“I Had Seen a Vision”
This lesson covers the story that started it all… Joseph’s account of his first vision of God. I feel a close connection to this story since I am from the Palmyra stake! In this lesson we will:
- Explore the powerful lessons in this narrative about the role of seeking, asking questions, scripture study, and personal revelation.
- Examine not only the Joseph Smith-History account of the First Vision, but the other historically important accounts Joseph made.
- Discuss the way scripture is used in gospel teaching.
One Time Donation:
- Joseph Smith—History 1:1–26; Our Heritage, pages 1–4. Acts 20:28–30; 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3; 2 Timothy 4:3–4; Mormon 1:13–14; Amos 8:11–12; Acts 3:20–21; D&C 1:14–17; D&C 128:20–21
Additional Teacher Reading:
Post your questions and comments here, in the facebook group, or email them to me at mormonsundayschool at gmail.
- Richard L. Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s Testimony of the First Vision” Ensign, 1996.
- Dean Jessee, “The Earliest Documented Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision” (available from BYU Studies for $2)
- Richard Lyman Bushman: Rough Stone Rolling, pages 30-41.
- James Allen, “The Significance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Thought” Dialogue 1 (1966)
- Steven Taysom, “Approaching the First Vision Saga“, Sunstone.
Go here for the Sunday School Reader with all the passages.
You can access my Reading Notes here (which also form the bulk of my Lesson notes).
You can access my Lesson Notes here
Thanks to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for his work in postproduction and thanks as well to Carl Youngblood who did a great job with last minute audio editing.
Are you going to discuss the different versions of the first vision?
Jared Anderson says:
All of them, in detail. 🙂 C’mon, what did you expect!?
Jared M says:
Joseph makes the statement that his experience of persecution in response to his vision, made him feel like the apostle Paul before Agrippa. I think it’s interesting to consider the extended similarities between Joseph and Paul. Both were ‘righted on their course’ by the direct intervention (via personal theophany) of God. Both suffered numerous persecutions. Both journeyed and proselyted almost constantly. Both were faithful in testimony until the end of their lives. There are significant differences too. Paul was a chief persecutor of the cause he later joined and championed, while Joseph was the founder. Paul was often at odds with the leaders of the church in his day, while Joseph WAS the leader. One thing I’ve always found fascinating to consider is this:
What do you suspect their respective ‘thorns in the flesh’ were?
Michael Gonda says:
Maybe I read too much into it, but there is one tiny phrase that was deleted from the Pearl of Great Price account that has always intrigued me.
“I had actualy seen a light and in the midst of that light I saw two
personages, and they did in reality speak to me, or one of
The “or one of them did” was taken out. It just seems to give me the impression that even Joseph himself, 18 years later, was not exactly 100% certain about the experience, as he seems to be a bit ambiguous in this one detail here. And I stretching?
I have never heard that before. It doesn’t make sense since the same account describes one personage introducing the other who then delivers the message. Perhaps Joseph was alluding to the fact that it was ultimately one member of deity which spoke to him as described in the 1832 account.
Although I have not heard about this, I have often thought that Joseph could not have possibly understood exactly what he experienced. Traumatic incidents become difficult to comprehend because our body is filled with adrenaline (the fight or flight response). Our brains go into self-preservation mode. What could be more traumatic than a vision of God immediately following a demonic attack? Particularly to a young person. We often present (and perhaps Joseph presented it this way as well) as if the communication between him and deity was calm and collected. But there is one small passage which alludes to the incomprehensible power of the moment: “When I came to myself again, I found myself alying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home.”
How could he have possibly comprehended exactly what just happened to him? Was it real or was it imagined? It likely took him years of processing that moment before he was able to pick out some of the more significant details. All he knew at that moment was that Jesus was the son of God, that his sins were forgiven, and that he shouldn’t join with the Presbyterians, as his mother was planning.
Has anyone else had problems with importing the google doc into kindle? Mine doesn’t seem to like the tables.
Jared Anderson says:
I have been thinking about also posting the readings onto the blog, so I will try to get that started.
I actually prefer a format that can go on my kindle. If anyone is interested besides myself I can put it in epub and mobi format – similar to the formatting you did with google docs. If not, I’ll just put it on my kindle as basic text. It actually wouldn’t be that hard since the google doc formatting has done most of the work.
Jared Anderson says:
Putting it up as an epub and/or mobi would be tremendously valuable! Should we wait until we get all the year’s readings up?
I sent them to your contact (email@example.com). Hopefully that works for you, definitely easier to read now. It’s nice having it all in one location on my kindle. Let me know when you update the google doc and I’ll update the epub/mobi. Thanks for all the work you’re doing!
Josh Mangelson says:
This was a really good podcast, guys and gals. My own take on the first vision is rather unusual and I don’t mind anyone challenging it. I find it rather perplexing that through the years Joseph’s story of the vision would evolve so much if it was actually coming from a lucid memory. Granted, I believe it was Jared that even said that the most protected memories are the ones we never think about because as we recall a memory it is malleable and can be changed based on assumptions, but to change that much? The purpose of prayer to one person to two people to dozens and dozens of angels is far from being congruous. You mentioned, Jared, that his purpose in seeking an answer wasn’t to start his own religion, yet writing the account as we know it in 1838 after the disaffection of Kirtland in 1837 was with the express purpose of the further continuance of the establishment of the the church as Joseph being the called leader.
So what is my perspective? I do believe he was confused by the many religions professing against each other. I believe he had a question to take to the Lord, and he thought he really could get an answer based on the scripture James 1:5 (I find it interesting that his literal belief in the scripture puts him at stage 2 in Fowler’s stages of faith being mythic/literal. We now have Jr. High to push us into stage 3.). When he went to pray he first states how an evil darkness overcomes him. I understand how this could be alarming to modern sensibilities and the reason it is left out, but I think this part may be the key to what really happened. I learned last year about a diagnosis called sleep paralysis or old hag syndrome. Up to 60% of people may experience this at least once during their lifetime. Copying from Wikipedia, “Humming, roaring, hissing, rushing, zapping, and buzzing noises are frequent in conjunction with sleep paralysis (SP). This happens when the REM atonia sets in sooner than usual, before the person is fully asleep, or persists longer than usual, after the person has (in other respects) fully awoken. Sleep paralysis is reportedly very frequent among narcoleptics. It occurs frequently in about 6% of the rest of the population, and occurs occasionally in 60%. In surveys from Canada, China, England, Japan and Nigeria, 20 to 60% of individuals reported having experienced SP at least once in their lifetime. The paralysis itself is frequently accompanied by additional phenomena. Typical examples include a feeling of being crushed or suffocated, electric “tingles” or “vibrations”, imagined speech and other noises, the imagined presence of a visible or invisible entity, and sometimes intense emotion: fear or euphoria and orgasmic feelings. SP has been proposed as an explanation for at least some alien abduction experiences and shadow people hauntings.”
The person slipping into this paralyzed state feel trapped in a crushing body where they can’t even speak. Now allow me to quote from church history Joseph’s experience ” 15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.”
What are the chances that what Joseph experienced was sleep paralysis as he was falling asleep? Now the question if he was slipping into a hypnagogic state what are the chances that the vision he experienced was a dream-vision? Dreams are far more malleable than lucid memory even. And that to me would make sense of why the elements of said vision varied greatly. It to me would make sense why Joseph seemed to lift other people’s words so much to make sense of his experience. Do I rule out God by this assumption? I don’t. I think God can communicate to us in dreams according to our understanding and language, but I think it’s also beyond easy to misinterpret the meaning, too. I don’t think Jesus ever meant to be so exclusive as the text appears he is. If we are realizing the plan of happiness as it’s called in the Book of Mormon then we need to seek happiness. I found it interesting that in the documentary “Happy” research has confirmed that exclusivity in religion “we are right – you’re wrong mentality” makes people less happy. I take that to mean that being inclusive is really God’s plan to seek happiness and that is truth.
If you like my line of thinking maybe I’ll be on a podcast in the future on a different topic. Keep up the good work.
Jared Anderson says:
The question of sleep paralysis is an interesting one, as well as the ensuing theological question of what means God employs to reveal truths to us.
I appreciated your explanation of “Dual Fulfillment”. It allows me to appreciated other’s interpretation of scripture, while still holding to Mormonism’s unique interpretations.
Now, regarding the First Vision, it’s important theological centrality, I believe, comes from the church’s abandonment of polygamy. Here’s my take on it:
Enjoyed the podcast and discussion of various versions of the 1st vision as well as the links to supplemental material. I was blown away to learn just a couple of years ago that there were multiple versions. As a life long member, missionary, teacher, you name it, to have never heard that the foundational narrative of our church has at least 5 versions which differ in significant ways is shocking. I believe Aaron said the roll of the church is to support faith. This must be how church leadership sees it as well because it explains why I could serve a mission, attend seminary, attend all aspects of church and have never heard one hint of the many versions of the 1st vision. This attitude is destructive to faith. The roll of the church should be to support faith by telling the TRUTH. Tell the truth first and then support faith.
I hope this podcast will always be a place where all the “rocks” are exposed and not hidden. I want to trip over the rocks. Sure Sunday school may not be the best place to expose the “rocks” per Aaron’s analogy, but No longer can you hide from the “rocks”. One way or another they will be exposed. Better to get it out there and deal with. Id rather stub my toe a bunch of times than have the two ton bolder come crashing down the hill and crush me.
Thanks Chris. Great analogies. I will always do my best to point to the complexities and issues, though sometimes there are so many I won’t have time for them!
Also, I agree with you about the Church’s approach, though I am sympathetic to it. This podcast actually represents a very time consuming, effortful demonstration that it can be done better.
I had heard details of the discrepancies between the various accounts of the first vision, but I had never read or researched the accounts myself. That being said, I was surprisingly underwhelmed by the differences. They just didn’t strike me as problematic. The first account, for example, seems to be telling a larger story about Joseph’s own spiritual journey as a young man, which spans several years. As related here, the first vision is couched in a greater narrative, the impetus of which is Joseph’s coming to question his own salvation. He mentions seeing “the Lord” and being assured that he is forgiven. In this context, does it matter that Joseph doesn’t mention seeing any other heavenly beings? Not in my opinion. It seems that if Joseph had stopped and tried to give a full account of the first vision in this particular writing, it would have felt out of place and derailed the point he was trying to make. Just because I tell my wife that I saw Dan at the store and was assured that the barbecue is still on for this Saturday doesn’t mean that Dan was alone or that he didn’t say anything about his plans for Friday night. I guess I’m just surprised to learn that people have such a problem with the differences in first vision accounts when those accounts aren’t all written with the express purpose of telling us absolutely everything that happened, exactly as it happened. The fuss that has been raised over these things has always led me to believe that the various accounts were written more with that intent.
Jared do you know the exact date of the first vision?
I know it was in summer but not the exact date. Do you ?
Jared Anderson says:
No one knows. As my Church history friend Brian Whitney said, “We have three different accounts of how old he was at the time, let alone a date”