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Another Account of the First Vision!

November 7, 2009

I found this rendition of the first vision posted on the website of the Community of Christ, the second largest branch of churches that traces its history back to Joseph Smith Jr. Notice the significant differences between this account and the “official” version that is promoted by the Brighamite branch of the LDS church:

In the early 1800s, a young boy named Joseph Smith knelt in the woods near his family home in Manchester Township, New York. He felt separated from God; he also wanted to know how he could make his life count for good in a world full of confusion and sin. He wanted to join with God’s people, but he had no idea how to do that. So, in response to the scripture from James, he prayed to God.

How long this first attempt at verbal prayer lasted is not known, but he came to a point of deep despair. At this point, a vision surrounded him with love and mercy. From that light came a voice as clear as his own. As the vision ebbed and the voice faded, Joseph felt that he knew the truth. He felt the healing presence of God within and the forgiving mercy of Christ. He knew that God would be with him.

He struggled through his teen years, trying to balance his experience with God with his desire to be accepted by others in his community. He continued to have significant spiritual experiences, one of which led to the Book of Mormon. He also felt called to establish a church, officially organizing it on April 6, 1830.

Notice some key points that are different in this account as compared with the version that ended up in the Pearl of Great Price:

  • no mention of a local revival
  • no reference to confusion over which church was right or the claim that all other churches were wrong
  • no mention of seeing two personages
  • only a vague reference to Joseph Smith’s claim of “severe persecution” that appears in the PoGP version

Out of the various accounts of the first vision, which one appears to be the closest to the one that the Community of Christ is presenting on their website? What do you think?  The closest parallel to me appears to be Joseph Smith’s 1832 handwritten account except they left out the part where he determined that all the other churches were wrong.  This could be because the Community of Christ has abandoned belief in the Great Apostasy and is in the process of deciding whether or not to abandon the practice of re-baptizing new members who were previously baptized in other churches.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. psychochemiker permalink
    November 9, 2009 5:04 pm

    An interesting note in this whole RLDS thing, is that the RLDS have enacted several changes once they accepted a generous sum from some ecumenical church council. It seems one can purchase a lot of change in religion if the price is right.

  2. faithoffathers permalink
    November 9, 2009 7:07 pm


    I think your article helps to dispel the idea that there is any confusion as to which church today represents the church established by Joseph Smith in 1830. The community of Christ have all but abandoned the BOM. They resemble the anglican church more than the church established through Joseph.

    They have watered-down essentially all doctrines and practices. Their version of the first vision is not surprising.


  3. November 9, 2009 10:30 pm


    I would love to read more on the RLDS taking funds from ecumenical church councils. Can you provide a reference for this.

  4. November 10, 2009 1:48 am


    You said, I think your article helps to dispel the idea that there is any confusion as to which church today represents the church established by Joseph Smith in 1830.

    True. It is more clear to me now that the FLDS most resemble the church established by Joseph Smith. 🙂

  5. November 10, 2009 7:29 am

    Wow, so interesting. Thanks for posting this, Jessica!

  6. November 10, 2009 4:21 pm

    Resources showing why this is a non-issue:


  7. November 11, 2009 6:53 pm


    Your post jogged my memory a bit to the fall of 2007… It came to my attention at that time that there were various first vision accounts… up until that time I had *no* idea that the “official” first vision that is taught on LDS missions today is actually a compilation of various versions that was officially published in the late 1800’s… I had truly believed that those were Joseph’s exact words from the “get go” and had up until that time, no idea that there were various first vision accounts.

    You can imagine my great surprise and dismay that there were various accounts of the first vision! It was disturbing to me, and was one of the events that led me to sersiously question the LDS faith.

    I also have to agree with you, as I too believe the FLDS faith is the one break off from the church Joseph started that most closely ahderes to the original church smith began, and Brigham continued.

    Kind regards,

  8. November 11, 2009 7:22 pm


    I cannot even imagine what a shock that must have been for you. My heart goes out to all those who have experienced a faith-damaging jolt like that. Of course I am not sad for you now because God has led you to Himself and into a close relationship with Jesus! But the process to get there was no doubt filled with pain and questions and turmoil.

    In reflecting on what you said I was reminded of a book I have that compares some of the statements early Mormon leaders made about Joseph Smith’s vision. There are many strange quotes from early leaders that indicate they never heard the version of the vision that included two personages appearing to Joseph Smith.

    For example, Heber C. Kimball, first counselor to Brigham Young, said:

    “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… 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 vail just as it is here. You have got to learn that.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, 29).

    It seems very strange to me that Heber C. Kimball would make this statement if Joseph Smith’s first vision account had always included the part about the two personages, Father and Son, appearing to him.

  9. November 11, 2009 8:26 pm

    I have read that statement from Heber C. Kimball and yes it is disturbing.

    Yes, it was a painful thing to find out that the faith one adhered to was false, after years of devotion to it, but in the end the JOY that came from knowing Jesus truly did pay the full price for my admission into the Kingdom of God far outweighed the sadness of finding that my former faith was false.

    In Christ alone,

  10. November 11, 2009 9:29 pm


    You may have missed my request for more information concerning the RLDS changing doctrine after receiving money from an ecumenical organisation. I would be pleased to know your source for this.

  11. Stefanie permalink
    December 1, 2009 3:03 am

    I somehow came across “In Pursuit of Compassionate Dialogue” and was delighted to see a non-LDS person in the blogosphere who speaks often of LDS topics in what seemed to be a very respectful way. I even referred to the post in another online conversation where things had gotten out of hand. Then I decided to read more of what you have written. However, I have to say that I am disappointed in this post and particularly in your last comment. In that quote, did you go to the source and read it? If not, you probably shouldn’t refer others to it. If you did, shame on you for doing the same disservice that the author of your book did by excluding a very big and critical portion of what was said. When I read it in your comment, I was a little taken back by it and decided to go to the source (at least you put the source which unfortunately is something that isn’t always done). Its not fair to put it in the context of the argument that there weren’t two personages in the first vision because if you read the whole thing, Heber C. Kimball is referring to Peter’s visit to restore the priesthood and Moroni’s visit to tell Joseph about the plates. Not once did he refer to or even allude to the First Vision. Heber C. Kimball knew that God sends messengers to do his work in almost every case and used the example of Him sending Peter and Moroni instead of coming Himself to make a point that we cannot expect a visit from God to do His work here on earth…instead, He sends His agents. That’s not to say that Heber Kimball believed that God would never himself come. That’s not to say he never heard Joseph say that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him, even though you make it sound like that was in fact what he was referring to when he said that. I am disappointed because I was thrilled about interfaith dialogue that doesn’t employ tricks like the one I found in your comment.

  12. December 1, 2009 3:34 am

    I’ve found that quotes from Mormon leaders are almost never taken in context.

    That’s why checking the footnotes is the real crucial work in anti-Mormon stuff. Rarely can you ever trust the main body of the text.

  13. December 1, 2009 4:00 am

    Hi Stefanie! 🙂

    Thank you for your comment. I assure you my heart is to engage in these conversations in a respectful manner. I have no desire to employ any “tricks” whatsoever. I believe the truth alone can set us free, not deception or lies.

    I have read your comment through several times and have gone back to review the article by Heber C. Kimball and I can see your point that Heber C. Kimball was referring to the belief in Moroni’s visit and Peter’s visit, but that does not impact his emphasis that God would not come at all – that God doesn’t do that. The point I was trying to make was that if Kimball believed in the “official” first vision account at the time he said this why would he state so emphatically that God does not come in person to call a person for special duty?

    There are confusing quotes from early Mormon leaders regarding the first vision that leads someone to believe the vision was not always so clear or so central to Mormonism as it is now.

    George A. Smith, a First Counselor in 1868, said:

    “When Joseph Smith was about fourteen or fifteen years old, living in the Western part of the State of New York…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…” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 12, pp. 333-334 – links: p. 333 and p. 334)

    If the first vision account was always the same from the beginning how could these Mormon leaders have been so confused?

  14. Stefanie permalink
    December 1, 2009 9:46 pm

    Then you should have bolded “Because he has agents to attend to his business” rather than “but God did not come himself and call” since the latter statement had nothing to do with the First Vision as it is in the past tense and refers to other visits. Also, if you are going to use it in the context of talking about the First Vision, you need to explain that he was actually referring to the visit of Moroni and the visit of Peter but that you think that it can also be applied to the First Vision. Without doing those two things, you lead the reader to believe that Heber Kimball explicitly said that God did not come to the First Vision (I know this because that was MY reaction…”What?! Heber Kimball emphatically said that God did not come to the First Vision??”) and that is a deception. I do believe that in your heart you arent trying to be deceptive and you wouldn’t intentionally do so, but please be careful about wording and context when you quote anyone.

  15. December 2, 2009 1:23 am

    Hi Stefanie,

    The reason I bolded the part that I did was because his statement “God did not come himself and call” is in direct contradiction with one of the central claims of Mormonism – the claim that God came in person and appeared to a boy named Joseph Smith. The fact that Kimball made this emphatic statement at all – context of other visitations notwithstanding – is what appears to me to be a contradiction.

    Let me see if I can think of a parallel to help you see my point of view on this.

    One of the central tenets of Christianity is the belief that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. Let’s imagine Average Joe Christian pastor in Random Church in Anywhere, USA makes a random sermon illustration one day when he is discussing nothing remotely close to the deity or humanity of Christ. He suddenly states very emphatically, “God would never enter the world in human form. God would never do that.”

    That is how I see Kimball’s statement in relation to the centrality of the first vision to Mormonism.

    Gordon B. Hinckley declared, “Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision. It was the parting of the curtain to open this, the dispensation of the fullness of times. Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration. I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and His Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true. This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life” (ref)

    To me, Kimball’s statement is an indication that the first vision has not always held such a prominent place in the thoughts of the Latter Day Saint movement.

    Wikipedia states, “The importance of the First Vision within the Latter Day Saint movement evolved over time. Early adherents were unaware of the details of the vision until 1840, when the earliest accounts were published in Great Britain. An account of the First Vision was not published in the United States until 1842, shortly before Joseph Smith’s death. Jan Shipps has written that the vision was ‘practically unknown’ until an account of it was published in 1842” (ref)

    I believe this change in emphasis of the details of the first vision might account for statements like those of Heber C. Kimball which indicate that these details were not prominent in his thoughts when he made the statement he did that “God did not come himself and call” Joseph Smith.

    By the way, I am not the only one that believes this particular quote by Heber C. Kimball to be problematic for the first vision. An internet search today found that this is one of the claims that FAIR felt the need to address on their website.

  16. Stefanie permalink
    December 2, 2009 2:51 am

    Actually that parallel doesnt work because “would never” and “did not” are very different when the “did not” is referring to an event other than the one about which you are speaking. To illustrate, a better parallel would be if that pastor in Anywhere, USA was saying “Did Christ come in human form as Elijah? He absolutely did not!” That’s not to say He “would never” came in human form. In your example, the pastor is talking in “would not”s instead of “did not”s and that’s very different. Also, I will NEVER give much weight to Wikipedia. There is a reason my university professors don’t let me use it as a source when writing scholarly papers.
    However, I’m not here to argue with you about Heber Kimball’s or anyone else’s meaning or intention in saying what they did. As you and Seth have stated, it has already been addressed by FAIR and in reading what they have said about that statement as well as the other one you brought up, I don’t feel like there is much for me to add. Instead, my sole purpose in commenting in the first place was to ask you to be careful when you quote people because the fact of the matter is (regardless of whether you bolded the right thing) that I was misled in thinking that Heber Kimball said something that was different than what he really said. And as you have said, your intention is not to mislead me or anyone else. Please just be careful.

  17. December 2, 2009 3:46 am

    Jessica, Wikipedia is almost qualifies as an anti-Mormon source.

    One of the major moderators for Wikipedia is actually an Evangelical on the faculty of Bob Jones University!

    FAIR members have been trying to get him removed from that position for years with no success.

    He essentially deletes or alters much of the context and counter-positions Mormons try to add to the Wiki entries. I no longer particularly trust Wikipedia as a source for this reason.

    Here is FAIR’s wiki entry on the First Vision and all its versions:

  18. December 2, 2009 3:57 am

    I mean… Bob Jones University!

    Are you freaking kidding me?

  19. December 2, 2009 4:07 am

    To me, the FAIR article would have been more convincing if it had listed citations showing that Heber C. Kimball actually did believe in the official account of the first vision. I certainly don’t have the JoD memorized, but I would be very interested to know if there are any quotes indicating Kimball believed in the official account of the first vision. If there are, why wouldn’t FAIR list those in their rebuttal of this criticism?

  20. December 2, 2009 4:15 am

    Seth, Don’t let Todd Wood catch you dissing his alma mater! 🙂

  21. December 2, 2009 5:55 am

    I can raise your concerns if you wish.

    I didn’t mean that Bob Jones wasn’t a perfectly good school.

    But how would you feel Jessica if all entries on Evangelicalism were being edited and moderated by Daniel Peterson?

  22. December 2, 2009 5:57 am

    Sorry for double-linking to the same website twice in the same thread.

    Seriously, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going some days….

  23. December 3, 2009 4:50 am

    I can raise your concerns if you wish.

    I wouldn’t call it a concern really. I was just wondering if Kimball ever indicated that he believed in the “official” account of the first vision. The fact that FAIR does not cite any leads me to believe there might not be any quotes verifying he believed in the “official” account.

    But how would you feel Jessica if all entries on Evangelicalism were being edited and moderated by Daniel Peterson?

    I don’t know that it matters what the person’s faith is as long as they are using integrity in their scholarship. Do you have any reason to believe the Evangelical on Wikipedia is being dishonest? Is he not linking to LDS apologetic material? I see links all the time to LDS positions. Was there something untrue in the section I quoted above?

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