Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/Parley P. Pratt only said that "God" appeared

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Parley P. Pratt's statements regarding the First Vision

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Question: Did Parley P. Pratt claim that only God appeared to Joseph Smith during his First Vision?

Elder Pratt provides evidence that he, along with many others, heard the First Vision story from the Prophet himself during a public gathering

Elder Parley P. Pratt said that only one personage ("God") appeared in "open vision" to Joseph Smith and "called" him to His work. This is evidence that there was confusion about the details of the First Vision story even among high Church authorities shortly after the Prophet's death.

If Elder Parley P. Pratt's 1845 proclamation to the eastern U.S. Saints does not happen to contain enough First Vision story elements to satify the unrealistic demands of modern critics it does not mean that he was unaware of the orthodox version of the event. It simply means that he chose not to include specific details that were otherwise available - to the public in general and to Church members in particular.

The statement that the critics refer to was written by Elder Parley P. Pratt in New York state on 1 January 1845 and published as a proclamation to the Latter-day Saints who resided in the eastern states of the U.S. The relevant part of this document says,

The people did not choose that great modern apostle and prophet, Joseph Smith, but God chose him in the usual way that He has chosen others before him, viz., by open vision, and by His own voice from the heavens. He it was that called him...[1]

Critics attempt to impose a narrow interpretation upon these words but their tactic is all in vain. Elder Pratt provides evidence that he, along with many others, heard the First Vision story from the Prophet himself during a public gathering. On 27 November 1836 Parley wrote from Kirtland, Ohio to Church members located in Canada and informed them:

“One week before word was publicly given that Br. J. Smith Jr. would give a relation of the coming forth of the records and also of the rise of the Church and of his experience. Accordingly a vast concourse assembled at an early hour. Every seat was crowded and 4 or 5 hundred people stood up in the aisles. Br. S[mith] gave the history of these things relating many particulars of the manner of his first visions etc. The Spirit and power of God was upon him in bearing testimony insomuch that many if not most of the congregation were in tears – as for myself I can say that all the reasonings in uncertainty and all the conclusions drawn from the writings of others . . . however great in themselves dwindle into insignificance when compared with the living testimony when your eyes see and your ears hear from the living oracles of God”.[2]

As the following short timeline demonstrates, if Elder Pratt didn't already know the First Vision story by 1836 he had ample opportunity to learn about it through the publishing efforts of members of his Church administrative quorum (the Twelve Apostles), several of whom printed the account on two different continents - including his own brother Orson. Notice in the information below that Parley printed his 1845 proclamation in New York and that is where some of the published First Vision accounts were being distributed.

1840

Orson Pratt, An Intersting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840).

1841

First American printing of Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, rev. ed. (New York: Joseph W. Harrison, 1841).

1841

Second American printing of Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (New York: Joseph W. Harrison, 1841).

1841

Orson Pratt' pamphlet An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions is advertised for sale in Nauvoo, Ilinois and it is said in the advertisement: “This . . . work will be found to contain information of great importance, as it will save the traveling elders the labor of constantly relating, over and over again, those things in which every new enquirer is so deeply interested, and upon which he is so very anxious to obtain correct information[3] [Notice the implication that missionaries are using the First Vision story as a teaching tool in 1841. There is documentary evidence that missionaries were telling this story much earlier]

1841

The same advertisement and note are repeated for Orson Pratt's An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions [4]

1841

Orson Pratt’s pamphlet is listed for sale as “Remarkable Visions” in the Millennial Star. [5]

1842

Third American printing of Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (New York: Joseph W. Harrison, 1842).

1842

Orson Hyde, A Cry in the Wilderness (Frankfurt, Germany: Orson Hyde, 1842).

1842

The Wentworth Letter First Vision account is published.[6]

1842

Joseph Smith publishes the official History of the Church First Vision account: Part 1[7] and Part 2[8]

1842

The official History of the Church recital is reprinted.[9]

1844

John E. Page and Lucien R. Foster, Correspondence Between Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and Col. John Wentworth, Editor of “The Chicago Democrat,” and Member of Congress from Illinois (New York City: Joseph W. Harrison, 1844), 3-6. [Wentworth Letter]


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Millennial Star 5 no. 10 (March 1845), 150.
  2. Parley P. Pratt to the Elders and Brethren of the Church of Latter-day Saints in Canada, 27 November 1836, MS, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  3. Times and Seasons 2 no. 19, 502. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  4. Times and Seasons 2 no. 21 (1 September 1841), 534. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  5. Millennial Star 2 no. 6 (October 1841), 96–97.
  6. Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 706–707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  7. Times and Seasons 3 no. 11 (1 April 1842), 748-49. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  8. Times and Seasons 3 no. 12 (15 April 1842), 753. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  9. "[“From the ‘Times and Seasons’”]," Millennial Star 3 no. 2 (June 1842), 22–23.