Question: Was George A. Smith unaware that the Father and Son appeared to Joseph Smith during the First Vision?

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Question: Was George A. Smith unaware that the Father and Son appeared to Joseph Smith during the First Vision?

George A. Smith was aware that the Father and Son appeared prior to making his statements about an "angel" appearing

Apostle George A. Smith said on two separate occasions that Joseph Smith's First Vision was of an "angel"—not of the Father and the Son. However, the argument that George A. Smith was simply not aware of a Father-and-Son First Vision account when he made his "angel" statements is nonsense since it can be shown from a documentary standpoint that he did indeed have prior knowledge of such a thing. An argument of ignorance is also untenable in light of the fact that Brother Smith's close associates in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had published orthodox recitals of the First Vision on nine different occasions long BEFORE he made his verbal missteps at the pulpit: (Orson Pratt - 1840, 1850, 1851); (Orson Hyde - 1842); (John E. Page - 1844); (John Taylor - 1850); (Lorenzo Snow - 1850); (Franklin D. Richards - 1851, 1852).

Historic documents appear to verify the claim that on two different occasions George A. Smith spoke of an angel appearing during Joseph Smith's First Vision

This does not mean that Brother Smith was not aware of the Father and the Son appearing to the Prophet at the time that he made his anomalous remarks. The following timeline demonstrates that the Prophet's cousin was well aware of the official version of events. His out-of-place comments need to be evaluated from that perspective.

7 April 1854

Elder George A. Smith was appointed at General Conference to be the new Church Historian.

9 August 1855

Elder George A. Smith wrote to the editor of the Deseret News on 9 August 1855 and gave permission to publish a short Church history that was originally requested for inclusion in a non-Mormon publication, but which ultimately did not appear in print. When Elder Smith told the First Vision story in this history he said that Joseph Smith beheld "two glorious Beings" during the experience. The capitalization of the word "Beings" indicates that the two individuals were considered to be Deity. Elder Smith then went on to tell the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon which, he said, was instigated by an "angel" who was commissioned of God (Deseret News, vol. 5, no. 26, 5 September 1855, 2).

15 August 1855

The First Vision account as found in the Wentworth Letter (1 March 1842) was published in Salt Lake City in connection with the official History of the Church. This account speaks of "two glorious personages" and then later speaks of the single "angel" who was involved in revealing the existence of the Book of Mormon plates. Since Elder Smith was the Church Historian at this time he likely would have known about the content of this publication.[1]

6 August 1862

Elder George A. Smith's short Church history (see 9 August 1855 above) was reprinted on the pages of the Deseret News. In this First Vision account Elder Smith referred to "two glorious Beings" and then later spoke of the single "angel" who was involved in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon[2]

15 November 1864

In a discourse on historical matters, Elder George A. Smith quoted directly from the official First Vision account, which was first published in the Times and Seasons newspaper on 15 March 1842 and 1 April 1842. Elder Smith recited the line, “This is my Beloved Son, hear Him” – leaving no doubt that he knew the specific identities of the two "personages" who appeared to Joseph Smith during the First Vision event.[3]

15 November 1868

President George A. Smith (now a counselor in the First Presidency) accurately related many First Vision story elements - as published in the Church’s official history - but mistakenly mixed them together with several accurate angel Moroni story elements - as published in the Church’s official history. He said,

  • Joseph Smith was 14 or 15 years old
  • There was a revival involving Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists
  • There was a scramble after the revival to secure converts
  • Unpleasant feelings were the result
  • Joseph Smith had attended those meetings
  • Joseph Smith prayed because of James 1:5
  • The Lord sent an angel to Joseph Smith in answer to his prayer
  • Joseph Smith asked the angel which church was right and the angel said they were all wrong
  • The vision was repeated several times and Joseph Smith was commanded to tell his father about it
  • Joseph Smith’s father told him to observe the instructions that were given to him.[4]

20 June 1869

President George A. Smith mistakenly mixed together accurate First Vision story elements with accurate angel Moroni story elements. He said,

  • Some members of Joseph Smith’s family joined the Presbyterians
  • Joseph Smith reflected much on religion
  • Joseph Smith was astonished at the bad feelings manifested at the end of the reformation
  • Joseph Smith was led to pray because of James 1:5
  • Joseph Smith had a vision of a holy angel
  • Joseph Smith asked which of the denominations in the vicinity was right
  • Joseph Smith was told that they had all gone astray and wandered into darkness
  • Joseph Smith was instructed not to join any of them
  • Joseph Smith was told that God was about to restore the gospel in its simplicity and purity.[5]

1869

President George A. Smith published a small pamphlet which contained the Wentworth Letter account of the First Vision.[6]

20 November 1870

President George A. Smith accurately related several First Vision story elements at the pulpit. This time he did NOT mistakenly include any angel Moroni story elements in his narrative.

  • The Lord revealed Himself to Joseph Smith
  • Joseph Smith was puzzled by hearing learned men preach about different doctrines
  • Joseph Smith saw the learned men quarrel over converts
  • Joseph Smith prayed humbly, with faith, because of James 1:5
  • Joseph Smith asked the Lord which was the right way
  • The Lord showed Joseph Smith the right way.[7]

The timeline shows that George A. Smith was accurate in relating First Vision details when he had a physical text to read from

The pattern that can be seen in the timeline above is that George A. Smith was accurate in relating First Vision details when he had a physical text to read from or was formally writing down historical matters; he was accurate on many points when he was talking extemporaneously; he corrected himself after delivering erroneous verbal remarks.

Notes

  1. See Deseret News 5 no. 23 (15 August 1855), 1.
  2. Deseret News, vol. 12, no. 6, 6 August 1862, 2.
  3. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 11:2.
  4. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 12:334.
  5. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 13:77-78.
  6. George A. Smith, The Rise, Progress, and Travels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Office, 1869), 37.
  7. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 13:293.