Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/Brigham Young said the Lord didn't appear

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Brigham said Lord didn't appear in First Vision?

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Question: What is Brigham Young claimed to have said that leads one to doubt that he denied the First Vision?

Brigham stated that "The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven..."

It is claimed that President Brigham Young taught in an 1855 sermon that the Lord did not appear to Joseph Smith and forbid him from joining any of the religious denominations of his day, and that it was an "angel" who delivered this message instead. [1]

Note that the same critics also claim that Brigham Young never spoke about the First Vision at all:

An edited version of the 1855 sermon text—as it is presented by Church critics—reads as follows:

"The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven...But He did send His angel to...Joseph Smith Jun[ior]...and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day."[2]

Brigham actually said "The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven...with aught else than the truth of heaven..."

A complete quotation of the relevant 1855 sermon text reads as follows (bolded words indicate anti-Mormon usage):

"the Lord sent forth His angel to reveal the truths of heaven as in times past, even as in ancient days. This should have been hailed as the greatest blessing which could have been bestowed upon any nation, kindred, tongue, or people. It should have been received with hearts of gratitude and gladness, praise and thanksgiving.

But as it was in the days of our Savior, so was it in the advent of this new dispensation. It was not in accordance with the notions, traditions, and pre-conceived ideas of the American people. The messenger did not come to an eminent divine of any of the so-called orthodoxy, he did not adopt their interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven, in power and great glory, nor send His messengers panoplied with aught else than the truth of heaven, to communicate to the meek[,] the lowly, the youth of humble origin, the sincere enquirer after the knowledge of God. But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith Jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong; that they were following the precepts of men instead of the Lord Jesus; that He had a work for him to perform, inasmuch as he should prove faithful before Him."

Brigham actually used several phrases from Joseph's published First Vision account in this sermon

The portion of the second paragraph that critics focus on in their argumentation contains distinct themes found in the official, previously-published history of Joseph Smith. It is, therefore, necessary to exvaluate President's Young's remarks in that light. Consider the following comparison of texts -

  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong."
  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "they were following the precepts of men."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "they teach for doctrine the commandments of men."
  • BRIGHAM YOUNG (1855 sermon): "instead of the Lord Jesus."
  • JOSEPH SMITH (1842 published First Vision text): "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" [Jesus Christ speaking].

Since President Young was obviously drawing his ideas from the official, published First Vision text it is reasonable to propose that he was referring to a completely different event after the comma that follows the word "Revelator" . . . while still referring to the "He" at the beginning of the sentence. Hence, "He" (the Lord) send His angel (Moroni) to Joseph Smith but "He" also—ON A DIFFERENT OCCASION—told Joseph Smith not to join any of the churches.

It should be noted that this sermon was not primarily about the foundational events of Mormonism, but about the United States government and its treatment of the Saints. President Young's remarks on foundational events were incidental, not central, to his message. It should also be pointed out that President Young did not personally deliver this sermon, but had Thomas Bullock read it to the audience which had assembled in the Salt Lake City tabernacle. Bullock served as a scribe on the Joseph Smith history project between 1845 and 1856. It is likely, therefore, that when Bullock delivered President Young's sermon in 1855 he was aware of the First Vision accounts found within the previously-published Joseph Smith history.

The First Vision story had been published nine times before Brigham gave this sermon

It should also be remembered that long before President Brigham Young's 1855 sermon was delivered in Salt Lake City his subordinates in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had published the First Vision story on nine different occasions: (Orson Pratt - 1840, 1850, 1851); (Orson Hyde - 1842); (John E. Page - 1844); (John Taylor - 1850); (Lorenzo Snow - 1850); (Franklin D. Richards - 1851, 1852). It is doubtful that President Young would have remained ignorant of these publications and their content. In fact, it is known that Elder Lorenzo Snow wrote to President Young on 1 November 1850 and mentioned explicitly that his publication contained accounts of "visions of Joseph" - including the First Vision story.[3]

The charge that President Brigham Young said an angel inaugurated the last dispensation instead of Deity cannot be supported. Evidence suggests that President Young's 1855 sermon is closely paraphrasing distinct First Vision story elements that were publicly available to all of the Saints in 1842.


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.[4]


Question: Is there anything wrong with early Church leaders using the term "angel" to refer to Jesus Christ?

The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel"

What about the term "angel"? Is there anything wrong with Brigham Young or others using that term to refer to Jesus Christ? Malachi spoke of the Lord as the "messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in." (Mal.3:1) The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel."[5] The Septugint of Isaiah 9:6, traditionally thought by Christians to refer to Christ speaks of the "messenger of great counsel." This term for Jesus was frequently used by early Christians. Eusebius stated that Christ "was the first and only begotten of God; the commander-in-chief of the spiritual and immortal host of heaven; the angel of mighty counsel; the agent of the ineffable purpose of the Father." [6] The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (an apocryphal work, thought to have been written before the fourth century states that when Christ descended to earth he "made himself like the angels of the air, that he was like one of them." [7] The Epistula Apostolorum (another important early Christian work, thought to have been written by 2nd Century Christians quotes the resurrected Jesus as saying,"I became like an angel to the angels...I myself was a servant for myself, and in the form of the image of an angel; so will I do after I have gone to my Father." [8] At least the use of the term "angel" in Christianity does not seem unknown.

Joseph Smith said that after his resurrection, Jesus Christ "appeared as an angel to His disciples."

How did Joseph Smith understand the term "angel"? One revelation calls Jesus Christ "the messenger of salvation" (D&C 93:8) Another states,"For in the Beginning was the Word, even the Son, who is made flesh, and sent unto us by the will of the Father." (JST John 1:16). The Father sends Jesus because he is the angel of salvation. Joseph Smith himself taught that angels of God are resurrected beings who have bodies of flesh and bone. [9] "Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while his body was lying in the supulchre) to the spirits in prison...After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples." [10] In Mormon theology the term "angel" has a unique doctrinal significance.

Since Joseph Smith frequently taught this doctrine, is it any wonder that those who knew him best (Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, etc.), would frequently refer to the Lord's visit to Joseph Smith as the visit of an angel (i.e. a resurrected personage of flesh and bone)?

Notes

  1. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 164.( Index of claims ); Christian Research and Counsel, “Documented History of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” full-color pamphlet, 10 pages. [There is a notation within this pamphlet indicating that research and portions of text were garnered from Utah Lighthouse Ministry]; Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)
  2. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:171.
  3. Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1884),127–128.
  4. Günther Juncker, “Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title,” Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994):221–250.
  5. James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words In The Hebrew Bible With Their Renderings In the Authorized English Version (Nashville: Abingdon, 1890), 66.
  6. The History of the Church Book I:2 (3), in Eusebius: The History of the Church From Christ to Constantine, G.A. Williamson Translator (Penguine Books, 1986), 33-4.
  7. Martyrdom And Ascension of Isaiah 10:30-31, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 2 Vols. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1985), 2:174.
  8. Epistula Apostulorum 14, in Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha 2 Vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 1:199.
  9. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 162. "An angel has flesh and bones; we see not their glory." If Jesus comes as an angel he "will adapt himself to the language and capacity" of the individual.
  10. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 191. See also D&C 129.