Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/1835/Mentions "Angels"

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Joseph Smith's 1835 First Vision accounts both mention "Angels"

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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.


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.[1]

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.[2]


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.


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

Notes

  1. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 74–77.
  2. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 84.