Note: This page pertains to a chart only used in a prior version of the CES Letter that has since been removed

First Vision Four Accounts Comparison Chart

The Chart in The CES Letter purports to compare four accounts of the First Vision in order to show dissimilarities. The primary criticism is that some accounts include information that is not found in other accounts. What it does not acknowledged is that the accounts were of differing length. One had only 9 words (which most researchers do not consider to be a separate account).

 

Account

Word Count
1832

198

1835 November 9th

79

1835 November 14th

9

1838

268
1842 (not included)

93

 

These accounts were compared with their differences plainly noted in an article in the April 1970, Improvement Era, an article that the author of The CES Letter apparently did not read.

 The Improvement Era

 


 

A close reading of the accounts below shows that some ambiguities can be identified, but no plain contradictions are found.

JS History, ca. Summer 1832, pp. 1–3 (198 words)

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 thir ungodliness and to bring to pass  that which <hath> been spoken by the mouth of the prophe ts 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.

 JS, Journal, 9–11 Nov. 1835, pp. 23–24 (79 words)

a pillar of fire appeared above  my head, it presently rested down upon my <me>  head, and filled me with joy unspeakable, a  personage appeard in the midst, of this pillar  of flame which was spread all around, and yet  nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard  like unto the first, he said unto me thy sins are  forgiven thee, he testifyed unto me that Jesus Christ  is the son of God; <and I saw many angels in this vision>

 JS, Journal, 14 Nov. 1835, p. 37 (9 words)

. . .the time I received the first visitation of Angels.

 JS History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, pp. 2–3.  (268 words)

I saw a pillar <of> light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended  gracefully gradually untill it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself  delivered from the enemy which held me bound. 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.”

My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know  which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner therefore  did I get possession of myself so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who  stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right, (for at this time it had never  entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I should join. I was answered that  I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the Personage who addressed me said  that all their Creeds were an abomination in his sight, that those professors were all  corrupt, that “they draw near to me to with their lips but their hearts are far from me, They  teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of Godliness but they deny  the power thereof.” He again forbade me to join with any of them and many other thing[s]  did he say unto me which I cannot write at this time

BELOW IS A FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT THAT THE CES LETTER IGNORES.

 JS, “Church History,” Times and Seasons, 1 Mar. 1842, 3:706–707. (93 words)

I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious  personages who exactly resembled each  other in features, and likeness, surround ed with a brilliant light which eclipsed the  sun at noon-day. They told me that all  religious denominations were believing in  incorrect doctrines, and that none of them  was acknowledged of God as his church  and kingdom. And I was expressly com manded to “go not after them,” at the  same time receiving a promise that the  fulness of the gospel should at some future  time be made known unto me.


Additional Resources:

"Accounts of the First Vision", LDS.org.

Milton V. Backman, "Joseph Smith's Recitals of the First Vision," Ensign, January 1985.

Dr. James B. Allen, "Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision - What Do We Learn from Them?", Improvement Era, April 1970, 4-13.

FAIRMORMON: Joseph Smith’s First Vision

 “First Vision Accounts” from LDS.org

The Vision

“A Seeker’s Guide to the Historical Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision” by Steven C. Harper

“Primary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision” from JosephSmithPapers.org

Four Accounts and Three Critiques of Joseph Smith’s First Vision” (2011 FAIR Conference) by Steven Harper

The First Vision: This Is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! Essay

Joseph Smith’s Visions: His Style and his Record” (2013 FAIR Conference) by Ron Barney

The First Vision” by Michael Ash

The Original Context of the First Vision Narrative: 1820s or 1830s” (2013 FAIR Conference) by Don Bradley

“Ask the Apologist: Did Early LDS Leaders Misunderstand the First Vision?”

“Verification of the 1838 Account of the First Vision,” by Milton V. Backman Jr.

“The First Vision: Re-Visioning Historical Experience,” Adele Brannon McCollum,

Early Church History: First Vision

“First Visions: The Opening Events of the Mosaic, Nephite, and Final Dispensations,” by Douglas N. Marsh

“A Harmony of First Vision Accounts,” by Michael Baldwin

“Suspicion or Trust: Reading the Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” by Steven C. Harper,

“The First Vision and Religious Tolerance,” by Joseph Fielding McConkie

The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver’s Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1834 and 1835” by Roger Nicholson

Evaluating Three Arguments Against Joseph Smith’s First Vision” by Steven C. Harper

Variants in the Stories of the First Vision of Joseph Smith and the Apostle Paul” by John A. Tvedtnes

 Mormon FAIR-Cast 215: The First Vision

“Joseph Smith’s First Vision — A Guide to Historical Accounts” Fair Mormon Podcast

Firsthand Accounts of the First Vision

Reported Accounts of the First Vision

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith History, circa Summer 1832

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, Journal, 9–11 November 1835

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith History, 1838–1856

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, “Church History,” 1 March 1842 (Wentworth Letter)

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, “Latter Day Saints,” 1844

Four Accounts and Three Critiques of Joseph Smith’s First Vision

 First Vision 1 Joseph’s Different Accounts

First Vision 2 Differences Between the Accounts

First Vision 3 But If He Was a Prophet

First Vision 4 He Saw Angels

First Vision 5 Confusion About the Year

First Vision 6 Why Are So Many LDS Unaware

First Vision 7 No Religious Revivals Around 1820

First Vision 8 Conclusions

The First Vision of Joseph Smith

The First Vision movie

Firsthand Accounts of the First Vision

Reported Accounts of the First Vision

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith History, circa Summer 1832

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, Journal, 9–11 November 1835

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith History, 1838–1856

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, “Church History,” 1 March 1842 (Wentworth Letter)

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, “Latter Day Saints,” 1844

BYU-TV Documentary on the First Vision Accounts Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V

 

Books:

Harper, Steven C. Joseph Smith’s First Vision: A Seeker’s Guide to the Historical Accounts. Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2012.

Harper, Steven C. “Suspicion or Trust: Reading the Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.” In No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues. Edited by Robert L. Millet. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011.

Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds., Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839. Volume 1 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers. Edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian's Press, 2012).

Dean C. Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002).

John W. Welch, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011).

Karen Lynn Davidson, David J. Whittaker, Richard L. Jensen, and Mark Ashurst-McGee, eds., Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories 1832–1844. Vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers. Edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012).

“Primary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision of Deity,” The Joseph Smith Papers, http://josephsmithpapers.org/site/accounts-of-the-first-vision.

Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper, eds., Exploring the First Vision (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2012).