The Case Against The First Vision
Bible Debate—Mormons vs JWs
The Case Against The First Vision
(Investigator 7, 1989
One of the
four standard works of Scripture of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as The Pearl of Great Price,
contains a section entitled "Joseph Smith History." In this section of
Mormon Scripture we encounter what is known as the story of the
so-called "First Vision."
it tells of Joseph Smith Jr. going into the woods to pray for
wisdom in response to a large religious revival in the area of
Palmyra/Manchester in upstate New York, which, according to the story,
took place in the spring of 1820. Not knowing what church to join,
Smith supposedly decided to ask God in prayer. Smith tells of being
overtaken by a "power of some actual being from the unseen world" and
just at the point of despair, in his own words, "I saw a pillar of
light exactly over my head... When the light rested upon me I saw two
Personages...standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me,
calling me by name and said, pointing to the other - This is My
Beloved Son. Hear Him!"
asking these two Personages which church he should join, Smith
supposedly was told that he should join none, "for they were all wrong;
...all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those
professors were all corrupt…"
The importance of
this "First Vision" to the LDS Church cannot be
over-emphasized. The late Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie
transcendent vision was the beginning of
Latter-day revelation; ... Through it the creeds of
Christendom were shattered to smithereens, and because of
it the truth about those Beings whom it is life eternal to know began
again to be taught among men." (Mormon Doctrine, pg. 285)
Mormon Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,
as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph
Smith. He was either a prophet of God,
divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was
one of the biggest frauds this world has
ever seen. There is no middle ground."
(Doctrines of Salvation vol. 1, pg. 188)
Did Joseph Smith
Jr. see God the Father and Jesus Christ as separate
and distinct beings in the spring of 1820? The great mass of historical
evidence now available to the honest investigator gives only one
answer: no. Reproduced on the front cover of this tract [here omitted]
is a photocopy
of a page found in Joseph Smith's 1832 diary, written in his own
handwriting. It says:
in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th year
of my age a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day
come down from above and rested upon me…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…behold I am the Lord of glory I was
crucified for the world..."
One will search
in vain for any reference to two personages anywhere in
this account. Really, if you were writing this down in your diary, would
you forget about having seen God the Father? Remember,
the earliest account, and the only one written in Joseph's own
handwriting. (See the Ensign of 12/84 for further corroboration
diary entry, page 25)
diary of November 9, 1835 contains yet another account, and
here Joseph does mention two personages, only this time they
that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God." In this account angels are
mentioned, but not God the Father or Jesus Christ! What makes
this account even more fascinating is the
fact that in the Documentary History of the
Church, under the date of November 14, 1835 (only 5 days
the above account) we have another mention of this "vision."
account was originally printed in serial form in the Deseret
News on May 29, 1852, it recounted Smith's telling
Holmes of his experiences "...from six years up to the time I
the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about
years old…" However, since this
contradicts the modern story, recent editions of the Documentary
History have changed the wording: "...from six years old up to
I received my first vision, which was when I was about fourteen years
old…" (Documentary History of the Church, 2:312)
close proximity in time of the above diary account that
mentions angels, and the clear editing of the text of the Documentary
History in an attempt to cover up this fact, it seems to be clear
the "First Vision" story has undergone a substantial amount of
evolution. Is it possible that the LDS Church in 1852 really believed
that only angels appeared to Joseph Smith?
certainly! A brief perusal of the following references from the Journal
of Discourses should answer that question:
and 13:324. President George A. Smith taught that when Joseph…"went
humbly before the Lord and inquired of Him…the Lord answered his
prayer, and revealed to Joseph, by the ministration of angels, the true
condition of the religious world. And when the holy angel appeared,
Joseph inquired which of all these denominations was right." (JD
really possible that Joseph made up the story as he went along,
adding God the Father only in the late 1830's? Maybe he did not
realize that by doing so he was violating his own revelation in Doctrine
and Covenants 84:21-22, where he says that no man
can see God
the Father without the priest-hood and live. Joseph supposedly did not
receive the "priesthood" until 1829!
interesting point that must be addressed by the person who
believes in Joseph's story is the fact that though the modern church in
its missionary presentations claims that Joseph immediately came
under persecution for telling people of his "First Vision" story, the
fact is that there is no clear, unambiguous reference to this vision
until many years after the alleged event — until the late 1830's at the
best. For example, E.D. Howe published the first "anti-Mormon"
book in 1834, and never once mentions the "First Vision." If it was so
well known, why did he not take Smith to task for it? Why do we not
find mention of this vision by other Mormons of the time? Why do we not
find many sermons based on the vision from the leaders in Utah? Why
such a deafening silence, such a lack of evidence?
research has provided us with much more information on the
historicity of this alleged event. In 1967, Rev. Wesley Walters
published an article entitled New Light on Mormon Origins from the
Palmyra (N.Y.) Revival. In this article, Rev. Walters revealed the
results of his study of a question that had not yet been addressed
fully — was there really a revival in Manchester in 1820?
to the original sources themselves, Rev. Walters was able to
determine that there were definitely revivals in the area in 1816/18l7
and in 1824/1825, hut none in 1820! Though in our
we cannot recount the literally hundreds of facts brought
forth by Rev. Walters in both this study as well as another we will
discuss below, a few items should be sufficient for our purposes.
Oliver Cowdery's story says that a revival broke out in 1823
under Rev. Lane, a Methodist minister. William
Smith's account as well denies the 1820 date for the revival — he dates
it in 1824. Worthy of note as well is the fact that both of these
sources (Cowdery and Smith) by mentioning various ministers help us to
find the date; for both of the ministers they mentioned were not
assigned to that area until after, 1822!
Rev. Walters discovered the story of the revival written by
Rev. Lane himself. All of the details of the revival that broke out in
September of 1824 match perfectly with Joseph's own story — hundreds of
people joined the churches, Methodist, Baptist, and
Presbyterian (401 to be exact), and it lasted through the spring of
when we look to the records relevant to1820, we find no
evidence of revival at all. Rather than having hundreds joining the
Methodist church, the records for the entire circuit show that there
were losses of 23 for 1819, 6 for 1820, and 40 for 1821. The Baptist
Church in Palmyra gained only 6 by baptism in 1820 (compared to 94 for
1825), and other local Baptist churches listed losses of 4, 5 and 9 for
the year. Add to this the fact that though the denominational
publications had devoted many pages to the "glowing reports" of the
revivals in both 1816/17 and 1824/25, nothing is mentioned about any
revivals in 1820.
the situation until 1988 when Rev. Walters released new
information from his research.
information put together
records photocopied by BYU in 1970, newly discovered land
assessment records from Manchester township and the records of "warning
out" from Norwich, Vermont. What do these new historical sources tell
Mormon story up until this point has been as follows: the
Smiths live in Norwich, VT from 1814 to 1816, when they move to
Palmyra. The Smiths live in Palmyra for two years till 1818, at which
time they move to Manchester. Two years later, as Smith states, a
revival breaks out and the First Vision takes place (1820).Any
disruption in this chronology not only threatens the entire story of
the early history of Mormonism, but, since the date of the First Vision
is part of Mormon Scripture (1820), it also destroys the foundation of
Mormon revelation. With this in mind let’s look at just a few of
the record of the Smiths being "warned out" of Norwich, VT has
been discovered. This occurred March 15, 1816. Now, as the warning out
normally happened very shortly after arrival, and had to take place at
most one year after arrival to avoid difficulties for the town,
this means that the Smiths lived in Norwich from 1816 to 1818.
Correlation of weather records with the story of Lucy Mack Smith
confirms these dates.
road-tax records from Palmyra indicate that the name of
Joseph Smith Sr. appears from 1817 through 1822. As all
years of age and older as of April were required to be listed, Alvin
Smith's name appears as well in 1820. It is evident that Joseph Smith
Sr. moved to Palmyra before the rest of his family, who joined him
there at a later date. It is important to note that Smith is listed as
living in Palmyra until 1822 — despite LDS scholars saying that he
moved from there four years earlier in 1818.
information has come to light in the land assessment records
for Manchester township. These records make it clear that the Smiths
did not contract to buy the100 acres of land for their farm in
Manchester county until after June of 1820, for the tax rolls
time show that all of the land was taxed to the original owners, the
heirs of Nicholas Evertson. However, in the tax rolls of
1821 we see that Joseph Smith Sr. is taxed for 100 acres at $7.00 an
acre — the price of raw, unimproved land at the time. The land is
given the same value in the 1822 assessment, but in 1823 the value
rises to $1000, a jump of 40% even though the other land values only
went up 4% in the area. This indicates that, for the first time,
improvements were made to the land, including the
construction of a home. What does this tell us?
suggests that the Smiths moved onto the land and lived there after
the summer of 1822 and before the summer of 1823, which
meshes with the data provided from all sources, especially the road-tax
records from Palmyra. Then, recall that Joseph Smith himself said that
it was "two years" after their move to Manchester (1822/23,) that the
revivals took place (1824/25). This corresponds perfectly to
information that shows that the revival Smith described took place in
can be said of all of this? First, we see that given just the
brief summary of the information as we have it today, one cannot
help but suggest that the "First Vision" story evolved over time into
the form it has today. Joseph Smith Jr. was simply in error when he
said that this religious experience took place in 1820 a very human
error to be sure, but we must remember that this error is part of
Mormon Scripture! Those who claim to be prophets can not make excuses
for themselves. Not only is the status of the "First Vision" placed in
grave jeopardy, but all of the rest of the Mormon story is thrown into
absolute disarray, and the Mormon claim to be "the only true Church" is
left without historical foundation.
and Omega Ministries, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
A BIBLE DEBATE — MORMONs vs JWs
(Investigator 6, 1989 May)
I sat in
on a debate between Jehovah’s Witnesses (J) and Mormons (M) on
whether Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the founder of Mormonism, saw God.
missionaries cited Joseph Smith's description of "two
personages" who allegedly visited him in 1820:
pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of
the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me… When the
light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory
defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake
unto me, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other, "This is
my Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Truth Restored 1969 p. 4)
The two supernatural persons Smith
claimed to meet
in 1820 were neither God the Father nor Jesus Christ. Jesus said: "The
world will behold me no more." That's in John 14:19. And concerning God
the Father 1 John 4:12 says: "At no time has anyone beheld God."
The Bible records that Abraham saw God.
Moses, Jacob, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Stephen, and others.
Abraham, Jacob and Moses saw angels who
Ezekiel, Daniel and Stephen had visions of God. These visions
were events in the mind and did not involve the literal eyes with lens
and retina. Daniel in chapter 7 called them "the visions of my head".
Stephen, in Acts 7:56, said: "Look! I behold...the Son of man
standing at God's right hand." Scores of Jews were standing around
Stephen. But none saw what Stephen saw.
literal sight was not involved but it was a vision
revealed to Stephen's mind. Ezekiel also did not literally see God.
Ezekiel also only saw God in visions while Jewish elders who sat
around him saw nothing. That's in Ezekiel 8:1 and 14:1.
agreement with this Bible pattern the Smith you follow could
not have literally seen God. Smith was a 15-year old juvenile at
the time with a lively imagination. I agree with Jesus who stated in
John 5:37: "You have neither heard God's voice at any time nor seen his
Some prophets heard God. Others saw God—literally with
Others, like Joseph Smith, both heard God and also saw him.
that "Jehovah" is the Old Testament name for Jesus. Jehovah
is also called "God Almighty". Jehovah was also both heard and
seen, says the Bible.
19:20 tells us that "the LORD" meaning Jehovah "came down upon
mount Sinai." Chapter 20 verse 1 goes on: "And God spake all these
words…" Chapter 20 verse 19 says: "And they said unto Moses, Speak thou
with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die."
Exodus 33:11 says: "And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a
man speaketh unto his friend." Genesis 32:24
30 tells how Jacob wrestled with God all night. When they finished
wrestling, Jacob said: "I have seen God face to face."
In the examples you mentioned, God spoke, acted or
by proxy — or representatively. Angels, sent by God, spoke in God's
name even saying "I am God".
example was of Mount Sinai where God gave the Law to Israel.
Acts 7:53 says: "You received the Law as transmitted by angels." Verse
38 says: "The angel spoke on Mount Sinai". Galatians 3:19 says:
"The Law was transmitted through angels". Hebrews 2:2 mentions
"the word spoken through angels".
also Exodus 3 where God spoke to Moses from a burning bush.
Verse 2 says that "Jehovah's angel" spoke. In the conversation that
follows the angel is called "God" and "Jehovah" repeatedly. Clearly God
was speaking through an angel who represented him.
formula — that God was represented by angels — explains all the
Old Testament examples of men seeing or hearing God.
I repeat, Jacob said: "I have seen God face to face".
He saw an angel who represented God and wrestled with
He said "I have seen God" and not "I have seen an angel".
You're finding the idea of God acting by proxy, in
hard to grasp. However, Hosea 12:4 refers back to Genesis 32, where
Jacob wrestled, and says: "And he kept contending with an angel". It's
all Scripture together that gives the right idea.
What about Moses? Exodus 33:11 reads: "And the LORD spake
face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." Deuteronomy
34:10 similarly says: "Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face."
Deuteronomy 5:4 5 states that Jehovah spoke "face to
face" with all
Israel from Mount Sinai. But I've already shown that it was an angel
speaking. Chapter 4 verse 15 further adds: "YOU did not see any form on
the day of Jehovah speaking to YOU in Horeb". Horeb was
another name for Sinai.
face" therefore merely means that the angel representing God
replied immediately. There was no delay. This agrees with Exodus 33:20:
"You are not able to see my face because no man may see me and yet
Why not read the next three verses?
said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see
me and live.
over Moses and Moses sees God's "back parts". God
has body parts just as a man has. Verse 23 mentions God's back, hand
and face. Even if Moses only saw God's back parts then he still saw
God. Nor was this a vision but a literal event.
the LORD said,
Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt
stand upon a rock:
it shall come to
pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will
put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while
I pass by.
I will take away
mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts:
but my face shall not be seen.
The Bible is definite that God does not resemble any
object. Different passages call God a "shield", "rock", "sun", and
"stone". This does not mean that God is shaped like such objects.
Such words are used to show that God has qualities or abilities
that correspond to a shield, the sun or a rock. Similarly when the
Bible speaks of God's arms, ears, back, wings, face, finger, eyes,
nose, etc, this only means that God has abilities or qualities
that correspond to such physical things.
the Bible says in Romans chapter 1: "they became foolish
and turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the
image of corruptible man and of birds and four footed creatures and
33 "face", "back" and "hand" are not literal. "Face" denotes
a full manifestation of God — which no person could survive.
"Back" denotes a partial manifestation and "hand" represents
19 and 22 have phrases like: "cause me to see your glory",
"I shall cause all my goodness to pass before your face" and "while my
glory is passing by". Such phrases prove that it was not a
man-shaped likeness of God that went past.
said: "Cause me to see, please, your glory." 19 But he
said: "I myself shall cause all my goodness to pass before your face,
and I will declare the name of Jehovah before you, and I will favor the
one whom I may favor, and I will show mercy to the one to whom I may
show mercy." Exodus 33:18-19
What do you mean by "partial" or "full manifestation".
Bible does not use such terminology.
1 Timothy 6:16 says: "the one alone having immortality,
in unapproachable light, whom not one of men has seen or can see." This
light is what Moses referred to when he said: "cause me to see your
glory". By "partial manifestation!" or "full manifestation" I mean that
God can reveal this "unapproachable light" to different extents.
He can also reduce its intensity as though screening it off with
reveals the light [that] he dwells in to humans, he does so by
means of angels. Remember in Luke 2:9 where an angel announced the
birth of Jesus to shepherds? It says there: "Jehovah's glory
gleamed around them".
But Hagar, the concubine of Abraham, spoke to God. She
directly and not just a bright light.
That was in Genesis 16:7 13. Verse 7 plainly identifies
as "Jehovah's angel".
Gideon also spoke with God.
That's in Judges 6:11 27. Again, verses 11, 12, 20 and 22
the speaker as "Jehovah's angel".
What about Abraham? In Genesis 18:2 three men appeared to
Abraham. Two of the "men" were angels. (19:1) The third was
called "Jehovah" meaning God. (18:22) Verse 22 clearly
distinguishes Jehovah from the two angels and therefore "Jehovah"
cannot in this instance refer to an angel who represents Jehovah.
You're mistaken because, as we learnt before: "At no time has
beheld God." The third, "man" must therefore have been an angel also.
He was distinguished from the other two angels because he took on God's
name, spoke for God, and represented God.
Exodus 6:2 3 has God saying to Moses "I appeared unto
Notice "God APPEARED".
We discussed earlier about the burning bush and how an
to Moses from that bush. Moses then told Israel: "Jehovah the God of
your forefathers has APPEARED to me…" That's in Exodus 3:16. God is
counted as having APPEARED when an angel who speaks in God's name
reasons why God never appears personally are given in 1 Kings
8:27; Isaiah 66:1; Jeremiah 23:24. Those verses tell us that God is
bigger and greater than the heavens and that he fills them with his
If God is bigger than the Universe you'd have to explain
how man can
be in God's image. After all, God made humans in his own image says
Genesis chapter 1.
Exodus 24:9 11 tells how 74 men including Moses climbed up Mount
Sinai and SAW God. Twice it says "they SAW God". It was literal sight
and not a vision and not an angel. The Hebrew word "raah" which is
there used refers to literal sight. Your New World Translation has it
wrongly translated as "vision". The King James says:
up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the
elders of Israel:
they saw the God
of Israel: and there was under his feet as it
were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of
heaven in his clearness.
upon the nobles
of the children of Israel he laid not his hand:
also they saw God, and did eat and drink. (Exodus 24:9-11)
J. In verse 10 the Hebrew word is
"raah". It corresponds to the English
word "see". And like the English word "see" "raah" can refer to
either literal sight or figurative sight.
11, however, the Hebrew word is not "raah" but is "hazah".
Many Bible translations, not just the New World Translation,
"hazah" translated as "vision". The King James Bible in this instance
show you this from a Bible called The Companion Bible.
actually a King James Bible. But it has numerous scholarly
explanations and notes in the margins. Notice here the
accompanying notes for verse 10. It clearly explains that "hazah"
means to "see with the mental eye".
concerning your earlier point about man being in God's image: To
be in God's image does not mean having the same shape as God. Males and
females are shaped slightly differently and yet both are in God's
image. That's in Genesis 1:27. "Image" refers to humans having similar
emotional, intellectual and personality factors as God. See
can't be literally seen, Smith did NOT see God!
M. But Jesus is God Jehovah. And
thousands saw Jesus…!