Question: Can it be proven that Joseph Smith claimed to have seen the Father and the Son as separate personages prior to 1835?

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Question: Can it be proven that Joseph Smith claimed to have seen the Father and the Son as separate personages prior to 1835?

The person who put up this challenge understands quite well that unless there is some new documentary source discovered, we simply don't have this

There is a challenge that has been issued on the internet related to the details of Joseph Smith's first vision. The issuer of the challenge promises to pay money "to anyone who can show that Joseph Smith even CLAIMED that he saw God, the Father and Jesus Christ as separate personages when he was a teenager and that they told him to join none of the then-existing churches." [1]

Like the rest of us, the person who put up this challenge understands quite well that unless there is some new documentary source discovered, we simply don't have this. The date is important of course, because after 1835 we do have several things that point to this (so it isn't all coming late in the 1880s and 1890s). We just don't have a lot of good documentation in the period leading up to 1835. Certainly by 1838, Joseph Smith has provided us with a detailed description.

So, part of this is because there wasn't a lot of records being kept (which is normal - how much information do we have about most people living in that time frame?). Part of this is because the members of the Church were being moved around frequently - at a time when they simply didn't carry lots of extraneous stuff (Kirtland, Missouri, and hints of heading to Nauvoo then).

Of course, we do have other interesting documentation that is good. We have a letter from Oliver Cowdery written in November of 1829, that was published in 1829 in a newspaper where he talks about having seen the angel and the gold plates personally. We don't have the original letter of course (which shows how easily this stuff gets lost) - we only know of the letter because we do have copies of the newspaper. On top of this, the question is sometimes raised in connection with the idea that Joseph only later gets this idea of the separation of persons in the Godhead. And yet, long before 1835 (back in 1831) we have the material in the Book of Moses coming to the Saints, and we have other doctrinal statements that contest this point of view. So the idea that this was an invention after 1835 is hard to accept also.

And of course, this same sort of question could be asked about all sorts of other things. Remember the mount of transfiguration? Do we have any contemporary witnessed to that event with Jesus, and some of his disciples in Palestine? The gospels come far too late to be considered contemporary (and way, way to late by the standards provided here).

The whole purpose of this challenge isn't really to try and get people to prove something, but rather to try and suggest that Joseph changed the details of his vision over time

So the whole purpose of this challenge isn't really to try and get people to prove something, it is to try and suggest that because this one aspect of early Mormon history isn't well documented in a contemporary time frame, that there is some huge problem. And the question is whether or not we really believe that. Certainly the early Mormons who followed Joseph Smith believed that it wasn't important. And realistically most Mormons today don't think it's all that significant either.


Notes

  1. ↑ The text of the "challenge" has appeared at various locations on the internet in ex-Mormon forums. Text is as follows: Challenge from a critic. The Baura Challenge. I, Baura Kale, will give $1000 (USD) to anyone who can show that Joseph Smith even CLAIMED that he saw God, the Father and Jesus Christ as separate personages when he was a teenager and that they told him to join none of the then-existing churches. Note that I'm not asking that anyone prove that the First Vision actually happened, just that JS CLAIMED that it happened. The kicker is that I will only accept sources that were in existence BEFORE 1835. With all the newspaper accounts, Church publications (including a history of the beginnings of Mormonism written by Oliver Cowdery who was working in close association with JS), journals, letters, missionary pamphlets, broadsides etc. that were in print, all the sermons published and even books written about Mormonism, one of which included affidavits from dozens of JS's Palmyra neighbors, surely there MUST be some record of it in the pre-1835 documents. That's a full 14 years after it supposedly happened. I will not accept what JS LATER claimed to have happened to him way back in 1820; I will not accept a "testimony" that the First Vision is true; I will not accept a remembrance from some Mormon in the 1890s saying he remembers JS talking about the FV back in 1834. I will only accept documentary evidence that was in existence before 1835. Find that and you get the thousand bucks. Feel free to forward my challenge to any TBMs you might know. I've posted THE BAURA CHALLENGE many times here and have yet to have anyone come up with an attempt to meet it. Surely if JS told people and got in trouble for telling as it says in the PoGP there would be SOME record of it in the mountains of documents pertaining to early Mormonism pre 1835, right? Remember: God the Father and Jesus Christ as separate personages appearing and telling teenage JS not to join any of the existing churches. Find ANY mention of that by ANYONE before 1835 and you get a cool thousand bucks.