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*Staker Weighs in on First Vision (Part 5 of 5)

In a previous conversation with historian Dan Vogel, he indicated visions of Jesus were common among Methodists in Joseph Smith’s day and questioned why a Methodist minister would object to Joseph’s account of a vision.  I asked Dr. Mark Staker to weigh in on that issue, and Mark tells why he thinks a minister may have been upset.  BUt to hear this conversation, you need to be signed up for our newsletter at .

Mark:  Joseph goes to the woods and he begins to pray. What happens? Power falls on him. He says, “an unseen power comes to me that binds my tongue so I can’t speak.”  [This is] exactly what the ministers are telling him is going to happen, happens. And what does he do? He prays that God will release him from this power, and no sooner does he pray asking God to release him from this power, that he sees a light. Then he sees the Father. The Father introduces the Son to him, and tells him, “This is my beloved Son, hear him.” Well, the difference between Joseph and all those Methodists who had exactly that same experience was Joseph recognized that power was not what he wanted. It was not of God, and no sooner did he recognize that and asked to be delivered from that, that he has an experience, unlike any experience that anybody else has had. That’s what makes him different than everybody else.

Mark:  Imagine when he goes back and tells a Methodist minister, “I went out, began to pray, and you know that power you told me was going to fall on me, that’s the devil.” Is that Methodist minister going to like that? No, naturally he’s going to condemn that, because that’s critical of everything he’s been teaching people and telling him to go out and experience. Imagine that he then says, “And then God, the Father, and Jesus Christ came and appeared to me.”  That’s going to contradict all these others who’ve been saying that we don’t have visions like that these days. So, both of those extremes, Joseph’s experience counters, and contradicts, and that everybody is not going to like him, when he begins telling about those details, which is why he waits for so many years to do so because the initial experience was so negative.

GT:  So, you would agree with Steven Harper that it was a Methodist minister that condemned him?

Mark:  That’s the minister that he would know. That’s the one that he would go to, and we know some of those ministers that were in the area that spring in 1820 that he could possibly have gone to.

What do you think of this scenario?  Check out our conversation….

*Staker Weighs in on First Vision (Part 5 of 5)
Was the First VIsion in 1820, 1823, or some other year?

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Mark!

36: Lucy’s Dreams, Joseph’s Rational Religion

535: Smith Farmers Were Spiritual, Not Religious

534: When Joseph Met Lucy

533: Smith Family Farm in Vermont

More Podcasts with these Interviewees

People Interviewed: Dan Vogel, Mark Staker
Mormon History: First Vision

2 thoughts on “*Staker Weighs in on First Vision (Part 5 of 5)

  1. I’m not following Mark’s logic on this. I don’t see JS equating the unseen power with the Methodist’s notion of having the power. This interpretation isn’t necessary to explain the minister’s reaction if we are to accept the 1838-39 account as historical. I think the minister would have been insulted by the claim that all creeds were an abomination and their professors corrupt. However, if we give the 1832 account priority, there was nothing particularly unusual when compared with Methodist visions.

    In the 1838 account the minister agrees with Smith that the unseen power was of the devil, but so was the vision. He is made to say that “there are no such things was visions and revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.” It would be unusual for a Methodist to deny all visions as from the devil, so one gets the impression that JS left something out or was exaggerating. But JS gives a hint when he says the minister claimed that “visions and revelations” had ceased with the apostles. It would make more sense if the new revelation that the minister condemned was the Book of Mormon. So I think JS could have told him about his encounters with the treasure guardian spirit and the gold plates.

  2. Dan, if I remember right the question that was put to me went something like this: Dan Vogel thinks Joseph Smith didn’t talk to a Methodist minister after his First Vision because the minister would have thought it a normal experience. Perhaps he talked to a Presbyterian minister. What do you think?

    I don’t know if that reflects your thoughts on the issue, I’m looking forward to reading them. But that was the question I was trying to address. And you’re absolutely right. Visions, dreams, and spiritual manifestations were the bread and butter of Methodist enthusiastic responses. And I agree that there was probably more to the conversation that we have. Maybe there was language related to the world of the money diggers. Maybe there was a reference to a book or additional revelation that would come. My response to the question was intended to suggest that some things in the language Joseph was using could have offended the minister–even if he was Methodist. Cognitive anthropologists often talk about language taxonomies as ways to organize our thoughts. The classic example is Eskimos (Inuit) and snow. One is able to think about and discuss snow in entirely different ways if they have the language to do that. Non-skiing English speakers are poorly equipped to discuss the subtleties of snow. It is clear early Methodists in the Genesee District were talking about a “Power” that they saw as a manifestation of the divine. Power is one of the many synonyms for God or a component of God. One would expect anyone talking about power within a Methodist context to view it as a divine/godly phenomenon. But when Joseph Smith uses the word power, he sees it as an evil phenomenon. He’s changed the entire linguistic taxonomy for the divine. That could offend a Methodist preacher even when the larger experience is a typically Methodist one. That was my point.

    There are other details in Joseph’s accounts that could also have been offensive, depending on what it was he said to the minister. His mention of their hearts being far from God (although they were near to Him with their lips) could also be off-putting. You get at the heart of the issue, however, which is: how would Joseph’s offensive comments elicit a response that visions are done away? That was not a typical Methodist notion. I had not tried to answer that at the time.

    I like your suggestion that the response may have been in reference to a future Book of Mormon. We know that Disciples of Christ in northern Ohio made exactly those kinds of comments about revelation and visions being a thing of the past. Joseph could be sharing a general response rather than quoting specific words that he may not remember exactly. It could be a phrase representing what ministers have said to him for five years or more cast as the comments of that early contemning minister. If I understand your comments, I think you suggest that the minister was responding to some treasure digging narrative Joseph related, and the details were not like revelation the minister recognized. So he wasn’t saying revelation is done away with but your kind of revelation does not happen. Is that right? I’m inclined to think it was something along those lines only that Joseph had the experience he claimed to have had and the minister heard something in the boy’s narrative that didn’t fit with his concept of how those revelations occurred. It was that notion that was part of the “done away with” aspect of the revelations and not the idea of revelations in general. If we accept all Joseph’s accounts of the vision as descriptions of parts of the same experience (which I do), then if he gave an anti-trinitarian description of a vision that included both a Father and a Son appearing to him that would be an earlier kind of vision done away with. I’ve never seen an account of a Methodist vision that sounds like the one Steven described in the New Testament.

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