Comparison of Mormon First Vision accounts
A comparison of differing "First Vision" accounts.

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The table below highlights the contradictions between Joseph Smith's own accounts of his "First Vision".

Summary

  1. Smith's official account of 1838 contradicts his earlier, first recorded written account of the "First Vision" (1832) in regard to how he discovered that all Christian denominations were astray from Jesus Christ and from the gospel: -
    • In his Official 1838 account, Smith says that before his "First Vision" he did not know that all the denominations were wrong (it had 'never enter my heart that all were wrong,' he said (v18)) - in fact, it was impossible for him to know (v8), and the information was revealed to him for the first time during his "First Vision", the 1838 account says (also see v10);
    • but, contradictory to this, in his first ever record of his "First Vision" (1832) Smith says that he discovered before the "First Vision" that all denominations were astray from the gospel by studying the Bible. This contradiction between the two accounts makes the authenticity of Joseph Smith's "First Vision" account highly questionable.
  2. Smith's official account of 1838 contradicts his own earlier accounts (Nov. 9th & 14th, 1835) in regard to who appeared to him in the "First Vision": -
    • In his Official 1838 account, Smith says that two personages appeared to him: One of the personages identified the Other personage as His own Son - the Father and Son here appearing to Joseph themselves (v17);
    • but, contradictory to this, in the 1835 accounts it is angels who appear to Smith, not the Father and the Son. This contradiction between the two accounts makes the authenticity of Joseph Smith's "First Vision" account highly questionable.

Conclusion
Contradictions between the accounts of two different people are understandable as mistakes, but Joseph Smith's own accounts of his "First Vision" contradict each other. At best, this shows that Smith's words and writings are unreliable and cannot be relied upon for accuracy. At worst, this shows that Smith fabricated the "First Vision" all together and he cannot be trusted. Either way, the foundation "experience" of Mormonism is unstable, which brings the rest of the religion tumbling down.


Evidence
Key to table below: -

The account of the "First Vision" in the column with this colour background is the Official version of the "First Vision". The Official account says that: -
  1. Prior to the "First Vision" Smith did not know that all Christian denominations were incorrect; and
  2. the Father and the Son appeared to Smith during the "First Vision".
Accounts of the "First Vision" in columns with this colour background contradict the Official version of the "First Vision" in regard to how Smith came to know that all Christian denominations were incorrect: in this account Smith says he discovered this by studying the Bible before the "First Vision". Accounts of the "First Vision" in columns with this colour background contradict the Official version of the "First Vision" in regard to who appeared to Smith in his “First Vision”: in this account Smith says that angels appeared to him (not the Father and the Son).
  • Words highlighted in this colour are specific passages between the differing accounts that contradiction each other regarding how Smith came to know that all Christian denominations were incorrect.
  • Words highlighted in this colour are specific passages between the differing accounts that contradiction each other regarding who appeared to Smith in his “First Vision”.
Date of account
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1838
Official version
1832
Smith's first recorded written attempt at a "First Vision" account
1835 (Nov. 9th)
Smith's record of the "First Vision" account he gave to Joshua the Jewish Minister
1835 (Nov. 14th)
Smith's record of the "First Vision" account he gave to Erastus Holmes
Contradiciton
—»
The Offical account says that: -
  1. Prior to the "First Vision" Smith did not know that all Christian denominations were incorrect; and
  2. the Father and the Son appeared to Smith during the "First Vision".
Contradicts the Offical version of the "First Vision" in regard to how Smith came to know that all Christian denominations were incorrect: in this account Smith says he discovered this by studying the Bible before the "First Vision". Contradicts the Official version of the "First Vision" in regard to who appeared to Smith in his “First Vision”: in this account Smith says that angels appeared to him. Contradicts the Official version of the "First Vision" in regard to who appeared to Smith in his “First Vision”: in this account Smith says that angels appeared to him.
Introduction
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JOSEPH SMITH—HISTORY
EXTRACTS FROM THE HISTORY OF JOSEPH SMITH, THE PROPHET
History of the Church, Vol. 1, Chapters 1-5

Joseph Smith tells of his ancestry, family members, and their early abodes—An unusual excitement about religion prevails in western New York—He determines to seek wisdom as directed by James—The Father and the Son appear and Joseph is called to his prophetic ministry. (Verses 1-20.)

1 Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a Church and its progress in the world—I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession.
2 In this history I shall present the various events in relation to this Church, in truth and righteousness, as they have transpired, or as they at present exist, being now [1838] the eighth year since the organization of the said Church.
3 I was born in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and five, on the twenty-third day of December, in the town of Sharon, Windsor county, State of Vermont . . . My father, Joseph Smith, Sen., left the State of Vermont, and moved to Palmyra, Ontario (now Wayne) county, in the State of New York, when I was in my tenth year, or thereabouts. In about four years after my father’s arrival in Palmyra, he moved with his family into Manchester in the same county of Ontario—
4 His family consisting of eleven souls, namely, my father, Joseph Smith; my mother, Lucy Smith (whose name, previous to her marriage, was Mack, daughter of Solomon Mack); my brothers, Alvin (who died November 19th, 1823, in the 26th year of his age), Hyrum, myself, Samuel Harrison, William, Don Carlos; and my sisters, Sophronia, Catherine, and Lucy.
5 Some time 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. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.
6 For, notwithstanding the great alove which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more bpretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.
7 I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.
  … while setting in my house between the house of ten & 11 this morning a man came in, and introduced him=self to me, calling <himself> by the name of Joshua the Jewish minister, his appearance was some thing singular, having a beard about 3 inches in length which is quite grey, also his hair is long and considerably silvered with age I should think he is about 50 or 55 years old, tall and strait slender built of thin visage blue eyes, and fair com=plection, he wears a sea green frock coat, & pantaloons of the same, black fur hat with narrow brim, and while speaking frequently shuts his eyes with a scowl on his countenance: I made some enquirey after his name but received no definite answer; we soon comm=enced talking upon the subject of religion and af=ter I had made some remakes concerning the bible I commenced giving him a relation of the circum=stances connected with the coming forth of the book of Mormon, as follows – This afternoon, Erastus Holmes, of Newbury, Ohio, called on me to inquire about the establishment of the church, and to be instructed in doctrine more perfectly. I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old
How Smith found out that all churches were astray from Jesus and the gospel.
—»
8 During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and astrife among the different denominations, that
it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.
9 My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.
10 In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions,
I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be aright, which is it, and how shall I know it?
11 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of aJames, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack bwisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
12 Never did any passage of ascripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed bwisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects cunderstood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
13 At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in adarkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would bgive liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
… scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel exceedingly for I discovered that <they did not adorn> instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and God=ly conversation agreeable to what I found contain=ed in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul
thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become exceedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that <mankind> did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament
and I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world for I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons for he was God for I looked upon the sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in the their magesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon whic=h I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in magesty and in the strength of beauty whose power and intiligence in governing the things which are so exceeding great and marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him (them) and when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath the wise 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
being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involve eternal consequ[e]nces; up to
What the "First Vision" was like.
—»
14 So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the awoods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a bbeautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to cpray dvocally.
15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was aseized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick bdarkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
16 But, exerting all my powers to acall upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into bdespair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of clight exactly over my head, above the brightness of the dsun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself adelivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me
I saw two Personages,
whose brightness and glory defy all description, estanding 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!
18 My object in going to ainquire 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.
19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all awrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those bprofessors were all ccorrupt; that: “they ddraw near to me with their lips, but their ehearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the fcommandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the gpower thereof.”
20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself alying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, bmother inquired what the matter was. I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” I then said to my mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.” It seems as though the cadversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the dopposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy? ...
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 rejoice 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 … being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and bow[e]d down before the Lord, under a realising sense that he had said (if the bible be true) ask and you shall receive knock and it shall be opened seek and you shall find and again, if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men libar=ally and upbradeth not; information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it, I called upon the Lord for the first time, in the place above stated or in other words I made a fruitless attempt to p[r]ay, my toung seemed to be swollen in my mouth, so that I could not utter, I heard a noise behind me like some person walking towards me, I strove again to pray, but could not, the noise of walking seem=ed to draw nearer, I sprung up on my feet, and and looked around, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of wal=king, I kneeled again my mouth was opened and my toung liberated, and I called on the Lord in mightly prayer, a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon me, 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 testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God;
<and I saw many angels in this vision>
I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication; When I was about 17 years old I saw
another vision of angels
in the night season after I had retired to bed …
the time I received
the first visitation of angels,
[1] which was when I was about fourteen years old; also the revelations that I received afterwards concerning the Book of Mormon ...

Conclusion
Joseph Smith's own accounts of his "First Vision" contradict each other. At best, this shows that Smith's words and writings are unreliable and cannot be relied upon for accuracy. At worst, this shows that Smith fabricated the "First Vision" all together and he cannot be trusted. Either way, the foundation "experience" of Mormonism is unstable, which brings the rest of the religion tumbling down.



Notes:
[1] This was later changed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when the account was incorporated into the History of the Church; it was changed to read "I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old up to the time I received the first vision, which was when I was about fourteen years old". This is a convenient way for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to try to cover over contradictions in their founding statements - it certainly brings the motives of the LDS Church into question.



Sources:

First Vision account

Available online at: -

1838: Official version

http://www.irr.org/mit/first-vision/1838-account.html

1832: Smith's first recorded written attempt at a "First Vision" account

http://www.irr.org/mit/first-vision/1832-account.html

1835 (Nov. 9th): Smith's record of the "First Vision" account he gave to Joshua the Jewish Minister

http://www.irr.org/mit/first-vision/1835a-account.html

1835 (Nov. 14th): Smith's record of the "First Vision" account he gave to Erastus Holmes

http://www.irr.org/mit/first-vision/1835b-account.html