Changing First Vision Accounts - 1832 First Vision Account by Joseph Smith, Jr.
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)
Historical note: During the time this account was being written, Joseph Smith was in the middle of challenges to his authority. Vogel notes in Early Mormon Documents, vol. 1, p. 26, regarding this account, “It is therefore not simply an autobiographical sketch, but an apology setting forth Smith’s credentials as leader of the church. The History [of Joseph’s life] therefore contains the earliest account of what is known as his “first vision” and earliest mention of angelic priesthood ordinations.” It is here that we note a switch in context from Joseph as a money-digger, to Joseph as a spiritual seeker, and see him incorporating a Christian experience of seeking forgiveness and receiving a divine pronouncement of same.
Principle elements of account:
- 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].
|Typescript of Handwritten Manuscript||Scan of Handwritten Manuscript||Side-by-Side Comparison|
|Typescript of Joseph's 1832 History, p. 1||Joseph's Manuscript, p. 1||Side by Side p. 1|
|Typescript of Joseph's 1832 History, p. 2||Joseph's Manuscript, p. 2||Side by Side p. 2|
|Typescript of Joseph's 1832 History, p. 3||Joseph's Manuscript, p. 3|| Side by Side p. 3
|Typescript of Joseph's 1832 History, p. 4||Joseph's Manuscript, p. 4|| Side by Side p. 4
|Joseph's Manuscript, p. 5|| Side by Side p. 5
… thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become exceedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that <mankind> 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 …
marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him (them) and when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath the wise man said the (it is a) fool (that) saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity and when I considered all these things and that (that) being seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth 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 and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which (hath) been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud (clothed) in the glory of my Father and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but [I] could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart …
Many aspects of this account parallel other visionary accounts published by young men who, under conviction of sins, claimed to have a supernatural encounter with Jesus Christ in which they were assured of forgiveness. These accounts were published in local news sources and would have been accessible to Joseph Smith. For specific examples of similar accounts published prior to Joseph Smith’s experience see Inventing Mormonism, by Marquardt & Walters, Signature Books, 1994, pp. 50-53.