Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph Smith’s First Vision
It is historical fact that Jesus was a real person, a Jewish man from Nazareth who was crucified at the order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. That Jesus rose from the dead, though of course denied by non-Christians, is well supported historically. There is the evidence of the empty tomb (for example, the Gospel accounts reflect local knowledge of the limestone tombs around Jerusalem), the testimonies of multiple women and men to both the empty tomb and to appearances of the risen Jesus, and the testimony of Paul, who bitterly persecuted Christians before Christ personally appeared to him. The accounts of these events have just the sorts of differences one would expect where multiple witnesses and several distinct events are concerned. Belief that Jesus had risen from the dead is mentioned in the earliest Christian writings and can be shown to have been an essential, publicly known part of Christian belief from the very beginning of the Christian movement.
According to the foundational story of Mormonism, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 and told him that all of the churches were wrong. This story, known as the First Vision, simply cannot be true. There is no mention of it in any of the hundreds of pages of revelations and sermons that Joseph issued throughout his lifetime, yet it is supposed to be the foundation of his ministry as a prophet. He wrote a draft of the story in 1832, twelve years after it supposedly happened. That version flatly contradicts the official story he produced in 1838, which was not published until 1843. Several other versions of the story were floated in the late 1830s and 1840s that also differed from what eventually became the official version. Joseph’s claim that he was persecuted by all of the churches even in his youth because of the First Vision is demonstrably false: we have multiple, detailed testimonies from people who knew Joseph in his youth and were extremely critical of him, but for other reasons—they knew nothing about the First Vision. The most notorious aspect of the story—that the Father and the Son appeared in separate bodies—reflects Joseph’s later theology, contradicts his earlier doctrine and accounts, and is unbiblical.
For a basic overview of the historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, see our article “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: What the Bible Says about Jesus Rising from the Dead.” We have additional articles and videos on the historical facts about Jesus.
We have numerous articles on Joseph Smith’s First Vision that discuss in more depth the issues mentioned here.
For a summary of the twelve reasons with links to articles on each, see the main article, “Why Christianity Is True but Mormonism Is Not: A Dozen Reasons.”