Easygenerator Assignment

First Vision Accounts

Firsthand Accounts of the First Vision

The First Vision - Firsthand Accounts

First Vision Accounts

Joseph Smith recorded that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him in a grove of trees near his parents’ home in western New York State when he was about 14 years old. Concerned by his sins and unsure which spiritual path to follow, Joseph sought guidance by attending meetings, reading scripture, and praying. In answer, he received a heavenly manifestation. Joseph shared and documented the First Vision, as it came to be known, on multiple occasions; he wrote or assigned scribes to write four different accounts of the vision.

                                                                                                                                                                

Joseph Smith published two accounts of the First Vision during his lifetime. The first of these, known today as Joseph Smith—History, was canonized in the Pearl of Great Price and thus became the best known account. The two unpublished accounts, recorded in Joseph Smith’s earliest autobiography and a later journal, were generally forgotten until historians working for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rediscovered and published them in the 1960s. Since that time, these documents have been discussed repeatedly in Church magazines, in works printed by Church-owned and Church-affiliated presses, and by Latter-day Saint scholars in other venues. In addition to the firsthand accounts, there are also five descriptions of Joseph Smith’s vision recorded by his contemporaries.

                                                            

The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail. Historians expect that when an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details. Indeed, differences similar to those in the First Vision accounts exist in the multiple scriptural accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus and the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yet despite the differences, a basic consistency remains across all the accounts of the First Vision. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if it were less well documented.

1832 Account

This is the earliest known account and the only one written in Joseph's own hand. This account describes Joseph's consciousness of his own sins and frustration at being unable to find a church that matched the one he had read about in the New Testament. He emphasized Jesus Christ's Atonement and the personal redemption it offered. This is the only firsthand account that doesn't mention two beings. 

1835 Account

In the fall of 1835, Joseph Smith recounted his First Vision to Robert Matthews, a visitor to Kirtland, Ohio. The retelling, recorded in Joseph’s journal by his scribe Warren Parrish, emphasizes his attempt to discover which church was right, the opposition he felt as he prayed, and the appearance of one divine personage who was followed shortly by another. This account also notes the appearance of angels in the vision.

1838 Account

The narration of the First Vision best known to Latter-day Saints today is the 1838 account. First published in 1842 in the Times and Seasons, the Church’s newspaper in Nauvoo, Illinois, the account was part of a longer history dictated by Joseph Smith between periods of intense opposition. Whereas the 1832 account emphasizes the more personal story of Joseph Smith as a young man seeking forgiveness, the 1838 account focuses on the vision as the beginning of the “rise and progress of the Church.” Like the 1835 account, the central question of the narrative is which church is right.

1842 Account 

Written in response to Chicago Democrat editor John Wentworth’s request for information about the Latter-day Saints, this account was printed in the Times and Seasons in 1842. (The “Wentworth letter,” as it is commonly known, is also the source for the Articles of Faith.) The account, intended for publication to an audience unfamiliar with Mormon beliefs, is concise and straightforward. As with earlier accounts, Joseph Smith noted the confusion he experienced and the appearance of two personages in answer to his prayer. The following year, Joseph Smith sent this account with minor modifications to a historian named Israel Daniel Rupp, who published it as a chapter in his book, He Pasa Ekklesia [The Whole Church]: An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States.

First Vision Accounts - Similarities

Video of all First Vision Accounts Together

Ask of God - Joseph Smith's First Vision

Secondhand Accounts of the First Vision

Secondhand Accounts of the First Vision

Secondhand Accounts

Besides the firsthand accounts from Joseph Smith himself, five accounts were written by contemporaries who heard Joseph Smith speak about the vision. 

Orson Pratt - 1840

This is the earliest published account of Joseph Smith’s first vision of Deity. It was written by Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and published as a pamphlet in Scotland in 1840. This account goes into more detail of the actual descent of the two beings, describes that Joseph thought the trees would be consumed, and recounts how the two personages looked identical.

Orson Hyde - 1842

Another member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Orson Hyde, published this account of Joseph Smith’s earliest visions in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1842. He wrote the text in English, relying heavily on Pratt’s A[n] Interesting Account, and translated it into German for publication. This account discusses how the Adversary made several attempts to "cool [Joseph's] ardent soul" and how his mind was filled with doubts and how the Adversary brought all manner of inappropriate images to his mind to prevent him from obtaining the object of his endeavors.

Levi Richards - 1843

Following an 11 June 1843 public church meeting at which Joseph Smith spoke of his earliest vision, Levi Richards included an account of it in his diary. This account is very short and simple. It discusses how Joseph inquired on which church to join, he went into a grove to pray about it, and that he received an answer.

David Nye White - 1843

In August 1843, David Nye White, editor of the Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, interviewed Joseph Smith in his home as part of a two-day stop in Nauvoo, Illinois. His news article included an account of Joseph Smith’s first vision. This account mentions that Joseph went into the grove where he had stuck an ax in a stump that day. This account also details how one being showed up first and then the other being appeared.

Alexander Neibaur - 1844

On 24 May 1844, German immigrant and church member Alexander Neibaur visited Joseph Smith in his home and heard him relate the circumstances of his earliest visionary experience. This account also relates the one being showed up first and then the second being appeared after. This is the only account that also describes the color of Heavenly Father's eyes.

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Video on the Secondhand Accounts

Reported Accounts of the First VIsion