Joseph Smith's First Vision/Published references

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Published references to Joseph Smith's First Vision

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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." [1]
  • 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. [2] 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 This is the exact same sequence presented in the Prophet's unpublished 1832 history and the forgiveness of sins comes during the First Vision event in that document.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).


The Joseph Smith Papers: "The historical preamble to the 1830 'articles and covenants,'...appears to reference JS’s vision in speaking of a moment when 'it truly was manifested unto this first elder, that he had received a remission of his sins'"

"History, circa Summer 1832 - Historical Introduction," The Joseph Smith Papers:

In the early 1830s, when this history was written, it appears that JS had not broadcast the details of his first vision of Deity. The history of the church, as it was then generally understood, began with the gold plates. John Whitmer mentioned in his history “the commencement of the church history commencing at the time of the finding of the plates,” suggesting that Whitmer was either unaware of JS’s earlier vision or did not conceive of it as foundational.5 Records predating 1832 only hint at JS’s earliest manifestation. The historical preamble to the 1830 “articles and covenants,” for example, appears to reference JS’s vision in speaking of a moment when “it truly was manifested unto this first elder, that he had received a remission of his sins.”6 Initially, JS may have considered this vision to be a personal experience tied to his own religious explorations. He was not accustomed to recording personal events, and he did not initially record the vision as he later did the sacred texts at the center of his attention. Only when JS expanded his focus to include historical records did he write down a detailed account of the theophany he experienced as a youth. The result was a simple, unpolished account of his first “marvilous experience,” written largely in his own hand. The account was not published or widely circulated at the time, though in later years he told the story more frequently.[3]


Question: Why didn't the newspapers in Palmyra take notice of Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Newspapers would not have considered a visionary claim from a 14-year-old boy to have been newsworthy

This claim by critics is indeed strange. We are apparently to believe that the newspapers of the area would consider a claim from a 14-year-old boy as newsworthy. We know that Joseph didn't even tell his family about the vision at the time that it occurred—when his mother asked him, all he said to her was that he had found that Presbyterianism was not true.

When Joseph told the story of his vision to a local minister, he was strongly refuted for doing so

Joseph did, however, make mention of his vision to a Methodist preacher. According to Richard Bushman, Joseph's perceived persecution for telling his story may not have actually been because it was a unique claim, but rather because it was a common one. According to Bushman,

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."[4]


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

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

1827

  • A skeptical account from Rev. John A. Clark mixed nine First Vision story elements together with the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and said that he learned them all in the Fall of 1827 from Martin Harris (John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way [Philadelphia: W. J. and J. K. Simmon, 1842],---).
  • A hostile account from someone who knew Joseph in 1827 reported:
I, Joseph Capron, became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1827. They have, since then, been really a peculiar people -- fond of the foolish and the marvelous -- at one time addicted to vice and the grossest immoralities -- at another time making the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God. The family of Smiths held Joseph Jr. in high estimation on account of some supernatural power, which he was supposed to possess.[5]
Capron obviously disliked and distrusted the Smiths, but he makes it clear that there were claims of holy intercourse (i.e., "communication" with)[6] "Almighty God."

1831

  • LDS missionaries were teaching that Joseph Smith "had seen God frequently and personally" and received a commission from Him to teach true religion (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831).[7]

1832

  • LDS missionaries were teaching with regard to Joseph Smith: "Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse [to] prayer" (The Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832).
  • In October 1832, another Protestant minister wrote to a friend about the Latter-day Saints in his area: "They profess to hold frequent converse with angels; some go, if we may believe what they say, as far as the third heaven, and converse with the Lord Jesus face to face."[8]

1833

  • A few months later, in March of 1833, the Reverend Richmond Taggart wrote a letter to a ministerial friend, regarding the activities of Joseph Smith himself in Ohio: "The following Curious occurrance occurred last week in Newburg [Ohio] about 6 miles from this Place [Cleveland]. Joe Smith the great Mormonosity was there and held forth, and among other things he told them he had seen Jesus Christ and the Apostles and conversed with them, and that he could perform Miracles."[9] Here is a clear reference to Joseph Smith stating he had seen Jesus Christ. Joseph’s ‘conversations’ with the Apostles could be a reference to having seen, spoken to, and been ordained to the Priesthood by the early Apostles Peter, James, and John. Having received that Priesthood Joseph Smith was now qualified to perform healings, and other ‘miracles’.
  • A Missouri newspaper contains an article on a mass meeting of Latter-day Saints in July 1833, and refers to the Saints’ “pretended revelations from heaven… their personal intercourse with God and his angels… converse with God and his angels….”[10]
  • Philastus Hurlbut, following his excommunication from the Church in 1833, went east to Palmyra. He there interviewed many who claimed to have known Joseph Smith before the organization of the Church. Among those interviewed were some who left statements which give us more information on what the Prophet had been claiming at that early period. On November 3, 1833, Barton Stafford testified that Joseph had “professed to be inspired of the Lord to translate the Book of Mormon.” Stafford claimed to have known them “until 1831 when they left this neighborhood.” Five days later, on November 8, Joseph Capron testified that Joseph had made “the highest pretensions to piety and holy intercourse with Almighty God.”[11] In 1884 and 1885 Arthur B. Deming collected affidavits in the Painesville, Ohio area, regarding the early Saints, and their recollection of Joseph Smith. Cornelius R. Stafford had been born in Manchester, NY, in 1813. He testified that Joseph Smith “claimed to receive revelations from the Lord.”[12]

1834

1835

1836

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

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

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

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


Question: Was the general membership of the LDS Church not familiar with the First Vision story until late in the nineteenth century?

Latter-day Saints the world over knew about it, in detail, throughout the lifetimes of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young

It has been claimed that, “Before the death of Brigham Young in 1877 the first vision was seldom mentioned in Mormon publications.” However, the First Vision story was never the garbled and evolving tale that critics of the Church want to make it out to be. Latter-day Saints the world over knew about it, in detail, throughout the lifetimes of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. They became aware of it by reading LDS books, LDS newspapers, LDS pamphlets, and LDS educational primers.

This charge has been repeatedly made by succeeding generations of anti-Mormons in their written communications, during lectures, and on the printed page. But the continual parroting of an argument does not somehow make it true. A survey of the historical record demonstrates beyond any conceivable doubt that this claim is not accurate and cannot be defended by any of the detractors of Mormonism.

President Brigham Young died on 29 August 1877. It can be demonstrated through the construction of a timeline (which can be examined by clicking on the link inside the red box at the top of this page) that before President Young passed away the First Vision was mentioned in LDS publications on more than 70 occasions. And a look at the details of the retellings of the story during the relevant time period is instructive. The documents indicate that:

  • The story was related in a published LDS history by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
  • The story was rehearsed in LDS printed material by six members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: Orson Pratt, John E. Page, Lorenzo Snow, John Taylor, Orson Hyde, and Franklin D. Richards.
  • The story was explained frequently to little children.
  • The story was told in the United States, England, Wales, Scotland, Italy, Denmark, Holland, South Africa, India, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, and France.
  • The story was rehearsed in the English, German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Welsh, and French languages.
  • The story was told on a regular basis.
  • The story was expressed in consistent detail.

It should be noted that since the charge of "seldom" retellings in LDS literature is not accurate, it cannot be legitimately used to bolster the idea that confusion over the exact nature of the First Vision existed during President Brigham Young's administration. Nor can the unfounded notion be sustained that the official version of events did not get standardized until after President Young's death.


Question: What LDS publications between 1840 and 1877 include references to Joseph Smith's First Vision?

This timeline demonstrates conclusively that Latter-day Saints were never left in the dark about the cause of the beginning of the dispensation of the fulness of times

Latter-day Saints can rest assured that the First Vision story is not the end product of a lengthy sorting-out process or a tale that grew taller over time. It is the same story known by earlier generations of the faithful.

The following timeline shows LDS publications that included the First Vision story over a 37 year period (1840-1877). This timeline demonstrates conclusively that Latter-day Saints were never left in the dark about the cause of the beginning of the dispensation of the fulness of times. They were well informed about it while the founding Prophet of the dispensation lived; they continued to be acquainted with it during the administration of his legitimate successor.

September 1840

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

1 / 15 December 1840

Slightly modified reprint of Oliver Cowdery’s incomplete rendition of the 1832 First Vision account and extra unwritten details (Times and Seasons, vol. 2, no. 3, 1 December 1840, 225–26; Times and Seasons, vol. 2, no. 4, 15 December 1840, 241).
Nauvoo, Illinois.

1841

First American edition of An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (expanded to 36 pages) [New York: Joseph W. Harrison, 1841]
New York City, New York.

1841

Second American edition of An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions [New York: Joseph W. Harrison, 1841]
New York City, New York.

1 March 1842

The Wentworth Letter First Vision recital is published (Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 9, 1 March 1842, 706–707).
Nauvoo, Illinois.

1 April 1842

The official History of the Church recital: Part 1 (Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 11, 1 April 1842, 748–49).
Nauvoo, Illinois.

15 April 1842

The official History of the Church recital: Part 2 (Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 12, 15 April 1842, 753).
Nauvoo, Illinois.

June 1842

The official History of the Church recital is reprinted (Millennial Star, vol. 3, no. 2, June 1842, 22–23) [“From the ‘Times and Seasons’”]
England.

1842

Third American edition of An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions [New York: Joseph W. Harrison, 1842]
New York City, New York.

1842

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

February 1844

The Wentworth Letter account is reprinted (John E. Page and Lucien R. Foster publish a pamphlet entitled 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).
New York City, New York.

1 January 1845

Elder Parley P. Pratt issues a proclamation to the eastern states Saints: “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” (Millennial Star, vol. 5, no. 10, March 1845, 150).
New York City, New York.
England.

July 1846

Dan Jones’ Welsh publication Prophet of the Jubilee reprints a modified version of the First Vision account found in Orson Pratt’s An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions. (Ronald D. Dennis, trans. and ed., Prophet of the Jubilee [Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1997], 17-19).
Wales.

December 1848

A truncated version of An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (16 pages) is published.
Liverpool, England.

15 October 1849

Elder Orson Pratt quotes from the History of the Church First Vision account in part 2 of “Are the Father and the Son Two Distinct Persons?” (Millennial Star, vol. 11, no. 20, 15 October 1849, 310).
England.

1 August 1850

Elder John Taylor sends a First Vision account to a non-LDS journal and it is reprinted in an LDS newspaper (Millennial Star, vol. 12, no. 15, 1 August 1850, 235–37).
England.

6 September 1850

Elder Lorenzo Snow publishes a short account of the First Vision in a missionary tract called The Voice of Joseph.
LaTour, Italy.

October 1850

Elder John Taylor expands the letter he sent to the August 1850 Millennial Star and published it in pamphlet form in the French language. (Peter Crawley, Bibliography, 2:167).
France

4 November 1850

Elder Lorenzo Snow’s missionary tract called The Voice of Joseph is to be translated into French (Millennial Star, vol. 12, no. 24, 15 December 1850, 370).
France.

15 December 1850

Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, No. 4: Evidences of the Book of Mormon and Bible Compared (Liverpool, England: R. James, 1850), points #10–11. Quotation of the official History of the Church First Vision account.
Liverpool, England.

Early 1851

Orson Pratt, A Series of Pamphlets (Liverpool, England: R. James, 1851). This collection includes "Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon #4" and "An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions".
Liverpool, England.

6 February 1851

Lorenzo Snow informs Orson Hyde in a letter that his missionary tract called The Voice of Joseph is circulating in Italy and Switzerland (Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1884], 176).
Geneva, Switzerland.
Italy.

15 July 1851

Elder Franklin D. Richards publishes the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price. It contains the official History of the Church First Vision account (Millennial Star, vol. 13, no. 14, 15 July 1851, 216-17).
Liverpool, England.

15 August 1851

Lorenzo Snow informs Franklin D. Richards that his missionary tract called The Voice of Joseph will be issued in a second edition (Millennial Star, vol. 13, no. 16, 15 August 1851, 252-53).

1851

Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Sydney, Australia: Albert Mason, 1851); first Australian edition (derived from the American 3rd edition).
Sydney, Australia.

1851

An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions is published in the Danish language (Andrew Jenson, “An Epitome of the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” in Worlds Fair Ecclesiastical History of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT: George Q. Cannon and Sons Co., 1893), 15; Andrew Jenson, History of the Scandinavian Mission [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1927], 30–31).
Denmark.

1851

Lorenzo Snow’s pamphlet called The Voice of Joseph is printed in the French language. (Lorenzo Snow, Le Voix de Joseph [Turin : Imprimerie Ferrero et Franco, 1851]).

1851

Orson Pratt’s Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon is reprinted.
Liverpool, England.

1851

Lorenzo Snow's pamphlet The Voice of Joseph is reprinted inside the book: Lorenzo Snow, The Italian Mission (London: W. Aubrey, 1851), 13-14.
London.

1 May 1852

Lorenzo Snow informs Samuel W. Richards in a letter from Malta that another edition of his missionary tract called The Voice of Joseph (revised from the Italian printing) has been published (Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1884], 215–16). [see Millennial Star, vol. 14, no. 15, 5 June 1852, 236]
Italy.

15 May 1852

The Prophet's 9 November 1835 recital of the First Vision is printed in a newspaper (Deseret News, 15 May 1852).
Salt Lake City, Utah.

15 May 1852

Notice is given that An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions will be published in India (Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1884], 220).
India.

July 1852

A second printing of An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions is released in Australia. (R. Lanier Britsch, Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986], 196–97, citing Andrew Jenson, Manuscript History of the Australian Mission, April 1855).
Sydney, Australia.

27 November 1852

A Welsh edition of the Pearl of Great Price is published by John Silvanus Davis (Millennial Star, vol. 14, no. 40, 27 November 1852, 634).
Wales.

27 November 1852

Another English printing of Lorenzo Snow’s missionary tract call The Voice of Joseph is issued (Millennial Star, vol. 14, no. 40, 27 November 1852, 635). [Liverpool, England: S. W. Richards, 1852]
Liverpool, England.

1852

Orson Pratt, A Series of Pamphlets (Liverpool, England: Franklin D. Richards, 1852); includes Remarkable Visions and Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Liverpool, England.

1852

Elder Franklin D. Richards publishes an 88-page supplement to volume 14 of the Millennial Star which includes the official History of the Church First Vision account (See Howard C. Searle, “Authorship of the History of Joseph Smith: a Review Essay,” Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 21, no. 1, Winter 1981, 101-22).
Liverpool, England.

1852

John Taylor's French pamphlet with the First Vision account is reissued. (Chad Flake, Bibliography).
France.

13 April 1853

Orson Pratt’s Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, No. 4 is printed in the Scandinavian mission (Millennial Star, vol. 15, no. 20, 14 May 1853, 315).
Scandinavia.

19 November 1853

John Jaques publishes some First Vision information that will eventually become part of chapter 3 of his Catechism for Children. He also cites the official History of the Church account that was reprinted in the supplement to volume 14 of the Millennial Star. (Millennial Star, vol. 15, no. 47, 19 November 1853, 759).
Liverpool, England.

1853

Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and his Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, England: Published for Orson Pratt by S. W. Richards 1853), 75. Quotation of the official History of the Church First Vision account. [Date of sale for this book can be found in Millennial Star, vol. 15, no. ---, 15 October 1853, 682]
Liverpool, England.

1853

Orson Pratt’s Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon is reprinted.
Liverpool, England.

1853

Elder Orson Pratt’s Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon is translated into the Danish language.

16 November 1854

Lucy Mack Smith’s autobiography is advertised for sale in Utah. It contains the official History of the Church First Vision account (Deseret News, 16 November 1864).
Salt Lake City, Utah.

1854

John Jaques, Catechism For Children: Exhibiting the Prominent Doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Liverpool, England: Franklin D. Richards, 1854), 12, 76–77.
Liverpool, England.

31 March 1855

Elder Franklin D. Richards is informed that The Voice of Joseph missionary tract has been issued in the Dutch language in South Africa (Millennial Star, vol. 17, no. 36, 8 September 1855, 572).
South Africa.

15 August 1855

The Wentworth Letter account of the First Vision is published in a Utah newspaper (Deseret News, vol. 5, no. 23, 15 August 1855, 1).
Salt Lake City, Utah.

5 September 1855

Elder George A. Smith publishes a short history of the Church that includes the First Vision story (Deseret News, vol. 5, no. 26, 5 September 1855, 2).
Salt Lake City, Utah.

1855

John Jaques’ Catechism for Children is reprinted in the English language.
Liverpool, England.

1856

An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions is published in the Swedish language (Andrew Jenson, “An Epitome of the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” in Worlds Fair Ecclesiastical History of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT: George Q. Cannon and Sons Co., 1893), 15; Andrew Jenson, History of the Scandinavian Mission [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1927, 30–31).
Sweden.

21 February 1857

The Wentworth Letter is published in an article entitled “Joseph Smith History” (Millennial Star, vol. 19, no. 8, 21 February 1857, 117).
England.

1857

Franklin D. Richards, A Compendium of the Faith and Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Liverpool, England: Orson Pratt, 1857), 152, 221.
Liverpool, England.

1857

Orson Pratt’s Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon is reprinted in the English language.
Liverpool, England.

1857

Orson Pratt’s Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon is published in the Danish language.
Copenhagen, Denmark.

1860

Orson Pratt’s Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon is reprinted in English.
Liverpool, England.

1860

John Jaques’ Catechism for Children is printed in the Danish language.

6 August 1862

Elder George A. Smith’s short history of the Church is reprinted (Deseret News, vol. 12, no. 6, 6 August 1862, 2).
Salt Lake City, Utah.

1 / 15 January 1866

Elder George Q. Cannon provides the young people of the Church with a recital of the First Vision which draws information from the official History of the Church account, the Wentworth Letter, and An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (see Juvenile Instructor, vol. 1, no. 1, 1 January 1866, 1; Juvenile Instructor, vol. 1, no. 2, 15 January 1866, 5).
Salt Lake City, Utah.

1 October 1866

George Q. Cannon posed two catechism questions for children regarding the First Vision (Juvenile Instructor, vol. 1, no. 19, 1 October 1866, 75).
Salt Lake City, Utah.

15 November 1866

George Q. Cannon published the two First Vision catechism questions along with their answers (Juvenile Instructor, vol. 1, no. 22, 15 November 1866, 87).
Salt Lake City, Utah.

1869

E. L. Sloan, comp., The Salt Lake City Directory and Business Guide for 1869 (Salt Lake City: E. L. Sloan, 1869), 56.

July 1869

George A. Smith cites the Wentworth Letter First Vision account (George A. Smith, The Rise, Progress and Travels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City; Deseret News Office, 1869], ---).
Salt Lake City, Utah.

October 1870

John Jaques’ Catechism for Children is republished in the English language.
Salt Lake City, Utah. [Announcement of impending sale given in the Deseret News Weekly, vol. 19, no. 36, 12 October 1870, 413]

1870

John Jaques’ Catechism for Children is republished in the English language.
Liverpool, England.

15 June 1871

Republication of Orson Pratt’s [Journal of Discourses, 14:140–42] First Vision discourse (Skandinaviens Stjerne, vol. 20, no. 18, 15 June 1871, 273–79, 282–83 / from the Deseret News).
Copenhagen, Denmark.

Fall 1871

Sybren Van Dyk (mission president) collaborated with Johannes H. Heman to translate John Jaques’ Catechism for Children and then published it in Holland (Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 4:358–59).
Holland.

1 February 1872

Republication of Orson Pratt’s [Journal of Discourses, 14:261-62] First Vision discourse (Skandinaviens Stjerne, vol. 21, no. 9, 1 February 1872, 129–36; 145–49 / from the Deseret News, vol. 20, no. 46, 20 December 1871, 537-38]
Copenhagen, Denmark.

1872

John Jaques’ Catechism for Children is republished in the English language.
Salt Lake City, Utah.

1872

George A. Smith cites the Wentworth Letter First Vision account (George A. Smith, The Rise, Progress and Travels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Publishing, 1872], 37-38).
Salt Lake City: Utah.

1872

John Jaques’ Catechism for Children is published in the German language.
Bern.

1873

George A. Smith cites the Wentworth Letter First Vision account (George A. Smith, The Rise, Progress and Travels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, rev. ed. [Liverpool, England: -----, 1873], 37).
Liverpool, England.

1873

John Jaques’ Catechism for Children is republished in the English language.
Liverpool, England.

1873

John Jaques’ Catechism for Children is published in the Swedish language.
Sweden.

4 October 1876

Orson Pratt “History and Doctrines of the Latter-day Saints” (article written for the Universal Cylopedia in December 1874). Printed in the Deseret News, vol. 25, no. 36, 4 October 1876, 562; Millennial Star, vol. 38, no. 43, 23 October 1876, 673–77.
Salt Lake City, Utah.

11 October 1876

Publication of Orson Pratt’s 8 October 1876 [Journal of Discourses, ---] First Vision remarks (Deseret News, vol. 25, no. ---, 11 October 1876, 585; Millennial Star, vol. 38, no. 46, 13 November 1876, 721).
Salt Lake City, Utah.
England.

4 July 1877

Andrew Jenson publishes the First Vision story in the Danish-Norwegian language (Andrew Jenson, Autobiography of Andrew Jenson [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1938], 102–103).
Salt Lake City, Utah.


Question: Is there any mention of the First Vision in non-Mormon literature before 1843?

There are a number of reports in non-Latter-day Saint source which allude to the First Vision having occurred

The historical record supports the claim that the First Vision was mentioned in non-Mormon literature prior to 1843:

  • Report in a non-LDS newspaper of Mormon missionaries 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).
  • The “Articles and Covenants” of the Church - which contained a reference to something that happened during the First Vision - were published in a non-LDS newspaper (Telegraph, 19 April 1831).
  • 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).
  • In April 1841 the British publication Athenæum (a literary weekly) reprinted material from Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account pamphlet.
  • A non-LDS newspaper printed the first elements of the First Vision story. They were first reported in the Congregational Observer [Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut] and then reprinted in the Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer, vol. 5, no. 23, 3 September 1841.
  • First Vision story elements from Orson Pratt's 1840 pamphlet were reprinted in The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, vol. 14 (new series), no. 42, July 1841, 370. Philadelphia: E. Littell and Co. (copied from the 1841 Athenæum article called “The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites”).
  • 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],---).
  • A non-LDS college professor published the beginning story elements of the First Vision (Jonathan B. Turner, Mormonism in All Ages [New York: Platt and Peters, 1842], 14).

The majority of these reports are garbled, fragmentary, and out of proper context but this evidence still shows that the claim being made in the source cited above is not accurate.


Question: If the First Vision story was known by the public before 1840, then would anti-Mormons “surely” have seized upon it as an evidence of Joseph Smith’s imposture?

The claim that critics of Joseph would have used the vision accounts is negated by the following evidence

  • Daniel P. Kidder, Mormonism and the Mormons (New York City: Lane and Sandford, 1842), 334. The appendix heading explains that the author was drawing material from the January through June editions of the 1842 Times and Seasons (two separate First Vision stories were found in the March and April editions). Joseph Smith, as editor of the Times and Seasons, Kidder said, “commenced publishing his autobiography. It is, however, nothing but the old story about the plates and the angel, with a few emendations to save appearances.”
  • Quincy Whig, vol. 4, no. 46, 12 March 1842 – Acknowledgment that the “Wentworth Letter” had recently been published in the Times and Seasons on 1 March 1842. No mention is made of the First Vision story.
  • The Morning Chronicle, vol. 1, no. 190, 24 March 1842 [Pittsburgh] – quotes from the “Wentworth Letter” directly before and after the First Vision material but completely ignores the story (focuses on Joseph Smith’s birthday and the Book of Mormon instead).
  • John Hayward, The Book of Religions (Boston: John Hayward, 1842), 260-65, 271. This author indicates that he has possession of the Wentworth Letter and says, "we . . . are now enabled to tell [the] story [of the Latter-day Saints] in their own words." But he paraphrases the material about Joseph Smith's birth and background, completely skips over the First Vision story, provides lengthy quotes about the angel and the plates and even includes the Articles of Faith.

This is clear evidence that even if an anti-Mormon had multiple authoritative, unambiguous, printed copies of the First Vision story sitting right in front of them they would NOT necessarily seize upon it as evidence of an imposture. Some of them simply did NOT pay close attention to what Joseph Smith was saying openly.

Hugh Nibley pointed out years ago that anti-Mormon authors often went to great lengths to distort, ignore, or omit Joseph's telling of the visit of the Father and the Son.[13]

Ron Barney, "Joseph Smith’s Visions: His Style and his Record"

Ron Barney,  Proceedings of the 2013 FAIR Conference, (1 August 2013)
Joseph Smith left a tradition wherein it is clear that he claimed to have experienced a number of divine encounters with heavenly beings. Brodie, Decker, and Hunt would have you believe that any reasonable person, after witnessing these heavenly manifestations, would have run home, grabbed his diary to carefully describe in great detail what he experienced before sprinting from neighbor to neighbor shouting, “Guess what happened to me?” And then after the next heavenly event he witnessed, they demand, he would have done the same thing: “Guess what happened to me this time,” and so on. The best historical evidence demonstrates that this line of thinking concerning Joseph Smith is a defective premise, entirely.

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

Notes

  1. Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director. www.cesletter.com
  2. 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.
  3. "History, circa Summer 1832 - Historical Introduction," The Joseph Smith Papers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  4. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 41.
  5. Joseph Capron affidavit, 8 November 1833; in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258-259. (Affidavits examined)
  6. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "intercourse." defines the term as simply "[1] Communication....[2] Silent communication or exchange."
  7. Regarding the reference in the Palmyra Reflector, Richard Abanes, in his anti-Mormon work Becoming Gods, boldly declares in the main body of his text on page 34 that "[n]ot a single piece of published literature" mentions the First Vision, yet in an endnote at the back of the book on page 338 acknowledges this newspaper account. He attempts to dismiss this by claiming that the reference is "vague," yet acknowledges that "as early as 1831 Smith might have been starting to privately tell select persons that he had at some point seen God."
  8. Rev. B. Pixley, Christian Watchman, Independence Mo., October 12, 1832; in Among the Mormons. Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers, Edited by William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958): 74. This article by Pixley was reprinted in Independent Messenger (Boston, Mass.) of November 29, 1832; also in Missouri Intelligencer (Columbia, Mo.), and the American Eagle (Westfield, New York). Cited also in Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, The Man and The Seer (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1960), 68, note 46. It is not clear what Rev. Pixley was referring to by the comment about the third heaven, though it may refer to the Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory [DC 76:], which had been received February 1832, and published in July in the Evening and Morning Star, in Kirtland, Ohio. Verse 20 indicates that “we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father….”
  9. Richmond Taggart to the Reverend Jonathan Goings, 2 March 1833, 2, Jonathon Goings Papers, American Baptist Historical Society, Rochester, New York, quoted in Hurlbut. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:205. See also Gregory A. Prince, Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 8.
  10. Missouri Intelligencer (August 10, 1833); quoted in John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 337. GL direct link
  11. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:22, 24. Original in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 251&ndash 252, and 258–260, respectively. (Affidavits examined)
  12. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:107. Original in Arthur B. Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism newspaper (January 1888), 3.
  13. See, for example, "Censoring the Joseph Smith Story," in Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991),55–96. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct linkGL direct link