Joseph Smith's First Vision

Table of Contents

Joseph Smith's First Vision

Summary: Joseph Smith's claim that he saw the Father and the Son in 1820 has produced a wide variety of criticism. This set of articles addresses the various critical claims related to the First Vision. The linked articles below are designed to help readers to see some of the weaknesses that are found in arguments that are made against Joseph Smith's First Vision accounts. Some of these arguments are currently being advocated in anti-Mormon literature that is handed out near the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York.

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God touched his eyes with his finger and said “[Joseph] this is my beloved Son hear him.” As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Savior. After meeting, a few of us questioned him about the matter and he told us at the bottom of the meeting house steps that he was in the House of Father Smith in Kirtland when Joseph made this declaration, and that Joseph while speaking of it put his finger to his right eye, suiting the action with the words so as to illustrate and at the same time impress the [occurrence] on the minds of those unto whom He was speaking.

Diary of Charles Lowell Walker (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1980), 2:755–56 [recorded 2 February 1893]
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Criticisms of the First Vision accounts

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Joseph Smith's various accounts of the First Vision

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Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision

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Joseph Smith's 1835 accounts of the First Vision

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Joseph Smith's 1838 account of the First Vision

Summary: Joseph Smith's 1838 First Vision account is analyzed by critics of the Church in order to use it to prove that the First Vision never occurred. A variety of critical arguments are raised based upon the words Joseph used to describe the events leading up to his First Vision. We examine here the introduction to Joseph's 1838 First Vision account, found in the Pearl of Great Price and separate facts from opinion.

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Joseph Smith's first and second visitation of angels

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Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account states he was 15 years old

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Discrepancies in Paul's account of his vision

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A "mormoninfographic" erroneously indicates that the words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear in Joseph's 1838 account.

Summary: An anti-Mormon "infographic" erroneously indicates that the words "God the Father" and "Jesus Christ" appear in Joseph's 1838 account, however, Joseph only refers to them as "personages." The link between the Father and the Son is only implied by the words spoken by the Father: "This is my beloved Son."

A "mormoninfographic" states that "pillar of fire" is not mentioned in Joseph's 1832 account.

Summary: An anti-Mormon "infographic" claims that Joseph Smith's 1832 account neglects to mention a "pillar of fire."

A "mormoninfographic" indicates that the 1835 "Erastus Holmes" account describes a different vision.

Summary: An anti-Mormon "infographic" indicates that the 1835 "Erastus Holmes" account describes a different vision. This short summary account of the "first visitation of angels" was written in Joseph's journal only five days after he described seeing two "personages" and "many angels."

Prophet's mother said First Vision was of an "angel"

Summary: The Prophet's mother—Lucy Mack Smith—wrote a letter in 1831 which seems to indicate that her son's First Vision consisted of seeing an "angel" instead of Deity. Critics suggest that this demonstrates that the Prophet's story evolved over time and that his claim to have seen God was a relatively late addition to his story.


Criticisms of events leading up to the First Vision

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Joseph Smith and the Methodists

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Lucy Mack Smith and the Presbyterians

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Religious activity in the Palmyra area in 1820

Summary: It is claimed that there were no religious revivals in the Palmyra, New York area in 1820, contrary to Joseph Smith's claims that during that year there was "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion...indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it"

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The Smith family place of residence in 1820

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A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "First Vision"

Summary: FairMormon analyzes the Wikipedia treatment of the First Vision.


Criticisms of events occurring after the First Vision

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Joseph Smith's early knowledge of the nature of God

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Published references to Joseph Smith's First Vision

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Brigham Young and Joseph Smith's First Vision

Summary: It is claimed either that Brigham never taught about the First Vision, or that he taught that the Lord did not appear to Joseph. Both claims are false.

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John Taylor's understanding of the First Vision

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Did Joseph Smith join other churches contrary to commandment in the First Vision?

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Is there evidence that Joseph or his family were persecuted because of the First Vision?

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Claims that the First Vision was fabricated by Joseph Smith to give him a line of "Godly authority"

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Some Church leaders referred to the personages that appeared in the First Vision as "angels"

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Doctrinal issues related to the First Vision


Joseph Smith's First Vision and the nature of God

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Did the Church hide accounts of the First Vision?

Summary: The claim is sometimes made by critics that the LDS Church hides the various accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision that are not in its official canon. The following chronological database (compiled by FairMormon volunteer Edward Jones) demonstrates conclusively that this is simply not the case. The various accounts of the First Vision have been widely acknowledged in LDS-authored sources throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.


Primary sources related to Joseph Smith's First Vision

Summary: Original text of Joseph's accounts of the First Vision

1832 account

Summary: This is the earliest known account of the First Vision written by Joseph Smith. Source: Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp. 1-6. Published in: Dean Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.

1835 account

Summary: This account was written by Joseph Smith in his diary. Joseph described his vision to Robert Matthias, also known as "Joshua the Jewish minister". Joseph Smith Diary (1835–1836), original in Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah. Published in: Dean Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.

1835 (Erastus Holmes account)

Summary: Erastus Holmes account Deseret News 2.15 (May 29, 1852); also in Millennial Star 15. 27 (July 2, 1853): 424; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2: 79-80; cf. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:207.; DHC 2. 312.

1840 (Orson Pratt account)

1842 (Joseph Smith History of the Church)

Summary: "Joseph Smith’s History of the Church," Times and Seasons 3. 10 (15 Mar. 1842): 726-28

1842 (Wentworth letter account)

Summary: Wentworth letter. (Times and Seasons, 3.9 (1 Mar. 1842), p. 706-710

1842 (Orson Hyde account)

1843 (The Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette)

Summary: “The Prairies, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, etc.,” editor, David Nye White, The Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette 58 (September 15, 1843): 3

1843 (Levi Richards account)

Summary: Levi Richards’s diary about Joseph Smith preaching in the summer of 1843 and repeating the Lord’s first message to him that no church was His (see Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 215.

1844 (Daniel Rupp account)

Summary: : “Latter Day Saints, by Joseph Smith, Nauvoo, Illinois,” in I. Daniel Rupp, HE PASA EKKLESIA: An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States (Philadelphia: J. Y. Humphreys, 1844), pp. 404; The account for Rupp was published in the original history of the Church published in “History of Joseph Smith,” Millennial Star 22. 7 (February 18, 1860): 102-3; also in Dean Jesse, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:448.

1844 (Alexander Neibaur account)

Summary: Alexander Neibaur Journal, 24 May 1844

1893 (Charles L. Walker account)

Summary: As told by John Alger