What do you feel or know about the different First Vision accounts?

Joseph Smith's first vision was one of the pillars I clung to as my shelf began to crack. Even though I'd heard about the multiple accounts of the first vision story, I assumed there was a plausible explanation. I was afraid to look into the details because subconsciously I knew if my belief in the first vision crumbled, everything else would follow. It was the thing that as a missionary I was able to share with everyone because it proved I wasn't crazy and that God cared. It proved that the church was true basically. It was the origin story of Joseph Smith and the whole church. I probably have Hinckley to thank for that binary thinking, it was him that said "If the First Vision did not occur, then we are involved in a great sham".

Joseph claimed he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in a pillar of light. This was the pillar so many things were based. I remember the very nature of the Godhead was explained at the pulpit multiple times to be understood because the first vision showed that God the Father and the Son were different and distinct beings.

Anyways, I was finally courageous enough to lean into the doubts around the first vision and see what the different accounts said. After having nearly put the accounts back on the shelf with the gospel topic essay, which if you trusted the content of the essay blindly and didn't read any footnotes or sources you could almost turn a blind eye and continue. I listened to a mormon stories podcast with a panel including Sandra Tanner discussing the first vision accounts and the apologetics surrounding them. I remember I was pulling weeds and doing yardwork at a house we were housesitting in Australia on an unusually warm winter July day.

I was terrified of what I would learn, but continued to listen and think things through. I had just read all the different accounts and some of those apologetic articles and struggled to reconcile it all. The mental gymnastics to make it all fit was exhausting. I finally fully considered the question, "What if it isn't true?" I remember all the pieces falling neatly into place with that thought. I could understand why the earlier vision accounts didn't mention two personages, and that the early versions of the book of mormon spoke about God in more of a trinity mindset. As time went on, so did the doctrine of the church. The Godhead wasn't revealed in the first vision, because how would the book of mormon have so much trinity talk in it that was cleaned up while dismissing the changes as "grammatical punctuation fixes". How come in the early days, no one spoke of the first vision? I has always assmed that the first vision was the first discussion back then as well. Obviously there weren't discussion, but I figured it was in the church pitch. But it wasn't, the first vision is canonized today, but it wasn't until much later on. It wasn't considered part of the origin story of the church until even later! The church leaders and missionaries don't start talking about the first vision until decades after it was supposed to happen. If everything hinged on the first vision, then why did it not even enter into the discourse until 50 years later? Even when it started being referenced, it wasn't as central to the faith as it is today. At the time they had other things to concern themselves with (Adam-God, Polygamy, Statehood, etc)

The very first accounts were even different on some points that were always key to my own experience of the canonized version. For example, Joseph had already concluded that no church was the one true church in the early versions, while the official JSH version states that "it had never entered into [his] heart that all were wrong". Or he's simply seeking forgiveness of his sins, not which church to join. The later versions are written when it makes sense that he's looking to "redefine" the origin story of the church. He's needing to cement his own authority during the Kirkland bank scandal days.

Digging in and finally trying to reconcile the first vision was the last crack in my shelf. I had been holding everything together for me for quite a while. I could live with the messiness of it all and the imperfections in the church. I thought it, like many things, started pure and deteriorated from there. It was led by actual humans who were doing their best with the intangible non-literal connection with the divine, right? I put such belief in the fact that the church was better than other organizations and corporations, it was above reproach and pure. It started with a simple innocent boy asking which church to join, and he was told no church - but called to create the one true church. That was the saving grace of the church for me for a good while, it wasn't started by man, it was started by God himself.

As I deconstructed the first vision (with help), that was the keystone for me. The book of mormon being actual history or actually translated wasn't as big a blow to me, it was the origin story of the church I had been fed, and had been feeding others. I coudln't believe that I had been duped into believing the story because it made me feel good. Once I removed the keystone, all the things crumbled and I was forced to face the fact that the church wasn't true. I could hope and pray all I wanted, but that couldn't and wouldn't change the facts. I thought about just going along with it still, but that couldn't work. The church doesn't want people to come and participate in any meaningful ways if they have different ideas, or don't believe. I couldn't attend silently, so I stopped attending. It still took time, but eventually I informed family and friends of my deconstruction and started the long process of building something of the rubble.

I loved the quote about the honest man discovering he is mistaken, and pledged to remain honest. "When an honest man discovers he is mistaken, he will either cease to be mistaken or cease to be honest"

Evan Mullins profile image for wasmormon.orgevan-mullins