“Lesson 2: Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)
“Lesson 2,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material
In his youth, Joseph Smith sought to understand what he needed to do to receive salvation and which church he should join. While reading the Bible, he was inspired to ask God for direction. When Joseph Smith prayed in a grove of trees near his home, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared and spoke to him. After experiencing this vision, Joseph Smith affirmed its truthfulness even when others chose not to believe him and persecuted him (see Joseph Smith—History 1:27).
December 23, 1805
Joseph Smith was born in Vermont.
Joseph Smith’s family moved to Palmyra, New York.
Circa January 1819
Joseph Smith’s family moved to a farm in Manchester, New York.
Joseph Smith saw and spoke with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapters 1–2
Write the following phrase on the board: War of words and tumult of opinions.
What thoughts or images does the phrase “war of words and tumult of opinions” bring to your mind?
If necessary, explain that Joseph Smith used this phrase to describe the religious debates he witnessed when he was between the ages of 12 and 14 (see Joseph Smith—History 1:9–10).
What are some examples of how people engage in wars of words and tumults of opinions in our day?
How might these wars of words and opinions make it difficult to find or recognize truth?
Invite students to look for principles and doctrine as they study about Joseph Smith’s search for truth that can help them find and recognize truth.
Display the accompanying map, “Northeastern United States.”
Explain that when Joseph Smith was 11 years old, his family moved from Vermont to Palmyra, New York. A little over a year later, the Smiths arranged to purchase a hundred acres of forested land in Manchester, just south of Palmyra. The family prepared the land for farming and eventually built a log home on the property. (You may want to display an image of the Smith family’s reconstructed log home.)
Explain that in the region where the Smith family lived, there was “unusual excitement on the subject of religion” during Joseph’s youth (Joseph Smith—History 1:5). Display the following statement that the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) recorded in his 1832 history, and invite a student to read it aloud:
“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. …
“… I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind, the contentions and divisions, the wickedness and abominations, and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind. 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” (“Joseph Smith’s Accounts of the First Vision,” Circa Summer 1832 History, josephsmithpapers.org).
Explain that Joseph’s concern for the welfare of his soul motivated him to attend meetings of various religious denominations during the next two years of his life.
How did the claims of the various religious denominations contribute to Joseph’s confusion? (If necessary, you could also refer students to Joseph Smith—History 1:5–10.)
Based on your reading of chapter 1 in Saints: Volume 1, how did Joseph’s search for truth among the various religious denominations lead him to have an important experience with the scriptures?
You may want to display the following statement by Elder B. H. Roberts (1857–1933) of the Seventy, and invite a student to read it aloud:
“The Reverend Mr. Lane of the Methodist church preached a sermon on the subject, ‘What church shall I join?’ He quoted [James 1:5]. …
“The text made a deep impression on the mind of [Joseph Smith]. He read it on returning home, and pondered it deeply” (B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:52–53; see also Saints: Volume 1, 12–13).
Divide students into pairs or small groups. Ask them to study Joseph Smith—History 1:11–16 in their pairs or groups, looking for principles we can learn from Joseph Smith’s experience that can help us in our search for truth. Invite students to consider marking what they find.
After students have had sufficient time to study and discuss verses 11–16, invite a few students to report a principle they identified. As they do so, consider asking them to explain how that principle can help us in our search for truth.
If students do not mention it, point out the following principle taught in James 1:5 (as recorded in Joseph Smith—History 1:11): If we ask of God, He will give us the wisdom we seek. Display the following statement by President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, and invite a student to read it aloud:
“Human judgment and logical thinking will not be enough to get answers to the questions that matter most in life. We need revelation from God” (Henry B. Eyring, “Continuing Revelation,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 70).
What are some ways you have been blessed by knowing that you can ask of God and receive wisdom through revelation?
Encourage students to ask of God when they are in need of wisdom and revelation.
Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Joseph Smith—History 1:17–19. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Joseph Smith’s prayer was answered.
What truths can we identify from verses 17–19? (Students may identify several truths, including the following: God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to and spoke with Joseph Smith. Write this truth on the board.)
Refer to the phrase “War of words and tumult of opinions” on the board.
How can our knowledge of Joseph Smith’s vision of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ help us overcome the confusion resulting from the wars of words and tumults of opinions in our day?
Explain that in addition to the account of the First Vision recorded in 1838 and later published in Joseph Smith—History, the Prophet Joseph Smith also recorded an account in his 1832 history, dictated an account for his journal in 1835, and dictated another account in 1842 in a letter addressed to a newspaper editor named John Wentworth. There are also five secondhand descriptions of the First Vision recorded by Joseph Smith’s contemporaries (see “First Vision Accounts,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
Display the following statement, and invite a student to read it aloud:
“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).
To help students further understand Joseph Smith’s experience of seeing and speaking with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, divide the class into three groups, and give each student a copy of the accompanying handout, “Additional Accounts of the First Vision Given by Joseph Smith.” Assign each group to study one of the accounts of the First Vision on the handout, looking for details that help them better understand what occurred during the First Vision. Invite students to consider marking details that stand out to them.
After students have had sufficient time to study, invite students from each group to report what they found to the class.
How do the details from the various accounts we have discussed help you better understand Joseph Smith’s experience in the First Vision?
Based on these accounts, how did the Savior’s message help Joseph with his concerns about the welfare of his soul?
Invite students to ponder the following questions and consider recording their responses in their study journals:
How have you come to know that Joseph Smith saw and spoke with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?
How has your testimony of the First Vision affected your life?
Invite one or more students to share their responses with the class if they feel comfortable doing so.
Explain that a preacher and others in Joseph Smith’s community rejected his testimony and persecuted him when he told them about the vision he had experienced (see Joseph Smith—History 1:21–23).
Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:24–25 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Joseph Smith responded when people chose not to believe his testimony. Invite students to consider marking phrases that stand out to them.
Which phrases in verses 24–25 stand out to you? Why?
What principles can we learn from Joseph Smith’s example of remaining true to his testimony? (Students may identify principles such as the following: The knowledge we receive from God is true even if the world rejects it. We can choose to remain true to our testimony even if we are hated and persecuted for doing so. We displease God and come under condemnation if we do not remain true to the testimony He has given us.)
Point out that just as in Joseph Smith’s day, there are people today who seek to undermine the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s testimony of the First Vision. Display the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) concerning the First Vision, and invite a student to read it aloud.
“For more than a century and a half, enemies, critics, and some would-be scholars have worn out their lives trying to disprove the validity of that vision. Of course they cannot understand it. The things of God are understood by the Spirit of God. There had been nothing of comparable magnitude since the Son of God walked the earth in mortality. Without it as a foundation stone for our faith and organization, we have nothing. With it, we have everything.
“Much has been written, much will be written, in an effort to explain it away. … But the testimony of the Holy Spirit, experienced by countless numbers of people all through the years since it happened, bears witness that it is true, that it happened as Joseph Smith said it happened” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Four Cornerstones of Faith,” Ensign, Feb. 2004, 5).
In what ways is Joseph Smith’s First Vision a “foundation stone” for our faith?
What can we do that will help us remain true to our testimony of the First Vision?
Share your testimony of the truths you have discussed in this lesson. Encourage students to act on those truths.
Invite students to prepare for the next class by reading chapters 3–4 of Saints: Volume 1.