Hanging on the wall in the Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center, in Nauvoo, Illinois, is a unique nine block quilt depicting nine different versions of Joseph Smith's "First Vision." If you were a Mormon, your reply to that last sentence would probably be "What are you talking about? There is now, and has never been, but one version of the "First Vision." Well, that simply isn't true; it's just unfortunate that the Mormon Church has for so many years withheld information concerning the conflicting stories surrounding the "First Vision" of Joseph Smith. Of course, Mormons are taught the "Official" version, and no mention is made of all the conflicting versions that are contained in their own writings.
FACT OR FRAUD?
The current Mormon Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking at the Mormon Church Conference in October 2002 declared that either Joseph Smith's vision in 1820 was authentic or Mormonism is a fraud:
"LDS faithful believe it all began when 14-year-old Joseph Smith, the church's founder, had a vision of God and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees in 1820."
whole strength rests on the validity of that vision,"
declared. "It either occurred or it did
not occur. If it did not, then this work
is a fraud. If it did, then it is the
most wonderful and important work under the heavens." (Salt
All of Mormonism rests on the single story, witnessed by no one except the teller, Joseph Smith. All of Mormonism rests on Joseph's tale that in a grove of trees in the year 1820, when he was 14-years-old, all that the world knew of God, all that scripture had communicated to man for over 3000 years, was instantaneously false! In one instant of time, observed by Joseph Smith and him alone, none other than Jesus Christ himself, revealed to a 14-year-old boy that all of Christianity was in error and was in fact false and floundering in a sea of apostasy. If Joseph Smith was "The Prophet of the Restoration," as the Mormon Church claims, then God knew the importance this "First Vision" would be to the world and would have made sure it was preserved; however, that is not the case.
In this paper I'm going to look at the nine different versions of Joseph's "First Vision" as represented in the blocks of the "First Vision Quilt" on display at the Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center. For well over 100 years the Mormon Church has only printed and provided the "Official Version" of this First Vision. It has been canonized in their scripture and is contained in the Book of Joseph Smith located in the "Pearl of Great Price." This "Official Version" was first printed in 1842 (22 years after it supposedly happened) in the Mormon newspaper "Times and Seasons," in Nauvoo, Illinois. The account was also published in the first printing of the "Pearl of Great Price" in 1851.
According to the "Official Version," when Joseph was 14 years old, in the year 1820, there was a great revival where Joseph lived and many people were joining the various religious sects. Joseph didn't know which church to join, so he decided to go into the woods to pray about it.
THE "FIRST VISION"
"After I had retired into the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcome me, and had such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction, not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such a marvellous power as I had never before felt in any being. Just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the Sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me, I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said (pointing to the other) `THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, HEAR HIM.'
My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner therefore did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong), and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said `that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt, they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they teach for doctrine the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.'
He again forbade me to join with any of them: and many other things did he say unto me which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself laying on my back, looking up into heaven." (The Pearl of Great Price (1851), p.38 - p.39)
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE "FIRST VISION"!!
This "First Vision" is DAY ONE, HOUR ONE, MINUTE ONE, SECOND ONE of Mormonism. The "First Vision's" importance cannot be over stated. The "First Vision" by itself defines all of Mormonism that came after it! The "First Vision" is the foundation of the skyscraper of Mormonism. You cannot build a skyscraper without an absolutely solid foundation - well folks, investigation into the "First Vision" clearly shows us that the skyscraper of Mormonism is a "Leaning Tower of Pisa." I'm being gracious calling it the "Leaning Tower of Pisa" because the evidence shows it isn't "leaning," it has completely fallen over!!
The importance of the "First Vision" is paramount to the foundation of Mormonism. If it is false, Mormonism topples over like a building being demolished. Without the "First Vision," there is no part or parcel of Mormonism. The Mormon Church cannot exist without the "First Vision."
The "First Vision" comes in like gangbusters with the new revelation that contradicts all of known Christian Theology concerning who and what God is. THE "FIRST VISION" DESTROYS THE CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY OF THE "TRINITY," WHICH IS FOUNDATIONAL TO ALL OF CHRISTIANITY! The "First Vision" says that God has a body of "flesh and bones" as does Jesus - so there is no longer God as "one being," now there are Gods plural! The "First Vision" story states that Jesus speaking directly to Joseph Smith, condemns all of Christianity as having fallen into apostasy, says all of the Christian Creeds are an abomination, and says that all Christian Clergy are corrupt.
The "First Vision" must be able to stand the test of scrutiny which it brings on itself with such brazen statements. Does it? NO! A vision of such importance would need to be trustworthy in its origin and content. Is it? NO! The nine different versions related to the quilt (there are at least three earlier versions, from non-Mormon sources, that I'm aware of, not depicted on the quilt) all come from Mormon sources, not from those who question Mormonism!
"First Vision" Quilt
Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center
Block One of the Quilt depicts the 1831-1832 Version, which is the earliest known account in Joseph's own handwriting. It has been in the hands of the Mormon Church and was suppressed for over 130 years. It first came to light in 1965 when published by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Paul Cheesman, a Mormon, wrote a Master's Thesis concerning the accounts of Joseph's "First Vision" and reproduced this account.
In this version Smith said he was 16 years old and already knew that all the churches were wrong from his reading of the Bible. In this story Joseph was seeking forgiveness and it was Jesus alone who appeared to him and granted him pardon. Let's look at the differences from the "Official Version":
1. Joseph is 16 years old
2. Already knew churches were wrong
3. Joseph was seeking forgiveness
4. Jesus alone appeared to him
Block Two of the Quilt portrays the 1835 Version of the "First Vision" that Joseph dictated to Oliver Cowdery and was published in the Mormon newspaper Messenger & Advocate (February 1835 pp. 78-79).
In this telling, Joseph claimed to be 17 years old. The Revival that supposedly happened in 1820 is placed at 1823. Joseph wonders whether a Supreme Being exists and whether his sins could be forgiven. Instead of Jesus appearing as in the 1831-1832 Version, "A Messenger From God" appears and forgives his sins. Let's look at the differences from the "Official Version":
1. Joseph is 17 years old
2. Revival in 1823 vice 1820
3. Joseph wonders whether a Supreme Being
4. Joseph wonders whether his sins could be
5. A "Messenger From God" appears and
forgives his sins
Block Three of the Quilt is from Joseph Smith's 1835-1836 Diary, dictated by him to his scribe, Warren Parrish. This version, which was first published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1971, pp. 86-87, gives Joseph's age as about 14. Here is the first mention of an evil power which came upon Joseph. He related that his tongue seemed swollen and at first he could not pray. The diary states "...a personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame...another personage soon appeared like unto the first..." Notice here by these statements that the two personages are not identified as the "Father and the Son." Also the personages did not appear at the same time as they do in the "Official Account." Joseph also claimed to have seen "many angels."
The diary continues by saying: "...He testifyed (sic) unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God..." Note that this statement is in the 3rd person. If the Father or Jesus would have been those persons in the vision, they would not have made a 3rd person statement - they would have made a 1st person statement, i.e., "I am the Son of God" or "This is my Beloved Son" - like what is claimed in the "Official Version." So, in the 1835-1836 Diary account, God the Father and Jesus the Son are absent as well. Let's look at the differences from the "Official Version":
1. Joseph is about 14 years old
2. First mention of an evil power coming
3. Two personages - not the Father or the
4. Joseph saw many angels
Block Four of the quilt represents the 1837 account by Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt, which is recorded in William Appleby's Diary (typed transcript pp. 30-31). There are several glaring errors from the "Official Version."
First off, Joseph is said to be in his 17th year. The date of the revival in Western New York is given as 1822 vice 1820. The beings who appear to Joseph "declared themselves to be angels." These angels forgave Joseph of his sins. Let's look at the differences from the "Official Version":
1. Joseph is in his 17th year
2. The year of the revival is 1822, vice 1820
3. Beings who declared themselves "angels"
appeared to Joseph
4. These angels forgave Joseph's sins
Once again the age, the revival dates, who was there and what happened are glaringly different from the official version.
VERSION FIVE (THE "OFFICIAL VERSION")
Block Five of the Quilt portrays the Mormon Church's "Official Version" of the "First Vision." This account was first written in 1838, but was not published until April 1, 1842, in the Times and Seasons, pp. 748-749 (Quite a coincidence that the "Official Version" of the "First Vision" was first published on April Fools' Day, don't you think?).
This account is the accepted "Official Version" of the "First Vision" and is found in the Pearl of Great Price, which is one of the extra books of Mormon scripture; it is part of the Mormon canon. Let's look at the high points of the "Official Version":
1. Joseph is 14 years old
2. An evil power is present at the start of the
3. The revival date is 1820
4. God the Father and Jesus Christ appear
together, arriving at the same time
5. Joseph is told all churches are wrong
6. Joseph is told don't join any church
7. All Christian preachers are corrupt
8. All Christian creeds are an abomination
Historical records now clearly show that the revival did not happen until the year 1824. None of the early Mormon Church accounts or accounts of individuals (Mormon or non-Mormon) shows a knowledge of God and Jesus appearing to Joseph Smith.
Joseph claims in this vision that in 1820 he is instructed by Jesus himself that all churches are wrong, their creeds are an abomination in His sight and that all Christian Pastors are corrupt; yet, in 1828 Joseph joined the Methodist Church in Harmony, Pennsylvania, as reported in the Amboy Journal, April 30, 1879. Of note, this date of 1828 where Joseph joins the Methodist Church, according to "official Mormon history," is one year after Joseph was supposed to have been given the "Golden Plates" by the angel Moroni to translate into the Book of Mormon - 1827.
Block Six of the Quilt records an April 18, 1841, interview concerning the "First Vision" given by Joseph's brother, William Smith, to James Murdock. This is taken from William Smith on Mormonism as quoted in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, Vol 2, pp. 414-415.
In this account by Joseph's own brother, who should well have known what happened in that grove of trees in Western New York, once again we have glaring errors when compared to the "Official Version":
1. Joseph is 17 year old
2. No evil power is mentioned
3. One "glorious angel appeared," - not God
the Father and Jesus Christ
Block Seven of the Quilt presents another Nauvoo period account from a letter by Joseph Smith to John Wentworth. This letter was published one month before the "Official Version" in the Mormon newspaper, Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842, pp. 706-707.
In this telling, Joseph's age is stated as about 14 years of age. Two personages who are not identified but look like each other appear and "They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of Go (sic) I was expressly commanded to 'go not after them,'".... Let's look at the differences from the "Official Version":
1. Age given as "about fourteen years of age"
2. No evil power is referred to
3. Two personages - which are not identified
4. Both personages instruct Joseph ("They
5. Instruction wording different "go not after
Block Eight of the Quilt represents an 1843 interview with Joseph Smith by the Editor of the Pittsburg Gazette which was printed in the New York Spectator, September 23, 1843, and partially published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Autumn 1966, pg 43. This version is short and sweet, much less elaborate than the "Official Version." Let's look at the differences from the "Official Version":
1. No evil power is referred to
2. The Father and Son are present, yet the
dialogue between them is different
3. Joseph asks a single question: "O Lord,
which church should I join?"
4. Nothing is said about creeds being an
abomination, or Pastors being corrupt
5. Joseph is told to join no church and the
Compared to the "Official Version" this vision is very abrupt. The "Official Version" is much more elaborate and much more is discussed.
The final Block of this Quilt shows
Alexander Niebaur's 1844 diary account of Joseph Smith's telling his "First
Vision" story, written under the date of
In this account no age is given for Joseph. Like the "Official Version" an evil power is present, and God the Father and Jesus Christ are present; however, unlike the "Official Version" God arrives first and then Jesus a little later. This version describes God as having a light complexion and blue eyes. Joseph is also specifically told that the Methodists are not God's people. Let's look at the differences from the "Official Version":
1. No age for Joseph is given
2. God the Father and Jesus are present - but
God arrives first then Jesus a little later
3. God has a light complexion and blue eyes
4. Joseph is specifically told the Methodists
are not God's people
The whole reason this quilt is displayed at the Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center is to show the complete unreliability of the "First Vision" story. In the Autumn 1966 copy of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, in a piece titled "The significance of Joseph Smith's 'First Vision'", Mormon writer, James B. Allen, makes the following significant observation:
"This paper has been an attempt to trace the significance of the story of Joseph Smith's first vision in the development of Mormon thought. It seems apparent that if Joseph Smith told the story to friends and neighbors in 1820, he stopped telling it widely by 1830. At least it can be demonstrated that the public image of Joseph Smith and his spiritual experiences did not include the story of the first vision. Throughout most of the 1830's the story was not circulated, either in church periodicals or missionary literature. About 1833, however, Joseph Smith apparently made a preliminary attempt to write the story, but this account was never published. In 1835 he was willing to tell the story to a visitor. There is further evidence, based on reminiscences, to suggest that the story was known on a limited basis in the 1830's, but it is clear that it was not widely circulated. Non-Mormon accounts of the rise of the Church written in the 1830's made no mention of the story of the vision. It is apparent, furthermore, that belief in the vision was not essential for conversion to the Church, for there is no evidence that the story was told to prospective converts of the early 1830's. (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, pg. 44)
In the Mormon "Church News" for the week ending May 7, 2005 on page 7 is an article titled "One's salvation rests on belief in First Vision." This article is about a speech given at the 2005 BYU Women's Conference. Mormon General Authority, Elder F. Burton Howard, a Seventy, declared the following:
"Our own personal salvation depends upon whether we accept and have a testimony of what Joseph saw and heard in the spring of 1820." (Church News, May 7, 2005, pg 7)
All of Mormonism rests on the single story, witnessed by no one except the teller, Joseph Smith. All of Mormonism rests on Joseph's tale of what happened in a grove of trees in 1820, and according to General Authority, Elder Howard, a Mormon's salvation depends on the belief, not in Jesus Christ and Him alone, but rather, their belief of "What Joseph saw and heard in the Spring of 1820."
Let's look at a quote from the 10th Mormon Prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, which I believe superbly summarizes the crux of what this paper has been about:
"Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. If Joseph Smith was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead the people, then he should be exposed; his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false, for the doctrines of an imposter cannot be made to harmonize in all particulars with divine truth. If his claims and declarations were built upon fraud and deceit, there would appear many errors and contradictions, which would be easy to detect. (Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 1, p. 188)
This paper has clearly shown that the "First Vision," the utter foundation of Mormonism, is completely unreliable and is riddled with errors and contradictions. The Mormon Church's "Official Version" evolved and is a fabrication of what really happened. Mormonism is built on the fraud and deception of Joseph Smith; Christianity is built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ!!
Isn't it sad that there are 12 million people in the world today whose eternity depends on the truthfulness of the "First Vision" and all that followed it? Look again and read the above quote from the 10th Mormon Prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, from the Doctrines of Salvation Vol 1, p. 188. Just what this Mormon Prophet asks us to do, we have done and it is easy to see that Joseph was a fraud - "There is no middle ground."
Our hearts are grieved for those Mormons who are blindly walking down the path to destruction.