Two items appear below:

1        The Case Against The First Vision
2        Bible Debate—Mormons vs JWs

The Case Against The First Vision

(Investigator 7, 1989 July)

One of the four standard works of Scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as The Pearl of Great Price, contains a section entitled "Joseph Smith History." In this section of Mormon Scripture we encounter what is known as the story of the so-called "First Vision."

In brief, it tells of Joseph Smith Jr. going into the woods to pray for wisdom in response to a large religious revival in the area of Palmyra/Manchester in upstate New York, which, according to the story, took place in the spring of 1820. Not knowing what church to join, Smith supposedly decided to ask God in prayer. Smith tells of being overtaken by a "power of some actual being from the unseen world" and just at the point of despair, in his own words, "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head... When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages...standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other - This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

Upon asking these two Personages which church he should join, Smith supposedly was told that he should join none, "for they were all wrong; ...all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt…"

The importance of this "First Vision" to the LDS Church cannot be over-emphasized. The late Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote.  
"This transcendent vision was the beginning of Latter-day revelation; ... Through it the  creeds  of Christendom  were shattered to smithereens,  and because of it the truth about those Beings whom it is life eternal to know began again to be taught among men." (Mormon Doctrine, pg. 285)
And, as Mormon Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,
"Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was  either  a prophet  of God,  divinely  called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds  this  world  has  ever  seen. There is no middle ground."     (Doctrines of Salvation vol. 1, pg. 188)

Did Joseph Smith Jr. see God the Father and Jesus Christ as separate and distinct beings in the spring of 1820? The great mass of historical evidence now available to the honest investigator gives only one answer: no. Reproduced on the front cover of this tract [here omitted] is a photocopy of a page found in Joseph Smith's 1832 diary, written in his own handwriting. It says:
"...and when in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th year of my age a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me…and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my Son thy Sins are forgiven thee…behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucified for the world..."

One will search in vain for any reference to two personages anywhere in this account. Really, if you were writing this down in your diary, would you forget about having seen God the Father? Remember, this is the earliest account, and the only one written in Joseph's own handwriting. (See the Ensign of 12/84 for further corroboration of this diary entry, page 25)

Joseph’s diary of November 9, 1835 contains yet another account, and here Joseph does mention two personages, only this time they testify that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God." In this account angels are mentioned, but not God the Father or Jesus Christ! What makes this  account even  more fascinating  is  the  fact  that  in  the  Documentary History of the Church, under the date of November 14, 1835 (only 5 days after  the above account) we have another mention of this "vision."   

When the account was originally printed in serial form in the Deseret News on May 29, 1852, it recounted Smith's  telling  Erastus Holmes of his experiences "...from six years up to the time I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old…"      However, since this contradicts the modern story, recent editions of the Documentary History have changed the wording: "...from six years old up to the time I received my first vision, which was when I was about fourteen years old…" (Documentary History of the Church, 2:312)   

Given the close proximity in time of the above diary account that mentions angels, and the clear editing of the text of the Documentary History in an attempt to cover up this fact, it seems to be clear that the "First Vision" story has undergone a substantial amount of evolution. Is it possible that the LDS Church in 1852 really believed that only angels appeared to Joseph Smith?

Most certainly! A brief perusal of the following references from the Journal of Discourses should answer that question:  2:.171, 2:196, and 13:324. President George A. Smith taught that when Joseph…"went humbly before the Lord and inquired of Him…the Lord answered his prayer, and revealed to Joseph, by the ministration of angels, the true condition of the religious world. And when the holy angel appeared, Joseph inquired which of all these denominations was right." (JD 12:334).

Is it really possible that Joseph made up the story as he went along, adding God the Father only in the late 1830's? Maybe he did not realize that by doing so he was violating his own revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 84:21-22, where he says that no man can see God the Father without the priest-hood and live. Joseph supposedly did not receive the "priesthood" until 1829!

Another interesting point that must be addressed by the person who believes in Joseph's story is the fact that though the modern church in its missionary presentations claims that Joseph immediately came under persecution for telling people of his "First Vision" story, the fact is that there is no clear, unambiguous reference to this vision until many years after the alleged event — until the late 1830's at the best. For example, E.D. Howe published the first "anti-Mormon" book in 1834, and never once mentions the "First Vision." If it was so well known, why did he not take Smith to task for it? Why do we not find mention of this vision by other Mormons of the time? Why do we not find many sermons based on the vision from the leaders in Utah? Why such a deafening silence, such a lack of evidence?

Modern research has provided us with much more information on the historicity of this alleged event. In 1967, Rev. Wesley Walters published an article entitled New Light on Mormon Origins from the Palmyra (N.Y.) Revival. In this article, Rev. Walters revealed the results of his study of a question that had not yet been addressed fully — was there really a revival in Manchester in 1820?

By going to the original sources themselves, Rev. Walters was able to determine that there were definitely revivals in the area in 1816/18l7 and in 1824/1825, hut none in 1820!  Though in our limited space we cannot  recount the literally  hundreds of facts brought forth by Rev. Walters in both this study as well as another we will discuss below, a few items should be sufficient for our purposes.

First, Oliver Cowdery's story says that a revival broke out in 1823 under Rev. Lane,    a Methodist minister. William Smith's account as well denies the 1820 date for the revival — he dates it in 1824. Worthy of note as well is the fact that both of these sources (Cowdery and Smith) by mentioning various ministers help us to find the date; for both of the ministers they mentioned were not assigned to that area until after, 1822!   

Second, Rev. Walters discovered the story of the revival written by Rev. Lane himself. All of the details of the revival that broke out in September of 1824 match perfectly with Joseph's own story — hundreds of people joined the churches, Methodist, Baptist, and  Presbyterian (401 to be exact), and it lasted through the spring of 1825.

However, when we look to the records relevant to1820, we find no evidence of revival at all. Rather than having hundreds joining the Methodist church, the records for the entire circuit show that there were losses of 23 for 1819, 6 for 1820, and 40 for 1821. The Baptist Church in Palmyra gained only 6 by baptism in 1820 (compared to 94 for 1825), and other local Baptist churches listed losses of 4, 5 and 9 for the year. Add to this the fact that though the denominational publications had devoted many pages to the "glowing reports" of the revivals in both 1816/17 and 1824/25, nothing is mentioned about any revivals in 1820.

So stood the situation until 1988 when Rev. Walters released new information from his research.

This new information put together records photocopied by BYU in 1970, newly discovered land assessment records from Manchester township and the records of "warning out" from Norwich, Vermont. What do these new historical sources tell us?

First, the Mormon story up until this point has been as follows: the Smiths live in Norwich, VT from 1814 to 1816, when they move to Palmyra. The Smiths live in Palmyra for two years till 1818, at which time they move to Manchester. Two years later, as Smith states, a revival breaks out and the First Vision takes place (1820).Any disruption in this chronology not only threatens the entire story of the early history of Mormonism, but, since the date of the First Vision is part of Mormon Scripture (1820), it also destroys the foundation of Mormon revelation. With this in mind let’s look at just a few of the facts.

Recently the record of the Smiths being "warned out" of Norwich, VT has been discovered. This occurred March 15, 1816. Now, as the warning out normally happened very shortly after arrival, and had to take place at most one year after arrival to avoid difficulties for the  town, this means that the Smiths lived in Norwich from 1816 to 1818. Correlation of weather records with the story of Lucy Mack Smith confirms these dates.

Next, the road-tax records from Palmyra indicate that the name of Joseph Smith Sr. appears from 1817 through 1822.  As all men 21 years of age and older as of April were required to be listed, Alvin Smith's name appears as well in 1820. It is evident that Joseph Smith Sr. moved to Palmyra before the rest of his family, who joined him there at a later date. It is important to note that Smith is listed as living in Palmyra until 1822 — despite LDS scholars saying that he moved from there four years earlier in 1818.

Further information has come to light in the land assessment records for Manchester township. These records make it clear that the Smiths did not contract to buy the100 acres of land for their farm in Manchester county until after June of 1820, for the tax rolls at that time show that all of the land was taxed to the original owners, the heirs  of Nicholas  Evertson. However, in the tax rolls of 1821 we see that Joseph Smith Sr. is taxed for 100 acres at $7.00 an acre — the price of raw, unimproved land at the time. The land is given the same value in the 1822 assessment, but in 1823 the value rises to $1000, a jump of 40% even though the other land values only went up 4% in the area. This indicates that, for the first time, improvements were made to the land, including the construction of a home. What does this tell us?

It suggests that the Smiths moved onto the land and lived there after the summer of 1822 and before the summer of 1823, which perfectly meshes with the data provided from all sources, especially the road-tax records from Palmyra. Then, recall that Joseph Smith himself said that it was "two years" after their move to Manchester (1822/23,) that the revivals took place (1824/25). This corresponds perfectly to the information that shows that the revival Smith described took place in 1824/25.

What then can be said of all of this? First, we see that given just the brief summary of the information as we have it today, one cannot help but suggest that the "First Vision" story evolved over time into the form it has today. Joseph Smith Jr. was simply in error when he said that this religious experience took place in 1820 a very human error to be sure, but we must remember that this error is part of Mormon Scripture! Those who claim to be prophets can not make excuses for themselves. Not only is the status of the "First Vision" placed in grave jeopardy, but all of the rest of the Mormon story is thrown into absolute disarray, and the Mormon claim to be "the only true Church" is left without historical foundation.

From: Alpha and Omega Ministries, Phoenix, Arizona, USA



(Investigator 6, 1989 May)

I sat in on a debate between Jehovah’s Witnesses (J) and Mormons (M) on whether Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the founder of Mormonism, saw God.  

The Mormon missionaries cited Joseph Smith's description of "two personages" who allegedly visited him in 1820:
I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other, "This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Truth Restored 1969 p. 4)


J.    The two supernatural persons Smith claimed to meet in 1820 were neither God the Father nor Jesus Christ. Jesus said: "The world will behold me no more." That's in John 14:19. And concerning God the Father 1 John 4:12 says: "At no time has anyone beheld God."

M.    The Bible records that Abraham saw God. So did Moses, Jacob, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Stephen, and others.

J.    Abraham, Jacob and Moses saw angels who represented God.
Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Stephen had visions of God. These visions were events in the mind and did not involve the literal eyes with lens and retina. Daniel in chapter 7 called them "the visions of my head". Stephen, in Acts 7:56, said: "Look! I behold...the Son of man standing at God's right hand." Scores of Jews were standing around Stephen. But none saw what Stephen saw.

Obviously literal sight was not involved but it was a vision revealed to Stephen's mind. Ezekiel also did not literally see God. Ezekiel also only saw God in visions while Jewish elders who sat around him saw nothing. That's in Ezekiel 8:1 and 14:1.

In agreement with this Bible pattern the Smith you follow could not have literally seen God. Smith was a 15-year old juvenile at the time with a lively imagination. I agree with Jesus who stated in John 5:37: "You have neither heard God's voice at any time nor seen his figure."

M. Some prophets heard God. Others saw God—literally with their eyes. Others, like Joseph Smith, both heard God and also saw him.

We believe that "Jehovah" is the Old Testament name for Jesus. Jehovah is also called "God Almighty".  Jehovah was also both heard and seen, says the Bible.

Exodus 19:20 tells us that "the LORD" meaning Jehovah "came down upon mount Sinai." Chapter 20 verse 1 goes on: "And God spake all these words…" Chapter 20 verse 19 says: "And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die." Exodus 33:11 says: "And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." Genesis 32:24 30 tells how Jacob wrestled with God all night. When they finished wrestling, Jacob said: "I have seen God face to face."

J. In the examples you mentioned, God spoke, acted or revealed himself by proxy — or representatively. Angels, sent by God, spoke in God's name even saying "I am God".

Your first example was of Mount Sinai where God gave the Law to Israel. Acts 7:53 says: "You received the Law as transmitted by angels." Verse 38 says: "The angel spoke on Mount Sinai". Galatians 3:19 says: "The Law was transmitted through angels". Hebrews 2:2 mentions "the word spoken through angels".

Consider also Exodus 3 where God spoke to Moses from a burning bush. Verse 2 says that "Jehovah's angel" spoke. In the conversation that follows the angel is called "God" and "Jehovah" repeatedly. Clearly God was speaking through an angel who represented him.

This formula — that God was represented by angels — explains all the Old Testament examples of men seeing or hearing God.

M. I repeat, Jacob said: "I have seen God face to face".

J. He saw an angel who represented God and wrestled with that angel.

M. He said "I have seen God" and not "I have seen an angel".

J. You're finding the idea of God acting by proxy, in Jacob's case, hard to grasp. However, Hosea 12:4 refers back to Genesis 32, where Jacob wrestled, and says: "And he kept contending with an angel". It's all Scripture together that gives the right idea.

M. What about Moses? Exodus 33:11 reads: "And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." Deuteronomy 34:10 similarly says: "Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face."

J. Deuteronomy 5:4 5 states that Jehovah spoke "face to face" with all Israel from Mount Sinai. But I've already shown that it was an angel speaking. Chapter 4 verse 15 further adds: "YOU did not see any form on the day of Jehovah speaking to YOU in Horeb".  Horeb was another name for Sinai.

"Face to face" therefore merely means that the angel representing God replied immediately. There was no delay. This agrees with Exodus 33:20: "You are not able to see my face because no man may see me and yet live."

M. Why not read the next three verses?
20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me and live.
21 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by.
23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
  Here God passes over Moses and Moses sees God's "back parts". God has body parts just as a man has. Verse 23 mentions God's back, hand and face. Even if Moses only saw God's back parts then he still saw God. Nor was this a vision but a literal event.

J. The Bible is definite that God does not resemble any physical object. Different passages call God a "shield", "rock", "sun", and "stone". This does not mean that God is shaped like such objects. Such words are used to show that God has qualities or abilities that correspond to a shield, the sun or a rock. Similarly when the Bible speaks of God's arms, ears, back, wings, face, finger, eyes, nose, etc, this only means that God has abilities or qualities that correspond to such physical things.

Therefore the Bible says in Romans chapter 1: "they became foolish and turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four footed creatures and creeping things."

In Exodus 33 "face", "back" and "hand" are not literal. "Face" denotes a full manifestation of God — which no person could survive. "Back" denotes a partial manifestation and "hand" represents protection.

Verses 18, 19 and 22 have phrases like: "cause me to see your glory", "I shall cause all my goodness to pass before your face" and "while my glory is passing by".  Such phrases prove that it was not a man-shaped likeness of God that went past.
18 At this he said: "Cause me to see, please, your glory." 19 But he said: "I myself shall cause all my goodness to pass before your face, and I will declare the name of Jehovah before you, and I will favor the one whom I may favor, and I will show mercy to the one to whom I may show mercy." Exodus 33:18-19

M. What do you mean by "partial" or "full manifestation". The Bible does not use such terminology.

J. 1 Timothy 6:16 says: "the one alone having immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom not one of men has seen or can see." This light is what Moses referred to when he said: "cause me to see your glory". By "partial manifestation!" or "full manifestation" I mean that God can reveal this "unapproachable light" to different extents. He can also reduce its intensity as though screening it off with his hand.

When God reveals the light [that] he dwells in to humans, he does so by means of angels. Remember in Luke 2:9 where an angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds?  It says there: "Jehovah's glory gleamed around them".

M. But Hagar, the concubine of Abraham, spoke to God. She saw God directly and not just a bright light.

J. That was in Genesis 16:7 13. Verse 7 plainly identifies the speaker as "Jehovah's angel".

M. Gideon also spoke with God.

J. That's in Judges 6:11 27. Again, verses 11, 12, 20 and 22 identify the speaker as "Jehovah's angel".

M. What about Abraham? In Genesis 18:2 three men appeared to Abraham. Two of the "men" were angels. (19:1) The third was called "Jehovah" meaning God. (18:22) Verse 22 clearly distinguishes Jehovah from the two angels and therefore "Jehovah" cannot in this instance refer to an angel who represents Jehovah.

J. You're mistaken because, as we learnt before: "At no time has anyone beheld God." The third, "man" must therefore have been an angel also. He was distinguished from the other two angels because he took on God's name, spoke for God, and represented God.

M. Exodus 6:2 3 has God saying to Moses "I appeared unto Abraham". Notice "God APPEARED".

J. We discussed earlier about the burning bush and how an angel spoke to Moses from that bush. Moses then told Israel: "Jehovah the God of your forefathers has APPEARED to me…" That's in Exodus 3:16. God is counted as having APPEARED when an angel who speaks in God's name appeared.

Good reasons why God never appears personally are given in 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1; Jeremiah 23:24. Those verses tell us that God is bigger and greater than the heavens and that he fills them with his presence.

M. If God is bigger than the Universe you'd have to explain how man can be in God's image. After all, God made humans in his own image says Genesis chapter 1.

Also Exodus 24:9 11 tells how 74 men including Moses climbed up Mount Sinai and SAW God. Twice it says "they SAW God". It was literal sight and not a vision and not an angel. The Hebrew word "raah" which is there used refers to literal sight. Your New World Translation has it wrongly translated as "vision". The King James says:
9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:
10 And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.
11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink. (Exodus 24:9-11)

J. In verse 10 the Hebrew word is "raah". It corresponds to the English word "see".  And like the English word "see" "raah" can refer to either literal sight or figurative sight.

In verse 11, however, the Hebrew word is not "raah" but is "hazah". Many Bible translations, not just the New World Translation, have "hazah" translated as "vision". The King James Bible in this instance is wrong.

Let me show you this from a Bible called The Companion Bible. It's actually a King James Bible. But it has numerous scholarly explanations and notes in the margins. Notice here the accompanying notes for verse 10. It clearly explains that "hazah" means to "see with the mental eye".

Now, concerning your earlier point about man being in God's image: To be in God's image does not mean having the same shape as God. Males and females are shaped slightly differently and yet both are in God's image. That's in Genesis 1:27. "Image" refers to humans having similar emotional, intellectual and personality factors as God.  See Colossians 3:10.
Since God can't be literally seen, Smith did NOT see God!

M. But Jesus is God Jehovah. And thousands saw Jesus…!