Saturday, January 29, 2011

Joseph Smith's First Vision(s) Explained

Joseph Smith had multiple versions of his first vision story. On the official LDS site, we read

During a 10-year period (1832–42), Joseph Smith wrote or dictated at least four accounts of the First Vision. These accounts are similar in many ways, but they include some differences in emphasis and detail.

The “detail” that this quote is referring to can be found in the following 4 versions summary (as the official church source is a little light on specifics)

Version 1 – 1827 - Joseph Smith’s first account

  • A spirit appeared to Joseph in a vision telling him of a record on gold plates.
  • When Joseph went to get the plates the spirit, transforming from toad to man, struck Joseph twice and gave him instructions to come back again in a year, a command repeated several years in a row.

Version 2 - 1827 – Given by Martin Harris to the Rev. John D. Clark

  • After an evening of money-digging an angel appeared to Joseph in a vision telling him he has been chosen to be a prophet and bring forth a record on gold plates.
  • Joseph and his father disobey the angel and look for the chest using Joseph's clairvoyance. They find it but the angel appears, Joseph knocked is to the ground and severely reprimanded.
  • Joseph would dictate words to Harris, while looking through the stones, but Joseph and Harris had to be separated by a suspended blanket during the dictation process.

Version 3 – 1832 Account by Joseph Smith, Jr.

  • Felt convicted of sins
  • Determined all churches were wrong
  • Vision of the Savior –Jesus Christ (has a “Christian experience”)
  • At age 17 he again prayed and an angel appeared telling him about the plates and announced again he was forgiven of his sins.

Version 4 – 1838 – Currently Official Version (not Joseph Smiths account)

  • A local revival caused him to wonder which church was right, it had never occurred to him all were wrong
  • age 14 (1820)
  • he was in a grove
  • had a vision of two personages
  • One identifies the other as his son (by implication God the Father and Jesus, but not explicitly stated)
  • Was told all churches are wrong and is to join none of them
  • Claimed to come under great persecution
  • Fell into all kinds of temptations
  • Three years later has vision of an angel

The issue that seems to vex certain non-believers is that Joseph Smith’s original account was not used as the official vision; which also varies significantly from the official version used today. Woah! woah! woah! Anti-mormon critic guy! Slow your horses! This is where a lot of people get lost and forget the principle of modern revelation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in a modern prophet with continuing revelation. This allows the current prophet of God to receive revelation and correct any mistakes in Joseph Smiths vision story.

What you need to appreciate is that it ultimately doesn’t matter whether Joseph Smith said he saw a toad-man, an angel, Jesus or both God and Jesus; because if the current prophet says that something else actually happened, then the original first account from Joseph Smith’s becomes only his opinion, and not actually revelation or official doctrine. Why would we need Joseph Smith to know what he saw when we have a current prophet?

I hope I’ve cleared that up!

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