First Vision Account Contradictions?
CES Letter Core Question
Do the First Vision accounts contradict each other?
CES Letter, Page 75-76
The differences in the First Vision accounts are not contradictions.
The differences have been acknowledged in official Church publications for decades. Joseph addressed different audiences at different times, which would unavoidably result in different details being shared. It is probable that a fabricated story would contain the same details in each retelling.
The best comparison of the details was published in 1970 in the Church-owned Improvement Era. Click here
To read the original handwritten manuscripts at JosephSmithPapers.org, click on the account below.
1835 Nov. 9, Journal
1835 Nov. 14, Journal
1838 JS History
1842 Times and Seasons
Below are transcripts of the vision portion of the accounts. A close reading may identify a few ambiguities, 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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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
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.
“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.
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
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).