Accounts of the First Vision

The basis of this post has been drawn from the following website and some ideas selected from it. The post are my thoughts and contributions to this topic:

With the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, there has always been opposition. Arguments and theories to denounce the truth of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelations have been voiced and brought forward. Most, if not all, of these arguments have all stood their ground but ultimately not been able to prove the fact that Joseph Smith was not inspired of God.

One of these supposed reasons for why the Restoration should only be a footnote in American religious history rather a true global event is the evidence of accounts from the First Vision. Some have claimed (and continue to claim) that Joseph Smith did not see the Father and the Son in the grove of trees on that spring day in 1820 because the accounts, or versions, he gave of this experience differ from one telling to the other.

I considered telling of the experience here in case any reading were not aware of this First Vision but then realised that telling one account of the experience would not help as there have indeed been a number of accounts from Joseph himself that differ in details. A useful visual of what is contained or not contained in certain versions can be seen below:

As can be seen here – there are four separate documented versions of the First Vision given by Joseph Smith himself. Incidentally, this makes the First Vision “the best-documented theophany—vision of God—in history,” meaning we have a lot of evidence to draw from here. However, because of the lack of certain details in different versions of the vision, some try to claim that this shows that Joseph Smith made the vision up, that it didn’t really happen – otherwise wouldn’t he remember every detail? For example, the Saviour was not introduced by the Father in Joseph’s first documented telling of the experience in 1832 yet in the 1835, 1838 and 1842 versions the Father is described as introducing the Saviour. Some question the truth of the entire First Vision because of this.

From all four versions, there are these details that are consistent: that Joseph had questions about which religion was true, he searched the scripture, that there was a vision and he spoke with the Lord Jesus Christ. The other details (such as Satan attempting to prevent the prayer, the pronouncement that Joseph’s sins were forgiven and the context of there being religious excitement in America at that time) are not found in all the accounts.

So, this means the event didn’t happen? Personally, I find it astonishing that some can cite this as a reason for the First Vision not happening. Stories that happened are retold often with certain details being omitted or being made more of a focal point for the lesson they are told for. Experiences and stories are rarely told for no reason, without a teaching point to be made.

I will refer to three examples where experiences or events are retold for various purposes and yet this does not lessen the fact that they happened.

1. Alma the Younger is converted

In Mosiah 27, Alma 36 and Alma 38 we read of the same pivotal experience, the angel appearing to Alma the Younger to halt his destructive progress against the Church of Christ and invite him to the Saviour. Some details of the accounts are remarkably similar. For example, Mosiah 27:11 states that the angel spoke with “a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood,” and Alma 36:7 states: “He spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet.” Alma 38:7 does the same thing: “I have seen an angel face to face, and he spake with me, and his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth.” This is just one example of a similarity but there are others in the three accounts.

However, as with the First Vision, some details are inconsistent. For example the role of the sons of Mosiah. In Mosiah 27, there are quite a number of references to them in that experience, in Alma 36 they are mentioned once and in Alma 38 they are not mentioned at all. Does that make us question their involvement with the vision of the angel? Does that make us wonder whether they were actually present or not? Of course not. In this example, the detail is dependant on the person giving the account and the lesson they want to teach by it.

2. The Gospels

You could write a book (and dozens of dedicated students of the scriptures have) about the reasons for the differences in the four Gospels, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I will not try to cover all the possible examples due to the time it would take and also because I am no where near as familiar with the scriptures as I would have to be to offer an effective narrative.

However, I will take the greatest moment in the history of mankind as a good vehicle to demonstrate how the four Gospels, whilst they offer similar commentaries of the Saviour’s life they do have key differences. The reason? It depends on who told the story and what message they were trying to get across. Whether it’s King Mosiah or Alma and whatever message they are trying to get across, there will naturally be a leaving out of details or an emphasis of points

3. My experience – or any of your examples!

Basically the point is that any experience shared can be used in part or any parts emphasised to make a point. We may leave certain parts out or made certain parts the main part if we want to focus on that. Does that change the actual event? Of course not!

Harper, Joseph Smith’s First Vision, 1.


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