Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The "First Vision" of the "Mormon Prophet"

Was Joseph Smith a prophet?

I recently read a fascinating article over at Meridian Magazine about the historical perspectives of Joseph Smith’s Theophany, or what we in Mormon parlance refer to as “The First Vision”.

For my non-mormon friends, here’s the story in a nutshell:

Joseph Smith, when he was a teen, was very confused about religion.  There were a lot of churches and preachers contending with each other and he couldn’t figure it all out.  One by one, his family members joined one sect or another, or stayed away from them all completely.

He read in James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God...”, and decided to pray about it.

He went to a secluded grove of trees, knelt down and prayed.  At first he was surrounded by darkness, and after struggling against that, was surrounded by light.  He was visited by to glorious “personages” who he identified as God the Father, and Jesus Christ. They told him to wait, and that the truth would soon be restored.

You can read the accepted, canonized version of this story here: http://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng

But, therein lies the trouble.  Because there are not one, but several different versions of the story, all of which are purported to be written by or spoken by Joseph Smith himself.  Many detractors from the church like to use that as the crux of proof that Joseph was a fraud and a liar.  The author of the Meridian article, Steven C Harper, studies the variations of accounts and sees a more affirming point of view.

Was Joseph Smith a prophet?

I kinda think the whole thing is fascinating.  I mean, really, it all comes down to faith, doesn’t it?  None of us were there in the grove, and none of us actually saw what happened.  Just like we weren’t there outside the tomb when the resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary.  None of us were there when Moses parted the red sea, either, at least not in our mortal forms.

On a more micro-viewed level, none of us were there when each of those accounts was written or spoken, either.  We don’t always know who the audience was, nor what the purpose of the discussion. Atheist scholars for many years have said that the four Gospels prove that Jesus wasn’t the son of God because they all disagree, and they don’t tell the same story.  Believing scholars say that each Gospel was written to a unique audience, and for a unique purpose.  Both cite valid academic and historical arguments.

So, was Joseph Smith a prophet?

I, myself, believe.  I have seen many historical arguments that show me he was a complex, flawed human, just like the rest of us.  But I believe him when he said, “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God.”  D&C 76:22-23


Mark has a lifelong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his Dutch Oven blog.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, Mark. As a believer, it has been fascinating to me to see how the Joseph Smith is held up to a different standard than say, Paul in the new testament. There are at least three different recorded versions of his conversion story, but it was all dependent upon the audience he was communicating with. Also, most people that believe the Bible to be the word of God aren't all that concerned with the two different versions of the death of Judas Iscariot, yet we can still believe the Bible is scripture and we can believe that Paul was an apostle chosen by the Savior.



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