Joseph's Objective For Praying

CES Letter Core Question

Did Joseph give contradictory reasons for going in the grove to pray?

While Joseph Smith’s personal study did not identify any sect that replicated the ancient church, he may have hoped that a denomination unknown to him still held the truth.

1832 account states:  "I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament" (italics added). The key here is that Joseph’s own studies and limited exposure to religious organizations had not identified one that he should join. This doesn’t mean that he didn’t have hope that somewhere beyond his personal experience the true church could be found.

The 1838 accounts states: "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. . . for at this time it had never  entered into my heart that all were wrong.” He apparently believe that somewhere on the earth the true religion was still operating.

The CES Letter states that Joseph Smith’s “primary purpose in going to prayer was to seek forgiveness of his sins.” If that were the only reason for Joseph’s praying, it is curious that the Lord told him:  “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.” Clearly an underlying question was which religious organization he should join because Joseph’s personal studies had not identified one to support.

Elder Henry B. Eyring explained in 1997:

"From studying the various accounts of the First Vision, we learn that young Joseph went into the grove not only to learn which church he should join but also to obtain forgiveness for his sins, something he seems not to have understood how to do.   And in more than one account the Lord addressed the young truth seeker and said, "Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee."*

The ambiguities in the statements from the 1832 and 1838 accounts could support a contradiction as asserted in The CES Letter, but if so, it has no practical significance. The 1832, 1838, and 1842 accounts all include direction from the Lord that religious groups were in error. The 1835 is very brief. If this is the best evidence of “contradictions” in the various First Vision accounts, then the claims of The CES Letter are not very convincing.

There is no indication that Joseph believed that all religions throughout the world were wrong when he entered the grove to pray.


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

“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).