Truth is not only
violated by falsehood;
it may be equally
outraged by silence.
At the world-wide LDS General Conference on October 4, 1998, President Hinckley declared:
“Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision. It was the parting of the curtain to open this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by, is of greater importance than this initial declaration. I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and his Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true. This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life.” (Church News, October 10, 1998, page 17.)
However, a study of the history of the early years of the LDS church reveals that at that stage nobody had any knowledge of Joseph Smith having had a vision where he had talked with God the Father and His Son. Nor was such a vision mentioned in any of the LDS publications of that period. Instead Mormons were told that his first vision concerned the angel Moroni and the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.
There are nine known contradictory versions of this supposed first vision. And they are not minor variations that could be explained away. They are different stories that give different accounts of his age, where he was when he had the vision, how many beings he saw, who they were, and what was said to him. The fact that he couldn’t stick to the same basic story indicates that he had made it up. He kept changing the details until they eventually evolved into the story that the LDS church now refers to as “the official version,” which bears no resemblance whatsoever to his original story.
Initially he had claimed that his first vision was of the angel Moroni. Later on a different story appeared in the LDS’s Millennial Star (Volume 15, page 424), involving more than one angel. Then Joseph’s mother gave yet another version. She traced the origin of Mormonism to a visit to Joseph’s bedroom by a single angel, who had told him that none of the churches were true. (c/f First draft of Lucy Smith’s History, page 46, LDS Church Archives).
Various other versions were given over the years, one of which was published in 1834-35 in the periodical, Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate, Volume 1, pages 42 and 78-79. It told of a revival in 1823 that had caused the then 17 year old Joseph great concern. He prayed that if a supreme being did exist, he would have the assurance of being accepted by him and forgiven. He claimed it was then that he had his first vision. An angel appeared in his bedroom and told him that his sins were forgiven. But this account has nothing in common with the official version.
In the official version Smith said that in the spring of 1820 he was praying in a grove. Upon asking for wisdom to choose the right church, both God and Christ appeared to him together. God told him not to join any of the churches as they were all wrong, their followers were corrupt and their creeds were an abomination in His sight (c/f Joseph Smith — History, 1:19).
However, this official version is invalidated by a contradictory account recorded in his own handwriting in 1832. That time around he said that he had already known that all the Christian denominations were wrong through his own studies of the scriptures. And only one being had appeared to him, identifying Himself as the Lord who was crucified. (c/f The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Dean C. Jessee, Salt Lake Deseret Books, page 14).
Orsemus Turner, an apprentice printer in Palmyra until 1822, belonged to the same juvenile debating club that Smith frequented. He recalled that after catching a spark of Methodism, Joseph became an exhorter in their evening meetings (History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, 1851, page 214). And, in June, 1828, eight years after Smith later claimed that in his first vision God had forbidden him to join any of the churches, he joined the probationary class of the Methodist Church.
At that stage one of the members brought up the subject of Joseph’s lifestyle. He was involved in both the occult and spiritism. He was also a known confidence trickster, who claimed to be able to locate hidden treasure through his occultic stone (for a fee). His early background is well documented — c/f Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens; Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn; No Man Knows My History by Fawn M. Brodie; Mormonism Unvailed, by Ed Howe.)
The minister presented him with a choice: He could stay on in the church provided he appeared before a committee, confessed his misdemeanours, repented and promised to reform. Otherwise he could put in a formal request for his name to be removed from their membership list. He opted for the latter course.
It is quite clear that the Methodist church was prepared to guide him along the right spiritual path. But he was unwilling to give up the unethical practices to which he was so strongly drawn. And that was why he chose to separate himself from the Christian churches.
His joining the Methodist Church utterly destroys the validity of his so-called first vision.
The following is an extract from Smith’s history in the Pearl of Great Price, which was recorded twenty years or so after his supposed first vision. In this account he claims that when he was 14 years old, the entire community had turned against him after he had related his vision of God and Christ to a Methodist preacher:
“… I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects, all united to persecute me.” (Joseph Smith — History 1:22).
But there is no record anywhere, of anyone having had any knowledge of the official version of his vision in those early days. And if he had genuinely been persecuted to such a degree, why would he have joined the Methodist church eight years later, bearing in mind that they were supposed to have instigated the opposition against him?
Common sense tells us that if a fourteen year old boy had been so bitterly persecuted for having had a vision from God, the local newspapers would have made some mention of it. It’s the sort of thing that the press thrives upon. But there is no record of any such persecution against him, not even in any of the Mormon publications.
The LDS publications, Dialogue, Autumn 1966, pages 30-34 and Saints’ Herald, June 29, 1959, page 21, both confirm that there had been no knowledge of the official version of his vision until eighteen years later. And Dialogue went on to mention that the general church membership did not receive any information about it until the 1840’s — a full twenty years after the supposed event. It was news to everyone. Not even Smith’s own family had heard of it. We know that the story he told his mother bore no resemblance to it.
Yet the LDS maintains that their church was established on the basis of what had transpired in the official version of this vision, and that the authenticity of Mormonism rests upon its validity:
“The First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith constitutes the groundwork of the Church which was later organized. If this First Vision was but a figment of Joseph Smith’s imagination, then the Mormon Church is what its detractors declare it to be — a wicked and deliberate imposture.” (Mormon Apostle Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life, pages 310-311).
The following article throws further light on the character of Joseph Smith:
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