Question: Was Joseph Smith's First Vision Vision set in heaven or on earth?

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Question: Was Joseph Smith's First Vision Vision set in heaven or on earth?

Details about Joseph Smith's First Vision experience are best interpreted by taking all of the extant accounts into consideration

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 and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me...

—Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision
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There seems to be a discrepancy between the location of Deity in the Prophet's 1832 and 1838 First Vision accounts. The 1838 version says that the Prophet saw two Personages standing in the air above the earth, within his proximity. But the 1832 version is not so clear - it seems to locate Deity in heaven.

Details about Joseph Smith's First Vision experience are best interpreted by taking all of the extant accounts into consideration. A myopic focus on a limited number of historical documents can only lead to misunderstanding of the past and a twisted sense of the message that the storyteller is trying to convey.

This so-called 'discrepancy' can be accounted for by the fact that Joseph Smith built his 1832 First Vision account using the framework of 47 biblical scriptures

This so-called 'discrepancy' can be accounted for by the fact that Joseph Smith built his 1832 First Vision account using the framework of 47 biblical scriptures. And at this point in his manuscript he utilized Acts 7:55-56 to tell his story. It reads:

But [Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

The Greek text that underlies the KJV translation says that Stephen looked into "heaven" (ouranos - 'the sky'; by extension: 'heaven'; also translated as 'air') and saw the "heavens" (the same Greek word - ouranos) opened. Thus, Stephen did not necessarily see Deity in their celestial abode - far beyond the confines of the earth - but rather standing above him in the air.

When Joseph Smith says in the 1832 First Vision account that he saw the Lord after the "heavens" (he uses the plural form) were opened he seems to be expressing the same idea that is found in the New Testament text.

Notice that the physical proximity of the Personages is established in the Prophet's 1835 recital: the pillar of fire can be physically seen in the air; the pillar of fire physically descends and rests upon Joseph; the pillar of fire has contact with physical objects that surround Joseph; two Personages are seen in the midst of this pillar of fire. Notice also that in the 1844 account the Prophet indicates that he could see with his natural eyesight the pillar "toward heaven", or up in the air. A glance at the 1840 account also shows that the phrase "in the heavens above" simply means "a considerable distance" up in the sky - it is not a reference to the celestial abode of Deity.

1832

  • "a pillar of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noonday came 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".

1835

  • "A pillar of fire appeared above my head; which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with unspeakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed".

1838

  • "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head above the brigtness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. . . . When the light rested upon me I saw two personages (whose brightness and glory defy all description) standing above me in the air."

1840

  • "he at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be 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 hope 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 enwapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages".

1842

  • "while fervently engaged in supplication my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and 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".

1843

  • "Directly I saw a light, and then a glorious personage in the light, and then another personage".

1844

  • "saw a fire toward heaven came near and nearer; saw a personage in the fire . . . the fire drew nigher, Rested upon the tree, enveloped him comforted".


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