The number of prophets who have claimed to have seen God is very small: Moses, and Joseph Smith. The First Vision is known as one of the most unique visions in all of religion. But it turns out that accounts of Methodist visions were common in Joseph’s day. Is it true that Joseph’s First Vision may not have been as unique as we thought? Historian Dan tackles that question. He believes something happened to Joseph Smith in 1820 or 21, but doesn’t think it was a vision. Was Joseph’s experience similar to Methodist visions?
Dan: People at the revival, especially Methodist ones, would get religious enthusiasm, as they called it. They would get all excited and some people would have heavenly visions. Some people would see Jesus. Forget about the revivals, a lot of ministers at the time, when they wrote their autobiographies would write about their conversion story, and it would include seeing Jesus or some experience with deity, a born-again type experience. This is what I would suggest that Joseph Smith really had–we’ll eventually get to that, and that the story evolved over time.
Dan: The 1832 account has Joseph Smith concluding that all the churches are false, at the age of 12, like his parents. Lucy, and Joseph Smith, Sr. had both made the same conclusion, that all of the churches were false. But it wasn’t tied to they [the churches] didn’t have authority. They were just corrupted by the traditions of men. No one’s thinking of, “Oh, they don’t have priesthood authority, because Christians didn’t think that way.” Catholics did [think that way], but Protestants didn’t think of, “Oh, we have authority and the Catholics don’t,” or whatever. Protestants got their authority to baptize because the Bible commanded that you be baptized, and that is the authority, the commandment coming from the Bible. Whereas Joseph Smith said, “No, it has to come from revelation.” So, when the angel commands to baptize or you got a revelation through the stone to baptize, that is a new revelation, and that is the new authority. So he has current authority, current revelation. That is the original concept of authority, before there were any stories of angelic ordinations. But, in the 1832 account, Joseph Smith has already concluded there’s no church. So when he goes to pray, he’s not asking which church is true. He’s asking, “How am I going to be saved? There’s no true church. They’re all apostate, and what am I to do?” Jesus appears and basically, confirms his belief that there the world liest under sin and all that, and says that those who believe on my name shall be saved. So it’s very close to a revival experience. You have faith in Jesus and you’re saved.
GT : Almost a born again kind of experience?
Dan: That’s what I say. What I say is, if you take Jesus out of it, it would be born again experience. So, why does he have to see Jesus?
GT: You think he basically in 1820 or ‘21, did have a born again experience?
Check out our conversation…. and don’t miss our previous conversations with Dan!