I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

What evidences do we have to substantiate the First Vision of Joseph Smith? Can we prove that his story is true and that he was not deceived or a deceiver?

From an article first printed in the Improvement Era, Feb. 1960, pp. 80–81.

President Joseph Fielding Smith, member of the Council of the Twelve for fifty-five years and President of the Church from 1970 to 1972.

President Joseph Fielding Smith

It is well-known that the truth or falsity of a story lies mainly in the details. There are some details connected with the vision given to Joseph Smith the Prophet that may appear to many as insignificant and by many members of the Church are overlooked, yet they are of vital and of overwhelming importance.

We are all aware of the fact that in the year 1820, the Nicene Creed held almost universal sway throughout the Christian world—Catholic and Protestant alike. Christian ministers, scholars, and professors through the centuries had accepted this creed in the main as being true. Today the religious world ridicules the idea of an anthropomorphic God—whether they accept this creed or not—and look upon God as an invisible essence or power in the universe. Many, if not all, declare that he is without passions, is immaterial, and that the Father and the Son are merely expressions of one God or supreme governing influence of power.

It was the common belief in the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith that Christ was a manifestation of God in the flesh, but that after his resurrection, he shed his body and was again absorbed into the universal essence, power, or “immaterial” spirit that fills the universe.

Joseph Smith Exposed Erroneous Godhead Doctrine

It is unreasonable to think that Joseph Smith, at the age of fourteen years, could have found the error of this doctrine, which he had been religiously taught, and come out in contradiction to it if he were telling an untruth. The most natural thing would have been for him to say, when returning from the grove, that he had seen an angel. Moreover, he would have been most unlikely to have declared that the messenger had told him that all of the religious teachings and teachers were in error of the divine truth. Presumably he would have said that the messenger told him to join one of the contending religious sects; possibly that if he would wait, the Lord would call upon him to start a religion. Never in the world would he have declared that two glorious personages had appeared to him and had told him not to join any of the existing creeds and churches. Without question, this was the furthest thing from his mind when he went into the grove, and that was his expression afterwards. He would not have dared to come from that interview declaring that all of the creeds and churches were wrong. Young as he was, he had wisdom enough to know that such a thought would have been fatal and would have brought only condemnation upon his head.

Without any question to the contrary, it must be assumed that Joseph Smith, when he went to pray, had an idea that somewhere the divine truth was to be found. If he had cunningly thought out a plan, he surely would not have dared to face the religious world with such a story as that he had received a visitation from both the Father and the Son. From all the teachings he had received, that was evidently the furthest thought from his mind. It was too revolutionary and conflicted universally with all of the religious creeds—Catholic and Protestant—in the world. He might have said that the Son of God had appeared to him, but this is something very remote, considering the universal belief.

All Revelation Comes through Christ

Here is another detail connected with the vision that the Prophet could not have known and that is not generally understood even among members of the Church: When Adam was in the Garden of Eden, he was in the presence of God, our Eternal Father. After his fall, he was driven out of the presence of the Father, who withdrew from Adam, and when children were born to Adam they, too, were shut out of the presence of the Father.

Then, according to the scriptures, Jesus Christ became the advocate for Adam and his children (see 1 Jn. 2:1; D&C 29:5, D&C 110:4) and also their mediator (see 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:15), standing between mankind and the Eternal Father, pleading our cause. From that time forth, it was Jesus Christ who directed his servants on the earth and gave revelation and guidance to the prophets. (See Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66, 1:13.) If Joseph Smith had been a deceiver, and in some marvelous way had hit upon a great truth which had been lost to the world through apostasy, never would he have stated that it was the Father who introduced the Son and asked him to address his question to the Son and that it was the Son who gave the answer. What was the Prophet’s report made to the minister with whom he was friendly? Here it is in his own words:

“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!” (JS—H 1:17.)

It was the Son who asked him what he wanted, and it was the Son who gave the answer. Had Joseph Smith been guilty of a fraud and had lied, he never would have thought of this incident and related it in this manner. The chances are that he would have declared that it was the Father who asked him what he wanted and that it was the Father who gave the answer. Had Joseph Smith returned with such a statement as this, then the whole world, except for its ignorance of heavenly things, could have known that he was guilty of a fraud, notwithstanding he had hit upon a great truth which had been lost by the world, in relation to the separate personalities of the Father and the Son. Here again, Joseph Smith’s story harmonizes with divine truth.

Scriptures Testify of Separate Personalities

Perhaps it is needless here to show from the scriptures the separate personalities of the Father and the Son, but a few of the scriptural quotations may be given showing the harmony between the vision of Joseph Smith and the facts as they are revealed in the New Testament.

At the baptism of Jesus, we read:

“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

“And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16–17; see also John 12:28.)

“Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28.)

“Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:17.)

“And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” (John 17:11.)

These and scores of other passages show the separate personages of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Only apostasy and the rejection of the doctrines of Jesus could have placed the world in such a state of darkness. The time had come in the day of Joseph Smith the Prophet for the fulfillment of the predictions of the prophets and the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times. (For other evidences, see Orson Pratt’s Works, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945.)

[illustration] “The First Vision,” by Gary E. Smith