The First Vision


It’s naturally assumed that the Prophet Joseph Smith in the first vision saw Jesus and His Father. The language sounds so familiar to the voice of the Father that spoke from heaven at Jesus’ transfiguration:

“And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son; hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone…” JST Luke 9:35-36

Again we see the account of God the Father witnessing of His Son Jesus Christ when Jesus was baptized by John:

“And Jesus when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and John saw, and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Jesus.

And lo, he heard a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye him.” JST Matthew 3:45-46

Who saw and heard this testimony from Heaven? John the Baptist saw and heard this testimony from Heaven and who was John to hear? John was to hear Jesus Christ.

In the account of the first vision we see a similar wording which leads us to believe that Joseph is being visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son of God but there are some subtle differences between John the Baptists first vision and the Prophet Joseph Smith’s first vision.

Joseph is searching for answers and when he retires to the woods to speak to God, he is immediately seized upon by an unseen power. He is so captured by this force that he braces himself for destruction. This enemy understands that for Joseph to receive the answer, would prove his own undoing and he is not about to let Joseph go.

“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.

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 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.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. 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!” -Joseph Smith History 1:15-17

Joseph doesn’t identify the two personages but he does give us some clues. He said that they were both standing in the air which would have placed both of them out of his reach while they delivered their message.

They were messengers sent from God who were yet to be identified.

By the priesthood keys Joseph taught:

“When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you. If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand. If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory for that is the only way he can appear-

Ask him to shake hands with you but he will not move because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.” D&C 129:4-7

So then who was the beloved son that Joseph was told to listen to?

In the same manner that the two personages appeared to Joseph in the grove, one personage came to Joseph and began to teach him. This is the beloved son whom his father admonished Joseph to hear and he reveals his true identity.

“…for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I had previously had one.

While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor. [exactly as Joseph described when the two personages appeared to Joseph in the grove]

He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles…” Joseph Smith History 1:29-31

Here are the first hints of this messenger sent from God that it isn’t Jesus who is visiting Joseph. Joseph makes no mention of marks on his naked hands and feet which the messenger let him see so that he would not mistake that it was not Jesus Christ visiting him. The two personages Joseph first encountered would also have been likely dressed in the same revealing manner to Joseph’s keen observation.

“…His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom.

Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around this person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but fear soon left me.” Joseph Smith History 1:31-32

What would have happened were Joseph to have ended this account here and not continued further? We would all have concluded that Jesus Christ was indeed visiting with Joseph Smith. This would have seemingly fit the narrative that the modern day Mormons would have believed. It sounds the same as the account of John at Jesus’ baptism and it sounds similar to the account of Peter at the transfiguration of Jesus. But this messenger whom Joseph was told to “hear him” wasn’t Jesus that had come to instruct him. It was a messenger of God that was about to reveal his identity that up to this point had been concealed.

“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me…”

Incidentally, this scene that Joseph describes is very much like when Adam was looking for messengers from Father and the devil first showed up before being cast out by the Lord’s Apostles who would begin to teach him. They would teach the itinerant preacher of the day that Satan was deceiving him and that he should leave his employ. It is no wonder where Joseph’s endowment narrative right at this point comes from.

“…and that his name was Moroni…” Joseph Smith History 1:33

So the beloved son is not Jesus but he is Moroni, an Apostle of Jesus Christ. The last person to hold and conceal the gold plates into the earth in the very place where Joseph finds them at Moroni’s instruction. The “beloved disciples of Jesus” as they were called, are written about in third Nephi from among whom the 3 Nephites come. Would it then be so unusual then for a man such as Mormon to introduce his son Moroni as being “beloved?” It would not. Would you be surprised to learn that Joseph and his family also referred to his Angel as “the Angel Nephi?” If you understand the mystery of Multiple Mortal Probations, you can understand how Moroni could be variably also called Nephi.

“…that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” Joseph Smith History 1:33


“Do you suppose that God in person called upon Joseph Smith, our prophet? God called upon him; but God did not come himself and call, but sent Peter to do it. Do you not see? He sent Peter and sent Moroni to Joseph, and told him that he had got the plates.” Heber C. Kimball Nov 8th, 1857 -JD, Vol. 6 p.29

“When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi. That God has a work for me to do…He said there was a book deposited written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.” -Joseph Smith

In August, 1842, the Millenial Star, printed in England, also published Joseph Smith’s story stating that the angel’s name was “Nephi” (see Millenial Star, vol. 3, p.53) On Page 71 of the same volume we read that the “…message of the angel Nephi…opened a new dispensation to man…”

Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also said the angel’s name was Nephi (Biographical Sketches, p.79

The name was also published in the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price as “Nephi” (“He called me by name and said unto me, that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.” (Pearl of Great Price, 1851 edition, page 41) The original handwritten manuscript of the Pearl of Great Price dictated by Joseph Smith reveals that the name was originally written as “Nephi” but that someone at a later date has written the word “Moroni” above the line.

In 1888 J.C. Whitmer made this statement: “I have heard my grandmother (Mary M. Whitmer) say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by an holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi.”

Lucy refers to the angel as “Nephi” and not Moroni. Page 79 specifies “Nephi” as the visiting angel. In the 1954 reprint, (now page 75) it has been changed to “Moroni.”

In April 1842 Joseph wrote in “Times and Seasons”

“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.”

Brigham Young taught on February 18, 1855: “…The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven…But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith Jr. who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day…” JD, Vol 2 p.171

Thus we see that early LDS leaders thought of the vision as one of angels of God ministering to Joseph with the exception of Orson Pratt who also, incidentally, was in opposition to the Adam God doctrine which ultimately would upend Orson Pratt’s version of the first vision.

Orson Pratt’s changes to Joseph’s first vision.

Walter L. Whipple, in his thesis written at BYU, stated that Orson Pratt “published The Pearl of Great Price in 1878, and removed the name Nephi from the text entirely and inserted the name Moroni in its place” (textual changes in the Pearl of Great Price, typed copy, p.125)

In 1880 Orson Pratt also changed the personages from angels of God to God himself and Jesus Christ.

Orson Pratt gave his most specific identification of the personages in his sermon September 18, 1880:

“In the spring of 1820, before Joseph Smith was of the age of fifteen…in answers to his prayers, there was the manifestation of two of the great personages in the heavens-not angels, not messengers, but two persons that hold the keys of authority over all creations of the universe. Who are they? God the Eternal Father and his Son Jesus Christ…he heard the glorious words that proceeded from the Father, as he pointed to his Son and said to Joseph, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” -JD Vol 21, p.308


“I would like to say that his cause is either true or false. Either this is the kingdom of God or it is a sham and a delusion. Either Joseph talked with the Father and the Son, or he did not. If he did not, we are engaged in blasphemy. (Conference Reports Oct. 1961, 116)

“Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud…upon that unique and wonderful experience stand the validity of this church. (The Marvelous Foundation of Faith, Ensign, Nov 2002 p. 80).


“The first vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith is bedrock theology to the Church. The adversary knows this and has attacked Joseph Smith’s credibility from the day he announced the visitation of the Father and the Son. They conversed with him as he said they did. ANY LEADER WHO, WITHOUT RESERVATION, CANNOT DECLARE HIS TESTIMONY THAT GOD AND JESUS CHRIST APPEARED TO JOSEPH SMITH CAN NEVER BE A TRUE LEADER, A TRUE SHEPHERD. IF WE HAVE NOT RECEIVED A WITNESS ABOUT THIS GREAT REVELATION- WE CANNOT INSPIRE FAITH IN THOSE WHOM WE LEAD… Some of our own members have attempted to interpret the experiences of Joseph Smith and his revelations. They say that it really is not important whether or not Joseph Smith actually saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. What matters, they claim, is that he thought he did. That is preposterous! (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 101. Also see Church History in the Fullness of Times Teacher Manual)

On the surface it sounds great, Joseph meeting with God the Father and Jesus Christ in the first vision, but it’s entirely misleading. It revokes the idea that God would ever send angels as His messengers. It sidesteps even the endowment narrative where when Adam is looking for messengers from Father, and the Apostles Peter, James, and John visit the man Adam in the lone and dreary world and cast out Satan. Why didn’t God just come down Himself rather than send angelic messengers? Because as Brigham taught Adam is our Father and God and this world was given to him. This was his detail so to speak, his responsibility, his inheritance given to him to till the ground by his Father and God.

Joseph’s first vision was the precursor to the endowment narrative and when we think of it that way, all the pieces to the puzzle begin to fall in place. Now the fog of confusion surrounding the events of the restoration and what Joseph really said about the First Vision begins to lift.

It says a lot about the prophets of the LDS church who promote this altered history of what really happened in the First Vision. The first thing that a prophet of God must come to grips with and fully comprehend is the order of Heaven and the character and nature of God. If they can’t figure out God’s plan, then how can they possibly lead an entire church back into the presence of a God they do not know or a priesthood they do not comprehend?

Even on the most basic level it is understood that before you can enter into God’s presence you must first be washed, cleansed, and anointed for no unclean thing can enter into the presence of God. Why else would the High Priests dedicate themselves to purification before entering into the Holy of Holies? Why, because they didn’t want to get incinerated by an offended God.

“And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest to men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father and live.” D&C 84:21-22


Elder John Taylor testifies that the two “personages” who came to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the first vision were not God and Jesus as so many like to tell it. They were messengers sent from God.

“We also learn that when John was upon the isle of Patmos, the visions of heaven were unfolded to his view, and a great and mighty angel stood before him and showed to him many great and important things pertaining to the future; and John fell down to worship him.

But said he- “Hold! do not worship me.” “Why? Who are you?” “I am one of thy fellow-servants the Prophets, who kept the testimony of Jesus and the word of God. DO NOT WORSHIP ME, I am one of those who held the Priesthood in time and now I am administering in eternity, and have come forth as a messenger of the Lord to thee.”

IT WAS PRECISELY IN THIS WAY THAT JOSEPH SMITH WAS ADMINISTERED UNTO, AND BY THE SAME KIND OF MESSENGERS, WHO HELD THE SAME KIND OF AUTHORITY; and they came to introduce and usher in the dispensation of the fullness of times, that all things that are in Christ might be gathered together in one…” -John Taylor J.D. volume 18 p. 139

John Taylor