Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/Wilford Woodruff spoke of an "angel"

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Wilford Woodruff spoke of an "angel" in the First Vision

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Question: Did Wilford Woodruff teach something other than the traditional story of the First Vision?

Woodruff's quote is edited by critics so that it appears that he was not aware of details of the First vision

Wilford Woodruff is claimed to have said in an 1855 sermon that the Church had been established in the last days only by "the ministering of an holy angel", and not by the Father and the Son.[1] The following text is the one used by critics of the Church to try and make it look like Apostle Wilford Woodruff taught something other than the traditional storyline of the First Vision.

"That same organization and gospel that Christ died for...is again established in this generation. How did it come? By the ministering of an holy angel from God...The angel taught Joseph Smith those principles which are necessary for the salvation of the world...He told him the gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of His kingdom in the world" [2]

An examination of the original text of the sermon in question reveals that Wilford Woodruff's words are being taken out of context by critics. The bolded words below show which sections of the paragraph have been selected by detractors to try and rewrite history.

"The gospel has gone forth in our day in its true glory, power, order, and light, as it always did when God had a people among men that He acknowledged. That same organization and gospel that Christ died for, and the Apostles spilled their blood to vindicate, is again established in this generation. How did it come? By the ministering of an holy ANGEL from God, out of heaven, who held converse with man, and revealed unto him the darkness that enveloped the world, and unfolded unto him the gross darkness that surrounded the nations, those scenes that should take place in this generation, and would follow each other in quick succession, even unto the coming of the Messiah. The ANGEL taught Joseph Smith those principles which are necessary for the salvation of the world; and THE LORD gave him commandments, and sealed upon him the Priesthood, and gave him power to administer the ordinances of the house of the Lord. HE told him the gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of HIS kingdom in the world, that the people had turned away from HIS true order, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant, and inherited lies and things wherein their was no profit. HE told him the time had come to lay the foundation for the establishment of the Kingdom of God among men for the last time, preparatory to the winding up scene" (emphasis added).

Woodruff's quote does not state that it was the angel who told Joseph Smith that "the gospel was not among men"; it was the "the Lord" who provided this information

When critics break the above quotation into pieces in the manner that they have, they create an unrecognized problem for themselves. A careful reading of this material indicates that it was not the angel who told Joseph Smith that "the gospel was not among men"; it was the "the Lord" who provided this information (see the capitalized/italicized words above: ANGEL, THE LORD, HE, HIS). The anti-Mormons have, through their editing of the text, made it falsely appear as if the words of the angel and the Lord were one and the same.

The attempt to use Wilford Woodruff's words to obscure the details of Mormon history is a misguided one because the evidence does not lead to the conclusion that critics advocate. Elder Woodruff was in the second highest leadership quorum of the Church during the lifetime of Joseph Smith and never once did he mention that the Prophet told two different tales about the founding of the last gospel dispensation.


Question: Did Wilford Woodruff have knowledge of the First Vision prior to his 1855 remarks about an angel?

Before Elder Woodruff made his 1855 remarks six other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles published First Vision accounts

It is difficult to believe that Elder Wilford Woodruff did not have an accurate knowledge of the traditional First Vision story prior to his 1855 remarks since on 3 February 1842 he became the superintendent of the printing office in Nauvoo, Illinois where the Times and Seasons newspaper was published[3] and remained there through at least 8 November 1843.[4] These dates are significant because in-between them the Prophet Joseph Smith had two separate accounts of the First Vision printed on the pages of the Times and Seasons and so Elder Woodruff would have been the person who was ultimately responsible for their production and distribution.

  • Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 706–707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) [Wentworth Letter First Vision account].
  • Times and Seasons 3 no. 11 (1 April 1842), 748–749. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) [History of the Church official First Vision account].

It should also be noted that before Elder Woodruff made his 1855 remarks six other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles published First Vision accounts: (Orson Pratt - 1840, 1850, 1851); (Orson Hyde - 1842); (John E. Page - 1844); (John Taylor - 1850); (Lorenzo Snow - 1850); (Franklin D. Richards - 1851, 1852). It seems highly unlikely that Elder Woodruff would have remained unaware of these publications, which were made available to the public by his closest associates.


Wilford Woodruff (1855): "Joseph Smith, whom I did call upon by mine angels, my ministering servants, and by mine own voice out of the heavens"

Wilford Woodruff:

That same organization and Gospel that Christ died for, and the Apostles spilled their blood to vindicate, is again established in this generation. How did it come? By the ministering of an holy angel from God, out of heaven, who held converse with man, and revealed unto him the darkness that enveloped the world, and unfolded unto him the gross darkness that surrounded the nations, those scenes that should take place in this generation, and would follow each other in quick succession, even unto the coming of the Messiah. The angel taught Joseph Smith those principles which are necessary for the salvation of the world; and the Lord gave him commandments, and sealed upon him the Priesthood, and gave him power to administer the ordinances of the house of the Lord.He told him the Gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of His kingdom in the world, that the people had turned away from His true order, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant, and inherited lies and things wherein their was no profit. He told him the time had come to lay the foundation for the establishment of the Kingdom of God among men for the last time, preparatory to the winding up scene. Joseph was strengthened by the Spirit and power of God, and was enabled to listen to the teachings of the angel. He told him he should be made an instrument in the hands of the Lord, if he kept His commandments, in doing a good work upon the earth, that his name should be held in honor by the honest in heart, and in dishonor throughout the nations by the wicked. He told him he should be an instrument in laying the foundation of a work that should gather tens of thousands of the children of men, in the generation in which he lived, from every nation under heaven, who should hear the sound of it through his instrumentality. He told him the nations were wrapt in wickedness and abomination, and that the judgments of God were ready to be poured out upon them in their fulness; that the angels were holding the vials of His wrath in readiness; but the decree is that they shall not be poured out until the nations are warned, that they may be left without an excuse. This man to whom the angel appeared obeyed the Gospel;[5]


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.[6]


Woodruff (1890): "the Father and the Son both appeared to the Prophet Joseph in answer to his prayer"

Wilford Woodruff:

Sixty years ago, last Sabbath, this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized in Fayette, Seneca Country, New York…. [24] I have never read anywhere, that I know of, of the same power manifested in any dispensation to the children of men, which was manifested to the Prophet of God in the organization of this Church, when the Father and the Son both appeared to the Prophet Joseph in answer to his prayer, and when the Father said, ‘This is my beloved Son; behold him; hear ye Him.’ This was an important revelation, which has never been manifested in the same manner in any dispensation of the world, that God has given concerning His work. So in its organization, the Prophet of God was administered to by the angels of heaven. They were his teachers, they were his instructors.[7]


Woodruff (1892): "the Father and Son both appeared to the man whom He had chosen"

Wilford Woodruff:

This is the only dispensation that I have ever read of in which the Father and Son both appeared to the man whom He had chosen to establish His Church. Joseph Smith received this great honor. He was a Prophet of God.[8]


Woodruff (1894): "Both the Father and the Son presented themselves unto him in the clouds of heaven"

Wilford Woodruff:

Joseph Smith, when fourteen years of age, while calling upon God in the wilderness, had the heavens opened unto him. Both the Father and the Son presented themselves unto him in the clouds of heaven, and the Father said, ‘This is my beloved Son; hear him.’[9]

Notes

  1. 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]
  2. Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 2:196-197.
  3. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:513. Volume 4 link
  4. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:63. Volume 6 link
  5. Wilford Woodruff, (2 February 1855) Journal of Discourses 2:196-197.
  6. Günther Juncker, “Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title,” Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994):221–250.
  7. Wilford Woodruff, General Conference, April 4, 1890; Deseret Weekly 40. 16 (Saturday, April 12, 1890): 525; reprinted in Millennial Star 52. (April 28, 1890): 258; Collected Discourses 2. 23-24
  8. Wilford Woodruff, General Conference, October 9, 1892, Deseret News Weekly 45 (1892): 546c; Collected Discourses 3. 156
  9. Wilford Woodruff, General Conference; Deseret Weekly, 48 (April 8, 1894): 542; Millennial Star 46 (1894): 321; Collected Discourses 4. 70