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D&C Lesson 3, Part 2

Posted by cherylem on January 13, 2009

Here is part 2 of Mack Stirling’s Institute notes on the First Vision. There will be a part 3.

JSH 1:1-26


Some Background

·      First vision took place in Spring 1820

·      There are no records/reports currently available of the First Vision from any source from the 1820s.

·      On April 6, 1830 (D&C 21:1) Joseph was commanded to keep a “record.”

·      We currently have four accounts given by Joseph of the Vision:

1.  1832 account (6 pages written in a ledger book, “found” in 1965). (see footnote below) Dictated by Joseph to Frederick G. Williams, scribe and counselor in the First Presidency.

2. 1835 account.

§       located  in Joseph Smith’s diary, Nov. 9, 1835

§       written by Warren Parrish

§       is a summary of a conversation between Joseph and a man named Robert Matthews                                                                                                                                

3. 1838 account. “Official account.”

§       Written by Joseph in April –May 1838

§       Copied by scribe James Mulholland into History of the Church in 1839. (HC, Vol. 1, chapters 1-5) (History of Church in 7 volumes begun June 11, 1839 and finished in SLC in 1858 à edited by B.H. Roberts and published in 1902)

§       First published in Times and Seasons (Nauvoo) 1842

§       Later (1851) incorporated into Pearl of Great Price.

4.  1842 Account

§       written by Joseph Smith in Wentworth letter

§       published in Times and Seasons, 1842


·      The story of the First Vision was known in relatively limited circles in the 1830s, but not generally available to the church until 1842.

Þ   First vision not used as a missionary tool nor to help establish doctrine in the 1830s.

Þ   Story first used in missionary tracts in 1840 (Orson Pratt, England) and 1842 (Orson Hyde, Germany)

Þ   1851 put in Pearl of Great Price à canonized 1880

Þ   Used by George Q. Cannon in October conference 1883 and by James E. Talmage (Articles of Faith) 1899 to establish the Mormon doctrine of diety.

Þ   Since 1961, the First Vision story has been an integral part of the official missionary plan of the Church.


The Text JSH 1:1-26



What was Joseph’s motivation in writing?


Joseph’s family background

§       Joseph born Dec. 23, 1805 in Vermont; 1812 Joseph treated for typhoid osteomyelitis of left leg by Dr. Nathan Smith of Dartmouth (experimental therapy of debridement/drainage instead of amputation)

§       Joseph Sr. a school teacher and farmer and storekeeper

§       Joseph Sr. and Lucy (married 1796) began their married life well off financially

Þ   1802-3 lost all their money on a ginseng deal (China trade)

Þ   not independent owners again until after 1830

Þ   medical bills from 1812 to crop failures 1815-1816 rendered them virtually destitute

Þ   moved to New York state late in 1816: tenant renters

§       Lucy had spent much of her adult life searching for the right church (her father, Solomon Mack, was converted only late in life in revivals of 1810-11).

§       Joseph Sr. was always religious (7 religious/spiritual dreams) but always held aloof from organized religion; his father Ansel strongly believed in God, was heavily influenced by Arminius (free will) and Paine (Age of Reason), and believed in the universal salvation of all men à converted to Mormonism in 1830.

§       Joseph Sr.’s father Ansel rejected traditional Calvanist orthodoxy.


Intense revival activity in Western New York

·      That such revivals were indeed a prominent part of life in upstate New York at this time has been extensively documented. See Awakenings in the Burned-over District by Milton V. Backman Jr. in BYU Studies 1969, p. 301-20.

·      Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians were most active sects.


What bothered Joseph about the revivals?

Has his ideal ever been realized?


Joseph’s confusion

·      Common acceptance of Bible and Christ as the Son of God

·      Competing/conflicting concepts of God and the means of salvation.

·      Competition among sects for members: great desire of different ministers to prove their own opinions right.










12b, c



14, 15a

Joseph’s faith in seeking/grasping the word of God


What does this teach us about the importance of reading scripture?

How does one seek God?

Prov. 8:17 I love those who love me; and those that seek me find me.


Note how this explicitly shows the interaction of man’s faith-effort and God’s grace (powerful help) in bringing to pass salvation.


What is the ultimate source of knowledge about God; is the Bible (or any other scripture) alone sufficient?


“the place”: a clearing in the wood where Joseph had left his ax in a stump.


Satan wants to turn Joseph out of his course



Joseph holds on to word of God (James 1:5) v. 11-12a

The adversary tries to turn Joseph (also see v. 20d)

·      Note the “thick darkness” à spiritual oppression. “sudden destruction . . . sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction” à I [Mack writing] don’t believe that physical death was at risk here; rather the giving of oneself over to Satan, of accepting a severe degree of spiritual death. “power of some actual being from the unseen world” (devil not seen – see Moses 1:12-22, Job 32-37) à natural response would have been to RUN! But Joseph stayed at risk and called on God. See v. 16a.


Hel. 3: 29

  29 Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the aword of God, which is bquick and powerful, which shall cdivide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and dnarrow course across that everlasting egulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—


JS-M: 37 And whoso atreasureth up my word, shall not be deceived, for the Son of Man shall bcome, and he shall send his cangels before him with the great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together the dremainder of his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.










John 12:28


 v. 18


































































“pillar of light above brightness of sun”

God’s glory/power which falls on Joseph and enables him to see God, to tolerate his presence


God the Father and His Son are Personages who can be seen and conversed with.

·      Father bears witness of the Son, as in 1) Jesus’ baptism (Matt 3:17), 2) Mount of transfiguration (Matt 17:3), 3) Jesus’ appearance to Nephites (3 Ne. 11:7)

·      Only recorded (in scripture) instance of the Father appearing to a mortal. Acts 7:55-56 and D&C 76:20-23 don’t seem to be quite the same thing.


Joseph’s stated purpose: to know which church to join.

Other accounts (see below) describe a second purpose: to gain a remission of sins.


Commanded to join none of them. “all wrong” à D&C 1:30.

  30 And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have apower to lay the foundation of this bchurch, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of cdarkness, the only true and living dchurch upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well epleased, fspeaking unto the church collectively and not individually—


“creeds an abomination.”

creed. A concise, formal, and authorized statement of important points of Christian doctrine. The classical examples are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Candidates for Baptism originally accepted short formulas of belief; these gradually became crystallized into creeds. After the Council of Nicaea (325) credal professions of faith came to be used as standards of orthodoxy. The practice of reciting the (Nicene) Creed at the Eucharist arose as a local custom in the E. in the 5th cent.; it was not adopted at Rome until 1014.


Nicene Creed

The Synod at Nice set forth this Creed.


The Ecthesis of the Synod at Nice.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost. And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion–all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.

From The Seven Ecumenical Councils, ed. H. Percival, in the Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, 2nd series (New York: Charles Scribners, 1990), Vol XIV, 3


Why did Christ call the creeds an abomination?

1.     Contain truth mixed with confusing human categories of though which contributed to the veil around deity and impeded man from approaching God.

2.     God may be opposed to the very idea of a creed: that man by using his reason on the scriptural text can create a rigid dogman that defines and circumscribes man’s concept of God


“professors corrupt” = those who professed the creeds already contaminated in their search for truth.


“commandments of men. . . having a form of godliness . . . deny the power thereof”


2 Timothy 3:1-5

 1 This know also, that in the alast days perilous btimes shall come.

  2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, acovetous, boasters, bproud, blasphemers, cdisobedient to parents, dunthankful, unholy,

  3 Without anatural baffection, ctrucebreakers, dfalse accusers, eincontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

  4 aTraitors, bheady, chighminded, lovers of dpleasures more than lovers of God;

  5 Having a aform of godliness, but bdenying the power thereof: from such turn away.


D&C 46:7

7 But ye are commanded in all things to aask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all bholiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, cconsidering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and dthanksgiving, that ye may not be eseduced by evil fspirits, or doctrines of devils, or the gcommandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.


·      The power of Godliness is devoted entirely to preparing man to communicate meaningfully with God, to come into His presence and partake of His life; the creeds had impeded this.


What is true doctrine? 2 Ne. 31:17-21, 3 Ne. 27:-13-21


Much revealed which was not recorded


The initial aftermath at home













The initial response in the community and Joseph’s resolutions.


How does the response of the Methodist minister demonstrate the truth of v. 19?


These verses  help explain the limited circulation of the story of Joseph’s First Vision in the 1820s


Joseph’s resolution to hold to the truth and reality of his vision, no matter what.


Is it conceivably possible that one could forget/lose belief in such an experience?


Joseph’s resolution to wait on God (Hab 2:1)

How does Joseph compare to Jeremiah (Jer. 15:16-21)?



The First Vision as a Typology of Salvation à correspondences to Lehi’s Dream, Book of Job, Temple Ceremony, etc.


A.    Confusion about truth/multitudes seeking truth about God

JSH 1:5-9

1 Ne. 8:7,8,21. Lone& dreary waste, numberless concourses.

Job 3-31  Dialogue with three “friends” regarding nature of God


B.    Holding to revealed truth(s) about God in faith in face of the confusion

JSH 1:11-14  (James 1:5)

1 Ne. 8:19-20  (iron rod)

Job 14:13-17, 16:19-17:3; 19:25-27; 23:3-7, 10 (Job’s four great revelatory insights)


C.    Passing through thick darkness/trial by adversary

JSH 1:15-16b

1 Ne. 8:23-24 (mists of darkness)

Job 32-37        (Elihu)


D.   Penetrating the Veil

JSH 1:16c-20

1 Ne. 8:30 (falling down to partake of fruit of tree)

Job 38:1-42:6 (Job hears God, repeats His words, and then sees God)


E.    Remaining faithful to the vision to the end

JSH 1:21-26

1 Ne. 8:24-28 (those ashamed of fruit à spacious building: opposite of Joseph Smith)

Job 42:7-16 (Epilogue: Job mediates salvation to his fellow man)


·      The whole purpose of the restored gospel is to bring us to the same experience Joseph had at age 14

·      Temple

·      A major theme of the entire Pearl of Great Price



“One of the most significant documents of that period yet discovered was brought to light in 1965 by Paul R. Cheesman, a graduate student at Brigham Young University. This is a handwritten manuscript apparently composed about 1833 and either written or dictated by Joseph Smith. It contains an account of the early experiences of the Mormon prophet and includes the story of the first vision. While the story varies in some details from the version presently accepted, enough is there to indicate that at least as early as 1833 Joseph Smith contemplated writing and perhaps publishing it. The manuscript has apparently lain in the L.D.S. Church Historian’s office for many years, and yet few if any who saw it realized its profound historical significance.” James B. Allen, “The Significance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Thought,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 1 (Autumn 1966). 

5 Responses to “D&C Lesson 3, Part 2”

  1. kimmatheson said

    Is it quite certain (historically) that D&C 21:1 is a commandment to write this particular history? It’s a bit more ambiguous in the text itself.

  2. aachbr said

    I have a question. You write:

    “There are no records/reports currently available of the First Vision from any source from the 1820s.” …
    “The story of the First Vision was known in relatively limited circles in the 1830s, but not generally available to the church until 1842.”

    I understand the historical basis for these statements, but then what are we to make of JS History, 1: 21-26? Particularly verse 22:

    “22 I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.”

    Joseph seems to be describing an adolescence during which his vision was very well-publicized. The various sects were “all united” to persecute him. He was noticed by “men of high standing.” The “public” mind was against him. His persecution was “great” and it apparently “continued to increase”. This sounds like a description of public reaction to the story of Moroni and the Golden Plates, rather than to a public reaction to an earlier story for which, as you say, we have no “currently available” evidence.

    In his 1838 account, did Joseph perhaps confuse the later public agitation regarding the “Golden Bible” with more limited negative reactions to the 1st Vision in 1820, or do we just assume the earlier persecution really was as intense as described, but was apparently unrecorded and subsequently unremembered (or never known about) by later folks, friends and foes alike?

    Aaron B

  3. cherylem said

    I go with your last paragraph – that Joseph did get the reactions he reported, but after that did not talk about them and as the church grew, most members (if not practically all) knew nothing of this early persecutorial history.


  4. Joe M said

    I finally taught lesson 3 today. Between a snow day and Ward Conference, we’re already two weeks behind. Anyhow, I found the parallels between JSH and Nephi Ch 8 to be very useful. We also compared to Moses 1.

    What came out was this: I taught JSH as scripture instead of as history. This is contrary to my normal storytelling style, but it helped me personalize the First Vision for our class. We will all have moments of spiritual clarity, followed by Satan trying to crush or cast doubt on the revelations we received, followed by greater light and knowledge, if we persist through Satan’s buffetings. Or, in fewer words:

    1. Satan is real
    2. God is stronger

    Thanks for the notes Cheryl

  5. cherylem said

    You are welcome, Joe. Sounds like an excellent lesson today.


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