In 1832 the first known written account of Joseph Smith “First Vision” was created. Leaving aside any debate about the compatibility of this accounting and the version that was canonized, I thought this would be interesting to explore.
I was quite encouraged by this accounting. There is really nothing here I would object to from a theological perspective. It’s mostly what is lacking from this version that gives me hope for greater reconciliation between Mormonism and Historic Christianity. There is no condemnation for any creeds and there is no description of God as a “personage”.
It’s Joseph’s own description that there are no churches like the New Testament church, not God’s (I would agree with Joseph, and don’t find the LDS church any more similar to the historic New Testament church than any other). God’s words are limited to telling Joseph to follow his commandments, that there is no one without sin (Romans 3:23) and that God’s wrath awaits them (Romans 6:23).
I can live with all of this. I might still not believe Joseph had this heavenly vision, but I find nothing offensive or heretical about it. I think such a vision is completely compatible with Christianity as I understand it. If the Mormon restoration and the Mormon concept of God were built upon this “First Vision” there would probably be little for us to discuss. I imagine that there would be little remaining in Mormonism that would be incompatible with Historic Christianity (though a lot would probably still remain that would make it unique).
Read through it and tell me if you disagree. (I took the liberty of correcting some spelling and adding punctuation and line breaks. I also made some minor clarifying edits. I made these edits for the benefit of the reader. If you’re concerned that I may have corrupted the text I encourage you to look it up for yourself).
I was born in the town of Charon in the State Of Vermont, North America on the twenty third day of December 1805, of goodly Parents who spared no pains to instructing me in the Christian religion. At the age of about ten years my Father, Joseph Smith Senior, moved to Palmyra Ontario County in the State of New York and being in indigent circumstances was obliged to labor hard for the support of a large family, having nine children. As it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the Support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the benifit of an education. Suffice it to say I was merely instructed in reading and writing and the ground rules of arithmetic which constituted my whole literary acquirement.
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 which led me to searching the Scriptures. Believing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel exceedingly far. I discovered that instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that Sacred depository. This was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen 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 become exceedingly distressed for I became convicted of my sins and by searching the Scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord, but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament. I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world for I learned in the Scriptures that God was the same yesterday today and forever, that he was no respecter to persons for he was God. For I looked upon the sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their majesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in majesty and in the strength of beauty whose power and intelligence in governing the things which are so exceeding great and marvelous. Even in the likeness of him who created them and when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath the wise man said it is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God. My heart exclaimed that all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent power. A being who makes laws and decrees and binds all things in their bounds, who filled eternity, who was and is and will be from all eternity to eternity. When I considered all these things and that being sought to worship him in spirit and in truth. Therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was no one 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 16th year of my age a pillar of light above the brightness of the Sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the Spirit of God. 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 lies in sin at this time and no one does 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 this 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 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 and the Lord was with me but I could find no one that would believe the heavenly vision. . . . Nevertheless I fell into transgression and sinned in many things which brought wound upon my soul and there were many things which transpired that cannot be written and my Father’s family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions.