The Last Word Has Not Been Spoken on the First Vision

Joseph Smith’s First Vision, woodcut by J. Hoey (1873)

According to the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), in the early spring of 1820 the Father and the Son appeared to their founder Joseph Smith Jr. when he was a boy. At its General Conference in April 2020, the LDS Church’s leaders commemorated the bicentennial of this event, known as the First Vision, which it believes occurred exactly 200 years ago. The Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, M. Russell Ballard, gave an address at their recent General Conference rehearsing the story,[1] and several other speakers at the conference also commented on the First Vision. The church’s current Prophet, Russell M. Nelson, read a new proclamation entitled “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World,” in a video recorded in “the Sacred Grove,” the woods near Joseph’s boyhood home where he said he had experienced the First Vision.[2]

In the past three months or so Mormons have produced a flurry of new materials referencing the First Vision. The LDS Church produced a new curriculum manual devoted entirely to the First Vision.[3] The February 2020 issue of the LDS Church’s official flagship magazine, the Ensign, included four articles on the First Vision.[4] Throughout February and March of this year, the pro-LDS organization Book of Mormon Central (BMC) produced a series of twenty “Joseph Smith–History Insight” articles about the First Vision on the related website called Pearl of Great Price Central.[5] On April 3, the BMC website posted a list of the entire series.[6]

Anticipating the attention that the First Vision would receive this year, at the beginning of last year I started work on a book that would, among other things, examine the historical evidence pertaining to the First Vision. That book, Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions: Examining the Foundations of Christianity and Mormonism, was published late last month (March 2020). One Mormon blogger, Robert Boylan, has already written a lengthy series of posts attacking the book.[7]

In light of the recent spate of materials produced on the First Vision, I will be producing additional resources on the subject to supplement the information presented in my book (which has just one chapter on the First Vision itself). Some of these resources will appear on the Faith Thinkers website, such as the new series of articles on “First Vision Accounts: Primary Sources for Joseph Smith’s Foundational Vision.” That new series presents primary-source accounts of the First Vision from Joseph Smith and his associates with informative notes about textual changes and about the use of the Bible in those accounts. Six of the articles in that series are already online. Other resources will appear here on The Faith Thinker blog.

Book order information: Currently, Amazon has a very limited number of copies of Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions and is estimating about three weeks for shipment. Faith Thinkers now has copies of the book in stock that you can order from us directly. We are working on being listed as an Amazon seller but that might take several days or even longer because of the way things are going there. If you would like to order a copy directly from us, you can do so from our website homepage, https://faiththinkers.org, where you can also get a free excerpt of more than thirty pages from the book.

NOTES


[1] M. Russell Ballard, “Shall We Not Go On in So Great a Cause?” General Conference, April 2020.

[2]Prophet Introduces a New Proclamation to the World: ‘The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,’” Newsroom (LDS), April 5, 2020.

[3] The First Vision (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2020).

[4] “Palmyra, New York, USA”; “Eight Truths from the First Vision”; “Celebrating the Restoration”; and Henry B. Eyring, “The First Vision: A Pattern for Personal Revelation,” Ensign, Feb. 2020.

[5] The articles in this series are all anonymous. Regardless of who authored the articles, they are clearly based mainly on the work of Steven C. Harper, who has emerged in the past several years as the leading LDS historian on the First Vision. Harper’s works on the First Vision are cited in a majority of the articles in the series.

[6] BMC Team, “Twenty Insights and Evidences on Joseph Smith and the First Vision,” Book of Mormon Central (blog), April 3, 2020.

[7] Robert Boylan, “Articles Interacting with Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions (2020),” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), April 6, 2020.

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