Question: Why doesn't Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account mention a "new dispensation"?

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Question: Why doesn't Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account mention a "new dispensation"?

The wording in the Prophet's 1832 First Vision account can be comfortably interpreted to mean that he understood this extraordinary event represented the beginning of a new gospel dispensation

One critical author states, "Joseph [Smith] added new elements to his later narratives that are not hinted at in his earlier ones. His first vision evolved from a forgiveness epiphany [1832 account] to a call from God the Father and Jesus Christ to restore the true order of things [1842 account]."

Taken altogether, the above information reveals that Joseph Smith considered his initial calling to have come directly from Deity in the Sacred Grove in 1820—not at some later time. The wording in the Prophet's 1832 First Vision account can be comfortably interpreted to mean that he understood this extraordinary event represented the beginning of a new gospel dispensation.

The unsustainable nature of this argument becomes glaringly apparent once the 1832 First Vision account is carefully scrutinized and other historic LDS documents are taken into consideration

In Joseph Smith's 1832 account he plainly states that before the First Vision took place he was of the opinion that “mankind . . . had apostatized from the true and living faith, and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.” When the Prophet saw Jesus Christ face to face during the First Vision experience the Savior verified what Joseph had previously believed by saying, “the world lieth in sin at this time and none doeth good; no, not one. They have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments" (emphasis added).

During the lifetime of Joseph Smith the word DISPENSATION was defined in a popular English dictionary in the following manner: “a system of principles and rites enjoined [or dispensed or bestowed]; as . . . the gospel dispensation; including . . . the scheme of redemption by Christ.”[1] As noted above, Jesus Christ informed Joseph Smith that mankind had turned aside from the gospel and no longer kept His commandments. He then issued a directive straight to Joseph Smith by saying, “Walk in my statutes and keep my commandments" (emphasis added). This is clearly a new beginning; the Lord enjoined His ‘system of principles’ or ‘scheme of redemption’ upon Joseph Smith. This act qualifies—by definition—as a new dispensation of the gospel.

Was this early nineteenth-century dispensation of the gospel meant only for the benefit of Joseph Smith? In writing out the 1832 account the Prophet utilized some very specific wording when he said that “the world of mankind . . . . had apostatized” and he mourned for “the sins of the world.” In his perspective “no society or denomination . . . built upon the gospel.” And when the Lord spoke to Joseph during the vision He emphasized that this situation was on a universal scale saying, “the world lieth in sin at this time and none doeth good; no, not one.” Thus, the 1832 account definitely describes a universal apostasy—and it makes no sense that the Savior would inaugurate a dispensation of His gospel only for the sake of one individual when innumerable humans were in need of salvation.

A glance at the chronological record of history reveals that there is plenty of evidence pointing to the fact that Joseph Smith's call to serve as the leading prophet of the last dispensation came at the time of the First Vision

  • William Smith appears to have heard his brother Joseph Smith state to the entire Smith family on 22 September 1823 that during his First Vision: “that being [i.e., the ‘personage’ in the light] pointed him [i.e., Joseph Smith] out as the messenger to go forth and declare His truth to the world; for ‘They had all gone astray.’”[2]
  • In the Articles and Covenants of the Church - written in April 1830 - Joseph Smith speaks of his being “called of God” (DC 20:2) and shortly thereafter refers to the First Vision/Book of Mormon sequence of events (see vss. 5–6; emphasis added).
  • Joseph Smith recorded a revelation in October 1830 wherein the Lord issued a formal "call" to laborers in His "vineyard" and thereafter utilized distinct phraseology that is found in the 1832 and 1838 First Vision accounts (D&C 33:3-4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 17-18 / compare with the 1835 hymn by William W. Phelps).
  • In the Book of Commandments/Doctrine and Covenants introduction—provided on 1 November 1831—the Lord Himself stated: “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments” (D&C 1:17; emphasis added). This can be identified as a First Vision text by comparing it with Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account and Levi Richards' 1843 record of a First Vision statement made by the Prophet in Nauvoo, Illinois.
  • Lorenzo Snow heard Joseph Smith speak about the First Vision at the John Johnson farm in Hiram, Ohio about 12 November 1831. Lorenzo said that the Prophet "simply bore his testimony to what the Lord had manifested to him, to the dispensation of the gospel which had been committed to him"[3]
  • On 9 December 1834 Joseph Smith's father gave him a Patriarchal Blessing and rehearsed the following information about his son: "The Lord thy God has called thee by name out of the heavens: thou hast heard His voice from on high from time to time, even in thy youth [compare with the 1832 First Vision account]. . . . Thou hast been called, even in thy youth to the great work of the Lord: to do a work in this generation" (LDS Historian’s Patriarchal Blessing Book 1, pp. 3–4).
  • In October 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio William W. Phelps composed a hymn which reads in part: “When the world in darkness lay, Lo, he [i.e., Joseph Smith] sought the better way, And he heard the Savior say, ‘Go and prune my vineyard [cf. Matthew 20:4,7], son! [Matthew 21:28]’”[4] This portion of the hymn matches very closely with some of the wording in the Prophet's 1832 First Vision account.
  • “Not long after hearing this [i.e., in 1836], two men came into the town where I was living and called at my father’s house as missionaries. From them we learned the facts of the wonderful message they were bearing to the world; viz., that God, the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and authorized him to declare to the world the introduction of a new dispensation by which the people might be prepared for the fullness of times.”[5]
  • In Orson Pratt's 1840 rendition of the First Vision he reveals more of the details of what was said to Joseph Smith during the First Vision with regard to the gospel [repeated in Orson Hyde/1842 and the Wentworth Letter/1842]. In this source it is stated that Joseph “received a promise that the true doctrine[,] the fulness of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him.”[6] This certainly qualifies as a call to future action since it would make no sense at all for the Lord to only allow one mortal to possess "the true doctrine"; it would need to be spread by someone.
  • In note C of Joseph Smith's 1838 Church history (written down on 2 December 1842) he states that before the visitation of the angel Moroni in 1823 he had been “called of God” -- and he is here referring directly to his First Vision experience.[7]
  • Alexander Neibaur spoke with the Prophet on 24 May 1844 and recorded in his diary: “Br[other] Joseph tol[d] us [about] the first call he had” and then Alexander provided a rough outline of the First Vision story.[8]
  • On 1 January 1845 Elder Parley P. Pratt published a proclamation to the Saints in the eastern states of the U.S. and said, “The people did not choose that great modern apostle and prophet, Joseph Smith, but God chose him in the usual way that He has chosen others before him, viz., by open vision, and by His own voice from the heavens. He it was that called him.”[9]
  • Sometime in 1854 an LDS children's catechism was published which asked and answered the following: “Q. When and how was this dispensation commenced? A. About the year 1820, whilst Joseph Smith, who then lived at Manchester, Ontario County, New York, was praying to the Lord to teach him the true religion, the heavens opened over his head, two glorious persons descended towards him, and one, pointing to the other, said, ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him.’”[10]
  • On 14 August 1859 Elder Orson Pratt posed the question, “When, where, and how were you, Joseph Smith, first called? How old were you? And what were your qualifications? I was between fourteen and fifteen years of age. . . . [Y]ou say the Lord called you when you were but fourteen or fifteen years of age? How did he call you?” Pratt then related the First Vision story and said that during this manifestation Joseph was "informed that at some future time the fulness of the gospel should be made manifest to him, and he should be an instrument in the hands of God of laying the foundation of the kingdom of God." Pratt noted that he had "often" heard the First Vision account from Joseph Smith himself.[11] Elder Pratt did not, however, indicate when exactly he first heard the Prophet relate the story – it could have been very early on since they first met in November 1830.
  • On 23 June 1867 President Brigham Young said, “When the Lord called upon Joseph he was but a boy — a child, only about fourteen years of age. He was not filled with traditions; his mind was not made up to this, that, or the other.”[12] President Young then related several distinct First Vision story elements. President Young first met Joseph Smith in November 1832 and he never, in any of his speeches or writings, indicated that the Prophet's story of the source and timing of his call ever evolved or varied.

An entry found in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism agrees with the quotations provided above. It states with regard to the First Vision: "The Lord spoke face-to-face with Joseph and called him to service."[13]


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. ""dispensation," definition #4, (emphasis in original)) "dispensation," definition #4, (emphasis in original))."
  2. Saints’ Herald, vol. 30 (16 June 1883): 388; emphasis added.
  3. Deseret Evening News, 20 July 1901, 22.
  4. Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2 no. 13 (October 1835), 208.; hymn #26 – 1835 edition; emphasis added.
  5. Samuel W. Richards, "Joseph Smith, the Prophet," Young Women's Journal 18 no. 12 (December 1907), 537–539, (emphasis added).
  6. Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840), ?, (emphasis added). off-site off-site Full title GL direct link
  7. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), footnote #11 to the 1838 history.
  8. Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 177.
  9. Millennial Star 5 no. 10 (March 1845), 150.
  10. John Jaques, Catechism For Children: Exhibiting the Prominent Doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Liverpool, England: Franklin D. Richards, 1854), 76.
  11. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 7:221.
  12. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 12:68.
  13. Larry C. Porter, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), {{{vol}}}:1512.