Saturday, March 1, 2008

"Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start."

I know, singing songs from The Sound of Music entitles me to give up my man card but I have always loved musical and this one seemed to fit nicely into the theme of this post.

Last night I was trying to collect my thoughts regarding my disaffection with the Mormon Church and it became rather clear that what I need to do is start from the very beginning. Where is the beginning of the LDS Church? Joseph Smith, the First Vision and the books of scripture he translated. So, the focus of my next couple of posts will be on those subjects.

On my mission, one of the first things I learned in Spanish was the account of the first vision. For weeks it was the only thing I could say so I got really good at it. It has always been kind of special to me and I still have it memorized. While studying the topic of the first vision in the recent past, I was very surprised to find out that the official account we read in Joseph Smith History was written in 1838 but was not actually published until 1842 in Times and Season. I was always taught that the vision happened in 1820 so that would mean that 18 years passed before our version of the account was written and 22 years from when it was published. There were many accounts written before that and they all contradict each other in some way.

The fist time Joseph wrote about the account was in 1832.

"… thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mind become exceedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ…Therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in (the) attitude of calling upon the Lord (in the 16th year of my age) a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the (Lord) opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph (my son) thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy (way) walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life (behold) the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not (my) commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me"

Joseph makes a few statements that are different then the "official" version we know. He states that he had already come to the conclusion that there were no denominations teaching the true gospel of Jesus Chris. He also says that he saw the Lord but there is no mention of him seeing God.

Another account was written in 1835 in Joseph Smiths diary.

"“being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involve eternal consequ[e]nces; being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and bow[e]d down before the Lord … I called upon the Lord for the first time, in the place above stated or in other words I made a fruitless attempt to p[r]ay … I called on the Lord in mightly prayer, a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon me, and filled me with Joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first, he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee, he testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication."

In this account, he no longer knows that there was not a true church on the earth. He mentions that the personage testified that Jesus Christ is the Son of God but he does not say that he saw Jesus or God. He also talks about seeing many angels but that is not part of the "official" account.

Later in 1835, Joseph gave another account to Erastus Holmes that was published in Deseret News and History of the Church.

"This afternoon, Erastus Holmes, of Newbury, Ohio, called on me to inquire about the establishment of the church, and to be instructed in doctrine more perfectly. I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old up to the time I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old; also the revelations that I received afterwards concerning the Book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the church up to this date.”

Again Joseph only talks about seeing angels and there is no mention of God and Jesus.

In 1844 Joseph wrote a chapter on Mormonism in a book called An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States.

"I retired to a secret place in a grove, and began to call upon the Lord. While fervently engaged in supplication, my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enrapt in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light, which eclipsed the sun at noonday. They told me that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as His Church and Kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to "go not after them," at the same time receiving a promise that the fullness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me."

As in other accounts, Joseph does not specifically say that he saw God and Jesus and only refers to them here as personages. i find Josephs accounts puzzling. When talking about an experience so important and great, why was he so vague? Would he not be more specific in telling who it was he saw? If this is such an important event in Mormonism, why then are there so many different accounts?
I think it is hard to believe that an event so important to the world and the center of the LDS Church could have been told in so many different ways. Why could they not get the story straight and which one am aI supposed to believe? The "official" account is obviously the one the Church teaches but it appears to only be a compilation of different facts from the various accounts.
A fellow blogger has a great blog about this as well that also has many quotes from Brigham Young and other church leaders that clearly state that the first vision was the visitation of Angles and not God and Jesus. You can read it here.

The accounts of the first vision were taken from a web site called Mormons in Transition and it has the sources listed there if you would like to research further.


  1. well written. I never knew all of this until recently. It is very refreshing knowing that you are not taking an anti side...just sharing the way it really happened back in the day. you write really well by the way! I am put to shame!

  2. Thanks for the link...

    The beginning is a great place to start, its actually the first thing that really got to me about the history of the church. I began researching church history becuase I have a hard time reading the scriptures and the differing accounts of the first vision really made an impact on me. I agree that a defining moment in the history of the world such as the the first vision should be able to keep its form and details through the years that it went unwritten, but probably told. I highly doubt that such a story would be suspect to Chinese whispers.