Question: Is there any reference to God the Father being present in Joseph Smith's 1832 account?

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Question: Is there any reference to God the Father being present in Joseph Smith's 1832 account?

A significant phrase in the introductory paragraph is associated with the First Vision: "receiving the testimony from on high"

There is a very significant phrase located in the introductory paragraph of the Prophet's historical narrative. There he indicates that the 1832 document is . . .

"A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brough<t> [it] forth and established [it] by his hand <firstly> he receiving the testamony from on high secondly the ministering of Angels thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of Aangels to adminster the letter of the Gospel—<—the Law and commandments as they were given unto him—>and the ordinencs, forthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God."

This paragraph not only introduces the document with a heavy emphasis on the Son of God but it also chronologically outlines four inaugural events of the Restoration.

FIRST: Reception of "the testimony from on high" - First Vision
SECOND: The "ministering of angels" - Moroni visitations
THIRD: Reception of the Holy Priesthood to administer the letter of the gospel - Aaronic
FOURTH: Reception of the High Priesthood after the order of the Son - Melchizedek

This 1832 phraseology corresponds with the words spoken by God the Father when He introduced His Son in the Sacred Grove

The significant phrase in the introductory paragraph is the one associated with the First Vision -- "receiving the testimony from on high" (spelling standardized). When this phrase is placed in conjunction with the Prophet's 1835 and 1838 accounts of the First Vision it becomes obvious that the 1832 phraseology closely corresponds with the words spoken by God the Father when He introduced His Son in the Sacred Grove.

(1832 ACCOUNT)
“firstly . . . receiving the testimony from on high
(1835 ACCOUNT)
“He [God the Father] testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God
(1838 ACCOUNT)
"[He] said...This is my beloved Son

The Father's identification of Jesus Christ as His Son was His "testimony" of Him.

Critics have objected that -- in their minds -- the phrase "from on high" cannot be so easily equated with God the Father. But there is a sizable amount of corroborating evidence for this idea. Consider the following points of connection.

  • 3 Ne. 11:3, 5-7 - between April and June 1828

The Father's "voice . . . came out of heaven" [i.e., 'from on high'] and testified of His "Beloved Son."

  • D&C 20:16 - April 1830

Joseph Smith stated, "the Lord God has spoken it; and we . . . have heard . . . the words of the glorious Majesty on high."

  • Matthew, Mark, Luke, 1 Peter - between 8 March 1831 and 24 March 1832

There are five New Testament scriptures (which Joseph Smith would have been familiar with from his work on the JST) that have distinct parallels to the First Vision story. Jesus Christ's Old World disciples heard the Father's voice come "from heaven" (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22; 2 Pt. 1:17-18) [i.e, 'from on high'] or "out of the cloud" (Mt. 17:5) [i.e., 'from on high'] and in each of these instances the Father testified of His Son and employed the same phraseology that Joseph Smith said He utilized during the First Vision.

  • JST John 1:18/19 - between 20 November 1831 and 16 February 1832

"And no man hath seen God at any time, except he [i.e., God the Father] hath borne record of the Son."

  • 1832 First Vision account - between 22 September 1832 and 27 November 1832

"receiving the testimony from on high"

  • D&C 93:15 - 6 May 1833

Mention is made of the Father's voice being heard "out of heaven."

  • Patriarchal Blessing - 9 December 1834

When the Prophet received his Patriarchal Blessing on 9 December 1834 he was reminded by the Patriarch (his father) that during his "youth" he had "heard [God's] voice from on high."

Joseph Smith appears to have equated the voice "from on high" with God the Father both before and after he penned his 1832 First Vision account

This chronological evidence points to the conclusion that Joseph Smith appears to have equated the voice "from on high" with God the Father both before and after he penned his 1832 First Vision account.

"The Lord opened the heavens and I saw the Lord"

Another line from the 1832 account that may be referring to two people may be this line

I was filled with the spirit of God, and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord

It has been argued that the seperation of "Lord" into two may be referring to the Lord God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Three pieces of evidence can be used to argue for this interpretation.

  • Evidence #1 - The separation of "Lord" is used in scripture in Psalm 110:1. As John Welch and James Allen have argued, if David can do this, so can Joseph.[1]

A couple of critics have taken issue with this evidence for the interpretation--claiming that since Psalm 110:1 was originally written in Hebrew with two different words for Lord (rendering "Lord" and "LORD" in all caps for the second mention) that the argument fails.[2]

Latter-day Saints apologist and theologian Robert S. Boylan has responded by showing how Psalm 110:1 the most quoted, echoed, and/or alluded to passages in the New Testament. He then shows that in revelations leading up to the publication of the history (in which this account of the First Vision is included) in 1832 show deliberate echoing of that verse (Doctrine and Covenants 20:24; 49:5-6; 76: 20, 23). If Joseph were familiar with that verse close to the publication of the account by way of the New Testament and as echoed in his revelations published in the Doctrine and Covenants, it seems reasonable to assume that he could have used that verse as a template for rendering his account of events surrounding the First Vision.[3] This is even if one mention is capitalized and the other not. If the structure is deliberate and clear (and it appears so), then it seems odd to be upset that Joseph doesn't use capitals for the second "Lord" he writes about.

  • Evidence #2 - The successive appearance of personages in other accounts (such as the 1835 account).

The 1832 account may be read to have a successive appearance of personages, one after the other. This is stregthened by the 1835 accounts mention of successive appearance. Further evidence of this in the 1832 account may be that Joseph was "filled with the spirit of God" before he mentions "the Lord".

  • Evidence #3 - Joseph used "Lord" to refer to God and not just Jesus Christ in the 1832 account.

Some have argued that the 8 uses of Lord in the 1832 account all refer to Jesus Christ.[4] There are at least three references that may be read otherwise:

A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous [sic] experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Christ the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the Church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brought forth and established by his hand.

A separation of "Christ" and "the Lord". This is able to be read both that Christ could be the Lord or that God could be the Lord.

My mind became exceedingly distressed, for I became convicted of my sins, and by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith, and there was no society or denomination that was built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.

The mention of Lord and Jesus Christ is tricky to consolidate here. This is best read so as to refer to God as the Lord.

The third plausible evidence of God as Lord is the ending of the account:

My soul was filled with love, and for many days I could rejoice with great joy. The Lord was with me, but I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision. Nevertheless, I pondered these things in my heart.

The reference here is vague enough that it cannot be conclusively read one way or the other--especially with the just-cited mention of the Lord.

Notes

  1. See John W. Welch and James B. Allen "Analysis of Joseph Smith's Accounts of the First Vision" in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820-1844 1st edition ed. John Welch (Provo, UT: BYU Studies Press, 2005).
  2. See for example Stan Larson, "Another Look at Joseph Smith's First Vision," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 47, no. 2 (Summer 2014): 37-62 (52).
  3. Robert Boylan, "Psalm 110:1 and the two Lords in the 1832 First Vision Account," <http://scripturalmormonism.blogspot.com/2017/10/psalm-1101-and-two-lords-in-1832-first.html> (6 October 2019).
  4. Stan Larson, "Another Look," 52.