The official account of Joseph Smith’s First Vision was written in 1838 and not published until 1842. Note, however, that the *official story* was not accepted for inclusion in the standard works until 1880 in the Pearl of Great Price (in Joseph Smith-History).
The LDS Church has affirmed for decades that the LDS Church rises and falls on Joseph Smith’s First Vision, upon which the very foundation of the LDS faith rests. If there was no vision, then, Smith’s story of God telling him that he was not to join any churches “for they were all wrong; . . . all their creeds were an abomination . . . those professors were all corrupt” was a full-cloth fabrication. There would no need for Smith to *restore* the church for if in fact the church had never apostatized as Mormons claim. That the entire church had fallen away is the sole foundation as to why Mormons believe that the LDS Church is the only correct church on earth.
Mormon Apostle Hugh B. Brown rightly stated:
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 (The Abundant Life, 310-11).
The 1838 account of Smith’s First Vision account is the one that LDS Church finally accepted. However, there were other First Vision accounts, which differed in terms of the factual data.
1832: The Earliest Version of the First Vision
The earliest version of the the First Vision was written “in his own hand” in 1832. However, that account only had Jesus there, not God the Father.
Further, other significant differences compared to the now accepted official 1838 acoount exists:
Most significantly, in the 1832 account, only one personage is mentioned–Jesus. Whereas the official version mentions two personages, God the Father and God the Son.
In the 1832 account, he does not ask Jesus which of the sects was right and which he should join as he does in official version (1838), but Joseph does ask which church is true.
In the 1832 account, Joseph is 15 years old, not 14 as in the official version.
In the 1832 account, no evil power is mentioned, but in the official version, there is an evil power.
In the 1832 account, there is no mention of a religious excitement, which provoked his need to pray.
*For those who are interested in reading for themselves Smith’s earliest account of his First Vision see the LDS magazine the Ensign (Dec. ember 1984, pages 24-26 where Smith’s hand written copy was reproduced (also see The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, compiled and edited by Dean C. Jessee, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, pages 4-6).
But note: There are at least 9 (or more) versions of Smith’s the First Vision from those with whom he shared details:
For example, there were different accounts as to who or what visited Smith in 1820:
Did Christ visit Smith (1832 account)?
Or did both God the Father and God the Son visit Smith (as in the current LDS official account 1838)?
Or, did an angel visit Smith, as some of Smith’s own contemporaries taught?
LDS Apostle, (and later 4th president/prophet), Wilford Woodruff said:
How did it (the organization) come? By the ministering of an holy angel from God, out of heaven, who held converse with man, and revealed unto him the darkness that enveloped the world. . . . He told him the Gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of His kingdom in the world. (Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 1855, vol. 11 p. 196).
LDS Apostle (and later 3rd president/prophet), John Taylor said
How did the state of things called Mormonism originate? We read that an angel came down and revealed himself to Joseph Smith and manifested unto him in a vision the true position of the world in a religious point of view. He was surrounded with light and glory while the heavenly messenger communicated these things to him (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 1863, vol. 10, p.127).
LDS Apostle, George A. Smith said:
When the holy angel appeared, Joseph inquired which of all these denominations was right and which he should join, and was told they were all wrong (George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, 1863, vol. 12, p. 334).
Second president of the LDS Church, Brigham Young said:
The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven, in power and great glory, nor send His messengers panoplied with aught else than the truth of heaven, to communicate to the meek, the lowly, the youth of humble origin, the sincere enquirer after the knowledge of God. But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong; that they were following the precepts of men instead of the Lord Jesus (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 1855, vol. 2, p. 171).
These are but a few of the examples of the assorted versions (written by Smith and some of his contemporaries) of the so-called First Vision (of there are others not mentioned here).
LDS apologists typically respond by first showing the *different* accounts by the Gospel authors of the same event. For example, in an article by an LDS apologetic group called: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research asks:
Should we reject the Resurrection because the Apostles could not agree on how many angels were at Christ’s tomb (Matt. 28:2, Mark 16:5, Luke 24:4, and John 10:12)? Matthew wrote that the title on the cross above Jesus read: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37), while Mark claimed that the title simply read: “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26). Luke, however, recorded that the title read: “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38), and John claimed that the title read: “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Some people will say that we are being nit-picky, and that is the whole point. The message was basically the same Jesus is King of the Jews. Each Apostle, however, recalled the title a little differently. If we can dismiss the minor discrepancies in the New Testament (which has several other inconsistencies) without rejecting Christ or the gospel, then we should be able to dismiss the minor discrepancies in Joseph’s various accounts of his first vision without rejecting Joseph as a Prophet or the Restored Gospel (www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Brochures/The_First_Vision.pdf) .
Thus, LDS apologists will point out that LDS critics are inconsistent. For if they would apply the same standard to the Bible to the discrepancies of the First Vision they would not accept the Bible. However, to compare variations in the Gospels to Smith’s different versions there is one glaring error: The the variations in the Gospels are not contradictions, but variations of the same accounts. But the differences in Smiths accounts totally contradict each other.
The Mormon must at least consider that no one knew of the current official version of the First Vision until after Joseph dictated it in 1838, and no published source mentions it until 1842.
Here below, Smith’s 1832 hand written account reprint:
marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him (them) and when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath thewise man said the (it is a) fool (that) saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity and when I considered all these things and that (that) being seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in (the) attitude of calling upon the Lord (in the 16th year of my age) 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 th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which (hath) been spoken by the mouth of the prophets 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 and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could reioice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but [I] could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart about that time my mother and but after many days (bolded phrase added)–Go here to view a photocopy of the original document.
Here below is the 1838 (pub in 1842) accepted version
Sometime in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country . . . and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties …. Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist . . . my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect . . . but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible . . . to come to any certain conclusion who was right, and who was wrong …. So in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty . . . I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God . . . I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head. . . .
When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description …. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other ‘This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!’ …. 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 …. I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors [believers] 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 . . . 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 (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith – History, 1:5-8, 14-19, 22 ).