Question: Did the details of Joseph’s First Vision experience appear to have changed when communicating to his followers such that the elders of the Church did not know that Joseph saw two personages?

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Question: Did the details of Joseph’s First Vision experience appear to have changed when communicating to his followers such that the elders of the Church did not know that Joseph saw two personages?

Early Church leaders sometimes mentioned the word "angel" in relation to the First Vision

The following quotes are often used to support the assertion that Church leaders did not understand the nature of the First Vision:

  1. Brigham Young “The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven ... 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.” (Brigham Young, (1855) Journal of Discourses 2:171.)
  2. Wilford Woodruff “The 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, out of heaven, who held converse with man, and revealed unto him the darkness that enveloped 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 ... Joseph was strengthened by the Spirit and power of God, and was enabled to listen to the teachings of the angel. ... The man to whom the angel appeared obeyed the Gospel.” (Journal of Discourses, vol.2, 1855, pp.196-197)
  3. George A. Smith “He [Joseph Smith] went humbly before the Lord and inquired of Him, and the Lord answered his prayer, and revealed to Joseph, by the ministration of angels, the true condition of the religious world. When the holy angel appeared, Joseph inquired which of all these denominations was right and which he should join, and was told they were all wrong.” (George A. Smith, (1863) Journal of Discourses 12:334.)
  4. John Taylor “How was it, and which was right? None of them was right, just as it was when the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right. What, none of them? No. We will not stop to argue that question; the angel merely told him to join none of them that none of them were right.” (Journal of Discourses, 1879, vol.20, pp.158-171)

Critics of the Church use a quote from Brigham Young to demonstrate that he was unfamiliar with the First Vision: "The Lord did not come...But he did send His angel"

Brigham's full quote, including the portions removed by the critics:

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 knowlege 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.[1]

The critics ignore a quote where Brigham actually did state the that Lord "called upon" Joseph Smith at age 14

Brigham Young:

The Lord chose Joseph Smith, called upon him at fourteen years of age, gave him visions, and led him along, guided and directed him in his obscurity until he brought forth the plates and translated them, and Martin Harris was prevailed upon to sustain the printing of the Book of Mormon. All this was done in the depths of poverty, obscurity, and weakness. [2]

Critics of the Church use a quote from John Taylor as evidence that he wasn't familiar with the First Vision: "When the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right"

None of them was right, just as it was when the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right.[3]

The critics ignore this quote from John Taylor that was made the very same day in another discourse: "When the Father and the Son and Moroni and others came to Joseph Smith"

When the Father and the Son and Moroni and others came to Joseph Smith, he had a priesthood conferred upon him which he conferred upon others for the purpose of manifesting the laws of life... [4]

Notice how one refers to an "angel" and the other refers to "the Father and the Son." Taylor was clearly aware of the details of the First Vision. This also demonstrates how early Church leaders used the term "angel" to represent the personages that Joseph saw, even at the same time that they recognized that these personages were the Father and the Son.

Notes

  1. (1855) Journal of Discourses 2:171.
  2. Brigham Young, (3 March 1861) Journal of Discourses 8:354..
  3. John Taylor, (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:167.
  4. John Taylor, (2 March 1879) Journal of Discourses 20:257.