The Wandering Mind

Honest LDS History – First Vision

Posted in Mormonism by wandren on 6 September 2007

I found a blog tonight, Mormons Talk, in which the question was asked as to whether or not the LDS Church is open and honest about some of the uglier points in its history, and whether or not this information is readily accessible.

The main problems I see with The Church’s handling of these issues are:

  • the Church only addresses these problems when it comes under heavy criticism by mainstream media, and
  • official Church materials “spin” the truth to reflect more favorably on it than the honest facts suggest, rather than simply admitting that they were wrong, corrected the mistake, and learned from it.

Using the search tool for the words “problems first vision account,” the following was the first result:

Why did Joseph Smith describe only one divine being in the 1832 record?
The Prophet writes poignantly about seeking God and adds: “And the Lord opened the heavens upon me, and I saw the Lord.” Then follow the words of the Savior quoted earlier. Possibly the term Lord referred to the Father in the first instance, while afterward referring to the Son, who declared his atonement for the sins of all. 19 This is the most personalized of all the vision accounts, and Joseph Smith is preoccupied with Christ’s assurance, evidently only hinting at the presence of the Father. Yet in the Prophet’s 1838 public history, the Father introduced the Son and told Joseph to “Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:17). Joseph’s 1832 account verifies that the answer came from Christ himself; this account concentrates on the Savior’s words as the response to Joseph’s prayer. From the beginning, the resurrected Savior directed the reestablishment of his own church.

Why did Joseph Smith stress forgiveness in 1832 but not in later publications? Joseph prepared his later histories for general distribution, and he stressed God’s message to the world—that no existing church was fully accepted by Him (see JS—H 1:19). Yet he added that he was told “many other things … which I cannot write at this time” (JS—H 1:20). One of these was Christ’s assurance that his sins were forgiven. Many have speculated on the reason for partial information in the full history. The simplest explanation is that personal details were more appropriate in his first, private record. Yet the Prophet did not censor Orson Pratt, who wrote in 1840 that the youth was told “that his sins were forgiven.” 20 In fact, this aspect of the glorious event was recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants as a manifestation prior to that of Moroni (1823) that assured “this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins” (D&C 20:5). But the Prophet circulated his histories primarily to make known his calling and Christ’s announcement that His church and gospel had disappeared from the earth (see JS—H 1:19).

What are the main problems of interpreting so many accounts? The first problem is the interpreter. One person perceives harmony and interconnections while another overstates differences. Think of how you retell a vivid event in your life—marriage, first day on the job, or an automobile accident. A record of all your comments would include short and long versions, along with many bits and pieces. Only by blending these glimpses can an outsider reconstruct what originally happened. The biggest trap is comparing description in one report with silence in another. By assuming that what is not said is not known, some come up with arbitrary theories of an evolution in the Prophet’s story. Yet we often omit parts of an episode because of the chance of the moment, not having time to tell everything, or deliberately stressing only a part of the original event in a particular situation. This means that any First Vision account contains some fraction of the whole experience. Combining all reliable reports will recreate the basics of Joseph Smith’s quest and conversation with the Father and Son.


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