Mormon Apostles Explain Away the Contradictory Versions First Vision

steve benson Nov. 2013

When it comes to trying to square up all the contradictory accounts of Joseph Smith's "First Vision," two Mormon apostles demonstrated to me that they couldn't see the forest because of the grove of trees.

As in "Timberrrrrrrr!" The whole thing fell like a house of cards.

Indeed, Neal A. Maxwell and Dallin H. Oaks had one hell of a time trying to convince me that the sacred grove storyline all made sense during closed-door conversations I had with them in Maxwell's LDS Church office in downtown Salt Lake City in September 1993.

Trying desperately to explain it all away, Maxwell was forced to rely on non-apostle "scholars" to do his homework for him. (Maxwell had a habit of using this tactic on me, having also given me a fax on the Book of Abraham "translation" sent up the road to him from Provo by the Church's apologetic armchair apologists at FARMS. So much for apostolic revelation).

On the various First Vision versions, Maxwell handed me two articles--one by BYU assistant professor of history James B. Allen, entitled "Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision" ("Improvement Era," April 1970, pp. 9-17) and the other by BYU professor of Church History Milton Backman, entitled, "Joseph Smith's Recitals of the First Vision" ("Ensign," January 1985, pp. 4-13).

In his article, heralded as a "first-time . . . report on eight different accounts of the First Vision," Allen wrote:

"[T]he account [of the First Vision] was repeated several times and in several different ways, even by the Prophet, and . . . although each narrative emphasized different ideas and events, none is incompatible with other accounts. There is a striking consistency throughout all the narratives, and if one wishes he may combine them into an impressive report that in no way contradicts any of the individual reports. Moreover, the descriptions given of events related to the vision but that happened outside the grove are consistent with our knowledge of contemporary events.

"In the last analysis, the First Vision becomes truly meaningful in a personal way only when one seeks, as Joseph Smith sought, to reach God through private, earnest supplication.' (pp. 11- 12)

Backman contended in his article that "[a]ccounts of the First Vision were prepared at different times, for different audiences, and for different purposes. Each of them emphasizes different aspects of the experience . . .

"Since the 1838 recital [of the First Vision] was included in the Pearl of Great Price, an investigation of the publications of this history helps one better understand principles concerning the formation of scriptures. Joseph Smith was responsible for many changes in punctuation, spelling, and other similar revisions in his manuscript history. After a portion of this history was canonized in the 'Pearl of Great Price,' additional textual refinements were made by editors acting under the authorization of Church leaders. These revisions were apparently made in the interests of grammatical quality, clarification, and consistency. Several short paragraphs were also added that had been included as notes in the manuscript history prior to the Prophet's martyrdom. All these alterations were in harmony with precedents set by Joseph Smith in his textual revisions of latter-day scriptures. In no instance was there a change in the basic message recorded in the manuscript history concerning the historical setting of the First Vision or the truths unfolded during this remarkable experience. But changes were made in an effort to convey the truths unfolded by God in the latter-days in the best and clearest language that man could fashion." (pp. 9, 17)

Maxwell told me that, in his opinion, Backman's article was better than Allen's. And that was supposed to seal the deal?

Enter Dallin Oaks.

Oaks said that he didn't believe the various accounts of the First Vision contradicted one another. Rather, he insisted, they merely emphasized different aspects of the First Vision which were important to Joseph Smith "in his process of development' at the time he relayed them. Oaks said that we needed to keep in mind the context, circumstances and audiences to whom Joseph Smith was speaking (translation: who Smith was lying to and when).

Oaks also said the decision not to include in the Mormon Church's manuals and teaching materials all of the different versions of the First Vision was "a judgment call." Apparently he didn't trust the members of the Church to get it. He said, "We can keep things simple or we can lay out all the details and complexities." In fact, Oaks compared the Mormon Church's public presentation of the First Vision to what I did for a living, saying, "It's kind of like drawing cartoons. You keep the cartoons simple." I replied, "All my cartoons are simple because that's all I'm capable of doing--drawing simple cartoons." Oaks responded, "That's what makes them so beautiful." Maxwell made a similar analogy between the Mormon Church's decision to keep the account of the First Vision uncomplicated and the drawing of cartoons.

So, according to a Mormon apostle, the First Vision, then, was comparable to scratching out doodles. We thank thee, oh God, for cartooning.

Oaks further attempted to explain the varying accounts of the First Vision by citing then-BYU professor of literature and English as a Second Language, Arthur King, who, Oaks said, expressed gratitude that Joseph Smith gave "a ripened version of the First Vision." Oaks said this version indicated Smith was "at the crossroads of spiritual development."

So, let's get this straight: The First Vision, by private admission of two Mormon apostles, was:

--1) kept cartoonishly simple so that stupid Church members would be able to comprehend it;

--2) not presented in fully-ripe condition from the get-go; and

--3) changed over time as Joseph Smith grew up spiritually.

In short: The whole thing evolved after the fact as Smith continued to make it up as he went along.

Put that in your hat and peep at it.

Don Bagley
Re: How Mormon Apostles Explained Away the Contradictory Versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision As "Developing" and "Cartoon"-like Revelation. Seriously . . .
Nice account of some hot air from the big windbags, Steve.

Fetal Deity
I find it especially ironic that Oaks, a respected attorney, would so shamelessly defend the supposed consistency of Smith's "testimony."
Oaks knows perfectly well that if he were ever involved in a legal case in which an opposing witness's accounts of the same event varied as much as did JS's story of "The First Vision," he would have an absolute field day on cross examination.

But what's an apostle to do ... I mean, since owning up to reality is OBVIOUSLY out of the question?!?!?!?

Thanks. : )

Re: How Mormon Apostles Explained Away the Contradictory Versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision As "Developing" and "Cartoon"-like Revelation. Seriously . . . 

Re: How Mormon Apostles Explained Away the Contradictory Versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision As "Developing" and "Cartoon"-like Revelation. Seriously . . .
Somehow I must have missed those two articles about the varying versions of the FV in Improvement Era, April 1970 and Ensign, January 1985. It wasn't until I visited this board last year that I learned about the different versions, and was truly surprised to read them and realize (again) what a farce this so-called church has been from the beginning.

Oh, and I always had such respect for Elder Maxwell...not so much for Elder Oaks when I was TBM. However, that has bit the dust as well.

I have a BIL who claims he experienced a NDE about three decades ago. Head-on car accident, pronounced dead on the scene by a policeman, jaws of life to remove his body from the car, obviously seriously injured with long term physical health issues. Back after it happened, one of my SILs (an RN) attributed his NDE to his meds. He has always shared his story of his NDE, and he has never varied his story in any way.

Re: How Mormon Apostles Explained Away the Contradictory Versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision As "Developing" and "Cartoon"-like Revelation. Seriously . . .
If you set aside the actual vision in all of it's variations, you are still left with different accounts of what JS said he did after the vision. He told people, he told no one. That aspect of the different versions has nothing to do with his spiritual growth and continued experience. Did they address that issue?

Re: How Mormon Apostles Explained Away the Contradictory Versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision As "Developing" and "Cartoon"-like Revelation. Seriously . . .
one thing that sealed the deal for me was that supposedly JS was being persecuted for this first vision, look back and you can find people calling him a fraud for the book of mormon around 1827, but you can't find anything about the first vision at all earlier than 1832 and then no criticism.

IMO, the first vision was concocted after one telling of the BoM story got a little sideways from the first ones.

Re: How Mormon Apostles Explained Away the Contradictory Versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision As "Developing" and "Cartoon"-like Revelation. Seriously . . .
Kinda reminds me of a commment by Yogi Berra, I believe...
"The older I get, the better I was"

"Recovery from Mormonism -"