Joseph Smith's First Vision/Church Hides Accounts (1984-1989)

Table of Contents

LDS-authored publications (1910-1968)

A FairMormon Analysis of: Church publications which discuss various First Vision accounts, a work by author: Various

LDS-authored publications which discuss various accounts of the First Vision (1984-1989)

1989 Joseph Smith. Selected Sermons & Writings. Edited by Robert L. Millet (Paulist Press 1989). [NOTE: This is part of a series, Sources of American Spirituality, published by a Catholic Press] “There are four accounts of this theophany [First Vision], as recorded by Joseph Smith and his scribes…. An 1832 account; an 1835 account; an 1838 account; and an 1842 account [referring to Dean Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith]. Some of the differences between the accounts of the First Vision have proven to be points of controversy between critics and apologists. For example, the earliest account (1832) mentions the appearance of only one heavenly personage; there is some discrepancy between the 1832 and 1838 accounts regarding the Prophet’s age at the time of the theophany (14 or 16 years); and the 1835 account indicates that ‘many angels’ were also present at the time of the vision, a detail not mentioned in the other three accounts. Critics suggest that the discrepancies point toward fabrication of the story; believers suggest that such differences no more falsify the experience than do similar differences in the accounts of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9, 22, 26) or the differences in the gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus” (15, note 34) 1838 cited extensively (59-61) “Today the story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision is generally the beginning point of discussion on Mormonism. Such may not have always been the case. It appears that until the 1880s the missionary appeal of Mormonism was centered in the Book of Mormon, rather than in the First Vision.” (20)

1989 Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Bookcraft 1989). Chapter One: The First Vision and Its Aftermath: 7-18. He refers to the 1969 issue of BYU Studies, of which he was the general editor; it “published a collection of the four known written accounts of the First Vision. One was first recorded in 1832; another in 1835, after a visit Joseph had with a Jewish visitor named Matthias; there is the 1838 statement, which has been published to the world in the Pearl of Great Price; and finally, the well-known Wentworth letter written in 1842” (8) He cites or quotes the 1832, the 1838, 1840 by Orson Pratt; the 1835 interview with Matthias; the Neibaur diary entry in May 1844. See also endnotes 5, 6, 9, 20, 25, 43 (131-136).

1989 Dean Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2 volumes (Deseret Book, 1989). Includes 1843 first publication of an interview with Joseph Smith, by the editor David Nye White, “The Prairies, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, etc.,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette 58 (September 15, 1843), 1:443-4; Jessee thanks Noel Barton for finding the original; a reprint in New York Spectator had always been cited prior to this time. Later reprinted several more times, Painesville Telegraph and Quincy Whig. [NOTE: Volume one includes 1832; 1838-9; Wentworth Letter; 1842 Joseph Smith History; Orson Pratt 1840; Orson Hyde 1842 German; 1843 Gazette interview; I. Daniel Rupp 1844; Neibaur diary 1843. Volume two includes 9 November 1835.

1989 Donald Q. Cannon, Larry E. Dahl, and John W. Welch, ”The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith. The Godhead, Mankind, and the Creation”, Part 1. Ensign (January 1989): 27-33. A graph appears on page 32, “Early Sources Containing the Doctrinal Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”. The first one is the First Vision; the footnote to this reads: “Recorded in 1831 [1832], 1835, 1839, 1840, 1843, 1844. It has been published in many places and at many times. For a summary see Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith’s First Vision (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980).” 1988 Joseph Fielding McConkie, Prophets and Prophecy (Bookcraft 1988): 164. “It ‘filled me with unspeakable joy,’ Joseph Smith said in describing the feelings he experienced during the First Vision” (164, citing the November 9, 1835 version, from Milton Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision, 159).

1988 Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Lo, Here! Lo, There! Early in the Spring of 1820”, in The Prophet Joseph. Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith. Edited by Larry C. Porter and Susan Easton Black (Deseret Book 1988):19-35. “On four different occasions, Joseph Smith wrote or dictated to scribes accounts of his First Vision that have been preserved. There is a different emphasis in ach of the accounts. They were prepared at different times, for different audiences, and for different purposes. Each of them emphasizes a different aspect of his experience. These accounts have been published in…” Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision (1980), and Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (1984) (32, note 2). Also refers to his harmony of these versions of the first vision in Backman, Eyewitness Accounts…. (1986). In the present chapter he quotes and/or cites each of the various versions: 1832; Nov. 9, 1835; 1842 History of Joseph Smith. He also referred to others who would later report his accounts of the first vision, for which he refers his readers to Backman, “Confirming Witnesses….”, Ensign (January 1986): 32-37. He also cites Orson Pratt’s two part article on the Father and the Son as separate persons, in which he refers to the first vision: Millennial Star 11 (1849): 310.

1988 Dean C. Jessee, “Joseph Smith and the Beginning of Mormon Record Keeping”, in The Prophet Joseph. Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith. Edited by Larry C. Porter and Susan Easton Black (Deseret Book 1988): 138-160. Writes that the 1832 manuscript history “contained the earliest account of the Prophet’s First Vision, the only one written with his own hand” (148).

1988 Paul R. Cheesman, The Keystone of Mormonism: Early Visions of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Provo: Eagle Systems International, 1988. 205 pp. Reviewed by Larry C. Porter, FARMS Review of Books, 2 (1990), 65-6.

1987 An American Prophet’s Record. The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith. Edited by Scott H. Faulring (Signature Books 1987, 1898). 1832 version quoted pages 3-6; November 9, 1835 quoted 50-52; November 14, 1835 quoted 59.

1987 Breck England, “Gospel Seeds in Scottish Soil,” Ensign, Feb 1987, 26-31. Mentions Pratt’s 1840 pamphlet containing the first publication of the first vision.

1987 Hoyt W. Brewster Jr., “I Have a Question,” Ensign, July 1987, 65–67. “On at least four occasions, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote or dictated an account of his First Vision experience” He cites 1832, 1835, 1838, and Wentworth Letter of 1842, referring the reader to Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision (1980), and Backman “Joseph Smith’s Recitals…” Ensign 1985.

1987 Richard Lloyd Anderson, “The Personality of the Prophet,” New Era, Dec 1987, 14. He quotes from the 1832 version (from Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith 1984). He also refers to Lucy Mack Smith’s 1853 book, and Lorenzo Snow’s late reminiscences.

1986 Leonard Arrington, “Joseph Smith”, in The Presidents of the Church. Biographical Essays (Deseret Book 1986): 1-42. He recites the first vision with an amalgam of the canonized version, 1832, 1843 Pittsburgh Gazette, and the Neibaur interview (7-8).

1986 Reprint of Milton V. Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Deseret Book 1983).

1986 Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Confirming Witnesses of the First Vision”, Ensign (January 1986): 32-7. This is a continuation of his January 1985 article. He cites and/or quotes from Edward Stevenson reminiscence (1893), Orson Pratt 1840 pamphlet, as well as subsequent comments by Pratt (JD 7. 20; Millennial Star (15 Sept 1849): 281-4; 309-12; Millennial Star (11 February 1865): 88: History of Orson Pratt; Orson Hyde 1842 pamphlet, in German; Pittsburgh Gazette interview first mentioned, but cited as from the reprint in the New York Spectator 1843; Alexander Neibaur diary 1843; John Taylor (JD 21. 161).

1986 Richard L. Anderson, ‘A Tested Testimony’, in A Thoughtful Faith, Compiled and edited by Philip L. Barlow (Centerville, Utah: Canon Press: 1986): 277-292. “Behind events are personalities. The two that really count for Latter-day Saints are Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ, who the Prophet said appeared to him from time to time and directed his words in the revelations…. Nor can I read the earliest account of the First Vision and the revelations of 1829 without feeling Christ’s deepest concern…. [284] His forthright personal or dictated accounts of the First Vision all ring true in terms of his life and the simplicity of his words…. [285] History becomes a weapon against the Church only when one loses sight of larger historical issues. Anti-Mormon literature has long traded on character assassination and trivia. Proving Joseph Smith’s weaknesses does not invalidate his visions The great revelations of God in the scriptures came either to Christ or to those much less perfect than he” “After facts are determined, what generalizations or conclusions are to be drawn from them? All can agree that Joseph Smith told his First Vision in 1832, 1835, and 1838. A believer will see supplementing agreements, a determined critic will claim contradictions that invalidate the testimony and a humanist will downplay the experience as only subjective anyway. They all agree on step one, identifying historical data, but radically differ in interpreting it, which is step two of the process…. President Hinckley well said in a general priesthood meeting in 1985 that the Church does not object to historical scrutiny when done with accuracy and balance. Those words summarize the two stages of quality history” (286).

1985 Dean C. Jessee, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, July 1985, 15–17. I have heard that Joseph Smith didn’t actually write his history—that it was prepared by clerks under his direction. If so, how reliable is it? Uses the 1832 account, which contains the earliest statement on first vision.

1985 Dean C. Jessee “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision (JS-H 1-26)”, in Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 2: The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City, Utah: Randall Book Co., 1985): 303-314 [includes 1832, Nov 9, and 14, 1835, 1838-9, Wentworth letter]

1985 Kent Jackson, “The Appearance of Moroni to Joseph Smith (JS-H 27-49)”, in Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 2: The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City, Utah: Randall Book Co., 1985): 339-66. After quoting part of his 1832 account, Jackson writes “In his later recitations of his early experiences…. He remembered in 1832…. Six years later he clarified [1838 account]” (339-340). “During the Prophet’s lifetime he wrote or dictated four separate known accounts of the appearance of Moroni to him…. It should be noted that the first two accounts (1832 and [Nov 9] 1835) are unedited rough drafts that were not prepared for publication. The first of these is preserved in the draft of a history that the Prophet wrote and dictated between 20 July and 27 November 1832. The account of Moroni’s visit was dictated to Frederick G. Williams, and it follows his recitation of the First Vision” (341). [November 9, 1835, to Robert Matthews, “dictated to Warren Parrish”…. “After recounting the First Vision…” (342-3) [1838, which became the official version in March 15, 1842 (344)] [Wentworth Letter, March 1, 1842] (344) [Under “Other Sources”, Jackson relates briefly Oliver Cowdery 1834-5; and Orson Pratt, 1840] “Each of Joseph Smith’s four known written accounts of his experiences on the night of 21-22 September 1823….” (347) In his article, Professor Jackson refers his readers to the following work, which contains the various accounts of the First Vision: Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984)

1985 Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Joseph Smith’s Recitals of the First Vision,’ Ensign 15 (January 1985): 8-17. Quotes and/or discusses 1832, 1835 [Nov. 9], 1838, 1842 (Wentworth), 1842 publication of 1838; plus 11 sermons delivered later by those who had known him. He also cites several previous publications: Jessee, BYU Studies 9 (Spring 1969); Backman’s Joseph Smith’s First Vision (1980). Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (1983), Jessee’s The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (1984),

1984 Dean C. Jessee, “Joseph Smith Jr.—in His Own Words, Part 1,” Ensign, Dec. 1984, 22. Text and images based on his 1832 diary, including the first vision account.

1984 Gordon B. Hinckley, First Presidency Message, “God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear”, Ensign October 1984 “I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the first vision anymore than I am worried that there are four different writers of the gospels in the New Testament, each with his own perceptions, each telling the events to meet his own purpose for writing at the time.”

1984 James E. Faust, General Conference, April 8, 1984. “The Magnificent Vision Near Palmyra, Ensign May 1984): 67-8. ”There are several accounts of the magnificent vision near Palmyra recorded by the Prophet’s associates or friends before the Prophet’s death, who, at various times, heard the Prophet recount the First Vision. These accounts corroborate the First Vision as written by Joseph Smith himself” (67-8). He cites Lucy 1853, and several reminiscences regarding his integrity.

1984 William G. Hartley, “Snow on Fire,” New Era, Jan. 1984, 38. Author writes “Joseph Smith, 14 at the time of the First Vision, first felt spiritually troubled by age 12.” [This information is found only in the 1832 version.]

1984 Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (University of Illinois 1984): 55-59. He cites extensively from the 1832 account; refers to the 1835 and 1838 accounts. Cites the 1843 New York Spectator account. Critiques William Smith’s accounts. Bushman cites all the previous books and articles dealing with the First Vision.

1984 Richard L. Anderson, “The Organization Revelations (D&C 20, 21, and 22), in Studies in Scripture. Volume One. The Doctrine and Covenants. Edited by Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson (Sandy, Utah, Randall Books: 1984): 109-123. Refers to his diary accounts of 1832 and 1835 [November 9] (110-111). Also suggests D&C 20.4-5 might include reference to first vision “but in terse language that those informed would understand” (111), referring to Dean Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.


Further reading

First Vision Publications