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THE TEACHINGS OF
EXAMINED IN THE LIGHT OF
THE BIBLE AND HISTORY
THE FIRST VISION
OF JOSEPH SMITH
Can man see God?
Until December 2010, the number of "Latter-day Saints" ['Mormons', for short] exceeded 14.1 million immersed members. There are no statistics on how many of them are removed or expelled annually.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "['Mormonism', for short] teaches that while the Smith family resided in Manchester, New York, there was an unusual religious revival in the area. And that during this effervescence for spiritual things, the young Smith, who was then 14 years old, affirmed that he had the extraordinary privilege of seeing face to face God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. The story is recorded in one of his canonical books, as follows:
"During the second year of our residency in Manchester, there arose in the region where we lived an extraordinary upheaval on the subject of religion. It started among the Methodists, but soon it became generalized among all the sects of the region [...]. Crowds joined the different religious parties [...] Some contended in favor of the Methodist faith, others in favor of the Presbyterian, and others in favor of the Baptist [...] By that time I was fourteen years of age". (The "Pearl of Great Price", Joseph Smith -History, 1: 5).
Because of the confusion and contention between different denominations, "young Smith wondered" who was right and who was not. One day, while attending a meeting of the Methodists, he heard Minister George Lane suggest that the biblical passage as found in James 1: 5-6, was the means to determine which group to join. Joseph Smith wrote about the effect this passage had on him:
"Never a passage of the Scriptures reached the heart of a man with more strength than this one on this occasion to mine. It seemed to enter with immense power in every fiber of my heart".
His story continues like this:
"Therefore [...], I retired to the forest to do the test [...]. I knelt down and began to raise to God the desire of my heart. I had just done it, when a force suddenly took hold of me that completely overpowered me, and its influence was so amazing that my tongue got stuck so that I could not speak. A thick fog formed around me, and for a time it seemed to me that I was destined for sudden destruction [... Just at this moment of such great alarm I saw a column of light, brighter than the sun, directly above my head, and this light gradually descended to rest on me.
No sooner had it appeared, when I felt free from the enemy that had held me. As the light rested on me, I saw two Characters, whose brightness and glory cannot be described, in the air above me. One of them spoke to me, calling me by my name, and said, pointing to the other: This is my Beloved Son: Listen to him!".
Then it says the young Smith asked which of all the sects was the true one, in order to know which one to join. And he was told that he should not join any, "because they are all in error," and "all their creeds are an abomination in my sight, for all those teachers have been perverted." And that, in addition, he was told that the sects "teach as doctrine the commandments of men."
When the vision was over, young Joseph realized that he was on his back, looking up at the sky. Still weakened by such an experience, he sat up and returned home.
This account of Joseph Smith - considered by Mormonism as Scripture and as "the foundation of the Church" - contains serious errors and doctrinal and historical contradictions. He could not have seen God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ because, according to the Scriptures, man cannot see God. Consider the following:
God Himself said to Moses, "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live" (Exodus 33:20).
The Apostle Paul spoke of God "dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen nor can see" (1 Timothy 6:16).
The Apostle John declared: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18, 1 John 4:12).
One of the canonical books of Mormonism teaches that without possessing the (Mormon) priesthood, "no man can see the face of God, yes, the Father, and live." (D & C 84: 21-22). And in 1820, when Smith said he had that vision, he did not have the priesthood.
On the other hand, the young Smith said that he was warned that he should not join any sect. Why then in June 1828 did he ask the Methodist Church of Harmony, Pennsylvania, to be allowed to join it as a member?
It is true that he was forced to resign on the third day because of his reputation in occult practices. However, his name remained in the records of the church for six months before being permanently erased. But that he asked to be a member of this church - contrary to the instructions he said he received directly from Jesus Christ - is a documented fact.
Furthermore, if all the creeds of the sects were abominable in 1820, they are still abominable at present, since the churches hold to date the same creeds they had in the days of Joseph Smith. Some of these beliefs are: that there is "a trinity of gods", that man has an immortal soul, that Jesus pre-existed, that there is a fallen evil angel, called Lucifer, or Satan the Devil, etc.
Interestingly, all of these beliefs - considered as "abomination" by the Character that spoke to Joseph Smith - are incorporated into the Mormon doctrine; which shows either:
1 Joseph Smith deliberately disobeyed the instructions he claimed he had received directly from Jesus Christ with respect to the creeds of other churches, in which case the entire Mormon system falls under condemnation as a result of the disobedience of its founder; or
2 the 'First Vision' never happened, and it is nothing more than a fiction hatched many years after its supposed occurrence.
In 1834, a man named E. D. Howe wrote and published what could be defined as the first "anti-Mormon" book. It was titled "Mormonism Unveiled" [Mormonism Uncovered]. Howe obtained affidavits from many of Smith's neighbors and acquaintances, who spoke much of the early years of his life; their participation in an activity known as "hidden treasure hunts", and other activities that do not leave Smith with any respectability. Mr. Howe attacks the Book of Mormon and various other aspects of Mormonism, but never mentions the First Vision. He never mentions that Smith claimed that he had seen God the Father. Why not? I think the answer is simple. Smith had not yet claimed that he had seen God the Father. There is simply no reference in any writing, Mormon or other author, prior to the middle of 1830, that clearly and without vagueness refers to the event of the First Vision, and the supposed encounter with God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate and distinct persons. At this stage, Smith had not yet developed the ideas he presented so clearly in the speech given at the funeral of Elder King Follet.
In spite of the enormous importance that Mormonism assigns in the present to the supposed 'First Vision' of Smith, this experience was officially published in the Mormon Times and Seasons on March 15, 1842, 22 years after its supposed occurrence . As this experience was not known to anyone until 1842, how is it possible that Smith's story provoked "a fierce persecution" on the part of professors of religion, and "all the sects" united against him?
James B. Allen, assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University, questions whether Smith was persecuted for reporting his experience with the two characters in the grove. He said:
"According to Joseph Smith, he told the story of the vision immediately after it happened, in the early spring [in the US] of 1820. As a result, he said he received immediate criticism in the community. There was little evidence, if any, that Joseph Smith had been telling the story in public in 1830. If he was telling it, at least no one seemed to consider it important enough to have written it down at the time, and no one criticized him for it [...]. The fact that none of the contemporary writings available about Joseph Smith in 1830, no publication of the Church in that decade, and no contemporary personal journals, or correspondence known thus far, mention the account of the first vision , is convincing evidence that at the most it received only a limited circulation in those first days [...]. For all this, it would seem that the members of the Church in general did not receive details of the first vision until 1840, and that the story certainly did not have a prominent place in Mormon thought as it does today." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol.1, No. 3, pp. 30-34, autumn [in the US] of 1966).
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