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:

https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-are-there-multiple-accounts-of-joseph-smith-and-almas-visions

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:
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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.

Joseph Smith the Martyr

This entry is based on an Ensign article in the August 2009 edition, given by Elder Anthony D. Perkins.

A martyr is defined as an individual who goes through persecution, suffering and even death for their belief or religion. Joseph Smith was definitely an example of this, along with others in scriptural history who have suffered and died for their witness and testimony of Jesus Christ. In every account of these dedicated witnesses, we see a pattern emerging – a pattern which can help us see how strong their faith in Christ is.

Step 1: Persecuted for bearing testimony of the Song of God
When Stephen rebuked the Sanhedrin concerning the apostasy of Israel, the “were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” (Acts 7:54). As the persecution continued he cried out “I see…the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) As a result of this blessed witness, Stephen was stoned to death. However, it is important to note that Stephen was persecuted for his faith initially. Throughout the history of mankind, people have often suffered more when they testified of Christ. Jesus Christ has warned that those who do His work and testify of Him will be persecuted. He said “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you…and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake,” (Luke 6:22). Joseph Smith indeed went through persecution for his testimony of Christ and His Gospel. Elder Perkins said “As with ancient prophets, the Prophet of the Restoration taught truths regarding the nature of God that ran counter to the inherited traditions of religious sects. During the next 24 years, nearly 20 attempts were made on Joseph’s life.”

Step 2. Forewarned of death
The martyrs who defend the faith of Christ have always been warned of what lies in wait for them. For example, when speaking to Peter, the scriptures depict Christ forewarning him. “This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.” (John 21:19). Many times in his life – the Prophet Joseph was warned – the angel Moroni said his name “should be had for good and evil among nations…” (JSH 1:33) and also he was told “…there are many that lie in wait to destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” (D&C 5:33). Even as he went to his eventual death at Carthage, the prophet Joseph knew he was going ‘as a lamb to the slaughter’, and before his departure he ensured the keys of the kingdom were distributed to the Quorum of the Twelve – this was no coincidence. Joseph Smith knew the danger that came with his calling – but that did not deter him from the cause of Christ.

Step 3: Remained confident in finishing work
We find examples of prophets in the scriptures who did not fear opposition and death because they knew their work had not yet finished – as King Noah ordered his priests to take Abinadi to his death, he stated “Touch me not, for God shall smite you if he lay hands upon me, for I have not delivered the message which the Lord sent me to deliver…” (Mosiah 13:3). When Amulek has concerned that he and Alma would be burned along with the believers in Ammonihah, Alma remarked “Be it according to the will of the Lord. But, behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not.” (Alma 4:13). Similarly, Joseph Smith was given the assurance of the Lord “…Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less, therefore, fear not what man can do.” (D&C 122:9) so he was able to complete the work given to him by the Lord. This led up to him conferring all the priesthood keys and authority necessary to lead the Church under Christ’s direction to the Twelve in 1844. His work was then complete.

Step 4: Executed while imprisoned
Paul and Peter were executed in Rome, being accused of subversion, starting a fire in Rome and not being willing to sacrifice to Roman gods. Abinadi also was put to death, being accused of treason, and also because “he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death.” (Mosiah 17:20). Joseph Smith was falsely charged with treason against the state of Illinois and imprisoned in Carthage Jail. And as Elder John Taylor said “Like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, [Joseph Smith] has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood.” (D&C 135:3).

Joseph Smith sealed his testimony of Christ with his blood and, whilst we may not be expected to be martyrs, we can learn lessons from his (and others from scriptural history) dedication and faith in Christ. Will we stand up and be accounted as a disciple of Christ? Or will our testimony waver when we are asked about our faith?

Importance of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ we are encouraged to have questions. Two recent invitations during the recent General Conference reaffirmed this to me. One was from Elder Jario Mazzagardi who told of an experience he had early on in his Gospel life. He was a convert and a few months after his baptism he says “Questions began to arise in my mind…”, particularly around why the Restoration had to happen geographically where it did. As he described these ponderings a message became clear to me: having questions is good. Not only is it good but it is vital for our spiritual strength. Another evidence to me that we should be having questions to consider is a new page that has been developed as a result of General Conference  (actually it seems to have been create in April 2015 first but it has been updated for this Conference). This page suggests questions we may have been having and how Conference answered them. It also invites viewers to send their own questions and subsequent answers in.

Why am I focusing so much on questions? There may be times we have questions which challenge our faith in Christ. Such questions are natural. We have forces around us pulling towards and away from God in a constant daily battle – of course we will be influenced. However, with a firm testimony of Joseph Smith and/or the Book of Mormon as scripture, any serious concerns can be aided (notice I didn’t say they will instantly go away). This is partly why the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are so important to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or ‘Mormons’). We do not worship these important parts of our religion, only our Saviour Jesus Christ is worthy of our worship along with our Heavenly Father, but they can help us in our worship.

For example, if someone says ‘I don’t believe that God is there, or speaks to people anymore,’ but has gained a testimony that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, then they just need to make that link. If the Book of Mormon is true, that means that Joseph Smith was a prophet and therefore, the account of the First Vision really did happen. If there are serious concerns and the person doesn’t have a testimony from the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, that is where the problem lies (despite whatever the question is).

President Ezra Taft Benson taught “…All objections, whether they be on abortion, plural marriage, seventh-day worship etc, basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation…The only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet…”

And there it is. Sincere seekers of truth who are wanting to change, to become better people through Christ, can overcome any challenge or objection by a belief in the Book of Mormon being the word of God.