'Joseph Smith's First Vision' thoughtfully explores 5 different accounts of the event

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    Jan. 8, 2013 2:37 p.m.

    The study you're looking for was included in Richard Bauckman's book, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony". It's a fascinating and enlightening read.

    Unfortunately, the empirical data presented in that study also tends to cast doubt on Joseph Smith's First Vision accounts rather than exonerate them. No matter how you slice it they're "off the curve".

    Thanks for the "heads up" on Blackman's book. I found it on Amazon and it's now on my wish list.

    We should probably also mention that there that are records of how the First Vision was recounted to Smith in various personal journals during his lifetime (I'm thinking that's why Blackman puts the number of accounts at 12 rather than 9 in his book) that tend to be de-emphasized as Joseph Smith wouldn't have had the chance to set the record straight in those cases since they weren't public. In the other cases he did if they were seriously in error.

  • Cinci Man FT MITCHELL, KY
    Jan. 8, 2013 6:15 a.m.

    None of these accounts not their variances have any impact on my own testimony, which I received in a very personal way, directly from my Heavenly Father. I know Joseph Smith was the prophet of the restoration. And I know that every prophet following Joesph were divinely called to lead and head this Church. And I also know each was an imperfect person, striving as I am, to do the best that I can in my own stewardship. I acknowledge that each of these men, although imperfect and many times the better man than I am. Their lives are great examples to me and I am deeply in their debt for their individual strengths. They help me to become more like the only perfect man to have lived on earth, Jesus Christ. And little children who die are also made perfect through Him, even though they lived sinless lives, too.

  • JJL Eugene, OR
    Jan. 8, 2013 1:35 a.m.

    Milton J. Blackman, Jr. wrote on the varying accounts of the First Vision in his work "Joseph Smith's First Vision" first published in 1971. He notes that there were four accounts which were written or dictated by the Prophet. He provides some rationale for the variablity in each account. Each account is reproduced in his book.

    Blackman also provided a summary of the eight contemporary accounts of the First Vision in "Appendix A" of his work "Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration" first published in 1983.

  • garybeac Chapel Hill, NC
    Jan. 7, 2013 10:58 p.m.

    As I said above, I had a vision, and perhaps because of the experience, I have met several other ordinary people who have also had visions and visionary dreams. What we seem to have in common are memories of our visions that are unlike other memories. I'm a physician. Coincidentally, I recently had a patient who spontaneously told me about a vision he had had early in his life. It was a typical one: he was being guided through a tempting but false heaven, sort of like the great and spacious building. He rejected it, and then found himself alone and praying to Jesus to find him. His words were approximately, "It's not like a regular memory. I remember new things when I think about it and I'm doing the right things. But when I'm doing things I know I shouldn't, I can't recall it so well." It struck me as an experience similar to the Liahona. Maybe someone should study people who've had visions. Maybe the memories are different for physiological reasons.

    Jan. 7, 2013 4:06 p.m.

    Rather an astute observation on your part IMO. Yes, the First Vision was pretty much unknown until it was first published in Times and Seasons on March 15, 1842 and even then the Book of Mormon - with it's accompanying Angelic visit was still emphasized as Smith's main prophet credential, the first vision was secondary until the 20th Century.

    However, one only need ready read through the body of First Visit accounts to see that the two narratives were originally a jumbled mix of what became two separate and distinct supernatural visit stories later.

    I wish it were as simple as (as you seem to imply) Smith always telling two separate and distinct - not to mention consistent - stories but it's not. However, if it WERE that simple we wouldn't be enjoying this excellent discussion and Mormon Studies would be just another boring branch of Religious Studies. If nothing else, I thank Joseph Smith every single day for making Mormon Studies as thoroughly fascinating as it is!

  • grindael BUFFALO, NY
    Jan. 7, 2013 4:02 p.m.

    Deseret News,

    Can you please explain why this comment is off topic or disruptive?

    The article above says that Joseph's First Vision was "the best documented theophany & vision of God in history" Since Joseph didn't record his vision until 1832, (twelve years later) it is very hard to believe this claim by the author. Also, there is another problem that needs to be addressed, concerning a History of Joseph Smith written by Oliver Cowdery in 1834 (with Joseph Smith's help) that does not even mention a vison in 1820, and which also says that Joseph Smith did not even know if a Supreme Being existed when he was 17 (in 1823). (See, Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Dec. 1834, vol.1, no.3. pages 77-78).

    How can Joseph have seen God in 1820, when in 1834 it was claimed that he didn't know if God existed? How can the First Vision be the best documented theophany in history when it was written so many years after the fact? These questions give one pause in accepting that there was any vision in 1820.

  • Semi-Strong Louisville, KY
    Jan. 6, 2013 4:40 p.m.

    Mr IT,

    OR the story he told most commonly was the Moroni visit and he told the First Vision rather sparingly.

    Jan. 5, 2013 10:38 p.m.

    The earliest accounts do indeed bear some relationship to the visit of the angel now known as Moroni (the Angel wasn't necessarily Moroni in early Mormonism but that's another topic for another day).

    This is relevant because if you read through all the First Vision accounts in chronological order there's a gradual evolution of the story from a simple Angelic visitation to something bigger, bigger, bigger and bigger; grander, grander, and grander.

    This is one of the concerning issues regarding the various First Vision accounts. So the meta-question that remains is this, "If this event was an actual historical event that's as momentous as Smith makes it sound in the latter versions of the story then why are there so many discrepancies and contradictions between all nine versions of the account?"

    And I seriously doubt that this book will ultimately be unsatisfying to Mormon Studies Scholars since it only addresses five (5) of the nine known (9) accounts - the missing 4-accounts are rather conspicuous in their absence, I'm afraid.

  • Semi-Strong Louisville, KY
    Jan. 5, 2013 8:37 p.m.

    Mr. IT/Fred W. Anson,

    Do not at least some of these accounts bear more relationship to the visit of Moroni than the First Vision?

    Jan. 5, 2013 6:37 p.m.

    Thank you for your thoughtful response.

    The Chase account was given in 1827 and was part of an affidavit that was published in 1833. It's significant because it and the 1827 Harris are not only the earliest attempts at documenting the First Vision but they're remarkably similar and consistent.

    Regarding the Bauder account: If his account wildly diverged from the accounts from the other Mormon friendly sources of that period I might agree with your misgivings but they don't.

    Again, in all three cases (I'm including the 1827 Harris here) Smith was alive to publicly set the record straight. He often did so when Mormonism was in it's infancy so if these records of his words were THAT egregious or he THAT misquoted it's odd that he didn't renounce them.

    Never-the-less, if you factor out ALL of these earliest accounts and start your consideration at Smith's 1832 first hand account you're still left with the fact that ALL the later accounts - including those from and published by Joseph Smith and/or Mormon friendly transcribers - are mutually contradictory and very often on major, material points that have profound theological and doctrinal implications.

  • Fred W. Anson Lake Forest, CA
    Jan. 5, 2013 4:57 p.m.

    BTW and IMO, a closer Biblical parallel to the Joseph Smith First Vision and it's subsequent retelling would be the Damascus Road Theophany of the Apostle Paul which is first recorded in Acts 9:3–9 then again in Acts 22:6-21 and Acts 26:12-18. It's also briefly glossed in his epistles (see I Corinthians 9:1, I Corinthians 15:3-8, and Galatians 1:11-16)

    This is also, IMO, a MUCH better case study since the accounts required either dictation of the event to a scribe (in the case of Acts Luke) or a direct accounting (I Corinthians and Galatians). We can't say this about the gospel as they're all second (Matthew, John) or third hand (Mark, Luke) accounts.

    That said, and again IMO, the Pauline "First Vision" accounts seem to have a degree of fidelity and consistency that the Joseph Smith "First Vision" accounts seem to be lacking.

  • Semi-Strong Louisville, KY
    Jan. 5, 2013 4:34 p.m.

    Fred W. Anson,

    I don’t have time to go over them all. However:

    Willard Chase’s account begins: “In the month of June, 1827, Joseph Smith, Sen. related to me the following story: That some years ago, a spirit had appeared to Joseph his son, in a
    Vision” Does not sound like direct involvement.

    Peter Bauder was a non-mormon minister and critical of Joseph. Not sure it can be counted upon as reliable.

    I will let you do the research on the remainder.

  • Bill in Nebraska Maryville, MO
    Jan. 5, 2013 2:47 p.m.

    I again submit to anyone all you have to do is go to FAIR or to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints main website to get the TRUTH. The rest is just speculation.

  • Fred W. Anson Lake Forest, CA
    Jan. 5, 2013 1:59 p.m.

    @Semi-Strong, thank you for your excellent questions:

    1) "Directly involved" in this context means that Smith either directly transcribed (1832) or dictated to a transcriber (1827 Willard Chase; 1830 Peter Bauder; 1834-35 Oliver Cowdery; 1835 to Warren Cowdery; 1835 to Erastus Holmes; 1838 James Mulholland; and 1844 Alexander Neibaur).

    2) And, no, logically the 1838 version was not in response to Harris' 1827 account since it wasn't published and made public until 1842. Using that logic it's more likely that the 1844 account would have been Smith's response to the 1827 Harris - however it conflicts not only with that second hand account but all of Smith's prior first person accounts as well creating yet more questions about the historicity and veracity of the event.

  • donn layton, UT
    Jan. 5, 2013 1:39 p.m.

    To: Semi-Strong, You’re right.”
    (D.H.C. v. 6, p 408,409) I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of whole have stood by me Neither Paul, John, Pete ,Nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did a work as I.

    RE: Semi strong, Only Christ was perfect.
    True, Peter stated it clearly: “He committed no sin and no deceit was found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Jesus Christ is God/Man(Theantropos). He has no capacity to sin.(No sin nature as humans).
    Romans 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man(Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man(Jesus) the many will be made righteous.

  • sashabill Morgan Hill, CA
    Jan. 4, 2013 9:29 p.m.

    While I cannot claim to have experienced visions, my course of coming to the LDS Church was deeply meaningful and testimony-building to me. I have retold it many times, both orally and in written form, in both formal and informal occasions. Some of these instances were just brief, basic statements, while others involved many type-written pages of detail. I doubt that I have ever told it the same way twice. It depended on the audiences and circumstances, and I still continue realize varying nuances, aspects, and perspectives to it. Historians to this day still argue and debate over JFK,s assassination, the battles of World War II, Custer's Last Stand, the Civil War, the Bubonic Plague, the Norman conquest of England, and just about every other significant event in history -- not to mention the history of early Christianity and just about every other major religion.

  • Semi-Strong Louisville, KY
    Jan. 4, 2013 7:48 p.m.


    I assume you are referring to the quote by Joseph that "I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam" etc., etc.

    First, that he was charged to restore the Gospel in the latter days and that the restoration would not fail. Second, that no "man" ever did such as work as he did. Given what the LDS believe the scope of the Restoration is, that would be true. Christ, of course, was not simply a man and the scope of his mission when way beyond the establishment of the church. Finally, note that Joseph elsewhere argued that John the Baptist was "the greatest prophet born of a woman."

    BTW, no doubt that Joseph was imperfect. Same for Moses, Elisha, Peter, Paul, James, John, and all the prophets and apostles. Only Christ was perfect.

    Fred W. Anson,

    Please define directly involved. Also, would not the 1838 ("official") version be his response to Martin Harris?

  • Fred W. Anson Lake Forest, CA
    Jan. 4, 2013 6:40 p.m.

    @Twin Lights
    You asked, whether all nine known accounts are supposed to be by Joseph himself.

    A: Of the eight (8) versions of the First Vision that were recorded during his lifetime, Joseph Smith was directly involved in all but one.

    Of the nine (9) known accounts only one is in his hand (the 1832 edition) and it varies wildly (and materially) from the official 1838 account that's in The Pearl of Great Price as well as the others.

    Finally, it should be noted if there were issues or inconsistencies with the 1827 account by Martin Harris given to Rev. John Clark, as published in his book 'Gleanings by the Way' in which Smith wasn't directly involved he could have easily challenged it since he was alive and more than capable of doing so. This, of course, was not true of the 1859 account that Mr. Harris gave to Tiffany's Monthly.

    The two Harris accounts are the only ones that Smith had no direct involvement with, leaving the aforementioned seven in which Smith had direct involvement.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    Jan. 4, 2013 4:17 p.m.

    Twin Lights: “ the different authorship of the Gospels (though many experts believe in a similar source text).
    True, “but first vision”, or The original articles of faith, #8 We believe in the Word of God recorded in the Bible; we also believe the Word of God recorded in the Book of Mormon, and in all other good books.

    RE: Twin Lights Joseph was no impostor because he neither was Christ nor pretended to be. Rather he served the Savior all of his life. see (D.H.C. vol 6. pp 319-20)

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Jan. 4, 2013 2:16 p.m.


    I rarely write things down, so I don’t see why I would have written it down either.

    As stated at the beginning of the account in the Pearl of Great Price, it was written . . . “Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a Church and its progress in the world—I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession.”

    So he wrote it to answer the critics.

    Craig Clark,

    I agree that the full meaning of the dispensation might not have been understood by all of the members in 1830, but I think a review of D&C 20 reveals that the Church was a very different type of organization with very high requirements.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Jan. 4, 2013 1:01 p.m.

    Don’t assume that the belief that Mormonism is the one true religion was already gospel to those gathered at the Peter Whitmer home in April 1830 to organize the church. That core belief evolved as Joseph took up the work of restoring the primitive church as he understood it. By 1838, Joseph had received over a hundred revelations, many having to do with priesthood and a church structure that was coming into focus as a one true religion. It was then that he penned the first vision account that had God repudiating all other Christian creeds as an abomination.

    Memory alters over time as the past must justify the present. Even a vivid recollection of a spiritual experience from adolescence can develop into something of grander meaning than was apparent at the time.

    It disappoints me how some church leaders try to control church history to allow for only the authorized orthodox interpretation they want members to hear.

  • Brahmabull sandy, ut
    Jan. 4, 2013 12:07 p.m.

    Twin Lights - That is fair enough. To me, the contradictions are earth shaking. It isn't just one or two details that are different. The first time Smith wrote about this vision is in 1832 - 12 years after it happened. Then the "official" account of it isn't released until 1838 - 18 years after it happened. It just doesn't add up. But hey, that is just me. I don't have a problem with some believing it.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Jan. 4, 2013 10:22 a.m.


    Thank you. I was aware of the different authorship of the Gospels (though many experts believe in a similar source text).

    As to the differences in the First Vision accounts, I simply do not find them to be earth shaking.

    What I am curious about is whether all none accounts mentioned below are supposed to be by Joseph himself. I assume these include accounts given by others from what they say they heard. That might explain the difference in count.

  • Millsap fan Taylorsville, UT
    Jan. 4, 2013 9:25 a.m.

    I'm surprised that so many members didn't know that there were more accounts than just the one found in the Pearl of Great Price. Of course he'd tell the most significant event in his life more than once! Truman Madson said that the First "visitation" as he calls it, most likely lasted hours. A lot of things took place in that grove and Joseph simply summarized in JSH he did not give a full account at that time. But if we read the different accounts they are not contradictory in any way.

    My testimony grows when I hear of people who devote their lives to studying Joseph Smith's life and their testimony grows, such as this man, Truman Madson, and the compilers of the Joseph Smith papers.

  • Brahmabull sandy, ut
    Jan. 4, 2013 9:18 a.m.

    Twin Lights

    The reason you find differences in the gospels is because they were written by different people. If they were all written by the same person, and major details were different like the Joseph Smith vision accounts, then you should be very suspicious.

  • Stay the Course Salt Lake City, utah
    Jan. 3, 2013 10:40 p.m.

    Book of Mormon is still proof enough for me Joseph is/was a prophet

  • sharrona layton, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 9:09 p.m.

    To:Twin Lights: I find less difference between the various accounts of the First Vision than I do between the Gospels. OK, Why 9 First Vision Accounts.

    Why four Gospels,? "Four" is the number of the earth. It is, therefore, also, the world number. A few illustrations: There are four points to earth’s compass—north, east, south, and west. There are four seasons to earth’s year—spring, summer, autumn, and winter. There are four elements connected with our world—earth, air, fire, and water. The Grecian, and the Roman. Scripture divides earth’s inhabitants into four classes—"kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Rev. 5:9 etc.). In the Parable of the Sower, our Lord divided the field into four kinds of soil, and later He said, "the field is the world." The 4th commandment has to do with rest from all earth’s labors. The fourth clause in the Lord’s prayer is, His will be done on earth." Four is the earth number. How fitting, that the Holy Spirit has given us four Gospels of the earthly ministry of the Heavenly One.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Jan. 3, 2013 7:30 p.m.


    I would certainly agree that "Christ needs no re-edit or vindication." As to God's Word (assuming you mean the Bible) there is a whole lot of disagreement as to what it means.

    Many of "Those wacky born-agains" are my friends. But from the words of Christ in the Bible, I cannot resolve myself to sola fide. I think that was Martin Luther's trump card for the authority he knew Protestantism would lack. But Christ focuses much more on deeds than words. I think Paul is taken out of context (and no need to battle with scriptural references, I have read them all - I am just telling you the results of my search).

    As to your final paragraph, I (and any Latter-day Saint) have no argument that "There is no other way. And all the debate and skepticism will leave you empty. Only Jesus saves. Only Jesus gives Life. Then you will know Who the authentic is, and who the imposter (sic) is."

    Only Christ is the Savior. Period. Full stop.

    Joseph was no impostor because he neither was Christ nor pretended to be. Rather he served the Savior all of his life.

  • Fred W. Anson Lake Forest, CA
    Jan. 3, 2013 6:58 p.m.

    I'm puzzled over why the author only discusses five (5) different versions of the First Vision when in fact there are nine (9) known accounts. Eight (8) of them done while Joseph Smith, Jr. was alive. The remaining account was recorded in 1859 by Martin Harris based on what he was told by Smith while he was alive.

    Does anyone know why this book limits itself to only five of these nine known accounts?

  • Bill in Nebraska Maryville, MO
    Jan. 3, 2013 6:56 p.m.

    All one has to do is go to the main Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints website and search First Vision and find all the information necessary. The explanations and reasons why are given. Why another book to explain what has already been explained over and over again.

    The only thing necessary is the event toook place ushering the Last Dispensation of the Fullness of times. By the way I leave out on purpose a lot of what I experienced on the night of me gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have only tolk approximately four or five individuals the entire events of that night. I do so because many would not nor would they ever believe what actually took place, yet I knew it happened. I see nothing wrong with the different visions. I do so as well as it really depends on the audience and whom I'm speaking to. Again one must know there really are no contradictions but hey you can't tell that to know it alls.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Jan. 3, 2013 3:08 p.m.

    I find less difference between the various accounts of the First Vision than I do between the Gospels.

    Doesn't bother me in the least.

  • skeptic Phoenix, AZ
    Jan. 3, 2013 3:00 p.m.

    If in truth Joseph Smith counseled in person with God of the universe and Jesus the Christ this being the greatest unique event in all human history then all other aspects of Mormon religion (pro, or con) are all just incidentals and one might wish to get on the Smith band wagon .

  • kvnsmnsn Springville, UT
    Jan. 3, 2013 12:21 p.m.

    I think it's safe to say I was disturbed when I found out that there were many versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision, and that there were some significant differences between the different version. So it's encouraging to find out that this book will address those differences. I'd like to read it.

    Disturbing, yes, but it didn't really damage my testimony. I know why I believe in God, and I know why I believe God inspires the LDS Church; the different accounts don't really affect those two things.

  • garybeac Chapel Hill, NC
    Jan. 3, 2013 12:00 p.m.

    For His own reasons, Heavenly Father gave me a vision when I was six. It led to my finding and joining the Church. I am not any more special than anyone else, and I am not called to lead others on account of it. I have met others who have had visions and "unusual" dreams. People who have experienced these have in common a sense of the memory of the them as being unlike other memories. When I recall my vision, it is like taking a familiar but complex object out of a box. I know it well, but as I study it, I find new details and perspectives. Thus I am confirmed in my testimony of Joseph's sincerity when I encounter variances in his recounting of his experiences over time. I would be suspicious of anyone who claimed to have had a vision from God who could fully and accurately recount it on the first try, or who didn't discover new insights with each retelling. Moreover, each of Joseph's many visions were of greater import than mine, so they were likely to have been even more complex.

  • Outlier Vancouver, BC
    Jan. 3, 2013 11:23 a.m.

    In the last 25 years, I've written out my conversion story on several occasions (usually for a talk or less). I went back and compared some and it's amazing how over the years different things because more prominent than others, or how I remember things I'd forgotten a few years earlier (or vice versa). I can totally understand how multiple written autobiographical recollections could differ over a span of a couple of decades. It actually makes the study of the event more interesting. I'm sure even combining all the recollections would still leave them missing some details.

  • JoeBlow Far East USA, SC
    Jan. 3, 2013 10:54 a.m.

    "The very fact that Joseph's Smith accounts do vary actually supports his claims."

    Well, in our court system, when a witness gives multiple, differing accounts of what they claim to have seen, it is never thought to add credibility.

    And I doubt that you would accept this logic from your child, your spouse, or anyone else you know.

  • ulvegaard Medical Lake, Washington
    Jan. 3, 2013 10:34 a.m.

    I have been aware for twenty years or more that there were more 'versions' of the First Vision. They are not entirely different, some simply include more details, others less.

    The challenge would be for anyone -- especially with limited time and resources to try to write out even the most significant experiences of their lives --- multiple times -- and some of those accounts written at intervals with a year or more in between. Then, go back and compare and see how each of those five or so accounts vary.

    The very fact that Joseph's Smith accounts do vary actually supports his claims. Had he been trying to pull a major hoax, the first rule is to 'get your story straight' -- in other words, make sure that each account of the founding event in LDS history are all identical, word for word. Instead, Joseph repeated his vision more than once, to different audiences and in each setting recounted, or omitted certain portions depending on the circumstances and the audience -- just as we give different details of our wedding day if we are talking to our toddlers, or teaching young adults about appropriate intimacy.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Jan. 3, 2013 9:34 a.m.

    Many people throughout history have claimed experiences in which they were touched by God. I have no problem in considering the claim of a farm boy. What makes Joseph Smith's account controversial is that the version he gave eighteen years after the 1820 event impugns the legitimacy of the whole of institutional Christianity which has a rich history that Joseph had little if any schooled knowledge of. Add to that the fact that at this point, Joseph was the leader of an upstart religion vying for adherents and it's not hard to see why his claim is so rigorously scrutinized by a skeptical world.

  • JoeBlow Far East USA, SC
    Jan. 3, 2013 9:14 a.m.

    "There are five different accounts of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s First Vision that either he penned or he asked others to write..."

    And you guys wonder why outsiders view Mormonism with such skepticism.

  • LValfre CHICAGO, IL
    Jan. 3, 2013 9:04 a.m.

    Keep reading Allen. There's lots of disturbing things you probably don't know yet.

    Jan. 3, 2013 8:17 a.m.

    I am anxious to read the book because I had thought for most of my life that the 1838 account was the only account. It disturbed me at first to read the other accounts and it will be interesting to read how the author analyses the different accounts.