The account of Joseph Smith’s First Vision found in the Pearl of Great Price was written in order to correct false reports about the Church. Throughout his life, the Prophet Joseph Smith provided several accounts of the First Vision. These accounts can increase our understanding of that experience and strengthen our faith in the Restoration. This lesson is intended to help students understand the importance of having a testimony of this uniquely important event.
Explain that in 1838 Joseph Smith began work on his official history. The section in the Pearl of Great Price known as Joseph Smith—History was extracted from that much longer history.
Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for reasons Joseph Smith gave for preparing his history.
According to verse 1, what was circulating among the people during the early days of the Church?
What was the intent of those who sponsored reports opposing the Church?
What similarities to this situation exist in our day?
Explain that today there continue to be individuals and groups who spread false or misleading information about the Church with the intent to destroy faith.
What reasons did Joseph give for writing his history? (To “disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they … transpired” [Joseph Smith—History 1:1].)
Why is it important that “inquirers after truth” about the Restoration rely on Joseph Smith’s firsthand account? (Students may use different words, but be sure it is clear that relying on the Prophet’s account can help individuals avoid being deceived by false or misleading information.)
Display the following counsel from Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and invite students to read it silently:
“There have always been a few who want to discredit the Church and to destroy faith. Today they use the Internet.
“Some of the information about the Church, no matter how convincing, is just not true” (“Trial of Your Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 41).
What sources should we seek out and trust in our personal search to know the truth regarding the First Vision, the Restoration of the gospel, and other events in Church history? Why? (Help students understand the following principle: To avoid being deceived by false or misleading information, those who seek the truth should search out credible sources of information about the Church and its history rather than simply accepting any information they hear or read, including information that comes from an Internet search.)
Explain that critics of the Church argue against the reality of the First Vision by saying that Joseph Smith did not record his experience with the vision until many years after it occurred. Explain that 14-year-old Joseph Smith became reluctant to speak about his vision following the reaction of those he initially told (see Joseph Smith—History 1:21–26). He recorded the experience when he felt that it was the right time to do so. The Savior instructed Peter, James, and John not to speak of their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration until after His Resurrection (see Matthew 17:9), making clear that some sacred experiences should be shared only as prompted by the Spirit.
Note: As you teach this portion of the lesson, leave adequate time to teach the last section of the lesson, which covers Joseph Smith—History 1:8–20.
Explain to students that Joseph Smith wrote, either personally or with the help of scribes, at least four different accounts of the First Vision. Additionally, several accounts of this vision were recorded by Joseph Smith’s contemporaries. Each account emphasizes different aspects of Joseph’s experience, but they all share essential elements of what Joseph saw and heard. To help explain why there are differences in the various accounts, ask students to consider the following:
Think of a significant or meaningful experience you have had in your life. How might your account of that experience differ depending on who your audience is? How might it change depending on when or why you are telling about the experience?
Invite a student to read the following statement aloud, and ask students to listen for what historians expect when an experience is recounted multiple times:
“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 [Acts 9:3–9; 22:6–21; 26:12–18; Matthew 17:1–13; Mark 9:2–13; Luke 9:28–36]. 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, lds.org/topics).
As an example of the differences in the accounts, you might tell students that “whereas the 1832 account emphasizes the more personal story of Joseph Smith as a young man seeking forgiveness, the 1838 account focuses on the vision as the beginning of the ‘rise and progress of the Church’” (“First Vision Accounts,” Gospel Topics, lds.org/topics). Remind students that their assigned reading includes the Gospel Topics article “First Vision Accounts,” which provides a more detailed analysis of each of the different accounts of the First Vision. Invite students to study the article outside of class to better understand how each account contributes to our knowledge about the First Vision. (Note: Remind students of the importance of reading the assignments under “Student Readings” before class. Doing so will help them contribute to class discussions.)
How could multiple accounts of the First Vision support the validity and enrich our understanding of this sacred event? (Help students understand that the multiple accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision enable us to learn more about this sacred experience than we could if it were less well documented.)
Display the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), and invite a student to read it aloud:
“I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the First Vision anymore than I am worried that there are four different writers of the gospels in the New Testament, each with his own perceptions, each telling the events to meet his own purpose for writing at the time” (“God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign, Oct. 1984, 5).
Bear your testimony of the reality of the First Vision and of the Restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Joseph Smith—History 1:8–15.
What were some of the things Joseph Smith did to find answers to his questions?
Why do you think Satan tried to stop Joseph Smith from praying?
Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Joseph Smith—History 1:16–19.
What are some important truths we learn from verses 16–17? (As students respond, emphasize that eternal truths were restored to the earth when Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith.)
Display and read aloud the following statement by Elder Tad R. Callister, who served in the Presidency of the Seventy. As you read this statement, you may want to suggest that students mark in their scriptures the truths that Brother Callister emphasized. You may also want to suggest that they write truths that Joseph learned in the margin next to Joseph Smith—History 1:16–19. (Note: Learning to mark and annotate scriptures is an important scripture study skill you can help students develop [see Gospel Teaching and Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (2012), 21].)
“Joseph Smith was the Lord’s anointed to restore Christ’s Church to the earth. When he emerged from the grove of trees, he eventually learned four fundamental truths not then taught by the majority of the contemporary Christian world.
“First, he learned that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are two separate, distinct beings. …
“The second great truth Joseph Smith discovered was that the Father and the Son have glorified bodies of flesh and bones. …
“The third truth that Joseph Smith learned was that God still speaks to man today—that the heavens are not closed. …
“The fourth truth that Joseph Smith learned was that the full and complete Church of Jesus Christ was not then upon the earth” (“Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 35–36).
Why do you think these truths about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are essential to know and understand?
How might the need for those truths help explain why Satan tried to prevent young Joseph Smith from praying?
To highlight the importance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, display the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley and invite a student to read it aloud:
“Our whole strength rests on the validity of [the First Vision]. 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 important and wonderful work under the heavens. …
“… In 1820 came that glorious manifestation in answer to the prayer of a boy who had read in his family Bible the words of James: ‘If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him’ (James 1:5).
“Upon that unique and wonderful experience stands the validity of this Church” (“The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 80).
How is the validity of the Church linked to Joseph Smith’s First Vision?
Why is it important to have a testimony that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ? (Students may give a variety of answers, but be sure that the following principle is clear: When we gain a testimony that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, we can also come to know the truthfulness of the Restoration of the gospel.)
As you conclude the lesson, emphasize the importance of having a personal witness of the truth of the First Vision. This personal testimony, built on the rock of revelation, helps us to stay strong in our faith when we are confronted with false information about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Church. Testify that Joseph Smith’s way of learning the truth will work for us too. We can seek truth, read the scriptures, ponder, and ultimately ask God, and He will answer (see James 1:5). Invite students to ponder how they have gained a testimony that the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith. Allow time for one or two students to share how they gained a testimony of the First Vision.