Summary of Issues
These two pages explain several of the concerns of the author of The CES Letter regarding the First Vision. Reviewing the claims and those on the chart demonstrates that none of them are strong arguments. Investigating all of the available evidences fails to produce even one problematic claim. The CES Letter’s criticisms include:
- “No one - including Joseph Smith's family members and the Saints –had ever heard about the First Vision for twelve years after it supposedly occurred.”
Response: Joseph related how he was persecuted for telling about the vision, which would have diminished incentives to share it. Documentation from 1827 and 1830 supports that he did talk about it. Manuscript evidence regarding Joseph Smith’s teachings for the 1820s is sparse. Click here
- The CES Letter alleges a “contradiction” between the 1832 account where Joseph said “I found” that none of the denominations were true and the 1838 account that states “for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong.”
Response: There is no evidence Joseph believed that no true Church existed anywhere in the world, only that he did not find the truth among those he had investigated. Click here
- The dates / his ages: The 1832 account states Joseph was 15 years old when he had the vision in 1821 while the other accounts state he was 14 years old in 1820 when he had the vision.
Response: Complaining about this minor discrepancy in light of the obvious memory lapses that we all experience demonstrates that evidence against the First Vision is not very strong.
- The reason or motive for seeking divine help –Bible reading and conviction of sins, a revival, a desire to know if God exists, wanting to know which church to join –are not reported the same in each account.
Response: The CES Letter seems to demand that all details are shared in every account, which is implausible. It is also unrealistic to expect Joseph Smith to have experienced only one religious concern prior to praying. Click here
- Who appears to him –a spirit, an angel, two angels, Jesus, many angels, the Father and the Son –are all over the place.
Response: “Are all over the place” is a little dramatic. The accounts speak for themselves. They are not contradictory, but manifest that Joseph shared different details to different audiences. Click here
- The historical record shows that there was no revival in Palmyra in 1820. There was one in 1817 and there was another in 1824.
Response: As shown in the discussion, Joseph did not use the term “revival” but instead referred to it as an “unusual excitement” that began with the Methodists. The Palmyra Reflector printed references to Methodist “camp-meetings” occurring the in summer of 1820. Click here
- Why did Joseph hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead, as shown previously with the Book of Mormon, if he clearly saw that the Father and Son were separate embodied beings in the official First Vision?
Response: There is no evidence that Joseph Smith believed or supported the Christian Trinitarian view. In all references to it, he affirmed it was incorrect. The CES Letter is making assumptions and then criticizing based upon their assumptions. Click here
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).