Question: What are the criticisms related to Joseph Smith's accounts of the First Vision?

Table of Contents

Question: What are the criticisms related to Joseph Smith's accounts of the First Vision?

Joseph Smith gave several accounts of the First Vision that include different details

  • Some charge that differences in the accounts show that he changed and embellished his story over time, and that he therefore had no such vision.[1]
  • It is claimed by some that the Church has not discussed these accounts in official Church publications.
  • One critic of the Church states, "I learned that Joseph Smith provided multiple and varying accounts of his first vision story, and that some of these accounts (e.g., his descriptions of the Godhead) seemed to evolve over time to correspond with his own changing beliefs." [2]

Joseph tailored the story and details included of his vision based upon his audience

Joseph adjusted and emphasized certain portions of his narrative of the First Vision to account for his audience, as well as to incorporate his evolving understanding of Church doctrine. This is not unusual:

We often edit or entirely rewrite our previous experiences—unknowingly and unconsciously—in light of what we now know or believe. The result can be a skewed rendering of a specific incident, or even of an extended period in our lives, that says more about how we feel now than what happened then. Thus, without knowing it, we can modify our own history.” [3]

The Church has published information about the various First Vision accounts since at least 1970

The Church has published information about the various First Vision accounts since at least 1970. Critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often seek to point out differences between the various accounts which Joseph Smith gave of his First Vision. In defense of their position that the Prophet changed his story over a six year period (1832 to 1838) they claim that the earliest followers of Joseph Smith either didn’t know about the First Vision, or seem to have been confused about it. The Church, however, has discussed the various accounts in a number of publications. Joseph Smith's various accounts of the First Vision were targeted at different audiences, and had different purposes. They, however, show a remarkable degree of harmony between them. There is no evidence that the early leaders of the LDS Church did not understand that the Prophet saw two Divine Personages during his inaugural theophany.

A graphical comparison of the details of Joseph Smith's accounts of the First Vision. Image courtesy of LDS.net. Original may be viewed at LDS.net page "Why Are There Differences Between Joseph Smith’s 4 First Vision Accounts?" off-site

Notes

  1. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 29–36. ( Index of claims ); Isaiah Bennett, Inside Mormonism: What Mormons Really Believe (Catholic Answers: 1999); Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 24–25. ( Index of claims ); John Dehlin, "Why People Leave the LDS Church," (2008).; Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) Chapter 8. ( Index of claims ); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Case Against Mormonism, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City, 1967), 1:120–128.; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), Chapter 6.( Index of claims ); Search for the Truth DVD (2007) Resources; Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers
  2. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  3. Seema L. Clifasfi, Maryanne Garry, and Elizabeth Loftus, “Setting the Record (or Video Camera) Straight on Memory and Other Memory Myths,” in Tall Tales about the Mind and Brain: Separating Fact from Fiction, edited by Sergio Della Sala (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 61; cited in Gardner, Gift and Power, 119n1.