“Joseph Smith’s First Vision Accounts,” Church History Topics
“Joseph Smith’s First Vision Accounts”
Joseph Smith recorded that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him in a grove of trees near his parents’ home in western New York State when he was about 14 years old. Concerned by his sins and unsure which spiritual path to follow, Joseph sought guidance by attending meetings, reading scripture, and praying. In answer, he received a heavenly manifestation. Joseph shared and documented the First Vision, as it came to be known, on multiple occasions; he wrote or assigned scribes to write four different accounts of the vision.
Joseph Smith published two accounts of the First Vision during his lifetime. The first of these, known today as Joseph Smith—History, was canonized in the Pearl of Great Price and thus became the best-known account. The two unpublished accounts, recorded in Joseph Smith’s earliest autobiography and a later journal, were generally forgotten until historians working for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rediscovered and published them in the 1960s. In addition to the firsthand accounts, there are also five descriptions of Joseph Smith’s vision recorded by his contemporaries.
The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail. Historians expect that when an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if it were less well documented.