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Joseph Smith's First Vision/Accounts/1832
Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision
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- 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--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.
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. 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. 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.
- 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 Studies Press, 2005).
- 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).
- 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).
- Stan Larson, "Another Look," 52.