Changing Accounts of Joseph Smith’s “First Vision”

(Information provided by Institute for Religious Research)

1827 – Account of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Joseph Smith, Jr., given to Willard Chase, as related in his 1833 affidavit.

  • Several years before obtaining the plates, 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.
  • Approximate age 17 (1823) when spirit first appears.
  • Joseph obtains gold book using the seer stone he found in the well of Willard Chase.
  • Gold book found in the context of money-digging
  • Age 21 (1827) when Joseph retrieves plates
  • No mention of a revival
  • Joseph retrieves plates while out with his wife but hides them in the woods
  • Joseph approaches Martin Harris, a man with money, to say that God has given Joseph a commandment that Harris is the one God wants to assist [financially] in producing the Book of Mormon.

1827 — Account of Martin Harris given to the Rev. John A. Clark, as related in his 1842 book Gleanings by the Way, W.J. & J.K. Simon, pp. 222ff. [Microfilm copy].

  • No revival
    • 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.
    • Before Joseph can get them he must go to Pennsylvania to meet the woman who will be his wife.
    • After marrying her Joseph must wait until the birth of his first child. Once the child had completed his second year Joseph could get the chest with the gold book.
    • Approximate age 18-19 (1824-25) when angel first appears (Joseph met Emma Hale in 1825, married her Jan. 18, 1827)
    • Joseph’s first child is born and only 6 months old when he tells his family
    • 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.
    • A little later another divine communication tells Joseph he can go alone to get the chest, bring it home but not open it until his son is two years old.
    • Joseph in the meantime is to begin translating the plates using the spectacles but leave the gold book in the chest
    • 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.

1830 — Interview of Joseph Smith by Peter Bauder, recounted by Bauder in his book The Kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, printed in 1834, pp. 36-38 (See Early Mormon Documents, vol.1, compiled by Dan Vogel, Signature Books, 1996, pp. 16-17).

  • Joseph Smith could give Bauder no “christian experience”, ie. no conversion experience or manifestation of saving grace in his life
  • Smith claimed an angel told him where to find a secret treasure
  • Smith returned once a year for several years before getting the plates
  • Angel took the plates back after the translation

1832 — Earliest known attempt at an ‘official’ recounting of the ‘First Vision, from History, 1832, Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp.2,3, in the handwriting of Joseph Smith (See An American Prophet’s Record, edited by Scott Faulring, Signature Books, 1989, p.5; The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, compiled by Dean Jessee, Deseret Book, 1984, pp. 5-6; Early Mormon Documents, vol.1, compiled by Dan Vogel, Signature Books, 1996, pp. 26-31)

  • Smith started serious study of the scriptures at age 12
    • Felt convicted of sins
    • Determined all churches were wrong
    • No mention of a revival
    • Omits money-digging context
    • Age 15 (in his 16th year)
    • Location not clear
    • Vision of the Savior – Jesus Christ (has a “Christian experience”)
    • Told his sins were forgiven. Fell back into transgression.
    • At age 17 he again prayed and an angel appeared telling him about the plates and announced again he was forgiven of his sins.
    • About this time Smith dictated Sec. 84 of the D.&C. stating that no man can see the face of God without the priesthood and live [vs. 22].

1834-35 — Oliver Cowdery, with Joseph Smith’s help, published the first history of Mormonism in the LDS periodical Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Dec. 1834, vol.1, no.3.

  • A revival stirred in him a desire to “know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion.”
    • Desired to know if a Supreme being did exist, and wanted manifestation that his sins were forgiven.
    • Age 17 (1823)
    • He was in his bedroom
    • Vision of an angel
    • Told sins were forgiven and Lord would do a work through him
    • Told about gold plates and their location

1835-36 — Account, Joseph Smith Diary, Nov. 9, 1835 as found in Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, compiled by Dean C. Jessee, pp. 75-77; also in An American Prophet’s Record, p. 51.

  • “Wrought up” in his mind about religion
    • Age 14 (1820)
    • In a grove
    • Had a vision of one personage and then another
    • One personage testifies about Jesus, but neither is identified as Jesus
    • Saw many angels in this first visitation
    • Was told sins were forgiven
    • Later (age 17) has another vision of angels
    • No mention of revival

1835 — Account given by Joseph Smith to Erastus Holmes on November 14, 1835, originally published in the Deseret News of Saturday May 29, 1852, later published in the History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 312. It parallels the previously cited account and lends support to the view that the dual personages in the 1835 diary account should be understood to be angels who affirm the Sonship of Jesus Christ rather than the Father and the Son.

  • age 14 (1820)
    • had a vision of angels
    • later had revelations about the Book of Mormon
    • this account parallels the one given to Joshua

1838 — This account became the official version, now part of Mormon Scripture in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith — History, 1:7-20. Though written in 1838, it was not published until 1842 in Times and Seasons, March 15, 1842, vol. 3, no. 10, pp. 727-728, 748-749, 753.

  • 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

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