the Mormon Claim
The First Vision
One of the very first things taught by Mormon
missionaries to prospective converts is the story of the "First Vision." Written in full in chapter 1 of Joseph Smith's History in the PofGP, Smith relates that in the second year after moving to Manchester Township, New York, there was a period of intense religious excitement in his area. The local churches were all gaining converts, and Smith himself leaned towards joining the Methodists but decided to ask God for wisdom in his decision. In answer, God Himself and the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Smith in a vision in the early spring of 1820, telling Smith that none of the churches were right, that Christendom was in apostasy. This claimed event provides the foundation for the Mormon claim that they are the only true church today. As a refresher, Mormons also claim that the angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith in September of 1823, 24, 25, 26, and 27.
One problem that Mormon historians admit is that Smith never told any story about a First Vision until at least 1832, twelve years after it supposedly occurred, and then told very contradictory accounts until 1838 when he came up with what is now accepted as the official version. These contradictions are themselves rather serious, but in the limited length of this post I will ignore them because there are even more serious problems. These problems relate to some specific details relating to the time of religious excitement, and how they can by cross-checked by verifiable facts.
In the official account, Smith notes that his mother and some siblings joined the Presbyterian church, and in accounts given later by Smith's mother and one of his brothers they remembered the names of the Methodist and Presbyterian ministers leading the joint revival effort, Reverends George Lane and Benjamin Stockton, respectively. Joseph Smith confirmed these names when accounts were first published in 1835. There were also several other incidental details that I won't get into, just for the sake of time in this posting.
But in 1967, things changed when a critic of the Mormons decided to go to New York and investigate things such as old church records and township tax rolls, to see if a spring 1820 vision was even possible with all of these details. The factual results of that investigation, which have been verified since by Mormon researchers, paint a picture that cuts to the very foundation of Mormonism.
First there is the move to Manchester Township, which is a little confusing because there are two possible dates. As it turns out, the Smiths did not purchase property in Manchester until the late summer of 1820, and did not have a house on that property until the spring of 1823, which means that one date for the move would be the spring or summer of 1823. The second date relates to the fact that the Smiths built a log cabin in Palmyra Township immediately adjacent to the Manchester line in the summer of 1819, and moved in there as early as that fall. Now while technically that cabin was in Palmyra, it is possible that the Smiths considered that it was in Manchester. For example, if you ask me where I live I generally say "Indianapolis", even though to be technically correct I live a few miles outside of Indy in the town of Avon. So by the same token, the Smiths could have considered themselves as living in Manchester as early as late 1819, even though they didn't legally move there until 1823. But either way presents chronological problems for the First Vision account, although it doesn't seem insurmountable (although it really is when you look at some other statements that I won't get into here with the time that this E-D posting permits).
But where the problems DO become insurmountable is when you look at the old church records, as confirmed by articles about revivals in the area's newspapers and religious magazines. Several independent sorts of records all EXCLUDE the idea that any revival of any sort happened in Palmyra in the years 1817 to 1823. But even more significantly, these same independent sorts of records all PROVE that a joint revival did occur there beginning in the winter of 1824 and continuing into the spring of 1825. Other records show that this is the only time period when Reverend George Lane served in the region, and still other records show that this is the only time period when Reverend Benjamin Stockton served in the region.
Maybe Smith just got his dates mixed up. We've all had that happen, right? Told a story about something years after it happened and accidentally gotten our dates mixed up. Maybe the First Vision really happened in the spring of 1825 and years later Smith just got it confused with 1820. No big deal, right? Think again, because if this is true then it wasn't the First Vision after all. A "First" Vision in early 1825 would come after the angel Moroni visits in 1823 and 1824.
I have thought this through long and hard, and don't have room to present all of my reasoning here, but the bottom line is that I am convinced that Smith really was moved by the revival of 1824-25, and really did consider joining the Methodists at that time. Which means two things. First, if Smith really had been visited by the angel Moroni twice already, why would he have considered joining the Methodists in early 1825? This casts serious doubt on the authenticity of the supposed Moroni visits. Second, the obvious conclusion is that Smith took some events which did happen in 1825, and did two things with them. First, he embellished them by adding the idea of the a vision, and second, he moved it back to 1820 so that it would be the "First" Vision. Which means that he has successfully tricked Mormon followers into believing in a First Vision story that did not happen in the material facts that he relates, which proves that (a) he is capable of coming up with plausible stories that are materially false; and (b) that Mormons are capable of being duped into believing them.
It is a serious issue when one of the most basic stories of Mormonism is easily disproved when cross-checked with available facts. If you would like more information, write to me privately and I can point you towards more info or send you a copy of a 13-page Word document that I typed up and gave to the Mormons who have been visiting me. They were absolutely stunned when I showed them this stuff and was the first thing that got them to consider that maybe their faith was misplaced.
Avon, Indiana, USA