“Lesson 2 Class Preparation Material: The First Vision,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material (2019)
“Lesson 2 Class Preparation Material,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material
Speaking of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Seventy taught:
It is an amazing and enlightening experience to analyze what we learn from this sacred, awe-inspiring experience … regarding the eternal nature of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ; the reality of Satan; the struggle between good and evil; and other important aspects of the great plan of salvation. …
Joseph Smith’s First Vision is the key to unlocking many truths that had been hidden for centuries. Let us not forget or take for granted the many precious truths we have learned from the First Vision. (Richard J. Maynes, “The First Vision: Key to Truth,” Ensign, June 2017, 64, 65)
Joseph Smith grew up in a time of great religious confusion. The various Christian churches in his area competed for converts and vigorously disputed with one another over doctrine and religious practices. As you study the following account of the First Vision recorded in 1838 and now included in the standard works as Joseph Smith—History, note insights you gain and mark the gospel truths that are personally meaningful to you.
The 1838 account of the First Vision recorded in Joseph Smith—History was dictated by Joseph during a time of opposition to “put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts” (Joseph Smith—History 1:1). It is the preeminent account of the First Vision and was recorded as part of Joseph Smith’s official history of the Church. It was canonized with the rest of the Pearl of Great Price in 1880 and became part of the standard works of the Church at that time.
In addition to the 1838 account, the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded or dictated three other accounts of his experience. There are also five secondhand accounts of the First Vision recorded by Joseph Smith’s 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. Indeed, differences similar to those in the First Vision accounts exist in the multiple scriptural accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus and the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yet despite the differences, a basic consistency remains across all the accounts of the First Vision. 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. (“First Vision Accounts,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org)
As you read the following excerpts from the additional firsthand accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, consider marking details and truths that stand out to you. You may also want to record any questions you have and bring them to class.
Note: The complete record of each account is available in “Joseph Smith’s Accounts of the First Vision” at josephsmithpapers.org.
This account was written at the beginning of Joseph Smith’s letter book and is the only account that contains a portion of his own handwriting. Some of it was also in the handwriting of Joseph’s scribe.
At about the age of twelve years, my mind [became] seriously impressed with regard to the all-important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul. …
… My mind became exceedingly distressed, for I became convicted of my sins. … I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world. …
Therefore, I cried unto the Lord for mercy, for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy. And the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness, and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord, in the sixteenth year of my age, a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun at noonday came down from above and rested upon me. 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 crucified for the world, that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life. Behold, the world lieth in sin at this time, and none doeth good, no, not one. They have turned aside 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 according to their ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and apostles. Behold and lo, I come quickly, as it is written of me, in the cloud, clothed in the glory of my Father.”
My soul was filled with love, and for many days I could rejoice with great joy. The Lord was with me, but I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision. Nevertheless, I pondered these things in my heart.
This account is a record of Joseph describing his First Vision to someone who visited his home. It was written in Joseph’s journal by his scribe.
I called on the Lord in mighty prayer. A pillar of fire appeared above my head. It presently rested down upon me and filled me with joy unspeakable. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared, 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 fourteen years old when I received this first communication.
This account comes from a letter that was written to respond to questions from a Chicago newspaper editor named John Wentworth.
I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord. While fervently engaged in supplication, my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noonday. They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.