Although there are only four firsthand, First Vision Accounts, there are numerous secondhand accounts. As these men all knew and worked alongside Joseph Smith, they would have heard the story of the First Vision directly from Joseph Smith. Many of these secondhand accounts are very different from the firsthand accounts. It is curious that the prophets and apostles are not as familiar with the First Vision story as the members of the Church are today. [See also Episode 16 of Analyzing Mormonism Podcast which has been linked below.]
If additional sources have been found but are not included, please email me at email@example.com
In two of the first vision accounts it really sounds like Joseph Smith is having an out of body experience. Either way, I'm not sure how Joseph would know that God or Jesus had physical bodies.
Orson Pratt, 1840
When somewhere about fourteen or fifteen years old, he began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence: but how, or in what way, to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind: he perceived that it was a question of infinite importance, and that the salvation of his soul depended upon a correct understanding of the same. He saw, that if he understood not the way, it would be impossible to walk in it, except by chance; and the thought of resting his hopes of eternal life upon chance, or uncertainties, was more than he could endure. If he went to the religious denominations to seek information, each one pointed to its particular tenets, saying—“This is the way, walk ye in it;” while, at the same time, the doctrines of each were, in many respects, in direct opposition to one another. It, also, occurred to his mind, that God was not the author of but one doctrine, and therefore could not acknowledge but one denomination as his church; and that such denomination must be a people, who believe, and teach, that one doctrine, (whatever it may be,) and build upon the same. He then reflected upon the immense number of doctrines, now, in the world, which had given rise to many hundreds of different denominations. The great question to be decided in his mind, was—if any one of these denominations be the Church of Christ, which one is it?
Until he could become satisfied, in relation to this question, he could not rest contented. To trust to the decisions of fallible man, and build his hopes upon the same, without any certainty, and knowledge, of his own, would not satisfy the anxious desires that pervaded his breast. To decide, without any positive and definite evidence, on which he could rely, upon a subject involving the future welfare of his soul, was revolting to his feelings. The only alternative, that seemed to be left him, was to read the Scriptures, and endeavour to follow their directions. He, accordingly, commenced perusing the sacred pages of the Bible, with sincerity, believing the things that he read. His mind soon caught hold of the following passage:—“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”—James i. 5. From this promise he learned, that it was the privilege of all men to ask God for wisdom, with the sure and certain expectation of receiving, liberally; without being upbraided for so doing. This was cheering information to him: tidings that gave him great joy. It was like a light shining forth in a dark place, to guide him to the path in which he should walk. He, now, saw that if he inquired of God, there was, not only, a possibility, but a probability; yea, more, a certainty, that he should obtain a knowledge, which, of all the doctrines, was the doctrine of Christ; and, which, of all the churches, was the church of Christ. He, therefore, retired to a secret place, in a grove, but a short distance from his father’s house, and knelt down, and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavoured to overcome him; but he continued to seek for deliverance, until darkness gave way from his mind; and he was enabled to pray, in fervency of the spirit, and in faith. And, while thus pouring out his soul, anxiously desiring an answer from God, he, at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and, as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner.
He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and, immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness. He was informed, that his sins were forgiven. He was also informed upon the subjects, which had for some time previously agitated his mind, viz.—that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines; and, consequently, that none of them was acknowledged of God, as his church and kingdom. And he was expressly commanded, to go not after them; and he received a promise that the true doctrine—the fulness of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him; after which, the vision withdrew, leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace, indescribable.
Orson Hyde, 1842
Joseph Smith jun[ior], the person to whom the angel of the Lord was first sent, was born on December 23 in the year of our Lord 1805 in the town of Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. When he was ten years old, his parents moved to Palmyra in the state of New York. For almost eleven years he lived here [in Palmyra] and in the neighboring town of Manchester. His only occupation was to plow and cultivate the soil. Because his parents were poor and had to feed a large family, his education was meager. He was able to read fairly well, but his ability to write was very limited and had only little literary knowledge. His knowledge of letters did not go any further. Most of the subjects which were generally taught in the United States of America were completely unknown to him at the time he was favored with a heavenly message.
When he had reached his fifteenth year, he began to think seriously about the importance of preparing for a future [existence]; but it was very difficult for him to decide how he should go about such an important undertaking. He recognized clearly that it would be impossible for him to walk the proper path without being acquainted with it beforehand; and to base his hopes for eternal life on chance or blind uncertainty would have been more than he had ever been inclined to do.
He discovered the world of religion working under a flood of errors which by virtue of their contradictory opinions and principles laid the foundation for the rise of such different sects and denominations whose feelings toward each other all too often were poisoned by hate, contention, resentment and anger. He felt that there was only one truth and that those who understood it correctly, all understood it in the same way. Nature had endowed him with a keen critical intellect and so he looked through the lens of reason and common sense and with pity and contempt upon those systems of religion, which were so opposed to each other and yet were all obviously based on the scriptures. [Orson Hyde Account]
Levi Richards, 1843
The following account was written by Levi Richards on June 11, 1843: "Pres. J. Smith bore testimony to the same -saying that when he was a youth he began to think about these things but could not find out which of all the sects were right -he went into the grove & enquired of the Lord which of all the sects were right - he received for an answer that none of them were right, that they were all wrong, & that the Everlasting covenant was broken -he said he understood the fulness of the Gospel from beginning to end -& could teach it & also the order of the priesthood in all its ramifications -Earth & hell had opposed him & tried to destroy him -but they had not done it -& they never would." [Levi Richards Account]
Perhaps the story of Heavenly Father and Christ appearing to the youth in the grove was not nearly as important to Levi Richards as it was to say that Joseph was given the answer to his prayer that all the churches were wrong.
David Nye White, 1843
In August of 1843, David Nye White interviewed Joseph Smith. Much of the interview is familiar and unfolds much like the 1838 Account. Joseph told David Nye White that: "the first personage said to the second, “Behold my beloved Son, hear him.” I then, addressed this second person, saying, “O Lord, what Church shall I join.” He replied, “don’t join any of them, they are all corrupt.” The vision then vanished..." It is interesting to note how short this vision was. Jesus simply answered Joseph's question and then vanished. The statement from Dorothy in Oz is fitting here when she says: "People come and go so quickly." [David Nye White's Account]
Alexander Neibaur, 1844
Br Joseph tolt us the first call he had a Revival Meeting his Mother & Br & Sister got Religion, he wanted to get Religion too wanted to feel & shout like the Rest but could feel nothing, opened his Bible the first Passage that struck him was if any man lack Wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all Men liberallity & upbraidet not went into the Wood to pray kneelt himself down his tongue was closet cleavet to his roof— could utter not a word, felt easier after a while= saw a fire towards heaven came near & nearer saw a personage in the fire light complexion blue eyes a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders his right arm bear after a w[h]ile a other person came to the side of the first Mr Smith then asked must I join the Methodist Church= No= they are not my People,
th all have gone astray there is none that doeth good no not one, but this is my Beloved son harken ye him, the fire drew nigher Rested upon the tree enveloped him comforted Indeavoured to arise but felt uncomen feeble= got into the house told the Methodist priest, said this was not a age for God to Reveal himself in Vision Revelation has ◊ ceased with the New Testament [Alexander Neibaur's Account]
Brigham Young, 1855
On February 18, 1855, Brigham Young (the second prophet of the Church at this time) gave a sermon in which he described Joseph Smith's First Vision. It was published in Volume 2 of The Journal of Discourses on page 170-171.
It was in this government, formed by men inspired of God, although at the time they knew it not, after it was firmly established in the seat of power and influence, where liberty of conscience, and the free exercise of religious worship were a fundamental principles guaranteed in the Constitution, and interwoven with all the feelings, traditions, and sympathies of the people, that the Lord sent forth His angel to reveal the truths of heaven as in times past, even as in ancient days. This should have been hailed as the greatest blessing which could have been bestowed upon any nation, kindred, tongue, or people. It should have been received with hearts of gratitude and gladness, praise and thanksgiving.
But as it was in the days of our Savior, so was it in the advent of this new dispensation. It was not in accordance with the notions, traditions, and preconceived ideas of the American people. The messenger did not come to an eminent divine of any of the so-called orthodoxy, he did not adopt their interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. 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; that He had a work for him to perform, inasmuch as he should prove faithful before Him. [Brigham Young's Account]
Charles L. Walker, 1855-1902
Thurs., Feb. 2, 1893. Attended fast meeting… Bro. John Alger said while speaking of the Prophet Joseph, that when he, John, was a small boy he heard the Prophet Joseph relate his vision of seeing the Father and the Son, that God touched his eyes with his finger and said, “Joseph, this is my beloved Son, hear him.” As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Savior. After meeting a few of us questioned him about the matter and he told us at the bottom of the meeting house steps that he was in the House of Father Smith...
Heber C. Kimball, 1857
On November 8, 1857, Heber C. Kimball gave a sermon that briefly touched on the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, and the angelic visitations from Peter to restore the priesthood.
"Do you suppose that God in person called upon Joseph Smith, our Prophet? God called upon him; but God did not come himself and call, but he sent Peter to do it. Do you not see? He sent Peter and sent Moroni to Joseph, and told him that he had got the plates. Did God come himself? No: he sent Moroni and told him there was a record, and says he, “That record is matter that pertains to the Lamanites, and it tells when their fathers came out of Jerusalem, and how they came, and all about it; and, says he, “If you will do as I tell you, I will confer a gift upon you.” Well, he conferred it upon him, because Joseph said he would do as he told him. “I want you to go to work and take the Urim and Thummim, and translate this book, and have it published, that this nation may read it.” Do you not see, by Joseph receiving the gift that was conferred upon him, you and I have that record? Well, when this took place, Peter came along to him and gave power and authority, and, says he, “You go and baptize Oliver Cowdery, and then ordain him a Priesthood.” He did it, and do you not see his works were in exercise? Then Oliver, having authority, baptized Joseph and ordained him a Priest. Do you not see the works, how they manifest themselves?
Well, then Peter comes along. Why did not God come? He sent Peter, do you not see? Why did he not come along? Because he has agents to attend to his business, and he sits upon his throne and is established at headquarters, and tells this man, “Go and do this;” and it is behind the veil just as it is here. You have got to learn that. [Heber C. Kimball Account]
George A. Smith, 1868
On November 15, 1868, George A. Smith gave a sermon that was published in Volume 12 of The Journal of Discourses.
"When Joseph Smith was about fourteen or fifteen years old, living in the Western part of the State of New York, there was a revival of religion, and the different sects in that portion of the State -principally Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists -preached the necessity of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance in order to be saved, declaring that unless men and women did this, and obtained what they termed, “a hope for the future,” they would be into a lake of fire and brimstone, and there remain forever.
"I have heard men spend hours in endeavoring to explain how long this hell would last. I twas frequently illustrated in this manner, “Suppose a bird could carry a drop of water from this planet to another, and be gone a year on the journey, and continue this until every drop of water on the earth was carried away, and then should take a particle of sand and go to another planet and be gone a thousand years, and carry one article of sand at a time until every particle of matter of which this globe is composed was carried away, that then this eternal punishment would have just commenced, and that the torture and pain there inflicted were so great that no mortal could conceive anything about it.” The general effort in their preaching was to scare men into the road to heaven by such descriptions of eternal punishment. When eloquent men deliver such discourses they produce, especially upon ignorant people, more or less agitation, And when this is pretty general it is called a revival of religion. But when the excitement subsides and the converts have obtained what is termed “a hope,” then the sects who may have united in bringing about such results begin to scramble to secure the converts. It was so at the time to which I have referred in western New York. The Baptists wanted their share, and the Methodists and Presbyterians theirs; and the scramble ended in a very unpleasant and un-Christian state of feeling.
"Joseph Smith had attended these meetings, and when the result was reached he saw clearly that something was wrong. He had read the Bible and had found that passage in James which says, “If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not,” and taking this literally, he went humbly before the Lord and inquired of Him, and the Lord answered his prayer, and revealed to Joseph, by the ministration of angels, the true condition of the religious world. 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, -they had all gone astray, transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant, and that the Lord was about to restore the priesthood and establish His Church, which would be the only true and living Church on the face of the whole earth.
"Joseph, feeling that to make known such a vision would be to subject himself to the ridicule of all around him, knew not what to do. But the vision was repeated several times, and in these repetitions he was instructed to communicate that which he had seen to his father. His father was not a member of any church, but was a man of exemplary life. His mother and bro. Hyrum were members of the Presbyterian church. Joseph communicated what he had seen to his father, who believed his testimony, and told him to observe the instructions that had been given him.
"These visits led, in a short time, to the bringing forth of the record known as the Book of Mormon, which contained the fullness of the Gospel as it had been preached by the Savior and his apostles to the inhabitants of this land; also a history of the falling away of the people who dwelt on this continent and the dealings of God with them." [George A. Smith's Account]
Highlights/Notes: George A. Smith also points out the membership of Lucy and Hyrum to the Presbyterian church. Although he does not give the exact date to them joining with the Presbyterians, he tells it as happening after Joseph is visited three times by a heavenly messenger in the same night. (It appears George A. Smith is getting the story of the First Vision mixed up with the story of Moroni's visits concerning the golden plates.) Regardless of when specifically these family members joined another church, it seems problematic to me that they should should after 1820 as Joseph specifically told Lucy that "Presbyterianism is not true."
Orson Pratt, 1874
On September 20, 1874, Orson Pratt gives a sermon on Joseph Smith's First Vision. Much of his account reads nearly exactly like the 1838 Account (later published in the Doctrine and Covenants) and seems to be using that specific account as his base, although said in his own words.
"Joseph Smith, generally known in the world as “Old Joe Smith,” was a boy about fourteen years of age at the time the Lord first revealed himself in a very marvelous manner to him. The circumstances were these: This boy, in attending religious meetings that were held in his neighborhood, seemed to be wrought upon in a very wonderful manner, and he felt great concern in relation to the salvation of his soul. Many young people were wrought upon by the same spirit, and they commenced seeking the Lord, and professed to be converted. Among this number were several of the Smith family who united themselves with the Presbyterians.
"During the progress of this revival a sort of rivalry sprang up among the various denominations, and each one seemed determined to obtain as many of the converts as possible, and have them unite with his particular religious order. This boy, Joseph Smith, was solicited and advised to unite himself with some of the religious denominations in that vicinity, but being of a reflecting turn of mind, he inquired in his own heart which among these several religious bodies was right. I presume that many of you, at some period of your existence, have been wrought upon in the same manner, because you have been anxious to join yourselves to the true church of God if you could only find which was God’s church. It was not, therefore, at all strange that this young man should have these ideas passing through his mind; but how to satisfy himself he did not know. If he went to one denomination they would say, “We are right, and the others are wrong,” and so said all the others.
Like most boys of his age, Joseph had never read the Bible to any great extent, hence he was unable to decide in his own mind, as to which was the true church. When he saw several denominations contending one with the other, he naturally enough supposed that some of them must be wrong. He began to search the Bible in his leisure time after his work was done upon the farm; and in perusing the New Testament, he came across a passage which is very familiar indeed to most of my hearers; the passage reads thus -If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Mr. Smith really believed this passage. He did not read this as one would read a novel, thinking that it was all imaginary; but, from his heart, he believed that it meant what it said, and he said to himself -”I certainly lack wisdom in relation to my duty. I do not know which of these denominations is correct, and which is the church of Christ. I desire to know, with all my heart, and I will go before the Lord, and call upon his name, claiming his promise.
"He therefore retired a short distance from his father’s house, into a little grove of timber, and called upon the Lord, claiming this promise, desiring to know his duty and to be informed where the true Church of Christ was. While thus praying, with all his heart, he discovered in the heavens above him, a very bright and glorious light, which gradually descended towards the earth, and when it reached the tops of the trees which overshadowed him, the brightness was so great that he expected to see the leaves of the tree consumed by it; but when he saw that they were not consumed he received courage. Finally the light rested down upon and overwhelmed him in the midst of it, and his mind at the same time seemed to be caught away from surrounding objects, and he saw nothing excepting the light and two glorious personages standing before him in the midst of this light. One of these personages, pointing to the other said -”Behold my beloved Son, hear ye him."
"After this, power was given to Mr. Smith to speak, and in answer to an inquiry by the Lord as to what he desired, he said that he desired to know which was the true Church, that he might be united thereunto. He was immediately told, that there was no true Church of Christ on the earth, that all had gone astray, and had framed doctrines, and dogmas, and creeds by human wisdom, and that the authority to administer in the holy ordinances of the Gospel was not among men upon the earth, and he was strictly commanded to go not after any of them, but to keep aloof from the whole of them. He was also informed that, in due time, if he would be faithful in serving the Lord, according to the best of his knowledge and ability, God would reveal to him still further, and make known to him the true Gospel,, the plan of salvation, in its fulness.
"Mr. Smith had this vision before he was fifteen years old, and, immediately after receiving it, he began to relation it to some of his nearest friends, and he was told by some of the ministries who came to him to enquire about it, that there was no such thing as the visitation of heavenly messengers, that God gave no new revelation, and that no visions could be given to the children of men in this this age. This was like telling him that there was no such thing as seeing, or feeling, or hearing, or tasting, or smelling. Why? Because he knew positively to the contrary; he knew that he had seen this light, that he had beheld these two personages, and that he had heard the voice of one of them; he also knew that he had received instruction from them, and therefore, to be told that there was no such thing as revelation or vision in these days, was like telling him that the sun did not shine in these days. He knew to the contrary, and he continued to testify that God had made himself manifest to him; and in consequence of this, the prejudices of the different denominations were aroused against him.
"Why should they feel such concern and anxiety in relation to his testimony as to persecute him, a boy not quite fifteen years of age? The reason was obvious -if that testimony was true, not one of their churches was the true Church of Christ. No wonder, then, that they began to persecute, point the finger of scorn, and say -”There goes the visionary boy.” [Orson Pratt's Account]
John Taylor, 1879
On March 2, 1879, John Taylor gave a sermon that was published in The Journal of Discourses volume 20. In this sermon John Taylor gives a very brief summary of Joseph Smith's First Vision.
"I had a visit from some of your folks during the session of the Legislature. How was it, and which was right? None of them was right, just as it was when the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right. What, none of them? No. We will not stop to argue that question; the angel merely told him to join none of them that none of them were right. Anything wrong here? Yes, considerable. There wants to be perfect freedom about all these matters, the feelings of our brethren should be consulted. A bishop has not the right to crowd or oppress, the priesthood is not given to him for that purpose; but everything should move on harmoniously, and the wishes of the people should be consulted and respected. I understand there was a little crowding in your election affairs, you were not more than ten minutes getting through your business. It is better to take ten days, than to have such shameful operations as you had here, and you would have spent your time much better doing something else." [John Taylor's Account]
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