Skip to comments.Joseph Smith's First Vision: Fact or Fiction?
Posted on 07/24/2008 12:37:23 PM PDT by Gamecock
The well-publicized story of Joseph Smith's First Vision is not a true account of the origin of the Latter-day Saint movement. The facts are decided against it! First, the historical evidence shows that Joseph Smith, Jr. could not have been stirred by an 1820 revival, to ask which church was true. Second, early Mormon statements do not support his claim that in 1820 he learned through a visitation of the Father and the Son that all existing churches were wrong. Third, the details known about Joseph's early life contradict his assertion that in 1820 he had such a divine visitation and was persecuted by the community for telling such a story.
No 1820 Revival
First, his neighborhood in 1820 experienced no revival such as he described, in which "great multitudes" joined the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches. The Presbyterian records for the Palmyra Presbyterian Church show that it experienced no revival in 1820. (See Geneva Presbytery "Records," Presbyterian Historical Society.) The local Baptist church gained only six on profession of faith the entire year ("Records for the First Baptist Church in Palmyra," American Baptist Historical Society) while the Methodists actually lost members that year as well as the preceding and following years (Minutes of the Annual Conference).
Joseph Smith claimed that his mother, sister and two brothers were led to join the local Presbyterian Church as a result of that 1820 revival. However, four years before he made this claim, his own church paper had stated that the revival in which his family had been led to join the Presbyterian Church took place in 1823 (Messenger & Advocate I, pp. 42, 78). In fact, that account says it was the same 1823 revival that led him to go to his bedroom (not to a sacred grove) and pray "if a Supreme being did exist" and to know that "he was accepted of him." An angel (not a deity) is then reported to have appeared and told him of his forgiveness and of the gold plates.
Joseph's mother, likewise, knew nothing of an 1820 vision. In her unpublished account, she traces the origin of Mormonism to a bedroom visit by an angel. Joseph at the time had been "pondering which of the churches were the true one." The angel told him "there is not a true church on Earth. No not one" (First draft of "Lucy Smith's History," LDS Church Archives).
Furthermore, she tells us that the revival which led her joining the church took place following the death of her son, Alvin. Alvin died Nov. 19, 1823, and following that painful loss she reports that, "about this time there was a great revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject and we among the rest, flocked to the meeting house to see if there was a word of comfort for us that might relieve our over-charged feelings" (p. 55-56).
She adds that although her husband would only attend the first meetings, he had no objection to her or the children "going or becoming church members." There is plenty of additional evidence that the revival Lucy Smith refers to did occur during the winter of 1824-25. It was reported in at least a dozen newspapers and religious periodicals. The church records show outstanding increases due to the reception of new converts. The Baptist church received 94, the Presbyterian 99, while the Methodist work grew by 208. No such revival bringing in "great multitudes" occurred in 1820.
It is clear that the revival Joseph Smith, Jr. described did not occur in 1820, but in 1824. Joseph Smith arbitrarily moved that revival back four years to 1820 and made it fit a First Vision story that neither his mother nor other close associates had heard of in those early days. The historical facts completely discredit Joseph Smith's First Vision story. (For further details, see "Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought" Spring 1969, pp. 59-100.)
Bible Reading Vs. Revelations
Furthermore, about 1832 Joseph Smith, Jr. began an account of the origin of the Mormon Church (the only one written in his own hand) that contradicts the official First Vision story he dictated some six years later. The account was never finished. (See the text in BYU Studies, Spring 1969, pp. 278ff.)
In this version Joseph presents himself between the ages of 12 and 15 as being a committed and perceptive reader of the Bible. He claims that his study of the Scriptures led him to understand that all of the denominations were wrong. He wrote: "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."
Six years later, when he set forth his official First Vision story, he decided that he never had reached the firm conclusion that all churches were wrong from his study of the Bible. Instead, he claimed that it was during a vision of the Father and the Son that he first learned this information. He presented this as coming as a great surprise, for he added parenthetically -- "for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong." That statement even contradicted what Joseph had said a few paragraphs earlier in the same account. There he claimed that "I often said to myself ...Who of all these parties are right; or are they all wrong together?" Although the former statement appears in the original manuscript (see BYU Studies above, pg. 290), such a serious contradiction could not be allowed to stand, and after Joseph's death the embarrassing words were edited out.
Even without those words, however, the 1838 official account is in conflict with the 1832 version. In the 1832 account it is his Bible reading that stirs him to seek God, while in the 1838 story it is a non-existent revival that motivates him.
In the 1832 version he claims to have seen only Christ, while in the 1838 rendition both the Father and the Son appear. In the 1832 account he already knows all the churches are wrong, while in the 1838 story it is the dual deities who first inform him of this. Different people may have different views of the same event, but when one person tells contradictory stories about an event, he completely loses his credibility.
Persecution Vs. Acceptance
The 1838 First Vision story not only runs into trouble with Joseph's earlier 1832 version, but it is also contradicted by what we know about his early years in Palmyra. In his official version Joseph claims he was persecuted by all the churches in his area "because I continued to affirm I had seen a vision." However, Orsemus Turner, an apprentice printer in Palmyra until 1822, was in the same juvenile debating club with Joseph Smith. He recalled that Joseph "after catching a spark of Methodism ...became a very passable exhorter in evening meetings" (History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, 1851, p. 214). Thus, instead of being opposed and persecuted as his 1838 account claims, young Joseph was welcomed and allowed to exhort during the Methodist's evening preaching. Furthermore, no one, either Mormon or non-Mormon, seems ever to have heard of Joseph's encounter with two divine Personages until after 1838. (See this admission in Dialogue, Autumn 1966, pp. 30-31; Saints Herald, June 29, 1959, pg. 21.)
From all available lines of evidence, therefore, Joseph's First Vision story appears to be a fabrication. There was no revival [as described by Smith] anywhere in the Palmyra area in 1820. Joseph was welcomed, not persecuted, by the Methodists. His 1832 account represents him as perceiving from his personal Bible study that all the churches were apostate, while his 1838 account said it "never entered into my heart that all were wrong." His 1832 version claimed only a vision of Christ, while the 1838 story transformed this into the Father and the Son. No one ever heard such a story until after he dictated it in 1838. In the light of such strong contradictory evidence, the First Vision story must be regarded as only the invention of Joseph Smith's highly imaginative mind. The facts and Joseph's words discredit it.
10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
Stop taking Scripture out of context...
This comes from never having read The Bible for yourself...
Rocket Science would be a breeze for you, compared to tossing out scriptures after 40 years of ignoring the Word of God..
The WORKS were REPENTANCE......
For Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 2 Corinthians 7:10
The whole passage of Scripture...
Jon 3:4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
Jon 3:5 ¶ So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
Jon 3:6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered [him] with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
Jon 3:7 And he caused [it] to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
Jon 3:8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that [is] in their hands.
Jon 3:9 Who can tell [if] God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
Jon 3:10 ¶ And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did [it] not.
That science will prove the earth has knobs on each end
Oooooooooooooooo I like that one...
Did Admiral Byrd crash into one when he flew over the North Pole ???
No silly, they are retractable...
God’s is a very smart guy, he did not want unauthorized people spinning the globe....
Revelation 20:12 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
Well, when people want to be judged by their works instead of depending on the grace and mercy of God, then they shouldn't be surprised when God gives them what they want.
Besides, when they reject Christ, there's nothing left for the judgment to be made on. It's Christ or the Law. If you reject Christ, the Law is the only other option.
Oh, silly me...
Admiral Byrd called ahead and reserved a knobfree day to fly...
Perhaps demons can ‘see’ magnetic lines of force. If so, the view of our ionesphere would tend to look like knobs were located at the North and South poles. It is curious, eh?
Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
If you add anything to the work of Christ on the cross, you're saying that the death of Christ is not good enough to save you. If your works are needed in addition because they're good enough and Christ's death isn't, then your works should be good enough by themselves and that's what you're depending on; not Christ's death.
Way to spit in the face of Christ and tell Him He didn't do enough for you; that you can do better. I don't think so.
Stourme did a word search on ‘works’. You can’t expect him to understand what he found. Note the astonishing contradiction of his own argument by one of the passages he used thinking it verified his specious assertion! Maybe he will get busy and actually read the passages in context now. [2Cor 11:15]
Thanks for the ping!
I usually lurk and just read these threads, but every once in a while...
It is indeed strange that the door-knockers can't grasp the true unity of the body of Christ. Have had the visits from the guys with the 'Elder Soandso' name tags and from some other group that says they are witnesses of something or other and it seems that sooner or later they want to talk about what church I go to and then suggest that I'm not doing it right because there are so many different church names out there while they (whichever 'they' it is that day..) are the true way because they are united, bigger, have new revelations, have the real Bible and/or all of the above...
It is distracting that the Body of Christ has managed to find ways to put different names on the sign in front of their buildings. It is true that attending any one of these buildings does not make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a BigMac. It is also true that not everyone who attends any of the various buildings for worship is a true Christian. It is even more true that from all the various 'church' groups that say they are followers of Christ there are those who know, as Godzilla said, the One who has called us and gives us salvation through His grace, they are the true Church.
One of the activities that I have been attending yearly (since 1983) is something called the Creation Festival, a four day outdoor music and teaching event that is held in the middle of Pennsylvania (here on the right coast) and now also in George, WA (on the left coast.) It is an event for Christians of any and all denominational affiliations.
I bring this up because some years ago now I was doing youth work at a Baptist church and my friend was youth pastor at an AoG church. Our groups would do things together and one of the events we combined on was the Creation Festival. It happened that whichever one of us would send in for the tickets would name the group for that year under his or my church name. We both found that in the course of promoting that year's event we would run into people who reacted strangely to either the Baptist or the Assy of God name. We both found that to be upsetting since the group that attended with us was not really exclusively from our two churches. People were getting hung up on the name of the church rather than what we were trying to accomplish. About 15 years ago we decided that the church name, whichever one we used, was more a hindrance than a help so we changed the name of our group to the name of a band we once were a part of.
Now our group includes people from three states, various denominations (we have Presbyterian, Reformed, AoG, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic represented in the core group) and we enjoy the time each year getting together with other members of the Body of Christ to worship and fellowship without the confines of the man-made barriers called denominations.. Why? because I have more in common with a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Lutheran, or a Roman Catholic who really knows Jesus than I do with a lot of people who just sit in a pew...
So, Elder Soandso and those people who think they witnessed something can come and ring my doorbell, but if and when they do, they can try to talk about whatever it is they are selling that day but we will talk about the Name that is above every name, and they can try to talk about believing the Bible as far as it is rightly translated, but I will talk about the One who wrote the Book, and they can try to tell me that God is an exalted man like me because the Bible talks about the finger of God and the eye of God and the hand... (you get the picture..) but then I will just have to mention that by that logic God could also be a great big chicken because the Bible also says He will cover us with His wings...
So, Godzilla, right on... The only Name we need know is not the one on the sign out front of whatever building is is we worship in, it is the only Name under heaven given among men where by we must be saved. Jesus is all sufficient..
I am so thankful you are out! I had a brother in law in for 21 years and he’s out too!
I will just have to mention that by that logic God could also be a great big chicken because the Bible also says He will cover us with His wings...
Have to remember that one...
Great post! And that festival looks like a huge joy in the spirit.
It is an indescribable experience. Of course, it helps if you like contemporary Christian music, enjoy the outdoors, can take a little heat from the sun and some rain now and then. And if you can't stand (put a denomination name here), God will make sure the group camped next to you is from the First (U Name It) Church of Where-ever... :-)
I have gone enough years now that the memories tend to run together, and the people that attend with us have changed over the years, but every once in a while someone tells you what the experience has meant in their life... Like one guy who was a High School Senior the time he attended, then went to Bible college, and spent some time up in Toronto area doing inner city ministry. He invited me up for a weekend about seven years later and during that weekend he gave his testimony and said "I was struggling with my faith until one summer this really weird guy invited me to the Creation Festival, and that changed my life and walk with the Lord.."
Oh, and Tennessee isn't all that far from the site in PA... come join us some year ;-)
Seriously, would love to have other people join with us. Freepmail for further info..
I just might do that in ‘09! And I have a little moho to travel in.
Christians believe Christ died for our sins. Mormons teach that man does all he can, and Christ makes up for any shortcomings.
Plus, to the Mormon mind, we are not saves, we are Gentiles.
Hardly the same viewing of God's grace.
Other than that he was a great guy. < /sarc>