Joseph Smith claimed that he had a visit from God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, in 1820. He said they told him that all churches were wrong and were an abomination to God and that he should not join any of them. He said that when he told his community about God’s visit, it initiated his fierce persecution.
Later he said that he received visits from the angel Moroni who, Joseph Smith said, was a resurrected being who had died close to Smith’s area in New York State about 1,400 years earlier. Moroni, Joseph Smith asserted, had buried a record of his people (who allegedly lived on the American continent from about 600 BC to about 421 A.D.) in New York, in the Hill Cumorah. That record, Joseph Smith was told, would be given to him to translate. A few years later, Joseph Smith said that he received the record written on gold plates in “reformed Egyptian” — a language that no one but he could understand. He was also told not to show these gold plates to anyone but that at a later date, a few selected people would be given the privilege to view them. He said that he then translated the plates and published the material as the Book of Mormon and gave the gold plates back to the angel Moroni.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims that the name of the church was given to Joseph Smith by revelation. When Smith first organized the church in 1830, however, it was called the Church of Christ. Four years later the name was changed to the Church of Latter-day Saints. In 1838 it was changed again, this time to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is known today.
Joseph Smith claimed that he received many revelations from God, and he began to introduce many new doctrines to his new Church; one of the doctrines was polygamy, a practice that Smith denied publicly but practiced secretly. That doctrine was the obvious downfall of Joseph Smith, and he was killed in 1844 as a result of the polygamy controversy.
Now let’s go back and look at the above information a little closer and in detail.
Joseph Smith claimed that after he had seen a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ, he told it first to a Methodist preacher, and that started the entire community, “all men of high standing” and “the great ones of the most popular sects,” to persecute him bitterly—he being only a boy of 14! One would think that kind of commotion would have caused someone somewhere to write about it. One would think that at least the Palmyra newspaper would have written something, since Joseph Smith claimed that “all men” were united to bring “bitter and reviling persecution” against him. Not many important events took place in that little town—even unimportant gossip was printed—but one searches in vain, from 1820 on, to find an account about a young boy’s vision or persecution.
A search also fails to find a story regarding the revival excitement that Smith later claimed was the reason he went to the grove to seek God in prayer and where he received this fantastic vision. Joseph Smith said that he was told twice in this vision not to join any of the religions (see The Pearl of Great Price: Joseph Smith—History 1:5-26); however, it is interesting to note that in 1823 Joseph’s mother, sister, and two brothers joined the Presbyterian Church, and Joseph himself later sought membership in the Methodist Church, where his wife was a member. Records show that Joseph was expelled in 1828 because of his belief in magic and also because of his “money-digging activities.”
Joseph’s newly organized church started to publish its history, as events took place, in a publication called the Messenger and Advocate. Oliver Cowdery was the main writer, and its accuracy was checked by Joseph Smith himself. In this publication, Joseph tells how—after his brother Alvin’s death, and after his mother, sister, and two brothers had joined the Presbyterian Church—he started to seek religion and to pray “if some Supreme Being existed” (Messenger and Advocate 1:79). (If he had had a vision of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in 1820, he most certainly would have known by 1823 or 1824 that a Supreme Being existed.) By reading diaries, records, newspapers, etc., one seeks in vain to find any mention of this so-called “First Vision” story until 1842, when it was published in Times and Seasons, 22 years after this vision supposedly took place. It becomes quite obvious that this report was an afterthought, since “the Vision-story” talks about two separate gods, and the Book of Mormon says that there is only one God, and that Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Ghost are this one God. (Examples: Alma 11:26-33; 18:26- 28; Mosiah 15:1,2,5, etc.)
The Doctrine and Covenants (hereafter noted as D&C), (previously called the Book of Commandments) was published in 1835 and it included The Lectures of Faith, given in the School of the Prophets, named in the title page of the D&C as “Theology, the Doctrine of the Church of The Latter Day Saints, Section I.” (These Lectures of Faith, containing seven lectures, were approved by a Conference vote of the Mormon Church, August 17, 1835, and were included in all English editions of the D&C until 1921, when they were—without explanation or vote—removed.) Lecture 5 says that God is a Spirit and only the Son has a body of flesh and bones. The Lectures are available as a separate small book, with an added footnote to Lecture 5, reporting that Joseph Smith received “further light” on April 2, 1843 (see D&C 130:22), and only then came to know that God the Father also had a body of flesh and bones. That statement alone reveals that there was no vision of the Father and the Son in 1820. Had there been one, Joseph would not have needed “further light” to learn, 23 years after this famed “First Vision,” about the Father also having a body of flesh and bones.
It was not until 1844 that Joseph started to preach about a god who was once a man and progressed into godhood, and how men can also become gods (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-47). Thus, there is absolutely no evidence for the “First Vision” as it appears in The Pearl of Great Price or that The Vision was known to Mormons or non-Mormons prior to 1842, when it was published for the first time. It was not until the 1880s that this story was accepted by the Church. Prior to that time, we are able to read only denials about it. For example, in Journal of Discourses 2:171 (hereafter J of D), Brigham Young preached a sermon in 1855, in which he said,
Lord did not come…to Joseph Smith, but sent His angel…to inform him that he should not join any religious sect of the day, for they were all wrong….
John Taylor later said the same thing (see J of D: 20:167) on March 2, 1879. Heber C. Kimball said in J of D (6:29),
Do you suppose that God in person called upon Joseph Smith, our prophet? God called upon him, but did not come Himself….
George A. Smith told the same story in J of D (12:33- 34). One wouldn’t really have to dig any deeper than that to find out that the claims of the LDS Church today regarding Joseph Smith’s so-called “First Vision” are not true, according to documentary evidence of the time. Joseph Smith—and these facts —should be exposed, just as Joseph Fielding Smith said they should be.
Early Mormon apostle Orson Pratt made a statement concerning the Book of Mormon:
This book (Book of Mormon) must be either true or false. If true, it is one of the most important messages ever sent from God….If false, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world, calculated to deceive and ruin millions…. The nature of the message in the Book of Mormon is such that, if true, no one can possibly be saved and reject it; if false, no one can possibly be saved and receive it…if, after a rigid examination, it be found imposition, it should be extensively published to the world as such; the evidences and arguments on which the imposture was detected should be clearly and logically stated, that those who have been sincerely yet unfortunately deceived may perceive the nature of deception, and to be reclaimed, and that those who continue to publish the delusion may be exposed and silenced…by strong and powerful arguments—by evidences adduced from scripture and reason…. (Orson Pratt’s Works, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, Liverpool, 1851, pp. 1-2)
In this booklet, we hope to show clearly and logically— even though very briefly—that the Book of Mormon is not a divinely inspired record, but rather is a nineteenth-century product. Joseph Smith claimed that after he translated the gold plates, he returned them to an angel—so there is no way to inspect them or check the accuracy of the translation.
Mormons often refer to the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Most of these men later left the Church, but claims are also made that even though they did, they never denied that they had seen an angel who showed them “the plates of the Book of Mormon.” However, in J of D (7:164), Brigham Young stated that
…witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who handled the plates and conversed with the angels of God, were afterwards left to doubt and to disbelieve that they had ever seen an angel.
Joseph Smith himself called these men wicked, and liars, and by many other demeaning names. In J of D (7:114-15), George A. Smith lists those who have left the Church and mentions specifically “the witnesses of the Book of Mormon.” Martin Harris later claimed that he had a better testimony of the “Shakers Book” than he ever had of the Book of Mormon. Reading about these witnesses, one is drawn to the conclusion that they were unstable men and easily convinced. For example, Martin Harris changed his religion at least eight times. Some of the others (perhaps taking a cue from Joseph Smith) even started their own religious denominations later.