FairMormon is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief, and practice.
Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/1832
Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: What differences are there between Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account and later accounts?
- Question: Did Joseph Smith decide that all churches were wrong before he received the First Vision?
- Question: How could Joseph Smith come to the conclusion that all churches were wrong on his own?
- Question: Is there any reference to God the Father being present in Joseph Smith's 1832 account?
Question: What differences are there between Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account and later accounts?
"At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously imprest"
At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns
offor the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to searching the scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God...
"my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations"
...thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that
insteadof adorn ingtheir profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository...
"this was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen"
"for I become convicted of my sins....I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world"
"by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord"
...and by searching the scriptures I found that
manddid not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament...
"I cried unto the Lord for mercy"
...therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness...
"in the 16th year of my age"
"I saw the Lord"
"thy sins are forgiven thee"
"all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life"
"mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth"
"I could find none that would believe"
"I pondered these things"
nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart
about that time my mother andbut after many days I fell into transgression and sinned in many things which brought a wound upon my soul and there were many things which transpired that cannot be writen and my Fathers family have suffered many persicutions and afflictions and it—came to pass when I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision
Question: Did Joseph Smith decide that all churches were wrong before he received the First Vision?
Criticisms of Joseph's 1832 account compared to his 1835 account of the First Vision
In his 1832 history, Joseph Smith said:
I found [by searching the scriptures] 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 built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.
But in 1835 he said, “I knew not who [of the denominations] was right or who was wrong.”
- It this a contradiction and is this evidence that the First Vision story evolved over time?
- One critic of the Church states, "In the 1832 account, Joseph said that before praying he knew that there was no true or living faith or denomination upon the earth as built by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. His primary purpose in going to prayer was to seek forgiveness of his sins. . . .In the official 1838 account, Joseph said his “object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join”…”(for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)”"
If you had come to the conclusion that mankind has apostatized from the true faith, and you suddenly found Jesus standing in front of you, wouldn't you ask Him if any of those churches was the correct one?
If you had come to the conclusion that mankind has apostatized from the true faith, and you suddenly found Jesus standing in front of you, wouldn't you ask Him if any of those churches was the correct one? Or would you simply tell Him, "never mind, I already figured it out for myself?"
Besides, where is the inconsistency? How many churches did Joseph have immediate knowledge of? Three or four? Joseph determined that the churches with which he had direct experience did not adhere to the scriptures and that therefore mankind "had apostatized from the true and living faith." During his vision, he then asked the Lord which church was right, because it had not occurred to him that the Lord's church didn't exist anywhere on the face of the earth. It had never entered into his heart that all churches were wrong.
Joseph's motivation in his 1832 account, in addition to seeking forgiveness of his sins, was also to determine whether God's church was upon the earth
There is no contradiction in the two texts presented in the above argument, only a short-sighted understanding of some isolated sources. The answer to this apparent contradiction lies in a detailed examination of relevant texts.
Question: How could Joseph Smith come to the conclusion that all churches were wrong on his own?
Joseph was in doubt as to what his duty was regarding joining a church
The answer to this apparent contradiction lies in a detailed examination of relevant texts. It is important to first compare Joseph Smith’s November 1832 text (which is in his own handwriting) with a newspaper article printed earlier that same year which refers to the Prophet’s inaugural religious experiences.
- 1832 (February): “not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse [to] prayer” (Fredonia Censor).
- 1832 (November): “my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations . . . . 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 built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament” (handwritten account by Joseph Smith).
Joseph Smith concluded that none of the denominations with which he had acquaintance was built upon the New Testament gospel
When both of these texts are taken into consideration the following storyline suggests itself: Joseph Smith had come to the conclusion, through personal scripture study, that none of the denominations WITH WHICH HE HAD AN INTIMATE ACQUAINTANCE was built upon the New Testament gospel. He prayed for guidance because he was “in doubt what his duty was.” This doubt is obliquely referred to again in Oliver Cowdery’s February 1835 Messenger and Advocate partial First Vision recital where he said that because of the religious excitement the Prophet had “determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion.”
Doubt is present again in the Prophet’s November 1835 diary entry: “I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involve eternal consequences.” So the conclusion this fourteen-year-old boy had reached through personal scripture study did not altogether solve his dilemma. In fact, in the May 1838 account he clarifies that because of his youth and inexperience in life he could not make an absolute decision with regard to this matter: “it was impossible for a person young as I was and so unacquainted with men and things to come to any certain conclusion who was right, and who was wrong”; “I often said to myself, what is to be done? Who of all these parties are right? Or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right which is it, and how shall I know it?”; “if any person needed wisdom from God I did, for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had [I] would never know.”
Joseph wanted to know which of the many hundreds of denominations on earth was the correct one
Orson Pratt’s 1840 First Vision account helps to explain why the ‘Joseph-decided-every-existing-church-was-wrong’ theory cannot possibly be valid. Elder Pratt reports, “He then reflected upon the immense number of doctrines now in the world which had given rise to many hundreds of different denominations. The great question to be decided in his mind was—if any one of these denominations be the Church of Christ, which one is it?” This expansive view is reflected in the Prophet’s 1838 account. There he states, “My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right that I might know which to join. No sooner therefore did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I should join.”
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.A couple of critics have taken issue with this evidence for the interpretation, stating that since Psalm 110:1 was originally written in Hebrew with two words for Lord (rendering "Lord" and "LORD" in all caps for the second mention) that the argument fails. . However this line of argumentation is complicated for several reasons.
In the 1832 account of his First Vision, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote that he saw:[A] piller of firelight above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the <Lord> opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord. (source)
In this excerpt, Joseph said that “the Lord” opened the heavens and he saw “the Lord.” Some LDS apologists and historians have argued that the first Lord refers to God the Father and the second lord with whom Joseph conversed was Jesus (e.g., Steven C. Harper). While this has been denied by critics, most recently Dan Vogel, it does have strong biblical precedence (biblical exegesis and theology are not Vogel’s strong suits by any stretch of the imagination, so not surprising he is ignorant on this issue), all the more important in light of the influence the Bible had on Joseph Smith, so it would have influenced the language he used (something that is uncontested by LDS and non-LDS alike). We will examine this in this article.
Psa 110:1 (LXX: 109:1) is the most quoted and alluded-to singular Old Testament verse in the New Testament. According to James Dunn in his book, Did The First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence, this verse "runs like a gold thread through much of the New Testament" (p. 103). The Hebrew of this verse reads: נְאֻם לַאדֹנִי שֵׁב לִימִינִי עַד־אָשִׁית אֹיְבֶיךָ הֲדֹם לְרַגְלֶיךָ
YHWH says to my lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet
In this verse, one Lord (YHWH) speaks (by oracle [that is the nuance of the Hebrew verb]) to “adoni” (“my adon” or “my lord”), a numerically distinct lord to the first Lord, YHWH.
With the later tradition of not pronouncing the divine name YHWH and with its substitution with Adonai (“my [sovereign] Lord”), later Jewish readers would have said, instead of YHWH says to my lord, it would have been rendered "Adonai says to my adon/lord" or, to render it into Hebrew:נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי לַאדֹנִי
My Lord says to my lord
This is captured in the LXX rendition of this verse:εἶπεν ὁ κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου
The Lord said to my lord: sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet
As a few examples of this verse's reception in the New Testament, consider the following:And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question. And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly. (Mark 12:28-37)
Why it this interesting? In this verse, Jesus understands the singular person of the Father is in view in Shema, and exhausts the referents thereof (cf. John 17:3; 1 Tim 2:5, etc), with the LXX translating YHWH as κυριος (“Lord”); instead, He was the second lord of Psa 110:1 (109:1, LXX), showing that there are “two lords” in view: The Lord God and the Lord Messiah. Indeed, the author of the Gospel of Luke picked this up rather cogently. In his infancy narrative, we read:For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)
The Greek for "Christ the Lord" is χριτος κυριος.
However, elsewhere in Luke 2:26, in the narrative of Jesus’ presentation at the temple, we read:And it was revealed unto him [Simeon] by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
"The Lord's Christ" in Greek is τὸν χριστὸν κυρίου, so we can clearly see that in the Bible, there are two Lords: The Father and the “Lord’s Christ,” the “Lord Messiah” Jesus.
Other texts of Christological importance where Psa 110:1 is alluded to would include:Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:30-36)
And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? (Heb 1:10-13)
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55-56)
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Cor 15:22-28)
While not explicitly quoted in the Book of Mormon, this verse is alluded to a few times therein (which itself should serve to refute Modalism). Two of the clearest examples are the following verses:Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men? (Moroni 7:27)
And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen. (Moroni 9:26; cf. Acts 7:55-56; 1 Cor 15:22-28)
Not only is Psa 110:1 alluded to, but coupled with the distinction of the person of the Father and the Son, such refutes the claim that the earliest “Mormon” Christology was a form of Modalism, contra Dan Vogel and other critics.
A number of revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, pre-dating 1832, are also reliant upon Psa 110:1, further bolstering our thesis. Speaking of Jesus, we read:And ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father. (D&C 20:24)
Elsewhere, we read the following wherein the Father and the Son are numerically distinct from one another, coupled with another allusion to Psa 110:1:Thus saith the Lord; for I am God, and have sent mine Only Begotten Son into the world for the redemption of the world, and have decreed that he that receiveth him shall be saved, and he that receiveth him not shall be damned--And they have done unto the Son of Man even as they listed; and he has taken his power on the right hand of his glory, and now reigneth in the heavens, and will reign till he descends on the earth to put all enemies under his feet, which time is night at hand. (D&C 49:5-6)
In D&C 76, a revelation dating from February 1832, written only a short time before the 1832 First Vision account, Psa 110:1 is clearly an influence on the theological vocabulary of the young prophet:And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness . . .For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father. (D&C 76:20, 23)So it should be clear that, in light of the influence the KJV, especially the NT had on Joseph Smith, as well as the reception history of Psa 110:1 in the NT, the Book of Mormon, and even his pre-1832 revelations, speaking of two numerically distinct “lords” is not the stretch that critics like Dan Vogel claim it to be.
- 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. 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 ways.
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. This may be read 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 read one way or the other.
- Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 2.
- Oliver Cowdery, "LETTER IV," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 5 (Feb. 1835), 78.
- Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 22.
- 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 Press, 2005)
- Stan Larson, "Another Look at Joseph Smith's First Vision" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 47, no. 2 (Summer 2014)
- Robert Boylan, "Psalm 110:1 and the two Lords in the 1832 First Vision Account" Scriptural Mormonism 6 October 2019. (accessed 13 July 2019)
- Larson, "Another Look"