FAIR Presenter Says First Vision Fits 1820s Context
By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer
Because the Prophet Joseph Smith’s First Vision was not recorded until about 12 years after it happened, some critics of the Church have argued that Joseph invented the narrative to meet his needs as a Church leader in the 1830s and bolster his authority as a prophet.
Don Bradley argued in his FAIR conference presentation that the authenticity of the account can be tested to see how well it aligns with the events of the early 1820s, when Joseph said it happened. “The First Vision fits its reported 1820s context hand-in-glove,” declared Brother Bradley, a writer, editor, and researcher specializing in early Church history.
He added, “The argument that Joseph Smith crafted the First Vision narrative to address Church problems of the 1830s thus fails. Had he invented the story at that time, he would have tailored its details to actually address the problems of the 1830s rather than faithfully reflect the 1820s. And if Joseph did take pains to make his story details satisfying to far-off future historians like us, might I suggest that his biggest problem was too much time on his hands.”
The First Vision narrative matches the context of the family’s religious activities, he said. For example, the practice of retiring to a grove of trees to pray was a family custom.
Furthermore, Joseph said his experience in the grove was his first attempt to pray aloud. It is certain, Brother Bradley noted, that the Smiths held daily family prayer and, according to custom stemming from the Protestant reformation, the father was expected to lead the family in prayer.
“An account by Joseph’s brother William suggests that Joseph Smith Sr. did just that in the Smith home,” Brother Bradley said. Thus, the young Joseph likely would have had no experience praying aloud, as the father was always the voice in the family prayers.