Friday, August 10, 2007

Reasons Behind My Disaffection : Reason 4 : The First Vision and Doctrine of the Godhood

The version of the First Vision that the Church adheres to today includes distinct information related to the make-up of the Godhood. This story, as outlined in the Pearl of Great Price, include reference to God, the Father, and the Son, Jesus Christ. This doctrine is unique to the LDS Church and is subsequently a source of contention between the LDS Church and other denominations. It is one of the reasons that the Church claims to have more of the truth than other Church's. However, versions of the First Vision written prior to the official version contain contradictory accounts.

The first account, purportedly written by Joseph Smith himself, written in 1832 (11 years after the actual event), mentions seeing only one personage, that being Jesus Christ.

The second account, also attributed to Joseph Smith as written in his personal journal, was written in November of 1835 (15 years after the actual event), states that one personage, unnamed, who was specifically neither the Father nor the Son, visited him along with many angels.

The official version contained in the Pearl of Great Price is understood to be written around 1838, although not published until 1842, 18 years after the actual event and 10 years after Joseph began his public missionary efforts. In fact, the first evidence I have found on the subject of Joseph Smith teaching a doctrine of the two distinct members of the Godhood and them being included in the First Vision is 1837.

Incidentally, the original 1830 version of the Book of Mormon contained verses that referenced a singular God, whereas new editions have been altered to reflect the existence of two. For example, in First Nephi 11:18, the original verse read "Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh." Today's Book of Mormon reads "Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh." (emphasis added) Also, the original First Nephi 11:21 read "behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!", yet today's reads ""behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!"

Approximately 3,913 changes have been recorded between the original 1830 printing of the Book of Mormon compared to the version we read today. Arguably, most edits are of insignificant consequence. However, I cannot ignore such a significant change in a fundamental doctrine such as this. The very nature of Gods existence is of such importance that it seems outright foolish to believe that Joseph Smith understood this doctrine in 1820, yet personally recorded accounts to the contrary for eighteen years until the final revision that we use today in promoting the Church to the whole world.

For sake of thoroughness, I will provide references at the bottom of this post from Church documents that further confuse the issue of whether Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son in the First Vision. In the end, the current teaching was not standard doctrine until after the turn of the century.

Even in the first missionary discussion, the very proof we provided for there being three distinct members of the Godhood was that Joseph Smith saw God, the Father, and Jesus Christ in the First Vision.

"In 1820 young Joseph Smith prayed to know which church he should join. In answer to his prayer, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him. Through him they restored the truth about the plan of God. Joseph Smith was a prophet and a powerful witness of Christ."
The Plan of our Heavenly Father, First Missionary Discussion

This doctrine is quite different in meaning from other religions and one that I found later was a gradual doctrine that didn't take shape until well after the First Vision occurred.

My conclusion is that the currently published version of the First Vision is a carefully crafted story, enduring numerous drafts and revisions, until it came to a palatable version that can be believed if combined with multiple testaments and seemingly personal spiritual experiences that agree in unison. Its certainly a nice story. One that can influence people who have a hope of something more than they currently believe. That hope leads to a belief that the story is factual and true. And because members of the Church are only taught the official version of the First Vision, they are naive and unsuspecting.

I can no longer believe that the First Vision account actually happened, at least not in the version that the Church specifically teaches as the only way that it happened. If it were so, the Church would not have had to revise the original versions to the extent that they have. Furthermore, Joseph Smith would have been telling the same story from the beginning. It's one thing to believe that he would tell the story differently depending on the audience and it's another to completely change the doctrinal basis for the Church in the same breath. It simply does not add up, and I have decided not to believe it any longer.

Furthermore, I can no longer believe that God and Jesus Christ exist in any manner that resembles that which is taught by the Church, or by any other church or denomination, for that matter. As the basis for my belief in God and Jesus Christ has crumbled, so to has my belief in any higher power.



References as promised above:

1852 - Brigham Young preached his first Adam-God sermon. Young held to this doctrine the rest of his life, dying in 1877. Some of the brethren continued to believe the Adam-God doctrine for years afterward.

1853 - Lucy Smith's family history was printed. She did not personally recount anything concerning an 1820 vision. Instead, she simply inserted Joseph's account from the Times and Seasons.

1854 - Speaking at conference April 6, 1854, Apostle Orson Hyde stated:

"Some one may say, 'If this work of the last days be true, why did not the Saviour come himself to communicate this intelligence to the world?' Because to the angels was committed the power of reaping the earth, and it was committed to none else. (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, p. 335)

1855 - LDS President Brigham Young taught on Feb. 18, 1855: " it was in the advent of this new dispensation....The messenger did not come to an eminent divine...The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven,...But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day,..." ( Journal of Discourses, Vol. 2, p. 171)

A few days later Apostle Wilford Woodruff preached: "That same organization and Gospel that Christ died for, and the Apostles spilled their blood to vindicate, is again established in this generation. How did it come? By the ministering of an holy angel from God,... The angel taught Joseph Smith those principles which are necessary for the salvation of the world;... He told him the Gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of His kingdom in the world,... This man to whom the angel appeared obeyed the Gospel;..." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 2, pp. 196-197)

1857 - LDS Apostle Heber C. Kimball, speaking Nov. 8th, 1857, seemed to be oblivious to any vision where Smith saw God and Christ: "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, but he sent Peter to do it. Do you not see? He sent Peter and sent Moroni to Joseph, and told him that he had got the plates." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, p. 29)

1863 - Apostle John Taylor explained in a sermon March 1, 1863: "How did this state of things called Mormonism originate? We read that an angel came down and revealed himself to Joseph Smith and manifested unto him in vision the true position of the world in a religious point of view." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, p. 127)

LDS Apostle George A. Smith, Nov. 15th, 1863, preached: "When Joseph Smith was about fourteen or fifteen years old,...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)

1864 - One year later, November 15, 1864, Apostle Smith seemed to be describing the vision in a more traditional way:

"When the Lord appeared to Joseph Smith and manifested unto him a knowledge pertaining to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the work of the last days, Satan came also with his power...He [Joseph] thus describes the incident: "In the spring of 1820, ...I saw a pillar of light...I saw two personages...'This is my beloved son, hear him.' ...just at the time that God was revealing unto his servant Joseph to raise up men to bear testimony of the principles of the Gospel...Satan was at work stirring up the hearts of the children of men..." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, pp. 1-2)

1869 - Five years later Apostle Smith again referred to Smith's first vision: "He sought the Lord by day and by night, and was enlightened by the vision of an holy angel. When this personage appeared to him, of his first inquiries was, 'Which of the denominations of Christians in the vicinity was right?' " (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, p. 77-78 June 20, 1869 )

Speaking on Dec. 19, 1869, Orson Pratt taught: "By and by an obscure individual, a young man, rose up, and, in the midst of all Christendom, proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him;... This young man, some four years afterwards, was visited again by a holy angel." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, pp. 65-66)

1871 - On March 19 Orson Pratt preached: "He went out to pray, being then a little over fourteen years of age, ...He saw in this light two glorious personages, one of whom spoke to him, pointing to the other, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.' ...When these persons interrogated him to know what he desired, he answered and said, 'Lord show me which is the true church.' He was then informed by one of these personages that there was no true church upon the face of the whole earth;... The vision withdrew; the personages attending and the light withdrew. ... he knew that God had manifested himself to him;..." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 14, pp. 140-141)

Although Orson Pratt's sermon on March 19, 1871 could be interpreted as either angels or God, his sermon on Dec. 10 of that year clearly identified the messengers as angels: "Here was Joseph Smith, a boy, ...he was only between fourteen and fifteen years of age....Would he stand forth and bear testimony that he had seen with his own eyes a messenger of light and glory, and that he heard the words of his mouth as they dropped from his lips and had received a message from the Most High, at that early age? And have the finger of scorn pointed at him, ...'No visions in our day, no angels come in our day,...' and still continue to testify, ...that God had sent his angel from heaven." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 14, p. 262)

1874 - Speaking June 23rd, 1874, President Brigham Young still seemed to be identifying the personages as messengers rather than God and Christ: "Do we believe that the Lord sent his messengers to Joseph Smith, and commanded him to refrain from joining any Christian church, and to refrain from the wickedness he saw in the churches, and finally delivered to him a message informing him that the Lord was about to establish his kingdom on the earth, and led him on step by step until he gave him the revelation concerning the plates? Yes, this is all correct." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 18, p. 239)

Later that year, on Sept. 20, 1874, Orson Pratt preached: "Joseph Smith, ...was a boy about fourteen years of age at the time the Lord first revealed himself in a very marvelous manner to him. ...he saw nothing excepting the light and two glorious personages standing before him in the midst of this light. One of these personages, pointing to the other, said—'Behold my beloved Son, hear ye him.. After this, power was given to Mr. Smith to speak, and in answer to an inquiry by the Lord as to what he desired, he said that he desired to know which was the true Church,...immediately after receiving it, he began to relate it to some of his nearest friends, and he was told by some of the ministers who came to him to enquire about it, that there was no such thing as the visitation of heavenly messengers, that God gave no new revelation...he knew that he had seen this light, that he had beheld these two personages, and that he had heard the voice of one of them;...and he continued to testify that God had made himself manifest to him;..." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 17, pp. 278-280)

1876 - LDS Apostle John Taylor, speaking December 31, 1876, identified the personages as follows: "...the Father and the Son appeared to him, arrayed in glory,...'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased...' " (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 18, pp. 325-326)

1879 - LDS Apostle John Taylor, speaking on March 2, 1879, identifies the personages as angels: "...Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right...the angel merely told him to join none of them..." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 20, p. 167)

However, later the same day, he declared that the Father and Son appeared to Joseph: "When the Father and the Son and Moroni and others came to Joseph Smith, he had a priesthood conferred upon him..." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 20, p. 257)

On December 7, 1879 Taylor declared: "the Lord revealed himself to him together with his Son Jesus, and, pointing to the latter, said; 'This is my beloved Son, hear him.'" (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 21, p. 161).

1880 - John Taylor preached on January 4, 1880: "...the Lord appeared unto Joseph Smith, both the Father and the Son, the Father pointing to the Son said, 'this is my beloved Son...'" (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 21, p. 65)

Orson Pratt gave his most specific identification of the personages in his sermon Sept. 18, 1880: " the spring of 1820, before Joseph Smith was of the age of answer to his prayers, there was the manifestation of two of the great personages in the heavens—not angels, not messengers, but two persons that hold the keys of authority over all the creations of the universe. Who were they? God the Eternal Father and his Son Jesus Christ,...he heard the glorious words that proceeded from the Father, as he pointed to his Son and said, to Joseph, 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.' This was a new revelation;..." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 21, p. 308)

1882 - Apostle George Q. Cannon, on Oct. 29, 1882, seemed to start Joseph's call with the vision of Moroni. He did mention that Joseph saw Jesus and God but did not put those experiences in the framework of the first vision: "He [Joseph] was visited constantly by angels; and the Son of God Himself condescended to come and minister unto him, the Father having also shown Himself unto him; and these various angels, the heads of dispensations, having also ministered unto him. Moroni, in the beginning, as you know, to prepare him for his mission, came and ministered and talked to him from time to time,..." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 23, p. 362)

1883 - William Smith, Joseph's brother, remembered the vision as happening in 1823. He wrote that Joseph went into the woods to pray about which church to join: "An angel then appeared to him...He told him that none of the sects were right;..." (William Smith on Mormonism, by William Smith, 1883, Herald Steam Book, Iowa, pp. 5-10, as printed on New Mormon Studies CD-ROM.)

1884 - Apostle George Teasdale understood the first vision to be "a vision of the Father and the Son." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 25, p.13 & 18)

Speaking on January 28, 1884, B.H. Roberts related: "In the Spring of 1820, Joseph Smith,...was praying in the woods to the Father,,... He saw a pillar of light descending from heaven...In the midst of this glorious light stood two personages:... 'This is my beloved son; hear ye him.'—...for the Father had revealed the Son to him." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 25, p. 138)

1888 - LDS assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson still had the understanding that the first vision was one of angels. He published an account of the first vision in the paper The Historical Record, Jan. 1888, pp. 353-357. This account is taken from the Times and Seasons account with Jenson's comments summarizing the experience, "The angel again forbade Joseph to join any of these churches, ..." Jenson then reverted to Smith's narrative, "Many other things did he (the angel) say unto me which I cannot write at this time." Note that Jenson adds the clarifying words "the angel."

When Jenson's paper was reprinted a couple of years later this account had been changed in two places. At the spots where he identified the being as an "angel" it was changed to "the Holy Being" and "the Christ."

This block of references were copied from with bold emphasis added by myself.


Other References:


Sideon said...

Their own history and statements contradict the ever-changing "doctrine" and edited rewrites. Another name for "blind faith" is stupidity.

Thank all the gawds for the internets and Truth (capital T).

Anonymous said...

You likely won't even see this... but I'm loving your blog.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I would be SillyNut.

paranoidfr33k said...

Jennifer, I'm glad your enjoying it. I need to get some more posts out there, but I've been quite busy. Anyway, thanks for popping in and leaving me a message.

Soy Yo said...

I hope you don't mind but I was doing a post about the firs vision as well and linked to this post at the end. I think the list of quotes from BY and other church leaders is great. I enjoy reading your thoughts. Thanks for sharing them with us.

paranoidfr33k said...

Soy Yo,

I don't mind you linking, go for it. I hope you keep writing.