the point at which Joseph Smith offers his prayer in the 1832 text demonstrate that the anti-Mormon claim about his motivation changing is not sustainable. These words read as follows (standardized for readability):

At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul which led me to searching the scriptures believing, as I was taught, that they contained the word of God.
Thus applying myself to them, and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations, led me to marvel exceedingly. For I discovered that they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository. This was a grief to my soul.
Thus, from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind: the contentions and divisions, the wickedness and abominations, and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind.
My mind become exceedingly distressed for I became convicted of my sins.
And by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.
And I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world.
For I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday, today, and forever. That He was no respecter to persons, for He was God. For I looked upon the sun - the glorious luminary of the earth - and also the moon rolling in their majesty through the heavens, and also the stars shining in their courses, and the earth also upon which I stood, and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven, and the fish of the waters, and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in majesty and in the strength of beauty - whose power and intelligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and marvelous, even in the likeness of Him who created them.
And when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed, "Well hath the wise man said, 'It is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God.'" My heart exclaimed, "All all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent power; a Being who maketh laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds; who filleth eternity; who was, and is, and will be from all eternity to eternity." And when I considered all these things and that that Being seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth, therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy.


Question: Did Joseph Smith change his stated motivation for praying in later years after he received the First Vision?

The story elements of the vision remain steady over time

The assertion that Joseph Smith's motivation for prayer changes in later accounts of the First Vision event does not pass the test of close examination. The evidence shows, rather, that the story elements remain steady over time. Joseph's motivations for praying are not, as one critic puts it "all over the place." He had two motivations: forgiveness of sins, and a desire to know which church was right.

  • 1832 Account
    my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations, led me to marvel exceedingly. For I discovered that they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository. This was a grief to my soul....
    My mind become exceedingly distressed for I became convicted of my sins....He spake unto me saying, 'Joseph my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.
  • 1835 Account (9 Nov. 1835)
    being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right....
    he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee....
  • 1835 Account (14 Nov. 1835)
    This account is simply a one line summary of the vision - motive not given.
  • 1838 Account (published in 1842)
    Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?....My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join....
    many other things did He say unto me which I cannot write at this time....
  • 1840 Account by Orson Pratt
    ...if any one of these denominations be the Church of Christ, which one is it?...
    He was informed that his sins were forgiven.

It must be kept in mind that those who report the Prophet's inaugural manifestation in writing do not always spell things out in exactly the same way; sometimes they obscure information by the language they choose to utilize and on occasion they omit story elements altogether (possibly because of audience considerations).


Question: How do the First Vision accounts compare on the subject of Joseph's motivation for praying?

Summary of themes

  • Between the ages of 12 and 15 Joseph Smith became exceedingly distressed about his personal sins and mourned over them. He became seriously concerned about the welfare of his soul and so he searched the scripture for information on that topic.
  • He both marveled and grieved that his acquaintances who belonged to various Christian denominations did not act in accordance with what was found on the pages of the Bible.
  • His study of the New Testament led him to the conclusion that all the Christian denominations with which he was acquainted had apostatized from the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Joseph pondered the darkness that pervaded the minds of mankind and its resultant wickedness and abominations - and he mourned for the sins of the world.
  • He also thought about the "contentions and division" among men [see - revival mentioned in the 1832 text].
  • Joseph believed from his personal observation of created objects and entities that God did indeed exist.
  • He also believed the scriptures that taught God was an eternal Being who was all powerful and everywhere present, who was no respecter of persons, who was a God of law and did not change over time, and wanted mankind to worship Him in truth.
  • When Joseph Smith "considered all these things" he prayed to the Lord and received his First Vision.

It is clear from a consultation of the 1832 text that Joseph Smith's desire to be forgiven of his personal sins was NOT the only motivation for his prayer in the wilderness. He prayed (as he explicitly states) because of "all" of the things he mentions - including the desire to worship God in truth; according to His laws (which Joseph did not believe was the case among any of the Christians denominations that he knew of).

Patterns within documents

The 1832 textual pattern of (1) desire to prepare for eternity / worship God in truth and (2) desire for forgiveness of personal sins can be detected in subsequent First Vision recitals, demonstrating that there is no change in his declared motive over time. The confusion of the critics on this issue arises when they do not see exact matches in themes across documents or insist that every detail of the story be present in every text that relates it.

1832 (Smith)

"my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul . . . . my mind become excedingly distressed for I became convicted of my sins . . . . when I considered all these things and that that Being seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth therefore I cried unto the Lord . . . . He spake unto me saying, 'Joseph my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.'"

1834 (Cowdery/Smith)

Joseph Smith had a "determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion . . . . [but he also] call[ed] upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and . . . to have an assurance that he was accepted of Him." Joseph is classified in this text among the "humble, penitent sinner."

1835 (Smith)

"being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right . . . being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and bowed down before the Lord . . . . He said unto me, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee.'"

1838 (Smith)

"how to act I did not know and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, would never know . . . . My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. . . . many other things did He say unto me which I cannot write at this time" [INDIRECT REFERENCE TO FORGIVENESS OF SINS?]

1840 (Pratt)

"[Joseph] began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence; but how, or in what way, to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind. He perceived that it was a question of infinite importance, and that the salvation of his soul depended upon a correct understanding of the same. . . . He was informed that his sins were forgiven"

1842 (Smith)

"I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring the plan of salvation I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment . . . . considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion, I determined to investigate the subject more fully" [FORGIVENESS OF SINS IS NOT MENTIONED]

1842 (Hyde)

"[Joseph] began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence; but how, or in what way to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind; he perceived that it was a question of infinite importance. . . . [The two personages] told him that his prayers had been answered, and that the Lord had decided to grant him a special blessing." [VEILED REFERENCE TO FORGIVENESS OF SINS? - Remember that Hyde utilized information straight from Pratt's account]


Response to claim: "Who appeared to him? – (1) a spirit, (2)an angel,(3) two angels,(4) Jesus, (5)many angels, and finally, (6) the Father and the Son"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Joseph did not tell a consistent story, but changed key elements over the years....Who appeared to him? – (1) a spirit, (2)an angel,(3) two angels,(4) Jesus, (5)many angels, and finally, (6) the Father and the Son.

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 author exaggerates perceived differences in the accounts, when in reality the accounts contain primarily the same core details, with some additional details in specific ones. The only major difference is that the 1832 account mentions one personage ("the Lord") instead of two. For example, none of the accounts mention that only an angel appeared, although one mentions the presences of "many angels" in addition to the two personages. Joseph referred to his First Vision as the "First Visitation of angels" and Moroni's visit as "another visitation of angels."


Question: By what name did Joseph Smith refer to the First Vision?

Joseph referred to his 1820 theophany as the "first visitation of Angels" or the "first communication"

Joseph Smith never actually referred to what we now call the "First Vision" by that name. Instead, he referred to it as the "first visitation of angels" or the "first communication." Joseph also referred to Moroni's visit as "another vision of angels."

  • One critic of Mormonism states that "Who appears to [Joseph] – a spirit, an angel, two angels, Jesus, many angels, the Father and the Son – are all over the place." [41]
Joseph Smith's 9 November 1835 journal entry, which was written by his scribe, describes a visit of two personages. The scribe then goes back and inserts the phrase "and I saw many angels in this vision" between the lines. Image from "Journal, 1835–1836," Joseph Smith Papers off-site

The account that Joseph entered in his journal on 9 November 1835 was a detailed account which clearly describes two personages, as well as "many angels." The account that Joseph wrote just five days later in his journal on 14 November 1835 was a one line summary of the event, which he described as "the first visitation of Angels." Critics of the Church seem to believe that Joseph completely changed his story from "two personages" to "Angels" over the course of only five days. The truth is that Joseph referred to all of the personages that appeared to him as "angels."

The terms "personages" and "angels" were interchangeable

This confusion regarding "angels" versus "personages" is illustrated in a critical "Mormoninfographic".[42] We have illustrated the error by comparing Joseph's journal entries on both days.

Mormoninfographic.error.1835-2.jpg


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.[43]


Joseph Smith: "Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while his body was lying in the sepulcher)...After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples"

Joseph Smith considered a personage with a resurrected body of flesh and bone to be an "angel". This included Jesus Christ:

Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while his body was lying in the sepulcher) to the spirits in prison, to fulfill an important part of His mission, without which He could not have perfected His ward, or entered into His rest. After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples.[44]


Joseph Smith (9 Nov. 1835): "I saw many angels in this vision...I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication"

Joseph Smith's journal (scribe Warren Parrish):

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[45]


Joseph Smith (14 Nov. 1835): "I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old"

Joseph Smith's journal (scribe Warren Parrish):

up to the time I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14, years old and also the the visitations that I received afterward, concerning the book of Mormon[46]


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."[47] (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.


Question: Is there any reference to God the Father being present in Joseph Smith's 1832 account?

A significant phrase in the introductory paragraph is associated with the First Vision: "receiving the testimony from on high"

There is a very significant phrase located in the introductory paragraph of the Prophet's historical narrative. There he indicates that the 1832 document is . . .

"A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brough<t> [it] forth and established [it] by his hand <firstly> he receiving the testamony from on high secondly the ministering of Angels thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of Aangels to adminster the letter of the Gospel—<—the Law and commandments as they were given unto him—>and the ordinencs, forthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God."

This paragraph not only introduces the document with a heavy emphasis on the Son of God but it also chronologically outlines four inaugural events of the Restoration.

FIRST: Reception of "the testimony from on high" - First Vision
SECOND: The "ministering of angels" - Moroni visitations
THIRD: Reception of the Holy Priesthood to administer the letter of the gospel - Aaronic
FOURTH: Reception of the High Priesthood after the order of the Son - Melchizedek

This 1832 phraseology corresponds with the words spoken by God the Father when He introduced His Son in the Sacred Grove

The significant phrase in the introductory paragraph is the one associated with the First Vision -- "receiving the testimony from on high" (spelling standardized). When this phrase is placed in conjunction with the Prophet's 1835 and 1838 accounts of the First Vision it becomes obvious that the 1832 phraseology closely corresponds with the words spoken by God the Father when He introduced His Son in the Sacred Grove.

(1832 ACCOUNT)
“firstly . . . receiving the testimony from on high
(1835 ACCOUNT)
“He [God the Father] testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God
(1838 ACCOUNT)
"[He] said...This is my beloved Son

The Father's identification of Jesus Christ as His Son was His "testimony" of Him.

Critics have objected that -- in their minds -- the phrase "from on high" cannot be so easily equated with God the Father. But there is a sizable amount of corroborating evidence for this idea. Consider the following points of connection.

  • 3 Ne. 11:3, 5-7 - between April and June 1828

The Father's "voice . . . came out of heaven" [i.e., 'from on high'] and testified of His "Beloved Son."

  • D&C 20:16 - April 1830

Joseph Smith stated, "the Lord God has spoken it; and we . . . have heard . . . the words of the glorious Majesty on high."

  • Matthew, Mark, Luke, 1 Peter - between 8 March 1831 and 24 March 1832

There are five New Testament scriptures (which Joseph Smith would have been familiar with from his work on the JST) that have distinct parallels to the First Vision story. Jesus Christ's Old World disciples heard the Father's voice come "from heaven" (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22; 2 Pt. 1:17-18) [i.e, 'from on high'] or "out of the cloud" (Mt. 17:5) [i.e., 'from on high'] and in each of these instances the Father testified of His Son and employed the same phraseology that Joseph Smith said He utilized during the First Vision.

  • JST John 1:18/19 - between 20 November 1831 and 16 February 1832

"And no man hath seen God at any time, except he [i.e., God the Father] hath borne record of the Son."

  • 1832 First Vision account - between 22 September 1832 and 27 November 1832

"receiving the testimony from on high"

  • D&C 93:15 - 6 May 1833

Mention is made of the Father's voice being heard "out of heaven."

  • Patriarchal Blessing - 9 December 1834

When the Prophet received his Patriarchal Blessing on 9 December 1834 he was reminded by the Patriarch (his father) that during his "youth" he had "heard [God's] voice from on high."

Joseph Smith appears to have equated the voice "from on high" with God the Father both before and after he penned his 1832 First Vision account

This chronological evidence points to the conclusion that Joseph Smith appears to have equated the voice "from on high" with God the Father both before and after he penned his 1832 First Vision account.


Question: Why did the Prophet construct the 1832 narrative in a manner such as to exclude explicit mention of the Father's appearance?

Analysis of the 1832 First Vision text reveals that it was deliberately constructed on the framework of many scriptural citations

Since it can be concluded from the above documentary evidence that Joseph Smith did indeed make an oblique reference to the appearance of the Father in his 1832 history the question becomes—Why did the Prophet construct the 1832 narrative in the manner that he did (so as to exclude explicit mention of the Father's appearance)? A careful analysis of the 1832 First Vision text reveals that it was deliberately constructed on the framework of many scriptural citations. The apostle Stephen's view of both the Father and the Son is clearly utilized by the Prophet in one section of the 1832 text but, more importantly, Joseph Smith told the actual theophany portion of this narrative in language that very closely corresponds to the apostle Paul's vision of Jesus Christ (Acts 26:).[48] .

The apostle Paul did not report that he saw the Father alongside the Son

The Father is not explicitly mentioned as making an appearance in the theophany portion of the 1832 First Vision account because Joseph Smith patterned that part of his narrative after the vision of Jesus Christ experienced by the apostle Paul.

Paul did not report that he saw the Father alongside the Son, and so it is logical that this is the reason why Joseph Smith did not explicitly mention the Father's appearance in his text either. The Prophet's strong sense of connection with Paul's visionary experience is referred to by him right in his 1838 First Vision account. The context of this connection is the persecution experienced by both men for speaking publicly about a heavenly manifestation. Joseph Smith relates in his 1838 history that he was informed by a clergyman that his vision was "all of the devil." This piece of information may help to explain why the Prophet chose to couch his first known written account of his vision in heavy biblical language and imagery. He may have hoped that by doing this his story would have a better chance of being accepted amongst a populace that was steeped in biblical content.


Question: Did any of Joseph's scribes ever say anything about Joseph's story of the vision changing over time?

Joseph's scribe Frederick G. Williams never mentioned anything about Joseph's story "evolving" over time

It is interesting to note that the scribe for the material which directly precedes and follows after the 1832 First Vision narrative - Frederick G. Williams - never mentioned anything about Joseph Smith's story evolving over time and becoming more elaborate with the so-called 'addition' of the Father. Williams was a resident of Quincy, Illinois when the First Vision account which explicitly refers to the Father was published in Nauvoo, Illinois on 1 April 1842. It is known that Williams was with the Prophet in Nauvoo shortly before his death on 10 October 1842 but during the intervening six months there is no known objection by Frederick to the content of the printed text. Why not? Williams was the person who wrote down the words in the introductory remarks of the 1832 document that talk of Joseph Smith receiving "the testimony from on high" during the First Vision. And it is known that Frederick was accompanying four LDS missionaries who, in November 1830, were teaching the citizens of Painesville, Ohio that Joseph Smith had seen "God" personally (see the 1830 statement about seeing "God"). Williams was a member of the First Presidency of the Church on 9 November 1835 when Joseph Smith was teaching a non-Mormon that there were two personages who appeared during the First Vision (see Joseph Smith diary, 9 November 1835). Frederick probably never drew attention to a so-called 'discrepancy' between what Joseph Smith taught in 1832, 1835, 1838, and 1842 because he knew that there wasn't one; he knew that the words of the Father spoken during the vision were referred to right in the text that he had written down in 1832.

Joseph's scribe Oliver Cowdery never mentioned anything about Joseph's story changing

Oliver Cowdery is another person who was in a position to know if the Prophet's First Vision story had changed over time by the addition of the Father. But he never mentioned any such 'discrepancy'. Cowdery had possession of the 1832 First Vision account when he wrote and published a series of Church history letters in December 1834 and February 1835 and so he was fully aware of the explicit mention of Christ's appearance and he also would have known of the introductory remark which refers to "the testimony from on high" being delivered during this event. Cowdery became the Associate or Assistant President of the entire Church on 5 December 1834 (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1653), and thus he would have been in the highest office of Church authority when the Prophet was teaching about one year later that two personages appeared during the First Vision (Joseph Smith diary, 9 November 1835).

Even after both Fredrick G. Williams and Oliver Cowdery became disaffected with Joseph Smith, they never challenged his story of the First Vision

Both Fredrick G. Williams and Oliver Cowdery had reason to feel animosity toward Joseph Smith and the Church since they were both excommunicated in the late 1830's. But neither of these men - even after their reinstatements into full fellowship - ever pointed to any 'creative editing' of the Prophet's First Vision story to sound more impressive and dramatic.


Question: Did the actual words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear in Joseph's 1838 account of the First Vision?

Joseph Smith only referred to God the Father and Jesus Christ as "personages" in the 1838 account - their actual identities as Father and Son are only confirmed when one identifies the other as his "beloved Son"

Many Church leaders, such as John Taylor, repeatedly talked of Joseph being visited by the Father and the Son. However, when Joseph refers to them in the 1838 account, he only refers to them as two "personages," one of whom introduces the other as his "beloved Son." This clearly infers the identity of the two personages as the Father and the Son.

However, some critics of the Church assume that Joseph explicitly named the personages as the Father and the Son. One good example of such an assumption is a "mormoninfographic" that, in its effort to illustrate contradictions between Joseph's account of the First Vision, erroneously indicates that the words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" actually appear in Joseph's 1838 account. This is for the purpose of contrasting the lack of mention of the Father and the Son by name in the 1835 account.

When challenged on this error, the author of the graphic said regarding the 1835 account: "you seem to be suggesting that I should depict something other than what is in the written record. There's nothing in the 1835 account that would indicate God or Jesus only what you are inferring from other accounts." [49] Indeed, there is no explicit mention of God the Father and Jesus Christ in the 1835 account, but Joseph reports that one of the personages that appeared "testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

The only way to identify the personages in the 1838 account as Father and Son is to use an external source: The Holy Bible contains the phrase "this is my beloved Son"

So, where in the 1838 written record do the names "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear? Nowhere: in the 1838 account Joseph refers to them as "personages." Yet, the author of the graphic "check marked" two items that are not present in the written record.

We agree that that "This is my beloved son" implies that the personages are God the Father and Jesus Christ, but the only way to infer that is to look at something that is not in the written (1838) record - you have to use the Bible (the account of Jesus' baptism) to make the connection. Therefore, allowing an additional record to be used to clarify Joseph's written words from 1838 violates the author's own rules: He won't allow Joseph's words from the other accounts to used to to clarify, yet he allows the Bible to be used to clarify.

Mormoninfographics.error.1838.personages.jpg


Question: Why did Joseph mention a "pillar of light" in his 1832 account, but a "pillar of fire" in his 1835 account of the First Vision?

Joseph Smith's 1832 account mentions a "pillar of fire," which he then crossed out to replace with "a pillar of light"

Joseph did indeed dictate "pillar of fire" in his 1832 journal account. He then crossed out the word "fire" and wrote "light." Therefore Joseph wrote both "pillar of fire" and "pillar of light."

Joseph was not certain of how to describe the light that he saw, characterizing it as both "fire" and "light." Orson Pratt, in his 1840 pamphlet "A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions," wrote of a "very bright and glorious light" which descended, yet he gave it the characteristics of "fire" when he noted that Joseph "expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them."

[Joseph], at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and, as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system. [50]

Some critics of the Church wish to portray "pillar of light" or "pillar of fire" as a discrepancy between accounts

The is no discrepancy here: Joseph wrote "pillar of fire" in his 1832 account, and then crossed out the word "fire" and replaced it with "light." In his 9 November 1835 account, he states "a pillar of fire." In the canonized 1838 account, he describes it as a "pillar of light." The fact that in 1832 Joseph ultimately decided to write "pillar of light" does not negate the fact that Joseph originally wrote the words "pillar of fire" in his record. Some critics has attempted to show a discrepancy between the 1832 account and later accounts by pointing out that Joseph wrote "pillar of light." For example, the following critical graphic incorrectly represents the 1832 account.

Mormoninfographic.error.1832.fire.light.2.jpg


Joseph Smith (1832): "a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above"

Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp. 1-6.

a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god [51]


Joseph Smith (9 Nov. 1835): "a pillar of fire appeared above my head...a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame"

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 [52]


Orson Pratt (1840): "a very bright and glorious light in the heavens...He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them"

Orson Pratt describes Joseph Smith's First Vision in, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840:

[Joseph], at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and, as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and, immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness. He was informed, that his sins were forgiven. He was also informed upon the subjects, which had for some time previously agitated his mind, viz.—that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines; and, consequently, that none of them was acknowledged of God, as his church and kingdom. And he was expressly commanded, to go not after them; and he received a promise that the true doctrine—the fulness of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him; after which, the vision withdrew, leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace, indescribable.[53]


Joseph Smith (1842): "surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day"

Joseph Smith, Wentworth letter:

I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day.[54]


Question: Why did Joseph Smith state the he was visited by two personages and then just five days later say that he was visited by angels?

Joseph's diary was simply summarizing the First Vision as the "first visitation of Angels"

Joseph had described his vision in detail in his journal just five days earlier (9 November 1835) when he described his visit with "Joshua the Jewish Minister." When he described his visit with Erastus Holmes, he simply referred to it as the "first visitation of Angels." In Joseph's 9 November 1835 entry, in addition to seeing two personages, Joseph also mentioned that he had seen "many angels" in the vision.

Critics attempt to use this to show inconsistency in Joseph's accounts of the First Vision. For example, a critical graphic indicates that the 1835 "Erastus Holmes" account describes a different vision. The graphic implies that he didn't mention every other element of the vision, and that this makes it inconsistent. However, Joseph was simply offering a one-line summary of the event that he had described only five days earlier in his journal.

Mormoninfographic.erastus.holmes.summary-1.jpg


Joseph Smith (9 Nov. 1835): "a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame...another personage soon appeard like unto the first...and I saw many angels in this vision"

I kneeled again my mouth was opened and my toung liberated, and I called on the Lord in mighty prayer, 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 testified 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; [55]


Joseph Smith (14 Nov. 1835): "I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14"

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. years old and also the visitations that I received afterward, concerning the book of Mormon [56]


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.[57]

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.[58]


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.


Question: Does the use of the capitalized word "Angel" in the 14 November 1835 account refer to Deity?

The capitalized "Angel" may be used to refer to Deity, but not exclusively

The examples of the usage of the words "angel" and "Angel" clearly show that, although the capitalized version of the word can be used to refer to Deity, it is not exclusively used in this manner.

An examination of the adjoining sentences in the 9 November 1835 account (original source document) reveals that within a very short space Warren Parish thrice used the capitalized word “Angel” to refer to Moroni. Therefore, the capitalized “Angels” of the 14 November 1835 statement - which was also penned by Warren Parish - cannot be exclusively applied to Deity.

It should also be noted that one of Joseph Smith’s other contemporaneous scribes (Frederick G. Williams) regularly used the capitalized words “Angel” and “Angels” to refer to celestial beings other than Deity. And on at least one occasion Joseph Smith himself used the capitalized word “Angels” to do the same (see below).

31 July 1832 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"God is rem[em]bering mercy unto us and making us mighty to the pulling down the strong hold of Satan, having sent down the Angel of God to trouble the waters"

September–November 1832 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"seccondly the ministering of Angels"

4 January 1833 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western Tribes of Indians, having been found through the ministration of an holy Angel translated into our own Language by the gift and power of God"

19 December 1833 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"This day Bro William Pratt and David Pattin took their Journey to the Land of Zion for the purpose of bearing dispatches to the Brethren in that place from Kirtland O may God grant it a blessing for Zion as a kind Angel from heaven Amen"

16 August 1834 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"was met in the face and eyes as soon as I had got home with a catalogue that was as black as the author himself and the cry was Tyrant,! Pope!! King!!! Usurper!!!! Abuser of men!!!!! Ange[l]!!!!!! False prophet!!!!! Prophecying Lies in the name of the Lord and taking consecrated monies!!!!!!! and every other lie to fill up and complete the cattelogue that was necissary to perfect the Church to be meet for the devourer the shaft of the devouring <destroying> Angel! . . . . when the church lifts up the head the Angel will bring us good tidings even so Amen"

7 October 1835 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"according to the measure that he meeteth out with a liberal hand unto the poor so shall it be measured to him again by the hand of his God even an hundred fold Angels shall guard <his> house and shall guard the lives of his posterity"

29 October 1835 [handwriting of Warren Parish]

"I then set down and taught <related to> them the history of the coming forth of the book the administration of the Angel to me"

9 November 1835 [handwriting of Warren Parish]

"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 . . . . an angel appeared before me . . . . the angel appeard to me again . . . . the Angel came to me again and commanded me to go and tell my Father, what I had seen and heard, I did so, he wept and told me that it was a vision from God to attend to it I went and found the place, where the plates were, according to the direction of the Angel, also saw them, and the angel as before; the powers of darkness strove hard against me. I called on God, the Angel told me that the reason why I could not obtain the plates at this time was because I was under transgression"

14 November 1835 [handwriting of Warren Parish]

"I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14 years old"

16 November 1835 [handwriting of Frederick G. Williams]

"O ye Angels! that surround the throne, <of God> Princes of heaven, that excell in strength, ye who are clothed with transcendant brightness"

29 March 1838 [handwriting of George W. Robinson]

"chariot of fire came and near the place and the Angel of the Lord put forth his hand unto Br. Marks & said unto him thou art my son come here"

2 May 1838 [handwriting of James Mullholland]

"I answered that an Angel of God had revealed it unto him. He then said to me, let me see that certificate"

21 March 1839 [handwriting of Alexander McRae and Caleb Baldwin]

"which our fathers have wa[i]ted with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times which their minds were pointed to by the Angels as held in reserve for the fullness of their glory"

4 April 1839 [handwriting of Joseph Smith]

"With immotions known only to God, do I write this letter, the contemplations, of the mind under these circumstances, defies the pen, or tounge, or Angels, to discribe, or paint, to the human mind"

16, 23 August 1842 [handwriting of William Clayton]

"I say it by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and by the ministering of Holy Angels, and by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. . . . sound of the Arch-Angels trump"

[These texts can be found in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition]


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.


Question: Was the History of the Church falsified when "first visitation of Angels" was changed to "my first vision"?

Joseph's 14 November 1835 diary entry morphs as it is copied into subsequent records

The 14 November 1835 First Vision diary reference is connected with an interview that the Prophet conducted with an investigator named Erastus Holmes. Notice that the diary entry morphs as it is copied into subsequent records.

  • "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. years old and also the the visitations that I received afterward, concerning the book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the church, up to this, date" (Joseph Smith diary, 14 November 1835, pp. 36-37).
  • "He (Smith) commenced and gave him a brief relation of his experience while in his youthful days, say from the age of six years up to the time he received the first visitation of Angels which was when he was about 14 years old. He also gave him an account of the revelations he had afterward received concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and a succinct account of the rise and progress of the church up to this date" (“History, 1834–1836,” Book A-1, p. 129).
  • "I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old up to the time I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old; also the revelations that I received afterwards concerning the Book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the church up to this date" (Deseret News, vol. 2, no. 15, 29 May 1852).
  • "I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old up to the time I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old; also the revelations that I received afterwards concerning the Book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the church up to this date" (Millennial Star, vol. 15, no. 27, 2 July 1853, 424 - from the Deseret News).
  • "I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old up to the time I received my first vision, which was when I was about fourteen years old; also the revelations that I received afterwards concerning the Book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the Church up to this date" (History of the Church, 2:312; written between 1902-1912).

It was B.H. Roberts that modified the diary entry in History of the Church

If the editor of the seven History of the Church volumes (Brigham H. Roberts) was not drawing information directly from the original Joseph Smith diary then he may have felt that a previous editor had made an error in description - and took it upon himself to correct it. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word falsify as "to make false by mutilation or addition." Since the Prophet's 14 November 1835 diary entry does indeed refer to his "first visitation of Angels" (which took place during the First Vision) the anti-Mormon characterization cannot be applied to Elder Roberts' editorial clarification in any legitimate sense.


Response to claim: "he states that he already knew all other churches were false before he prayed"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

In Joseph Smith's first handwritten testimony of the 1820 first vision written in 1832, he states that he already knew all other churches were false before he prayed.

FairMormon Response

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

How would Joseph have determined that there was no true "denomination upon the earth" by examining the few Churchs that he had access to in Palmyra? He may have determined that none of the ones that he was familiar with were true, but how would he know that there wasn't one on the entire earth unless he asked God during his vision?


Question: Did Joseph Smith decide that all churches were wrong before he received the First Vision?

Criticisms of Joseph's 1832 account compared to his 1835 account of the First Vision

In his 1832 history, Joseph Smith said:

I found [by searching the scriptures] that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.

But in 1835 he said, “I knew not who [of the denominations] was right or who was wrong.”

  • It this a contradiction and is this evidence that the First Vision story evolved over time?
  • One critic of the Church states, "In the 1832 account, Joseph said that before praying he knew that there was no true or living faith or denomination upon the earth as built by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. His primary purpose in going to prayer was to seek forgiveness of his sins. . . .In the official 1838 account, Joseph said his “object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join”…”(for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)”"

If you had come to the conclusion that mankind has apostatized from the true faith, and you suddenly found Jesus standing in front of you, wouldn't you ask Him if any of those churches was the correct one?

If you had come to the conclusion that mankind has apostatized from the true faith, and you suddenly found Jesus standing in front of you, wouldn't you ask Him if any of those churches was the correct one? Or would you simply tell Him, "never mind, I already figured it out for myself?"

Besides, where is the inconsistency? How many churches did Joseph have immediate knowledge of? Three or four? Joseph determined that the churches with which he had direct experience did not adhere to the scriptures and that therefore mankind "had apostatized from the true and living faith." During his vision, he then asked the Lord which church was right, because it had not occurred to him that the Lord's church didn't exist anywhere on the face of the earth. It had never entered into his heart that all churches were wrong.

Joseph's motivation in his 1832 account, in addition to seeking forgiveness of his sins, was also to determine whether God's church was upon the earth

Josephs.1832.account.which.church.is right.jpg

There is no contradiction in the two texts presented in the above argument, only a short-sighted understanding of some isolated sources. The answer to this apparent contradiction lies in a detailed examination of relevant texts.


Response to claim: "some of the Smith family joining the Presbyterian church AFTER God has supposedly told Joseph that all churches were corrupt"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

There are other contradictions which cast doubt on the "first vision," such as the some of the Smith family joining the Presbyterian church AFTER God has supposedly told Joseph that all churches were corrupt

FairMormon Response

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

No records exist showing when the Smith's joined the Presbyterian church.


Question: When was Lucy Mack Smith baptized?

Richard Bushman: "In recounting her baptism around 1803, Lucy Smith by implication suggested a date for her membership in the Presbyterian church in Palmyra"

Lucy Mack Smith recorded in her history that she sought out baptism sometime around 1803, without formally joining any Church at that time. The Reverend Wesley Walters attempts to place Lucy's association with the Presbyterians at 1824, to coincide with the formal 1824 revival. In 1987, Richard Bushman summarized the debates about Lucy's Presbyterianism to that point:

In recounting her baptism around 1803, Lucy Smith by implication suggested a date for her membership in the Presbyterian church in Palmyra. She had searched for a minister who would baptize her without the requirement of commitment to one church. She found such a man, who left her "free in regard to joining any religious denomination." After this, she says, "I stepped forward and yielded obedience to this ordinance; after which I continued to read the Bible as formerly until my eldest son had attained his twenty-second year." Biographical Sketches, pp. 48-49. Alvin was twenty-two in 1820. Unfortunately, the Presbyterian records that could confirm this date are lost. In an 1893 interview William Smith said that Hyrum, Samuel, and Catherine were Presbyterians, but since Catherine was only eight in 1820, and Sophronia, whom Joseph named, was seventeen, Sophronia was more likely to be the sister who joined....All the circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, the date of Lucy Smith's engagement to Presbyterianism remains a matter of debate. It is possible to argue plausibly that she did not join until later Palmyra revivals in 1824. [59]

Thus, a definitive answer to the question will probably elude us, though Bushman clearly favored the early date.

Critics act as if the matter has been settled the way the Reverend Wesley Walters hoped it would be--insisting that the 1824 date was the only viable one. This is false, and the weight of evidence is probably on the side of the "traditional" understanding of Lucy and at least some children as Presbyterians prior to an 1820 First Vision.


Question: Did Lucy Mack Smith join the Presbyterian Church after her son Alvin died in 1823?

Lucy Mack Smith did not say in her autobiography that she joined the Presbyterian church after her son Alvin died

It is claimed that the Prophet's mother joined the Presbyterian church after Alvin Smith died in late 1823 (Joseph Smith said she joined in 1820). If Lucy Mack Smith joined the Presbyterian Church in 1823, then this contradicts Joseph's statement that she joined in 1820, thereby dating Joseph's First Vision to no earlier than 1823.

There are several problems with this argument. The most serious one is that Lucy Mack Smith did NOT say in her autobiography that she joined the Presbyterian church after her son Alvin died. The original manuscript of the autobiography (including the crossed-out portion) actually says:

  • Alvin Smith died (19 November 1823).
  • "lamentation and mourning filled the whole neighborhood".
  • Those from Alvin's immediate circle felt "more than usual grief".
  • The funeral and the interment took place.
  • "The circumstances of [Alvin's] death aroused the neighborhood to the subject of religion".
  • The Smith family "could not be comforted" because of Alvin's loss.
  • "About this time there was a great revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject and we among the rest flocked to the meetinghouse to see if there was a word of comfort for us that might relieve our overcharged feelings."
  • One man was laboring in the area "to effect a union of all the churches that all denominations might be agreed to worship God with one mind and one heart".
  • Lucy Mack Smith thought that this idea "looked right" and tried to persuade her husband to "join with them" (i.e., the unionized group of "all denominations").
  • Lucy Mack Smith "wished" to join herself with this group.
  • All the Smith children were "inclined" to join this group except Joseph (who refused from the first to attend the meetings).
  • Joseph told his mother that he did not wish to prevent her or any member of the Smith family from attending any church meeting or "joining any church" that they liked but stated his own desire not to go with them. Joseph also stated that if they did join any church they would not be with them long because of "the wickedness of their hearts".
  • Father Smith attended one meeting of the unionized church group but declined thereafter. He said that he did not object if Mother Smith and the children wanted to attend these meetings or join with the group.

There are several observations that will help to clarify the meaning of this text.

The effect of Alvin's funeral on the Smith family

Alvin's funeral was conducted by a Presbyterian clergyman named Benjamin B. Stockton. [60] This detail raises the strong possibility that someone in the Smith household had an affiliation with the Presbyterian church by November 1823 (Stockton did not become the official pastor of Palmyra's Western Presbyterian Church until 18 February 1824). [61] Indeed, in one of William Smith's recountings of Church history he seems very clearly to say that his mother and some of his siblings were members of the Presbyterian church at the time of Alvin's funeral. [62] And in another recounting he states that they had this affiliation in the year 1820. [63]


Question: Did Lucy Mack Smith state when she joined the Presbyterians?

Lucy does not say when she joined the Presbyterians

Lucy Mack Smith does not say in her autobiography that she actually joined with the religious group that was composed of "all the churches". She only says that she desired to join with them. She may well have already been associated with the Presbyterians.

Lucy was baptized first and THEN in 1820 she formally joined a denomination

One Presbyterian author claims that "when Lucy reached Palmyra, she developed a connection with the Presbyterian church, even though she held aloof from membership." As support for this assertion, he cites Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 11-13 and notes that "Solomon Mack, Lucy's father, was a Universalist during her childhood but converted to orthodox Christianity in 1810." The author does not clarify the nature of Lucy's connection to the Presbyterian church after her arrival in Palmyra. Although he notes that Lucy "had sought spiritual comfort from a noted Presbyterian minister" while in Randolph, Vermont (citing Lucy's autobiography), he fails to note that this same autobiography provides the timeframe for when she was baptized. She says, “I concluded that my mind would be easier if I were baptized and I found a minister who was willing to baptize me and leave me free from membership in any church after which I pursued the same course until my oldest son [Alvin] attained his 22nd year” - which took place on 11 February 1820.

The "revival" mentioned by Lucy occurs one year prior to the 1824 revival

The "great revival in religion" that is mentioned in Mother Smith's autobiography appears to take place not long after Alvin's death in November 1823. In fact, it seems that it was Alvin's death that instigated this particular event. A disparity in timeframes (a one-year gap) calls any perceived connection between this event and Palmyra's 1824-25 revival into doubt. A ministerial eyewitness says that nothing much like a recognizable revival even took place in the village of Palmyra until December 1824 (The Methodist Magazine, vol. 8, no. 4, April 1825). Mother Smith does not mention any conversions during the December 1823 denomination-welding event which she describes while the December 1824 revival garnered more than 150 converts who joined themselves with various separate churches.

Lucy's family was suspended from fellowship in the Presbyterian church in March 1830

Church records confirm that Lucy's family was suspended from fellowship in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra on March 10, 1830. The charge was 18 months of inactivity, which indicates that they had not attended since September 1828. This was one year after Joseph had received the plates. [64]

Joseph's actions support the First Vision account of his relatives joining the Presbyterians

Joseph Smith's comments to his mother about joining "any" church are significant. He said that taking such an action would be a mistake because of what was in the hearts of the adherents. During the First Vision the Lord told Joseph that the hearts of the members of the Christian denominations were far from Him (1832 account). Joseph also told his mother that if she did decide to join one of the churches she would not be long with them. This make perfect sense when it is remembered that just a few months prior to this time Joseph had informed his family that an angel had told him about golden plates and indicated that God was about to reveal "a more perfect knowledge of the plan of salvation and the redemption of the human family" (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], chapter 18).

The facts contained within the primary source documents do not support the conclusions of the critics. Joseph Smith said that his mother and siblings were members of the Presbyterian church in 1820 when he had the First Vision and the writings of his mother and brother support that statement. Joseph Smith was not in a state of confusion or bent on deception when he recorded the occurrences of his past. Readers of the Prophet's history can have confidence in what is presented before them.


Response to claim: "and the fact that as late as 1851, church publications such as the "Times and Seasons" were calling the angel that visited Joseph 'Nephi,' rather than Moroni"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

and the fact that as late as 1851, church publications such as the "Times and Seasons" were calling the angel that visited Joseph "Nephi," rather than Moroni. Since Joseph Smith was the editor of the "Times and Seasons," it seems incredible that he would allow his own paper to misstate the name of the angel, and not issue a correction.

FairMormon Response

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

This was a scribal error that was propagated into a number of other sources.


Question: Did Joseph Smith originally identify the angel that visited him as "Nephi" instead of "Moroni"?

The text in question

The text in question reads as follows:

While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in the room which continued to increase untill the room was lighter than at noonday and <when> immediately a personage <appeared> at my bedside standing in the air for his feet did not touch the floor. He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond any <thing> earthly I had ever seen, nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceeding[g]ly white and brilliant, His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrists. So also were his feet naked as were his legs a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open so that I could see into his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi....(emphasis added)[65]

Orson Pratt would later observe:

The discrepency in the history … may have occurred through the ignorance or carelessness of the historian or transcriber. It is true, that the history reads as though the Prophet himself recorded [it, that he] was [doing the] writing: but … many events recorded were written by his scribes who undoubtedly trusted too much to their memories, and the items probably were not sufficiently scanned by Bro. Joseph, before they got into print.[66]

The identity of the angel that appeared to Joseph Smith in his room in 1823 was published as "Moroni" for many years prior to the erroneous identification of the angel as "Nephi"

The Church teaches that Moroni was the heavenly messenger which appeared to Joseph Smith and directed him to the gold plates. Yet, some Church sources give the identity of this messenger as Nephi. Some claim that this shows that Joseph was 'making it up as he went along.' One critic even claims that if the angel spoke about the plates being "engraven by Moroni," then he couldn't have been Moroni himself.

The identity of the angel that appeared to Joseph Smith in his room in 1823 and over the next four years was known and published as "Moroni" for many years prior to the publication of the first identification of the angel as "Nephi" in the Times and Seasons in 1842. Even an anti-Mormon publication, Mormonism Unvailed, identified the angel's name as "Moroni" in 1834—a full eight years earlier. All identifications of the angel as "Nephi" subsequent to the 1842 Times and Seasons article were using the T&S article as a source. These facts have not been hidden; they are readily acknowledged in the History of the Church:

In the original publication of the history in the Times and Seasons at Nauvoo, this name appears as "Nephi," and the Millennial Star perpetuated the error in its republication of the History. That it is an error is evident, and it is so noted in the manuscripts to which access has been had in the preparation of this work. [67]

Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt understood the problem more than a century ago, when they wrote in 1877 to John Taylor:

"The contradictions in regard to the name of the angelic messenger who appeared to Joseph Smith occurred probably through the mistakes of clerks in making or copying documents and we think should be corrected. . . . From careful research we are fully convinced that Moroni is the correct name. This also was the decision of the former historian, George A. Smith." [68]

The timeline of events related to the "Nephi/Moroni" error

The following time-line illustrates various sources that refer to the angel, and whether the name "Moroni" or "Nephi" was given to them.

As can be readily seen, the "Nephi" sources all derive from a single manuscript and subsequent copies. On the other hand, a variety of earlier sources (including one hostile source) use the name "Moroni," and these are from a variety of sources.

Details about each source are available below the graphic. Readers aware of other source(s) are encouraged to contact FairMormon so they can be included here.

Nephi or Moroni Timeline.PNG

This is not an example of Joseph Smith changing his story over time, but an example of a detail being improperly recorded by someone other than the Prophet, and then reprinted uncritically. Clear contemporary evidence from Joseph and his enemies—who would have seized upon any inconsistency had they known about it—shows that "Moroni" was the name of the heavenly messenger BEFORE the 1838 and 1839 histories were recorded.


Question: Which sources mention Nephi as the angelic visitor who told Joseph Smith about the gold plates?

There is actually only one source that claims the heavenly messenger was Nephi, which was an error

Critics cite a variety of sources that repeat the 'Nephi' identification. The key point to understand is that there is really only one source that claims the heavenly messenger was Nephi; the other sources which mention Nephi are merely citing this one source, thus perpetuating the error. The problematic document is the June 1839 Manuscript History of the Church Book A-1 (which was a copy of an April 1838 document -- James Mulholland copied George W. Robinson's earlier text. The 1838 document is no longer extant).

Subsequent documents copied the error from the original source

  • Later drafts of the Manuscript History of the Church reproduced the error (see discussion below).
  • The 1839 document was then published in the 1842 Times and Seasons as follows:
He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi. That God had a work for me to do, and that my name should be had for good and evil, among all nations, kindreds, and tongues; or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. He said there was a book deposited written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. [69]
  • In England, the Church's periodical called the Millennial Star reprinted the same article in August 1842, perpetuating the error:
He called me by name and said unto me, that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi [70]
  • This idea was repeated again, in the same volume of the Millennial Star, in an editorial written on 1 August 1842 either by Parley P. Pratt or Thomas Ward:
Again, when we read the history of our beloved brother, Joseph Smith, and of the glorious ministry and message of the angel Nephi, which has finally opened a new dispensation to man, and commenced a revolution in the moral, civil, and religious government of the world... [71]
  • The Pearl of Great Price, published in England in 1851 (but not yet canonized), identified its source for the story as "Times & Seasons, vol. iii, p. 726, &c." On page 41 it is said,
He called me by name and said unto me, that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi [72]
  • The Times and Seasons account was also inserted into the autobiography of the Prophet's mother (Lucy Mack Smith) by an editor in 1853. The Prophet's mother, therefore, did not make this statement (as some claim). The source is identified on page 81 as follows -- "Times and Seasons, vol. iii., p. 729. Supp. to Mil. Star, vol. xiv., p. 4." It reads:
He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi [73]

However, on the bottom of page 79 of this autobiography (where the above quotation occurs) there is a note about the name "Nephi" and it says, "Moroni, see Doc & Cov. sec. L., par. 2; Elders' Journal, vol. i., pp. 28 and 129; History of Joseph Smith under year 1838; Deseret News, no. 10, vol. iii. O.P." The initials at the end probably stand for Orson Pratt -- who had the autobiography published in 1853.

A single error had a ripple effect through several published accounts of the vision

Thus, a single error in the Manuscript History had a ripple effect through several published accounts of the vision. These accounts are not independent 'proof' that Joseph was changing the story; they all depend upon a single initial error (which may have been caused by the 1838 or 1839 scribes). Most of these occurred in England. Click here to see a list of the later perpetuation of the same errors which refer to the works above. Later references to Moroni can be seen here.

History of the error in the Manuscript History

The Joseph Smith Papers project now allows us to examine the various drafts of the history. (In the transcriptions below, we have added bold type to help the reader pick out small differences between each version. It is clear, however, that the writer is simply copying from the previous manuscript(s)—these are not independently-dictated versions.

First Version [circa June 1839]

Note the footnote added by a later hand at "Nephi" to the circa June 1839 first version.
Some have attributed this footnote to B.H. Roberts. It reads: "Evidently a clerical error; see Book Doc & Cov., Sec 50, par 2; Sec 106, par 20; also Elder’s Journal Vol. 1, page 43. Should read Moroni."
His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrist[s added]. So also were his feet naked as were his legs a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe as it was open so that I could see into his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi.[74]

There is a footnote made in a later hand calling attention to the error of Moroni (see graphics at right). This is a late addition, and not from Joseph Smith's era.

Draft #2 [circa June 1839]

His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrist. So also were his feet naked as were his legs a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe as it was open so that I could see into his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi.[75]

The Joseph Smith Papers footnote reports:

A later redaction in an unidentified hand changed “Nephi” to “Moroni” and noted that the original attribution was a “clerical error.” Early sources often did not name the angelic visitor, but sources naming Moroni include Oliver Cowdery’s historical letter published in the April 1835 LDS Messenger and Advocate; an expanded version of a circa August 1830 revelation, as published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants; and a JS editorial published in the Elders’ Journal in July 1838. The present history is the earliest extant source to name Nephi as the messenger, and subsequent publications based on this history perpetuated the attribution during JS’s lifetime.[76]

Draft #3 [circa 1841]

The Nephi error persists unchanged into the third draft.
His hands and arms were naked. alittle above the wrist. so also <were> his feet and legs alittle ab[o] ve the ancles; his head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing but the robe. as it was open so that I could see his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white; but his whole per son was glorious beyond ◊discription. and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light but not so much so as immediately around his person When I first looked upon <him> it I was afraid; but the fear soon left me: calling me by name, <he> said. that he was a messenger. sent from the presence of God to me. and that his name was Nephi.[77]

The historical introduction notes that this and the following draft were prepared by Howard Corray:

In 1869 Coray signed a statement that was later attached to the paper wrapper that enclosed his two drafts: “These hundred pages of History were written by me, under Joseph the Prophet’s dictation. Dr Miller helped me a little in writing the same. (Historians office, 1869).”4 If by “dictation” Coray meant that he transcribed as JS spoke, it seems more likely to be a description of JS’s involvement in the history draft presented here than [an earlier, non-extant historical project]. In the latter project, according to Coray, JS only supplied materials and gave general instructions. If the statement was accurate in that sense, it suggests that JS read aloud from Draft 2 in the large manuscript volume, directing editorial changes as he read. Several passages of Draft 3 contain evidence of dictation, but the history itself includes no indication of who was dictating the text.

Thus, Joseph Smith may have read this text to Coray, and so some have suggested that Joseph should have corrected the error. However, given how nearly identical all versions of the history are in this section, and how closely they follow the previous drafts, it seems that Joseph did little, if any, editing on this aspect of the history. We do not not know if Joseph dictated this section to Coray, or if Coray simply copied it from the previous draft(s).

"Fair copy" draft [circa 1841]

His hands and arms were naked a little above the worist wrist, so also <were> his feet and leng legs were a little above the ancles. his head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing [on omitted]but the robe, as it was open— so that I could see his bosom. Not only was the robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description; and his counte nance truly like lightning. The room was exee dingly light, but not so much so as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me, <when>, calling me by name, he said, he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.[78]

(It is interesting that this copy restores some changes from draft #1 that were removed in drafts #2 and #3.)


Question: Are there sources which identify the angel that visited Joseph as "Moroni" that date prior to the "Nephi" error?

There are multiple independent sources which mention Moroni that pre-date the 1838/1839 error

In contrast to the single source error mentioned above, there are multiple independent sources (originating with Joseph Smith and both friendly and hostile individuals) which demonstrate that the identification of the angel as "Moroni" was well-known and pre-dated the 1838/39 error.

  • D&C 27:5 - 1830–1835
Behold this is wisdom in me: wherefore marvel not for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel [modern edition DC 27:5 [79]
  • Mormonism Unvailed - 1834, reprinted as History of Mormonism in 1840 [an anti-Mormon book]
After he had finished translating the Book of Mormon, he again buried up the plates in the side of a mountain, by command of the Lord; some time after this, he was going through a piece of woods, on a by-path, when he discovered an old man dressed in ordinary grey apparel...The Lord told him that the man he saw was MORONI, with the plates, and if he had given him the five coppers, he might have got his plates again. [80]
  • Messenger and Advocate - 1835
I have now given you a rehearsal of what was communicated to our brother, when he was directed to go and obtain the record of the Nephites…and I believe that the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing, who communicated the knowledge of the record of the Nephites, in this age, saw also, before he hid up the same unto the Lord, great and marvelous things, which were to transpire when the same should come forth. [81]
  • Elders' Journal - July 1838
For those holy men are angels now. And these are they, who make the fulness of times complete with us. And they who sin against this authority given to him ... sins not against him only, but against Moroni, who holds the keys of the stick of Ephraim. [82]
  • Elders' Journal - July 1838
How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon?...Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me and told me where they were and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them and the Urim and Thummim with them, by the means of which I translated the plates and thus came the book of Mormon. [83]
  • Joseph Smith public discourse - prior to 8 August 1839
...the angel flying through the midst of heaven Moroni delivered the Book of Mormon. [84]
  • Gospel Reflector - March 1841
The 1835 Oliver Cowdery letter identifying "the angel Moroni" as the revealer of the golden plates was reprinted.
[vol. 1, no. 6, March 1841, 161.]
  • Times and Seasons - April 1841
The 1835 Oliver Cowdery letter identifying "the angel Moroni" as the revealer of the golden plates was reprinted.
[vol. 2, no. 11, 1 April 1841, 363].
  • Times and Seasons - March 1843
“As the prophet observes, behold this is wisdom in me….‘Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon….’ [TS 4/8 (1 Mar 1843): 122; also citing D&C 27:5 (50:2 in D&C 1835 edition).
  • Millennial Star -- July 1843
“As the prophet observes, behold this is wisdom in me….‘Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon….’ [MS, "The Elias," 4/3 (July 1843): 43; reproduces TS 4/8 (1 Mar 1843): 122, which in turn cites D&C 50:2 (1835 edition), 27:5 (present edition): quotes 27:5-18]
  • Pamphlet - 1844
The 1835 Oliver Cowdery letter identifying "the angel Moroni" as the revealer of the golden plates was reprinted.
[Letters by Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps on the Origin of the Book of Mormon (Liverpool: Thomas Ward and John Cairns, 1844), 31.]
  • D&C 128 (labeled 104 in 1844 edition) - 1844
And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. (D&C 128:20).


Question: Did the prophet Nephi visit Joseph at some point in time?

Several of Joseph's associates believed that Joseph had visits from both Moroni and Nephi during the process of the Restoration

George Q. Cannon in 1869,

If you will read the history of the Church from the beginning, you will find that Joseph was visited by various angelic beings, but not one of them professed to give him the keys until John the Baptist came to him. Moroni, who held the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim, visited Joseph; he had doubtless, also, visits from Nephi and it may be from Alma and others.” [85]

John Taylor notes in 1877,

Who was it that administered to Joseph Smith? Moroni and Nephi, men who had lived upon this continent. [86]

President Taylor repeats this assertion in 1879,

Afterwards the angel Moroni came to him and revealed to him the Book of Mormon, with the history of which you are generally familiar, and also with the statements that I am now making pertaining to these things. And then came Nephi, one of the ancient prophets, that had lived upon this continent, who had an interest in the welfare of the people that he had lived amongst in those days. [87]


D. Todd Christofferson: "The June 1839 Manuscript History of the Church says it was Nephi who appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823 rather than Moroni"

Elder D. Todd Christofferson:

Recording mistakes, for example, have sometimes been seized on as evidence of misrepresentations or bumbling by the Prophet. For example, the Book of Commandments initially referred to Joseph Smith as “an elder” and Oliver Cowdery the same, rather than “First Elder” and “Second Elder” as found in the text of Doctrine and Covenants Section 20. The 1833 Book of Commandments suggested that the Church was organized in Manchester rather than Fayette, New York. The June 1839 Manuscript History of the Church says it was Nephi who appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823 rather than Moroni. Now, however, with original manuscripts contained in the Book of Commandments and Revelations, published as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and other early sources we can “peel back the onion” a little further. And we find that the supposed problems are nothing more sinister than clerical errors sometimes repeated by others.[88]


Improvement Era (1970): "This wording in the present Pearl of Great Price is modified from the first printing, in which the messenger was identified as 'Nephi'"

Richard Lloyd Anderson, Improvement Era (September 1970):

"He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni." This wording in the present Pearl of Great Price is modified from the first printing, in which the messenger was identified as "Nephi," a fact that has generated its share of superficial comment. A textual critic or a court of law reserves the right to use common sense in the face of obvious documentary errors. The "Nephi" reading contradicts all that the Prophet published on the subject during his lifetime. In 1835 Joseph Smith identified the messenger in official scripture: "Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon…. ([D&C 50.2 (1835 edition), D&C 27:5 (present edition)]. That year Oliver Cowdery also named this individual in the Messenger and Advocate: "the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing…. Communicated the knowledge of the record of the Nephites…." [Messenger and Advocate, 1:112 (April 1835).] Without exhausting the evidence, nothing could be clearer than Joseph Smith's statement printed in the same year that the History began to be dictated: "Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the Book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them" [Elder's Journal 1:42–43 (July 1838), cit. Joseph Smith, History of the Church 3:28]. [89]


Response to claim: "Curious investigators and historians wonder if there is evidence of an 1820 revival in the historical record"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

A young Joseph, an amazing vision, the birth of Mormonism - all started with a great revival according to the fully evolved story. Joseph Smith described the revival that took place in his boyhood town of Palmyra, New York:

There was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religions. It commenced with the Methodist, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of the country... . great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir ... Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist (Pearl of Great Price / Joseph Smith History 1:5).

Curious investigators and historians wonder if there is evidence of an 1820 revival in the historical record?

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

MormonThink is begging the question: they are assuming what they want to prove. They are calling these events "a revival," when Joseph never called them by that term.


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. [90]

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.


Question: What evidence of religious excitement is there from non-Mormon sources?

Evidence of religious excitement from non-Mormon sources

Non-Mormon evidence demonstrates that there was a considerable increase in membership among some Christian sects. One source goes so far as to point out the growth over a given period without explicit revivals:

1817 to 1830 increase from 6 to 80 without revival, in a particular circuit (emphasis added). [91]

David Marks was born the same year as Joseph Smith, 1805. His parents moved to Junius, not far from Palmyra, when he was a teenager. He became very religious very early, and left home to become an itinerant Baptism minister. He published his memoirs in 1831. Here are some things he has to say about happenings in Junius and Phelps [Vienna], in 1819:

In the fall of the year 1818, upon relating my experience to the Calvinistic Baptist church in Junius, they received me as a candidate for baptism;….
I continued to attend the Baptist covenant meetings, and was treated with the same studied coldness as before. Six months had passed [i.e., sometime in spring 1819], since the church received me as a candidate for baptism,….
In the month of July, 1819, Elder Zabulon Dean, and his companion, having heard of my situation, and feeling interested, sent an appointment to our neighborhood; and came thirty miles, accompanied by brother Samuel Wire, then an unordained preacher, Deacon C., and Brother S. They were all Free-Will Baptists, and the first of whom I had any knowledge. On Saturday, July 10th, I meet with them, learned their sentiments, spirit and humility; which so well accorded with my own views and feelings, that desiring to be baptized, I related to them my experience and sentiments, also the manner in which my application to unite with the Baptist church had been received and afterwards rejected. They expressed satisfaction with my experience, approved of my sentiments, and the next day, being the Sabbath, a meeting was appointed for preaching and examination, at the house where the Baptist church usually met for worship (29).
On the 17th of the same month [July 1819], I attended the Benton Quarterly Meeting of the Free-Will Baptists, in the town of Phelps, eighteen miles from my father’s, and was there received a member of the church in that place. Five were baptized, communion and washing feet attended to, and a profitable season was enjoyed. After this, Elder Dean and brother Wire frequently preached in Junius, and a good reformation followed their labors; in which some of my former persecutors were converted to the faith of the gospel. In the ensuing autumn, brother Wire was ordained. He and Elder Dean baptized fifteen in Junius, who united with the church in Phelps; but in January following [1820], they were dismissed and acknowledged a church in Junius, taking the scriptures for their only rule of faith and practice. Being absent at the time of its organization, I did not become one of its members till the ensuing Spring. This church walked in gospel order several months, and enjoyed many happy seasons. But the summer of prosperity passed, and the winter of adversity succeeded. New and unexpected trials brought heaviness and mourning. Seven or eight, who first united and were well engaged, soon turned aside after Satan and walked no more with us. Iniquity abounding, the love of some waxed cold. Every feeling of my soul was pained, when those with whom I had taken sweet counsel, thus wounded the innocent cause of Jesus and brought it into reproach. But while our number decreased by [31] excommunications, the Lord more than supplied the vacancies by adding to the church of such as should be saved. [92]

Clearly, there was extensive religious excitement in the Palmyra area. A young man of Joseph's age was likewise much taken by it, as Joseph himself was.

What was happening in Joseph's area in 1820

Joseph states that about 1820 "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion" had commenced, and that "[i]t commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country." The Palmyra newspaper reported many conversions in the “burned-over” district. The Palmyra Register recorded that the Methodists had a religious camp meeting in 1820. [93] Since they did not have a chapel yet, they would meet in the woods on Vienna Road. [94] Pomeroy Tucker (a witness hostile to Joseph Smith) states that “protracted revival meetings were customary in some of the churches, and Smith frequented those of different denominations…” [95] These revivals in 1820 must have helped the Methodists, for they were able to build their first church in Palmyra by 1822, down on Vienna Road where they held their camp meetings.[96] The Zion Episcopal Church was originated in 1823. [97] In 1817, the Presbyterians were able to split into an eastern group and a western group. The eastern group used the only actual church building that was in Palmyra in 1820, while the western group assembled in the town hall. [98]


Question: Were revivals and religious excitement too common to be noticed in the newspapers?

One report of a Methodist camp meeting in Palmyra only made it into the local newspaper because of a fatality due to alcohol consumption

Ironically, evidence for local religious meetings was less likely to be documented in the newspapers because they were so common. One report of a Methodist camp meeting in Palmyra only made it into the local newspaper because of a fatality due to alcohol consumption. The paper, in a less politically correct time, pointed out that the deceased was Irish and had died due to alcohol at the Camp-ground outside Palmyra:

The deceased, we are informed, arrived at Mr. McCollum's house the evening preceding, from a camp-meeting which was held in this vicinity, in a state of intoxication....It is supposed he obtained his liquor, which was no doubt the cause of his death, at the Camp-ground, where, it is a notorious fact, the intemperate, the lewd and dissolute part of community too frequently resort for no better object, than to gratify their base propensities.[99]

The Methodists strenuously objected to the implication that their camp meetings where places where people came to get drunk. The Palmyra Register printed a clarification about a week later:

By this expression we did not mean to insinuate, that he obtained it within the enclosure of their place of worship, or that he procured it of them, but at the grog-shops that were established at, or near if you please, their camp-ground. It was far from our intention to charge the Methodists with retailing ardent spirits while professedly met for the worship of their God.[100]

Thus, Joseph's recollection of religious excitement in Palmyra is confirmed at the very edge of the Spring of 1820; very close to the time when he said he prayed to God about religion. [101]


Response to claim: "It started in the fall of 1824 and continued into the spring of 1825"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Marquardt and Walters found multiple sources that revealed evidence of a great religious excitement, with big gains in church membership for all the denominations mentioned by Joseph. It started in the fall of 1824 and continued into the spring of 1825. For the year ending September 1825, the Baptist church recorded 94 admitted on profession of faith and baptism, the Presbyterian church reported 99 new members and the Methodist circuit showed an increase of 208 (p. 27). These facts fit Joseph's description, but not his date for the event.

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 irrelevant. There was a revival in 1824-25, but there was also religious excitement and camp meetings in the correct time and place for Joseph's account.


Question: Did Joseph Smith simply conflate elements of the 1818 and 1824-25 revivals in his story of the First Vision?

There is documentary evidence that shows abundant religious activity in the region surrounding Palmyra, New York during the 1819-1820 time period

Some critics and armchair scholars have come to the conclusion that some of the revival story elements found in Joseph Smith's 1838 historical narrative are not really accurate, but rather are representative of a conflation of facts. These people believe that Joseph Smith was actually mixing parts of 1818 and 1824-25 Palmyra revival activities into his storyline about what happened in 1820. In other words, they claim that the Prophet's narrative is not historically accurate - but not deceptively so.

The problem with the 'conflation theory' is two-fold: (1) It can be demonstrated that one of the most important pieces of documentary evidence which is used to support this theory does not actually say what some people think it says - see the FAIRwiki paper called Conflation of 1824-25 revival?. (2) There is plenty of documentary evidence that shows abundant revival activity in the general region surrounding Palmyra, New York during an 1819-1820 time period. A careful examination of Joseph Smith's 1838 narrative reveals that three distinct zones of revival activity are being referred to by him and each of these can be confirmed in non-LDS newspapers and ecclesiastical sources. When all of these sources are taken into account the idea of conflation loses most of its strength.


Response to claim: "existing tax records and property assessments indicate the most likely date for the Smith family's move onto their Manchester farm was 1822"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The second detail was Joseph Smith's statement that the revival took place "sometime in the second year after our removal to Manchester" (PGP/JS History 1:5). Research into existing tax records and property assessments indicate the most likely date for the Smith family's move onto their Manchester farm was 1822. A revival occurring in the second year after 1822 also fits the 1824 revival date (Inventing, pp. 7-8).

FairMormon Response

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

Records show that Joseph Smith was living in the area at the right time to be near the Sacred Grove where God and His Son appeared to him.


Question: Is there evidence that the Smith family was in the Palmyra area in 1820?

It has been claimed that there is no evidence that the Smith family was in the Palmyra area in 1820 for the religious excitement and First Vision

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

Road tax records indicate that Joseph Smith, Sr. was in Palmyra Road District #26 from 1817 till 1822

Documentary evidence came to light in 1970 to show that the Smiths were living in a log cabin within the Palmyra borders as late as April 1822.[102] This discovery led Donald Enders, of the LDS Church’s Historical Department, to do an in-depth study of this matter and publish an article in the Church’s Ensign magazine that concluded “Although the farm was located on the Manchester side of the Palmyra-Manchester township line, the Smith’s inadvertently built their cabin on the Palmyra side” on property owned by someone else.[103]

Road tax records that the LDS Genealogical Department copied indicates Joseph Smith, Sr. was in Palmyra Road District #26 from 1817 till 1822.[102] Since the road tax records were done in April, this indicates that Father Smith did not arrive in Palmyra to stay until after April 1816 and yet before April 1817.

The U.S. Census Bureau listed the Smiths in Farmington (now Manchester) in 1820

The U.S. Census Bureau listed the Smiths in Farmington (now Manchester) in 1820. The Smith farm, clearing the land and a log house, all supported evidence that the Smiths, and most everyone else, considered themselves in Manchester, even though they technically lived about 59 feet off their property. Legal U.S. documents now considered the Smiths in Farmington (later called Manchester) even though, technically, the log house was 59 feet away on the Palmyra side of the line.

The log house that everyone says they built in 1818 or 1819 was inadvertently built on the wrong side of the Farmington (Manchester)-Palmyra line

Moving to Manchester, it seems probable that the Smiths did not formally move to the new frame house on the east side of Stafford Road until after the winter of 1822. The log house that everyone says they built in 1818 or 1819 was inadvertently built on the wrong side of the Farmington (Manchester)-Palmyra line. Such an “accident” is entirely possible in a day when boundary lines may not have been well established. This would mean that the Smith family did not actually dwell on the Manchester side of the line until after November of 1822, when according to Mother Smith, “the frame was raised, and all the materials necessary for its [their frame house] speedy completion were procured.”[104] “An unidentifiable newspaper article on microfilm at Brigham Young University library” mentions that after some time, it was discovered that the cabin originally built by the Smiths was not on the land originally contracted by them. Arrangements were then made with Samuel Jennings to purchase the land on which the log cabin was erected.[105]

Finding the Smiths not on their property by just under 60 feet, the Palmyra road tax overseers recorded the Smiths on their road tax lists until 1822

Finding the Smiths not on their property by just under 60 feet, the Palmyra road tax overseers recorded the Smiths on their road tax lists until 1822 when the Smiths were able to raise the frame of a larger house (this time, on their property), move into the house, and work to complete the house after the move.[106] This move occurred before the tax liens were completed in 1823. The tax liens on the property increased $300 to reflect the move.[107] The move to the log house by the Smiths in 1818 was considered a move to Manchester by Joseph Jr., in his history, for it was a move to their farm where he was going to labor for many years to come. An imaginary line separated them from physically being in Manchester.

Joseph Smith was living in the area at the right time to be near the Sacred Grove where God and His Son appeared to him

Contemporary eyewitnesses, who were critical of Joseph Smith, do indeed verify that the Smiths were in the area where Joseph said they were. Modern critics now try to claim that he was not there. The evidence proves these new critics wrong.


Response to claim: "An ad in the newspaper for a church camp meeting is not a revival that causes the 'religious excitement' that Smith described"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

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.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

No, FairMormon does not claim that there was a revival in 1820. FairMormon states, based upon newspaper data, that there were Methodist camp meetings being held in the Palmyra area, and that these could account for the "religious excitement". A religious "revival" doesn't have to be formally declared as such in order for a 14-year-old boy to perceive "religious excitement" in the area.

The MormonThink author has completely misunderstood the data, and then responded to their own misunderstanding. The newspaper evidence is not "ad in the newspaper for a church camp meeting," and nobody has even claimed that a newspaper ad in 1820 was responsible for any "religious excitement".

  • The newspaper articles mention the occurrence of at least one Methodist camp meeting in Palmyra in association with a death that occurred. Had the death not occurred, the camp meeting would not have been mentioned in the newspaper. This is simply an indication that Methodist camp meetings were occurring, but were not advertised in the newspaper. The "religious excitement" was not the result of "newspaper ads".


Question: Were revivals and religious excitement too common to be noticed in the newspapers?

One report of a Methodist camp meeting in Palmyra only made it into the local newspaper because of a fatality due to alcohol consumption

Ironically, evidence for local religious meetings was less likely to be documented in the newspapers because they were so common. One report of a Methodist camp meeting in Palmyra only made it into the local newspaper because of a fatality due to alcohol consumption. The paper, in a less politically correct time, pointed out that the deceased was Irish and had died due to alcohol at the Camp-ground outside Palmyra:

The deceased, we are informed, arrived at Mr. McCollum's house the evening preceding, from a camp-meeting which was held in this vicinity, in a state of intoxication....It is supposed he obtained his liquor, which was no doubt the cause of his death, at the Camp-ground, where, it is a notorious fact, the intemperate, the lewd and dissolute part of community too frequently resort for no better object, than to gratify their base propensities.[108]

The Methodists strenuously objected to the implication that their camp meetings where places where people came to get drunk. The Palmyra Register printed a clarification about a week later:

By this expression we did not mean to insinuate, that he obtained it within the enclosure of their place of worship, or that he procured it of them, but at the grog-shops that were established at, or near if you please, their camp-ground. It was far from our intention to charge the Methodists with retailing ardent spirits while professedly met for the worship of their God.[109]

Thus, Joseph's recollection of religious excitement in Palmyra is confirmed at the very edge of the Spring of 1820; very close to the time when he said he prayed to God about religion. [110]


Palmyra Register (1820): "It was far from our intention to charge the Methodists with retailing ardent spirits while professedly met for the worship of their God"

28 June 1820: "The deceased, we are informed, arrived...from a camp-meeting which was held in this vicinity, in a state of intoxication"

Palmyra Register, 28 June 1820:

Effects of Drunkenness--DIED at the house of Mr. Robert McCollum, in this town, on the 26th inst. James Couser, aged about forty years. The deceased, we are informed, arrived at Mr. McCollum's house the evening preceding, from a camp-meeting which was held in this vicinity, in a state of intoxication. He, with his companion who was also in the same debasing condition, called for supper, which was granted. They both stayed the night--called for breakfast next morning--when notified that it was ready, the deceased was found wrestling with his companion, who he flung with the greatest ease,--he suddenly sunk down upon a bench,--was taken with an epileptic fit, and immediately expired.--It is supposed he obtained his liquor, which was no doubt the cause of his death, at the Camp-ground, where, it is a notorious fact, the intemperate, the lewd and dissolute part of community too frequently resort for no better object, than to gratify their base propensities.

The deceased, who was an Irishman, we understand has left a family, living at Catskill this state. [111]

Mention of "the Camp-ground" did not endear the paper to the local Methodists, who objected to the implication that this (the location of their worship services) was the site of drinking to excess and a place of gathering by the "dissolute part" of the community. An article appeared in the same paper a week later which said:

5 July 1820: "Methodists...we did not mean to insinuate, that he obtained it within the enclosure of their place of worship"

Palmyra Register, 5 July 1820

"Plain Truth" is received. By this communication, as well as by the remarks of some of our neighbors who belong to the Society of Methodists, we perceive that our remarks accompanying the notice of the unhappy death of James Couser, contained in our last, have not been correctly understood. "Plain truth" says, we committed "an error in point of fact," in saying that Couser "obtained his liquor at the camp-ground." By this expression we did not mean to insinuate, that he obtained it within the enclosure of their place of worship, or that he procured it of them, but at the grog-shops that were established at, or near if you please, their camp-ground. It was far from our intention to charge the Methodists with retailing ardent spirits while professedly met for the worship of their God. Neither did we intend to implicate them by saying that "the intemperate, the dissolute, &c. resort to their meetings."--And if so we have been understood by any one of that society, we assure them they have altogether mistaken our meaning. [112]

Palmyra register 28 June and 5 July 1820 drunken man dies at camp meeting.jpg


Response to claim: "Records show that in June 1828, Joseph Smith applied for membership in his wife's Methodist Church"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Records show that in June 1828, Joseph Smith applied for membership in his wife's Methodist Church. He also joined Methodist classes taught there. (The Amboy Journal, Amboy, IL, details Smith's 1828 activity in the Methodist Church. April 30, 1879 p. 1; May 21, 1879 p.1; June 11, 1879, p.1; July 2, 1879 p.1.)
....
Joseph was welcomed, not persecuted by the Methodists.

FairMormon Response

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

When the procedures and policy of the Methodist Episcopal Church are examined, the story told about Joseph's three day membership does not seem to fit the facts.


Question: Did Joseph Smith become a member of Emma Hale Smith's Methodist congregation in 1828, eight years after the First Vision?

When the procedures and policy of the Methodist Episcopal Church are examined, it is not possible that Joseph could have joined as related in the story given by one of his critics

Joseph and Hiel Lewis were cousins of Emma Hale Smith; they would have been aged 21 and 11 respectively in 1828, and in 1879 reported:

...while he, Smith, was in Harmony, Pa., translating his book....that he joined the M[ethodist] [Episocpal] church. He presented himself in a very serious and humble manner, and the minister, not suspecting evil, put his name on the class book, the absence of some of the official members, among whom was the undersigned, Joseph Lewis, who, when he learned what was done, took with him Joshua McKune, and had a talk with Smith. They told him plainly that such a character as he was a disgrace to the church, that he could not be a member of the church unless he broke off his sins by repentance, made public confession, renounced his fraudulent and hypocritical practices, and gave some evidence that he intended to reform and conduct himself somewhat nearer like a christian than he had done. They gave him his choice, to go before the class, and publicly ask to have his name stricken from the class book, or stand a disciplinary investigation. He chose the former, and immediately withdrew his name. So his name as a member of the class was on the book only three days.--It was the general opinion that his only object in joining the church was to bolster up his reputation and gain the sympathy and help of christians; that is, putting on the cloak of religion to serve the devil in. [113]

However, the Lewis' account of Joseph's three-day membership leaves him neither the time, nor the searching assessment required to become a member of the Methodists. This scenario simply does not match how Methodists admitted or expelled members. At best, he was probably regarded as "on probation" or (in modern LDS parlance) "an investigator". The means by which the Methodists separated themselves from Joseph are inconsistent with him being a full member; they do, however, match how probationaries were handled, though in Joseph's case he seems to have had more abrupt and preemptory treatment than was recommended.

This, coupled with the late date of the reminiscences, the clearly hostile intent of the witnesses, and multiple reports from both friendly and skeptical sources that claim Joseph never formally joined another religion make the critics' interpretation deeply suspect.

There is a marked absence of any other witnesses of Joseph's supposed membership and involvement

The Lewis witness is late. There is a marked absence of any other witnesses of Joseph's supposed membership and involvement, even though there are many witnesses who could have given such testimony.

For example, Nathaniel Lewis, another family member, was a Methodist minister. In his 1834 affidavit against Joseph, he emphasized his "standing in the Methodist Episcopal Church" which led him to "suppose [Joseph] was careful how he conducted or expressed himself before me." Yet, though anxious to impugn Joseph's character, this Lewis said nothing about membership in (or expulsion) from the Methodists. [114]

Likewise, none of Emma's other family members said anything about a Methodist connection, though they were closest to and most aware of Joseph's actions at this juncture than at any other time. Yet, Isaac Hale, Alva Hale, Levi Lewis, and Sophia Lewis are silent on the matter of Joseph's Methodism.


Question: How quickly could one join the Methodists in the 1830s?

As we examine Osmon Cleander Baker's A guide-book in the administration of the discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, we will discover that the scenario described by Joseph and Hiel Lewis of Joseph Smith's ejection from the Methodists simply does not match how Methodists admitted or expelled members. [115] (This work dates to 1855, but it often invokes Wesley himself, and is a good first approximation of how Methodists saw such matters.)

A six month probationary period was required in order to join the Methodists

The Guide-Book is clear that considerable time needs to elapse before one is formally admitted as a member:

[23] The regularly-constituted pastor is the proper authority to admit suitable persons to the communion of the Church. The preacher in charge, acting at first under the authority of Mr. Wesley, received members into the society, and severed their relations from the Church, according to his own convictions of duty. In 1784 the assistant was restricted from giving tickets to any, until they had been recommended by a leader with whom they had met, at least two months, on trial. In 1789 the term of probation was extended to six months....Hence, [24] since the organization of our Church, none could be received into full communion who had not previously been recommended by a leader; and, since 1840, it has been required that the applicant pass a satisfactory examination before the Church, respecting the correctness of his doctrine and his willingness to observe the rules of the Church....

Joseph's experience would predate the 1840 requirement, but clearly the requirement of at least a six month probationary period was required, and this required a leader to meet with them and be recommended for membership. The Lewis' three days certainly make this impossible.

Orthodox Christians may have the waiting period waved, but this still requires membership in an orthodox denomination, which Joseph Smith did not have

The Guide-Book indicates that orthodox Christians may have the waiting period waved:

6. "Persons in good standing in other orthodox Chruches, who desire to unite with us, may, by giving satisfactory answers to the usual inquiries, be received at once into full fellowship."....

This still requires membership in an orthodox denomination, which Joseph did not have. Further, he clearly could not give the "satisfactory answers" to the types of questions which the Guide-Book recommends, since the Lewis brothers insist that he was unwilling to do so only three days later. Furthermore, Joseph's views were clearly not "orthodox" by Methodist standards.

Those who were not full members of the church were called "probationers," and at least six months was required to end a probationary period

The Guide-Book is again specific about the length of time required to pass this stage, and the searching examination of conduct and belief that Methodist groups required:

[28]...it is a matter of vital importance to test, with deep scrutiny, the moral and Christian character of those who propose to enter her holy communion. No proselyte was admitted to Jewish fellowship without being well proved and instructed. The same care was observed by the early Christian Church. "None in those days," says Lord King, "were hastily advanced to the higher forms of Christianity, but according to their knowledge and merit, gradually [29] arrived thereto."...It is the prerogative of the preacher in charge alone to receive persons on trial. No one whose name is taken by a class-leader can be considered as a member on trial until the preacher recognizes the person as such....

[30] As the minister may not know whether the candidate makes a truthful declaration of his moral state, he is authorized "to admit none on trial except they are well recommended by one you know, or until they have met twice or thrice in class." As they are not supposed, at the time of joining on trial, to be acquainted with our doctrines, usages, and discipline, they are not required, at that time, to subscribe to our articles of religion and general economy; but if they propose to join in full connexion, "they must give satisfactory assurances both of the correctness of their faith and their willingness to observe and keep the rules of the Church."...

The Discipline does not specify the time when the probation shall terminate, but it has [31] fixed its minimum period. "Let none be received into the Church until they are recommended by a leader with whom they have met at least six months."...

Again, at least six months was required to end a probationary period. One could not even be a trial, or probationary member unless they were "well recommended" (which seems unlikely, given the reaction to those who did know about Joseph as soon as they heard) or had attended "twice or thrice in class"--this too seems unlikely given only three days of membership.

An earlier account from a Methodist magazine prior to 1828 also supports this reading. In a letter to the editor from a Methodist missionary in Connecticut, the missionary responds to the accusation by others (usually Calvinists) who claim the Methodists falsify their membership records: they are accused of counting only those who have been added, but subtracting those who had left. Part of the response includes line: ".... though the first six months of their standing is probationary, yet they are not during that time denied any of the privileges of our church" (page 33-34).

The letter writer speaks of a revival in New Haven, where he is based, in 1820. "My list of probationers, commencingt June 25, 1820, to this date [March 16, 1821], is one hundred and forty; between twelve and twenty of these have declined from us, some to the Congregationalists, and some back to the world, and some have removed, and one died in the triumphs of faith. I think we may count about one hundred and twenty since June last." (36-7)[116]

It seems likely, then, that the same procedures would have been in place in Joseph's 1828 encounter with Methodism, which occurred squarely between this 1822 letter and the 1855 manual.

Methodists also regarded baptism as an essential part of becoming a member, and specifically barred probationers who were not baptized from full membership and participation

[32] Nor is it the order of the Church for probationers, who have never been baptized, to partake of the holy sacrament. The initiatory rite should first be administered before the person is admitted to all the distinguishing rites of the new covenant.

Since we have no record that Joseph was baptized into Methodism or any other faith prior to his revelations and founding of a new religious movement, this is another bar to his membership with the Methodists. How did he compress his six-month probation, proper answers to all the questions, searching interview by his fellow parishioners, and his baptism, only to abandon the faith without complaint, all within three days?

The Methodist Church had no jurisdiction over acts committed before the member had joined

The Guide-Book was also clear that (save for immorality in preachers), the Methodist Church had no jurisdiction over acts committed before the member had joined:

[90] Any crime, committed at however remote a period, if it be within the time in which the accused has been a member of the Church, is indictable; but it cannot extend to any period beyond membership....

Thus, nothing that Joseph had said or done prior to his membership could have been grounds for action. Thus, only the events of a scant three days were under the jurisdiction of the Methodists, if he had been accepted as a full member. (The Lewises even admit that nothing Joseph had said or done was cause for suspicion, because those who did not know him saw no cause for concern. It was only those who knew his past who were concerned.)

If, however, he was seen as a probationary or "person on trial," then the church and its leaders and members had every right to assess anything about him and decide if he merited membership.

Those who have not formally joined the Methodists could leave the group relatively easily

The Guide-Book is clear that those who have not formally joined the Methodists can leave the group relatively easily:

[30] A mere probationer enters into no covenant with the Church. Every step he takes is preliminary to this, and either party may, at any time, quietly dissolve the relation between them without rupture or specific Church labour.

The Lewis brothers claim they gave Joseph a choice: (1) repent and change his ways; or (2) remove himself from association with them, by either (a) telling the class publicly that he was doing so; or (b) being subject to a disciplinary investigation. This matches how the Guide-Book recommends that probationers or "person[s] on trial" be handled:

[32] A person on trial cannot be arraigned before the society, or a select number of them, on definite charges and specifications. "If he walk disorderly, he is passed out by the door at which he came in. The pastor, upon the evidence and recommendation required in the Discipline, entered his name as a candidate, or probationer, for membership, and placed him in a class for religious training and improvement; now if his conduct be contrary to the gospel, or, in the language of our rule, if he 'walk disorderly [33] and will not be reproved,' it is the duty of the pastor to discontinue him, to erase his name from the class-book and probationers' list. This is not to be done rashly, or on suspicion, or slight evidence of misconduct. It is made the duty of his leader to report weekly to his pastor 'any that walk disorderly and will not be reproved.' This implies that the leader, on discovering an impropriety in his conduct, first conversed privately with him, and, on finding that he had done wrong, attempted to administer suitable reproof that he might be recovered. Had he received reproof, this had been the end of the matter; but he 'would not be reproved,'--would not submit to reproof,--and the leader therefore reports the case to the pastor. But it is evidently the design that after this first failure on the part of the leader, further efforts should be made by the pastor; for the rule, after providing that such conduct shall be made known to the pastor, adds: 'We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But, then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us.' The pastor, on consultation with the leader and others when convenient in country societies, and with the [34] leaders' meeting, where there is one, determines on the proper course, and carries the determination into effect. Here is a just correspondence between rights and duties." - Plat. Meth., p. 87.

In contrast to probationers, full members were required to undergo a disciplinary procedure

The Guide-Book is very clear:

[35] When a Church relation is formed, the member, virtually, promises to observe the rules and usages of the society, and if he violates them, to submit to the discipline of the Church. And hence none can claim a withdrawal from the Church against whom charges have been preferred, or until the Church has had an opportunity to recognise the withdrawal. A solemn covenant cannot be dissolved until the parties are duly notified....

How is this discipline to be handled? The Guide-Book contains extensive rules for managing such trials, and insists that such a trial is the only way to challenge the membership of a full member:

[83] It is a principle clearly recognised by the Discipline of our Church, that no member, in full connexion, can be dropped or expelled by the preacher in charge until the select committee, or the society of which he is a member, declares, in due form, that he is guilty of the violation of some Scriptural or moral principle,, or some requisition of Church covenant....[96] The Discipline requires that an accused member shall be brought before "the society of which he is a member, or a select number of them." In either case it should be understood that only members in full connexion are intended....

The "select committee" was a quasi-judicial body of church members assembled to hear such charges, assess the evidence, and affix punishment if necessary. The Guide-Book emphasizes that this important right had been explicitly defined after Joseph's time (in 1848). For full members, it is clearly seen as a privilege which cannot be abridged:

[83] The restrictive rules guarantee, both to our ministers and members, the privilege of trial and of appeal; and the General Conference has explicitly declared that "it is the right of every member of the Methodist Episcopal Church to remain in said Church, unless guilty of the violation of its rules; and there exists no power in the ministry, either individually or collectively, to deprive any member of said right." -- Rec. Gen. Con. [89] 1848, p. 73. The fact that the member is guilty of the violation of the rules of the Church must be formally proved before the body holding original jurisdiction in the case. If the administrator personally knows that the charges are substantially true, it does not authorize him to remove the accused member. The law recognises no member as guilty until the evidence of guilt is duly presented to the proper tribunal, and the verdict is rendered....

Thus, even if the Lewis brothers had personal knowledge of Joseph's guilt, if he had been a full member, they could not have simply told him to leave.

Could Joseph just withdraw as a full member?

The Guide-Book seems to rule this option out, for full members:

[108] If an accused member evades a trial by absenting himself after sufficient notice has been given, and without requesting any one to appear in his behalf, it does not preclude the necessity of a formal trial....

Furthermore, the public removal in front of the congregation seems to be out of harmony with another rule regarding trials for full members:

[110] It is highly improper, ordinarily, to conduct a trial in a public congregation. None should be present except the parties summoned; at least, unless they are members of the Church....


Response to claim: "But of the nearly 4,000 alterations, some of them had to do with Joseph's evolving belief about the nature of God"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Numerous changes to the first edition of the Book of Mormon were made in the 2nd edition in 1837. LDS leaders teach members that only punctuation and grammar corrections were made. But of the nearly 4,000 alterations, some of them had to do with Joseph's evolving belief about the nature of God. Notice how these verses changed from Jesus-was-God-the-Father, to Jesus-is-the-Son-of-God-and-not-the-Father.

FairMormon Response

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

These changes were made for the purpose of clarification, not doctrinal modification


Question: What changes were made to the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon?

Among the changes Joseph Smith made are these four in 1 Nephi 11 and 13

The earliest edition of the Book of Mormon referred to Jesus as "God." Joseph Smith later changed some, but not all, of these to "the Son of God." It is claimed by some that this is evidence that Joseph Smith changed the Book of Mormon to conform to his changing beliefs about the Trinity, claiming that Joseph was originally a solid Trinitarian (perhaps even a Modalist), and as he later began to teach that the Father and Son were two separate beings, he had to change the Book of Mormon to support his new doctrine. However, this change was a deliberate editorial insertion by Joseph Smith to clarify four verses in 1 Nephi.

The second edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1837 at Kirtland, Ohio. The typesetting and printing were done during the winter of 1836–37, with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taking an active part in the editing process.

In this edition numerous corrections were made to the text of the 1830 (first) edition to bring it back to the reading in the original and printer's manuscripts. Joseph Smith also made a number of editorial changes to the text, as was his right as the translator of the text.

Among the changes he made are these four in 1 Nephi 11 and 13:

  Original manuscript Printer's manuscript 1830 edition 1837 edition
1 Nephi 11:18 behold the virgin which thou seest is the Mother of god after the manner of the flesh behold the virgin which <whom> thou seest is the Mother of <the son of> God after the manner of the flesh Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh. Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
1 Nephi 11:21 & the angel said unto me behold the lam of god yea even the eternal father knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw & the Angel said unto me behold the Lamb of God yea even the <God> Father knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
1 Nephi 11:32 & it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again saying look and i lookt & beheld the lam of god that he was taken By the People yea the ever lasting god was judgd of the world and i saw & bare record & it came to pass that the Angel spake unto me again saying look & I looked & behold the Lamb of God that he was taken by the People yea the everlasting God was Judged of the world & I saw &amp bear record And it came to pass the angel spake unto me again, saying, look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record. And it came to pass the angel spake unto me again, saying, look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God, was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
1 Nephi 13:40 (Not extant.) & the Angel spake unto me saying these last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles shall establish the truth of the first which is <which are> of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb & shall make known the plain & precious things which have been taken away from them & shall make known unto all Kindreds Tongues & People that the Lamb of God is the <the son of> eternal Father & the saviour of the world & that all men must Come unto him or they cannot be saved And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which is of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain the precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world; and that all men must come unto Him, or they cannot be saved; And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain the precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world; and that all men must come unto Him, or they cannot be saved;

(The strikeouts and <insertions> in the printer's manuscript are in Joseph's hand, and were added by him during the preparation of the 1837 edition.)


Question: Why did Joseph Smith make changes to the Book of Mormon such as modifying "God" to read "the Son of God"?

These changes were made for the purpose of clarification, not doctrinal modification

These changes are clarifications that the passages are speaking of Jesus, not God the Father.

The terms "God," "Everlasting God," and "Eternal Father" are ambiguous since they could properly refer to either the Father or the Son. For example, "Eternal Father" refers to God the Father in Moroni 4:3, Moroni 5:2, and Moroni 10:4, but to God the Son in Mosiah 16:15 and Alma 11:38-39.

The addition of "the Son of" to four passages in 1 Nephi does not change the Book of Mormon's teaching that Jesus Christ is the God of Old Testament Israel. This concept is taught in more than a dozen other passages whose readings remain unchanged from the original manuscripts. For example:

  • "And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself...as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up...and to be crucified...and to be buried in a sepulchre...." (1 Nephi 19:10)
  • "...he said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth." (Mosiah 7:27)
  • "Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father." (Mosiah 16:15)
  • "Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last." (Alma 11:38-39)

(See also 2 Nephi 25:12; Mosiah 3:8; Mosiah 13:28,33-34; Mosiah 15:1; Helaman 8:22-23; Helaman 14:12; Helaman 16:18; 3 Nephi 11:10,14; Mormon 9:12; Ether 3:14; Ether 4:7; Ether 4:12.)


It is simply illogical to conclude that Joseph Smith changed the four passages in 1 Nephi to conform to his supposed changing theological beliefs, but somehow forgot to change all the others.[117]


Question: Were any of the changes to the Book of Mormon made in reaction to sectarian criticism?

Some changes may have been made to eliminate the Catholic-sounding phrase "the mother of God"

Another reason "the Son of" was introduced into 1 Nephi 11:18 could have been to eliminate the Catholic-sounding phrase "the mother of God" that had been objected to by early critics of the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdery, responding to an article by Alexander Campbell in the Baptist newspaper The Pioneer, wrote in 1835:

Again, this writer [Campbell] says: "The name of Jesus Christ, was declared to Nephi, 545 years before it was announced to Mary, and she, in true Roman phraseology, is called 'the mother of God.'"

∗       ∗       ∗

This "friend of truth" says that Mary was "called the mother of God."—The reader will please turn to the 25th page of the book of Mormon, and read: "And he [the angel] said unto me, behold, the virgin which thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh."

Now, every man knows, who has read the New Testament, that Mary was called the Lord's mother; and beside we remember to have read a word or two of Paul's writings, where he says: "But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. Now, the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not."—See Gal. 1. Here we have it—the Lord Jesus was born of a woman, had a brother, and yet had no mother according to the flesh!![118]

Since this criticism of the Book of Mormon was fresh on Oliver's mind, and he was involved in the editing of the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon, it is possible that the change in 1 Nephi 11:18 was inserted at his prompting.


Response to claim: "The Fifth Lecture on Faith specifically states that the Father is a spirit"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Originally the Doctrine and Covenants contained the Lectures on Faith, put forth as doctrine by Joseph Smith in 1835. The lectures were removed in the 20th century. The Fifth Lecture on Faith specifically states that the Father is a spirit, that only Jesus has a body, and that the Holy Ghost is the Mind of the Father and the Son. If Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon declared this to be doctrine in 1835, it undercuts the two first vision stories (1832 and 1838).

FairMormon Response

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

There is no documentary evidence that indicates exactly when Joseph Smith learned that God the Father had a glorified and perfected body of flesh and bone. And, despite our typical assumptions, there is also no indication that Joseph learned any such thing during his 1820 First Vision. Regardless of when this revelation was bestowed upon the Prophet, it cannot be established beyond doubt that he was responsible for the teaching about the "spirit" nature of God found in the main text of lecture #5. It may, instead, be true that the Prophet was involved in adjusting the lecture #5 text to conform with his earlier work on the translation of the Bible.


Question: What are the Lectures on Faith?

The Lectures were published in 1835 as the Doctrine portion of The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints

The Lectures on Faith are seven lessons on theology delivered by the presiding officers of the Church to the School of the Elders at Kirtland, Ohio, in late 1834. The lectures are organized in the form of a catechism, with each lecture starting with instructions on doctrine, and the first five lectures concluding with a question-and-answer section to check class participants for understanding. Scholarship seems to indicate that the lectures were mostly written by Sidney Rigdon with some oversight of Joseph Smith. [119]

The Lectures were the "doctrine" portion of the Doctrine and Covenants

The Lectures were included as the "doctrine" portion of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (the revelations comprised the "covenants" portion). The Lectures were suggested to be added to this version of the D&C by a committee appointed on September 24, 1834 by a general assembly of the church to arrange the doctrines and revelations of the church into a single volume. That committee consisted of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams. The general body of the church accepted the committee's compilation on August 17, 1835 as "the doctrine and covenants of their faith, by a unanimous vote." [120]

While the Lectures on Faith were at one time included in the Doctrine and Covenants, they were subsequently removed from the 1921 edition (along with other items; for more information see D&C Textual Changes) that were not considered official revelation and binding doctrine by the church.


Question: What does Lecture 5 of the Lectures on Faith say about the nature of God?

The Lectures did not have a trinitarian view of God—the Father and the Son were clearly distinct personages, united in mind by the Holy Spirit

Lecture 5 deals with the nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Lecture 5.2 teaches:

There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things—by whom all things were created and made that are created and made, whether visible or invisible; whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space. They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness. The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man—or rather, man was formed after his likeness and in his image. He is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father, possessing all the fullness of the Father, or the same fullness with the Father, being begotten of him;(emphasis added.) [121]

Efforts to see this as evidence for an essentially 'trinitarian' view, are flawed

Efforts to see this as evidence for an essentially 'trinitarian' view, are flawed, [122] though at least one LDS missionary used this lecture to argue against the idea that God the Father and Christ "were two distinct personages, with similar bodies and minds." [123] Despite this claim, however, the question-and-answer section of the 5th Lecture on Faith include the following:

How many personages are there in the Godhead[?]

Two: the Father and Son.

Clearly then, as we will see below, this missionary's statement does not reflect the entirety of LDS thought on the Godhead up to that point. Ironically, his interlocutor's response harmonizes better with the Lecture's catechism and present-day LDS thought. [124] It is perhaps not surprising that the missionary let his critic have the last word, despite promising to address further issues! (This exchange provides an excellent lesson for apologists—when one makes a mistake or misstatement, one should admit it, and not try to salvage a bad argument.)

The role of the Holy Ghost was less clear at this point in time

The Lecture describes the "Only Begotten of the Father possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit" (emphasis added).

The exact nature of the relationship between the Spirit and the Father and the Son was not explicitly stated until 1843:

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.DC 130:22

Thus, the Lectures did not have a trinitarian view of God—the Father and the Son were clearly distinct personages, united in mind by the Holy Spirit.

The Lectures on Faith clearly taught that the Father and Son were "embodied," with visible forms having precise dimensions and position in space

After exploring the early evidence for Joseph's belief in an embodied Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (whether in flesh or spirit bodies), one author concluded:

What, then, shall be made of the lecture’s referring contrastingly to the Father as "a personage of spirit" and to the Son as "a personage of tabernacle"? Again, Webster’s 1828 dictionary is helpful. It lists "our natural body" as one use of the term tabernacle. Our natural body, I take it, is a body of flesh and bones. If so, the lectures affirm that God the Son has a flesh-and-bones body, humanlike in form, while God the Father has a spirit body, also humanlike in form. As mentioned, Joseph later knew that the Father, as well as the Son, has a glorious, incorruptible body of flesh and bone. No doubt, his understanding of the mode of the Father’s embodiment was enlarged and refined as he continued to receive and reflect on revelation. [125]

The Lectures on Faith clearly taught a separation of the Father and Son. They also clearly taught that the Father and Son were "embodied," with visible forms having precise dimensions and position in space. Evidence from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Church members, and the Church's antagonists all demonstrate that these doctrines go back to the earliest days of the Restoration. (This is not surprising, given that Joseph's First Vision would have made the separate nature of the Godhead crystal clear.)

Whether Joseph Smith understood at this point that the Father had a physical body (as distinct from a spirit body upon which man's body was patterned) is not entirely clear, although some, such as Bruce R. McConkie, believe there is a basis for such in the Lectures on Faith. One thing is for certain, Joseph clearly did not believe in the non-embodied God of classical trinitarianism. Nor did Joseph teach of a Father and Son "of one substance" as the trinitarian creeds of his day defined them.


Question: How would a statement that "God is a spirit" be interpreted in ancient Judasism?

The statement that "God is a spirit" does not mean that he has no body - it means that he is the source of life-giving power and energy

Christopher Stead of the Cambridge Divinity School (another non-Mormon scholar) explains how a statement that God is spirit would have been interpreted within ancient Judaism:

By saying that God is spiritual, we do not mean that he has no body … but rather that he is the source of a mysterious life-giving power and energy that animates the human body, and himself possesses this energy in the fullest measure. [126]

It may be that Joseph Smith, by revelation, had something like this in mind when he wrote that the Father is "a personage of spirit."


Question: Did Joseph Smith begin his prophetic career with a "trinitarian" idea of God?

Joseph and the early Saints were not trinitarian, and understood God's embodiment and the identity of the Father and Son as separate beings very early on

This doctrine is apparent in the Book of Mormon, and in the earliest friendly and non-friendly accounts of such matters from the Saints.

Such texts demonstrate that the supposed 'evidence' for Joseph altering his story later is only in the eyes of critical beholders. For example, Joseph's 1832 First Vision account focuses on the remission of his sins. However, critics who wish to claim that in 1832 Joseph had only a vaguely "trinitarian" idea of God (and so would see the Father and the Son as only one being) have missed vital evidence which must be considered.[127]

Martin Harris remembered rejecting the ideas of creedal Trinitarianism prior to meeting Joseph

Martin dictated an account of his early spiritual search:

"52 years ago I was Inspired of the Lord & Tought of the Spirit that I should not Join Eny Church although I Was anxiousley Sought for by meny of the Secatirans[.] I Was taught I could not Walk togther unless agreed[.] What can you not be agreed in [is] in the Trinity because I can not find it in my Bible[.] find it for me & I am Ready to Receive it. 3 Persons in one god[.] one Personage I can not concede for this is Antichrist for Where is the Father & Son[?] I have more proof to Prove 9 Persons in the Trinity then you have 3[.]...other sects the Epicopalians also tired me[.] they say 3 Persons in one god Without Body Parts or Passions[.] I Told them such A god I would not be afraid of: I could not Please or offend him[.] [I] Would not be afraid to fight A Duel With such A god.[128]

It would be very strange for Martin to feel so strongly on this point, only to embrace Joseph's teachings if Joseph taught creedal trinitarianism.

1829 - In the Book of Mormon one [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi--thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate

The Book of Mormon also 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.

1830 - Book of Moses: "And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten"

Between June and October 1830, Joseph had dictated his revision (the "Joseph Smith Translation") to Genesis.[129] The first chapter of Moses was dictated in June 1830 (about a month after the Church's reorganization), and began:

2 And [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.

3 And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

4 And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.

5 Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth.

6 And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all (Moses 1:2-6)

Here already, God distinguishes himself from the Only Begotten, Moses sees and speaks with God face to face, and says that Moses was created "in the similitude of mine Only Begotten."

Joseph's rendered Genesis 1:26 as:

And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so....And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. (Moses 2:26-27.)

There can be no doubt that Joseph understood "in mine own image" to refer to a physical likeness, rather than merely a moral or intellectual one. The JST of Genesis 5:1-2 reads

In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them (Moses 6:8-9, emphasis added)

Thus, by 1830 Joseph was clearly teaching a separation of the Father and Son, and insisting that both had some type of physical form which could be copied in the creation of humanity.

Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also noted that other Christian denominations took issue with the new Church because of its teachings about God, noting that in 1830:

the different denominations are very much opposed to us.... The Methodists also come, and they rage, for they worship a God without body or parts, and they know that our faith comes in contact with this principle.[130]

1831 - Joseph "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father"

Anti-Mormon writers in 1831 noted that Joseph claimed to have received "a commission from God"; and the Mormons claimed that Joseph "had seen God frequently and personally."[131] That Joseph's enemies knew he claimed to have "seen God," indicates that the doctrine of an embodied God that could be seen was well-known early on.

John Whitmer would also write in 1831 of a vision enjoyed by Joseph in which Joseph saw Christ as separate from the Father, for he "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father making intercession for his brethren, the Saints." (emphasis added) [132] Of this same experience, Levi Hancock wrote:

Joseph Smith then stepped out onto the floor and said, 'I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now.' (emphasis added) [133]

1832 - In the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father"

One should first note that in the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father." The Book of Mormon (translated three years earlier in 1829) also contains numerous passages which teach a physical separation and embodiment (even if only in spirit bodies, which are clearly not immaterial, but have shape, position, and form) of the members of the Godhead. (See: 3 Nephi 11:, 1 Nephi 11:1-11, Ether 3:14-18.)

Furthermore, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were to receive a revelation of the three degrees of glory in the same year as Joseph's 1832 account was written; it clearly teaches a physical separation of the Father and Son, bearing witness of seeing both. (See D&C 76:14,20–24.)[134]

1832–1833 - "Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother"

Two of Joseph's close associates reported their own visions of God in the winter of 1832–1833. Both are decidedly not in the trinitarian mold.

Zebedee Coltrin:

Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling...a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him....

He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: "Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages.[135]

John Murdock:

During the winter that I boarded with[Bro[ther] Joseph... we had a number of prayer meetings, in the Prophet’s chamber.... In one of those meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exersise [sic] strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in a most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I had ever before seen. His countenance was the most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.[136]

1834–1835 - Lectures on Faith: "There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things"

In the School of the Prophets, the brethren were taught that

"There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made. . . . They are the Father and the Son--the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fulness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle. (Lecture 5:1–2)

Here, the separateness of the Father and Son continues to be made clear.

1836 - "They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts"

A skeptical news article noted:

They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts; and that when the Creator formed Adam in his own image, he made him about the size and shape of God himself....[137]

Evidence that is absent

In addition to all the non-trinitarian evidence above, as Milton Backman has noted, there is a great deal of evidence that we should find, but don't. For example, no one has "located a publication (such as an article appearing in a church periodical or statement from a missionary pamphlet) written by an active Latter-day Saint prior to the martyrdom of the Prophet that defends the traditional or popular creedal concept of the Trinity. . . ." Moreover, there are no references in critical writings of the 1830s (including statements by apostates) that Joseph Smith introduced in the mid-thirties the doctrine of separateness of the Father and Son.[138]


Response to claim: "In 1832 Joseph Smith revealed that a man could not see God without the Mormon Priesthood. This revelation is currently Section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Verses 21-22"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

In 1832 Joseph Smith revealed that a man could not see God without the Mormon Priesthood. This revelation is currently Section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Verses 21-22

FairMormon Response

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

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.


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." [139] 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." [140] 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.[141]

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. [142]


Response to claim: "Swedenborg insisted: 'There are three heavens'"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

But this innovation was advocated in 1784, by Emanuel Swedenborg who wrote a book called Heaven and Hell and Its Wonders. He described his visions of the afterlife. Swedenborg insisted: "There are three heavens," described as "entirely distinct from each other." He called the highest heaven "the Celestial Kingdom," and stated that the inhabitants of the three heavens corresponded to the "sun, moon and stars." Those who have read Swedenborg’s writings wonder if Smith borrowed from him.

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 claim of "similarity" rests on a few superficial similarities between Joseph and Swedenborg and the Bible—and ignores the many marked differences between them.


Question: Did Joseph Smith derive the idea of "three degrees of glory" from Emanuel Swedenborg's book, Heaven and its Wonders and Hell?

The charge that Swedenborg was Joseph's source is a late one, and was not even mentioned by those who disliked both Joseph and Swedenborg, and knew both works

It is claimed by critics of Mormonism that Joseph Smith derived the idea of "three degrees of glory" in the afterlife from Emanuel Swedenborg's book, Heaven and its Wonders and Hell From Things Heard and Seen (1758). [143] It is also claimed that Joseph Smith's practice of plural marriage was similar to Swedenborg's philosophy of "spiritual wifery."

Swedenborg said,

There are three heavens, entirely distinct from each other, an inmost or third, a middle or second, and an outmost or first. These have the same order and relation to each other as the highest part of man, or his head, the middle part, or body, and the lowest, or feet; or as the upper, the middle, and the lower stories of a house. In the same order is the Divine that goes forth and descends from the Lord; consequently heave, from the necessity of order, is threefold....The Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the third or inmost heaven is called celestial, and in consequence the angels there are called celestial angels; the Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the second or middle heaven is called spiritual, and in consequence the angels there are called spiritual angels; while the Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the outmost or first heaven is called natural; but as the natural of that heaven, unlike the natural of the world, has the spiritual and celestial within it, that heaven is called the spiritual- and the celestial-natural, and in consequence the angels there are called the spiritual-natural and celestial-natural. Those who receive influx from the middle or second heaven, which is the spiritual heaven, are called spiritual-natural; and those who receive influx from the third or inmost heaven, which is the celestial heaven, are called celestial-natural. The spiritual-natural angels and the celestial-natural angels are distinct from each other; nevertheless they constitute one heaven, because they are in the same degree.[144]

However, elements in Joseph's schema are present in the Bible, but not present in Swedenborg's model. The claim of "similarity" rests on a few superficial similarities between Joseph and Swedenborg and the Bible—and ignores the many marked differences between them.

Even if one is not inclined to grant Joseph Smith prophetic status, it seems far more plausible that his view of a three-tiered heaven derives from the New Testament, and not from Swedenborg.

Some believe that Joseph Smith borrowed the concept of three degrees of glory from Swedish philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). This portrait shows him at age 75. Original from en.wikipedia.org.

The concept of different degrees of heaven is not original to Swedenborg

1 Corinithians 15:41:

There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

Swedenborg was hardly the first theologian or thinker to suggest that heavenly rewards were not all identical, but graduated into degrees of glory. The discussion and debate about the fate of the righteous in heaven goes back to the earliest Christian centuries. Non-LDS scholar Emma Disley indicates that the primary sources for the idea of different degrees of glory are Matthew 5:; John 14:2 ("in my Father's house are many mansions"); Matt 5; John 14.2 (‘many mansions’); 1 Corinithians 15:41 (stars differ in glory from one another); Matthew 20:1-4 (parable of the Vineyard).

Thus, the "raw material" for such ideas is Biblical, and noted long before Joseph or Swedenborg. Joseph received the vision of the three degrees of glory on 16 February 1832. Joseph had been involved in his translation/revision of the Bible, and indicates that this effort was what led to the reflections which preceded the vision. Joseph indicated that the vision came after reading John 5:29: "And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." [145]

Problems with the thesis that Joseph borrowed Swedenborg's ideas

The issues arguing against borrowing come in at least three different ways:

  1. a common source for both Swedenborg and Joseph
  2. no early charge that Joseph had borrowed from Swedenborg
  3. the "similarities" are superficial, while there are many deep differences.

Part of the basis for Doctrine and Covenants Section 76 is clearly rooted in the New Testament, and Swedenborg cannot be the source for the notion of three heavens because of this

First, as discussed above, there is the issue of other sources available to both Joseph and Swedenborg. 1 Corinthians 15: uses both the words celestial and terrestrial to name two of the three heavens. Joseph Smith in Section 76 uses both of these terms. Swedenborg only uses the word celestial. Whether or not Joseph borrowed from Swedenborg, part of the basis for Section 76 is clearly rooted in the New Testament. Swedenborg cannot be the source for the notion of three heavens because of this. At the most we could say that some of Swedenborg's expansions on the idea of heavenly glory have something in common with the revelations received by Joseph Smith.

The charge of Joseph "borrowing" idea from Swedenborg only occurs much later

Second, we don't really see any early charges that Joseph Smith borrowed from Swedenborg. That is, with the Book of Mormon, we have a nearly constant stream of claims that Joseph stole his ideas in the book from somewhere else—Spaulding's manuscript, Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, and so on. But, we don't see anyone claiming that Joseph borrowed from Swedenborg—until D. Michael Quinn makes the claim late in the twentieth century.

Joseph's early critics and readers were quite familiar with Swedenborg—one early critique of Joseph compared him to Swedenborg since both were regarded as false prophets, but said nothing about Swedenborg as a source for Joseph's ideas. [146] A second critique complained about the lack of symbolism in Joseph's ideas. While regarding Swedenborg as a fraud and false prophet, this critic notes that while Swedenborg "was vailed in figures, tropes, and parabols: It: is not so with Joseph Smith: He speaks plainly. He lies openly; and hopes to succeed by inspiring falsehood with the fearlessness of truth...." [147] Thus, neither critic saw the parallels which modern critics are so keen to insist were there.

The lack of an early attack on Joseph on these grounds is thus problematic for a couple of reasons. First, while we know that Joseph probably had some contact with Swedenborg's writings by 1839, the same kinds of arguments made for early access to Swedenborg can also be made for those around Joseph. Swedenborg's work was, after all, in the public library of Joseph's home town, and it was widely published. The same kinds of individuals who would have talked to Joseph certainly could have talked to those around him—and yet we don't get the claims of his being influenced. And this means that it is quite likely that this discussion is purely of more recent manufacture.

The claim ignores the many differences between Joseph's concepts and Swedenborg's

Third, it is easy to claim that there is borrowing when you get to summarize everything. It's a lot harder when you get to read the texts. Here, for example, is the first part of the bit about three heavens from Swedenborg:

There Are Three Heavens

29. There are three heavens, entirely distinct from each other, an inmost or third, a middle or second, and an outmost or first. These have the same order and relation to each other as the highest part of man, or his head, the middle part, or body, and the lowest, or feet; or as the upper, the middle, and the lower stories of a house. In the same order is the Divine that goes forth and descends from the Lord; consequently heave, from the necessity of order, is threefold.

30. The interiors of man, which belong to his mind and disposition, are also in like order. He has an inmost, a middle, and an outmost part; for when man was created all things of Divine order were brought together in him, so that he became Divine order and form, and consequently a heaven in miniature. For this reason man, as regards his interiors, has communication with the heavens and comes after death among the angels, either among those of the inmost, or of the middle, or of the outmost heaven, in accordance with his reception of Divine good and truth from the Lord during his life in the world.

31. The Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the third or inmost heaven is called celestial, and in consequence the angels there are called celestial angels; the Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the second or middle heaven is called spiritual, and in consequence the angels there are called spiritual angels; while the Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the outmost or first heaven is called natural; but as the natural of that heaven, unlike the natural of the world, has the spiritual and celestial within it, that heaven is called the spiritual- and the celestial-natural, and in consequence the angels there are called the spiritual-natural and celestial-natural. Those who receive influx from the middle or second heaven, which is the spiritual heaven, are called spiritual-natural; and those who receive influx from the third or inmost heaven, which is the celestial heaven, are called celestial-natural. The spiritual-natural angels and the celestial-natural angels are distinct from each other; nevertheless they constitute one heaven, because they are in the same degree.

32. In each heaven there is an internal and an external; those in the internal are called internal angels, while those in the external are called external angels. The internal and the external in the heavens, or in each heaven, hold the same relation as the voluntary and intellectual in man - the internal corresponding to the voluntary, and the external to the intellectual. Every thing voluntary is intellectual; one cannot exist without the other. The voluntary may be compared to a flame and the intellectual to the light therefrom.

So, there are three heavens in Swedenborg. And there are three heavens in Joseph Smith, and there are three heavens in 1 Cor. 15. In the New Testament we have "bodies celestial" - from 1 Cor. 15:40

40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

And in Section 76 we have celestial bodies (verse 78)

78 Wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial, and differ in glory as the moon differs from the sun.

And in Swedenborg, we get External, Spiritual-Natural Angels.

The New Testament and the D&C both use a tiered system based on the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars—but Swedenborg's system is repeated brought back to a comparison with the body. When Swedenborg suggests that "... for when man was created all things of Divine order were brought together in him, so that he became Divine order and form, and consequently a heaven in miniature" and for Joseph Smith, man is created in God's image.

It is therefore very easy to portray similarities—but here we can read Swedenborg, and it sounds very little like Joseph Smith. Sure, we can point to some shared words—words like "degree"—but these are not unique to Joseph Smith or to Swedenborg, and so they aren't that useful in demonstrating a connection. On the surface it sounds nice, but once you spend the time to read both texts, it becomes hard to imagine one as the source for the other.


Response to claim: The First Vision teaches that "God the Father and Jesus Christ were separate beings: But this was not understood by church members during Smith’s lifetime"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Mormon church leaders teach that Joseph had a vision in 1820 and that it has always been the central part of the LDS faith. It teaches a simple, plain truth that God the Father and Jesus Christ were separate beings. But this was not understood by church members during Smith’s lifetime. And as indicated earlier leaders knew little if anything about the “official” account of the first vision story.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The separate nature of God and Christ was apparent from the very earliest LDS documents, such as the Book of Mormon. MormonThink plays a good trick with the numbers--note that it is "over 15 years after the event supposedly occurred." Since the vision was in 1820 and the Church wasn't organized until 1830, ten of the fifteen years had already passed. Were future Mormons supposed to be learning Joseph's theology before he had even founded a church? So, MormonThink has already admitted that this was unmistakable within 5 years of the Church's establishment.

But, the earliest documents go back even further than that. In 1829, the Book of Mormon was translated:

The Book of Mormon also 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.

Between June and October 1830, Joseph had dictated his revision (the "Joseph Smith Translation") to Genesis. Joseph's rendered Genesis 1:26 as:

And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so....And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. (Moses 2:26-27.)

There can be no doubt that Joseph understood "in mine own image" to refer to a physical likeness, rather than merely a moral or intellectual one. The JST of Genesis 5:1-2 reads

In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them (Moses 6:8-9, emphasis added)

Thus, by 1830 Joseph's revelations were clearly teaching a separation of the Father and Son, and insisting that both had some type of physical form which could be copied in the creation of humanity. (It is not clear, however, whether he understood the physical nature of the Father's body at this early date. He still, however, taught that the Father was a distinct personage and entity with form that could be seen.)

Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also noted that other Christian denominations took issue with the new Church because of its teachings about God, noting that in 1830:

the different denominations are very much opposed to us.... the Methodists also come, and they rage, for they worship a God without body or parts, and they know that our faith comes in contact with this principle.[148]

All this is less than a year from the Church's organization. Some members may have not internalized these ideas, or may have been slow to abandon ideas about God rooted in two millennia of Christian history, but MormonThink's claim simply does not match the earliest documents.


Question: Did Joseph Smith begin his prophetic career with a "trinitarian" idea of God?

Joseph and the early Saints were not trinitarian, and understood God's embodiment and the identity of the Father and Son as separate beings very early on

This doctrine is apparent in the Book of Mormon, and in the earliest friendly and non-friendly accounts of such matters from the Saints.

Such texts demonstrate that the supposed 'evidence' for Joseph altering his story later is only in the eyes of critical beholders. For example, Joseph's 1832 First Vision account focuses on the remission of his sins. However, critics who wish to claim that in 1832 Joseph had only a vaguely "trinitarian" idea of God (and so would see the Father and the Son as only one being) have missed vital evidence which must be considered.[149]

Martin Harris remembered rejecting the ideas of creedal Trinitarianism prior to meeting Joseph

Martin dictated an account of his early spiritual search:

"52 years ago I was Inspired of the Lord & Tought of the Spirit that I should not Join Eny Church although I Was anxiousley Sought for by meny of the Secatirans[.] I Was taught I could not Walk togther unless agreed[.] What can you not be agreed in [is] in the Trinity because I can not find it in my Bible[.] find it for me & I am Ready to Receive it. 3 Persons in one god[.] one Personage I can not concede for this is Antichrist for Where is the Father & Son[?] I have more proof to Prove 9 Persons in the Trinity then you have 3[.]...other sects the Epicopalians also tired me[.] they say 3 Persons in one god Without Body Parts or Passions[.] I Told them such A god I would not be afraid of: I could not Please or offend him[.] [I] Would not be afraid to fight A Duel With such A god.[150]

It would be very strange for Martin to feel so strongly on this point, only to embrace Joseph's teachings if Joseph taught creedal trinitarianism.

1829 - In the Book of Mormon one [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi--thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate

The Book of Mormon also 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.

1830 - Book of Moses: "And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten"

Between June and October 1830, Joseph had dictated his revision (the "Joseph Smith Translation") to Genesis.[151] The first chapter of Moses was dictated in June 1830 (about a month after the Church's reorganization), and began:

2 And [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.

3 And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

4 And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.

5 Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth.

6 And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all (Moses 1:2-6)

Here already, God distinguishes himself from the Only Begotten, Moses sees and speaks with God face to face, and says that Moses was created "in the similitude of mine Only Begotten."

Joseph's rendered Genesis 1:26 as:

And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so....And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. (Moses 2:26-27.)

There can be no doubt that Joseph understood "in mine own image" to refer to a physical likeness, rather than merely a moral or intellectual one. The JST of Genesis 5:1-2 reads

In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them (Moses 6:8-9, emphasis added)

Thus, by 1830 Joseph was clearly teaching a separation of the Father and Son, and insisting that both had some type of physical form which could be copied in the creation of humanity.

Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also noted that other Christian denominations took issue with the new Church because of its teachings about God, noting that in 1830:

the different denominations are very much opposed to us.... The Methodists also come, and they rage, for they worship a God without body or parts, and they know that our faith comes in contact with this principle.[152]

1831 - Joseph "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father"

Anti-Mormon writers in 1831 noted that Joseph claimed to have received "a commission from God"; and the Mormons claimed that Joseph "had seen God frequently and personally."[153] That Joseph's enemies knew he claimed to have "seen God," indicates that the doctrine of an embodied God that could be seen was well-known early on.

John Whitmer would also write in 1831 of a vision enjoyed by Joseph in which Joseph saw Christ as separate from the Father, for he "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father making intercession for his brethren, the Saints." (emphasis added) [154] Of this same experience, Levi Hancock wrote:

Joseph Smith then stepped out onto the floor and said, 'I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now.' (emphasis added) [155]

1832 - In the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father"

One should first note that in the 1832 account of the First Vision, Jesus announces to Joseph that he will come "clothed in the glory of my Father." The Book of Mormon (translated three years earlier in 1829) also contains numerous passages which teach a physical separation and embodiment (even if only in spirit bodies, which are clearly not immaterial, but have shape, position, and form) of the members of the Godhead. (See: 3 Nephi 11:, 1 Nephi 11:1-11, Ether 3:14-18.)

Furthermore, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were to receive a revelation of the three degrees of glory in the same year as Joseph's 1832 account was written; it clearly teaches a physical separation of the Father and Son, bearing witness of seeing both. (See D&C 76:14,20–24.)[156]

1832–1833 - "Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother"

Two of Joseph's close associates reported their own visions of God in the winter of 1832–1833. Both are decidedly not in the trinitarian mold.

Zebedee Coltrin:

Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling...a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him....

He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: "Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages.[157]

John Murdock:

During the winter that I boarded with[Bro[ther] Joseph... we had a number of prayer meetings, in the Prophet’s chamber.... In one of those meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exersise [sic] strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in a most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I had ever before seen. His countenance was the most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.[158]

1834–1835 - Lectures on Faith: "There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things"

In the School of the Prophets, the brethren were taught that

"There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made. . . . They are the Father and the Son--the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fulness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle. (Lecture 5:1–2)

Here, the separateness of the Father and Son continues to be made clear.

1836 - "They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts"

A skeptical news article noted:

They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts; and that when the Creator formed Adam in his own image, he made him about the size and shape of God himself....[159]

Evidence that is absent

In addition to all the non-trinitarian evidence above, as Milton Backman has noted, there is a great deal of evidence that we should find, but don't. For example, no one has "located a publication (such as an article appearing in a church periodical or statement from a missionary pamphlet) written by an active Latter-day Saint prior to the martyrdom of the Prophet that defends the traditional or popular creedal concept of the Trinity. . . ." Moreover, there are no references in critical writings of the 1830s (including statements by apostates) that Joseph Smith introduced in the mid-thirties the doctrine of separateness of the Father and Son.[160]


Response to claim: "How is it that JS could remember the precise date of the angel's visit in 1823, but could not remember the precise date of God's appearance to him in 1820?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Joseph recounted how the visitation of the angel Moroni happened on September 21, 1823. A reasonable (not anti) question is, “How is it that JS could remember the precise date of the angel's visit in 1823, but could not remember the precise date of God's appearance to him in 1820”?

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

Because he was 14 years old. He probably didn't even know the date.


Response to claim: "How do we know that it wasn't Satan (if he exists) that appeared to Joseph?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

How do we know that it wasn't Satan (if he exists) that appeared to Joseph?

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

Seriously? This is an argument put forth by non-believing critics?


Question: Could Moroni have been an "angel of Satan"?

The teachings of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the LDS Church affirm that Jesus is the Christ, something that Satan cannot do

Some critics of Mormonism have charged that Moroni — the resurrected prophet who gave the Book of Mormon plates to Joseph Smith — was really an angel of Satan. [161] They base this charge on two passages in the New Testament:

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works. (2 Corinthians 11:13–15)

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8)

The question is asked, "If Satan can appear as an angel of light, couldn't he have deceived Joseph Smith by claiming to be Jesus Christ or Moroni or any of the other messengers who appeared to him?"

These objections fail an objective analysis using the scriptures as our standard of truth. The teachings of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the LDS Church affirm that Jesus is the Christ and that he "came in the flesh" as prophesied and affirmed in scripture. For Satan to inspire these latter-day truths goes counter to Christ's own teachings (Matthew 12:25–26; also Matthew 9:33–34; Mark 3:22–30; Luke 11:14–26; Jesus the Christ, pp. 265–266).

To believe that an uneducated farm boy could have imagined these things and convinced so many others of their veracity is difficult to justify especially in view of the testimonies of all those who were also intimately involved as eyewitnesses to many of these same events. Indeed, to deny these events took place as so many witnesses testified takes more faith than to accept their accounts as factual. Joseph Fielding McConkie pointed out:

"Many a pretender to the prophetic office has claimed to entertain angels or to have spoken with God, but who other than Joseph Smith introduced his angels to others? Joseph Smith introduced Moroni to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. He was never alone when priesthood or keys were restored.... He and Sydney Rigdon received the revelation on the degrees of glory together. Together they saw legions of angels, along with the Father and the Son (see D&C 76:21–23). Oliver Cowdery was with Joseph Smith when John the Baptist came to restore the Aaronic Priesthood, and when Peter, James, and John came to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood. Oliver was also with Joseph Smith when Christ came to accept the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and Moses, Elias, and Elijah restored their keys, powers, and authorities."[162]

Mormon belief does support the idea that Satan can appear as an angel of light, but Joseph taught members how to recognize this ruse

This is certainly possible in LDS belief, since the Book of Mormon describes two instances where this occurred (2 Nephi 9:9; Alma 30:53). Joseph Smith also briefly described several incidents of this nature associated with the restoration (D&C 128:20; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 214 ). Nevertheless, it appears that Joseph became aware of this tactic early on and taught the members how to recognize this ruse (Teachings, pp. 202, 204, 214, 227; see also Bruce R McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:440–441).

The Bible also contains a test to enable us to judge or, as John says, to "try spirits whether they are of God" (1 Jn 4:11). If Jesus Christ or Moroni or any of the other messengers who appeared to Joseph Smith failed this test we would know they were ministers of Satan.

John states, "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God" (1 Jn 4:2-3). Joseph Smith likewise taught, "...if I profess to be a witness or teacher, and have not the spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus, I must be a false witness.... [A]ny man who says he is a teacher or preacher of righteousness, and denies the spirit of prophecy, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; and by this key false teacher and impostors may be detected" (Teachings, p. 269).

In the First Vision Jesus Christ was introduced by God the Father as his "Beloved Son" (Joseph Smith—History 1:17). God the Father was, in essence, witnessing that Jesus Christ was his Only Begotten Son just as he had done when Jesus "came in the flesh" and was baptized (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11). In a subsequent appearance Jesus identified himself as "the first and the last...he who liveth...he who was slain" (DC 110:4). Jesus Christ was testifying that he was the same person who lived in the Holy Land and crucified for our sins. He confirmed that he indeed came "in the flesh" to accomplish the atonement.

The angel Moroni testified of Jesus Christ, which is something that Satan would never have done

The angel Moroni who appeared to Joseph Smith also confirmed that "Jesus Christ was come in the flesh" by quoting Old and New Testament scriptures which were fulfilled with his coming (Joseph Smith—History 1:40). He also stated that his (Moroni's) purpose was to reveal a book "giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent" and containing the "everlasting Gospel...as delivered by the Savior" following his mortal ministry. The stated purpose of the Book of Mormon is in fact to convince both "Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ" (title page); as such, it is subtitled Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Latter-day Saints believe it to be a second witness, after the Bible, of Jesus Christ's divine mission. If Moroni were Satan or one of Satan's ministers acting as an instrument of evil, he surely would not have done so much to convince mankind to believe in Christ; it goes counter to Satan's purpose (Matthew 12:25).

In the Book of Mormon, Jacob told us:

"Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him. For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord." (2 Nephi 9:5-6.)

Jacob's brother Nephi taught:

"And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, harken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good. And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye — for Christ will show unto you with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness." (2 Nephi 33:10-11)

The Book of Mormon also contains an account of Christ's visit to those upon this continent wherein he allows them to "feel the prints of the nails" in his flesh (3 Nephi 11:14) that they might understand that he died for them also. Thus Moroni and the book which he brought, both testify that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and was come in the flesh "manifesting himself unto all nations" (title page; 1 Nephi 10:4-11; 1 Nephi 11:18-21, 1 Nephi 11:27-33; 1 Nephi 15:13; Mosiah 7:27; Mosiah 15:1-2; Ether 3:6; Ether 3:9; Ether 3:16-17; Moroni 9:25).

None of the messengers which appeared to Joseph Smith ever denied that Jesus Christ was the Messiah come in the flesh (DC 13:1; DC 18:11-12; DC 19:16-19; DC 20:1; DC 110:4) and all had a "testimony of Jesus." Paul gave us a final key to detection of false messengers; he said that their "end shall be according to their works" (2 Corinthians 11:15). If their works be evil or unrighteous we will know they are not from God. "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20).


Response to claim: "the first vision version of April 1838 added significant material that bolstered his authority during a time of crisis"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that "One of the best critical summaries and perhaps most plausible explanations for the various issues surrounding Joseph's First Vision, can be found in the last chapter of former LDS Church Education System teacher Grant Palmer's book An Insider's View of Mormon Origins. After presenting an impressive series of well-documented arguments against the traditional version we've all been taught in the church, the author proposes a plausible explanation:

After a mass exodus of high-ranking church leaders including several apostles, all three special witnesses of the BOM and three of the eight witnesses to the BOM, Joseph took to reestablishing his authority. He made many changes to the church including changing the name of the church. He began by attacking those who were circulating unsavory "reports" regarding "the rise and progress of the Church", then told a revised and more impressive version of his epiphany.
He announced that his initial calling had not come from an angel in 1823, as he had said for over a decade, but from God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820. The earlier date established his mission independent of the troubling questions and former witnesses associated with the Book of Mormon. Like the priesthood restoration recitals, the first vision version of April 1838 added significant material that bolstered his authority during a time of crisis."

FairMormon Response

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

MormonThink describes Palmer as a "former LDS Church Education System teacher." Palmer was disfellowshipped and then left the Church. Why doesn't MormonThink tell us that? This argument is a reference to the Kirtland crisis of 1837–38. Warren Parrish was considered by some of the Saints to be the ringleader of the Kirtland crisis. It is, therefore, all the more interesting that it was this same Warren Parrish who acted as scribe in recording a First Vision recital given by the Prophet Joseph Smith on 9 November 1835. When Parrish's 1835 account of the theophany is compared to the 1838 account it becomes glaringly obvious that the story did not change over time, as the critics would like everyone to believe.

But, Joseph didn't just write the experience down in 1835, he was telling other people about it. This had nothing to do with "reestablishing his authority" three years later. Why is Palmer the first person to figure this out? If apostles and the Book of Mormon witnesses were at odds with Joseph, surely they knew what story Joseph had been telling them all along? They were very close to him from the beginning, especially people like Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer. Why did none of these men notice what Palmer wants us to accept? Why did none of them say, "Hey, Joseph, you're changing your story?" Quite simply because he didn't, and so it didn't even occur to them. Otherwise, they'd have been quick to point it out.

From Joseph's journal:

14 November 1835 • Saturday
A Gentleman called this after noon by the name of Erastus Holmes of Newbury Clemon [Newberry, Clermont] Co. Ohio, he called to make enquiry about the establishment of the church of the latter-day Saints and to be instructed more perfectly in our doctrine &c 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. years old and also the visitations that I received afterward, concerning the book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the church, up to this, date he listened verry attentively and seemed highly gratified, and intends to unite with the Church he is a verry candid man indeed and I am much pleased with him.


Question: Did Joseph Smith revise his account of the First Vision in 1838 to respond to a leadership crisis?

Joseph Smith was telling the same First Vision story in 1835, three years before the leadership crisis

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

The idea that Joseph Smith modified the First Vision story in 1838 in order to quell a leadership crisis is a convenient mythology crafted by critics who seem to be woefully unfamiliar with the records of the past and were unaware that Joseph told the same story in 1835.

Warren Parrish was the "ringleader" of the Kirtland leadership crisis in 1839, and yet he was also the scribe for the 1835 First Vision account

This argument is a reference to the Kirtland crisis of 1837–38. Warren Parrish was considered by some of the Saints to be the ringleader of the Kirtland crisis. It is, therefore, all the more interesting that it was this same Warren Parrish who acted as scribe in recording a First Vision recital given by the Prophet Joseph Smith on 9 November 1835. When Parrish's 1835 account of the theophany is compared to the 1838 account it becomes glaringly obvious that the story did NOT change over time, as the critics would like everyone to believe.

There is no shift in historical content between the 1835 and 1838 First Vision accounts, since both are followed immediately thereafter by the Book of Mormon angel story

It should also be noted that both the 1835 and 1838 First Vision accounts are followed immediately thereafter by the Book of Mormon angel story. Thus, it is impossible for critics to claim a shift in historical content by the Prophet. Before the Kirtland crisis took place Joseph Smith spoke in the 1835 retelling of events about an 1820 vision of two personages followed by an 1823 visitation by an angel. After the Kirtland crisis took place Joseph Smith said the exact same thing in the 1838 retelling of events.

9 November 1835 – “was about 14 years old”
2 May 1838 – “a little over fourteen years of age”
9 November 1835 – “looking at the different systems [of religion] taught [to] the children of men”
2 May 1838 – “Some crying, ‘Lo here’ and some ‘Lo there’”
9 November 1835 – “being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion”; “being thus perplexed in mind”
2 May 1838 – “my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness”
9 November 1835 – “I knew not who was right or who was wrong”
2 May 1838 – “it was impossible for a person young as I was and so unacquainted with men and things to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong”
9 November 1835 – “the Lord . . . had said . . . if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not”
2 May 1838 – “I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse which reads, ‘If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him’”
9 November 1835 – “I retired to the silent grove”
2 May 1838 – “I retired to the woods”
9 November 1835 – “[I] bowed down before the Lord”; “I called upon the Lord for the first time”
2 May 1838 – “I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God . . . It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt”
9 November 1835 – “I made a fruitless attempt to pray, my tongue seemed to be swollen in my mouth, so that I could not utter . . . looked around, but saw no person”
2 May 1838 – “I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me and had such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue . . . the power of some actual being from the unseen world”
9 November 1835 – “a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon my head”
2 May 1838 – “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me”
9 November 1835 – “a personage appeared . . . another personage soon appeared”
2 May 1838 – “I saw two personages”
9 November 1835 – “he testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”
2 May 1838 – “This is my beloved Son”


Question: Did Joseph Smith lose control of the Church during the 1838 Kirtland apostasy?

The historical record shows that Joseph Smith stayed firmly in charge of Church affairs during the 1838 crisis

Anti-Mormons claim that because of the problems caused by apostates in Kirtland, Ohio Joseph Smith suffered in his role as leader of the restored Church. While it is true that the apostates claimed Joseph Smith to be a fallen prophet, and tried to take over his role, the historical record shows that he stayed firmly in charge of Church affairs. In other words, the anti-Mormon claim that he needed to somehow boost his role as leader by modifying his story to sound more impressive falls flat. Consider the following timeline which leads right up to the time of the recording of the 1838 First Vision account.

  • On 7 November 1837 Joseph Smith was "unanimously" sustained by the Far West, Missouri Saints as the presiding officer of the Church.[163]:522 This is the same location where the Prophet had the 1838 First Vision account recorded.
  • About 10 December 1837 Joseph Smith returned to Kirtland, Ohio. While the Prophet was away at Far West, Missouri Warren Parrish and his band of "reformers" denounced the Saints in general as heretics and set Joseph Smith "at naught".[163]:528 During this period Parrish was under suspicion for embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the Kirtland bank - which led to the apostasy of a considerable number of Saints.
  • On 22 December 1837 the apostates were threatening to kill a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who was supportive of Joseph Smith[163]:529
  • On 12 January 1838 Joseph Smith and another member of the First Presidency of the Church left Kirtland, Ohio in order to "escape mob violence" which was aimed at them.[164]:1
  • Some of the Kirtland apostates, armed with rifles and pistols, followed the Prophet for 200 miles with the intent of taking his life - he was a firsthand witness to their threats.[164]:2-3
  • On 10 February 1838 Joseph Smith's authority was recognized in Far West, Missouri while that of the apostates was rejected and they were removed from office "by a united voice."[164]:7
  • On 12-14 March 1838 Joseph Smith was met by several groups and escorts, "with open arms," as he approached Far West, Missouri.[164]:9
  • On 29 March 1838 Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Church leaders in Kirtland, Ohio, mentioning the warm reception he received and says of Far West: "The Saints at this time are in union; and peace and love prevail throughout." He also relates: "Various and many have been the falsehoods written from Kirtland to this place, but [they] have availed nothing. We have no uneasiness about the power of our enemies in this place to do us harm." He spoke of recently receiving a vision from the Lord. The Prophet signed his letter as "President of the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints."[164]:10-12
  • On 6 April 1838 the General Conference of the Church was held in Far West, Missouri and Joseph Smith was the presiding officer.[164]:13
  • About 10 April 1838 Joseph Smith signs a letter identifying himself as one of the "Presidents of the whole Church of Latter-day Saints."[164]:15-16
  • On 28 April 1838 Joseph Smith attended a High Council by invitation and was invited to preside over it.[164]:25-26

Clearly, this is not the picture of a man in a leadership crisis who needed to bolster his standing among the Saints by making up some impressive-sounding story. This is the picture of a man who was being targeted by a small band of thugs but who still retained leadership standing among the vast majority of the Saints. The story that he told before the apostate problems of the Kirtland era was the same story he told after the troublemakers were shown the door.


Gospel Topics, located on lds.org., "First Vision Accounts"

Gospel Topics, located on lds.org.
The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail. Historians expect that when an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details. Indeed, differences similar to those in the First Vision accounts exist in the multiple scriptural accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus and the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration.3 Yet despite the differences, a basic consistency remains across all the accounts of the First Vision. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if it were less well documented.

Click here to view the complete article

Source quotes without critical commentary

Summary: If you would like to read all of the source quotes without wading through all of the "Critic's comments," "Apologetic rebuttals" and "Our Thoughts" sections, we present the critical web page as it would appear if only the source quotes were provided without any additional commentary. We also try to provide accurate references and direct links to the original source text rather than simply linking to other websites where you have to search for them.

Notes

  1. Charles G. Finney, "Memoirs of Charles G. Finney," (1876) 16-18.
  2. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, "The Prophet Joseph Smith," Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional (24 September 2013)
  3. MormonThink.com page "The First Vision"
  4. Wikipedia editor "John Foxe", (9 December 2007)
  5. These primary sources, not surprisingly, are omitted from the "First Vision" Wikipedia article. For further information, see: An analysis of Wikipedia article "First Vision"
  6. Discussed and cited on pages 9–10 of D. Michael Quinn, "Joseph Smith's Experience of a Methodist 'Camp-Meeting'," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought - Dialogue Paperless: E-Paper #3 (12 July 2006), PDF link
  7. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition, 1987), 53. ISBN 0252060121.
  8. Bushman, Beginnings of Mormonism, 53.
  9. Francis W. Conable, History of the Genesee Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 2nd edition (New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1885), 317.
  10. David Marks, The Life of David Marks, To the 26th year of his age. Including the Particulars of His Conversion, Call to the Ministry, and Labours in Itinerant Preaching for nearly Eleven Years (Limerick, Maine: Printed at the Office of the Morning Star, 1831), 30-31.
  11. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 28 July 1820.
  12. Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, and Morris’ Reserve (Rochester, New York: William Alling, 1851), 212–213.
  13. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), 17–18.
  14. George W. Cowles, Landmarks of Wayne County (Syracuse, New York: D. Mason & Company, 1895), 194.
  15. Cowles, Landmarks of Wayne County, 194.
  16. Cowles, Landmarks of Wayne County, 191–192.
  17. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 28 June 1820.
  18. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 5 July 1820.
  19. This episode in the Palmyra Register was noted in Walter A. Norton, "Comparative Images: Mormonism and Contemporary Religions as Seen by Village Newspapermen in Western New York and Northeastern Ohio, 1820-1833" (Ph.D. Diss., Brigham Young University, 1991), 255. Discussed in footnote 3 by Richard L. Bushman, "Just the Facts Please (Review of Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record by H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 122–133. off-site
  20. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 28 June 1820.
  21. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 5 July 1820.
  22. Benajah Williams’ diary, 15-16 July 1820.
  23. 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).
  24. "The First Vision," mormonthink.com.
  25. 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
  26. J. Christopher Conkling, A Joseph Smith Chronology (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 68–69.
  27. Oliver Cowdery, "?," (October 1834) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:13. (emphasis added)
  28. The Reflector, 2/13 (14 February 1831).
  29. Patriarchal Blessing Book, 1:3–4.
  30. A death notice in the December 1834 issue of the Messenger and Advocate is dated "12th inst." - meaning that the acknowledgment of First Vision story themes by the Prophet's father occurred shortly before Cowdery published his First Vision story themes in the Messenger and Advocate.
  31. See Oliver Cowdery, "?," (October 1834) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:13-16.
  32. See Oliver Cowdery, "?," (December 1834) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:42-43.
  33. See Oliver Cowdery, "?," (February 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:65-67.
  34. See Oliver Cowdery, "?," (February 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:78.
  35. Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director. www.cesletter.com
  36. See Hyrum M. Smith, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary (Liverpool: George F. Richards, 1919), 139; Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Volume 1: The Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 110–11; Grant Underwood, “First Vision,” in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:410; Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 1:130.
  37. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 41.
  38. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 40-41.
  39. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director".
  40. "I am the owner and main contributor to mormoninfographics.com I wanted to thank you or whoever for pointing out the error I had in the 1835 Jewish Minister account. I had mistakenly labeled his age as 17. This has since been corrected. I apologize for the error and welcome any and all input on this or any other infographic. Thank you." (Posted by bjpascoal, on 20 June 2013 - 08:35 PM on Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board) off-site The author of "A Letter to a CES Director" subsequently corrected the graphic in the copy of the letter hosted on his site.
  41. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (2013)
  42. Image from "MormonInfographics.com".
  43. Günther Juncker, “Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title,” Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994):221–250.
  44. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 191. See also D&C 129.
  45. "Journal, 1835–1836," The Joseph Smith Papers.
  46. "Journal, 1835–1836," The Joseph Smith Papers.
  47. 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.]
  48. See the 2006 FAIR Conference address entitled "Revised or Unaltered? Joseph Smith's Foundational Stories" and its accompanying slides (see links below in the "Video" section).
  49. See post by "bjpascoal," posted on June 21, 2013 on Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board. off-site
  50. "Appendix: Orson Pratt, A[n Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840,"] The Joseph Smith Papers.
  51. "History, circa Summer 1832," The Joseph Smith Papers.
  52. Joseph Smith's journal entry of 9 November 1835 (Monday)
  53. "Appendix: Orson Pratt, A[n Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840,"] The Joseph Smith Papers.
  54. Joseph Smith, Wentworth letter. (Times and Seasons, 3.9 (1 Mar. 1842), p. 706-710
  55. Joseph Smith's journal entry of 9 November 1835 (Monday)
  56. Joseph's journal entry of 14 November 1835 (Saturday)
  57. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 74–77.
  58. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 84.
  59. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition, 1987), 53n32. ISBN 0252060121.
  60. "W[illia]m. B. Smith's last Statement," [John W. Peterson to Editor], Zion's Ensign (Independence, Missouri) 5/3 (13 January 1894): 6. Reprinted in "Statement of William Smith, Concerning Joseph, the Prophet," Deseret Evening News 27 (20 January 1894): 11; and "The Testimony of William Smith," Millennial Star 61 (26 February 1894): 132-34; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:513.
  61. See Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 69. Also see Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:487n13.
  62. Zion’s Ensign, vol. 5, no. 3, 13 January 1894.
  63. "William B. Smith. Experience and Testimony," in "Sketches of Conference Sermons," reported by Charles Derry, Saints' Herald 30 (16 June 1883): 388; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:490–492.
  64. Milton V. Backman and James B. Allen, "Membership of Certain of Joseph Smith's Family in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra," Brigham Young University Studies 10 no. 4 (1970), 482-484.
  65. JS, History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, created 11 June 1839–24 Aug. 1843; handwriting of James Mulholland, Robert B. Thompson, William W. Phelps, and Willard Richards; 553 pages, plus 16 pages of addenda; CHL, p. 5; also reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:62.
  66. Orson Pratt to John Christensen, 11 March 1876, Orson Pratt Letterbook, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah; cited in Dean C. Jessee (editor), The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Vol. 1 of 2) (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1989), 277n1. ISBN 0875791999 and Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:62n28.
  67. 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), 1:11–12, footnote 2. Volume 1 link
  68. Letter, Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith to John Taylor, 18 December 1877; cited in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 1:277, nt. 1.
  69. Anon., "History of Joseph Smith (continued)," Times and Seasons 3 no. 12 (15 April 1842), 753. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) [italics added]
  70. Anon., "History of Joseph Smith From the 'Times and Seasons'," Millennial Star 3 no. 4 (August 1842), 53. [italics added]
  71. Anon., ""The Millennial Star. August 1, 1842," Millennial Star 3 no. 4 (August 1842), 71. [italics added]
  72. Franklin D. Richards (publisher), The Pearl of Great Price, 1st edition (Liverpool: R. James, South Castle Street, 1851), 40–41. [italics added]
  73. Lucy [Mack] Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and his Progenitors for Many Generations, (London: Latter-Day Saints' Book Depot, 1853), 78–80. [italics added]
  74. JS, History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, created 11 June 1839–24 Aug. 1843; handwriting of James Mulholland, Robert B. Thompson, William W. Phelps, and Willard Richards; 553 pages, plus 16 pages of addenda; CHL. See original here.
  75. JS, History, [ca. June 1839–ca. 1841]; handwriting of James Mulholland and Robert B. Thompson; sixty-one pages; in JS History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, CHL. Includes redactions, use marks, and archival marking. See original here.
  76. JSP as above, footnote 18.
  77. JS, History, [ca. 1841], draft; handwriting of Howard Coray; 102 pages and one attached slip; CHL. See original here.
  78. JS, History, [ca. 1841], fair copy; handwriting of Howard Coray; 100 pages; CHL. See original here.
  79. Doctrine and Covenants 50:2 (1835 edition); received August 1830, written September 1830 (See History of the Church, 1:106, nt. 3).
  80. Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 277. (emphasis in original)
  81. Oliver Cowdery, (April 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:112.
  82. David W. Patten, Elder's Journal 1:3 (July 1838):42 (see also Millennial Star 1:126). (italics added)
  83. Joseph Smith, Jr., Elders’ Journal 1:3 (July 1838): 42–43.
  84. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 13, cited in Willard Richards' Pocket Companion, prior to 8 August 1839.
  85. George Q. Cannon, "THE RIGHT AND AUTHORITY OF THE PRESIDENT BRIGHAM YOUNG," (5 December 1869) Journal of Discourses 13:47.
  86. John Taylor, "OD'S PURPOSES UNCHANGEABLE—THE TWO POWERS—THE EVERLASTING PRIESTHOOD—ABRAHAM AND MELCHISEDECK—ORGANIZING STAKES OF ZION—TEMPLE BUILDING—THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS THE FRIENDS OF THE WORLD," (29 July 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:82.
  87. John Taylor, "HOW A KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS OBTAINED—THE GOSPEL TO THE DEAD—VARIOUS DISPENSATIONS OF THE MOST HIGH TO MANKIND—POWER OF THE PRIESTHOOD—RESTORATION OF THE GOSPEL THROUGH JOSEPH SMITH—FAILINGS OF THE SAINTS—CORRUPTIONS OF THE WICKED," (7 December 1879) Journal of Discourses 21:161.
  88. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, "The Prophet Joseph Smith" (Footnote 14), Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional (24 September 2013).
  89. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Confirming Records of Moroni's Coming," The Improvement Era 73:9 (September 1970): 4-8.
  90. MormonThink.com page "The First Vision"
  91. Francis W. Conable, History of the Genesee Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 2nd edition (New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1885), 317.
  92. David Marks, The Life of David Marks, To the 26th year of his age. Including the Particulars of His Conversion, Call to the Ministry, and Labours in Itinerant Preaching for nearly Eleven Years (Limerick, Maine: Printed at the Office of the Morning Star, 1831), 30-31.
  93. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 28 July 1820.
  94. Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, and Morris’ Reserve (Rochester, New York: William Alling, 1851), 212–213.
  95. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), 17–18.
  96. George W. Cowles, Landmarks of Wayne County (Syracuse, New York: D. Mason & Company, 1895), 194.
  97. Cowles, Landmarks of Wayne County, 194.
  98. Cowles, Landmarks of Wayne County, 191–192.
  99. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 28 June 1820.
  100. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 5 July 1820.
  101. This episode in the Palmyra Register was noted in Walter A. Norton, "Comparative Images: Mormonism and Contemporary Religions as Seen by Village Newspapermen in Western New York and Northeastern Ohio, 1820-1833" (Ph.D. Diss., Brigham Young University, 1991), 255. Discussed in footnote 3 by Richard L. Bushman, "Just the Facts Please (Review of Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record by H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 122–133. off-site
  102. 102.0 102.1 Palmyra, N.Y., Copies of Old Village Records, 1793–1867 (Salt Lake City: LDS Church Genealogical Dept., 1970), film 812869
  103. Donald L. Enders, "[=https://www.lds.org/ensign/1985/08/a-snug-log-house?lang=eng A Snug Log House]," Ensign (August 1985), 16.
  104. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 87.
  105. Rand Hugh Packer, “History of Four Mormon Landmarks In Western New York: The Joseph Smith Farm,…,” A Thesis Presented to the Department of Church History and Doctrine (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, August 1975), 43.
  106. Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, edited by Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 86–87. AISN B000FH6N04.; See also Packer, thesis, 43.
  107. Manchester, New York, Assessment Roll, Ontario County Historical Society, 16–17.
  108. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 28 June 1820.
  109. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 5 July 1820.
  110. This episode in the Palmyra Register was noted in Walter A. Norton, "Comparative Images: Mormonism and Contemporary Religions as Seen by Village Newspapermen in Western New York and Northeastern Ohio, 1820-1833" (Ph.D. Diss., Brigham Young University, 1991), 255. Discussed in footnote 3 by Richard L. Bushman, "Just the Facts Please (Review of Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record by H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 122–133. off-site
  111. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 28 June 1820.
  112. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 5 July 1820.
  113. Joseph and Hiel Lewis, "Mormon History. A New Chapter, About to Be Published," Amboy Journal [Illinois] 24 (30 April 1879): 1; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 4:300–306.
  114. "Mormonism," Susquehanna Register, Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834): 1; republished in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 266-267. (Affidavits examined); reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 4:293-295.
  115. Osmon Cleander Baker, A guide-book in the administration of the discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York : Carlton & Phillips, 1855). All citations in this article are from this work, unless otherwise footnoted. All italics are original; bold-face has been added.
  116. The Methodist Magazine 5 (January 1822). Citation provided by Ted Jones.
  117. Because of the significant number of Book of Mormon passages that speak of Jesus as God, the original readings in 1 Nephi are perfectly acceptable in their original form. Royal Skousen, editor of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, has recommended that they be restored to their original readings (Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon 4/1: 233).
  118. Oliver Cowdery, "Trouble in the West," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 1 (April 1835), 105. direct off-site
  119. See Larry E. Dahl, "Lectures on Faith," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:818–821.
  120. 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), 2:243–246. Volume 2 link
  121. Lectures on Faith Num 5, 5:2a-5:2e
  122. See David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. PDF link (Key source)
  123. Stephen Post, “Mormon Defence.--No. II,” Christian Palladium (Union Mills, New York) 6, no. 15 (1 December 1837): 230–31. off-site
  124. Oliver Barr, “Mormonism--No. V,” The Christian Palladium (Union Mills, New York) 6, no. 18 (15 January 1838): 275. off-site
  125. See David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and PhilosophicalPerspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. PDF link
  126. Christopher Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 98.
  127. David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. (Key source)
  128. "Testimony of Martin Harris Written by my hand from teh Moth of Martin Harris," dictated to Edward Stevenson 4 September 1870, Edward Stevenson Collection, Miscellaneous Papers, LDS Church Archives; cited by Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:331.
  129. Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, and Scott H. Faulring (editors), Joseph Smith's New Translation Of The Bible: Original Manuscripts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2004), 82.
  130. Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, edited by Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 161. AISN B000FH6N04.
  131. The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) (14 February 1832): 102.
  132. F. Mark McKiernan, An Early Latter-day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer (Independence, MO.: Herald Publishing House 1980), 67, punctuation corrected; cited in Robert L. Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 3 (Summer 1989), 49–68.
  133. As cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," footnote 12.
  134. The current D&C 76 vision was first published in Evening and Morning Star, Independence, Missouri, July 1832.
  135. 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883 (Palm Desert, California: ULC Press, 1981), 39; cited in Paulsen, 34.
  136. "An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock Taken From His Journal by Himself," (typescript) Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 13; cited in Paulsen, 35.
  137. Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836). Reprinted from Ohio Observer, circa August 1836. off-site See Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe’s 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (Spring 1977), 347-55. See also Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:47.
  138. Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Joseph Smith's First Vision: Cornerstone of a Latter-day Faith," in To Be Learned is Good, If ..., ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987).; cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," 59.
  139. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants: Volume Three (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004), 32-33.
  140. 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
  141. 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]
  142. 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
  143. The Latin title of the original was De Caelo et Ejus Mirabilibus et de inferno, ex Auditis et Visis. An on-line version is available as translated by J.C. Ager, off-site
  144. Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and its Wonders and Hell
  145. See DC 76:76; see also 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), 1:245–252. Volume 1 link
  146. John A. Clark, “Gleanings by the way. No. VI,” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) (5 September 1840): 94. off-site
  147. Walter Scott, “Mormon Bible–No. III,” The Evangelist (Carthage, Ohio) 9, no. 3 (1 March 1841): 42–45. off-site
  148. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches, 145.
  149. David L. Paulsen, "The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives," Brigham Young University Studies 35 no. 4 (1995–96), 6–94. (Key source)
  150. "Testimony of Martin Harris Written by my hand from teh Moth of Martin Harris," dictated to Edward Stevenson 4 September 1870, Edward Stevenson Collection, Miscellaneous Papers, LDS Church Archives; cited by Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:331.
  151. Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, and Scott H. Faulring (editors), Joseph Smith's New Translation Of The Bible: Original Manuscripts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2004), 82.
  152. Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, edited by Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 161. AISN B000FH6N04.
  153. The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) (14 February 1832): 102.
  154. F. Mark McKiernan, An Early Latter-day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer (Independence, MO.: Herald Publishing House 1980), 67, punctuation corrected; cited in Robert L. Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 3 (Summer 1989), 49–68.
  155. As cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," footnote 12.
  156. The current D&C 76 vision was first published in Evening and Morning Star, Independence, Missouri, July 1832.
  157. 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883 (Palm Desert, California: ULC Press, 1981), 39; cited in Paulsen, 34.
  158. "An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock Taken From His Journal by Himself," (typescript) Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 13; cited in Paulsen, 35.
  159. Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836). Reprinted from Ohio Observer, circa August 1836. off-site See Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe’s 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (Spring 1977), 347-55. See also Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:47.
  160. Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Joseph Smith's First Vision: Cornerstone of a Latter-day Faith," in To Be Learned is Good, If ..., ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987).; cited in Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism," 59.
  161. MormonThink.com website (as of 5 May 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/firstvisionweb.htm
  162. Joseph Fielding McConkie, Sons and Daughters of God: The Loss and Restoration of Our Divine Inheritance (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1994), 194–195. ISBN 0884949362.
  163. 163.0 163.1 163.2 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957). Volume 2 link
  164. 164.0 164.1 164.2 164.3 164.4 164.5 164.6 164.7 History of the Church. Volume 3 link