Fact or Fable ?

By W. P. Walters

"Sometime in the second year after our removal to

Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual

excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the

Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in the

region of country ... my mind became somewhat partial to the

Methodists ... but so great was the confusion and strife among

the different denominations, that it was impossible ... to come

to any certain conclusion who was right, and who was wrong ... in

accordance with this, by determination, to ask God, I retired to

the woods to make an attempt. It was on the morning of a

beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and

twenty ... I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my

heart to God. ... I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head

.. When the light rested upon me I saw two personages, (whose

brightness and glory defy all description) standing above me in

the air ... I asked the personages who stood above me in the

light, which of all the sects was right, (for at this time it had

never entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I

should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for

they were all wrong ..." Joseph Smith, Jr.

The well publicized story above, of Joseph Smith's First

Vision is not a true account of the origin of the Latter Day

Saint movement. The facts are decidedly against it!

First, the historical evidence shows that Joseph Smith, Jr.

could not have been stirred by an 1820 revival, to ask which

church was true.

Second, early Mormon statements do not support his claim

that in 1820 he learned through a visitation of the Father and

the Son that all existing churches were wrong.

Third, the details known about Joseph's early life

contradict his assertion that in 1820 he had such a divine

visitation and was persecuted by the community for telling such a


NO 1820 REVIVAL .....

First his neighborhood in 1820 experienced no revival such

as he described, in which "great multitudes" joined the

Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches. The Presbyterian

records for the Palmyra Presbyterian Church show that it

experienced no revival in 1820. The local Baptist Church gained

only six on profession of faith the entire year, while the

Methodists actually lost members that year as well as the

preceeding and following years. (Minutes of the Annual


Joseph Smith claimed that his mother, sister and two

brothers were led to join the local Presbyterian Church as a

result of that 1820 revival. However, four years before he made

this claim, his own church paper had stated that the revival in

which his family had been led to join the Presbyterian Church

took place in 1823. (Messenger & Advocate I, pp. 42, 78) In fact,

that account says it was the same 1823 revival that led him to go

to his bedroom (not to a sacred grove) and pray "if a Supreme

being did exist" and to know that "he was accepted of him." An

angel (not a deity) is then reported to have appeared and told

him of his forgiveness and of the gold plates.

Joseph's mother, likewise, knew nothing of an 1820 vision.

In her unpublished account she traces the origin of Mormonism to

a BEDROOM VISIT by an angel. Joseph at the time had been

"pondering which of the churches were the true one." The angel

told him "there is not a true church on Earth, No not one."

(First draft of "Lucy Smith's History," LDS Church Archives)

Furthermore, she tells us that the revival which led to her

joining the church took place following the death of her son,

Alvin. Alvin died November 19, 1823, and following that painful

loss she reports that: "..about this time there was a great

revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much

aroused to the subject and we among the rest, flocked to the

meeting house to see if there was a word of comfort for us that

might relieve our over-charged feelings." (P. 86)

She adds that although her husband would only attend the

first meetings, he had no objection to her or the children "going

or BECOMING CHURCH MEMBERS." (emphasis added)

There is plenty of additional evidence that the revival Lucy

Smith refers to did occur during the winter of 1824-1825. It was

reported in at least a dozen newspapers and religious

periodicals. The church records show outstanding increases due to

the reception of new converts. The Baptist Church received 94,

the Presbyterian 99, while the Methodist work grew by 208. No

such revival bringing in "great multitudes" occurred in 1820.

It is clear that the revival Joseph Smith, Jr. described did

not occur in 1820, but in 1824. Joseph Smith arbitrarily moved

that revival back four years to 1820 and made it fit a First

Vision story that neither his mother nor other close associates

had heard of in those early days. The historical facts completely

discredit Joseph Smith's First Vision story. (For further details

see, DIALOGUE: A JOURNAL OF MORMON THOUGHT, Spring 1969, pp. 59-



About 1832, Joseph Smith, Jr. began an account of the origin

of the Mormon church (the only one written in his own hand), that

contradicts the official First Vision story he dictated some six

years later. The account was never finished and has only recently

been published. (See the text in BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY

STUDIES, Spring 1969, pp. 278ff) In this version Joseph presents

himself between the ages of twelve and fifteen being a committed

and perceptive reader of the Bible. He claims that his STUDY OF

THE SCRIPTURES led him to understand that all the denominations

were wrong. He wrote: " searching the Scriptures I found

that mankind did not come into the Lord but that they had

apostatised from the true and living faith and there was no

society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus

Christ as recorded in the new testament."

Six years later, when he set forth his official First Vision

story, he decided that he never had reached the firm conclusion

that all churches were wrong from his study of the Bible.

Instead, he claimed that it was DURING A VISION OF THE FATHER AND

THE SON that he first learned this information. He presented this

as coming as a great surprise, for he added parenthetically -

"for at this time it had NEVER ENTERED INTO MY HEART THAT ALL

WERE WRONG." (emphasis added) That statement even contradicted

what Joseph had said a few paragraphs earlier in the same

account. There he claimed that "I OFTEN SAID TO MYSELF ... Who of

all these parties are right; or ARE THEY ALL WRONG TOGETHER?"

(emphasis added) Although the former statement appears in the

original manuscript (see BYU Studies above, p. 290), such a

serious contradiction could not be allowed to stand, and after

Joseph's death the embarrassing words were edited out.

Even without these words, however, the 1838 official account

is in conflict with the 1832 version. In the 1832 account it is

his Bible reading that stirs him to seek God, while in the 1838

story it is a non-existent revival that motivates him.

In the 1832 version he claims to have seen only Christ,

while in the 1838 rendition both the Father and the Son appear.

In the 1832 account he already knows all the churches are wrong,

while in the 1838 story it is the dual deities who first inform

him of this. Different people may have different views of the

same event, but when one person tells contradictory stories about

an event, he completely loses his credibility.


The 1838 First Vision story not only runs into trouble with

Joseph's earlier 1832 version, it is also contradicted by what we

know about his early years in Palmyra. In his official version

Joseph claims he was persecuted by all the churches in his area

"because I continued to affirm I had seen a vision." However,

Orsemus Turner, an apprentice printer in Palmyra until 1822, was

in the same juvenile debating club with Joseph Smith. He recalled

that Joseph "after catching a spark of Methodism ... became a

very passable exhorter in evening meetings." (HISTORY OF THE


Thus, instead of being opposed and persecuted as his 1838 account

claims, young Joseph was welcomed and allowed to exhort during

the Methodist's evening preaching. Furthermore, no one, either

Mormon or non-Mormon, seems ever to have heard of Joseph's

encounter with two divine Personages until after 1838. (see this

admission in DIALOGUE, Autumn 1966, pp. 30-31; SAINTS HERALD,

June 29, 1959, p. 21)

From all available lines of evidence, therefore, Joseph's

First Vision story appears to be a fabrication. There was NO

REVIVAL anywhere in the Palmyra area in 1820, Joseph was

WELCOMED, NOT PERSECUTED by the Methodists. His 1832 account


all the churches were apostate, while his 1838 account said it

"NEVER ENTERED INTO MY HEART that all were wrong." His 1832

version claimed ONLY A VISION OF CHRIST, while the 1838 story

transformed this into THE FATHER AND THE SON. No one ever heard

such a story until after he dictated it in 1838.

In the light of such strong contradictory evidence, the

First Vision story must be regarded as only the invention of

Joseph Smith's highly imaginative mind. The facts and Joseph's

own words discredit it.


This work is presented with the earnest prayer that sincere

people everywhere may perceive the fallacy and danger of

Mormonism and will not become entangled in it, and that the dear

Mormon people who are unfortunately deceived by it, may be

reclaimed and find the true Way of salvation in the Bible and the

blessed Saviour whom it reveals.

"Jesus saith unto him, I am the Way, the Truth, and the

Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me." (John 14:6)

We also pray that the earnest reader upon discerning these

things will search the Word of God, the Bible, the only Book

whose message is "able to make thee wise unto salvation through

faith which is in Christ Jesus." (II Timothy 3:15)

For Further information write:

Utah Christian Tract Society

P.O. Box 725

La Mesa, California 92041

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