By Eric Johnson
The LDS Church is touting the bicentennial of the 1820 “First Vision” of God the Father and Jesus’s appearance to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820 as a major event. Much of the spring general conference in April 2020 will be centered on an event that its leaders have said is crucial for Mormonism to be considered true. For instance, consider these quotes from three recent presidents:
“Joseph Smith’s first vision restored knowledge of God. Of all the great events of the century, none compared with the first vision of Joseph Smith” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 428).
“The first vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith is bedrock theology to the Church” (Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, 2014, p. 105).
“Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud… upon that unique and wonderful experience stands the validity of this church” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Marvelous Foundation of our Faith,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2002, p. 80. Ellipsis mine).
In other words, Hinckley is saying that if this event did not take place, then the religion of Mormonism falls apart and is a “fraud” –at the General Conference in October 1961, he even used the word “blasphemy”– just as Christianity could be shown to be a fraud if there were no historical resurrection of Jesus. With that said, let’s consider 8 questions that every Latter-day Saint ought to answer before General Conference.
- Why did Joseph Smith never mention anything about the First Vision until 1832 (his private diary)–12 years after this event supposedly took place–and yet his account contradicts the later official version created in 1838? Click here.
- Why is there is no historical evidence–whether oral tradition or written sources–that Joseph Smith was ever persecuted for his testimony of the First Vision, despite his claim that he was (Joseph Smith-History 1:21ff)? Click here.
- How do you account for the fact that the local “revivals” of the Christian churches actually took place in 1824, not 1820? Wouldn’t this mean that the appearance of the Angel Moroni to Joseph Smith that supposedly took place in 1823 should be considered the authentic “First Vision.”Click here and here. Listen to a Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast here.
- Why did nobody else in the early LDS Church (1820 to 1834) ever mention this account? Click here. (Also click here to counter the idea that a newspaper reported the First Vision in 1831.)
- Why did Joseph’s mother apparently not know about the First Vision? As reported by Wesley Walters in citing the first draft of “Lucy Smith’s History,” an unpublished account found in the LDS Church Archives, “she traces the origin of Mormonism to a bedroom visit by an angel. Joseph at the time had been “pondering which of the churches were the true one.” The angel told him “there is not a true church on Earth. No not one.”
- There are 9 different accounts of the First Vision, each which add different details contradicting the others. Why were there so many versions? And why did the story have to change? (If the event really happened, we can allow for accountable perspective differences but not outright contradictions between the accounts!) Click here, here, and here.
- Why is there complete silence on the First Vision from Smith’s early critics? For instance, critic E.D. Howe doesn’t mention the First Vision even once in his critical 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed. It would seem this event would have been an easy target that would have been aimed at by Howe and other critics of the Mormon story. After all, the Book of Mormon was a topic heavily criticized by Howe and others!
- If God cannot be seen, as the Bible explains, then how did Joseph Smith see God and live? See Exodus 33:11 and Exodus 33:20
Check out these Viewpoint on Mormonism podcasts on this important issue:
- Eight First Vision Truths March 23-27, 2020 Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
- MRM founder Bill McKeever interviewed on his chapter in Sharing the Good News with Mormons Part 1 Part 2 April 24-25, 2018
- Maynes and the First Vision, June 6-10, 2016, Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
- First Vision Accounts (Gospel Topics Essay) Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 June 2-13, 2014
- The First Vision and the Resurrection (Rob Bowman) April 22, 2014