Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Jason Harris
This year is the 200th year anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. By the title of this post, it is clear where my opinion resides regarding this story.
The story goes at the age of 14, in 1820, Joseph Smith was struggling to know which church was true. He went to a grove of trees near his house to pray on the matter, and he had a marvelous vision in which God the Father and God the Son appeared to him and told him none of the churches were true. That he was to join none of them.
During my mission to the Philippines, our beloved mission president instructed us to read the 1838 First Vision account as found in the Pearl of Great Price every Fast Sunday. I carried on this practice for many years after I returned home from my mission as well. I am very familiar with the account. It wasn’t until about ten years after my mission I learned that there were numerous other accounts, some of them with contradictory details. I subsequently spent another ten years trying to make sense of this (and other) issue(s).
I came to the conclusion after extensive study that nobody was talking about the First Vision (that we can glean from the historical records) until the 1830’s. But Joseph’s family, friends and enemies alike were talking about Joseph’s stories of his visit(s) with the angel Moroni during the 1820’s.
I find it utterly implausible that everyone from the 1820’s would neglect to mention the most important event in the history of humanity since the resurrection of Jesus Christ (per Mormon Theology) but mention Moroni instead… Clearly they must have known about the First Vision (per Joseph Smith) if his 1838 account is true because he states he was severely persecuted for sharing this story.
I also find it utterly implausible that some of the most important details about the nature of God would change and evolve so much from story to story that Joseph shared.
Add on to this what I believe is strong evidence that NONE of the scriptures produced by Joseph Smith are literally what they claim to be (see elsewhere on this blog), and for me the conclusion seems certain that the First Vision as relayed by Joseph Smith never happened as a literal physical event.
I believe the First Vision was a made up story by Joseph in the 1830’s. Nobody heard about it in the 1820’s because it never happened. It evolved and changed as needed (often in contradictory ways) as the theology of the Mormon Church evolved.
Rather than re-inventing the wheel, I would encourage the reader to evaluate an excellent essay on this issue from Mormon Think: “Presenting a range of perspectives and viewpoints concerning LDS history, privileging those they believe are the most accurate, consistent and empirically valid.”
Jason Harris lived as an orthodox Mormon for forty years. He writes about his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made, potentially helpful and harmful. He believes there is Divinity in all of them and everywhere.