Joseph Smith first made the claim for his "First Vision" in 1832. This page explores sources published between 1820 when he said he had the vision and 1832 when he first wrote this vision down. These sources span the twelve years between these dates. [See Episode 11 of the Analyzing Mormonism Podcast; the YouTube version has been linked below.]
If additional sources have been found but are not included, please email me at email@example.com
No evidence for the First Vision exists before Joseph Smith wrote it down in 1832. Because of this, it seems unlikely that Joseph told anyone about it. It also seems very unlikely that Joseph Smith actually had the vision at all, but that it was simply a later fabrication to give his 1832 Church History more credibility.
1820 Palmyra Revivals
Research indicates that there were no religious revivals in Palmyra, New York in the year 1820.
1824 Presbyterian Church
In 1824 four of the Smith's joined the Presbyterian Church (Lucy, Hyrum, Samuel, and Saphronia). In the 1838 Account Joseph returns home from the vision and immediately tells his mother that "Presbyterianism is not true." Why would Lucy and her children join the Presbyterian Church, after Joseph presumably told them about his vision?
1824 Exhuming Alvin Smith's Body
For an entire week Joseph Smith, Sr. published in the newspaper concerns that his son Alvin was going to be exhumed. Alvin had passed away months earlier and the treasure guardian (known later as Moroni, though he was often called Nephi) had told Joseph to bring Alvin with him. As the time was nearing for Joseph Junior to retrieve the plates, Joseph Senior feared that people in the town would dig up his oldest son. Every precaution would be taken. Although it seems odd for Joseph Senior to dig up a grave that should have been obvious if it had been disturbed.
In 1826, Joseph Smith was put on trial for being a "glass looker." One account of the trial has this curious statement made by Joseph's father: "He [Joseph Senior] trusted that the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy [Joseph], and enable him to see His will concerning Him." This one sentence from the trial seems to suggest that Joseph Smith Junior had NOT yet been visited by the Son of Righteousness, but that some future direction would hopefully be given. Additionally, it seems odd that just six years after seeing God the Father and Jesus Christ that Joseph would fall into occult practices like treasure digging and scrying with a seer stone in his hat.
1828 Methodist Sunday School
In the Summer of 1828, Joseph Smith sought membership in the Methodist Sunday School. His name appears on their records. Perhaps this was an effort to please Isaac Hale or simply to support Emma after the death of their child on June 15, we cannot know for certain. It is true that membership in the Methodist Church was not required to attend the Wednesday classes, but if Joseph Smith had been commanded in 1820 not to join himself with any church, would he even have gone this far?
1829 Agreement with Isaac Hale
On April 6, 1829 Joseph Smith signed an agreement with Isaac Hale that stated he would pay back the money lent to him from Isaac. Although this record has nothing to do with the First Vision, it is a source written between 1820 and 1832.
1829 Articles of the Church
The Articles of the Church was published in June of 1829 and there was not a single mention of the First Vision. In fact, the document states that "the Father & the Son & the Holy Ghost are one & I am in the Father & the Father in me & the Father & I are one…” and while this says little, it could be harking to the evolution of Joseph's theology on the Godhead.
1829 The Palmyra Freeman
The Palmyra Freeman published an article titled "The Golden Bible" which simply said that: "a person by the name of Joseph Smith, of Manchester, Ontario county, reported that he had been visited in a dream by the spirit of the Almighty, and informed that in a certain hill in that town, was deposited this Golden Bible, containing an ancient record of a divine nature and origin." Nothing was said concerning a heavenly vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
1829 Letter to Oliver Cowdery
Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Oliver Cowdery on October 22, 1829. Nothing is said in the letter concerning the First Vision and there is no reason why there should have been. This is simply a source published between 1820 and 1832.
1829 Book of Mormon
The 1830 Edition of the Book of Mormon was finished in 1829. Many of the verses in the book say explicitly that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Father. With this theology, there is no reason why Joseph ought to have referenced seeing more than one personage if he indeed had a First Vision at all, which might explain the oddity of the 1832 First Vision Account.
1830 Rochester Republican
On April 2, 1830 an article was published in the newspaper Rochester Republican (as well as The Rochester Daily Advertiser and Telegraph on April 6, 1830) which gives a brief introduction to Joseph Smith and the influence he had over Martin Harris in publishing the Book of Mormon, but makes no reference to a First Vision of any kind.
1830 Articles and Covenants
The following was published in the Articles and Covenants: "For after that it truly was manifested unto the first elder that he [Joseph Smith] had received remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world, but after truly repenting, God visited him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all whiteness, and gave unto him commandments which inspired him from on high, and gave unto him power, by the means of which was before prepared that he should translate a book..." No reference is made to the First Vision.
1830 The Fredonia Censor
On June 2, 1830 an article was published in The Fredonia Censor titled "New Bible." Part of the article is as follows: "A fellow by the name of Joseph Smith, who resides in the upper part of Susquehanna county, has been, for the last two years we are told, employed in dictating, as he says, by inspiration, a new Bible. He pretended that he had been entrusted by God with a golden bible which had been always hidden from the world. Smith would put his face into a hat in which he had a white stone, and pretend to read from it, while his coadjutor transcribed." There is no reference to a First Vision of any kind.
1830 Revelation Book 1
Revelation Book 1 later becomes part of the Book of Commandments as well as the Doctrine and Covenants. This Revelation Book goes directly into the lost 116 pages and how wicked men are seeking to “frustrate” God’s work. Nothing is said concerning the First Vision.
1830 Letter to Newel Knight
On August 28, 1830, Joseph Smith (and John Whitmer) wrote a letter to Newel Knight. Nothing is said in the letter in reference to a First Vision, nor is there any reason for such a reference to exist. It is simply a source written between 1820 and 1832.
1830 Peter Bauder
In October of 1830, a man by the name of Peter Bauder interviewed Joseph Smith. Bauder says of his interview that: "I called at P. Whitmer’s house, for the purpose of seeing Smith, and searching into the mystery of his system of religion, and had the privilege of conversing with him alone, several hours, and of investigating his writings, church records, &c. I improved near four and twenty hours in close application with Smith and his followers: he could give me no Christian experience, but told me that an angel told him he must go to a certain place in the town of Manchester, Ontario County, where was a secret treasure concealed, which he must reveal to the human family…” This reference to a "Christian experience" is most likely that of seeing or having some experience with Christ. This would have been where Bauder retold the story of Joseph Smith's First Vision, but he says that even after investigating all of the Church's records, nothing could be found concerning such an experience.
*Although the interview took place in 1830, it was not published until 1834
1830 Letter to the Saints in Colesville
On December 2, 1830 Joseph Smith (and John Whitmer) wrote a letter to the saints in Colesville. No reference to a First Vision is made, it is simply a source written between 1820 and 1832.
1830 The Buffalo Journal
On December 8, 1830 the newspaper the Buffalo Journal (as well as the General Advertiser on the same day) published an article titled "The New Bible." Part of the article is as follows: "Some year or two since the credulous were amused with the tale that, guided by inspiration, some one had found many golden plates buried in the earth near Palmyra, Wayne county, in this state, upon which were revealed in an unknown tongue, (an odd sort of revelation, one would think) the whole duty of man. This the finder and a comrade were enabled, by supernatural agency to translate, since which the book has been printed and traveling preachers have gone forth with it, to enlighten the world." It seems that the story of the golden plates was well known while that of Joseph seeing deity was not known at all.
1830 The Gem
On December 25, 1830, The Gem of Literature and Science published an article titled "Book of Mormon." While the article gives a brief overview of how the book is being received, nothing is said concerning a First Vision.
1830 The Rochester Republican
On December 28, 1830, The Rochester Republican published an article titled "Book of Mormon." This article gives an overview of the Book of Mormon and its origins, but makes no reference to a First Vision.
1830 The Buffalo Patriot
On December 25, 1830, The Buffalo Patriot also published an article titled "Book of Mormon." This article gives an overview of the Book of Mormon, but makes no reference to a First Vision.
1831 Lucy's Letter to Solomon Mack
In January of 1831, Lucy (Josephs' mother) wrote a letter to her brother Solomon Mack. Although the letter was written nine months after the Church was organized, Lucy writes as though she is telling Solomon about it for the first time. Lucy goes into great detail concerning the contents of the Book of Mormon and then gives this interesting piece of history: "Joseph, after repenting of his sins and humbling himself before God was visited by an holy Angel whose countenance was as lightning and whose garments were white above all whiteness and gave unto him commandments which inspired him from on high. And gave him [power] by the means of which was before prepared, that he should translate this this book..." Why would Lucy skip over telling her brother about the First Vision? There is a chance that Solomon had already heard the story of Joseph in the quiet grove, but judging by the contents of the letter it seems highly unlikely.
1831 The Lockport Balance
On May 31, 1831, The Lockport Balance published an article that reads in part: "Smith pretended to have been directed, in a dream or vision, to a certain spot located between the village of Palmyra and Manchester. A slight excavation of the earth, enabled him to arrive at this new revelation, written in mysterious characters, upon gold plates." Before this, however, nothing is said concerning a First Vision of any kind.
1831 The Jamestown Journal
On June 29, 1831 the Jamestown Journal published an article titled "Progress of Mormonism." The article reads in part: "Martin Harris, one of the original Mormon prophets, arrived in the village last Saturday, on his way to the "Holy Land." He says he has seen Jesus Christ, and that "he is the handsomest man he ever did see." He has also seen the Devil, whom he describes to be a very sleek haired fellow, with four feet, and a head like a jackass." While this article says nothing about Joseph Smith, it is interesting that a newspaper would publish a vision of Martin Harris, but not of Joseph Smith. Additionally, Martin Harris says nothing about being persecuted for his vision. Historian Fawn Brodie humorously points out in her biography of Joseph Smith that visions of Jesus Christ abounded during that time.
1831 The Buffalo Patriot
On September 6, 1831, the Buffalo Patriot published an article titled "Mormonism." The article gives a brief overview of the religion, including Jesus Christ as their leader, but nothing is said concerning a First Vision.
1831 The Albany Argus
On October 15, 1831, The Albany Argus published an article titled "The Mormonites." The article reads in part: "A young man about 23 years of age, somewhere in Ontario county, N. Y., was visited by an angel! (here the preacher looked around him apparently to see if the credulity of the people in this enlightened age could be thus imposed on,) who informed him three times in one night that by visiting a certain place in that town he would have revealed to him something of importance." While the preacher was clearly looking to impress his audience, it might have been more impressive had he relayed to them the story of the First Vision.
1831 The Jamestown Journal
On December 7, 1831, The Jamestown Journal published an article titled "The Mormon Delusion." In speaking of the members of the Church, the article reads in part: "They pretend an ability, as in ancient times, to speak with tongues; -- and that Smith is able to hold converse with celestial spirits whenever he pleases. One of them pretends to have received a commission to preach the gospel, directly from heaven, on a piece of parchment! another to have received his on the palm of his hand; and witnesses are found to attest to these lies. Visions are in great repute..." The phrase of holding converse with celestial spirits whenever he pleases could be stretched to cover a First Vision, but it seems more likely to be referring to Joseph's quick ability to receive revelations.
1832 The Fredonia Censor
On March 7, 1832 The Fredonia Censor published an article titled "Mormonism." Referring to Joseph Smith, the article reads, in part: "Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse prayer. After retiring to bed one night, he was visited by an Angel and directed to proceed to a hill in the neighborhood where he would find a stone box containing a quantity of Gold plates." No reference is made to a First Vision.
1832 Book of Commandments
The Book of Commandments is the precursor for the Doctrine and Covenants. It was started in 1832, with some revelations dating even earlier (see Historical Introduction on the Joseph Smith Papers), but was not published until 1833. Nowhere in this book does it reference Joseph Smith’s First Vision.
1832 First Vision
Finally, in 1832, Joseph Smith gives the first account of his First Vision. Keep in mind that in this account Joseph Smith sees only the Lord. No other being is present in this vision.
- James B. Allen, Asst. Church Historian, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, pp. 29-45
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