If The First Vision Did Not Occur, This Work Is A Fraud – Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley’s quote underscores the foundational importance of the First Vision in Mormon theology.

"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." Gordon B Hinckley | wasmormon.org
“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.” Gordon B Hinckley

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 stands the validity of this Church.

The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith, President Gordon B. Hinckley

He emphasizes that the credibility of the entire LDS faith hinges upon the authenticity of Joseph Smith’s reported vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. However, critics and anyone with an open mind to follow evidence easily spot several factors that cast doubt on the veracity of this foundational event.

Delayed Recording of the Vision

There is ample evidence to doubt that the first vision actually occurred since it was not written down for 12 years.

Discrepancies in the Various Retellings

When it was written in 1832 the story differs considerably from the official account which wasn’t published until another 6 years (or 18 years after the vision is supposed to have happened). There are multiple and disagreeing recountings of what happened (if anything at all).

Lack of Contemporary Documentation

The absence of widespread awareness of the vision during Joseph Smith’s lifetime and the gradual integration of the narrative into Mormon teachings over time add further complexity to its legitimacy. There is no evidence the first vision was discussed or widely known until after Joseph Smith’s death, and even the church leaders and missionary handouts didn’t mention it. No critical discussions of the first vision even appeared until decades later when the church started to integrate the story into the curriculum as it is understood today.

Correlated Narrative

The most plausible explanation for the First Vision is that the LDS Church constructed a retrospective and unified narrative of its history, with the inclusion of the First Vision serving to solidify authority and divine sanction within the organization. Despite its current status as a cornerstone of the church’s foundation, historical evidence suggests that the First Vision was not widely known or discussed during the early days of the church, not even by Joseph Smith himself. The lack of contemporary documentation and the delayed disclosure of the vision until the latter part of Smith’s life raise doubts about its authenticity. It appears that the story was introduced later to bolster the church’s legitimacy and provide a compelling origin story, rather than being an integral part of its initial teachings. While the First Vision is now heavily relied upon in church teachings and curriculum, its late emergence into the church’s narrative underscores the constructed nature of its historical significance.

Does Gordon B. Hinckley’s logic hold? Is there only two possibilities? There are many scenarios between the church is true and the church being false and Joseph Smith being a fraud. Though, it does make the most sense with the evidence that Joseph Smith made up the story of the first vision later in life. He would have been motivated to do this by a desire to be respected and show the authority and calling God gave him personally. It is also a way to further prove his theological developments on the Godhead.

The church stands on the first vision for these same reasons still today. If they can prove Joseph Smith a true prophet of God, the line of thinking follows that he established the church of God as directed by God, and brought us new scripture in the Book of Mormon. It’s easy to see this all as a package deal – in both directions. Even though there are real scenarios that could explain things as well. Such as he could have injested some mushrooms in the woods and thought he saw a vision. He could have had a vision and been told by God not to share it, even though in the official history he states he did share it, and was persecuted because of it – and there is no evidence he said anything about the vision for many years afterward. He could be a fallen prophet, or could even been a real prophet of God who made up the first vision story.

In many ways this binary thinking is flawed. We must simply look at the evidence and follow where it leads, we can’t make absolute decisions on the conclusions before examining the evidence. This should be something we all learn in school studying the scientific method. Hinckley is limiting the outcome of the experiment or study by stating that there are only 2 possible outcomes.

However, in this case, the proposal does make sense, it’s just faulty logic. I don’t think that the answer is in this gray space, and after following the full historical evidence and determining the most plausible explanation, it does seem that Joseph Smith made the story up, and thus the “restoration” of the church and the veracity of all the church’s truth claims logically would be false. Even though, a broken clock still tells the correct time twice a day. Not everything found in the church is pure evil or even incorrect, but the truth claims are demonstrably false. Those would be that Joseph Smith’s First Vision occurred as told in the narrative of the church, that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God and it is real ancient scripture of an ancient people, that the priesthood of God was given to Smith and his successors, and the church is the One True Church of God on the face of the earth.

What do you feel about the first vision? Have you read the multiple versions? Do you think they are different enough to cause concern? Did you know that Joseph Fielding Smith read the different accounts and was troubled enough by the strange account that he hid it away for as long as he could? Do you agree with the proposition from Hinckley that the church is either true or a complete fraud? Do you agree with his conclusion or have you decided that you do not believe the truth claims of the church? Share your thoughts in your own I was a Mormon story at wasmormon.org

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